Thursday, April 24, 2014

Addition Through Subtraction - Comic Edition

Doug: Personally, the Avengers became a better magazine when they were no longer literally "Earth's Mightiest Heroes". Let's face it -- if you were going to pick up some Silver Age Avengers to read or re-read, you probably wouldn't go for the first 16 issues as your primary choice of entertainment, would you? I wouldn't. I'd start with issue #19 and then move forward. From that point on, the book went through a pretty incredible run all the way through the 1970's (with a "miss" here or there). Over in the Fantastic Four, the replacement of Vince Colletta on the inks over Jack Kirby's pencils allowed that book to really blast off visually. Joltin' Joe Sinnott arrived, and the rest is history, from the mid-#40s over the next three years. Top notch stuff. And nothing against Vinnie at all -- over on the Thor mag, one could make the argument that it was his feathery inks that gave the God of Thunder and friends that signature look.

Doug: So that's today's topic, and it's not in any way mean-spirited or denigrating to any creator or character. What we want to know is, when did a comic catch fire for you after the removal of a character or characters, or right after a creator change? Again, there's no need to bash anyone, but it would be helpful if you stated just what it was that "now" put a given book over the top for you. Above, I think the Avengers became more accessible to me, a young child, when they weren't quite so godlike. Additionally, the dynamics between the various members of the Kooky Quartet created a real soap opera-type feeling. Heck, those characters behaved like people I knew! And then when Hank and Jan rejoined... Now we had a founding founder (as opposed to Cap's ex post facto anointing) back in the fold and that created another set of interesting circumstances. Of course I'm speaking of reading those great Silver Age stories in the pages of Marvel Triple Action and ragged original copies, while reading the #120s on as off-the-rack fare.

Doug: Feel free to cover comics from any genre, any company, any era. We'll open this one up as wide as you want it to be. And come back in a week, when we'll do the same drill but in the entertainment industry!



Monday, April 21, 2014

Avengers Firsts: Quicksilver & the Scarlet Witch


X-Men #4 (March 1964)(cover by Jack Kirby and George Roussos)
"The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Paul Reinman

Karen: We're back with our second 'Avengers' Firsts', this time looking at those terrific twins, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. The first thing you might notice is their appearance on the cover: the Scarlet Witch is colored green, and Quicksilver, who wears his green costume on the pages inside, is garbed in blue here! What a mess. But this introduction to two important members of the Marvel universe is a pretty fun read. Beyond just being the first appearance of these two characters, it also brings the concept of Xavier's and Magneto's conflict and differing philosophies to the fore.

Doug: I'll be using the X-Men Marvel Masterworks, volume one for reading; the art in today's post is from the X-Men dvd-rom, but we'll also include a couple of scans at the end from the Masterworks to show some specific coloring differences. Editorial seemed to think that maybe it was a better idea to correct the twins' costumes for the high-quality Masterworks reprint! Like you, I really enjoyed prepping for today's review. I'd only read this story one other time, and it was the better part of two decades ago -- it really had a fresh feel to it this time around.
I'd echo your comments about the relative importance of this particular comic, in light of the public's primary knowledge of the Marvel Universe coming through the feature films. Much of what happens between these covers is seminal to the X-Men franchise, and now with Wanda and Pietro set for their silver screen debuts it carries a bit more weight.

Karen: This issue starts out with the X-Men in the Danger Room -is it just my imagination, or did half the early X-Men issues start this way? Anyway, Beast is being put through his paces. He nearly completes his obstacle course but fails right at the end and falls into a pool of water. After getting some words of wisdom from Professor X, it's Iceman's turn. He's still the fluffy, snowman-like Iceman. He  also does well, to a point.
After another short lecture from the Professor, it's Jean's turn. But she has a simple task: to lift the lid on a box. Teacher's pet! Inside is a birthday cake. Professor X says it's been a year since they began training and it's time to celebrate. Hey, he wasn't all bad! The youngsters gather around their teacher and dig in, smiles all around. Amusingly, Cyclops slices the cake with his eyebeam. Apparently he had achieved remarkable control even at this stage.

Doug: The Danger Room certainly received some modifications over the years, didn't it? Using the Masterworks, I flipped back through the previous three issues, as I thought this story was the first in which the term "Danger Room" was used; wrongo, buckaroo. It was in issue #2. But you're right -- in these first few months the team seemed to spend every moment at the school in said training facility. I suppose that's OK if Stan and Jack felt that they were doubling their readership each month (probably not the case) or just wanted to toy with the mutants' powers. 
One thing I did take note of as a major shift in characterization from the premier to this ish was the upgrade of Hank McCoy's speech patterns. Gone was the Thing-like grammar and in its place was a more "normal"-sounding fella. He didn't seem to be the scholar he'd grow to be, but he'd certainly left the street-level talk behind.

Doug: Even at this early stage, the team had formed their personalities that would carry them all the way into the Bronze Age. Bobby would mature the most, I guess -- but he had the furthest to grow. I always felt that Warren looked the coolest of the five, but was perhaps the most bland. Sure, his jerk-like qualities sometimes rose to the surface, but editorial perhaps didn't want him to stray too far from his namesake, I guess. 
Oh, and in regard to Cyke's eyebeams and our discussion of such back in the "Secret Empire" storyline -- everything I'm seeing in these early issues has them as force beams. No heat seems to be present.

Karen: We switch scenes to another group of mutants gathered around a table, eating, but this is a far different gathering. This is our first look at the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants: Toad, Mastermind, and the focus of our review, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Gone is the camaraderie we saw with the X-Men; instead, Quicksilver upbraids the Toad for his table manners in front of his sister, while Mastermind comes on to her. Wanda, appalled and quite angry, uses her hex power to cause a bottle of water to fall over into Mastermind's lap. 
As he prepares to retaliate, she calls to her brother, and Quicksilver gives Mastermind a swift right to the jaw, knocking him off his feet. Mastermind is about to return the favor when the Toad begins hopping with glee, telling them go ahead, destroy each other, then just he and the Witch will be left to rule alongside "the Leader"! At the mention of "The Leader" Mastermind backs down, knowing that Quicksilver and his sister are integral to his plans. Hmmm, who could this mysterious Leader be???

Doug: Talk about nailing it the first time! Quicksilver upbraids the Toad, indeed! "Toad! Must you chomp your food like that?? My sister happens to be at the table, you obnoxious fool!" No lie -- laughed out loud when I read that. So I said the Angel was jerk-like above. Pietro would take any and all comers in a jerk contest and destroy them all! We spent some time last week discussing the elements of Hawkeye's personality that would stick and grow to become literally who he was/is. Stan truly does nail it the first time with a) Pietro's brashness and speech patterns, and b) his twisted devotion to his sister as her guardian and protector. Given that this was a Silver Age story, we had no inkling that Wanda's power would one day far eclipse her brother's and that she would make a better protector for him! I loved Wanda's costume in these early years, from her headpiece to the rings around her boots.
There really was no reason to sex her up as many artists did over the course of the 1980s-'00s.

Karen: I think you're a bit hard on Pietro -he's a hot-head, but at this stage, I don't think he's a real jerk. But I'll save my comments for him until the end.

Doug: I haven't read all of the Silver Age X-Men books, but every time I come across Mastermind I am astounded that the fool could pull off the whole manipulation of Phoenix as "Jason Wyngarde". Just floors me -- what a great choice by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, because I recall a deep sense of, "Ha! Got me!" when the reveal came.

Karen: In the office of a shipping line, the mutant master of magnetism, Magneto appears! I just really wanted to do a Stan Lee alliterative phrase there. He winds up stealing an old freighter that has guns on its deck. I don't know much at all about ships but I thought that was interesting. Using his magnetic abilities his pilots the craft out to sea -and who should be flying by but the Angel, on a training exercise. But although the winged teen swoops down for a closer look, neither mutant spots the other. Angel returns to the mansion and Professor Xavier runs a series of physical tests on him as Jean assists. Warren (the Angel) relays what he saw, and the Professor has a sense of foreboding about the freighter.

Doug: Speaking of headpieces, Magneto has one of the coolest headgears in all of comicdom. I love that helmet! I also know next to nothing about ships, but I share your wonder at why a "freighter" would be armed with heavy artillery; I also questioned Angel's query about the possibility that it was being remotely controlled. I tried not to read too much into the image of Jean as a lab assistant. Any reason why Hank wouldn't have been involved in... I don't know, biochemistry?

 

Karen: Magneto arrives at his uncharted Atlantic isle where the Toad excitedly greets him. The first thing the little wretch does is squeal on his comrades, telling Magneto they were fighting. Mastermind tries to downplay it, but when Toad says he tried to hurt Wanda, Mastermind angrily blurts out that he'll make the Toad pay for this. This infuriates Magneto, who grabs Mastermind and reminds him that their personal issues are nothing, only the plan matters. He finds Wanda and Pietro and tells them he must speak to them. Quicksilver says that he doesn't scare him, and that he's taking his sister away and leaving. Magneto then reminds him of the debt that she owes him. Wanda regretfully says that she has to serve him until she has repaid him. Magneto then recounts how he came upon their village "in the heart of Europe" where superstitious villagers were after Wanda, calling her a witch. The flashback shows Wanda standing in front of a burning building, her arms in the air as if in a panic, while angry villagers (one even has a pitchfork!) come after her. In the next panel, Magneto appears and gathers her up, saving her life. Back in the present, the master of magnetism reminds the twins that they are Homo Superior and it's their destiny to rule over humankind. Quicksilver however, has not completely drunk Magneto's Kool Aid -he isn't convinced, although he has no love for humans. But since his sister feels she must stay, he will too. Magneto says now that he has his ship, he will begin his assault on humankind. The five of them will attack and conquer an entire nation!

Doug: Would it be safe to say that since Magneto had found the island and then built an estate on it that it would no longer be "uncharted"? When Jack does the pullback right before the end of this scene, I can see why Magneto would later set up shop on an asteroid. This island is nothing to write home about! But I digress. I love the Toad. He's such a fool, a jester. I suppose one could argue that he's so unfairly persecuted and the butt of every joke as well as the recipient of the lion's share of the aggression from his comrades.
But he could be (when written with a degree of reservation) such a great character, present mostly to add color to a typically testosterone-laced scene.

Doug: I am convinced that Europe never left the 19th century. Marvel Comics said so. Everything on that continent exists as it does in the 1931 Frankenstein film.


Karen: Several days later, Professor X is reading the newspaper, which says the tiny South American republic of Santo Marco has been attacked by an unknown ship. The Prof quickly figures out that it has to be Magneto and his allies. He summons the X-Men, who are all shown doing various off duty activities: Hank (the Beast) is solving math problems, holding the pen with his foot; Jean is either dancing or exercising; Warren could be listening to the radio or working on electronics; and Bobby is having a tremendous milkshake. Only Scott is dressed in his uniform. He comes running in from the practice field, yelling at everyone to suit up, it's a red alert. They find the Professor in a trance. But he's whispering, faintly. Professor X has sent his consciousness to the astral plane (although it is not called such here, it later will be) where he confronts Magneto. This is where the gauntlet is truly thrown down between them. Magneto says that only Xavier and his team stand between him and world conquest, but why do they fight their own kind? Xavier responds that he wants to save mankind, to bring about a golden age with humans and mutants living together. Magneto can't comprehend this. He says the only place for humans is as their slaves. If that's how Xavier feels, then they are enemies. Xavier comes out of his trance yelling that the X-Men will stop Magneto -even going so far as to say, "It will be mutant against mutant -to the death, if necessary!" Whoa, calm down there Professor! The X-Men are raring to go after Magneto.

Doug: I'll amend what I said earlier about Hank not being depicted yet as a scholar -- the scene of him working the math equations totally went by me! My eyes fixated on Jean's yoga (or whatever) and Bobby's ice cream soda. Hmmm... I'm sure someone in the audience could do a personality breakdown for me based on that. The two panels where Magneto and Xavier meet on the astral plane were just wonderful. Kirby could do scope and scale, couldn't he? This scene is formative for everything that will come after, for decades.

Karen: Back in Santo Marco, Magneto and the Brotherhood have taken over the the small country. Mastermind uses his illusionary power to whip up a phantom army to keep the people in line. Kirby draws a bunch of jack-stepping goons whose attire, with striking helmet design and 'M' armbands, would have looked like Nazis if they were colored green and not purple. Of course, in 1964 Magneto did not have his origin as a concentration camp survivor, but with that thought in place now it's a little unnerving. Of course, Kirby was using what he knew, and the Nazis would have been a symbol of supreme brutality. It works no matter how you look at it. Wanda questions why Magneto must terrify the people so, but the mutant leader says the humans are sheep, and fear is key to controlling them.

Doug: There's a lot to chew on in these eight panels. First, though -- in the Masterworks the army's uniforms are indeed green with dark green helmets. They resemble the Wehrmacht. And so I wonder if Claremont considered what Lee/Kirby had produced as canon? As we've remarked, this issue is so foundational on several levels, that to ignore any of its trappings seems irresponsible. I agree with you that Kirby perhaps equated all of Marvel's diabolical megalomaniacs with the megalomaniac of the 20th century. Kirby draws a sentry on a road checking for identification papers -- of course Jews had to carry papers on their persons at all times, and their movements could be restricted.
So for Claremont to later switch everything in this scene to a polar perspective seems odd at best. I'm not saying the transition in Magneto's backstory isn't good or worthwhile; I merely question the rights of creators to retcon the work of the masters. There's a reason why you're getting a paycheck writing comics, son.

Karen: Soon Magneto is able to take over the government, and he recruits a real army. They are guarding the border when the X-Men drive up, in their civilian disguises, acting as American students on a goodwill tour. They are allowed to pass. Magneto is dispensing 'justice' in the presidential palace when he senses their arrival -somehow he seems to have a residual mental connection to Xavier. He tells the Brotherhood to prepare for them. Likewise, Professor X senses more mutants than Magneto and warns his young charges. They plan their assault on the palace and Beast takes the lead. He climbs a tower but is repelled by the Toad. Beast grabs onto the side of the tower and starts to work his way back up, but Mastermind uses his illusions to make the Beast think the stone tower has turned to smooth glass. The young mutant panics, believing he can't get a grip on the smooth surface. On the other side of the castle, the Angel engages turret gunners, knocking them out (killing them?) by dropping a live wire on them. He flies into the palace to search for Magneto when he runs into Quicksilver. I really get a kick out of how Pietro's speed is depicted here -he's all blurred out, just a bunch of green lines. Angel and Quicksilver race around the hallways, and Quicksilver is definitely faster, but Angel has the upper hand in maneuverability, and makes a sharp turn, avoiding a wall which Quicksilver slams right into. Pietro is out cold, but suddenly Wanda appears and she's upset to see her brother hurt. All Angel can think about though is how hot Wanda looks! The Witch uses her hex and suddenly the ceiling above Angel collapses and crashes down on him. Moments later he's tied up by soldiers and Quicksilver has recovered.

Doug: What do you think of Magneto's mental prowess in this story? The ground certainly seems to be laid for a prior relationship between Magneto and Xavier -- could they have been brothers, old friends, cousins? There's a connection between them that of course was mined in subsequent years. Back to the Hitler comparisons for a moment -- how about the soldier who remarks to his partner, "Strange how he took over our entire government -- so sudden, without firing a shot!" Franz von Papen and his mates felt at one time they could "box Hitler in", or "hire" him. Making him Chancellor was too easy -- a fire in the Reichstag soon after and Hitler declared emergency powers to rule by decree. "Strange how he took over our entire government -- ...without firing a shot!" Yes.

Karen: Well, these two men -Lee and Kirby -lived through WWII, and I'm pretty sure they understood how Hitler came to power. This isn't the only example  of this type of analogy in Marvel books.

Doug: I thought it was interesting that the Beast would go first, but I suppose of the five teens he was the "stealthiest". Angel would certainly be obvious, and one could spot Iceman coming a mile away on his ice slides. I did think it odd, however, that given the size of Hank's feet that he could squeeze those big honkin' toes in between the stones on the tower wall. I also like how Kirby and Don Heck drew Quicksilver in motion. But my single favorite image of Pietro is this one (ha - have to make the jump to see it!).
And Warren... ever the prospective playboy. Dummy.

Karen: Magneto arrives to see that the Angel has been captured and is pleased, but this doesn't last long as a powerful beam of read energy comes blasting into the room. Yup, it's Cyclops. It's pretty silly, but Cyclops sends to soldiers spinning heads over heels into the room by the force of his beam. Next he turns it on Magneto who dodges it. Quicksilver runs around behind Cyke and grabs him, but pulls him down, aiming his beam at the ceiling, inadvertently hitting the electrical generator for the castle and knocking it loose. Somehow this causes electricity to flow through the castle, menacing everyone. Cyclops then decides to blow the generator entirely out of the castle and cuts loose with a powerful blast, which blows the machine through the castle wall and away from them. But the strain of the task causes Cyclops to lose consciousness -so typical of these early 60s Marvel heroes.

Doug: I think in regard to Cyke bowling over the soldiers, that just Kirby's mind. I'm sure he was thinking of the most kinetic thing he could draw for a great entrance.
Cyke and Magneto have had some cool stand-offs over the years. I always felt, that at least temporarily, Cyke could get Magneto. I don't think it ever turned out that way, but it just seems that when they come into contact Cyke enjoys an upper hand at the beginning of the fracas.

Karen: Everyone's little buddy, Iceman, happens to be in the path of that ejected generator! Luckily he's been practicing -he creates an ice slide to divert its path. Then he uses ice spikes to climb up the wall of the castle, where he frees Angel and wakes up Cyclops -by covering him with slush! Yuck. They're soon reunited with Marvel Girl and the Beast -well, after Jean sends some telekinetically aimed objects at them by mistake - and then the whole team is together. I liked the next two panels as the teens expressed doubt over their ability to handle the situation.
Beast: "So far we've used up a lot of time and energy and accomplished nothing!" Yes, these were the heroes. During the midst of their debate, a huge river of fire appears, heading down the hall towards them. The teens run but find themselves cornered. Then from out of the flames comes Professor X! He tells them not to be afraid, it's simply an illusion. Regrouped, with their older and wiser leader, they head back off to find Magneto.

Doug: "Everyone's little buddy" -- Bobby Drake is the Gilligan of this outfit, isn't he? I thought Iceman got some quality screen time on these pages. It was nice to see him making a contribution and not being some sort of mascot. His power, too, would grow over the years. The scene where Jeannie inadvertently fires the medieval weapons at the gang was a throwaway, but at the same time integral to showing her power set as well as that whole clay feet deal that was Marvel at this time -- everyone could screw up, at any time, and we all might end up paying the price. What seems like a silly scene is in reality part of the greater mythos that the Bullpen was crafting!

Doug: I'm going to assume that Magneto's fortress here did not comply with the Santo Marcos version of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so I'd sure be interested to know how Xavier got into the building in the first place! I have enjoyed seeing the Professor's various powers over the course of these first several issues.  

Karen: Magneto is busy at work on two bombs: one a simple bomb to booby-trap the door; the other, a nuclear bomb to blow up the whole country! Quicksilver asks Magneto about all the innocents who will die. Magneto has a bunch of answers for him -they are only Homo Sapiens, they would kill us if they could, and it's really self-defense! Good grief!

Doug: Quicksilver = conscience. Who'd have thunk it? But a question about young Pietro: do you consider him a moral person? I suppose my opinion of him is skewed by his reactions to Wanda's professed love for the Vision. But in these early years he was devoted, and I do believe that he had a hero's heart.

Karen: The X-Men rush at the door to Magneto's lair but at the last second Professor X senses the trap and throws himself in front of the X-Men. He takes the brunt of the impact. Surprisingly, it doesn't kill him -it only renders him stunned.
Cyclops blasts through the door as the evil mutants high tail it down an escape chute (!) towards their freighter. Wanda is also shocked that Magneto would kill thousands of innocent people, but she runs off anyway. Her brother, though, has another idea. After Magneto jumps in the chute and commands Pietro to follow him, the speedy mutant says there's something he has to do first. He runs into the other room and defuses the nuclear bomb. The X-Men see him do this, much to their confusion. Quicksilver runs off, saying that although he couldn't let a nation be destroyed, his place is with Magneto. "You are the betrayers of Homo Superior! Expect no mercy next time we meet!" The X-Men return to Professor X, who lies dazed on the floor. Unfortunately the blast has somehow affected his mental powers. He no longer has his telepathic abilities. The team wonders how they can face Magneto without him?

Doug: Xavier's act in defense of his students was incredibly self-sacrificing and noble. It was the high point of the story, because I really felt that not only did he see them as his students or his charges; in a real way he saw them as his children. And I also found it strange that Wanda leapt into the chute. That's some blackmail/debt that Magneto is holding over her head. 

Karen: This was a very entertaining little story, action-packed as you can tell. We could probably consider it one of the key early Marvel issues, seeing as how it introduces some major players, and also sets up the key conflict in the X-Men mythology. One thing I'd like to do is defend Quicksilver. Too often I hear that he was always a jerk. I don't think that's really the case. He had a temper, and he would not let an insult to his sister go unopposed, but in the early days, he was not the unmitigated butthead that he later became. In this story we can see that the twins are not truly bad, but forced into Magneto's sphere by circumstances beyond their control. It would have been terrifically exciting to have been a fan back in those days and have seen them make the change from reluctant villains to heroes.

BONUS
Doug: I'd mentioned above that the coloring in the Marvel Masterworks edition was different from that which Karen was looking at on the X-Men dvd-rom. Below you'll see the re-colored, re-mastered, whatever version of some of the panels that featured Magneto's army on the island of Santo Marcos. See if you think there's a Nazi vibe going on here... which for me, and again we had a bit of this conversation above, is quite compelling given that the copyright date on the Masterworks is 1987 (I have the fourth printing -- not sure that makes a difference). All-New, All-Different X-Men scribe Chris Claremont retconned Magneto's personal history in Uncanny X-Men #150 to state that Magneto had survived the Holocaust. That issue hit the newsstands in 1981. So for the coloring in this version of X-Men #4 to mimic color schemes used by the various military and para-military branches of Hitler's forces seems a bit odd. I'd add that Magneto's entire schtick in this issue (and later stories) smacks of Homo superior as a true "master race" with all other sorts of people as untermensch (subhuman).


Doug: So, since this is after all a post about Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, I have to ask our fellows who still read comics if the fact (now, at least) that Magneto is the twins' father has ever raised issues of their "Jewishness"? From what I've seen, and that would run about through Avengers, volume 3, Wanda has most often been portrayed as Romani (at least that's the implication to me) by various creators. But I don't know that anyone in the Marvel Universe other than Ben Grimm has been characterized as ethnically Jewish. Diversity is the spice of life, and America is certainly known as the "great melting pot"; our comics most often do not reflect that.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Have An Egg-ceptional Easter, from the Bronze Age Babies!

http://technabob.com/blog/2012/04/08/superhero-easter-eggs/
Happy Easter from the boys of World of Wadley, Mrs. Wadley, and the Doug-half of Bronze Age Babies!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bruce and Selina -- A Love Story: Brave and the Bold 197


The Brave and the Bold #197 (April 1983)
"The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne"
Alan Brennert-Joe Staton/George Freeman

Doug: Here's a book that's long been mentioned by our friend Edo Bosnar. I didn't even realize that I had it until I checked the Comic Book Database one day and found that it was reprinted in the pages of The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told hardcover (c. 1988). So, since I a) have this,  b) dig the Earth-2 versions of Batman and Robin, et al., and c) it's illustrated by Joe Staton, why don't we have a look at the plot and then a discussion?


Doug: Our story is narrated by the protagonist, one Bruce Wayne. But this is a more mature (dare I say Dark Knight Returns-aged?) Wayne, one setting about writing his memoirs. He remarks that he's already written about his origins in Crime Alley, his taking of young Dick Grayson as a partner, and of his camaradarie with the Justice Society of America. Yep, this is the Earth-2 Batman, and the time is the mid-1950s in the U.S.A. and this is a love story. To some extent it's a story about forbidden fruit, redemption, personal demons, and loss. There's a lot going on here!

Doug: We open with a shot of Commissioner James Gordon, now elderly but still in charge of the Gotham City P.D. Wayne muses to himself that he thinks that to some extent he's been Gordon's alter ego -- the adventurer Gordon always wished he could be. Gordon cradles a small green box as he reaches the rooftop from where the Bat-Signal shines. But as the Caped Crusader approaches, he's suddenly obliterated by automatic gunfire! Or was he? Batman lands on the roof, healthy as a horse, and asks Gordon what he has in the box. Batman reaches for it, and remarks that he's pretty sure he already knows what is going on from the residual odor on the roof. A toxin was introduced to Gordon, one that played on his darkest fear -- a world without a Batman. Batman opens the box to reveal a smouldering scarecrow doll. He takes the box and heads to the Batcave for analysis.


Doug: On the way, the Batman thinks about how busy he's been lately, corralling the Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face -- all paroled (say what??) or escaped. And now Professor Crane. He thinks that things were simpler when there were more heroes; now it's just Superman, Wonder Woman, and the "Bat-family" -- he, Robin, and Batwoman. He also thinks about how many of his colleagues have settled down: Clark and Lois, Jay and Joan... and how he's on his way to attend a wedding of an old flame. Once at the wedding, Bruce Wayne greets Linda Page, and they exchange a friendly embrace. They have conversation, and Linda asks Bruce how he'd like to be remembered. She hammers on him a bit about his playboy image, and if that's really the legacy he wishes to leave. We get inside Bruce's head, as he reflects on the creation of that side of his persona, and why it stuck. But as he genuflects, we also see that what really worries him is the fear of being alone -- he wonders what will happen when Alfred retires or passes on, of Dick when he graduates from college and moves away. And that scares Bruce Wayne.


Doug: At the wedding ceremony the guests are suddenly beset with all manner of beasties -- spiders, snakes, and other creepy-crawlies. The Scarecrow makes an appearance, but he didn't bargain on Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, and Kathy Kane being on the guest list. They all change into their fightin' togs and engage the psychological criminal. But of course Crane has a trick or two up his sleeve, and launches a smoke grenade that goes off right in Batman's face. Batman then sees Robin vanish into thin air. Frantic, he turns to Batwoman for help. She insists that Robin is standing right next to her, but then the Batman sees her vanish as well! Distraught, the Dark Knight flees the scene to seek assistance. But a short time later a call to the Kent household yields nothing. Desperate, he thinks of anyone available who could help him bring down Crane and find his missing partners. Of course, no one is really missing -- it's all the effect of Crane's mind-bending hallucinogens. But Batman settles on one person who could aid him, a former enemy: Catwoman.


Doug: Batman pays a visit to the state pen., where he gets an audience with Selina Kyle. Allegedly she'd suffered from amnesia for a decade, which made her forget her life as the Catwoman. But the Batman was desperate, and even brought the Catwoman costume with him. Selina begrudgingly said she'd help Batman; he'd even offered her the opportunity to be paroled. So off they sped in the Batmobile, on their way to Gotham University to engage Crane. But on their way into the library, the massive concrete lions come to life! The Scarecrow had painted them to resemble stone, then drugged then until they were awakened by a shock collar. Catwoman took exception to that tactic, and was now fully invested in this mission. The pair see a real scarecrow on a rooftop -- a sign from Crane to follow. Selina makes a comment here and there that leads Batman to think that her amnesia claim was bogus. But he swallows it for the sake of finding Crane and his partners.


Doug: Batman's leery of Selina's seeming returned memories -- can he trust her? She thinks that she likes being back in action, but worries that Batman is too obsessed on this case, that he might be erratic. Meeting up in the Great Hall, the find a tape recording from Crane that then plays on several phobias people have. Our pair fights through dangers from fake comets, lightning, and fire. In fact, Batman takes a flaming bolt fired from a crossbow and intended for Catwoman. She is able to destroy the weapon, and then get him to the campus infirmary. There she treats his wound, which requires the removal of his cape and cowl, and of his shirt. Catwoman is shocked when she sees the scars and markings on Batman's back. "Occupational hazard. Fifteen years of fighting will do that to a person." Selina shows genuine concern for her new partner, and then begins to probe his motivations. And Batman tells all -- what happened to him as a child, why he began his crimefighting career. He says to himself that he doesn't know why he answered, but he did.


Doug: We cut to the Scarecrow, firing smoke grenades around campus. He thinks to himself how he's already played on Batman's subconscious fears. These new gasses will play on his most overt phobias, and since they have a staying power in the air, the Dark Knight will be bound to encounter something. Selina tries to reason with Batman as they swing away from the Great Hall. Batman had told her about Gordon's reaction to the box; Selina asks if perhaps Batman's missing partners couldn't also be a figment of his imagination, an illusion. But Batman closes the door on that conversation immediately, and firmly. Selina feels that she's being drawn in to a dark place with this man. As they swing along, suddenly they move through some of the chemicals Crane had left. Selina encounters a fear of heights, Batman of the darkness, and then both of them a fear of open spaces. I'll tell you, if there's one thing I learned from Alan Brennert's script it was all of the different phobias that people have! Dude must have just cracked open an abnormal psychology book and let 'er rip!


Doug: In the library to collect their wits, Selina slips again and Batman knows that she'd lied to him about her amnesia. Nope -- she became the Catwoman on purpose and knew the entire time what she was doing. Selina narrates her story, of a young woman who married a rich but abusive man. Her revenge was to rob him of the only thing he cared about -- his wealth. But the high she got from that stuck, and so did began her criminal ways. She claimed that Selina Kyle faded away and Catwoman became her true identity; Batman concurred, that he lost the person he once had been as well. Then Batman said he didn't know how to get out. Selina turned to him and said, "Don't you?" They embraced. But Batman broke away, and said they needed to find his partners first. Going back outside, they spied another scarecrow. Batman mistook it for the real Crane, and swung up to it. Finding that it was merely another ruse, Batman let his anger and frustration out on the dummy. Selina tried to bring him back, but Batman was suddenly afflicted with ailurophobia - a fear of cats! Shrinking away from Catwoman, he got to the precipice when Selina talked him down. She pleaded with him to let go of his demons, but then he lost control again and began to see her do a fade-out, as Robin and Kathy had done before. Selina knew there was only one way to break this.


Doug: Catwoman removed her mask, releasing the cat. She asked Batman to do the same. He stood and stared. He knew what he should do, but a lifetime of living behind the mask, behind the training, prohibited him. And then he gave in. Batman pulled back his cowl (well, actually it was pretty clumsily drawn, as if he removed a mask) to reveal Bruce Wayne. Selina didn't seem surprised, and the two embraced. Crane's hold on the two of them broken, they kissed and allowed the feelings of years gone by manifest themselves. Later, Batman captured the Scarecrow and dealt with the irrationalities of Crane's hold on him during that adventure. Bruce and Selina married and enjoyed 20 years together -- a fine life. While no mention was made of Helena Wayne, the Huntress, the story had a fitting conclusion with Bruce recalling Selina's life rather than her death, and in hoping that his life would be remembered so well, as well.


Doug: I loved Earth-2. I loved Joe Staton's art on the All-Star Comics revival, and the Huntress. These are treasured stories from the Bronze Age, and although this one was published only a couple of years before the multiple Earths idea came crashing down, it's sort of a fitting ending to those times. Brennert's script is very good, and it's obvious that he "gets" Batman, what makes him tick, and has a fondness for the Batman Family. And Joe Staton -- what a great job of melding his own style to an homage to the 1950s art of Dick Sprang. The faces he drew for Batman were just perfect, as was his rendition of Robin. And I always enjoy Selina in her Golden Age costume the best. This was a nice way to spend 20-25 minutes, and I'm glad I'd been encouraged to read it and actually had it so that I could follow through!


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Discuss: Captain America: The Winter Soldier -Spoiled Edition!


Karen: OK, we've waited an appropriate amount of time -now we can blab about all the great stuff in Captain America:The Winter Soldier! To get the ball rolling, I'll share some email exchanges Doug and I had about the movie. Maybe you can build off that, or share your own thoughts about this great Marvel flick!


SPOILERS!!!!

Doug: Captain America was just wonderful -- what a great superhero movie. As others have remarked, it's in Marvel's top 3 alongside Iron Man and the Avengers. Chris Evans makes me believe that he is Steve Rogers. This screen version of Captain America, although a bit more tolerant of lethal force than I'm used to, is truly how I'd see the character. The increased roles for the Widow and Nick Fury were welcome, and the Falcon was incredibly well-handled. Throw in the Lemurian reference, a Stephen Strange reference, the way they played Arnim Zola and Batroc, Baron Strucker, and three (!) Helicarriers and there was a lot to love.

Karen: I thought you'd love Cap. They really did a fantastic job on the film. I feel like Chris Evans has finally grown into the role -I actually believe him as Cap now. I'm very happy to see that principled character I grew up with up there on the big screen. I really can't fault his performance at all.



Karen: I also was very pleased with the Falcon and how they introduced him. Thankfully he was not an agent of SHIELD! His comics origin would have been too convoluted to use, but I liked what they did, especially the idea that he was counseling returning veterans. And the flying! That was outstanding. His relationship with Cap was perfect too. I loved how they met. And some of his lines -"I do what he does, only slower." -classic.


The whole infiltration of Hydra into SHIELD was a great idea. I've been interested for years in Operation Paperclip and the incorporation of Nazi scientists into our space program and other areas  of government, like post-war intelligence networks, and it's very troubling. It's not that hard to imagine that in a world of super-beings, a group like Hydra could worm its way into a large organization like that. We've been very lukewarm viewers of the Agents of SHIELD show, but I have to say, the way they tied this movie's events into the show was pretty clever. All this does make you wonder how the rest of the films will be affected.

I loved Arnim Zola! Do you see a trend here? Love, love, loved it all!


Doug: I'm a little confused on two things in the first bonus scene, however. Didn't Loki have the scepter with him when he sat on Asgard's throne at the end of the last Thor picture? And, are we to assume that the Maximoff twins will not be mutants but instead genetic constructs of Hydra?

Karen: I thought Loki/Odin was holding Odin's spear at the end of Thor 2, but I'd have to check. As for the twins, I guess this is their workaround for not being able to use the term 'mutant' -they just make them experiments. Did you notice that Pietro's hair was still dark in this scene, but in the pictures from Avengers: Age of Ultron, it is turning white? Maybe as he uses his powers, it will turn white? Also, it seems that perhaps Wanda's powers may be more telekinetic than probability-altering? Perhaps that would be easier for an audience to understand?




Doug: I missed the whole Crossbones thing, but then I have no experience with the character. Was he the main Hydra soldier, that was with Cap in the initial scene and then was the main guy in the control room scene when Agent 13 put a gun to his head?  Also, when Fury was being attacked by the Washington, DC police, did I hear his "Jarvis" say that there were no humans in range? So were they all LMDs?

Karen: Yes, you got it. Brock Rumlow =Crossbones. It will be interesting to see if they put him in his mask. He could be interpreted as  a Bane rip-off by some.

I didn't pick up on the LMD comment. I'll have to listen for that when I see the movie again! (NOTE -On my second viewing, it sounds to me like the AI says "No units in the area," referring to the Metro police).

I thought the scene with Peggy was unnecessary. It didn't actually do anything for the story. They should have either cut it, or built upon it. The only mis-step in the movie, in my opinion. 


Doug: See, I thought the Peggy scene served to cement Cap's "man out of time" element. Looking at how young she was, and how beautiful she was in the first film, it did (for me) hammer home the point that Cap and Bucky would be 95 years old! So for me it worked, because it would later bring the incredulity to Cap when he saw the Winter Soldier unmasked. Of course, at the end of the film we got to see Bucky in a cryogenic chamber in that KGB folder. 

Karen: Don't get me wrong, I like Peggy a lot, and would like to see more of her, but I felt that scene needed more follow up -it felt sort of thrown in there.

Doug: 
Speaking of, and I need to research this -- didn't the KGB go away when the Soviet Union fell in 1990? If so, it would be difficult for the Widow to be KGB trained, as she'd have been 6 years old.


Karen: I asked the same thing about the Widow to my husband, who just shrugged it off, after the film. We're getting pretty far away from the Soviet era  now. I asked also why the Winter Soldier had the red star on his shoulder if he'd been working for Hydra all these years -or was it  Hydra within the KGB? It is a little confusing but I guess it doesn't prevent me from enjoying the movie.


And how about Cap taking down a whole jet with just his shield? Wasn't that an incredible scene? It gets across the point that he deserves to be a part of the Big Three. That to me felt very much like comic book action.

Doug: So there you have it -- some thoughts from your hosts to get things rolling today. Have at it!
 
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