Tuesday, September 2, 2014

1984 - Anatomy of a cover -Daredevil #211


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Eighties August 8 part VIII: Most Memorable Moments

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

It's the final entry of the Eighties August 8... What better way to cap off this week + 1 day long trip down memory lane than by listing some of best moments of the decade? The following by no means encapsulates the most important things that happened, but they are among the ones that still resonate today*. Here goes, and thanks for reading!

8) - "Professor Xavier Is A Jerk!" (Uncanny X-Men I#168, April 1983)

Truer words were seldom spoken.

Shortly after the X-Men were believed dead following an outer space mission, professor Charles Xavier assembled a class of, well, new mutants. When the X-Men returned, Charles was overjoyed, but he immediately decided to demote Kitty Pryde to the New Mutants. Xavier felt she was too young to run with the senior and needed to study with her peers. Needless to say, Kitty did not agree.

So, for most of Uncanny X-Men I#168, Kitty tried her best to persuade the professor. Flirting, beating him at chess, throwing titanic temper tantrums... But nothing worked. That is, until she unexpectedly ran into a Sidri warrior in the mansion's subbasement and managed to defeat him. Xavier happened to monitor her thoughts during the fight, which led him to realize that mentally, she was well beyond her years and could stay on with the X-Men.

What makes this moment so memorable isn't so much the fact Xavier acts like an insanely unreasobable prick (this, after all, is the man who faked his own death, put everyone who cared for him through hell and then just came back). More importantly, it showed how the status quo at Xavier's would, ahem, *mutate*  now that there were two groups of mutants running around. And while it does make a bit of sense for Xavier to want a 14 year old training with people her own age, he of all people should know Kitty was well beyond her years.

After all, the X-Men sent her to kill him when he was possessed by a Brood.

7) - Scourge Massacre (Capain America I#319, July 1986)

Who knew even Mark Gruenwald's love for continuity had its limits...

The legendary writer, editor (and for a brief moment penciller) Mark Gruenwald was an avid fan of continuity. He always loved using the little guys others would often overlook, he even made sure no one could forget those also-rans by profiling more than a fair share of them in the Official Handbook Of The Marvel Universe. But sometimes, enough is enough...

Allegedly fed up with the fact there were too many villains running around that were either too silly, one note, out of date or otherwise inexcusable... He came up with the Scourge of the Underworld, a mysterious vigilante who only targetted the losers of the supervillain community. First appearing in Iron Man I#194, eventually, Captain America became aware of the Scourge's activities. But various other writers used the Scourge to wipe out bad guys in their own book as well. We lost Bruno Horgan, the original Melter, in Avengers and John Byrne had Scourge take out Basilisk in Fantastic Four. 

Before Captain America was able to stop the Scourge (well, *that* particular Scourge), he'd committed a major massacre at the Bar With No Name, a joint supervillains preferred to hang out at. Firebrand (Gary Gilbert) had called a meeting to discuss the Scourge situation, unaware their bartender was the capekiller himself. Scourge opened fire and the death toll was staggering: Cheetah, Commander Kraken, Cyclone, Foolkiller, Grappler, Hellrazor, Hijacker, Jaguar, Letha, Mind-Wave, Mirage, Rapier, Ringer, Shellshock, Steeplejack, Turner D. Century and the Vamp.

Thank god Gamecock lived to tell the tale, though.

6) - Jarvis Stays On After The Mansion Siege (Avengers I#280, June 1987)

The Mansion Siege has to be one of the Avengers defining moments.

Baron Helmut Zemo assembled a virtual army of supervillains, including the entire Wrecking Crew, Moonstone, Beetle, Screaming Mimi (and other future Thunderbolts). Their goal was simple: crush the Avengers... Their approach was a carefully planned strategy that allowed them to actually invade and take over Avengers Mansion itself. During the assault, the Avengers' butler Edwin Jarvis was captured and brutally beaten by the sadistic Mr. Hyde.

In the end, the Avengers managed to defeat the Masters but Jarvis had sustained severe injuries. The brutal beatings he bravely endured left him with a limp, mostly blind in one eye and with possible brain damage. Avengers I#280 told the tale of how Jaris dealt with the situation, for the first time giving the team's faithful manservant center stage. And oh boy, did he shine.

It's hard to believe the issue wasn't written by Avengers regular Roger Stern. Instead, it was
Bob Harras who wrote this fill in issue, indirectly proving he had what it took to take over the title full time in the early 1990s. Harras had Jarvis reflect on what he'd been through during his time with the Avengers, the many emotional ups and downs of he'd been privy to... As well as finally coming to terms with the fact he'd gotten hurt on the job and there was no promise it wouldn't happen again.

In the end, Jarvis called Tony Stark to tell him that in spite of all the inherent dangers... he was planning to stay on as the team's butler, thus prroving he was indeed one of Earth's mightiest.

5) - Armor Wars (Iron Man I#225-232, December 1987 - July 1988)

"Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds"

Doctor Robert Oppenheimer's words after witnessing the detonation of the first atomic bomb mirror, in an eery way, how Tony Stark must have felt once he realized others had gotten hold of his technology to build weapons armors of their very own. As soon as he learned various allies and enemies were using his inventions for their own, he set out to rectify the matter. Over the course of six months, Tony engaged all the alleged thieves in an event that became known as the first Armor Wars.

The Armor Wars took place well over 25 years ago. However, it remains as relevant today as it was then, perhaps even more so. After all, Stark's desire to ensure his rivals didn't benefit from his work mirrors the way major brands like Apple and Samsung are engaged in legal battles about the fact who ripped off who.

In the end, Tony managed to take down baddies like Beetle and the Controller a peg or two, but his overly zealous determination also brought him into direct conflict with his long time Avengers ally Steve Rogers. Stark didnt think twice about knocking him out in order to achieve his mission, which set up a rift between the two heroes that'd last for years.

4) - Storm accidentally robbed of her powers (Uncanny X-Men I#185, September 1984)

Like most moments that change everything, it was never supposed to happen.

Really, truly... Henry Peter Gyrich was actually aiming for Rogue... But when he fired the mutant power cancelling Neutralizer in the pages of Uncanny X-Men I#185, he accidentally hit Storm, who immediately lost her weather control powers and fell to the ground.

Storm losing her powers was a seminal moment. Not only in the character's development, but also in that of the X-Men as a whole. Ororo had served as the team's leader, her elemental abilities making her the team's de facto powerhouse. Without them, who was she, really? The loss of her mutant gifts came on top of a growing feeling of isolation she'd been experiencing following an extended period off world.

In the long run, the loss of her weather control abilities proved to be essential. It forced the "goddess" to come down from her proverbial moutain top. Forced to cope without them, she finally, painfully came into her own as Ororo Munroe, not Storm. After a brief visit to Africa, she returned to the X-Men again, proving her worth by defeating Cyclops even without her powers and resuming her leadership role once again...with gusto.

Inevitably, her powers were restored and she regained her full combat potential. Still, it was a lesson for all of us: Storm isn't defined by lightning, hail or mists...The woman is far more deadlier than the elements she commands.

3) - Hulk banished off world by Doctor Strange (Incredible Hulk I#300, October 1984)

Why didn't anyone else ever think of this before?

Incredible Hulk I#300 marked the climax of Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema's 2.5 year long running storyline. First they allowed Bruce Banner, through a variety of gamma ray heavy incidents, to achieve his fondest dream: controlling the Hulk. Then, the Banner Hulk received a full presidential pardon, allowing him a new existence as a true superhero...Before it all went to pot.

Following the Secret Wars, Hulk returned with Banner slowly losing control of the emerald behemoth. Eventually, this gradual degradation was caused by Dr. Strange's old enemy Nightmare who figured the emerald monster would be the perfect pawn in his ongoing fight with Earth's sorceror supreme. Thanks in part to Nightmare, Hulk soon lost all aspects of his humanity, reverting to the inhuman, brutal beast that threatened to raze New York at the start of this issue.

Hulk (in)directly fought all of New York's heroes. Power Man & Iron Fist were quickly dismissed, as was the Human Torch (the only FF member available). The Avengers lasted a little longer, but proved equally unable of dealing with the green goliath. In the end, Doctor Strange made a decision that, in retrospect, could have been made ages ago: simply banish the Hulk and allow him to find a new home in one of the myriad dimensions out there.

In the end, he returned... But the Hulk's adventures on the Crossroads of Infinity as he made his way back were undeniably defining moments for both the mythos and the monster.

2) - Invisible Girl loses her second child (Fantastic Four I#267, June 1984)

John Byrne doesn't really care for children.

When he took over Fantastic Four, John Byrne initially proposed to kill off Franklin Richards. If for nothing else, it would make for some interesting stories. Editorial decided against it, but Byrne didn't hear a 'no', merely a challenge to get creative. Sure, Marvel maybe said Franklin couldn't die... But nobody mentioned anything about a second child.

So, the Invisible Girl found herself pregnant again after a prolonged sojourn into the Negative Zone. A story that, incidentally, ended with Franklin severly injured at the hands of Annihulus... Proving Byrne enjoys both having his cake ánd eating it. Franklin eventually made a full recovery, but Sue's pregnancy was complicated, thanks in no small part because she conceived in a universe with warped laws of nature. Reed might have been able to save her and the child, but just when her problems started, the FF members were forced to participate in the first Secret Wars.

By the time he returned, Sue and his offspring's fate were pretty much sealed. The various, violent cosmic radiation surges proved too much for Reed and other experts like Walter Langkowski, Michael Morbius, Bruce Banner and even Doctor Octopus to deal with. Despite their best efforts, Susan Richards-Storm's second pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. The tragedy was a gut wreching moment in and of itself. But, it also proved to be a watershed moment in the evolution of the Invisible Girl.

Losing a child set her on the way to becoming noticed as a woman... Invisible or not.

1) - Ms. Marvel chews out the Avengers (Avengers Annual I#10, August 1982)

"You screwed up, Avengers."

Chris Claremont wrote Avengers Annual I#10, quite rightly considered by some to be the death of the Silver Age. Though, at first, it was little more than a rebuttal of the travesty that took place in Avengers I#200. In this issue, Ms. Marvel gave birth to a child called Marcus, one she mysteriously conceived and carried to term within days... And then the baby matured into adulthood within a day or two as well, announcing he was Ms. Marvel's outerdimensional lover, who manipulated her into birthing him into this plane of reality.

As if that wasn't enough, Markus insisted Carol accompanied him back to Limbo. The Avengers cheerfully saw them off, acting all goofy like Golden Age Superman extras would in those weird stories where people got mutated or turned evil thanks to the kryptonite color of the week.

But not this time. Carol eventually broke free, came back to Earth a broken, violated woman only to lose her powers and memories to Rogue. Eventually, she confronted the Avengers about the way they they treated her. The blessed myth that superheroes can do no wrong really and truly got debunked when Carol took her former teammates to task for the cavalier way they'd allowed Markus to take advantage of her. Dozens of scholars have debated the Ms. Marvel controversy. But at the end of the day: the Avengers did nothing to prevent one of her own from becoming an outerdimensional love slave.

Carol's rape at the start of the decade, no matter how crude, served as a clarion call. Heroes were by no means infallible, and sometimes their stumbling led to the best stories.

*Naturally, these picks are solely based on my own, anything but unbiased preferences. Think I'm wrong or an absolute idjit for leaving out your particular fave? By all means, join the conversation!

1981 - Anatomy of a cover - Doctor Strange #48

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eighties August 8 part VII: Best Deaths Of The 1980s

By Jef Willemsen (clarmindcontrol.blogspot.com)

In the second to last instalment of Eighties August 8, we're not fearing the reaper on this one because it's all about death in the Marvel Universe during the 1980s. Nowadays, the mortal coil has become somewhat of a revolving door... But as this entry shows, the 80s had a few deaths that still had some impact.  

8) - Dark Phoenix ("Died": Uncanny X-Men I#137, September 1980)

Y'know, there's a reason why Dark Phoenix ended up on the bottom of the list.

Yes, back in September of 1980, her death at the climax of the Dark Phoenix saga was shocking, poignant and disturbing. One of the founding members of the X-Men choosing to die so she wouldn't be responsible for any more deaths, what a way to go. But... She didn't, not really.

Dark Phoenix's death lost most of its impact and relevance several years later when Jean showed up alive and well, having snoozed in a cocoon that the Avengers discovered in time for her to help launch X-Factor. The Phoenix that perished on the Moon turned out to the actual cosmic force that had taken on Jean's form in order to study humanity... Essentially becoming a precursor of the Beyonder, albeit with a better perm.

If Jean had remained dead, she'd undoubtedly have made it to the top three. For now, let's say her chances at immortality died when she came back to life.

7) - Jean DeWolff (Died: Spectacular Spider-Man I#107, October 1985)

Speaking of Jeans who died in the 80s...

Captain Jean DeWolf was one of the most popular Spider-Man supporting characters, with her signature, 1930s inspired look and automobile. DeWolf made close to 70 appearances in comics, and her tough as nails attitude made her a force to be reckoned with, even if she did harbor some romantic feelings towards the wallcrawler.

Jean was killed off by Spectacular Spider-Man writer Peter David, who decided her death would be the perfect way to start off the Sin-Eater arc. Having Jean be the villain's first victim made quite a bit of sense, as the Sin-Eater eventually turned out to be her jealous ex-lover Stan Carter.

Some might claim that Jean's death was unnecessary and merely written in for cheap shock value. While there is some truth to that (death sells, after all), it's also a sobering reminder that being on the force is a dangerous job, especially if you're dealing with superhumans. It also wasn't the first time Spider-Man was unable to save a police official, in the 70s he failed to prevent Dr. Octopus from dropping a chimney on captain Stacy.

Peter Parker may not be Jewish, but he's carrying around enough guilt his name might as well be Schlomo Rosenberg.

6) -  Tom Thumb (Died: Squadron Supreme I#9, May 1986)

A man's stature is by no means determined by his height...

Of all the various Squadron Supreme members, Tom Thumb undoubtedly looked the silliest... And that's saying something when the Whizzer and Cap'n Hawk are on the same team. It wasn't until he took off his costume in the latter part of the Squadron Supreme limited series, that the dimunitive inventive genius got a chance to shine by creating technologies the Squadron needed to help make the world a better place.

Tom had cancer, however. He decided not to tell his teammates, partly because he didn't want their pity, partly because he wanted to continue to work as long as he could. He had tried to cure the disease, only to fail repeatedly. However, he then learned the team's hated enemy Scarlet Centurion (hailing from the 40th century) possessed the panacea potion, a serum that healed all known ailments.

Staring death in the face and with every other option exhausted, Thumb compromised all his principles. He travelled to the future and stole a sample of the potion. However, when he analyzed it in his lab, the wonder drug turned out to be little more than vitamin water. Tom realized that the human immune system had become so evolved  by the 40th century, it needed little more. Disappointed, Thumb returned what he'd stolen, resigned to the fact he was fated to die. His death was never seen, only the captions in the final panel told of his fate, perhaps even more powerful than any acual depiction of his demise.

Thumb died broken and ashamed of himself and the cruel irony of it all: Scarlet Centurion knew all this beforehand and did nothing to stop him.

5) - Sadie Bass (Died: Marvel Team Up I#119, July 1982)

Writer J.M. DeMatteis knows how to play the guitar ánd tug at his readers' heartstrings...

In Marvel Team-Up I#119, the Defender Gargoyle (Isaac Christians) prevents an old woman from getting mugged in Central Park. The grateful, elderly lady is Sadie Bass, who invites her savior to her modest New York appartment. There, they have a heart to heart about growing older and life's inevitable ending. These scenes are especially poignant because Isaac was already in his late 70s by the time he ended up in the immortal form of the Gargoyle.

Sadie reveals she feels her end is fast approaching, a fact she is more than content with. She's led a good life and she's ready to let go. However, her daughter Beatrice feels differently and doesn't want to lose her mother. A fact she rather vehemently points out when she comes to visit and finds her mother having tea with "a monster". In an attempt to bridge the gap between mother and daughter, Gargoyle takes both of them for a flying tour of the city, showing them the sacred beauty of life in its many splendored forms. Beatrice and her mother reconcile and, after returning home, Sadie goes to bed for the final time.

Yours truly is a sucker for these kinds of  stories. I cry at card tricks, but seeing Sadie explain that she's ready... That she had a good life, experienced all she wanted, as well as quite a few things she never asked for is a guaranteed tearjerker. If only because one can only hope to leave this world in half as peaceful and loving a way.

Schmaltzy? You bet...  but like the best chicken soup, sometimes that's exactly what the soul requires.

4) - Gretl Anders (Died: Invincible Iron Man I#182, May 1984)

"In the morning... Tony Stark will be sober. Or dead."

Sometimes, it isn't so much what a character does that matters, its the impact he or she has on the world. Meet Gretl Anders, a severely alcoholic vagrant who befriended Tony Stark during his first, lengthy bout with alcoholism in the early 80s. Gretl and Tony hit it off, they shared the same "hobby" after all. Anders turned out to be pregnant, but that didn't stop her binge drinking ways...

She eventually went into labor in Invincible Iron Man I#182, which was a bit of poor timing on Gretl's part. New York City was about to be hit by a catastrophic snowstorm, guaranteeing certain death for anyone out wandering the streets... Such as winos like Tony and Gretl. With no one to care for them but each other, while the world turned to white, Gretl went into labor, refusing a drink because she didn't want her child to come into the world drunk. Huddled together in an alcove, Gretl gave birth to her son even as the snowstorm raged on throughout the night.

Stark used his own body shelter the newborn, keeping him safe until morning, when they were discovered by the police who rushed them to the nearest hospital. There, Gretl soon succumbed, the result of years of alcohol abuse and prolonged exposure to the elements, leaving her son an orphan. This tragedy caused Tony Stark to hit bottom and made him determined to beat the bottle.

As the sun came up, Tony Stark decided to become sober and reclaim all he had lost to the demon drink. So, even in death, Gretl symbolically birthed two new lives.

3) - Jocasta (Died: Marvel Two In One I#93 & Avengers Annual I#17) 

Can a robot really die?

Well, Jocasta did it twice in the 1980s alone! Originally constructed by Ultron in the late 1970s to become his bride, she soon rebelled against her creator and became an Avengers associate (a decision in no small part influenced by the fact her personality was a copy of the Wasp's). Unlike the Vision, Jocasta never really received the respect she was due, even though she was a formidable force, proving a pivotal presence during many of the team's adventures (Taskmaster and Yellow Claw are still sore from the beating she gave them). Yet, despite her power and pleasant, cooperative personality she was never awarded full membership, which eventually drove her away from the team.

Striking out on her own, Jocasta eventually was taken over by Ultron, who forced her to rebuild him in Marvel Two-In-One  I#92. When Thing and Machineman (who'd fallen for her) proved unable to stop the mad robot, Jocasta sacrificed her own existence to ensure his defeat. Machineman spent most of the decade looking for ways to rebuild his complicatedly constructed companion, even joining the Super-Adaptoid's killer robot team Heavy Metal in hopes of getting his aid in rebuilding Jocasta.

In the end, she was put back together by the High Evolutionary in the final chapter of 1988's crossover Evolutionary War. She happily joined with the Avengers to oppose the Evolutionary's plans, but was forced to give up her life once again on a suicide mission to save all of humanity.

2) - The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man (Died: Amazing Spider-Man I#248, January 1984)

Talk about an emotional sucker punch...

Hard to imagine, but "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" was originally published as a back up story. Usually, back ups are mostly forgettable features like "Aunt May's recipe for poundcake", "Meet the Daily Bugle staff" or "Secrets of Peter Parker's apartment". Not so much in Amazing Spider-Man I#248, which told the story of Spider-Man meeting Tim Harrison, a young boy who happened to be an avid fan of the arachnid hero.

Spidey visits with young Tim, showing off his acrobatics and indulging him by wanting to see the collection of newspaper clippings he's collected over the years. Just as he's about to leave, Spider-Man does the unthinkable: he takes off his mask and shows his face to Tim who promises his favorite hero he will keep his secret forever. As Spider-Man swings away, it's revealed Harrison has incurable leukemia and only weeks left to live.

The story by Roger Stern and Ron Frenz is considered one of the ten best Spider-Man tales ever told and quite rightly so. Stern said in an interview he wanted to emulate comics legend Will Eisner, which is why he used the various newspaper clippings as a framing device. But to me, it reads like a cross between a Twilight Zone episode and those 1950s monster comics with the inevitable, gut wrenching twist at the end.

Solid stuff, even without Rod Serling.

1) - Captain Mar-vell (Died: Marvel Graphic Novel I#1, April 1982)

Marvel launched its line of graphic novels with 1982's The Death Of Captain Marvel, written and drawn by Jim Starlin who had taken the character in the late 70s and made him his own, with a critically acclaimed run. In issue 34 of his own solo title, Captain Marvel tried to stop the supervillain Nitro from stealing cannisters of deadly nerve gas, only to be exposed to it and contracting cancer.

Mar-vell's nega-bands helped slow down the disease, but by 1982 his fate was sealed. The hero tried as best he could to cope with the  inevitable, recording his last will and testament, making peace with those he might have wronged and trying to console his loved ones, including his ladyfriend Elysius. As his time grew short, most of Earth's heroes made the trek to the moon of Titan, home of the Eternals. One by one, they came to pay their respects, even the Skrull empire honored him by awarding the dying Kree one of their highest military medals... and then, the inevitable happened.

The Death Of Captain Marvel was Marvel's first, real and candid examination of (the way towards) death. The project proved to be an exceptionally personal one for Starlin, whose own father was dying of cancer during the making of this graphic novel. Perhaps it is this unwanted, terrible first hand experience that lends so much credibility to the deathbed scenes, that feel raw, real and nakedly human in spite of all the capes.

To Marvel's credit, they've allowed the death of Captain Mar-vell to stick, for the most part. He invariably gets resurrected as either a zombie, a ghost or part of the Legion of the Unliving, but those moments are few and blessedly short lived (pun intended). During Secret Invasion, a Skrull briefly believed he was the real C.M. and there has been more than one hero who took his codename, including his own son. Despite all that, the legacy of the one, true Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree remains unblemished.

*Naturally, these picks are solely based on my own, anything but unbiased preferences. Think I'm wrong or an absolute idjit for leaving out your particular fave? By all means, join the conversation!

1982 - Dreadstar ad

From the Comics Journal #76.


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