Thursday, May 31, 2012

Going For a Run

Doug:  With summer approaching, many of us create a book list of volumes of pages we'd like to but will never quite get through.  But hey, it's nice to have that ambition here as May becomes June.  Our wide-open question today concerns comics history.  Let's say you had access to complete runs of any and every series that's piqued your interest in the Silver and Bronze Ages -- could be the mags themselves, Essentials, Masterworks or Archives, the DVD-ROMs for Marvel Comics that ceased production way too soon -- you just have these comics at your fingertips.  What is the one series you'd like to curl up with over the next three months (I've included a few suggestions below into which I know I'd be inclined to go spelunking)?  Is it your all-time favorite?  Is it a series you've loved, but never had a way to fill in the gaps in your collection?  Or, is there something for which you've had this itching curiosity?  Is your choice fueled by the opportunity to examine a particular character or creative team -- or maybe you're after a team-up or anthology book?

The sky's the limit -- you can get your grubby mitts on any series you want.  So which is it?  Oh, and as an added discussion point:  where would you stop your run of reading?  For example, many of us have remarked that The Avengers took quite a plunge for about 50 issues after #200.  Seems like a good jumping-off point to me.  Do you have parameters?  Maybe you aren't necessarily going to start with issue #1, but still plan to cover over a hundred issues...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Discuss: Wonder Woman

Karen: We had some remarks about this 70s show starring Lynda Carter the other day. Now's your chance to really expand upon your comments and ideas - but let's keep it clean!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Marvel Firsts: She Ain't Fat, and She Ain't Singing!

Defenders #4 (February 1973)
"The New Defender!"
Steve Englehart-Sal Buscema/Frank McLaughlin

Karen: As my partner has commented before, I'm not sure we can call this the first appearance of the Valkyrie. After all, we'd first seen the character in Avengers #83, and again in Hulk #142. But this book would establish a new persona for the character, who would wind up being a Defender longer than almost anyone.

Doug: Who do you think of when you think of the Defenders? For me, I guess my mind's eye goes toward Nighthawk and our girl here, Valkyrie. Those two, for me, are the mainstays of the team in its first several years.

Karen: I would say those two and the Hulk are the names that pop into my head when I think of 'Defenders'. With Val and Nighthawk, the title was the only place they appeared, so there seemed to be more of an investment with them, just as Vision seemed to be "the Avenger" back in the 70s. Our tale starts at the end of another. Suffice it to say, The Defenders -at this time, the Hulk, Dr. Strange, and the Sub-Mariner - have defeated Strange's foe, the Nameless One, in another dimension. They've returned to Earth, Britain specifically. A human girl who was with them, Barbara Norris, has been driven insane, really nearly mindless, by the ordeal. The Hulk, who is smitten with the girl, blames Strange. I like the way Sal Buscema draws the Hulk -much more bestial than many other artists of the day. Hulk leaps off with Barbara in his arms, and a tormented Strange questions his decisions, which led to the girl's condition. Namor -who is sporting a golden earring, by the way - dismisses Strange's self-doubt, and says they must pursue the Hulk, as he could accidentally harm the girl. They follow the behemoth into a near-by castle.

Doug: I really like Sal's art here, and although I can't really comment on the inks of Frank McLaughlin from the standpoint of notoriety of characteristics, he's obviously complimentary to Our Pal Sal. You make a good point about Buscema's Hulk -- he has a fierceness about him, whereas Trimpe's tended to be a bit more matter-of-fact facially. I also enjoy the way Sal makes Hulk appear puzzled (dense, really, like he's trying to figure something out and can't cut through the fog) in some of the crowd scenes later in this story. As to the castle -- is it any wonder children so often dwell on stereotypes? Hey -- this is a castle!

Karen: The castle is well-maintained and chock-a-block full of the typical trappings such as suits of armor and shields on the wall. Strange and Namor ponder where the Hulk, usually easy to find, could have gone. They journey down a flight of stone steps to a cellar. There, a brazier full of burning coals flares up and leaves the room shrouded in an odd mist, out of which emerges the Executioner and a gaggle of armored foes.

Doug: Would you have been at all surprised if Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi lived in those digs? And how about a shout-out to the Asgardian armed forces? The word "uniform" never crossed anyone's mind. These guys always wear something different from the guy to the left and to the right!
Karen: Strange blasts their foes and Namor dives right in, fists flailing. But a magician, looking very much like a stereotypical Merlin figure, even with pointy hat and robe covered with stars, appears and casts a spell on Strange that somehow prevents him from using magic. As a normal man, he is easily captured. The Sub-Mariner battles on, but deprived of moisture he begins to weaken. The Executioner pulls a new trick and blasts Namor with energy from his hands. The defeated Defenders are tossed in a prison cell.

Doug: Wasn't this issue a great example for a couple of posts we've run recently? The whole "Merlin" thing could have tested anyone's suspension of disbelief -- not the fact that he was a wizard, but how he was dressed, and Namor's ever-present need to be exposed to water. I don't know... do frogs dry out as quickly as the Avenging Son? Sal always draws a good fight, with bodies flying everywhere. I always get a charge out of the Executioner. You know he'll get it handed to him in the end, but he's just such a big, dumb goober that he has to be a hoot to write.
Karen: In their cell they are reunited with Hulk- well, with Bruce Banner anyway. Barbara is there too, but she just sits in a corner and stares. A voice suddenly comes from a cell across the hall and they discover that the Executioner has two other prisoners -the Black Knight and the Enchantress! The Black Knight relays the story about how they came to be prisoners. It appears that after the Executioner abandoned the Enchantress for another magic-wielding babe at the end of Avengers #83, the Enchantress was really ticked off, which is one of the reasons she conspired with Ares to invade Earth (Avengers #100). She managed to escape from Zeus, and found the Knight, and cast her spell of love (lust?) over him. Her plan: get the Executioner back from the woman who stole him. But when they came to this dimension (oh yeah, apparently when the brazier exploded, they were transported to another dimension!), the queen, Casiolena, easily defeated the Enchantress. The Knight was soon overwhelmed too.

Doug: I didn 't think Englehart had Banner's voice at all. He was flip and spoke with pop culture references that co uld not have made his interaction with Namor easy at all. And Englehart crafted an almost-Claremontian tale to get his new heroine introduced, didn't he? Can I get something straight? At the beginning of this story, our heroes didn't enter Garrett Castle in search of the Hulk, did they? It was a different castle... or not?
Karen: That confused me as well. I had to look a the previous issue, which was no help. I guess it could have been Garrett Castle. Who knows! The Enchantress spots Barbara and hatches a scheme. She will re-create the Valkyrie! She says this Valkyrie will be in complete control -her human host will be wiped out. The Defenders object strenuously, but the Enchantress couldn't care less. She says her powers are at their peak in this realm, and sends a magical blast into Barbara, who transforms into the Valkyrie in a fabulous sequence by Sal. But a lot of this story doesn't make sense to me. Enchantress can cast this spell but the Queen's power keeps her from escaping her cell? It's implied that somehow, as the Enchantress and the Queen are evenly matched, Valkyrie will tip the scales, but that doesn't make much sense to me. What did I miss?

Doug: Do we know who originally designed the Valkyrie? Was it John Buscema in her first appearance, or Johnny Romita? I don't think you missed anything along the way. Although the overall story is good, there are many missteps along the way. Truly, the sum is greater than the parts. And Sal's full-body shot of Val is fantastic, isn't it? Beauty and power, all in one. By the way, I've never cared for characters whose powers are magic-based, simply for the question you asked above -- their entire schtick is a deus ex machina waiting to happen.
Karen: I'm not sure who designed the costume -I'm leaning towards Big John -but I've always thought it looked great. It's so different -it seems right. And the color scheme is perfect. The new-born Valkyrie takes her spear and shatters the wooden door to the cell, and then frees the Enchantress and Knight. Then it's on. The Defenders burst out and tackle their enemies, with Strange and the Enchantress taking out the wizard, Valkyrie wiping out the armored men, and Namor, Hulk, and Black Knight going after Executioner, and failing to beat him. But then Valkyrie gives him a solid right to the chopper, sending him right into the path of Hulk and Namor, who both punch the Asgardian. Finally, the Knight gets in a last whack "with the flat of my ebony blade"! Every sword wielding hero of the time had to use the flat of their blade, except for Conan of course!

Doug: Is Val too powerful here early on? Her intro. is certainly a grabber, but shoot -- Superman wouldn't have given more assistance than this gal!

Karen: She did seem awfully powerful here, but later on, she was at best a middleweight. With her pawns beaten, Casiolena herself shows up and prepares to unleash a super-destructive bolt, but Valkyrie grabs her and stops her, and then the Enchantress blasts her. Enchantress then retrieves the Executioner and makes to leave, but the Knight protests. "I love you!" he cries, the poor sot. The wretched woman then kisses him, turning him to stone. She transports herself and the Executioner away before the Defenders can grab her. Valkyrie thinks that since she was imbued with Enchantress's power, she might be able to reverse the spell, and kisses the statue-like Knight, but nothing happens. Dr. Strange says he will bring the Knight's stony body with him, in hopes of one day releasing him from the spell. He makes to transport them back to Earth, and Valkyrie comes too, riding the Knight's winged horse, Aragorn. When they arrive on Earth, she proclaims that she will join the defenders. This tweaks off Namor, who says the Defenders aren't a real team. Dr. Strange uncharacteristically responds, "With all due modesty, we are three of the most powerful people in the world. What could we possibly need you for?" Well!! And we are left with that, wondering why she would even want to hang around with these guys!

Doug: Yeah, as I said above, the Valkyrie is one powerful lady who just saved a lot of bacon -- sort of makes Strange's comment really, really dumb. I did think it was good on Englehart's part to establish that although Val was created from Asgardian magic she possesses none of those advantages herself.
Karen: I love the art on this issue. It totally transported me back to childhood. Now, I was using the Marvel Masterworks Defenders volume 1 to do this review (and I apologize for some burring around some of the edges), and the colors are far brighter than a real comic, but the clean lines and great story-telling by Sal were just a pleasure to look at. The story, like so many we've gone back to read from this era, seems to be a bit weak at points, but the characters (with the exception of Strange's little jab at the end) were right on. It makes me want to read the next issue, that's for sure!

Doug: I read this from volume 1 of the Essential Defenders. I know many of you don't like the B&W rendition of our four-color favorites, but as an enthusiast of original art, I don't mind them. And all of the love we've heaped on Buscema and McLaughlin is certainly well-deserved. And in regard to reading some more Defenders, I'll suggest right here and now that I peeked ahead and saw the 2-parter that introduces Nighthawk (the Defenders, the Squadron Sinister, and Nebulon? Are you kidding me??). Sounds like it could be in our next visit to Marvel Firsts.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Make the Jump

Doug:  Today we're going to let one of our colleagues in Bronze Age blogging do all of the work for us.  Friday I came across an incredibly well-done review of a Bronze Age comic that dealt with a very serious social issue -- child abuse.  Please head over to Jared's "Blog Into Mystery" and see his thoughts on the public service announcement comic Spider-Man and Power Pack.  And rather than come back here for your comment, why don't you just drop a thought on Jared.  Thanks, and enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend (for you in the States, that is!).

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Discuss: '70's Poster Children (and Some Adults) as Bronze Age Teen Icons

Doug:  Shaun Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Cheryl Tiegs, Lynda Carter, the Bay City Rollers, Cheryl Ladd, Farrah Fawcett...  or many more?!?  Who were those larger-than-life teen-oriented celebrities of the 1970's?


Friday, May 25, 2012

Spider-Man's Rogue's Gallery

Karen: Like Batman, Spider-Man has a wonderful assortment of foes. Who is your favorite? Green Goblin? The Lizard? Electro? Dr. Octopus? Be sure to vote in the poll on the left-hand sidebar!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Terra Cotta Shoes

Doug:  We all know that Marvel Comics is renowned for its heroes' "feet of clay" issues.  Today we'd just like to throw the door open for a discussion of our favorite good guys' and super-baddies' faults.  Which characters had the best design, and which schticks have grown very tired?  Are there personality flaws that were really important or hyped in the past (Silver and Bronze Ages) that have faded over time? 

How about some of the physical issues, like befell the Thing (some among you spoke ill last week of the exo-skeleton's brief era, although I kind of liked it and felt the creators could have gotten quite a bit more mileage out of the idea) or Rogue?  The inability to get physically close to another person is a pretty good plot device.  Mental issues?  Some of the telepaths at times had issues staying out of other people's heads.  Let's hear what you have to say, and thanks in advance for sharing.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Discuss: The Six Million Dollar Man

Karen: I think every kid I knew watched the Six Million Dollar Man (at least in its first season). I've seen a few episodes on YouTube in the last year or so and I can't say it holds up especially well. But back in the day, it was the bomb!

The clip below is a commercial for the DVD set, but it had the highest quality images I could find.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dark Knight of Depression

Karen: After seeing Avengers, and coming out of the theater practically walking on air, I had a discussion with my husband and our friends about the film, but also about other super-hero films. I said something that, surprisingly, we all agreed with: The Marvel films leave me feeling exhilarated and upbeat; but the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, particularly The Dark Knight, leave me emotionally exhausted and morose. Because of this, I'm not really looking forward to seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

Karen: Don't get me wrong, I'll go see it, but probably not right away. I want to finish out this trilogy. I've gotten this far, I might as well see how it ends. But I don't feel excited. There's no joyous anticipation in my heart like there was for Avengers. It's more of a task, one that I'm not looking forward to doing.

Karen: I did enjoy Batman Begins fairly well, although I've never cared for Bale's growling Batman. But Dark Knight gave us a view so overwhelmingly bleak and without hope that I left the theater feeling like I'd been punched in the gut. It was just too much. When I saw it again on DVD, I could see what a well-made crime drama it was, but still... it was not Batman to me, and it was far too negative for my tastes.

Karen: But I know I am in the minority when it comes to these movies. I mean, Dark Knight was a huge hit. I've heard people go on and on about what a great film it is. Many tout the realism of Nolan's Bat-iverse as a reason they like it so much. For me, it seemed like someone calling themselves Batman had been dropped into a crime drama. It just wasn't Batman, and regardless of that, the film itself, while well-made, was just depressing.
Karen: I'm sort of hoping that Dark Knight, with its ending that seemed without hope, will prove to be like The Empire Strikes Back in the sense that 'it's always darkest before the dawn'. But still, even Empire had Luke and Leia reunite at the end. And what I've seen of The Dark Knight Rises looks like more of the same.

Karen: I'm curious how the BABsters out there feel about the Nolan films. Do you love the gritty realism? Do you find them too dark?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Marvel Firsts: Enter the Fist

Marvel Premiere # 15 (May 1974)
"The Fury of Iron Fist"
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Gil Kane
Inker: Dick Giordano

Doug: Everybody was kung fu fighting back in 1974, weren't they? Going back to the days when publisher Martin Goodman told Stan Lee to jump on every trend in pop culture, Roy Thomas was certainly part of that legacy. Our subject today follows Shang chi, the Master of Kung Fu by about six months. This character will lean much more toward super-heroics than did the son of Fu Manchu. So let's check out this so-called K'un-L'un Kid!

Doug: We pick it up right in the middle of a brawl. Iron Fist is poised to strike against a cadre of attackers, while several mysterious masked strangers observe. This opening scene covers the better part of four pages, and to be honest I found that it got somewhat boring. Roy seemed to strain to work in the name of every martial arts move that could be identified. Gil Kane's choreography was outstanding, however, and his style really fit the dynamic fluidity of the story. Might as well get the whole art commentary out of the way early -- Dick Giordano was a nice fit for Kane, bringing some of that Neal Adams-like polish to Kane's sometimes-weird contortions.
Karen: You know, two of the things that had often annoyed me when reading Chris Claremont's Iron Fist stories was the narrative tool of "You are Iron Fist..." and the constant naming of martial arts moves. But re-reading this origin tale after so many years, I realize I have Roy Thomas to blame for setting the precedent! But that aside, it's a well drawn sequence.
Doug: As our hero vanquishes his last adversary, he is prompted by the leader of the mysterious figures, the August Personage of Jade, to think back to how he came to be in K'un-L'un. Iron Fist's mind drifts, then, to a time when he was a boy named Danny Rand. His father, Wendell Rand, his mother, and his father's business partner, Harold Meachum, wander the Himalayas. Wendell Rand has brought them on an expedition, looking for his own Shangri-La, the fabled city of K'un-L'un. As the group hiked along, Danny and his mother suddenly lost their footing and plunged off the path to an ice shelf below. Wendell Rand had been roped together with his wife and son, and as the bottom of the rope snapped, Rand clinged precariously to the ridge on which they'd been walking. That's when Meachum revealed his true colors, stamping on Rand's hand with his cleated boot -- and knocking him off and into a death-plunge!

Karen: As usual, Roy Thomas does a good job of filling in the background. We learn that Wendell Rand mysteriously appeared on the scene about a decade prior, becoming a successful businessman in no time.
Obviously there is more than meets the eye to him. It seems ludicrous that he would drag his wife and young son with him at first glance, but then, it seems like he needs to show them this mythical city of K'un-Lun. Of course that's all cut short by his surprisingly violent fall down the mountain. Seriously, I was taken aback by the full page shot of his limp body falling, leaving a huge blood splash on the rocks above.

Doug: Danny Rand watched his father die, and his mother hoped that one day her son would avenge her husband. Meachum proclaimed love for Heather Rand -- of course she spurned him. Believing he'd now take over Rand's company, Meachum exited the scene, leaving the young mother and her son to die in the brutal mountain elements. As that was his first test in life, Iron Fist now faced another more immediate trial -- a giant of a man, bigger and faster and stronger than he. And bent on destroying him! Again, Iron Fist finds himself in mortal combat. As it doesn't go well, he hears naysayers among the mysterious ones, calling him a weakling, and not fit. But Iron Fist is scrappy, and battles on. But his adversary this time is far too strong. Near defeat, his mind wanders again to his youth.

Karen: Did you think it was kind of weird that Danny's Mom was throwing rocks at Meachum? Wouldn't her just telling him she wanted him dead be enough? The battle with Shu-Hu ("He whose fists are like twin thunderbolts") is exciting, since our hero clearly seems out-matched. On a side note, with all the references to Chinese myth and martial arts, I can see in my mind's eye Roy hunched over a bunch of books, trying to fit all this stuff in his script!

Doug: Danny's mother was boldly driven to save her son. She nurtured him, protected him, and encouraged him to have strength as they attempted to march to safety. What she didn't know was that a pack of wolves had picked up their scent and was in a distant pursuit. After some time, the animals sensed that their prey was getting weaker, and so charged. Hearing them, Heather Rand now hustled her son along at breakneck speed. Suddenly, a wooden bridge appeared -- could this be her husband's dreamlike civilization of K'un-L'un? Sprinting onto the structure, Heather Rand pushed her son forward... and then turned to face her death. Because that's surely what would befall her. And it did, as the wolves rended his mother. But a savior appeared, as men came onto the bridge bearing crossbows and killed the wolves. Danny Rand was now an orphan.

Karen: Maybe I just like melodrama, but I thought Danny's mother's sacrifice was very touching. Horrific, but touching.
Doug: Regaining his wits, Iron Fist was aware that he was in the shadow of his nemesis. Suddenly the giant emitted throwing knives from the palm of his hand. Huh? Iron Fist now knew that this adversary was more object than man, and with that newfound hope formulated a strategy for defeat. Fighting with abandon, Iron Fist pummeled the robot. Eventually we, the reader, learned why this new hero was named as he was -- summoning unknown energies, Iron Fist's right hand began to glow. He then unleashed a final blow, ending the battle, and the operation of the giant. Turning to face the masked masters, Iron Fist is told that he has earned the right -- to choose between immortality and death!
Karen: The hero gathers his resolve and defeats his enemy. Pretty standard stuff. It's a decent enough tale except for one thing, which really took me out of the story. A robot? The final challenge, in this mystical city based on Chinese legends, is a robot? I found this too incongruous to swallow. Why couldn't it be a spirit or some other supernatural creature? It's like Doc Strange battling some high-tech villain. It just doesn't feel right.
Doug: This issue was OK. I think I've said before, back when we did the Marvel Team-Up issues with Iron Fist, that I've never been a huge kung fu comics fan. I'm not opposed to them per se -- I just don't have the background that Karen does. So I am truly coming to this story as a first-time reader. I'd be curious enough to see the next issue and how this begins to play out -- Roy left just enough along the way to picque my curiosity. And again -- I thought this was some of the best work Gil Kane's ever done (with a nod once more to Giordano's influence).

Karen: I did enjoy the art. It was rare to see Giordano on a Marvel book; I recall reading an issue of Thor where he inked John Buscema and it didn't look/work so well, but on Kane it's a much better fit. Recently I purchased the Marvel Masterworks Iron Fist volume one, as I'd lost all of my Marvel Premieres a few years ago, and I was disappointed with the series overall. I think it really became worth reading when IF got his own title and Claremont and John Byrne were teamed up on it. Now that was good stuff!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Social Networking in the Bronze Age of Comics

Doug:  As Facebook went public just two days ago, let's do a social networking time capsule.  I'm personally not on Facebook -- I always like to use the smart alleck answer that I really don't care if your cat has bunions.  And I don't.  Really.  Anyway, some time ago frequent commenter Redartz suggested (with minor editing by me) we do a post that goes like this:

said... How about a look at the social aspect of comic fandom? What first drew your attention to comics; were you a lone reader or was there a circle of friends with shared interest? Were you in FOOM, the MMMS, or another club? Were the companies' efforts to grab and expand your interest (think Marvel Value Stamps) successful?

Doug:  Last week we took a look at how you've been in and out of the comics habit/hobby.  Today we're going to personalize it just a bit more and ask you who those "significant others" were when you were a child -- were they cousins or siblings, schoolmates, or neighbors?  Were you an island in your comics-buying or did you know a lot of other kids who shared your interests?  Did you get together with specific friends to read and trade and draw and play Megos?  And how about those company marketing attempts?  We've discussed FOOM and such before, but so what?  We're all middle-aged and no one remembers anyway!  Talk about it again! 


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Marvel Movie Timeline

Karen: Marvel has released a timeline that shows when the major events of the Iron Man,
Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America films take place relative to one another. Surprisingly, Iron Man 2, Incredible Hulk, and Thor all take place in the same week! Also amusing is the fact that everything in the timeline is either BIM (Before Iron Man) or AIM (After Iron Man) -the Golden Avenger certainly occupies center stage in this Marvel Universe. You can click on the graphic below, or go over to IGN's article to check it out.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I'd Like Two Helpings of the Comic, But Hold the Television Show...

Doug:  Everyone who's been around here for some time knows that Karen and I are huge fans of TwoMorrows' Publications Back Issue! magazine, and of course that Karen's been published between those covers on multiple occasions.  While I'd been waiting anxiously for this month's Avengers extravaganza to arrive on my doorstep (which it did, yesterday), I've been looking at, and neglecting, last month's issue about licensed comics.  There are extensive retrospectives on DC's and Marvel's licensing of the Burroughs stable of characters and Indiana Jones in comics, but the major part of the magazine is an article on 25 years of Star Wars at Dark Horse Comics.  Which brings me to today's point -- Do you have characters you love in one medium, but there's just never been any resonation in other mediums?

For example, I really dig Star Wars, but I've not ventured into any of the novels or comics, and while I intended to watch Cartoon Network's Clone Wars I never have.  Similarly, I've read a few Marvel novels -- notably in the Bronze Age -- but don't seek those out.  However, if I could have afforded it back in the day, I'd have eaten up the Planet of the Apes B&W magazine!  But, I've not been interested in the vast amount of POTA comics that have stocked the shelves over the past 20 years.

Where are your limits for your favorite characters, films, or television shows?  Are there things you really like in one format but don't care for in others?  Or conversely, are there pop culture icons that you can't get enough of, regardless of the format?  Thanks!

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