Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Who's the Best, DIY Version

Karen: All right, gang -it's your turn! That's right, it's another DIY version of "Who's the Best!" The first person to comment needs to come up with today's topic. "Who's the Best" typically asks the BAB community to make a choice  - in the past, we've asked, Who's the best giant monster,  Superman artist, musical trio, Tarzan get the idea! It's up to you to ask the question today. So go ahead -we're waiting!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Discuss: Dune

Karen: I know I read at least the first two books, maybe three...but it was a long time ago. I was impressed with Herbert's world creation in book one, but I felt like there really wasn't a sympathetic character to root for, not even Paul. I have a few other vague memories about the books, some of which are now over-laid by the film 1984 film with Sting, which I don't really consider a good thing. Any thoughts on Dune, Frank Herbert, the series carried on by other writers, the David Lynch film, or even the SyFy Channel mini-series?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Giant-Size July: Iron Man Annual 3

Iron Man Annual #3 (1976)
"More or Less... the Return of the Molecule Man!"
Steve Gerber-Sal Buscema/Jack Abel

NOTE:  An upfront apology from me (Doug) on some of the art samples.  I used the Iron Man dvd-rom, and for some reason when I convert the .pdf files to .jpg files, sometimes there are distortions in the proportions of the panels or pages.  Count me as technologically inept in this regard!

Doug:  Isn't it just a bit of comic book karma when comments are made concerning the prowess (or lack thereof) of a particular artist, and then said artist turns up on the creator list the very next week?  You'll notice today's inker is none other than Jack Abel; Karen and I had discussion of him last week in our review of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233.  I'm sure an evaluation will again be made today concerning his embellishment of Our Pal Sal.  And what of scribe Steve Gerber?  You have to think, just looking at the conglomeration of characters on the cover above that this tale could be right in "Baby" Gerber's wheelhouse.  We shall see.

Karen: I can already tell you, just glancing through this book, that the art is not going to make me get warm fuzzies, and it's all due to Mr. Abel. But I'll soldier on. I should note however that I did pick this title up off the spinner rack as a kid.

Doug:  Perhaps without saying, you could have guessed that this story would begin in the swamps of Florida.  What maybe you wouldn't expect is that Steve Gerber would basically use this Iron Man Annual as a further platform for expanding on his ideas that you could have found on display in the Man-Thing monthly (and the various Giant-Size issues as well).  Sure enough, on my first reading of this material I sort of felt like I'd come late to a party.  I've never been a follower of either Steve Gerber or the Man-Thing -- both hallmarks of Marvel's Bronze Age, and you'd get no dispute from me.  However, in my limited interests and with my limited budget as a 10-year old I just never crossed those paths almost-40 years ago.  Anyway, Tony Stark has come to the Everglades to see the remnants of "Omegaville", a village of geodiscs run in a completely "green" fashion.  Stark is meeting with a Dr. Marshall and his assistant Paul.  Stark decides to back the project that will rebuild the site, which was destroyed by a man named Yagzan (Giant-Size Man-Thing #1 -- here we go!).  Witnessing this meeting is the Man-Thing himself, formerly known as Ted SallisWhile on site, Tony spies a skeleton in the reeds.  Paul tells him that it was the body of a fellow named Yagzan, who was the leader of a group called the Entropists and who protested the building of Omegaville.  He had gained supernatural powers and had fought the Man-Thing, only to be reduced in the end to a petrified skeleton.

Karen: I too had read only a few Man-Thing books and like you had a limited familiarity with the character and his mythos. So much of what was laid out here was completely new to me. The name "Yagzan" rang a bell during this read through though. I realized that I encountered the revived Yagzan in Marvel Two-in-One #42 and #43 about two years later! Nothing ever really disappears in the Marvel universe. And doesn't Stark look like a real stiff here? Again, nothing like Robert Downey, Jr! The general public would be so surprised.

Doug:  I agree.  You know, when you ran the post about jerks, Tony Stark should have been near the top of many commenters' lists.  However, I don't think he got much attention.  This Bronze Age Stark is indeed a far cry from the Stark of Civil War or even the Marvel films.

Doug:  The Man-Thing saunters off into the swamp, where he is halted by the sight of three children playing.  One is dressed as Spider-Man, a young lady portrays Iron Man, and the third is claiming to be the Molecule Man and even bears a staff remarkably similar to the Molecule Man's weapon.  We soon find that the red stick in question is indeed the depowered staff of the MM.  Or is it?  As the children play-fight, the rod is knocked into the water.  No  one of course wants to wade in to get it, so tomboy Cynthia decides to fetch it.  While in the slimy swamp she stumbles, but righting herself displays the red staff.  At that same instant an alligator enters the water, but is halted by the Man-Thing!  The large lizard is no match for the protector of the swamp.  But Cynthia, running for her life now, races right into a small pool and disappears.  The Man-Thing shuffles over to the water and waits -- but the girl does not emerge.  Her playmates, horrified at what they've witnessed, race home for help.  A search for her body ensued, and despite the casket at the funeral, it was never found.

Karen: It's interesting to note that Man-Thing's intense dislike of fear directs him towards where the girl is facing the alligator, and he momentarily hesitates, uncertain which of the two to attack! Ah yes, a true 70s comic. The whole scene with the kids could have come right out of a cheap flick like "Legend of Boggy Creek."

Doug:  Weeks later, the work on the biodomes is proceeding rapidly.  Stark is in town to supervise, and that means his bodyguard is along, too.  Iron Man suits up when some mysterious mace-like orbs appear in the sky, and upon closer inspection he finds that they are lethal -- the spikes detach, and operate as heat-seeking missiles!  Iron Man's superior quickness is no match for the explosives, and he causes many of them to detonate harmlessly.  However, upon completion of that act, the maces turn to smiley-face balloons!  IM ponders the situation momentarily, and notices a crowd has gathered on the ground.  In typical Stark bravado, he assumes they are there to thank him.  Uh, wrong. A rotten tomato upside the helmet clues Stark in that these guys a) aren't a bunch of country bumpkins, and b) don't necessarily want him around.  The dispute is interrupted quite suddenly, though, by a geyser of asphalt.  Something is most certainly amiss in Florida's Everglades area...

Karen: It's definitely a Gerber story, what with the weapons turning into smiley-face balloons. And how about that local tomato-hurler, and how he feels about Iron Man? "He talks jes' like one o' them press secretaries!" What a hoot!

Doug:  Additionally, one might ask why that tough was carrying a tomato in the first place?

Doug:  The eruption had lifted Iron Man and his assailant -- the fella who threw the tomato -- into the air.  But when the force stopped, they fell, and hard.  The local guy landed on his back and shoulders, fracturing his skull and indeed dying.  Iron Man used his boot jets to save himself, but the people aren't happy with him.  He chooses a wise strategy by exiting the scene.  Later, Stark has coffee with some of the men associated with the geodome project.  They inform him that the area is quite conservative, not prone to change, and is quite suspicious of the progressive building project.  Stark asks if there is anyone with his finger on the pulse of the community, someone who could get him "in" with the townsfolk.  He's directed to the local jail, where a former DJ is incarcerated for having protested local book burnings.  Hey, in that regard, the German writer Heinrich Heine once said, "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."  I think of that every time I hear of a book burning, whether it was back in May of 1933 or about 10 years ago when Harry Potter books were burned out West.  Anyway, Stark and Richard Rory visit for several minutes.  Stark describes what's recently happened, and Rory suggests that it sounds like the work of the only super-villiain Citrusville had ever seen:  the Molecule Man!  Moments later, Stark is in his limousine and starts a video call to Avengers Mansion.  The Vision obliges Stark's request and patches him through to the Baxter Building, where he hopes to ask Ben Grimm about his tussle with the MM and Man-Thing.  It's no go, says Reed Richards, but Stark is able to get confirmation that the Molecule Man did indeed die during Ben's adventure in Florida.

Karen: I found it kind of surprising that Iron Man not only didn't save the jerk, but seemingly makes no attempt to do so. I suppose Gerber was trying to move the story in that direction, building animosity between the town folk and Iron Man, but it's interesting that he wasn't drawn as making an effort to rescue the guy. Although I never read much Man-Thing, it's not surprising that Gerber incorporated political and social issues into the stories.  He pretty much did that with all of his work. I did laugh a bit at how Richard Rory was drawn - that long hair was rather girlish looking, with the little flips at the ends!

Doug:  Why did I think the name "Richard Rory" was so familiar?  I could not place either the name or the look, but had a real sense of deja vu while reading that part of the story.  As I said, I was never a Man-Thing reader, but I'm wondering if the name came up in one of the Mighty Marvel Calendars or somewhere.

Doug:  We then cut back to the swamps where Cynthia had perished.  Suddenly the pool into which she submerged begins to bubble, and from its depths emerges the little girl, still wearing her Iron Man costume and still grasping the staff she'd carried.  But this is not Cynthia who rises -- instead, it's the Molecule Man in possession of her body!  Once out of the water, MM tests his powers, but notices that he feels strange.  Crafting a mirror from wood, MM sees that this body needs a little... work.  Using his ability to control anything with molecules, he alters Cynthia's body and grows to adult-size.  However, in spite of his increased mass, he retains certain... feminine attributes.  This is going to be a struggle, and indeed it is -- Cynthia isn't going to let go of her body!  Witnessing all of this is the Man-Thing, whose empathic nature has drawn him back to the pool.  Molecule Man turns a log into a jet-propelled bicycle, and uses it to jet off to Cynthia's home.  The Man-Thing follows, at his sloggingly-slow pace.  The Molecule Man enters "her" home, much to the shock and horror of Cynthia's mother.  Outside, and a few hours later, Tony Stark's limo driver reels with a shock of his own at a shambling mass of muck stepping into his path.  There's no avoiding the Man-Thing, and the limo crashes into the beast.

Karen: The hyper-muscled Cynthia -- really drawn as a man's body with breasts -- was a pretty disturbing sight then, and still is now. I wonder what Sal Buscema thought about it when he was drawing it? 

Doug:  Good point -- I had a head-scratching moment when that scene first played, as I was taken aback at what they were going for.  The limo driver banged his head on the the windshield and passed out, so it's Iron Man who emerges from the back seat to confront the swamp creature.  Shellhead uses a repulsor blast at Man-Thing's feet and a hand point back toward the swamp to try to cajole the creature to leave the area.  Yeah, right.  Despite the Man-Thing's mushy state of being, he still packs a wallop and sends the Golden Avengers sprawling.  Righting himself, IM again tries to subdue the creature with repulsor blasts; they go right through.  So, running out of options, a frontal assault is the next attack option.  Yuck -- Iron Man becomes fully engulfed in muck.  Brushing it all off of himself, Stark thinks that there is really only one option left and removes a small capsule from a compartment in his shoulder -- a cryogen bomb, liquid nitrogen that freezes the Man-Thing where he stands.  That should do it!  But, as fate would have it -- and in a comic book, Fate always wins -- Iron Man just happens to have battled the creature right in front of Cynthia's house.  A house which now transforms into an emerald palace right before IM's eyes!

Karen: Tony is amazingly fast changing into his armor, in the back seat of his limo no less! His attempts to get rid of Man-Thing were pretty funny. Man-Thing's cohesiveness seems to vary quite a bit. When the limo hits him, he seems pretty solid, yet at other times things go right through him. He's sort of like a mucky Vision. And how about that cryo-capsule Shellhead had in his shoulder compartment? That's almost as good as carrying shark-repellent on your utility belt!

Doug:  Was Stark still using the collapsible armor that fit in his briefcase at this time?

Doug:  Inside the palace, the Molecule Man has created a throne for him/herself and taunts Cynthia's mother from this perch.  Apparently domestic relations between Cynthia and her parents were never tip-top, and Cynthia uses her newfound powers to take some revenge.  She turns her mother into a doll, and promises that her dad will get the same treatment when he gets home.  But there's a struggle taking place, between the Molecule Man who wants full control and Cynthia who doesn't want to give in.  There are some very strange scenes here, of the Molecule Man punching him/herself in the face, and writhing on the floor while choking him/herself.  Quite bizarre fare.  Iron Man, sensing this may be the work of the Molecule Man, punches his way into the palace.  But he gets in on the schizophrenic mania that's taking place.  The Molecule Man wants to attack; Cynthia has always held Iron Man as her favorite among super-heroes.  MM finally decides to leave.  This affords Iron Man the opportunities to a) check on Stark's chauffeur, and b) remove the Man-Thing (still frozen) to his home swamps.

Karen: The Molecule Person (as Gerber refers to him/her) is highly conflicted, and I don't know that I ever got to see anyone punch themselves in the face before in a comic. You know, it seems to me that this story would have fit a lot better in the Defenders than with the uptight Iron Man! They had foes like the Headmen; this wouldn't have phased them at all!

Doug:  Perfect!  The Headmen!  Weeks later (we're not immediately told why there's been a lull in super-baddery from the Molecule Man), Stark and the other stakeholders hold a press conference to officially open the refurbished Omegaville.  But as the media and noted environmentalists have assembled, suddenly a huge skeleton comes tottering on the scene.  We're told that it's Yagzan's skeleton (what, no one removed the crazy thing over the past several weeks/months??), and it's grown to around 20 feet.  Stark uses the distraction to change into his fighting togs, but is knocked back by the creature, which has obviously been enhanced.  So is Stark's armor, and a double-repulsor blast to the joints of the skeleton bring it down.  Iron Man remarks that it would be just like the Molecule Man to show up again on the day the biodomes open -- yet no one knows why that comment would be true.  But true it is, as suddenly a short distance away Cynthia emerges from a pool of water -- in a vegetable-like state.  Paul rushes to her, but is kicked away by the newly-emergent Molecule Man!  All those weeks of quiet?  It's taken that long for the Molecule Man to drive Cynthia's will down.  Iron Man steps in, and the MM discards a doll -- the doll that is Cynthia's mom.

Karen: I had the same reaction as you did: why was Yagzan's skeleton still around?? I guess we'll never know the answer to that one. I found the idea of the tiny, talking Mom doll incredibly creepy. 

Doug:  Iron Man attacks, but is met with a blast from MM's control rod.  He's transmuted to a being of iron, and frozen in place.  But as the Molecule Man gloats, the Man-Thing has arrived and grabs MM's hand from behind.  Shocked, the Molecule Man attempts to recoil -- and you know what that means:  whatever knows fear BURNS at the touch of the Man-Thing!  The rod is separated from the Molecule Man, which ends the enchantments -- the Molecule Man's essence reverts to the rod, Cynthia's body falls to the ground, the doll becomes Cynthia's mother, and Iron Man is returned to his normal state.  But as fate (there's that Fate thingie again!) would have it, a passing snake attacks the rod and is possessed by the spirit of the Molecule Man!  As the snake isn't the smartest critter on the planet, the Molecule Man is in complete control, and ruthless.  He attacks Iron Man to kill, and Iron Man is forced to strike and dodge, hit and run, until he can get close enough for a solid shot at the snake-man's face.  The rod is again dislodged from the Molecule Man's grip.

Karen: The snake part really seemed unnecessary -Gerber even writes, "We've still four pages to fill," so I think he was doing some hustling here. The snake man was pretty silly.

Doug:  Iron Man held the control rod long enough for the Molecule Man to exert his influence, but Stark resisted mightily, taunting his assailant and telling him that if he couldn't fully possess a 10-year girl how did he think he could take down a full-grown adult trained in fighting super-baddies?  But the Molecule Man brings IM to his knees, until the Man-Thing grabs the rod from Shellhead's hand.  And what now?  The Man-Thing is bereft of a mind -- at least any sort of mind advanced enough to be controlled.  And with that set of circumstances, the Molecule Man was defeated.  The swamp creature simply turned, control rod in mucky mitt, and sauntered back into the Florida jungle.  Iron Man tried to rise to his feet, but was drained from even that short battle of wills.  The dignitaries and project managers rally to Iron Man's side, as do Cynthia and her mother (wait, didn't the girl physically drown?).  Paul tells Iron Man that he's not sure just what happened, but that it was pretty scary.  Iron Man simply replies, and tells everyone that he's going to need some time to sort out this adventure.

Karen: Iron Man's mental struggle with MM was well-drawn. Having Man-Thing unknowingly save him was also done well. Overall I thought this was a pretty average story. I just didn't really get into it. Part of it was the art, but I also felt a lack of interest in the plot. Maybe if I'd been a regular reader of Man-Thing it might have meant more to me.

Doug:  I thought this story was OK -- not great, just OK.  It could have easily been published as a 2-issue crossover between the Iron Man and Man-Thing monthlies, but that being said it did have some of the characteristics of an Annual -- self-contained story, guest-starring hero, and multiple battles.  As I said at the top, it seemed as if Steve Gerber was using this to tie some loose ends from his Man-Thing scripts -- nothing major seemed to be added to that mythos, and Iron Man would be no worse for the wear for having been included here.  And now to Mr. Jack Abel.  I don't know that he did Sal any favors on this job.  The art is pretty solid Sal-fare.  But it just seemed that there were times when the figures were a bit stiff, and some of the embellishment on faces (in particular) seemed a bit soft and feathery.  Overall, not bad at all, but just not polished as a Joe Sinnott, Terry Austin, or Bob Layton would have turned in (is that even fair to compare anyone to those three?).  Now all this being said -- had I purchased this back in my 10th year, I'd probably have been one happy little dude.  I definitely would have come to this book with a sense of awe and wonder, and that's the way it should be!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Discuss: The Wolverine

Karen: We saw this film last night. I enjoyed the beginning, with Logan at the lowest point we've ever seen him, and I liked the direction they seemed to be going. But the ending veered off wildly, almost as if it were another film entirely, and really dragged the whole film down for me. Leaving this as spoiler-free as we can for a while, please feel free to discuss your thoughts on the movie -I'm also curious to see how many of you are even going to go see it! P.S. If you go, sit through the credits -there's a fun scene with some old friends you won't want to miss.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Take 5: Bronze Age Pencilers

Doug:  A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I used the image above in a post about our Top 5 childhood memories; we followed that one up with a post about favorite Halloween candies.  Today we'll begin an on-again/off-again series of posts that may range from top artists to top rock-n-roll groups to top TV shows.  This will be sort of an extension of our Bracketology polls -- but here you'll get to tell the world how you rank your favorites in a particular category.  Of course, we'd love to hear you sweat about why artist A is just ahead of artist B in your book.  Those should provide some interesting conversations and debates.

Doug:  As you see from the title, today's question asks you to list your Top 5 Bronze Age pencilers.  You decide if you are choosing the artist, his/her style, or his/her body of work -- totally your call.  As I stated, just give a detail or two that might be fodder for the rest of us.  Here's my list (Karen's follows) --

1.  John Buscema.  You name it, he can draw it.  Especially adept at the weird mage or monster, Big John drew beautiful women, cinematic action, and animals par excellence.  His total body of work, from the 1950's all the way up to the end, is unmatched.  He wasn't always the sexiest name du jour, but quality was his hallmark.

2.  George Perez.  Details, details, details.  It was exciting to watch him grow during the Bronze Age.  By the end (and you can choose Crisis on Infinite Earths for that parameter if you want; personally, I'd hate to exclude his Wonder Woman tenure or his partnership with Kurt Busiek on Avengers, volume 3), he was among the best ever.

3.  John Byrne.  I generally hold his tenure on Fantastic Four, sans Joe Sinnott, against him.  If I take that away, and focus only on his other work at Marvel and then onto Legends and the Superman books at DC, he's knocking on John Buscema's door.  In spite of the revitalization that he brought to Marvel's flagship title, I really do not care for the art on that specific run.  But there is no doubt he's a true master.

4.  Neal Adams.  If the man only worked in the Bronze Age, he might get the top spot.  I just love his work.  The energy and exploration he brought to comics was revolutionary.  When I think of Batman, I see Adams' work.  His run with Roy Thomas on the X-Men is a favorite.  And while I don't care for the stories in the GL/GA run, the pictures sure are pretty to look at.

5.  Jim Starlin.  Even I am surprised by this, as I expected to write Sal Buscema's or Joe Kubert's names here.  But after our Thanos reviews, and especially the wonderful Avengers Annual #7, I have to put Starlin on this list.  As Karen and I mentioned, his pencils fell under the influence of several inkers -- and he still looked great, the panels popped with energy, and the storytelling was solid.  That transcendence is the mark of a master, and Starlin wears that hat well.

Karen: I have a  hard time with lists. It seems like my mind changes a great deal depending on the mood I'm in. But I think in this case, I can say the first four men on my list would all be in my top  five no matter what -it's just a question of what order they'd be in on any given day! The fifth selection was more difficult. My list is also very similar to my pal Doug's, so it's going to be rather boring. But here we go:

1. Jim Starlin. I put Starlin first just because he really epitomizes that Bronze Age feel to me. His work is so unique, yet you can see glimpses of all the artists he has studied: the power of Kirby in a fight scene, Kane's sense of anatomy, and the bizarre otherworldliness of Ditko in the weird dimensions his characters roam. I love the detail in his work and his dramatic storytelling. At his best, reading one of his books is an experience.

2. John Buscema. The master of the classical look. Big John straddles both the Silver and Bronze ages, and much of his work that I love really fits in the Silver Age, but he was still prominent in the Bronze Age and when I think of certain characters, it's his work I see in my head.

3. John Byrne. Like my blog partner, I don't care for Byrne's self-inked work on Fantastic Four, but his work with Terry Austin on X-Men is one of my favorite runs of all time. I also liked Byrne on Marvel Team Up, Avengers, Champions, Iron Fist, and a ton of other Marvel titles. A great storyteller, able to convey both action and quiet moments.

4. George Perez. What can you say about the guy? Just an incredible artist, particularly on team titles. I think I liked him best during his Teen Titan years, even though that wasn't my favorite book. I thought he got a little over-wrought during Avengers vol. 3. But the man's work is just spectacular.

The first four were easy. After I had chosen them I came up blank. Who was number 5? I thought of Neal Adams and John Romita Sr., but I felt that my favorite work of theirs was more properly Silver Age. Then there were a number of others I enjoyed but just couldn't pull the trigger on: Sal Buscema, Rich Buckler, Mike Ploog, Mike Grell. Finally I went with:

5.  Dave Cockrum. Cockrum really never stayed on any one title very long, but when he was hot, he was on fire! His Legion work was incredible and revitalized the title. And of course, he brought the all-new, all-different X-Men to life. Beyond that, he was a gifted costume and character designer and came up with some of the best looks in the business. So he's more than worthy of a spot.

Doug:  Now how about you?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SDCC 2014

Karen: I'm sure most of you are aware that Comic-Con has come and gone. Of course, it's less about comics now and more about entertainment in general. There was quite a bit of news to come out of the show this last week, particularly on the movie side of things.We thought we'd share some of it (you've probably heard it before from one of the major geek outlets) and see if anyone had any thoughts they'd like to share.

  • There have been some pictures from the next X-Men film, which will be based (to some degree) on the classic 'Days of Future Past' storyline. We've seen headshots for some characters, which includes Bishop - his first time in a film - and a booth for Trask Industries which included the detached head of a Sentinel -- looks a bit small to me. From everything I've heard, it sounds like director Bryan Singer is throwing everything but the kitchen sink in this film. I'm both excited and concerned at the same time. If it's over-loaded with characters, will we still get enough time to really develop any of the key characters in the story? Or will it be another X-Men 3?

  • The makers of the upcoming new Godzilla film set up a 'Godzilla Experience' in a warehouse near the convention center. It included props from the Toho films and a bank of TVs showing different films. It also had a recreation of Tokyo under Big G attack, including overturned police cars and a noodle bar (!). But the best part was that at some point an alarm would sound and visitors were suddenly whisked into an elevator and taken upstairs, into an office, where they would see out the window (in reality a large screen) Big G appear and glare at them! It's the first look at the new Godzilla. Sounds like a clever gag for Godzilla fans to enjoy. Here's a shot of the big lizard, taken from the Ain't It Cool website.

  • The next DC film will be a big screen team-up of Superman and Batman. Director Zach Snyder announced at SDCC that the next Superman film would feature a meeting of the two heroes. Henry Cavill will return as Superman, and it sounds as  if most of his supporting cast will also reprise their roles. No actor has been named to play the Dark Knight yet. The film is scheduled to begin shooting in 2014, with a release date in 2015. That sounds like they are fast-tracking this. The DC team also unveiled a combined Superman-Batman insignia, much like the one seen recently in the Superman/Batman comics. Supposedly, a Flash film may also be in the works for 2016, with the long-awaited Justice League to follow in 2017. 
Karen:  This might be an interesting direction to go. They do need to do something different with Batman, to distinguish him from the Christopher Nolan films. Personally I'd like to see them get away from the all black  rubber suits and bring in the grey and black look. I'd also like to see a smart Batman. But I'm surprised that we're getting a Flash film but no Wonder Woman film. I read a snippet from another Warners exec (a woman exec this time) who said she felt that Wonder Woman's background was just too convoluted to easily bring to the big screen. That seems like an excuse. In any case, I'll be curious to see if they really get a JL movie together. Seems like the date keeps movie further out.

Doug:  I agree with all of the points you just made.  Having Superman and Batman get together in Superman's next film really necessitates a Batman reboot.  Unless, are they going to pick it up with "Robin" from The Dark Knight Rises stepping immediately into the mantle of the Bat?  I would think that fans would appreciate a film of his own to get used to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the role.  Curiously, the logo above gives off more of a Milleresque "The Dark Knight Returns" vibe, doesn't it?  And Wonder Woman?  Either presentation of the character used on the 1970's TV show would work in a feature film (WWII or contemporary).  I don't know what DC is afraid of.  Overall, other than Cavill, do they have any talent locked into long-term contracts?  Because that's what has made the burgeoning Marvel Universe on film so attractive -- there's staying power among the Hollywood actors in the suits.

  • A real shocker came on Saturday night, when the Marvel Studios folks announced that the title of the next Avengers film would be - get this - "Avengers: Age of Ultron!"  Nothing more was said about the movie itself at the SDCC panel. But reports indicate they will not be basing the film on  the recent series by Bendis (gag). However, a source at (read it here) had Joss Whedon quoted as saying that Hank Pym would NOT be the creator of Ultron!  If he's not the creation of Hank Pym...well, I think I will be fairly unhappy. A big part of what makes Ultron such an effective enemy for the team is his oedipus complex and connections to the team. If he's just a smart, indestructible robot, I think that lowers the intensity of the conflict and uniqueness of the character quite a bit. What do you think? Now admittedly, this source could be wrong, so I guess we have to wait and see how it plays out. But if they're right...
  • In happier, less complicated news, Doug points out all the cool new Marvel Legends line from Hasbro, with a wide assortment of characters, including this wild looking new Tiger Shark! More pictures can be seen at I flipped through the gallery and I couldn't believe all the characters they have on display. I have to admit I didn't recognize some -I've been away from comics long enough that I haven't kept up with the changes!
Doug:  I also share all of your concerns about the Avengers film.  Where's Hank Pym, and how does this affect the upcoming Ant-Man film?  This seems like a "putting the cart before the horse" sort of situation.  And in regard to the Marvel Legends figures, I was very excited to see some of the characters -- Tiger Shark, Radioactive Man, and Batroc the Leaper... are you serious?  However, at current MSRPs of almost $20, I've long ago given up on this line.  And that's a shame, as they are now producing figures we could only have dreamed of as kids.  Bring back the days when I could go to Wal-Mart and find the Juggernaut for $7!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Giant-Size July: Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes 233

Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #233 (November 1977)
"The Infinite Man Who Conquered the Legion"
Writer: Paul Levitz
Penciler: James Sherman
Inker: Bob Wiacek

Karen: We get a hefty dose of time travel in this Legion story.  Also don't be fooled: despite appearing on the cover, neither Saturn Girl nor Mon-El appear in this story. That always annoys me when characters are on a cover but don't appear in the actual book. It's almost as bad as getting a George Perez cover with Don Heck art inside! Speaking of art, the chores are handled by James Sherman and Bob Wiacek. Sherman was on the title for quite some time in the 70s, and I thought he had a sort of unconventional style, but I liked it. I'm not sure it would work with every title, but it seemed to work for the Legion. Although I didn't care for it when he was inked by Jack Abel, but I never cared for Abel's thin, Colletta-like inks on anyone.

Doug:  Actually, we can part company on one of your art comments here, but I'm going solely on the review of Superboy #231 that ran a year ago.  I thought the overall art job in that book, with Abel on the inks, was far better than today's art.  That being said, I'll offer that the coloring in my comic that is my resource for today is pretty muddy -- however, and now I'm going round-and-round, there are a lot of blacks in the backgrounds.  So is that Bob Wiacek, or the colorist?  I couldn't say for sure.  I will say this, though -- the back-up story with the art team of Mike Nasser and Bob Layton blows away the lead feature.  We may have to revisit this issue at some future date to pick up on that tale. 

Karen: I'm just not an Abel fan, so you're right, it's a rare disagreement on the art!

Doug:  And in regard to the covers not matching the interiors, two thoughts:  First, I think we could get a chorus of affirmations on the bait-and-switch concerning artists.  Secondly, it runs in my mind that Captain America was often on Avengers covers when he would not be on the inside (G-S Avengers #2, right?). 

Karen: The story opens with a bunch of Sklarian raiders (all women -what was the deal with that?) making a sneak attack on a group of Legionnaires who are driving a vehicle loaded with some equipment back to Legion HQ. They're transporting a time machine apparently. Superboy grabs a bunch of the raiders and gets them away from the transport, while Star Boy makes another group super heavy, and Lightning Lad imprisons others within an electricity cage. Unfortunately still more raiders appear, determined to get the machine, and they zap Star Boy and Lightning Lad from behind. But they weren't aware of Brainiac 5, who calmly holds his ground, protected by his force field belt. Superboy returns and he and a recovered Lightning Lad handle the remaining attackers.

Doug:  Not only were the Sklarians all women, but they apparently had Dave Cockrum design their fightin' togs!  Love the panel with Superboy apologizing for the "rough ride", as he flies away with one of the ladies slung over his shoulder, her costume no-doubt evoking Daisy Duke at that point.  Hey, pet peeve:  DC always, always, felt the need to have a narration box from the editor whenever a Legionnaire's real name was used by a teammate.  Drove me nuts.

Karen: Isn't that weird? I never understood the need for those boxes! Back at Legion HQ, Dream Girl, Colossal Boy, and current Legion leader Wildfire meet the group on their return. Dream Girl rushes out to hug Star Boy. She tells him she had foreseen the Sklarian attack but couldn't foresee the result. Wildfire comments about the typical lack of accuracy in her powers -he was never the most tactful guy! But I have to admit, I sometimes wondered how she made the team and someone like Polar Boy was relegated to the Subs. Brainy greets Rond Vidar and shows him the hyper-time drive. Rond had been a supporting character in a number of Legion stories. He was a teen-ager and a genius, and had invented the Legion's time cube. He was also revealed at some point to be the son of Universo. Wildfire breaks up the lovey-dovey stuff between Star Boy and Dream Girl, telling them they need to help get the Hyper-Time Drive into the lab for Rond to work on.  It seems like he's just enjoying hassling them. Superboy tells him to let them be, they've earned some time together, he'll handle it, and handle it he does, as he effortlessly lifts the contraption over his head and flies off with it. Colossal Boy and Wildfire follow him, with Wildfire saying that Brainy thinks Rond's new invention might be the key to harnessing time itself.

Doug:  Somebody should have poked a hole in Wildfire's containment suit.  What a jerk.  However, his faceplate (in a manner similarly to Iron Man's) always provided an artist the chance to cut loose with a nice reflective image of other characters in the scene.  I like the panel that showed Colossal Boy using his flight ring while giant-sized.  Oh, and speaking of the young lovers, do you recall the notorious panel of Dream Girl sleeping, and you can see ol' Thom's head under the covers?  It was in Superboy #201, and that sneaky Dave Cockrum was the culprit!

Karen: Well that's a new one on me! I never heard about this little bit of naughtiness before. But I guess  once I reached my teens I sort of assumed that there was a lot of messing around going on inside Legion HQ. After all, all those teens cooped up together  hormones raging. Besides, I don't think there was any mention of an adult chaperone at this point (like there was in some Silver Age tales).

Karen: Inside the lab Rond toils for hours setting up his device. As he attaches the last cables of the fail-safe device, he tells Superboy that this is the most powerful time machine ever built. He says it should be able to test their theory that time has a circular flow. Right then, Phantom Girl enters with a strangely-garbed man: professor Jaxon Rugarth, who has volunteered to participate in the experiment. I'll admit, I'm not sure exactly what Rugarth is supposed to be doing in this experiment. They say they believe the machine will be "powerful enough to send me full circle through time - traveling into the future far enough to return to today!" Yeah, OK. Rugarth enters the capsule and Rond activates the machine. It begins to glow, and then disappears, only to reappear again almost immediately. He and Brainy are both puzzled by this. Suddenly the craft explodes and out comes a menacing figure, who says that they were right -- time is circular, but that circle is infinite! And so he witnessed the Earth's birth and death a million million times -- and also went through his own death and rebirth from Jaxon Rugarth to the Infinite Man. There's a nice splash page of said villain surrounded by images from the past and future. Is it just me, or did his headgear and facial appearance remind you at all of the old X-Men foe, the Living Monolith? I think it's the energy lines in the eyes and mouth.

Doug:  Well, as if the sexy techno raiders weren't odd enough to open the story, I'll admit to counting pages until we were done shortly after we hit Jaxon Rugarth.  With all of the super-powered teens available, why send a civilian on such a dangerous mission (and an ill-defined one at that) -- Stone Boy would have been perfect!  Why in the world would time be circular?  It flies in the face of evolution -- and I mean the evolution of everything.  Technology doesn't go backwards, does it?  What's this idea that time will eventually meet its own past?  I have no physics for that...  I do think the Infinite Man is indeed reminiscent of the Living Monolith, appearance-wise.  I don't mind the look of this guy -- in fact, his first appearance is very cool (I love art like this where simple outlines and muted colors are used to add effect).  Did you think the exchange between Brainiac-5 and Rugarth was odd?  Brainy calls the much older professor by his last name, while Rugarth counters by addressing Brainy as "sir".

Karen: I'll admit I never quite understood the purpose of the experiment, but I think I cut this story some
leeway, since it was a vast improvement over the previous issue we reviewed. But, I hear ya, it's far from perfect. The transformed Rugarth is now of gigantic stature, and immensely angry with Rond Vidar. He grabs the young scientist and tells him he wishes he could make him suffer as he has suffered. Then he uses his time powers to conjure up some dinosaurs to keep the Legion busy. There's a sweet shot of Superboy punching a T-Rex right on the kisser. I have a harder time believing Colossal Boy could wrestle one, but I guess people do wrestle crocodiles! The super-teens manage to free Rond from the Infinite Man's grasp, but he seems immune to their attacks. He uses his powers to send Superboy to a realm outside of normal time, and places Star Boy inside some sort of stasis field, with no flow of time.

Doug:  I had to wonder when reading this story if Marv Wolfman didn't appropriate some of the details for his own Sphinx character that appeared in the pages of Nova.  I just felt over and over that I'd seen this schtick before; however, it was Wolfman's character that debuted months ahead of this Levitz creation.  That being said, and if memory serves, we readers didn't learn the Sphinx's origin until Wolfman tied up his loose ends in 1979's Galactus story that ran in Fantastic Four.  

Doug:  I thought the tussle with the dinosaurs was OK, although I did think the one Superboy punched was a trifle cartoony.  Did you think Superboy got back from his banishment a bit too quickly? 

Karen: Nowadays it would take Superboy three issues to get back!  The Infinite Man has not counted on Superboy's experience, even at this age, exploring the universe, and all the different levels of it. So he's caught completely off guard when the Teen of Steel comes blasting back through into the here and now to slam into him, knocking him off his feet! He seems more stunned by the act than actually hurt though, and he concedes the first round of the battle to the Legionnaires, and fades out. Shortly after their enemy disappears, Star Boy's stasis field also is extinguished, and he snaps back to normal. The Legionnaires regroup, realizing how dangerous a foe they face. Wildfire tells Superboy to stick to Rond like glue, and then sends three other team-mates (Dream Girl, Phantom Girl, Brainiac 5) out to seek out clues to find a way to beat the Infinite Man. The rest -- Lightning Lad, Star Boy and Wildfire, will work on defense and stay around, waiting for the next attack. They're wagering that the Infinite Man won't attack in the past, that he'll want to attack 'now', to keep Rond suffering. 

Doug:  One of our readers has attested to a dislike for time travel stories.  As I was reading through today's story the first time, I was just overcome with a sense of invincibility for the Infinite Man (and Kang for that matter).  How can a guy (or gal I suppose) who has mastered time, who knows the future -- even in its infinite possibilities, and can blink in and out at will, be beaten?  And even though it's true that DG, PG, and B-5 aren't all that fisticuffy, I thought it was a bit of a blow to their self esteem when they were sent away.
  Probably tactically smart, but just seemed a bit cold for Wildfire to say it out loud.

Karen: While the Legionnaires prepare for the next attack, the Infinite Man is also preparing -- he's gone to a place/time beyond time, where he has learned to harness his powers to their maximum. IM rants a bit about how he wants Rond Vidar to have had enough time to feel fear over his return. He blames Vidar for making a miscalculation that caused him to suffer for eternity. Again, I'm not too clear on what the experiment was supposed to do in the first place, but obviously, it went way past what IM expected.

Doug:  By this point in the story, the whole vengeance angle was wearing on me.  Just off Vidar and be done with it!

Karen: Cut now to the planet Naltor, homeworld of Dream Girl. She's been in consultation with the High Seer of her planet (all her people can see the future) -- although he still appears to be deep asleep as she speaks to him! It turns out he's been of no help to her -- so she heads off to return to Earth. Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 has also been trying to get some help from his people, on the planet Colu. Only instead of consulting dreams, they're using computers.  However, the great brains of his world say they've been debating the nature of time for six centuries, how can they give Brainiac an answer? In an unexpected display of emotion, Brainy smacks a pile of papers from his colleagues' hands and says maybe they should try doing things rather than constantly debating them, and he stomps off.

Doug:  Naltor -- now there's a party for you.  How about that Brainiac-5?  He was especially abrasive in this issue.  Makes you wonder what Supergirl saw in him.

Karen: Back at Legion HQ, the super-teens are gathered around Rond Vidar. Lightning Lad makes an inane comment about Infinite Man must have destroyed himself, when (of course) he immediately shows up and blasts them all! Colossal Boy shoots up to giant size and smashes IM in the face, shattering part of his ornate head-dress, which just seems to tick him off, as he calls forth a pterodactyl to harass the huge teen. Wildfire and Lightning Lad exchange tremendous energy blasts with IM (some nice artwork here) as IM tells them if they just hand Vidar over, he'll let them live. But of course the Legionnaires are not having it. Star Boy uses his mass-increasing power to bring the roof down on top of IM's head, but this only slows him down for a moment.

Doug:  I was sort of unclear as to what the Infinite Man is composed of -- he seems to be drawn as an energy creature, but that smack from Gim was pretty awesome.  I think, in all of my Legion reading, that this story was Star Boy's biggest moment.  He really dominates some of these action scenes.  Oh, and some nice Kirby Krackle in the energy attack!

Karen: The third and last of our Legionnaire scouts, Phantom Girl, has reached her destination: the strange planet Gendyx, where dwell entities of pure psychic energy beyond the bounds of time. She tries to get their help against the Infinite Man, but the creatures are too far gone to care about humanity. Phantom Girl leaves forlorn.

Karen:  Back at HQ, the Infinite Man confronts Rond Vidar. Vidar tells him that what happened was an accident, and reminds him that the dangers of the experiment were explained to him. The Infinite Man scoffs. How could he have understood what would have happened to him? How could anyone explain what would become of him? While they talk, the Legionnaires rally to attack, but the IM causes them to experience a fraction of what he felt, during his eons of existence in a timeless realm. The Legionnaires collapse, leaving Vidar and IM alone. IM tells Vidar he will condemn him to a timeless place, but suddenly Brainiac Five appears and tosses Rond his force field belt. The device is able to block IM's time blast, much to his consternation. Brainy knows it can't hold up long, but he says that he now knows how to defeat him; he has to cause an overload. Of course, he's then zapped, but not before Superboy and Wildfire regain consciousness (how does Wildfire lose consciousness? Isn't he pure energy?). Superboy figures out what Brainy was alluding to and destroys the fail-safe mechanism that Rond had put in at the beginning of the story. IM calls forth a bunch of funky looking cavemen types and dinosaurs to molest the Legionnaires, but Wildfire and Lightning Lad focus on overloading the hyper-time drive. IM seems awfully sure of himself, but Rond Vidar tells him that even though they miscalculated what would happen, the hyper-drive did have a circular effect, and he can reroute it back to send the Infinite Man back through a never-ending loop in time. With that the Infinite Man is struck by a beam from the machine and sent hurtling through time, a horror-struck look on his face. In the aftermath, Rond and Brainy discuss the possibility of working out a cure for Rugarth, and someday bringing him back. Brainy says they should make it a top priority -- because the Infinite Man could come back, stronger than before!

Doug:  Gotta love that Rond Vidar, bringing up the signed disclaimer!  I thought the ending of this tale was just weird.  They basically consign the Infinite Man to the very life he's lived forever, and was willing to kill for.  How about a Phantom Zone projector here?  At least he would have been in stasis -- this treatment almost seemed cruel, even... vengeful.  And that last bit about saving him because he could come back more dangerous than before?  That doesn't sound all that altruistic...

Karen: I thought this was an exciting, well-drawn story, even if elements of it didn't hold up. I think time travel is inherently difficult to make sense of, and there were times reading this that I thought of some of the Kang stories from Avengers and Fantastic Four.  A time-traveling enemy is so powerful, and unpredictable. I also liked the look of the Infinite Man -- he had a very Neal Adams/psychedelic feel!

Doug:  Isn't that funny?  I thought this story was pretty middling.  I felt like Levitz just kept throwing action scenes after action scenes, with little characterization.  We don't know anything about this Rugarth fellow, other than he got a bad shake and he's really ticked off about it.  I will offer that since the story basically runs on spontaneity, the Legionnaires do craft several plans in response to the threat.  But the notion that Brainy's belt could repel a blast from this incredibly powerful engine of hatred?  Wasn't buying it.

Karen: I would agree that it's short on characterization -it's very plot-driven, and unfortunately parts of that plot (the whole time travel experiment) don't make a lot of sense! But as a slam-bang action story, I thought it was pretty fun.

Karen: There's a second story in this issue, featuring Princess Projectra, written by Levitz and drawn by Mike Nasser, and I have to say the splash page is rather, uh, well, it would have been right at home in Heavy Metal! It's not a particularly compelling tale either, so we'll leave it to you all to find for yourselves. How many people really wanted a Princess Projectra back-up? I mean really!

Doug:  Ha!  Again, I did not read ahead when I made my comments about Nasser above!  No, I didn't read the second story, but as I -ahem- stated above, the art is way better in the second story.  Heavy Metal indeed!  And in answer to your question about those desiring a Princess back-up -- pre-Cockrum, no one.  But in this suit, apparently there was a market.

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