Friday, May 31, 2013

What Is and What Should Never Be: Detective Comics 569


Detective Comics #569 (December 1986)
"Catch as Catscan!"
Mike W. Barr-Alan Davis/Paul Neary

Doug:  You like Alan Davis?  I like Alan Davis.  Although today's (and tomorrow's -- yep, 2-parter in 2-days) fare falls outside our normal Bronze Age parameters I'm doing it anyway.  Who needs parameters?  I am reading/scanning from the original issues, but it was my early-2013 acquisition of Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis that reminded me of this story.  Let's check out the pretty pictures then.

Doug:  We pick it up on a foggy night at the Gotham Medical Supply warehouse.  If there's one thing I love/hate about DC, it's the goons that we often find in the employ of do-badders.  Of course, this was never more accentuated than on the 1966-era Batman TV show.  So what we have here are nine guys dressed in yellow cat costumes (apparently there's no shame in a) being a crook or b) dressing like an idiot).  A voice from above tells these guys that the jig is up and the camera pans upward to show the Batman and a very young Robin.  This was in the days shortly after a young teen named Jason Todd had assumed the mantle of Robin, but before the post-"Batman: Year One" revamp when his character was totally changed to become an obnoxious, even underhanded personality.  This Jason Todd was a throwback to the Golden Age Dick Grayson, and it was sort of refreshing!  The Dynamic Duo engage and make very short work of the henchmen -- all except one fellow, who grabs a passing security guard and holds a revolver to his head.  Batman simply invites the guy to do what he feels he has to do -- to Robin's protest.  Batman lets the cat burglar back away with his hostage, right out the door -- Batman smiles and tells Robin about their "ace in the hole".  On the other side of the door, our thug is much dismayed to find his former boss:  Catwoman!  She makes quick work of him, and then turns in the whole gang to the police.  On a rooftop a short time later, she cuddles up to Batman and asks if he believes she's gone straight.  Batman tells her that he has no doubt; it's whether or not they can have a relationship "in their line of work" that is the issue.  Catwoman stalks off, and Batman and Robin take to the skies.

Doug:  We cut to the Jester Novelty Company, where the Joker and his gang are holed up.  It seems that the gang hasn't pulled a job in months, and the boys are concerned about a lack of leadership from the head guy.  Alan Davis' Joker is a weird-looking version, reminding me somewhat of Daredevil's foe the Owl.  Maybe it's just that '80's hair.  The Joker tears up plans for a bank heist and says he's lost his edge, his zeal.  Just then, a big man on a motorized trike races into the room and up to the Joker's desk.  Unfurling a newspaper, the Joker is shown a headline exclaiming the new "Dynamic Trio".  A cacophony of maniacal laughter, such as we would all expect, suddenly enveloped the room.  The Joker has his edge back.

Doug:  In the Batcave Bruce and Jason work on different maneuvers.  This initial panel is outstanding -- there's a real Dick Sprang vibe to this whole story, from plot to visuals.  I looked up the publication date of Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight and found that the first issue was cover-dated March 1986.  I questioned myself how this story could be so light in the wake of Miller's revolutionary treatment of the characters.  In hindsight, Mike W. Barr, Alan Davis, and Paul Neary may have told the last breezy Batman stories before the post-Crisis version of the Dark Knight became entrenched.  Anyway, as our two protagonists train, they are interrupted by Alfred -- dinner, after all, is served.  But, just as Jay begins to sink his utensils into the pot roast, the Bat Signal lights up the sky and away they go.  Arriving at Captain Gordon's office, Robin is taken aback to see Catwoman already there.  Gordon tells Batman that since it's apparent that they've been working together he let her stay.  The Joker has left a calling card and a clue, and all assembled attempt to decipher it.  Once a plausible conclusion is reached, Robin's practically out the door.  Until Batman brusquely grabs him and warns him to "never do that again!"

Doug:  Cut to the library, where the Joker and his gang are about to steal an antique joke book.  Of course the Batman and friends arrive to catch them in the act and the obligatory scuffle breaks out.  Robin continues to quip and pun -- it's a little annoying, but I kept putting in the context I raised earlier, that this is perhaps the last time we'd see a Robin with this spirit for quite some time.  Make of that what you will.  As Batman and Robin take out goon after goon, Catwoman finds herself face-to-face with the Clown Prince of Crime himself.  Alan Davis' Joker is not only a little off facially, but he is one lanky dude!  I like the outcome.  For whatever reason, Selina tries to reason with the Joker -- it's obvious she's lost her edge.  He fires a strong electric charge from his cane and drops her.  Back in the main part of the library, an ugly dressed like Rambo jumps out from the stacks with a large gun.  Robin, full of bravado, walks right toward the guy.  But when he fires it's not bullets that come flying but some white sticky substance.  It begins to constrict immediately as Robin struggles.  Batman, also enwrapped, deduces that it's Chinese Finger Puzzles and will continue to squeeze until the life is gone from our heroes.  At this point the Joker walks by, Selina in a cage.


Doug:  We scene shift again, to a kangaroo court/talk show being convened by the Joker.  He introduces a Dr. Moon, who claims that man is an animal, with a brain that can be molded like clay.  The Joker has secured a catscan machine, and the doctor intends to use it to reprogram the mind of the Catwoman.  The doctor informs the assembled that this will not occur without some large degree of pain, and he'd like the subject awake -- the Joker says "you're my kind of guy."  We cut back to the library, where Batman has determined that the only way to free himself from the Chinese Puzzle is to completely relax.  Through intense concentration he is able to do so and to free himself; a quick slice of the batarang and Robin is free as well.  But what of Catwoman?  She awakens and begins to curse the Joker... when the doctor engages the reprogramming machine.

Doug:  I chose the title for this post while mowing the lawn (for the first time this spring -- wrote this back on April 21!).  Led Zeppelin's "What Is and What Should Never Be" came over the iPod, and I began to ruminate on the relationship between Batman and Catwoman through the years.  Of course there has always been the sexual tension between the two, whether in the comics, on the television show, the movies -- wherever.  It's part of the chemistry between these two oft-adversaries.  And then I was thinking of my experience with these two, which as I determined was very much shaded by the All-Star Comics revival in the Bronze Age.  There, as written in and around the All-Star Squadron, the Earth-2 Bruce Wayne had married the Earth-2 Selina Kyle, and they'd had a daughter.  Of course, she became one of the break-out stars of the series and got her own back-up feature in several different magazines.  I'm speaking of the Huntress, Helena Wayne.  So as I graduated from college and was fully immersed in the "Crisis" and Batman: The Dark Knight, I felt that this story was an opportunity for "our" Batman, he of Earth-1, to have the same sort of settling down that his Golden Age counterpart had enjoyed.  However, once the Joker entered the fray, it became "...what should never be".  You won't have to wait long to find out how this one turns out.  As I stated near the top, I'm coming right back tomorrow for the conclusion.  You know the drill -- same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spotlight On: Neal Adams




Neal Adams (NOT from Phoenix Con)
Karen: Over Memorial Day weekend, my husband and I went to the Phoenix Comic Con and I had the chance to meet legendary comics artist Neal Adams. Everyone here knows of my fondness (OK, obsession) with the Kree-Skrull War and a big part of that was Adams' exceptional, dramatic artwork. As some of the earliest comics I was exposed to, it set a high bar for all that came to follow. I was lucky to come across Adams at a slow period; he was sketching and no one else was really around. They were running a pretty sweet deal at his booth: buy 3 prints for $50 and Neal would sign all of them. There were so many great prints to choose from, I had a hard time making up my mind; most were DC characters, a lot of Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern drawings. There were a handful of Marvel characters, but I didn't find them appealing. But I was almost knocked out by a couple of great Bruce Lee prints, especially one depicting the martial arts master from Enter the Dragon. I scooped up that one and a couple of Batman prints and went over to Adams. 

Karen: Adams was friendly. He shook my hand and we chatted a bit as he signed the prints. He even personalized them. I've added a photo of them to this post. I told him how much I enjoyed his work on Avengers and he said thanks, then said I should be reading Batman:Odyssey. I had to politely say I wasn't really reading new comics and he said I should be, because he was back. I laughed and smiled and thanked him again. Later, my husband and I ran into a friend and he saw the Adams prints and asked, "Oh boy, Adams, did he even smile at you?" He'd had a bad experience with Adams before and was surprised when I told him how pleasant he'd been. But he was fine with me and I was glad to have met the man and gotten some very nice prints signed by him. In my book, he's still one of the best comics artists of all time.

Karen: Adams is a controversial figure in many ways, partly for his role in trying to organize the industry, and also for his theories about the Earth,  but leaving that aside, let's just talk about the man's work: when I think of Adams, the words that come to mind are realistic, cinematic, stylistic, dramatic. Long before Alex Ross, Adams brought a sense of realism to comics. Not only his figures and faces but his backgrounds were firmly entrenched in the real world. His storytelling style embraced risk taking, with unusual angles and panel layouts, all done in order to achieve the most dramatic effect. He was actively involved in the plotting of most of the titles he worked on, and in some cases, came up with the stories himself.  He worked for DC and Marvel at the same time, something no one had done, openly, before. He's touched a lot of favorite characters: Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, the X-Men, the Avengers. He's also taught a large number of artists who have been a part of the industry, and he's been emulated by countless numbers of pros and would-be pros. And of course, he's still active today.

Karen: Some of my own favorite work by Adams (besides the K-S War) would include his Batman efforts, particularly the Bat and the Demon (which we reviewed starting here), his X-Men work with Roy Thomas, and I'm also fond of his covers for Adventure Comics featuring the Legion back in the late 60s.

Karen: Now it's your turn. What do you have to say about the prolific Mr. Adams?




Monday, May 27, 2013

How Small Problems Become Big Problems: Avengers 140

To Everyone Here in the States, a Very Happy Memorial Day (and a special "thank you" to all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom) -- Bring on Summer!

 

Avengers #140 (October 1975)
"A Journey to the Center of the Ant"
Steve Englehart-George Tuska/Vince Colletta

Doug:  When we originally set up this post, we'd included the cover scan from the Comic Book Database, our usual source for the covers we display at the top of our reviews.  However, when scanning for the art samples I decided to switch it out with a scan of the cover of my personal copy.  I want you to direct your eyes to the "A" in Avengers and notice the date written on the cover of this magazine.  I bought this at a corner grocery store (yep, can actually remember exactly when I came into possession of this issue).  Do you have books in your collection with such defacing?  I know that retailers could tear the tops off of the covers and return them to the magazine distributors for partial refunds; my assumption is that what we see here is part of that process.

Doug:  As a youngster, I'll admit to being totally confused by this issue!  I had never seen an issue of Amazing Adventures featuring the Beast, and had really only read the character a time or two in reprints (notably in the Avengers/X-Men crossover that ran in Avengers #53 and X-Men #45 -- albeit in reprints).  But Steve Englehart wrote this one largely as if we were all in on the entire backstory.  When I was nine I found that to have placed a veil over my eyes; on the re-read, I was taken back to that time almost 40 years ago.  We've grown so accustomed to recaps, that this tale without any sort of detailed one included was just a whirlwind (pun intended)!  But enough about me...

Doug: We open on the steps to the hospital at which Janet Pym is a patient.  After helping Yellowjacket defeat the Whirlwind, the Beast has walked his new teammate back to the place where his wife lies in grave danger.  However, as the Beast ascends the steps to the building, he turns to notice Hank Pym stagger and attempt to support himself before crumpling to the ground.  As the Beast bounds over to give aid, he notices that a) YJ's passed out, and b) he seems to be growing!  Hank McCoy deduces that this must be fall-out from a microbe YJ had gotten as Ant-Man some months before.  Panicking, the Beast eschews the stairs or elevators of the building and instead scales it from the outside.  Entering the Wasp's room, he greets Thor, who continues to stand watch.  Thor ushers the Beast out into the hall, where the Thunder God is debriefed on Hank Pym's condition.  The two Avengers make their way to the street, where Pym has already grown to 20 feet!  A doctor comes out and suggests that they move YJ while they still can; Thor says "nay", as he's pretty sure the fallen hero will soon fill any enclosure.  At that, the Beast gets an idea and bounds away without explanation.

Karen: I liked the Beast's simple explanation for why YJ had used his size-changing powers even though he knew it was dangerous: "He wanted to hit somebody so bad..."! That pretty much sums it up. I'm with you, I was fairly confused about the Beast and what he was up to the first time I read this, having not read his Amazing Adventures series.

Doug:  To be fair, Englehart does give us an ever-so-brief reflection by McCoy on his days at the Brand Corporation working as a chemist -- it still went over my head.  Hank wants to break into his former place of employment, as he thinks a project he was working on may help his new friend.  But Brand has a fair amount of security, so the next 3 1/2 pages give us the break in and then subsequent break out by our furry would-be Avenger.  He's able to locate the serum he was after, but has to take out a few guards along the way.

Karen: I think I've commented on this before, but it's odd to think that the Beast had a healing power at this point, much like Wolverine's, and actually I believe he had it before Wolverine's was ever mentioned. But it seems to have been forgotten at some point. He's also got a sort of stream-of-consciousness thing going, where he just keeps rambling on from one thing to the next. I think Steve Englehart must have felt very simpatico with the Beast.

Doug:  Subplot #2 (from last issue):  A redhead knocks on the front door of Avengers Mansion and is told by Jarvis that the Beast is not home.  Really?  You could just walk right up to the front door?  No wonder "Under Siege" took place!  She refuses to leave, and parks herself on the front porch.  I had no clue who she was, and as I recall, a few issues later during the big reveal I still had no idea.

Karen: Shouldn't there be a gate at least?

Doug:  Subplot #3 (again, from last issue):  The Vision and the Scarlet Witch return to NYC via quinjet, and as Wanda continues to lament their honeymoon being cut short, the Vision looks out the window and spies a very large Yellowjacket lying prone in the middle of the street.  He quickly whips the quinjet around and executes a landing, and then hurriedly greets Thor for the 411.  I'll use this space to comment on a bone I've often picked with artists who have to draw giant-sized characters, and I alluded in an earlier post that I'd be bringing this point up when we reviewed this issue.  YJ looks great in this panel -- perfectly proportioned, and he really looks like he might be 50 feet tall.  However, George Tuska's depictions of the supposedly ever-growing Hank are all over the place throughout the rest of the story, and that bugs me.  There must have been some frame of reference that Tuska could have used for consistency's sake.  As long as we're at it, I'll reiterate that Vinnie Colletta isn't the best inker for Tuska.

Karen: Vision's sort of peeved that everyone's surprised they're back so soon, and Wanda's certainly not happy to cut the honeymoon short, although I think at this point she should just be glad Mantis is not around any more. I agree about the ever-changing size of Mr. Pym -he looks 40-50 feet tall when seen by Wanda and Vizh above, but then perhaps 25 feet tall when they land. It is a bit distracting.

Doug:  Wanda emerges from the quinjet as well, and figures that if Hank Pym's troubles are physical and/or organic that she'll be able to fix it.  Nope -- witchcraft is a no-go.  The Beast arrives back on the scene, and among the Avengers they determine that a blood sample from Jan is what McCoy needs to complete his analysis of his wonder-serum and adapting it to Hank Pym's needs.  But when they get back in the hospital, Jan's attending physician says he won't allow a blood draw.  Say what?  I thought this was a somewhat silly plot device, as no doctor should leave any stone unturned when saving a life is at issue.  But what this did do was get an appearance by Dr. Don Blake, who convinces Jan's doctor to help out the Beast.  He relents, and McCoy is able to get a lab to hole up in and do his work.

Karen: Don Blake -- always showing up just at the right time. But really, how does the man have any credibility at all in the medical community? I got a good laugh out of this. The character was such a plot device. I was glad when they finally got rid of him for good.

Doug:  Subplot #1 (again - last time - from last issue):  Moondragon and Iron Man are just about to leave Doc Doom's castle after having gone there in search of Hawkeye.  Finding no evidence of the bowman, Iron Man follows the priestess from the chamber when he hears something -- the time travel platform suddenly materializes, and with blood on it.  Iron Man declares that he smells a trap!

Karen: Although I tend to connect Hawkeye with Cap, because of their time together in the early days, Iron Man has a strong connection to Hawkeye too of course: Hawkeye first appeared in Iron Man's book (well in Tales of Suspense anyway) as an enemy. So Shellhead's intense motivation to find Clint is understandable.  Just one question here though: Why is Moondragon drawn with pointed ears?

Doug:  Back at the hospital, the Beast is finally successful in getting the formula he wanted to create.  After his five hour ordeal, he looks in on Jan.  Passing by a window, he sees that Hank Pym has now grown to 150 feet (but looks much smaller than he did from the Vision's previous aerial view).  Racing to the elevator and down, McCoy joins Thor, the Vision, and the Scarlet Witch beside their fallen comrade.  The Beast declares that the serum has to get into YJ's bloodstream fast.  The Vision offers to take it, and climbs the arm and chest of Yellowjacket.  Once on his chest, the Vision turns intangible and enters the giant.  Of course this is reminiscent of a turned table from several years past, when Hank Pym as Ant-Man saved the Vision in similar fashion.  I found it puzzling that it seemed unclear to the Beast how Pym would be administered the drug, yet once inside YJ the Vision remarked to himself that he didn't know how McCoy had made the drug with properties of tangibility/intangibility.

Karen: Beast creates the formula but apparently isn't sure how he's going to get it into YJ. Then the Vision volunteers, and says he can take it, as he can control not only his own density, but that of his costume and everything within it, and with that pours the formula into his cape. OK, fine. But then a few minutes later, the Vision is inside YJ's chest and declares he doesn't know how the Beast has made the liquid intangible like himself. I think what happened here is old Steve wrote the first part, then went and had dinner, or went to bed, who knows, then came back and wrote the second part and completely forgot what he had written before!


Doug:  Inside Yellowjacket, the Vision makes his way toward and then into the giant's heart.  Along the way he's attacked by the very microbes that have caused this problem.  In a move that I guess I would not have recommended, the Vision slightly solidifies himself so that he can combat the little nasties.  He's then able to release the serum and exit the body.  Once outside he's hailed as a hero, while standers by note that Yellowjacket is already beginning to shrink.  It's mere moments before he's conscious, and then sitting up shortly thereafter.  Once back to his normal height, he quickly jumps to his feet and begins to run toward the hospital -- against the advice of his teammates.  Undeterred, Pym finds his wife's room, where she has also snapped back to "normalcy".  The two share a reunion, as the Avengers bask in their love, and a mission accomplished.


Karen: Man, did he recover quickly or what? I thought that was a little hard to swallow, but then we're talking about a guy who can grow to 150 feet tall, so I guess all bets are off. I have to say the trip inside YJ was pretty underwhelming, particularly when compared to the similar trip inside the Vision as drawn by Neal Adams in issue #93. I think my favorite part is Thor raising his hammer and yelling at the end.

Doug:  I have always liked this two-parter, probably mostly due to the fact that it was among the first consecutive issues of the Avengers that I owned.  As I've said before, I had quite a smattering of this title as well as the Marvel Triple Action reprints, but this may have been the first complete story that I owned -- I know that very early on I had copies of #'s 111 and 119 as "new" issues.  I really enjoyed the battle the previous issue with a giant Yellowjacket, and the pacing of this conclusion, with the Beast working to beat the clock, the return of the Vision and Scarlet Witch, and the various subplots all served to give me the impression that this was a must-read comic series.  And as I've loved these heroes for over 40 years now, I'd say the creators did a good job at selling to this guy.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Discuss: Summer Plans


Doug:  Whether it's a book you plan to read, a trip you're taking, or some good ol' fashioned popcorn fun, let's hear what's on your agenda up to Labor Day!




Friday, May 24, 2013

True or False: Lost in Space was a Terrible TV Show



Doug:  I just saw this (hopefully it's not old news to the rest of you) while eating lunch.  You can click here for the whole article and a photo.  Of course we learned just last week that Wanda and Pietro are being added to the cast of Avengers 2; apparently there will be some sort of marrying of the X and Avengers film franchises?  Lordy, does that mean Avengers 3 will include Wolverine??

Director Bryan Singer announced on his Twitter feed that Evan Peters from the "American Horror Story" series has joined the cast of X-Men: Days Of Future Past in the role of Magneto's son, Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver.

"Before he was an #Avenger, he was just a REALLY fast kid. Thrilled to say #EvanPeters is joining #XMen #DaysOfFuturePast as #Quicksilver."
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