Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Face-Off: The Rock Operas of Pete Townshend

Doug: Yeah, we're fond of rock music around here. We're certainly high on the all-time greats, like the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc. Today we're going to focus on one of the true geniuses of rock and roll, Pete Townshend, and his two rock operas: Tommy and Quadrophenia.

Doug: Your job is to discuss each of these albums, and the films if you wish. Which rock opera had the better radio hits? Tommy of course birthed "Pinball Wizard", but also "See Me, Feel Me", "I'm Free", and "We're Not Gonna Take It". On the other hand, Quadrophenia gave us "The Real Me" (my personal favorite Who song), "Love, Reign o'er Me", and "5:15". As far as narratives go, which story resonates more with you -- that deaf, dumb, and blind kid, or the teen with four personalities (one mirroring each member of The Who)?

Doug: On a side note, can you separate the songs "Pinball Wizard" and the "Acid Queen" from the visual concepts provided by Elton John and Tina Turner, respectively? It's tough for this guy.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Greatest Hero of Them All - Legion of Super-Heroes 37

Legion of Super-Heroes (Volume III) #37 (August 1987)
"A Twist in Time"
Paul Levitz-Greg Laroque/Mike DeCarlo/Arne Starr

Doug: Among our readers, both those who comment and those who lurk (c'mon... what are you waiting for?) there's a sizable Legion following. For most of us, our comics' understanding was shaken by DC's Crisis On Infinite Earths event, as heroes we'd loved met their demise and the wonderful mythology of the multiverse came to an end (well, a temporary end from what I know of today's DCU). But for those who loved the Legion, the now-fact that Superman had never been Superboy rocked us. Rocked us hard. Although the Legion had been "on their own" for many years by the time the Crisis happened, we all knew that their sole reason for existing was through the inspiration of The Greatest Hero of Them All. And, if there had never been a Superboy, what would that mean for Mon-el, whose very name had come from a young Clark Kent? And Supergirl...? We saw what happened to her in the Crisis. Did that wipe out her previous adventures with the Legion, and her relationship with Brainiac-5? Oh, what a mess this was turning out to be. What we have before us in September, then, is DC's answer to this quandary, and to some of the specific questions raised. Next week we'll head over to John Byrne's revamped Superman book, and in that post I'll quote from Byrne himself as to how he was told all of this would turn out, and then how it actually went down. We'll finish the storyline with Byrne's Action Comics before heading back to the Legion of Super-Heroes for the conclusion. I hope along the way we'll get some nice conversations going on retcons, cloudy continuity, creators directing titles/characters, editorial decisions, etc.

Doug: This was the first Legion book I'd purchased in close to eight years, so as I entered past the front cover I soon found that this wasn't the Legion of Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, and James Sherman. Well, it was -- but with some add-ons. New to me were Blok, Tellus, Sensor Girl (I didn't know yet that she was Princess Projectra), and the fact that some of the Substitute Heroes were now actives. So all this wasn't bad, just different. And it gave me a real sense that I'd missed some fun along the way. We open with a very cool splash page -- any time there's a giant doing his thing, I'm hooked. And how about the dialogue? No decompression here, my friend -- six word balloons and a narration box ensures that! The Legion is assisting in the repair of the Time Beacon at Metropolis University. The big guns are out, with Mon-el (my personal fave Legionnaire), Ultra Boy, Colossal Boy, Sun Boy, Light Lass (called Lightning Lass here), and Brainiac-5. The Legion works with a sense of urgency, as time travel is in jeopardy after the events of the Cosmic Boy mini-series (which spun out of the Legends mini-series, which of course was an epilogue of sorts to the Crisis, laying the groundwork for the new DCU -- got all that?). Cos had fought the Time Trapper in that story, and the Legion was here afraid that he could attack if they were vulnerable. Fixing the time travel possibilities was essential.

NOTE: For anyone wondering, as was I, the Time Trapper debuted in March 1964; Kang the Conqueror first faced the Avengers in September 1964. There's no point to me saying that, other than trivia.

Doug: Brainy orders the new-and-improved time bubble be brought up. Blok and Timber Wolf oblige, and Lightning Lass remarks at how much larger it looks than their old models. Of course Brainy has little patience for his teammates, much as we've seen from Reed Richards whenever Ben was asked to do the heavy lifting. Cos and Night Girl are also present, and Cos remarks how powerful the Time Trapper has become. Brainy says it will take the power of the entire Legion to put him down. But as he readies to use his flight ring to send out an alert, his hand is iced over by Polar Boy, now leader of the Legion. Brainy's urged to stop -- Polar Boy doesn't want to send everyone off and leave the Earth unprotected. He'll instead choose a team to go. Sounds like a plan.

Doug: There are some brief interludes in this book that deal with plotlines from the past few issues. For the sake of relevance to our September them, I'll be skipping over those. Just FYI.

Doug: So Polar Boy chooses a mighty fine team, anyway, despite Brainy's protestations. Entering the time bubble are Invisible Kid (the new guy to hold that moniker), Blok, Sun Boy, Ultra Boy, Cos, Night Girl, Brainy, and Mon-el providing the lift from the outside. So Mon picks up the bubble and away they go, looking for the end of time and their purple-robed nemesis. Leaving 2987, they soar past the rainbow of dates we've come to know, but in descending order. Suddenly the bubble hits a "time storm" and all sense of direction is lost. From inside the bubble Brainy tells Mon to just keep pushing -- he'll use his instruments to keep them on course. We cut away to the end of time, where the Time Trapper is fully aware of what is transpiring (he's a master of time, get it?). He says cryptically, "I shall grant their secret desire -- let them travel to the one time they surely felt was denied them -- and in granting their wishes, I shall achieve mine." Back in the time stream, the team struggles against the storm, when the bubble suddenly pops out of the turbulence. Only then does Brainiac realize that they had not been going forward in time, but backward. Blok asks if it matters -- if the end of time could not be reached at either end of the time stream (man, that's deep). But while Brainiac does some deep computations, Night Girl blurts out that they've arrived in Superboy's time! Briany is incredulous -- until we pan back and see Mon setting the bubble down just on the outskirts of Smallville, Kansas (does anyone know when it was decided that Smallville is in Kansas?).

Gratuitous Dream Girl shot
Doug: We get a one-pager of the ever-scrumptious Dream Girl awakening from a cloudy dream -- not clear, as usual. Whatever is about to happen she doesn't like it. Back in Kansas, a small team of Legionnaires comprised of Mon, Cos, Ultra Boy, and Night Girl has strolled into town. I'd encourage you at some point, maybe this point, to make the leap to our reviews of Adventure Comics 369 and 370 for a previous Legion romp in Smallville; it's a story that was particularly endearing to me early in my Legion learning. The boys have all been to 1950s Smallville before, but not Night Girl. She's a fish out of water, as she walks right in the path of an approaching police car. But it gives Mon a chance to reintroduce himself to Chief Parker, who surely must remember Bob Cobb, a friend of the Kents. The team is very puzzled, as their history is telling them that Superman was never Superboy, yet here they stand in his home town, among people who know the Kents -- who the Legionnaires know! Mon remarks that everything is as it should be, down to the sights, sounds, and smells. And then who should approach but Pete Ross! Pete greets the team by name. Ultra Boy says that everything must be alright; Pete says it sure is, since Superboy saved the town from some eerie red skies and an energy field. There's a mystery deepening here, as Pete says Superboy won't talk about that episode. So the team heads to a source for answers -- the Kent General Store!

Doug: The Kents immediately recognize the three boys, and are introduced to Lydda. Let me make one comment about an interlude that's in the middle of this scene -- Wildfire went through a big change looks-wise in this story, as he ditched the helmet for a really odd (to me at least) look of a "normal" face and long flaming "hair". Not sure how long that lasted; it's a cinch it wasn't an improvement on Dave Cockrum's design. But anyway, the Legion is invited to the Kents for dinner while they wait for Clark to return home. Ma stuffs them with a big country spread, and suddenly Clark walks in. The team is really excited to see him, as again -- they'd thought he never existed (in spite of their own memories). But Clark's reserved, and quickly invites the Legionnaires to the basement to talk while Ma cleans up the kitchen. Clark distracts them by directing their attention to a shelving unit with statuettes of the Legion members. But while their backs are turned, Clark pulls out a device that looks like the Phantom Zone projector; instead, it's a Time-Stasis ray and freezes the teen heroes in their tracks. We find that Ma and Pa Kent were in on this. Clark knows of the Legion members who remained with the time bubble, and says he must stop them as well. But before he can leave, Lana Lang barges in, wanting help with her algebra! I love it! Back in 2987, Polar Boy confides in Element Lad that h'es not sure of his leadership abilities. They talk, and run through the last several Legion leaders and how all of them, in their own way, proved themselves.

Doug: In 1950-whatever, we drop in on the boys at the bubble. They're a little bothered that they haven't heard from their teammates yet. As they small talk the difference between their time and their present, Pete rides up on his bike. He warns them that something has happened at the Kent house, and that the Legion and Superboy may have been defeated! Brainy wants Pete to accompany them as they flee to plan, but Pete says he'll go back and see if he can find out any more information. So the team launches the time bubble, and as they leave Smallville they spy Superboy trailing the bubble, the time-stasis ray in hand. The Legionnaires look right into Superboy's eyes as they speed into the time stream. They are alarmed that Superboy would try to harm them. Sun Boy says they couldn't have been in the real Smallville. Brainy says they may have just witnessed the extent of the Time Trapper's corruption of history. Back in Smallville, Superboy pledges to save the Earth, Smallville, and the universe if need be. He says he won't let Ma and Pa down -- that if it means he has to track the Legionnaires through time until he's trapped each and every one of them, he will. Hmmm... And back at the end of time, the Time Trapper guffaws as only a megalomaniacal super-baddie can guffaw.

Doug: Paul Levitz crafted a nice little mystery here in this first installment, didn't he? I really loved the sense of nostalgia generated by this story -- as I said above, it really dovetails nicely with those much earlier Adventure Comics issues I linked to. I thought the art in this story was really "grown up", mature past what we might have seen in the Bronze Age. That is not at all to denigrate any former Legion artists (or any other BA artists, for that matter)... but I think it's safe to say that there was just something about the entire art job that was somehow evolved from what we'd seen in years prior. I will comment that Greg LaRocque seems to favor the profile shots used by Keith Giffen, although not to the same extent. Do you think some of the faces seem elongated? I think that's just LaRocque's style, but it was noticeable. But overall, I enjoyed this "updated" version of "my" Legion, and I'm excited to take you into the next three chapters!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Half-Price Heaven, and Digital Comic Questions

Doug: Happy Sunday, friends! And for those of you here in the States who will receive a reprieve from work in celebration of Monday's observance of Labor Day -- awesome!

Doug: I'd remarked on Twitter late Friday night that I hoped to get to a comic shop on Saturday that features 1/2 price trades and hardcovers. To give a little pub to the merchant, the name of the store is "Reader Copies", and it's located on Scatterfield Road in Anderson, IN. Sure enough, I was able to darken the guy's door for about 20 minutes ahead of our son's soccer match. And I came away with a nice haul. I told my wife, whose eyes were a little wide upon my return to the car, that hey -- since I didn't get to WizardWorld Chicago last weekend, this could be considered my convention haul for the year. I think that placated her... I got $168 dollars of brand new books for $83. What's not to love?

Doug: I'd mentioned in that tweet that I was hoping the fella would still have copies of the Marvel Visionaries volumes dedicated to Stan Lee and to Jack Kirby. Well, he no longer had those, but I did score the Chris Claremont book in that same series. As you might guess, it contains mostly X-Men stories, as well as those for associated mutant titles. However, there is a Daredevil tale, the first appearance of Sabretooth from Iron Fist #14, a book-length Star-Lord story from the Marvel Preview B&W magazine. As you may have seen on our sidebar, tomorrow I'll begin a series of reviews featuring the end of Superboy as we knew him. However, once October rolls around I think I'll feature Claremont in a series of reviews from this new hardcover.

Doug: So what else did I get, you may ask? Well, to be honest, the plundering could have been much more severe had I not put back 3-4 other tomes I had my mitts around. Left in the longboxes were two softcover Daredevil Marvel Masterworks, two Sub-Mariner MM (the entire Tales to Astonish run), and the first three volumes of DC's Crisis on Multiple Earths series of tpbs reprinting all of the JLA/JSA team-ups. I did walk out the door with the second volume of the Thor MM, the second and third volumes of the Hulk MM (reprinting the entire Tales to Astonish series, as well as Incredible Hulk #102), and the first volume of the Sgt. Fury MM. All of those volumes are the softcover versions. Five books of Silver and Bronze Age love -- yes!!

Doug: As most of our readers know, I am selling my comic book collection (slooooooowly...), and am beginning to become aware of the books I'd like to replace. Thor is one such title that I've always been sorry wasn't included in the Marvel DVD-ROM releases of the past decade. I'm generally not too wild about the quality of the first year-plus of Marvel's Silver Age classics. For my money, it was generally that second or even into the third year that I think Stan and "whichever artist" really got things moving. Of course books like Amazing Spider-Man would be an exception, but generally speaking I'd give you the first year or so of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers (and of the Ant Man/Giant Man Tales of Astonish series, and the Torch's Strange Tales run). I've looked at the issues included in the second volume of the Thor Omnibus, and it picks up right where the second volume of the MM leaves off. No-brainer, as I plan to get that Thor Omnibus (and will buy the third volume if/when it become available). I don't have the Hulk DVD-ROM, so the two Hulk volumes made sense -- I wish I could have picked up the two Namor volumes. And as to Sgt. Fury? Just curious. I have the tpb that reprints all of the Steranko SHIELD stories, so wanted to see how Kirby originally envisioned the character. If you have time, please revisit this post from a little over two years ago when we had this discussion. And that frames today's conversation, should one develop -- what books would you love to have, in total (at least by parameters set by you)?

Doug: Lastly, I want to do a favor for a friend of ours. Karen Williams writes the Between the Pages blog and has been a participant in the Super Blog Team-Up project. She asked several questions of us via Twitter last week, and I want to put them out to our readers for their answers. Karen is interested in hearing people's opinions on digital comics, and/or other alternatives to paper. I am going to copy from her questions of last week, with some minor editing for this format:
Karen Williams: Alternatives To Paper Comics: Comixology, Marvel Unlimited, Dark Horse, iVerse, scans...

The platforms for digital comics keep changing, so I’d love to hear your readers' thoughts.
As with many comics fans of a certain age, my eyesight has faded some, so I find reading paper comics hard. I love the zoom features in digital comics. But, the digital comics landscape is changing so fast, part of me wonders if buying digital comics are a wise choice.
Doug: So there you have it -- a few things to mull over in your mind this weekend. Join us tomorrow for my review of Legion of Super-Heroes #37, and the beginning of the end of the pre-Crisis Superboy. See ya then!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Discuss: Comic Art Portfolios of the 80s

Karen: Seems like a lot of portfolios began appearing in the 80s -I had all of these below except the Hulk one -I really wanted it but never got a hold of it! Which ones did you have, which ones did you want, are you still tracking them down? 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Alex Ross Does Iron Man and the Falcon for Marvel's 75th

Doug: Below you'll find the two latest variant covers by Alex Ross as part of Marvel's 75th Anniversary celebration. I have always had a fondness for the "nose mask" ol' Shellhead wore in the 1970s, as that's the look he had when I started Avengering. I think the Iron Man effort is Ross's best to date. What a great homage to not only the '70s, but to artists like Don Heck, George Tuska, and George Perez. The Falcon image doesn't mean as much to me -- I have no investment in what's currently playing out in the pages of Captain America. I'd have preferred a more historical representation of the character, featuring his original look and then of course the red/white costume he's best known by.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Tales from Topographic Men: Marvel Presents 6 and 7

Marvel Presents #6 (August 1976)
"The Topographical Man"
Steve Gerber-Al Milgrom/Terry Austin

Karen: Today you're getting a "two for the price of one" deal. We realized the Guardians storyline we were reviewing didn't wrap up until issue 7, but we had only slotted out for issue 6, so we're going to cover both issues in one post. It may be a little more succinct than normal, but we'll still cover the salient points. Oh, and that scene on the cover? Never happens.

Doug: It is a bit of a grabber, though. From most of the interiors we've looked at so far, the depiction of Martinex is the best I've seen. I'm thinking that Joe Sinnott could work some magic on Marty's face.

Karen: The team has beamed back aboard the Captain America and is stuck watching the cosmic space frog devour a planet. They have no way of stopping it, as their weapons are ineffective against it. It's all too much for Nikki though, and she drops the hammer and heads straight for the creature in hyperdrive. Instead of being destroyed, the team passes through the thing's energy field and crashes onto the surface of ...something. Martinex suggests they go out to explore -that this may be what happened to Starhawk too. But Vance is once again in full-on fit mode, and retreats to his room. Nikki tries to apologize and lure him out, but Vance seemingly begins to crack up, saying they're all nothing but "motes," and then begins to proposition the young Mercurian. Charlie puts his head in the door and sees this and growls at Vance to leave her alone. The big Marine walks off with the girl, telling Vance to get his head together.

Doug: I remarked to Karen a week ago in an email that I really haven't enjoyed this set of posts. I really thought I had read some of these stories 40 years ago, but I certainly did not. Which I cannot figure, as I know I'd have wanted this series -- I loved the Guardians' appearance in the Defenders. But this is all too weird for me. I don't want to read stories where I hate one of the protagonists. And I hate (strong word, I know) Vance Astro. There is no redeeming quality about him. He is rude, crude, full of self-pity, and just a general wet blanket. And then we get this scene. They've known Nikki by now for what -- a couple of days? I believe I recall that Gerber made a point to say that Nikki was 18, but still. Charlie should have throttled Vance.

Karen: It really is hard to feel anything more than contempt for Vance at this point. But he also seems to be cracking up. There's no real other explanation for his behavior.  The Guardians, minus Vance, find themselves on a desert-like world. They soon come across aliens who live just like Bedouins, complete with camels and tents. They are attacked but  quickly overcome their foes. The chieftain introduces them to his son -Starhawk!

Doug: The influence of Jack Kirby's Skrull world where they were all gangsters lives on! Except these guys look like the long-lost relatives of Curt Connors. In the scene with the harem, why were all of the females humans? Man, outer space sure can be confusing!

Karen: We get another story with the "parallel culture" riff -boy, I really don't care for this! Why were the women human? I don't know, for eye candy purposes? I can't think of any other reason. Back on board the ship, a tiny version of the space frog has attacked Vance. He fights back with his psionic powers and eventually overcomes it. He takes it and looks at it under a microscope and discovers that it is essentially a grain of sand surrounded by an energy shell -it's possible every grain of sand on the planet could be like this. He heads toward the radio to warn his team-mates when an earth-tremor occurs. The Guardians also feel it and call Vance. Starhawk tells them to have Astro start the engines. Vance is incredulous, but does it. He blasts right through the soil and past it, coming out the other side, and soon discovers that it was no planet they were on, but a colossal, light-years long humanoid body, composed of mountains and deserts and oceans.

Doug: Do you suppose Gerber meant for Vance's rant about everyone being just a mote to tie into this
vignette with the mini-me of the space frog? Obviously Vance uses the term again, but what is the greater meaning? Perhaps Gerber was mocking man's insignificance in the scene with Vance and Nikki, and I suppose here, further into the story, he cements that by showing that even if man's life is insignificant, he is yet able to be felled by entities even more insignificant than he... Maybe I am over thinking it.

Karen: No, I think you're onto something there. In general, Gerber's opinion of humanity seems to be pretty low, if his writing is any example. 

Doug: I was about to question the vegetation that must have been consumed in coming up with the look and even idea for the Topographical Man. But then I assumed Kirby was playing it straight when he created Ego, the Living Planet. 

Karen: Back on the "man-planet" Starhawk leads the others to a mountain where they enter a cave and go deep underground to discover a huge temple built in a cavern. He says it is the Convent of Living Fire. On board the Captain America, Vance, still stunned by the revelation of the gigantic humanoid, discovers that the being holds a star in either hand -and he's accelerating their growth towards supernova status, and fast. Vance calculates that they are smack dab in the hub of the galaxy, where the stars are most densely clustered. If those two stars explode, it will  start a chain reaction. But before he can do anything about it, his doppleganger shows up -it's a young Major Vance Astro, in his astronaut suit, prior to being put into his foil encasement. Vance immediately recognizes him as either an illusion or something similar. But this does him little good, as the creature strikes out with an energy-sapping tendril.

Doug: I struggled throughout to get in tune with Gerber's take on religion and religious conventions. I keep thinking he mocks it as a belief system as well as institutionally, yet he comes back to it often. Starhawk is often an edgy sort of Christ-like.

Karen: Vance is beyond flawed, but I suppose he's more "human" and perhaps supposed to be more relatable than Starhawk, who is enigmatic. Was the idea to set up two diametrically opposed personalities here? If so, it doesn't really work for me.  Before we get to the next issue, I want to say how much I loved Terry Austin's inks. Can the man do any wrong? He just elevates anything he works on. Fantastic inking job, and my favorite of all the inkers we've seen (including the next issue).

Doug: Agreed. This pushed Pablo Marcos into second place, and I continue to be impressed that I liked his work so much. But you're right -- Terry Austin is the gold standard.

Marvel Presents #7 (November 1976)
"Embrace the Void!"
Steve Gerber-Al Milgrom/Bob Wiacek

Karen: The Guardians enter the Convent of Living Fire and hear a loud wailing sound. The Mother Superior
explains that it is their prayer -a song of joy and anguish. The Guardians are baffled but walk further in, past what appear to be flaming sculptures of women. They soon discover these are actually live women -who quickly burn to ash! And Starhawk tells Nikki she must do this, to save the galaxy!

Doug: So Nikki had to do this because... why? She was the only woman they had on hand? She was a Mercurian? She was a virgin (although lord knows if Vance really wanted to change that last issue)? Additionally, although the Mother Superior had reptilian features, her markings were different from the males of the desert tribe we'd seen the previous issue. Were these nuns their "women"?

Karen: None of this is explained. There's so much left for the reader to try to figure out. Had the nuns been trying to do what Nikki does and failing for some time? A lot of this story felt rushed to me. Aboard the Captain America, Vance faces off against his younger duplicate, giving him the most potent psychic blast he's ever unleashed. Both beings fall to their knees -and then Vance falls to the floor!

Doug: I got a real Rocky II vibe out of this scene. I also wondered if somehow Vance's essence was transferred to his younger self and he'd be freed from the imprisonment inside his foil suit -- that maybe, just maybe, he would quit acting like such an ass.

Karen: We cut away from the actions swirling in and around the Topographical Man, and go instead to an asteroid base far away. The clear dome surrounding it has been cracked, and all atmosphere has been eliminated. No life is present. On a computer screen, the woman Aleta cries for her children, until at last the computer also malfunctions and explodes.

Doug: I've not read all the way to the conclusion of this series -- are those kids hers? They only seem to be referred to as the children.

Karen: Yeah, the kids are theirs. I actually like the Starhawk origin story better than this one! Back in the convent, Nikki is put into a gown and led to a chair for the ritual (this seemed awfully quick). The Mother Superior explains that the woman's body bursts into flame as her mind expands  across the universe. Most die soon after but some do return -only the strong willed. She emphasizes that Nikki will experience supreme ecstasy. Nikki insists she's not the martyr type, but Starhawk is emphatic that only a woman can do this. A switch is flipped and the process begins. At that very moment, Starhawk convulses in pain and takes off, imploring the others not to follow him. So of course Martinex does. They climb up out of the cave where Starhawk transforms into Aleta, shocking Marty. She says Starhawk abandoned the children to the reavers of Arcturus. While this is going on, Nikki slowly begins to ignite.

Doug: Gerber again used this scene for commentary of his own, referring to "the chair" and "the rap". Then his words had the Mother Superior equate marriage to an execution. And how about the Mother Superior explaining what will happen as the ultimate sensual experience? Seemed an odd description. I wonder why, if Starhawk is the One Who Knows, that he didn't ask Aleta to be the martyr? Hrmph -- some hero...

Karen: They all seem awfully willing to let Nikki hop up there and burn. On the ship, Vance has awoken -but he's inside the body of the dopplelganger! He's somewhat pleased to be out of his foil shell, but he can't stop to enjoy it, as the two suns in the Topographical Man's hands have started to go nova. As he tries to figure out what to do, his body becomes energy and is absorbed into the Topographical Man. Back at the Convent, as Vance's spirit enters the Topographical Man, Yondu senses that something has changed. He feels that Nikki's soul is in danger and tries to get to her but Charlie, not understanding, stops him. Moments later, all assembled see the shining white form of the girl's spirit ascend from her body and go off into space.

Doug: I gotta be honest -- what is going on in this scene totally escaped me when I read it the first time. However, on the second read I definitely got it.

Karen: Once in space, Nikki's spirit sees the Topographical Man and realizes what she must do. She
expands to equal his size, and then touches his face to awaken him. However, since the T.M. is the opposite of life, he cannot awaken, and so she has roused another spirit -Vance. The T.M.'s form takes on the appearance of Vance, although it is his-foil-suit-covered appearance. Got all this? The two of them together will work to destroy the T.M. The illustration shows Nikki embracing him.

Doug: Yeah, embracing him with her left leg curled around him. Good grief.

Karen: Back in the cavern, they are experiencing a major earthquake. The Mother Superior is pleased that the T.M. is being torn apart, and says to leave Nikki, she's done her job. But Yondu is having none of that. He picks her up and carries her out, despite the fact that she's still on fire. Charlie clears a path for them and Martinex and Aleta show up and transport them out, just in time to beam back to the ship. They get a look at the viewscreen to see that they were never on a planet...as the Topographical Man and Nikki's spirit are blown apart. Yondu explains for us that, "Nikki and Vance have brought it about the only way possible - by force of spirit alone - causing the demon to engage in an act of love -- an affirmation of its own opposite, which is life!" Well, OK then.

Doug: I got nuthin'.

Karen: Nikki and Vance both awaken and at first seem a bit caught in the afterglow. Martinex points out that there's a new star, right where the Topographical Man used to be. Vance says to Nikki that they felt the creation of it, and Aleta points out that they are holding hands, which makes Vance feel awkward, and he pulls his away. He walks off with Nikki telling him there's no reason to be shy about it...

Karen: OK, well, this is a pretty damned weird story, and although I read it when it came out, I can honestly say I thought it was pretty weird then too. The space frog is like a cut-rate Galactus, or perhaps Thanos, in that it seems to actually desire death. But the frog wasn't the actual enemy I guess, but the Topographical Man? I'm not sure, and I'm not going to re-read it either. Although nothing graphic is actually shown (it was still a Code-approved 1976 comic) the implication that Nikki and Vance had sex is there, and seems like the only reason for the story -there's just not much of a plot here.  The Starhawk story that follows is much better, in my opinion.

Doug: I've voiced here, and before, my doubts about Steve Gerber. And I think it's OK among our friends if I say maybe he's just not my cup of tea. But I will say this about the man -- as we focus on the Bronze Age around here, Gerber's about as Bronze Age as it gets. Karen mentioned the Code, and certainly we've discussed that by the mid-70s the Comics Code Authority had been relaxed or reformed. Gerber was on the edge of wherever that reform fell. And he was loving it. Tip of the hat to the man for that.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

All Kinds of Wrong Going on Here, Part Two

Doug: Back on July 5, we had a little fun with a pure 1990s Fantastic Four cover. Well, kids, the media and many comics fans aren't having fun with the image you see below on the left. Italian erotica artist Milo Manara was commissioned to do the variant cover to Spider-Woman #1. Hmmm... Seems to me you ask an erotica artist to do a piece for the company, there should be no surprise at what comes back. So is Marvel basking in the attention they are getting out of this? Remember this simple principle -- there is no such thing as bad advertising. And what of Spider-Woman? Why her? Oh yeah -- because it was Bendis who told us back in New Avengers that while being held by HYDRA, more than Jessica Drew's powers were augmented. You know what I'm saying.

Doug: So what's going on here? Is this the over-sexualization of women in general, or is this specific to this one cover? Is it truly Marvel just trying to grab headlines, or did they really err here on the public's sensibilities? And what of Disney Co.? And why did I picture Spider-Man to the lower right? Because Jazzy Johnny Romita could do the same pose, albeit on a dude, and keep everything classy. That's why.

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