Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year from the Bronze Age Babies!

Here's to hoping 2012 is a better year for all of us, but particularly those who have faced hardship over the past many months. We're nothing if not resilient! Be well!

-- Doug and Karen

Doug: So, does anyone have any big plans or upcoming major events to speak of in 2012? I'll start off today's comments with my own doings: The biggest event coming our way this year will be the graduation of our younger son from high school and his move to college in the fall. That will bring on some uncharted dynamics for our household, specifically in regard to my wife and I. It will have been 21 years since we've been in the house alone on a full-time basis. There will be a sense of re-discovery, as we are certainly not the same people we were in 1991 when our oldest was born. But we are looking forward to the challenge. We are also looking forward to the trips to Indiana to see the boys, as they will both be attending the same college, northeast of Indianapolis. The youngest is going to play soccer, competing for a starting spot at goalkeeper. The oldest continues his pursuit of a career in sports broadcasting.

Other than that, I know that I'll be in Washington, DC in July again this year, teaching at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for a week. And hopefully along the way I'll be purchasing many more Bronze Age goodies to add to my growing library -- which I will in turn pass on to you, the faithful reader, for your commenting pleasure! Everyone, be well!

Karen: Sorry to jump in so late, but better late than never, I suppose. In 2012, I hope to find an agent to represent my fiction writing. I also hope to resolve a health issue that has been hanging over my head since April of this year. I don't make resolutions, but I will say that I want to do better at staying in touch with family and friends this year too. I'm also looking forward to taking a few trips with my husband this year. May the arrival of 2012 bring new hope and new opportunities for all of us.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Discuss: The Silver Surfer

Karen: The sky-rider of the spaceways -the Silver Surfer. What do you think of him? How is he best used (starring character vs. supporting)? What are the best stories featuring him? Here's your chance to say anything you want about this wielder of the power cosmic.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

All hail the real All-Father, Stan Lee!

Karen: Yesterday was Stan's 89th birthday! Our birthday wishes may be belated, but they are quite sincere. I for one can't even imagine what my life would have been like without the influence of Stan and Marvel Comics. Far less interesting, I suspect. Happy birthday to Stan, and here's to many more!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It's "Totally Random Day" Here at the BAB!

Doug: Let's just rap today. First thing that pops into your head, lay it on us. No themes, no overarching questions -- just let it fly.

  • The bass guitar on the Monkees' Pleasant Valley Sunday is outstanding. It's attributed to Chip Douglas of the Turtles; the Monkees did all actually play on this hit. I'd suggest that if you're going to listen to this cut, however, that you slightly increase the bass output, as on a laptop or similarly-inferior speaker set-up you may not get the full enjoyment.
  • The Justice Society revival in the mid-'70's All-Star Comics was a lot of fun as a kid, but not quite as much on the adult re-read. DC employed artists who were often inferior (in my opinion) to Marvel's stable of pencilers. Nonetheless, we need to check out some of those stories here.
  • I am jazzed for this season's Chicago Bulls -- but they sure did lay an egg against Golden State on Monday.
  • My wife is a happy gal with the oldest home from college for three weeks. Life is "back to normal". Wonder how she'll do next year when we're empty nesters??
  • Not only could I never get into the Hulk when I was a kid, I also could never read Dr. Strange. Yet, I loved the early issues of the Defenders. Go figure.
  • Robert Plant's Tall Cool One is a cool homage to his Led Zeppelin years. Fun song!
  • Losing sucks.
  • I like my Cap with "obvious" chain mail - John Cassaday-style. I always thought Don Heck's depiction, while the one I grew up on in Marvel Triple Action, looked more like a baby bird's downy feathers.
  • It is so true that even if you budget for car repairs, they are never welcome or easy to take.
  • The ESPN commercial featuring Pittsburgh Steelers fans waving their Terrible Towels around the world is awesome -- T-Rex's 20th Century Boy is a great track for that ad!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Big Haul?

Doug: Well, what did you get?

Doug: Me? Well, I'm glad you asked! I was the fortunate recipient of the Marvel Team-Up tpb by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. As my bloggin' partner had suggested that we take a look at some of those issues in the new year, it was of great import that I obtain said tome. Do not underestimate the power of Santa Claus. I also received the Mail-Order Mysteries book I'd mentioned last week. Art Spiegelman's Meta-Maus was an exciting "get", as I've used Maus in teaching the Holocaust to our world history students for well over a decade. Not only is the book great-looking and exhaustive in Spiegelman's telling of all-things Maus, but it includes a DVD with a treasure-trove of extras that include the tape recorded interviews Spiegelman made while talking to his father, Vladek. I'm really eager to sit down with this over the next few days. I'm also anxious to see the DVD Batman: Year One which my mother bought for me. Lastly, I got the Hallmark ornaments of Thor and Avengers #4 featuring a relief of Captain America popping right out of the cover. I treated myself today to the Green Lantern ornament at half off. And also falling under the category of "treating oneself", at the behest of our friend david_b I snagged a 16x24 print of the artwork from the 1975 Marvel Comics Convention -- drool over all of that John Buscema goodness below.

Karen: Nice haul, partner! I didn't do badly myself. My husband is way too good to me; he got me three wonderful books: The Hammer Vault, the Star Trek Vault, and the Making of Star Wars. It will take me months to look through them! I also got some sweet Funko monster figures, and a very cool model of the rocketship from the movie When Worlds Collide. My friends got me some great stuff too -boy do they know what I like! I now have a mug with the cover of Giant-Size X-Men #1 on it, a couple of new tiki mugs, an Adventureland t-shirt from Disneyland, and some Disney pins as well. Wow, am I lucky.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Very Conan Christmas: Conan the Barbarian #4

Conan the Barbarian
#4 (April 1971)
"The Tower of the Elephant!"
Roy Thomas-Barry Smith/Sal Buscema

Doug: Happy Holidays, everyone! And what cries out "Good will toward men" like a barbarian slugfest?

Doug: I can't hardly contain my excitement over the art in this issue. Last Wednesday Karen and I (and a few of our faithful commenters) remarked that through the first several issues of Conan one could watch the maturation of Barry Smith's art. This being only Smith's fourth outing, it's nonetheless a tour de force. From the first page, his backgrounds are busy, the facial- and figure work are dynamic, and almost all hint of the Kirby-cloning is gone. We also touched on the computerized recoloring last Wednesday... it's my opinion that it really adds to this moody tale.

Karen: Although Sal Buscema is credited as the inker on this issue I thought it really looked quite different from issue 3, which he also inked. I don't know if he was experimenting with brush work or what, but the lines here seem heavier and thicker, particularly in the first few pages. Whatever the case, the art was very strong in this issue. I agree about the coloring -I think they've done a very good job here, one that doesn't distract the reader.

Doug: We begin in the filthy thief-city of Arenjun in Zamora; think of the cantina in Star Wars and you'll get the idea. A fat rogue of a thief-kingpin speaks loudly about his prowess as a slave-trader and stealer of women; in the course of the conversation he mentions the Elephant Tower of Yara and the jewels hidden within. A strong hand lights on his bulbous shoulder -- it belongs to the young Cimmerian Conan. He notes that he has had his eye on the tower since coming to Arenjun, and that it seems unguarded. The rogue laughs at the youngster's ignorance, and it's obvious that others in the tavern know of the Tower -- splinter conversations abound. Conan wonders if someone could bypass the ground guards, if he had the courage. That does it -- the probing questions aside, this final insult sets the Kothian rogue to near-frothing at the mouth. The rogue strikes Conan across the chest, which draws the ire of the Cimmerian, as well as of his broadsword. A brawl ensues, as the candles lighting the den of thieves are knocked over. When they are again lighted, the thief lies dead on the floor and Conan has left the premises.

Karen: This is a great sequence, one that really pulls you in to Conan's world. You can practically smell the perfume, smoke, and sweat in this thieves' den. Smith's art is also becoming much more detailed -note the pattern on Conan's sword.

Doug: Conan has approached the silver tower, which rises from a large high-walled garden. As Conan stealthily approaches the perimeter, he sees a purple-robed figure approach the guarded gate. Initially denied entrance, the robed figure rebukes the guard and is granted entrance. Conan notes that as the figure moves, his feet hover slightly above the earth! Racing around the wall, Conan scales it and drops to the other side. Getting his bearings, he begins to move when he suddenly trips over the body of a guard. Had the robed figure strangled the man to death? Conan looks around, and feels another presence moving slowly through the garden. Spying his company, and after sizing each other up for a moment, these two trespassers introduce themselves. The newcomer tells Conan that he is Taurus of Nemedia, known as the King of Thieves, and also the true killer of the guard. Coincidentally, Conan and Taurus have arrived in the same space and time with the same goal. I thought it was interesting here that neither Conan nor Taurus seemed suspicious of the other, and they quickly formed an alliance to steal the fabled Heart of the Elephant.

Karen: Thomas does a good job getting across Conan's youth and inexperience. He is both awed and frightened by the priest Yara. I can't imagine the Conan of later years reacting that way. The alliance with Taurus does seem a bit convenient though.

Doug: The now-allies move toward and onto the inner wall. Bent on their common goal, Conan continues his inquiries into the history of their prize. Asking Taurus just why this location is called the Tower of the Elephant, Taurus asks Conan if he knows what an elephant is. Conan tells that while he's not seen one, he does know that they are "monstrous beasts, with a tail at both ends." It's here that we see how Robert E. Howard often plugged in existing world history and mythology and the terminology of both. Conan mentions that a wandering Shemite had told him this. The term of course references one of the sons of Noah, Shem, who (if we are to believe classical anthropology) served to repopulate the earth in the area we'd call the Middle East. Anyway... As our protagonists land on the other side of the wall, they immediately see that this new area is guarded by a group of three silent lions, who rush towards the two thieves. Taurus takes out a blowpipe and pushes a green dust into the air around the beasts. Conan is incredulous as the animals breathe their last, and asks what manner of substance they were felled with. Taurus answers that it is the powder of the mysterious black lotus.

Karen: I enjoyed Conan's remark about his god, Crom: "Great Crom lives on a mountain...and little he cares for what men do with their tiny lives." We'd hear a version of this years later coming from the mouth of Arnold Schwarzenegger! That powder Taurus had was pretty amazing stuff -lucky he didn't inhale any!

Doug: Reaching the wall of the tower, Taurus pulls out a grappling hook and rope and gets it to hold fast on his first toss. Conan suddenly whirls to see a fourth lion pouncing. Conan lashes out with his sword, killing the beast. The two men begin to scale the tower. They marvel at the surface, encrusted with uncountable jewels and gemstones. Reaching the top, Taurus tells Conan to walk the perimeter of the tower's landing to look for guards below. With Conan distracted, Taurus sneaks inside the door and shuts it behind him. Conan senses this potential treachery and returns to the door. Conan hears a sound from within like a man being strangled, and Taurus' limp body falls back through the door into the barbarian's arms. Bearing only small needle-like marks on his neck, Taurus is cast aside as Conan cautiously enters the room. Amid caskets of jewels, Conan moves forward until he is smitten on the shoulder by an acidic liquid. Suddenly a giant black spider swings down and attacks. Conan evades the spider's first attack, but before he can reach the door the creature encompasses the barbarian in a sticky, constricting web. Conan is able to grab one of the heavy jewel boxes and hurls it at the giant arachnid, crushing its head.

Karen: I was very taken with the way Smith drew the tower -glimmering, almost in motion it seemed. The coloring no doubt enhances this; I'd like to see the original comic book coloring for a comparison. The fight with the spider was brief but exciting. Earlier Conan had remembered a story he heard, that Yara, the priest of the tower, had once turned a prince into a tiny spider. Perhaps this was another victim of the sorcerer, although much larger?

Doug: Conan enters a door he'd not seen previously during his conflict with the spider. Entering and descending some steps, he sees a large green elephantine idol seated on a throne. As the Cimmerian approaches, he is stopped in his tracks by fear when the creature begins to move. It looks around sightlessly, assuming that Yara has come to torture it -- from his words, this has apparently been a regular occurrence by both fire and the racks. Conan hesitantly speaks to it, and the creature names himself as Yag-Kosha. Conan tells the green elephant that he will not harm him; in turn, Yag-Kosha asks Conan to come closer so that he may touch the barbarian. Conan does so a bit too willingly for my tastes (no way... I'm thinking no way -- it's gotta be a trick!), and Yag-Kosha begins to speak of the origins of his people and how he came to be in this place. He reveals that he is an ancient space traveler who came to Earth long enough ago that he witnessed apes become men. Eventually his people died out, and Yag-Kosha was the last of his kind. He later taught a pupil named Yara, a sorcerer already gifted in the black arts. Once Yag-Kosha had given of enough knowledge to make Yara truly his master, the elephantine man was imprisoned by the scheming Yara. The very tower which he had built for Yara in but a day now served as his confines.

Karen: The elephant man's tale is a bitterly sad one. Even the barbarian is moved by it. Smith does a fabulous job here. Yag-Kosha is brilliantly drawn, not ridiculous but imbued with a tragic nobility. Again, the level of detail is stunning. Look at the pattern on the drapes, on the small amulets Yag-Kosha wears on his tusks, vines growing up sides of buildings - Smith was really thinking and putting it all into this art.

Doug: Yag-Kosha asks Conan to kill him. Yag-Kosha tells the barbarian to plunge his sword into the alien's heart and then take the Heart of the Elephant jewel and set it before Yara. He must then recite an incantation which will finally do in the corrupt sorcerer. Conan does all this. Yara is sleeping in a nearby chamber. Conan enters the room and shouts Yara's name, causing the sorcerer to awaken and curse Conan. Conan places the gem, now blood-red, on a table and Yara is magically drawn into the gem. Yara begins to shrink, stepping out of his clothes and eventually becoming the size of a mouse. Yara somehow scales the smooth surface of the gem and disappears into it. Conan's eyes widen when he sees an image of a majestic Yag-Kosha awaiting. Conan, having been warned by Yag-Kosha to flee, leaves the tower, getting far enough away to see The Tower of the Elephant collapse. The Heart of the Elephant was not to be his -- but what an adventure!

Karen: The coloring of the sphere is wonderful and once again, I have to agree that this modern coloring technique can bring a lot of life to the art. I think this is one of the more fantastical Conan comics I've ever read. It just has more fantasy elements than a lot of the stories. There's very little swordplay but it still manages to be an exciting tale.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Bronze Age Babies!

All the Best of the Season to you and yours -- thanks for another great year!

-- Karen and Doug

Friday, December 23, 2011

Kang, and Dr. Doom!

Doug: Today's discussion is actually a debate of the following statement. Feel free to take a side, pro or con, and defend it.

Kang the Conqueror would have made a better villain for the Fantastic Four, as Dr. Doom would have made a better villain for the Avengers.

P.S. And Happy Holidays to all! We'll be back on Monday with the second installment in our look at the early days of the Thomas/Smith Conan the Barbarian collaboration. Be well!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Very Conan Christmas: Conan the Barbarian #3

Conan the Barbarian
#3 (Feb. 1971)
"The Twilight of the Grim Grey God"
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Barry Smith
Inker: Sal Buscema

Karen: Here at BAB we realized that we've neglected a pretty important title in Bronze Age history: Conan the Barbarian. We decided we needed to rectify that oversight. Doug and I both now have The Chronicles of Conan Volume One from Dark Horse, which collects the original Marvel issues 1 through 8, and we are embarking on a three issue review, with more to follow eventually. With the exception of issue 7, which I believe I had read in a Marvel Treasury edition, I had never read these stories before. The first issue of Conan I actually recall having was #15, which guest-starred Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone. I didn't start buying Conan regularly until the early 40s or so, so the artist I used to associate most closely with the character was John Buscema. But I always liked what I saw of Barry Smith's barbarian. As we read through these early issues, there is a very noticeable progression in Smith's quality as an artist. The overall art varies greatly though, depending on the inker.

Doug: I loved Conan back in the 1970's, from some of the novels to the monthly to King Conan. I enjoyed the Schwarzenegger films (although like most adaptations you have to emphasize the "based on" aspect). I've recently been acquiring the Savage Sword essentials. Like our sparse coverage of the Legion, we simply have to toss a little love toward these titles we've neglected.

Karen: Our reviews begin with issue 3, "The Twilight of the Grim Grey God." Our story opens with young Conan trying to smash the chains that bind his wrists. Suddenly he sees a tall old Viking-like man on a hill above him. The white-bearded man is dressed like a warrior, and addresses Conan by his name, although they've never met. He tells the young Cimmerian that blood is on the wind, and that the Hyperboreans are about to clash with the men of Brythunia. Conan thinks him mad until he pulls out a glowing sword and waves it over head. Suddenly, Conan can see valkyries mounted on winged horses in the night sky! He is stunned. The old man declares that "to each being there is an appointed time...and even the gods must die!" This means little to Conan, but the old man tells him that he will soon see the passing of kings "and more than kings!" He tells Conan to go and the youth does. But he casts a look back and sees that the stranger momentarily appears gigantic, before he disappears entirely.

Doug: Young Conan's brashness is a hoot here.
Aren't these stories supposed to take place as he approaches his 20th (or so) birthday? He has all the bravado of a warrior (shoot, an outcast warrior) of that age. And the shackles will certainly play a role throughout this tale. The valkyries are quite beautiful -- Barry Smith's art is already beginning to evolve before our eyes.
Karen: As day comes, Conan meets a Brythunian horseman, Dunlang, who gives him a lift once Conan explains that they have a common foe: the Hyperboreans. It seems they are the ones responsible for chaining Conan, so he has a score to settle. As they ride, they encounter a young woman, Eevin, who is Dunlang's beloved. She begs him not to go to battle, as she has had a vision of his death, but he says he must.

Doug: Hellbent warriors, women who dabble in sorcery, and warring factions of barbarians -- sounds like a Conan story to me! But I don't care... I love this stuff.

Karen: At a point mid-way between the two hostile camps, Malachi, leader of th
e Brythunian cavalry, engages in a tryst with Kormlada, the Hyperborean king's woman. The king has promised Malachi a great reward if he betrays his people and holds his men back in the battle. But Malachi wants more than gold -he wants Kormlada too! She has no love of her king, and schemes to stab him when everyone else is occupied with the fight.

Doug: Malachi is a dead-wringer for the Geico caveman, isn't he? The love triangle -- you know, where there is no love a'tall, was pretty good. Formulaic, but fun. Everyone in this tale has a personal agenda, and we know that convergence of destinies will be the payoff of the story. Say, I must confess that I could have used one of those handy "Meanwhile..." yellow boxes between scenes. I did a double-take more than once while reading this story.
Karen: Dulang brings Conan before King Brian in the Brythunian camp. He offers his services, but doesn't want his chains removed! He says that he has sworn not to remove them until he has killed the Hyperborean who put them there. I guess that's barbarian logic. He runs into Malachi who gives him a hard time about not using a weapon. Conan tells him to split the chain that connects his wrists, intending to use that as his weapon.OK, more barbarian bravado. When the morning comes, and the men prepare for battle, Conan is disgusted to discover that King Brian will not go into battle himself, but will stay in his tent until it's all over. Eevin shows up again to say goodbye to Dunlang, and then off to the field of battle they march.

Doug: Conan's primary function as a free agent and/or mercenary is ably characterized in this tale. This will follow him all of his days, until he becomes king of Aquilonia.
To some extent, there is a biblical feel to the events going on here, in that there are tribal factions, mysticism, betrayals, etc. There's a scope to it all. Conan makes a bit of a Vietnam-like commentary on King Brian when he mutters to himself, "And so the old send forth the young to die... while they make merry in their tents."

Karen: King Tomar of the Hyperboreans does lead his men into the clash. As forty thousand warriors clash, Conan somehow locates the man who chained him, and uses his chain to kill him -Cimmerian justice! Dunlang finds Conan and tells
him to go up the hill and tell Malachi to send his horsemen in. But the cavalry leader tells the youth that he will ride in when it is the right time. Bewildered, Conan relays this to Dunalng, who realizes they have been betrayed. He strips off his armor and wades recklessly into battle. Dunlang is slain and Conan goes berserk, killing dozens of Hyperboreans. King Tomar worries that the tide of battle has turned, and decides he must go slay King Brian himself to insure his victory.

Doug: Exaggerated? Waiting for the cavalry to arrive to turn the tide of battle, instead one enraged Cimmerian wielding a chain tips it in such a fashion that there is fear that the Hyperboreans will lose.
I'm just not sure about that, but it is great cinema.

Karen: Meanwhile Conan decides to go after Malachi, who fin
ds himself deserted by his men. Eevin finds Dunlang and cries over him while Kormlada passes by, looking down on Eevin as weak. She still hopes to salvage the situation to her own purposes. But Conan hunts Malachi down and easily kills him, shattering the venomous Kormlada's dreams.

Doug: One whack across the chops with that heavy chain. Awesome...

Karen: King Tomar enters King Brian's tent and the two face each other. However, as the two men carry their fight out into the open air of twilight, the grim grey god looks down on them, and they simultaneously strike one another dead. Conan sees the god and his valkyries as they fly towards the battlefield. He realizes that the god is Borri, god of the Hyperboreans, and that this is the last time he and his maidens will appear, as their worshippers are gone. As Conan steps over the bodies of the two fallen kings, he sees the grey god turn and disappear, and he remembers what he told him -that he would see the passing of kings, and more than kings.

Doug: Add prophecy to my list of biblical elements found in this story. As I said above, this has an epic feel to it, and the ending is no exception. In a way, the ending looks forward to the Thor Annual #5 we reviewed last summer.

Karen: This was an enjoyable one-o
ff story. It's all rather predictable but it has a nice mythical feel to it. Smith's art here is still a bit rough but an improvement over the first two issues. Buscema does a very solid job of inking, retaining Smith's style and complementing it. One thing I noticed about the art: Smith used a lot of small panels! Kind of made selecting the art for this post difficult.
Doug: This series, like the Tales of Asgard trade paperback from which we drew a few reviews earlier, has been recolored using a modern computer-generated palette. It's very rich, and in my opinion gives a storybook quality to the art. I know many of you are purists, and I am not opposed to reprints in standard four-color. But I think that given the mythological subject matter and landscapes that encompass Thor and Conan the Barbarian, it is wholly appropriate.

Monday, December 19, 2011

BAB Wish Lists

Karen: Here we are once again, the holiday season, and there's so many goodies out there! I'm sure you all have your eyes on a few special things you'd love to receive as a gift. Doug and I are continuing our tradition (hey, this will be our third year in a row) of pointing out some cool and geeky stuff that we'd like to find under our respective Christmas trees.

Karen: I'm cheating on this first one, because I already bought it for myself as an early gift! I couldn't resist, it was going half-price. John Landis (yes, THAT John Landis) has put together a very nice, big book chock full of monsters. Monsters in the Movies is primarily a book to ogle for all the excellent photographs from hundreds (thousands?) of monsters that have appeared on film in the last century. Landis divides things up based on the type of monster -vampires, werewolves, giant monsters, ghosts, etc. Sometimes his commentary accompanying the photos is straightforward. Other times he makes some witty observations or critical remarks -he's not shy about telling you if he thinks a film stank! There are also eight interviews sprinkled throughout, featuring people like Christopher Lee and Ray Harryhausen. I don't know that I'd want to dish out the $40 cover price, but it is a lot of fun and if you can get it cheaper I'd say go for it -it's very entertaining.

Doug: Many of you were a part of my fantasy wish list a few weeks ago when I ran the Bronze Age books post. I did ask for several of those books, but the thing I asked for that I really hope I get is the Batman: Year One DVD. I enjoyed Frank Miller's four-part story that ran in Batman #'s 401-404, and I understand this adaptation is very faithful to the source material. I'd add, however, that as I've "grown up" and reverted to the love for the era from which I came, much of the adoration I had for some of the mid-'80's reboots has certainly faded. That stuff doesn't stick for me as much anymore.

Karen: There are a number of Marvel Masterworks that I would love to get, but if I could only pick two I would go for the Iron Fist volume 1 and Defenders volume 2 editions. The Iron Fist volume features the early appearances of the character in Marvel Premiere. At one time, I had most of these, but during my move from California to Arizona, the long box that held them "disappeared." So getting this book would help to replace them. My collection of Defenders is spotty from about 3-20, but I have volume 1 of this Masterworks series, so getting volume two would pretty much fill it in. These issues feature Steve Englehart and Sal Buscema, a team I loved from Captain America. I'm looking forward to getting this and reading some Bronze age goodness I've never seen before.

Doug: I saw a nifty book on Amazon last week while searching for some other stuff -- I immediately added this to "the list". I hope I wasn't too late! Many of our blog-mates frequently run posts featuring old advertisements. Mail-Order Mysteries: Real Stuff From Old Comic Book Ads! looks like a real hoot. Near as I can tell, the author got his hands on the X-ray specs and whatnot, and writes a review of what the buyer actually received. Not only that, but how the stuff "worked"! As an owner of Sea Monkeys, I'm really looking forward to this expose'!

Karen: This year my unobtainable, Holy Grail sort of item would be Sideshow's 12" Mu
mmy figure. I believe this figure was originally produced back in 2003. Of course, it's from Sideshow, and that means quality. It's an excellent face sculpt, a very good likeness of Karloff. Some nice accessories too. I have all the 'original' Universal Monsters (2 Frankenstein Monsters, Dracula, Wolfman) and the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 12" format, so having the Mummy is high on my list. Unfortunately, he's very hard to find and very pricey -typically around $250 on the secondary market! That's a little too much for me to justify spending, but I sure would love to get a hold of him some day.

Doug: You may have noticed on our sidebar that we'll be looking at a few of the totally-awesome Claremont/Byrne Marvel Team-Ups. This does, however, hinge on my reception of the recently-released tpb of those stories! Yep, Spider-Man: Marvel Team-Up by Claremont and Byrne came out just a couple of weeks ago. Here's to keeping my fingers crossed. I also requested Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers, as well as some of the slew of superhero tree ornaments offered by Hallmark this season.

Doug: We'll let you know how we made out, in about a week!

Doug: We received a note yesterday from our friend Scott Edelman about a post he was running on his own blog. We'd invite you to check it out, and join in the lengthy conversation going on from Scott's audience. It's a worthwhile, very thought-provoking read!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Super-Hero Pseudonyms

Doug: Happy weekend, everyone! Only a few more days until the Jolly Old Elf himself descends upon our households!

Today's question came to me last Tuesday whilst exercising. Apparently all that motion helps to slosh my gray matter about and kick out the ideas over which you are supposed to converse. Anyway, it occurred to me that there are some nifty slogans -- not necessarily nicknames -- by which our favorite spandex-wearing friends are otherwise known. Just to name a few:

  • Earth's Mightiest Heroes
  • The Fastest Man Alive
  • The Man Without Fear
  • The Last Son of Krypton

Those are pretty cool, and of course there is no doubt in my mind that all of our readers know immediately to whom those pseudonyms belong. Certainly I didn't list all that I thought of -- what would be the point of you commenting if I hogged all of the fun? So today's question is to of course ask you to toss out some other phrases like that and to engage in a general conversation as to which are your favorites. If there's even one or two that you don't like or don't think works as it was intended, be sure to share that, too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Stepbrothers -- Fantastic Four #26

Fantastic Four #26 (May 1964)
"The Avengers Take Over!"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/George Bell

Doug: Welcome to the conclusion of our foray into the Silver Age Thing/Hulk tussles. Today's review actually brings to six the number of such brawls we've reviewed. The LinkWithin feature below this post should take you to at least five of them. Well, no sense delaying further, so it's on to the feature!

Doug: When we left off two weeks ago, Brother Benjie had been summarily trounced by the much larger and much stronger Hulk. The Green Goliath was in Manhattan, looking for the Avengers. Since he'd found out that Captain America had "replaced" him on the team, he was hellbent on exacting some revenge. Funny, though -- I don't recall that the Hulk left in a state of mind such that he'd care that he'd been replaced. By the way, the release of Fantastic Four #26 coincides with Avengers #5, Cap's second issue with the team.

Karen: It's just like the guy who dumps a girl, but then gets all upset when she starts dating somebody else.

Doug: As we get back into today's action, Ben has caught up to the Hulk and immediately engages him. As we saw last time, Ben is able to stay ahead of the Hulk by using his superior intellect as well as the agility and speed his smaller frame allows him. Even as the Hulk pounds Ben literally into the ground, the Thing responds with a forceful shower of crushed rock which temporarily blinds his adversary. Stan then gives new readers (and forgetful ones alike) a quick rehashing of just why the rest of the Four are not present for this skirmish. Reed is still suffering from the virus he contracted last issue (while trying to find a way to change the Thing back to his Ben Grimm form), Sue is at the Baxter Building to assist the doctors, and Johnny is in the hospital with wounds from an ill-advised solo attack on the Hulk last issue. I had to laugh at the use of all of the asbestos around Johnny. You wouldn't get away with that today!

Karen: I'm sure the other patients in the ward could file a lawsuit. Even though Ben is an honorable guy, he's not above occasionally fighting dirty, as in this bit with the dirt in Hulk's eyes. I love the fact that Lee and Kirby show us TV camera crews up on the roof tops, filming everything. It was just another touch of realism that they brought to comics.

Doug: How about the amount of and size of the equipment that the reporters are using? It's a bit more cumbersome than an iPhone or a Flip camera, ya think?

Doug: Johnny feels well enough to get out of bed, and once shedding his pajamas (whoa, whoa, whoa -- do you suppose his backside had been hanging out of that gown?), he flames away and finds our combatants. Ben doesn't want his help, but the two teammates eventually try to fight together. The Hulk is having none of it, though, and turns a fire hydrant against Johnny. Both our heroes are able to evade the water. The U.S. Army has gathered, and launch a warhead against Jade Jaws. Catching it, the Hulk hurls it into the sky where it detonates; he then gets away.

Karen: I guess we'll have to chalk the Torch's disappearing/reappearing FF uniform to the unstable molecules. When he flames on he suddenly seems to be wearing it. But where in the heck do you get asbestos pajamas? It's typical Ben that he doesn't want Johnny's help, and honestly, Johnny hasn't seemed too effective against the Hulk in any case. But Ben's also shooing him off over his concern for the kid, which was nice to see, as the two spent so much time bickering you could forget that they really liked each other. I was a little surprised that Ben tried to talk the Hulk down -"Why don't you just calm down and let's talk this over?" - but it was kind of refreshing.

Doug: We see the Hulk next in the subway tunnels when the unthinkable happens -- the Hulk commandeers a train, and conducts it himself! Now I don't doubt that Bruce Banner could drive, but this just seemed really weird to me. Chalk that up to our worldview of the Hulk as being the 1970's "dumb Hulk". Anyway, he jumps off the train right under the site of the Avengers Mansion, and enters. It doesn't take him long before he encounters the line-up of that period: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, Giant-Man and the Wasp, and Rick Jones! The Hulk lunges for Rick, and it's (of course) GAME ON! The rest of the issue is basically one huge battle, and it's for the most part a fun ride. Cut back to the Baxter Building, where Reed's fever has broken. With Reed healed and Johnny still on the mend but at nearly his full strength, the reunited FF head off in search of the Hulk.

Karen: That train sequence seemed really odd to me as well. Did you notice that when the Hulk busts in on the Avengers, it's in a room totally devoid of any details -no furniture or nothing, just a box! There is a lot of that in this issue -no background art. I'm thinking that drawing so many characters probably pushed Kirby, time-wise, and something had to give, so it was the backgrounds. In those tight quarters, the Hulk has the advantage, and he takes off with Rick in tow.

Doug: Let's interlude here for a bit and discuss the Hulk's role through these first three stories we've covered, where he's encountered the major heroes (sans Spider-Man and Dr. Strange at this point) of the Marvel Universe. Are you seeing him as a tragic or sentimental character? I am not. I'm seeing "dangerous", "unpredictable", and perhaps even "menace". I know General "Thunderbolt" Ross has a reputation as a blowhard with a short fuse, but I'm thinking that if I were in his national security role I'd be eager to destroy the Hulk as well. If all I had to go on was his public persona in these early stories, then he should have been blasted off to the moon (or wherever).

Karen: No, I think your perception is spot-on. The Hulk is really dangerous and wild at this point -maybe worse than later on because he actually still has most of his wits about him. He's not the 'misunderstood' character we grew up with in the 70s. I'm assuming that they had to soften his personality and make him more sympathetic when he starred in his own feature. I have some of those old Tales to Astonish (and of course the reprints in Marvel Super-Heroes too) and I would say it was a slow transition from the more brutal version to the 'gentle giant' we got later on. I sort of like him with an edge, but here, he's just a raving nut.

Doug: The Wasp is able to trail the Hulk, and attacks him by getting into his ear. The buzzing almost drives him mad, but he's able to bang the other side of his head like a swimmer would and dislodge the tiny heroine. The rest of the Avengers show up and it's Captain America who engages the Hulk first. What a hero -- this is why you always root for Cap. He's fearless, he leads tactically, and he leads by example. But of course this is a Marvel mag, and nothing ever goes as simply as it might. The FF arrive at the same time things are heating up and of course begin tripping all over their counterparts. The Hulk had to be laughing at the ineptitude of all of these heroes. As Iron Man and Reed argue, the Hulk grabs Rick again and leaps away to an under-construction skyscraper.

Karen: There's some great gags here, with Iron Man getting caught in Mr. Fantastic's lasso arm, Giant Man jumping in the path of Invisible Girl's force field, and let's not forget the Thing getting thumped by Thor's hammer. It made perfect sense -with that many super-powered folks around, somebody's going to be in the way. Then, when Hulk gets away, the Avengers and FF start arguing with each other over which team is going to go after him -now that's a Marvel comic! Eventually, Thor and The Thing make peace and the rest follow suit.

Doug: It's Captain America who again makes the best impression when attacking the Hulk, but probably the best visual is the battle between ol' Purple Pants and Hank Pym. And in the end, the strongest being on the planet is done in by ants. And by Rick Jones and an anti-gamma pill. Hey, how about that -- Rick saved the universe long before the Kree/Skrull War! As the Hulk staggers toward the river to stop the itching of the ants, he also begins to change back to Banner. And as he disappears below the surface of the water, the two teams of heroes basically just retreat to whatever it is they needed to do. No search, no debriefing, just fini.

Karen: Cap uses judo against the Hulk -you would just never see that today!

Doug: Sheesh -- even with judo, do you really think he could flip 1000 lbs?

Karen: Of course, the Hulk of the modern comics is far more powerful than the Hulk we have here. But it gave me a chuckle when I saw that. Giant-Man's rapid size changing seemed to throw Hulk for a loop, but I'd worry that he'd just get angrier. But aren't we all lucky that Rick carried around a gamma ray pill? Hey, if that thing was radioactive, and he kept it in his pants pocket all this time...well, maybe there's a reason Rick never had kids!

Doug: This issue had to be a pain-in-the-butt to draw with so many characters, but Kirby lets it all hang out. There is energy, dynamism, and power on every page -- Jack really delivered the goods. This two-parter would have made a great Annual, and certainly today would have been a crossover between the two teams' books. If I have any complaints at all, it's that too much time was spent on Iron Man's powers, and Thor was a total non-factor. Of course, given his real power, Stan and Jack had to keep the God of Thunder on the sidelines. Overall, I'd give this story a B+ -- Kirby would hit his stride just less than two years later once he and Joe Sinnott began to click.

P.S. -- Doug: Don't you think Kirby was "aping" himself on the FF cover above, as he'd drawn an oh-so-similar pose just a month earlier?

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