Saturday, July 30, 2016

Guest Review - "Only a Mutant Like Ourselves Could Have Destroyed the Hulk!" What If? 31

Doug: Once again we welcome Thomas F. to the scribe's chair. Today he's sharing thoughts on a magazine that was a late-Bronze Age staple for many of us - What If? And lurking within the issue Thomas has chosen is a question stemming from the early 1970s -- What if Wolverine had killed the Hulk? Why wait? Read on!

What If? #31 (February 1982)

“What If Wolverine Had Killed the Hulk?”

Rich Margopoulos-Bob Budiansky/Mike Esposito/Bob Sharen

Thomas F.: The “What If” comics were an intriguing concept: as fans are aware, they presented hypothetical tales of an alternate reality. Usually based on a significant event in the Marvel Universe, they tried to show the direction history would have taken if things had unfolded differently—sometimes very differently. Some of the stories have unsettling and tragic outcomes, which will make the reader feel relieved that they are just imaginary. The narrator of the story is, as usual, the Watcher.

This invented tale features Wolverine. But in these early times, little was known about Wolverine. Still, a few facts were established:

(1) Wolverine, aka Logan, had been a Canadian field agent employed by the Canadian military;

(2) Wolverine was a mutant with an incredible healing factor;

(3) Wolverine had a skeleton constructed of adamantium, a virtually unbreakable metal;

(4) Wolverine had three razor-sharp, retractable claws on the back of each hand, which he used as offensive weapons;

(5) Wolverine had an extremely powerful sense of smell; and

(6) Wolverine possessed the savage instincts of an animalistic killer and had undergone drug therapy and “psycho-training” to curb these wild impulses of his.

BACKGROUND: To evade the American military, the Hulk made his way into Canada and fought a giant, Yeti-like cannibal beast in the woods of Quebec known as the Wendigo. Alerted to the ferocious creatures destroying the forest in the Canadian North Woods, the Canadian Armed Forces sent a special adamantium-clawed field agent with a six-hour deadline to capture the Hulk. Wolverine proved unsuccessful—he was unable to defeat the Hulk in combat, and the Canadian military intervened, sending a “crack-squad of specially-trained commandos” to finish the job. They use a soporific gas against the Hulk, which worked, but when the Green Goliath awakened, he easily broke free and escaped. (These incidents took place in The Incredible Hulk #s180-182, before the events of Giant-Size X-Men #1, where Wolverine abruptly resigned his Canadian commission and left with Professor X to join the new X-Men, who were introduced in X-Men #94).

300-WORD SYNOPSIS: This time around, Wolverine first incapacitates the Wendigo, then engages the Hulk in a fight to the finish. No quarter is given. Wolverine pits his tenacity, speed, and “diamond-hard” adamantium claws against the overwhelming strength of the Hulk. Caught up in the escalating intensity of the clash, Wolverine disregards the instructions of his superiors to apprehend the Hulk and decides to kill him instead. In a savage spate of fury, Wolverine repeatedly slashes away at the Hulk’s neck and succeeds in killing him.

Later, after a barroom brawl during which he loses control of himself, Wolverine is charged with murdering a civilian, and he deserts the Canadian Forces. Almost immediately afterward, Wolverine—now out of options and pursued by the law—is enlisted into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants by the powerful Magneto, Master of Magnetism. Magneto tasks Wolverine with infiltrating the X-Men as a mole.

Over several weeks, Wolverine becomes a trusted member of the X-Men, training with the team in the Danger Room and helping to defeat the Sentinels. Wolverine is still committed to betray the X-Men for Magneto, although he does so with a troubled conscience, because he now considers the X-Men his friends. According to a prearranged plan, Wolverine disables Cerebro’s “proximity fuse,” which allows Magneto and his followers to break into X-Men headquarters without warning.

When Magneto and his mutant cronies—the Blob, Unus the Untouchable, Lorelei, and Mastermind—breach Professor Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters, they overwhelm the X-Men. But when Magneto tries to kill Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, for whom Wolverine feels affection, Wolverine turns on Magneto. Both inflict lethal injuries on one another: Wolverine slashes Magneto to death, and in his final moments, Magneto uses the power of magnetism to cause Wolverine to pierce himself in the throat with his own metal claws.
Before reading this issue, I’d never heard of Rich Margopoulos. After looking him up, I discovered that he’d written for Warren Publishing, which produced the monster/horror comics Hunter the Demon Killer and Vampirella. Margopoulos also wrote over at MLJ, now known as Archie Comics, and wrote at least one more What If? story for Marvel (issue #38). His influences were Steve Englehart and Roy Thomas.

As for Bob Budiansky’s artwork, it’s average, in my opinion. Passable, but not extraordinary, though he is a good storyteller. Certainly not a big name, Budiansky is best known for writing The Transformers and penciling issues of Ghost Rider near the end of its run. Personally, I would have liked to see Herb Trimpe pencil this issue.

I thought I’d mention that as a Canadian myself, I have an affinity for heroes of Canadian origin, and appreciate it whenever Marvel or DC create Canadian characters, even if they’re almost invariably depicted as British replicas.

I love the scenes where Wolverine does the Hulk in. Wolverine’s relentless viciousness really makes an impact here.
Although it wasn’t known at the time of The Incredible Hulk #181, it was established years later that Wolverine’s metal claws did lacerate the Hulk’s tough skin, but the Hulk healed so quickly that he appeared to be uninjured.

The Hulk’s passing made a personal impact on at least two people, General “Thunderbolt” Ross and his daughter Betty. The general has mixed feelings of part relief and part regret now that his long-time nemesis has perished. As for Betty, she is immensely saddened because although she was certainly aware that the Hulk was very dangerous, she loved Bruce Banner, the man inside the monster. The rest of the world is understandably astounded to when they hear of the Hulk’s death on a news broadcast.

I found it neat how the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, led by Magneto, have their version of a “Danger Room” at their headquarters where they train, just like the X-Men do. Supervillains have to keep in shape too!
Wolverine’s tendency to succumb to a berserk rage is an appealing quirk of his. Unfortunately for him, this time it led to tragedy—when a barfly pulled a gun on him, Wolverine acted instinctively and skewered him like a shish-kebab.

This also happened after Magneto tried to kill Jean Grey—Wolverine flew into a rage and butchered him.
The final page where the dying Magneto managed to summon enough power to carry out a final offensive, killing Wolverine, is shocking. Like some movies, the actually impalement occurred off-screen (in this case, off-panel).
Overall, this was an intriguing issue that I was glad to finally get my hands on. Just wish that “bigger” names had been involved in the production of this series, though Frank Miller did write and pencil two excellent What If? Daredevil stories: What If? #28 (“Matt Murdock … Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) and What If? #35 (“What If Bullseye had Not killed Elektra?”). If you’re a Daredevil and/or Miller fan, be sure to check those out.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Five Guilty Pleasures... Take a Big Big Bite!

Martinex1: It's time for another round of Five Guilty Pleasures, where I explore some of my pop culture favorites from decades past that may or may not be mainstream.  I suspect that these selections fall somewhere in the shadows...they would probably not be in many Top 10 lists, but I cannot deny enjoying them.  Some choices may fit more comfortably in the nostalgic heartland of our beloved site, but I probably wouldn't be sharing these likings at a cocktail party with Senators.   As before, we will take a look at the categories of:  Comics, Movies or Television, Literature, Music, and Food.   So without further ado...

COMICS: This time around I am not choosing a specific issue or title but rather a character... Wonder Man.  Simon Williams has been a favorite of mine since he stumbled back to life in the Avengers.  And he has been a lovable hot mess ever since.   His backstory is a convoluted and meandering web of costumes, characteristics, and motivations.  I am not sure any writer really got a handle on who Simon is but somehow along the way I kept rooting for him and looking forward to his appearances (up to a point).  He is a failed industrialist, an actor with limited ability, a one-time villain, a zuvembie, a best friend to the Beast, and a resurrected ionic super-hero with panic attacks.  The last part is what really intrigued me.   He was one of the most powerful Marvel characters in the late 70's (as he himself constantly reminded us), but he was fearful of dying because he died before.  That made him interesting; despite his strength he was incredibly vulnerable.  Yet he did what he had to do.  He repeatedly overcame his fear and fought enemies greater than himself even if it meant getting brutally pummeled.  In later years, he was reduced (in my mind) to a totally ionic entity, but along the way he had fun adventures, an unrenowned but enjoyable solo title, and a series of bad outfits. 

MOVIE: After Hours is a bit of a cult classic.  When Martin Scorsese movies are discussed this one typically does not make it into the rarefied air of Raging Bull, Goodfellas, or Taxi Driver.  But for me this 1985 film is not only my favorite Scorsese flick but one of my all-time favorite movies.  Griffin Dunne stars as Paul Hackett a mid-level office worker who sets out to meet a girl named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) for a date in Soho.   A simple night out turns into a paranoid comic adventure as Paul does everything he can to just return home while everybody in the city seems to be conspiring against him.   A paper mache statue, an ice cream truck, a seedy bar, a set of keys, a beehive hairdo, an angry mob, and the words "Surrender Dorothy," all play a part in this dark and twisted comedy about a night in New York City.   The film will make you laugh with its blend of strange wit and suspense.

BOOK: My sons are at an age that I can start sharing some of my favorite childhood reads with them and recently we delved into the Hardy Boys.   The first book in the series that I read was The Hardy Boys: The Shattered Helmet which was number 52 in the pseudonymous Franklin W. Dixon series.  In this one, Joe and Frank along with Chet and their new friend Evan Pandropolos search for a missing but valuable Greek helmet that was used in a silent film decades ago.   The boys travel to Hollywood and the island of Corfu all the while in danger from career criminals and mysterious happenings.   The plot is predictable to an aged reader but I couldn't help but enjoy the cliffhanger chapters, the sunny 60's disposition of the characters, the comfortable structure, and the nostalgia of more innocent times. 

MUSIC:  In 1996, (yeesh... it was 20 years ago), there was a single eponymous album from a band called Mind Science of the Mind.  It was a supergroup of sorts with Nathan Larson from Shudder to Think, Mary Timony from Helium, drummer Kevin March from the Dambuilders, along with their violinist Joan Wasser.  The first time I heard the music I wasn't sure what to think, but repeated listening opened the door to wonderful spiraling musicianship loaded with weird but memorable lyrics, a haunting voice, and forays into musical bombast tempered with calm reticence.  I've said it before that if I imagined the soundtrack to the Dr. Strange movie... this would be it.  It is not for everybody I am sure, but I thoroughly enjoy this album and wish that they had produced more.

FOOD: "Honeycomb's big! Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.  It's not small! No, No, No.  Honeycomb's got a big, big, bite! Big, big taste in a big, big bite! "  I don't know about you but I still enjoy a sugary bowl of cereal now and then.   And having grown up watching Saturday morning cartoons, I was exposed to a heavy dose of marketing from Post and other cereal companies.  It will forever be etched in my mind that the denizens of the Honeycomb Hideout pulled out their ruler to measure the one inch cereal to prove to the giant visitors that Honeycomb is "big."  I will probably be humming that jingle or something like it on my deathbed as my life passes before me. But I have to say I love the sweet crunch of honey sweetened corn.  So yes - my final guilty pleasure this month is Honeycomb cereal.  And let's not forget the cool metal bike license plates they offered as a prize in the box every year.   Hey, the Hulk's got my back on this one!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Face-Off: Alfred or Jarvis?

Martinex1: Today's Face-Off question is: Alfred Pennyworth or Edwin Jarvis?  Who do you prefer? What do you say about these supporting characters?

Butler to the Bat?

Or Servant to the Super-Team?

Alfred as portrayed on television's Batman by Alan Napier.

Jarvis was portrayed by James D'Arcy on Agent Carter

Alfred has been a Lego!

Jarvis has been a super-computer!

Michael Caine has played the butler!

And Jarvis was played by Ultron when he became the Crimson Cowl!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Star Trek at 50: A Taste of Armageddon

Season 1
Episode 24: A Taste of Armageddon
Filmed: December 1966/ January 1967
First Air Date: February 23, 1967

Karen: "A Taste of Armageddon" is a solid episode, with a strong anti-war theme that requires little explanation.War has become the norm for the two planets of Eminiar and Vendikar. They've rendered it neat and clean, and come to accept the inevitable loss of life. The pattern is so thoroughly bred into them, after hundreds of years, that they don't even think about stopping it. Until Kirk forces them to.

Karen: This is another strong message episode, filled with just enough action to keep the kids and the network happy. Coming during the Vietnam War, it clearly had much to say about the dehumanizing effects of war. The writer, Robert Hamner, is quoted in Marc Cushman's These are the Voyages as saying, "At the time, the military was developing the neutron bomb. These were designed to kill people without harming the buildings. It was like big business going to war. 'Don't destroy the factories, just kill the workers!' I thought it would be terrible if a neutron bomb were developed. It would take all the devastation out of war and just leave death...That was the whole idea of the script when I walked into Gene Coon's office."  Coon worked with Hamner to tighten the script and add more action, work on Kirk's motivation and eliminate or revise some of the scenes that would be too costly to shoot. He also wrote the "we're not going to kill today" speech that Kirk gives at the end. All together, the episode is fairly emblematic of what Trek would come to be recognized for, philosophically speaking.

Karen: However, by this episode, we start to see certain patterns appearing in Trek: a civilization that is out of order and Kirk and company decide they must intercede; the landing party cut off from the Enterprise; the Enterprise under attack and unable to assist the landing party; Kirk destroying a machine to put an end to the problem. We got most of this with "Return of the Archons" and we're seeing it again here. This formula can be forgiven when the episode is a good one, but is quite noticeable when it's a lesser effort ("The Apple" for example).

Karen: Besides Kirk getting to be the man of action in this, Spock gets his moments too. When the landing party is captured, we see the Vulcan utilize his mind meld ability in a new way, reaching through the wall of the room they are being held prisoner in to contact the mind of their guard and control it, getting him to open the door. I think Trek could have run the risk of making Spock into their deus ex machina if they had abused his mental abilities, and a lesser show would have done this. But thankfully it was used sparingly, and at the right times. We also got to hear Nimoy deliver the line, "Sir, there is a multi-legged creature crawling on your shoulder" before applying the Spock nerve pinch. Just beautiful.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Buried Treasures: Dynamite's Superhero Confidential (the conclusion)

Doug: We've had a blast over the past five or six weeks reminding ourselves how awesome those monthly book orders from Scholastic, Inc. could be when we were elementary school-aged. Today I'm going to show off the last three features that I saved from Dynamite magazine. The Captain Marvel (Shazam to Bronze Age Babies) feature was my introduction to the Captain's four-color adventures, as I am positive at that point in my life I knew him only from the Saturday morning live action show. As you have, drop us a comment on the artwork, the selection choices editorial made, and the Q&A/FAQ sections that followed the comic excerpts.

I think the Daredevil feature is from Daredevil #117, which I reviewed some years ago. However, as my art samples don't match and since that comic has left my possession I cannot be certain. Any help would be welcome.

I've enjoyed finding and sharing these gems from the middle of the Bronze Age. Who knows what else lurks down deep in the recesses of the comic room's closet?

Monday, July 25, 2016

BAB Book Review: Jack Kirby's Thor Artist Edition

Jack Kirby's Thor Artist Edition 
IDW Publishing, July 2016

Doug: On July 16th I returned home from my annual work at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. While it was great to be back home after what had been 11 days away, it was also wonderful to finally lay eyes on this book. I'd ordered it many months ago, and as seems to be true with projects of this ilk I sat through a few publication delays. It arrived just a couple of days before I did, but trust me -- the wait was worth it!

For those of you who were with me a few weeks ago when I offered my thoughts on Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns Gallery Edition, I will again be using photographs of this text as opposed to scans. Similar in size to John Romita's Amazing Spider-Man Artifact Edition (and larger than the Dark Knight book), this is a cumbersome tome.

To get things rolling, how about this two-page spread to greet the reader/viewer?

To you stats geeks, here's the "tale of the tape" -- from the good folks at Comic Book

Jack Kirby’s The Mighty Thor Artist’s Edition
Includes Journey Into Mystery #s 111, 117-118, Thor #s 134-135, Thor Annual #2, plus a gallery of covers, splashes and pages.
  • Publication Date: July 06, 2016 (solicited for May 2016)
  • Publisher Series Number: 42
  • ISBN: 978-1-63140-603-4
  • Diamond Item Code: JAN160388 (In Stock)
  • 15″ x 22″
  • 160 pages
  • $125 USD
  • Initial Reported Sales: No data available yet
  • Variants: none
Right after the frontispiece pictured above you'll find the Table of Contents, which is really nice, and I display it for those of you who might consider at some point purchasing this volume. I especially like that it shows the inkers involved in these artifacts. Toward the end of the post I'll show you some of the samples from the "gallery section", which really, really enhance the already wonderful offerings contained between these covers. Think about it -- six complete Jack Kirby Thor stories!

Once you're into the nitty gritty of the book, this is what greets the reader:

Oh, you said you wanted words? Well that splash sure had 'em! I love the way the page is marked up at the top, and it's amazing the lines that get lost in the printing process. I also enjoyed seeing the trim size of the final product (here at 6 1/4" x 9 1/4"). That brings me to something many of you are already wondering... what of Kirby's margin notes? Karen and I discussed offline how great this book should be, especially in light of the ongoing conversation of who did what creatively between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Personally, I've always felt that Kirby was the storyteller and Stan was the wordsmith. Does that give one man more credit than the other? To me, no. The symbiosis of their collaboration, the gestalt of the work, is what matters. All the rest seems minutiae in the face of the greater work. My opinion. However, I'm sorry to report that some of those margin notes are not fully viewable in this book. I do not know if that's due to trimming at the printer five decades ago, or trimming in the photo process by IDW Publishing (I assume the former). However, there are abundant pages where Kirby's notes are complete, as in the examples below:

I included the image of Balder below (in civvies, no less) because there's some crazy white-out on his jaw/mouth. I hope my photographic reproduction shows it, as it really leapt off the page at me while looking through.

Here's another shot of the Destroyer, in a great splash from Thor Annual #2; he's a great looking character, one of my favorite Thor villains. And dig the Kirby Krackle!!

A favorite panel in the book. One can see how Kirby might have been an influence on the likes of John Buscema (which he was -- many of you know that Stan handed stacks of Kirby-drawn books to artists new to Marvel, regardless of their pedigree).

Splash pages. What would a Lee/Kirby Thor book be without the Odinsleep? And how about the Big G? Wowza!

Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch made a cameo in Thor #134. Kirby didn't handle them during the Kooky Quartet era, so it's interesting to see his take on the twins. As I said above, note Kirby's extensive margin notes on this page, lost forever to the trimming of the page at some point in the reproduction process.

The High Evolutionary and Kirby machines. That wolf ain't gonna be pretty once the High Ev. gets done with him!

Yes, you in the back of the room. You say you're in need of some more Kirby Krackle? Why... by all means...

As noted above, the end of the book contains a gallery section of awesome covers. I really got a kick out of these, with all their paste-up/white-out/stat glories! I also own the Marvel Covers Artist Edition, and the use of paste-ups was predominant on Marvel's covers. Obviously the logos, corner box art, etc. would have been stats. But you might (or might not) be surprised at how often art was glued onto the cover's bristol board.

Lastly, this Artist Edition contained several of the very earliest Thor pages, from Journey Into Mystery #s 83 and 85. It was a nice idea, and really showed the evolution of the character not only in Kirby's mind, but also from the introductory inks of Joe Sinnott all the way through much of the pages shown in this volume, inked by Vince Colletta. Specifically in regard to Vinnie, and I'm sure many of you want to ask, is it possible to see where Vinnie erased Jack's pencils? I've only been through the book twice, and haven't actually read from it. I also didn't take any sort of care as to "proper lighting". But my first impression is that "no", you can't really see any erasure marks. I will scrutinize further, but can report that I did initially feel disappointed that I could not find any evidence of Kirby's original intentions.

Why not close with a bang? One of the best ongoing tussles in all of Marveldom...

Doug: EPILOGUE!! On July 21st IDW Publishing announced at the San Diego Comicon that 2017 will see the publication of the first volume (read that again, effendi) of the Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four Artist Edition. The book will contain Fantastic Four issues #s 82-84 and Annual #6, all inked by Joe Sinnott. You know this guy cannot wait for that. In fact, I've recently fired up the sell-off machine again, so some books and action figures are going to get converted to cash for this baby. Of course I'll let you know if and when I have it in hand.

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