Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The London Games, 2012

Doug:  Lest you thought you'd go a day without your Bronze Age Babies fix, we offer you an open discussion on the Olympics.  Karen and I have discussed some Olympic-themed posts, and that may yet come your way.  Today, as I sit here having watched the U.S. men's volleyball team defeat the Germans and the U.S. women's soccer team defeat the North Koreans I thought I'd just throw out a general call for responses:  what are you watching, what are your favorite events, are there any particular athletes you have your eyes on, etc?

Doug:  Living near Chicago, I can fully appreciate what London, the U.K., and Londoners in general have gone through in preparation for the Games.  As Chicago made its bid for the 2016 games that were eventually awarded to Rio de Janeiro, I saw the costs involved to the city, as well as the scope of the potential venues.  So to know that the soccer is being played in Glasgow doesn't surprise me, as the Chicago Games would have stretched well into Wisconsin, our northern neighbor.

Doug:  A couple of impressions:  Although the American men's gymnastics team flopped yesterday, I continue to be impressed at the strength and athleticism of men's gymnasts in general.  Are there finer conditioned athletes?  If so, they may be in the whitewater kayaking -- now that takes some strength as well.  On the other hand, I'd debate anyone as to whether or not the archers and shooters are "athletes".  A finely-honed skill do they possess?  Without doubt.  But I don't think they are athletes per se.

Doug:  So what sayest thou?

Monday, July 30, 2012

Giant-Size July: Fantastic Four Annual 19

Fantastic Four Annual #19 (1985)
"Summons From the Stars"
John Byrne- Byrne/Joe Sinnott

Karen: Last week we reviewed Avengers Annual 14, which sort of runs parallel to this annual and then meets up at the end with this issue. It's an interesting idea, although I'm not sure it's really successful, and I'll explain why towards the end of the review.

Doug: As a pledge to our readers, I'm playing this straight and not reading ahead to those comments, Karen. But know that I think we're going to share some misgivings. We'll see in a few minutes.

Karen: Our story opens with what looks like a space capsule blazing into the atmosphere from space. Byrne gives us six wordless panels, showing the spacecraft crashing into the ocean, a robot or space-suited being rising up out of the depths, and climbing onto a dock in Manhattan. The being approaches a hobo and frightens him. Next it wanders into the street and a car comes speeding towards it, only to slam into some sort of force field. A woman, who is dressed in what I assume is Byrne's idea of an 80s new wave-look, gets out of the car and runs and grabs a pay phone (remember those?) and calls the police.

Doug: I thought it was interesting how Byrne at first mislead us on the size of the humanoid creature. When he rises from the water there's a low camera angle, which gives us the sense that, "Uh oh -- this thing is as big as Terminus!" But by the time he's climbing out of the drink and then approaching the bum we see that he's just a little guy! And you know, actually Byrne didn't waste many words on the first five pages of the story! But good art can do that for a scripter. As to our Valley girl -- I didn't know anyone who dressed like that, unless she was on MTV. And since you brought it up, the best pay phone scene was in Superman the Movie (or was it Superman II?) when Clark runs to the street, only to find one of the pylon-mounted phones. Awesome.

Karen: The cops arrive on the scene loaded for bear. When they aim guns at the being, it fires energy from its head and the pavement is torn back, rolling up and knocking the cops over. Suddenly a ten foot tall green robot-like creature appears, seemingly to aid the alien. A policeman fires on it and all of a sudden we have three robots. (Funny, I realized our other FF Annual review this summer featured another multiplying character, Madrox.) One of the officers figures out the shooting is causing the replication. It all seems familiar to him, from when he was a rookie. He runs off to place a call, "An' it sure ain't to Ghostbusters!" Boy, we're really having a lot of unintended links in our posts lately!

Doug: In hindsight, the multiplying forms didn't make any sense to me, once this is all explained (wait for it, wait for it). I also thought the Ghostbusters comment was funny -- I think we ran an Open Forum ages ago where we asked our readers how they feel about comics being "dated" by then-pop culture statements. Shoot -- chime in here today if you have a feeling to express! I have a comment on the art in this sequence specifically, and that is the return of Joltin' Joe Sinnott's inks to Byrne's pencils. What an incredible performance! I don't think it's as noticeable later on throughout the story (although, as Karen will probably mention -- there are pages near the end of the story that are reruns from Avengers Annual #14; these look different because Sinnott inked them here, whereas Kyle Baker had inked them in the Avengers part of this story). There's just some real depth to the art; it's not that lean, scratchy style that Byrne had been employing in the regular FF mag at this point in time.

Karen: I was confused about that big robot -we never really deal with it again! We cut to a scene of Johnny Storm and Alicia Masters out to dinner. Or was she a Skrull? Ugh. I have to say, I absolutely hate the idea that Johnny and Alicia would be involved. It's just so ill-conceived. And speaking of ill-conceived, so is Johnny's haircut. I know, it was the eighties, but even then that looked dumb. Their meal is interrupted by a waiter, who points out the famous Fantastic Four '4' flare high in the sky. Johnny realizes it was probably fired from Avengers Mansion, where the FF has been staying since the Baxter Building was destroyed. As he flames on and flies into the night sky, he runs into Reed, Sue, and She-Hulk on one of Reed's flying gizmos. Reed tells Johnny about the police officer's call, and he has a hunch about who they might be facing. The FF lands at the standoff and Reed approaches the diminutive alien. The creature projects an image of Reed from an earlier time and then pulls off its helmet, revealing...the Infant Terrible? Yes, one of the dorkiest aliens ever, and certainly one of the more obscure FF foes. Johnny explains a bit to She-Hulk (and us) that IT is just an alien kid, albeit one with immense powers. Sue, with her even-more horrific mullet haircut, worries about IT, and wonders how they'll find out what happened, as his race has no spoken language.

Doug: You nail many of my same feelings about Byrne's handling of the FF in this era. A) When Ben returned, he should have killed Johnny. He just should have. Now I'm saying that a little tongue-in-cheek, but c'mon... Plot device? How about a little sense of reality. Is Johnny really that big of a snake that he'd do that to Ben? And what are we to make of Alicia? OK, maybe she got tired of Ben always holding back due to his feelings of inadequacy, but I also could just never take that whole storyline. To be honest, when Alicia was revealed to have been a Skrull, I thought -- "Take that, Johnny!!" B) Haircuts = awful. I think this aspect of Byrne's tenure is a misfire, as a tour through the comics of the previous ~50 years shows a marked consistency in hairstyles, with conservatism being the rule. Seriously -- should Superman have gone for a Beatles 'cut in and around 1964? I don't think so. So why is it that all of a sudden Johnny (who really should have been around 25 in these years) shows up like he's been hanging out with Danny Terrio and the Solid Gold dancers?

Karen: The relationship made both characters look horrible. And I don't care if such things happen in real life -it shouldn't happen in the FF!

Doug: What did you think of Byrne using She-Hulk as a cypher for us, the readers? I'd commented last week that I thought Roger Stern did a nice job of using the characters to tell us what was happening, background, etc. But in this issue I felt uneasy about it -- too much. It made me feel that She-Hulk was not very valuable, as she was missing so much backstory on some fundamental issues, like the Skrulls for example.

Karen: I suppose it can be a useful tool to relay the story, but to some extent it does make the reader-stand-in character look like a bit of a stooge. But I would say that She-Hulk has very little to do in this story in any case. IT starts projecting more mental images to show the FF what happened to him. We see his trippy homeworld, where everyone seems to travel in giant bubbles. A great spacefleet of Skrulls shows up, claiming they wish to establish trade with the planet. The Elan (IT's people) don't know how nasty the Skrulls are, and they use their great powers to create objects for them out of thin air. The Skrulls begin demanding weapons though, and the Elan, being peaceful, are incapable of even conceiving such things. This ticks off the Skrulls, and they bombard the planet. IT's parents send him off in a spaceship to Earth (shades of Superman).

Doug: Maybe Byrne was lobbying for the "Man of Steel" job! I applaud the art effort in this scene as well, as there is a tremendous amount of detail! I know we've complained about backgrounds (or lack thereof) in the past, but Byrne/Sinnott really pull out some stops in this section. And again (I keep getting ahead of myself), do you think this "flashback" ends up as really having been a true story?

Karen: I think the twist makes the whole first part of the book feel like a waste, rather than something clever. Reed goes into a long-winded speech to explain how, with their homeworld destroyed by Galactus, the Skrull Empire rapidly devolved into civil war, with every planetary governor trying to grab power. I'm actually thankful to see that Reed's hair looks exactly the same as it did in 1961. Of course the FF wants to help IT and his people, but how can they get to his world? All their ships were destroyed with the Baxter Building. Luckily, IT's ship can carry them, and they're off to Elan.

Doug: Reed's a blowhard, isn't he? Hey, royal blue FF suits, or this navy blue (Byrne insists they are black) version?

Karen: Royal blue for the win! So what about some of those Skrull despots? We get a look at one of them, a hugely overweight female. She's furious with her adviser, as she expected the FF to arrive and allow her the chance to be the Skrull who destroyed the Fantastic Four. Just as she's about to clobber the poor guy an alarm goes off, signaling the arrival of IT's ship. She yells at her subjects, and some assume the forms of the Elan. The trap is set. The FF and IT land and get out of the ship, with Sue telling the fake-Elan that they come in peace. But Reed, standing behind her, looks upset. Suddenly he begins shouting, urging the disguised Skrulls to attack. They blast him with a ray gun and as he passes out (or dies?), he reverts into a Skrull! What the heck? The remaining FF don't seem surprised, and they charge into battle. The Skrulls shift back into their normal forms, "just like Reed guessed!" The FF are doing well against the humanoid Skrulls, but then they come face to face with Skrulls in monstrous forms. As the battle rages, IT, completely encased in his little purple spacesuit, takes off and finds the Skrull leader. When she sees him she commands him to report. The suit pops open and we see -Reed. It turns out that little IT was actually a Skrull. Reed figured it out. He wraps the Skrull-lady up and she tells him that by failing to kill him, the universe itself is in jeopardy. What?

Doug: Another art comment -- Byrne is so adept at drawing the mouth such that his faces really seem to be uttering certain sounds. His art is quite individualized in this manner. And hey -- if Reed had been on the Minnow, they wouldn't have been on that uncharted island more than a couple of hours. At this point in the story, I was beginning to wonder if the plot was too large for the 35-or so pages that were allotted to tell it!

Karen: We get another long piece of exposition by Reed as the FF travels in a larger spacecraft. He figured out, based on IT's spaceships trajectory, that it had not come from the Elan. It was simple then to figure out that IT was in fact a Skrull. Reed then hypnotized the Skrull into taking Reed's form and you know the rest. I don't know why exactly, but this sort of annoys me. Anyway, the FF have the Skrulls on-board the ship with them, as they head for a colossal satellite power station. You might remember this from last week's review. As they fly towards the station they are blasted by energy beams, but Sue's force field protects them. They enter the station through an airlock and discover a battered Skrull. Near death, he tells them that the hyper-wave bomb will soon be detonated. Reed starts to question him, when they hear sounds of battle coming beyond a wall. She-Hulk tears open the wall and discovers the Avengers!

Doug: It takes me awhile to get my directional bearings when in a new city, but Reed can tell where a spacecraft originated. What a guy! There was one line of dialogue in the scene where the FF venture through the airlock between ships, and I want to throw this out to everyone to see what is known about Johnny's powers: Reed says, "Now, quickly everyone. Without Johnny constantly replenishing it, the flame cage holding our prisoners won't last more than an hour." What exactly would be the energy source? My gas grill may burn after I shut it off, but that's because there's grease somewhere that is burning off. How would Johnny's flame still burn if he wasn't there to be that source?

Karen: I wondered about that as well, but with all the other head-shaking stuff going on, I had to let it go! Now back in our story, the next seven pages are all identical to pages from that Avengers annual! Only the last page of this issue is different. So I'm not going to describe in detail what happened, as you just read it a week ago! Suffice to say, the bomb went off and imprisoned all Skrulls in whatever shape they were currently in. At the end -on the page of new material - the FF fly home, with more exposition from Reed explaining how every Skrull everywhere got hit by the bomb. Really? That's some range on that sucker. He says their genetic code was altered so that they can never change shape again. And that's it.

Doug: I really felt this story failed at the moment Byrne merged the two stories. As I said above, this seemed like too big a fish to fry in the pages allotted.


Karen: You can probably tell I was not a big fan of this issue. It just didn't do much for me, and the ending, which repeated a book I'd already read, seemed like a rip-off. Why couldn't we get the story told from the perspective of the FF in their annual, and from the Avengers in theirs? This just seems lazy. Now I'll admit some of my problem with the book is having to look at those awful hairstyles on the Storm kids. But even beyond that, this was a convoluted storyline that seemed to rely far too much on speeches and not enough on action.

Doug: Last week we'd parted ways to some extent, with me serving as an apologist for Stern's/Byrne's Avengers story. You won't get that from me here. Let me state first that I'm glad I read the Avengers half first. Karen and I had an offline conversation before we ran the Avengers post as to which annual should be read first -- we wanted to get it right. I think we did, as I'll hypothesize that if one had come to this FF Annual first the whole thing would have been senseless. The story builds out of the Avengers' battles with Nebula, and the entire movement to the power-asteroid is part of that plot. As Karen's used the word "convoluted", I'll agree with that. I'll also say that what I felt was a strong aspect of this story, Byrne's use of pictures instead of words at the beginning, devolves into endless exposition. That for me is a sure sign of a too-small page count. Lastly, I'll offer that there is a novelty to this idea -- had it worked seamlessly it would have been nice. But instead, and this was one of Karen's (and others among you in the comments last week) complaints earlier, it just smacks of requiring the consumer to buy into the crossover as a gimmick. And that's a nasty brand of capitalism.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bracketology: the Final Four

Doug:  Finishing up this week and next!  Vote early and often, as they say here in Chicagoland (shoot, dead people vote up there...).  I thought it would be fun, as we're nearing the end of this little exercise, to trip back almost two years in time and see what you'd nominated in an Open Forum we'd run.  You can check that out here.  And, as always, updated brackets are below.

Doug:  So, today's query is --

Given the conversation that took place in the earlier thread (make the jump, above), and the way this bracketing has played out, are there stories that you feel so strongly about that you just know they would have come through to this end had the original bracketing been set up differently?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Doug's Favorites: Thor 148

Thor #148 (January 1968)
"Let There Be... Chaos!"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Vince Colletta

Doug:  Welcome back to the conclusion of my Thor "yard sale" 2-parter.  Last week we peeked in on a de-powered Thor's battle against his usually-scheming brother Loki.  Today we'll pick it up as that episode concludes and witness the introduction of a Marvel B-list villain who was a major player in the "Under Siege" storyline that ran in The Avengers.  I appreciated those among you who commented on the cover scan to Thor #147 that I provided -- I had no idea there would be such a strong response in favor of looking at the actual comic.  So today you can peruse this beat-up beauty that is my copy of #148 -- tape, chunks out, a staple to the right of the spine about 2" from the bottom corner, stains -- it's an ugly duckling, isn't it?  And the back cover has a 3" horizontal tear across it.  Lordy...

Doug:  When we left off, Odin was one unhappy All-Father.  He felt that his subjects had directly disobeyed his orders in going to Midgard.  So, since Thor had already been whacked with an Odin-ray, Loki, Balder, and fair Sif now received the same punishment.  God-like powers -- GONE!  Loki, sensing that Thor was now itching for a little payback, hightailed it out of there.  Thor got in a good verbal shot at him, telling him he was fleeing like a spineless jackal!  Sif wanted the three friends to pursue the God of Evil, but Thor talked her down.  Balder, ever the gallant one, remarked that he had no fear of Loki.

Doug:  Cut to a penthouse apartment where Thurston and Lovie Howell have returned home from painting the town red, only to find their servant Mayhew bound and all of the family jewels missing.  Mayhew relates that the burgle was perpetrated by a tough calling himself "the Wrecker", and he was quite awful.  Thurston rings the PD, but asks not to speak to any mere beatwalker, but the Commissioner himself.  Then, in a scene straight out of Batman, 1966, we get Gordon and O'Hara lookalikes who just seemed dumbfounded by the Wrecker.  Cut again to a dragnet that has fanned out in the general area where the Wrecker last hit.  In a scene that I thought was brilliant when I was 10, the Wrecker flattens himself against a wall under a ledge and is unseen.  However, looking at it now, if the cop on the corner of the building would only turn around they'd have their man!

Doug:  By the way, Marvel Super-Heroes #12, which introduced Captain Marvel, was on sale this same month.

Doug:  In a scene that really shows Jack Kirby's sense of humor (or Stan's -- one never knows for certain on these things), we see a delivery boy from a local sandwich shop making his way to Dr. Donald Blake's office.  He is much surprised, however, when the God of Thunder greets him.  In a great panel, tucked in the corner where no dialogue was really required, Stan has Balder say:  "Ahhh!  Whether in the Elysian fields of Asgard, or the halcyon halls of Earth... How good it is to quell the pangs of hunger!"  ...as Thor just keeps unloading food.  Paying the lad right out of Blake's wallet, Thor shoos him away.  Sif muses about her love for Thor as the trio ponder their next move.

Doug:  And what of vile Loki?  We find him holed up in a rented apartment (what, did he mug someone for the security deposit?).  Wearing a shabby overcoat and some green pants, Loki sets a large hat box on a table.  He then begins to plot to get his powers back.  Knowing that it is the only way to finally defeat Thor, he must summon the Norn Queen for aid.  But as he's about to send for her, he hears a noise outside his window.  Feeling weak for even wondering about it, he's back to business.  But question -- if he was de-powered, how could he contact Karnilla?  Well, anyway, the "noise" outside the window must have been the Wrecker's heavy breathing, because once our bad guy spies Loki's far-out threads, he decides to make a hit.  Using his massive crowbar to break not only the window but half the stinkin' wall, the Wrecker catches Loki by surprise, right in the midst of his incantation to the Queen.  The Wrecker is brutal, hurling his crowbar right at Loki's chin and dropping the God of Mischief.  Once free to move about the room, the Wrecker sees the large hat box.

Doug:  Opening the lid, the Wrecker oohs/aahs over the longhorned helmet.  Placing it upon his own dome, his back is turned at the very moment Karnilla enters the apartment.  Now I have to tell you -- unless there's more than one Norn Queen, if this is the same goddess who chases after Balder the Brave... well, she must have gotten right out of bed to talk to Loki.  No looker here, nosiree.  Thinking the helmeted figure is her oft-ally, Karnilla grants Loki's wish, and leaves.  Suddenly the Wrecker is empowered with Asgardian magic. Halting Loki in his tracks, and then sending him back to Asgard, the Wrecker sets his sights on bigger and better spoils.

Doug:  Back in Dr. Blake's office, our three heroes catch an episode of the Spider-Man cartoon when suddenly there's a news break-in.  A report comes that a baddie named -- you guessed it -- the Wrecker is amok downtown.  Cue the Asgardians to handle this one.  Using his juiced-up crowbar, the Wrecker now topples not just chimneys but entire buildings!  He laughs off the police presence while the gods move in from above.  As Thor attacks, a wave of the Wrecker's hand stops him.  Another wave and Balder and Sif disappear -- sent back to Asgard!  Alone now, and without his own godlike powers, the mighty Thor battles valiantly, but the outcome seems little in doubt.  Similarly to last issue's tiff with Loki, the depowered Thunder God is still a formidable opponent, but not against the enchanted strength of the Wrecker.  And a few city blocks take the brunt of these combatants' fury.  Back on Asgard, Balder and Sif plead with Odin to intervene.  He matter-of-factly states that Thor has defied him, and will serve his penance; no matter what.  And then it's time for the Inhumans!  But that's OK -- this was a blast revisiting these two mags.  To be honest, every time I read a Thor, I ask myself:  Why don't I read more Thor?

Doug:  I do have the next installment to this tale, in a volume of Essential Thor.  But that's not really the point -- as I said last week, the point is that this (along with #147) were among the first 12c comics I ever owned and despite the raggy condition these two issues of Thor have a special place in my heart.  When I've sold off large chunks of my collection in the past, I've always kept these two issues.  Sure, I could have tossed them in with something else for a buck or two, but what would have been the point?  They are worth far more to me as personal history than anything I'd have gotten monetarily.  Lee, Kirby, a gaggle of gods, and the Wrecker?  Oh yeah!

Friday, July 27, 2012

An Ode to the Frisbee

Karen: Every year when summer rolls around, I think of the summers of my youth. So much of my time then was spent outdoors, at play. Although my friends and I engaged in a variety of activities, there's one I remember more fondly than the others: playing Frisbee.

Karen: That simple plastic disc was a wonderful toy. Relatively cheap, easily transportable, and you could play almost anywhere, if you had enough room. It required some skill to throw it well, but it wasn't all that difficult to learn how to do it. You could play a fast-paced, football-like game, or just toss it back and forth while talking.

Karen: One year we became so fond of our Frisbee playing, that I got a glow in the dark disc so we could play in the park at night! I
t was great, until one night the cops came by and shooed us out of the park. But we just moved on to other places.

Karen: If you were really lucky, you had a dog who could catch a Frisbee. My dog Rex loved chasing after the flying disc. Watching him leap through t
he air after it was always a blast.

Karen: For me the Frisbee is inextricably linked to summer, and
to freedom. That spinning disc will always represent good times and the carefree days of youth to me. Thanks Wham-O.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

BAB Book Review: Big John Buscema -- Comics and Drawings

Doug:  From time to time I like to get on Amazon.com and check out the coming releases in the comics and graphic novels sections.  Well, what to my wondering eyes did appear a few months ago but the tome you see pictured above?!  You'd better believe I pre-ordered this baby, and am I glad I did.  A nice, heavy hardcover worthy of being called a "coffee table book", it was a steal at $31 (msrp is $60).  This purchase adds to my biographies of John Buscema, which I believe is a "complete set".  I own The Art of John Buscema by Sal Quartuccio, The John Buscema Sketchbook by J. David Spurlock, John Buscema:  A Life in Sketches by Emilio Soltero, and John Buscema:  Michelangelo of Comics by Brian Peck.  If you visit the two links, you'll find that I've previously reviewed the latter two books.  While each had their merits and shortcomings, I really feel that Florentino Florez's effort is the finest contribution to date on the life and career of one of the greatest creators in comic art history.

Here are the specs on the book:  As I mentioned above, the msrp is $60 and the book is a hardcover.  If I had to guess, I would be skeptical if this will be published later in paperback, and I'll elaborate in the next paragraph.  There is no dust jacket, the cover being slick in its own right.  There is a photo and brief biography of John Buscema on the back cover.  As I said, it's big and heavy -- according to Amazon's statistics, the book's dimensions are 11.1" x 9.7" x 1.1" and its 328 pages weigh in at a whopping 3 pounds, 13 ounces!  There is color throughout -- generous helpings of color.  Yet the printing process is so good that even the B&W illustrations and original art reproductions look vibrant.  

This book is an art catalog; many of the samples were on display at a show honoring Buscema's work, which took place in Gijon, Spain (on the northern coast of the Iberian nation) in 2009.  This book is the catalog to accompany the exhibition.  It should be considered as such.  Reading through some of the buyer evaluations/recommendations on Amazon, some purchasers seemed put off by this fact.  I am certain that on IDW's website they were fully up front that this was the nature of this text.  As such, I got what I paid for -- no surprises.  So, all of this being said, I am going to pursue a review course I've taken in the past and that is my categorical comments under "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly".

The Good

Jeez, where to begin?  Maybe I should have titled this category "The Great".  If you want to gush over the pencil work of John Buscema, then this is for you!  Sketches?  Got 'em -- Buscema was renowned for doodling on the backs of pages on which he was working.  Original art?  Heck yeah!  And, not only some samples, but in several cases the author was able to procure consecutive pages (sometimes up to three pages in a row) which is really nice.  And the color -- covers, pages, details of pages, paintings done by Buscema...  there is plenty of color, and when considering that the sticker price is the same as the Brian Peck book mentioned above, which has no color (along with a whole lot of other issues -- see my review if you've not previously read it), if you're going to buy one Buscema book then snatch this one up! 

Author Florez covers John Buscema's career from his earliest artistic endeavors right through the day he passed away.  Interestingly, he refers only to Sal Buscema as his work relates professionally to John's output.  That they were brothers really never factors into the story -- this was odd to me, and for those of you who might like to know a little more about Sal's life and times (and his relationship to John), I'd encourage you to check out the TwoMorrows book Sal Buscema: Comics' Fast and Furious Artist.  But once Florez gets into John's career at Marvel we get a who's who rundown of the inkers who graced/gouged those beautiful pencils.  This is where Florez really excels in the book -- I know from time to time we've had commenters question Karen and I as far as inking goes.  Some of you have an eye for the differences in style between various embellishers; others among you just don't have that level of discernment.  Every single art exhibit in this book is labeled by source, date, and inker.  This is incredibly helpful, as Florez injects his own opinions (alongside Big John's) as to who was helpful and who hurt the original intent of the drawing.  I know Karen has commented before that although Buscema preferred to ink his own work, she doesn't find his inks to be his best fit.  Here we can see Buscema's lines side-by-side with the likes of Sinnott, Colletta, Adkins, Palmer, Chan, et al.  I'd offer that at times, Buscema's own inking is reminiscent of Joe Kubert's sketchy line.  Not necessarily bad or good to me, but that's what I was reminded of.

Further, Florez goes into detail on the periods and even specific works throughout Buscema's career where he turned in tight pencils or only roughs.  Tom Palmer comments on this late in the book, and some of you may recall that I remarked (in the review of the Peck book) on that team's second collaborative period on The Avengers -- with Palmer having a great deal of responsibility for what was sent to the printer.  At any rate, I found not only Buscema's comments (some of which I'd read before in interviews with the artist; other comments showed up in the book on Sal) about his inkers enlightening, but Florez for the most part enhanced some of the arguments with his own opinions.

And while other reviewers might slide into "The Bad" the fact that Florez injects so much of his own opinions/evaluations into an art catalog as inappropriate and detracting from the subject matter, I'll go right here on record as saying I found it thought-provoking.  Nowhere else does Florez point such a damning finger as he does toward Stan Lee and the ultimate failure of The Silver Surfer.  He implies that Stan Lee's unwillingness to break from his formulaic writing spelled doom for the series; in creating a messianic figure Lee neglected to write him as such.  Instead we got a Surfer who was filled with self-doubt, complained vociferously, and ultimately became unlikable.  As Buscema's art continued on a meteoric rise, Lee's scripts remained pedestrian.

Noted Buscema collector and scholar Michel Maillot contributes his comprehensive index of all of Big John's work.  This feature was also a part of the Peck book.  It remains an invaluable resource!

Lastly, and this is a biggie for me, Florez exhaustively cites his resources with on-page footnotes.  While not drawing from any new sources, relying mainly on the books I mentioned at the top of the page as well as interviews previously printed in the numerous magazines published by TwoMorrows, he nonetheless lets us know the credibility of each statement that is not his own.  This has been a major knock of mine on previous efforts at creator biographies, most notably the aforementioned Peck book as well as Ronan Ro's Tales to Astonish.  As a history major and educator, I applauded this aspect of the book.

The  Bad

I actually could have included this comment in a section labeled "The Indifferent", but since I don't have that going for me, I'll just slide it in here.  On each page that holds text, there is a Spanish translation laid side-by-side with the English.  This was not a distraction for me personally and indeed I found it interesting.  Knowing fully up front that this was an art catalog for an exhibition held in Spain, I was not offended by this "feature".  I suppose I can say that I got what I expected, and it in no way detracts from the pleasure of the book.

I was going to mention that I found it annoying that Florez often wrote in his first-person voice, but given that he includes so much of his own point of view on Buscema's greatness (and shortcomings, too -- there are parts of the text where Buscema is taken to task, particularly in the late 1970's-early 1980's), by the end of the book it wasn't as much of an issue.  But I say this so you know the tone of his text.

The Ugly

I have two major beefs with the text of the book, and perhaps those among you who are not journalists or teachers may think I'm just railing about issues that aren't important to you.  The first major gripe is about Florez's style -- the entire book was written in the present tense.  For example, and I quote:

Now it's 1968.  The increase in sales and an agreement with the distributor National Periodicals allows the publishing house to increase their output.

After that he works on a couple of fill-ins.

Buscema draws Thor #178 (July 1970), then another of Kirby's episodes is published and after that they assign the series to Neal Adams.

I don't know if this was an issue for Florez in going from Spanish to English (I need to ask my younger son, who is planning to minor in Spanish in college, to read some of the Spanish text and see if it is in the same tense), but it just grated on my nerves.  If it happened in the past (which everything does, if you think about it), then write about it in the past tense.

My other qualm with the book is that the type is incredibly small, perhaps only 6 pts.  It might be 8 pts. on a good day.  Like many of you, I'm closer to 50 than 40, and the peepers have been rebelling.  Even with my best pair of bifocals I had to adjust the closeness of the book to my face in order to get the optimal viewing.   As day became night, it was a very real issue.  My guess is that since the Spanish text is included alongside the English, in order to not sacrifice any of the art and keep the integrity of Florez's text, the type size had to be this small.  But it is distracting, and laborious.

I want to emphasize that my "goods" far, far outweigh anything I wrote in the other two categories.  And I really don't think that has anything to do with the fact that I got the book at a nearly 50% discount; if I had the extra cash, I'd gladly pay full price for it.

The book is not divided into chapters per se, but Florez does have different topics divided by headings within the text.  Here is just a sampling of the first several topic headings:
  • Preface
  • The Son of a Barber
  • The First Steps
  • The End of an Era
  • Commercial Break
  • The Homecoming
  • The Marvel Method
Florez gives lengthy examinations to Buscema's tenures on the Avengers, Silver Surfer, Fantastic Four, and his various miscellaneous jobs -- but the lion's share of Florez's treatment is dedicated to our favorite Cimmerian in all his various magazines.  Some of the artwork in this section is just breathtaking.  Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you something you are probably wondering -- does Buscema go on and on about hating super-heroes and comics in general?  You bet he does.  Sometimes it's tempered, but it is there running throughout the biographical text.  By this point, I'd have expected no less.

Laid next to the other Buscema books (Spurlock's, Quartuccio's, Peck's, and Soltero's), I consider this volume the "best yet".  While it is not without fault, it is thus far the most detailed account of Buscema's career, with abundant art to support the various life events and commentaries provided by Florez.  This was obviously a labor of love for him (and the curators of the original exhibition in Spain in 2009), and we are the beneficiaries.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Discuss: Captain Marvel/Photon/Monica Rambeau

Karen: This character was briefly discussed in yesterday's post. Share your thoughts on this character, good, bad, or indifferent.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Giant-Size July: Avengers Annual 14

Avengers Annual #14 (1985)
"Fifth Column"
Roger Stern-John Byrne/Kyle Baker

Doug: It's the home-stretch of Giant-Size July, as Karen and I finish it up with a nifty 2-parter (or are they concurrent?) featuring Marvel's premiere super-teams (admittedly, the X-Men were in a universe of their own by 1985). For those of you who already know what FF Annual #19 looks like, it was a neat idea to make it a see-through image of Avengers Annual #14. Although a spoiler is given away before we even open up the book, it's a fun idea nonetheless. And with a creative team that includes Roger Stern and John Byrne, can we lose? Let's check it out...

Doug: We open with an Avengers team comprised of the Wasp (as chairperson), Cap, Hercules, Starfox, Captain Marvel, and the Black Knight. This was the line-up that was in place when I returned to comics after a four-year hiatus from collecting. We also find only a page or so into the tale that this is a continuation of the events found in the monthly book, issues #'s 259-260. Question -- how did you feel when Annuals and/or Giant-Sizes were used in conjunction with the monthly to serialize long storylines? Anyway, a band of Skrulls is actually breaking into a prison colony -- a penal institution that has never been breached! During the operation, one of the Skrulls is offed by security, leaving only two to carry out this dirty deed. As they battle their way toward a specific cell, an explosive is affixed to the door. The poor sap who set the charge is lost in the "KROOM", and it's up to the leader to step inside and to inform one Prince Dezan that he is now liberated. The prince, wearing the Skrull version of "the man in the iron mask" is surprised, confessing that the nature of his crimes surely would have inhibited anyone from taking this chance.

Karen: I had the same thought, "Oh, it's the Man in the Iron Mask." Instantly I assumed Prince Dezan is the guy I should be rooting for. This line-up of Avengers wasn't bad, particularly with Roger Stern at the helm. I liked Stern's creation, Captain Marvel -although I wasn't all that happy with her using that name. It was also good to see the Black Knight and Hercules back in the Avengers. I'd only really seen them as Avengers in reprints so it was exciting to see them back on the team. As you mention Doug, this was the era of cross-overs, and I thought it was fairly irritating. For years the annuals suffered from this. We had 'The Evolutionary War,' 'Atlantis Attacks,' and maybe the most frustrating for me, 'Operation Galactic Storm.' The reader was forced to buy titles they really didn't care about to get the complete story. Gee, things haven't changed that much, have they?

Doug: You know, I hadn't thought about all of that cross-over business, but I think you are right! I wonder if this was the first one? Man, those became an expensive pain-in-the-butt! But hey -- I did it!

Doug: Cut to a Skrull armada, where on a command ship General Zedrao entertains the Avengers as they all view the now-imprisoned starship Sanctuary II -- formerly belonging to Nebula! We the reader are brought somewhat up to speed on past doings by some dialogue between Hercules and the General. Firelord, who had been a player in the earlier part of this, lies injured in a stasis tube -- cracks me up that instead of flaming hair, it's bubbles! Starfox is feeling his oats, and pledges to get Nebula, no matter the cost. He's given a "whoa, whoa, whoa" from the Wasp and Black Knight. But the general steps up and offers a solution -- passage to an asteroid that contains an energy grid through which Nebula might be tracked. And in yet another notch on his "hero" belt, Cap defers to Jan as chairperson, and she accepts the idea. Thoughts on that scene?

Karen: By this time the Wasp had undergone a pretty serious maturation, from air-headed hanger-on to a seasoned hero. The interaction between her and Cap was perfect, I thought. If I recall, during her leadership she often called on Cap to formulate battle plans, while she retained overall authority. Pretty smart if you ask me.

Doug: Once aboard Starfox's vessel, the Avengers are escorted to the asteroid. The Knight deciphers some of the technology, and again author Roger Stern uses dialogue to tell the reader what is going on. This form of narrative was noticeable, and effective I thought. Dane brings up the fact that Galactus had devoured the Skrulls' homeworld (Fantastic Four #257), and the Wasp gives him a "waitasecond..." about whether or not this asteroid still exists. Dane assures her that it probably does. Then we get to look in on the Skrull who is in a different ship, escorting our heroes. I tell you, these guys practically write themselves! What a curmudgeonly bunch! Stern does a nice job here. As the ships make a warp, they emerge into a startling scene: they are greeted by WWI-era biplanes and a huge zeppelin! Drawn into the giant blimp, the Avengers see that their assailants are gangsters -- ya gotta love it! And who should lead these guys, but Humphrey Bogart himself!

Karen: I think I liked this story better when it was on Star Trek as 'A Piece of the Action.'

Doug: Not being a Trekkie, I didn't catch that at all. I'm sure you did find the plot swipe annoying. See, this is why you're here -- to give these reviews a bit of pop culture depth! Me, I'm admittedly kind of shallow.

Doug: Let's take a quick break, now that we have this set up, and talk about the art. As you saw above, John Byrne is providing the pencils, with Kyle Baker the finishes. When I set about laying out the top of the post I was surprised at this, as I'd not remembered Baker's presence. But you know what? It works for me. Yes, I see a bit more Baker and a little less Byrne, but the amalgamation is pleasing in most cases, particularly facially. Byrne's storytelling is intact, but I'll go on record as saying Baker enhances Byrne's work. You?

Karen: I'd put Baker somewhere in the middle. Not the worst inking on Byrne by a long shot, but not the best either. There's something very...grainy about his work, that kind of bothers me.

Doug: I always wonder about the printing process of the time whenever you and I use words like "grainy" or "muddy". That's why I love to look at original art -- there are just no doubts about the creative process.

Doug: The Skrull disguised as Bogart takes the Avengers first through a casino and then to an office where there is apparently another Skrull the team should meet. But when Prince Dezan steps out, the Avengers' escort about drops his teeth! But Dezan calms him enough to relate his purpose and plan: Dezan had been part of a triumvirate of conspirators, left-wing radicals bent on reforming the empire in their own image. But as their traitorous notions came to the fore, Dezan was captured and imprisoned (there's more to this than meets the eye -- I'd have guessed genocide when he'd earlier described how heinous his crimes were), his mate Zabyk took off to the outer reaches to scheme, and Myrn stayed within the empire, played it straight, and became one of its leading scientists. However, after Galactus had "eaten" Throneworld, Myrn nearly went mad. At that time, sensing opportunity, Zabyk returned and took advantage of his former friend's scattered mental faculties. It was at this point that Dezan was freed from prison -- in hopes that he could head off Zabyk's plans for conquest.

Karen: It seems like the destruction of Throneworld really shouldn't have had such a devastating impact on the Skrulls. I had the impression they were a huge empire, with many worlds under their control. But here, they seem like space nomads.

Doug: But do you suppose the destruction of Throneworld became symbolic for the empire? Did it show that the "infallible Skrulls" really weren't as invincible as they had so long thought? I mean, these guys had fought the Kree and who knows who else (the Badoon? - I don't know), and then the Big G shows up and WHAMMO -- no more Throneworld. It must have seemed too easy.

Karen: You have a point there -perhaps it was so demoralizing they just fell apart. Of course -going back to Star Trek here - I had the same issue with the destruction of the Klingon moon in Star Trek 6. A vast empire shouldn't collapse based on the loss of one planet. But I suppose if it were their seat of government, or just such a huge symbolic loss, it could cause the cracks to appear.

Doug: As Myrn had detailed to Zabyk the presence of a near-functional "ultimate weapon", the Skrull escort blew his stack -- further questioning why Dezan had been freed and questioning why oh why he'd be taken anywhere near such a device. Starfox stepped up and volunteered the Avengers to break into the power asteroid and destroy the weapon; he was quickly admonished by Cap and Jan (Jan wasn't happy that he'd overstepped her command). The team does decide to attack the asteroid -- and it's pretty funny when they do! As their "host Skrulls" had been in love with gangster movies, the Avengers masquerade as Vegas toughs. They gain access, and while their papers are being checked Dane and Jan burst out of a crate -- surprise! The Avengers make short work of the guard detail, and Captain Marvel flies off to scout. Meanwhile, Zabyk has discovered the invasion and is none too happy about it. Myrn tells him not to worry -- and activates the hyper-wave bomb! All that need be done is throw a switch, located a few levels below. Myrn shows Zabyk insulate-armor, which Zabyk dons -- and then kills Myrn.

Karen: Captain Marvel shows her versatility by using her many energy forms to clear the way for the Avengers through the complex. I always thought she might be one of the most powerful Marvel characters of all, if her powers were properly harnessed. I like that crazy suit of armor Zabyk slithers into -the way he gets into it reminds me of Gleep and Gloop from the Herculoids!

Doug: And then, and then... who should arrive to assist the Assemblers but Thor himself? With a couple of Rigellians, no less! As the team heads in the direction Thor dictates (he knows where Zabyk hides, after all), Cap mentions that it's too bad Goliath had to stay behind on monitor duty. Thor agrees, and states that his tremendous height would be a boon. Obviously, there hasn't been a Goliath since the Kree/Skrull War, so the jig is up -- and Herc decks "Thor". At about this time, a squadron of Skrulls arrives to dispatch our protagonists. Game on. Of course, the Knight uses the flat of his blade -- this isn't a Conan mag, after all! And then who should burst into the room, but the Fantastic Four?!? As above, the Avengers don't believe it and a small bit of fisticuffs breaks out. But it doesn't last long, as Reed and Cap ask enough questions that only the other would know -- and both end up satisfied that they're looking at the real McCoy. By the way, this was during the period when the She-Hulk (dumbest name ever?) was filling in for the Thing.

Karen: It is a terrible name, which is too bad, because I grew to like the character. The faux-Thor has a decidedly chubby face. I guess Byrne or Baker was trying to give him more individual features, but he just looks like he's been drinking too many horns of Asgardian mead.

Doug: Zabyk appears on a viewscreen and challenges the Earthers. Dezan reveals himself, but is disguised as one of our gangsters. But as Zabyk rants, Captain Marvel enters the chamber. Zabyk doesn't see her, but Cap does. Cap orders her into the control panel, at the same instant Reed tells her to stop -- this scene is really well done, as Byrne/Baker take us through a page and a half in a split second. Monica emerges with the teams and tells that she did nothing. Zabyk, however, pushes the fateful button which initiates the launch sequence. Suddenly the entire asteroid begins to vibrate. A wave of light spreads across the known galaxies, affecting every Skrull. Zabyk is seemingly killed, and Dezan emerges seemingly unscathed -- as a truly handsome prince (well, contrary to Skrull standards anyway).

Karen: I agree, the art showing Capt. Marvel inside the machine was really well done. It got across the idea of her dealing with tremendous energy.

Doug: She-Hulk and Hercules smash out to go find Zabyk -- when they do, he's actually alive but trapped inside the armor Myrn had given him. The bomb had been created to stop the genetic deviation of Skrull DNA -- in effect, what it did was freeze every Skrull in whatever shape they were in when it went off. As Zabyk had been forced to shapeshift in order to get into the armor, it was now his prison. Dezan mused about Skrull society now that every Skrull was different; Cap gave a soliloquy on liberty and the celebration of difference. Dezan said those were nice ideals, but time would tell. A short time later, the Avengers were back on a ship heading Earthside. The team debriefed on the end of their adventure, and Monica questioned aloud why Dezan was considered so dangerous. Cap smiled, and said he wondered that himself -- so he'd had a private conversation with him. Dezan was the most dangerous Skrull of all -- his beliefs ran contrary to the very ideals of Skrull existence. Dezan, you see... wanted peace.

Karen: I could never understand why anyone thought it would be a good idea to take the one thing about the Skrulls that made them unique as aliens and get rid of it. Obviously, this got rolled back at some point. The ending also had a very Star Trek feel to it.

Doug: Did you notice that the Avengers really didn't do much in this mag? Other than Captain Marvel's sabotage of the systems in the various Skrull locales, there wasn't very much super-heroing. Yet the story was very entertaining, and as I'd said above visually pleasing. So I guess I'd say it was a bit offbeat, but well worth the read.

Karen: I have to be honest and admit that I didn't find it very engaging at all. As you say, the Avengers didn't have all that much to do. The whole 'alien race imitates human culture' thing seems like a tired cliche. I hate to be the 'bah, humbug, here, but that's the way I feel about it.

Doug: And you are certainly entitled to feel that way -- I take no issue with your point of view, as this story would seem atypical of what one might expect out of the summer annual. While I did catch the repeat of the Skrulls as gangsters from Kirby's last few issues of the Fantastic Four, I thought it was still funny -- Stern paid an able homage (or flat-out swipe, if you will). We'll see next Monday how Byrne does as his own scripter -- we'll take a look at this same story, but from the FF's perspective, in Fantastic Four Annual #19.

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