Saturday, March 30, 2013

Readers' Choice -- It's All Yours Today on the BAB!


Any of our categories are yours for the taking today -- Discuss, Who's the Best...?, Face-Off, the Open Forum, and Spotlight On...  Have fun with it!  -- Karen and Doug








Friday, March 29, 2013

Doug's First Comic Book: Avengers 19


Avengers #19 (August 1965)
"The Coming of... The Swordsman!"
Stan Lee-Don Heck/Dick Ayers

Doug:  Today I'm going to let you in on a bit of history -- this is the first comic book I remember getting.  I received it as a gift.  My memory is really murky -- I cannot recall who gave it to me or where I was.  I know my family was visiting another family, and they had a daughter who was maybe a year or so older than me; she gave me the book -- ask me to tell you her name and we'll both be disappointed.  This must have been in 1971 or 1972, as I know it was before my family moved to Milwaukee in the summer between my 1st and 2nd grade years.  So I suppose that's not very good history after all, is it(?), especially since the copy I own is not the one I was given over 40 years ago!  But I hope that sort of introspection will inspire our readers to not only comment on today's story, but to share similar remembrances of first comics past.  The cover image above is from my copy, which is certainly not my original -- this is an upgraded replacement.  The back cover is a light tan instead of bright white, but you can see that the front is really nice.  All corners are sharp and the spine is pretty tight -- too tight, to be honest.  Can you make out that it's stapled off-center?  See the staple running through the Pop Art box, rather than lined up on the spine as a saddle-stitched magazine should be?  Oh, and yes -- it does have that lovely smell of almost-50-year old newsprint.  Man, I took a big sniff when I removed the book from its protective sleeve!

Doug:   We open with the Swordsman swinging by a rope affixed to his waist, sword extended.  He thinks to himself that with an Avengers ID card, he can do anything!  On the very next page, Wanda sits in repose while Pietro fidgets, wanting action.  As if on cue, the intruder alarm sounds, and Pietro jets away to investigate.  Finding the Swordsman in one of the Mansion's control rooms, Pietro attacks.  He finds that the Swordsman is no slouch, and that his blade is especially dangerous -- and as seemingly versatile as Captain America's shield.  Wanda enters and launches one of her mysterious hexes -- unfortunately, while it throws the Swordsman off-balance, it also causes Quicksilver to trip and stumble into some of the computer banks.  The Swordsman, sensing that Pietro is about to launch some defensive device, hurls his sword into the equipment, where it sticks.  Pietro then launches a flurry of punches, but the Swordsman falls and feigns defeat.  He tells the young mutants that he wants to join them.  As Wanda and her brother stand with mouths agape, the Swordsman maneuvers himself over to his blade, where he withdraws it from the wall and smites Pietro with the flat side.  Felled, his sister comes to his aid with a hex that pulls chunks of metal from the wall and knocks the Swordsman unconscious.  At that point, Captain America enters to see what all the ruckus is about.  As Wanda relates the events of the fracas, Cap runs the Swordsman's name through their security computers.  They find that he is one of the most notorious rogues in Europe.


Doug:  Upon Cap's revelation, we see a sword flash, and the lights go out.  Coming right up on the back-up generators, the Swordsman is nowhere to be found.  Wanda and Pietro say they could capture him in a flash; Cap tells them to go ahead, that they've been craving action.  I thought this was a little strange, as my view of Cap in these days was as a protective father figure, even in spite of all the hassle he always got from Pietro and Hawkeye.  But he tells them to go, and then heads back to the gym.  While putting himself through a rigorous work-out, he thinks to himself that he's agitated with Nick Fury for not answering his letter of request to join SHIELD.  Just then, Hawkeye enters the gym and makes his typical smart aleck greeting.  Cap tells him that he'd missed some excitement, from a guy named the Swordsman.  Hawkeye recoils, telling Cap that's the one guy he used to fear!  At Cap's urging, Hawkeye then narrates what would be his origin for years to come -- and since Stan Lee is the scripter of this tale, you just know it involves a circus!  A teenaged Hawkeye was an apprentice to the circus's main attraction -- the Swordsman!  However, the Swordsman was crooked, and when Hawkeye caught his mentor stealing the gate receipts, their falling-out was immediate.  Seeking to run away, the Swordsman instead trailed his protege and cornered him on the high wire.  Hawkeye turned to fight, but the Swordsman was too talented, and ruthless.  He slashed the tightrope with his blade, and for his purposes Hawkeye had died that day.  But the rope had somehow broken his fall, and the Swordsman had no idea that the Hawkeye in the Avengers had been his former partner.

Doug:  We switch to an office window in Washington, DC, where a couple of Hydra agents spy on the office of Col. Nick Fury.  They see an envelope on Fury's desk, with a return address that says only "The Avengers".  Using a ray gun, the baddies zap the envelope, causing it to disappear.  However, it magically reappears across the street, right in their yellow-gloved hands!  They open it, and see that it's Cap's request to join SHIELD!  Actually disappointed in what they've found, they angrily crumple it and chuck it out the window.  It lands at the feet of a passerby, who picks it up (raise your hand if you pick up papers that mysteriously drop from above and land at your feet).  We then scene-switch to a "sleazy section of the sprawling city", and here's where Stan loses me geographically.  The Hydra guys were in DC when they tossed the letter, yet the goons assembled when the letter comes up again are in NYC -- now we aren't told that the letter's holder (who looks an awful lot like Daily Bugle columnist Jacob Conover) was ever in DC, so the time and space issue is vexing.  Anyway, the letter holder arranges a meeting with the Swordsman, who agrees to pay for the letter after he's trapped Captain America.

Doug:  At the Mansion, Cap literally jumps for joy when he reads the "reply" from Nick Fury he's waited so long for.  But his fellows aren't so giddy.  In fact, Cap is immediately questioned by Quicksilver and Hawkeye as to his commitment to the Avengers.  They argue, but the two youngsters quickly back down, each fancying himself as the team's next leader.  Wanda picks up on this, and is wary.  Later that night, Hawkeye's out on patrol and comes across a couple of punks up to know good.  Hawkeye engages them and makes short work of their operation.  But, one of the punks gets nervous and starts to talk -- knowing Hawkeye is an Avenger, he confesses to selling the Swordsman the letter, which in turn brought about the bogus letter sent to Cap!  Hawkeye wraps up the operation with the cops, and then heads back to the Mansion.  He actually gives some thought to not helping Winghead, but then thinks a little more valiantly about his status as an Avenger and hightails it back to Wanda and Pietro.  Trouble is, Cap had left some time ago, and since the air had been a bit frosty between everyone, he'd not said where he was heading.


Doug:  Cap enters a large warehouse and thinks that Fury must be crazy for using such a place as his office.  Suddenly the Swordsman appears above him and goads Cap into a fight.  Feeling like a fool for believing the phony letter, Cap launches his shield, which the Swordsman is able to parry and capture.  Now "helpless", Cap takes to the shadows.  Circling the Swordsman, Cap topples a bunch of empty cartons onto his enemy.  Having created the diversion, Cap then swoops down to ground level and recovers his shield.  The Swordsman attacks without mercy, stunned at how good Cap is.  Back at the Mansion, Cap's teammates try frantically to reach him via different transmitter frequencies.  Hawkeye and Quicksilver begin to get stressed at each other, when they remember to check the tracing beam that would signal to Cap's belt buckle.  Connecting with the signal, the three hop in a car (Wha?  No quinjet?  Nope -- not yet!) and head across town.  

Doug:  Back at the warehouse, the battle continues.  The Swordsman commandeers a forklift and begins to push all sort of crates and debris after Cap.  Cap's able to evade most of the attacks, and even maneuvers himself to the cab of the vehicle.  As he leans in for a couple of solid punches, the Swordsman sends the forklift careening into a large stack of crates, which fall onto Cap -- knocking him down, and out.  Gloating, the Swordsman picks up his fallen adversary and enters an elevator.  At that same time, the rest of the Avengers arrive at the building across the street.  Pietro runs a reconnaissance while Hawkeye and Wanda make their way to the roof.  Suddenly they see, across the street, that the Swordsman has a bound Captain America on a plank.  With his sword in Cap's back, the Swordsman tells the team they have ten seconds to name the Swordsman their new leader -- or Cap gets it in the back, where the subsequent fall will most certainly kill him.  As Cap shouts to his teammates to never surrender, Hawkeye actually says out loud that even though he wanted to be rid of Cap he never imagined it would be like this!  Pietro says they have no choice but to take the Swordsman's deal; and then Cap falls off the plank!  Or, does he jump?  The three youngsters realize that he did it for them -- never surrender!

Doug:  What a way to enter the world of comic books!  At around this same time I also had a JLA-JSA crossover and a Disney digest full of comics and Disneyland photos.  But this one stood out, and it still does.  It was about two years later that I discovered the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon in reruns, and was able to relive this story in "action" -- I fell in love all over again.  And hey -- what's not to like?  These characters seemed like real people, the danger true, the emotions raw.  There's action, intrigue, and human relationships aplenty.  And a huge shout-out to the art team of Don Heck and Dick Ayers, both of whom I've maligned at times on this blog and our former Two Girls... blog.  We've discussed around here whose art we see when thinking of our favorite heroes.  Don Heck's Captain America is what comes to my mind first.  I just love the way he draws the chain mail (although as a 6-year old I mistook those lines for feathers!) and I additionally really like the lighter blue of Cap's uniform.  The cover is great as well, with the powerful Kirby-drawn Swordsman juxtaposed with the Heck-drawn floating heads.  This is a very comfortable story for me.   I don't know what ever happened to the first copy of Avengers #19 that I'd been given, but I always knew that I'd replace it some day with a nice copy -- and this is it.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cool Customers


Karen: Most of us seem to like the "cool" hero -the one who is never rattled, who keeps calm and collected and always in control. He (or she) always seems a step ahead of everyone else and sometimes comes across as cold or calculating. When this cool cat does have an outburst, you know it's something to behold!There are plenty of examples in comics, TV, and film. Feel free to discuss some of your favorites.























Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Discuss: Star Trek The Animated Series



Karen: Because you (OK, David B.) demanded it! Weigh the merits of the animated series! Should it be considered canon? Why? Why not?


Monday, March 25, 2013

Derivative Gentlemen: Black Goliath


Black Goliath #1 (February 1976)
"Black Goliath"
Writer: Tony Isabella
Pencils: George Tuska
Inks: Vince Colletta

Karen: Last time around in our look at derivative characters, Doug and I had to give one of our toughest reviews ever. I think that reading that first issue of She-Hulk, and then trying to write it up, was really one of our most painful blog experiences yet. So I was quite relieved to find that this week's assignment was actually rather entertaining. I wasn't expecting to like Black Goliath #1, but I did.

Doug:  You'll get no argument from me.  I read this for the first time just a couple of weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised.  I've always liked the character, but had never owned an issue of this solo series.

Karen: Now, I had read this book when it originally came out, but I didn't remember it very well when it came time to re-read it for this review. I didn't know what to expect, but let's say my expectations were set pretty low. But writer Tony Isabella does a solid job here, making Bill Foster (aka Black Goliath) a likable hero with just enough problems to make him a true Marvel character. As for the art, well, I have to admit, I've never been a fan of George Tuska's. I don't hate his style, but it just doesn't do anything for me. It's a little too cartoony, in my opinion. But overall, my complaints are minor.

Doug:  I guess I'd go more quirky than cartoony for Tuska.  My main experience with him was in the Champions mag, where he was also inked by Vinnie Colletta.  I've seen some older samples of his work (specifically Avengers #48) and generally liked it.  Tuska is like this for me:  you know how people around here will criticize Mike Grell for continually using "stock poses"?  Tuska has a certain number of shots, poses, and facial expressions that are pretty repetitive.  Like you, I don't hate him -- but he's not going to make my Top 10 list either.


Karen: The story opens with Foster wandering through his old Los Angeles neighborhood, thinking about the days of his youth. Things have changed -and not for the better. As he loses himself in memory, three very cartoonish thugs (Benny and his Jets -I kid you not) begin to follow him. Foster starts to head over to Pop's corner store, thinking to find the kind old man he remembered, only to instead find a scowling proprietor surrounded by some posters apparently touting black militancy (are we to assume that's a picture of Angela Davis behind the new Pops?). I wonder who put this in there -Tuska? It seems really odd. Foster, a bit surprised and dismayed, walks off and right into Benny and his two goons. They grab him and pull a knife on him, and rip off his jacket, exposing his costume. Before they can do much more though, Foster turns the tables on these pathetic losers and shoots up to 15 feet, sending them running.  All but Benny, who Foster grabs and deals with, off-panel. Then he lobs a trash can at the other two, knocking them off their feet.  He hangs them up from a street sign and grabs his overcoat and starts to head off just as the sun rises. He thinks to himself he might have a real talent for sculpture, but he should take off before anyone sees his masterpiece -and then we see what he did with Benny: he wrapped part of a lamp post around him, suspending him high above the ground. Soon after Foster leaves, police and the press show up. Benny refuses to say anything, other than just to get him down!

Doug:  Can I just say that in spite of the "iconic" image of BG on the splash page (it was used in the silly stickers set we looked at last week), it's a waste.  We lose a story page just so they can do the credits in an eye-catching way. 
It actually sort of smacks of the way comics are today with the recap page.

Doug:  I triple-checked the first few pages to see if we are ever told why Foster is wearing his fightin' togs under his trench coat.  We are not.  Don't you just have to laugh when the creators do that, and the skin tight pants and yellow cuffed boots (in this example) are on full display?  Anyway, I've stated before that I always feel a little disoriented when the stories are set on the West Coast, as is the case here.  For you, partner, I'm sure these stories were welcomed.  It's dumb of me, as I've only been to New York City once.  I found the caricatures of "Pops" and the three street goons bordering on reprehensible.  Whereas Bill Foster was drawn as a handsome black man throughout the story (as a Chicago-area guy, I see Gale Sayers when I look at Tuska's Foster), it seems that every other Black man was almost a joke.  The fracas was sort of fun, as we got to see Foster's powers on display right away -- this had been a theme through the Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman books, showing off right from the top.  I love books with giant-sized characters, but as I often complain of, consistency of scale is a major issue.  Hmmm...  come to think of it, when we get to Avengers #'s 139-140 in May, Tuska's the artist there, too!

Karen: I have to agree with you on Tuska's depictions of Foster and the thugs here, and in general, the way he drew African Americans, whether it was in this book, or over in Iron Man, or Power Man, or any of the other titles he worked on: his Black heroes were all quite handsome, but his Black criminals were stereotypically ugly, almost 'Buckwheat' types, big buck teeth, you name it. Now I know it's not unusual for artists to make bad guys look ugly or unattractive but these guys ...I don't know, it just makes me feel uncomfortable.

Doug:  In regard to the Black Power posters at "Pop"'s store, I'll admit that the Angela Davis reference went over my head.  But there's not a doubt that there was a militant vibe in this scene, with Foster's reference to never seeing cops in Watts when he was a kid.  The infamous Watts riots were in 1965; if Marvel time in these days was still roughly akin to a very slow version of real time, we could assume that Foster would have been a young adult during the upheaval.  Obviously, then, when the cops did show up in the neighborhood it wasn't just for a meet-and-greet.  But I have no idea if the inclusion of this scene, subtlely done, yes, would have been a political agenda on the part of Tony Isabella or George Tuska.

Karen: It seemed totally unnecessary to me. Why draw the connection to crime and the Black Power movement? Sure, there were radical groups that were involved in illegal activities, but there was a lot more to the movement than just the Black Panthers. But it's just one panel and we're reading a lot into it. It's more a sign of the times than anything.
Also, it serves to show us what a straight-laced guy Foster is.

Karen: After his little incident with the street thugs, Foster's thinking about all the people who've trusted him and given him a chance when one of those people, Hank Pym, gives him a call. Pym and his wife, Janet, are better known as Yellowjacket and the Wasp. Both are recovering from wounds suffered fighting the Toad in Avengers #137 (a nice bit of continuity) when Pym calls Foster to congratulate him on his return to super-heroing. Pym's been watching the news and has rightly surmised that only a giant could've twisted that lamp post like a pretzel around Benny. But Foster's not so sure he wants to be a super-hero. He's got his hands full running Tony Stark's L.A. labs. There've been attacks on a number of local labs and Foster's worried that his is next. Pym chides him -why not use your super-powers to protect your lab? The call ends, and Foster realizes that he may have been looking at things the wrong way. Still, he's got a big chip on his shoulder, as he feels like the third-string Goliath. First there was Pym, who invented the growth process, then Hawkeye,who used it to become Goliath for awhile. But then Foster came along and used it, primarily to try to win back his girlfriend. He faked being trapped at giant-size to get her sympathy (this all happened in the pages of Power Man). But, during the course of his history recap, we're told that Foster found a way to work out the bugs in Pym's serum, so that it no longer had any of the nasty side effects that plagued Pym over the years.
That's pretty impressive, and gives us an idea of the kind of big brain he's sporting.

Doug:  I also liked the guest appearance of the Pyms, which not only tied this book to the
Avengers stories I mentioned earlier, but was a nice reach back to Foster's original appearances in the Marvel Universe.  Since I'd not read the Power Man stories where Black Goliath first appeared, I was grateful to Tony Isabella for the brief recap.  But hey -- talk about that inferiority complex!  When Foster brags on himself about his power and then says he could hold his own against the entire Circus of Crime...  well la di da!

Karen: Foster can't decide what to do -whether to put on his blue and yellow togs or not. He decides to go see what his "whiz kids" are up to. Frankly this was the weakest part of the story for me. This supporting cast just did nothing for me, but perhaps they might have grown on me later on. I actually did have all five issues of this series but can't recall anything about it. Anyway, Foster steps into the lab and finds the three scientists under his supervision: Herbert Bell, Dale West, and Talia Kruma. I thought it was odd that they were all dressed in skin-tight generic super-hero type outfits rather than in normal clothes and lab coats. West is sort of a trouble-maker and wants to try out a force field vest while the other two think it needs more time to be developed. But Foster indulges West and hi-jinks prevail.
This had the feel of bad sitcom humor and like I said, was the only sour note for me in the story.

Doug:  The lab assistants looked like they would have been more at home in an Archie comic.  I should give out a kudo along with my former criticism of the depiction of Black characters by George Tuska:  Talia Kruma is drawn beautifully.


Karen: After his time in the lab, Foster returns to his office and sees in the paper that another lab has been hit by raiders. That's enough for him. Suddenly he decides that he'll defend his lab as Goliath. I thought this was kind of sudden -after all his equivocating, he just seems to make the decision, but OK. The book wouldn't be much fun if it was the adventures of Bill Foster, lab manager.

Doug:  Yep, one-panel turnaround, basically.


Karen: That night, a bunch of yellow-garbed bad guys gather outside the lab, casing the joint. They turn to a figure in the shadows and ask what to do. Then we get a glimpse of their leader, Atom Smasher.
He's an orange-skinned guy with little atoms spinning around his head. If this wasn't a comic it would seem goofy but I kind of like it. He blasts some guards outside the building and then proceeds to blast a hole in the building. He's not subtle. The robbers are looking for radium, and head for a vault. But just as they round a corner, they run into Foster, just putting on his gloves, finishing his costume. He announces himself as Black Goliath, and says that he knows both parts of the name "belabor the obvious." I thought this might have been Isabella's way of complaining about having to label an African American character "Black" whatever, but then again, this is the man who created Black Lightning, so who knows. Once Goliath is suited up, and the thugs are over their initial shock, the shooting starts. You'd think a giant would be an easy target, but as Goliath explains (thinking to himself), "I just realized why Happy Henry never got so much as nicked by a bullet in all his years as a giant! These guys are shaking so much they can't shoot straight!" That's a bit hard to swallow, but in any case, Goliath knocks the thugs around like ten pins.

Doug:  Nothing screams "stalking the night shadows for radium" like bright yellow body suits with brown sweater vests.  There was a real DC feeling to this first appearance by Atom Smasher and his gang, at least for me.  The half splash of Foster getting his fighting gear on was a pretty cool entrance.  You make a good point on the name of the character -- Black Panther is obvious, as it's what we call the cat.  But all of the others?  It just seems unnecessary.


Doug:  You want to know a strong guy gimmick that I think is just stupid?  Ripping up concrete and shaking it like it's a rug.


Karen: Unfortunately, Atom Smasher has been waiting his turn, and he blasts Goliath in the back, sending him to the floor. As Goliath struggles to recover, Atom Smasher stands over him, his energy building up, about to blast our hero!

Doug:  It's a nifty little cliffhanger.

Karen: I thought this was fairly entertaining, but as I said at the top, I had lowered my expectations coming in. But we get a good idea of who Goliath is and some decent super-hero action at the end. The middle does drag a bit. I looked up the rest of the series on the Comic Book Database (
http://comicbookdb.com) and was surprised to see that Chris Claremont is listed as the writer for the remaining four issues of the series. Now I wish I hadn't sold my issues years ago. I'd like to revisit this and see what it was like. I'm curious what Claremont would have done with the character. I enjoyed Goliath's guest appearances in The Champions and also in the "Project Pegasus" story over in Marvel Two In One (which we reviewed here). He was a rarity in comics; you don't see a lot of African American heroes who are also scientists -well, you don't see a lot of African American heroes, period. But that particular combination is even more difficult to find, especially way back in 1976. It was cool and I thought he was a character with potential, but never realized. I'm still annoyed that Marvel brought him back for Civil War apparently just so they could kill him. He deserved better.

Doug:  This was a book I recall seeing on the spinner racks, but for whatever reason I never picked it up.  It's always been on my Bronze Age wish list, along with titles like Claws of the Cat.  But as we've seen, sometimes adult reality clashes with childhood memories.  I'm like you, though -- this issue was good enough that I would definitely read the other four if given the opportunity.  Now that being said, I must declare that I'd also love to get my hands on Claws of the Cat #2, the only issue I've not read.  But that's mainly to see if it is as gawd-awful as the other three in that short-lived series!

Doug:  I enjoyed Big Bill's adventures from the latter days of the Kooky Quartet, and always felt it was somewhat inspired to take him off the shelf and revitalize him.  I have to wonder if the Los Angeles-based setting for the book sort of doomed him, as it really cut into his interaction with the rest of the MU.  I certainly could have seen this Goliath in the Shooter/Perez Avengers; like you I also really liked his guest appearance in the Champions.  But as I commented at the time, I thought he was very poorly handled in the "Project Pegasus" arc.  They played him as a bumbler, always seeming to act on bravado with an absence of brains.  Which is a pity, because at that point he'd lost some of his dignity in my eyes. 

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