Monday, January 31, 2011
Legion of Super-Heroes #293 (Nov. 1982)
"Within the Darkness"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artists: Keith Giffen/Larry Mahlstedt
Karen: How about that cover? It really catches your eye, doesn't it? I always enjoy seeing covers where the artist toys with the logo.
Doug: For me, that cover is reminiscent of Batman #194 from 1967 and by Carmine Infantino. I, too, really like the creativity of Giffen's effort here -- it's striking!
Karen: With the fourth part of our story, we're picking up steam. All the Legionnaires, including Superboy, have been called in in an effort to locate the Master. Six cruisers full of Legionnaires accompany those heroes who are able to travel through space unaided. The Legionnaires are still trying to figure out who the Master is -and how they can possibly stop someone who has stripped the powers from their greatest foes.
Doug: Again, we've remarked that the cat's out of the bag on this two-decades-later re-read. But I'll tell you -- if I had actually read this at the time of publication, I'd have been stumped. This slow reveal is really good -- very suspenseful! And I just love any story when all of the good guys are called together, to fight a menace no single hero could withstand!
Karen: There are a lot of scenes with various Legionnaires, expressing their concerns over the situation. We check in again on the mysterious baby the team found on the Sorcerer's World -who seems to be growing rapidly. There's also a look at the fallout from the Legion election -with perennial second place winner Element Lad letting off some steam at Dream Girl.
Doug: Did you think the new Invisible Kid was getting too much face time in this storyline? I know we've previously discussed "pet characters"; is that what's going on here? And re: the baby -- and again, this is looking at this story with the lens of history -- is the pay-off going to be solid? I mean, I know there's only one ish left in this arc. So this kid is basically going to get 4-5 panels over two issues, and then solve this existence-as-we-know-it-is-about-to-end problem in one concluding installment?
Karen: I was never particularly fond of this Invisible Kid. As you say, it sort of felt like the pet character syndrome here. I kind of liked that the old Invisible Kid was a scientist too. As for the baby -well, you know he's just a plot device!
Karen: Meanwhile the Master has made his way to the planet Daxam, and manages to mentally enslave all 3 billion inhabitants. To top it off, he somehow causes Daxam to be switched physically with his own dead world, so that Daxam is now in orbit of a yellow sun. Of course, that makes all the Daxamites as super-powered as Mon-El.
Doug: Again, I'm not a Fourth World authority by any stretch of the imagination. But, could this really happen? I don't recall our Dark Foe as having anywhere near that sort of power. Kirbyphiles, fill me in!
Karen: My impression is that he got souped-up by all the power he stole, but like you, I wouldn't call myself an expert on this character by any means! The Legionnaires encounter the Servants on a planet that should be Daxam -of course, we know about the Master's switcheroo. They wind up getting their butts kicked, at least until Superboy shows up to defeat his pseudo-clone. Brainy starts putting things together with that big brain of his, realizing what 3 billion super-powered Daxamites could do.
Karen: Speaking of those guys, their Master has given them their first task: he has them use their heat vision to turn their once-beautiful world into a molten ball and then sculpt it into his image. Finally the Master is revealed...as Darkseid! What, you mean you already knew?
Doug: This was megalomania at it's best! Or worst... Hey, in regard to how Giffen drew Darkseid? Think he's a little slim? I think of him as just massive. Thanos-like. Oh, wait -- we haven't discussed that yet. Was Thanos Marvel's (or at least Jim Starlin's) answer to Darkseid?
Karen: If I recall correctly Doug, Starlin was influenced by the Kirby Fourth World characters, and editor Roy Thomas encouraged him to beef up Thanos, who originally had a more normal build. I believe Roy is to have said, "Let's show DC how to do Darkseid!" That might be apocryphal, but who knows. There's certainly a similarity.
Karen: Here, in the penultimate issue, it finally feels like we're getting somewhere. We had some nice action and events on a huge scale -the re-shaping of Daxam is really pretty awesome. Things seem quite desperate for the team.
Doug: Again, kudos to Levitz and Giffen on the pace of the story. What seemed like a dragger at the outset became a tension-filled slow reveal, and in my worthless opinion seemed to hit pay dirt as we head to the last issue. I think I would have enjoyed this story off the spinner rack when I was 16 -- if I had been reading comics at that time!
Saturday, January 29, 2011
So my questions are numerous today. First, do you agree with me that my posit is correct? Did the shift toward telling stories confined to a specific page count, marketed as finite series (replete with a big #1! on the cover, as Karen has recently discussed), and allowing for more "talent" to enter the industry bring about or hasten (among other factors) the end of the Bronze Age of comics?
Second, and this is for all-time, what is the most significant limited and/or mini-series to ever see the light of the store shelf?
Third, what (again, all-time) is your favorite limited and/or mini-series? If you can't think of a favorite, can you name (recommend) a few that were really swell?
Lastly, which limited and/or mini-series just plain killed trees?
As always, thank you in advance for your participation.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Fantastic Four #159 (June 1975)
"Havoc in the Hidden Land!"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott
Doug: OK, how many of you had this cover on some of your Mead school products? Folders, notebook paper? I did not, but boy, I sure looked longingly at that stuff at the store! Well anyway, today brings us to the conclusion of our 5-week tour of the Buckler/Sinnott Fantastic Four -- not that we're done with that run; by no means -- we're just done for now! So let's get to it!
Karen: I did have a big folder with this image and I loved it. However I never took it to school -I knew what kind of heckling I'd get if I did. Anyway, on to the story.
Doug: As we left last issue, the FF (minus Sue) and Quicksilver blasted off in the pogo plane to rescue the Inhumans from invaders from the 5th Dimension. Led by the despot Xemu, the marauders had set up the Thunder Horn, a device that delivered devastating results when powered by voice or even concentrated thought. Once in the Hidden Land, the FF are greeted by deserted streets. Ben and Johnny are suddenly blindsided by an Inhuman, and our heroes are very quickly and all-too-easily captured.
Karen: I like how Ben said to Reed he felt Sue should've been with them. Reed's reasons for leaving her behind just don't wash. Another reason I never liked the guy! I agree, our heroes are taken down a little too easily.
Doug: I thought the reason for the easy capture was twofold: first, it obviously saved the FF from making any mistakes that might cost the lives of the royal family or any other innocent Inhumans. Secondly, it was a plot vehicle to re-introduce Valeria and her father Phineas. Did you feel that Roy was pushing the Torch's reprint series that was on the stands at this time? Or, was it that perhaps Roy saw the old 5th Dimension story from Strange Tales that was about to be reprinted and decided he's update it in his own way?
Karen: Chicken or the egg? Well, we know that Roy had a tremendous respect for the past and often found ways to incorporate old characters and ideas into his work. Heck, he even brought Golden Age characters no one had seen in 30 years into his stories!
Doug: So there's really not much of a point to the presence of our 5th-D "good guys", as when have we ever seen an adventure when Reed Richards couldn't determine a foolproof strategy or deduce the operations of some other-worldly mechanism? Big problem in this case, however, is the seemingly impenetrable prison. Xemu had put his captives in a flame-proof, draft-proof, and Thing-proof stone chamber. Ben's best shot only served to crack the walls and the floor. But when a bit of moisture started to ooze up, that's all that was necessary for Triton to burst up through the floor and rescue the FF.
Karen: I always liked Triton. Sure, he's probably even more useless than Medusa, but he looks a lot cooler!
Doug: Once outside, the team moved quickly to free Black Bolt and defeat Xemu. But in the interim, Xemu had done what any would-be conqueror would do -- he'd brought Medusa before Black Bolt and threatened her harm. Xemu had aimed the Thunder Horn at a Chinese military installation, and fired. Knowing the Chinese would respond immediately, he expected that the Hidden Land would be laid waste and the Chinese would assume a plot by either the Americans or the Russians had been put in motion. Ah -- these were Cold War times, no?
Karen: I gotta say, Xemu's "plan" is essentially to ravage the planet with atomic war so he can conquer it more easily? Uh....OK.
Doug: To wrap this one up, once the Chinese air forces can be seen, Xemu makes a beeline for the portal to his homeworld, leaving his minions behind. In the chaos, Sue Richards suddenly appears atop the Thunder Horn, throwing everyone off their game. The guards relax their hold on the Inhumans' energy-dampening bonds, and it's now a free-for-all. Reed attempts to embrace Sue, and she brushes him off (this, too, was in character -- the rift between the two had been deep since FF #141 when Reed had put Franklin's mind on hold) in order to maintain her concentration. See, she'd stowed away on the pogo plane, and had heard Xemu raving about the workings of the Thunder Horn. Using it to amplify her own thoughts, she'd used it to enhance her powers and had masked the Great Refuge from the Chinese. Successful, the danger seemed over. But what of Xemu? He'd been followed by the Torch, Quicksilver, Valeria, and Phineas, and was easily captured. After a kiss with Valeria, Johnny and Pietro hopped dimensions and rejoined everyone. After a quick resignation by Medusa and a re-joining by Sue, our heroes set off for Manhattan.
Karen: I was happy to see that Sue had indeed come with the team (it's been so long since I read this, I forgot!) and that she saved the day. The conclusion was fairly exciting, but really, Xemu is not a worthy foe for the FF. However, it did allow for Medusa to leave and Sue to return. Did you notice that on page 27, where Johnny is kissing Valeria, it has a distinct John Romita Sr. look? I can't help but think he either re-drew or heavily inked that page. And how do you feel about Johnny being back in his blue suit? I know you dug his red one!
Doug: I did notice that something was amiss with the art on the page you cite. And I thought Johnny looked good back in blue, but you're right -- I did like the red togs.
Doug: I declare, this was a fun little romp through some of the first FF stories I ever owned. Rich Buckler's art was dynamic, and his depictions of Ben and Johnny were quite good. The guy could choreograph a fight scene, couldn't he? And what of Roy Thomas? Next to Stan Lee, I haven't read many better at finding the voices on this team and sticking to that territory we call "familiar". I'd recommend these stories to anyone. Are there better? Sure. But this is a great slice of Bronze Age life, for sure.
Doug: Tune in one week from now, when Karen begins another month of FOOM Fridays!
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Karen: I just read that Marvel will be re-launching Thor as Mighty Thor, with a new number 1 issue, while the original numbering of the title will continue as Journey into Mystery.
This constant re-numbering of books drives me up the wall! It's purely opportunistic. As a consequence, I have no idea now how many issues of Hulk or Thor or Iron Man there really are.
What's even worse is when you are trying to locate an issue and have to figure out what volume it was, or what year it was published in, because there might be 4 issues out there with the same title and number!
I'm not at all convinced that renumbering a book makes it more accessible to new readers. The idea is that a new reader would be intimidated to pick up issue 621 but not issue 1. That's a great theory, until you realize that nothing else is changing. The story in issue 1 is not an introductory origin story, but the continuation of a character that's been around for decades. How is that any more accessible?
OK, I'm done with my rant! Now I want to know how everyone else feels about this!
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
"A Stranger Strikes From Space!"
Stan Lee-Bill Everett
"Boomerang and the Brute!"
Stan Lee-Gil Kane
Doug: Hey, look -- two days in a row with the Hulk! I know we've been really weak on ol' Jade Jaws on the BAB blog, but as I think I've remarked in the past -- I just don't have much Hulk!
Doug: Our first story features Namor and is drawn by his creator, Bill Everett. The story has a real Golden Age feel to it -- in fact, on the splash page Stan quips: "Just for kicks we thought we'd try something different... an action-oriented Subbie tale with little or no psychological hang-ups or subliminal social significance! In other words, just a plain, fast-moving mystery yarn... like we used to do in the so-called "Golden Age of Comics"! It won't win any Nobel prizes, but we're hopin' that it grabs you!" Now, if that isn't a preemptive apology, I don't know what is. And to be honest, this story plays (and looks) like just that -- a story 20 years out of its time.
Doug: Next we come to the Hulk's portion of the book. You know, when I got this out to read, I'm thinking Gene Colan on Subby and either Marie Severin or Herb Trimpe on the Hulk. Nope -- Everett and Gil Kane. Don't get me wrong -- I appreciate the work of each man, and respect their contributions to comic book history. But given my druthers...
Doug: As the Hulk story kicks off, he's been declared a hero after defeating the deadly Hulk-Killer in the previous issue. The entire cast is assembled around him -- "Thunderbolt" Ross, Betty Ross, Glenn Talbot, and Rick Jones. But lurking in the shadows beyond the throngs of media is a garishly-dressed super-baddie -- the Boomerang! OK, exclamation aside, he's not that scary or interesting.
Doug: Boomerang launches one of those discs near the Hulk, startling him and setting him off; the environment had already been tense, and it didn't take much to get ol' Greenskin going. Of course Ross is all fired up and immediately flies off the handle. There's a very minor subplot involving none other than Tricky Dick himself -- Richard Nixon! Seems the President wants to pardon the Hulk if it's warranted, and cables Ross to inform him that if, under his authority, he feels that the Hulk should be acquitted of all charges the President will approve it. Fat chance!
Doug: The Hulk leaps away, but Boomerang follows. What basically happens to the end of the story is a slugfest, but with a twist. As they battle into the desert, Boomerang destroys a large dam, hoping to drown the Hulk.
Doug: I am pretty positive that if I'd seen this on the spinner rack when I was 8 I would not have bought it. The art is really bad, and even though I'm much more of an art aficionado, these stories are so lame it's really inexcusable. By 1968, there were a few writers in the Bullpen to take some pressure off of Stan Lee. He should have used them.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Doug: Here is an excerpt I saw today at Comics Continuum:
The Human Torch dies in Fantastic Four #587, Marvel Comics has confirmed.
"Whether the Human Torch comes back or not is really a question that will be answered in time," Marvel's Joe Quesada told the Associated Press, which broke the story late Monday night. "While I will never discount that a character can come back from the dead because it is one of the staples of comic book story telling. I'm not going to tell you if he will, or when he will and if he does, how he will, but I can assure you that it's going to be very, very interesting and not what anyone expects."
"Jonathan Hickman (writer of Fantastic Four) came to us two years ago with a vision for evolving the characters and concepts introduced to fans 50 years ago in Fantastic Four #1 and quite frankly his vision blew us away," said editor Tom Brevoort. "The death of the Human Torch is the first major move in this incredibly exciting evolution of the legendary Fantastic Four franchise and a necessary part of the larger story we will be telling featuring the beloved characters moving forward."Doug: Would someone please wake me up when it's time to care about modern comics? If you're looking for me, I'll be stuck in the Bronze Age.
Doug: For one of these guys, the madder he gets, the stronger he gets. For the other, he has the killing of the Man of Steel on his resume'. One is a gamma-irradiated engine of destruction, the other a product of Kryptonian birth and alien science without morality -- generated from constant cloning and the record of his own countless violent deaths etched upon his consciousness.
Monday, January 24, 2011
Legion of Super-Heroes #292 (Oct. 1982)
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artists: Keith Giffen/Larry Mahlstedt
Karen: The third part of our saga opens up with a group of Legionnaires helping clean up on Takron Galtos, the prison planet. Mon-El admits that he is scared; this mysterious Master is more powerful than any of the Legion's foes, including Mordru.
Doug: I thought Paul Levitz did a better job of conveying emotion throughout this story. Overall, this was the first time that I really felt like there was some tension building.
Karen: Another group of Legionnaires, which includes new Legion leader Dream Girl, is headed to the Sorcerer's World, where Dream Girl has foreseen the Legion falling before the forces of their enemy. Dream Girl's sister, the White Witch, accompanies them, as she once was a student on this world. The teachers tell the Legionnaires that they are mistaken, that the master cannot broach their defenses, but they are quickly proven wrong. Four servants come bursting out of a space warp in the sky. Two more teams of Legionnaires arrive, but despite all their power, the servants give them a licking.
Doug: This was the scene that really set the pace of this story, which was excellently executed. Slow, fast, slow again -- and so on.
Karen: Mon-El decides he's had enough and enters the space warp to face the Master. Although we are not shown his true appearance, Mon-El is in shock when he recognizes him. The master zaps him into a coma, and notes that he has taken information from his mind which will allow him to conquer all: "Daxam. What a splendid concept." Daxam is Mon-El's homeworld, where everyone has Superman-level powers. Can you see where this is going?
Doug: Certainly. You know, it was apparent that this was a hopeless case already, and that the Master was certainly one tough fellow. But his conclusion upon picking through Mon's brain just oozed evil. I liked the reference to Mon-el's imprisonment in the Phantom Zone. Unless I'm mistaken, the DC Universe doesn't have a counterpart to Marvel's Mephisto... this guy, however, could fill that bill.
Karen: Back at Legion HQ, the three original members, Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Lad, all work together to figure out the mystery. They decide it's time to call in everybody, and send out a general alert.
Doug: I thought their newfound information that the Servants of Darkness were each clones of historical figures was interesting. Karen, you'd noted immediately two issues ago that the super-strong Servant was like Superman; I did not immediately deduce that in spite of the shield symbol on his chest. But I also thought it was interesting that Levitz and Giffen did not totally tip their hands here, as there was one Servant who was not revealed -- and that's the one I got, which would have given me a major hint had I been reading this off the spinner rack 30 years ago.
Karen: The battle with the servants continues, with the remaining Legionnaires withdrawing to the teacher's isle. Meanwhile the teachers themselves have been performing a ritual in order to defeat the Master. What they get though, is a basket with a human-looking baby. Moses?
Doug: Or the Christ child (although I think Paul Levitz is Jewish). But you're right -- toward the end of the story the Moses angle is pretty clearly inferred.
Karen: Dream Girl is certain the baby is the key to stopping their enemy, although she has no idea how. The Master however, withdraws, essentially declaring that the Legion is beneath his notice. The team gathers round the child and wonders what their next move will be.
Doug: Did you think the end of this story was reminiscent of the end of The Empire Strikes Back, when there's a peaceful interlude in the midst of all the chaos? The heroes gathered to regroup mentally and physically, while the cloud of doom still hung overhead. This struck me as very similar -- in this case, the Legion awaited reinforcements from throughout their ranks. And even though Superboy had already had a taste of failure here, I'm certain that he will again serve as inspiration once it all comes to a head.
Karen: I found this issue more engaging than the previous ones. There's a lot of action this time, and tons of Legionnaires, which to me was always one of the big selling points of the book. I'm still finding though that this story isn't quite as exciting as I had recalled.
Doug: I agree with the large group action as a draw. As I said above, though, I felt this issue was nice as a bridge. We've had some set-up, with small bits of action interspersed. The creators have built up some suspense, and adding a bunch more super-heroes to the mix brings a sense of anticipation. However, and you all probably knew I'd get to this sooner or later, I'm still bugged by Giffen's lay-outs. His fight scenes are pretty good, but conversationally he just gives us such bland graphics! Again, the abundance of profile shots is overbearing (nary a 3/4 turn in the entire book!!), and the lack of backgrounds in a fairly large percentage of the panels was noticeable as well. I know he's no George Perez, but when you recall how Perez improved exponentially throughout each issue of the "Serpent Crown Affair", I'm just not seeing that here at all.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
On the other hand, if you look at the Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams volumes from DC, Adams was allowed to recolor all of his work for the hardcover treatment. While the paper the company chose for printing has a softer, more matte-like finish, the artwork at times looks a bit muddy. I've seen several reviewers and bloggers bemoan the notion that they entertained a re-do by Adams on any aspect of the art.
Friday, January 21, 2011
Fantastic Four #158 (May 1975)
"Invasion From the 5th (Count It, 5th!) Dimension"
Roy Thomas-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott
Doug: This is one of the earliest FF's I can recall owning, so it's always been a favorite of mine. The white cover is of course striking, but what really resonated with me was the superhero tussle near the beginning of the story. Let's check it out...
Doug: After the big three-parter with Dr. Doom and the Silver Surfer, we join our friends in several vignettes of repose. Ben and Alicia have taken in "Madame Butterfly" at the Met, Johnny's on the prowl in singles bars around Manhattan, Reed and Sue are on a walk and discussing what her role will or will not be on the team, and Medusa's on her way out of the library. Of course, Roy throws some great characterization into all of these short scenes. Ben's moaning and groaning about the opera, and then at the height of his glory when some kids ask for autographs; of course, he quickly loses his patience. The love shared between he and Alicia is on display through the dialogue, and is charming. Johnny can't stay out of a fight after hitting on a girl previously spoken for -- too bad his new suit wasn't made out of unstable molecules, as it goes up in smoke! And for Reed and Sue, it's a supportive Reed in this episode who tells Sue that if she wants to be active on the team that's fine, but that he will support her if she wants to pursue a career as a private investigator. This is just great stuff -- a "modern" extension of all of the groundwork Stan and Jack had laid in the previous decade.
Karen: I was sort of flabbergasted about this whole thing with Sue wanting to be a private detective! I don't recall that at all, but it's been many years since I last read these issues. I thought the panel with Medusa was really funny -she's coming out of the library, and Roy's caption reads "She's not really doing anything all that interesting"! I wonder if Buckler drew that panel and Roy just didn't know what to do with it!
Doug: Yeah, it was a little odd that Medusa would be at the library at the same time Johnny was in the bars. Maybe that sums up the fact that Roy had grown bored with her -- she would be on the way out shortly, anyway. And Reed and Sue walking in the park? Seemed like the perfect set-up for another mugging as we'd seen in issue #155.
Doug: We then see, of all people, Quicksilver. He's speeding through Manhattan, when he stops to have a conversation with a communication device affixed to his palm. Naturally, the person on the other end of the link is shrouded so that we have no inkling of to whom he's speaking. His orders are to put Plan M into action, and to begin the "assault phase". You know -- time was when Quicksilver was a hero. But wasn't that short-lived? By this time, he'd been a jerk for the better part of 7-8 years!
Doug: Anyway, Johnny's back at the Baxter Building, all miffed at his strike-out. So, gonna do some web-slinging! Uh, no... What would you call what he's gonna do? Flamin'? Whatever it is, Johnny showers off the clothing residue from his ill-timed temper tantrum, and as he's emerging from the shower and slipping into his red suit, who should enter the room but Pietro. And in his usually gruff manner, he issues a challenge to the Torch. Characterization, and what separates Marvel from DC? -- Johnny launches into a soliloquy about how he'd been patient with Quicksilver's budding romance with Crystal, and how he'd even played nice at the wedding (8 issues prior to this one). Quicksilver attempts to reason with the Torch, but in the process the communicator is melted. Now it's game on!
Karen: Yeah, Quicksilver's "attempt to reason" is barking commands at Johnny! That's pretty much consistent with his personality. This was a welcome follow up to the wedding. I thought it was unrealistic at the time that Johnny was fine with Crystal marrying Quicksilver.
Doug: Quarters are tight, but Johnny proves no match for Quicksilver in the close combat. As Johnny hurtles across the floor, the elevator door opens and he's caught by Ben and the rest of the team. Ben easily corrals Pietro, and Reed talks him out of clobbering the mutant. Cooler heads prevail, and Quicksilver begins to narrate his mission. Very shortly after the wedding, the Great Refuge was invaded inter-dimensionally. An attack force entered the royal chambers, quickly subduing the royal family. The invaders had done their homework -- each cousin's powers were neutralized; only Triton managed to escape.
Karen: I was surprised that Black Bolt was taken so easily; in fact, they don't even show it! Worse, later on we see Black Bolt with what is described as a metal clasp over his mouth, but it looks just like a cloth gag! I had no idea who this Xemu guy was when I first read this book. He wasn't too impressive.
Doug: Xemu then revealed his motive -- to get Black Bolt to speak into the Thunder Horn, a weapon so powerful that even a whisper from the voice of a normal person could prove catastrophically destructive. With Black Bolt's sonic voice... Xemu could rule not only his dimension, but our own as well. Oh, and the aforementioned Operation M? That M stood for "Medusa", who was to be the blackmail with which to control Black Bolt. A challenge? As this introductory chapter ends, the FF and Quicksilver take that challenge as a pogo plane lifts off for the Hidden Land!
Karen: It's typical Roy Thomas, to take an obscure villain from the pages of the Torch's solo adventures in Strange Tales a decade before and build a story around him. It's not a bad thing, just a hallmark of Roy's. However, I was a little dismayed at how Reed tells Sue to stay behind and take care of Franklin at the end. Ironic when Sue had earlier made a comment about not feeling oppressed by the others any more.