Friday, December 31, 2010

Fantastic Four Fridays: Surfer's Girl, My Little Surfer's Girl

Fantastic Four #155 (February 1975)
"Battle Royal!"
Len Wein-Rich Buckler/Joe Sinnott

Doug: In all the issues of the FF reviewed so far by the BAB, we've not covered one of the major artists who worked on that book in the Bronze Age. Mainly focusing on the work of John Buscema and George Perez, we've neglected the middle of that sandwich -- namely Rich Buckler.
Maligned by some for various reasons, Buckler was nonetheless the penciller on the title when I first discovered it. Because of that, he's for me to the FF what Ross Andru is for Spider-Man and Bob Brown is for Daredevil.

Karen: John Buscema will always be 'my' FF artist, but Buckler was the guy during a solid chunk of my years as a regular FF reader.

Doug: This one begins with a walk in the park... literally. A group of hoods are hanging out in Central Park, when they spy a presumably unsuspecting family out for a stroll. Making their move, the toughs draw their switchblades and close in. Grabbing the oldest-looking of the four, they are more than a bit dismayed when ol' boy's hat falls off, revealing the ever lovin' blue-eyed Thing! Ben initially begins to dispense a little justice, until Reed calls him to order. Nevertheless wanting to send a message, Ben uproots a lamp post and twists it into a pretzel.

Karen: I love how the thugs call Ben 'fatso' before he turns around and they see who he is.
Back in the day, the Thing always seemed of average height, say 6', but he was incredibly wide and massive. He didn't have the usual proportions of a super-hero. I like that.
Doug: However, the interrupted walk becomes all the more interrupted, as the Silver Surfer streaks onto the scene -- and he's not happy! Issuing a challenge to the Four, Norrin Radd immediately threatens and then attacks Ben. Of course, what follows is one of those "gee, don't you think this would work better if we cooperated with each other?" fights. To be fair, I'm sure none of our heroes expected their longtime ally to launch such a ferocious assault; and it certainly appeared that the Surfer would pull no punches. In fact, it's shortly into the fracas when he announced it was the death of the Fantastic Four that was his mission!

Karen: The FF are startled and certainly not entirely on their game, but let's face it: the Surfer is way too powerful for them to handle!
It seems like the Surfer can do almost anything with his power cosmic.
Doug: Let's take a halftime here to discuss the artwork. As I said at the top, this is pretty familiar stuff to me. I think the biggest thing about Buckler's art is that the reader never knows what to expect. That is not to say that he wasn't consistent month-to-month. But when you look at his work on a here-and-there basis, you might find him aping Neal Adams, or certainly Jack Kirby. I guess for me, I don't know what Rich Buckler is all about. I don't think there's any doubt that he had (has) talent, but I'm not sure that it was ever on display as fully "his work" until he did the Saga of the Sub-Mariner and Saga of the Original Human Torch mini-series in 1988-90 (by the way, I think he draws a great Torch, no matter what era). So while Buckler wouldn't be my first choice on the FF, he's not bad. I would complain that he seems to have one stock figure for every male he draws in this book -- every body shape is the same (or at least the same size). Of course, Sinnott continues to be the glue that holds the series together.

Karen: I always thought Buckler was a very solid artist - at times a great one. He was asked to mimic others and that may have hurt him early on in trying to establish an identity. But his work in this issue, for example, is quite dynamic. He takes some risks in panel composition and for the most part they work out fine. His work is clean and easy to follow. As you mentioned, Sinnott brings a continuity to the FF, regardless of who is penciling it.

Doug: Oh, one other thing -- this was the period when Johnny had donned the red suit. What did you think of that? I rather liked it as an homage to the Original Torch. Plus, with Medusa not surrendering her lavender-and-purple outfit, it gave the team another splash of color.
Although you could certainly argue that red, lavender, orange, purple and blue make for quite a garish display!

Karen: It was sort of like when the X-Men moved away from the school uniforms -they kept the belt but had their own styles. But overall I would prefer everyone in matching outfits, or at least the same color. She-Hulk also had her own variation, but as it was the same color, it looked fine with the rest of the team.

Doug: Once the FF are down, the Surfer relates a tale of how he came to attack them. After having left the Defenders, he went into a self-imposed meditative exile. In a most-spiritual narration, the Surfer claimed to have determined a way to burst the barrier set on him by Galactus lo those many years ago. Actually successful this time, he found that there was a failsafe enacted by the Devourer -- once in space, the Surfer's protective coating began to dissolve. Crashing back through the barrier and to Earth, his powers returned as he plummeted, saving him from splatting all over the landscape! However, could he have chosen a worse landing place?

Karen: How did you like the Surfer's method of escape -circling the Earth zillions of times, building up tremendous speed?
I was wondering if he was going to go back in time! And what are the odds of him landing where he did?
Doug: Yep -- Latveria is not a nice place to visit at any time of year.
But what was hanging on the walls was even more alarming than just being in that evil burg: a poster honoring the queen of Latveria, a maid bearing more than a striking resemblance to Shalla Bal, the love of Norrin Radd! Alarmed, and not a bit enraged, the Surfer took off for the castle she was supposedly in. On the way, however, he spied the Fantastic Four in combat with some shock troops. The FF made short work of the first wave, but were killed by the reinforcements! It was right then that the Surfer noted that this was a training operation against doppelganger robots. Alighting on the floor where the queen resided, the Surfer confronted an alarmed beauty. Knowing him not, she recoiled in fear. And it was then that the king entered the room -- Dr. Doom!

Karen: Doom's looking particularly maniacal here. He always did seem to enjoy messing with the oh-so-pure Surfer.

Doug: So here's the set-up for next issue's big doings: Doom promised the Surfer that he would release Shalla Bal from her vows of marriage, restore her memory, and return her to the Surfer...if he killed the Fantastic Four! And lest you think that by page 20 the Surfer and our heroes have cut a deal, formed an alliance, whatever -- nope. The Surfer begins to drain their lifeforce! To be continued!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

If You Could Have One Super-Power, What Would It Be?

Karen: That's a pretty easy question for our forum today, and pretty straight forward: just tell us the one power you'd really like to have.

Karen: And I don't want to hear any of that stuff like the power to copy any super-power, or any kind of cheat around the question. It's just ONE power! Whether you want super-strength, the power of flight, x-ray vision (perv!), heck, even the power to turn things into gold, whatever it is, let's hear about it. Why would you pick that power over any other?

Karen: I'll get the ball rolling. I'm really torn between flight and a super-healing factor. The latter would be the far more useful power -I'd love never to get ill again, to be in perfect health. But flight would be incredibly liberating. I'd probably opt for that.

Karen: Next?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Tale of Two Doctors: Thor vs. Dr. Doom, part 1

Thor 182 (Nov 1970)
"The Prisoner-The Power-And- Dr. Doom!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema
Inker: Joe Sinnott

Karen: If that isn't an old school, Stan Lee title, then I don't know what is! We're going way way back to 1970 for this two-part tale. The first thing I noticed when glancing through this issue is what a classic look it has, with the combination of Buscema and Sinnott. The art is clean and powerful. It has a terrific cover. Unfortunately, Stan Lee's script doesn't deliver the goods.

Doug: I have to declare, this story was some Silver Age finery -- but as you said, we've crossed that undefined boundary into the Bronze Age. A Bronze story this be not. It has all of the hallmarks of a yarn that might have been spun in one of the two-fers, like Tales of Suspense or Tales to Astonish. But the art... ah, the art. What a classic teaming of talent. I know Big John did not prefer the inks of Sinnott, but in my eyes the combination is virtually without peer.

Karen: I think this book falls squarely into a transition period from Silver to Bronze -but I'd agree that it has more of a Silver Age feel. Our story opens with Thor moping around on a roof top, when he spots a brouhaha at the Latverian Embassy. A young woman is protesting Dr. Doom's reign when a fight breaks out and she is accidentally injured. Thor carries her off to the office of his alter ego, Dr. Don Blake. Transforming himself into the physician, he treats the girl -apparently with a cup of water! - and she tells him her story. The girl's father, a scientist of some sort apparently, was kidnapped by Doom and coerced into building missile silos for the tyrant, while he held the girl as a hostage. Evidently, this went on for years, as Cosette, the girl, grows from a child to a typically gorgeous Buscema woman. She eventually escapes with the help of the Latverian underground, and comes to the US to protest. OK, let's be honest: this is pretty weak stuff here. While I have tremendous respect for Lee, I do feel that much of his later work seemed half-thought out. I mean, Doom needs someone to construct missile silos for him? Really?

Doug: Yeah, you raise some issues worth nit-picking about. While I tho
ught the splash page image of Thor on the rooftop was a solid picture, it seemed more a posture for Spidey or Daredevil than the God of Thunder. I also found it odd, and this is through the lens of the Avengers stories we are finishing up (where Moondragon is all over Thor about "slumming" with the Avengers, due to his great power in relation to the "mere mortals"), that Thor is floating around Manhattan looking for a way to prove himself and finds that outlet in the form of a political protest. In regard to the missile silo angle to this story, I had to chuckle at Stan's plot vehicle -- all this while in the back of my mind I'm thinking of Doom's time machine, and then later some of the gadgets (of his own invention) he employs? Sheesh...
Karen: Blake begins cooking up a plan to get Doom to come to him, since Thor can't attack a sovereign nation. But just as he sets that into motion, Odin summons the thunder god to Asgard. Buscema does a great job of expressing the All-Father's power, with a shot of his angry eyes over the New York skyline.
Doug: What did you think about that line, that Thor couldn't attack a sovereign nation? Was that due to his Avengers Priority status (was that around at this time? My memory may be betraying me)? I'm thinking you're a Norse god, you can whatever you darn well please!

Karen: Stan was always utilizing 'diplomatic immunity' for Doom. I assume that the super-heroes wouldn't attack Latveria either because they'd be declaring war. It's a convenient story device! Thor is mystically 'beamed' to Asgard and into the throne room of Odin. Odin makes some pronouncement about "the world beyond," but before we can fi
gure out what he's talking about, Thor begs him to let him go back to Earth to settle unfinished business. Wasn't he always doing this? Odin agrees and sends him back.

Doug: Yep -- recycling, I call it. And what of poor Sif? For a goddess who would always be quick to pick up her sword and follow the warriors into battle, she sure is soft, constantly moaning over Thor and how much danger he's in. Hey, lady -- you ever see him take down a frost giant, or tangle with the Midgard Serpent? I think he can handle just about anything the ol' Earth can throw at him!

Karen: Back on Earth, Blake's reporter friend Harris Hobbs has planted a story -front page headlines, no less -that Blake has developed a new method of plastic surgery -"Any face, no matter how disfigured, can be made normal again!" Of course Doom bites, and races out of the Embassy to find Blake. Of course this IS Doom we're talking about, so rather than throwing Blake in the back of his limousine, he uses a doohicky on him that teleports Blake into the car, in some sort of weird energy form.

Doug: But he can't build a missile silo that can launch an ICBM. Uh-huh. I'm not really up on this era of Thor (yet). Was this Hobbs fellow a recurring character? Of course he writes for the Daily Bugle; I don't recall him from any issues of Amazing Spider-Man or Daredevil that I've read.

Karen: Hobbs had been
around back from the Journey Into Mystery days as I recall, but he appeared infrequently. They arrive at a hidden hangar, and Doom takes Blake aboard his aircraft, still unconscious. The fantastic craft crosses the ocean in minutes and Doom informs Blake that he will serve him. He tells him that if he fixes his face, he'll be rewarded, but if he fails, "You shall learn the fullest measure of the wrath of Dr. Doom!" The next segment is highly effective, as Doom slowly removes his faceplate to reveal his scarred face. Well, not to the readers, just to Blake, who reacts with shock. He blurts out that there's nothing medical science can do for Doom, which earns him a place in the dungeon. Luckily for him, they throw his wooden cane in as well! He struggles but eventually reaches it, and bangs it on the floor to transform into Thor. As the thunder god breaks out of the dungeon and shoots off into the sky, Doom fires off his Stalker missile! The thunder god realizes that if he outruns the missile, it may fall on the innocent people below! What a dilemma!
Doug: Well, let's talk about Doom's face. Is this the first time we've ever discussed Doom on one of our two blogs? By golly, I think it is! So, what's your take? Are you in the school of "horribly disfigured" (after all, if we're to believe Kirby's depiction from Fantastic Four Annual #2, it was an explosion in his face at point blank range that initially caused the damage), or do you line up more along believers like myself who think that he has a tiny scar above his eye or on his cheek, and his vanity won't allow him to mentally accommodate that blemish? Regardless, the scene in Fantastic Four #200 when Doom is forced to face a prism of mirrors while without his mask, thus driving him mad, is a great image supporting the psychological damage from whichever scenario you go with.

Karen: I'm torn over this one. I like the idea that Doom is such an egotist that a small scar would cause him to go round the bend. Yet, on more than one occasion, when his mask has been removed, people have reacted with horror. So I think he probably is badly scarred. Actually,
Fantastic Four Annual #2 made me think that maybe immediately after his initial accident, he might have had only a small scar. But then when he went off and had his armor made, he put the mask on before it had cooled, thus causing his horrible scarring. Now why he would do that to himself is a whole other subject to debate!
Karen: This is a very simplistic story that is only saved by the Buscema art. Even then, it would be hard to defend this tale against detractors of the Silver/Bronze Age. The plot is contrived and lightweight. It certainly doesn't measure up to previous Lee efforts, and this was true of much of his later work. Hopefully we'll get some payoff in the next issue.

Doug: As I said, this story is one of the closing efforts of Stan Lee as a writer, and it does feel like -- for all of the innovations, characterization, and bombasticism (is that a word? it is now!) that Lee pioneered in the Silver Age -- it's stuck in the mud of time. Having mainly focused on writers such as Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, et al., this one's a bit... shall we say... "quaint". But I still liked it for what it was -- 20 minutes of fun diversionary time. Can't get that nowadays.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Appreciation of: Songs That Taught Us About Social Justice

Doug: Today I'd like to celebrate some songs from my kidhood that really contributed to the development of my social conscience. Now I don't want to state any sort of political agenda in doing so, but if you have to pin a liberal agenda or leaning on me, then so be it. I think the examples here bespeak a higher agenda than anything you'd find in your state capital or Washington, DC -- these songs just seem right.

Doug: Maybe I'm a johnny-come-lately to this sort of thought, but it was really my college years (1984-88) that expanded my tastes in music,
which served to manifest in me an interest in national and international news and social issues. The art of local Midwesterner John Mellencamp (nee Johnny Cougar and John Cougar Mellencamp -- I just love his anthem to the Midwest Pink Houses), pianist Bruce Hornsby, Phil Collins, and others made us think about how we relate to our fellow humans. Mellencamp's work with Farm-Aid called out the large farm conglomerates that pushed the family farmer into hard times. Hornsby and Collins sang about the downtrodden and homeless. And in listening to this music, my interests expanded, reaching into the past to artists like Neil Young and some early REO Speedwagon.

Doug: Politically, I could go on about U2's Bullet the Blue Sky and Don Henley's End of the Innocence -- maybe that will be for another time.

Doug: Below I've posted some lyrics to favorite songs from the '80's, and I've also included Young's Southern Man, which Lynyrd Skynyrd famously chastised in their mega-hit Sweet Home Alabama. Enjoy the poetry. Give it some thought.

Hot Dogs and Hamburgers: John Mellencamp

Drivin' down on a dry summer's day

Old Route 66 and I was just a kid

Met a pretty little Indian girl

Along the way

Got her into my car

And tried to give her a kiss
I'll give you beads and wampum

Whatever it takes, girl, to make you trade

She jumped into the back seat

And she kinda flipped her lid

She said you're tryin' to get something for nothing

Like the Pilgrims in the olden days

We rode for a while till the sun went away

And I realized it was sort of an honor
Bein' around this girl
I felt embarrassed
Of what I tried to do earlier that day

She was the saddest girl I ever knew

She told me stories about the Indian nations

And how the White man stole their lives away

And although she kinda liked me

She could never trust me

And when the sun comes up

We'd go our different ways

Now everybody has got the choice
Between hotdogs and hamburgers

Every one of us has got to choose

Between right and wrong

And givin' up or holdin' on

So I dropped her off at some railroad crossing in Texas

An old Indian man was waiting there

He smiled and thanked me

But he saw right through me

I could tell he didn't like me

For my kind he did not care

Because to him I was the White man

The one who sold him something that he already owned

And it was like he'd been riding in the car right there with us

And I felt ashamed of my actions

And the way the West was really won

So I drove down the highway

Till I came to Los Angeles

The town of the angels

The best this country can do

I got down on my knees

And I asked for forgiveness

I said, Lord, forgive us for we know not what we do

Justice and Independence '85
: John Mellencamp

He was born on the fourth day of July
So his parents called him Independence Day

He married a girl named Justice who gave birth to a son called Nation

Then she walked away

Independence he would daydream and he'd pretend
That some day him and Justice and Nation would get together again

But Justice held up in a shotgun shack

And she wouldn't let nobody in

So a Nation cried

Oh, oh When a Nation cries
His tears fall down like missiles from the skies

Justice look into Independence's eyes

Can you make everything alright

Can you keep your Nation warm tonight

Well Nation grew up and got himself a big reputation
Couldn't keep the boy at home no, no

He just kept running 'round and 'round and 'round and 'round
Independence and Justice well they felt so ashamed

When the Nation fell down they argued who was to blame
Nation if you'll come home we'll have this family again

Oh, Nation, don't cry

Roll a rock across the country
Everybody come along

When you're feelin' down, yeah, yeah

Just sing this song, yeah yeah

The Way It Is: Bruce Hornsby and the Range

Standing in line marking time--
Waiting for the welfare dime

'Cause they can't buy a job

The man in the silk suit hurries by

As he catches the poor old ladies' eyes

Just for fun he says "Get a job"

That's just the way it is

Some things will never change

That's just the way it is

But don't you believe them

They say hey little boy you can't go

Where the others go

'Cause you don't look like they do
Said hey old man how can you stand

To think that way

Did you really think about it

Before you made the rules

He said, Son

That's just the way it is

Some things will never change

That's just the way it is

But don't you believe them

Well they passed a law in '64

To give those who ain't got a little more

But it only goes so far

Because the law don't change another's mind

When all it sees at the hiring time

Is the line on the color bar

That's just the way it is

Some things will never change

That's just the way it is

But don't you believe them

Another Day in Paradise: Phil Collins

She calls out to the man on the street
"Sir, can you help me?

It's cold and I've nowhere to sleep

Is there somewhere you can tell me?"

He walks on, doesn't look back
He pretends he can't hear her

He starts to whistle as he crosses the street

She's embarrassed to be there

Oh, think twice, it's just another day for

For you and me in paradise

Oh, think twice, it's just another day

For you, you and me in paradise

Just think about it
She calls out to the man on the street

He can see she's been cryin'

She's got blisters on the soles of her feet

She can't walk but she's tryin'

Oh, just think twice, it's just another day

For you and me in paradise

Oh, yes think twice, it's just another day

For you, you and me in paradise
Just think about it, just think about it

Oh Lord, is there nothing more anybody can do?

Oh Lord, there must be something you can say

You can tell by the lines on her face

You can see that she's been there

Probably been moved on from every place

'Cause she didn't fit in there
Oh, yes think twice, it's just another day

For you and me in paradise

Oh, yes think twice, it's just another day

For you, you and me in paradise

Just think about it, just think about it
It's just another day

For you and me in paradise

It's just another day

For you and me in paradise

It's just another day

For you and me in paradise

It's just another day

For you and me in paradise

It's just another day

For you and me

It's another day

For you and me
It's another day

For you and me in paradise

In paradise

Southern Man: Neil Young

Southern man
better keep your head
Don't forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

I saw cotton
and I saw black
Tall white mansions
and little shacks.
Southern man
when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin'
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Southern man
better keep your head
Don't forget
what your good book said
Southern change
gonna come at last
Now your crosses
are burning fast
Southern man

Lily Belle,
your hair is golden brown
I've seen your black man
comin' round
Swear by God
I'm gonna cut him down!
I heard screamin'
and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

Golden Country: REO Speedwagon

Golden country your face is so red
With all of your money your poor can be fed
You strut around and you flirt with disaster
Never really carin' just what comes after

Well your blacks are dyin' but your back is still turned
And your freaks are cryin' but your back is still turned
You better stop your hidin or your country will burn

The time has come for you my friend
To all this ugliness we must put an end
Before we leave we must make a stand

Mortgage people you crawl to your homes
Your security lies in your bed of white foam
You act concerned but then why turn away
When a lady was raped on your doorstep today

Well your blacks are cryin' but your back is still turned
And your freaks are dyin' but your back is still turned
You better stop your hidin or your country will burn

The time has come for you my friend
To all this ugliness we must put an end
Before we leave we must make a stand, oh yeah......


Golden country your face is so red
With all of your money your poor can be fed
You strut around and you flirt with disaster
Never really carin' just what comes after

Well your blacks are dyin' but your back is still turned
And your freaks are cryin' but your back is still turned
You better stop your hidin or your country will burn

The time has come for you my friend
To all this ugliness we must put an end
Before we leave we must make a stand


Monday, December 27, 2010

Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 6

Avengers #148 (June 1976)
"20,000 Leagues Under Justice!"
Steve Englehart-George Perez/Sam Grainger

Doug: How awesome is that roll call up and down the sides of the splash page? This story hearkens back to the best days of the Silver and Bronze Age JLA/JSA team-ups, which is fitting since Englehart and Perez offer us their version (OK, partly Roy Thomas' version) of the Justice League of America. And to further pay homage to those fun tales, this yarn is told with both teams splitting up for combat purposes. Shall we see?

Karen: The roll call was absolutely awesome! About the only issues of Justice League that I had purchased to this point were the ones featuring the JLA-JSA crossovers, so I loved those little floating heads. I'm also happy to see inker Sam Grainger back on this issue.

Doug: This story really has nothing but DC hallmarks -- the take on the JLA satellite, the alternate Earths -- one like ours, the other with silly city names, the division of team members, and a morality play that concludes the action. We begin on the "Rocket Center" and are introduced to Aquaman, Hawkman, er... I meant Amphibian, Cap'n Hawk (what a dumb name), and Tom Thumb (who I guess is standing in for the Atom, although he really bears no resemblance in looks or powers). They are on monitor duty, eagerly awaiting the return of Hyperion,
Lady Lark, and the Golden Archer -- who surely beat up on the Avengers and will restore President Rockefeller's Serpent Crown. But alas, as we saw last ish, the Vision was having none of that bunk.

Karen: I love the little throwaway bits here, like calling the Squadron "the world's greatest super-heroes!" That was the banner above the JLA logo for many years. The Squadron has a satellite HQ too. It's a great parody, and if there's some snarkiness here, well, it's not surprising, given the long rivalry between the two companies.

Doug: So as we go on, Cap'n Hawk notes that the rest of the Avengers are split into two groups; the Vision and Scarlet Witch are nowhere to be found. Cap'n Hawk, Amphibian, and Tom Thumb decide to attack the Beast and Hellcat. It's not even close. In some nifty action sequences, along with typical Marvel banter, Hank and Patsy dispatch their adversaries. The prize scene is the square-off between the Beast and Tom -- funny stuff.
At the conclusion of this scene we get a 3-panel vignette with Thor and Moondragon, making their way across the United States (hey, is it just me, or can Thor use that Uru hammer to teleport? 'twould seem a lot easier than flying -- gotta be hard to talk with all that wind in one's face). Moondragon, who has been hinting at wanting to have a tete a tete with Thor, finally gets the opportunity to drop the bomb -- why, Thor, when you live among immortals, do you insist on spending time with beings far inferior? Thor's put off by that mess, however, and lets Baldy know it. To be continued.

Karen: The fight between the Squadron and our two newest soon-to-be Avengers was flat-out fun. The Squadron is bursting with over-confidence and it bites them in the you-know-what. I loved the exchange between Tom Thumb and Beast: "You probably don't see the advantage I have in being small-" "You're right, I don't" -and Beast bonks the tiny Thumb on the top of the head, knocking him out.

Karen: Thor had all sorts of tricks tied up in Mjolnir, and I'm pretty sure he could've opened a gateway to Avengers carry that awful Moondragon all the way there?
Hmmm....his response to her questioning was classic thunder god, though: "Silence, woman!"
Doug: Our next little brouhaha involved Dr. Spectrum and the Whizzer attacking Iron Man and Captain America. This battle was a bit more in doubt, as it started off advantage: Squadron. Oh, before I get to more of the details -- there was a great bit of camaraderie between Cap and Iron Man, as IM tells Cap, "I feel really good, actually -- Avengering with you again!
We make a good team!" The battle itself has all the best elements of Green Lantern and Flash, and of course IM's technology and Cap's savvy. As I said, it's a bit more two-sided, and fun. Perez continues to improve, and the pacing and camera angles are varied and fun.

Karen: Honestly, our Avengering duo are out-powered in this match-up, but again, the overconfidence on the part of Whizzer and Spectrum, and a nice helping of righteous indignation from Cap, helps turn the tide. The situation on the Squadron's world particularly gets to Cap, as he makes clear after defeating the Whizzer. Cap had just gone through the whole Secret Empire/Nomad period and had realized that he owed his allegiance to the ideals of his country, not to any one administration or president.
The idea of blindly working for the government was appalling to him. As he says, "You have your definition of a hero, and I have mine -and mine includes being a lot more aware!"

Karen: Like you, I enjoy seeing Cap and Shellhead working together. The two old guard guys leading the team through to victory despite all the odds being against them -what's not to like?

Doug: The good guys are finally reunited, with Wanda and the Vision joining them. Wanda explains how she'd been taken over by the influence of the Serpent Crown, and the Vision offers a plot idea.
We then get a quick look back at the hospital in Manhattan, where the Pyms have received the news that they are being released. But trouble festers immediately as Hank says he's not certain he wants to play hero anymore. Jan snaps that she's willing to go back to the Avengers, even if alone!

Karen: Jan sure came off pretty harsh, didn't she?

Doug: Cut to the White House, where the Squadron has gathered to apologize to the President for their ineptitude in getting the Crown back. Rockefeller then gives a very strange soliloquy about duping the Squadron, lying, obtaining power and more power, etc.
Hyperion gets a strong case of "what the?!?" and as he reaches toward Rockefeller we find that it's not ol' Nelson at all, but the bouncing blue Beast in disguise! Bounding off down the hall, Hank slips into a side chamber where the rest of the Avengers are assembled (natch) around some sort of portal or stargate. Iron Man has figured it out, and sends the team back to Earth. Hyperion rushes to follow them, but is called back by the Golden Archer and Dr. Spectrum. Seems what the Beast said bears further consideration, and they're willing to chew on it for awhile.

Karen: Beast served as a mouthpiece for Englehart to make some social commentary. It would probably be considered heavy-handed now but considering where the national psyche was at in 1976, I think it fit in perfectly. "We commit the most outrageous acts...and you go right along, pretending not to notice!" Actually, much of that speech still resonates today.

Karen: I thought the resolution of the story seemed a bit rushed -the Avengers guess rightly that the portal to their dimension is at the White House? I guess it makes sense but seems to come out of nowhere. And where'd Beast get his Rockefeller mask?
Hey Doug, this is another example of those incredibly life-like masks we see all the time in comics! Remember when we discussed this back in the Two Girls, A Guy, and Some Comics blog?

Doug: Cracks me up how his little Beasty-hair tucked under that mask perfectly smooth!

Karen: The Squadron actually does decide to consider what Beast said, and years later they would screw things up royally in the Squadron Supreme 12-issue maxi-series. That was a very interesting series. We might have to review it some time.

Doug: This has been a great story, and we're not done yet! Next month promises the resolution of the Serpent Crown Affair, the return of Thor and Moondragon, and a big, fat, super-villain!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

So, What Comic-Related Goodness Was Bestowed Upon You?

Doug: Christmas proper has come and gone, and while some out there may still be reveling not only in the spirit of the season, but also in family celebrations, let's pause to examine the haul thus far. What did you get?

Doug: Your host made out like a bandit -- helps when people stick to the list, you know? Actually, I am quite fortunate in that my family (on both sides -- in-laws included) humor this sick addiction I have to all things four-color fun. So, I got:

Legion of Super-Heroes: The Great Darkness Saga Deluxe Hardcover
The Art of Neal Adams hardcover from Vanguard Press
Modern Masters: John Byrne from TwoMorrows
Mego 8" Super-Heroes: World's Greatest Toys from TwoMorrows
The Green Goblin vs. Spider-Man and Superhero Squad Christmas tree ornaments


Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas from the Bronze Age Babies!

Here's hoping you unwrap whatever most pleases you, even if you do plan to kick the snot out of it.

All the best of the season to you and yours --

Karen and Doug

Thursday, December 23, 2010

What Was the Coolest Toy You Ever Got for Christmas?

Doug: When I was 6-years old, I was joyfully overwhelmed to find the GI Joe action playset "Secret of the Mummy's Tomb" that included a big yellow ATV, a helicopter with working rotary blades, and a mummy's sarcophagus. Not much better than that, my friends. I played and played and played some more with those toys -- of course, this was back in the days when GI Joe's were 12" tall, with that "real" hair. All was just perfect... until warmer weather came and I took that helicopter outside, pushed the rotary button as hard and fast as I could, and then let that bird fly! Straight into the ground. Broke part of the landing skids. Aw, crap. But it was still so cool!

Doug: How about you? What was your "best Christmas"?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

BAB Christmas Wish Lists

Karen: Geeks love Christmas, because there are so many awesome goodies out there to put on your Christmas list! Without further ado, Doug and I will present some of the items we hope show up under the Christmas tree:

Karen: I'd like to get this amazing looking book, The Making of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. This is a monster of a book (weighing in at nearly 5 lbs!) that chronicles the making of what many consider to be the best film in the Star Wars series. Packed with original design drawings and on set p
hotos, plus a ton of information, it probably has everything you ever wanted to know about Empire.

Karen: Here's another book I'd like to get, Walt Disney Imagineering: A Behind the Dreams Look at Making the Magic Real. I find Disneyland and Disney World fascinating, and love the stories about how the different attractions were designed and created. The Imagineers are very talented folks. This book looks like it has a wealth of information and a lot of great drawings and photos too.

Karen: My final pick is my unobtainable one: the Alex Ross "Legion of Super-Heroes" print from 1999. Since neither I nor anyone I know has an extra $500 or so sitting around, I'll probably never be able to hang this one up in my sanctum, but boy would I love to have this! It's absolutely beautiful, with all of the Legionnaires flying off into space. The Alex Ross Art folks that tour the convention circuit have sometimes had this art on a gigantic banner over their booths and blown up to gigantic size, it is simply astonishing. There is such detail in the work, but of course that's to be expected of Ross. It's also my era of the Legion, with the characters I hold most fondly, in the costumes I see them wearing in my mind's eye. If you look at the very bottom, you will see that the Legion cruiser is even reflected in Wildfire's visor! What a magnificent print. Sigh.

Doug: Karen, you'll get no argument from me on that Legion print! I've seen the large banner version you mention, while on several forays to the WizardWorld Chicago comicon. It is a breathtaking sight!

Doug: As for my wish list, I actually accomplished (finally) the purchase of a book that's been on my radar since the spring. John Buscema: Michelangelo of Comics from Hermes Press was to have shipped the first week of August; it finally arrived at my LCS on December 15th! I've been reading it, and will write up a BAB Book Review very soon. Interested consumers may want to wait for the review before plunking down their hard-earned cash... And if that cryptic comment doesn't leave you waiting with a small degree of trepidation, I don't know what would!

Doug: As to this year, once again I've put the TwoMorrows tome Mego 8" Super-Heroes - World's Greatest Toys. I've long been fascinated by the Mego line -- truly my favorite toys as a child. All of the accessories, variants, and characters I never had make this book a must-have for me. Who knows? Maybe this will be the year...

Doug: Next up on my list is the Marvel Masterworks for the Inhumans, Volume I.
This book contains the back-up stories that ran in Thor, the Amazing Adventures series, Medusa's solo appearance in Marvel Super-Heroes, and Avengers 95 (the midst of the "Kree-Skrull War"). The artists contained in this book are a Silver/Bronze Age hall-of-fame in their own right -- Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, and Neal Adams. I only own a smattering of these books, so this would be a welcome addition to my library.

Doug: Lastly, I'd like to get the first box set of ESPN's very fine 30 for 30 series of films. This for the most part has been an outstanding program -- I've not seen all of the films, but the dozen or so that I've been fortunate enough to catch have all been entertaining.
Of note were films about Reggie Miller vs. tje New York Knicks, the Hank Gathers tragedy at Loyola Marymount, the influence of the Los Angeles Raiders on the gangster rap movement that grew out of LA's Compton neighborhood, and the day of the O.J. Simpson "Bronco chase". There are other fine offerings in the series, and I look forward to the second box set collection.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Face-Off: The Batcave vs. The Fortress of Solitude

Karen: OK, we've discussed team headquarters recently. But I promised we'd get to solo hero HQs. I realized though, that there aren't that many great ones. Sure, Dr. Strange has his sanctum sanctorum, but that's really just his house. The only two hideaways really worth discussing belong to the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader. So weigh in: Batcave or Fortress?

Karen: Let's look at the Batcave first. Of course, it's just packed with coolness. You've got all the gear -cars, planes, boats, the massive computer system. I don't know if Batman still uses a nuclear reactor to power the place, but I always thought that was darned cool. Besides all the practical stuff, he also keeps his trophies here. The most famous of these are probably the giant penny, the (mechanical?) Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the giant Joker playing card. But being such a successful crime-fighter, Bats has a bunch of other nifty stuff too. On top of all this, it's a real cave! There are honest to goodness bats and it's's kind of spooky, exactly the image the Darknight Detective wants to project.

Doug: If I could be so bold as to butt in for a moment, I wanted to add some artwork. Several years ago I had the true pleasure of meeting Golden Age Batman artist Dick Sprang at the Chicago Comicon (these were the days before Wizard took over the show). He was the most wonderful man, really an engaging personality. He was set up at a vendor's booth, hawking a print that he'd been commissioned to draw. He said that he wasn't allowed to sign autographs except on the print; while thoroughly disappointed, I understood, and wished I'd had enough cash to purchase the art. Anyway, it's right below, and should enlarge to a see-able proportion when you click on it. OK, Karen -- back to you!

Karen: Of course, Superman is no slouch either in the HQ department. His fortress is a pretty amazing place. First off, he used to have this big giant key he kept outside the place. It was like he was daring somebody to break in. Of course, he's about the only person who could lift the thing.

Karen: Nowadays most people probably think of the movie version of the Fortress (which is also the version Smallville uses), with its crystalline structures and stark looks. I think they've adapted this somewhat to the comics as well, although I'm not a follower of Superman. But regardless of the appearance of the
Fortress, Superman has been known to keep all sorts of amazing super-scientific gizmos there, some of Kryptonian origin. The Phantom Zone projector and the bottle city of Kandor are also to be found here. Kal-El honors his Kryptonian heritage with statues of his birth parents, Jor-El and Lara. He also had a zoo that was made up of creatures from all across the universe. Supes could kick back and relax as his vast army of Superman robots took care of the place.Karen: Personally, although I dig them both, I have to go with the Batcave. I love all of Batman's toys. But what do you think?


Monday, December 20, 2010

Avengers: The Serpent Crown Affair, part 5

Avengers #147 (May 1976)
"Crisis on Other-Earth!"
Steve Englehart-George Perez/Vince Colletta

Doug: Words cannot express the disappointment I felt on Christmas morning, 1975, when under the tree I spied the latest issue of The Avengers. It was #145, and I couldn't wait to crack it open and find out what happened when the Avengers and the Squadron Supreme landed on the Squadron's Earth. There had been quite a bit of build-up for this showdown, and I couldn't take it anymore. And then I saw it. Right there. Don Heck art. Nope -- not George Perez. Don Heck. Tony Isabella words. Not Steve Englehart. Sort of took the luster off of my copy of Son of Origins of Marvel Comics, I'll be honest; and off the nifty transistor radio with the earpiece. But by late winter, I'd put my crabbiness away and was ready for this mag we're discussing today. Marvel even poked fun at itself at the top of the splash page, stating that they were now returning us to our regularly scheduled monthly Squadron Supreme saga.

Karen: I shared your frustration. Not one, but TWO months of fill-ins, right in the middle of an incredible super-team showdown! That was sheer hell.

Doug: As promised, we start with a bang. Both teams, jettisoned from the Brand Corporation by the machinations of Hugh Jones, arrive on the Squadron's world.
With mutual dislike having already festered, it's game on! pretty quickly. Dr. Spectrum launches the first salvo, although Iron Man absorbs the blast for his teammates. But it's Patsy Walker who does the major butt-kicking in this scene as she leaps at Hyperion, knocking him back. The Avengers move quickly and for once act as a team -- how many times have we discussed recently these guys, the FF, and the X-Men operating as individuals? This was refreshing to see.

Karen: This was what we had been waiting for! As the Vision says, it's a chance to see "which team is truly the most powerful" -and with the Squadron ably standing in for the Justice League, readers were getting a fight many had wished for. We had Hyperion standing in for Superman, Dr. Spectrum as Green Lantern's counterpart, Lady Lark and the Golden Archer in place of Black Canary and Green Arrow, and of course, the laughably-named Whizzer as the poor man's Flash. Later we'd see Englehart's takes on Aquaman, the Atom, and Hawkman. Conspicuously absent was Nighthawk, the Squadron's Batman clone. I wonder if there was some concern over confusing the fans,
since the "regular" Earth's Nighthawk was appearing in The Defenders at the time? Of course, Marvel kept mucking things up themselves by putting "Squadron Sinister" on the covers of these issues!

Karen: The irony of it all is that in a short period of time, Englehart would leave Marvel and go over to DC, where he would 'Marvelize' the Justice League!

Doug: But even as things appear to be going swimmingly, army helicopters show up. Cap picks one out as the presidential chopper.
It lands, and who should step out? No, not Gerald Ford, but Nelson Rockefeller! Yep, things on the Squadron's world are just a bit off. And on his dome? The Serpent Crown. Now, contrary to some detraction we've heard during this run of posts, Steve Englehart does, through Captain America and later the Scarlet Witch, tell us a bit of history on the Serpent Crown and just what the crazy thing does to its bearer/wearer. And as Mr. Rockefeller is obviously off his, er, rocker, he needs to be separated from that crown. The Vision does the honors, removing that crazy chapeau. Tossing it to Wanda, the Avengers are able to flee.

Karen: Even today seeing that funky serpent crown atop the head of Nelson Rockefeller is both amusing and creepy. The Vision once again steps up and gets the team rolling. Man I miss him!

Doug: What follows is a bit odd, as the Avengers commence to wandering the streets of Cosmopolis. Above, Iron Man and the Vision are keeping vigil.
On the streets, Cap, the Beast, Hellcat and Wanda follow. Wanda was given charge of the crown, and as she's carried it, she has garnered some information from it (through empathy, I guess). But suddenly she collapses and only the Vision sees it. Swooping down, he is instead greeted with hostility from his wife. Englehart does a typically-great job of characterization in two scenes in this book between Wanda and her husband. Wanda breaks away here, and the Vision follows as non-threateningly as he can.

Karen: Wanda's explanation of the Crown's power,
that all the heads of the major corporations have fallen under the influence of the Crown, is so reflective of the loss of trust people had placed in authority symbols after Vietnam and Watergate. Eisenhower had warned of the dangers of "the military-industrial complex" - the Squadron's world was living in it, full-on.

Karen: I agree with you completely about the scene between the Crown-possessed Wanda and the Vision. Her line, "God forgive me for ever cheapening myself with you!" still made me wince. Nice work by Engelhart.

Doug: As Wanda tries to pull away, she rounds a corner -- straight into the arms of Hyperion, Lady Lark, and the Golden Archer.
What follows is a display of the Vision as a one-man wrecking crew! I would dare say that it's in this sequence that young George Perez "arrived". The camera angles, the panel lay-outs, and the individualizing of his facial interpretations of the various characters are all evident (and Vinnie Colletta's pretty good, too -- love the way he textured the Beast, and Lady Lark's costume). And what an action sequence this is! The Vision uses his entire arsenal of abilities and single-handedly defeats the Squadron's trio. Oh, at the end with an assist from his lovely bride, newly freed (but not without extreme effort) from the Crown, which had sought to take over her psyche.

Karen: The last five pages of this issue were an outstanding showcase for both the young Perez and the Vision.
We get such amazing action here, as you said. I also enjoyed the exchange between Hyperion and the Vision, as Hyperion wraps a lamp post around Vizh, stating, "I used this technique against my arch-foe Burbank the first time I came to Cosmopolis, creature! I've always thought it one of my best." The Vision dryly responds, "How wonderful" as he phases through the post!

Karen: But the very best thing about this story is the ending, with Wanda and Vision coming together, convinced that their love will allow them to overcome any obstacle. Call me a softy, but that one really hit me hard. Perez did some beautiful work on their faces, and I'll even throw old Vinnie a compliment, as his delicate lines here worked perfectly. A very strong issue all the way around.
Related Posts with Thumbnails