Thursday, April 27, 2017

Darth Vader by Art Adams

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

1979 - Marvel Novel Series #9: The Marvel Superheroes

Marvel Novel Series #9: THE MARVEL SUPERHEROES
Edited by Marv Wolfman & Len Wein
Pocket Books, September 1979
First Printing, $1.95 cover price
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Unfortunately this novel wasn't an actual team-up of all these Marvel heroes, but four stand-alone stories featuring The Hulk, Daredevil, The Avengers, and the X-Men.

Written by Jim Shooter, Len Wein, Mary Jo Duffy, and Kyle Christopher.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

1988: The Dreadful Druid part V: The Doctor Is Out!

By Jef Willemsen (

The Avengers were rapidly approaching their 300th issue, but thanks to their new chairman ánd their new writer they wouldn't be around to enjoy that special anniversary. Leave it to Walt Simonson and Doctor Druid to take Earth's mightiest right over the edge...

The beginning of the end

Frankly, it's not like it was that hard to do. Simonson made sure the team suffered a steady stream of tragedies ever since he came on board back in #291. As a result, the number of Avengers left on active duty had been reduced to four: Thor, She Hulk, a severely handicapped Black Knight and their new leader Druid, who'd used his mental powers to convince the others he'd be best suited to take the reigns when Walt almost had Monica Rambeau die of sheer incompetence.

"In this moment of crisis, I see the fury of Dr. Druid unleashed!

To be fair, Doctor Druid is never written as either an outright villain or an infiltrator out to destroy the team from the inside. Instead, and that's the truly tragic part of this whole enterprise, he genuinely believes his cause is just. In no small part because of a series of prophetic visions in which a gorgeous blonde woman adoringly assures him he's the last, best hope of all that is. All that praise and adulation feeds Druid's sizable ego. He falls for her charms even as she eggs him on to do what's right and he feels that includes making sure he's leading the Avengers when the fat hits the fire.

But, just who is this blonde lady? Well, that takes some 'splainin...

"But... you look different somehow..." 

Why is she blue and dressed like Kang?

And here's where Simonson lost me when I first read these issues in the late 80s. Try and follow along: Time travel invariably leads to the creation of alternate timelines and time travelers like Kang the Conqueror have hundreds, if not thousands of rogue copies of themselves navigating the timestream. Invariably, some of these alternate Kangs get defeated or killed by others who don the armor and effectively become a version of Kang. Eventually, a fair number of these Kangs met up and formed an organisation called the Council of Crosstime Kangs. One of the latest Kangs admitted to the council was a female who claimed to be Nebula, the alleged granddaughter of Thanos. For convenience's sake, let's call her "Nebula Kang" for now.

With me so far? Good.

During her time on the Council, Nebula Kang learned that roughly 20 years in the future a period of 15 years was covered by an impenetrable Time Bubble. The Council believed a Celestial was building a superweapon inside it, which was all the power hungry Nebula Kang needed to hear. She wanted that weapon. Bad.

And that's where the Avengers come in. The Kangs also observed that eventually a team of Avengers would penetrate the bubble. Nebula Kang then figured she had to control the heroes and, rather logically, decided that the mind bending Doctor Druid would be an ideal stooge.

You're still with me? Well, that makes one of us.

All kidding aside, it gets even more complex when ultimately it is revealed Nebula Kang isn't *that* Nebula at all. It's actually an alternate version of Ravonna Lexus Renslayer, the princess that Kang tried to court back in a 1966 issue of Avengers. She first refused his love because he'd invaded her father's kingdom but soon realized she loved his raw machismo after all. She wound up sacrificing her life to save his in Avengers I#24.

"Perhaps... ' twas never meant... to be...!" 

Oh Ravonna, if only the same could be said for this storyline... 

Through the continued visions, Ravonna had Druid firmly in her grasp as she groomed him to have the Avengers enter the Time Bubble. An added wrinkle to her whole plan was the fact that she never bothered to learn which Avengers were actually destined to enter the Time Bubble. Even by 1988, there were close to 30 members, odds are you get the wrong bunch or even the wrong team. After all, you also had the West Coast Avengers by then. The odds don't favor this particular anemic East Coast line-up. And things get trickier when Ravonna wanted to get rid of Thor because Druid had proved unable to mentally coerce him.

That's why she planned for him to have a little "accident" in Avengers I#295. Using the Council's temporal technology, she captured a weaponized, technological T-Rex from an alternative future and set it loose on Washington D.C. She then made sure Dr. Druid knew about it.

"Less and less do I trust Druid's supposed psychic powers." 

When you're part of a team designed to come together to fight the threats too big for anyone to face alone... Yet your leader insists you go solo anyway, despite the fact it was serious enough for him to have a vision over, you know you're in trouble. And Thor did indeed have a devil of a time against the mechanized monstrosity. Especially when it proved more sturdy than expected. 


On a sidenote, yours truly initially believed this metal monster was Walt Simonson's way of spoofing Robosaurus, the fire breathing star of many a monster truck rally. However, Avengers I#295 predates the debut of the actual Robosaurus by about 6 months. Chances are the dinosaurs loving creator might have slightly been inspired by Grimlock, the similarly shaped and mannered Dinobots leader from the Transformers cartoon. 

At any rate, while Thor fights for his life, She Hulk figures the others need to fly out and help him. But Druid has a unique way to make sure she follows the leader.

"You want to listen to me. Believe me Jennifer, this is all for the best." 

It gets worse.

"Relax Dane! We shall save the universe! Whether you want to or not.
The Avengers are mine!" 

Admittedly, that looks bad. But Druid really wasn't himself by this point. Essentially Nebula's puppet, he did all he could to please his beloved. So, when the Knight actually managed to launch the Quinjet and escape Druid's mental sway, she was less than pleased. Black Knight traveled to DC and helped Thor defeat the digi-dinosaur by ripping it beyond repair with his ebony blade. The two Avengers then headed back to Hydrobase to take down Doctor Druid. 

One Asgardian thundergod and an armored knight with a mystical blade versus a paunchy soothsayer in a bedsheet... Ya'd think, right?

" When they  awaken, they will be real Avengers at last.
Completely obedient!" 

By then, "Nebula" had fully manifested herself in the timeline, which only served to further cement her control over Druid. She even supplied him with "mindbenders", devices that added even more mind control. While She-Hulk and Black Knight were kept in check with one, Thor turned out to need three. Even though everyone was in their thrall, Druid and "Nebula" insisted on keeping things as regular as possible.

"YOU, my slaves, you are the key."

And so they were, as issue #297 proved. "Nebula" had Druid and his Avengers board a Quinjet prepared for interdimensional travel and away they went. But as soon as they approached the Time Bubble and there weren't any easy ways in, questions and doubt set in. All Nebula knew was that only Avengers were destined to enter the bubble. Since she wasn't an official member, she bet on that technicality and had Druid orchestrate the quickest signing in ceremony in the team's history....

"Beloved, that's it! Dane's future is a void!"

And. after using his not too reliable precognitive powers, Druid mystically concluded Black Knight was the one without a future. You'd think that even Nebula would have questioned his foresight after he failed to foresee minor hick-up like, say, a teammate's wife turning into a giant sea serpent snacking on ships.

But no, Druid went ahead and mentally coerced his teammates to toss Dane out the Quinjet airlock as they were cruising right outside the time bubble. The Black Knight was rescued by a couple of Crosstime Kangs who were following their wayward member. Those Kangs used a handy gizmo to free Thor from his mindbenders. The Asgardian attacked, which soon led to She-Hulk freeing herself as well.

That all led to this regrettably unforgettable confrontation.

"Doc, thou just hast to be kidding!"

Right around that time, the Time Bubble is approached by a near infinite number of alternate Avengers quinjets from a myriad of realities. They're all desperate to pierce the barrier and this particular assemblage of heroes falls short. That's why as soon as the bubble opens, "Nebula" makes a run for it.

The lovesick Dr. Druid can do nothing but follow suit.


And with that, the era of Dr. Druid reached its end in November of 1988. He apparently vanished inside the Time Bubble. Now free of his mental domination, the three Avengers returned home to Hydrobase. Thoroughly demoralized and sickened by what happened to them, She-Hulk quit the team. Thor and Black Knight made an off panel attempt to find new members but readily give up as soon as no reservists or fresh recruits appear available. 

"I can't believe they've all gone."

But gone they were, only for Steve Rogers to show up an issue or so before #300 to assemble a new team. Just like Gruenwald had wanted Roger Stern to do before all the unpleasantness began. The new Cap-centric lineup came together during the Inferno crossover and of course included Thor. The other roster picks were a bit more... eccentric. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman joined, though they never even bothered to change out of their FF costumes. Another new recruit was the aptly named Forgotten One, an obscure character from Jack Kirby's late 1970s Eternals series. That couldn't have been the big plan Mark Gruenwald had in mind, could it?

And as for Doctor Druid... Considering what he'd done, it's surprising the Avengers didn't revoke his membership or voted him out in absentia. Then again, the entire east coast branch of the team was in absentia. Druid was left in comics limbo for close to two years until Roy and Dann Thomas came by to rescue him from obscurity in October 1990's Avengers Spotlight I#37. They decided to make ol' Druid a hero for the 90s.

"The reincarnation of Doctor Druid"

In a dutifully crafted but too dull to fully recap, the Thomases reveal Druid and "Nebula" have been surviving in a small, paradise like pocket of the Time Bubble, blissfully unaware of who or what they were until Druid's psychic powers ultimately reminds him of his past deeds. That leads to pages of poorly colored flashbacks, a fight with Nebula involving anti-time, a visit to 1961, a slight retooling of his origin to make him an official precursor to Doctor Strange, more meandering mystical mumbo jumbo before we end up with a rejuvenated Druid and a bad pun.

"Who knows, maybe this time I'll even keep my hair!"

Well Doc, there's good news and bad news. Yes, you'll hang on to your hair and you're even going to lead another team of heroes Roy & Dann Thomas salvaged Druid to make him the leader of the shortlived Secret Defenders series. However, after that book folded, Warren Ellis took note of the character so by the Summer of 1995, Druid's body would be burning in a dumpster, courtesy of Ellis' extreme take on Daimon Hellstrom. No worries, Anthony got better. Remember, he's a doctor ánd a druid. 

Just not a very good one. 

1979 - Superheroes Collection License Plate - Spider-Man

Thursday, April 6, 2017

1988: The Dreadful Druid part IV: The Doctor Is Out... Of His Mind

By Jef Willemsen (

Remember the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it?" Well, Marvel's editors sure didn't when they broke up the Avengers in late 1988 just to "fix" them. Walt Simonson was brought in and he picked Dr. Druid as the tool for the job. Marvel was so pleased, they took out an ad.

They were Earth's mightiest heroes. Nothing lasts forever"

The end begins in Avengers I#291, but before we get into the story... Let's consider the ad for a moment. This line up never actually served together. Thor was absent for most of their tenure, Namor was basically an estranged member and his wife Marrina was active as an Avengers associate at best. Still, longtime Thor-scribe Simonson started out with this lineup that by all accounts was nothing to sneeze at. Thor, She-Hulk and Namor were powerhouses, Captain Marvel was virtually unbeatable living energy, Doctor Druid was the next best thing to Doctor Strange, Black Knight covered both science and mysticism and Marrina well... She was a real good swimmer.

Anyway, remember them as they were because they'll never be this close again. Walt wasted no time and began tearing at the team's seams in the first few pages by revealing Doctor Druid was having bad dreams.

"I feel as though the heart has been cut out of me!"

Truer words were seldom spoken, Doc. To fans of Roger Stern's Avengers, reading Simonson's debut must have been the way Druid felt when he woke from his nightmare. Something felt off, even though everything looked fine and familiar. After all, Avengers I#291 still sported the comforting, reliable art duo of John Buscema and Tom Palmer. Yet, even without reading the in house ad, you could tell an ill wind had begun to blow.

"What evidence have I of the impending doom that seems to haunt my sleeping hours?
A moment's meditation will restore my calm and refresh my spirit."

That's right, the first thing this self proclaimed savior of mankind does after waking up from a potentially prophetic dream is take another restorative nap. And it's during his REM-cycle that the Doc is having the most problems. His dreams are being invaded and manipulated by Nebula, a mysterious woman who adores him and assures Druid he's the biggest hero there is... All of this clearly feeds the Doc's already considerable ego. 

Now, on to the actual deconstruction of the team. Though Simonson started on a positive note by having Edwin Jarvis return as butler, things took a turn for the worse when the Avengers attended a New York City gala and Marrina suddenly went wild. 

"My love!"

For unknown reasons, except for the obvious, plotdriven ones, Marrina was overcome by berserker rages, eating goldfish and slamming her hubby the Subby before transforming into a massive sea serpent. Now known as a/the Leviathan, she began to literally terrorize the seven seas. Namor went after his spouse and for the next two weeks, the Avengers simply sat back as reports of Leviathan's destructive attacks continued to come in. Simonson cleverly tied Druid's ominous dreams to Ralph Macchio's previously established storyline that focused on Captain Marvel's apparent incompetence as leader. Monica continued to doubt herself and had Druid order her around like a little girl. 

"If this is truly the beginning of those events, perhaps someone else might be better suited for the chairmanship here."

The issue ended with the Avengers catching up with Namor just as the Leviathan was getting ready to charge Florida. The heroes tried to stop Marrina, but Namor refused to let them hurt his wife and even fought off his fellow Avengers. The ensuing melee helped prevent the Leviathan from decimating the entire Florida coast. Namor escaped to chase after what has become of his wife while Simonson made sure we knew the internal struggle for power over the Avengers was alive and well.

"A good suggestion, Dr. Druid.
Should I ever decide to step down as the Avengers' chairperson...
There will be a ready candidate at hand."

... Ya can't even consider this foreshadowing anymore. But Simonson wasn't done being "subtle". While piloting the Quinjet, Druid got another vision, courtesy of Nebula. It only helped convince him he's to be the one, true savior of all.

"... You, my lord and master... You are the leader they have been waiting for"

All this subliminal deification only fed Druid's conviction that he indeed was the man who would be king. That's why he openly started questioning Captain Marvel's stance on the Leviathan. As a former Monster Hunter, Druid was the first to suggest the rational, though all but popular, option of killing Marrina for the greater good of mankind. Monica was vehemently opposed to this and found herself backed by Thor who rallied the team by declaring he'd agree with the Avengers chairman.

Monica Rambeau decided not to opt for lethal force, which led to the Leviathan attacking the US navy, sinking several battleships in the process. The Avengers tried to help, but the military got understandably steamed when they learned the team had kept the fact Leviathan was Namor's wife a secret.

"While Captain Marvel fails to make the tough decisions, men die.
The Avengers must be convinced that the Leviathan,
whatever her form or origin, must be killed!"

Avengers I#293 opened with Druid using his hypnosis and mentalism to subtly guide matters along. He tricked the Sub-Mariner into believing Leviathan was now attacking Atlantean cities, which helped convince Namor that lethal force was now unavoidable. He then fooled the sea serpent with an illusory cargo ship to lure it towards a final confrontation with the Avengers. Joined by Namor, Earth's mightiest faced down the sea serpent. During the fight, Namor used the Black Knight's ebony blade to slash into their foe, which triggered the sword's blood curse.

But the outcome of the battle was never in doubt...

                                                                "Where's Captain Marvel?"
In the space of just three issues, Simonson had managed to jettison three main characters: Namor, Marrina and Monica Rambeau, while also seriously handicapping the Black Knight who was suffering the effects of the blood curse.

In Avengers I#294, we learned just where Captain Marvel had gone. During the fight against Leviathan, Monica had combined her energy form with Thor's lightning in order to hit the creature with a double whammy. That worked, but water and electricity don't really mix and Monica got herself dispersed across the ocean. It took Rambeau days and all her will to rematerialize and appear at Avengers Mansion. She'd clearly paid the price for her heroism.

"Captain Marvel yet lives. But she is in the final stages of exhaustion."

And with that, the road was clear for Druid to take command of the team. But first he made sure Monica received proper medical care while also effectively sidelining her even more by having her parents flown in. Druid then insisted on holding a meeting in Monica's hospital room to decide who should succeed her. The good doctor used his mental powers to assure his favored outcome.

 "Our new chairman must be Doctor Druid!"

And that, as they say, was that. Druid influenced the vote to make sure he became the leader of a sorely depleted Avengers squad. Now down to a foursome, with Black Knight slowly turning into a living statue because of the blood curse, the team's future appeared more insecure than ever. But it was still morning in Druid's America... thanks in no small part to Nebula's machinations.

"Our enemies are gathering and the time is coming when we must face them together as a team.
All of us!"

You just know this won't end well, and that's just what the fifth and final installment of The Dreadful Druid will show. Hardly a spoiler alert, still worth checking out, though.


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