Saturday, October 1, 2016

Discuss: Marvel's Second Decade of Villains

Martinex1: Not only did Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and the rest of the Marvel Bullpen develop an amazing pantheon of heroes in the 1960s, but the list of villains created in those first ten years reads like a Who's Who in the Comic Book Hall of Fame.  The roll call includes but is definitely not limited to: Dr. Doom, Magneto, Loki, Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus, Kang, the Leader, Abomination, Kingpin, Immortus, Electro, Galactus, the Skrulls, and Ultron.  Less impactful (but still fairly recognizable) villains of the time include: Klaw, Mole Man, Count Nefaria, Living Laser, Kraven, Vulture, Attuma, Fixer, Scorpio, Mentallo, Gladiator, Prowler, Mr. Hyde, Cobra, Shocker, Purple Man, Sandman, Super-Adaptoid, and the Frost Giants. Teams of baddies consist of the Frightful Four, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Zodiac, the Sinister Six, and the Masters of Evil.  Phew!  I'm sure you can think of dozens more as Marvel rode a creative wave that could hardly be matched.

What about the second decade of Marvel's output?   Looking at 1972 through 1981, the second wave of the Marvel creative force tended to take a fan's approach and used those same antagonists again and again.   And I have to say that era, as we recently discussed, really captured the Bronze Age Babies' fascination.   But there was much less output targeting a new villain class.   That is not to say there were not some fantastic new ideas, anti-heroes, and megalomaniacs.   Take a look below and let's discuss the second decade of Marvel's bad guys and gals.  




Friday, September 30, 2016

An Exercise in Speculation on Our Favorite Stories, and What Could Have Been...

Redartz: Happy Friday, everyone! Just for fun, to start off the weekend, here's a little brain teaser. A game inspired by a recent comment from Martinex1, in which he speculated on the Avengers' "Celestial Madonna" arc, if it had been done by Steve Englehart and John Byrne/Terry Austin. The object of the game is deceptively simple: pick one of your favorite stories, and devise a creative team that might have made that story even more awesome. Blending eras is fine. For example: say, Jim Starlin inking Jack Kirby on the "Galactus Trilogy", or Steve Gerber handling Disney's Uncle Scrooge (now I would have read that...).

I will start off with a pick not too far removed from Martinex's posit: What if the Avengers/Defenders War had been brought to life by Englehart, Byrne, and Austin?  We know what a great co-plotter  John Byrne has been -- who knows where might that story have gone? And oh, the artistic possibilities... Byrne's skilled at drawing just about everyone; we saw him on Avengers -- he would have been loads of fun on the Defenders. Plus, with Terry Austin inking, we might have had Popeye make a background appearance in the domain of the dread Dormammu!

OK, now it's your turn. Can you think of a great story that might even have been greater? It's open season, and all's fair. Let's see what you've got!

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Splash Page Made Me Buy the Comic!

Martinex1:  We have frequently discussed covers that have made us buy a book, and there are indeed numerous examples of the great and colorful cover art that caught my eye from across a room.   But today let's talk about some of the splash pages that captured my attention.

As a kid purchasing comics in the late '70s on a very limited allowance, I typically circled a spinner rack numerous times as I considered all of the options for my precious fifty cents or dollar.   Sometimes even my favorite titles didn't totally draw me in and had to compete against all of the other four-color choices.  It wasn't always a slam dunk that I would buy Avengers, Fantastic Four, or the Amazing Spider-Man.  Sometimes the store proprietor wouldn't want me to flip through the book's pages but when given the chance I definitely took a peek to get a glimpse of the story.  And often it was the splash and not the cover that sealed the deal.  Here are a few examples of those experiences from my early collecting days:

One of the very first comic books I purchased was Avengers #164, the start of the Count Nefaria conflict, so it would seem natural that I would grab issue #165 as soon as it hit the rack.   But that wasn't the case at all.  I have to admit that today when I look at the George Perez art for that cover I admire it, but when I was nine-years old it did not grab me.   I can clearly remember thinking how small the team members were on the cover.  And I did not like the floating red Nefaria head screaming at them.  And on top of it, the white logo and lower right corners were a bit mottled from the printing.  Where was the hand-to-hand combat that I was expecting?  Where was the epic battle following the closing moments of #164 when Nefaria absorbed the strength of Power Man, the speed of Whirlwind, and the energy of Living Laser?  But once I opened the book, the John Byrne splash page answered all of my questions!  Nefaria just decked Captain America and Black Panther easily and he is totally unscathed; the villain is just standing there gloating.  This is going to be a huge fight; he's going to kill them all!  At least that is how I interpreted it in my youth.   As it turned out, I am glad I saw the splash page and snatched that issue up because the Count Nefaria storyline has remained my all-time favorite.  Looking back at the art, it may not have been Byrne's best but I loved it.  Here is the cover and splash of which I speak:

That very same month, August of 1977, nearly the same thing happened to me with the Fantastic Four.   However, this had a bit of a twist.  I had previously read the Len Wein penned and George Perez penciled FF issue #187.   I was mesmerized by the team's battle with Klaw and the Molecule Man.  That book had so much great art and suspense that I just could not put it down.  The last page overwhelmed young me.  It was monumental and shocking when down-on-his-luck Reed Richards picked up the mystical rod and transformed into the Molecule Man himself!  I know that I stared at that page for a long time.  Reed looked so creepy.   I looked at his jagged lips and his treacherous scowl and I just had to have the next issue.   What a great cliffhanger!

But when the next issue showed up at our local pharmacy, I was seriously underwhelmed by the cover.   "Seriosuly!  They are fighting a giant walking building!  How dumb!" young me thought at the time, "It looks like a silly cartoon not a dangerous battle. It is not scary at all."   In retrospect, it reminded me of one of those Twinkie advertisements we talked about a couple of days ago.  And again, the white background did not help.  It was a struggle to buy that book; it really was.  What carried me through was the memory of the closing splash of #187.   That crazy Reed in the green costume stuck in my head; so the previous issue's final splash made me buy issue #188.  Here they are for your viewing pleasure:

Hey!  Wait a minute!  That is bizarre!
The final example for today's post is Marvel Team-Up issue #70 that was on sale in March of 1978.  It had a perfectly fine cover and in fact I liked the cover a lot.   It was dynamic and cinematic.  I just wasn't particularly a Thor fan at the time so I wasn't convinced.  But when I flipped it open, the John Byrne art took my breath away.  I had seen giants numerous times in comics before, but this one looked monstrous crashing through the building, scaring the citizens, and getting ready to put a squeeze on the tiny Spider-Man in his right hand.  I had to have it!  Looking at it now, the inking is a little overdone for my taste.  It still packs a wallop, but I cannot take my eyes off the citizen in the foreground who looks like a zombie.   When I was young, I could only focus on the size of the Living Monolith.   Take a gander.

So there you have it - three splash pages that captured my cash. I cannot explain what hit me on such a visceral level, but it was definitely the interior art that I so clearly remember doing so.  What do you think?  Do you have any examples that you would like to share?   Cheers all!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Star Trek at 50: Harlan Ellison' s City on the Edge of Forever graphic novel

Star Trek Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever The Original Teleplay
Original Teleplay: Harlan Ellison
Adaptation By: Scott Tipton and David Tipton
Art by: J.K. Woodward
Covers by Juan Ortiz and Paul Shipper

Karen: Back in August I reviewed what many consider to be the finest episode of Star Trek ever made, "City on the Edge of Forever." In that post I discussed that there were huge differences between author Harlan Ellison's story, and the resulting final episode. The changes that were made in Ellison's story had nothing to do with quality of the writing -the show's staff all agreed that the script was brilliant -but it was felt that it veered too far from the established norms of the show.

Karen: Ellison's original story has been published  since the episode aired, so fans have had a chance to read it for themselves. But of course, we've never been able to see what it would have looked like if the episode had been produced using his script -until now. In 2015, IDW, with Ellison's blessing and assistance, produced a mini-series that told Ellison's story in five issues, and this was collected in a very nice hardback, which is what I used for this review.

Karen: The art in this book is by J.K. Woodward, who I profess I have never heard of before, but seeing as how I don't regularly buy comics now, that's no slight on him. Woodward utilizes a painting method, similar to Alex Ross, who, based on comments around here, folks seem to either love or hate -I'm in the love camp. I also appreciate Woodward's style. He captured the spirit of the show well. There were times when clearly he was working from photographs of the actors, and while it was obvious, I didn't mind really - it wasn't distracting to me, except a couple of times. When he was depicting characters who were not regulars on the show, such as the story's antagonist, Beckwith, the character's appearance seemed perhaps less defined. I think it was a smart decision to depict Kirk and Spock in the same clothes they wore in the episode. In the notes in the back, Scott Tipton says this was a conscious decision to both provide familiarity and present the story as if it were an alternate version of the filmed episode. Juan Ortiz and Paul Shipper both provided covers for the individual issues and they are reproduced in the book. Ortiz created the brilliant Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz poster book a few years ago.

Karen: The story reads quite well, and from what I can gather, the Tiptons essentially translated Ellison's work to the comic page. They've done a fine job. It is engaging, thoughtful, and more lyrical than the actual episode. I've read a couple of collections of Ellison's short stories. I've enjoyed his work and I've always felt he brought a quality of surrealism to his stories. It is the same here, particularly in the depiction of the actual 'city on the edge of forever,' which combines elements that seem purely dreamlike with the more realistic science fiction setting of Trek. In the episode, the Guardian of Forever is a strange, oval-shaped entity, neither being nor machine -or maybe both; here, in the original story, there are multiple Guardians, tall, bearded men, ancient, drained of color, who almost seem to be a part of the icy mountains surrounding them. Could this have worked on the show? I don't know. It seems almost too fantastic. Why is it easier to accept a lop-sided donut than nine-foot tall men? Perhaps it is simply my bias from seeing the televised episode so many times.

Karen: The instigating point of the story is completely different here than in the episode. In the show, McCoy accidentally injects himself with a drug, cordrazine, which causes him to go temporarily insane. He beams down to the planet below them, from which they have been monitoring time disruptions. It is McCoy's departure into the past and his actions there that cause the timeline to change drastically. In Ellison's original story, an officer named Beckwith, who has been dealing drugs on board the Enterprise, flees after another officer threatens to turn him in, and Beckwith kills him. I have to admit, I can understand why this was changed for the show. Given how the crew was portrayed, and the general standards set forth by the network, I don't see how this was going to work in any case. But here, taken as the idea of almost an alternate universe (a Star Trek What If? perhaps) it's intriguing to consider. 

Karen: Another major divergence between the two stories occurs after Beckwith jumps through the Time Vortex, altering reality. The landing party beams back up to what they think is The Enterprise, only to find that they are aboard The Condor, a pirate ship! They fight off the pirates and secure the transporter room, and leave Yeoman Rand in charge -yes, you read that right -with Kirk and Spock beaming back down, to convince the Guardians to let them go back to try to fix things. This entire sequence was excised from the script for the episode, it seems chiefly due to expense. It's interesting that Ellison provided a much more capable representation of Rand. Of course, by the time the story was filmed, Grace Lee Whitney was no longer a part of the cast.

Karen: Once in the past, the Captain and First Officer find themselves on a street corner in New York in 1930. A crowd is gathered around a man standing on a crate, ranting against immigrants -wait a minute, what year is it again? "What kind of country is this where men have to stand in bread lines just to fill their bellies? I'll tell you what kind! A country run by foreigners! All the scum we let in to take the food out of our mouths, all the alien filth that pollutes our fine country!" Spock is uncharacteristically offended; he remarks to Kirk, "Is this the heritage Earthmen brag about? This sickness?" Kirk responds, "This is what it's taken us five hundred years to crawl up from." The mob spots Spock and the two have to make a break for safety. I truly wish they had filmed this rather than the insipid scene with the policeman and the silly 'rice-picker' dialog. I know they were injecting some levity into the episode but I think this commentary was-and unfortunately still is -timely and worthwhile.

Karen: One of the things that became quite apparent reading this book was how different Edith Keeler was in the original story. She's still appealing, but she seems to have a little less iron to her spine here. There are a couple of scenes from the episode that stand out which aren't in the original story: the one where Edith confronts Kirk and Spock in the basement, and the speech (however corny it might be) that she gives in the mission. In fact, in the episode, she is shown several times in the mission, and it gives us a sense of her devotion to her cause. Here, we see her speaking to groups of people but mostly we see her with Kirk, and the focus is more on how he is affected contemplating her loss. In this case, I felt that the episode provided her with more of a voice.

Karen: But Kirk's sense of impending doom is just as real here. Although Ellison has Kirk and Spock arrive at their discovery of Keeler's importance, and her fate, through somewhat bizarre fashion, Kirk's desire to be with Edith is tangible. In a discussion with Spock over Edith's role as a catalyst, the Vulcan presses his Captain, as he senses that he is becoming too involved with this woman, who must die for their future to live. The Kirk we see here is far more alone than the solitary figure we saw in the first season of the show; so much so he even contemplates bringing Edith forward in time! But Spock tells him that Edith must die in order to preserve the future. The sequence is portrayed by Woodward in black and white, as Kirk is recalling it from memory, and it heightens the drama of the exchange.

Karen: Spock is able to calculate where and when Beckwith will appear, but they make a mess of catching him. Kirk enlists the aid of a disabled World War One veteran called Trooper (drawn to resemble Ellison) to be on the lookout for Beckwith. After some time (it is difficult to tell exactly how much -a couple of days?) Trooper comes back with information that Beckwith is hiding out in a back alley. Kirk and Spock go after him, but again fail to catch him -and he uses a phaser and disintegrates Trooper. Either later, or another night, Edith is again speaking on a corner, trying to inspire hope in the downtrodden. Spock speaks admiringly of her. Edith finishes and sees them, and crosses the street to join them. But she doesn't notice a truck coming down the street. Kirk and Spock realize that this is it: the moment of her death. Suddenly Beckwith appears on the opposite side of the street. He too sees the truck barreling down towards her. Amazingly, Beckwith runs into the street, to save Edith. Kirk staggers forward, torn about what to do. But Spock races out and tackles Beckwith, preventing him from saving Edith. She turns, too late, as Kirk can only watch in horror as she is struck by the vehicle. 

Karen: This is just as gut-wrenching as it was on the show. Woodward clearly used Shatner's expression from these scenes for his art in the book. The way this was resolved in Ellison's story versus the finished product was a bone of contention between the two camps for many years as I understand it. I have to say, I find the episode more compelling, for a few reasons. In the show, Kirk not only doesn't save Edith, he is responsible for preventing McCoy from saving her. He is the decision maker; the ultimate responsibility for what happens falls on his shoulders, not Spock's. I think this makes Edith's death and Kirk's grief even more tragic, as he knows his direct action resulted in the death of the woman he loved. Also, having McCoy be the potential rescuer for Edith allows for a real dramatic impact. When the three men are reunited on the steps of the mission, it's pure joy, but only for a few fleeting seconds, as Edith's fate is imminent. McCoy's angry reaction, when Kirk restrains him, is also powerful.

Karen: However, the denouement of Ellison's work is really quite beautiful, and it's sad that it couldn't have been retained in some way. Back on The Enterprise, with time restored, Spock comes to Kirk's cabin, ostensibly to relay information from the bridge, but really the Vulcan appears to be checking up on his Captain, who is lost in thought. Spock calls him 'Jim' and says, "On my world the nights are very long. The sound of the silver birds against the sky is very sweet. My people know there is always time enough for everything. You could come with me for a rest. You would feel comfortable there." It's pretty. I don't know that it's Spock, really, but it sounds wonderful. (This scene actually reminded me of the final scene in the third season episode "Requiem for Methuselah" where Spock uses the Vulcan mind meld to make a distressed Kirk "forget" -did they crib it from this?). Spock tells Kirk that he is troubled by why Beckwith, a thoroughly deplorable person, would try to save Edith, risking his own life. Kirk talks about how sometimes "even the worst among us does the great noble deed." The conclusion reminds me so very much of a typical Outer Limits episode, which of course Ellison wrote some of the best. With Beckwith, we are able to examine the confusing, conflicting duality that exists in us. This is something the episode does not have. 

Karen: But does it need it? As it stands, it focuses much more squarely on Kirk's sacrifice -his sacrifice of Edith, his love, his potential happiness, to restore reality. The episode is strong without it. But the original story, which has a slightly different emphasis, and some alternate twists and turns, is certainly worth exploring. I could see that this might have been an excellent Outer Limits actually - although probably cost prohibitive but it would have worked just as well if trying to get across the idea of man's duality rather than focus on one man's tragedy.

Karen: On a somewhat related thought, I was thinking about the various Star Trek films lately, and Generations popped in my head. I've never been fond of it, for a variety of reasons, one being Kirk's death. But it occurred to me that one thing I would have loved to see is that when Picard went to find Kirk in the Nexus, he arrived in New York City, circa 1960. He sees Kirk, playing with some kids in the street. They are talking excitedly about the nascent space program, and Kirk tells them some day all the nations will work together and travel to the stars. A woman's voice comes from a doorway, calling for Jim. He turns and we see Edith come out. They have been reunited, and are deeply in love. This makes it even harder for Kirk when Picard tells him he needs his help and he has to leave the Nexus. But Edith herself tells him he should go -and she'll be waiting for him. Man, I would really prefer that over the Shatner horseback-riding ego-stroke that we got.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

An Advertising Match Made in Heaven... Hostess Snacks and Comic Books!

Martinex1: What could be better than running to the local dime store, grabbing your favorite comic from the spinner rack and with your extra money adding a Hostess Cherry Pie (or Ding Dong, Cupcake, Twinkie, Snowball, Suzy-Q or Ho Ho)?   Super-heroes and the sugary treats seemed to go hand-in-hand back in our youth.
And somebody quite brilliant who handled the marketing for the Hostess brands and Continental Baking Company back in the day approved in-comic advertisements.  These one-page ads, numbering in the dozens, featured characters from the various companies in short adventures in which the outcome inevitably involved eating one of the tasty treats.   Marvel, DC, Archie, and Harvey all participated.  Warner Brothers characters also made a few appearances. Villains were foiled, heroes were satisfied, and comedy ensued, but the tasty baked confections were always devoured.
During my initial collecting heyday, these ads were ever-present.  I believe some of the Marvel examples featured Sal Buscema and perhaps Marie Severin art, but I cannot be sure on any of it. If anybody can help identify the creators, that would be great.   For more than 250 examples go to where I captured today's samples.  It would have been fun to find some of the original art for these. In the early 80's, John Byrne parodied the Hostess style in First Comics - that is also included below. 

Enjoy these jewels of yesteryear and share your memories on the nostalgic treats.

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