Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Group Members You'd Have Liked to Have Seen in a Solo Book

Doug: I don't know about you, but I think it would have been really cool to have seen the Swordsman in a solo adventure book, as a sort of soldier-for-hire or adventurer -- maybe a treasure hunter. Many have commented that they enjoyed him as a bad guy in the Silver Age, and again as the loveable loser during his Bronze Age run in the Avengers. His comic book life might have been extended had he been given a try-out or some other extended run in a book he could call his own.

Doug: Similarly, at DC I think you could have gotten some mileage out of a solo book involving Colossal Boy.
Giants are really eye-catching on covers, and the whole Science Police angle could have been used to some effect. Obviously various Legionnaires could have guest-starred, and to some extent writers and artists could have exploited a sort of Gulliver's Travels motif as Gim moved throughout the United Planets.

Doug: So how about you? Which characters from the Bronze Age, who were in team books only (so no Thor or Iron Man, and not even the Thing as he was for all practical purposes already in a solo book in Marvel Two-In-One) would you have liked to have seen in their own book? Or, maybe they could have carried half of a split-book... Let's hear it!

Monday, May 30, 2011

This Comic's a Mutt -- a Mixture of All Kinds of Stuff!


Ka-Zar #3 (May 1974)
"Night of the Man-God!"
Mike Friedrich-Don Heck/Mike Royer

Doug: Lord of the Hidden Jungle time, kiddie-winkies. Today's fare is a look at that Golden Age pulp and comic book rip-off of Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous creation, Bronze Age-style. Ka-Zar first appeared in the pulp magazines, then was brought to the four-color world as a property of Timely Comics, Marvel's predescessor.
He first appeared in the Marvel Universe in X-Men #10 (March 1965).

Doug: The story tips off with Ka-Zar and Zabu walking through the jungle, Zabu bandaged at the shoulder from last issue's battle. As they walk along, they are attacked by a giant snake. Seeing Zabu as weak, the snake begins to exert its coils. It's the man with the knife, however, who leaps to his friend's defense. With the confidence and savagery that is required to survive in the prehistoric jungles beneath the Antarctic Circle, Ka-Zar frees Zabu. And as I said above, it's a very Tarzan-like Ka-Zar who hoists the dead reptile above his head, yelling out (only not in the language of the great apes!).

Doug: The next several pages are backstory and origin for this issue's super-baddie. In a previous ish, Ka-Zar and "his temporary ally, Shanna the She-Devil" (yeah, just wait...) had defeated Maa-gor, the last of the Man-Apes. Again, he is a Burroughs-like creation, reminiscent of the "50 frightful men" who inhabited Opar and protected the High Priestess, La. Maa-gor is smarting from the beatdown, and in his feeble brain seeks revenge on Ka-Zar.
Reaching the forbidden mists of the Savage Land, Maa-gor stops. No one of his people ever survived the mists, yet Maa-gor stumbles in anyway. What happens appears to be akin to the Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans, as Maa-gor gets a heckuva lot smarter and better-looking. The narrator informs us that it is these mists which keep Zabu young and make Ka-Zar strong. I'm not really up on this lore, so I'll take his word for it!

Doug: So Maa-gor is now the Man-God, and he ain't happy. He mentally transforms his fur loincloth into a quite ugly zoot suit and then (don't ask me why) summons the consciousness of the South American mercenary El Tigre (see X-Men #25 -- what the heck??). Telling him they will share the wealth of the Savage Land, the Man-God then transports the two of them right into Ka-Zar's lair. Game on! Ka-Zar makes short work of El Tigre, and then he and the Man-God tussle a bit. Zabu gets in on the action, but ultimately Man-God comes out on top.
Of course -- otherwise our story would only have been nine pages long! So as Chapter One ends, we the reader are treated to a centerfold map of the Savage Land, with art by Mike Royer. It's not exactly the most detailed map one might wish to see, but it's a nice add-in to the story.

Doug: Avengers fans will like the appearance of one Bobbi Morse, agent of SHIELD, who revives Ka-Zar. You see, Bobbi was tailing El Tigre when our Latino friend had his out-of-body experience, and then shortly thereafter hightailed it out of dodge on a plane. Using a tracer bug (uh huh), Bobbi trailed our do-badder to the Savage Land and saw the skirmish with the Man-God (Friedrich, c'mon...). So after the butt-kicking was laid down and the bad guys cleared out, Bobbi whipped out some smelling salts (I carry them everywhere I go. You?) and brought Lord Plunder back to the land of the awake.

Doug: We cut to Man-God and El Tigre, who are gloating over a device "left behind by an alien race".
Basically it's a drill, and when Man-God turns it on, what pops out of the Earth but oil? El Tigre's pretty fired up, but then Ka-Zar arrives, and it's another melee. In the end, Ka-Zar is attacked by Zabu, now controlled by El Tigre. The tide of battle is turned, however, when Bobbi attacks. This throws off everyone's attention and timing, and although El Tigre gives her a whack upside the noggin, the distraction has allowed Ka-Zar time to empathically reconnect with Zabu. And they aren't happy! To be continued...

Doug: This was an OK story. Not great, maybe not even good. But it wasn't terrible, and in spite of Friedrich's somewhat sophomoric script (which required a fair deal of not only the suspension of disbelief, but also suspension of common sense) it was 15 minutes of Bronze Age entertainment.
Don Heck's art was stiff as usual, but not totally distracting as it could be in this era. There are some scenes where he really put out in terms of detail and background illustration (now there's something you don't see much of in many modern comics), and I appreciated the effort. So I guess the story wasn't gripping enough to make me seek out Ka-Zar #4, but I'm not sad or upset that I read it. If nothing else, it was a nice little Tarzan story...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spotlight On: Jim Aparo


Doug: Jim Aparo is a journeyman sort of artist, and I say that not to denigrate the man, but let's be honest -- he's not going to make most people's "greatest artists of the Silver and Bronze Ages" lists. Nonetheless, Aparo was solid for many, many years, and I'd venture to say that for many of us when we think of Batman in the Bronze Age we see Jim Aparo's work right after we think of Neal Adams. Aparo was that prevalent in this period we love. Aparo was hired by Dick Giordano at Charlton and followed him over to DC a bit later. There's no mistaking the influence of Giordano and Adams on Aparo's work -- Aparo really gives off a pretty seamless appearance on Batman into the 1970's. You can read about Aparo's life and career here and here.

Doug: Aparo is perhaps remembered (I hesitated to say "best remembered") as the artist on the "Death in the Family" arc that saw the
1-900 phone number call-in death of the Jason Todd Robin at the hands of the Joker. While I doubt Aparo had much input on that storyline, I will say that he illustrated it with energy and care. It must have been an emotional tale to spin, and I think his output was not only professional but memorable.

Doug: So what are your thoughts on this stalwart? Who can we compare him to -- Sal Buscema, maybe? Not necessarily for style, but how about longevity and breadth of coverage over the DC Universe, similar to Sal's presence throughout the Marvel Universe. What's your favorite Aparo-drawn character -- Batman, the Spectre, Aquaman, or someone/-thing else? As always, thanks for your opinions!


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Thanos Vs. Darkseid


Karen: Today's question is: Thanos or Darkseid? Not who's more powerful, but who do you like more, who do you find a more compelling character?

Karen: Of course, Darkseid came first, created by Jack Kirby for his Fourth World series of books at DC in the early 70s. As the ruler of Apokolips, his initial struggles involved the New Gods, and also Superman. But he has branched out from that and become a major league villain who has popped up in a variety of titles.

Karen: Thanos came
after Darkseid and was definitely inspired by him, and Metron, another New God character. Created by Jim Starlin, Thanos first appeared in Iron Man, and soon became the enemy of Captain Marvel, and later, Warlock. But just like Darkseid, his schemes have brought him into conflict with many of the Marvel universe's heroes.

Karen: One could argue that both of these villains have become over-exposed. Yet they remain wildly popular. Personally, I like both but I'd have to go with Thanos as my favorite. I find his motivations, his twisted love of death and entropy, to be more interesting. But let's hear from the rest of you. Who do you like more, and why?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Among Us Walks…a Goliath! (Or, How I Came to Know Dr. Henry Pym), Part Two

Doug: In today's installment of my essay originally imagined to appear in Assembled! Volume 3, we pick up my impressions of Avengers #28, which featured the return of Dr. Henry Pym to Earth's Mightiest Heroes...

What struck me about Hank in the first half of this story was his self-doubt, almost whining about his problems. I thought, hey, here’s a guy who should be on top of the world – top-notch scientist with his own very large research ship, Avengers founder, and with one of the coolest super powers around! Look at the Avengers of that era: Hawkeye wasn’t in my mind much different from what I’d seen of Green Arrow, Captain America was no doubt in charge but leadership seemed to be his finest attribute, Quicksilver was a poor man’s Flash, and I’d yet to truly figure out what the Scarlet Witch could do. At that point in my readership I didn’t fully grasp the nature or intensity of Wanda’s prowess (nor for that matter did her writers, it seemed). Throw in now a guy who was 25 feet tall and strong as a tank… yeah, that’s who my seven-year old mind gravitated to, identified with in an envious way. Incidentally, giants would go on to dominate on my cool-o-meter as a youngster: Goliath, Galactus, Black Goliath, Colossal Boy… shoot – even Stilt-Man was a treat. I should also say that years later, I had to wonder if the different drugs Hank had used to create his ability to change sizes had not caused unknown side effects that may have affected him mentally. Could that have been a cause of his self-doubt?

The second half of the story is what has caused me to admire the character and appreciate him as complex, heroic, and never-say-die. Once the Avengers arrived at the Collector’s castle, Hank (although taken aback at Hawkeye’s disrespect for Cap’s lead, and amazed at how Cap had taken ownership of the team) came to the fore, freeing his teammates from bondage and on the attack – aggressive, leading, angry, and when it looked to be over in a gas attack, lashing out with the last effort he could muster. This Hank Pym would not be denied. Of course the kicker was on the last page when, attempting to shrink back to normal size to greet the newly freed Wasp, Hank stopped at ten feet.

And there I was. Newer readers have no idea what it was like trying to get comics in the pre-direct market days. Not only was I too young to fly solo to get to either of two local drug stores or the grocery store where we shopped, but even if I could get to one of those places there was simply no guarantee that the book I was looking for would be in stock (let alone that it had even been ordered that month). These were the days of irregular distribution at best and there were no such things as “pull lists”, store subscriptions, etc. As far as I knew, Hank was still stuck at ten feet…

Until I stumbled upon Avengers #140. I recall purchasing issue #130 myself, but for some reason I never got hold of the subsequent issues. Anyway, this cover knocked me on my pants – “Invasion of the 50 Foot Hero!” it screamed at me as I stared at the giant lying prone on the ground with two strangers acting in haste to (apparently) save him. I couldn’t get the quarter out of my pocket fast enough!

This wasn’t exactly a jumping-on issue. Talk about stepping in mid-stream! New characters, none of whom I recognized, and only the Scarlet Witch from my previous two Avengers encounters. But, I certainly did know the name of Hank Pym and his wife (?) Jan. Naturally what grabbed me about this book was what happened to Hank (now in a new outfit – did the guy change clothes like most people change their underwear?!?), as he collapsed at the beginning of the story and began to grow… and grow… and grow! I gleaned that he’d fallen ill from a battle in the previous issue, and it seemed like he’d done it in defense of the Wasp. Thor remarked to Jan’s doctor, who had questioned Pym’s motivation for taking off after whoever this Whirlwind fellow was, “This man doth live his every moment for yon woman, doctor (page 3)!” Yep, they were talking about the Hank Pym I’d seen in that earlier Avengers comic I owned. Ultimately the story had a happy ending, and also improved my education as far as what had gone on with the team (it was about this time that I figured out what a “reprint” was, and that my other two Avengers books had been such). Although I couldn’t discern much of the Beast’s backstory (X-Men? It would be about another few months before a friend showed me a copy of a book he’d just bought – Giant-Size X-Men #1), he was very interesting; the Vision seemed very strange. I was also excited to see that Captain America would be in the next issue.

But Hank, now Yellowjacket, wasn’t. The events of his out-of-control growth had taken a toll and forced him to a restful retirement in a hospital. This was OK to me at the time, because I was really soaking in all of the characters I didn’t really know – the Vision, Beast, and Iron Man (who had gotten his tail kicked by Thor in the #130 I mentioned). I can still recall that wonderful sense of discovery as I read #141; and that George Perez guy wasn’t too bad on the art, either! And then, an ordinarily boring trip with my mom to the grocery store lit up my day. On the magazine shelf, next to the Car-toons and MAD magazines, was a single copy of Giant-Size Avengers #5 with Goliath prominently featured on the cover. A little begging and a short trip home and I was back at it with a whole bunch of characters! Cap, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch, Goliath, the Wasp, Thor, Iron Man, and a big guy named Hercules went up against some very colorful baddies in the longest story I’d yet seen in a comic book.

There really weren’t any great Goliath action moments in the story, a reprint of Avengers Annual #1 – a good tussle with the Swordsman and Power Man, but nothing we hadn’t already seen. I did like his playfulness with the Wasp toward the end of the story – it again showed Hank was very dedicated to her. And it was fun to see the interaction of various members of the squad, particularly the Thor/Hawkeye team-up. Don Heck’s art was solid and it seemed he’d learned to reconcile Goliath’s height changes as relative to his teammates and surroundings; even as a waif I’d noticed this glaring discrepancy in the Avengers #28 story. George Tuska struggled similarly in #140 in staying consistent when attempting to show the unconscious Yellowjacket’s growth – in one scene YJ would be drawn much smaller relative to other characters, in others he’d be two to three times larger, and then back again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Batman, 1966: Pros and Cons?

Doug: Today's Open Forum is a pretty simple question -- what was right, and what was wrong, with the Batman television show that ran on ABC during the years that many of us were born?

I'll start. The Batman television show, along with Super Friends and reruns of the 1966 Marvel Super-Heroes and the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon, were my "live action" (and given that three of my examples are animated, I mean moving pictures) introduction to the characters I was already enjoying in the comics. Even as a 6 or 7 year-old, I was certainly aware that Batman and Super Friends were watered down from what I was currently enjoying; the Marvel Super-Heroes was captivating, as I'd yet to fully understand the long history of Marvel Comics. But Batman was amazing to me -- it was so bright and colorful, and the over-the-top characters really drew me in. It was pretty whitebread story-wise, but the cliffhangers were enthralling! Now, looking through the lens of an adult, I certainly recognize it for what it was, and am fully aware of the damage it's done to the comic book genre in the eyes of the general public. Hey, is there an article about a movie heading into production that is not dotted with the obligatory "Bam!" or "Biff!"? Nope.

Now, the YouTube video I've included is certainly going to incite the haters among you, but I'd offer that for me, it's part of the nostalgic charm of the show. But it's on you now -- have at it!


Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1962


1962

Doug: Even though it's only been a week since the last Side-by-Side extravaganza, consider this new territory as today we embark on a journey through what many term the Silver Age of Comics. However, the advent of the Silver Age is significantly different temporally at the Big Two. At DC, change was afoot in 1956 with the release of Showcase #4 and the all-new Flash. Most folks will say the release of Fantastic Four #1 in 1961 brought the Silver Age to the House of Ideas. We've decided to pick things up in 1962, simply for the sake of having some familiar things to discuss. Whilst you'd recognize DC, Marvel's emergence would come along just a bit more slowly. As we've been doing, our sole resources are The Marvel Chronicle and the DC Comics Year-by-Year coffee table books, and both of those books use cover dates (not publication dates) to mark time. As you've done in the past, feel free to contribute other anecdotes, memories, or general information that we don't happen to mention.

Doug: As we usually do, we'll lead off with some "real world" happenings. In January, the first subway without a crew aboard debuted in New York City, and in April West Side Story won the Best Picture Oscar, while The Manchurian Candidate, Lawrence of Arabia, and To Kill a Mockingbird were also in the theaters.
In political issues, the South African government arrested Nelson Mandela in August, charging him with "incitement to rebellion"; in October, James Meredith became the first black student to register (with the help of federal marshals) at the University of Mississippi. Also in 1962, the first transatlantic television broadcast took place via the Telstar satellite, the Cuban Missile Crisis cooled off, and Andy Warhol's exhibit of Campbell's tomato soup cans was on exhibit in West Hollywood. And Marilyn Monroe died.

Karen: It was a dynamic time for the world. The old ways were starting to be challenged. Marvel fits perfectly in this year.

Doug: As we stated above, we are beginning in 1962 so we're not simply talking about monsters, etc. at Marvel.
DC already had a 5-year lead when Fantastic Four #1 came out, so in fairness we're putting a little ground under Marvel's feet before we start discussing. Which company do you think will have the upper hand by the time we get to the bottom of this post? I think you'll find this to be a great era coming from both companies. One note that may also justify our dividing line would be the fact that comics went from a price of 10c to 12c in 1962. Do you suppose fans were as up in arms as I recall being when they rose to 30c from a quarter?

Doug: I want to go on record right now and state that as a Marvel Zombie, I am going to have a hard time being objective in this report. Just sayin'. I'm going to depend on some of you DC-types to keep me in line.

Karen: Same for me. My problems with Silver Age DC have been voiced before on the blog. But I'll try to be objective.

Doug: January was significant in the Superman universe, as Kara Zor-el was unveiled to the public in Action Comics #285. No longer her cousin's "secret weapon",
Supergirl was now free to move about in her own right. In February, Aquaman earned a solo title, over 20 years after making his debut. Creators George Kashdan and Nick Cardy steered the King of the Seven Seas' adventures. The story introduced the magical water sprite, Quisp. Funny -- as a Bronze Age Baby, I remember Quisp as a cereal character! In the same month the origin of the Justice League of America was told in JLA #9. Over at Marvel, a certain Dr. Henry Pym showed up in Tales to Astonish #27, albeit not in uniform. "The Man in the Ant Hill" was brought to us by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby -- you know we'll be hearing from those guys pretty regularly. That same month one of Marvel's long running alien races debuted in Fantastic Four #2, as the Skrulls menaced our new heroes. Funny that they would not be heard from again until the end of the decade. In March the FF got their familiar blue costumes, and the first Fantasticar was introduced in FF #3 -- the first issue to bear the bravado "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!"

Karen: It's surprising that Aquaman never had his own title prior to this. I always think of him as being a pretty big deal at DC in the 60s, but perhaps that perception is based more on his appearance on the Super-Friends cartoon in the 70s than anything else.

Karen: At one time I had a copy of Tales to Astonish #27 (inherited from my uncle) but I sold it during a rough patch for $300. Ouch. I do think it is interesting that Pym went from what should have been a one-shot appearance in a monster mag to becoming a super-hero. Many of Marvel's characters seemed to be influenced in some degree by the sci fi and monster films of the 50s and 60s. Pym was surely somewhat a product of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" just as the Hulk was a combination of Frankenstein, The Amazing Colossal Man, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Doug: As Spring arrived, so did the Metal Men, in the pages of Showcase #37. Robert Kanigher wrote the words and Ross Andru drew the pictures, and readers were treated to a fresh take on robots.
With science fiction an important genre both in print and at the movies (and on television, for that matter), the Metal Men capitalized on the idea of artificial intelligence. These were not your father's robots, though; no, the Metal Men were androids who could think and feel, and a year later earned their own title. In May the villain Abra Cadabra debuted in Flash #128, and more significantly (especially to more recent events at DC) Dr. Light was introduced in JLA #12. Marvel countered in the pre-summer months by unleashing their version of a modern Frankenstein Monster and calling him the Incredible Hulk. Running only six issues initially, the Jade Giant has nonetheless become one of Marvel's most recognized characters. The Hulk bowed in May, the same month that Stan Lee brought the Golden Age Sub-Mariner to the present in FF #4. Interestingly, Namor was revived by the modern version of his old nemesis, the Human Torch.

Karen: The Metal Men have always intrigued me, as they almost seem like they'd fit in better at Marvel. The Hulk was a character t
hat seemed to have trouble finding an audience initially. Perhaps fans were not ready for a monster as a hero? The Thing would seem to have broken that ground, but he was part of a team. The Hulk was decidedly an anti-hero from the beginning, nearly causing as much trouble as the enemies he fought. Funny to think that he was without a home of his own for some time, until he joined Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish.

Doug: The DC book makes only one mention of events in the summer months, with July's Atom #1 by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane (for my money, some of Kane's best work was at DC on the Atom as well as Green Lantern), so we'll end it with the last reference they make -- October's Green Lantern #16 and the introduction of Star Sapphire. In reality, she was GL's girlfriend Carol Ferris, proving once again how dumb superheroes and their girlfriends can be. Marvel had maybe, just maybe, a bit better of a summertime with the debuts of Dr. Doom in July (FF #5) and the Amazing Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15 (August). The Mighty Thor also hit the stands in a book cover-dated August, in Journey Into Mystery #83. Now I know we are looking back on this through the lens of history, but it would be difficult to imagine that Marvel's fresh new look wasn't just a bit eye-grabbing. Maybe I'm wrong, though -- after all, it did take Marvel the better part of a decade to supplant DC's lead in market share. To close the summer months, Ant-Man got a costume in Tales to Astonish #35 in September, the same month that we saw the first Marvel super-villain team-up. In FF #6, Dr. Doom convinced Namor to ally with him against the Fantastic Four.

Karen: I wish I could have experienced that amazing burst of creativity as Marvel put out one new character after another. Dr. Doom, Spider-Man, Thor - all within a few months of each other!


Doug: As the year ended, the DC book doesn't give us much beyond the aforementioned intro. of Star Sapphire. In Marvel's now-exploding universe, Loki debuted in
Journey Into Mystery #85 in October. Alicia Masters was introduced in FF #8 in November, the same month that a new Two-Gun Kid debuted in Two-Gun Kid #60.

Doug: You know what we have here from Marvel? Freedom. Freedom to do whatever they wanted. Shoot, the company was almost bankrupt, so freedom to fail was all they had left. And boy, did they take it and run.

Karen: It's really not fair to compare the two companies this year, as DC had reached a nice, stable point and Marvel was just being born. Come about 1965 or so, I think the comparisons will be on a more even playing field.

NOTE: If the font seems like it's all over the place in this post, I think we can chalk it up to the Blogger demons at work again. We hope it's not too distracting! Thanks.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Start Me Up: Fantastic Four # 244



Fantastic Four
#244 (July 1982)
"Beginnings and Endings"
writer/artist: John Byrne

Karen: When we last saw our heroes, they had defeated Galactus, but Reed Richards had declared that they must save the world-devourer. This issue picks up some time later, when an exhausted Human Torch shows up at his friend Julie's place and collapses, saying repeatedly that "Frankie's gone". Reed and Sue soon arrive, and Reed then begins to tell Julie the reason behind Frankie Raye's disappearance. We have a nice full-page shot of a collapsed Galactus. He appears to be shrinking as he dies from lack of energy. The FF and Avengers crowd around him.

Doug: This scene is the opposite of Avengers #140, when
Yellowjacket collapsed and started to grow. The overhead shot of the prone Galactus with the heroes surrounding him is really good. I want to say, that of all the costumes Jack Kirby designed, Galactus' get-up is perhaps my favorite. A comment on Johnny's duds in this scene: Byrne's depiction here is somewhat reminiscent of how Alex Ross draws his super-dudes, in that the clothes bag a bit. However, since most other artists generally opt for the skin-tight uniforms, one must be led to think that Johnny's lost about 20 pounds while he's been missing. Oh, and one more clothing observation -- did you hear Irene Cara singing when you saw Julie's full exercise outfit?

Karen: Yes, the book definitely is dated by that 'F
lashdance' outfit. The heroes briefly debate what should be done. It was interesting to see that even back in 1982, Iron Man is the one who says Galactus should be allowed to die. Of course, Reed and Cap disagree. Oddly no one else argues with them, and they begin their efforts to save Galactus.

Doug: Briefly, yes -- I understand time was critical here, but c'mon. I thought the decision was reached awfully quickly. Think about it: Galactus was dying a natural death; if there had been such a thing as a cosmic hospice, it would not have been out of the question to call for it. But I suppose Reed felt something akin to the responsibility of
the Hippocratic Oath. Tony, on the other hand? Yes, closer to more recent characterizations, but as a capitalist he could perhaps be excused for thinking in terms of efficiency, cutting his costs, etc. But very callous, yes. Personally, I thought that big softy Ben Grimm would have spoken up, or even Thor with his knowledge of the cosmic order of life and death across eons.

Karen: Stark provides some gigantic doohickey and Thor's mystic hamm
er provides the power. However, Galactus begins to draw on Thor's life force via his hammer! Cap flings his shield at the machine, severing the link and saving the thunder god. Big G awakens, surprised that he still lives. He follows the FF back to their headquarters.

Doug: Do you recall when Hank Pym was in his "Dr. Pym" role, whe
re he kept all sorts of gizmos shrunken in his jumpsuit? It's almost like Reed has a solution to any possible problem, and he gets at it relatively easily. Too easily.

Karen: I really hate the way Sue is portrayed here. When she sees the team returning with Galactus, she freaks out, saying, "It's Galactus! He's pursued you here! Oh Reed, no! We can't fight him again! I can't bear..." This is the woman who has traveled across the universe, faced all manner of threats, and she's reduced to a quivering jelly. Please.

Doug: Amen.

Karen: Reed uses his equipment to locate six planets, all without life, that have the type of energy Galactus needs. But Galactus isn't convinced. He says they are too far for him to travel in his weakened state, if they should prove unus
able to him. Then Frankie Raye pops up, and brushing aside Reed and Johnny, offers herself as a new herald for Galactus! Reed tells her that she might be required to lead Galactus to inhabited planets, and she responds callously, "So? A few less bug-eyed monsters? What's that compared to my being able to go...out there?" Wow! Who knew that little old Frankie was so cold-hearted and self-centered?

Doug: Did it occur to you that if Reed could jump-start Galactus with artificial energy, then why couldn't Galactus' own technology create a similar operation? Talk about the USA relying on foreign oil... Maybe Galactus should have been researching alternative fuels. And Frankie Raye absolutely was a cold-hearted, self-centered you-know-what. Wow, Johnny -- great choice! Another in a long line. Dorrie Evans must have been looking pretty good after Crystal and Frankie, huh?

Karen: Galactus finds her motivation acceptable and transforms her into his new herald, a being of golden flames. She soars off into space, with a heart-broken Johnny trying to follow her. Note that at this point she was not called Nova. I always felt bad about Rich Rider losing his name to her. The Big G teleports away, saying that only here on Earth can Galactus say he has friends.

Doug: Did I read it right? Norrin Radd was too pure in heart, and Tyros was too corrupt. So Frankie was right in the groove? Yeah, good job, Johnny...

Karen: With the recap over, we rejoin Reed, Sue, Julie, and Johnny in Julie's apartment. A disconsolate Johnny has recovered and the three go home, leaving poor Julie stunned. We then get several pages of prologue, where we see the Baxter Building being fixed, a glimpse of Dr. Doom, and finally Franklin again using his powers, this time blowing up Herbie. Is that such a bad thing?


Doug: Many have likened Byrne's run to the Lee/Kirby run, and I'd say that in regard to him ending the third part of this trilogy and then launching into the next storylines halfway through the book feels an awful lot like FF #50.

Karen: I know! I was shocked the first time I read the Galactus trilogy, when we were done with Galactus by the middle of the final issue, and spent the rest of our time with Johnny at college. That was a bit of poor planning on someone's part. All in all this was a fun story, although I felt the heroes gave in way too quickly when Reed decided they had to save Galactus. Of course, now we'd have a 6 issue mini-series about it. Reed's actions would have consequences, as he later was put on trial by the rest of the galaxy for saving Big G.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Who? Favorite Lesser Characters


Karen: All comics fans can name their favorite comic book stars. But what about those characters who aren't stars, who never headlined a book but still, for whatever reason, got your attention? Maybe they were part of the supporting cast, or a guest star. Maybe they only appeared once. But I bet most comics fans have an obscure favorite or two.

Karen: One of my favorites is the Recorder, a humanoid robot created by the Rigellian colonizers, who used to hang around with T
hor back in the 60s. The Recorder had a funky speech pattern and always seemed to have his hand plugged into his chest for some reason. But he was a loyal friend to the thunder god, and went with him to battle Ego and other nasty menaces. He has popped up time and again in the Marvel universe. I think he switched pantheons at one point and was chumming around with Hercules, back when Herc got his first mini-series.

Karen: Another favorite was Drax the Destroyer, a character who premiered originally in Iron Man 55 and then was a regular guest star in Jim Starlin's Captain Marvel run during the 70s. He had such a great look, with his cape and widow's peak headgear. He
was the dark counterpoint to Mar-Vell. He was turned into a dumb-Hulk like character for awhile (didn't care for that personally) and then revived recently with a much different look and different powers in the Annihilation mini-series. I believe he switched back to his classic costume for one last go-round with Thanos.

Karen: So let's hear names -who are your favorite non-stars?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What is a hero?


Karen: Marvel has been calling the current time in comics "The Heroic Age," apparently due to the return of Thor and Steve Rogers and the end of all the hostilities left over from the Civil War. In an article in USA Today (Jan. 27, 2010), Joe Quesada said, "Heroes will be heroes again. They've gone through hell and they're back to being good guys — a throwback to the early days of the Marvel Universe, with more of a swashbuckling feel."

But I'm finding little about it to be 'heroic'. Latest example: Avengers #12. No, I didn't buy this book -I can't handle the 'one-voice' characterization of Bendis -but I read through it at the shop (since it only takes 5 minutes to read one of these books), and was appalled by the ending.

For those of you wise enough not to be following current titles, here's what happened: The Avengers, all 564 of them, defeated a two-bit crook called the Hood who had obtained the Infinity Gems. Iron Man made a big show of destroying the gems in front of all assembled. But in the last pages of the book, we see that he lied to everyone and has kept all the gems. He redistributes them to his Illuminati pals, who now include Steve Rogers in their rank. Yes. Mr. Conscience of the Marvel Universe is apparently OK with lying to all his fellow heroes. I expect that from Stark now, after the complete degradation of his character over the last few years, but Rogers?

Then again, this is the same Steve Rogers who recently threatened Dr. Faustus if he didn't testify in Bucky's behalf.

And you know, going back to the Civil War, where's the fall-out from that? The Avengers Prime series was supposed to show Thor, Stark, and Rogers dealing with that, but was absolutely worthless (even the always magnificent Alan Davis couldn't save this one). Where was Thor's anger over the clone Stark made? Stark's guilt? Cap's regrets? Instead, we get jokes about who slept with Hellcat. Stark seems unapologetic for anything he did -which was a lot - and yet the superhero community accepts him. I feel like Marvel just swept everything under the rug.

There doesn't seem to be a lot about these characters any more that feels heroic -they just have power. I don't see much difference between them and the villains -they all seem pretty self-serving. My definition of a hero is someone who puts the greater good ahead of their own needs. Someone who makes sacrifices. Someone who follows a moral code.

So here's my question to you: what makes someone a hero?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Because You Demanded It! The Return of the Do-It-Yourself Open Forum!

Doug: Yep, it's been about a month since you, our adoring public, got to choose the subject du jour. So here we are -- have at it!

As always, the following process will be followed and rules apply: Whoever is the first to comment can post a question, posit, or general gibberish in the hopes of starting a conversation. Everyone who piles on later -- that's what we're talking about today! So, if you are reading this and no one else has commented, then it's all you! If you're coming along later and the comments are rolling in, please don't hijack the thread.

As always, have fun!




Friday, May 20, 2011

Among Us Walks…a Goliath! (Or, How I Came to Know Dr. Henry Pym)

Doug: A very long time ago I gave you a preview of an essay I'd written for inclusion in Assembled! Volume 3. Well, as I originally wrote the content over five years ago, and the Thor movie has come and gone and there's been no word of any release date for this tome in time for the Captain America movie (Assembled! Volume 2 came out with the release of Iron Man), I'm going to assume it's on the editor's far-back burner. So, at the encouragement of my partner, whose work did make it into Assembled! 2, I am going to begin a series of posts that will publish my two essays here in installments. Up first is my perspective on Hank Pym. I'll follow this up later in the summer with my take on the wedding of Crystal to Quicksilver (an essay I also previewed on this blog). So without further ado...


Some things fade from memory relatively easily. Others tend to leave our consciousness in a “cloudier” fashion, with shades of “Hmmm… I seem to recall…” Then there are those moments that remain vivid – those historical “moments in time” where you recall a setting, a song playing on the radio, those in whose company you were, and topics of conversation. My love for comic books started with a “moment” like that (although I’m lying just a bit – I really don’t remember if I was six years old or seven, but that’s just a detail) when a neighbor girl gave me a copy of Marvel Triple Action #13. Unbeknownst to my childish eyes, the book was actually a reprint of a tale of yore, in this case Avengers #19 – the coming of the Swordsman! Who can forget the menacing yet smirking visage of our felonious blade-wielder, and the groovy Don Heck “floating heads” cover (only the second example of such, in what has become an Avengers tradition)? I sure couldn’t, and I was hooked – the nobility of Captain America, the deception of the Swordsman (I didn’t know the word “smarmy” at the time, but it would sure fit that guy), the aggression of Hawkeye and Quicksilver toward their leader, and that crazy thing on Wanda’s head all just left me in awe. I had to know more – these Avengers were fun!

Hank Pym, however, never seemed to have much fun. The next time I came across the team proved to be the most impactful, for me and perhaps for Hank as well: Marvel Triple Action #22 (cover dated November 1974, and reprinting Avengers #28). “Wow!” said my youthful brain. A giant, a Goliath! At this point my experience with the funny books was still limited – now two Avengers issues, a JLA/JSA team-up, and maybe an Archie or Tom & Jerry or some such thing. I was ecstatic to see “my” Avengers again and with new characters (at least they were new to me). This Pym fella, though seemed like a moody dude. But the Collector was cool (weird, though)! Upon further inspection I picked up what we now of course know: Hank Pym and Janet van Dyne had left the Avengers in an earlier story (you mean – there’s more?!?), Jan had returned in a previous issue and had gone missing, and now Hank was back to fetch her with the Avengers’ help.

Right from the get-go, Hank seemed like such a tortured soul. As I said, at this point I’d had no exposure to Marvel and all its angst – this seemed like a guy genuinely down on his luck and desperate. Early in Avengers #28 (henceforth, I’m moving away from the Marvel Triple Action numbering), in regard to a call to the team for help in finding the missing Jan, Hank said,

“I had to reveal my true identity. Secrecy means nothing now! Not when Jan may be in danger! …If only I hadn’t let her transform herself into the Wasp once more! I should have insisted we stay in retirement! But I had no choice! The need was there – and at heart, we’ll both always be – Avengers (page 2)!”

Hawkeye reluctantly went to fetch Dr. Pym, and upon their return greetings with the rest of the Kooky Quartet were exchanged. Of course, nothing is easy and Hawkeye asked for proof that Pym was truly Giant-Man. Cap agreed and asked Pym to prove himself before they embarked on their search for the Wasp. Hank told Cap, “One of the reasons I resigned from the Avengers was – I realized that changing size so often was dangerous to my body! The unimaginable strain might some day be fatal (page 5)!” Nevertheless, protocol is protocol. Despite a warning that 25 feet was now the only height he dared attain, a brief step into the alley (after donning some new duds sewn by Wanda “in case you ever did return (ibid)!”) proved Hank the real deal.

Doug: Stop back by on each of the next five Fridays for more of me and Hank Pym!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Bigger They Come...:Fantastic Four # 243


Fantastic Four #243 (June 1982)
"Shall Earth Endure?"
John Byrne -writer/artist

Karen: To recap: Terrax, herald of Galactus has returned to Earth, and has scooped Manhattan out of the planet and is sending it off into space. Reed, Johnny, and Ben have gone to confront him on top of the World Trade Center, only to discover that Terrax wants them to attack Galactus, whose energies are at low ebb.

Doug: Byrne did a nice job with that last panel of issue #242, building excitement for what was to come. I have to say, after reading this installment of our 3-parter that Mr. Byrne definitely delivered the goods!

Karen: This issue
starts with Sue and Frankie Raye atop what's left of the Baxter Building -Terrax cleaved the top two stories clean off! Sue is using her powers to keep Terrax's force field surrounding Manhattan opaque -now I really don't know why this is necessary but Reed told her to do it, so there you go. Frankie on the other hand is tripping out over the reality of Galactus. We also get a quick peek at the Avengers as they try to figure out what's going on.

Doug: This whole bit about flying Manhattan into space is about as silly as when Hercules had to tow the island back into place back in Marvel Team-Up #28 -- you don't think people would just feel that something was a bit dif
ferent? Maybe the windows vibrated a bit or something? I suppose the force field is hidden so that folks don't panic, but I thought this was way off the "kosher plot vehicle" meter. And speaking of Frankie, I always find it odd that these events that we the readers are privy to are complete mysteries to the people who inhabit these four-color worlds.

Karen: You know, I had the same thought about that old MTU story! Yes, it's extremely ridiculous, but Byrne manages to sell it. Outside the force field, Terrax blackmails the three FF men into attacking Galactus' ship. Although Ben protests, Reed convinces him that they can't fight Terrax. Byrne has Reed use a line from an episode of the original Star Trek ('The Day of the Dove'): "Only a fool fights in a burning house." Somehow that just sounded really weird to me.

Doug: Well, I spent my childhood rerun time on the 1966 Batman TV show, as well as Lost in Space -- I didn't get the Trek reference, but also found it to be stra
nge. And wouldn't it just be a pain-on-the-butt to be around Reed Richards? He's seemingly got this smug clairvoyance -- Brainiac-5 is the same way. Seriously, has either of those eggheads ever taken someone else's suggestion?

Karen: Inside Galactus' ship,we see the giant planet-eater pondering the situation. He expresses some remorse at his actions, but uses the ship's energy reserves to build up his strength. The FF board his ship and Reed begins talking with Galactus, trying to find some way to convince him not to attack Earth. But Terrax is getting itchy fingers and tears the hull from the ship, ordering the FF to attack the Big G. There's a nice panel here where Galactus gets very angry and restores Manhattan to the way it was before Terrax removed it. Then it's time to deal with his unfaithful herald. Galactus absorbs Terrax's energy, reducing him to his mortal form.

Doug: Good lord, but this scene was cool! First off, I am just in awe of shots of Galactus in repose, as Byrne first shows hi
m. The guy is just massive, and so seemingly insurmountable to us puny humans -- the potential for great visuals is always there, and Byrne really grabs that bull by the horns throughout this story. Terrax is so much nastier than Norrin Radd or Gabriel could ever hoped to have been. Hey -- pause moment: when we did that Galactus story with the High Evolutionary, we skipped the issue where the Destroyer was the herald. What did you think about him as the seeker of worlds?

Karen: Well, I still can't believe Odin would allow it, since we now know that the Destroyer was a big part of his plans for the Celestial threat. But of course, at the time Gerry Conway didn't know Odin had those plans! I t
hought it was a great deal for Galactus, as it seemed like the Destroyer was essentially just a robot -no humanoid personality to have to contend with! Choosing Terrax always seemed like a mistake. But with Terrax gone, the threat's not over, because Galactus is hungry. He starts setting up his machinery to absorb the planet's energy. Reed again tries talking to Big G, asking him how he can kill billions, but Galactus tells him, "Do not speak to me of four billion lives. Galactus has seen the end of forty times four billion worlds! Must we know grief for each of these? Had he but tears to cry Galactus would weep oceans in their memory, and in the end they would still be dead, and madness would at last have claimed me." Now if that ain't some Stan Lee-flowery type dialog I don't know what is!

Doug: There is lots to love in this scene. How about when Galactus doesn't have the time or energy to go to his ship to get the cosmic vacuum, so he just whips it up out of matter in our atmosphere? I really had that god-like sense toward Galactus in this story, although Reed makes it clear that Big G is not a god. But His Awesomeness is pretty awesome!

Karen: Obviously Byrne is trying to show us that Galactus does indeed feel some guilt and sorrow over what he's done, setting the stage for next issue.

Doug: And, rather than post an Open Forum, let's just right here revisit a topic that you and I participated in several years ago on the Avengers Assemble boards -- is Galactus evil? Byrne would certainly tend to tell us "no". How about it, readers?

Karen: Before Galactus can get very far with his equipment, a massive energy blast strikes him, knocking him off his feet! It's the mighty Thor, accompan
ied by Cap and Iron Man. The heroes manage to get Galactus to street level without getting any civilians killed, and then the god of thunder really cuts loose.

Doug: The whole time I'm reading this scene, I'm thinking of Avengers #1
48-149 when Moondragon is telling Thor how superior he is to his fellow Avengers and how he's been slumming with them. Wow -- aye he be powerful...

Karen: Daredevil and Spider-Man also show up -and decide to sit this one out! I'm serious. Daredevil tells Spider-Man, "We're small time super-folk compared to what's being unleashed down there. We'd just be in the way." So they just watch...meantime, I see both Cap and Wasp helping out...hmmm....

Doug: Apparently Bendis hasn't gotten the memo that Spider-Man doesn't work in cosmic-level stories.

Karen: In the middle of this who should show up but Dr. Strange (looking very Ditko-era I must say). Reed is kind of rude to him, saying, "Su
rely even your powers are of no use against the like of Galactus?" Hey, the guy is the sorcerer supreme! Dr. Strange then proceeds to school Mr. Smarty Pants by casting a spell that causes Galactus to scream in terror! As the world-devourer stands there stunned, Reed and Ben play slingshot, with Reed as the sling and Ben as the bullet. Our rocky skinned hero slams into Galactus' face and knocks him out.

Doug: Wasn't that scene wit
h Reed and Ben reminiscent of a scene from the Silver Age where Reed is all balled up and launches into Galactus. The memory may betray me. Here's something kind of dumb -- I've often wondered why Galactus is only an FF villain. Surely he's a big enough threat that the Avengers, X-Men, and anyone else's help could certainly be justified and appreciated. Yet in this issue, when seeing a host of Marvel do-gooders lending a hand, it just felt a little off. And I've never been a Doc Strange fan. He's just way too powerful! He's a walking, talking deus ex machina.

Karen: With Galactus lying in a pile of rubble, the heroes gather around (sort of reminded me of the end of King Kong). Ben asks what Doc Strange did to him. The good doctor replies that he used a spell that caused Galactus to see the ghosts of all the people he had slain. Reed speculates that Galactus had to shut down his mind so he wouldn't go mad, but now he is dying. Johnny says, "I hate to sound too hard-heated, but that will solve everything, won't it?"
But Reed insists that in fact, they have to save Galactus!

Doug: I absolutely loved the panel of the staggered Galactus! Wow! See -- this is wha
t I complained of above. How could anyone (Frankie Raye included) not have knowledge of a being like Galactus? You see this, I think you'd remember it! It was a nice idea, what Byrne came up to stop the Big G. It dovetails nicely with Galactus' soliloquy about all of the deaths he's caused.

Karen: This is a briskly paced action yarn, for the most part very fun. I still find
it odd that Spidey and DD would sit back and watch the show, and it's frustrating that Sue has no role at all in the story. But those are minor quibbles.





Doug: The information below was contained in Marvel's solicitations for this month. Since it's so topical to this 3-part series we're in, I thought I'd pass it on!


FANTASTIC FOUR BY JOHN BYRNE OMNIBUS VOL. 1 HC

Written by JOHN BYRNE, CHRIS CLAREMONT, MARV WOLFMAN, BILL MANTLO, STAN LEE & ROGER STERN Penciled by JOHN BYRNE, MIKE ZECK, JACK KIRBY & RON WILSON Covers by JOHN BYRNE

It was the world's greatest comic magazine -- again! Not since the days of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had a creator so perfectly captured the intense mood, cosmic style and classic sense of adventure of Marvel's First Family. Fresh off an earth-shattering and reputation-making run as penciler on UNCANNY X-MEN, John Byrne proved his writing talent was every bit the equal of his art as he pulled double-duty on FANTASTIC FOUR, launching Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny into realms of imagination and wonder into which few creators before had dared to travel. From the four corners of the globe to the farthest reaches of space to the deepest depths of the Negative Zone, the FF face off against foes old and new -- including the Dr. Doom, Galactus and Annihilus! Plus: The FF aid the Inhumans, bid farewell to the Baxter Building, don new costumes and celebrate their 20th anniversary in style as Byrne reminds us all there's a family at the heart of this team of adventurers! Collecting MARVEL TEAM-UP (1972) #61-62; MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #50; FANTASTIC FOUR (1961) #215-218, #220-221, #232-262 and ANNUAL #17; PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (1976) #42; AVENGERS (1963) #233; THING (1983) #2; and ALPHA FLIGHT (1983) #4.

1,084 pages, $125.
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