Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Discuss: Super-Baddie Prisons

Doug:  The Raft, the Vault, Arkham Asylum, Project Pegasus, and others...  What are memorable stories or anecdotes featuring the many places of incarceration used to keep those nasties locked away?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Reality Bites: X-Men 128

X-Men #128 (December 1979)
"The Action of the Tiger!"
Chris Claremont/John Byrne-Byrne/Terry Austin (cover by George Perez/Austin)

Doug:  Epic conclusion time, kids!  I had not read this story since I bought it off the spinner racks almost 35 years ago, and this has been a fun refresher.  I think many of us who gather around here daily want to remember our favorite characters as they were when they brought us the height of our comics-reading joy.  For the X-Men, as far as I'm concerned, this is wrapping up that period for me.  As I said a couple of weeks ago, I unfortunately bowed out for a few years after issue #130.  My memories are just about finished as far as this wonderful run by Claremont, Byrne, and Austin played out for me.  And what a long strange trip it's been!

Karen: Although I hung around longer than you did, I would say this particular time period of the book stands out to me as the high point and my mental images of the characters are pretty much locked in to this era.

Doug:  We open, fittingly enough, right where we left off in issue #127.  Proteus had assumed the body of his father, John MacTaggert, and had captured his mother, the X-Men's ally Moira MacTaggert.  He now held the X-Men at bay in the capital city of Scotland, Edinburgh, and began to warp reality for all in his wake.  This scene answered a question I raised two weeks ago, and that was whether or not the reality-warping powers of Mutant X were played out in the minds of his opponents, or if he actually did bend time and space to his whims.  The creative team makes it clear here that this is a very real terror Proteus is bringing to Edinburgh.  As Moira pleads with her son to stop, Proteus rains all kinds of hell on the city.  Buildings bend and explode, gravity goes absent, people's lives are threatened, and the X-Men scramble to keep the populace safe.

Karen: It's all very well done, with the pavement going all liquid and gooey and flying up in the air, buildings twisting as if they were made of wax and melting in the sun - just weird and disturbing. I liked seeing the team putting the safety of the civilians first -hey, these are actual bona fide heroes!

Doug:  A few pages into the story we get an "untold tale" of Proteus' origin.  We learn how he had been imprisoned on Muir Isle during the first Magneto battle, and that during that battle his cell's security had been compromised.  So Mutant X had actually been on the loose for quite some time prior to his 1st appearance in this storyline.  We see how cranky old Angus MacWhirter was possessed, but I have to take issue with Claremont on a line he writes in this section.  He states that MacWhirter had "minor electronic skills", and that was enough "to re-program the lab's main computer to show his cell as sealed tight..."  Really?  So being able to wire a lamp or lay out the circuits for a house is akin to programming a computer sophisticated enough to keep dangerous mutants at bay?  Duh...  Moira had discovered that the cell had indeed been breached, and as Mutant X moved throughout the compound he tried to possess Phoenix and Polaris -- to no avail -- before he jumped into one of Jamie Madrox's clones.

Karen: Agreed, the idea that the sea captain could reprogram the lab computer made no sense whatsoever, but I'm willing to overlook it. The recap was a bit tedious but I suppose necessary for anyone just jumping on. I'm also still not sure how Proteus got away from Phoenix, but again...let's just go with it.

Doug:  Proteus distracted himself by focusing all of his attention to his wife/mother; this was a generally creepy part of the story as the mutant while being the son inhabited the body of his father.  The X-Men get a chance to collect themselves, and Cyclops formulates a plan.  Psychically linked to his teammates, he tells each what they must do.  This was another example of the exponential increase in Jean Grey's powers.  Besides the great characterization of Scott throughout this story, Banshee gets some nice screen time as well.  I thought that was really important, as his depowering did not keep him from being a vital part of this arc.  We also get some great "Wolverine moments", as he rescues Storm from being encased in amber.  I thought that the desperation of the battle against Proteus really shone through the use of guns in the story, something we're not used to seeing.  Although Moira had fired shots to distract her son back in #126, she commented at the time that she had intended to kill him if necessary.  Here, Banshee fires a pistol, hitting Proteus in the shoulder; the villain rebukes him for not firing a kill shot.  So there was an envelope-pushing in this plot.

Karen: Yes, despite having the Punisher running around in the Marvel Universe, guns in the hands of heroes was still a rarity. I liked the exchange between Cyke and Banshee regarding Moira, with Banshee recognizing, grudgingly, that Cyke is right, and that of course he cares about Moira too. Man, I miss the days when I could think about Cyclops as a great team leader and not the sleazy weirdo bedding the White Queen. Anyway, Wolverine's self-sacrificing play to free Storm from the amber was another sign of growth for him as well.

Doug:  As retaliation for shooting him, Proteus opens a seemingly-bottomless pit and drops Banshee into it.  As he falls, the hole closes above him, but transparently.  Cyke blasts through that and orders Nightcrawler to get down it and rescue Sean.  He does, and is forced to teleport the two of them out from below the rim.  The strain almost kills them, as they re-materialize several stories above the earth.  Polaris is able to set them down.  I really, really enjoyed the inclusion of Havok and Lorna Dane in this story!  Alex is such a great visual anyway.  Proteus uses the confusion as an opportunity to flee, and spirits Moira away to Castle Rock.  Phoenix follows, and is quite angry.  This again is somewhat uncharted territory, as I really felt like she could kill Mutant X.  He's able to withstand her initial, brutal onslaught and fight back... hard.  He drops her to her knees, and it's at that point that Wolverine leaps from a nearby tree and takes an enormous hack through Proteus's mid-section.  Disemboweled.  Had to be.  As Logan tends to Moira, Cyke and his brother appear on either side of Proteus and unleash their energy powers.  Again, great visual.  However, Proteus seems to give up his host body for a moment, dropping almost out of sight -- the brothers' blasts strike each other.  If you'll recall, though, each is immune to the others' energies.

Karen: I too felt like Phoenix should be able to deal with Proteus handily but it does seem like her power levels fluctuated somewhat at this time, and his attack was on a mental level, and we've seen what Wyngarde  was capable of doing to her. I'm more  interested in what happened with short-stuff. Was this the first time we had Wolverine declare that he "loved" Jean? He moped over her picture in issue #114. But I'm not sure the "L" word had been uttered before. In any case, I'm surprised he would have stopped once he attacked, but he strikes Proteus viciously as you say, then goes to tend Moira. Seems a bit out of character. But I always enjoy seeing the two Summers brothers using their powers together.

Doug:  Proteus is on the move again, this time to the ramparts of the castle.  Wolverine, Moira in tow, climbed the side of the mount in an effort to remove her from the battle; Proteus wanted her back.  What a great spot for the climax of the story.  Proteus grabbed Moira away from Wolverine, knocking him off his grip.  Cyclops was able to use his eyebeams to soften Logan's fall until he was low enough that Colossus could catch him.  Then it was Peter's turn.  We really hadn't seen much of "the big Russkie" in this one.  I have to say it was worth the wait!  Peter bravely climbs to the top of the keep and confronts the fading body of Joe MacTaggert, though still strong with the spirit of Proteus.  As the villain reaches toward Moira, Peter casts him aside, the last vestige of MacTaggert's body exploding as it hits a wall.  Now unrestrained, the energy form of Mutant X stands to face Piotr Rasputin.  A psychic assault ensues, bringing Peter's worst fears and nightmares to physical manifestation.  But even as Peter falls to his knees, he looks up and rises as Colossus, and plunges his metallic hands into the center of Proteus.  The being in effect short circuits and dissipates.  Seeing a tremendous flash, the rest of the X-Men head to the castle.  They find Moira in the arms of Peter; she is now a widow and without child.  But it's Sean Cassidy who goes to her, and all suddenly seems right with the world.

Karen: This was a truly cinematic ending. Loved the bit with Wolvie being slowed by Cyke's beams. "Ow! OW!!" But this was Piotr's chance to shine and the creative team did a nice job with him. He was the purest of the group, the one who really represented the ideal of "hero" in every sense -- brave, idealistic, selfless, and all that came out in this sequence. A real Man of Steel, so to speak. I also liked that in later issues, Piotr would feel some regret and doubt over killing Proteus -- every hero has a conscience, after all.

Doug:  What a storyline.  This was everything that was right about comics in the late Bronze Age.  This is a microcosm of the gold that the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team continued to mine.  Of course, their magnum opus was mere months away, so perhaps we should consider this the most filling of appetizers?  Hard to believe they topped it, and knocked it out of the park as far as they did.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Would Limited Series Have Been a Better Vehicle for Short-Lived Bronze Age Series?

Doug:  At times we've talked about the parameters of the Bronze Age.  Sometimes we wonder if the advent of the direct market signaled the end, or perhaps the roughly-coinciding invention of the limited series (both the mini- and maxi- varieties) was the "death knell", so to speak.  I want to delve further into the notion of limited series today by asking you sort of a "what if?" question.  Today let's wonder aloud if the concept of the limited series had come alive a decade earlier, would certain short-lived series released in the 1970's have been better served?

Doug:  I'd like you to expound on several series, both from Marvel and DC (and other publishers if you are so inclined), and give an opinion on the life they knew and whether or not you feel those series would have been better served if reimagined.  For example, Claws of the Cat comes up around here from time to time.  One of the knocks on the series is the shift of the creative teams throughout the series; we could add the lack of the creation of a dedicated rogues gallery as another pitfall.  The series lasted a mere four issues.  Do you think that a pre-arranged life of six issues, with a consistent writer/artist collaboration and a storyline involving an appropriately devilish villain(ess) would have made for a more pleasurable experience, and even perhaps extended the life of the character as originally conceived?  Of course we can ask the same question about Black Goliath, Omega the Unknown, and certain series that ran in the rotating titles such as Marvel Spotlight.  I guess what I'm asking concerns true storylines with a beginning, middle, and end -- rather than something rushed to be tied up before the axe fell or even left completely unresolved.  Even a title like the Inhumans, which lasted 12 issues, might have been different had that parameter been pre-ordained.  As to DC, I'll leave that to our readers more inclined toward the Distinguished Competition.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Inaugural Post: True or False?

Doug:  Today we're going to test drive a new discussion-based format.  Our readers have been great in responding to our various other columns, and in the interest of keeping things fresh we'll throw this up against the wall and see if it sticks.  It's pretty straightforward -- we think you'll catch on real quick!

Wolverine has been the most over-marketed, over-exposed character since the
Bronze Age of comics.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

O, Canada! Eh?

Doug:  Let's give a big "thanks!" to our musical friends from the Great White North today.  So often when focusing on music, at least around here, it's of those sweet notes from American or British artists.  We've made mention just a time or two of strolling minstrels from north of the States, but today it's All Canada, All the Time.

Doug:  Just off the top of my head (and you're going to do the rest of the heavy lifting today), three Canadian acts that I really liked back in the Bronze Age and just beyond were Rush, Loverboy, and to slow it down a bit -- Gordon Lightfoot.

Doug:  Please don't feel like you have to stick to artists who were active only in our narrow little window.  If you have some favorites from the 1960's or on up and into today's music scene, well then by all means we'd love to hear about it.  And thanks in advance!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Discuss: Woodgod is HOW strong???

Karen: A lot of us comic geeks enjoy talking about super-hero power levels, and when Marvel came out with their Official Handbooks of the Marvel Universe, with actual statistics provided, it became similar to baseball fans comparing favorite players by the numbers. Instead of batting average and RBI, we could compare how many tons someone could lift or their level of invulnerability. 

Recently my nephew sent me this link, from the Marvel wiki, which lists a vast number of Marvel characters and their strength levels. I spent some time poring over it, and I have to say I was struck by a couple of things:

1. A large number of characters have had their strength upped since they first began recording these things. I recall Colossus was originally rated at 70 tons; now he is ranked as potentially over 100 tons. The Thing, once 85 tons, is also in that class. Others who have gone up notably: Ms. Marvel, She-Hulk, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Spider-Man, Luke Cage.

2. There are some really wacky, surprising ratings here. I mean, Woodgod, 50 tons? Seriously? Or Deathlok, 85 tons? This has got to be some later iteration of the character. Or even the Black Widow, 500 pounds? Come on. Yes, she's a great athlete, but 500 pounds is ridiculous. Then again, I think they ret-conned her origin too, so she may be super-human. 

Take a look at the Strength scale and come back and let us know what you think about it. Or even more generally, do you like having concrete numbers to put with characters? 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Who's the Best... Organization Bent on World Conquest?

NOTE:  This post was originally pre-scheduled to run last Tuesday, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.  With the uncertainty surrounding that event, it was delayed a week.

Doug:  Hey, let's make today a 2-for-1!  I just saw that It's a Dan's World posted the first Thor trailer, so I've brought it over here.  Check it out below:

Monday, April 22, 2013

Shaken, Rattled, and Rolled: X-Men 127

X-Men #127 (November 1979)
"The Quality of Hatred!
Chris Claremont/John Byrne/Terry Austin

Today is review #400 on the Bronze Age Babies!

Karen: Our cover this month is a more colorful version of our splash page - I like the psychedelic
little purple swirls! The story picks up immediately from the end of X-Men #126, as Proteus has attacked a grounded Storm, who responds by whipping up a tremendous gale. But even that seems ineffective against the dangerous mutant, so Storm makes an effort to take to the air, only to be knocked down by a wave of earth. Proteus' absolute control over reality makes escape impossible. Nightcrawler urges Wolverine to help him save Storm, but shockingly, the typically feisty brawler is frozen with fear. Suddenly gunshots ring out from the ridge above -it is Moira MacTaggert. Even though Proteus is her son, Moira takes aim and we can see through her scope she is deadly serious about killing him. At the last moment her aim is spoiled by Cyclops, who says the X-Men will capture Proteus. But Moira is having none of it -she hits Cyclops in the gut with the butt of her rifle, and he strikes his head on a rock as he falls, knocking him out. She goes back to fire on Proteus again, but he has taken off in his car, since bullets (or anything metal) can actually kill him. However, Moira thinks she knows where he's headed, and jumps in her car too.

Doug:  We've been gushing over the art throughout the previous three X-issues we've reviewed this month -- today's fare is no different.  I guess by this point in the story I had begun to question just what exactly Proteus was -- he needed the host to be mobile.  Storm called him a being of energy, so am I to read into that his sentience but with a lack of physicality (if that's the right word)?  His powers seem somewhat undefined, though incredible, at this juncture as well.  Are his powers mainly mental?  Is all that we see an illusion?  Was he really able to withstand Storm's hurricane-force winds, or was that an image conjured only in the minds of the X-Men?  I also found it to be an interesting clue that he could only warp reality if he could make eye contact with his intended victim; hence, the travails that Proteus dealt Nightcrawler and Wolverine in the previous issue would not have been felt by Storm as she arrived late to the fray.

Karen: The X-Men regroup and recover. Cyclops assesses the situation and is concerned about Wolverine,  who seems to be extremely rattled by his encounter with Proteus. The art team does a nice job depicting this, with our normally swaggering runt sitting with his knees drawn up, head resting on one palm, hands shaking. Cyclops is afraid that Wolverine is about to snap, mentally, and decides to do something about it -and this leads into one of the best sequences in the entire Proteus storyline. Cyke accuses Wolvie of being a coward and tosses his drink in his face. That's enough to get Wolverine fired up and ready to rumble. This is pretty dangerous for Cyke, as Wolverine pops his claws and goes after him. But again, this was back in the days before Wolverine became godlike, so Cyke actually manages to toss Wolverine with a judo throw and hold his own. Banshee, not understanding what Cyke is trying to do, orders Colossus to intervene, but Phoenix tells him to stay back and let Cyclops handle things. Now, this would have been perfect if it had been Jean understanding what Scott was doing, just because she is so close to him and knows him so well, but Claremont had to go and ruin it by having Cyclops explain it to the readers in his thoughts, stating that he had "mentally cued Jean in" to what he was going to do before he started. I just don't see why he felt the need to handle it that way.

Doug:  A jumping on point for new readers?  Don't know, but I agree with you.  For the long-time reader it seemed unnecessary.  Not having read this story for many a'moon, I was expecting another Jason Wyngarde interlude at this point, and was surprised to not see one -- in fact, that subplot was back-burnered for this entire issue.  I think part of that was the pace of this installment, which probably takes place within the space of one day, day-and-a-half at the most.  The details in the art are nice -- lots of backgrounds, etc.  This creative team did not shortcut the consumer.  There have been two really nice shots of the entire team so far -- you mentioned one last issue with the tension between Scott and Jean.  The shot right before Cyclops provokes Wolverine is good.  I like the high camera angle, which plays off of the preceding panel of Phoenix in flight.  

Karen: As Cyclops and Wolverine go at each other, Cyke verbally jabs at Wolvie, saying he's fighting so poorly, a cub scout could beat him. He's purposely trying to get under his skin, and it's working. He tosses Wolverine at Nightcrawler, who bamfs into attack position right over Cyclops -a stunt that leaves him wide open to Cyke's optic beam, something he's warned Nightcrawler about before. Storm decides she's had enough of this, and brings down a bolt of lightning near Cyclops. He knocks her off her feet with a blast, but decides it might be time to put an end to things, and calls for a truce. Wolverine is not about to have it, until Cyke explains to them this was an impromptu Danger Room session. He had to see how they all were managing after facing off with Proteus. They all get it, and Wolverine especially seems to have a new-found respect for Scott, putting himself in jeopardy to try to shake Logan out of his shock. I recall feeling at the time that this was a real turning point for their relationship, the point at which Wolverine stopped questioning Cyclops' every order and really started to be more of a team player. And of course, back then, Cyclops was a top notch leader.

Doug:  The entire fight is really well-choreographed, and the rapidly changing camera angles give a real sense of danger and emotion to it.  The coloring on Storm as she attempts to end the fracas was well done, complete with a little Kirby Krackle!  I think Scott's intent is to not only assess the team's well-being, but in a way see just how powerful Proteus is.  Let's face it -- if Wolverine could be that far removed from his "usual self", then this baddie must be some tough customer!  We've discussed the evolution of Wolverine as a character at length, and as his story unfolded over the years, with the immersion in Japanese culture, etc., this "early" version of his characterization couldn't be further from what he (again, given what we would later learn) should have been like.  I must say I lean toward the character when we didn't know all of the details (retcons).

Karen: Proteus has moved on, heading for Edinburgh. He accosts a young woman who has a flat tire, possessing her. Moira has reached the city before him, and has arrived at the home of Joseph MacTaggert -her estranged husband.I thought the way MacTaggert was drawn, he had a sort of brutal sensuality. Actually, he reminds me a bit of the way the Black King, Sebastian Shaw, would look a few issues later. It seems that MacTaggert, who is a member of Parliament and has even greater political aspirations, refuses to give Moira a divorce, and so they've lived apart for twenty years. She left him after he apparently beat her so badly she wound up in the hospital. He had no idea that they'd had a son, Mutant X. He's shocked when Moira tells him this -and that his son is coming to kill him. He goes to grab her but Moira pulls a very large revolver and walks out the door. As she sits in her car, sobbing, Proteus watches from nearby, angry that "the one I hate" has upset Moira, again. It seems as though Moira's hatred of MacTaggert has transferred to her son over the years, and Proteus has indeed come to kill his father. We see him entering MacTaggert's home and surprising him...

Doug:  So is the root and motivation of this "villain" some sort of Oedipus complex?  Or is there something more?  The mystery deepens.  I want to also say that I don't know much of the geography of Scotland, or the larger UK for that matter, but Claremont sells me on this.  For this young reader, it was a real fantasy land, the change in locale for this story.  When you think about it, the X-Men haven't been home since the night the Sentinels attacked them, back in the late #90's.  After the introduction of Phoenix, they went to Scotland, then a few issues later to the Shi'ar Galaxy, then they fought Vindicator in upstate New York, then ended up in Antarctica, the Savage Land, Japan, Canada, and eventually here -- back in Scotland.  What globetrotters these mutants were near the end of the Bronze Age!

Karen: Meanwhile the X-Men have been able to track Moira to Edinburgh and Phoenix is locking on
to her thoughts when she is assaulted by the "psychic death scream" of MacTaggert. Phoenix telekinetically carries Cyclops and four other X-Men to the scene, causing Cyclops to wonder about her power levels. Storm flies herself, while Polaris brings Havok. Before they arrive, Moira is confronted by Proteus -but he's different. Possessing his father, he has absorbed some of his personality. Now he is an unsettling combination of father and son, and he proclaims that he "wants" Moira! Colossus is the first X-Man to make the scene, landing like a cannonball in the street. But when he goes to attack Proteus, he finds gravity twisted sideways and is hurled away from the villain. Cyclops' eye beams are no more effective, turned into flower petals before they can strike his foe. Ever the tactician, Cyke thinks their only hope is to try to wear Proteus out, make him burn out his host body before he can find another.  Phoenix readies to attack, saying he hasn't really faced her before, but Proteus grabs Moira and uses her as a shield. Moira yells for the team to attack anyway, that her life is nothing compared to stopping Proteus, but of course his action freezes the X-Men in their tracks. The mutants ask what they should do, and Cyclops says that Proteus is exactly the kind of mutant Professor X created the X-Men to protect humanity from. So -next issue, the battle begins!

Doug:  I really liked that the "entire" team was together again in this story, and it's a pity that they didn't wait for the Beast.  Proteus seemed the sort of adversary that would have made Angel's comment, "What are we going to do with 13 X-Men?" an easily answered query.  In regard to Colossus, those landings never became cliche' for me -- loved it every time!  We get another small taste of what Jean has become as she says to Proteus, "Say your prayers, butcher!"  Not exactly the Greys' little girl.  I felt so bad for Banshee, as Proteus rant is the first time he knew that Moira was married.  That's interesting in a way, because when we reviewed X-Men #117, Xavier had commented to Lilandra that although he had loved Moira, she wouldn't wait for him.  Was this an allusion to Moira getting married?  It seems strange, then, that when Moira came to "keep house" for the X-Men and Banshee took a shine to her that Charles would never have mentioned anything to poor Sean Cassidy.  Cyke shows his true colors as a leader on par with Cap and Reed Richards, doesn't he?

Karen: This was another winner, with the fight between Cyke and Wolverine being the real highlight
for me, because it changed the way these two dealt with each other here-on after in the book.Cyclops finally got the respect he needed from Wolverine to function effectively -- he became the alpha dog, essentially, in Logan's eyes - and after that, it really seemed like they were a team. We saw a little of this around the time of the Alpha Flight clash, but here's where it all came together. The only thing missing this issue was another Jason Wyngarde/Dark Phoenix slip, but there was so much else going on, it wasn't missed and probably would have been a mistake to try to force it in. All in all, a great set up for next issue's big finale.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Discuss: Bald Guys (and Gal)

Doug:  Any follically-challenged characters are fair game (Professor X, the Gladiator, Dr. Sivana, and Egghead are additional examples) -- these are just some nominees.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

BAB Bulletins: Electro, Kong, and the Man of Steel

Karen: For your perusing pleasure today, just a collection of stuff....

Karen: First off - have you seen the pictures of Jamie Foxx as Electro in the next Spider-Man film? Electro? Oh heck no!! Seriously, this looks terrible. He looks like a fish to me. Or Mr. Freeze from Batman and Robin. But not Electro.

Karen: Last weekend I went to a convention in Burbank, CA called Monsterpalooza and had a great time. I mentioned earlier this week seeing the actors from 2001, but I also saw the writer and production designer from Jaws, cast and crew of The Monster Squad, and a zillion other things. The highlight for me though was being able to hold the only existing armature from the original King Kong. The legendary Mr. Bob Burns brought the armature to a panel on Kong and was kind enough to allow everyone there to photograph it and hold it. That huge grin on my face is me realizing I am holding the beast that slew T-Rexes and climbed the Empire State Building.

Karen: We haven't talked at all about the upcoming Superman film, Man of Steel.A new trailer just came out, and I think it's looking pretty sharp. Still not sold on the muted colors of the Superman suit, but the story looks like it might be solid. Any thoughts? Looking forward to this?

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