Friday, January 31, 2014

BAB Classic: Three Cows Shot Me Down! Avengers #97

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 28 November 2011.
And join us tomorrow for all-new, all-different material, in the pulse-pounding BAB tradition!

Avengers #97 (March 1972)
"Godhood's End!"
Roy Thomas-John Buscema/Tom Palmer (cover by Gil Kane/Bill Everett)

Doug: Here we are -- the conclusion to this wonderful 9-part epic. Last week one of our commenters stated that this was tailor-made for a graphic novel. You'll get no argument from this corner. And speaking of comments, Karen and I want to pause and thank everyone who has participated in the conversation -- you've left almost 100 comments on the previous eight installments. Certainly this has been a story worth discussing! So let's get to the endgame:

Doug: I have a couple of observations before we really get rolling, and both involve terminology. One, throughout this story it's been referred to internally as the Skrull vs. Kree War. When did that change to the Kree/Skrull War that we all know? Secondly, and in the same vein, when did the Intelligence Supreme become more commonly known as the Supreme Intelligence? Does anyone have any history to impart? Many thanks in advance if you do!

Karen: I think "Kree-Skrull" just flows better than "Skrull-Kree." As for the Supreme Intelligence vs. Intelligence Supreme, I'd swear I read an interview with Thomas where he said that he liked the way "Intelligence Supreme" sounded better than Stan's original term of "Supreme Intelligence." But obviously, later writers went back to the original.

Doug: So we left off issue #96 with Rick Jones being unceremoniously tossed back into the Negative Zone. I remarked that we'd begun this epic with a little tussle against Annihilus, so why not end it that same way? The Neg. Zone baddie immediately spies Rick and zeroes in on him. Roy and Big John give us a nice two-page spread that recaps how we got to this point. And since this is the first mention of John Buscema penciling the ending to what had become one of Neal Adams' masterpieces, why don't we ask for everyone's opinions on the art switch. Keep in mind that it was apparently Roy's decision to table Adams, due to what Roy has referred to as "deadline issues". Thoughts? Personally we're switching out da Vinci for Michelangelo. Styles are obviously different, but in the end they're both masters.

Karen: If we'd gotten Don Heck here, I'd be crying. I have no complaints! Both are tremendous artists. The only thing I can say is that Adams' panel layouts are more adventurous, perhaps more cinematic. But Buscema has his own gravitas.

Doug: Whoo-boy... as long as you bring up the Dashing One, I guess I'd ask our readers if the Kane/Everett cover to the final chapter is any more jarring than the shifts from Sal to Neal to John on the interiors?

Doug: As I said, Annihilus moves in quickly on Rick. Rick is fearful, as he's unarmed and basically floating in space. As Annihilus puts the clamps on Rick's throat, a blast of energy suddenly emanates from Rick's brain and drives the monster back, and away. We then cut to the Skrull throneworld where the emperor is gloating over Wanda and Pietro's failed attempts at freeing Captain Marvel from the negative energy with which he's surrounded himself and the omni-wave. Anelle, the Skrull princess, tries to get daddy to chill out on the off-worlders, but he's hearing none of it. Mar-Vell is suddenly roused from his trance, we'd assume at the same moment that Rick lashed out at Annihilus. Mar-Vell tells Wanda that in his attempt to contact Rick with the omni-wave he unwittingly tossed the young man into the Neg. Zone. Mar-Vell then, for the second time in this epic, destroys an omni-wave.

Karen: Already Mar-Vell is starting to feel somewhat martyr-ish. He's mostly been a tool and that doesn't really change through the course of the story.

Doug: We cut back to Rick, who is hurtling through space. Suddenly a portal appears right in front of him, and accepts him. Rick lands back in the prison that is the Supreme Intelligence's chambers. The S.I. tells Rick that he has again been orchestrating many events in the Kree/Skrull War and Rick's mindblast is just one such manipulation. But as they have this conversation, Ronan is spying on them. Aware that they are discovered, the S.I. orders Rick to reach back in his mind, to find heroes of yore who might serve as champions. Strangely enough, the S.I. seems to know of American comic books from the WWII era!

Karen: This is Roy having fun. Everyone knows how much he loves the Golden Age heroes he grew up with, so he found a way to incorporate them into the story. I have to say, when I first read this (as a child) it left me confused. Now I can enjoy it, even if it does seem somewhat self-indulgent.

Doug: In a great splash page, we see Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch, the original Vision, the original Angel, the Fin, the Patriot, and the Blazing Skull leap into action against a Kree army. Buscema and Thomas give us some tutelage on the powers of these "new" heroes as they tear through the Kree. But just as suddenly the Golden Age warriors begin to fade out. Ronan sees this as his opportunity to slay Rick and the S.I. and orders the army into the chamber. Inside, the S.I. tells Rick that his mind had given him a brief respite in order to fully concentrate on what he must do next. As Rick cries out, his mind again unleashes an unexpected and horrible force that reaches across not only his immediate space, but all of space. Kree and Skrulls everywhere, battling all segments of the Avengers and their allies, suddenly fall as still as statues.

Karen: Wow! Who knew human beings had such potential? This made me think a bit of sci fi shows like The Outer Limits or especially the episode "Charlie X" from the original Star Trek series.

Doug: Cap, Iron Man, Thor, and the Vision, suddenly left with no one to fight, take the chance on redirecting to the Skrull galaxy. Blasting through hyperspace, only to emerge once again in the midst of the Skrull armada, the heroes get a free pass to the Skrull stronghold. Even the spaceships sit idly at the power that Rick had emanated. The Supreme Intelligence now wants to show Rick what has been transpired on Earth in their absence. We get a scene involving that pain-in-the-butt H. Warren Craddock -- in actuality the fourth Skrull from Fantastic Four #2! In a scene indicative of the political turmoil that was the early-1970's, once Craddock reverts back to his Skrull form, an enraged, anti-alien mob lynches him on the spot.

Karen: And there's that fourth Skrull you were asking about way back when, Doug! I thought the revelation that Craddock was not only a Skrull but had been manipulated by the Supreme Intelligence was pretty darn clever. The panel of the dead and bloodied Skrull imposter was quite powerful.

Doug: The S.I. then gives Rick, and us, the explanation for the entire War, and for the events of this issue. The Kree and Skrulls have warred as rivals, each having advanced up the evolutionary ladder. However, sensing that they will "improve" no further, they both turned their attention to their perceived real enemies -- the humans of planet Earth. And what of Rick's new powers? Manipulated by the S.I., Rick used abilities latent in all humans. As Ronan had put dampers on the S.I.'s abilities to affect the upper echelons of Kree and Skrull intelligences, the S.I. instead chose to enhance and influence the more "normal" players in this game. After the story is told, Rick succumbs to the stress of the day, and passes out.

Karen: I thought the idea that both races were at some sort of evolutionary dead -end was interesting, although I'm unsure what that really means (how do you stop evolving? bad gene pool?). This part of the story really sets things up for years to come. The inability to evolve would lead the Kree into the "Operation Galactic Storm" storyline many years later.

Doug: The Supreme Intelligence next uses his powers to open a portal and reassemble the Avengers, including Captain Marvel. All appear around the fallen Rick. The S.I. fills everyone in on what has transpired and then tells Mar-Vell that in order to save the boy, he must make the supreme sacrifice -- merge once again with Rick, hence giving Rick the lifeforce that will save his now-endangered life. Being a true hero, it really doesn't take Mar-Vell to long to reach the right decision -- and it's back to the Negative Zone he goes, as Rick rises once more. As a last act of the War, the S.I. sends the heroes back to Earth, where they encounter Nick Fury and the real H. Warren Craddock. Fury fills them in briefly, but it's an Avengers team that arrives home with heavy hearts in spite of their victory. They are missing one of their own, and wonder if he himself didn't make the ultimate sacrifice -- Clint Barton is not among them!

Karen: As much as I have enjoyed the Kree-Skrull War over the years, I've always felt the conclusion was the weakest part. We get a deus ex machina in the form of omnipotent Rick, fixing everything. It was just a little too neat for me. The Supreme Intelligence is the wizard behind the curtain, controlling it all, which I don't mind, but after all the strife and bloodshed, to have the war simply stopped was unsatisfying. I also would have liked to get a scene of the Vision reacting to seeing Wanda, but that would come later, along with our questions about the missing Hawkeye. I still consider this one of my favorite comic stories of all time, but I have to admit that it could have used a stronger ending. The ideas from this story though have had a huge impact on the Marvel Universe; the concept that human beings have the potential to be gods has shaped many a story. The Kree and Skrull, and their conflicts, continue to motivate new writers. Roy, Neal, John, and the rest did some world-building here and also gave us an exciting story. And -it was done in one title! No need to cross over into a dozen other books. Imagine that.

Karen: On another message board, a friend who is a big Neal Adams fan and has been reading our Kree-Skrull War posts brought up our Avengers 95 post. He believes that the cover to Avengers 95 was drawn by Adams and not John Buscema as we had stated. He cites Adams' own web page as evidence. On the other hand, the Comic Book Database lists Buscema as the artist. It still looks more like Buscema than Adams to me, but I will admit that Palmer's inks do make it more difficult to ascertain who the artist is. Anybody else want to chime in here about that particular cover?

Doug: By the way, the Grand Comics Database also credits the team of Buscema/Palmer with the cover. If you click on the previous link, you'll see a note below the cover credits that addresses this artist controversy. Apparently the folks at the GCD believe that it is Buscema and not Adams, despite prior credits leaning toward a collaborative effort.

Doug: I'd add one comment that Karen's friend made as additional food for thought:

"Look at Cap's biceps. Classic Adams. Look at Thor's leg: again, classic Adams."

Doug: Now if you think it's silly to be getting into select anatomical parts like biceps or quadriceps, it's really not. Years ago, I owned a page of original art from a Captain America & the Falcon from the early 1970's. At the bottom of the page was a signature by the one and only John Romita. Later, I decided to sell it on eBay. I was negligent in my listing and did no further research. I was almost-immediately informed that the artists were Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten. Now, certainly I can tell a Romita from a Sal Buscema, but this page was a puzzler in that it had a lot of facial close-ups and one in particular of the Contessa could have been straight out of Romita's romance comics -- so I went with it (I did immediately amend the listing, by the way, and the page did sell). However, feeling a mystery was afoot, I scanned the page and sent it on to Roy Thomas for his opinion. Roy did reply, and confirmed that it was indeed Sal's and John Verpoorten's work. However, he did say that an arm here and a leg there (I'm paraphrasing) could have been "corrected" by Romita -- but he couldn't be sure. So my point is that Neal Adams could stake a claim to the cover below -- it's no secret that he often put his stamp on pencils, inks... shoot, even coloring. So, examining the exhibit below, what sayest thou, the faithful reader?

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Readers' Write (17): Face-Off! The Original Human Torch vs. Johnny Storm

While Karen and Doug are on vacation in January, our readers have been entrusted with carrying on the daily conversations.  Today's Face-Off is a do-it-yourselfer.  As we've done in the past, the first commenter gets to pick today's topic of conversation.

Generally speaking, Face-Off is for two singers, comic characters, bands, films, etc. to go up against each other.  For example, we've run a post that asked readers to choose between Captain America's two main partners:  Bucky Barnes and the Falcon.We've also discussed Medusa and Crystal as replacement's for the Invisible Girl.

Thanks for holding it down for us -- we really do appreciate it.  This weekend Karen and Doug will be back "live" with new material.  We're going to start you off with two discussions on essential reading material you would tell a new comics reader to seek out if trying to learn about the history and general awesomeness that is (was) Marvel Comics and DC Comics.  Make sure to stop by and join the fun!

Matt Celis would like to discuss the Original Human Torch and Johnny Storm.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BAB Classic: Three Cows Shot Me Down! Avengers #96

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 21 November 2011.

Avengers #96 (February 1972)
"The Andromeda Swarm!"
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Neal Adams
Inkers: Adams, Tom Palmer, and Alan Weiss

Karen: First off: that has to be one of the most
memorable Avengers covers ever!

Doug: Funny you should mention that -- not too long ago I was checking out some of the Link-Within posts of days past when I came across the very first Do-It-Yourself Open Forum. The question of that day was on favorite Bronze Age covers and you picked this very one!

Karen: At least I'm consistent! You thought you'd seen some spectacular scenes in the previous issues of this extravaganza, didn't you? Well, the best is yet to come! Our mighty team goes space-bound to save not only their own team mates, but every man, woman, and child on Earth!

Karen: Our story opens with our five free Avengers landing at a colossal orbitting space station. Once there, Nick Fury offers them up a spaceship, telling them to hurry before H. Warren Craddock manages to intercede. The team boards the craft, and powered by Thor's hammer, blasts off spectacularly into space.

Doug: Allow me to be SHIELD-ignorant -- can you or anyone else tell me when or where this was used before? Shoot, since would be nice, too! I was not a regular Strange Tales or Nick Fury reader. There is some nice characterization on the flight deck, and the thought that Mjolnir could power the ship just added another layer to the legend of the Asgardians.

Karen: I'm not sure if it was seen before, as I only have a handful of SHIELD or Strange Tales comics. I thought maybe it was Starcore, but I think that shows up in a few issues. So anyone out there no about this space station? After exiting hyperspace the Avengers come out to find the vast Skrull armada ahead! Luckily for them, the Skrulls assume that their presence is some sort of trick and come to a dead halt in space. The Skrulls only detect one vessel with their space-radar, but visually they see a fleet. The Skrull commander, by order of the Emperor, takes his flagship to investigate while the other ships hang back. Here's a question: who made that image of the fleet? It doesn't seem like the Avengers did it. Was it the Supreme Intelligence? This left me puzzled.

Doug: The emergence of the Avengers' ship in the midst of that armada was right out of Star Wars! Or, Star Wars was right out of this, rather. I don't really know who was behind the illusion -- as I was reading it, I just assumed that it was some sort of cloaking device in the ship's defenses. However, as we'll see toward the bottom of this review, it most possibly could have been the Supreme Intelligence.

Karen: Our heroes figure if they c
an defeat the commander maybe the other ships will take off. That seems like a stretch. They launch in four smaller ships (Iron Man is his own ship basically) and are fired upon by a missile, which Thor destroys. As the Armored Avenger draws fire, Thor and the Vision fly up to the Skrull ship, and using their bare hands, tear back the hull! Inside they are attacked by gun-wielding, space-suited Skrulls. Cap sends his small ship crashing through the hole his comrades have made, ejecting just in time. Goliath stays outside, patrolling in his ship in case any of the other ships come to the flagship's aid.

Doug: While the visual of Thor and the Vision ripping into that Skrull ship was awesome, did you have any problems believing Iron Man's armor could withstand the vacuum of space? Thor -- I guess not. But the Vision, too... I just wasn't sure that his body shouldn't have ended up inside-out. Oh, heck, long as I'm nit-picking: Cap and Clint just had on the ol' fishbowl spaceman helmets. At least the Legion wore those paper-thin "trans-suits".

Karen: Some spacesuits might have been nice for Cap and Goliath. I could buy Shellhead surviving for a short time though. The Avengers make their way through the ship towards the command center. Thor rips off the huge door and throws it across the room, making quite the dramatic entrance. He warns the Skrulls that they are "but the meekest harbingers of those who follow" and tells them to turn back. The commander is not so easily fooled though; he knows most Earth people do not have such powers. Suddenly the enormous view screen behind him comes alive and the Skrull Emperor tells the Avengers to give up -and shows them the captured Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch. he also shows them Captain Marvel, and describes how he is building an omni-wave device for them! The Avengers wonder if Marvel would really do this -well they quickly learn the answer. he's used the omni-wave to make an illusion of himself, so that he could surprise his Skrull guards! After knocking them out he frees the two imprisoned Avengers and turns on the Emperor, who has a force shield to protect him. So it's game on again!

Doug: Thor's line was great -- a bluff, yet full of bravado. Mar-Vell was a hero to the end. After reading the graphic novel we reviewed last week, I am becoming more and more inclined to pick up the first Essentials of his adventures. Roy is really amping up the Vision/Wanda tension. Even that old warhorse Captain America is catching the vibes of love. Then he says "nah...". Did you think it was intentional that both he and Thor at different times referred to the Vision as an android? Was Roy creating some sort of "racial" tension? That sort of thing would certainly have been taboo in 1972.

Karen: There was the possibility of that, but all of the Avengers, with the exception of Quicksilver, pretty much accepted the relationship between Wanda and the Vision. Despite the Avengers' threats, the Emperor is crafty. He orders the commander to carry out Plan Delta. The order is given before the Avengers can act. The Vision grabs the commander and demands he tell them what Plan Delta is. He also demands to know the location of "the girl -and the others!" Shockingly, the android delivers a savage beating to the alien; he might possibly have killed him if Thor and Iron Man had not intervened. The panel showing the Skrull's battered face is burned into my mind. The commander reveals the truth of Plan Delta, as he says it is too late to stop. A small ship has left the flagship, headed for Earth, with a cargo of "a nuclear warhead to dwarf all your daydreams of destruction." In another very memorable sequence, Cap radios Goliath and tells him to stop the ship "at any cost -including your life! Do you read me?" A grim faced Clint simply says, "I read ya Cap." I still get goosebumps from that. Clint manages to maneuver on top of the Skrull ship and somehow blast his way inside. He finds himself staring at four Skrulls and wondering why oh why he threw his growth serum away.

Doug: You have to love a bunch of uglies that complain about how backwards a planet is, and then go and use an alphabet from its most classical civilizations. Hawk was great, wasn't he? We all know he idolized Cap. I've been thinking through this entire storyline how well Roy has been writing Clint. It's been a nice and seemingly natural evolution from his obnoxious days under Stan's pen.

Karen: Of all the secondary Avengers, I always thought Hawkeye had the best story arc, and best progression as a character. He did a lot of growing up, although he never lost his smart-ass nature. Far away from this action, we turn to Rick Jones, boy captive, and the Kree ruler, Ronan. Sadly, Ronan will be miscolored as a "pink Kree" the rest of our tale. I know nit-picky, but it bothers me. Ronan is highly displeased to find that although he requested that the Inhumans be brought back to Kree-Lar to help fight the Skrulls, all he has in hand is Rick. Rick pulls an incredibly lame-brained stunt and whacks Ronan with a staff, which obviously does nothing but cheese him off. He smacks the kid, but has a grudging respect for his bravado, and decides to make him his 'body-slave' (Oh my...shades of Spartacus!). He's in a generous mood, as he shows Rick the great Kree fleet that is taking off to go battle the Skrulls for Earth. Rick tries to run off but is easily stopped by Ronan, who tires of him and throws him in a room...with the Supreme Intelligence? Kind of a strange move. The S.I. (not Sports Illustrated) tells Rick that he's been manipulating events behind the scenes, such as stirring up H. Warren Craddock, causing Rick to have his prophetic dream of Mar-Vell, and keeping Mar-Vell from realizing 'Carol' was actually the Super-Skrull. He also caused the Kree solider to kidnap Rick last issue. But why? That'll have to wait, as S.I. has one more stunt: he zaps Rick in to the Negative Zone -right next to Annihilus!

Doug: In time... but I didn't get the Negative Zone deal. Good excuse to end this with Annihilus, though. After all, we started this whole mess with him, didn't we?

Karen: There's just no let up in this issue. Wall to wall action, but every bit of it was entertaining. And those visuals! Adams does an amazing job with the space scenes. It re
ally transported me. This was certainly the most spectacular comic I had read at this point. He and Thomas really drive home that sense of extreme heroism here. As I said before, I think this is when the Avengers truly became big leaguers.

Doug: One of the complaints I had earlier in the series was Neal's long and lithe figurework not being wholly appropriate for Thor. No problems here, as the God of Thunder has been appropriately bulked up. Adams draws movement so well, doesn't he? And big leaguers? Wasn't it Kurt Busiek who once characterized the Avengers as the varsity? There can be no doubt in this storyline.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Readers' Write (16): True or False: Classic comic book costumes would not be accepted by today's movie audiences?

While Karen and Doug are on vacation, our readers are setting the day's topic of conversation.  For our "True or False?" posts, the first commenter can pose a statement.  Of course, it should be somewhat controversial, and you of course do not have to believe the statement yourself.  The goal here is to stimulate some lively conversation.  In the past we've had conversations such as - "Rock is dead." and "Fantastic Four is the World's Greatest Comic Magazine."

Thanks for keeping things moving during our break!

Today William posits, True or False: classic comic book costumes would not be accepted by today's movie audiences?

Monday, January 27, 2014

BAB Classic: Three Cows Shot Me Down! Avengers #95

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 14 November 2011.

Avengers #95 (January 1972)
"Something Inhuman This Way Comes!"
Roy Thomas-Neal Adams/Tom Palmer (cover by J. Buscema/Palmer)

Doug: If you notice, I made special mention of today's cover, as rendered by Big John Buscema and Tom Palmer. I thought that was a significant detail, given JB's stint as penciller in the middle chapter of last week's installment.

Karen: I couldn't help but think that some of those Inhumans Big John had attacking the Avengers would have fit in well in a Thor comic -they look like trolls and such!

Doug: I've read so many times that it's those creepy, creature-types that Buscema truly loved to doodle. He really poured his love into the weird characters and monsters.

Doug: This plot started getting a whole lot thicker at the end of our last issue. If you'll recall, Triton emerged from the New York City sewers as the Avengers were engaged in mortal combat against the Mandroids -- human controlled machines built by Tony Stark but under the authority of resident megalomaniac H. Warren Craddock. We actually backtrack as this issue begins, seeing Triton emerge from the sea and begin to make his way across Manhattan. Of course some of the hot-headed locals just can't take a scaly green humanoid in purple trunks, so they grab meat hooks, or icepicks, or some other sort of the object the TSA doesn't smile upon and take after our hero. Hey, did you know Triton knew how to drive? No way -- too weird for me. Anyway, a cop wings him in the left shoulder and it's then that our amphibious Inhuman took to the sewers.

Karen: I've always liked Triton. Part of the reason for that has to be his design -I love non-human characters. But over the years he was also imbued with intelligence and nobility, which we see demonstrated here. But yeah -driving the van seemed a stretch!

Doug: Emerging right in front of Avengers mansion, Triton witnesses the end of the scrap, as Iron Man removed the pods from his hips and emptied their energy into the Mandroids. Kaput. We get a look-see at Craddock in his control room, again in contact with a reluctant Col. Nick Fury. Fury's none-too-happy about helping Craddock and his alien commission. Rick Jones helps Triton to a bench, where the wounded Inhuman explains that it was the FF he'd come to for help, but as time is of the essence, the Avengers will have to do. Triton explains that Maximus the Mad is in control of the Hidden Land, while Black Bolt is somewhere in San Francisco, amnesiac. Cap and Thor move immediately to set plans to head to California; the Vision protests loudly. Iron Man takes issue, and the Vision explains that finding their lost teammates, as well as Captain Marvel, is of the utmost importance given the pending Kree/Skrull War. Of all people, Clint makes peace and offers a simple solution -- split the team.

Karen: Although it was an awfully quick end to that fight, the shot of Shellhead holding his power pods high, zapping the Mandroids, was a delight. He always had the right tool for the job. It's funny to see him still having to hide his secret identity too -everyone always wondered how he knew so much, how he seemed nearly as adept with machines and electronics as his employer. Makes you think that maybe the Avengers were not the brightest guys! I did enjoy the way Roy tied this story in to the Inhumans story he was doing in Amazing Adventures, although when this came out, I didn't have those comics. Still, he gives us enough information here to get the gist of it. One nitpick: Goliath says he recognized Triton from an appearance at the U.N., but a page later, Triton tells us that Black Bolt was exploring human cities in order to figure out how to "apprise the human race of our existence." The Vision's reaction to Triton's news gives us a brief glimpse of the fire that would come to the surface in the next issue. Seeing him and Iron Man close to blows was a big surprise.

Doug: The whole secret identity thing among heroes was always rather contrived. What? Tony Stark didn't want Dr. Don Blake to be in-the-know? He'd rather just flop dead of a heart attack? I'm speaking of course of the time prior to them actually sharing those secrets. Matt Murdock and Peter Parker eventually knew, right? Anyway... I'm thinking Iron Man would have been thrashed by the Vision, much like Thor kicked his butt in issue #130.

Doug: So Cap, Rick, and Goliath accompany Triton to the Left Coast, while Vizh, Iron Man, and Thor set about making plans to head into space -- using the power of Thor's hammer. We cut right away to San Fran, where Black Bolt and his young charge (as Karen just said, you'll have to check out Amazing Adventures #'s 5-8 to get the backstory -- like everything else full of Bronze love, these issues are on our to-do list!) are being menaced by some toughs. Cap and the boys arrive just in time, and after a brief dust-up Triton's appearance brings Black Bolt's memory back. But just as suddenly, Black Bolt gestures that they must return to the Hidden Land immediately. So, away we go (again)!

Karen: When Cap asks the Vision to select the teams because of his logical computer mind, and the Vision takes the two most powerful Avengers, I almost had to laugh. Sure, Thor and Iron Man are the best suited for a space excursion. But as the android recognizes, there's a degree of selfishness in that act.

Doug: He's more human than he ever gives himself credit for. Roy Thomas then gives us a partial origin story for Black Bolt and Maximus, specifically detailing the time when Maximus made a deal with the Kree. Black Bolt heard of it, and rushed in to interrupt. Maximus punched his brother (earlier in the story, they'd been reported as being cousins -- which is correct?) and allowed the Kree emissary to escape. With only one option to stop the Kree ship, Black Bolt unleashed a scream toward the vessel -- it worked, disabling and sending it plummeting back toward Earth. But in a cruel twist of fate, that Kree ship crashed into the royal palace -- killing their parents! And that is what drove Maximus mad.

Karen: I really like this segment artistically. It's all in blue tones, and there's a framing device of Black Bolt's head in profile. On the first page of the flashback, Black Bolt is looking up, with a sad, wistful expression. His head is in the upper-lefthand corner. On the final page of the sequence, his head is in the lower righthand corner, his head is tilted down, and his eyes are closed. I just thought this was a really innovative and powerful way of showing what could have been a very standard flashback in another artist's hands.

Doug: Alex Ross has of course made a living with monochromatic pages. This may be the first time (temporally speaking) I can recall this being used -- of course I say that, and I remember that some of Kirby's FF covers were like that. Hmmm...

Doug: Back in Manhattan, the power trio was just polishing off the last of the Mandroids, who were now being remotely-controlled. With breathing room, Thor was able to open a portal. Strangely enough, it was not toward the intergalactic war but toward the Hidden Land. Of all people, the Vision made the suggestion. Emerging at the base of the huge black dome covering the Hidden Land, the Avengers were unable to penetrate the surface. As they make several futile attempts, the ship bearing the other group arrives. With but a whisper, Black Bolt shattered the dome. But what happens? His subjects attack! But with another whisper, he breaks the spell Maximus had put over the population of the Great Refuge. It's now Maximus who is the object of their aggression. Did you think that Black Bolt used his voice more in this issue than you've ever seen him use it before?

Karen: Black Bolt's always been more of a threat than an active player but with all of his other powers most of the time it seemed like he never needed to use his voice. The panel where he brings his people out from Maximus' control was well done. I have to say, the Mandroids were never much of a threat; each time we see their defeat, everything happens off panel! I really enjoyed the way Thor was depicted in the Kree-Skrull War; he's clearly the team's Superman. He rather effortlessly opens a portal to the Inhumans' city -although even his magical hammer can't shatter the barrier. The Vision's change of heart just lets us know he's a true hero. As much as he's dying to go get Wanda, he feels he has to help the Inhumans.

Doug: To conclude, a Kree diplomat is also in the Hidden Land and scoops up Rick Jones, whisking him into a departing spaceship. Now the Avengers must count four among those in need of rescue. Maximus was beaten, returned to madness by his defeat. And what of the Kree? We get a quick look at the Supreme Intelligence, gloating over Wanda, Pietro, and Mar-Vell and stating that "the players are all in place". Our heroes, fully aware of the severity of the situation, cry toward the sky that they are indeed coming. Game on!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Readers' Write (15): Who's the Best...Sub-Mariner Artist AND Version of a Character With Multiple Versions?

While Karen and Doug are on vacation in January, our readers have been entrusted with carrying on the daily conversations.  Today's "Who's the Best?" is a do-it-yourselfer.  As we've done in the past, the first commenter gets to pick today's topic of conversation.

Generally speaking, "Who's the Best?" is for historical topics.  For example, in the past we've started conversations such as "Who's the Best -- Thor Artist?" and "Who's the Best -- Frankenstein Monster?"  Start a conversation that is broad enough to elicit an ongoing conversation, and that even might lend itself to tangential musings.

Thanks for holding it down for us!

I'm going to exercise a bit of editorial control today.  Reader M.P. brought up the topic of the Sub-Mariner, which we discussed at length a few years ago.  However, frequent commenter Rip Jagger took M.P.'s mention of Jack Kirby's treatment of the character and turned the conversation toward Who's the Best... Sub-Mariner Artist?  That's a worthy topic, and one I don't think we've covered in the past.

Then our pal Osvaldo Oyola suggested a topic that plays off one we ran about 18 months ago when he asked Who's the Best... Version of a Character With Multiple Versions?

So that's what we're doing today -- two topics for you to mull over.  Thanks, everyone, for your participation over these weeks in January.  Karen and I return with new material next Saturday!


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Readers' Write (14): Discuss... Special Effects

While Karen and Doug are on vacation in January, our readers have been entrusted with carrying on the daily conversations.  Today's Discuss is a do-it-yourselfer.  As we've done in the past, the first commenter gets to pick today's topic of conversation.

Generally speaking, the Discuss category is for narrow topics.  For example, in the past we've started conversations on topics such as the Sub-Mariner, Animal House, and the Captain America television movies.

Thanks for holding it down for us!

Colin Jones would like you to Discuss special effects. Were the models, puppets and stop-motion of the original Star Wars trilogy better than CGI?

Friday, January 24, 2014

BAB Classic: 5 Perfect Albums to Love

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 27 January 2010.

Karen:  In the days of vinyl, and even when CDs were the newest format for music recordings, the concept of the album meant much more than it does today. Now music can be bought and sold ala carte; songs can be purchased and downloaded separately. You can make playlists that conveniently omit songs that are less worthy. But there was a time when you really had to take a chance and plop down your hard-earned bucks on a whole album. Oh sure, you might be able to buy a single off the album, but in general you were stuck buying the whole thing, mostly sight unseen. If you were lucky, you might have heard two, maybe even three, songs off of said album. Hopefully they were representative of the entire work. But often, this would not be the case. I don’t know how many times I got burned by purchasing an album after only hearing one or two tracks. I’d get home only to discover that those were the only songs I liked off the whole thing! Most of the time, an album might have three really good songs, then maybe another 3 that were ok, and the rest would be filler or stinkers. I would estimate that the vast majority of albums I have bought have had about 33% junk.
But then every once in awhile, the stars align, and you get that rarest of things: the perfect album. This is an album with no filler, no garbage – an album that hangs together and is worth playing all the way through. Sure, some songs are better than others, but even your least favorite ones are still very listenable. I’d like to share below five of my favorite perfect albums.

1. Lust for Life by Iggy Pop. Like a strange, scary butterfly bursting from his mouldering cocoon, Iggy re-invents himself on this album and creates a classic. Many will point to the involvement of David Bowie on the album and claim that this is the reason for such a brilliant work, but let’s give the Ig some credit too. Although I am annoyed with the cruise line commercials that utilize the title song (how come they never play the part that talks about “of course I’ve had it in the ear before” ?), this album is as fresh as ever, alive and vibrant. Songs like Lust for Life, The Passenger, Some Weird Sin, and Neighborhood Threat all have an aura of genuineness. Iggy’s emotional ups and downs are spread for all to see. The band features the Sales brothers as the rhythm section (who would go on to work again with Bowie as Tin Machine) and the sound is full and bouncy. Iggy’s lyrics are probably the most inspired of his career.

      2. Back in Black by AC/DC. Of course, anyone with any rock acumen knows that this was the first AC/DC album produced after the death of original frontman Bon Scott. Thank god the boys did not decide to pack it in with his death! Back in Black is a monster of an album, all meat, no filler. Brian Johnson stepped into the "singer" role -hey, so he can't sing, who cares, neither could Scott - and the band created some of their best songs, including Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long, Have A Drink on Me, and Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution. After many years this album is like that really comfortable pair of old worn jeans that you love to pull out of the closet and put on. It may not look pretty but damn it feels good.

3. Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet. "Who?" you are probably asking. I'll admit that Matthew Sweet is a more obscure artist, but that doesn't diminish his gift for crafting perfect power-pop songs. Girlfriend, with its Tuesday Weld album cover, was his big break back in 1991. It was also helped by an early anime video on MTV. But the music on this album is what's important, and every song on this album is just perfect. From rockers like Girlfriend to melancholy beauties like Winona, there's just not a wrong step on this album. The musicians, particularly guitarists Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd, are superb. Sweet's voice is, well, sweet - haunting, angry, mournful - a very expressive instrument. I can't recommend this album enough.

4. Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses. I don't think I'm the only person who thought, upon first hearing this album, that these guys were the next great rock and roll band. I still think they could have been, if drugs and personalities hadn't gotten in the way. This is just a tour de force album; it grabs you by the throat with the opening track, Welcome to the Jungle, and never lets go. Personally, I always liked that track, as well as Mr. Brownstone and It's So Easy, best of all. Because of the massive airplay of both Paradise City and Sweet Child O' Mine, I was sick of them for a number of years, but have recently begun to enjoy them again. I just still shake my head in disbelief over how the band disintegrated -and how ugly it was- whenever I hear their music. But this album just sounds better and better as time goes on, and makes one wonder, "what if?"

5. IV by Led Zeppelin. I refuse to call this 'Zoso'! This fourth album by what I personally consider the greatest rock band of all time only has eight songs, but what an amazing set of songs they are. The song I would consider the weakest, The Battle of Evermore, is still a fine tune, if a bit airy-fairy for me. But this is the album that gave us such monsters as Stairway to Heaven, Rock and Roll, Misty Mountain Hop - I used to play this disc over and over. And all these years later, I still love it. It's Zeppelin showcasing all their skills; they can rock with the best of them (Rock and Roll, Black Dog), get bluesy (When the Levee Breaks), and do sweet ballads (Going to California) all on one album, and do them better than anyone else. Zeppelin at the peak of their powers -nuff said.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Readers' Write (13): What Would It Take to Get Bronze Age Babies Back Into Modern Comics?

While Karen and Doug are on vacation in January, our readers have been entrusted with carrying on the daily conversations.  Today's Open Forum is a do-it-yourselfer.  As we've done in the past, the first commenter gets to pick today's topic of conversation.

Generally speaking, the Open Forum is for broader topics.  For example, in the past we've started conversations such as "The Role of Inkers" and "What's So Great About the Bronze Age?"  Start a conversation that is broad enough to elicit an ongoing conversation, and that even might lend itself to tangential musings.

Thanks for holding it down for us!

Osvaldo Oyola would like to know:  For those whose collecting/reading days did not go past the Bronze Age, what would it take for you to get back into buying comics?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BAB Classic: Three Cows Shot Me Down! Avengers #94

NOTE:  This post was originally published on 7 November 2011.

Avengers #94 (December 1971)
"More Than Inhuman!"
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: Neal Adams -parts 1 and 3; John Buscema -part 2
Inker: Tom Palmer

Karen: This issue, we get Adams art at the beginning and end of our story, and a nice chunk of John Buscema in-between! It's a bit incongruous, but I'm just grateful it was Buscema stepping in and not Don Heck!

Doug: Talk about a Hall-of-Fame list of creators on this one! I didn't find it distracting at all, and in fact really enjoyed the look of the entire book. And I couldn't agree more that we were spared the Dashing One!

Karen: When last we left our heroes, they were at one of the lowest low points in their history. Two of their number had been kidnapped by the alien Skrulls, and they'd failed to stop the abduction of the Kree Captain Marvel as well. Now back at Avengers' Mansion, they sedate the three Skrulls who had imitated the FF, and then contact the real Reed Richards and Ben Grimm to see if they have any answers. Richards says he'll look into it, and our team is then left to wonder about where the Vision might be.

Doug: Roy's Skrull dialogue is just excellent throughout this book. What a hoot! Are you ever offended at the way heroes address each other? I just always think it's sort of rude, for example, to hear Iron Man address Mr. Fantastic as "Richards". I know as kids we called our friends by their last names, and coaches often address their players in the same manner... I go back to what I'd said earlier when discussing Ben Grimm and a "super-hero fraternity". And hey, is this the first time in the epic that the Avengers (or us) are reminded that there were actually four Skrulls back in FF #2, but the incident with the Vision the previous issue involved only three cows?

Karen: Our point of view switches to our Avenging Android, who has chased after the escaping Skrull ship. He slips inside intangibly just as the Super-Skrull flies over gleaming Attilan, city of the Inhumans. Hmm, that ship was going mighty fast! We also get a quick mention here by the Vision of Thor's recent encounter with the Inhumans; this refers to Amazing Adventures #8. As he is about to pull the switch that will release a devastating attack on the city, the Vision stops him. But the wily skrull uses one of his least-thought-of powers, that of invisibility -and sneaks over and throws the switch. Adams outdoes himself with a full page shot of what seems like a blast greater than a hundred nuclear bombs -it's just spectacular. However, the city is not destroyed -miraculously, a dome of dark energy has protected it. The Super-Skrull is furious, but decides that his three captives are prize enough and plans to return to the Skrull homeworld. The Vision realizes he cannot match the Super-Skrull in a fight; his only option is to return to the Avengers and share his information. But he pauses when he sees Wanda, apparently comatose, strapped to a table. Despite his reticence, he exits the ship and heads for help.

Doug: This story just has so many ins and outs. Recall that after we'd covered the
first three issues that it felt like there had been a nice bow wrapped around that part. And then at the conclusion of last week's ish (#93), we got a sort-of Star Wars ending, with the team assembled yet very downcast. Again, another wrap up. But what I'm beginning to really sense here, as we're 2/3 of the way through this, is that this is like one giant onion -- layer inside layer, etc. The addition of the Super-Skrull, and soon the Mandroids, and even later the Inhumans, are turning this into a huge tour of the Marvel Universe. We've often discussed team-up stories on this blog, but this may be the best example of a single tale showing the breadth of the Marvel Universe and unifying it that we've yet reviewed. The "Kree/Skrull War" really is a graphic novel told in several distinct chapters.
Doug: The Vision's pause at Wanda's stasis tube was touching, as was his monologue as he flew away.

Karen: That brings in one of the other angles to this saga, the love story. Boy, did this have everything or what? Not only was Roy pulling together threads from the past
, like the Skrulls from the FF, or the Inhumans' history with the Kree, he was setting up stories like the Vision-Scarlet Witch romance, which would dominate the Avengers title for years to come.
Karen: Part two of our story, entitled, "1971: A Space Odyssey," is drawn by Buscema. Immediately, beyond the stylistic differences, there are differences in the depictions of the Super-Skrull's ship's exterior and interior. Especially noti
ceable is the fact that a page before, Wanda and Pietro were shown strapped to tables; now they are imprisoned inside transparent, upright tubes straight out of "This Island Earth"! From this I would suppose that Buscema hadn't seen Adams' work and so was working from descriptions Roy gave him, hence the two different interpretations.

Doug: Adams to me equals long
and lithe. John Buscema equals bulk and power. The posture of the Super-Skrull on Buscema's first page falls right in line with any depiction of a super-powered megalomaniac from the pencil of Big John -- wide stance, broad shoulders, hands clasped behind the back, menacing visage... Tom Palmer should get a huge round of applause for softening the differences between these two artistic giants. I remarked in an earlier review on his use of zipatone; he is masterful here in the scenes depicting our captive Avengers (and Mar-Vell) in their stasis tubes -- he really achieves the effect that their bodies are behind glass.

Karen: The Super-Skrull utilizes a space-time warp to enter the fifth quadrant (uh, wait a second -doesn't quadrant imply four?) of the Andromeda Galaxy, home to the Skrulls. He's hoping that bringing Marvel and the two mutants to his emperor will end his exile. However, as he approaches the capital city of his homeworld, he is fired upon. It seems that the Emperor does not trust the Super-Skrull. The battle rages until the Emperor imprisons the Super-Skrull in a force sphere, where the smoke from his own flames knock him out. Anelle, the Emperor's daughter, is a peaceful girl who is most un-skrull like. She pleads for mercy for the three captives, which just infuriates her father even more.
Doug: If you are in the fifth quadrant, then you really are big and bad... I loved the scene where the Super-Skrull takes it to the common Skrull soldiers. I just think the Super-Skrull provides some cool visuals. I, too, was a bit surprised when revisiting this story that Anelle was not drawn like Lyja the Skrull -- she was the one who was impersonating Alicia when Johnny Storm married her in Fantastic Four #300 (of course, we didn't know it at the time!). This was a typical father/daughter conflict, as we've seen in numerous films, etc.
Karen: Yes, Anelle is remarkably human-looking; no craggy chin or giant ears -maybe Big John just couldn't draw an unattractive woman?!

Karen: In order to get Marvel to build the omni-wave device, the Em
peror subjects Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch to a very odd punishment: they are stuck inside another energy sphere alongside a big, nasty monster. Pietro pops around like a pinball, ineffective as usual. Wanda manages to bring down a rock formation on top of the beast and stop it. But it is then that the siblings notice some strange little humanoids that look like they are made out of cotton candy. They seems harmless enough. But when the monster regains consciousness, any contact it makes with the little people causes them to multiply. Soon, Wanda and Pietro are about to be smothered by cotton candy people! Honestly, this was pretty silly. It also reminded me of the classic Star Trek episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles," where Capt. Kirk is nearly buried in the soft, furry, and rapidly multiplying creatures.

Doug: Many have commen
ted in the past that Quicksilver's marriage to Crystal allowed Roy to get rid of two characters that no one knew what to do with. I am really sensing in this arc how useless Pietro is, as compared even to the Flash or Kid Flash. His personality had made him intolerable, and his powers seem more often to delay rather than solve problems. I thought the little fuzzy guys reminded me of "Gremlins"!

Karen: Seeing his friends' peril, Mar-Vell reluctantly agrees to build the omni-wave, ensuring the Skrulls' victory over his people.

Karen: As we turn to part three, Neal Adams returns to the art chores. His first page is another full pager, this time with the distorted figure of H. Warren Craddock pointing an accusing finger at the reader. That one really got me as a kid! Turning the page we discover that Craddock is interrogating those three technicians that the Kree altered way back in issue #89, using his alien detecting device. The three men now realize that the Avengers were right to ask for their silence. Craddock scoffs when he hears the heroes mentioned. He seems confident he can handle them. Back at the mansion, the Vision has returned and tells his comrades about what happened on the Skrull ship. Suddenly,Craddock's amplified voice can be heard from outside, demanding the Avengers come out. When they do, they see not only tanks waiting for them, but three men in large, highly armored suits: the Mandroids. Okay, not Roy's best name there! These Mandroids were of course designed by Tony Stark, so they're nothing to sneeze at. The two sides begin to go at it, when who should we see emerge from a manhole but Triton, the amphibious Inhuman!

Doug: Adams' splash to this section is brilliantly rendered, showing as much ingenuity here as he did power in the explosion splash you'd mentioned earlier. Craddock is a grade-A kook, isn't he? And really -- do people just have instant access to Avengers Mansion? I know it sits in the middle of Manhattan, but this is the second time demonstrators have been virtually on its doorstep. And let's not forget Clint's big announcement that he's trashing the last of the growth serum; although we see him go after the
Mandroids as a giant, I'm guessing change is afoot soon! And Triton... truly the "kitchen sink" in this storyline has arrived!

Karen: Another action-packed chapter in our story. Thomas does a great job of juggling the various components of h
is story. The pacing seems excellent, and credit both writer and artists for that. Although the change in artists mid-way and back again is a bit jarring, both men are so talented that it's not really a problem, just somewhat odd. Palmer once again adds real depth and weight to the art with use of effects like zipatone. All in all, a very engaging read.

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