Sunday, July 31, 2011

Expectations Were Low... Spider-Woman #1


Spider-Woman #1 (April 1978)
"A Future Uncertain!"
Marv Wolfman-Carmine Infantino/Tony DeZuniga

Doug: Today we're going to take a gander at a book and character that I really have no interest in. I read a few Spider-Woman mags back in the '70's -- I recall her in a Marvel Two-In-One. But any semblance of care I might have had was dashed when Bendis shoved her down our throats in his New Avengers. So, this should be interesting -- I've not ever read this book before, I don't like Carmine Infantino's art in this era, and the character leaves me cold (although her costume is pretty cool, and the Joe Sinnott cover above is very good). But let's see if I can put on my "objective hat" and write a fair review. You game?

Doug: We open with our heroine clinging to the ceiling of a grocery store in London. Spider-Woman debates whether or not she'll steal food to survive. We learn that she has no job nor other means to support herself. As she takes a can from the shelf, she is repulsed and rifles said can into the shelving, scattering goods about the floor. This of course alerts the security guard, who comes in with flashlight in hand. But alas, guys like him never check out the overhead angle, so Spider-Woman goes undetected. As he leaves, she drops back to the floor, rearranges some more cans with a hefty kick, and then exits through a vent. But when spied emerging and questioned, she declares that she took nothing and did nothing wrong. OK, well if general hooliganism is "nothing wrong", then I guess she isn't lying.

Doug: The gentleman accosting our heroine reveals himself as an agent of Scotland Yard. His on-sight interrogation is quite sexually harassing, as he continually calls her "gorgeous" and "beautiful". After a brief struggle, Spider-Woman breaks free -- but not before being unmasked. As she runs away, our agent muses to himself that he's sure he's seen this woman before. The next day, our young lady -- Jessica Drew -- walks down a street following yet another failed job interview. As she passes, the locals talk behind her back noting her good looks but at the same time sensing a sort of "creepiness" about this new denizen of their neighborhood. As Jessica retires to her apartment (a tenement apartment, we're told), she begins to dream about who she is.

Doug: We get a bit of a recap of Marvel Two-In-One #33, which concluded the character's first major story arc. We learn that Jessica Drew's origin actually begins with the High Evolutionary, waaaaay back in Thor #135. Jessica's father became a scientific partner of the man who would become the High Evolutionary. Together they worked to find ways to evolve man past all of the ills of the day -- radiation, pollution, etc. They bought property in the Balkans and then discovered that they were sitting on a bed of uranium. They cashed in and were able to build Wundagore. But through time Jessica came down with radiation poisoning and fell gravely ill. Her father was able to inject her with a spider serum (hmmm -- what is it with down-on-their-luck heroes, radiation, and spiders?) in hopes of saving her young life.

Doug: But the Evolutionary reminded his partner that the spider serums needed a month to incubate -- a month they didn't have. So the Evolutionary offered to subject Jessica to a genetic enhancer ray; Jessica's mother protested to the point that she died (huh? It seemed pretty sudden to me). We learn that in order to save Jessica, the High Evolutionary had to give her yearly treatments. In effect, over time Jessica became half human and half spider. She remarks, after her dream sequence, that she was shunned at Wundagore by the Evolutionary's New Men because she was not an animal; in the human world she is perceived as creepy. And we are told, too, that she had been kidnapped by Hydra and brainwashed to work for them as an agent. And if that isn't complicated enough...

Doug: Jessica decides that she needs to become as normal as possible -- get a job, settle down, integrate herself to society. But with no background and no references, and with that apparently-repulsive personality, it's no go. Wandering the streets, she is seen by the agent who tried to question her at the market. Running from him, she emerges in an alley in costume. She attacks her pursuer by hurling a lamp post at him. But at the last minute she dives into him, pushing him into a wall and away from the deadly projectile. Feeling the need to further disguise herself, Jessica changes her mask and dyes her hair black.

Doug: The last several pages of this story are a long fight involving our agent friend, his partner, and some baddies who've planted bombs all around London. Spider-Woman intervenes and wallops the villains, but not without a casualty or two. During the entire fracas she continues to have her personal pity party about being not human and not a spider... by now, we get it, Marv! Anyway, our guy is shot with a laser and Jessica then fights off Scotland Yard because she can get the dude to a hospital quicker. Once there, she insists on giving him a transfusion of her blood, because it will fight off the radiation from the lasers. All's well that ends well. Oh, and those bad guys? They'd buried plates for English pounds under the walls of Parliament during WWII; they'd set the bombs around London to distract the police so they could dig the plates out. Trouble is, it was all for naught -- the UK had gone to a re-designed pound some years earlier.

Doug: So, verdict? What I thought I would hate, I actually liked -- the art. No doubt Carmine did the lay-outs. Some of his trademark skidding-to-a-stop running poses were there. But Tony DeZuniga really exerted some heavy influence and softened the angles on the 3/4 facial turns that Carmine could no longer do in this era -- DeZuniga's inks added some depth. The book really looks great. Now, Marv Wolfman's script? Not so much. First off, I mentioned above that Jessica Drew is just the classic Marvel feet-of-clay hero. Most recently, we'd seen the formula with Richard Rider over in The Man Called Nova. As to her origin, I liked the High Evolutionary aspect of it, but got very tired of Jessica lamenting her dual personality. So I'd probably give a "C" for the words. But overall, this book was OK -- I'm happy to report that I'm glad I read it!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Awesome toys!


Karen: I'm sure everyone's had a chance to see some of the cool toys that were on display at this year's San Diego Comic Con. Of course everyone from Sideshow to Diamond Select to Mattel,etc, was there. Although I did not go this year I've looked at a lot of pictures and some of the items caught my eye.

Cool Toy Review has a nice set of photos of tons of products. Some of the ones that will be on my shopping list:


Karen: Diamond Select's Metaluna Mutant with its very own interociter! Now I'll be honest: I think the Sideshow 8" version of the mutant that came out a few years ago is a better-looking sculpt than this one. But -how can you pass it up when you can get an interociter too? That's just too cool!



















Karen: I'm a sucker for Mini-Mates. How about this Galactus one, complete with his own little Silver Surfer orbiting around him?

Doug: If I collected one more thing, it would be the Mini-Mates. But you have to draw the line somewhere! My sons have a large Cool Whip tub full of these little guys, including the All-New, All-Different X-Men set -- they are all really fun to look at (pssst... and even play with every now and then).














Karen: I know my blog-mate Doug is excited about some offerings from Mattel -and so am I! Here's an image from Action Figure Insider:

Karen: Whoa! Long Live the Legion! Looks great, mostly classic costumes, and an over-sized Colossal Boy is sweet. I do wish Saturn Girl was in her Cockrum outfit, but hey, this is pretty nice.

Doug: However, we can certainly be thankful that Cos is in his old-school outfit. We wouldn't want the poor boy to catch a draft!

Doug: And you want giants? How about the extremely cool presentation of these vinyl Mini-Muggs? What a hoot!



Karen: Does anyone have anything to add to this list?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Instrument Panel

Doug: So I was having a conversation in the car with my younger son, and while we were listening to the iPod I asked him which instrument did he feel was the most important to a song's sound? We bandied that one about, choosing various songs to highlight our favorite guitars, bass guitars, horns, drums, and keyboards. Then I threw this poser at him -- what if we consider the voice as a musical instrument, then what do you think?

Doug: So we came up with some nominees: John Entwistle's bass on The Who's The Real Me (a selection nominated on this very blog way back when we looked at great bass players), Steve Perry's vocals on Journey's Lovin' Touchin' Squeezin', and Neil Doughty's keyboards on REO Speedwagon's Roll With the Changes. My son was partial to Phil Collins' drums on In the Air Tonight, but you know that's only because of that one part in the song; I told him he couldn't go wrong with Keith Moon of The Who if he wanted out-and-out violence, or Neal Peart of Rush if he wanted precision and polish.

Doug: So this was just a quick bit of fun we had over a car ride. What are some of your favorite performances over the years? Which instruments and/or vocals stand out in your memories? Thanks in advance for sharing!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Magneto Triumphant: X-Men 112


X-Men #112 (Aug. 1977)
"Magneto Triumphant!"
writer: Chris Claremont
Artists: John Byrne/Terry Austin

Karen: Magneto vs. the X-Men. It really doesn't get any better than that. And this is old school style -before anyone thought it was a great idea to have Magneto 'reform' and join the X-Men. No, this is Magneto and the height of both his powers and his fury. And both are directed at our little mutant band.

Doug: I agree with you -- this seems to be a Magneto on the level of Doctor Doom. Confident, deliberate, scary...

Karen: The X-Men find themselves inside a circus wagon, facing their greatest enemy. Cyclops orders the team outside, only to discover that the wagon is now flying far above the Earth, controlled by the master of magnetism -who also appears to be maintaining life support conditions within. Turns out Magneto had gone to Xavier's school to face his foes but found the place deserted. Soon after he got there, the Beast showed up, and he followed the former X-Man to the circus. So it was all very serendipitous.
Doug: That was quite a shock to see that the circus wagon was indeed in flight. At it's a testament to how strong Magneto was -- think about it: not only could they not tell that they were moving upward, but there was no centrifugal force, etc. And like you said -- to preserve the life support systems. Did his powers in this era know no bounds?

Karen: The wagon passes over South America to Antarctica, where Magneto has a sprawling base hidden beneath a volcano. Very Bond-ish. The wagon passing through the molten lava is very well rendered. You'll notice that the bottom panel showing an overview of his base is actually a drawing of half a base, just flopped over mirror-image style, to make a complete base.

Doug: I'm always a sucker for these sorts of cut-away drawings. Too bad the whole thing wasn't labeled, as we've seen for years for the Baxter Building, the Batcave, and Avengers Mansion.

Karen: Once safely within the base, Magneto uses his powers to blow the wagon apart and engages the team. Cyclops is still fretting about it, feeling the team is not ready. And he's right. They proceed to take Magneto on one at a time, rather than as a team. As you may recall from reading our previous reviews, this was a real problem for the new X-Men in their early days.

Doug: Chris Claremont did a nice job of building suspense throughout this scene by telling us of the tension building in the X-Men's thoughts. I can recall being on pins and needles the first time I read this -- the entire story, from our part 1 last week through this was just a running discovery of what lie in store.

Karen: I agree, this is a very well-written story, full of action yet still giving us good character moments. Although reading it years later, I see some of the infamous 'Claremontisms' that would become all too apparent later on. Storm takes a good shot at Magneto, using a blizzard, but hesitates, not wanting to kill him, and he takes her down. Phoenix does even better, until she reaches her limits, which she is surprised to find she has. But Magneto manages to get the better of her. That leaves the little psychopath, Wolverine, who regains consciousness just as Jean goes down. He takes a swipe at Magneto but comes up only with a scrap of his cape. Magneto then uses Wolver
ine's claws against him, eliciting some actual fear from the little nut. But Magneto doesn't kill him; he has other plans for him. Therefore, he just knocks him out.
Doug: I wonder if you caught the reference from the Beast as to he and Maggie being "best buddies"? There was a footnote earlier in the story referencing the Champions and Super-Villain Team-Up stories that we covered. In the second installment, the Beast had taken Magneto to LA to meet up with the Champions against Dr. Doom. Nice bit of unification in the Marvel Universe, which the House of Ideas has always been good at. And Cyclops was right -- and this has always been one of my complaints about team books -- they all just attacked as individuals. You'd think they'd learn. I, too, was shocked when Jean fizzled at the height of her attack -- I expected more.

Karen: The X-Men awaken in a chamber where they are imprisoned in me
tallic chairs. Magneto explains to him that his defeat at the hands of Xavier and the mutant Alpha humiliated him. Although regressed to infancy, Magneto claims that he knew what he should have been, knew of his power. Yet he was unable to do anything about it. Therefore, he is going to make the X-Men suffer the same fate. The chairs he's locked them into are connected to their nervous systems. Effectively, he's reduced their motor control to that of newborns. The mutants try to move, or talk, but find they cannot. As the master of magnetism tells them, "If there is a Hell, X-Men, it surely cannot be more terrible than this."

Doug: You think these super-baddies would learn not
to toy with their prey... I can't wait for the next issue!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Inaugural Post -- Discuss...

Doug: Hey, here's another chance for you to sound off (which is what makes this place a fun little oasis in the midst of a sometimes mundane life). We'll start an every-now-and-then series where we throw out a very simple, yet could-be controversial topic. No ground rules, just your initial reactions. So without further ado...


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spotlight On: Joe Sinnott


Doug: Hey, back atcha with a look at one of our favorites around here -- none other than Joltin' Joe Sinnott! Joe's often tagged in our posts (he's in the top 15 here),
as we've covered many issues of the Fantastic Four that have featured his embellishments. Joe Sinnott is of course known as an inker, but did you know he did quite a bit of penciling back in the 1950's and early '60's? You can check out a chronology of Sinnott's career here. Around these parts we've featured Joe's inks over a hall-of-fame-worthy assortment of Bronze Age pencilers, including Jack Kirby, John Romita, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, George Perez, John Byrne, and Rich Buckler. You can find Sal Buscema's comments on Sinnott here.

Doug: But we'd be remiss if we didn't say that Sinnott does bring a bit of controversy to the table. As you can see in Sal's comments, many feel that when Sinnott's on the job, it's Sinnott you're going to get.
No, not the flavor of the pencils, but the overpowering of the inks. So as you head toward your comments today, why don't you take a minute first and stroll through our Joe Sinnott tags, checking out his work over various other creators. Are there certain characters he enhances? Are there artists he makes, and others he breaks? Is he best on the FF, or can he make any character or book better? Thanks as always for the input!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Stereotypes

Doug: Happy Sunday, all. Today we're discussing minority characters, and the writing thereof. It seems to me that often non-Caucasian comic book characters serve only as stereotypes of the larger pop culture depiction of said race or ethnic group. Case in point: After Sunfire joined the X-Men in Giant-Size X-Men #1, he left very shortly. But while he was there, we got earful after earful of his anti-imperialism, take-your-Open-Door-Policy-and-shove-it attitude. He was grating on the nerves. Lately the Black Panther has been portrayed as an angry black man; back in the Swingin' '70's, Sam Wilson's lady Leila fit the angry black woman bill. John Proudstar, Thunderbird? Yep, you guessed it -- non-trusting Native American.

Doug: OK, so could you argue that these personalities are real, and are perhaps political statements made from the writers' points of views? Sure you can, and I'd not for a second say that any of my above examples don't stem from real situations. I'd also never suggest that various minorities should not be angry for the treatment they've received from the larger white political majority. American history is rife with instances of social injustice.

Doug: That being said, is it an injustice in itself to portray minority characters as only angry? This is what I'd like to hear our readers sound off about today. Thanks in advance.




Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Curse of the Sun God


Astonishing Tales #5 (April 1971)
"Rampage!"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Artist: Barry Smith
Inker: Frank Giacoia

Karen: When last we left the fearless jungle lord Ka-Zar he had been swept up in the talons of a pterodactyl ridden by the merciless priestess Zaladane. We start this story with Ka-Zar struggling to break loose from that terrible grip. The acrobatic savage manages to swing himself free and up on to Zaladane's perch, knocking the reins out of her hands. The gigantic beast flies wildly out of control and the two enemies now cling to one another as they crash through trees to the ground below.

Karen: The beast has fallen in front of the temple to the Sun God, where Ka-Zar's friend Garokk, the Petrified Man, stands, hoping to be free of the godlike power that now fills him, and is driving him mad. He looks at the lake before him and sees a sea serpent attacking boats full of men and tries to stop it. Unfortunately he uses too much of his power and practically evaporates the entire lake, wiping out man and monster alike. This is an effective sequence as we see the water roiling and then the near empty lake bed.

Karen: Ka-Zar and Zaladane have survived their crash and she appears to have changed her tune, as Ka-Zar tried to protect her during their ordeal. She shows him a pool of black water under the city -"heating our homes, supplying liquid wood for our fires..." Sounds like oil right? But then she says, "...and he who drinks from it gains immortality, and then unlimited force---and then madness!" OK, definitely not oil! Ka-Zar realizes what this means for Garokk, and asks inf there is no cure. Zaladane re
plies that if Garokk bathes in the pool the curse will be removed. Unfortunately she's been playing Ka-Zar -she lured him into the chamber only to release a big nasty ape-like monster on him!

Karen: Back on the surface, Garokk has decided the only way to bring peace to the Savage Land is to wipe out the people. He nearly attacks Tongah and Zabu when he feels compelled to leave in his godly form. Zaladane has summoned him, and he's not happy! Back underground, the jungle lord is battling a much bigger foe than he, but still overcomes him. Ka-Zar sees Garokk and tries to reason with him but it's no use. The crazed man-god begins firing energy beams from his eyes, and the very ground they stand upon crumbles and the twon drop into the underground chamber. Remembering Zaladane's words about removing the curse, Ka-Zar manipulates Garokk into the bubbling pool. Of course, Ka-Zar should know better than to trust the treacherous wench. Garokk starts to change, his outer rocky form consumed by the fire. All that is left is his withered, centuries-old mortal form, now dying. Ka-Zar is stunned but Garokk gratefully accepts death.

Karen: Zaladane comes down to the chamber but Ka-Zar leaves her be, pretty much disgusted with the whole situation. Suddenly, from under some rubble comes the guardian-beast that Ka-Zar had defeated. he doesn't recognize Zaladane and goes to attack her. The whole chamber starts to collapse. Form outside, Tongah and Zabu try to enter but the whole temple is falling apart. After the Sun-God's statues falls, they see a figure in the dust; it is Ka-Zar.

Karen: This three-part tale was solid all the way through. It's fun to look back at two young creators, Conway and Smith, just starting to come into their own, Smith with a few more years under his belt at this point than Conway. His art is much improved fr
om his earlier Avengers work, where he seemed to be trying to emulate Kirby. Here, in his own natural style, he excels. I think Giacoia was a better choice of inker for him than Grainger. There seems to be much more of Smith's fine line work retained in this issue. It's too bad he was not the cover artist as well; the covers for these issues have been fairly pedestrian. For anyone wanting to see some examples of early Smith art that is not Conan, these issues would be a good place to look.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Star-Spangled Avenger!

Karen: Today's the day - the final member of the Big Three makes his film debut. Yep, we're talking about Captain America! So let's hear it -what did you think of the Sentinel of Liberty's new film?



Doug: Here are links to two reviews from the Chicago Tribune's website today: One is favorable (Michael Phillips generally likes superhero and action movies), and one is a rip job from the LA Times critic. I'm probably going to have the same opinion as Michael Phillips -- he grades these things for what they are. Sounds like the other guy was looking for Gone With the Wind or something. Duh...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Greatest Mutant Show on Earth: X-Men 111



X-Men #111 (June 1978)
"Mind Games!"
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciller: John Byrne
Inker: Terry Austin

Karen: That's right, friends, we're back with our favorite mutants for another set of reviews in the Claremont-Byrne-Austin era. These are some of my favorite issues of all time that we're getting into here, and personally, I can't wait to get going!

Doug: Nor can I -- and this long arc also stands in my mind as perhaps the zenith of this creative team. Certainly what came before and after is no small potatoes, but
these 4-5 issues beginning with #111 are the issues I'd send someone who asked, "So what was so great about the Claremont/Byrne run on X-Men?" This is it. By the way, did you find it odd that Dave Cockrum continued to do covers in this era?

Karen: Well, Cockrum did a lot of covers back then. But yeah, it was a little odd. Ou
r story starts with the Beast, once an X-Man, now an Avenger, checking out a rinky dink carnival in Texas. He's shocked to find Banshee working as a carnival barker - and what looks like the new X-Men appearing as freaks in the sideshow (Wolverine, Nightcrawler) or performers in the big top (Storm). Of course, Beast hasn't actually met the new team, so he's not positive that this is really them. He flashes back to how he wound up in this situation. Lorna Dane (aka Polaris) called Beast after her lover, Havok, disappeared. She'd called the X-Men, but couldn't get anyone at the mansion. Beast checked out the mansion and found it looking as if everyone had left it in a hurry. Using Cerebro, the X-Men's mutant-locating device, he found the X-Men in Texas -or did he?

Dou
g: I can distinctly recall my surprise when I began reading this and the Beast identified the carnival barker as Banshee; that totally went over my head on the cover. I guess I was a bit surprised at Hank's doubt as to whether or not this was the real team. Never having met them aside, I would think his Avengers Priority status would have required some intelligence debriefing somewhere along the line. The X-Men hadn't exactly kept a low profile since becoming active against Count Nefaria.

Karen: Beast spots an aerialist who miraculously floats down to the ground after she misses her catch. Dead certain that it's his old friend Jea
n Grey, he heads into her wagon to see her after the show. Only this isn't the Jean Grey he remembers! She's kinda sleazy...

Doug: Claremont was quite skilled at character dialogue in this issue. He really had the voices down.

Karen: Soon another old school pal shows up. Scott "Slim" Summers happens
by Jean's but he also does not remember Hank. Things start to get rough, and soon a whole mob of carnival folk are after the Beast. These are some really slimy looking carnies -pretty much exactly as I remember them from the county fair as a kid! The Beast can handle these clowns easily, but needs to find a place to stop and think about what's going on. He jumps inside the sideshow, and as he's pondering things, we see a large shadow on the fabric behind him. Suddenly a massive metal fist comes tearing through the tent, to slam into the back of Hank's skull. As the Beast lies sprawled and dazed on the ground, we see Colossus step into the tent. In his weakened state, the Beast is quickly beaten into submission by the carnies. As he is dragged out of the tent, the chained Wolverine growls, "Nooooo!"

Doug: Is this issue the beginning of the shift from Nightcrawler and Colossus to Wolverine? I think we may have a candidate.
Wolverine is much more "in charge" here, and displays that personality that we'll see fully manifested when he takes on the Hellfire Club single-handedly in #133.
Karen: Yep, with Byrne firmly entrenched now, the nasty little Canuck starts getting more time. The Beast is taken to see "the boss." This turns out to be none other than Mesmero, one of the X-Men's oldest foes. With his ability to control minds, once he had taken over Jean, he was able to gain access to all of the others. There's a really nice close-up of Mesmero's eyes as he begins to work on the Beast.

Doug: It's a great reveal, but were you disappointed that Hank didn't come up with Mesmero or Mastermind as a potential baddie in all of this? It seems to me that the X-Men's rogues gallery isn't all that deep anyway, and then when you cut it down to guys who c
ould pull this off...

Karen: Back in the sideshow, Wolverine is struggling against both his mental and physical ensnarement. He struggles mightily to shatter his chains, then g
rabs a carnie and threatens him to get information. Then he goes to rouse Jean out of Mesmero's control, which has some painful repercussions.
Doug: As I said above, I think this is Wolverine's coming-out party. The scene where he has the carnie up against the wall and tells him he's going to pop his claws by the count of five is priceless!

Karen: That scene pretty mu
ch defined the character in this era, didn't it? Meanwhile the Beast has managed to resist Mesmero's hypnotic stare long enough to break free of his goons. Just as he's about to smack Mesmero around though, the Beast is knocked out by a blast of energy from an unseen assailant. Whoever it is, they absolutely terrify Mesmero.

Karen: Jean manages to restore all of the X-Men to normal -and they are mad! They take down a bunch of carnies as they make their way
towards Mesmero's wagon. He appears to be standing in the doorway as the team approaches but then his body slumps to the ground. From the darkened interior of the wagon, they hear a voice that sends chills down their spines. Rising from a chair, we see that it is the X-Men's oldest and most dangerous foe, Magneto! Surrounded by an impressive Kirby Krackle, the mutant master of magnetism informs the X-Men that not all their powers will save them this time!
Doug: I have long said that this is one of the best last-panel bad guy entrances of all time! Byrne and Austin just pump the power into this figure of Magneto. Obviously at the height of his power (as we saw in X-Men #104), he's no less physically imposing here as well. Scott's reservation comes across as real, and the looks on the faces of the rest of the team speak volumes toward what's to come. Having been with this title since #95 (I missed #'s 97-99), my anticipation for the promised rematch was so great... I only prayed that I could get my hands on #112! These were fun times to be a kid, discovering this as it came out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"He's a Great Guitar Player"

Doug: Does anyone out there feel like we ought to be running a Side-by-Side today? That was a long six months! But it's time to move on to other things...

Doug: I mentioned in a comment last week that I'd been in Washington, DC for about 10 days doing some work at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. While there, conversations are often on topics that aren't a whole lot of fun, so whenever the work is done and we're making our way to the Metro station, we try to lighten it up a bit. One of my colleagues was talking about an artist who he likes (to save my life, I cannot recall who he was speaking of) and the comment was made that the artist at hand "is a great guitar player". So, feeling a bit Socratic, I pressed him with "What's that mean?" He replied that this guy is just really good. So, again feeling a bit like a pain in the butt, I said, "Yeah, but Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen are great guitar players and they are nowhere close to alike. So what do you mean?"


Doug: So that's your job today. Simple task: just give us your two cents on the statement that is the title of this post -- what's it mean to you?



Monday, July 18, 2011

Giant-Size July: Marvel Two-In-One #20


Marvel Two-In-One #20 (October 1976)
"Showdown At Sea"
Roy Thomas-Sal Buscema/Sam Grainger

Doug: Yeah, we know this is a "regular sized" issue, but it's also the conclusion to the 3-part opus Roy Thomas began to weave in Fantastic Four Annual #11, tying the FF into a story involving Marvel's World War II-era heroes: the Invaders and the Liberty Legion. We'll have more oversized goodness for you next Monday. And seriously, can you deny the Kirby-coolness of a white cover with floating heads? On to our final chapter...

Doug: When we left Bashful Benjy at the conclusion of Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1, he had vaulted into the sky from a bent flagpole. His target? Why, only a giant flying swastika, put together with Nazi know-how as well as technology stolen by a bunch of super-powere
d Ratzis: Sky Shark, Master Man, and Merrano the U-Man! These do-badders had lately been opposed by Marvel's "newest" WWII sensations, the Liberty Legion. Ben now entered the fray after a lot of sideline-standing, and once he lands he's going to meet our newest refugee from Thomas' Invaders mag.

Karen: I wonder what the story is behind this odd three-parter? I can't help but think that maybe it was originally intended to be told in just the two annuals, but somehow stretched out into this regular-sized issue. It's certa
inly an odd situation.

Doug: It is a
n odd bit of continuity. I thought a comment from frequent BAB reader Edo Bosnar about Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 violating that unwritten Annual rule of being a nice done-in-one story was interesting. I'd not given that a thought. But yes, this tale's long enough to be in a graphic novel or treasury edition!

Doug: Once on the airsh
ip, Ben discovered that its pilot was the Nazi mastermind (is that correct, because it's pretty punny) Brain Drain. Ben's of course shocked at the look of this... thing, and who wouldn't be? We then get the obligatory ~2-page recap before Ben begins to tear the flying swastika apart. As he's ripping into it, though, it obviously begins to spin out of control, clipping several buildings along the New York skyline. Finally diverted out to sea, the airship returns to its base, the same base where Sky Shark had found refuge in the previous chapter. But once down, Ben is greeted by Brain Drain's allies -- the aforementioned super-powered Nazis! Ben puts up a fight, feigns unconsciousness, and then rips through all of them once he's lured them in close. Sky Shark offers just enough resistance through the use of his pistol to allow Master Man and Merrano the ins they need to keep pummeling the Thing. And then the cavalry arrives!

Karen: Oh my. Der Brain Drain. Look, I like 50s sci fi movies with disembodied brains, but this guy, with his little eyes bobbing around, was just goofy. In light of all our discussion previously about Ben being Jewish, I thought his fight with Master Man, and the dialogue there, was pretty interesting. Master Man: "I suspect you are not...Aryan!" Ben: "That's the kinda bull we're fightin' this war to get rid of! Me, I'm just a pure-bred human bein'..." Again, it's just a simple comment that any hero might make, but if you interpret it in the light of Ben being Jewish, it adds another layer to it.

Doug: Yep. I can't recall if, after writing the synopsis for this issue, I went back to the MTIO Annual #1 post and inserted the line of questioning about Ben's heritage. Perhaps I thought of it at the time -- but you're certainly right in that there have been plenty of signs of Roy's perhaps-cloaked intentions throughout this entire story.

Doug: Sal Buscema has a coup
le of really nice larger panels in this story. At the beginning of this scene the appearance of the Nazi muscle is well-rendered; straightforward, but exciting. Here we see the Liberty Legion descending from the Thin Man's airplane to join the fray. It's good stuff! Once on the base, the LL begins to kick some major butt. This is a different sort of battle than the Invaders would fight -- this group doesn't have Namor's power or the advantage of the Torches flying and heat manipulating. We get a pretty good brouhaha, with the Legion displaying their powers (don't you think Roy was pushing hard for an ongoing series with these guys? It's too bad the mini-series hadn't been invented yet).

Karen: Yeah, the Liber
ty Legion is to the Invaders what Cap's Kooky Quartet was to the founding Avengers team: under-powered! Blue Diamond is tough, but I don't think he was super-strong; the Patriot's just an average guy; two members, Red Raven and Miss America, are mainly fliers; the Whizzer definitely could fit in with the Invaders though. Not so sure about Jack Frost or especially the Thin Man.

Doug: Ben continues to pound away at the swastika airship, until Brain Drain blasts off and away. He's followed shortly by Sky Shark in his plane, and the battle basically ends. Whe
n the Watcher reappears, Ben's pretty certain that the danger's over... as that dope Sky Shark had been flaunting the second half of the vibranium cylinder that started this whole mess, it was a pretty easy grab for Ben during the fracas. So with what he'd come back in time for, good-byes are said, the time platform's set for 1976, and it's off to the future (or present). Once back, Ben has some final words with the Watcher. Once he fades out, the rest of the FF finally burst into the laboratory. Ben nonchalantly tosses the reunited cylinder to Reed and heads off to find Alicia, for what we hope was a happy ending!

Karen: This issue
was a fast read, especially compared to the other two. All in all, not a bad story, although I think the FF Annual was heads and shoulders above the second and third parts. I just looked at this issue (and the MTIO Annual) and kept thinking, "This is just ridiculous."

Doug: I liked this story, despite the silly parts and Roy's sometimes over-wordiness. It was fun to see the WWII heroes, and Ben's just a great team-up guy. Marvel really mined gold with their two leads, as opposed to DC's choices of Batman and Superman. While they are without a doubt the Distinguished Competition's biggest stars, neither of their personalities are even close to Spidey's or the Thing's. I think that's why Marvel could pair those guys with just about any B- or C-lister in their stable. Those two guys are just people people!

Karen: I've always kind of thought of Ben's role in the Marvel
Universe as 'everybody's favorite uncle'. He's the kind of guy that is easy to get along with, doesn't have any airs or pretensions, and is a big softy at heart. You could team him up with anyone from Cap to Thor to Man-Thing -Ben got along with 'em all!

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