Thursday, September 28, 2023

In This Corner... Champion!


The year 1982 saw the publication of the seventh and final Marvel Two-In-One Annual, which, like its companion monthly series, featured the Thing and a special guest-star in action together--only in this instance, the series ends with a bang (and more than a few punches) when Ben Grimm is joined by a group of Marvel's heaviest hitters in Madison Square Garden to answer the challenge of an alien bruiser to meet him in the boxing ring, where they will fight for the fate of our world!

Together with writer Tom DeFalco and penciller Ron Wilson, the six-man finishing crew of Bob Camp, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, Dan Green, Armando Gil, and Chic Stone joined to produce a 39-page story which features the first appearance of Champion, an Elder of the Universe who seeks out and contends with those who can satisfy his thirst for competition. Soon enough, however, we find that DeFalco has apparently taken a leaf from the planet Kral, a world in the Skrull empire whose population became fascinated with Earth's gangster era and mimicked the people and culture of that period. Here, we find the sport of boxing having an equally compusive effect on Champion and his entourage of alien trainers as well as a slick fight promoter, who bring along with them an Earth-style boxing ring, a training gym, the lingo of boxing and boxers, and even attire that carries the Everlast sporting goods logo--traveling to other worlds and seizing powerful individuals to offer them (what else?) a "title shot" against Champion, a confident and seasoned boxer who has embraced the sport of boxing to the fullest and who can weave and get in under your guard with the best of them.

We first meet our promoter, Proja, who surprises the Thing with one of the most offbeat offers our gravelly hero has ever heard--and who, as Ben learns, slyly won't take no for an answer.

Yet Ben is only the first of several stops Proja makes--extending his "offer" to a number of potential challengers for his master before finally arriving with them in a training area placed outside the fabric of reality, geared for terran clientele.

Finally, their host makes himself and his purpose known to the assembled heroes, while also making it immediately clear that refusal to participate in the upcoming match will exact a lethal cost.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Take A Seat


As I was compiling subject matter for this post, the first thing that came to mind was this guy:

Who looks like he's traveling through space seated on some kind of contraption--at least that's what I'd assumed, having never read the story. Except that this character, Orion, isn't seated on anything, but simply hunched over, gripping what he calls his "power rods." Yet there is a seated character among those Orion mingles with in New Genesis--Metron, who appears to be persona non grata among the others and flits about time-space in his "Mobius Chair" advancing his own agenda.

And thus, the New Gods have unknowingly summoned us to hear another

Marvel Trivia Question

What Marvel characters look to chairs for their status, and/or their power?

(Or, in Ben Grimm's case, their life??)

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Hulk (Didn't) Smash


By the turn of the century, you and I had seen and likely enjoyed any number of stories featuring clashes between the Thing and the Hulk--two classic characters who, despite having long since settled the question of who was the more powerful, still managed to convey the possibility of an upset with each clash or, at the very least, give us our money's worth more often than not with some new twist on the circumstances which brought them into conflict once more. But in late 2004, a four-issue limited series appeared on the racks with a story which some of us might have considered unorthodox, even for this pair.

Right away, you've likely already discerned artist Jae Lee's hand here, whose work you may remember from The Sentry from 2000 as well as 1998's The Inhumans, and who here brings his unconventional style to two men who look distinctly different from the characters who put their stamp on the comics of the '60s, '70s and '80s. In this series, Lee handles full pencils and inks (as he did on the prior works), while this time joining with writer Bruce Jones to craft a tale that frankly takes some patience to get through. That's not to say there's not something here for Hulk/Thing fans--but when you find yourself in full agreement with the Hulk who's all but demanding that the Thing get to the point, already after covering roughly half the series with little progress on that front, you'll either be more determined to see where it's all going, or reach for your back issue of Fantastic Four #112 and better days.

If nothing else, the approach that Jones and Lee take to open "Hard Knocks" is an attention grabber, considering the characters involved aren't exactly known for their congeniality. Or, to paraphrase an old joke, "Stop me if you've heard this one. Two man-monsters end up at a hole in the wall..."

Heh, the "Hard Rocks Cafe"--drawing us in with a double pun. Nicely played, Mr. Lee.

Monday, September 18, 2023

The Final Fate of the Scarlet Witch!


We've reached the end of a long and winding road involving Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch, having tracked her activities following her devastating attack on her fellow Avengers at Avengers Mansion which led to her involvement in reshaping our reality to suit the worldview of the House Of M. The culmination of that saga saw Wanda, furious after witnessing her brother's fate at the hand of their father, Magneto, not only shifting reality once more but in the process removing the mutant powers of nearly every mutant on the planet, in addition to excising even the potential to become a mutant from the human genome.

As for Wanda herself, she would end up in the European nation of Transia, bereft of her memory. To the Avengers as well as the X-Men, Wanda's guilt as far as what she's done and the lives she's destroyed is a certainty; but to the Young Avengers, two of whom may likely be the sons she believed to be lost to her forever, she represents not only a person perhaps too quickly condemned by her former comrades, but also the means by which all can be put to rights again. (And hopefully allaying the concerns of the Avengers that one of the young group's number, Wiccan, isn't going to turn out like his "mother.") Joined by Magneto and setting out to find her, they locate her in Latveria, in a curious twist to this story as the fiancée of none other than Victor Von Doom.

With the reappearance of Iron Lad (the Young Avenger who's destined to become Kang the Conqueror), the group (including Wanda at this point) return in time to the point where the Jack of Hearts destroys Avengers Mansion--only this time, the life of Scott Lang is saved, though the event also serves as the catalyst for Wanda regaining her memory and resulting in an onslaught of guilt which sees her attempting to use the forces she's marshaled at the mansion to end her own life. Yet more certain than ever that some outside force has taken control of Wanda, Wiccan chooses the moment to reveal to her his steadfast belief that her children are alive, which acts like a bucket of cold water thrown on her. Standing down, she resolves to answer for what she's done, as well as do what she can to undo her actions toward mutants.

One such victim, Rictor, arrives on the scene with the rest of his group, X-Factor--and he decides to volunteer to test Wanda's plan to help the affected mutants by asking her to restore his ability to cause earth tremors.

But on the way are not only the Avengers, who are pleased to hear the news about Wanda appearing to have regained her sanity, but also the X-Men, who collectively are of a different frame of mind entirely regarding the woman who devastated the world's mutant population. And the lines are all too quickly drawn, in a story that has taken over six years to at long last reach its conclusion.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

The Return Of... Everyman!


You remember this guy, don't you?
(You can be sure those covering the scene aren't likely to forget him.)

A creation of writer J.M. DeMatteis and artist Mike Zeck, we first met Everyman in his PPC profile that saw him going up against Captain America in 1982--on a mission to avenge those like his deceased father whom he felt had suffered for the false promises of the American dream. Consequently, Everyman's enemy became the man who best epitomized that dream.

We can see that Everyman bears little similarity to writer Tony Isabella's "everyman," Stuart Clarke, aka Rampage, a character who limited his own wrath to government policies which led to the 1973-75 recession. What the two men do share is a hatred for their circumstances that caused their respective losses--but while Rampage feels he's justified in stealing from F.D.I.C. banks to revive his bankrupt company, Everyman lashes out at the man who in his mind deserves every bit of his rage.

When Everyman reneges on his promise to free his hostage, Cap settles his hash, and Everyman is subsequently sent to a mental institution to treat his unhinged mind. A year and a half later, DeMatteis revisits the character in a two-issue story in Marvel Team-Up, where our former Everyman, Larry Ekler, looks up a "relative" whom you may recognize, a man who quickly realizes that Larry may have fabricated the reason for his newfound freedom.

Monday, September 11, 2023

The Ascendance of... Baron Mordo!?


OR: "Dr. Strange, Hiker of the Mystic Arts"

The thought of Michael Golden handling the artwork for the forty-page What If story featuring Baron Mordo as the Master of the Mystic Arts would be enough to spur even the Dread Dormammu into picking up a copy. Alas, Mr. Golden took care of just the cover art. Still, one look at the exquisite splash page for the issue has one thinking that artists Butch Guice (née Jackson Guice) and Sam Grainger are the next best thing, eh?

Mordo's turn at being the Ancient One's choice to succeed him is an interesting premise to explore, though we don't really need the Watcher to get that ball rolling: Basically, something must happen (or not happen) to prevent Strange from taking Mordo's place as the Ancient One's disciple. But Mordo actually wanting to be worthy of the Ancient One's teachings is a new twist that only Uatu could see coming.

(Of course, if you're under the impression that those tentacles somehow played a part in Mordo becoming the model student, you get a complimentary copy of the Book of the Vishanti! (Not really!) )

From here, things progress for Mordo as they did for Strange--except for writer Peter Gillis feeling the need to plant a seed in our minds that something is up here. (It occurs to me that if Wong distrusts Mordo, surely the Ancient One would still have misgivings, but what do I know.)

Soon enough, Mordo's baptism of fire arrives in the form of Dormammu's intent to invade our dimension. Unlike Strange, however, the shrewd Mordo decides to forcefully secure the aid of another denizen of the Dark Dimension, Clea, in order to enact a plan to free a menace from captivity that even Dormammu must drop everything to defend against.

And what of Strange? He's decided to use his new lease on life to become an instructor at a New York medical school--yet unknown to him, he has also fallen prey to a powerful entity who uses a person's dreams to inflict suffering, a foe he would have battled in our reality as "the Master of Black Magic."

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Witch Hunt!


We've reached the final installment of the House Of M limited series from 2005, where the X-Men and the Avengers found themselves swept away into a new reality created by the Scarlet Witch at the behest of her brother, Quicksilver--one which made mutants the dominant species, while our heroes were made to forget their past lives and histories in favor of an existence which saw their fondest hopes and dreams realized. Yet all of that changed when Wolverine, who somehow retained his memories, began to gather the troops--and with the help of a young mutant named Layla Miller, those who could be located traveled to Genosha once more to confront the ones involved in the deception, unfortunately leading to the Scarlet Witch again unleashing her power to alter the state of the world, for better or worse.

In this issue, which essentially has everyone pulling themselves together and picking up the pieces upon finding themselves back in their previous lives, we'll unfortunately be left with lingering questions which still lacked answers even in the course of eight issues. For instance: Where is Charles Xavier, taken from the heroes' midst when they first landed on the island of Genosha to settle the matter of the Scarlet Witch's disposition, the only indication of his fate being a memorial garden set up in his honor? And what finally happens with Wanda, who remains at large? From a publication stance, the only thing that this issue makes clear with reasonable certainty is that the goal of House Of M was to set up plots tying in to any number of upcoming books (e.g., Civil War (mid-2006) and Secret Invasion (mid-2008), two other multi-title events) for the foreseeable future, profitable ventures which appeared to be the only "reality" of concern to Marvel in the early 2000s.

Still, let's see where things stand following Wanda's cryptic declaration of "No more mutants" and a subsequent blinding flash which signaled another seismic shift in reality. For what it's worth, it appears that Magneto isn't going to walk out of this unscathed, if Wolverine has anything to say about it.

Monday, September 4, 2023

No More Mutants


Unknown to the heroes caught up in the new reality of the House Of M--which came into existence when the Scarlet Witch, at the direction of another, reshaped the world as we knew it to conform to a utopian existence for mutants at the expense of homo sapiens--things appeared grim indeed for those among them who had regained their memories of their prior lives and have decided to travel to the island of Genosha to confront both Wanda as well as Magneto, the man they presume to be responsible for forcibly twisting their lives, and those of the planet's entire population, to better favor his own worldview. For we have been witness to evidence that the man they seek, Charles Xavier--presumed to have been forced by Wanda's power to help bring those changes to life--is now deceased.

And so, having commandeered the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier and its resources (including its formidable Sentinel guard detachment), the group arrives just as the House of Magnus celebrates a glittering evening of special guests assembling to pay tribute to Lord Magnus and his family on the anniversary of "the rebellion against homo sapien oppressors that held the world captive for decades." It's Cyclops who lays out the stakes for everyone (in words that Captain America, unavailable to the group, might or might not have chafed at--it's a fair topic for debate)--and following the deployment of their initial sortie in the form of one of the Sentinels, all hell breaks loose.