Thursday, June 30, 2011

Capt. America: the human popsicle

Interesting TV spot for the new Captain America film (out on July 22). Hmmm, what could that be under the ice????


Face-Off: To Spice, or Not to Spice?


Doug: As we've recently come through our BAB take on the events of Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122, I thought it might be interesting to discuss character-types, and as an extension of that, character evolution. Regular reader/commenter J.A. Morris posted a link to a series of essays on the relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson that this writer found simply wonderful. And it got me thinking about the choice Pete faced throughout his young adult life: the down-to-earth, wholesome Gwen Stacy, or the more effervescent, global Mary Jane Watson. And it further got me to thinking about why we as readers gravitate toward one over the other. Personally, I've always been a Gwen guy, because she's the type of "person" that I would be attracted to. If you want to extend this to Gilligan's Island, I'm a Mary Ann guy, too. While MJ and Ginger certainly have their, ahem... merits, personality-wise I find myself more in line with the gals I've cited. Yes, I understand that certain characters take trajectories to make them more interesting and to open up more story possibilities -- but I'm thinking here of the inherent qualities of particular comic book personalities.

Doug: So for some of our female readers, would you be more of a Peter Parker gal, or is Flash Thompson more your type?
How about the Summers boys -- Scott, or Alex?

Doug: And as long as we're discussing character personalities, let's open it up a bit to character evolution. Take Mary Jane, again, for example. We all know how she was depicted in the Silver Age, as that happy-go-lucky party girl (see panel sample, above). How did she evolve as she became Peter's steady girl, then fiance', and finally his wife? Did writers in the early 1980's change her, or was she still basically framed as Stan and Jazzy Johnny had depicted her in the '60's?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1967


1967

Doug: Only three more entries in our second tour through Side-by-Side land, folks. This would be a big year for DC creatively, and we'll see if some new key hires would help them continue to hold off the Marvel juggernaut. As we've gone through, I think the running opinion has been that Marvel's arrival on the scene was just an explosion; then again, when starting from nothing, that freedom to fail can be quite an elixir. Here's an assignment for you, as we finish this: See what elements occur that change/support your previous position on when the Silver Age ended Linkand the Bronze Age began. Frequent commenter and fellow Bronze Age blogger Terence Stewart is running a series of posts in this vein and you can read his POV here. In the 12 months that encompass this post, the first Super Bowl was played, with the Green Bay Packers downing the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs. Israel defeated her Arab neighbors in the 6-Day War. The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rolling Stone magazine began publication. Toward the end of the year Thurgood Marshall became the first Black justice on the Supreme Court, and revolutionary Che Guevara was executed in Bolivia. In South Africa, the first heart transplant was performed. In December, The Graduate hit theaters; other films of the year included Bonnie and Clyde (a personal fave of mine), Disney's The Jungle Book, and the Bond flick You Only Live Twice. Widely, it was the "Summer of Love".

Doug: Huge introduction to get things rolling -- the Silver Age Batgirl debuted in Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January. This issue came out nine months before her television first appearance. Editor Julius Schwartz claims that the TV execs wanted a character that would appeal to a female audience, and this is what Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino came up with. Although the TV Batgirl lasted only one season, Barbara Gordon and the Silver Age Batgirl continue in their popularity to the present. Another key introduction happened within Adventure Comics #352, when the Legion sought additional aid against the malevolent Sun-Eater. Emptying the prisons of some of the most powerful do-badders of the 30th Century, the Legion unwittingly created a monster when the five super-villains chose to remain together as the Fatal Five. Their origin was written by Jim Shooter and penciled by Curt Swan.

Karen: A few years ago at a convention, I got a fairly nice copy of Detective #359. Although I don't have many DC Silver Age comics, that one was a must. I've always liked the character,as Batgirl seemed to be every bit as sharp as her peer, Robin. Plus, she has a great costume -even if she did sometimes carry a purse! The Fatal Five, I've read, were inspired by the film "The Dirty Dozen". Shooter was told to do something based on that film. He never saw the movie but got the gist of the plot simply by looking at ads for the film, and came up with his own version.

Doug: Marvel's offerings in the first quarter of 1967 were key, but in my opinion not on the scale of DC's above. Here's a short list of introductions, some certainly "more key" than others: Banshee (X-Men #28), Lady Sif (Mighty Thor #136), Mike Murdock (Daredevil #25), the Western Ghost Rider (The Ghost Rider #1), Ulik the troll (Mighty Thor #137), and the Shocker (Amazing Spider-Man #46). Of the above, Banshee would be the most significant in the Bronze Age. An interesting note, too, that both Sean Cassidy as well as Sif made their celluloid debuts this summer in block-buster films from Marvel.

Karen: That's a solid list though as you note, no real block buster characters there. I do wonder why Banshee was not Irish in the film. Seems like it wouldn't have been that hard to do.

Doug: In the Spring, Aqualad was given a love interest when Tula, aka Aquagirl, was introduced in Aquaman #33 by Bob Haney and Nick Cardy. In a nice touch for historians, the DC Comics: Year by Year book also discusses some of the Charlton characters, who licenses DC would of course go on to acquire. In June, Blue Beetle #1 was released, which was actually a two-fer, featuring Ted Kord as the Beetle with a back-up series featuring the Question. Both features were written and drawn by Steve Ditko. Marvel's spring featured the 1st appearance of major Hulk foe the Abomination in Tales to Astonish #90, by Stan Lee and Gil Kane. Blackie Drago became the Vulture in ASM #48; original Vulture Adrian Toomes was convinced he was dying in prison, so told Drago all of his secrets. We reviewed the tale when Toomes decided he wanted his wings back, which would occur in ASM #63. Baron Strucker was revealed as the leader of Hydra in Strange Tales #156, and Blastaar (Fantastic Four #62), the Growing Man (Mighty Thor #140), and the Living Tribunal (Strange Tales #157) all made their first appearances to finish out the quarter.

Karen: Already we are starting to move out of the great Marvel explosion of creativity. Not that some of these characters or stories weren't great or enduring, but I wouldn't put Blastaar or the Growing Man up there with Black Bolt or Ego, for example.

Doug: I mentioned at the top that this would be big year creatively for DC, in large part to some personnel changes. Carmine Infantino was named editorial director, and as part of a shake-up brought on board "artist-editors" Joe Kubert, Joe Orlando, and Dick Giordano to give DC a more updated look -- in no small part to compete with Marvel's Jack Kirby, John Buscema, and John Romita. Perhaps Infantino's best move was hiring Neal Adams, whose style no doubt heavily influenced the segue toward the Bronze Age. At Marvel, 1967 saw the first Bullpen Bulletins, where Stan explained how long it took to make a comic book: what was written in July would go on sale in October and actually be cover-dated for January of the following year! Marvel's popularity was only growing in this period, as Stars and Stripes did a major feature on the company and over 100 college campuses in the States adopted chapters of the Merry Marvel Marching Society; of course, Mark Evanier very famously suggested that members be able to achieve the rank of officers and submitted a list of such titles, such as K.O.F. (Keeper of the Flame). The June books for 1967 featured the first Stan's Soapbox.

Karen: I know I've heard people claim that DC had better artists than Marvel in the 60s, but I've never felt that way. I do think that getting Neal Adams was a huge move, but of course, he wound up doing a lot of work for Marvel too.

Doug: And speaking of Neal Adams, he made his DC debut with two comics cover-dated July and August. And you couldn't find two more different genres to feature his work -- neither of which you'd suspect. His nine-page back-up in Our Army at War #182 is his official debut, followed up by the first full-length story in Jerry Lewis #101! Fans of the JLA/JSA team-ups may recall another on again/off again treat in the Superman-Flash races... Superman #199, by Jim Shooter and Curt Swan was the first one. In September, The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure debuted on CBS Saturday mornings and ran through the next year.

Karen: I can't help but think of Ted Knight when you mention those cartoons. He had such a huge, over the top voice when he did the narrative work!

Doug: The Kingpin of Crime, Wilson Fisk, first menaced our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man in ASM #50 (July 1967). Predating Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather by two years, Fisk no doubt would have fit into that tale of organized crime. Stan Lee and John Romita crafted a very complex character who would later go on to have key storylines involving Daredevil. Additionally, that same issue of ASM featured the iconic "Spider-Man No More" story that was a major part of the Spider-Man 2 film As Marvel's universe continued to get more cosmic, the Sentry was introduced in FF #64, which predated Erich von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods by a year. Were Stan and Jack (and others in the Bullpen) visionaries, or what? In August the Changeling appeared in X-Men #35 and Joe Robertson was introduced in ASM #51 -- Robbie's one of my favorite Spider-Man characters! Wrapping up the summer months, Marvel's version of MAD magazine debuted when Not Brand Echh #1 went on sale. Warlock, or Him, was introduced in FF #66, and two of the funnest summer annuals hit the stands: Avengers Annual #1 was a 49-page extravaganza featuring all of the Avengers (sans the Hulk) against their major super-baddies to that point. Over in Daredevil Annual #1, Electro assembled his Emissaries of Evil.

Karen: I've always been very fond of Joe Robertson too. He brought a nice grounded aspect to counter-balance the antics of J. Jonah Jameson. Lee and Romita didn't have to make him African American; they chose to, and I am sure were making their own statement with that decision. As for the Sentry, let's be clear: this is the original, Kree Sentry we're talking about here, not that terrible character that polluted the Marvel Universe later on! Regarding Him and his origin, you can read a lot of interviews and articles which make it clear that this was another story where Lee and Kirby went in different directions, with Kirby intending one thing with his art and Lee writing a somewhat different story via his dialogue. All part of why Kirby would depart in a few years.

Doug: Oh, good lord -- it didn't even cross my mind when I typed that above that a reader might think of that doofus you refer to. Seriously, I'm not a big fan of retcons, but the Sentry as we've seen him over the past decade or so has to be one of the worst ideas in Marvel history.

Doug: Maybe Marvel's biggest news of the summer months was the release of their second and third animated programs:
Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. While neither featured animation that could be compared to today's programs, both were a step up from the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon. Spider-Man was admittedly better in the 1968 season when Ralph Bakshi took the reins of the shows, and featured more comic book-like stories. Fantastic Four, however, was good from the outset, adapting many storylines from the comics.

Karen: And of course, Spider-Man had one of the best theme songs ever!

Doug: DC would not go quietly this year. In October, Aquaman faced his two deadliest adversaries at the same time, when Black Manta and Ocean Master attacked him in Aquaman #35. Strange Adventures #205 featured the debut of Deadman, by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino; Adams would shortly make the character his own. The Spectre received his own title with The Spectre #1, cover-dated December, by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. These latter two magazines could have had so much more potential had they been published as the Comics Code Authority relaxed in the early 1970's. And lastly, DC hoped to capitalize on teen music lovers with a 12c comic-sized magazine called Teen Beat. The first issue (there ended up only being two) featured gossip on the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and The Mamas and the Papas. Those of us who grew up in the 1970's may recall a magazine called Teen Beat; this wasn't it, but the idea was the same.

Karen: I'm always amazed by the variety of titles these companies put out through the 60s and 70s. In some ways, it's sad that super-heroes have come to dominate Marvel and DC, but I guess the millions of independent comics now fill that 'variety' niche.

Doug: At the House of Ideas, October gave us the return of the Yellow Claw in Strange Tales #161 to menace Nick Fury, and the 1st appearance of MODOK in Tales of Suspense #94, who would later gain control of AIM. The Psycho Man debuted in FF Annual #5 (I love that issue) in November, and the Avengers took on Magneto in Avengers #47, cover-dated December. But the biggest intro. of the year may have been right at the end, when Captain Marvel surfaced in Marvel Super-Heroes #12, by Stan Lee and Gene Colan. The cosmic landscape was expanding once again.

Karen: It's funny to think that the primary reason for the existence of Marvel's Captain Marvel was to use that name and prevent DC from using it. When I complain about how market-driven and written by committee comics are today, it's worth recalling that this has occurred to some degree since comics began. However, Captain Mar-Vell turned out to be a very different character from the Big Red Cheese, and once Jim Starlin got a hold on him, he became Marvel's first truly cosmic hero.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Big-Ears Doesn't Fight Fair...


The Incredible Hulk #196 (February 1976)
"The Abomination Proclamation!"

Len Wein-Sal Buscema/Joe Staton


Doug: It's about high time we get some Greenskin going on this blog! Yeah, the Hulk has been in some of our previous comic book reviews, but only as a guest-star. We've posted nothing from his own mag.
But, I have to tell you -- unless Ms. Karen picks up the torch (she has the DVD-ROM), you aren't going to get much out of me. I just don't have but three issues! I never collected the title when I was a kid, although I did usually leaf through it. Budgetary concerns usually kept me from it, as Jade Jaws was never really a favorite character of mine. So until I get some more of these in an eBay lot, we'll have to make due with simply whetting your appetite!

Doug: This will be a stand-alone, as I don't have the previous nor succeeding issues. But it looks pretty good and has a great Bronze Age art team, so I'm optimistic we'll have a few minutes of fun right here. Our tale picks up with General Ross, SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain, and Doc Samson at the Hulkbuster Base, watching a battle between the Hulk and the Abomination.
Ross is intent on reviewing tapes of last issue's battle between the two gamma-irradiated behemoths. As those of us new on the scene discover, it was Ross who orchestrated the Abomination's attack on the Hulk; when in the course of battle they decided to team up... well, that little detail and the responsibility that goes with it isn't lost on our blusterous general.

Doug: Cut to Cape Canaveral, where we get some small talk between a gate guard and a semi-truck driver. It's a nice little interlude, and just ahead of a more important detail -- namely, the driver's payload is two stowaways named Hulk and Abomination! The two giants burst out of the truck, and are immediately met with gunfire from the soldiers positioned to protect the base. There's a great scene of a soldier taking it all on himself to stop these guys -- with a moon buggy! Designed to move mountains on the moon, all our erstwhile hero does is further anger the two monsters. Initially successful, he, and the buggy, soon meet their fate.

Doug: Blowing the doors to Command Central open, the Abomination threatens the man in charge, who wisely backs off his on his alleged authority. The Abomination then commandeers the broadcast set-up, and issues a warning to the entire American military: deliver $100 million in uncut diamonds to the Abomination and the Hulk by midnight, or they level Cape Canaveral.
Obviously Samson and Ross see this, and begin their pity party yet again. Back at Canaveral, Wilbur Manners, our man formerly in charge, ain't taking kindly to the Abomination's gruff demeanor. Gripping some cables marked "High Voltage", Manners whirls and assaults Hulk's ally. The Abomination reels, and Hulk leaps to his new friend's aid. But Manners defies the Hulk's claim that he will smash, and this confuses the Hulk. As the Abomination recovers, he states that Manners will be kept around, but only so long as he's useful. He then muses to himself that the Hulk has a soft spot, which may in the end prove his undoing.

Doug: As the time ticks away, Washington informs Ross that's this is all his show. Samson cooks up a plan that involves Betty Ross Talbot, who readily agrees to assist. Betty voice and image begin to appear on every monitor at Cape Canaveral. Seeing that the Hulk is distracted, the Abomination destroys the first monitor,
but as they move outside to begin the destruction of the base (and by the way, when they do get outside, at 11:55 pm, it's broad daylight...), there are more monitors. Hulk begins to recognize Betty, and the Abomination steps up his efforts to get the Hulk to start destroying Canaveral. As the Abomination loses his cool and plunges his fist directly into the center of a large monitor, giving the impression that he punched Betty, the Hulk loses it and these two allies now face each other.

Doug: What follows, as you might expect, is one big melee! Hulk lands the first blow, and it's a pretty good one -- pounding the Abomination straight into the ground. As the battle rages, the Abomination breaks away and heads for an experimental rocket. Reaching the capsule, he enters and initiates the launch sequence. Hulk follows and grips the side of the rocket as lift-off commences. Using his steel-like fingers, the Hulk claws his way toward the capsule as the rocket reaches exit velocity. Finally able to pull himself to the top,
Hulk smashes into the cockpit, only to be kicked away by the Abomination. As the Hulk falls into a flaming re-entry, the damage he'd done manifests itself and the rocket explodes, apparently killing the Abomination. And where does Hulk land on the earth? Why, in the Florida Everglades, of course, as next issue's teaser touts an appearance by the Man-Thing; "the story you've demanded!"

Doug: So in spite of the fact that the story actually began in the previous issue, I could argue that this is a done-in-one. I didn't need any backstory other than what I already knew about these characters to enjoy this story.
It's formulaic, sure, and plot-wise is pretty much in line with the Thing/Hulk team-up we previously reviewed in Fantastic Four #'s 166 and 167. Do you think there's any coincidence that those two FF issues came out at the exact same time as Hulk #195 and today's issue? Hmmm... Maybe Len Wein and Roy Thomas had done lunch and unwittingly told the same story? Who knows? There is of course some suspension of disbelief required in parts of the story, such as the Hulk not only clawing his way up the rocket, but his apparent survival after his plummet back to terra firma. The art in this book is top flight -- Sal Buscema is just amazing; this was during the peak of his powers. His action sequences are exciting, and the facial expressions he draws are outstanding. Joe Staton's inks really enhance the overall look of the book. So, as I'd hoped, it was a fun little tale and actually leaves me wishing I had a few more Hulk books!


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Who Wants That Silver Medal?

Doug: You can argue with me if you want, but I'm going to make the statement that the Fantastic Four, "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine", is the single-most important and influential comic book of the Silver and Bronze Ages. Brought to us by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, Roy Thomas, John Romita, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, George Perez, and John Byrne (anyone's list of Hall of Famers), the FF defined the Marvel Universe. Think about it -- the Skrulls, Dr. Doom, the re-introduction of the Sub-Mariner, the idea that there can be life on the moon, the Inhumans, the first intra-company crossover, multi-part epics, the first Black superhero, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and the Watcher, the Negative Zone, the Kree, and on and on -- this book sits at the pinnacle of creativity in the period 1961-1985. So again, you can put the gloves on and we'll go a round or two...

Doug: ...or, you can start scratching your head and come up with the second-most influential comic book of the Silver and Bronze Ages. Any company, any era within the era. Have at it.



Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Future: Awesome or Awful?


Karen: Regular BAB reader and commentator Sean Strange suggested the idea for this post -thanks Sean! Today we look at the future -actually, a whole bunch of futures. Comics have always presented a variety of outlooks on the future: some positive, but most pretty negative. The time in which these possible future are conceived seems to have a strong influence on whether the future depicted is utopian or dystopian in nature.

For example, one of the best known comic book futures is that of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Created in 1958, the Legion originally depicted a glowing future of triumphant technology and prosperity. This reflected the attitude of the post-World War II years in America, where the middle class grew and life was good. D
espite having to fight world-threatening menaces like Mordru and the Fatal Five, in general, the early Legion's universe was an orderly one.

If we move forward more than a decade to the 1970s, the era of Vietnam, Watergate, and the energy crisis, the future no longer seems so bright. Marvel had at least three different possible futures represented at this time, all of them unpleasant. There was the run-down world of Deathlok, the conquered Earth of Killraven, and a thousand years in the future, the war-torn reality of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Deathlok had the military-industrial complex in charge,
experimenting on people and generally showing no morals whatsoever. Things were so bad that cannibals were running free in the streets of New York! In Killraven's future, the martians of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds returned to Earth in the 20th century and wiped out most of humanity, and enslaved the rest. The Guardians of the Galaxy saw their worlds conquered by the Badoon, a reptilian race. One added attraction to the Guardians was that their leader, Vance Astro, was born in the 1960s, so he provided a viewpoint character for readers.

Over at DC again, Jack Kirby came up with Kamandi in 1972. Inspired by Planet of the Apes, Kamandi was "the last boy on Earth," stuck on a world controlled by intelligent animals. It might not have seemed as grim as Marvel's dystopias, but it wasn't the sweet future of the Legion either.

Of course, in 1989, the Legion (and its readers) were in for a rude awakening with the 'Five Years Later' Legion, in which th
e Dominators had conquered Earth. Not even the Legion it seems was safe from the "grim and gritty" fad.

Back at Marvel, one of the most fam
ous alternative futures in comics was born in X-Men 141-142 with the "Days of Future Past" storyline. In this future, Sentinels had subjugated mutants and humans alike. Although this was a very creative and memorable story, it unfortunately had a huge influence on the X-Men comics for years, seemingly dominating the books for years.

Of course there have been many other possible futures presented in comics -and most of them of the darker variety. I've left out quite a few, such as Hercules Unbound, Omac, Atomic Knights, Mighty Samson, Judge Dredd, Jonah Hex, and all the Marvel 'The End' series. Which ones are your favorites? Do you prefer a more positive future, or do you like the post-apocalyptic ones?

Friday, June 24, 2011

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


Sad news just in -- please see below. Today's scheduled post follows.

From Comic Book Resources (http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=32956):

"Writer Clifford Meth shares the sad news that comics legend Gene Colan has died. He was 84. Colan was in poor health for some time and passed away following a broken hip and complications from liver disease.

Colan is considered one of the premier Silver Age Marvel artists, illustrating some of the best known comics characters of all time including Captain America, Doctor Strange and the characters he's most associated with, Daredevil, as well as Blade, a character he co-created with writer Marv Wolfman. Colan also contributed work at DC Comics, with the majority of it seen in the pages of “Batman” and “Detective Comics.” Colan's last major achievement came in 2009, contributing to "Captain America" #601 with Ed Brubaker, which was awarded the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue.

CBR will have a full remembrance of Colan on Friday by columnist George Khoury. In the meantime, those looking to learn more about this major artistic talent should read this panel report from 2009’s Comic-Con International, our interview with Colan from 2009 or this extensive interview that looks back on Colan’s career conducted in 2000.

The staff of CBR would like to offer their condolences to Colan’s family and friends. Comics has truly lost one of its greatest artists."


Now, on to today's regularly scheduled post:

Doug: Wrap-up time, kids! Today's sixth installment features the conclusion of my essay on Dr. Henry Pym. It may seem dated, given some of the revelations Jim Shooter has released on his own blog. Here's my ending, and as this begins I'm speaking of my pursuit of a complete run of The Avengers:

I accomplished that feat in the early 1990’s when I purchased a VG copy of Avengers #1. What a satisfying conclusion to a fan’s dream project! Yet to this day I’ve not read the issues where Hank finally broke down, betrayed his fellows, beat his wife, and then seemingly redeemed himself. I’ve read all of his subsequent appearances, but not those issues. My excuse at the time was that the art was too bad (and I still feel that way); but as I’ve matured and as I’ve seen different writers come and go, some embellishing and other (recent) authors desecrating the team’s mythos I’ve decided I just don’t want to see Hank in that state. As I alluded to at the beginning of this essay, Hank Pym has always been one of my favorite Avengers. And even though I’ve been led to believe that he redeemed himself by single-handedly defeating the Masters of Evil, writers just won’t let the guy have any peace. I’ve read his time in the West Coast Avengers as Dr. Pym; I’ve seen his return as Giant-Man in the pages of The Avengers volumes I and III. But writers never take him seriously today. The baggage is as large as his Goliath-sized boots – those few issues where he was shown as weak, perhaps mentally ill yet at the least mentally disturbed, have dogged him for 25 years. When Mark Millar had a tabula rasa in the pages of The Ultimates, it was formulaic-Hank who took after Jan with an aerosol can of bug spray. I was so disappointed, and so depressed. When Millar had the opportunity to correct, or at least amend, the character assassination of the early 1980’s, he went the easy route. Give ‘em the old, familiar Hank. The producers of the Ultimate Avengers animated movies have perpetrated a similar injustice, characterizing Hank as a loudmouth jerk. It seems to me they were writing for Hawkeye; trouble was, ol’ Hawk wasn’t in the flicks.

I don’t begrudge Jim Shooter for that last bout of madness, at least the bout that I knew. I only wish he’d cared enough in the midst of his very good term as writer to bring back Hank’s honor, reestablishing him as a founding member to be revered and not reviled. A new love interest, the occasion to prove himself to his team with a fresh start, perhaps even another costume or name change… anything to have given one of my heroes his just due. A guy with the stature of a giant, but not that of a bug most people just step on…

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Spotlight On: Gil Kane


Doug: Nose upshots. That is seriously the first thing I think of when Gil Kane becomes the subject at hand. After that, I think of contorted fingers. OK, got that out of my system. Now let's talk about Gil Kane the storyteller. The guy can move the reader's eyes through a book. One of the best. Great camera angles, great emotion (however, see contorted fingers, above...), and dynamic action. Certainly he's probably best-remembered for his long tenures on Green Lantern, the Atom, and the Amazing Spider-Man. After those three runs, I think of him as Marvel's go-to cover artist in the Bronze Age; in fact, it would be interesting to see how many covers Kane had published as compared to Jack Kirby over the 1970's. Either guy was prolific in the middle part of the decade, and each arguably drew every character in the MU.

Karen: As a kid, I did not care for Kane's art, for the reasons you cite and more. It just looked 'weird' to me, whatever that meant. But now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I have come to enjoy his work. The nose upshots still bother me, but I can see what a good story-teller he was, and how dynamic his art was.

Doug: There are certain characters that I cannot take Gil Kane on. Primary on that list would be the Incredible Hulk. I don't know why -- part of me says it depends on the inker.
For example, if you check out our reviews of Amazing Spider-Man #119 and #120, you'll see Kane's Hulk looks pretty good. But how much of that is due to the inking of John Romita, Sr.? Conversely, a visit to Marvel Super-Heroes #43 gives us quite a different interpretation. What do you think? Am I wrong? I don't even know what to say about that art from the Tales to Astonish reprint. It doesn't look like anything Kane did over at DC, and it sure as heck isn't as nice as the ASM stuff.

Karen: I think for most artists there are characters that they just aren't suited for or don't draw well, and I would agree with you that for Kane, the Hulk was one of those. I didn't think his Iron Man was particularly good. He worked well on Spider-Man, and I can't help but think that was partly because he tended to draw sort of contorted figures, and that works with Spidey.

Doug: I'm sure for many readers of old-time Spider-Man stories felt that Kane's presentation of the web-spinner was Ditkoesque. "Contorted" is a great way to put it! Our recent look at the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin showcased some wonderful Kane/Romita art, and certainly the Ditko influence could be seen here and there. Maybe the Morbius stories from ASM #100-102 would be even better examples of Ditko's influence on Kane's interpretation of the Wallcrawler.

Doug: What do our readers think? Kane, or no Kane? Sound off!

*Thanks to the folks at scans-daily for the Gwen Stacy image*

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Marvel and DC: Side-by-Side in 1966


1966

Doug: As I said on Monday, this was the year I was born, and I think you'll agree that the hits didn't stop coming -- this one's a good one, capped off by the beginning of Marvel's cosmic age with the introductions of the Silver Surfer, the Watcher, and Galactus! Over at DC, the Batman television show made its premiere. Big stuff! And by the time it's over, this might be one of those years that is closer in output between the Big Two than last year was, for example. Outside our doors and windows, Indira Gandhi became prime minister in India, the first spacecraft (albeit unoccupied) landed on the moon, the Miranda rights ("you have the right to remain silent..." -- c'mon, if you've seen a cop show, you know 'em!) became law in the States, and in the realm of entertainment The Doors self-titled debut album and the Beach Boys Pet Sounds were released, Star Trek premiered on American TV in September and How the Grinch Stole Christmas aired in December (natch), and the NFL-AFL merger was finalized in professional football. And now for something you've all been waiting for, the reason you woke up today:

Doug: This year got off to a resounding "Biff! Bam! Pow!" with several key events. In January, not only did the "Dial 'H' for Hero" series debut in House of Mystery #156, but Triplicate Girl was forcibly made into Duo Damsel when one of her selves was killed by the robot Computo in Adventure Comics #340. On January 12th the Batman show first aired on ABC-TV. I would think that comics fans were very excited about this, and there's no doubt that the show became immensely popular very early into its run. Over the 2-year period 1965-66, it ranked 5th (keep in mind, it was only one in '66) behind Bonanza, Gomer Pyle, The Lucy Show, and The Red Skelton Hour. Interestingly, that ranking is for the Thursday installment of the show; you'll recall that each two-part episode played on Wednesday and continued "tomorrow. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel." The Wednesday episodes ranked 10th overall. Hmmm... In February, Teen Titans #1 was the reward for our young heroes after three successful try-outs in The Brave and the Bold. The Titans head to South America to join the Peace Corps, and in the course of their do-gooding are opposed by a super-baddie named El Conquistadore. Showcase #60 featured the Silver Age debut of the Spectre, almost 20 years after his last Golden Age appearance. This time 'round, his adventures were chronicled by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. And in March, the aptly-named Major Disaster showed up in Green Lantern #43. Whoo-hoo! Lastly, It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman! opened on Broadway and lasted 129 performances, closing in July.

Karen: That's a pretty solid start for DC. Of course, I've said it before: whether she's Triplicate Girl or Duo Damsel, she's the most worthless super-hero of all. I mean, I'd take Stone Boy -or any of the Subs -over her! But the high point here is the Batman TV show. It was so huge. I was only a tiny tot but I still recall how much my brother and all his friends loved it (so I loved it too).

Doug: At Marvel, not to be outdone, the House of Ideas unleashed a series of minor characters and storylines, until March... Early on, we were introduced to the Plunderer (DD #12), The Fixer and Mentallo (Strange Tales #141), the origin of Nick Fury's eye patch (Sgt. Fury #27), Maximus the Mad (FF #47), Batroc the Leaper and Sharon Carter (Tales of Suspense #75), and... Yep, and then in March, Fantastic Four #48 hit the stands (so actually January, huh?). Not only did this story finish an epic Inhumans tale (in fact, the 4 1/2 issue debut of our heroes from the Hidden Land), but it began maybe the most important trilogy of the Silver Age (is that a silly thing to say? After all, DC was still publishing done-in-ones at this time). The second half of FF #48 featured the debuts of the Silver Surfer, the Watcher, and Galactus. The story would, interestingly enough, conclude halfway through FF #50, making it in reality only the equivalent of a 2-issue tale. But who's counting? Also of note early in '66 was the change in title of Thor's mag from Journey Into Mystery to The Mighty Thor (#126), and Rick Jones spilling of the secret ID beans when he told the world that Bruce Banner was the Hulk in Tales to Astonish #77.

Karen: That's some heavy hitters there, pal. Was anything better than the FF at that point? or even years later? Between FF and Thor, Lee and Kirby were doing some incredible universe-building: the Inhumans, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Black Panther, the Olympian gods, the High Evolutionary, the Colonizers of Rigel...and all in the place of a couple of years. I think the closest anyone's ever come to that was the Claremont-Cockrum/Byrne -Austin X-Men.

Doug: Funny you should mention the fact that the FF was the most stupendous mag on the racks. Readers will want to check back here on Sunday for a little "who's better, who's best" brouhaha...

Doug: As spring arrived, DC offered a few substantial comics.
Detective Comics #351 saw the introduction of the Cluemaster, a villain who sought the secret ID's of our heroes. In a parallel story, Aunt Harriet discovered the Batcave, and began to suspect Bruce and Dick were secretly the Caped Crusaders. Using a doctored film to show Wayne and Grayson in the presence of the Dark Knight and the Boy Wonder, not only was Aunt Harriet fooled, but the Cluemaster as well! Showcase #62 gave us the E. Nelson Bridwell/Joe Orlando creation, The Inferior Five, a team of would-be heroes in the light-hearted spoof of the Teen Titans. And in June, Batman #181 featured the first appearance of Poison Ivy. Pamela Isley was brought to you by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff.

Karen: I think the standout there is Poison Ivy, who seemed like a more twisted Catwoman.

Doug: After all of that activity to begin the year, who could blame the Bullpen if they took a bit of a break in the spring? Yeah, I know they didn't, and what had gone down earlier would certainly have been a tough act to follow... Here you are, introduction-wise: Pluto (Thor #127), the Looter (Amazing Spider-Man #36), the John Romita Spidey try-out in Daredevil #16, the Collector in Avengers #28 (you know that's my favorite Avengers ish, if you've been hanging aorund here at all recently), and the premiere of a Golden Age reprint title, Fantasy Masterpieces. And oh yeah -- a cat named Wyatt Wingfoot showed up in FF #51.

Karen: Again - just a tremendous creative burst from Marvel. it just got better and better.

Doug: Summer at the Distinguished Competition featured the first comic book script of 14-year old Jim Shooter from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shooter spun a yarn of the Khund invasion while introducing four new characters to Legion of Super-Heroes lore: Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, and Nemesis Kid (guess which one turned out to be a traitor in the next issue?). All of this went down in Adventure Comics #346, cover-dated for July. That same month, the feature-length Batman movie was in theaters; don't forget the Bat Shark Repellant! August's Action Comics #340 saw the bow of the Parasite, by Shooter and artist Al Plastino, and in September Saturday mornings were made all the better with the premieres of The Adventure of Superboy and The New Adventures of Superman.

Karen: I still enjoy those early Shooter Legions. Those are the only Silver Age DCs I can really handle. It's probably because they're somewhat like Marvel comics.

Doug: I will go out on a limb and say that July-dated books were among the most important to Marvel's history, and their significance. Tales of Suspense #79 featured the first Silver Age appearance of the Red Skull; yes, he'd been appearing in flashback stories in TofS as well as Golden Age reprints in the aforementioned Fantasy Masterpieces. Stan and Jack decided to bring him into the present and make him a major player in not only Cap's stories, but also in the greater Marvel Universe. Fantastic Four #52 featured the first appearance of the Black Panther, comics' first Black super-hero. Although an African king and not an American, T'Challa's debut was nonetheless an envelope-pusher; another of Stan's stories of racial injustice involved the Sons of the Serpent the next month in the Avengers #32. In Amazing Spider-Man #39 Jazzy Johnny Romita took over the art chores from Steve Ditko after the latter exited the title due in part to creative differences with Stan over the secret ID of the Green Goblin. Well Stan won out, and in this issue the Goblin was revealed to be Norman Osborn, who also learned Spidey's secret ID. In minor developments, the Gladiator debuted in DD #18 and Lancer Books began to publish reprints of Marvel Comics in trade paperback editions. Klaw became a villain for the Black Panther and we learned of his origin in FF #53. In September, to close the summer months, some biggies were published when the Goblin's origin was revealed in ASM #40, and the Howlers got an origin in Sgt. Fury #34. Maybe the biggest Marvel news, pop culture-wise, though, was the premiere of Marvel Super-Heroes on television. Using art straight from the comics, vignettes featuring Captain America, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Sub-Mariner were brought our heroes to the silver screen. As most of you know, these are readily available on YouTube, but no DVD release has been made available. I've never been able to figure that one out.

Karen: I think the introduction of Black Panther was huge. Here was a black character who was not a side-kick or comic relief, but an actual super-hero, a genius, and a king to boot! The Sons of the Serpent storyline was a significant one, showing the 'realism' of the Marvel Universe, as it dealt with the civil rights issues that were facing the nation. Marvel comics just seemed more relevant. Oh, and I believe we also got introduced to Bill Foster in these issues, who would go on to become Black Goliath.

Doug: In regard to Foster, and the Living Laser (see below) -- I own the original art to Don Heck's 2/3 splash of the first in-comic appearance of the Laser (Avengers #34). It's "twice-up", meaning it's on much larger comic art paper than the now-standard 11x17. Pretty neat, as you can see some white-out from the inks, etc. Hank's pretty heroic on the page, as he's shielding Bill Foster from some blasts. Look it up -- you can see Foster's legs running off panel!

Doug: To close out the year, Barry Allen wed Iris West in November's
Flash #165. He almost didn't pull it off, as Professor Zoom had imprisoned our hero -- it all worked out, and the wedding came off with Iris still not knowing Barry was the Flash. Lastly, in December Plastic Man #1 featured the DC debut of the former Quality Comics superstar. Interestingly, Plas had a try-out in House of Mystery #160 in the "Dial 'H'..." feature.

Karen: I've never gotten Plastic Man, or any of the stretchy heroes. My uncle had a few issues of Dial H for Hero which I read as a youngster and I really enjoyed the concept. What kid wouldn't like to have a magic dial that turns you into a super-hero?

Doug: And wrapping it up from Marvel, the Super-Adaptoid first menaced Cap in Tales of Suspense #82, while the Rhino crashed onto the scene in ASM #41. However, it was the very next issue of Spidey's mag that featured one of the most important character introductions when Mary Jane Watson was first shown. Of course, she'd appeared partially obstructed in previous issues, but John Romita gave us a last panel worthy of almost any surprise super-villain's last panel appearance (OK, not Galactus earlier this year). In FF Annual #4, Johnny Storm fought the Original Human Torch in a story involving the Mad Thinker. The Living Laser first fought the Avengers in Avengers #34 (see above), and Spidey tried to join that same team in ASM Annual #3.

Karen: That shot of Mary Jane has got to be one of the most famous comics shots ever. John Romita still strikes me as the best Silver Age cheesecake artist -his women are just gorgeous.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

An Ending: Amazing Spider-Man #122


Amazing Spider-Man #122 (July 1973)
"The Goblin's Last Stand!"
Gerry Conway-Gil Kane/John Romita/Tony Mortellaro

Karen: I think that both of us here at BAB approached this story with a bit of trepidation; seeing as how it's the most significant story of the bronze age -the true initiator of said age? - we want to give it our best effort. Sometimes when we go back and r
ead classics, they unfortunately don't hold up. But that's not the case at all with this story. In fact, last issue's ending was like a punch to the gut all over again. The impact was still there.

Doug: These two issues, Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122, are indeed classics, as you stated. You know, there are very few stories that "hold up" to the re-read as this does. I'd have to list Fantastic Four #'s 48-50 (and indeed you can stretch that five issues or more on either side,
because the Surfer/Watcher/Galactus trilogy is in the midst of the best run of any comic book ever), Avengers #'s 57-58, and X-Men #'s 56-63 as ranking right up there with this 2-parter.

Karen: I have a confession to make: due to the spotty distribution of comics at the time, I got the first part of this story when it hit the stands, but not the second. I had to wait for a reprint to find out the end of the tale! But knowing Gwen had died was enough. It really changed the whole demeanor of the title for quite some time. It seemed like anything could happen; no one was safe, and while that was a little upsetting, it was also exciting.

Doug: I saw this issue first; had a friend who had a copy of it. I had no background at all for this, but remember being disturbed by the ending scene in the battle. Definitely rated R to my elementary-aged brain.

Karen: This issue picks up with Spidey cradling Gwen's body, then taking on the Goblin, filled with rage like we've never seen before. Unfortunately, it makes him reckless and the Goblin manages to get away. When Spidey then spots the police an
d a crowd gathering around Gwen's lifeless body, he flips out and comes between the cops and Gwen. He tells them to back off. One of the cops assumes he has killed Gwen, but another realizes that Spidey is grieving. Peter begins thinking about Gwen and Kane puts together a nice one page spread of Gwen and Peter together in happier moments.

Doug: As I said above, I saw this book first and didn't know much about Gwen. But the one panel in the lower right corner of Pete playfully chasing after Gwen, while Harry and MJ follow in the background spoke volumes for what Pete had lost.
Even as a little kid, I'd seen enough Room 222 and Love: American Style to recognize a romance when I saw one.

Karen: But his memories of Gwen soon turn to guilt, as Peter blames himself for Gwen's death -and that of her fa
ther, Capt. Stacy. After the ambulance takes Gwen's body away, the police try to take Spidey in for questioning, but he tosses them aside like rag dolls.

Doug: Here's an everyday thought for you -- who would have made the arrangements for Gwen's funeral? We know from our reading of ASM #123 that there was a funeral, and attended by the entire cast of characters, but it's just sad to think that she had no siblings and no parents by this time. If you've ever had to do this, then you know there are a lot of arrangements to make in a short time. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to do in a city the size of New York.

Karen: After the ambulance has departed, a visibly enraged Peter goes to Osborn's townhouse to finish things, but Osborn isn't there. He thinks he may get some info out of Harry, but Harry is still tripped out on the acid
he took the day before. The two pages showing Peter seeing Harry, and then abandoning him, are pretty disturbing. Harry clearly needs someone, but Peter is focused on revenge. This was really not the Peter we knew at all -then again, he'd never been in a situation like this one before.

Doug: One, Gil Kane draws such smoldering eyes on Peter throughout this scene. The intensity of his anger... the reader can almost feel Pete about to burst. And two, I thought it very sad, and almost sickening (mostly because I knew what was coming), when Harry remarked that if Peter left, he'd be all alone. Moreso than you can imagine, Harry. Stuck in the midst of a crisis of "I think, therefore I am", Harry didn't know which side was up.

Karen: Peter- as Spider-Man - gets some help tracing Osborn to a
warehouse from Robbie Robertson. I've said it before but I always thought Robbie knew that Peter was Spider-Man. He always treated Spidey with a lot of understanding.

Doug: I like Spidey as much as the next guy, and I know comics have to be organic and change. While I don't favor any of the changes that took place from the mid-1990's onward, I understand that a book can't get stagnant. My point is, that in my Spider-verse, you're right, Karen -- Robbie does know, and he becomes that aide to our hero as Ben Urich did for Daredevil. And one could mine a whole lot of material from a relationship like that. Funny -- Peter would continue to try to hide his ID from Robbie and JJJ, but Robbie would also have to hide his relationship with Spider-Man from Jonah. Lots of triangle relationships in there, huh?

Karen: Cue to Osborn inside his warehouse, ranting and raving. He hears a noise and thinks Spider-Man is waiting to ambush him from the front door. Of course, Spidey's too clever, and is actually waiting at the back door. He whacks the Goblin and mangles his glider. The Goblin grows furious that Spider-Man damaged his
glider. This just makes Peter even more angry -he's lost Gwen, and the Goblin is upset over a machine? To make it even worse, Osborn begins to put down Gwen: "A simpering, pointless girl who never did more than occupy space." This infuriates Peter and he lays into the Goblin. Even today, the panels showing Spider-Man just pounding the Goblin almost make me flinch. You can feel Peter's anger and pain; never have we seen him so brutal.

Doug: I mentioned above the changes that have taken place in "modern" Spidey comics. Bringing Norman Osborn back ranks as one of the top two egregious resurrections (Bucky would be the other) Marvel's perpetrated. And look how differently Osborn's portrayed today, as this super-villain/godfather. I look at Osborn in the scene you mention above, and I see some wingnut on the verge of bankruptcy with no coping mechanisms, no way out of it -- not even through crime, and no future at all. I know that the Goblin started out as a rival to the Big Man and the Crimemaster, but think of Wilson Fisk in the late Silver Age: Osborn just is not in his league. So to think that after 25 or so years that he'd re-emerge as some sort of mythic dark lord capable of manipulating the Marvel Universe... fish ain't bitin' here.

Karen: I agree completely. At some point Marvel decided they wanted their own Lex Luthor and somehow Osborn became it. But I've always thought of him as a deluded psychopath, who could at times barely figure out how to drive to the supermarket, let alone be a criminal mastermind.

Doug: We mentioned last issue that it was hard to believe how Spidey was cutting loose against the Goblin; it's moreso here. He is really hitting him hard. And Osborn deserved every bit of it. Let's face it -- there's legal justice, and then there's just justice. Could this story have ended any other way? It's sort of the type of resolution Jim Shooter would demand for Jean Grey a decade hence -- the punishment would have to fit the crime. There was simply no way Osborn could be allowed to live to menace again.
That's harsh, and borders on anarchical, but I think the creators here were right on.

Karen: Of course, being a good person at heart, Peter stops himself before he goes too far. He doesn't want to be a murderer like Osborn. As he backs away from the reeling Goblin, we see the twisted glider raise up in the air. Osborn has it under remote control, and it's headed straight for Peter's back. His spider sense alerts him in the nick of time and he ducks. The glider instead impales the Goblin to a wall, killing him. Peter realizes that the Goblin's death has brought him nothing. He walks away, feeling empty.

Doug: What a powerful scene, and intensely violent. I guess it never occurred to me until this particular read, but if you look at the subtle sputter of the glider's engine after it's impact on Osborn's chest, you have to realize that the engine is still driving the machine forward. So not only has the sharp, bent "head" of the glider pierced Osborn's chest, but it becomes further imbedded in each of the subsequent panels. There are four of these drives, and then when the engine finally dies Osborn falls on top of it, again with it embedded in his chest.
It's really quite a horrific death, and one I'd argue is more violent than the bloody end shown in the Spider-Man film, where the blood did all of the work. Here it's your mind, and like the soundtrack in Jaws, that's good writing. Let your mind tell you the story, not your eyes.

Karen: The final page of the bo
ok gives us a glimpse of the future. Peter returns to his apartment, where Mary Jane has been waiting for him. She tries to tell him how sorry she is about Gwen but Peter snaps at her, saying she doesn't really care, and tells her to leave. At first she heads towards the door, in tears -but then, she turns back, and stands by a sobbing Peter. A new direction had just begun for the book.

Doug: I didn't get that scene when I was little, but as I said I didn't have all of the backstory. What a watershed moment not only in the Bronze Age of comics, but in the life of Mary Jane Watson. Pete, although cruel, has her pegged perfectly. And then she goes and does exactly what she's not "supposed" to do. Gerry Conway made a nice save of a tragic situation with that last panel or two, although I know the fans certainly didn't see it that way at the time.

Karen: This was a devastating read. I can only imagine what it would have felt like to read it at the time. There's no happy ending, no real victory -just shock and emptiness. Even in this issue's letter column, there was a special bullpen note that said the events of the last two issues had cost Peter much, including his innocence. That's exactly how it feels. The real costs of being Spider-Man are made plain here. And yet... Peter continued to be Spider-Man. He struggled with Gwen's death but never gave up his role as a super-hero. Of course, Marvel had a title to put out, but I like to think it demonstrates Peter's ability (and by extension, all of our abilities) to overcome terrible losses.

Doug: Don't shoot me, because I know you can't believe what I'm going to say... This storyline could have been greatly enhanced by some decompressed writing in the next few issues. Instead we got Luke Cage wanting to beat our hero's brains in, and then the Man-Wolf 2-parter. Both are good stories, but how about some Spidey angst? As characters we've loved, why not take the opportunity to delve into the way each member of the cast dealt with this loss? How about the Torch or DD coming to Spider-Man for succor? Again, can't believe I'm saying this, but I could have used a 6-issue trade paperback that would have been very emotional and psychological. Maybe if you had to have the hero angle, Johnny and DD could have pinch-hit against some of Spidey's rogues. But perhaps this is an "untold tale" yet to be written. Anyway, it was just back to "Biff! Pow!" in 30 days, and I'd have liked to have seen more of the funeral, Pete's grieving process, maybe to have read Gwen's obituary, etc.

Karen: I'll put these two issues up there with anything before or si
nce as one of the most powerful and moving stories in comics history.

Doug: Here, here and Amen.





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