Friday, November 27, 2009

BAB Two-In-One: That Voodoo That You Do and That Horn You Blow.

Karen: This time around I'll be examining the humble beginnings of the character who is currently Sorcerer Supreme in the Marvel Universe: the one and only Brother Voodoo!

Karen: Brother Voodoo first appeared in Strange Tales #169 in 1973. Len Wein and Gene Colan are the writer and artist respectively on this first issue, but the concept had initially come from Roy Thomas and the design from John Romita.

Karen: Psychologist Jericho Drumm returns to the Haitian village where he grew up after many years abroad. He finds his twin brother, Daniel, who is the local voodoo priest, is deathly ill. Daniel believes it is due to a voodoo curse put on him by an evil priest who claims to be the embodiment of the voodoo god, Damballah. Of course, Jericho as a man of western learning rejects this idea and tries to save Daniel with his medical knowledge (just an aside, but I don't think psychologists actually have medical degrees - psychiatrists do).Damballah shows up and taunts Jericho, and despite his best efforts, his brother dies. Jericho carries out Daniel's last wish, which is to find his mentor, Papa Jambo, and ask him for help. Jericho travels into the jungle, and finds Papa Jambo, who tells him that he must take his brother's place and become Brother Voodoo!

Karen: Despite the inherent goofiness of a name like 'Brother Voodoo', the story works surprisingly well. It's like so many other stories we've seen before, where responsibility and power are thrust upon a character. Like most magical heroes, Brother Voodoo has a mentor who teaches him the ways of the universe. Sure, it's hard at times to keep a straight face when you read stuff like 'Papa Jambo', but as far as the over all structure goes, it's well done.

Karen: The art is typical Colan, and well suited for this just as it was for Dr. Strange. The inks by Dan Adkins are heavy on blacks and deepen the mood. Len Wein, who never met an accent he didn't like, seems to be enjoying himself here with the Haitains, having them say stuff like, "You left dis island hardly more den a child--to go to de big city college--to make somt'ing of yourself, you say--but dat's not de truth, is it, big doctor man?" While a bit over the top, it's easy to understand what he was trying to do here.

Karen: Marvel was never one to overlook a fad or craze, and so voodoo got its chance here. It's interesting to note that the James Bond film, Live and Let Die, which featured voodoo, came out in June of the same year. Since this comic is cover dated September, they probably premiered at almost the same time. So it's definitely not an influence, but simply another entertainment taking its cues from the same sources.

Doug: DC time, folks. Karen and I both grew up as Marvel Zombies for the most part -- we each dabbled a bit in the Distinguished Competition so I thought I'd go over a book I bought at a local convenience store back in the autumn of 1976. Teen Titans #45 is the second issue of the revival of the title after a 3-year hiatus from the spinner racks, and was created by Bob Rozakis, Irv Novick, and Vince Colletta.

Doug: The story starts with a curious scene, as the Titans return to their HQ victorious from the previous issue's battle with Dr. Light (this would be the silly/stupid Dr. Light, long before the malevolence revealed in the Identity Crisis mini-series). Titans' ally Mal Duncan had played a key role, dressed as the Guardian. However, when Speedy tosses a back-handed compliment, Mal reacts by socking Speedy in the jaw. The story then moves right into a flashback detailing the history of this issue's baddies, the Wreckers.

Doug: The Wreckers were an early-60's era street gang, or neighborhood protector, depending on one's perspective. When the leader was shipped off to Nam as a demolitions expert the group faded away. However, after a dishonorable discharge for blowing up stuff unauthorized, Steve Macchione returned home to find that developers had intruded on his former turf. Needless to say, the old gang was reassembled and told to gear up for some chaos.

Doug: As fate would have it, when the Wreckers pick a building to blow up, who is in the phone booth on the corner but Mal. You guessed it -- building blows, Mal's caught in the blast and... ha ha -- you thought something logical would happen, like a Titans alert going out, Kid Flash running to dig Mal out of the rubble, etc. Nope. You'd be wrong. I wish you were right, however. Instead of a more conventional plot device we instead get Mal being lifted from the rubble by Azrael, the Angel of Death. Mal informs him that he's jivin' and Mal will fight anyone who says different. And then they fight. With Gabriel as the referee and in a boxing ring, no less. And they dedicate two and a half pages to this crap! Hey, it worked once with Jacob wrestling an angel, but not here.

Doug: Well, since Mal beats the Angel of Death, Gabriel gives him a "horn" (actually a ram's horn, or shofar in Hebrew) to fend off any future attacks from Azrael. When blown, the horn will "even the odds" for Mal in any fight he's in. So, he gives it a whirl, somehow teleports the Titans to him (seriously -- when I first read this when I was 10 I just blindly accepted all of this!) and they go after the Wreckers.

Doug: While Mal had been laying in the rubble, the Wreckers had tipped their next job as involving Wayne Industries. Kid Flash and Robin go ahead to intercept the bad guys, and arrive just as they are leaving the building. A skirmish ensues involving everyone, but the Wreckers escape. Shortly after, they mix it up again but this time with the Titans victorious. Of course Mal matches up against Macchione and whups him. Game over!

Doug: Despite Rozakis' totally lame interlude, this was fun due to the presence of the classic Teen Titans line-up of Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and Aqualad. Novick's/Colletta's art is solid throughout. But when it's all said and done, this is a Bronze Age DC. And that can't compare with even the likes of Brother Voodoo...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Avengers-Defenders War, part 2


#117 (November 1973)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Artist: Bob Brown
Inker: Mike Esposito

Karen: Welcome back for part 2 of our look at that 70s classic, the Avengers-Defenders War. We’re going to jump right into the action with our first m
atch-up: the newly reformed Swordsman versus the newly created Valkyrie!

Karen: The actual fight between these two heroes is pretty good; it’s the background story that suffers. The two combatants arrive at a castle in the jungles of Bolivia(!), which once belonged to a Nazi (!!), and is now owned by a mysterious American(!!!). Yes, it’s that convoluted, and gets more so, when the American turns on the Swordsman to protect his treasure! Yes, the guy had an honest-to-goodness treasure chest! Obviously, there was something missing. Englehart later explained in the letter column of Avengers #122 that the mysterious American was one of the Watergate plotters who had been convicted (and apparently fled to Bolivia –just like Butch and Sundance I guess), but at the time of publication no one involved with Watergate had been convicted of anything. So they decided to leave that out. But even so, it makes little sense.

Doug: “Butch and Sundance” – that’s hilarious! And the guy met the same fate as those two loveable outlaws as well! But hey, I also thought it was an odd setting – really over the top. I suppose we could assume that the treasure had come from the SS coffers – it’s not a stretch to say that all of the plunder they expropriated from their Jewish and non-Jewish victims was divvied up after the war. Portable wealth on the way out…

Karen: In any case, our two sword-wielding warriors make a good go of it. Val is much more powerful than Swordsman, but he proves to be a more skilled –and cunning – fighter. Their fight reminded me of an Errol Flynn film, what with that swinging from the curtains! In the end, though, Valkyrie winds up with the Evil Eye.

Doug: Wonderful scene. At this point did the Swordsman still have all of the rays and gadgets that the Mandarin had once installed in his blade? I also thought that Valkyrie’s strength would have really crushed the Swordsman earlier than she was actually able to put him down.

Karen: Hmm, that’s a good question about Swordsman’s trick blade. Didn’t he use it to shoot rays during the Celestial Madonna story line? I’ll have to look it up. I would agree, if Valkyrie could really lift 45 tons (isn’t that what the old Marvel Universe Handbooks used to say?), then I doubt Swordsman could take a hit from her. But hey, the fight was fun, so I’ll let that go.

Karen: Our second battle though is the highlight of this issue -and maybe of the whole war! It’s two old comrades in arms, this time on different sides of the battlefield: Captain America versus the Sub-Mariner!

Karen: This fight was a pleasure to read. I think Englehart had each character’s personality down perfectly. This is one of the best-written versions of Namor I’ve ever seen. Cap is out-matched here, even with his new super-strength, but we all know that Cap has a way of winning. Namor is just as arrogant as ever, but still has respect for Cap – as he flies into the air, dangling Cap by the ankle, he says, “I should drop you on your cowled cranium like the minor annoyance you are, with no further delay, yet as the only other superhuman remaining from the second World War, you deserve better!” If that doesn’t sound like the Sub-Mariner –noble yet cranky! – I don’t know what does.

Doug: I agree with you – Englehart had everyone’s voice down pat. I think it just shows a great deal of respect on behalf of the scribe to all who had come before. While the Marvel Universe was only a little over a decade old at this point, there is still the power of history behind these characters.

Karen: While these two are going at it in Japan, who should show up but Japan’s favorite son, Sunfire! At one point he takes off with the Eye, but Namor makes quick work of him. Finally, the two former allies realize that all the pieces of this puzzle don’t quite fit. They decide to regroup and try to figure out what’s going on.

Doug: You know, my first impression of Sunfire’s appearance was that it was a marketing ploy to get him in the public eye ahead of Giant-Size X-Men #1. However, after a brief consult with the Comic Book Database (, I see that I am way off base. I had no idea Sunfire was so heavily used during the Bronze Age! G-S X-Men was actually the character’s 11th appearance! And five of those came after our tale at hand.

Karen: I thought the art on the second part, with Cap and Namor, looked different and distinctly better than the first half, despite the fact that only Brown and Esposito are credited.

Doug: Yeah, I also kept trying to figure out who else might have given an uncredited assist. It certainly looks different from what Brown/Esposito had turned in for the previous issue. For one think, the characters here have a bit more depth to them – not as lithe as Brown can tend to be (which would explain why I thought his work on DD was pretty solid).

Karen: This issue was like a thrill-ride: it just kept moving, getting faster and crazier as it went along! But characterization was not sacrificed. That takes talent.

Doug: Youngsters dominating the industry today – take heed!!

Karen: In part 3: the conclusion – with the clash of the titans! No, I’m not talking about the Harryhausen movie –it’s the Mighty Thor versus the Incredible Hulk!

Monday, November 23, 2009

BAB Two-In-One: Devils, Owls, Widows, and a Werewolf too!

Doug: Time for a little Daredevil among these hallowed posts! Today I'm going to explore DD #81 from November 1971 -- the first appearance in this title of the Black Widow! The story was written by Gerry Conway with art by Gene Colan and Jack Abel. The cover art is by Bill Everett and Gil Kane -- check out how the boys drew DD without the red over his eyes. Looks weird.

Doug: I actually got this mag as a pack-in with the Marvel Legends Black Widow figure. I'm not sure why Toy Biz/Marvel chose this particular story; I'm sure there are better Widow stories out there. But overall, it wasn't bad and it is historically significant as it began her run in Daredevil (that lasted to #124). So in terms of her history, this issue picks up after she left the pages of Amazing Adventures and served as the start of the interim before she headlined with the Champions.

Doug: History lesson over. How about this tale? We begin with a defeated DD plunging into the murky Hudson River, along with the Owl's helicopter. As usual, Gerry Conway gives us nice little bits of characterization by way of thought balloons and short interludes featuring the rest of the cast. As Daredevil sinks, he groggily thinks of Karen Page. We see Karen a few pages later, back in New York with her agent. In these days, Karen had long since left Nelson & Murdock to seek her fame in film -- it would be much later that Frank Miller would inform us just what type of films she became involved in! As Karen watches the battle between DD and the Owl on a TV monitor, she faints at the moment DD hits the drink. It's at this same moment, too, that Natasha Romanov is introduced to DD-readers as she dives into the river to save Daredevil. After bringing him to safety, Tasha's a little put out that DD doesn't "see" her.

Doug: We then take a look in on the Owl. There's more to this than appears, as ol' frizzy-hair is getting a chewing-out from some crime boss on a monitor screen. We're led to believe that the Widow's presence on the pier when DD fell into the river was not just by chance. After being fired by the shadowy guy, the Owl basically tells him to shove it and then does his best Caesar Romero/Frank Gorshin impression -- come on... henchmen??

Doug: Making a long story short: DD, still whupped from his battle with the Owl and plunge into the Hudson, staggers into Foggy Nelson's office. Fog tries to help him, but about the time he's beginning to make like a nursemaid there's a huge crash nearby. DD takes off, at the same time the Widow hears it and also responds. While the Owl and his hired baddies attempt to knock off a bank, DD and the Widow arrive to thwart the plans. This is Colan at his most frenetic, a trend noticeable as the Bronze Age dawned, and most indicative of his tenure on Tomb of Dracula. Anyway, the Owl is of course defeated and the seeds of a romance between DD and Tasha are planted.

Doug: Judgment? Pretty good superhero story, moody Colan art, and some typically good Conway words to go with the pictures. Overall, time decently spent!

Karen: This time, I read a 'new' old comic. You see, I bought this with a bunch of other comics at an antique fair (aka swap meet) a few years ago and never got around to reading it -that is, until now. My book is Marvel Spotlight #4 featuring Werewolf By Night, circa 1972. It was written (maybe over-written) by Gerry Conway, and drawn by Mike Ploog in his one-of-a-kind style.No inker is credited so I am assuming Ploog inked himself.

Karen: The art on this book is the real selling point for me. I think Ploog was Marvel's best monster artist -and I include Ghost Rider in this category as well. His work has a strange, fluid quality - almost surreal. He also knows how to use lighting very effectively to convey mood. This art reminds me of no
thing less than an old Universal horror film - and I mean that in the best possible way!

Karen: The story itself is less than stellar. Our cursed hero, Jack Russell -yes, the werewolf is named after those cute little dogs - discovers that his dead father's castle has been sold by his step-father to a Dr. Blackgar. OK, stay with me here. Blac
kgar has had the castle shipped from Europe, stone by stone, to America, where he has had it reconstructed on an island off of California! Sure, let's just roll with that. If I can accept Ego the Living Planet, surely a transplanted castle should be no stretch. But what kills me is that Jack deduces from this that his late father's magical book, the Darkhold, must still be somewhere in the castle! I mean, I guess it could be, but really, is that a certainty?

Karen: So Jack is off to investigate, and winds up a prisoner of the obviously mad Dr. Blackgar and his daughter. For reasons revealed at the end, the good doctor is pulling his own Dr. Moreau gig, experimenting on people on the island. They have become hideous freaks that he keeps locked in the depths of the dungeon. Of course, Jack wolfs out and ruins all his fun.

Karen: There is a lot of narration (by Jack), and it is a long read. It's really composed more like a short story than a comic. There are a lot of long, descriptive passages which sort of seem hokey, but I have to admit, they did build some mood and tension into the story. I didn't think the Werewolf's thought balloons was a good idea. They just come across rather dumb. " is afraid of me. Can taste fear, sweet like odor of forest," Wolfy thinks. Uh no....just no.

Karen: But all in all, I found this a fairly entertaining read, and I especially enjoyed Ploog's art. I recall a panel discussion at the San Diego Comic Con a few years ago, where Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Mike Ploog were the guests. I think it was Roy who said that Mike was their go-to guy for monsters because he could sure draw hairy weirdos! Well, he could draw a lot more than that. I never buy Marvel's Essential collections, because I can't stand to see my comics without color. But I'd actually consider getting an Essentials of WBN because I think Ploog's work would lend itself well to black and white art.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Part Four: Super-Villain Suave

Doug: Here we go again -- another sartorially-challenged super-type, or perhaps a fashion plate in spandex? We'll give our opinions -- but you be the judge!

Doug: Today's victim, er, object of examination is the original Gladiator, one Melvin Potter! Melvin is primarily a Daredevil baddie, although in and around the Bronze Age he did branch out to get his butt kicked by Iron Man, Ghost Rider, and later Spider-Man. But so what -- he looks so cooooollll!!

Doug: Let's start with the color scheme -- you can't hardly go wrong with blue and yellow. College teams everywhere use that combination and it works here. The helmet is a nice touch in this costume -- reminiscent of the Legion's Ferro Lad. There's something about a guy with his whole face covered that shouts out "Hey, man -- I'm mysterious!" and Melvin is pulling that off. His footwear, while functional, evokes days gone by with the razor look -- I'm sure this was all the rage among Roman slaves about to be thrown to the lions! But of course what we really are drawn to are those two nasty little buzzsaws mounted on ol' Melvin's wrists -- just all kinds of deviant behavior can be meted out through those bad boys!

Karen: This is a costume that does scream "retro" - but that's not necessarily a bad thing. I do think that it'd be nice to see more of a breastplate for the chest -maybe more evocative of a Roman gladiator. But I do like the helmet and boots. The wrist saw-blades do seem kind of dorky though. But practically anything looks good when it's drawn by Romita Sr.!

Doug: Despite his good taste in clothing (if you've ever seen Melvin without the helmet... well, you'd be thankful that he usually has it on), the Gladiator usually comes up on the short end of the stick when it comes to super-hero bashing. I guess you could say that Mr. Potter is more often than not the "bashee".

Doug: I vote "Success!" on the original Gladiator. It's a character I've always liked, and a super-costume that not only evokes the character's namesake, but has a lot of elements (helmet, weapon, color scheme) that make it memorable.

Karen: Oh heck Doug, your enthusiasm for this costume is contagious! I'll give it a vote of "success", with some slight reservations.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Avengers/Defenders War, part 1

Avengers #116 (October 1973)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Bob Brown
Inker: Mike Esposito
Defenders #9 (October 1973)
Writer: Steve Englehart
Penciller: Sal Buscema
Inker: Frank McLaughlin
Karen: This is a review Doug and I have wanted to do for some time, and have finally gotten to it. We’ve both mentioned in the past our love of huge groups of super-heroes. We’ve also tackled the Marvel tradition of having heroes fight other heroes, however, only in one-on-one situations. But with this review, we’re going to talk about taking those two favorite concepts and smashing them together in one gigantic slugfest! That’s right, it’s time for the Avengers/Defenders War!
Doug: I’m right with you, Karen – I’ve enjoyed this series every time I’ve read it. Admittedly, I came to it later than its newsstand life, but the collection of characters is without peer. Unless of course, you want to get into one of the stupid (ahem, sorry) mega-crossovers that dominate comics marketing today…
Karen: The idea came about simply enough: Steve Englehart was the writer on both titles at the time. He always enjoyed the summer annuals Marvel did, but that year (1973), Marvel didn’t publish any big annuals and Englehart decided to basically do his own big event – imagine that! He was given the go-ahead by editor Roy Thomas –with a warning to make sure they were on time! – and the rest is history.
Doug: Have you seen Englehart’s comments about this story on his website? He makes it very clear that he always intended the arc to be known as the Avengers/Defenders Clash, not War.
Karen: Yes, he seems pretty insistent about that. I wonder if the reason has anything to do with his personal beliefs. Did you know he was released from the Army during the Vietnam War for being a conscientious objector?
Karen:We’ll start our review with Avengers #116. The tail ends of both Avengers #115 and Defenders #8 basically set up the reason for the super-team conflict: the dread Dormammu and conniving Loki team up to gain possession of an arcane artifact known as the Evil Eye. With its power, Dormammu can destroy Earth, and anything that upsets Thor makes Loki happy. They manipulate the Defenders into seeking the six pieces of the Eye, leading them to believe that it will free the Black Knight from his stone body. The Avengers meanwhile have been searching for the Knight, and have heard that Dr. Strange may have taken his stone body.
Doug: I liked the set-up here – while not a Dormammu fan (or Dr. Strange fan, for that matter), sometimes all of that mystical stuff did make for a good plot device.
Karen: This issue starts with the Avengers trying to enter Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum and getting a rude greeting, thanks to spells of protection around the place. Inside, the Defenders are oblivious to the commotion, as they mystically search for the six pieces of the Eye, which are scattered around the globe. Once they find the location of each piece, each non-team member heads off to recover them. Meanwhile, Loki has reconsidered his deal with Dormammu, and decides to enlist the Avengers to stop the Defenders. Loki gives Earth’s Mightiest a very vague reason – essentially, “they’re bad guys and will do bad things with the Eye” – and that’s enough for our heroes, who are already ticked off at Strange. Loki gives them the locations of the pieces and away we go!

Doug: That Thor can open a door, can’t he?

Karen: Oh man, that scene really cracked me up! The son of Odin gets mighty peeved!
Karen: First up: The Vision and the Scarlet Witch vs. The Silver Surfer. As much as I respect Vizh and Wanda, they were hopelessly outclassed here. But I thought the battle within the volcano was really exciting and some of the best work we’d see from Bob Brown during his Avengers tenure.
Doug: I wouldn’t claim to be a Bob Brown fan, perhaps more of an “appreciator”. I always thought he was solid in this era of the Avengers, and especially liked his Daredevil stuff. But, hey – concerning the splash page of this issue: doesn’t Brown’s depiction of the Vision sort of remind you of Deadman? And another thing – how about the cover to this book? One database source I consulted said the cover artist was unknown; the Grand Comic Book Database says it’s by Jazzy Johnny Romita and Mike Esposito. Nice shot of the Vision, but doesn’t the Surfer’s stance look goofy?
Karen: The cover definitely has Romita touches, particularly Wanda’s face. Of course, Jazzy Johnny did a lot of covers and art re-touching, back in the day.
Karen:So round one goes to the Defenders. Our next battle is in the pages of Defenders #9. This time, it’s a rematch: Iron Man vs. Hawkeye! Yes, faithful ones, the loudmouth archer was actually playing for the Defenders at this time.
Doug: I think it’s interesting how easily characters moved between these books; shoot, if you count the Surfer and Namor, they moved in and out of their sometimes-home in the FF mag, too.
Karen: I got a kick out of Hawkeye hitting on Valkyrie, as politically incorrect as it might be to admit it!
Doug: Hawkeye’s as brash as ever – the way he should always be written. Sal Buscema’s pencils give a very familiar air to this issue. Sal was certainly prolific – how many Marvel characters did he draw? And you know what? They all looked solid. I don’t know if there’s any character that you would say, “Yeah, he was Sal’s”, but he certainly never harmed any book he worked on. It will be nice when the TwoMorrows biography comes out – the man is deserving.
Karen: I always felt Sal was a very solid artist. I sure wish big bro John had been drawing Avengers during this cross-over – that would have been spectacular!
Karen: Boy, the fight between Hawk and Shellhead really got personal. They say former friends make the worst enemies and these two are proof of it.

Doug: A very well-choreographed battle scene. All of the gadgets one would expect. Did you think it was a little too much when IM just drilled Hawkeye in the face? That metal gauntlet couldn’t feel good up against bare skin.

Karen: Yeah, kinda surprising that IM would cut loose on Hawk like that – shouldn’t he have been mush from that repulsor blast? It was clear that Hawk wasn’t a match for Iron Man, but he still managed to get the Eye through guile, which is a trait Hawkeye would employ again and again.
Karen: Round three takes us to the corn fields of Indiana, and a tussle between Dr. Strange and the Black Panther and Mantis! This has got to be the oddest match-up in the whole war. I guess it just got to a point where Englehart had these three characters left and had to do something!
Doug: Mantis must be a tough girl – ever walked through a cornfield? Those sheaths cut! And you can’t beat a little Marvel cross-marketing – did you catch the farmer’s reference to The Cat?

Karen: Yes, a little internal promotion there! While the Panther makes a spectacular mid-air grab of Strange, the outcome is never really in doubt. Strange easily defeats the two Avengers. Were you surprised though, when Mantis attacked Dr. Strange, that he said martial arts had been part of his training when he was in the Himalayas? I wonder if anyone ever had him do any martial arts again?
Doug: My money was on Mantis in that one. After all, she was Englehart’s pet character, not the Doctor!
Karen: In part two: Captain America vs. Namor! Valkyrie vs. Swordsman! Who will prevail?

Monday, November 16, 2009

BAB Two-In-One: Mad Gods and Barbarians!

Karen: My selection for this go-round is Captain Marvel #31, from 1974, written and illustrated by Jim Starlin. It wasn't easy to pick a single issue from Starlin's CM run to review, but I think this issue is one of the best. I don't know if anyone at Marvel in the early 70s better exemplified the freedom and creativity that was on display than Starlin. His works were typically on a grand, cosmic scale, and yet, they were also always very personal stories too.

Karen: In the 60s Lee and Kirby gave the readers grand cosmic struggles, but they
were mostly devoid of any personal, or human, element. Beings like Galactus and Ego were considered beyond good and evil, and while threatening Earth or the galaxy, there was always this idea that what they did was not truly evil - it was simply their natural behavior. Not so with the menace that Starlin would elevate to that status here. The mad Titan Thanos was motivated by strong, very human emotions in his quest for absolute power. He had fallen in love with the personification of Death (this was another continuation from the Lee-Kirby days of giving metaphysical concepts tangible forms). In his zeal to earn her affection, Thanos planned to give Death the gift of galactic genocide. With the help of the Cosmic Cube, a device that could turn thoughts into reality, it appeared he had the means to do so.

Karen: Fortunately, our stalwart Kree soldier, Captain Marvel,
discovers the plan. Realizing he cannot defeat Thanos alone, he requests the aid of the Avengers. Thanos learns of Mar-Vell's efforts and teleports him, Iron Man, Moondragon, and Drax the Destroyer to his base, as he feels these are his most dangerous foes. He imprisons them, and to take away any last shred of hope, he shows them that he has also shackled Kronos, the supreme being! However, Mar-Vell does manage to free them and they briefly remove the Cube from Thanos. But even without it he is formidable and holds them off until he recovers the device. Finally he disappears, only to reveal that he has used the Cube to turn himself into God!Karen: This issue is very fast-paced and exciting. You get everything here: Mar-Vell, the Avengers, the Destroyer, the Titans, tons of aliens, fist fights, psychic battles - it's amazing. I can recall when these issues were coming out and how maddening it was waiting for the next one!

Karen: Starlin's art is superb. You can readily see the Ditko and Kirby influences, but S
tarlin's style is so different that it is entirely original. These are pages that almost pulse with power, and yet they are not without their subtleties too. Starlin is particularly good with the expressions on his characters' faces. I often look at art without reading to see how well the story is conveyed by the artist - and Starlin is a great storyteller.

Karen: This saga still holds up very well and is well worth reading. If you're interested in getting it, it was reprinted in Marvel Masterworks vol. 95.

Doug: This time 'round I thought we'd get a little primitive and return to the Hyborian Age and everyone's favorite barbarian, Conan. Most people associate Conan with scribe Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema, but in this tale we find the pencils ably laid down by John's younger brother Sal. The inks are by Filipino-aritist extraordinairre Rudy Nebres. On, then, with a look back at The Savage Sword of Conan #37 from February 1978.

Doug: I've been a Conan fan for many, many years. The alternate-history of it, tales of a world gone away make these stories close cousins to another favorite -- Tarzan of the Apes.

Doug: Thomas adapts R.E. Howard's short story, Son of the White Wolf, which actually starred another of Howard's heroes -- El Borak, who was based on Lawrence of Arabia. Here is a plot summary of Howard's story, which Thomas for the most part followed:

"Son of the White Wolf" is another El Borak which saw print only shortly after Howard's death. It's a good one, which manages to encompass a wide scope within a remarkably tight narrative.

During the First World War, a group of Turkish soldiers (fighting on the side of the Germans) mutiny under the megalomaniacal leadership of a madman named Osman Pasha. Osman is a little empire builder. He dreams big, planning to renounce Islam and revive the ancient Turkish religion, worshipping the White Wolf. Under its banner, he means to create a New Turkish Empire while the former empires of Europe batter themselves to dust in the War to End All Wars. Their first stop is a small village, loyal to the Germans, called El Awad.
Razing the village, they kill all the men but take the women for their wives, including a lovely German spy named Olga Von Bruckmann. But one man, mortally wounded, escapes the massacre and crawls literally miles to bring the word to El Borak. Our impulsive hero sets out on camel alone and without a plan, determine to rescue Olga and hang Osman from the nearest tamarisk...

What is most impressive about "Son of the White Wolf" is how REH manages to portray the stakes as sufficiently high that we believe the fate of empires are in the balance. After all, Osman Pasha only has maybe a hundred men, and he so far has taken only one village. Not exactly the stuff of legends. Nonetheless, Howard makes us believe that, unless Osman is stopped and damn quick, he really might succeed in his seemingly mad quest. Given that this is one of the shorter El Borak stories, this achievement is all the more remarkable.

This is the only El Borak story that makes explicit reference to Lawrence of Arabia, upon whom El Borak was obviously based. We are told that El Borak was living with the Arabs even before Lawrence came along, and now works hand in hand with the great man himself.

Doug: Given that this is a Savage Sword story, rather than the four-color monthly Conan the Barbarian, the action is more fierce and ever-bloody. Rape is implied, and an infant and later women are murdered off-screen. Through all of this, Sal Buscema and Rudy Nebres perform quite well. It's hard to imagine that this is the same Sal who pencilled Peter Parker #15, for sale the same month -- this is a Sal Buscema with an edge rarely seen, and who channels his brother often.

Doug: If you've never taken a chance on Savage Sword, Dark Horse (who now owns the Conan Properties license) is reprinting the entire series in the Essentials format. Check 'em out!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Doug Says: "Check out some of my Stuff!" Part 9

Hello, and welcome to another installment of the things I've acquired during a lifelong affair with comics. No photos today, but instead we'll take a look at what became an annual rite of Christmas -- the unwrapping of a volume in the ongoing Origins of Marvel Comics series!

First up is Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, on sale way back in 1975. Of course, this was the sequel to the previous year's "Origins", but I didn't get that one then. I recall that we lived near a mall that had a Walden Books (or some similar store) that had a section called "nostalgia". I didn't know, at the age of 9, what that word meant, but I was very excited that whatever it meant had to do with comics! I believe I requested Son of Origins on my Christmas list, and along with Avengers #'s 145-146, it arrived under the tree.

The cover is striking, yet somewhat stiff when looking at it now. Iron Man dominates the scene -- I was a fan of his appearances in the Avengers, so I knew I would like this. Boy, was I surprised when I got to reading this and saw his first gray armor! My favorite story in the book was the origin of the Silver Surfer. At the time it was the longest single comics story I'd ever read. If I have a complaint, it would be that there are only 1st-issue stories for the X-Men and the Avengers. Here's the rundown of what was included -- links will take you to the Comic Book Database website:

The Avengers (1963) #1
Daredevil (1964) #1
Daredevil (1964) #47
Silver Surfer (1968) #1
Tales of Suspense (1959) #39
Tales of Suspense (1959) #97
Uncanny X-Men (1963) #1

I don't recall when I received Origins of Marvel Comics -- it might have been for my 10th birthday in the summer of 1976. You know, Stan Lee has been much maligned for his "me-centric" focus on the history of Marvel Comics. That's never more prevalent than in the text that precedes each feature in this book. For example, from the Hulk narrative, it's all "I had Jack do this" and "I asked Jack to introduce a kid sidekick" -- like me, you 've probably also read some Kirby apologists who say that the foundations of the Marvel Universe probably leaned past the 50-50 point toward Jack, not Stan. At any rate, they were magical together, and like most famous duos were never the same apart. This book was my introduction to Stan's hucksterism and self-promotion (although I gave neither a second thought at the time -- shoot, I thought Stan was speaking directly to me!).

A note on the cover -- doesn't everyone look great?? Even the Torch's bald head is OK -- weird, especially since John Buscema had recently been drawing him with flaming hair in the FF's own mag.

Here's what was in Origins of Marvel Comics:

Amazing Fantasy (1961) #15
The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #72
Fantastic Four (1961) #1Fantastic Four (1961) #55
The Incredible Hulk (1962) #1
The Incredible Hulk (1968) #118
Journey Into Mystery (1952) #83
Strange Tales (1951) #110
Strange Tales (1951) #115
Strange Tales (1951) #155
Thor (1966) #143

Bring on the Bad Guys was up next, released in October 1976, and is really a lot of fun. In the days before comics shops, and being so young, I had no access to back issues let alone the seminal stories of the Marvel Age of Comics. This is my favorite volume of the five I own. The origin of Dr. Doom, of the Red Skull, and the unmasking of the Green Goblin. Toss in a few installments of Tales of Asgard that show Thor and Loki as kids, as well as another John Buscema Silver Surfer story, and you have a winner. Here are the issues included in this one:

The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #40
Fantastic Four (1961) Annual 02
Fantastic Four (1961) #5
Journey Into Mystery (1952) #112
Journey Into Mystery (1952) #113
Journey Into Mystery (1952) #115
Silver Surfer (1968) #3
Strange Tales (1951) #126
Tales of Suspense (1959) #66
Tales of Suspense (1959) #67
Tales of Suspense (1959) #68
Tales to Astonish (1959) #90
Tales to Astonish (1959) #91

And I think I would be remiss if I didn't expose those cave-dwellers among you who have never partaken of Alex Ross's stunning homage to Romita's Bad Guys cover:

I'll admit that I was a little leery in 1977 about asking for The Superhero Women (you think my mom wanted to buy a book with Red Sonja hanging her stuff out all over the place - right on the cover??), but again -- I'm glad I did. Behind another Romita painting (these are just great), the reader was treated to another tour de force of Marvel's female characters. The cover doesn't begin to do the table of contents justice -- in addition to the ladies pictured, origin stories of the Cat, Shanna the She-Devil, and Lyra the Femizon (huh?). Some of the stories are multi-part, and the list of creators is a definite who's who, with John Buscema dominating (YEEESSSS!). Here's what ya got:

The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #62
The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #86
The Cat (1972) #1
Fantastic Four (1961) #22
Fantastic Four (1961) #36
Marvel Feature (1971) #4
Ms. Marvel (1977) #1
Savage Tales (1971) #1
Shanna the She-Devil (1972) #1
Tales to Astonish (1959) #44
Thor (1966) #189
Thor (1966) #190

Last, but as they say - certainly not least - is Marvel's Greatest Superhero Battles (1978). Now how would you interpret that title? I'm thinking good guys fighting good guys. Well, that would only be half right. Inside you get the FF vs. the Hulk with the Avengers lending a hand, a fabulous battle-royal between Subby and Iron Man (interesting dichotomy of art, however, as Gene the Dean Colan began it and Kirby finished it), the always-awesome Silver Surfer #4 where the skyrider battles Thor in Asgard, and DD vs. Subby. The other three tales, however, are just the X-Men, Dr. Strange, and Spidey getting it on with some of their greatest foes. Oh well -- maybe it's something for everyone?

Here's the list of stories:

The Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #69
Daredevil (1964) #7
Fantastic Four (1961) #25
Fantastic Four (1961) #26
Silver Surfer (1968) #4
Strange Tales (1951) #139
Strange Tales (1951) #140
Strange Tales (1951) #141
Tales of Suspense (1959) #79
Tales of Suspense (1959) #80
Tales to Astonish (1959) #82
Uncanny X-Men (1963) #3

Oh, and did I mention that these books ranged in price from $5.95 to $6.95? Yeah, it was good to be a kid in the Bronze Age!!

See ya next time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Why Can't We Be Friends? Part Two

Iron Man #25 (May 1970)
“This Doomed Land – This Dying Sea!”
Archie Goodwin-Johnny Craig/Sam Grainger

Doug: We’re back again with that “hey, can’t we all just get along?” feeling. Yep, it’s time for another superhero tussle! This time ‘round it’s the Avenging Son vs. ol’ Shellhead. How about that swell cover by Marie Severin?

Karen: These two guys have never gotten along! It’s kind of nice to see that even today, although I can’t stand a lot of what’s going on at Marvel, Iron Man and Namor are still like oil and water…no pun intended.

Doug: Scribe Archie Goodwin wastes no time in setting this tome up as an environmental sermon. From the splash page, when Iron Man states, “An atmosphere so polluted, so befouled, we can no longer breathe it… and live!” the readers knows that this will be a tale of the negative externalities of industry.

Karen: Things really changed for the Iron Man strip in the 70s. The anti-business, anti-war, and ecology movements made Stark a less sympathetic character than he’d been in the 60s. So of course we got Stark moving from a munitions maker to a more generic tech wizard.

Doug: Johnny Craig is of course famous for his work for EC in the 1950’s. While he moves the story well, his figure- and face work looks like it’s stuck in the ‘50’s. I think this would be an example of the Iron Man book being down the pecking order for artistic talent. Part of Marvel’s recent expansion of titles, there is no doubt that the company was spread creatively thin.

Karen: I completely agree about Craig’s art. It’s not awful, but it sure doesn’t have that dynamic Marvel style.

Doug: One more comment, and I guess it concerns the writer, artists, and the letterer – what the heck was going on with word balloon placements in this book??

Karen: I have to say, this book seemed overly wordy. The panels are just crowded with word balloons.

Doug: The story begins with a morality play in the form of a film featuring Iron Man, decrying the ills of pollution. Tony Stark is making a presentation to fellow magnates, urging them to basically clean up their acts. When they scoff at Stark’s methods, he tells them a tale that recently accentuated his concerns.

Doug: In these days the Sub-Mariner was often written as somewhat of an environmental crusader, albeit in a quite-standoffish way. Namor takes on that role in this story as well. Pollution is seeping into the sea from a pipeline, that eventually gets traced back to an island owned by Stark Industries.

Doug: Namor attacks the base, with the intent to destroy it. As fate would have it, Stark was there for an inspection. The inevitable fisticuffs ensue.

Doug: All of the typical elements of both an Iron Man fight and a battle involving Namor are here – Iron Man’s worries about his technology failing, Namor invincible in the water and vulnerable out of it.

Karen: It’s funny how Namor’s dependence on water seems to have disappeared over the years. Back in the old days, it was an essential part of his background –that he got weaker the longer he was away from water. It was practically the only way he got beaten. But I can’t even recall the last time I saw that mentioned in a comic featuring Namor.

Doug: Goodwin saves his best moralizing for the end of the story. One can almost imagine Stark playing the role of that environmental champion, Al Gore, while the world turns a deaf ear.
Karen: I wish Stark had gone that route, instead of becoming a petty dictator!
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