Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Discuss: Your Favorite Super-Hero Head to Head Match Up


Karen: I have to go with any time the Hulk and the Thing go toe to toe, but there are a lot of other fun match ups too.




Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Monday, July 21, 2014

George Perez's Amazon Princess - Wonder Woman 9


Wonder Woman #9 (October 1987)
"Blood of the Cheetah"
George Perez/Len Wein-Perez/Bruce Patterson

Doug: Is the Wonder Woman series by George Perez the best of the post-Crisis DC offerings? You'd have a tough time convincing me otherwise. Of course I liked John Byrne's work in Man of Steel and Superman and Action Comics later. Maybe with Byrne's work, though, I was always a bit on edge -- I had such a prejudice against Superman and Superman comic stories that I may never have fully invested myself in Byrne's work (I need to set about getting the tpbs that reprint his run in the late 1980s). But Perez's Wonder Woman stories, based in the DC version of Greek mythology was a tabula rasa. I don't believe I'd ever read a solo Wonder Woman story prior to checking out this series. First off, the art was some of the best of Perez's storied career, and the tales he spun were interesting. There was an Elseworlds feel to some of the post-Crisis DC offerings, and maybe that helped to up the "Wow!" factor. I'm interested to read the reflections of those who will comment on their own experiences with this series, and perhaps how it compares to the rest of the post-Crisis stable.

Doug: I'll admit that I had to laugh as I began to read today's story. Obviously written several years before Todd McFarlane's turn as Spider-scripter in his own Spider-Man vehicle, I was nevertheless reminded of McFarlane's awful use of repetitive drum beats in his first issue. Thank goodness Perez only dwelt on it for two pages! An old man stands on the roof of an urban building, hearing drum beats that signal tonight as the night of the blood sacrifice. Walking inside, he approaches the unconscious body of a nude woman, prone on a slab covered in the skins of cheetahs. The woman's arms extend to her sides, where the old man takes a sharp dagger and cuts one of her wrists; the blood from the wound drips into a large bowl. Bandaging the wounds, we are told that the wounds will heal quickly. The old man takes the blood into another chamber, where he begins to mix it with other materials. There is a large plant in the room, and we see him feed the concoction to the plant. Apparently this makes the plant happy. The old man returns to the woman, and covers her with another cheetah skin. This is Dr. Barbara Minerva, the Cheetah.


Doug: Next we land in Wakefield, Massachusetts with a beautiful splash page of Wonder Woman in flight. As a kid I never knew Wonder Woman could fly without the invisible plane (which I have always seen as a dumb idea -- what good is an invisible plane if the pilot can be seen?) -- perhaps that is due in large part to my indoctrination through Super Friends. Keep in mind, we're jumping into the second arc in this series, so I'll try to pull you along as best my memory allows. When Diana had entered the world of men, she was treated as a celebrity, even taking on a publicist (Myndi Mayer). Diana was also befriended by a Dr. Julia Kapatelis and her daughter Vanessa. Myndi remarks to Julia that she's never seen Diana so happy -- news of a letter from a Dr. Minerva about the existence of a second girdle of Gaea has Diana thrilled. Dr. Kapatelis, Harvard professor, cautions Myndi on Diana getting her hopes up; all is not on the up-and-up with this Dr. Minerva. But Myndi poo-poos Julia's cautions, and readies Diana to head to Boston for a meeting with Minerva.

Doug: Once in Boston the pair head straight to the address Minerva had sent in her letter. They are greeted at the door to the penthouse by the same man who we saw performing the blood sacrifice at the top of the story. The women are invited in, and Barbara Minerva appears immediately. She asks Diana if she has brought her lasso, that she'd like to see it before she brings out the girdle. Diana rather innocently complies, even allowing Minerva to walk away with the mystical rope. But as Minerva begins to tell about the girdle, etc. she is overcome with the lasso's true power -- to make anyone tell the truth. Minerva begins to utter aloud words that give her away -- there is no girdle, there isn't even a Barbara Minerva... She hurls the lasso from her grasp. Diana is furious, and betrayed. There's a lot of dialogue about sisterhood here, which was an ongoing theme in Perez's run -- in this revamp, actually. Minerva insists that she meant no harm, that she only wanted to meet the princess. And Diana rails at Myndi for attempting to exploit her. And then she flies away.

Doug: Back at the summer home of Dr. Kapatelis, Vanessa answers the phone to pleas from Myndi to let her speak to Diana. But the Amazon is outside in deep discussion with Julia. Julia tries to calm Diana, to explain that all has not been a waste. Diana says she knows that she is unlike her sister Amazonians and that her defeat of Ares has signaled a greater importance to her mission to the world of men. But that mission will have been a failure if she does not teach people about virtue. Julia say it will take time; Diana walks away, still stung from Minerva's betrayal. Later that same day, at the penthouse of Barbara Minerva, the ritual we'd seen before is repeated. Chuma, the man-servant, prepares the magic elixir while Minerva paints her face. She asks Chuma if he saw the lasso, and its power. She says that it must be hers! She comes to him and asks if the potion is ready. He affirms and she drinks. As she finishes it her body begins to contort, and to change. And soon there is no Barbara Minerva -- only the she-cat known as the Cheetah!


Doug: The Cheetah hits the streets with a purpose. As she prowls, we look in the window of Lt. Etta Candy, who is on the phone with Col. Steve Trevor. In the background a newscast is on, and the anchor tells of a Bostonian criminal killed last week, apparently by a wild animal. Trevor tells Etta that he won't be coming to Boston, that he must go tend to a family matter in Oklahoma. Let me interrupt myself to say that the use of real places is very refreshing in a DC mag. I've long been a proponent of Marvel's real-world settings as opposed to DC's melange of fictional cities. Cut to the outskirts of Boston's suburbs, where the Cheetah is moving fast, and with a purpose. We peek inside the Kapatelis home to see Vanessa questioning the whereabouts of Diana. Julia tells her daughter that Diana is still outside meditating on her circumstances. The low sound of a growl is heard, and Julia rises to look out the window. Nothing. Cut to a stream a short distance from the house and we find Wonder Woman sitting, leaning against a tree and asleep. This isn't going to be good.

Doug: The Cheetah has maneuvered to a spot in a tree directly above her slumbering victim. Diana rests, a raccoon asleep in her arms. The small rodent starts, and leaps away, stirring Wonder Woman. A second later a prehensile tail drops from a low branch, encircles the princess's neck, and hurls her against a tree. The force of the attack splits the tree and topples it. Before Diana can discern the attack, the Cheetah is on her, and slashes Wonder Woman across the chest -- drawing blood. Diana is incredulous that she is bleeding, and questions what manner of beast must be attacking her. The battle rages, until Diana decides that she must strike forcefully. One blow drives the Cheetah back, and into the brush. Diana calms herself, using the senses gifted her as a daughter of Artemis. She listens intently, seeking  the heartbeat of her assailant. Suddenly she throws her lasso, and drags her enemy from concealment. But the magic of the rope has no effect -- incredibly, the Cheetah is able to physically resist the muting effects of the golden lasso. Wonder Woman pulls hard, but the Cheetah resists all the harder. Then the Cheetah charges Wonder Woman, again toppling a tree. Wonder Woman lies on the ground, pinned. As the Cheetah moves for the death blow, a shot rings out. Julia Kapatelis fired a rifle, hitting the Cheetah in the abdomen. The she-creature fell into the stream, still tied with the lasso. Wonder Woman frees herself from the fallen tree trunk, and pulls the rope -- to find the looped end empty. Diving into the murky waters, a short exploration of the stream proves to be a failure. The Cheetah is gone.

Doug: Vanessa came running on the scene when she heard the shot ring out. Her mother told her to stay inside -- you know how that goes. But there's no news -- no Cheetah. The next day, Diana decides that she will return to Olympus. There are tears, and pleas from Vanessa to stay. But Diana is hearing none of it, and despite the emotional good-byes, takes her leave. She doesn't know it, but she's off to face the challenge of the gods in the next issue.

Doug: Aside from the pencils of George Perez, there have to be some kudos tossed the ways of inker Bruce Patterson and scripter Len Wein. Both play their roles well, augmenting the wonderful base that Perez provides as the centerpiece of this series. And that's the thing about it -- if I still had all of the original issues (I am reading from the second tpb, which I purchased in Chicago a couple of summers ago), I am sure I'd go back to them again and again to admire the pretty pictures. But the stories themselves are surely worth a second look as well.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Alex Ross Does the Original Guardians of the Galaxy


Doug: I'm just back home from a 10-day assignment in Washington, DC. While out there I did manage to get three comics reviews written (be on the look-out for Hulk #340 a week from Monday, and then partner reviews of the first four issues of the Marvel Presents Guardians of the Galaxy series in August -- I framed MP #s 3 and 4 for Karen to come along for the color commentary). Anyway, and speaking of the Guardians, I saw in Marvel's October solicitations a pencil-only version of an Alex Ross variant cover for Guardians of the Galaxy 3000. As has been the case, this is part of Marvel's 75th anniversary celebration. As we've long discussed Ross's color palettes, I thought it would be cool to see the raw art and have some discourse on it. So fire away!


Friday, July 18, 2014

Giant-Size July: Fantastic Four Annual 5


Fantastic Four Annual #5 (Nov. 1967)
"Divide--and Conquer!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Credited to Joe Sinnott; actual inker was Frank Giacoia

Karen: The cover to this one says it all -this annual is jam-packed with heroes and villains! We've got the FF (of course!), plus all of the Inhumans, and the Black Panther, squaring off against the groovy-looking Psycho-Man in his first appearance. Using Mike's Newstand as my gauge, this annual would have been out at the same time as FF #68. That issue featured the Mad Thinker carrying out a plan to mess with the Thing's mind to turn him against the rest of the team (sound familiar?). The events of this annual were not mentioned until issue 70. In my opinion, this is the beginning of the decline for the Lee-Kirby team. There were still some potent stories to come, like the Surfer in the microverse, but we were definitely on the waning edge of the duo's magnificent run. This is reflected in the main story of this annual, which we review here. It's not terrible by any means -in fact, it's a fun romp, appropriate for summer as it reminds me of a typical summer blockbuster, 'popcorn' movie, full of bombast but a little light on the details. The villain, the Psycho-Man himself, is a spectacular Kirby design, who would have fit in well with the Celestials or perhaps the New Gods. But there are a string of coincidences and contrivances to get all the characters in the same place that scream of minimum effort by the creators that is somewhat disappointing. Also, your eyes do not deceive you -despite Joe Sinnott being credited as inker, he definitely did not ink this issue. As soon as I started reading the book, I could tell it was not Sinnott inks -this was particularly evident when looking at the Thing, who has a much craggier appearance than the usual smooth Sinnott style. I did some research and found that this issue is generally credited to Frank Giacoia, and that makes a lot more sense to me.

Doug: I agree with you -- right from the splash page it's evident that Joltin' Joe is not manning the brush in this tale. I felt Giacoia's inks actually contributed to your comment about this not being a great story. With some of the missteps along the plotting, and Stan's dialogue not always matching Jack's pictures, the lack of polish on the art seemed to step this one down. And since Giacoia inked the rest of the magazine, I think we're pretty safe in assuming he's in the chair here in the main story. And as you said, this may very well mark the beginning of the decline of the FF as Marvel's most innovative and interesting book.

Karen: We start in the middle of things, with the FF in a flutter after Sue Richards, the Invisible Girl, has fainted at the FF's Baxter Building HQ. Everyone's upset as Reed carries Sue to bed but she assures them she's fine, it was just the heat. Ben feels a bit awkward and takes off on his sky-cycle. Not far away, the wildly-garbed Psycho-Man whips out his magic box, or should I say his psycho ray, with its three enormous, Senior-sized buttons labeled 'Fear,' 'Doubt,' and 'Hate,' and terrorizes a hapless minion who failed to deliver the mysterious "Component Five" to the proper address. By pressing the 'Fear' button, he causes the poor man to imagine some horrible thing coming after him. He jumps out a window. You would think this would be his end, but we are told that that he landed on a ledge below. Yeah...right. The Psycho-Ray seems like it could be a precursor, in appearance anyway, to a Mother Box. The Psycho-Man turns and faces his other minions. Here is where I felt this issue really fell short: instead of some wildly imaginative characters, we instead got three boring stooges who would have fit in better as members of the Green Goblin's Enforcers or the Circus of Crime, not as agents of the high-tech, alien-like Psycho-Man. There's Livewire, who looks like a cowboy; Ivan, a bald guy with a gun; and Shell-Shock, a hairy guy with a gun. It's like Kirby ran out of gas here. These three cretins decide to mouth off to the obviously superior Psycho-Man and he fires up the psycho-ray again, this time giving them a dose of Doubt. They come crawling back to him, literally. He tells them if they want to stay in his good graces, find Component Five. It seems it was delivered to a blind girl. Hmmm...


Doug: In regard to Livewire, I kept seeing Kid Colt whenever he was on-page, but as you remarked he also bore a resemblance to Montana from the Enforcers. And despite my agreement as to Kirby's less-than-inspired creation of those three "toughs", I will say that Jack never shortchanged the reader on the designs of his main bad guys. We've heard through the years how many artists would complain about being assigned to team books such as the Avengers or the Legion of Super-Heroes. I'd argue that being assigned to a book with Galactus, or the Psycho-Man, would drive an artist nuts. Look at the detail in those designs!

Karen: The Thing is at his girlfriend Alicia Masters' apartment (who happens to be blind... you see where this is going...) and she tells him that she got an unexpected delivery. He examines it -it appears to be a large golden cube. As he tries to figure out how to open it, he hears a voice and is startled to see a monster. He's not sure why, after all he's seen and done, but he's overcome with fear. But he goes ahead and battles the creature anyway. But it is far more powerful than he is. Desperate to protect Alicia, trying to rally himself, he yells his battle cry, "It's clobberin' time!" The monster disappears, as if it was never there -but the Thing is so overcome with exhaustion, he passes out. Towering over him is the Psycho-Man, who admires his perseverance. Ben had been fighting his own fear of losing control of his strength and hurting others. Few victims of the psycho-ray even fight back. With the Thing out of the way, the Psycho-Man and his goons grab Component Five and take off, but not before the villain blabs that it's the final thing he needs to complete a gigantic version of his psycho-ray that will allow him to control the emotions of everyone on Earth! Once they take it to his base on a Caribbean island and install it, he'll be master of the world! Hoo boy.

Doug: Odd to have one's base of operations in the Caribbean, but then I suppose no one enjoys 24-hour do-badding; the locale would certainly be advantageous for those off hours. It cracked me up how Psycho-Man's three lackeys were all gung ho to overthrow him, yet now -- after being subjected to one of his emotional rays -- are all about doing whatever bidding needs done. Did you think a monster was the best way to depict Ben's fear of hurting others? Why wouldn't that have manifested itself in a fear of touching anything? We could have seen Alicia want to hold Ben's hand or ask him to kiss her and him drop to the floor quaking in distress. A monster seemed too easy a vehicle and didn't really convey what I thought was going on.

Karen: I agree, that's just one of the 'shortcuts' the story takes, rather than really fleshing certain ideas out. The Caribbean is a popular spot it seems. The Black Panther has purchased an island there and named it, somewhat immodestly, Panther Island. He is running along the beach with his men, using equipment to detect some intruders who just landed there. He dismisses his men and travels on alone, intent on finding out who the strangers are. Suddenly his feet are grabbed by long red strands of hair! He is pulled into a clearing to face Medusa and Karnak of the Inhumans. Karnak immediately attacks the Panther, while Medusa tries to calm her cousin down. But before things get too far, a powerful figure appears -it is Blackbolt, ruler of the Inhumans. Blackbolt signals for peace, and intrigued, the Panther stops and takes it all in. Then the slient king flies off towards a small rock outcropping in the water. He uses his mastery over molecules to "harden" the water into a bridge the other three can cross. Medusa says that Blackbolt senses danger. She wishes that their cousins Gorgon and Triton were with them as well. Karnak reminds her that Gorgon is on an errand and will return soon, but Triton is with Crystal in New York, staying with the FF and her boyfriend, Johnny Storm. At this the Panther perks up. "The Torch? Then, we share a friend in common!" He declares that whatever the danger is, they'll face it together. Karnak uses his power to detect weakness and strikes the rock perfectly, shattering the reef into a million pieces. I'm not really clear why the Inhumans are here -it seems they knew about Psycho-Man somehow, but if there was an explanation in here, I missed it. 

Doug: If I was T'Challa, I'd be suing the realtor or former owners of the island for not engaging in full disclosure about the property! And above you mentioned the contrivances of this story -- seriously? The Psycho-Man is hanging out in the islands and on the same one at the same time (no less!) that T'Challa decides to open up a western branch of his Wakandan kingdom. Yeah... I was also unclear as to the goals of the Inhumans at this point. I also wondered if the intruders that T'Challa had detected were the members of the Royal Family, or Psycho-Man and his goons? I suppose we're to believe it was the Inhumans, as it's Blackbolt who detects the presence of the others. Still -- Wakandan tech was so advanced that I still think it was the Psycho-Man that T'Challa was unwittingly looking for. Question -- in terms of coloring, do you prefer the Panther as colored here with the blacks highlighted by gray, or the more common coloring of the blacks highlighted by dark blue? I am partial to the latter.

Karen: Hmmm, I am used to the dark blue, but I find myself also appreciating the grey color too. But I guess if I had to choose one it would be the blue. It seems darker and sleeker.

Karen: Back in New York, Ben and Alicia come rushing into Reed's lab, where we find the rest of the FF (and Crystal) hanging out. Ben excitedly tells Reed that they have to go after Psycho-Man, but Reed calmly says they can't go anywhere without a plan. Ben gets more agitated but Reed says there's another reason he doesn't want to rush off -Sue's pregnant. Everyone is stunned -and then delighted. Kirby draws Ben and Johnny reacting like big kids, running around carrying Reed through the HQ, while Alicia and Crystal hug and congratulate Sue. Ben's excited to be an "almost uncle" and Red and Sue tell him they'd like him to be the Godfather. It's a charming slice of Fantastic Four family life. After the excitement settles down, Ben decides that if they're going to have a kid to look after, they really do have to make sure they catch the Psycho-Man, and just because Reed and Sue can't go after him, there's no reason he and Johnny can't. "I ain't gonna let no kid of ours git born into the same world with creeps like them runnin' around loose!"


Doug: I loved the aspect of communal ownership and care for this unborn baby. You are right in that it truly set this magazine apart from the rest. Through the years it made the Fantastic Four, along with Amazing Spider-Man, two standout titles among the others. Although Avengers has always been my favorite, it never could equal some of the warm fuzzies generated by the well-rounded casts and ingrained emotions of FF and ASM.

Karen: The previously-mentioned creeps are setting up the Psycho-Man's machine on his hidden Caribbean base. Oddly enough, they are putting Component Four into place -is this the same component they took from Alicia's apartment? That was called Component Five. And the art shows only four such components. This seems like a lapse on Lee's part.  Psycho-Man tells his minions that the base has been discovered by intruders -of course, he's taking about Blackbolt and company. He tells them to get out and take care of them. Now hold on -these three grade Z guys, with their trick guns, are going to take on Blackbolt, the Panther, Medusa, and Karnak? Blackbolt alone should be able to handle all of them! Sheesh. As the three prepare to exit the underground base, Blackbolt blasts through.  Ivan whips out his solar pistol and blinds Blackbolt. Livewire uses his electric lariat to tie up Medusa, while the Panther has to dodge Shell-shock's seeker missile. He manages to evade it long enough to bring it back to his enemy, blasting him. Karnak goes after Livewire, jumping through his lariat and knocking him out. Once Blackbolt recovers his sight, he easily takes down Ivan, one punch sending him sailing. 

Doug: I also noticed the disconnect in the names of the components. In fact, I went back to that previous scene to be certain I'd read it correctly. But when the editor is also the writer, I guess missteps can fall through the cracks. 

Doug: If you think that goons come in groups of three, which they often do, then consider some other groups as compared to this unnamed trio: The previously mentioned Enforcers, with no super powers at all. The mainstay on the Frightful Four, including the Wizard, the Trapster, and the Sandman. Shoot -- even the Ani-Men! I'd concur that Blackbolt by himself could take out any of those trios; this group of misfits shouldn't have been any trouble. So this was a really unsatisfying part of the story. Although antagonists, there was no real sense of antagonism.

Karen: The Psycho-Man is adjusting his device, when he realizes his minions have been overcome. Nevertheless, he finishes the job, and decides to first use his tool on his attackers. Blackbolt and crew race towards his location but are stopped by a wall. Suddenly, a glow appears in the air -it is the Inhuman dog Lockjaw, teleporting in with Triton, Johnny Storm, and the Thing. How did they know where to go? Karnak says, "Perhaps he sensed we needed them!" That's as good an explanation as we'll get, and about all we need I suppose! The good guys all line up and do that slow-motion march towards the wall, with Blackbolt up front, leading them. You can just imagine some cool soundtrack music to accompany this scene. Lee writes, "We suggest you study this illustration carefully, and perhaps even file it away in some safe repository - for it is unlikely you will soon see another such awesome aggregation of raw power as now confronts your ever lovin' eyes!"

Doug: While it's a great visual, perhaps done best in Monsters, Inc., I was underwhelmed. Among the Silver Age FF Annuals, this one ranks far behind #2, #4, and #6 on my favorites list (I don't think I've ever read #1, if anyone's wondering, and I think #3 has become so cliched that it's lost what must have been some bright luster when first published). All that being said, there is a definite sense of anticipation whenever we read a tale where the cavalry arrives to make all things right!

Karen: The wall seems to disappear and a bizarre multi-limbed creature pops up and attacks. Blackbolt, the Thing, and Triton begin wrestling with it but it is like the mythical Hydra -when they hurt it , it grows more limbs. Triton puts up a good fight but it taken down. Meanwhile, Medusa and Karnak seek out the source of a mechanical humming sound. It appears to come from behind a wall, which Karnak strikes. Rather than shattering, the wall sticks to his hand like tar. As he struggles, the Psycho-Man watches from another room, pleased with his Fear device. An alarm goes off and he becomes aware that the Panther is sneaking up on him. He uses the machine on the stealthy hero and the Panther believes he is being attacked by a catlike humanoid.


Doug: I don't know what you saw, but I saw this monster as some sort of inhuman speaker. Check 'im out: tweeters on his upper arms, woofers on his mid-arms! Perhaps the biggest thing he had going for him was an unending case of UGLY! I almost got the sense while reading this that Kirby had never left the monster books of a decade earlier. Even with the psycho ray, it's a plot device that we might have seen in Tales of Suspense, pre-Iron Man. But I suppose there's no harm in recycling an idea and putting it in a new context, in this case with our beloved FF cast of misfits. And always a fan of the metaphysical realms, Kirby did indeed borrow that Hydra element from Greek mythology. As to the fellow who attacked the Panther? At first glance, he could be Blastaar's kid brother!

Karen: On the surface of the island, Gorgon returns from his errand to find the Inhumans' base empty. Alarmed, he spots the "hard water" bridge Blackbolt had created earlier and heads for the rocks, which now have smoke coming up from them. Inside Gorgon finds the Torch and Medusa battling a fire-proof monster. Gorgon stomps his hoofed feet and dispels the creature -so if it was an illusion, it was one everyone could see? But it was the Torch's fear, why could they all see it..oh, never mind. Next they group runs off and finds Karnak, who was also freed from his sticky situation by his cousin's thundering feet. But cousin Triton isn't fairing so well. He is trapped inside a clear, dry cube. Without any humidity, he'll die. Gorgon stomps again and the shock waves cause the cube to disappear. The group find Blackbolt and The Thing, whose titanic foe has also vanished. Now they are faced with that wall which bars their way. But the Thing is having none of it. He tears the wall apart, only to come face to face with the enormous muzzle of the Psycho-Man's weapon. The Psycho-Man says that a single blast will be enough to destroy all of them. Acting swiftly, Blackbolt uses his little antenna doohickey on his forehead to fire an energy beam and completely destroy Psycho-Man's ray. But the villain doesn't seem very upset. "I am Psycho-Man, soon the master of Earth!" he proclaims. "We should'a guessed -another nut!" Ben says. Psycho-Man says that despite the destruction of his big old gun, he can always build another one. In the meantime, he'll wipe them out with his Psycho-ray. He then decides to tell them his story -hey, why not, right? -he's not a human being at all, but a denizen of Sub-Atomica, the tiny worlds within worlds that exist at sub-microscopic levels. He is the greatest scientist of his world -which is faced with over population. Looking for places to expand to, he discovered the Earth. Figuring Earthlings would be defenseless against his mind-weapons, the Psycho-Man created this artificial body and began his one-man invasion, preparing the way for his people. While his speechifying goes on, the Panther has recovered from his fight and makes his way towards the chamber. Just as the Psycho-Man turns his Fear ray on the heroes, the Panther springs on him. But he comes up with a limp, lifeless suit. Confused, the Panther looks for help. Ben explains, "He can't bother us any more than any pint-sized germ floatin' around the joint!" Karnak ponders the villains' fate. "I wonder! Has he returned to the sub-atomic world from whence he came? Or is he now forever trapped within that now useless suit?" Seemingly unconcerned (where is Reed when you need him!) the heroes wrap it up, satisfied that they've ended the Psycho-Man's threat.

Doug: In addition to Kirby's fabulous costume and character designs, he was also quite adept at technology. I was happy to see Ben astride the jet cycle near the beginning of the story, and I've always liked the sleek look of the craft on which Gorgon rides. Of course, none of that tops the rocket shoes Ben wears in the poster later on in this magazine (we've featured it several times -- check it out here). Anyway, your point about Gorgon's dispelling of the monster is well-taken. If it was the Fear ray that the Psycho-Man had employed, why would each person present have seen the same thing? Certainly T'Challa was engaged with a wholly different beastie (Karnak's fear was different as well). Did the thunder of Gorgon's hoof break the concentration of those who were under the ray's control? I don't want to say there weren't well-done elements of this story -- there were -- but there was enough head-scratching going on by me that left me a bit dissatisfied. 

Doug: I did like Psycho-Man's origin, and maybe some of our readers can clue me in -- is he from the same sort of Sub-Atomica as Psyklop, or Jarella? This sort of idea, where the very atoms and molecules can be universes in their own right, should have opened up an endless array of story possibilities. 

Karen: I think you can see what I meant about this being a 'popcorn' movie annual. It's big, it's goofy, it's fun, but it doesn't stand up to a lot of scrutiny. Still, it wasn't a bad way to spend 30-40 minutes! The Psycho-Man was an interesting foe, and this makes me want to pull out the FF issues with his appearances that followed.

Doug: Yes, agreed. If I recall, the second story featuring this base villain is more interesting, and would of course feature Joe Sinnott back on the inks. Speaking of, it's no secret that Sinnott was as much a part of the success of the Silver Age FF as Terry Austin was to the Bronze Age X-Men. But I feel like I've unfairly denigrated Frank Giacoia's work throughout this post. I really don't have a problem with Giacoia overall. I just don't know that I'd ever say that he'd be my go-to guy. He's steady, not going to get in the way... but when it comes to the "look" of certain books in certain timeframes, I want the Cadillac version. And in this particular case, that would involve Joe Sinnott.


Karen: Yes, Joe Sinnott was sorely missed here. Something  I find interesting is that this annual and the next year's (number 6) are really a set when you look at the events contained in them: in this one, we get the announcement of Sue's pregnancy with Franklin, and then a year later, in number 6, we have the story of Reed, Ben, and Johnny risking everything in the Negative Zone to ensure that Franklin and Sue both survive the childbirth. The two annuals are linked in that both dealt with the pregnancy, this one more peripherally than #6. But even so, it's as if they felt the need to put these events (the announcement and then the birth) into annuals rather than regular sized issues. Although I'd say annual 6 is a far superior read!

Karen: As a summer-time bonus, we're including some  pin-ups of the 'incomparable' Inhumans that were a part of this Annual! Enjoy!















Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Discuss: Favorite Music Documentaries


Karen: While vacationing in the Bay Area last weekend, I picked up a used copy of Crossfire Hurricane on blu ray for cheap. I really enjoy this comprehensive documentary on the Rolling Stones. What documentaries about musicians (not just rockers) do you think are some of the best made, or you just find highly entertaining?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Who's the Best... Marvel Summer Annual?

Doug: Since we're not doing Giant-Size July this year (although if you come back Friday, you'll find that's not completely true), we should still discuss those favorite summer big books. Below you'll find three books that have been nominated as readers' favorites over the years on the BAB.





Monday, July 14, 2014

Carnival of Madness - Daredevil 161


Daredevil #161 (November 1979)
"To Dare the Devil!"
Roger McKenzie-Frank Miller/Klaus Janson

Doug: It's been a fun series so far, hasn't it? Today we'll wrap up our month spent with Frank Miller and the team as they changed comicdom's perspective on Daredevil, perhaps forever. Maybe at the end we can have discourse on the impact of Miller's tenure on the character -- specifically, did said tenure really do anything for Daredevil? Or was any critical acclaim short-lived in the larger 50-year history of the character? Maybe Miller's art and stories are the book's golden age -- but why is that window of greatness so narrow? Would the general public, in spite of the Hollywood film, recognize the name or visage of Daredevil?

Doug: When we ended our visit to Daredevil #160, we'd just seen one of the great comic bar fights of all time, rivaling anything Conan was ever involved in. DD had gone looking for information about Bullseye's whereabouts. The assassin had kidnapped the Black Widow and was using her as bait. Ol' Hornhead wanted nothing more than to take that bait. As we begin, we're at Coney Island and watch from above as one of the informants DD had so wanted to squeeze comes sprinting into the area Eric Slaughter is using as his base. You'll recall that in issue #159 an unmasked Bullseye had hired Slaughter and his men to either capture or kill Daredevil; Bullseye used that ruse as a means to videotape Daredevils movements for study. "Turk", he of the lisp and fast feet, runs right up to Slaughter and tells him how Daredevil wants him. Trouble is, DD tailed Turk and is right above the gangsters as Turk begins to relate his tale. Remember -- this is a very impatient vigilante. As we've now grown accustomed to, Miller is just dynamite in these fight scenes. Although static images, the reader can feel the pop in each blow and hear the jangles of chains and the crushing of jawbones. And for my money, you can't beat Miller's efforts in providing motion through the use of multiple images, sequentially presented and overlapping. Great feature of the art.

Doug: Daredevil emerges from the scrum to face Slaughter, and he basically tells him to give up Bullseye or else. But just then DD hears the Astrotower kick into gear -- in a deserted theme park? Scaling the tower, he knows that Bullseye can see him -- but what's he to do? Of course there are gunmen on a perch, but DD evades their fire in another great series of panels. Miller seemed to have his finger on the pulse of the radar sense and when would be a good time to depict it; he also gives us another "motion" panel that nails it. Bullseye gloats over a loudspeaker that he indeed has Daredevil's "woman", and it's a shame that she has to die; after all, she's quite beautiful. And then the rollercoaster cars begin moving. DD knows he has a very limited amount of time to a) locate Natasha, b) avoid additional gunfire and/or Bullseye himself, and c) free her from however she's bound on the tracks. Swooping low over the 'coaster tracks, he begins his search. And of course, the gunfire commences. DD's able to take out several gunmen, actually swinging right at them -- pretty unnerving I'd guess, trying to get off an accurate shot while knowing you're going to get buried in about 10 seconds...

Doug: As Daredevil scrambles back toward the tracks, he suddenly wheels and veers in a different direction. The flunkies can't believe it, and as the train hits the Widow's body there is a large impact, knocking "her" off the tracks! But hey -- no heartbeat = no Natasha, right? Bullseye, ever watching, cannot believe it. Of course he has the real Widow, a goon on each arm and a very large gun to the back of her head. While he taunts her, Bullseye has her moved and strapped to a large board; the assassin throws a knife at her, pinning it just below her shoulder. Sceneshift to a musty and dirty old gym, where an old man is talking to Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich. Urich's come for some information on "Battlin'" Jack Murdock. The old man relates a story of the old pugilist, and of course Murdock's son comes up in the conversation. He's a lawyer now, you know. Urich says he knows. "K.O." tells how hard Murdock pushed his son to study, and how the neighborhood kids always made fun of him for it. Called him a name... "Daredevil?" says Urich. "How'd you know?" "Just a hunch." The plot thickens...

Doug: Back at Coney Island, DD has caught up with Turk again and drags him to a very high point in the park -- in the fork of a devil, no less. Turk decides that giving up Bullseye's location gives him a chance to get away; not giving it up, and the pavement's going to be coming up real fast. Inside the arcade, Bullseye has a marksman throwing knives at the Widow. Bullseye orders him to stop missing and kill her before DD arrives. But the Widow begins to wriggle, and her catlike reflexes allow her to avoid several knives... until she gets the right one. She maneuvers her wrists into just the right position, where a blade cuts her bounds. Now it's butt-kicking time, Soviet spy-style! I was really glad they did this and didn't keep Natasha as some helpless female, which would greatly have disrespected the character. Tasha easily takes out the biggest of the thugs assembled, and shows no fear as she turns to face Bullseye -- he armed with a knife. But as he is about to throw it, the cord from Daredevil's billy club encircles his wrist. DD whips him backwards, totally killing his enemy's balance. And then Daredevil proceeds to kick his butt -- hard.

Doug: But it couldn't, and shouldn't, end that easily. DD tosses Bullseye across the arcade, but the villain lands in the baseball toss game. Coming up firing, DD takes several baseballs off his face and chest. Trying to recover, he fires his billy club toward Bullseye, who snatches it out of the air. Bullseye fires it back, catching DD square on the jaw. While Daredevil struggles to catch is wits, Bullseye uses the club to crack our hero on the back of the head. However, through sheer will, DD takes advantage of the close quarters and punches Bullseye in the face, following that up with a hand to the face. Bullseye's head is driven back into a wall. Daredevil then delivers a roundhouse, which sends his foe reeling -- right toward a gun. But Bullseye's nerves are shot, and his hand shakes as he grips the weapon. At close range, DD knows he's done for, so he takes the only chance he has left: he goads Bullseye. And the assassin cannot pull the trigger. Calling out to Eric Slaughter and his men, Bullseye orders them to shoot Daredevil. Slaughter calls back that DD has earned his respect, and if Bullseye wants him dead he should shoot him himself. Bullseye collapses to the ground. The Widow steps over by Daredevil and remarks that Bullseye seems to have lost his mind. DD says that it's over now. He binds Bullseye's arms behind his back, lifts him to his shoulder, and DD and the Widow walk off hand-in-hand.

Doug: Sentimentally, I'd have liked to have seen Daredevil and the Widow get back together. But as I said when we began this tour back near the end of June, this was the last issue that I read for a very long time. And even saying that, I've never read Miller's complete run. Really, I've only picked at it here and there, even though I have access to almost all of it. So the Elektra stories? I wouldn't see those until around four years after they were released. In fact, when I was first going about filling in the massive holes in my collection, it was Miller's collaboration with Bill Sienkiewicz on Elektra: Assassin that was on the newsstands. I thought it was weird (I never warmed to Sienkiewicz's style). Bullseye is a great villain, and I think Miller was onto something (by now co-plotting with Roger McKenzie, I'd guess) in reaching into the head of the villain and going after the pathological elements of his psyche. While the "anything in my hands is a weapon" schtick is cool, depth was needed. I think in this 3-parter we started to get a little of that. All in all, these four issues would equate to around 80 minutes very well spent!



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