Archive for the ‘way back machine’ Category
Ghost Rider #1
Well, this is awkward…
I was all set to do a post expressing my excitement regarding the sequel to the B-movie glory that was Nicholas Cage’s Ghost Rider, a responsibility which weighs most heavily on me since I’m apparently the only one on Earth who enjoyed that magnificent piece of kitsch. Little did I suspect that the corporate masters behind the character would pull off the worst p.r. stunt possible as they quite publicly attempted to destroy the life of the writer who chronicled the character’s earliest appearances a week before the movie opened. That kind of puts a damper on things.
The coverage I’ve seen talks much about how Marvel has done all these terrible things to Gary Friedrich, which tells me what a good job Disney does of keeping their corporate name out of the conversation. I’m not surprised about the lengths they’ve gone to if it’s true they want Friedrich to have no claim as Ghost Rider’s creator; they seem to want their characters to be bigger than the mortals behind them. Anyone want to tell me who created the Disney versions of Beast, or Aladdin, or Simba? (Actually, my cousin was married to one of Disney’s chief animators way back when and I’m told she served as the model for Ariel, but that’s another story…). You might notice I didn’t refer to Friedrich as the creator of Ghost Rider in the first paragraph. I don’t have any particular insight into GR’s origins, but many of the characters from that era were created by committee, and Marvel had a western hero in the sixties called Ghost Rider who affected supernatural powers. The Phase Two version swapped the horse for a motorcycle and set his head on fire, and voila! A new character!
I also don’t blame the Marvel of old for guarding their ownership of the characters they published. They would need to keep their cast of characters consistent when artists and writers would come and go from month to month (as mentioned in my previous WBM post, Son of Satan went through six different creators in about the first ten issues). Comic publishers weren’t being passed around for billions of dollars a few decades ago; the 1970’s were a rough time for Marvel and DC, and imagine how long they would have lasted if an artist took Character X off to another publisher, or disallowed it’s use, after just a few issues. Marvel almost didn’t survive the seventies anyway, but for their luck in licensing a series based on a goofy long shot sci-fi movie in 1977 that turned out to be a huge moneymaker for everyone involved. The competition was experiencing the “DC Implosion” at about the same time. Establishing a system where artists could share the next-to-no-profits of your publishing house, but still shut down any of your titles if they decided to move on, doesn’t sound like a viable model to run a business without which the artists wouldn’t eat anyway. (And for all that people gripe about Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby, he ran his own studio as a work-for-hire operation when he was the boss.)
All of which is merely to say that I won’t judge the business practices of yesteryear with the benefit of today’s hindsight. Now that there are billions of dollars changing hands and the people who created and developed the characters are living in poverty, however, the company that doesn’t share the enormous wealth and give credit where it’s due are certainly subhuman bastards.
Okay, now that I’ve stirred that pot, here’s a bit about the comic itself… Like many first issues of it’s time, it actually picks up from a long run in an anthology title and continues a story from another issue, so it’s hardly a first appearance or a seamless jumping on point, but this was from a time when no one actually cared about the numbering of an issue beyond organizing the pile of books in the corner of your closet. A good thing, too, because as a first exposure to Satan’s cyclist, it doesn’t quite hold up. Let’s examine the brilliant concept behind the character: like Aquaman, who can only battle criminals who stray too close to major waterways, Ghost Rider is designed to specialize in motorbike-borne Satanists. That’s a pretty narrow niche to build a series around; good thing he’s got that awesome visual. As for the plot of this particular issue, well…
It opens with Johnny Blaze charging a police barricade for totally obscure reasons before crashing his bike and being rushed to the hospital. His manager, irked at his disappearance before a major stunt show, decides to take Blaze’s place in the spotlight and suffers a horrible crash. Ghost Rider sneaks out of the hospital, and the awesome spectacle of that blazing skull atop a chopper is shelved in favor of watching him climb into the back of a taxi, and later steal a pickup truck. Seriously. Why that scene with the cab isn’t on the cover of the book, I can’t imagine. That’s all that happens in the first issue; the closest we have to seeing a villain is a subplot involving a possessed Indian girl whose boyfriend answers a newspaper ad for a mysterious exorcist who is seen only in shadow, which leads to another book entirely…
A close look at the image at the top of the post will reveal a little G-shaped chicken scratch on the cover. Gary Friedrich made an appearance at MidOhio a couple years ago and signed my copy; he remains the only creator I have encountered who charged for a signature, but I had no problem ponying up the change to have a couple books signed– I would only say if he’s going to charge for autographs, he needs to leave a bolder, more flamboyant mark on the cover, but that’s a minor quibble. Given what’s happened this past week, I wouldn’t mind having had to shell out a little more, or would have had a couple more books signed. I’ll likely join the boycott of the movie, or maybe grab a bootleg from that guy outside the convenience store across from my workplace, and send Friedrich a check in the amount of a movie ticket.
Marvel Spotlight #12
Way back when I was in middle school, we had a family move in next door who practiced a far more conservative brand of that old-time religion than I had been exposed to before in my laid-back Lutheran upbringing. These folk weren’t the type to protest at soldiers’ funerals, but I don’t think they were too many steps removed from the Westboro Baptist crowd. Their son, who was my age, told me hair-raising tales of eyewitness accounts of demons terrorizing innocents, rampaging through towns and sowing destruction. Even at the age of twelve I knew to smile and back away slowly when the conversation drifted down these avenues, but he was the only kid I knew that was my age in the one-stoplight town I grew up in that I didn’t need to beg a car ride to go visit, so we hung out a lot. I’m proud to say I did get him started playing Dungeons and Dragons, a pastime I’m sure he hid from the folks at home, but he never lost his, ah, religious fervor.
One day while visiting my house he noticed an issue of Marvel Spotlight I had found at a flea market some weekend before. The title character caught his eye– The Son of Satan! He picked the book up, flipped through it, soaked up a little of the dialogue, then said in an ominous voice: “This book is… evil!”
Suddenly the Son of Satan grew ten times cooler in my mind.
A recent trip to Half Price Books rewarded me with a big bundle of Daimon Hellstrom’s series in Marvel Spotlight, including his debut issue, for a mere pocketful of change. It was the first time I’ve read a bunch of these issues together, and they make for an entertaining if erratic reading experience. Daimon may have been one of those characters they didn’t know exactly what to do with, despite having clearly gone completely off their rockers when the CCA restrictions were loosened enough that they could slap Beelzebub’s name on the masthead of a book and put it on the spinner rack. (They had completely lost their stones in the 90’s when they tried to revive the character, calling the book “Hellstorm” instead.) They go through a series of writers and artists in the span of twelve issues, and while I have nothing but respect for Claremont and Sal Buscema, and awe and reverence for Gerber and Colan, the premiere issue by Ghost Rider scribe Gary Friedrich and master of occult illustration Herb Trimpe (uh, okay, maybe not, but…) carry a helluva lot of charm, so that’s what we’ll be discussing today.
Daimon Hellstrom doesn’t make his first appearance here. The previous character to be featured in Spotlight was Ghost Rider; when Satan’s cyclist (I love typing that) made the move to his own first issue, a subplot was introduced in which a mysterious occult specialist, seen only in shadow, is called in to help investigate some paranormal event. I’m missing Ghost Rider’s second issue, so I have no idea how that mysterious figure got locked in a wooden shed by a couple of American Indians, but his alter-ego makes his first appearance bursting out of that prison on the first page of his premiere.
It’s 1973, so this fearsome character gets to demonstrate his awesome powers for the reader by obliterating a rogue biker gang. (Seriously, I could do a series of posts on early 70s Marvel comics featuring biker gangs getting creamed by supernatural characters.) Not only does the scene demonstrate Hellstrom’s powers for the reader, it also drives home his identity as the Son of Satan, because he keeps shouting it over and over. He actually comes off as a bit of an asshole, but he is, as he says, the Son of Satan. The purpose of the battle is to rescue Roxanne Simpson, girlfriend of Johnny Blaze, who then points him to where her boyfriend has been kidnapped– dragged into Hell by Daimon’s dad.
It’s Daimon’s first ever solo issue, and he’s invading Hell to battle Satan. I’ll confess I would have saved this plot for later, since following it the next issue with bank robbers or Stilt Man is bound to be anticlimactic. Then again, they didn’t know how successful these characters would be when they tried them out in these anthology titles, so might as well go in with guns blazing, I guess. Daimon battles Satan and the legions of the netherworld while Johnny Blaze politely sits this one out, since his name isn’t on the book anymore. When Daimon does rescue Blaze and reunite him with his girlfriend, Blaze still complains about his unfeeling manner. That’s a brilliant piece of characterization; a guy must be a real prick if he rescues you from Hell and you still think he’s cold and uncaring.
An unexpected (okay, entirely expected) treat from this series is the letters pages. These were the days before the internet, and apparently the local public library was lacking in occult reference material, so the writers and editors do the next obvious thing: they invite any Satanists who might be reading the series to write in with any information they have on their practices. A riotous series of letters flows in in the following months, from cultist geeks demanding the pentagram on Daimon’s chest be drawn properly (it does get changed) to readers who accuse Friedrich and Gerber of being pawns of the devil who seek the corruption of America’s youth. One of the issues in the pile I brought home had a scar upon it I hadn’t noticed until I started reading it: a puncture, dead center on the cover, piercing all the way through the back… as if someone had driven a stake through the heart of the comic. If that issue had ever circulated around my hometown, I have an idea who might have done that.
Many Moons ago I started these writings with a series of “Desert Island Comics”, a list of ten comics I would want to have with me were I stranded on the proverbial desert isle. It was an enjoyable enough exercise that after I wrapped it up, I decided to dig a little deeper into my long boxes with this series. Along the way I had the notion, never acted upon, to incorporate another “desert island” series into the Way Back Machine, a series devoted to the comics I would most like to use to start a signal fire if I ever spotted a ship on the horizon– the ten least favorite books which have found their way into my collection. Were I to compile such a list, the issue below would have a fighting chance for the #1 spot since it is directly responsible for the excesses which ruined the comics I was reading a decade and a half after its publication.
Marvel Spotlight #32
Like DC trotting out Man-Bat a few years earlier, Spider-Woman and She-Hulk were created to protect the copyright for concepts which might draw off the popularity of their own established characters. Rather than empowering figures, Marvel had an unfortunate habit of making their female creations mere extensions of their male counterparts rather than independent characters in their own right. While Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk were the figurative offspring off their namesakes, Spider-Woman’s lineage is a bit less obvious and a bit more convoluted, incorporating elements from Thor and Nick Fury’s backstory into her origin.
At the story’s beginning, “Arachne” is an amnesiac who has been duped into working for the evil spy organization Hydra. SHIELD has captured her Hydra agent paramour, so she breaks into the good guys’ Mediterranean HQ to assassinate Nick Fury and free her lover. Her boyfriend is killed in the crossfire, and Fury reveals that her beau was manipulating her into using her against SHIELD, and that Hydra is actually a force for evil in the world. Disillusioned, she breaks out of SHIELD HQ and heads back to her Hydra base to bust some heads.
Nick Fury rounds up a posse of SHIELD agents and follows her to Hydra’s base of operations, and while they tear the place apart, Spider-Woman corners the leader of the Hydra goons, who tells her of her own pre-amnesiac origins. She was created by Thor’s sometimes-enemy, the High Evolutionary, who has been trying to build a scientific utopia populated by “New Men” technologically evolved from simple beasts. She herself had been created by the High Evolutionary, evolved to human form from an actual spider, from whence she gets her wall-crawling abilities and “venom blasts.” The Hydra leader tries to escape while she reels from the shock of this revelation, but she damages his ship and sends it crashing into a mountain before wandering into the sunset herself.
Apparently the response to the character was positive enough that Marvel gave her own series a green light, but someone along the way (Stan himself?) decided the original origin story was a bit too “icky” and decided it should be changed, making her the daughter of a scientist who had worked with the High Evolutionary and had thus become the subject of some of his experiments.
Why does this book have such an effect on me that I blame it for screwing things up nearly two decades afterwards? Check out the panels below from one of the first few issues to feature the All-New, All Different X-Men. The X-Men have been captured by Sentinels and imprisoned by Larry Trask, but their mutant detecting hardware is having trouble processing Wolverine:
“Whatever the Wolverine is, HE ISN’T HUMAN.”
A few issues later while battling the Juggernaut in Banshee’s ancestral Irish castle (or whatever, I’m not rushing to look it up right now), the team is aided by a bunch of leprechauns (seriously). The wee people rebut Logan’s disbelief in them by telling him they’ve never met a talking wolverine before, either.
No less than one of the architects of the new X-Men’s early days reports that Logan was planned to be not a mutant, but an actual wolverine that had been technologically evolved by the High Evolutionary. The plan was scrapped, however, when Archie Goodwin and Sal Buscema were working down the hall on their new Spider-Woman character. Imagine how close we came to having Wolverine lumped into the pile of short-lived oddball bronze age characters, his bizarre origin consigning him to c-list status until Brian Bendis could come along decades later to try to revive him (as seems his mission with 1970’s c-listers, but that’s another post). Imagine the 1990’s if Wolverine’s skyrocketing popularity hadn’t caused an escalating game of one-upmanship as writers and artists tried to make characters more grim, more brutal, more badass. Imagine, then, the damage done by Marvel Spotlight #32 in taking– then abandoning– this goofball backstory which would have sidelined Wolverine early in his career and spared us a lot of suffering down the road.
Untold Legend of the Batman #1
This is where “my” Batman comes from. Sure, I’d been familiar with the character and his supporting cast before, but this 1980 miniseries (one of the earliest such series’ DC published) is where I learned all the nuances of Batman’s backstory. Today this sort of thing would come in the form of a self-important reboot or retcon from a set of creators looking to “leave their mark” on the character before their revisions get swept under the rug by another set of superstars a few years hence; this was just the opposite, a distillation of the most important or interesting elements from previous decades showing a newcomer the many layers of the legend without disrupting the goings-on in the regular titles. The story in these pages cemented in my mind who these characters should be; I’m out of touch with what is being published now, but I wonder how much of it has been carried over to the combat-boot clad militia leading guerrilla fighter that’s been wearing the costume these days.
The story opens with a mysterious package being sent to Bruce Wayne containing the shredded remants of the costume worn by the first Batman– Thomas Wayne. In flashback we see the night from decades past where Doctor Wayne attends a costume party dressed as a giant bat. Mobsters crash the place looking for a physician to help wounded crime boss Lew Moxon. The senior Wayne turns the tables on the crooks and hands them over to a young police Lieutenant named James Gordon. Moxon is soon back on the streets, however, and vows revenge.
A few months pass, and Doctor Wayne and his wife are gunned down while walking home from a movie (this comic predates Dark Knight Returns, so we are spared the now-cliched image of that string of pearls falling to the ground). Young Bruce falls into a series of caring hands who help him through the trauma he has experienced. We briefly meet Leslie Thompkins (who by god had better still be part of canon), but a little more time is spent with a caregiver named Mrs. Chilton and the profound positive impact she had on Bruce’s character. In the panels above, see Alfred reflect on her terrible secret which he keeps from his employer as he wonders how Bruce might have turned out without the love of the caring people that filled his life in the wake of his parents’ murder. Alfred might get the answer to his questions if he picked up a recent issue of Batman.
Young Bruce is still restless and driven, though, and makes the graveside vow to wage war on criminals. The youth trains and studies, and seeks out not a series of ninja experts around the world, but a single mentor: Harvey Harris, the world’s greatest detective. Hoping to still preserve his anonymity when he approaches the detective, Bruce fashions a red and green costume with a yellow cape to disguise himself. Harris christens his new pupil “Robin” and spends the next few years teaching him everything he knows about fighting and crime detection and, presumably, death-trap escaping. A brief, aborted detour towards a career as a police officer comes before Bruce’ study is crashed by the bat which gives him his inspiration, and his vigilante career is underway.
Flash forward a few years and Batman and Robin are on the trail of a crime ring operating behind the front of a trucking company which smuggles wanted criminals across state lines. Jim Gordon shows Batman a picture of the leader of the organization, a small time crook named Joe Chill. Batman recognizes the face of his parents’ murderer and sets out to bring him to justice, but can’t find the evidence needed to shut down his operation. As a last resort, he confronts Chill and unmasks himself. A frightened Chill, knowing just how much he has earned the Batman’s wrath, runs to his criminal cohorts for help only to meet his end in a scene of Ditkoesque poetic justice.
Batman marks the case closed, until a couple years later when he discovers a film reel from the costume party which started the ball rolling, along with a journal entry implicating Lew Moxon in hiring Joe Chill to kill the Waynes and leave Bruce alive to testify that it was a random crime. Batman brings Moxon in, but the criminal has a case of head-trauma induced partial amnesia; Batman has no evidence to bring him to justice and the criminal remembers no crime to confess to. Again clutching at straws, Bruce dons his father’s Bat costume and confront Moxon, whose memory is restored by the vision. Moxon flees in terror and meets his own grisly end. Batman again marks the case closed, until today when that tattered costume arrives in the mail, apparently sent by someone who knows all of Batman’s secrets.
Len Wein writes the series, John Byrne draws the first issue before handing off the rest to Jim Aparo. The following issues provide the origins of Robin, the Joker, Two face, Batgirl; we see the history of Jim Gordon and meet the racecar driver whose life Batman once saved and who now spends his spare time building Batmobiles. Most interesting is the story of Alfred, son of the Wayne family’s old manservant who comes to Bruce Wayne’s employ after a failed career in the theatre, and who is shocked one night when his master comes home in the middle of the night gravely wounded and wearing a Batman costume. As for the identity of Batman’s tormenter: well, the biggest clue is the head injury the crimefighter sustained in a warehouse explosion they keep referring to throughout the series. Turns out there’s only one person who really knows all of Batman’s secrets.
Another in a series of WBM posts adopting the blogs anniversary theme:
Action Comics #1 (50th anniversary edition)
The summer following my graduation from high school, a few friends and I piled into a van for a road trip to Washington D.C. I had been there just a few years before and covered the bunch of things at the top of the list of sightseer destinations– the Lincoln Memorial, National Archives, Washington Monument, and our Boy Scout uniforms even got us a peek into the oval office (though Ronnie wasn’t in at the time). This afforded me the opportunity to move a little down the list and visit some of the secondary destinations on my return visit. Early on in the trip I visited the Smithsonian’s American History museum; when I last visited, I saw the sets from the freshly-concluded television series M*A*S*H*. This time, something far cooler was waiting past Fonzie’s jacket and Archie Bunker’s chair: it was 1988, the 50th anniversary of Superman’s first appearance, and to my surprise an entire exhibit was devoted to the strange visitor from another planet. And waiting for me inside, inches away from my sweaty fingers behind a protective glass case, was a copy of the holy grail of comics looking like it just came off the newstand, an original copy of Action #1.
That was pretty much the high point of the trip for me. I think I went back to that exhibit three or four times to press my nose against the glass until the moisture from my breath set off some sort of alarm sensor and security dragged me away. I was in a comic geek wonderland, one of the most serious museums in the world whose walls were adorned with old cartoon art, George Reeves’ costume, decades-old comics, and Byrne’s Man of Steel tpb in the gift shop. And at the center of the whole thing was that one amazing book that most comic fanatics never get the chance to actually gaze upon in the flesh (pulp?) in their lifetime of collecting. Screw Ford’s Theatre, I say.
The story I read in this reprint edition is miles away from the Superman we know, as most reading this blog surely already know. No power of flight, no vision powers, just a really strong guy with tough skin leaping around while dressed in a circus performer’s costume. Since it’s the character’s first appearance, and entire single page is devoted to his origin before we see him battle a succession of villains: a wife beater! A gang of kidnappers! A corrupt Washington lobbyist! It’s interesting to note this story was a failed pitch for a newspaper strip which was pasted up in comic book form, which means in some parallel universe Siegel & Schuster had a successful syndicated strip and we all became baseball card collectors. I also like to imagine those two jewish kids in Cleveland dreaming up this story about an alien whose homeland is destroyed so he comes to America, changes his name to assimilate, and discovers he has the power to singlehandedly wage war on the forces of evil. No subtext there, no sir, just pure escapism.
Reading this again gave me an idea for my own Superman pitch: his earliest foe returns to challenge him again: Butch the kidnapper! The villain drives a car which was manufactured on a distant planet orbitting a red sun, so that Superman cannot lift it over his head. Just imagine the dramatic cover on that book!
“Double the size! Double the action!” reads the banner on the cover, which kind of makes it sound like something my spam filter would block. It also proclaims it to be the 17th anniversary of the series, which was published bi-monthly for its first few issues so this big round number actually did fall on the correct date instead of being an artificial milestone. This was one of the earliest books I bought myself, and it was the book wherein I learned the origin of Doctor Doom for the first time. I didn’t realize it then, but the fact that it has a Kirby-Sinnot cover is the icing on this particular birthday cake. Sinnot inks Keith Pollard inside the covers, Marv Wolfman writes.
I had to check the date on the book when I read it for review on the blog; the story opens with a despotic tyrant assailed by throngs of protesters in the streets demanding a new government, led by Zorba, heir to the Latverian ruler deposed by Victor Von Doom. Not exactly escapist reading in 2011, but maybe it wasn’t three decades ago either– I’ll confess I didn’t watch the news much when I was eight. Unfortunately for the citizens of Latveria, Doom has something the leaders of Egypt and Libya don’t– a tornado machine which easily breaks up crowds of protesters.
While many around here had problems with the previous President of the United States, my biggest gripe is with Jimmy Carter. I’m as much a bleeding heart liberal as the next guy, but he did something terribly damaging while in office which I have never heard discussed, so I’ll take the opportunity to air my grievances here in the Way Back Machine with the comic that relates to my beef:
Marvel Treasury Edition #25: Spider-Man vs. The Hulk at the Winter Olympics
The treasury editions are sorely missed. Usually reprints but occasionally featuring original material, they were like comics the size of the stone tablets God gave to Moses. With a story that required a hefty chunk of time to absorb and a presentation which, by blowing the artwork up to staggering proportions, was the comic equivalent of today’s big screen hi def TVs, they were more than worth the chunk they took out of a kid’s weekly allowance.
Lake Placid, New York, 1980: Athletes from around the world have convened for the Winter Olympics, but there’s another miracle on ice brewing as Spider-man and the Hulk are drawn into a war between rival groups of subterraneans over the fountain of youth (man, Ponce De Leon was waaaay off). Spider-Man is drawn in when photojournalist Peter Parker stumbles upon a strange group of mutants apparently kidnapping the Soviet Union’s star figure skater. He fights them to a standstill, but cannot save the athlete as she disappears beneath the snowy ground.
Elsewhere, the Hulk runs afoul of a group of Lava Men and fares far better in his battle against them, only to be beguiled by their leader, Kala, Queen of the Underworld. She is marshalling an army to sieze the underground territory of the Mole man, who controls the aforementioned fountain. Her army of Lava Men soon wages war on the Mole Man’s legions of mindless minions, and only through the efforts of the mutants who earlier tangled with Spidey are they repelled.
Bill Mantlo scripts, with some contributions from mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant. Herb Trimpe again provides the definitive Hulk; take some notes, kids, here’s how the smashing is supposed to look:
It is soon revealed that the mutants Spider-Man fought were working for the Mole man and were actually trying to prevent a series of athlete kinappings by Kala. She has captured a quartet of competitiors and blackmailed them into her service, transforming them into mighty sport-themed super-warriors. If you thought Night Thrasher was an innovative concept, check out these guys with their rocket powered bobsleds, razor skates, and atomic hockey sticks and ski poles. After his traumatic experiences in gym class with Flash Thompson, this team of villains could send Spider-man hiding behind a snow drift.
The Mole man presses Spidey into his service while Kala dresses Hulk up like a gladiator for a few panels, and the fight is on! Spidey and the mutants take on Green Genes and the Olympians in the battle of last century. Check out the scan below– yes, the super-goalie is defending a flaming goal from a guy trying to heave boulders into it! This might make my list of 10 most extreme comic book fight scenes ever.
Kala loses the battle, and the fountain is destroyed during the fight for good measure. The Mole man is magnanimous in victory, offering to let Kala become his queen. The story ends with a lesson in sportsmanship followed by a full page ad for a “Marvel Super Heroes at the Summer Olympics” treasury edition. Unfortunately, along came Jimmy Carter to forbid the U.S. Olympic team from competing in 1980; the story that was to be the next treasury edition was adapted into “Marvel Super Heroes Contest of Champions”, Marvel’s first ever miniseries. The experiment was such a success that more miniseries’ followed, and then trade paperback collections, and writing-for-the-trade, decompressed stories and all the heartbreak and disappointment that came after, all because Jimmy carter objected to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Jimmy Carter killed comics.
The Don/Goody Rickles Character Wednesday bonanza reminded me of another comic I’ve had waiting to be featured on the blog which showcases a character plucked from reality. Since this particular issue is under the Marvel banner and thus set in our own “real world” as mentioned before, it makes perfect sense that the guest star of the book be someone with real superhuman powers!
Mind-Wave and his Think Tank have rolled into New York, and Daredevil is powerless to stop him! The European master criminal possesses the power to read his foes’ minds in order to counter any attack before it can even be launched. Not only can he broadcast mental commands to his gang of armed thugs, but he also mentally controls the Think Tank as it lumbers down the center of the city street, blasting holes in whatever building he wishes to rob before making a quick, silent getaway (?). An encounter with the villain in the opening scenes of the story ends poorly for DD, but before the reader can wonder how our hero can stop this menace, he is whisked away by his police contact to a meeting with the D.A., who has called in a specialist:
The famous mentalist briefly proves the reality of his powers and explains how he has been tracking Mind Wave from Europe himself, then it’s off to the races as the alarm is sounded that the giant tank rumbling through downtown has been spotted by keen-eyed observers and Daredevil swings into action. His new mentalist friend has to follow in a cab, so DD arrives first and suffers another embarrassing scuffle with Mind-Wave and his know-what-you’re-going-to-do-before-you-do-it power. All seems lost until the villain suddenly senses the presence of another powerful mind as Uri Geller charges onto the scene…
I could show you scans of DD cleaning up the suddenly directionless henchmen, but you’d much rather see this: the master of mental spoon-bending using his powers to rewire the villain’s ray gun! Bend steel pipes in mid-combat! Forming a barred window into a prison for his foe! All while Geller and Mind-Wave shout back and forth in thought balloons…
(“Curse you, Geller! Curse you!“– I’ll bet Uri has that page of original art hanging on his living room wall…)
Uri Geller has obviously been holding back in his stage show! One wonders why a person of such power would be featured in a B-list book like Daredevil, but it makes a kind of sense; put him in Thor, and the Absorbing Man would be mind-bent in two panels after touching his own ball and chain. In Spider-Man, Doctor Octopus’ tentacles would be effortlessly tangled by this hero, and an FF appearance would last a couple pages before he took a psychic can opener to Doc Doom’s armor. Okay, a Daredevil appearance could have instead featured a far more amusing encounter with the Stilt-Man, but why add to that villain’s already impressive list of humiliations?
Bob Brown draws, Marv Wolfman writes– almost certainly wondering what they did to make their editor mad enough to give them this assignment.
Geez, has it really been about seven months since I’ve done one of these? The back half of 2010 was pretty ugly for the Bogarts, but things seem to be getting back on track, so it’s time to go fishing in the long boxes and check in with another WBM.
I first became familiar with Steve Englehart through his mid-80’s work on books like West Coast Avengers and the Millennium miniseries, both titles not exactly winners. It took a while to discover the amazing stuff he did a decade earlier– connecting his name with Batman’s Laughing Fish, Cap’s Secret Empire, and a stellar run on Doctor Strange which takes the reader on a trippy tour of time and space and sees Doc’s girlfriend seduced by Ben Franklin. Englehart might have been dropping acid with Steve Gerber on the weekends while they kicked around off the wall plots that wouldn’t have stood a chance in anyone else’s book– like having the hero of the series fail and have the world get destroyed as he watches helplessly.
Doctor Strange #13
Seriously, this book should be a highly prized collectible. This isn’t just a single character getting killed off, likely to return in a future story. Spider-Man, the FF, the X-Men, every member of the Marvel catalog who wasn’t off in outer space — dies in this comic, never to return. Here’s the cliffhanger from the previous issue:
Note the purple prose which attempts to prompt an existential crisis within the readers themselves. This was back in the day when there was no “Marvel universe,” but rather it was assumed these stories were set in the real world. Imagine every reader of Doc’s mag living in existential angst until the next issue hit the stands.
Issue 13 opens up with Doc floating in the cosmic rubble, grieving for his lost world and friends, until he decides that maybe there’s still something a Sorcerer Supreme might do to salvage the situation. During the battle with Baron Mordo which precipitated the end of the world, Strange got a clue that his oldest enemy Nightmare might be involved. Taking a trip to the dream dimension, he gives the dream lord another in a long series of drubbings and discovers that the villain has captured Eternity– literally, the living manifestation of the entire universe. Turns out Doc’s recent troubles were a manifestation of the dreams which Nightmare has been torturing the cosmic being with, which have manifested in our reality.
Problem is, what’s happened has happened, and Eternity is unwilling to alter the past and change the shape of the universe just to let one world live. Doc gets argumentative with the omnipotent being and gets put in his place, but then the spirit of Doc’s old teacher, the Ancient One, arrives (having become one with the universe, he emerges from Eternity himself) and makes Eternity say “Uncle” in a cosmic wrestling match.
Eternity offers a compromise: he won’t undo the Earth’s destruction, but instead recreates the planet, making a new world with an identical history and population (without a second Doctor Strange, of course), advancing it through time all the way up to the present. Doc returns to a duplicate world where every Marvel character has died and been replaced by an Eternity-created clone, and the story has never been retconned or undone.
An old curmudgeon like myself takes great comfort in this book. However distorted and ugly the current Marvel line is, I can refer to this book to remind me that they are merely (say it again!) Eternity-created clones of my long-departed favorite characters. Except for poor Doc himself, I imagine, who must be wondering why Eternity turned all his friends into assholes.
Each time we convene a PANEL meeting to discuss the theme of the next anthology, I throw out the incredibly unwise idea of doing an issue in the format of this series. Deciding it was time to do a WBM entry on this mid-1980’s “maxi-series” I sat down to read these twelve issues for the first time since high school and have come to the conclusion that those who politely acknowledged my suggestion then changed the subject were being far more thoughtful than I.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this series. The premise lies in it’s form, not it’s content: a long list of comic creators divide themselves among eleven chapters of the series, each one contributing their part with no knowledge of where the previous writer may have intended for the story to go. Each writer is required to end his chapter with the toughest possible cliffhangers he can conjure (though he must later reveal in the lettercol how he would have solved them himself). Furthermore, each writer/artist team cannot use characters with whom they are normally associated. Then for the twelfth issue, the whole gang reassembles to write the conclusion to whatever story has evolved over the course of the year.
The result is a sprawling,, convoluted mess of a story which is obviously the most fun-to-create series I can imagine was ever made. It only takes a couple of issues before bewildered writers, unsure of their predecessors’ intentions, start throwing out the most outlandish plot points since the Batman TV series was broadcast. Midway through the series, creators who are hopelessly lost from the plotlines established by the first issue and still far removed from any obligation to tie up loose threads start gleefully throwing sh*t against all four metaphorical walls just to see what mosaic emerges. Readers hoping for a coherent story had better look elsewhere, but there’s plenty of fun to be had.
The prohibition against using “regular” characters also leads to an ever-shifting cast which allows writers to dredge up old forgotten favorites or show off their knowledge of obscure comic trivia. Chapter one starts with the Superman/Batman/Wonder Woman team one might expect from an epic series, but they drop off the radar pretty quickly in favor of jewels like B’Wana Beast, Congorilla, Jonah Hex, Viking Prince, Space Cabby, Son of Vulcan, Adam Strange, The Unknown Soldier, Darwin Jones, Blackhawk, Deadman, Geo-Force (!), Vigilante, Enemy Ace, Hawkman, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man (those two not being very common in 1985), and one of my personal favorites, Doctor Thirteen– among many, many others, including an apparent throwaway character named Eli Ellis who takes on surprising significance by the end of the series.
The list of creators is impressive: Moench, Colan, Wolfman, Heck, Infantino, Thomas, Giffen, Kane, Conway, Andru, Janson, Gibbons, Swan, Giordano, and Evanier, among others. Roy Thomas is the standout for me, coming in around issue nine and using his super-editor powers to pull the whole shambling mess into a semi-orderly story in time to start building towards an ending. There’s no way I could begin to outliine the plot, so I’ll just point to a couple favorite elements:
The big mystery! In the first issue, Mark Evanier gives Batman a vital clue in the form of a numerical riddle, then passes the story along to the next writer without revealing the solution. A few writers struggle with the puzzle and offer absurd answers until Marv Wolfman nails it just in time in issue #11.
The cliffhangers! These get outlandish pretty early on as the writers start to just have fun. Batman gets dropped into an active volcano! Demons take over the Daily Planet and put out an extra edition exposing Superman’s secret identity! Sinestro beheads Superman and operates his body by remote control! Every hero in the world lapses into a coma just as Darkseid reaches for the trigger of a doomsday device! My favorite by far: a time travelling Jonah Hex is trapped in the back seat of an out of control car headed for a group of nuns and schoolchildren! Bewildered writers having to tie up their predecessor’s cliffhangers occasionally resort to extreme solutions, such as the arrival of a strangely helpful Mr. Mxyzptlk, or the appearance of a cosmically-powered Albert Einstein.
All good stuff, if you can bear the headache it gives you. As for the solution to that numerical riddle– if you haven’t read the series, try and take a stab at it. No googling.
The Brave & The Bold #124
Did I not just say in my last post that I had been unable to find this particular issue? Once again, Bell, Book & Comic comes through for me. I found it while browsing for some Aparo Batman at Gem City last week, and got it for mere pennies. I swear, I could never set foot in my local comic shop as long as I get to see these guys at conventions twice a year.
Team-up books frequently provide oddball stories given the unlikely pairings of characters shoehorned into their twenty-odd pages. This issue is the champion of such books, giving us a Batman/Sgt. Rock adventure that gets taken to strange new territory when artist Jim Aparo has to become personally involved. Rock is cool, but I almost wish this could have been a straightforward Batman/Aparo team-up, just so I could see Jim’s name with a cool logo design on the cover.
I thought this would be some sort of time travel story or maybe an imaginary tale. It was actually jarring when Rock steps into the picture on page three and he and Batman start comparing notes on the case they have both been investigating. Checking the first page again, I was reminded that this issue was published in 1976– so Rock could have conceivably been in his late 50’s or early 60’s, not yet retired from the service. He proves that he’s pretty spry for his age, as the old coot takes a significant amount of punishment from the bad guys before the story is over but still retains his cat-like reflexes and his gift for conducting interrogations.
The pair are pursuing a terrorist group which has stolen a shipment of super-rifles the military has developed. Facing a high-tech crime wave, the pair join forces to tackle the daunting task of tracking down every missing weapon. Their investigation has just begun when the scene switches to the studio of Jim Aparo, still in the process of drawing the issue– when a couple of terrorists invade his home, steal the script, and order him to draw Batman and Rock getting killed by a booby trap!
Aparo escapes, taking refuge in a friend’s house, where he can draw our heroes escaping the trap. From here the chase is on, as the terrorists keep rewriting the script to kill Batman and Rock while Aparo, on the phone with writer Bob Haney, keep devising wildly improbable escapes for them. Will Batman and Rock find the terrorist leader before the villains track down Aparo and force him to draw their death scene?
Aparo lucks out, as Bob Haney provides the characters with a trail of clues that lead them to the villains just as they are approaching the house where Aparo is hiding. Batman and Rock take out the terrorist hit squad, capturing their leader who happens to have on his person a list of all the members of his organization and the location of the stolen super-rifles. Even more remarkable is the fact that Jim Aparo drew the climactic four pages of the comic in a little over twenty minutes (story time). All the pantywaist artists working in the trade these days who can’t meet a deadline should take note.
Power Man & Iron Fist #79
I’ve previously mentioned my love for the Jo Duffy/Kerry Gammill issues of this series, of which this issue is actually Gammill’s last. I still say the guy could have been as big in his heyday as Byrne or Perez if he was a bit more prolific and worked on some A-list books. Any issue of this run has a lot going for it, but this particular one is a gem, even if regular cover artist Frank Miller couldn’t make it this month. Instead we’re treated to the great Al Milgrom doing his best Miller impression; not exactly a masterpiece, but it still warms my heart to see Affable Al turn up.
Iron Fist’s buddy, fellow kung-fu fighter and aspiring thespian Bob Diamond, has the lead role in a play called “Day of the Dredlox”. It’s a steampunk kind of production about a Victorian scholar named A.J. Gamble who battles bizarre space monsters. Strange things are happening around the theatre, however; people have disappeared, props have been destroyed. Diamond asks his friends to investigate and soon after he also disappears. When the Heroes for Hire arrive at the theatre to investigate, they are ambushed by a small army of evil robots shaped like trash cans, rolling around on wheels with tiny mechanical arms that fire death rays, shrieking “Incinerate! Incinerate!” as they try to kill the pair. The Dredlox have come to life!
Our heroes flee the theatre with the evil aliens in pursuit. Seeking cover, they duck into a tiny book shop across the street– and are flabbergasted to discover the building is vastly bigger on the inside than out. Inside they are greeted by an odd man claiming to be the real Professor A. J. Gamble, who says that he wrote the play himself under the pen name of “Sergius O’Shaughnessy” (him again?) years ago when he needed some money, adapting a chapter from his own diary. Having later discovered his arch foes the Dredlox have broken the time barrier and are using the play as cover while they plan their conquest of Earth, he has returned to set things right.
The situation is further complicated by the Dredlox mistakenly believing that Bob Diamond is actually the real Gamble. Apparently, the Professor has changed his appearance in the past, and the aliens assume the actor is their enemy in a different incarnation. Luke and Danny have to stage a raid on the theatre to allow Gamble to sneak in with a science widget that will send the Dredlox back to their own time for good. When the fight is won Gamble disappears, along with the entire book shop that once sat across the street.
For some reason I have found this incredibly compelling character resonates with me. I’m sure if they made a television show revolving around such a character, he could most certainly clean Dara’s precious smoke monster’s clock.
Marvel Feature #2
Strange things are happening on Bald Mountain. The locals speak in whispers about the mysterious red glow that has occasionally illuminated it’s peak since that first night back in 1937. They tell of the two farm families that disappeared from their homes, dinners uneaten on the table, sometime around 1890. Then there was the revolutionary war deserter who died there, whose ghost is said to still be hiding somewhere on its slopes. Even the Iroquois avoided Bald Mountain long before the white men came, calling it “a place of uneasy spirits.” A cloak of fear has settled about its summit, and one man has come to the town of Rutland, Vermont to pierce the veil of mystery…
Okay, he’s actually there for the halloween party. Back in the days before continuity-obsessed fans and the notion of a “Marvel Universe”, it was generally accepted that these funny book stories were set in our own world. As such, it occasionally happened that the writers and artists chronicling the adventures of the characters would appear in the stories themselves. My personal favorite is the time Lee and Kirby were taken hostage by Doctor Doom as bait to trap Reed Richards; In the pages of Iron Fist and the X-Men, Byrne was beset by street gangs and caught in the crossfire between warring mutants; Gerber and Claremont each saved the universe in different issues of Man-Thing, and the latter was even briefly transformed into the swamp creature.
So it is that Rascally Roy wanders into the second appearance of the Defenders to provide some exposition by way of soaking up the spooky ghost stories passed around by the residents of the sleepy hamlet nestled in the shadow of Bald Mountain. Given the loose “non-team” structure of the group I believe this earns him honorary status as a member, though I doubt he’s listed in that category on Wikipedia. The roster this time is limited to Marvel’s surliest trio, Dr. Strange, Hulk, and Namor, three characters who could only function in a group like this. For me, it’s not a Defenders story without Nighthawk and Valkyrie, but those characters hadn’t enlisted with the group this early in the game.
Ross Andru provides the pictures, still a couple years away from the run on Amazing Spider-Man for which I revere him. His style doesn’t convey the spooky haunted forest setting as well as the urban landscape of New York, but it’s still always nice to se him in action. The story is a straightforward Doc Strange vs. Dormammu tale, with the sorcerer supreme having to call in some muscle for backup when he gets in a jam. An odd moment of drama arrives when in a moment of crisis Bruce Banner has trouble transforming into the Hulk because he has been taking Quaaludes to suppress his alter ego. In a code approved book, even!
Doc whips Dormammu while the Hulk and Namor get the task of beating up on some robed henchmen, a serious waste of their talents. The comic is basically a standard Doc Strange story made worth seeing for having Roy wander through the panels. Extra credit for any reader who can point me to the Batman story featuring Jim Aparo– I’ve been trying to locate that one with no success.
I feel a Ditko fixation coming on, so it’s time to start looking up some of those old Charlton Watchmen templates and oddball series’ he made for DC in the late 60’s and 70’s. Of course, I’ve read most of his work at the House of Ideas from the 60’s and from his return to Marvel in the early 80’s, but that decade he spent bouncing around the other publishers is as much a mystery to me as, well, Steve Ditko is to anybody. This is the sort of thing that makes swearing off new books to go live in Back Issue Land so damn rewarding.
Like Kirby, Ditko is a genius who can crank out an endless series of bizarre and captivating concepts coupled with arresting visuals– then demonstrate just how crucial Stan Lee was to the creative mix at Marvel by producing a series that is brilliant but remarkably short lived. As Spider-Man is more about Peter Parker than superheroics, both these artists needed Stan to put a human heart at the center of their cosmic vision. Seperately they each turned out numerous great concepts of which all but a couple of Jack’s died within a handful of issues. For us Ditko fans that means we’d better enjoy the hell out of those eight issues of Shade the Changing Man, as well as the six issues of the series which brings me here today…
I’ll have to revise my list of favorite comic book covers, because I’ll be damned if this one doesn’t crack the top ten. The visual presence of the title character is a treat, as well; the artist who gave us the best superhero costume design ever with Spider-Man pulls off another visual gem with only yellow skin and a pair of red Hanes briefs. Lord knows I’d hate to see that coming after me in a dark alley. If there’s a flaw to be found on the cover, it’s with the question posed by the copy: “Where Lurks The Menace?” I’ve read the book and I still don’t know, because the bad guy inside is called The Terror. Steve may have got the greater creative freedom he craved at DC, buy maybe he still should have called his editor once in a while.
The story is a very densely written murder mystery plotted by Ditko and scripted by a “Sergius O’Shaughnessy”, which the internet tells me was a pen name for Denny O’Neil. There are plenty of characters zipping in and out of the panels as possible suspects and as many names to keep track of as in a Miss Marple mystery, but who cares? It’s the Creeper bounding through a gaggle of thugs we want to see, and we get plenty of that, too.
Ace TV reporter Jack Ryder is as involved with the case as his cackling alter ego, which may be the only problem I have with the book. The guy is a square jawed bareknuckle brawler himself, leaving me to wonder why he didn’t have his own series even before the Creeper came along (the character’s origin is only briefly alluded to here, having been covered in a single issue of Showcase before moving on to his own first issue). The secret identity is supposed to be the reader’s gateway into the fantastic world inhabited by the costumed persona, but Jack Ryder seems just as idealized and distant as his alter ego.
Today I learned that you can go home again.
I would have been eight years old when I first saw the ad pictured above. I didn’t know Michael Golden by name, nor his inker Neal Adams, but the cover pictured here knocked my socks off (and even the copy on the ad rocks). There’s only one test for an effective comic book cover, and that’s if it makes you want to read the story inside; this one made a gigantic impression on young Craig. I had only picked up the first couple issues of Micronauts, and I was not yet the Man-Thing fan I would become about a decade hence, but the sheer coolness of this cover art filled me with nothing less than a burning desire to read this comic, it just looked so friggin’ awesome.
Marvel Comics was even kind enough to provide the date the issue was going to go on sale– right there near the bottom of the page, it says April 10th. I had a couple weeks to wait, but I marked my calendar and endured the days of anticipation that followed. While I looked ahead to that day, my older brother said something odd: “They probably won’t have it”, he told me. What a cruel thing to say to an eight year old who had been promised such a treasure. I don’t know what prompted him to tell me that. He had no special insight into Marvel’s network of distributors, the comic book ordering practices of the Groveport Pharmacy, or the demand that might await the copies of the magazine in question when it was removed from the bundle of new comics. Nevertheless, his pronouncement gnawed at the back of my mind even while the approaching date stoked the fires of my excitement at the thought of getting my hands on this beautiful, beautiful book.
Sure enough, I showed up at the store early on the appointed day and there was no Micronauts #7 to be found. I’m sure I found something to take home in its place, but the fact of my writing this passage three decades on illustrates the depth of the disappointment which filled my young heart. In 1979 there were no comic stores with back issue bins to be found, no conventions in the small burgs here in flyover country. A missed comic was lost to time, a dim memory of promise unfulfilled. At least that’s how it felt.
Years later I would occasionally find this ad in an old comic I was reading, making note of it with more than a little interest. I never actually got around to tracking down that particular issue, though it was always in the back of my mind that I had to one day. Recently while browsing eBay for something to spend a buck or two on, I came across a listing for this very book from Mile High Comics and decided to take the plunge. I would grant that saddened eight year old kneeling at the magazine rack his wish, albeit many years late, to finally hold that comic in his hands.
Of course, the intervening years bring a more jaded sensibility even to the most idealistic of fools. I knew when I placed my order that the renewed feeling of anticipation I felt would far surpass the actual payoff of reading the book. Built up in my mind as such a milestone in my earliest years as a comic reader, the actual comic was bound to fail to live up to the excitement I felt rippling through time. I only hoped it made for an enjoyable enough diversion when it arrived.
Today I came home after picking up my daughter from preschool and found the package from MHC waiting inside the door for me. More than a little delighted, I tore it open and pulled out the books inside. There was part three of the first JLA/JSA crossover I ever read, there was the first issue of Night Force… and there was a note from Mile High Comics, printed on a dot matrix printer, telling me they did not have Micronauts #7 in stock. For just a moment I thought I heard my brother laughing.
Nostalgia distorts memory, adding a rosy glow or exaggerated significance to all manner of experiences. Nevertheless, I’m remembering April 10th, 1979 with a powerful clarity on this day which so perfectly evokes the memory of not getting the same book as a child. Maybe I’ll try again when I’m 68.
(It’s worth noting that MHC gave me a refund and an additional credit for my troubles, so I could pick up another handful of books for the same price. I’ll hardly complain about the service itself… though a quick peek on eBay shows they returned Micronauts #7 to their active listings the very same day.)