Sunday, January 31, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Doug: Today's storytime will include the first appearance/origin of that latter-day Avenger, the Astonishing Ant-Man - Scott Lang! Lang debuted in the pages of Marvel Premiere #47 (April 1979) from the hands and minds of author David Michelinie and picture-guys John Byrne and Bob Layton. I'm using the pack-in to the Marvel Legends Ant-Man figure as my resource. While I had several issues of Marvel Premiere as a kid, like many of my Bronze Age odds-and-ins they went the way of the sell-off mission to raise cash to finish the complete run of Avengers I own. But I digress...
This is a nice origin story, with everything you'd want: action, odds stacked against the good guys, a likable hero who comes to his powers without too much suspension of disbelief, and some mystery super-baddies. Oh, and a cliffhanger ending, too -- unfortunately you're on your own there, as I don't have #48 to throw your way. Byrne's pencils are unquestionably his, but Layton's inks give it a different look than Joe Sinnott's or Terry Austin's. This pairing is a success.
We begin with a big battle inside an operating room. Ant-Man has attacked some armed (and armored) guards who look like refugees from Roxxon or AIM. In the course of the battle, we realize that this isn't Hank Pym - who had recently been in the suit in Avengers #161 (July 1977) - largely due to the fact that this guy really doesn't know how to work the powers in the costume. As the battle takes a turn for the worse, Ant-Man reflects on how he came to this point:
Scott Lang was an electronics genius who had taken to burgling as an occupation. Upon release from his 3-year sentence, Lang was re-introduced to his daughter Cassie, 9-years old. As they got back into life together, Cassie suddenly took ill and was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta. It's interesting as scribe Michelinie has a doctor describe to Lang the laser surgery that might save Cassie's life -- what was cutting edge in 1979 is commonplace today. However, as Lang pays a visit to Dr. Erica Sondheim, who is the specialist he needs, he discovers that not only is her office being moved by some heavies but she is being kidnapped as well.
Lang tracks the unsavory types to Cross Technological Enterprises, where he uses his past skills to bypass the security systems. Once inside he discovers, in a scene reminiscent of Avengers #144, an Ant-Man suit. Donning it Lang finds that it's fully-functional and it's Game On! with the kidnappers. The story ends with the ringleader of the kidnappers rising from an operating table to confront Lang and to tell him in no uncertain terms that Ant-Man was not going to unkidnap Dr. Sondheim. It's to be continued (but not by me, sadly)!!
Karen: I'm back with another tale of cyborg woe, from Astonishing Tales #28 (Feb. 1975). If you recall the last time we saw Deathlok he was trying to shoot himself, but found that his computer programming would not allow him the luxury of taking his own life. This issue's story, courtesy of Rich Buckler as both writer and artist, picks up with Deathlok roaming around a war-torn New York city. He surmises that, during the 5 years he was 'dead', a revolution occured, but has left the city devastated, and filled with roving packs of cannibals. While he explores, Ryker is using his spy cameras to track the cyborg's every move. He sends a tank, partially controlled by the mind of his former lover, Nina, out to destroy Deathlok. Ryker's plans have changed -"It's not a death-machine the world needs now - or an army of death soldiers as I had once envisioned - but a savior machine!"
As Deathlok evades the tank, he encounters a man with a gun who tries to take him hostage, but the cyber-soldier realizes that the man isn't going to kill him and so ignores him. There's an interesting bit of dialogue as the man follows Deathlok, explaining that he is supposed to bring the cyborg with him. When Deathlok asks why, the man tells him, "The grapevine has it that there's a new savior machine built by Ryker! We -the people supporting the rebellion against Ryker - we figure you're it!" This provides Deathlok with a laugh, as he tries to figure out a way to escape from the still-oncoming tank. But our anti-hero encounters a vast wall and appears to be seconds from being blown to pieces.
This issue was much improved over the previous one. Buckler gives us more insight into Deathlok's world and was has happened between the time Manning died and Deathlok was born. We discover that Manning's friend Mike Travers is still alive, but held captive by Ryker. Deathlok also begins to contemplate the idea that if surgeons turned him into the mess he is now, perhaps they could also restore him. In such a despair-filled world, the monster still has hope, which may be all that keeps him going.
Buckler continues to push the art, including a two page section done sideways -something John Byrne would do for an entire issue of Fantastic Four many years later, but this might possibly be the first time it was done. At least Buckler seemed to think so in the foreward of the Masterworks edition. That being said, I don't think Buckler is the best inker for his art. It has a very light, sketchy appearance. However, that will change dramatically in a couple of issues when the awesome Klaus Janson begins working on the title. We also see Deathlok rip off the American flag on his chest, which I am sure had more resonance with readers in 1975 than in 2010! But the symbolism, that Deathlok is his own man, is timeless.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
But then every once in awhile, the stars align, and you get that rarest of things: the perfect album. This is an album with no filler, no garbage – an album that hangs together and is worth playing all the way through. Sure, some songs are better than others, but even your least favorite ones are still very listenable. I’d like to share below five of my favorite perfect albums.1. Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. Like a strange, scary butterfly bursting from his mouldering cocoon, Iggy re-invents himself on this album and creates a classic. Many will point to the involvement of David Bowie on the album and claim that this is the reason for such a brilliant work, but let’s give the Ig some credit too. Although I am annoyed with the cruise line commercials that utilize the title song (how come they never play the part that talks about “of course I’ve had it in the ear before” ?), this album is as fresh as ever, alive and vibrant. Songs like Lust for Life, The Passenger, Some Weird Sin, and Neighborhood Threat all have an aura of genuineness. Iggy’s emotional ups and downs are spread for all to see. The band features the Sales brothers as the rhythm section (who would go on to work again with Bowie as Tin Machine) and the sound is full and bouncy. Iggy’s lyrics are probably the most inspired of his career.
2. B2. Back in Black by AC/DC. Of course, anyone with any rock acumen knows that this was the first AC/DC album produced after the death of original frontman Bon Scott. Thank god the boys did not decide to pack it in with his death! Back in Black is a monster of an album, all meat, no filler. Brian Johnson stepped into the "singer" role -hey, so he can't sing, who cares, neither could Scott - and the band created some of their best songs, including Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long, Have A Drink on Me, and Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution. After many years this album is like that really comfortable pair of old worn jeans that you love to pull out of the closet and put on. It may not look pretty but damn it feels good.
3. Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet. "Who?" you are probably asking. I'll admit that Matthew Sweet is a more obscure artist, but that doesn't diminish his gift for crafting perfect power-pop songs. Girlfriend, with its Tuesday Weld album cover, was his big break back in 1991. It was also helped by an early anime video on MTV. But the music on this album is what's important, and every song on this album is just perfect. From rockers like Girlfriend to melancholy beauties like Winona, there's just not a wrong step on this album. The musicians, particularly guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd, are superb. Sweet's voice is, well, sweet - haunting, angry, mournful - a very expressive instrument. I can't recommend this album enough.
4. Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses. I don't think I'm the only person who thought, upon first hearing this album, that these guys were the next great rock and roll band. I still think they could have been, if drugs and personalities hadn't gotten in the way. This is just a tour de force album; it grabs you by the throat with the opening track, Welcome to the Jungle, and never lets go. Personally, I always liked that track, as well as Mr. Brownstone and It's So Easy, best of all. Because of the massive airplay of both Paradise City and Sweet Child O' Mine, I was sick of them for a number of years, but have recently begun to enjoy them again. I just still shake my head in disbelief over how the band disintegrated -and how ugly it was- whenever I hear their music. But this album just sounds better and better as time goes on, and makes one wonder, "what if?"
5. IV by Led Zeppelin. I refuse to call this 'Zoso'! This fourth album by what I personally consider the greatest rock band of all time only has eight songs, but what an amazing set of songs they are. The song I would consider the weakest, The Battle of Evermore, is still a fine tune, if a bit airy-fairy for me. But this is the album that gave us such monsters as Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Misty Mountain Hop - I used to play this disc over and over. And all these years later, I still love it. It's Zeppelin showcasing all their skills; they can rock with the best of them (Rock and Roll, Black Dog), get bluesy (When the Levee Breaks), and do sweet ballads (Going to California) all on one album, and do them better than anyone else. Zeppelin at the peak of their powers -nuff said.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Karen: The story itself is mostly exposition, explaining how the Martians took over and how Killraven survived in post-invasion New York. It's not bad but like most origin stories, it just leaves you wanting to move forward and see where things are going to go. The Neal Adams art in the first half of the book is just great, although Killraven's costume is surely a solid candidate for another "fashion disaster"! Luckily, he would get a less giggle-inspiring suit later on. A text piece by Thomas in the back of the book explains how he had devised the basic concept, and Adams then came up with the plot and character of Killraven. Unfortunately he got bogged down in other assignments and so Chaykin finished up the book . His work wasn't terrible but he was no Adams! Thomas also didn't have time to write it - this seemed to have happened a lot when he was editor in chief -so Conway was brought in to do the job.
Karen: Not a bad first issue as such things go. There were definitely enough ideas tossed out to make a reader curious enough to come back for more. And I will, in some later Two-in-Ones.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Karen: In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we'd like to share a scene from Fantastic Four 119 (January 1972), which both Doug and I read as kids and found to be very affecting.
Doug: Stan Lee never shied away from making a statement, whether within the stories he wrote or approved, or within the context of his Stan Lee's Soapbox. To your left is just one example. I'm grateful to Stan for assisting in my education on these issues back when I was just a child.
Karen: Agreed. The ideals Marvel expressed regarding racial equality echoed the teachings of my parents, who taught me to respect all people. As I got older, I learned of the history of the civil rights movement and it was difficult to understand how such injustice had ever occurred.
Doug: Perhaps you have the day off from work, or maybe your kids are out of school. In spite of the fact that it may be inconvenient to not be able to mail a letter or use your bank, take a moment to reflect on the reason why -- today we honor a man who was willing to more than stick his neck out for what was right, and we're better for his sacrifice. Seventy years ago, Adolf Hitler couldn't wait to make war on the United States, a nation he saw as racially-diluted and weak. I'd like to think that what he saw as our weakness is in reality one of the things that makes this nation great.
Karen: Our great appreciation to Dr. King, and all the courageous people who have fought for true equality and justice in our country.
"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent. " - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Karen: I decided to take a little break from my Deathlok reviews and go down a very strange, unexpected path. Looking through a box from deep in the closet I found a book purchased as part of a sort of grab bag at an antique fair a few years ago. Today's review looks at a Marvelous reprint - Weird Wonder Tales #19, from 1976. This book caught my eye because it proclaimed "special origin issue!" Lo and behold, we have the origin of the infamous Dr. Druid, although his initial title was 'Dr. Droom'! I kid you not. This story was reprinted from Amazing Adventures #1, from June 1961- so this preceded the Fantastic Four and the beginning of the Marvel Age, but not by much. This reprint, however, was re-lettered so that the character's name appears as 'Dr. Druid', just to be consistent with his later appearances. What, you don't remember Dr. Druid? The 2nd rate occultist who actually took over the Avengers as leader for a brief period? Well, you're probably better off for it.
Karen: This origin story, which was uncredited, but apparently by Lee and Kirby, is essentially like that of the later Dr. Strange. Dr. Anthony Druid is a medical man who travels to Tibet to treat an ailing lama. He undergoes a series of trials -including facing the unbelievably ludicrous Gorlion (guess what two animals mated to make that!) -and finally reaches the Lama. The Lama is not ill, just nearing the end of his long life. He needed a successor to battle evil mystical forces, and apparently a Western physician was the best option.
Karen: The later Dr. Strange version would add elements that would definitely improve the tale, particularly Strange's downfall after the accident that ruins his hands. Of course, the best change to this formula was the addition of Steve Ditko as the artist. Kirby's not bad but Ditko was on a whole other level when it came to mysterious, mystical realms. But it's fun to see this 'trial run' as it were.
Karen: There are two more stories in this issue. Only the middle one is worth mentioning, though. The title of the story is, "I Challenged Groot! The Monster from Planet X!" It originally appeared in Tales To Astonish #13 (November 1960). Groot is a gigantic tree-like alien, the Monarch of Planet X, actually, who has come to Earth to experiment on humans. Somehow he plans to wrap an entire village in a net of tree roots and propel it into space, back to Planet X! No, this doesn't make a lick of sense, but who cares? When all appears lost, the wooden despot is finally defeated - by termites! I really could not make this up.
Karen: What is so great about this story -besides the utter absurdity of it - is that Groot is still kicking around today! Just pick up an issue of Guardians of the Galaxy and you'll see ol' Groot running around, in a silly uniform, shouting, "I am Groot!" Man, sometimes I just love the Marvel universe.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Doug: Most of you may be familiar with the two covers on the left, and you're wondering -- shorts? The dude isn't wearing shorts! But, effendi, take a gander at the cover on the right and you'll see ol' MB wearing basically the same costume, but without the blue pants -- later in his "life", George Perez mercifully changed the bottom of the bodysuit to red and added the blue pants. Took DC a long time to commission Neal Adams to save Robin from a similar fate...
Karen: Of course we also have the original Marvel Boy, Bob Grayson, now running around as the Uranian in Agents of Atlas. But his look is nothing like Quasar's.
Karen: All in all, I'd give him a thumbs up. It's hard to go wrong with primary colors and sparkly effects!
Monday, January 11, 2010
Doug: OK, so admittedly we've had a mixed bag with our DC reviews. Karen liked a Justice League story she read, and I told you how great Detective Comics #400 was. However, then I had to punish you (and me... whoo-boy!) with that super-lame Brave and the Bold yarn. I'm going to take another stab at it with an 8-pager that ran in Superman #257 from September 1972. I'm pulling this one out of the hardcover The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told (c. 1989) and can honestly say I've never read this story. Let's see how we feel about "The Greatest Green Lantern of All!" by Elliot S! Maggin (off a Neal Adams plot) and Dicks Dillin and Giordano.
Here we go -- Green Lantern Corps member Tomar-Re is nearing retirement and is summoned before the Guardians to be told a secret about a planet of his sector, the only time Tomar-Re failed to save a world: the doomed planet Krypton! The title of the story, then, refers not to any of the Green Lanterns we know, but to what might have been had the offspring of Jor-el and Lara been enlisted in the Corps!
Flashing back, we see a meeting of the inner council of the Guardians where debate rages over making the Corps independent. The major discussion centers on whether or not there is a ringbearer in the universe qualified to lead such a transition to independence. In a few panels that evoke Marvel's Watchers, the Guardians look to the future of potential offspring of the just-married Jor-el and Lara of Krypton. Allegedly genetically perfect, they would produce a child "of an incomparable nature". The Guardians are aware that Krypton will soon explode, and so dispatch Tomar-Re to slow the process until Jor-el (like an alien Noah) can ferry all Kryptonians to safety.
We are reminded that Jor-el created not only a Space Ark, but the technology to shrink Kryptonian cities. We also see that Brainiac hijacked the Bottle City of Kandor. Little Kal-el is born in this sequence, and we see Jor-el pleading without results to the Science Council. In the meantime, Tomar-Re is in a race against time to pack the guts of Krypton with a stabilizing element called Stellarium. However, in his haste to gather the mineral, he neglects to sense a nova and is temporarily blinded by the yellow radiation of the exploding star.
The next two pages are quite exciting, as Tomar-Re uses the ring to guide him to Krypton with his next payload of Stellarium. We see interspersed panels of Jor-el and Lara with the rocket that can carry Lara and Kal-el to safety; Lara of course elects to stay with her husband. Tomar-Re's vision begins to come back to him and as he says "I think I can almost see... Krypton!" the planet explodes. He is nursed back to health by the Guardians and they discuss whether or not saving the planet would have been worth more than the outcome -- Superman's life on Earth and his maturation into the universe's greatest champion.
Hot dog! We got a winner here! This was a really interesting story, easily compared to a Marvel of the same time. The art was great – very polished. Giordano’s inks easily swung Dillin’s pencils toward Neal Adams – definitely evoked Adams’ Superman work of the era. And Maggin’s script was nice – not dopey like so many DC’s of the Bronze Age.
Karen: Hey kids, I'm back with the next issue of the original Deathlok run, Astonishing Tales #27 (circa December 1974). This time around Rich Buckler and Doug Moench are credited as co-plotters, but Buckler is credited with art and story, so I guess he actually scripted it. The last time we saw our zombie-cyborg pal Deathlok, he was trying to find his war buddy Mike Travers. He tracks him to the Statue of Liberty, fights his way through a bunch of goons, and then opens a door to reveal his nemesis Ryker, along with a bizarre cyborg werewolf that Ryker calls the War Wolf. Ryker says that the War Wolf is actually Mike Travers, and this creates a dilemma for Deathlok: he can't kill his best friend. However, as Deathlok appears to be on the ropes, Ryker, for some reason, decides to tell him that the War Wolf isn't Travers after all; Travers died on the operating table. Why do villains always seem compelled to do stupid things like this? This of course gives old D-lok a big boost and he battles back, defeating the War Wolf, in particularly brutal fashion.
Deathlok, now leaking 'life fluids', decides to get the heck out of Dodge and then makes a rather poorly thought out decision to go see his wife, Janice. She freaks out when she sees him - it's not really clear that she recognizes him as her former husband - and right before he's about to enter his son's room, Deathlok realizes what a terrible idea this was. He runs outside and in his despair tries to shoot himself in the neck, but his computer makes suicide impossible. He realizes that he can't escape the life he's in, and he can never return to the life he had.
This is a pretty good issue, although I get the feeling reading this (and other issues as well) that Buckler was so bursting at the seams with ideas for Deathlok that sometimes concepts and terms are thrown into the book willy-nilly, without much thought. There's a whole page of Deathlok symbolically hanging on a cross, where we discover that the third voice he had been hearing (the one neither Luther Manning's nor the computer's) was actually an implant Ryker had been using to track the cyborg. Then there's some talk about him feeling persecuting and Ryker trying to make a god machine - honestly, it seems sort of crammed in there. I know what Buckler is going for here but it seems a bit ham-fisted.
Ryker is also a difficult character to take seriously, as he is so over the top and manic in every scene. His motivations are vague; at one point he says, "I use people to create the future. My ultimate goal is to gain mastery over life...and finally, death." Well, that's a fairly vague statement that probably would work for some villains, but in a more realistic series like this one it just comes across as almost lazy. It doesn't help that he just seems (and looks) like a crazy cybernetically obsessed Thunderbolt Ross!
The last negative I'll mention, and this is an odd one, is the lettering. I almost never even notice lettering in a book, but the job done in this issue is very poor. Desmond Jones is credited as the letterer and I don't recall his name at all. In any case, it's very light and inconsistent.
On the good side, the fight pages are pretty well done, although much more violent than most of the comics of that time. But the best part of the book is towards the end. The sequence with Deathlok returning to his former home is just gut-wrenching. The loss that Manning feels is palpable and really helps to make him more sympathetic to the reader. An interesting aside: Manning was a Caucasian, and his wife Janice is black. There are so few inter-racial couple in comics, and this was certainly the first time I can recall seeing one.
The attempted suicide is also moving. To see him, our protagonist (I can't quite call him a hero) turn his laser gun on himself is still shocking today.