Monday, August 18, 2014

Soapbox Steve and Underground Al Bring You -- Marvel Presents 5

Marvel Presents #5 (June 1976)
"Planet of the Absurd!"
Steve Gerber-Al Milgrom/Howard Chaykin

Doug: You want "absurd"? You've come to the right comic, friend! I remarked at the end of last week's review that while not totally sold on what Gerber was doing with characterization, etc. in this series, he at least had me intrigued enough to read on. Well, as I write this I am on my second read of this story. My first one was near the beginning of my 10-day trek to Washington DC a month ago and I admittedly put the book down somewhat disgustedly. But after two weeks of Karen's (and our readers') comments, as well as some off-line conversations with my partner, I'm seeing this with new eyes. So let's see what sort of mood I'm in by the bottom of this write-up.

Karen: This is one of those rare occasions where you and I differ in our opinions on a book. I'll admit I'm looking at this with a sheen of nostalgia over my eyes. Even so, I can say I'd only give it a B- or so -it's certainly not in the top ranks of favorites, but I've enjoyed revisiting it.

Doug: If you'll backtrack in your brains seven days, you might remember that after the Guardians did battle with the giant space frog the beastie not only ate Starhawk, but also infected the Captain America with some sort of virus. With the ship's life support on the fritz, Martinex orders his mates down to the nearest planet -- which hopefully has a favorable environment! So Vance, Charlie, Nikki, and Yondu "beam down" to some place they know nothing of. And what a sphere it is! Martinex thinks he's dropping them into a city, yet they end up in a forest. Or do they? Yondu gets in tune with Mother Nature right away, and senses that all is not good with the flora. Suddenly a humanoid appears, toting a double-barreled shotgun. He tells our assemblage of wanderers that he's the gardener, and his main job is to keep pests off the private property. And then everyone moves toward a door. A rooftop door. They were in a huge urban garden all along -- which sort of gave me a vibe from Daredevil #s 142-143, where DD had to fight the Cobra and Mr. Hyde in a rooftop jungle.

Karen: The 'gardener' looks like the Heap! But he sounds like a redneck. Uh oh. I'm not real fond of "parallel cultures"...

Doug: Once inside the building, we're treated to a cast that looks like they jumped ship from a Dick Tracy strip. Planet of the absurd, indeed. The dudes in the room appear to be some sort of mobsters, and they think the Guardians are hit men assigned by some rival boss. After the godfather of this troop, a Mr. Slech, tries to get fresh with Nikki, Charlie takes exception. Well, OK -- he bodily threatens Slech. And of course, all hell breaks loose. But the thugs are no match for the Guardians' powers, and with Slech in tow, the displaced heroes make it out and onto an elevator. They head for the ground floor to be greeted by more weirdos, and then the kicker -- the planet (or at least this part of it) is made up to resemble Times Square, circa 1980! Vance contacts Martinex, who says he's really having trouble getting the ship running. He rattles off some device that he needs, which Vance recognizes as basically a transistor. So, ordering Charlie and Nikki to stay put, Vance and Yondu head off in search of such a thing.

Karen: If Milgrom wanted to make this pseudo-New York look as unappealing as possible, he succeeded. It was almost as if you could feel the slime oozing out of the pages.

Doug: Vance tells Yondu that he's along for the ride because he's basically too innocent to survive by himself. Before Yondu can really muster a protest, the two enter what amounts to a pawn shop. Vance asks if the proprietor has what they need, which he does, but doesn't seem so willing to part with. So they begin to dicker over the price, how will Vance pay, etc. With no resources on him, Vance offers up one of Yondu's arrows. Yondu protests, but to no avail. The deal cut, Vance hurries his buddy out the door. But Yondu's going to stand up for himself, and rips Vance's stealing of an arrow that was not his to give. And in his soliloquy, Yondu shows Vance how his whistle makes the yaka arrow react -- and it basically comes right to Yondu's hand. And in a moment of mid-70s political incorrectness, Gerber has Vance call Yondu an "Indian giver". The two run like thieves, and split up in case the cops trail them.

Karen: Once again, Vance acts like a jerk. It is kind of hard to like the guy.

Doug: It seems that Gerber feels most comfortable using that tried and true super-team method of dividing the players and then telling short vignettes about each group. We check in next on Charlie and Nikki -- right away, this looks like it's going to play out as a big brother/little sister relationship, doesn't it? They come across an arcade, and Nikki remarks right away about the cacophony that greets them upon entrance. Well, that, and the gang of local teens hanging out. The leader of the pack tries to hit on Nikki, and as we saw in the gang leader's board room earlier, Charlie is having none of it. The toughs pile on, but you know they're no match for Charlie's mass. He shrugs them off easily, until the cops show up and hit him with some tear gas. Nikki bolts, her fire-like tresses blending in with the rest of the weirdos in the crowd.

Karen: You know, I didn't think of the "brother/sister" thing at all, so it was interesting to read that and then go back and read that scene again. I can see how it could be interpreted that way. I think I always felt Charlie was a bit of a white knight, living by his own code of honor -perhaps influenced by his military background?

Doug: Gerber saves his most in-your-face bit of satire/political criticism for the next scene, where Yondu wanders into the midst of a crowd watching a candidate stumping for the presidency. As fate would have it, this nation on the planet of the absurd is also celebrating its bicentennial. Who'd have thought? We present the entire page for your perusal -- no subtleties here, no sir! Note Yondu's line at the bottom of the page, about post-Watergate Americans -- "They are... to be pitied."

Karen: Did you notice the "WIN" button on the presidents' collar? Who here does not remember "whip inflation now"? Boy that sure was a great slogan. Yeesh. Yes, this was as subtle as using a cannon to hit a mosquito.

Doug: Vance, in his effort to avoid the cops after the what's-now-a-theft from the pawn shop, wanders into some sort of hippie gathering. I'll give Al Milgrom credit in this issue -- I don't know that he duplicated any of the "creatures" on this planet of the absurd. At least to my eye as I move through this tale, they all look different. Perhaps that's by design, intentional -- maybe that's Gerber's way of saying that conformity and/or sameness is part of the problem in the society in which he was writing. Either Milgrom felt the same way, or at least took Steve's instructions and filled them to the letter! Anyway, a young lady who I swear looks like a character in the Inhumans mag published at about this same time, wants Vance to tune in, turn on, and drop out. Vance says that maybe he's not ready for that sort of therapy and hightails it past this group.

Karen: I felt this scene in many ways duplicated the scene from issue 3, with the bar dancer, in as far as showing Vance's discomfort with physicality. Was it necessary to give this to us again so soon? Then again, this was a bimonthly book, so maybe Gerber felt he had to reiterate major themes, like Vance's isolation.

Doug: Back to Charlie, now cooling his heels in the city lock-up -- and Gerber uses it for another platform, this time his views on our judicial and penal systems. Charlie's cellmate tells the Jovian that he's in for grand theft auto -- been in the clink for many years. But while he narrates his sad, sad story, a fellow from down the block walks by, paroled... for murder. Gerber takes a shot at parole boards through his cipher, but Charlie doesn't have time for this -- gotta run. As only Charlie can. Right through the wall! Outside, Nikki is accosted by a woman who wants her to hear a message of salvation. Obviously Gerber is seguing into a bashing of organized religion, cults, salvation messages, messiah complexes, you name it. And he does -- actually gets quite a few rip jobs into only eight panels! The man certainly made use of the space he had to work with. In the end, Nikki ticks off the entire "congregation" and has to run for her life, accused of blasphemy. And you know what the penalty for that is... Leaping outside, she encounters Charlie -- also running from the law and anyone else who wants a piece of his hide. So the two make tracks together, attempting to hook back up with Vance and Yondu.

Karen: Of course, it was also the time of the so-called "Jesus Freaks," "Moonies," and a zillion small cults; even in my small town, we ha people handing out flyers on street corners, proclaiming their leader to be the glorious incarnation of God, or whatever. Gerber captures this lunacy and magnifies it here.  

Doug: We've had cults in our area. One notable group was known as "His Community"; I think it was in 1977 or '78 that the cult left town in the middle of the night, families split apart as one parent took the children, and stuff like that. To this day, long-time residents of our county recall that.

Doug: As Charlie and Nikki run, they come face-to-face with Yondu! He's about to fire an arrow into the crowd, which cause Nikki to question his sanity. But the yaka arrow does its thing in response to Yondu's whistle, and throws the mob off its collective game. This gives the now-three Guardians a chance to catch their breath. Not too far away is Vance Astro, communicating with Martinex. Marty tells him to hurry and find the others, and they'll communicate again. Just then, Yondu's arrow sails by -- Vance has his troops back. They gather, but before they have time to relate all that's gone on, a ship appears in the sky. Charlie says there's no way these chumps on this planet could have built something like the space shuttle now hovering above. And -- as you might guess -- a tractor beam lifts the Guardians up and aboard.

Karen: Really enjoyed the two panels with Vance watching Yondu's arrow go by -that was a nice comedic bit, well done.

Doug: The Guardians are brought aboard the craft and greeted by a Dr. Pazz-ko and his associate, Dr. Roh-ma. They are the custodians of the planet below, a place they call "Asylum". You see, it's for all the crazies they've collected from 50 planets in the area, all loosely confederated. Astro asks about the parallels to the Earth of his time, and Pazz-ko tells him that he and Roh-ma made no designs or promptings. What was created below is the result of the will and desire of the asylum's... inmates. They live in what they want to live in. The story ends with the team reunited aboard the Captain America, Martinex having been given the components he needed for repair. And then Gerber leaves us with his final political treatise: when asked by Martinex if he's still up for saving the galaxy, Vance replies, "Why not? It's a mission for a crazy man if ever I've heard of one."

Karen: Yeah, parallel culture development. Like I said at the beginning, not my cup of tea. Tie that to the idea that modern humans are completely crazy, and this issue gets a big yawn from me.

Doug: As I said at the top, I was going to try to read this with a different attitude, and I think I was successful. I decided this time that rather than react to Gerber's promptings/rantings/warnings -- whatever you want to call them... I was instead going to just let them come to me and approach them with a more reflective mindset. After all, I wasn't in my 30s in 1976, didn't live in New York City, and overall was not that much affected by the Vietnam and Watergate eras. I was simply too young through all of those events and happenings to have understood. But reading this now, as an adult with a penchant for wanting to learn about history, I sort of appreciate Gerber's thoughts. I still feel it's a bit heavy-handed to do this in a mainstream superhero comic, and I'd love to know what "tweens" who read this off the shelf thought of it -- probably that it was just weird. But I'm sure some older high school-aged kids and college students would have "gotten" what Gerber was trying to say. And how about the art? First off, I thought Howard Chaykin's inks were terrible. Very heavy at times, generally uneven, and really didn't help Milgrom (whose pencils weren't terrible). After three issues, I'm still voting for Pablo Marcos as "best inker".

Karen: So far, I agree, Marcos was the best. I completely agree with you about Chaykin. But next time we get -Terry Austin!

Friday, August 15, 2014

That Zany Bob Haney -- World's Finest 228

World's Finest #228 (March/April 1975)
"Crown for a New Batman"
Bob Haney-Dick Dillin/Tex Blaisdell

Doug: Hey, everyone -- it's been a long time since we looked in on a Bob Haney-penned Bronze Age DC. Too long. Of course, with our current series of reviews examining Steve Gerber's run on the Guardians of the Galaxy, we've been getting a certain sort of zaniness through those yarns. But we're back in somewhat familiar territory today, as we jump into another episode of the Super Sons. We first met these guys here on the BAB back in the fall of 2013. This particular issue is in the first half dozen adventures of the Super Sons as under the care of Haney and Dick Dillin, and I'm reading and scanning from the tpb Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super Sons.

Doug: As with almost every DC comic of this era, the splash page sets up that issue's mystery. And are we faced with a humdinger in this one! Lying prone on the floor of his penthouse balcony is Bruce Wayne, Superman standing over his corpse. Emerging from the apartment are Bruce, Jr. and Clark, Jr. -- the Super Sons. And to lead off, Haney gives us some painful dialogue as young Clark says to young Bruce, "Cry it out, Bruce-buddy! Get all the grief out of you!" Ouch. As we turn the page, our heroes find a couple of clues beside Wayne's body -- a dried seal paw, and a dagger made of whale bone. Superman quickly uses his Super-brain to deduce that the killer must have come from the Arctic (ya think?), and young Bruce heads inside to tell his mother. Elsewhere, we see the city react to the news of the elder Wayne's passing, via the newspapers, and a somber Alfred set to put the cape and cowl into permanent storage. Later, as young Bruce tells his veiled (always) mother that he will assume the role of the new Batman, a voice calls loudly from off-panel. It's Dick Grayson, and he has come home to assume the mantle of the Bat himself. So you see where this is headed. The two youths bicker before Clark, Jr. tells them to cool it, but even the next day at the funeral each young man thinks to himself about personal memories of the Batman, and how he shall take over.

Doug: At the reading of Bruce Wayne's will, both Bruce, Jr. and Dick await the blessing of their deceased mentor. But while financial arrangements are mentioned (Alfred is going to live "comfortably" on $20K a year? My, how times have changed!), no word is spoken as to who shall become the new Batman. But what is strange is the last bequest -- that $5 million should go to a mystery partner of Wayne's, a Simon Link... but only if he comes forward to claim it. Later, Bruce, Jr. dons his own Batman costume and heads to his father's fresh grave to make an oath. Robin is there, however, with the same idea, and decides that these two rivals can settle things once and for all with a contest to see who can bring Bruce Wayne's killer to justice first. Now don't you think this is all just a little morbid and incredibly disrespectful to the deceased? Anyway, as the two young avengers shake on their deal they are split by a harpoon that lands in between them. Spying their assailant, the two take off after him, but end up stumbling over each other in their earnestness to be the apprehender.

Doug: This is a pretty fast-paced tale, as the very next day who should show up in Gotham City but Simon Link? Seems word about $5 million gets around quickly. He briefs our cast on just how he worked with Bruce Wayne, and that he figures Wayne left him so much money because he was always square in their dealings. But the executor reads one more stipulation from the will -- in order to fully collect, Link must first take Bruce, Jr. to the Bering Sea and show him the life of a seal hunter. Link's not too happy about this, claiming to be retired. But Bruce, Jr. blurts out the deal he had made with Robin -- man, he just outed half the DCU! And then he suggests that they team up with Link to solve this mystery. Shortly, the gang is headed for the Bering Sea on a small plane. Superman and Superman, Jr. fly outside, while Bruce, Jr. and Dick are with Link, who is piloting. Bruce tells that he heard an Eskimo named Malook was headed to the Arctic only days earlier; Link says Malook is a guy to watch. Soon they are at a base for seal hunters and the boys inspect the surroundings. Dick Dillin draws the worst-looking killer whale I have ever seen, by the way.

Doug: Seemingly conveniently, one of Link's men calls out that they are getting a distress call from another base that their ice flow is breaking up. Link orders the Superman family to fly ahead and assist, while they go it alone against potentially hostile Eskimos. Sure enough, as their ship continues they are eventually attacked by Eskimos in kayaks, firing rifles. Link orders Bruce and Dick below deck -- they protest, but he yells at them to move. What happens next raises an eyebrow, as Link fires on the Eskimos in the water with big guns and then rams them with his ship. Soon he's launching artillery onto land, destroying a village of women and children. But unbeknownst to Link, Bruce and Dick bailed off the ship and are making their way to land (Batman, Jr. via kayak, Dick being towed by a seal... no, really). The two are shocked to see the destruction Link has wrought. Then they remember to ask about Malook, and they are pointed toward a nearby cave. The boys strap on some snowshoes and off they go in pursuit. Soon cresting a hill, our heroes see Eskimos using rifles to slaughter seals. Batman, Jr. comes unglued and leaps into the midst of the "hunters". An Eskimo gets a drop on him from behind when Robin leaps to his rescue. The two fight hard, and knock off a mask. Not necessarily a rubber mask (which we are quite fond of around here, in a denigrating sort of way) -- this one appears to be of the Halloween variety, like when you were a kid -- face-fitting, with a rubber band that wrapped round your noggin? The "Eskimos" scatter, and Batman, Jr. is left to wonder which one is Malook. Robin says that none of them are.

Doug: Our not-so-dynamic duo quickly discover that the "Eskimos" made off not on foot, but on hidden snowmobiles. But our heroes have only snowshoes, so they trudge off in the direction in which they think Malook is located. They soon come upon another guy, sans Eskimo mask, who lies dead at the foot of some rocks. They blame his death on this Malook character, and then commandeer the dead guy's snowmobile and head off in hopes of finally solving this mystery. As we enter chapter three, the boys come upon another dead white man. This guy also had a snowmobile, so now both Robin and Batman, Jr. have one. So they race along, until very shortly they come upon a menacing-looking fellow with a rifle. They have finally found their man, Malook! Robin falls to a graze wound, and as the Eskimo approaches him, Batman, Jr. rides hard on his snowmobile, launching himself off of it and onto Malook's back. A shot goes off, but into the sky. Robin is all right, having faked his wound. So now begins the interrogation, and I have to say -- if Bob Haney isn't the product of his times in regard to perspectives and stereotypes on Native Americans, then I don't know who is! The dialogue in this section is painfully racist, both in terminology used as well as the broken English "dialect". Dick Dillin is complicit and assisting, as he draws Malook with the stereotypical buck teeth. Young Malook paints himself as a freedom fighter, and tells the boys that he and his people wanted to remove Simon Link from their area due to his depletion of the seal population; since Bruce Wayne was his major benefactor, then he also needed to go. But Batman, Jr. and Robin aren't so sure that Malook is telling the truth.

Doug: To wrap this one up, Malook tells the boys that there is a man frozen inside an iceberg that looks like a polar bear (no lie). The man in question allegedly would not kill seals as Link had ordered. In that man's pocket is a paper that proves that Link had given orders to kill the Eskimos. Not sure if Malook is totally on the up-and-up, the boys decide to tie him up and stick him in a cave until they return. So it's out of the fightin' togs and back to Link's ship. Link isn't too happy to see them, and orders them back onto the boat -- he says that he's aware of the costumed interlopers, and he'll mete out his justice against them. Bruce tells Link about the man in the ice with the note. And sure enough -- a short time later there's an iceberg. Shaped like a polar bear. Well, Link starts shelling it (dude's got some big guns aboard that seal catcher), and soon enough a body appears, frozen in the belly of the "bear". The corpse is loosed, and Link's men bring it on board. But before any note can be found, Dick says that this proves that Link has not only been illegally harvesting seals, but that he's also perpetrated genocide against the natives. Link orders his men to grab the boys. But all of a sudden, the corpse springs to life -- it's Superman! And Superman, Jr. arrives right away. But before any real pleasantries can be exchanged, they notice that Link has beaten it out of there. Superman, Jr. is in pursuit, and comes across a group of seals making their way across the ice. One of them is really Link, wearing a seal skin for cover. And you can probably guess where this is going -- a killer whale punches through the ice, grabs Link, and hauls him underwater. Back on the ship, who should arrive with the cavalry but Batman?

Doug: Yep, the Caped Crusader himself. Long story short -- Malook really did try to kill Bruce Wayne, but the plainclothes Dark Knight disarmed him and listened to his story. Malook told him about Simon Link, so Wayne took pity on the man and created the ruse that we've seen play out. Superman was in on it from the beginning, but no one else. And how cruel is that? Fake your death, the wife and kid don't know, have a funeral, announce it to the world... I guess Bob Haney thinks all's well that ends well, but I had some problems with this plot the first time I read it and I do again on the re-read. I can take zany -- and we've seen quite a bit of that. But this one, and it may be due in large part to being a product of the time in which the creators grew up and the time in which this saw publication... I found the plot of today's comic overly zany, racist, and with characterization from Robin that wasn't quite right. Overall, this was one of my least enjoyable Haney reads. And I've gone on record stating how the guy has grown on me as I've read more and more of his work. But today really wasn't a satisfying experience, aside from the general Bronze Age aspects of the publication of the book itself.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Who's the Best... Depiction of a Marvel Character in Film?

Doug: Best, favorite, "big kudo for a great performance"... -- you decide how you want to deal with this. And in a week, we'll look at this on the flipside. Save your disappointments for that coming "Who's the Worst...?"

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Appreciation of: Robin Williams

Karen: I sit here stunned at the news of Robin Williams' passing. Only 63, still far too soon to leave this world. I don't want to dwell on the details of his death (and ask that you do not in your comments either) but rather remember his many contributions as an artist.

Karen: Robin Williams was such a huge spirit -he was so boundless in energy and creative ability, when he was really "on" he was a wonder to behold. His mind (and his mouth) moved a million miles a minute; it was hard to keep up with him at times, but always fun to try.

Karen: One of his great inspirations was comedian Jonathan Winters, and it was easy to see why. When the two of them were together, it seemed less like teacher and apprentice, and more like two kids having a ball. They were both two improvisational geniuses. Sadly, Winters passed away last year.

 Karen: Williams came to prominence as a comedian, first on TV in the show "Mork and Mindy," and certainly is remembered for his manic wit. A lot of kids grew up recognizing his voice as the Genie in Disney's Aladdin. His stand-up specials are still hilarious, and his many comedic roles are quite memorable. But Williams also was a terrific dramatic actor, who won a Best Supporting Actor for his role in Good Will Hunting. He always seemed to bring a certain wordiness and deep empathy to these roles.

Karen: I can't do the man service. I am just completely shocked and heart-broken that he's gone, yet another talented person tragically lost to us. I hope some of you can express your thoughts about him and which of his roles you really enjoyed the most.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Space Frogs and Hermaphroditic Heroes? Marvel Presents 4

 This is the 500th review written by the Bronze Age Babies!

Marvel Presents #4 (April 1976)
"Into the Maw of Madness!"
Steve Gerber-Al Milgrom

Doug: Space frog. It looks like a space frog. Admittedly, I am not as big a fan of Steve Gerber as I know many of our readers are, but then in the Bronze Age I did not really care for Gil Kane or Jack Kirby; I've acquired tastes for both. If you were around last week you will recall that I had some serious reservations about the Guardians' inaugural voyage steering their own title. I went so far as to say, at the end, that had the producers of the major motion picture presently running in a theater near you been shown a copy of Marvel Presents #3, it might be no wonder they shied away from the classic incarnation of the team. In my opinion, Gerber's script was oddly paced and the characterizations he'd used in his previous forays into "Guardiandom" now seemed off. So we'll take a dive into this second chapter and see how we like it. I did remark last time, too, that Al Milgrom's art, under the embellishment of Pablo Marcos, was surprisingly good. I've never been a fan of Milgrom's art, and not of Marcos as an inker, either. But the combination by and large seemed to click. You'll notice today that Milgrom inks himself. So at the end, be sure to leave a comment on the lines as well as the words.

Karen: I really like the cover, although it is completely symbolic. I thought perhaps it was Milgrom inked by someone else, but Comic Book Database attributes it solely to Milgrom. I wouldn't be surprised though if some of the figures (Astro in particular) were touched up by art director John Romita.

Doug: Charlie's left leg seems really off, so I am going to assume that if the Jazzy one touched that cover, it wasn't there.

Doug: We find the Guardians stopped on Centauri-IV, the home planet of Yondu. At the conclusion of last week's issue, the team had abandoned the very Earth they'd helped to free from the Badoon. Each Guardian tried, in his own way, to ease himself into terran society... and each had failed, been grossly dissatisfied. So Starhawk had come up with a mission for the team, one that would take them across the stars. But Yondu felt like in order to proceed, he needed to seek the will of his gods. So the field trip was not planned, but necessary. Yondu went through his rituals, praying for a sign as to whether he would live or die on the mission. He received an omen that he would indeed live. Now last ish I complained about an abrupt shift in the personality of Major Vance Astro. Gerber writes him consistently here from the previous chapter, so I think I begin to see where he's going with it. One of our regular knocks on Silver and Bronze Age characterization at DC Comics is the "cookie-cutter" superhero, showing no discernible differences between any of the males on Super Friends (for example). As no one had really stood out as the loose cannon in previous stories featuring the Guardians, I guess Gerber decided that it was going to be Vance. So I guess I can get used to this. I'll have to.

Karen: Again, we see Yondu seeking signs that he is to continue on with living. The small bug crawling up to him in the midst of the storm is a nice touch. I find Charlie to be very similar to the Beast -a big, hulking guy with a strong intellect. It's Charlie rather than Martinex who decides to inform Astro about Yondu's society and culture. Of all the team, Vance, the man from old Earth, is the least inclined to believe in spiritual matters. But then given his situation, is it any wonder he might not have any faith any more?

Doug: So the team teleports up to the waiting Captain America to resume their mission. Astro continues to mutter about religion/metaphysics, etc. Martinex tries to talk him down, but eventually Astro gives up and leaves the room. As he enters his quarters, we find that his lodging is set up as it might have been when he was a child. Images of Captain America adorn the space. Astro complains to himself about his condition, of being over 1000 years old, yet trapped in his sustaining metal foil suit. Suddenly he is addressed by Starhawk. Astro whirls, and accuses Starhawk of invading his privacy. But Starhawk tells him the door was open; he assumed his mind was as well. This ticks off Astro, who then fires a mind bolt at Starhawk. What follows is unnerving, for both men. For a split second, Astro sees a woman standing just barely in front of Starhawk, but then just as quickly gone. Starhawk is staggered by the bolt, and as he rises from a knee he reminds Astro that he is the giver of light and of life, and while he has killed in the past, he's only once regretted it. This was a strange little monologue, as Gerber wrote Starhawk at one time Christlike, yet more of as a judge/jury/executioner all at the same time. Perhaps that was Gerber's view of Christianity, or at least of the institution as represented by its various institutions/denominations. Starhawk leaves, and Astro wonders what he just saw.

Karen: I was going to remark on how odd it is that Astro chooses to reside in a room designed for a 12 year old -til I took a look around at my own room! Perhaps we are all most comforted by the carefree days of youth. Yet the room is a constant reminder of how unhappy he now is. As Starhawk points out, Astro got to do something few of us can, fulfill his dreams, by becoming an astronaut, but the reality was not what he expected.

Doug: I just think that Vance had lost all connection to his boyhood hero, Captain America. It just seems like he's very far removed from those values and leadership qualities. I get what's been said about the hand he's been dealt in regard to the containment suit, etc. But he's so far removed from any semblance of a team player. 

Doug: On the bridge, Yondu tells Charlie-27 and Martinex that an object is coming up on the viewscreen. It's a small Earth-based craft, directly on a collision course with the Captain America. It's meteor deflection shields are causing a problem, so Starhawk tells Martinex to employ the CA's tractor beams and haul the craft on board. Shortly, once in the airlock, a figure emerges from the small ship. It's a girl, a Mercurian, and she's feisty! She assumes the Guardians are Badoon in disguise, and levels a gun at them. They assure here that they are not, and ask her her story. We have been introduced to Nikki, the sixth member (soon, anyway) of the GotG. She relates her origin, of the Badoon murdering her parents before her eyes as they subjugated Mercury. She was only 11, but knew how to pilot the family's space craft so took to the stars. She got away from our solar system, and drifted throughout the galaxy for seven years, until this time. Along the way she saw a lot and learned a lot, and allowed the Guardians to see the course she had been on. Interestingly, Martinex said he'd get her some clothes, as she found the CA's climate control system to be a bit cool to her tastes -- he got her some caveman furs. Odd choice...

Karen: Reading this, I began to think about Nikki, who was a new character created just for this team, and compare her to Mantis, who Steve Englehart had created for the Avengers. I like Nikki a lot better. Gerber gives Nikki a background of self-reliance, and although she's clad in a midriff exposing two-piece outfit, she doesn't come across as particularly sexualized. If anything, she's 'plucky' and a survivor, which makes her a good fit for this group. The furs, though, make no sense!

Doug: I think "plucky" is a great term for Nikki. And I agree about the lack of sexualization, even though they remarked that she was 18 or so. We'll see beginning next issue, though, that she forms a special bond with Charlie. As Nikki related her adventures, Starhawk asked her if she had ever noticed a strange odor on any of the dead planets she'd visited. She said that yes, she had! Comparing notes, it was determined that she had been through space zones where a cosmic being had been previously -- draining the life forces from planets and even solar systems. But in the midst of this conversation, Astro again piped up as abrasively as getting your face sandpapered. I don't mind controversy and/or conflict. I guess my main trouble here is that I want to like my heroes. And Gerber is putting Vance Astro into that Sunfire category for me -- know what I mean?

Karen: Basically, anything Starhawk says, Astro is going to object to or belittle it. It feels like he's lost his leadership role and he's fighting back, but just making it worse. The events on Earth obviously took their toll too. But I agree, it's tough to see him make an ass of himself repeatedly after seeing him as essentially a normal guy in those Defenders issues.

Doug: We cut to a farm, but where we know not. Three children play in a pasture with a horse, until a foreboding shadow casts itself over the landscape. The children hurriedly head for a log cabin, but inside to a computer. As they run, they say they will contact Aleta, if Starhawk is not there. He is not, so they sit down to the computer. Immediately a beautiful woman appears onscreen, her calming face quieting the children. Beams shoot form her eyes, and the children immediately turn to get into bed (a Three Stooges bunk bed, no less!). But up on the Captain America, we see Starhawk first take leave of his fellows (to Astro's jerk-like protestations), and then seated in a chair in his quarters, where Aleta emerges from his very being -- no, replaces his being! This was the woman that Astro had glimpsed previously! She stretches, now wearing a mini-dress version of Starhawk's costume. She looks for something to write a note on, but finds nothing. Vance enters the room, and obviously is quite alarmed at the person who greets him. But Aleta plays it off and tells Astro that she needs for him to relay a message to Starhawk -- the children need him. And then she exits the room. Almost immediately Starhawk enters the room, and Vance loses it (again). But as he's going off on Starhawk and how he's so mysterious, yada yada yada, Martinex comes over the comm system and tells them both to get to the bridge -- they've found their planet eater.

Karen: We wouldn't learn the full story about the children, and Aleta and Starhawk, until issue 9, so it was a bit of a tease here. I thought Aleta's costume was pretty lame -maybe they should have asked Dave Cockrum to design something for her? Astro's bewilderment over Aleta and then righteous indignation with Starhawk is par for the course.

Doug: Starhawk readies to head into space to try to get some readings on this creature. Charlie and Yondu explain to Nikki, as well as they can, how Starhawk can exist in space without a spacesuit. He has a biorecorder, and drops from the Captain America. His cosmic sails emerge, and the faceplate drops into place. He flies close to the "creature", and it begins to negatively affect him in multiple ways. Martinex remarks that they are getting no readings, that this "being" has no form and no life essence -- rather, it is "Karanada" to Yondu -- "the emptiness that devours". In our vernacular, I suppose it would be a sentient black hole. Of course Vance has to ridicule Yondu's Centaurian mythology, denigrating it rather than embracing it as a "what if...?" Outside, Starhawk is grabbed by the "creature" and pulled toward its "mouth".

Karen: I have to wonder who thought that a giant celestial toad was a good design for a terrifying galactic destroyer? I can't look at the thing and take it seriously. It looks like it's made out of marshmallow creme. So silly.

Doug: Perhaps various herbs were consumed during those editorial sessions?

Doug: Inside, Martinex is alarmed that he can no longer find any signs of Starhawk, nor of the biorecorder. Yondu bows his head, knowing that his people's prophecies have come true. Martinex relays that Starhawk had left instructions should he not come back, but before anything can be implemented there is a large explosion -- some of the computer systems aboard the Captain America are beginning to malfunction. The team begins to pick themselves up from the deck when Nikki notices on the viewscreen that the space frog (my term) is heading straight for the CA. Everyone scrambles to attempt to get the team out of there -- hyperdrive, anything! They succeed, but not without damage -- the creature somehow introduced a virus into the ship's systems, rendering them increasingly useless. And Starhawk? As the CA zips by, Martinex locates the biorecorder -- floating unattached. Just floating in space.

Karen: This is certainly a cliff-hanger -life support failing, Starhawk presumed dead., and a dangerous space frog on the loose!

Doug: I thought Al Milgrom's art was again pretty solid. He had a bit of a Vinnie Colletta vibe at times, particularly on the opening splash page. He and Gerber do seem to be in tune on the plot, and on Gerber's various weirdities. I've commented that all this seems a bit unconventional, yet Milgrom is along every step of the way. So it works (at least visually -- I'm still not sold on the elements of which I've voiced concern). As I write this, I've not yet read the third book -- my curiosity is up, however, and I declare that even if I didn't "have" to read it, I do think that I would. So there's a sale for you!

Karen: We will see a number of different inkers on Milgrom over the course of these reviews, including Milgrom himself, so it gives us an opportunity to really take a look at his art. I thought his work here was a little rough but not bad. As for the story, I feel it is still getting going. I'm really more interested in the characters than the space frog though!

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Golden Age of Marvel Media

Karen: I've been credited with calling our current times "the Golden Age of Reprints," although I have to admit I don't recall saying that. But I don't remember a lot of things, and enough of you seem certain I said it, that I'll go ahead and accept it.

Karen: I have come to believe that we are living during the "Golden Age of Marvel Media," which was in evidence again this last week, as the Guardians of the Galaxy film dominated the box office, hauling in over $100 million domestically and $200 million worldwide. I have to admit, when this film was originally announced, I was concerned it would be Marvel Studio's first true flop. But instead, the public has embraced it -and how.Who would have thought a film with some of the most obscure Marvel characters, including a walking tree-man and a talking raccoon, would turn out to be so well-received? At this point, I think Marvel could make a film about a jar of peanut butter and people would go see it, based solely on the studio's track record.

Karen: This week DC announced that they would be rescheduling the release date of their Superman/Batman film, which was originally going to premiere on May 6, 2016, the same day as the third Captain America film. Now their film will come out earlier, on March 25th of that year. Many people are saying that in this stare down, DC blinked first. Think about that. They moved a film that had their top two characters. That's how powerful the Marvel engine is right now. 

Karen: So this "Golden Age of Marvel Media" is truly wonderful for long time fans like us, because we are getting to see things we could only dream of for many, many years. Yes, there were the TV adaptations of Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America, and Dr. Strange in the 70s. They were, well, not very good. As David B. might say, "they were all we had." These Marvel Studio films have been a quantum leap in quality, giving us not only amazing effects but characters who are recognizable as their comic book counterparts. It's a huge pleasure just to see them brought to life.  But every Marvel film has brought things to the screen that have truly surprised and  thrilled me. In the first Iron Man, I got an enormous kick out of seeing the makeshift grey armor rumbling around. The depiction of Asgard in Thor was absolutely perfect, right down to the appearance of Odin's ravens. How about seeing the dormant Human Torch in Captain America? And I just about jumped out of my seat while watching this Guardians film when -SPOILER ALERT!!!! - we saw the Celestials during the Collector's explanation of the infinity gems. 

Karen: It seems like everyone loves Marvel these days. It wasn't always that way -I can remember the sting of insults over my Marvel stickers on my lunchbox, or my Marvel t-shirts. But it just took forty years for everyone else to catch up to me, and us. When I wear a Marvel t-shirt out now, I inevitably get compliments on it. My, how things have changed!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Break On Through to the Other Side -- Readers' Version

Doug: A week ago Tuesday we had some fun looking at comic book covers where a character, characters, or a scene from within seem to burst the bounds of the magazine. Our readers made some great suggestions in the comments section, so we're going to give everyone their due and present those nominations today.



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