Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Inevitable Re-Ranking of MCU Films

Doug: Now that the dust has settled from the release of Captain America: Civil War, the next conversation that - to be honest, probably happened immediately - is "Where does this film lay in your ranking of MCU films?" I know that I've mulled it over with my sons, and you've probably had the conversation, too.

Karen: It is a constant topic with my husband and I.
And it gets harder with each new film, since I have pretty much liked them all, except Iron Man 3.

For those with faulty memories (raises hand), here are the 13 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that have been released to date, chronologically listed:
  1. Iron Man
  2. The Incredible Hulk
  3. Iron Man 2
  4. Thor
  5. Captain America: The First Avenger
  6. Marvel's The Avengers
  7. Iron Man 3
  8. Thor: The Dark World
  9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  10. Guardians of the Galaxy
  11. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  12. Ant-Man
  13. Captain America: Civil War

Doug: Let's hear your rankings. I imagine that for many of us our top 5 will be pretty similar, although I'm sure there will be some surprises (heresies, even) along the way.

Doug: For me - and this could change tomorrow - I would rank the films as such:
  1. Marvel's The Avengers
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Iron Man
  4. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  5. Captain America: Civil War
  6. Guardians of the Galaxy
  7. Captain America: The First Avenger
  8. Ant-Man
  9. Thor
  10. Iron Man 2
  11. Thor: The Dark World
  12. Iron Man 3
  13. The Incredible Hulk (I've not ever seen this film all the way through, so maybe "N/A" is best)

Karen: I mentioned to Doug offline that my husband and I had made our own lists of the (then 12) films at Christmas and compared them, but since then I had tossed out that list. My first two answers haven't changed, and neither have my final three. But I think the middle has moved around a lot. The thing is, with the exception of Iron Man 3, I actually like all the films! So deciding where to put them is really difficult, as in many cases, it's a matter of perhaps characters winning out more than quality -that's why Thor ranks higher for me than Ant-Man.

  1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  2. Marvel's The Avengers
  3. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  4. Captain America: Civil War
  5. Iron Man
  6. Iron Man 2
  7. Thor
  8. Captain America: The First Avenger
  9. Guardians of the Galaxy
  10. Ant-Man
  11. Thor: The Dark World
  12. The Incredible Hulk
  13. Iron Man 3

Doug: For further consideration, and after you've done your MCU rankings, think about non-MCU comic book flicks and where you'd slide those in. With that in mind, here's a revised Top 10 for me (again, this changes with the wind and I hope I'm not forgetting anything):
  1. Marvel's The Avengers
  2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
  3. Spider-Man 2
  4. Superman 2
  5. Iron Man
  6. Avengers: Age of Ultron
  7. Batman (1966)
  8. Captain America: Civil War
  9. Batman (1989)
  10. X-Men: First Class
Karen: I've had some time to think about this, and I'm not sure anything else breaks into that Marvel top ten. I have a sentimental love of Superman and Superman 2 but I'm not sure they slip past Ant-Man or Guardians. Maybe. The X-Men films, particularly X2 and First Class, are strong contenders. Spider-Man 2 is another solid one. But I can't honestly say any of them beat this current crop of Marvel films for me. Part of it may be, they are all so much part of a piece. Sure, stylistically they are all the same -but that is part of the appeal, at least to me. So no second list for me -I'll stand pat on this one.

Monday, May 30, 2016

It's Memorial Day - Here's to Beating the Nazis! Invaders 35-37

 The Invaders #35 (December 1978)
"Havoc on the Home Front!"
Roy Thomas-Don Heck/Alan Kupperberg/Rick Hoberg

The Invaders #36 (January 1979)
"Crushed by the Iron Cross"
Roy Thomas-Alan Kupperberg/Chic Stone

The Invaders #37 (February 1979)
"The Liberty Legion Busts Loose"
Don Glut-Rick Hoberg/Alan Kupperberg/Chic Stone

Doug: Nostalgia's a powerful thing isn't it? Even as an adult, I couldn't wait for the first Invaders issue not drawn by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer. Trouble is, around the time those arrived, Don Heck got the art assignment. And here's my obligatory "I am not being mean to Don Heck" statement -- love the man's Silver Age work; his Bronze Age stuff not so much. So anyway, I'm working out of the Invaders Classic series of trades on this one -- volume 4 has the same cover as issue #35 above. The Whizzer was great during his brief tenure in the Avengers, wasn't he? Why wouldn't I be drawn back to this issue? Wait -- it has the whole Liberty Legion in it as well? Sign me up! Ah, but therein lies some trouble -- as you can see, today you're getting a full-blown arc rather than a single issue. But is that your gain?

Invaders #35, with pencils presumably by Alan Kupperberg
Doug: I'll start you off with three 100-Word Reviews, and then I'll go into my usual format for thoughts on the story. Here you go:
Invaders #35 - The Invaders are called Stateside to deal with a saboteur who made a “withdrawal” from a munitions installation. Cap, Namor, and the Torch are in Times Square meeting an adoring public when the Whizzer suddenly arrives. He relates (for us) a brief history of the Liberty Legion, and why he needs the Invaders’ help. Miss America had investigated a German-American tavern when she saw a professor kidnapped by two German toughs. Trailing them, she encountered the Iron Cross and engaged him in battle. She was joined by her Legion teammates, who were soon trounced. Hence the need for the Invaders.

Invaders #36 - The kidnapped man is Professor Schneider, designer of the Iron Cross armor. The wearer of the armor is Helmut Gruler, Schneider’s childhood friend. Gruler says time and again throughout the story that he is not a Nazi, somehow distancing his intense jingoism from the darker aspects of Hitler’s Germany. Gruler needs Schneider to make “improvements” to the Iron Cross armor. Meanwhile, the Invaders (now in an Atlantean ship) follow the trail of the captured Liberty Legion. Namor is engaged by the Iron Cross in the Atlantic, and their battle rips open the U-boat in which the Legion is being held.

Invaders #37 - As water pours through the gaping hole in the U-boat, the Iron Cross grabs Professor Schneider and hightails it out of there. Aboard the vessel, the crew unsuccessfully attempts to murder the Liberty Legion. Thin Man heads out into the ocean to assist Namor in getting the sub to the surface. They accomplish the task and once everyone’s safe, a team of Namor, the Torch, Miss America, and Red Raven pursue Iron Cross. The Torch melts the inner workings of the mechanical suit, causing Gruler to fall into the ocean; Schneider tells that the blueprints were destroyed with the suit.
Invaders #35, with pencils presumably by Don Heck

The Good: As alluded to above, the art. It's not spectacular -- and actually, one might consider it rather middling in comparison to other Bronze Age luminaries, especially the young guns who were breaking out in the late 1970s: Byrne, Perez, Miller, et al. I think my impression of it is just clouded by my joy at freedom from depictions of ballerinas in the throes of rigor mortis. Anyway, the pacing is really solid, all of the players look exactly as you think they should look, etc. Namor has a certain haughtiness about him as he should, Cap is focused, the Whizzer a bit frantic -- it's all here. The most interesting aspect of Invaders #35, however, is that you can plainly see the panels where Don Heck did the pencils and those where Alan Kupperberg did so. I've provided a few samples to support this. Again -- nothing wrong here... it's just noticeable.

I liked that we got a peek into the workings of the Stateside Liberty Legion, and to be perfectly honest wish we had been able to see more. I don't know if there was ever discussion of a spin-off WWII series featuring the Legion, but there should have been. Madeline Joyce seemed an able spy, and the angle that there would be an expatriate in New York who had built a weapon for Germany was a nice plotline. It is unfortunate, however, that as Miss America took the lead in the case she ended up being the one captured. "Helpless female" trope... You know, I look at the Liberty Legion the first time they are assembled in the story and there is really no reason they should not have been a successful launch on their own. The Whizzer and the Patriot do what Quicksilver and Captain America do, the Thin Man of course mimics Reed Richards, Red Raven = the Angel, Jack Frost is an early version of Iceman, and Blue Diamond would seem somewhat similar to Wonder Man. If we think of Miss America as the then-popular Ms. Marvel, then what's not to like? The Liberty Legion should have had the best of many corners of the Marvel Universe.

The flashbacks/recaps aspect of the story will serve as a segueway to my next section. While I think flashbacks are good for the month-to-month reader, let's face it -- this is no longer how we read comics. So while there was certainly merit in bringing new readers up to speed on the Liberty Legion's history, it did play out a bit long. Same thing for the origin of the Iron Cross armor. It wasn't bad -- just a bit cumbersome. I'm always torn about whether I liked the convention of one-page recaps that were en vogue when I stopped reading new comics (seemed a waste of a perfectly good splash page) or if I preferred the in-story rehashing of last month's details. I guess both have merit. 

The Bad: If Helmut Gruler had stated one more time that he was not a Nazi, I think I'd have screamed. But as a teacher of these sorts of issues, I did appreciate Roy Thomas's efforts. One aspect of the Holocaust that we strive to make clear with teachers we train at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is to use precise language. It's incorrect to make blanket statements such as "The Germans did..." or "The Nazis did..." simply because of issues of collaboration by non-Germans, and the point that Thomas makes with Gruler was true; it was certainly true that Gruler's nationalism could have existed without him being a member of the party. So while it became about as tiring as a Claremontian "I'm the best at what I do, and what I do isn't pretty.", I understood.

The Iron Cross was a somewhat formidable foe for our heroes, but really he was just a Titanium Man from an earlier era. And when you consider that Iron Man beat the Titanium Man by himself on numerous occasions, I never really felt like our heroes were threatened -- regardless of how much they got slapped around.

When the Thin Man ventured outside the damaged U-boat and attempted to repressurize it by pressing his body against the hull, I really had a difficult time suspending my disbelief. The pressure of the sea alone would have killed him. And with no breathing device? Pfah...

With such a large ensemble cast, it was tough for any of the heroes to get major face time. I thought the creators did a decent job of keeping everyone in character -- but such moments to shine were fleeting. Cap in particular seemed short-shrifted. I also felt like the Whizzer was pining just a bit too much for Miss America; given that she was arguably far more powerful than he, I'm sure she could take care of herself. She did, in fact, fight the Iron Cross to a standstill for several minutes, something Namor himself accomplished.

After giving some consideration to this story over several days, I'd suggest hopping in the wayback machine and running this tale as an annual. That would have pared it down a bit and probably made it read better. Just a thought.

The Ugly: The unevenness of the art could be jarring at times. I'd mentioned the panels that sometimes moved between Don Heck and Alan Kupperberg as lead penciler; I think the same thing happened in Invaders #37 between Kupperberg and Rick Hoberg. Additionally, the inks are incredibly sketchy at times in that issue. Sketchy like Vinnie Colletta hopped up on too much espresso. It wasn't bad art, per se; it just made me feel like I'd suddenly landed in a different book.

Invaders #37 - what's up with the scratchy inks in this portion of the book?

Time well spent? I won't say "no", because as I said at the top there was a definite sense of nostalgia and even love for these characters I followed in my youth. But fine literature? Uh, not so much. So let's just call it a nice diversion of four-color fun and leave it at that.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

But If They're All Imaginary Stories...

Doug: Unless you've been under a rock for the past few days, then you know that the Internet was on the verge of blowing up over this panel:

Doug: So that brings us to our weekend conversation, and it's really just a simple topic. If what Alan Moore posited in his introduction to "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", that every piece of fiction that we read is just an imaginary story, then why do certain events, plot directions, characterizations, retcons, etc. get us all riled up? I've remarked many times that I've really, really enjoyed the Winter Soldier stories I've read and feel Bucky's revival was much better executed in print than the same plotline has played out in the MCU films. And just a couple of Mondays ago I told you that I felt basically the same way about a Toro revival. But I look at the panel above and just assume it's some stupid marketing ploy. Because if it was "real"... man, would I be ticked!

Friday, May 27, 2016

This Cover Made Me Buy This Comic Book

Thor #275 (September 1978)(cover by John Buscema, Tom Palmer, and Gaspar Saladino)

Doug: Action in the Mighty Marvel Manner, indeed! You know John Buscema had a blast drawing this cover, replete with those ugly trolls and a quite serious battle axe being wielded by Loki. This cover just exudes energy. Gaspar Saladino's letters don't hurt, either. I have to wonder, though, if the call-out to the television cameraman wasn't in some way a form of base trickery toward readers of the day -- after all, one could find similar call-outs on Spider-Man and Hulk comments at around the same time advertising their own TV shows.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

If I Had A Buck... Not Ready For Prime Team Players

Martinex1: There is great fanfare for superhero teams around here and seemingly continuous conversation about the big guns from DC and Marvel.  The Avengers, X-Men, and the Justice League are certainly the leaders of the pack when it comes to four-color creations, film adaptations, and their corporations' profits.  And there are other top notch teams that certainly get a lot of respect from comic enthusiasts.  The Fantastic Four, Defenders, Teen Titans, and Legion of Superheroes have avid followers.  The Guardians of the Galaxy made their way to the big screen and are now an upper tier property.  But even defunct mags like the Invaders, Champions, Inhumans, and Doom Patrol have serious defenders; their characters are fondly remembered and eke their way into television plots and other titles.

This $1 Challenge is NOT about those teams.  This game of If I Had a Buck focuses on the many teams that have graced the spinner racks of the past but did not catch on quite as dramatically as the superstars.  These are the "Other Guys, the "C-Listers," the "Also-Rans." 

Now don't get me wrong, some of these teams had long running titles.  And some of these teams may be your all-time favorites.   Some of them had all-star creative teams.  Others had lots of marketing support from their companies.   And some even had tremendous success and popularity in spurts. But let's face it, they never really made it long term.   

Part of their appeal may be in their offbeat rosters.   The teams consist of characters that are probably not household names.  There are, however, great stories in their runs.   I tend to be enthusiastic about these types of team books, because when I pick one up I typically find something new in the approach, something weird in the plotting, a costume I really like, and a personality or conflict with a different nuance. 

So as always, take your dollar and spend it on four selections from our quarter bin.  Share your thoughts, your memories, your observations and suggestions.   I am curious (as I am sure others are as well) if there was gold to be mined from these offbeat teams and their titles.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Menagerie, Parts 1 and 2

Season 1
Episodes 15 and 16: The Menagerie, Parts 1 and 2
Filmed: October 1966 (The Cage filmed November -December 1964)
First Air Dates: November 17, 1966 (11th episode aired), November 24, 1966 (12th episode aired)

Karen: This two-part story is well-loved by most Star Trek fans - and why not? It surely gives us a deeper understanding of Spock, and expands our sense of wonder at the universe out there that the Enterprise crew is bravely exploring. It's also a huge 'what if' - what if the network had given the original pilot ('The Cage') the greenlight, and we had received a very different Star Trek?

Karen: Gene Roddenberry had the idea to incorporate footage from 'The Cage' as not only a cost-cutting measure, but to help fill out the production schedule, as the network had ordered more episodes of the show. However, rather than producing a crass product, the move created two fine episodes which invariably make top ten lists. 

Karen: Roddenberry put forth his proposal to NBC, and they agreed, stipulating that the new content be approximately 50% of the two episodes and feature current cast members. An 'envelope' story, to encompass the footage from 'The Cage,' was developed. John D.F. Black made a first pass at it, but Roddenberry wasn't satisfied and did his own version.  Black filed a complaint with the Writer's Guild for credit but lost, a result he was always bothered by. Roddenberry felt he had been the originator of the concepts. As noted in previous posts, these sort of disagreements would occur frequently with the show, particularly in the first season. Gene Coon would provide some additional script work before it was final.

Karen: According to Marc Cushman in These are the Voyages Volume One, NBC was gratified that the script highlighted Spock. In a memo from NBC rep Stan Robertson to the producers, it reads, "We are very pleased that you have written in Mr. Spock as the primary character since, as you know, he is emerging as one of the definite "pluses" in the series." It had become apparent that the viewing audience 'grokked' Spock. This story would be a nice vehicle for the Vulcan.

Karen: Malachi Throne was cast as Commodore Jose Mendez. Of note is that Throne originally did the voice of the head Keeper in 'The Cage' (which you can hear in the trailer below) but it was redubbed for 'The Menagerie. Sean Kenney had the unenviable role of the injured Captain Pike. They needed an actor who had at least a basic resemblance to Jeffrey Hunter, who had played Pike in the pilot. But poor Kenney was literally slathered in latex, stuck in a bizarre futuristic wheelchair, and had no lines! Luckily he was also cast on two other episodes ("Arena" and "A Taste of Armageddon") as Lt. DePaul -happily without any makeup.

Karen: 'The Menagerie Part One' is very much a mystery -why is Spock hijacking the Enterprise? Why is he kidnapping his former commanding officer, Captain Pike? Why go to Talos IV, a forbidden world? It's all very exciting. We know how incredibly loyal he is to Captain Kirk, as well as Starfleet, so his actions are shocking. Kirk is especially dismayed that his First Officer -his friend -would betray him. But as the story of the earlier Enterprise crew's mission on Talos IV unfolds, things become clear.

Karen: Ultimately, we discover the depths of Spock's loyalty and friendship towards Pike -and also Kirk, whom he keeps out of his plans, so he cannot be implicated. It reveals Spock not as a person devoid of emotions, but rather one who feels deeply, but keeps those emotions held rigidly in check.

Karen: It is intriguing to get this glimpse of a Star Trek that might have been. I think that the actors and characters we wound up with are much superior to the ones in the pilot. Kirk (and Shatner) is far more dynamic than Pike; and McCoy seems much more human and likable than Dr. Boyce. I have to admit that Number One was rather interesting, but it's been stated that many of her characteristics were transferred to Spock. Of course, Spock himself behaved quite differently at that point. In any case, having 'The Cage' as part of Star Trek lore provided some nice history and backstory. 

Karen: Pike's struggle with the Talosians was deemed 'too cerebral' by NBC at the time, but it seems like pretty good science fiction/adventure to me. Overwhelmed by illusion, the captain is unsure of what to believe - but pieces together a way to to overcome his captors. Susan Oliver as Vina, the only survivor of a spaceship crash, provides Pike with insights -and is well-remembered for her turn as a green-skinned Orion 'slave girl.'

Karen: The idea that the gravely handicapped Pike might prefer a life of fantasy to reality would certainly be controversial today. At the time however, it was a rather beautiful expression of Spock's desire to see his former commander live out his life peacefully. I'm curious what you all think of this ending.

Karen: On a lighter note, as a kid, the alien Keepers really freaked me out. They had those pulsating veins on their heads -ewww!! I remember I called them 'the buttheads.' Nuff said.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Guest Post: Jack Kirby's 1970s Series

Doug: Thomas F. drives this train today, and he's got the King on his mind.

Thomas F.: Jack “King” Kirby is best-known for his Silver Age contributions to the comic world. He was the co-creator and illustrator of the Fantastic Four, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Avengers, X-Men, and of course, Captain America. Not Spider-Man, though. For a look at Jack Kirby’s rendition of Spider-Man from as far back as January 1964, check out The Amazing Spider-Man #8 (or a reprint such as Marvel Tales #145), where Kirby penciled the backup story, inked by Steve Ditko, “Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!”

It is no exaggeration to claim that Jack Kirby was one of the most influential contributors to the comics genre to ever live. Few can deny that Kirby was an unparalleled expert at drawing eye-popping monsters, aliens, sci-fi weaponry, and futuristic technology. And most of it looked fully functional.


My own favorite Kirby creation is Darkseid (with the possible exception of the Silver Surfer). Gotta love those cosmic tales, rivaled only by Jim Starlin’s Warlock.

And what do you all think of Kirby’s version of Superman? It sure was different. Many people hated it—no one more so, apparently, then the DC bigwigs, who ordered that Al Plastino’s version of Superman’s face be plastered over most of those drawn by Kirby—behind his back.

It was Kirby’s Seventies stint, however—a period when he insisted on total creative control, and when he was able to produce Kirbyesque works as he saw fit—that he really shone. Granted, Kirby enthusiasts have long held widely-differing views on his Seventies creations. As for myself, I personally regard Kirby’s Seventies output to be the peak of his inventive skill and a time where he was able to showcase the full range of his genius—especially at DC.

Kirby fans are all aware that he left Marvel in the autumn of 1970 to work for the “Distinguished Competition,” which is how Marvel dryly referred to the opposition. This abrupt departure sent shockwaves throughout the comic book industry—just imagine it! Kirby jumping ship! And it wasn’t long before DC began a marketing campaign advertising Kirby’s upcoming works—major titles that the “King” himself would write, draw, and more often than not, edit.

*For this post, I’ve specifically chosen works that Jack Kirby both scripted and penciled (not just one or the other). Note: Kirby’s run on Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen lasted from #133-139, 141-148; his run on Our Fighting Forces lasted from #151-162; his run on Amazing Adventures lasted from #1-4; and his run on Captain America lasted from #193-214 plus Annuals #3 and #4.

DC COVER SELECTIONS: 1st Issue Special #1 feat. Atlas; 1st Issue Special #5 feat. Manhunter; 1st Issue Special #6 feat. Dingbats of Danger Street; Demon #1; Forever People #1; Kamandi #1; Mister Miracle #1; New Gods #1; OMAC #1; Our Fighting Forces #152 feat. Losers; Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #133.

MARVEL COVER SELECTIONS: 2001: A Space Odyssey #1; Amazing Adventures #1 feat. Inhumans and Black Widow; Black Panther #1; Captain America #200; Devil Dinosaur #1; Eternals #1; Machine Man #1.

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