Monday, September 30, 2013

Hulk Smash Little Man: Incredible Hulk 181

The Incredible Hulk #181 (November 1974)
"And Now... the Wolverine!"
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Herb Trimpe
Inker:  Jack Abel

Karen: Ah ha, here we go, finally reviewing one of the biggies of the Bronze Age: the first full appearance of Wolverine! At this point we knew so little about him that we wouldn't have been able to label him an "anti-hero" (to fit into this month's theme), although that would come soon enough, in the pages of the revived X-Men. Here, he was just another adversary for the Hulk. In this tale, we would actually have two: Wolverine, and that hairy brute known as the Wendigo (or as he seemed to prefer, Wen-Di-Go!).  Oddly enough, we'll be looking at Wendigo's first appearance next week, when we kick off "Heroes and Horrors" month. So we're going a bit out of order, but I think most of you are relatively familiar with him. So let's get on with the story!

Doug:  I have distinct memories of the kids next door having either this issue or the one prior to it -- I vividly remember Wolverine.  However, as I was not much of a Hulk fan I'm sure I dismissed it with a hint of disdain.  No 1990s fanboy was I, back in the '70s!

Karen: In the previous issue, Hulk felt compelled to return to Canada. It turns out it was due to the sorcerous work of one Marie Cartier, sister to the man who is now trapped in the form of the Wendigo. With the very reluctant help of Georges Baptiste, friend of her brother, they lured the Hulk north in order to perform a ritual that would allow Marie to transfer the curse of the Wendigo from her brother Paul to old Jade-jaws. However, they were unable to pull it off before a slumbering Hulk awoke and discovered the Wendigo nearby and of course fisticuffs ensued. And right in the middle of that, who should appear but a Canadian super-agent sent by his government to stop the Hulk. Yes, they honestly think Wolverine can take down the Hulk.

Doug:  Going solely off that battle that Todd McFarlane drew in Incredible Hulk #340, I wouldn't bet against the runt!

Karen: So that's where issue #181 starts -with Wolverine jumping into action against both the Hulk and Wendigo. The first six pages of the book are nothing but a free-for-all between the three of them. Wolverine jumps on the Hulk first, but switches targets when he recognizes that his adamantium claws are ineffective against the Hulk's hide (surprisingly). He has more success against the Wendigo, who, as he notes, is bigger than Greenskin but not as resilient. Hey partner, I found it interesting that the Wolverine (as he was called here) actually used his claws to cause the Wendigo to bleed. We've commented before about how heroes with swords were always having to use "the flats of their blades" against their foes. None of that here for the Wolverine! 

Doug:  Yeah, the slicing and dicing isn't bloody by any stretch of the imagination, but we are told several times that the claws have pierced and raked the Wendigo.  The script even tells us that ol' Whitey is "startled by the savage slashing".  So at least Wein got that aspect of the character (or what we'll later come to know as Wolverine's character) right.  The voice, though?  Not even close!  He's a wise-cracker here, and now seeing this in two books Len Wein wrote (Amazing Spider-Man #161 was the other) I have to wonder if Wein envisioned Wolverine as being a guy like this and was determined to write him that way.  But even though this is his first appearance, it still doesn't feel "right" to me.

Karen: When the Hulk sees Wolverine fighting Wendigo, poor old Greenskin is confused.  He quickly -incorrectly -reasons that if the Wendigo is "little man's" enemy, Wolverine must be his friend, so he decides to help him. He slams into Wendigo, announcing that he has come to help his little friend. And little is right -a caption tells us that Wolverine is only five foot five inches tall (I think the Marvel guide books would later say he was five foot three). Wolverine decides to take advantage of this, and jumps on Wendigo's back, urging his "friend" the Hulk to smack Wendy around while he's got him distracted. Hulk does even better than that: he grabs Wendigo and tosses him into some trees, completely uprooting them. Wolverine is shocked by the sheer power and violence of Hulk's attack, but only a moment; he leaps upon the stunned Wendigo and uses his claws on him. We're not shown anything but told they make a "sickening thwuck" as they strike, the implication being that Wolverine has stabbed the prone Wendigo in the throat or chest. Hulk congratulates Wolverine in his primitive way for killing Wendigo, but Wolverine says that although he should be dead, the Wendigo must be immortal. "My talons only rendered him unconscious." Talons?? Aren't those usually found on birds? With one monster down, Wolverine decides it's time to go after number two, and turns on the Hulk, which really steams the Jade Giant. Not a good idea!

Doug:  I've long complained about artists struggling to maintain consistency when drawing the giant characters (Goliath, Black Goliath, Colossal Boy, etc.); we see that here with an extremely short character as well.  I don't ever get the impression in this story that Wolverine is only 5'5" tall.  If the Hulk is a 7-footer, then Wolverine is fluctuating somewhere between 5'10" and 6'2" to my eyes.  And I think that's been an issue with all artists to take on the character.  While it might be (aside from his claws) his most important physical attribute when in a panel with other characters, it seems to be consistently missed (on purpose?) by his various caretakers.

Doug:  These were the days when the Hulk was so gullible, but I just love the speech patterns.  "Little friend", indeed!  And I have to agree with you on the "sickening thwuck" -- I'm not sure Conan was as potentially gory as this hack/slash fest! 

Karen: Hey, what happened to Marie and Georges, the nuts who had started all this trouble? They've been watching the fighting. Seeing the Wendigo -Marie's brother - unconscious, they take the opportunity to go out and drag him (what? he must weigh 1000 lbs!) into the little cave where she has been preparing to transfer his curse to the Hulk. They set up the ritual implements, including vapors that will keep the Wendigo
slumbering. Georges all the while tries to talk Marie out of it. While he was Paul's (her brother's) friend, he can't imagine that Paul would want his curse placed upon another human being. But Marie is determined. She figures the Hulk is already cursed just by being the Hulk -adding on the Wendigo part can't make it much worse. 

Doug:  I'm glad you mentioned these two very average sized people pulling the Wendigo all the way into the cave, as I thought it was a little past what I could accept.  Hasn't Wein told us already a time or two that the Wendigo is a little larger than the Hulk?  And how about those natural herbs and spices?  "Ritual implements", indeed!  I sort of felt for Marie's devotion to her brother, but she does in effect create a choiceless choice for Georges.

Karen: Back outside, Wolverine and Hulk are continuing their own little dance. We get a glimpse inside the Canadian military base that serves as Wolverine's home. There, a group of officers discuss their Weapon X. A couple of officers voice doubts about his ability to handle the Hulk, but the commanding officer remains confident. He says that they've spent a lot of time and money developing his mutant abilities, and "despite a few kinks still remaining in his psychological make-up, I think we've done a pretty good job!" So even at the very beginning of Wolverine's existence, it seems that it was planned that he would be somewhat unstable. There have been mentions of his savagery, and of course the claws lend to that sort of thing. I just wonder, if Len Wein had continued to write the X-Men, would we have seen berserker Wolverine? The commander states that in the case that Wolverine fails, they have a chopper full of commandos ready to take on the Hulk. Really? Commandos? Were the Canadians not paying attention to what had been happening to the U.S. soldiers for years when they encountered the Hulk?

Doug:  As I said above, was a framework being laid here for the future of Wolverine?  Did you ever wonder if the "X" was just used as the most commonly named variable, or was it a harbinger to the All-New X-Men?  After all, it's quite possible that Giant-Size X-Men #1 was in the works as this story was being written.  Does anyone have insight to the timetables discussed here, as far as Wolverine's potential use in the X-Men?  I do like the Barry Windsor-Smith serial Weapon X that showed this Canadian backstory to Wolverine.  Of course, anyone who doesn't like wires might not care for it...  But I think as we all would say, the character was never better than when he still had some mystery to him.

Doug:  Dumb soldiers... 

Karen: As Hulk and Wolverine battle, Marie and Georges come out of their cave and Marie starts to cast a spell. Georges tries again to convince her to stop, but she now rips into him, blaming him for the incident that caused her brother to become the Wendigo (and you can read all about it here next week). Her spell causes both Wolverine and Hulk to pass out, and when the Hulk does, he becomes Bruce Banner again. Seeing the human Banner causes Georges to become even more certain that they should not proceed with Marie's plan. He refuses to help her. She tries to guilt him into helping, saying he owes her a debt.  He storms off, but as he sits in the woods, contemplating everything, he thinks of Marie and how she will never rest until her brother is restored. He makes a decision. Unknown to Marie, he goes back into the cave where the Wendigo lies dormant.

Doug:  Georges is a noble man, but a man influenced by the pangs of love.  Say, did it strike you that Marie sort of gave off a Max vibe, a la Where the Wild Things Are?  

Karen: Unfortunately  I've never read that book! The industrious Marie has wrapped Wolverine in chains, and goes to Banner and tries to drag him back towards the cave. She strains to pull him and then realizes he's transforming back to the  Hulk. Hulk becomes upset because he feels betrayed by Marie ("animal girl").
He spends a minute yelling at her, then grabs the bound Wolverine and throws him against the ground, which only breaks his chains. Ever-ready for a fight, Wolverine jumps right back in and starts hacking at Hulk. Marie uses their battle as a chance to race off to the cave, but is surprised when she runs into a now-awake Wendigo. The battling Wolverine and Hulk are startled when they hear Marie scream. That momentary distraction is just enough time for Hulk to lay a haymaker on Wolverine's skull -and remember, we didn't know that the runt had adamantium bones back then - and only by virtue of his quick reflexes does Wolverine avoid getting killed. He is knocked unconscious though.  Back in the cave, we see that the Wendigo is trying to communicate with Marie. She is puzzled. He points to the chamber beyond and we see now that lying on the slab inside is her brother, Paul! Which means that the Wendigo is not her brother but Georges! Marie, seemingly remorseful, asks why he would do such a thing. Georges, now the Wendigo, uses the last of his intelligence to communicate -telepathically? - and tells her that he didn't take on the curse because he felt he owed her a debt, but because he loved her. The last bit of his intellect now gone, he knocks out the back of the cave wall and disappears, leaving Marie sobbing hysterically. The Hulk comes on the scene, not necessarily understanding everything that has happened, but understanding the simple human emotion of grief. He puts his hand on Marie's shoulder to comfort her.

Doug:  So you also found it funny that Marie was struggling to drag Banner even before he started to increase his mass.  Georges must have been doing some serious heavy lifting when they moved the Wendigo!  And "Animal girl" -- gotta love it!  Parts of this plot were a little too conveniently arrived at, such as the chains.  You took the words right out of my mouth (or off my fingers, I guess), because Wolverine takes a serious jolt when the Hulk slams him to the ground and pops right back up from it. No healing factor has been mentioned yet, right?  I thought the panel where he immediately engages the Hulk and showed him with his right arm bent, rather than with claws extended was for Comics Code approval.  Note that we never saw the title character slashed, as was the Wendigo.  Another curious aspect of this issue is the fact that the claws are always extended -- I read once that (I think it was) John Romita envisioned the claws as being part of the gauntlets.

Doug:  And good old child-like Hulk.  He's taken a whoopin', but he's truly a gentle giant.  I always appreciated that about him and the way he was written in the Bronze Age.

Karen: We came in on the second half of this tale, and you can feel it. But even so, it's a solid story. Not
much in the way of characterization. Wolverine is not the star here, just another threat for the Hulk to have to deal with. But the story is well-paced and the writing is solid. It's a good read, nothing spectacular but not bad at all. I'm not a fan of Trimpe's work but I've always accepted it on Hulk, as he was the artist on the book when I started reading it. He manages to convey the Hulk's raw power, and does a nice job in the quiet scene at the end. This was a fairly low-key first appearance -we certainly wouldn't have known that Wolverine would blossom into a superstar based on this.

Doug:  I agree with your assessment of Trimpe's art.  A long time ago we reviewed a few issues of Super-Villain Team-Up and I didn't care for his work there.  Granted, it looked the same as it does here, but just as you stated I accept it here.  As we, and many Trimpe apologists have stated before, Herb never looked better than when John Severin inked him.  But by now those days had passed.  I'm not sure what I thought of Wolverine as a kid, but I can guarantee you that he would get a lot more interesting and a lot cooler in just a few short months!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Morning Memories: Hanna-Barbera's Super-Heroes

Karen: How about some of Hanna-Barbera's super-hero offerings? I had a particular fondness for The Herculoids, which combined a bit of Tarzan, Lost in Space, and a menagerie of critters that would make Ray Harryhausen proud. But there were others -Space Ghost is certainly the most well-known, followed by Birdman. The Galaxy Trio are probably the most obscure. I'm sure some of you have opinions on "Space Ghost Coast to Coast" and "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law," two comedic series that were derived from from these shows. Below are the intros -I really like the music for Herculoids and Space Ghost -they're akin to the Jonny Quest theme, perhaps just a cut below that classic theme.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez's Man of Steel -- Superman 307

Superman #307 (January 1977)
"Krypton -- No More!"
Gerry Conway-Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez/Frank Springer (cover by Neal Adams)

Doug:  This post goes out to our readers who have clamored for some Superman stories as illustrated by Bronze Age great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  Today's your day.  And what's more, since I chose this story because it also contains Kara Zor-el, this will be a 3-part review stretching over the next couple of months.  Look for parts two and three (Superman #s 308 and 309) on Fridays in October and November.  And in case you didn't notice, famed Spider-Man scribe Gerry Conway is at the helm as our author.  Will he work some of that early 1970s Marvel magic, or will we walk away thinking "Of course... this is a Bronze Age DC mag."?  Let's check it out.

Doug:  DCs at this time had a curious layout, as the main stories were only 17 pages long.  The bonus, of course, was generally a 5-6 page back-up feature.  So while the headliner sort of got short-changed as compared to his Marvel Comics counterparts, the reader got a little more bang for his or her buck (or in this case his 30c).  We open with the Man of Tomorrow in a bit of a sour mood and bent on wasting a factory.  A figure we don't recognize, but who bears a striking resemblance to the Ray, sizzles into the panel from Stage Right.  He engages Superman and then knocks our hero for a loop using numerous different powers.  Claiming to be a mutant and with atomic-based abilities, he identifies himself as the Protector and makes a vow of his own:  he is the champion of all polluting industries.  Wait... say what?  He's standing up for the environment's enemies?  O...K...

Doug:  Superman's dumped out of the sky and onto his red panties, and right at the feet of a Mr. Slotvik.  Slotvik claims responsibility for bringing the Man of Steel to the factory; Superman replies that he only came to help.  We then get a flashback over three pages that shows how Milton Slotvik had approached Clark Kent after one of Kent's news broadcasts.  Slotvik knew the company for which he worked was using resources which were most likely causing employees to come down with cancer.  Slotvik wanted Kent to investigate and perhaps bring some publicity to the situation.  Clark suggested that maybe an impartial party should join in, and offered to contact Superman.  Slotvik agreed.  However, the conversation was interrupted by a "news groupie" named Terri who threw herself at Clark.  Of course, Lois Lane happened by at just the right (wrong) time, jealousy emanating from her pores as she coldly addressed Clark about her plans to fix him dinner.  Clark, however, exited with Terri.  And then... this took a really weird turn.  While on the elevator with Terri (nope, no Love In An Elevator here), Clark began to fill out the invitations to his own pity party -- "You call me a man -- but I'm really a native of a planet called Krypton -- and much as I like you, we can never be anything to each other -- any more than Lois and I!  I'm an alien -- an outcast -- a loner -- and that's the way it must remain!"  And he walked off in a foggy funk and left Terri wondering what the heck just happened.  Me, too!

Doug:  We cut back to the near-present as Superman makes an appearance at Slotvik's job site, Metro Chemical Plant.  Supes is greeted by Morton Kalmbach, the president of the company.  He's a smarmy sort, and offers our hero a tour.  Kalmbach's attitude is one of greed and uncaring, and he admits to Superman that there's bound to be some collateral damage on the way to a healthy bottom line.  Superman stops him and asks if he's admitting to knowing that what they do at the plant could be causing cancer for the laborers; Kalmbach says it's only a "socially acceptable" danger to the men.  And that's when Superman went off.  Once the flashback is over, Superman leaves Slotvik and flies away to the Rocky Mountains where he finds a high peak upon which to sit and brood.  He thinks about the mortality of the men in danger at the plant, and then his mind wanders to Krypton... his lost Krypton.  Readers are then treated to a brief backstory of Jor-el and Lara, the rocket bearing little Kal-el to Earth, the explosion of Krypton, etc.  Superman's losing his cool here, and shouts to the heavens, "Hear me, world!  I won't let you commit planetary suicide!  I swear I won't let you die... I swear it!"  I thought at this juncture the story began to take a turn down the path that Paul Dini and Alex Ross walked in their wonderful Superman: Peace on Earth treasury.  But it was short-lived.

Doug:  Superman swoops onto a giant ocean-faring tanker and begins to pluck sailors from its decks.  The men are whisked away and deposited on a nearby island.  As Superman works, he thinks to himself that a) these are the sorts of ships that have oil spills and b) this one must therefore be about to dump crude into the ocean!  His goal is to hoist the ship and put it into orbit (yeah, because that wouldn't burn up on re-entry and cause atmospheric damage...), then come back to Earth and corral any others he can find.  Umm...  Did Conway forget about the fuel crisis of the mid-70s?  Because pulling a whole lot of supply is going to increase the demand and drive that price up, up, and away...  Well, as Superman begins to gain some lift, he's suddenly attacked with ice.  Yup -- the Protector wants to be sure those super-tankers can do their thing, even if it is leak all over the seven seas (remember the query I posited about Conway's scripting back at the top?).  The two super-combatants get it on, with Superman again coming out on the short end and the Protector again escaping.  Superman figures no worries, and surfaces to again take care of the ship.  But who should be on site but his cousin, Supergirl?

Doug:  Kara asks Superman what the heck he's doing, and when he tells her she becomes the voice of reason... temporarily.  She barks at Clark that they have no right to interfere and that he needs to stop.  He asks her if she wants Earth to end up like Krypton, and here's where the wheels fall off.  Kara grabs Superman by the arm and tells him he needs to deal with the fact that Krypton didn't explode because there never was a Krypton!  Superman is no alien -- he's the Earth-son of Jonathan and Martha Kent!  And then she zips away, heading north.  Superman gives chase, and they are very soon at the door to the Fortress of Solitude.  Supergirl continues on this odd path, and once inside begins to destroy all of Superman's Kryptonian memories, including the large statues of Jor-el and Lara.  Superman begs her to stop, but she just keeps going, eventually showing him the Bottle City of Kandor.  Superman asks her how she would explain the fact that there are thousands of Kryptonians living in the bottle -- and she says to look again.  All of the people in the city, and the city itself, is just a plastic model.  Superman is about to lose his mind when Kara slaps him -- get with it and quit living the lie!  She tells Superman that they are not cousins, but they are mutants.  Their fathers, Jonathan Kent and Fred Danvers, were scientists working on atomic experiments.  Fall-out from their efforts mutated their children.  Superman's sweating now, really questioning everything.  And then the Protector arrives.

Doug:  Just like that -- this yahoo shows up and starts to mix it up with Superman again.  And once again, Superman looks like a second-stringer.  The Protector displays all the powers of Captain Atom, the Vision -- you name it -- he can about do it all.  And that keeps Superman off balance until he decides to use his X-ray vision to look inside his antagonist.  He notices that the Protector's heart glows just before he makes a molecular change.  The Protector can sense that Superman is using X-rays against him, and so begins to transmute himself into nitrous oxide.  However, at that same instant Superman switches to heat vision and WHOOM!  The Protector is nowhere to be found.  Supergirl asks Superman if he's all right.  He says that physically he is, but emotionally he's a mess.  He's excited that he's no longer an orphan, but what is his life now all about?  We'll find out together near the end of October, kids!

Doug:  I'm glad Edo Bosnar and others recommended that I check out some Garcia-Lopez Superman stuff.  As I've said at some point around here (shoot, I can't recall what I had for breakfast yesterday!), I had the Superman vs. Wonder Woman Limited Collector's Edition when I was a kid, but have no idea whatever became of it.  So I was excited to get the Adventures of Superman: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez hardcover at WizardWorld Chicago in August and recover that story.  The art in this tale, as advertised, was really nice.  I haven't seen enough of Garcia-Lopez inked by others yet (well, Romeo Tanghal on the Teen Titans Baxter series, but I don't recall much about it), so I cannot really comment on Frank Springer's influence.  But the figurework is really done well, the panels have varied camera angles, and the story does move along.  My criticism isn't with any of the visuals herein but the story.  Sheesh!  I don't want to sound all negative and like a broken record, but tell me this isn't a Bronze Age DC!  I'm sorry, this story is more about Julius Schwartz and less about Gerry Conway.  That being said, and although I thought the level of the story was again marketed to that tween-aged male, I think it does show that Conway's no slouch.  Because he does sell the story -- it's ridiculous, but that's plot only.  The story itself is not poorly written.  And you know what?  I've already read the next two issues, and it gets just a trifle sillier as we go.  Stay tuned in about 30 days.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Can You Hear Me Now?

Doug:  Not a hoax!  Not an imaginary post!  This is the big one -- the one you've been waiting for!!  Well, at least it's a post a few of you have asked for -- today we're talking audio comics, radio shows, podcasts, etc.  Anything where our heroes or favorite characters were heard, but not seen in motion, is fair game today.

Doug:  Front and center, at least for this little fellow, are the Power Records.  I had several of these gems back in the early to mid-70s.  Some years ago I purchased the Fantastic Four comic/record that reprinted Fantastic Four #126.  I also picked up the Spider-Man outfit that reprinted Amazing Spider-Man #s 124-125 featuring the debut of the Man-Wolf!  I recall having several Planet of the Apes comics/records, as well as a few of the Marvel superheroes -- for the life of me I don't recall which ones though.  Little did I know, back when I had these book/records in the 70s, that the stories were often chopped up to meet the page count as handed down by the production company.  And how about the Spider-Man album, Rock Reflections of a Superhero?  Did any of you have that?

Doug:   Let's round this out with a discussion of radio shows, Bronze Age or older.  Personally, I've never listened to any of those, and I'm even today not a big podcast guy.  But for those of you who are, tell us why it's "your thing", what you like and don't like, and give us a few reminiscences on the Power Records!


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holy Revival! What's Up with Batman?

Karen: The first wave of figures from the Batman TV show are out and available from fine retailers everywhere. They look pretty great -detailed and with solid likenesses to the actors. Who's purchased these figures?  Not only are we getting a ton of products, but DC is putting out the Batman '66 series too. What's up with this sudden outpouring of love for the Adam West-era Batman? Sure, there's always been some nostalgia for the show, but why has it become so popular right now? Are people burned out from years of an unrelentingly dark caped crusader? Let's hear what you think about this -and the products themselves.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Just a Sociopath and His Little Green Dog: Amazing Spider-Man 129

Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974)
"The Punisher Strikes Twice!"
Gerry Conway-Ross Andru/Frank Giacoia/Dave Hunt

NOTE:  Doug apologizes in advance for some of the distorted images.  For whatever reason, when converting the .pdf files to .jpg files, the full pages always turn out boxy-looking.

Doug:  After that somewhat-clunker of a tale last week, we're back in familiar territory.  In case you missed it, we spent five weeks in August (and the first Monday in September) wall-crawlin' with Spidey.  Here we find ourselves again, and in a significant issue no less!  Our theme this month is "Invaders and Anti-Heroes", and today we feature a fellow who is perhaps Marvel's ultimate anti-hero.  You want a vigilante?  Frank Castle's your guy.  Oh, and how about the other major introduction in this yarn, the Jackal?  I know, I know -- many of you loathe the Spider-Clone storyline.  I happen to like it.  Someday, maybe, I'll twist my partner's arm into reviewing those issues.

Karen: Hey, you never know, if we do this long enough, we just might wind up reviewing those issues! But there's so many other books to do first. Like, nearly any others. That's a little joke...  Anyway, let me say I really love this cover. It's certainly iconic now, being our introduction to one of the few characters created in the 70s that has managed to rise up (at times) to the upper levels of popularity. The Romita-designed costume is a beaut, and the layout, with the cross-hairs and upside down Spidey, is quite memorable.

Doug:  The cover is attributed to John Romita and Gil Kane.  My assumption is that Romita did the Punisher figure solo, and then inked Kane's pencils on the Spider-Man figure.  Any thoughts or arguments?

Doug:  Right from the splash page, there's just no doubt at all what we're dealing with here -- a couple of wingnuts.  The Jackal sits cross-legged on some machinery while the Punisher takes dead aim at a statue of Spider-Man.  The Jackal cackles as he goads the Punisher, telling our skull-chested warrior that he does like the killing.  Right away we get a hint of the Punisher's twisted honor code:  He doesn't enjoy killing, and kills only those who deserve it.  Spider-Man is one such person.

Karen: Never understood why the Jackal was green. Just throwing that out there. I don't really feel that the Punisher is crazy though. Obsessed, sure, but a psycho, no. You do wonder why the Punisher would ally himself with such an obvious weirdo. Everything about the Jackal screams "madman" and even a guy like the Punisher, who may be a vigilante but not a nut, should be able to see that.

Doug:  After only four panels we cut away to our star, spinning webs across the Manhattan skyline.  Of course it's never boring when you're Spider-Man, and he soon spots a heist in progress.  Mounting his camera, Spidey swoops down and smokes the gang.  It's a scene full of typical Spidey bravado, and features some nice work by penciler Ross Andru.  At the end we get the familiar neatly-webbed packages hanging from the lamp posts for the police.  A quick scurry up the wall to retrieve his camera, and Spider-Man swings off toward the Daily Bugle.  On the way, there's some nice plot recapping by scribe Gerry Conway, as Spidey meditates on his troubles in the wake of Norman Osborn's death, and the effect on his friend and Osborn's son Harry.  As Spidey lands and changes clothes, we get a really odd Peter Parker panel.  I get what Andru was going for, but it's just weird looking.  Downstairs, we see the usual suspects in Betty Brant, Joe Robertson, and J. Jonah Jameson.  It's a nice two pages of familiar characterization, and as I always say when we do an Amazing Spider-Man review it's a warm fuzzy to see the supporting cast.  Of course Jonah has to berate Peter for bringing in photos of the botched robbery when the Punisher is waging a one-man war on the mob.  Peter's curiosity is more than piqued.

Karen: Spidey makes quick work of the thugs, as he should, and I was struck with the feeling that this was a nice way for someone new to the character to see just what he could do. I thought Conway handled Peter's inner struggles well -he was not overly gloomy about Gwen's death but it was still hanging over him, impossible for him to forget. I know what you mean about that series of panels after Peter changes into his civvies -it seems like Andru was trying to show Pete 'putting on a happy face' but it comes across awkward. JJJ is appropriately over the top. He was fun. I much preferred him as a goofball than as a serious threat.

Doug:  As Peter exits the Bugle he heads back to the roof and switches back to his Spidey duds.  While swinging through the city he's in the sight of a high-powered rifle... the same weapon we saw in the hands of the Punisher at the beginning of this story.  His spider-sense goes off like church bells and the spider-agility kicks in just in time to avoid a massive concussion blast.  Lighting on a nearby wall, Spidey locates his assailant and swings over to find that the Punisher was the shooter.  Spider-Man attacks, but the Punisher evades the assault in a nifty bit of tumbling I didn't know he could pull off.  Spider-Man attempts an interrogation, but Castle isn't much in the mood for talking.  Instead, he vaults over to a chimney and pulls out another rifle.  This one fires a wire that instantly encircles Spider-Man and pins his arms to his sides.  The Punisher moves in closer, calling him a criminal and a parasite, and lamenting that he won't enjoy killing our hero.  Well, if you thought a little titanium alloy wire was gonna hold May Parker's nephew, you'd have been mistaken.  A burst of strength, a little incredulity from the Punisher, and ol' Frank's head smacks hard against the chimney.

Karen: I've never been a big Andru fan, but he pulls off some nice work here. The scene where Spidey evades the concussion blast, and especially the panel where he punches the Punisher into the chimney, are just fantastic. That punch looks so fluid, and Punisher's reaction is as if he were hit by a wrecking ball. Great stuff.

Doug:  Even though the Punisher's noggin cracked some bricks, he's back on his feet and getting the business end of Spider-Man's fists (is there another end to a fist?).  But, unbeknownst to the Wallcrawler, the Jackal is hiding in the chimney!  With Spidey's back turned, the green-garbed villain rises from the shaft and uses his claws to rake the back of Spider-Man's head.  Spider-Man staggers, grabbing his wound.  He totters near the edge of the roof, and begins to topple!  The Punisher remarks that he won't see his enemy die in this fashion; the Jackal calls him a fool.  Spider-Man is able to fire off a web and make it across the street, but with his balance disrupted he goes right through a window, shattering glass among the startled office employees.  Moments later, he's back on the roof to pay the debt.  Of course by this time the Jackal and the Punisher are nowhere to be found.  However, the rifle that had fired the wire still lays on the roof!  Examining it, Spider-Man notices a label on the gun's butt.  Bingo!

Karen: The Jackal has "electro-prods" in his claws, whatever those are, so there's a reason Spidey goes staggering over the side of the roof. But here's villain trope #5 for you: they don't check to be sure he's dead after he falls! Oh well. The dialog here clues us in on the true natures of both the Punisher and the Jackal -Punisher upset about killing Spider-Man in such an "unjust" way, and Jackal having no problem with it.

Doug:  Back in his apartment, Peter uses two mirrors to inspect his head wound.  His hair seems to cover it, but his Spidey mask is tattered.  Peter thinks about how he was supposed to meet Johnny Storm to work on the Spider-Mobile, and about collecting rent from Harry.  I was a bit confused by that last comment, as I was always under the impression that Norman Osborn had footed the bill for Harry's digs.  Anyone?  Peter, still wearing his Spider-socks, sits on his bed attempting to sew his mask, when we are taken to a view outside the apartment.  Harry presses his ear to the door, and then worries that Peter is in there waiting to ambush him.  He frets that Peter knows he is the "Green Goblin", and is now his enemy.  Claiming to be all alone, Harry slinks away from the door and back down the stairs.  Cut to the Empire State University campus, where Mary Jane Watson has been accosted on the sidewalk by Professor Miles Warren.  Warren asks her if she's seen Peter -- Warren wants to apologize to Peter for misjudging him a few issues prior when the Vulture had shown up on campus.  MJ says she'll pass the good word.  As she departs, she thinks to herself about getting involved in Peter's life, and if she wants to deal with the baggage he's carrying from Gwen.  She convinces herself that Peter's not much fun, but she's only concerned for fun herself.  Except... she doesn't seem to do a very good job of convincing herself.

Karen: Regarding the rent comment, I assume Pete needs the money, however it gets paid. Man, that's just a bad room-mate situation! "My arch-enemy's son is my room-mate..." AND he's a pill-head! Oh boy! Loved seeing Petey trying to sew his suit. Can you imagine how ratty his costume would have looked after a few years of repairs like that? The Spider-Mobile -possibly the most ill-conceived thing to appear in a Marvel comic. Of course, Gerry Conway didn't come up with it, it was forced on him and he did what he could with it. Probably the best thing about it was it provided an excuse to have Spidey and the Torch hang out again.

Doug:  Back in the very lab in which we began our reading, the Punisher backhands the Jackal up against the wall.  Frank Castle is not at all pleased with the way things went down on the roof earlier.  The Jackal tries to do some damage control, hoping to keep the Punisher convinced that Spider-Man is indeed a criminal.  Castle gets his topcoat and storms out, saying he's going to the Mechanic to get his wire-gun replaced.  The Jackal, feeling that his union with the Punisher has run its course, makes a snide remark about what a great team they are.  A short time later we find Spider-Man landing at the Reiss Armory to inspect the lead he'd picked up back on the roof.  And, guess who is arriving at the same time -- yup.  Our guy in black.  Spidey enters first, and calls for any sign of life once inside.  What he finds, however, is a very dead Mr. Reiss, the proprietor.  The Punisher bursts through a large window and gives Spidey a solid kick upside the chops.  The battle is joined tooth-and-nail, with Spidey trying to talk some reason into a raging Punisher, who's just seen Reiss's corpse.  Now nearly possessed with anger, Castle won't listen to Spider-Man's query about the marks on the back of Reiss's head -- marks Spider-Man felt earlier in the week!  Spidey finally figures it's time to talk sense, so (in a nifty rendering by Andru) he launches his full weight into the Punisher's face, dropping him.  Just a head-clearing moment later Castle awakens to find his hands bound and Spider-Man sitting next to him.

Karen: Really no reason Punisher couldn't have used the door, but breaking through the window looked cool. And speaking of cool, I agree with you about Spidey's very acrobatic moves to a three-point landing on Punisher's face.

Doug:  Solving the crime, Spider-Man asks the Punisher if he left the tag on the wire-gun used the day before.  Castle scoffs at the suggestion, and Spider-Man tells him that they need to start putting two and two together.  Claw marks on the back of Reiss's head, a gun placed on the roof that the police would find, Reiss killed a short time before the Punisher would have arrived at the gun dealer, and Castle finishes it by saying that the Jackal had been out of sight for about an hour earlier that evening.  The Punisher is furious that he's been used as a pawn and swears revenge on the Jackal.  Earlier we'd learned that Frank Castle was a Marine; Spidey then asked him why he was Stateside.  Castle said is was none of his business, and left to fight his "lonely war".  With sirens approaching, Spidey exited the premises as well.  But as he swung away, he passed a shadowy figure who had watched it all -- the Jackal.  And the Jackal swore he'd get Spider-Man on his way to taking over the city.

Karen: I found this a satisfying read. The introduction of the Punisher just leaves us wanting more, which is a tribute to Conway's skills. You can feel a lot of threads being put in place for stories to come and you just know Harry's going to do something awful. The art was solid, even spectacular in a few places, which is saying something, as I'm not an Andru fan. All in all, time well spent.

Doug:  I enjoyed this issue a lot, too.  There was quite a bit of action and a ton of characterization crammed between the covers!  As I've remarked several times in the past, Ross Andru isn't my favorite Spider-Man artist, but he's "my guy", on board when I began reading the character regularly.  As you said, Gerry Conway does a nice job with laying some subplots in the Jackal storyline.  I think we all know how this will turn out (I won't spoil it here for those who haven't read the succeeding 20 issues of ASM), but it's sure not evident here at the start.  In fact, the line about the Jackal running the city seems a far cry from the resolution of his arc, doesn't it?  And what of the Punisher?  It's interesting to read this issue in such close proximity to our reviews of ASM #s 161-162 just a few weeks ago (which were around the 5th or 6th stories in the Punisher's development).  The "war journal" hadn't been developed, and it's interesting that we're only dropped a single hint about his background.  Overall, this issue was a nice piece of writing by Gerry Conway, who I generally regard as at the top of his game in this era of the magazine.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Everybody was Kung Fu Fightin'

Karen: The late 60s/early 70s gave us martial arts mania -Bruce Lee and a wave of Hong Kong films, David Carradine and the Kung Fu TV series, and of course both DC and Marvel had martial arts characters galore -Shang Chi, Iron Fist, Karate Kid, Richard Dragon, etc. In modern film and comics, it seems like everyone knows some form of martial arts. Share your thoughts on any and all aspects of the 70s craze, and how it has influenced modern media.

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