Friday, October 30, 2009

Ain't Nothin' Like Halloween in Rutland, Vermont!


Avengers #119 (January 1974)
“Night of the Collector”
Steve Englehart-Bob Brown/Don Heck
Doug: Happy Halloween, kiddie-winkies! We here at the BAB blog hope you will get more treats than tricks this autumn!

Doug: Today we begin what may turn into an annual series -- a visit to Rutland, VT. I was surprised to learn, when I began to do a little preliminary research for this reading, that there have been many, many stories set in that little hamlet. Sure, I knew of Avengers 83 and 119, and of Batman 237, but I’d forgotten about Marvel Feature 2, the second appearance of the Defenders. There’s an editorial box in this mag that shows some of the Marvel stories featuring Rutland. For a complete rundown of Rutland’s comic book Halloween celebrations, please visit this link (incidentally searched under Rutland parade honcho “Tom Fagan”: http://www.comicbookdb.com/character_chron.php?ID=32675.

Doug: Avengers #119 was one of the earliest issues of the title that I owned. It was a strange jumping on point – sure, I had other stories in my small collection, but this was a full-force introduction to the team of this era. In some ways #119 served as an epilogue to the just-concluded Avengers-Defenders War; you could also see it as a bridge between that epic and the coming three-parter against the Zodiac. This story is bookended with the quandary of what to do with the now mentally-disabled Loki.

Doug: The team disembarks from a borrowed SHIELD jet and there’s action right away. For whatever reason, the team sets off the intruder defenses on the roof of Avengers Mansion. I felt this was good for me a as a kid, because I got up to speed on all of the characters’ powers. The only beef I have with the scene is that T’Challa was able to shut off the system with his “palm print” – through his glove?? Although I guess if you look closely at the attached image, it does look like his bare skin shows on his left hand. But that could be a coloring error, too...

Karen: I’d say the rooftop sequence was ridiculous, if I hadn’t set off my own home security alarm a number of times!


Doug: You didn’t like the whole event, or the way the Panther ended it? I suppose with so many team members present, and with stress running high, maybe Cap (for example) thought Iron Man had shut it off? I don’t know…

Doug: Wanda Maximoff in this issue: what rhymes with “Witch”? Wow – Englehart was really hard on her during his run. Her personality changed drastically, she began to dabble in witchcraft under the tutelage of Agatha Harkness, she proclaimed her love for and then married the Vision, and so on. She is not likeable at all in this story.
Karen: Wanda was deep into her “I hate humans” stage. I actually thought it made sense, given that as a mutant, she’d faced human bigotry before. The Vision was also nearly killed by some people after he and Wanda embraced on TV (back in issue 113). But yes, she became a very bitter, unpleasant person around this time, and Mantis’ interest in the Vision didn’t help things.


Doug: There is an odd exchange early in the story between the Panther and Mantis. It’s apparent that we (at this point) know next to nothing about Mantis, and she’d been with the team for only seven issues. What began as a potential origin story tailed off to nothing – was this scene merely to set up her clairvoyance of the coming trouble in Vermont?

Karen: I think at least in part, it was a set-up scene, but it also just points out the mystery surrounding her. I remember at the time she was a real cipher for some time – although I saw enough to know I didn’t like her!


Doug: I always thought, when I was a kid, that she was kind of mysteriously weird. I think I appreciated her more as an adult the first time I read the complete Celestial Madonna arc.

Doug: Once in Rutland, the Avengers are greeted by Tom Fagan. They are offered the chance to participate in the annual Halloween parade; only half of them agree. Wanda stalks off with the Vision, and the Swordsman and Mantis exit as well. So it is left to Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Black Panther to ride on a float – Thor reveals that their decision was based on an attempt to draw the super-baddie out into the open. But how about that line-up? If those eight characters don’t constitute one of the greatest rosters in the team’s history, I’d be hard-pressed to name another.

Karen: No kidding, that’s one heck of a team! Line-ups like this make me long for 1974 again – or at least an Avengers team that actually feels like the Avengers!


Doug: Shortly after leaving the float, the main four are attacked by Fagan – who obviously isn’t the real Tom. He attacks the team with wild animal skins, which he proclaims are the Coats of Hercules. Something ain’t right here, and Thor is the first one onto – the Collector!

Karen: I thought it was kind of funny that the Collector would masquerade as Fagan in the same Nighthawk costume he wore in issue 83! That’s such a terrible costume!

Doug: And isn’t the idea that someone could wear a costume and rubber face mask and deceive the Avengers a little out there? We did a Cap story some time ago where Cap did that – and it didn’t work then, either.

Doug: Avengers #28 was one of the first 2-3 Avengers stories I ever read, so seeing the Collector “again” was a thrill. My knowledge of the Avengers rogues gallery wasn’t too extensive at that point in my readership, so I was under the impression that the Collector must be Public Enemy #1.

Karen: I was never too excited by the Collector. As a kid, he just looked like an old man, and I thought, “Why can’t the Avengers beat an old man?”


Doug: I should comment on the art in this story – that’s what I do! You can certainly go wrong at times with Bob Brown and Don Heck. But, for whatever reason, they really work great here. The pencils and inks are really pretty solid, and that’s saying something, because Heck as the penciller of #111 (for example) was pretty horrible! I always liked Brown’s work on the Daredevil comics of this period, and some of his DC stuff was good as well. Heck, though – he was another story after, say, 1966 or so.

Karen: Heck’s work on the Avengers in the ‘70’s was pretty poor. His art had become quite sketchy. I thought Brown was serviceable, but not exciting. Although I love the stories Englehart was cranking out, I wish the book had had a better artist. One of the Buscemas, or maybe Rich Buckler, would have been nice. I loved Dave Cockrum’s work on Giant-Size Avengers – it’s too bad he didn’t handle the regular title. Of course, we’d get a young George Perez towards the end of Englehart’s run.


Doug: There is a brief interlude that shows Wanda further tripping out, and a heartfelt exchange between Mantis and that loveable loser, the Swordsman. These two pages conclude when the wandering Avengers stumble upon the real Tom Fagan, all tied up!

Doug: I really loved the resolution to this story. The creepy old house where the Collector has holed up is invaded by Fagan and a bunch of local teenagers (all in heroic costumes, for sure), and they drive the old boy nuts! Sure, he uses some trick to set off a bunch of bats, but that trouble is pretty easily solved. The Collector ends up vanishing. Does anyone know the next time he pays a visit? Seems to involve, if I recall, a fella named Korvac…

Karen: Bats? Really? The Collector used bats? It’s stuff like this that makes it hard to defend ‘old’ comics to today’s crowd! And they just leave Loki in Rutland? Oh come on. Talk about abrogation of responsibilities! “Yeah, Loki won’t get into any trouble here! OK, let’s get in the Quinjet, Jarvis has dinner ready!” Sheesh.

Karen: But despite that bizarre conclusion, it was a decent enough one issue story. Englehart still managed to get in a fair amount of character development.


Doug: I really liked this story. It’s a Bronze Age blast – action, characterization, heroic heroes and villains who we don’t have to take too seriously, and a touch of real-world in it to make us smile. Just a fun yarn!







Wednesday, October 28, 2009

TV Party Tonight! - Salem's Lot


Karen: You know a movie or show has achieved some level of success when an image from it stays with you for many years, able to be called up effortlessly from the mind as fresh as the first time you saw it. So it is for me with the dramatic appearance of the vampire Barlow in the 1979 TV mini-series, Salem's Lot.



But other people I've talked to about Salem's Lot often bring up the scene where a recently deceased child appears as a floating apparition at a window.



The main thing is, people who saw it tend to remember Salem's Lot, and quite vividly!

This two part mini-series (hardly seems like a mini-series now, given how long some go on) appeared in 1979. It was based on the novel by Stephen King, which had been published only 4 years earlier. The story involves a young writer, Ben Mears (played by David Soul of Starksy & Hutch), who returns to his childhood home of Salem's Lot, Maine, compelled to write about a foreboding house that overlooks the town and seems innately evil. But not long after he returns, a strange man, Mr. Straker, buys the old house, and then people in the town begin getting ill, and dying. It's eventually revealed that Straker is the human servant of a vampire, Barlow, who has come to feed on the town. Ben and a few of the town folk try to stop Barlow, but as more of the people of Salem's Lot become Barlow's pawns, it becomes a race to keep the town alive -literally. The slow, steady absorption of the town by evil is chilling.

Salem's Lot was quite a sensation when it premiered. I can recall watching it and then talking with most of my friends about it at school in the days after. There were many differences from the novel. One improvement, I thought, was beefing up the role of pre-teen Mark Petrie (played in the show by Lance Kerwin). Mark was a bright kid who was into monsters, magic, all sorts of 'weird' things. I could relate to him and so did a lot of the kids I knew. He seems to have the least difficulty with the supernatural events around him, and despite his age, is a steady and resourceful young man. David Soul does a nice turn as writer Mears, able to convey a sort of wistfulness and fear all at the same time.

The vampire, Barlow, has provoked a lot of comment over the years. His look is a direct swipe of Count Orlok from the film Nosferatu, only in color. He bears no resemblance to Barlow from the book, who was your more typical suave human-looking vampire. But I like the more monstrous look. I'm sick of all these good-looking teenage vampires running around nowadays. Vampires should be awful, horrific things, not someone you want to take to the prom! Even Bela Lugosi was scarier than these punks today. Barlow may be the most frightening vampire I've ever seen. Interesting side note: Barlow was played by Reggie Nalder, who also played an Andorian ambassador in the Star Trek episode, "Journey to Babel". Must be something about his face.

If you've not seen Salem's Lot, you might have some difficulty finding it on DVD. Also be aware that a shorter version was made and put on video years ago. Luckily the entire thing has been posted on YouTube. If you'd like to see a truly scary vampire movie, check it out.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Doug says, "Check out some of my Stuff!" Part 8

Hey, kids -- autographs!!

If you are a veteran Con-er like me, you've no doubt wiled away your hours standing in sometimes-long lines or meandering through the Artists' Alley to get an opportunity to greet that hero of yours -- the guy (or gal) who has brought you so much four-color fun over the years! As I showed earlier, I have several Alex Ross autographs on posters, a Dynamic Forces Avengers print, and in a couple of books. What I'm going to show today are lots and lots of autographs (though not all) from several high-end books.


First up is the first page of The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, featuring signatures from (clockwise from top) Denny O'Neil, Julius Schwartz, and Sheldon Moldoff.


Next will be photos of signatures I had penned in my copy of Les Daniels' Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics.




Stan Lee



John Romita (the autograph to the left was obtained from John at an art dealer in Chicago when he was appearing in support of the Spider-Man/Green Goblin lithograph that he did with Alex Ross).



Sal Buscema









Rich Buckler



Roy Thomas













Archie Goodwin





Tom DeFalco

















And from Les Daniels' other must-have, DC Comics: A Celebration of the World's Favorite Comic Book Heroes.


Murphy Anderson



















Paul Levitz













Mart Nodell



















Sheldon "Shelly" Moldoff









George Perez















As I said, I have others -- Jim Shooter, Al Williamson, Jim Lee, the creators from the Legionnaires series in the 90's (Jeff Moy and WC Carani), Paul Ryan, Whilce Portacio, Dave Dorman, Colleen Doran, and Chris Claremont. My prized possessions in this genre of collectibles, however, are three Superman postcards mailed to me in what became a short but sweet correspondence with Julie Schwartz after I'd mentioned him in a letter I had published in the Comics Buyers' Guide in the late 1990's. That he took the time to do that was just really special.


Next time, we'll get to those wonderful Christmas gifts of yore -- the Origins of Marvel Comics series!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hey! Tony Stark Used to be a Hero!!

Invincible Iron Man #60-61 (July-August 1973)
“Cry Marauder!” & “Death Knells Over Detroit!”
Mike Friedrich-George Tuska/Mike Esposito

NOTE: This post was written around two weeks before we learned of the passing of George Tuska, on Friday, October 16, 2009. We would like to extend our condolences to Mr. Tuska's family and friends, and shout out a posthumous "thanks" for the many four-color memories George gave comics fans over the past 70 years. For information on Tuska's body of work, please see http://www.comicbookdb.com/creator.php?ID=587.

Doug: Welcome to a Bronze Age look at that hero you love to hate (at least the way he’s portrayed these days) – Iron Man! In the whole scheme of Bronze Age Marvel Comics, this issue had some powerful contemporaries, as it was on the stands at the same time as Amazing Spider-Man #122, and about a month ahead of the first issue of FOOM!

Doug: Iron Man #60 was my first solo IM story, although I can’t really claim ownership. A buddy of mine, who was the ripe old age of 8 (I was a year his junior) had this comic. We used to get together to compare burgeoning collections – he must have made it to the grocery or drug store more frequently than did I, as he had a much broader variety of books. So it was always cool to go over to his house to not only see his stash of funny books, but to get some serious Mego-playing done as well! The cover to #60 features an iconic image of Iron Man by John Romita and Gaspar Saladino that has been used for Marvel's publicity and marketing purposes over the years.

Doug: Author Friedrich wastes no time in getting down to business, launching us full-on into the story with a scene in which the Masked Marauder, he of Daredevil’s rogues gallery, and a couple of heavies break into a hangar and steal an experimental space shuttle. Being around for the first launch of the space shuttle, I guess I was a little surprised to read the term and see a version of the vehicle in a comic from 1973. Upon doing a little research, however, I found that the space shuttle program had actually begun in the 1960’s, commissioned by Richard Nixon with VP Spiro Agnew chairing the committee.













Karen: Did you notice that the prototype space shuttle is named “Star Reach II”? Writer Friedrich was the publisher of “Star*Reach”, one of the first independently published comics. It premiered in 1974, a year after this IM issue.

Doug: As one might expect from an IM comic, there is a lot of technology and discussion thereof. Gadgets, different types of metal, various beams that can cut and/or destroy – you name it, it’s in this book.

Doug: We would be remiss if we did not discuss George Tuska’s art. Tuska’s body of work is impressive in volume, but I’ll confess that I’ve never really warmed to him. I’ve seen him on many different books (mostly Marvels), and he just doesn’t have a style that really grabs me. It is a distinctive style – of that there can be no doubt. His faces, some of the poses that almost become stock poses, etc. just scream his pencil is on the page. And I guess, though, that I can’t really pin one particular aspect of his style that I don’t like. He moves the story, but he doesn’t change camera angles very often and his panel layouts are very standard. Maybe that’s it.

Karen: I can’t say much here; I’ve never been a fan of Tuska. His style seemed sort of broad and uninteresting to me.

Doug: I’ll add that there was a nurse character in this story who was really caricatured – very cartoony. I thought she seemed out-of-place.

Karen: Yes, I was wondering if that was some sort of in-joke. Very odd.

Doug: I found the scenes where it appears that the marriage of Happy and Pepper is falling apart to be reminiscent of the scenes in the Iron Man movie where Tony and Pepper become nearly-romantically involved. Don’t know if this particular issue influenced Iron Man director Jon Favreau or not…

Karen: It’s kind of hilarious in retrospect. Friedrich is clearly trying to show that Pepper has grown, is becoming ‘liberated’, and yet he has her referencing going to “beauty school” as one of her accomplishments! But I guess 35 years of hindsight gives me a different take on things.

Karen: Another attempt at social awareness is when the second nurse makes a comment to Stark about the “Asian blood” his machines have spilled. Of course Stark had already shifted Stark Industries away from munitions but Marvel citizens have long memories it seems!

Doug: Did you think it was ever clear whether or not the Marauder and his minions were flying the shuttle when IM engaged them? I read over those pages a few times and couldn’t decide.

Karen: There was reference to them landing it early in the fight, so I don’t think they really engaged mid-air.

Doug: As is typical of IM comics really throughout time, IM has to fight a guy wearing a suit of armor. In this case, however, Tony’s adversary really proves to be second-rate.


Karen: Especially when you consider that the guy’s head is totally unprotected! One iron fist to the noggin and it would be lights out!

Doug: The story concludes with a cliffhanger as the Marauder uses his main weapon, and that is his blinding visor-blast. After Tony is seeing stars, the Marauder lets him have it with another high-tech blast, felling him. He then proceeds to enter the shuttle, carrying our fallen warrior.





Doug: IM #61 picks up right where #60 left off, with Iron Man defeated at the hands of the Masked Marauder. Penciller George Tuska draws him in a heavy metal harness, but I have to say – the cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia shows a much, much more disabled Tony Stark. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say Buckler has a better imagination than Tuska – shoot, for all I know, these gadgets were Kirby’s (see our post involving Buckler-swipes at http://twogirlsaguyandsomecomics.blogspot.com/2009/01/family-matters-fantastic-fours-triumphs_23.html)!

Doug: The concept of the space shuttle continues to amaze me. It’s been such a part of our lives for the past 25 years, that this 1973 depiction is just science fiction! Not only the look of the vehicle, but that Friedrich/Tuska envisioned it taking off like an airplane…

Karen: Well, there’s been talk of a space plane since the days of von Braun. But I don’t know if any of the proposed designs looked anything like the one Tuska came up with!

Doug: Well, to make a long review short, I didn’t care for this story. It was just fighting, with no real direction. I guess a reader could defend Friedrich by saying this was some awesome struggle on the part of Iron Man to be free from his captor and foil the plot to destroy Detroit. I interpreted it as almost some sort of filler. The only characterization involved two very short soap opera scenes that moved the Happy/Pepper/Tony love triangle toward resolution. I just didn’t find anything particularly interesting here…

Karen: Yeah, honestly, these two issues reminded me of why I was not a regular Iron Man reader in the 70s. It always seemed like so many of his stories were just dull. The villains here are clearly no match for Iron Man. I can’t understand why he would have any trouble with these goons at all. Big ‘blah’ for me.

Doug: It would be easier to criticize than laud. I was glad to see Friedrich explain that the thug (Steele – duh…) who took off IM’s glove would have a very limited residual power supply. Did you wonder why they would not have found a way to put Iron Man under, and remove his entire suit while he was constrained?

Doug: In the end, the Marauder is of course defeated, and somewhat easily in the whole scheme of things. He is a pretty weak villain – raving lunatic with technology-based powers, and a costume that’s not even all that menacing. Overall, a dud.

Doug: So in my future inspection of Silver/Bronze Age Iron Man comics, I think I will backtrack a bit further to the Gene Colan years. Hopefully they will prove more fulfilling than this rather pedestrian story.

Karen: Either that, or go forward to the Micheline-Layton stories. That’s when I finally started to like Iron Man!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

5 Monsters to Love

Seeing as how we are approaching Halloween, it seems only fitting that we take a look at five great monsters. Back in the day (whenever that was) monsters had a certain style. Not like today, with all these serial-killer inspired mad slashers like 'Jason' and "Freddy' running around. If you ask me, those guys come a little too close to reality. No, when I was growing up, monsters were distinctly cool and fun, and sometimes, scary. There's a lot of great monsters to choose from - the whole Universal Studios pantheon has to be in the top echelon - but for today I'll focus on five of my personal "monsters to love".

1. Frankenstein's Monster (as portrayed by Boris Karloff). I guess this is the monster every kid wished was his best friend. Despite his appearance - and occasional murderous fits - we could tell that he was a tortured soul, loved by none, misunderstood by all. Karloff imbued the Monster with real emotions; watch the scene in Frankenstein where he accidentally drowns the little girl. The Monster is absolutely horrified at what has happened. Later (after Karloff had stopped playing the Monster) in movies like Ghost of Frankenstein, House of Frankenstein, The Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman, and House of Dracula , he came across as almost a robot, displaying little expression. But Karloff's classic version certainly inspired such later creations as the Hulk. The Frankenstein Monster was the original 'misunderstood' anti-hero.






2. King Kong (1933). After many years of seeing this classic film in a badly cut version on TV, I got to see the original cut a few years ago on the latest DVD release. It was a shocker: I had never known how incredibly vicious and brutal Kong was! TV censors had cut out many scenes of 'bad behavior' by the giant ape. I had no idea, for example, that he actually ate some people! My view of Kong changed quite a bit - I still felt sorry for the beast, but he really did need to be put down!Regardless of my change in attitude, seeing Kong still sends a shiver of excitement down my spine.







3. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (three films from 1954 to 1955 ). The Gill Man - aquatic missing link! The last of the Universal Horror stars. The Creature just has such a great look - I'm still amazed that such a complicated suit could have been built back in the 50s! Not only that, but it works just fine underwater too. The primary appeal of the Creature for me is visual - I just can't take my eyes off of him when I see him. The fact that the gills on the side of his head moved was awful cool too! I never felt like he had much of a personality, although the idea that he was the last of his species did make me feel some pity for the poor thing. But honestly, all I really wanted was to see him throwing guys around and beating the crap out of them! And that was one thing the Creature did very well.












4. The Thing from Another World (1951). A marauding alien plant-man vs. heroic American joes! This is a great sci fi film, probably one of the very best produced in the 1950s. Although we see very little of the actual "Thing", his presence looms over the film in every scene. The sense of fear and paranoia builds with every minute. Our heroes are confined to their arctic base, trapped with the Thing. One of the most disturbing scenes involves the discovery of seedlings in the greenhouse. Again, the Thing is not directly seen but his menace is felt. When we finally get a real look at the alien, he himself is not so horrific, but by then the fear has grown so strong it makes him seem more frightening. I like the John Carpenter remake too, but the monster in the original has a lot more personality.

A very similar film from 1958 was It! The Terror from Beyond Space, which featured a spaceship crew threatened by a stowaway alien monster. Although an entertaining film, The Thing is definitely the better made of the two. It! is now best remembered by many as being one of the influences on the 1979 film, Alien.





5.Count Orlok from Nosferatu (1922). An odd choice I suppose, but this silent-era vampire really scared the heck out of me! I recall seeing this movie -which for some reason, was being shown on the local PBS station! - at a sleep-over at my friend Pam's house. Why two 10 year olds would think it was a good thing to spend the day looking at the Time-Life Encyclopedia of the Unexplained, and then stay up late and watch a silent vampire movie is beyond me. But we did, and when creepy Count Orlok started rising from his coffin, every sound outside became a 19th century european ghoul about to get us! The name of the actor who played Orlok was supposedly Max Schreck -"schreck" in German means "fear". I can say unequivocally that he earned that name. Certainly the most frightening vampire I ever saw.

Monday, October 19, 2009

5 Songs to Love

Do you have those memories that are triggered by a certain song? For me, there are a handful of songs that take me back to the time in my childhood when I lived in Milwaukee for a couple of years. Those were formative years, as I was between the ages of 7 and almost-10. My prized possession was a small black transistor radio -- AM only, of course -- with an earpiece! I thought I had died and gone to heaven! I have always loved music -- I don't play, can't read it, but just love it. My station of choice in those years was WOKY, a Top 40 station that always pumped out pleasing tunes to my pre-adolescent ears.

So, here are some tunes from those days of yore -- are any of them favorites of yours?

Someone Saved My Life Tonight by Elton John (reached #4 in the US in 1975)

For whatever reason, I remember the line in the song where Sir Reginald sings,

"Prima Donna lord you really should have been there
Sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair"


A friend and I used to get together and play Megos in his basement. It was one of those cool basements that was packed to the gills with boxes and other storage items. It made for great landscapes/cityscapes for the good guys and the do-badders to hold epic battles. His mother had an old hair dryer, like from a beauty shop -- padded chair with the overhead dryer dome. We used to plot that one of the crime bosses would get the heroes positioned on that chair and the dome was some huge electric chair-type device!


The other thing I remember about that song is the line,


"And someone saved my life tonight sugar bear"


Now for you youngsters, these were the days when cereal could still have the word "sugar" in the name. Does anyone remember Post Super Sugar Crisp? The mascot back in the day was none other than Sugar Bear! I thought that was so cool that this song had a line in it about this bear that I saw every Saturday morning on the commercials!



The Night Chicago Died by Paper Lace (reached #1 in the US in 1974)


Being a transplanted Illinoisan, this song resonated with my young mind, longing for home. This was a fun song, as we used to sit on another friend's porch and sing it a cappella, like some sort of junior do wop group. Of course, it wasn't a do wop song, but hey -- what did a bunch of 8-year olds know?

We certainly didn't know at the time that the events of the song's lyrics were totally ficticious. Still a catchy tune though.


Love Will Keep Us Together by the Captain and Tenille (reached #1 in the US in 1975)


Don't throw anything at me -- but I still like this sappy '70's hit! Seriously. It's also a catchy tune. Originally written and recorded by Neal Sedaka, it wasn't a hit until this cheesy married couple got 'hold of it. Does anyone recall their variety show that ran about a year after this was a hit? Lordy, it was the in the days of Muskrat Love -- now that one you can have. I still grimace whenever I happen across Muskrat Love -- and no, that song isn't on my iPod!!


Man, you can't beat two big ol' bulldogs on that album cover...


Black Superman (Muhammad Ali) by Johnny Wakelin (reached #1 in Australia, #7 in the UK; spent six months in the Hot 100 in the US in 1975)


Admit it -- you used to sing along with this. Or at least hum along.


"Muhammad.
Muhammad Ali.
He floats like a butterfly
and stings like a bee"


That's awesome! What's not to like. This and other gimmick songs like Kung Fu Fighting are so anchored in the "Have a nice day" decade that they just scream out from that era. I could never sing well, but rest assured -- when this came on the radio, I tried!


Oh, and by the way, these were the days when Ali's fights were aired on Wide World of Sports. For free. I know, seems a bit strange in these days where everything is pay-per-view.


Jive Talkin' by the Bee Gees (reached #1 in the US in 1975)

I love the Bee Gees. There. I said it. I live about 50 miles from Chicago, where local DJ Steve Dahl once blew up a huge stack of disco albums at a Chicago White Sox game -- it was in between a double-header, a riot ensued with fans storming the field and tearing it up -- the Sox had to forfeit the second game! But this song was pre-disco, and it has one of the best opening beats of all time!! Barry Gibb tells that they picked up on that rhythm while riding in a cab. At any rate, it's a fun song. And yes, this one is on my iPod!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Mighty Thor: The Top Ten Stories


Welcome back to another Top Ten post. This time, we'll be taking a look at that noble Norse god, the Mighty Thor! Now before anyone takes a peek and gets all bent out of shape, keep in mind this list is Pre-Simonson! The reason for this is simple: although I have read the early part of Simonson's run on Thor, it was right around that time that I dropped out of comics for a few years. So not having had a chance to really look at Simonson's work again, I've decided to keep this to the material prior to that run. OK, now that that's taken care of, on to the list, in chronological order:

1) Journey Into Mystery #114-115. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

This was the first appearance of Crusher Creel, aka the Absorbing Man. He really gives Thor a tussle in these two issues. Stan and Jack go wild here, with Creel taking on all kinds of forms. The scene where he absorbs the power of the earth and becomes an amalgamation of stone, wood, and iron is something else!






2) Journey Into Mystery #118-119. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

The thunder god versus the indestructible, all-powerful Destroyer! Created as a sort of doomsday weapon by Odin, it is prematurely released and Thor valiantly battles the metallic terror. I can't help but wonder if Kirby's depiction of this robot-like foe wasn't somewhat inspired by Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still", particularly since they share a powerful disintegration beam. The Destroyer's ultimate purpose was finally revealed in Thor 300!




















3)Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

This annual features the first appearance of Hercules. Although this story is set in the legendary past, it features some dynamite action scenes as the two respective princes of the realms go at it. Hercules would soon show up in modern times over in the now-renamed Thor book. Although as strong as Thor, Hercules always came across as a vain, glory-seeking battler, unlike the more noble Thor. However, he brought a real spark to the title whenever he appeared.















4) Thor 126-130. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

Thor and Hercules in the Netherworld - probably the most spectacular storyline to appear in Thor at this point. First we get a tremendous battle between Thor and Hercules (this on the heels of JIM Annual 1!). Thor gets his power cut in half by Big Daddy Odin, and winds up losing the fight. He then travels to Asgard, where he must stop Seidring the Merciless from taking over. Meanwhile Hercules signs a movie contract with a Hollywood producer, only to discover he has actually signed a contract with Pluto to become the ruler of the Netherworld! Thor (his power restored) must fight the hordes of hell in Hercules' place to free him from the contract. All this, plus the mystery of Tana Nile! Lee and Kirby were at their best here, and this is probably my favorite Thor tale.














5) Thor 131-133. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

In these amazing issues, we get the colonizers of Rigel, the inimitable Recorder, and the unimaginable Ego, the Living Planet! Kirby's efforts at portraying the living planet are eye-popping. Thor was becoming a title of comsic proportions, ala the Fantastic Four, and a significant amount of universe-building began to occur in these pages.













6) Thor 155-158. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

The Mangog, a giant alien with the power of his entire, extinct race, makes his way towards the Odin Sword, to end all of creation! While the Odinsleep keeps Dad out of the picture, sons Thor and Loki fight each other as well as Mangog. A terrific tale, only slightly tarnished by Odin's deus ex machina appearance at the end.
















7) Thor 160-162. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

Galactus vs. Ego! Planet eater vs. living planet - with the colonizers of Rigel, the Recorder, and Thor in the middle! Oddly enough, Thor sides with Ego and Galactus is turned back. But it's a mind-blowing tableau, as cosmic in scale as anything seen in Fantastic Four, and plenty of Kirby collage work is on view. We also get the barest hints at Big G's origin. The whole thing would be revealed in issues 168-169.



















8)Thor 232-234. Gerry Conway/John Buscema

Our first non-Lee/Kirby story line makes the list. Here Thor and the U.S. Army face down Loki and his brainwashed Asgardian legions! Issue 232 had inks by Dick Giordano and the combination of Buscema and Giordano was rather striking. The next two issues featured Chic Stone and Joe Sinnott respectively, who were acceptable but pedestrian compared to Giordano. When Thor is captured by Loki and all appears to be lost (the army is considering dropping an atomic bomb on the asgardian camp!), Firelord arrives to lead the cavalry charge, and the thunder god defeats his mad step-brother.















9) And 10) Thor 283-301, Thor Annual #7 . Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio/John Buscema, Keith Pollard, Arvell Jones.

These are really two separate stories, but the Ring Cycle storyline gets plopped down right in the middle of the Celestials Saga. This long and rambling story manages to redeem itself by bringing in a huge cast of characters - the Eternals, the Olympians,Celestials, you name it, even an appearance by Baby Jesus in the manger! - and by delving into the secret history of Earth itself. Once again Thor is the nexus of all these divergent threads. If you ever wanted to see a giant-sized Destroyer attack a host of Celestials with the Odinsword, this one's for you.

All right, let's hear it - what did I miss?




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