Monday, March 31, 2014

This is the End of the Innocence: Captain America 175


Captain America #175 (July 1974)(cover by Sal Buscema and John Romita)
"...Before the Dawn!"
Steve Englehart-Sal Buscema/Vince Colletta

Doug: This is it! The one you've been waiting for! Prepare to have your senses shattered! OK, OK -- maybe not all that, but this is the climax to the "Secret Empire" storyline. We'll be back next week, however, with the epilogue, as Steve Rogers decides his future as Captain America. This one, though, has been building over the previous six issues -- what sort of pay-off will it have?

Doug: We open right after the atomic annihilator had gone off, crushing our five heroes in its wake. This is the third time Cap had been knocked out in this arc; will he awaken to get in on some secret info. as he has the previous two times? Of course, the heroes aren't dead, nor are they done in right away. Nope, instead they Secret Empire agents haul the good guys down some steps that would have done Boris Karloff proud. They are literally spirited to a dungeon. How's that for building some outta sight digs under the desert floor? And yes -- Cap does awaken first, to two S.E. figures leaning over him. Cap comes to in a fighting mood, but is told to back down by a hooded figure claiming to be his friend! Cap's obviously suspicious, until the lead agent removes his hood to reveal... Gabe Jones, agent of SHIELD! And alongside him is Peggy Carter, Cap's WWII-era lady friend. Uh... now waitasecond. If my memory serves, which is risky these days, we learned at the beginning of this story that Peggy was going to join SHIELD and everyone thought she was crazy and needed to be talked out of it. In real time, she would have been around her early 50s. Not exactly secret agent material, huh?

Karen: I wonder if the super-soldier serum protects Cap from concussions. After this storyline, he could be feeling pretty loopy.

Doug: Author Steve Englehart uses Gabe Jones as a cipher to tell us, the readers, the history of the Secret Empire, and it's a history that hearkens back to the Silver Age and actually involves the Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and SHIELD. Whooda thunk it? I thought it was pretty nifty when Englehart showed how he'd woven together all of the books he was writing -- I had no idea that his villainous cartel had actually been around the Marvel Universe for the better part of a decade when this saw print. Pretty cool research and recycling, I say! So after the catch-up for Cap, Gabe heads out so that Cap and Peggy can get reacquainted; just what Cap doesn't want, as he's now in love with Peggy's much younger sister.


Karen: I also thought it was pretty nifty that Englehart had used an existing (if obscure) villain organization to carry out this storyline. I didn't recall seeing the Secret Empire before from old Tales to Astonish issues or Marvel Super-Heroes reprints. With his tendency to link together different corners of the Marvel universe, Englehart was the true successor to Roy Thomas! On the other hand, the return of Peggy seemed a very questionable move and the situation with her just dragged on and on. The whole aspect of having Sharon be her younger sister (I think they might have changed that to niece later on) was very uncomfortable -OK, icky - and there was really no way for Cap to come out of it looking good. He didn't want to hurt Peggy but he let it go on so long, and then there's the whole feeling that he was sort of replacing Peggy with a younger  version...well, it's just all pretty nasty.

Doug: Totally agreed. But, in Cap's defense, and this may seem very superficial, Cap would have been around 30 years old, max? Let's say he enlisted right out of high school in 1941, so he's 18. At the end of the war he would have been 22-23 years old (which is very difficult to wrap my mind around). So let's say that Marvel Time is quite a bit shorter than real time, and maybe "now", years after his big thaw, he's approximately 30. If Peggy aged naturally, I could certainly see why Cap would think there was a disconnect. Doesn't mean the only fish in the sea has to be Sharon Carter, though.

Doug: We cut to a huge room where lays a saucer -- not flying yet, but that's the plan! And here's what I don't get (well, actually a few things): 1) the mutants must really have been groggy after Cap had freed them, because they were all recaptured seemingly immediately, 2) the electron-gyro is some sort of navigational device?, and 3) what in the world are the X-waves in the mutants brains that are going to power the ship?? At any rate, the saucer does indeed fly, and Number 1 gloats that all of the machinations have led to this -- the perfect attack on America! Uh, yeah dude.

Karen: As Rick James said, "Cocaine is a hell of a drug." You can replace 'cocaine' with the substance of your choice. OK, OK, I'll get serious. I think perhaps this was an homage of sorts to all those sci-fi films that had flying saucers invading America. Of course, the greatest was "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and it did indeed have a great big flying saucer land in Washington D.C. The mutant brain power thing doesn't seem too odd -I seem to recall that there were other stories where similar angles were used with mutant physiology. Sure, it doesn't make a lot of sense -why would say Iceman's brain have any special juice? - but I think there may have been some sort of precedent. I guess it would have made more sense (from a comic book-science point of view) if they'd have kidnapped mutants with energy-generating powers, like Havok and Cyclops and used them to power the vehicle.

Doug: Wow, Rick James making his debut on the Bronze Age Babies! "Ghetto Life", "Mr. Policeman"... I wore out his Street Songs album back in the day. Gotta be a topic for another day! But in regard to the mutants and any X-tra ordinary energy they might possess, I suppose one could write it off to the whole "children of the atom" angle.

Doug: Cut to Washington, DC, where Moonstone and Quentin Harderman have just left a congressional hearing on... we aren't told, but I'd assume it was something on the fall of Captain America or the threat of something or other. I'm sure Harderman had it rigged up just perfectly. The two men pass by a window, where they see the Empire's saucer landing -- on the White House lawn! Englehart remarks in a narration box that America's fear of flying saucers runs deep -- the Secret Empire knew that, and so chose just one more detail to put Americans on their heels, to raise doubt in the public consciousness. Almost immediately the press and army assemble (where was the Secret Service?) and wait anxiously for word or movement. Suddenly a hatch opens on the top of the saucer and a large video screen rises. On it is the megalomaniacal Number 1, and he says he wants America's unconditional surrender -- now! The army responds with an attack first, ask questions later answer.

Karen: Boy, this is a conspiracy buff's dream! A perfectly manufactured, pre-packaged threat. I can read this now and think, "Well of course they conspired to topple the government by faking a threat" and not think twice about it, but I'm sure it was all very different in 1974. I was too young to really understand what was going on when Watergate was in the news (it seemed like constantly then -little did I know about the 24 hour news cycle to come) but I could understand the change that came over the people around me. Watergate, and the Vietnam War, and the Recession, all seemed to bring about a general sense of pessimism in the adults of my world. In the years before that, things seemed more optimistic. We were sending men to the moon. America was always the good guy. But by the mid-70s, things had changed. I know that I grew up with a cynical streak. And I'm pretty sure I know why. But let's get back to the flying saucers and megalomaniacs.

Doug: Suddenly Moonstone swoops in and postures in front of the cameras. He calls out Number 1, and challenges him. A door opens in the saucer and out steps a guy who bears a striking resemblance to the robot that Gil Kane drew on the cover of the previous issue. Of course, this guy is supposed to be the dude on this month's cover, but it's just not matching up for me. Anyway, Moonstone flies directly into his new adversary and hits like a brick wall; and is then repulsed by one big Buscema-blast. Moonstone says that his powers have been nullified; he's been defeated. The new baddie tells him to rise, and to get his butt inside the saucer. The TV cameras lap this stuff up. Once inside, however, we see that this was all some sort of pro wrestling set-up. Moonstone, after congratulating the other fella for his fine acting, comes back out of the saucer to tell the crowd that it's hopeless -- the Secret Empire cannot be beaten. Number 1 now shows himself in person and proclaims that his Sanitation Squad has planted atomic explosives (missed the plutonium heist somewhere along the line, did I) around America's major cities that will detonate unless America surrenders within 30 minutes. Oh, boy.


Karen: How did you like Number One's casual comment that "your leader is far away"? A good excuse for why we hadn't heard from the president I guess? Number Two -what a terrible name! - looks pretty ridiculous, but he does a great Buscema-blast against Moonstone. The two of them conspiring inside the saucer was well done by Sal. So now we finally get what Moonstone is all about - he was just getting built up in order to drag all of America down. Not your standard comic book villain, that's for sure.

Doug: Unbeknownst to Number 1, Secret Empire moles Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter were on board the saucer. And on board with them? Why, Cap, Falc, Cyclops, and Marvel Girl (we're told that the Professor had to sit this one out. Wonder how he got home from the desert?)! Captain America is mad and seeking vindication -- "So now we put our lives on the line, for Honor, Retribution -- and Country!" Attaboy, Cap! And before Number 1 and his cronies can react, they're smacked hard by seven heroes. Once they survey the mound of hooded thugs at their feet, Cyclops moves to the control panel of the saucer and destroys anything that looks like it might be related to the siphoning of mutant brain energy. And then Cyke and Marvel Girl decide to bow out, leaving the final clean-up of this mess to Cap and Falc. But Cap orders Falc to use Cyke and Jean to go through the saucer and find an Empire agent who will tell them where the bombs are located. Cap's heading outside.

Karen: There's no indecision with this Cap -he's acting much more like the version we were used to seeing in Avengers. Obviously it's because it's clear to Cap who's wronged him and what he needs to do. It's a bit refreshing to see him taking charge again.

Doug: Since I just recently re-read Avengers Forever for our Vision/Torch post, the extent of Cap's downtrodden spirit post-Secret Empire is especially magnified by this return to form, as you say. Wow, will he crash only moments after this...

Doug: The only problem with Cap getting outside is that Number 1 is still standing in the doorway of the saucer, ranting and raving about the S.E. taking over. Running his mouth, that is, until he does a faceplant with Cap on his back! Cap hits him really hard, carrying Number 1 right off the ramp to the ship. But when Cap rights himself, he's greeted by none other than Moonstone, still spouting lies about Cap being in league with the Empire. And you know what? Cap's had quite enough. In a beautiful splash page, Sal Buscema gives us the fury that had built up inside the Star-Spangled Avenger as he bull rushes Moonstone and puts him right through a small tree! Moonstone is totally out-classed, as we see eight panels of Cap just pummeling him. It's a beautiful sight. And what of the opportunistic Harderman? Of course that scum runs up to Cap, trying to put a spin on things that would paint C.R.A.P. (ha - one more time...) as the victims in this whole thing, duped by the Empire. Moonstone shakes off the little birdies singing in his head long enough to catch Harderman's line... and then contradicts everything ol' Q said, with the truth. Oh, and remember the assembled media? Yeah, cameras were still rolling.


Karen: I would agree that it is very cathartic to see Cap lay a well-deserved beating on Moonstone (and Sal does a great job on the art here), but Englehart puts in a caption here that really caught my attention. Right before the fight starts, he says,"He is where he should be -doing what he should be doing! Captain America is fulfilling his heritage!" Now after all the talk we've had about the propaganda of Moonstone being built up as the "defender of our heritage" I thought this was an interesting term to use. And after Watergate and Vietnam, what was the American heritage?

Karen: But as Englehart also went on to talk about 'what makes a fighter?' and described Cap's fighting spirit, I admit I got all mushy inside. 


Doug: Falcon returns to the White House lawn after alerting SHIELD of the location of the bombs. Dum Dum arrives, and he, Gabe, and Peggy are all smiles. Cap's congratulated by Falc, and it looks like we have a wrap on this tale. But what of Number 1? Suddenly he stands from the spot where Cap had deposited him, and makes a break for it -- straight toward the White House. Again, I say -- where the heck was the Secret Service? Cap gives chase, and the two men enter the mansion and into what could very well be the Oval Office. Cap hits his opponent hard in the back again, putting the man down against a wall. Wheeling around quickly, Cap grabs Number 1's hood and yanks it away to reveal... well, we're not told. But Cap's cry of "Good Lord! You!!" gives us a pretty good clue. The man on the floor rails on about power, and how he couldn't get enough of it legally -- the only route to total power was a coup. But to cut his losses (namely, being hauled off to a very long jail term), Number 1 pulls out a pistol and puts a bullet through his skull. Cap has no chance at stopping him, and can only shield his eyes as the hammer clicks. Outside, Cap walks, stunned. No one knows what just happened, save one man -- the Sentinel of Liberty. And he can't talk about it.


Karen: I missed this issue back in the day but got the next one, so I wasn't sure what had happened. But to be honest, I think I just wouldn't have gotten this as a kid. It would have gone right over my head. But now? Boy, this is heavy! We think our hero has a nice, neat, happy ending, only to find that the very leader of his nation was behind his attempted destruction, and the take-over of his country. The Secret Empire's pulp villain shenanigans stand in for the Watergate crews' efforts at sabotaging our electoral system, and just as the American people became disillusioned, so too has Cap. Before this, I don't think we had ever seen him question his belief in his government. All that was going to change dramatically. In retrospect, I actually think the issues that came after this, with Cap trying to figure out what he really believed in and stood for may have been more interesting than this storyline. But this one certainly had some interesting twists and turns.

Doug: Pay-off? For me, this one had it. Although there were some loose ends left hanging (namely, everything surrounding the mutants - while I appreciate Englehart's efforts or editorial's mandate to keep the X-guys' names out there, it was odd that any mutant beyond Cyke, Jean, and Xavier was in this story), Steve Englehart overall did a nice job tying it all together. And while you can argue with the end result for Number 1, I don't think there's much to quibble with in terms of Englehart using the character to channel his own disillusionment with political issues in America at the time. And like Karen said, this really isn't the end of this storyline.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Who's the Best... "Epic" Storyline?


Doug: Yesterday we discussed the Korvac Saga; how does it stack up? Multi-part crossovers, single title multi-issue storylines, and mini-series -- where resides your favorite "epic" in all of comicdom (feel free to break into periods beyond the Bronze Age)?



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Cosmic Odyssey, Part Four: The Final Hour


Cosmic Odyssey 4
Book Four :Death
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Mike Mignola
Inker: Carlos Garzon

Karen: Just a note before we start -I apologize for the reduced number of images in this review. Unfortunately, my TPB began falling apart in my hands, as you can see in the picture below. So to avoid having any more pages come loose, I had to be very careful and that meant making a minimal number of scans.


Karen: We've reached the final book in this star-spanning tale, and nothing less than the fate of our universe is at stake. Things are looking pretty desperate too. The clock is ticking down on an anti-life bomb set to go off on Earth. We watch the seconds pass as the parademon with a hole in his midsection and the re-animated policeman, Joe Bester, stand-by to greet oblivion. But the timer hits zero and nothing happens -no explosion. The parademon is stunned and angry. Of course it's the work of Batman and Forager.They then push the deactivated bomb over on the parademon, seemingly pinning him under it. Thinking that Bester will be an easy target, they spring on him, but he proves surprisingly tough. He clobbers Batman but Forager takes Bester's head off with his shield, revealing that the cop was actually a robot. Wow -he's as brutal as Orion. Batman's impressed with his work though. They're just about to start disassembling the bomb when the parademon comes roaring back, grabbing Batman by the arm and smashing him around the cave. He even breaks Batman's leg, and the caped crusader is on the verge of passing out...


Karen: Darkseid and the Demon are in the Anti-Life Entity's (A.L.E.)'s dimension, and the Lord of Apokolips channels tremendous mystical energy through the Demon and fires it at A.L.E. Much to his shock, the Entity shakes off the attack. Realizing he cannot dominate the creature, Darkseid decides to steal just a small bit of its essence, and then high-tail it back to his own reality. But as he makes his escape, one of the A.L.E.'s returning aspects blasts him and he and the Demon wind up back where they were, facing the Entity again.


Karen: On New Genesis, the heroes have returned and are puzzled as to where Highfather, Orion, and Darkseid have gone, as well as the mysterious Mr. Blood (aka the Demon). John Stewart wanders off, still overwhelmed with guilt and remorse over his actions that lead to the destruction of the planet Xanshi. He's not certain he can go on living with millions of deaths on his conscience. 

Karen: On Earth, it seems that the parademon is about to break Batman's neck when Forager comes to the rescue. The brute drops Batman, but Forager earns some broken ribs and is hurled aside, unconscious. Batman struggles to rise as the creature reactivates the doomsday device. OK, this sequence and the previous one on New Genesis points out one of the things that has bothered me throughout this series: there are entirely too many two-page sequences in these books. Just as you start to get into a scene, it ends, and we move on to another one. It feels like too many "quick-cuts" in a film. It's very unsatisfying.


Karen: We shift now to the Anti-Life universe, where it looks like Darkseid and the Demon are about to be engulfed by the Entity. Suddenly a beam of light hits them and pulls them away. They see Highfather, Orion, and one other -Dr. Fate! This was the mysterious friend that Batman called back in the first issue and asked to keep an eye on Darkseid. Fate states that the five of them all are connected to a different elemental source of power, and that by pooling their resources, they can yet hope to stop the A.L.E. The heroes are arranged in a star pattern he calls the "cinque of cosmic power"  and Fate then names off the different sources of energy: his is 'intellectual magics;' the Demon taps primal mystical forces; Darkseid brings anti-life to the table, turning the enemy's power against him; but then, Fate says Orin and Highfather both use the mysterious Source. Wait a minute -didn't he say that each of them was linked to a different power source? This seems like a lapse on Starlin's part. Anyway, channeling their might, the five beings deliver a tremendous blast of power against the A.L.E., forcing it back. But it's a temporary measure at best. Fate takes his allies and flees to a parallel dimension. Realizing that the A.L.E. will soon recover and gain access to that dimension as well, Fate makes a choice: he will sacrifice that dimension, creating a "mystic firebreak" to trap the creature in its own realm. So Dr. Fate is powerful enough to actually destroy an entire dimension. I had no idea. Wouldn't that put him right up there with the Spectre? Although he briefly ponders whether he has the right to wipe out a whole dimension, he does it anyway.

Karen: The group is returned to New Genesis in the blink of an eye, where the heroes are startled by their sudden appearance. Fate explains that he has trapped the A.L.E. in its own realm by destroying the dimension that bridged their two realities. Darkseid is outraged, as he feels used by Fate. He threatens the mystic, but Superman quickly steps in and tells him to stand down, or face the combined might of the assembled heroes. Darkseid apparently sees nothing to gain in a direct confrontation and storms off, and everyone's about to declare victory, when Highfather reminds them that they still don't know what has happened with Batman and Forager on Earth. Starfire wants to go back to the planet to ehlp out, but surprisingly, both Martian Manhunter and Superman shoot her down, saying where would they find them? It's a big planet. really? Superman, with all his powers, couldn't locate Batman or the bomb? You'd think he would at least try! Highfather then gravely says all they can do is wait, and hope the Milky Way galaxy isn't destroyed. I understand that the writer is trying to generate drama here but it seemed very unrealistic to me that these heroes would just sit on their hands and do nothing.


Karen: On Earth the clock is ticking -specifically, we're down to 29 seconds before the big bang. Batman can barely manage to crawl over to where the big bad alien stands before the bomb control panel, and when he gets there, he receives a kick that sends him flying. Being a bad guy, the alien has to make a speech about how there's nothing Batman can do to stop the bomb, and of course, that's when Forager comes to and attacks the creep. He's ducking and weaving until Batman tells him to forget the alien, stop the bomb. Right at the last second, the New God smashes the control panel with his shield. There is an explosion, but it's not the bomb going off. Apparently the control panel exploded, although I have to be honest and say it wasn't 100% clear from the art. Batman is at first just elated that the world hasn't been blown out of existence, but then he begins to be concerned over Forager. He calls out for him, but there's no answer. A panel showing Batman's face with a shocked expression, saying "Oh Lord!" tells us everything we need to know. The alien has been wiped out at least. Batman call for some help with clean-up.


Karen: Superman and Lightray leave New Genesis to assist Batman, while J'Onn J'Onzz goes off to find Green Lantern John Stewart, as he is concerned about him.Stewart has grabbed a gun from a trophy case, and orders his ring to fly out 20 light years and wait for him til he calls it back. If it doesn't hear from him in an hour, the ring is to go find Hal Jordan. It's pretty obvious where this is going. Stewart can't deal with his failure on Xanshi. He puts the gun to his head and holds it there for a while (3/4 of a page). Then he puts it down  and J'Onzz asks him, "Well?" He goes on to harangue him about how he obviously doesn't have the 'right stuff' to be a super-hero, as it requires making decisions and being able to accept responsibility for the outcomes of one's actions. If he can't handle that he should just shoot himself and get it over with. Tough-love, Martian-style. Of course, Stewart puts down the gun and calls back his ring. Stewart stalks off with a "Screw you, J'Onzz" and the Martian smiles, his work done. I suppose J'Onn was able to forgive Stewart, as he must have figured he'd adequately punished himself. 


Karen: A boom tube opens and Superman returns, supporting Batman, while Lightray carries a wrapped body. As the stunned heroes look on, Batman simply says that Forager gave his life to prevent Earth's destruction. Orion, as sensitive as ever, says, "Who would have thought the bug had it in him?" and Batman promptly clocks him. "His name was Forager!" Batman yells. Orion strides off, perhaps chastised, and at that moment, the group realizes that Darkseid, that clever guy, has made off with the gadgets containing the Anti-Life aspects. Back on Apokolips, Darkseid gloats over his little victory, as he has forged a piece of pure anti-life. really, what does that even mean? I think I much preferred it when Darkseid was seeking after the Anti-Life Equation. That seemed to be much more abstract and interesting than just some sort of cosmic super-weapon. Anyway, apparently Darkseid is satisfied with how things turned out. On New Genesis, Highfather tells Orion that Forager's body will be returned to the Insect Empire, and he wants Orion to accompany it. When the warrior asks why, the monarch tells him that he hopes the trip will teach him something. "Such as?" "Tolerance," Highfather replies. After a pause, Orion says, "As you wish, Highfather."


Karen: "Cosmic Odyssey" is not a bad story -but it does feel like it is stretched out far too long for what it is. It follows the old formula of splitting the heroes into small, more manageable pairings, and this too is not a bad thing. But there was nothing here that felt especially exciting or novel to me. Perhaps the biggest letdown was the decision to make "Anti-Life" yet another anthropomorphic being. Haven't we seen this done before? It felt like Starlin was turning Darkseid into Thanos here, with Anti-Life standing in for Death. The segment with Batman facing an extra-terrestrial in the Gotham sewers might have been my favorite part of the whole book, because it actually felt fun. Much of the rest of the story felt like a slog and the constant inter-cutting back and forth, with a couple of pages devoted to one set of characters and then another couple to a different set, and so on, really lead to a drawn out pace for the books. Doing this in a regular size  comic is no big deal but in a 48 page book, it pulls the pace down. I don't know that I would recommend this TPB to any but the most devoted fan of cosmic comic action.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Who's the Best... Action Figure Line?


Doug: Marvel Legends, GI Joe (both sizes), Captain Action, Major Matt Mason, Big Jim, Secret Wars, Megos, Super Powers -- we've talked about all or almost all of these individually. But, which line is your overall favorite for play or collectibility?

http://thefwoosh.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/DSC05300.jpg      
https://www.mastercollector.com/articles/reviews/images/suppowr1.jpg
http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-Nzhw10sX_z0/Ucb7KJK6IUI/AAAAAAAAIDo/0aEBueiU0Qg/s1600/GI+Joe+1.jpg

Monday, March 24, 2014

Avengers in Italy: Pictures from the Set of Avengers:Age of Ultron



Karen: Howdy gang -there's been a lot of reports and pictures from the Italian set of Avengers: Age of Ultron showing the actors playing the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and someone standing in for Ultron (who will certainly get the CGI treatment). You can read all about it over at Comic Book Resources. Below are a few images from their posting:



Getting Down Underground: Captain America 174


Captain America #174 (June 1974)(cover by Gil Kane)
"It's Always Darkest!"
Script: Steve Englehart
Art: Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta

Karen: This issue picks up directly from the last one. Cap and Falc, in their disguises as average Joes Roger and Willie, have passed their initiation into the Secret Empire and are brought into the hidden underground headquarters located somewhere in the southwestern desert  of the U.S. Cap thinks back about how they wound up there and gives the reader a flashback to catch up on the story. When he thinks about how he was smeared in the media by his enemies, he realizes he should have known better, as he's seen this technique used before -"The Big Lie." Englehart is referring to the Nazi propaganda method, that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Of course the Nazis aren't the only group that have employed that tool, and Cap goes on to mentally note that he'd thought at one time that only totalitarian governments did things like that, but now he'd seen it happen in America. Obviously a not-very-subtle dig at the Nixon administration.

Doug: Right from the top, as an artistic conceit, did you think it necessary to have the floating heads above "Roger and Willie" while in the elevator? Secondly, and I wondered this last issue -- where did Sam get that 'stache so quickly? Glue-on? OK, end of quibbling... after one more general observation. It's difficult to imagine that the National Geological Survey would be clueless concerning the cornucopia of underground headquarters and bases as dug and improved by groups such as the Secret Empire, AIM, Hydra, etc. Shoot -- even the Mole Man!

Doug:  I generally enjoy the plot recaps that contain new art, even if in this case we did lose a page and a half of new story material. I've criticized new comics with the one-pager at the beginning because I feel it robs the reader of a story page (but not as much as all of the splash pages on the interiors). This older method is more fun and I would say that it should have been more inviting to a new reader than just a couple of paragraphs of text.

Doug: If you'll indulge me, I'll put in a plug for the online propaganda exhibit on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's website. I've taught from it for years, and have seen (multiple times) both the large exhibit that was at the Museum, as well as the traveling exhibit that has just recently hit the road to tour the nation. I would say that the sections on "Defining the Enemy" and "Deceiving the Public" would tie into the techniques of Quentin Harderman and the Secret Empire in this story. The line that Moonstone was the "new defender of our heritage" in particular smacks of Nazi racial ideology.

Karen: Cap finishes his recap by recalling how he teamed up with Professor X and his two remaining X-Men, Cyclops and Marvel Girl. It seems the Secret Empire is also capturing mutants for some unknown reason. So it made sense for the five of them to join forces. But they needed to infiltrate the group, and only Cap and Falc could do that, by stealing an electron gyro (whatever that is) from the Brand Corporation. With that accomplished, the hooded Agent 13 brought them to the hidden lair and into the presence of Number 1, a hooded and robed figure who sits upon a throne. Oddly enough, when Agent 13 greets his leader, he salutes him and yells, "Salaam!" This is an Arabic word, and I've always wondered why Englehart had them use this term to greet one another. Was he just trying to throw readers off? It seemed very peculiar. Or did it imply some sort of ancient origin for the organization? Yet another mystery, I suppose.

Doug: And that salute, with arm raised and straight... "Salaam" means "peace", but the word also refers simply to the greeting itself. I agree with you that it is puzzling as to Englehart's intentions here.

Karen: Number One is informed that the two new recruits have stolen the electron gyro and he declares that soon the Secret Empire will conquer America. He says the nation is reeling from Cap's fall from grace, and also from the Watergate scandal. "If only we'd known that was coming! How much simpler it has made our work," he says. Hmm... considering who Number One is supposed to be, doesn't it seem odd that he wouldn't know Watergate was going to break in the press? I don't want to give anything away yet, but I thought this was a peculiar comment. He goes on to say the public is all set to glom on to a new hero, their own Moonstone, and that he has a very particular role still to play. But then he cuts himself short, saying the two new men should be shown to their quarters.

 Doug: I think the Watergate comment is only odd given our hindsight of this storyline and its culminating. But, knowing that, it does seem strange. His cutting short of his own megalomaniacal soliloquy seems typical of totalitarian blowhards, doesn't it?

Karen: Once inside their room (that's right, they have to share a room), Cap and Falc discover they are locked in. Suddenly Falcon tells Cap to put on his costume -they have to get out of there! Cap  tears the cover off a large vent and they crawl out, but he's perplexed by his partner's urging. Falcon says he just has a hunch. Cap turns around and looks back to see lasers criss-crossing the room they were just in. They would have been cut to pieces if they had stayed! A couple of men and Linda Donaldson (remember her?) burst into the room, expecting to find corpses, but instead are shocked to find it empty. One pulls off his hood to reveal Mr. Black, the man at the Brand factory who had read Cap's note last issue and "let" him go. So much for being a nice guy.They discover the air vent that the two heroes used to escape, and sound the alarm.

Doug: OK, I'm going to jump back on the "rubber mask" soapbox here (I only teased that I was done quibbling above) -- you know, how we've complained over the years about the use of rubber masks, even over Doc Doom's faceplate or the Beast's furry face? I want to rail against being asked to suspend my disbelief that the Angel could actually conceal his wings by using a harness and then putting on normal clothing, or in the immediate case that Captain America could conceal his shield by wearing it on his back and under a regular shirt as he must have done here. No. Way. Just look at the image in the center of story page five -- see how the shield hangs out over his lats and delts? But it certainly does serve as a plot point in this portion of the story. Oh, and my question about "Willie's" mustache got answered, too.

Doug: RE- Mr. Black -- nope, I'd not have recognized that dude. In fact, flipping back a few pages in the trade paperback, he really bears no resemblance to the guy at the Brand Corporation factory in the previous issue. Nice that he showed up to see Cap and Falc meet their demise, though -- swell guy.

Karen: Cap hears the alarm go off and begins to feel the net tighten around them. He realizes that Number One was mocking them by telling them his plan; he knew who they were the whole time! Meanwhile, outside and on the desert above, Professor X strives to help by mentally examining the enemies within. In fact it was he who read Mr. Black's mind and ascertained the plot against our two heroes.

Doug: I have a question here about Professor X's powers. I am certain in the pages of the X-Men we've seen him use a variation of Dr. Strange's astral projection. It seems that it might have come in handy in these scenes. Did you find it odd that Xavier had his mental shields down such that Jean could read his mind?

Karen: It seems like there were some missed opportunities with Professor X, and perhaps the X-Men in general. Inside the base, Cap and Falc run into a robot guard and try to disable it before it makes too much noise and brings others down on them. Cap is showing some signs of frustration -he's still annoyed about having to fight SHIELD before, and now this big metal menace -but he's not giving up. Falcon manages to maneuver around the thing and spot a circuit panel on its back. The star-spangled Avenger then destroys it with his shield, putting the robot out of order. Once past that danger, Falcon says he has another hunch, and he opens a metal door -only to find the X-Men behind it! Of course, it turns out that Professor X was behind Falcon's "hunches." The Professor says that the Falcon's reception of his telepathic messages marks him as a man with a "paranormal mind." Does that make me a mutant? Falcon asks. The Professor says possibly but they don't have time to discuss that right now. Professor X knows where the missing mutants are!

Doug: Which robot did you like better -- Gil Kane's on the cover or Sal and Vinnie's on the interior? At first glance, I thought the red one on the inside looked like a bloated Crimson Dynamo. But I didn't think Kane's looked enough like a robot -- it looked like it was wearing leather boots. I'm sure you noticed that Falc attained wind currents simply by jumping in this scene. Had the days of pushing off of lamp posts and being lifted by "Marvel Mama" left him? We can only hope.

Karen: Honestly, I thought both bots looked pretty lame! Perhaps Sal's was a little better, although 'bloated Crimson Dynamo' is an unfortunately apt description! And yes, Falcon seemed to be able to fly in that small space...whatever....

Doug: I wonder if Englehart had any intention of going somewhere with Xavier's comment about Sam's "paranormal mind"? All of the X-Men, and even an enemy here and there, had had Professor X in their heads at one point or another. Surely all of them don't possess some sort of specialness in the brains department. Anyway, I don't know that I'd have felt good or badly about it if Falc had received some sort of amped up mental abilities. But I don't think I'd have wanted to see him take control of the aviary world as Aquaman has the undersea creatures.

Karen: I think the "Is he or isn't he" a mutant angle was explored in Falcon's 4 issue mini-series in 1983, although a quick trip to Wikipedia says that Sam Wilson was revealed as a mutant, and this was later retconned. I think I prefer him as just a regular guy (and as Sam, not Snap, thank you).

Karen: We cut away to a talk show where the hulking Moonstone is the guest. The host and a female guest are falling all over themselves praising Moonstone, and slimy PR man Quentin Harderman stands in the wings, pleased with himself, thinking how the Secret Empire hired him to disgrace Captain America and make America love Moonstone, and he's done it, but there's more to come. That sounds ominous.

Doug: Do you remember back in the day when the talk show genre basically consisted of Mike Douglas, Johnny Carson, and maybe Tom Snyder? Those were simpler times!


Karen: Back in the Secret Empire's HQ, our heroes have come to a huge door. They open it up and are aghast to see (on a two-page spread no less) all the missing mutants. They are strapped to a large disc, with some sort of metal cap device on their heads. We see the Beast, Havok, Polaris, the Angel, and Iceman, and from the bad guy contingent, Mesmero, Unus, and Mastermind. The Blob is on a separate table. They are all wired to some giant machine, which the Professor says is draining their mental energy. Cap smashes the device and they free the captives, who all begin to recover. The Professor probes Angel's mind to find out what happened. So now we get to see Englehart play connect the dots, comic-wise. As you mentioned in an earlier review Doug, the writer does manage to bring a lot of different stories together. He explains how the Angel was attacked by Magneto in Avengers #111 for his energy-absorbing costume -and how he put on his old costume, which the Professor says Cyclops and Marvel Girl have also re-adopted. So at least Englehart did throw us a bone regarding why those two were not in their more recent uniforms. He went to look for the other X-Men and was then ambushed by the Secret Empire. The Prof peeks into the Beast's cranium and sees he was kidnapped right after his appearance in Incredible Hulk # 161. How's that for continuity?

Doug: Englehart's connecting of the dots was indeed welcome, as I'm sure any Marvel zombie not reading all of his mags must have felt somewhat on the outside looking in. But I had to question the move Cap made once Professor X told everyone that the machine was siphoning off mental energy. I don't know -- just whack that thing? What if all of the captives had ended up in a vegetative state? But how about the sheer power now amassed in this chamber, once all of the mutants are free? Wouldn't want to be the Secret Empire...

Karen: Right as these recaps end, Number One and his goons show up in full force. Cap wades right into them, glad to be fighting -he can finally cut loose. In fact, all of them are fighting mad, and they make quick work of the hooded hacks. Number One sees things going south and orders that they bring in the atomic annihilator. No, I'm serious. A goon comes forth with a big bazooka-like gun and blasts our five heroes, who collapse. Number One declares them all dead, and says that soon America will follow.

Doug: I loved the panel where Cap smiles while the butt-kicking is being administered. Not too many light moments for our hero in this arc. And doesn't this Donaldson babe have some clout in the Empire? That was one huge Liefeldian gun they used on the assembled heroes (and villains). But -- if all of those just freed were still groggy, don't you think Number One would have wanted to take them back as prisoners so he could fix that siphoning doohickey? And what was the purpose of that -- to power the atomic annihilator? 

Doug: There have been many memorable stories with lots of "dead" heroes in the last panel -- Avengers #161 comes to mind. There is a sense of hopelessness when we think it could be over; but also that feeling of anticipation in terms of "now how are we going to get out of this pickle?" 

Karen: Well, this one was wall-to-wall action. It was melodramatic, yes, but fun. I couldn't help but feel like Englehart had even more he wanted to say here, but was constrained by either time or editorial fiat. I do think that the issues that came after this, when Cap gave up his Captain America identity, are in some ways meatier. But this was a solid effort here. Once again it seemed the art was a little rough. But I'm looking forward to next issue and the big finale.

Doug: In spite of all of my nitpicking, it was a fun issue. Again, if we look at it through the eyes of a child, this would have been some serious slam-bang fun. I think part of my problem is that I'm reading these issues only several days apart, rather than each month; the warts tend to show a bit more with that temporal framework. But some of the inconsistencies do bother me -- while I love that it seems like Falc can now fly without some silly starting points, that it's just glossed over seems careless. I've liked the inclusion of the X-Men, although I'm not sure even as we're about done with them that they aren't square peg/round hole as far as team-up candidates for Cap and Falc. But you can't say that they don't add to the general pell mell nature of this tale and its pacing. So overall, this remains an oddly satisfying yarn with its build-up and now coming pay-off. Scope and scale, scope and scale... two of the hallmarks of a classic. This storyline has it.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Discuss: Retrofitting the Hulk, Plus More Alex Ross Spider-Man


Doug: Today we want your opinion on the recent phenomenon of the Hulk being branded in the Avengers -- films, cartoons, toys (I can't comment on the comics, sadly). What's your opinion that today's consumer is perhaps under the false assumption that the Hulk has always been an Avenger? And, do you think that in our experience, the Hulk should have been in the Avengers all along?

 


Doug: Below is the latest alternate cover by Alex Ross in Marvel's 75th Anniversary celebration, this time for Amazing Spider-Man #1.2.
 

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