Saturday, March 26, 2011

In an Interstellar Burst, I am Back to Save the Universe!

The Phantom Zone #1

Written by Steve Gerber
Penciled by Gene Colan
Inked by Tony de Zuniga

In what is certain is certain to be another in an ongoing segment at Bronze and Beyond central, I have unearthed another lost classic of yesteryear from Gene Colan's stint at DC in the 80s. Much like the previous book I wrote about in the previous post, I was unaware there was a Phantom Zone comic, much less a 4 issue mini-series, and less still that Gene Colan had drawn such a thing.

In the opening tale of the series, "The Haunting of Charlie Kweskill," we see Perry White finding the titular character asleep at the printing press of the Daily Planet. Apparently, this is uncharacteristic of Charlie so Perry sends Charlie home. For some reason, Charlie just hasn't been getting much sleep at night. Charlie has been suffering from visions of "a planet half a galaxy away". Unsurprisingly, the planet is Krypton and Charlie is treated to visions of one villain after another being tried and exiled to the phantom zone by the business end of a device invented by Jor-El . We see some of Krypton's motliest of villains being sent away: renegade scientist Jax-Ur who was testing his new guidance system and nuclear weapon by launching it at a meteor, but instead blows up Wegthor, a moon of Krypton with colonists(oops), or General Zod for his unsuccessful invasion of Krypton. These and many others Charlie bears mute witness to as they are all sent to the place where they can see everything but touch or communicate with nothing outside of the Phantom Zone. That is, unless everybody concentrates really hard in unison. All of Charlie's visions culiminate in the revelation that he himself is an exile of Krypton and his real name is Quex-Ul! It seems Charlie was a poacher on Krypton and took the horns of rondors to use in a business venture to create cellular regeneration stimulators that can heal people of all maladies(kinda sounds like scheme Kramer would come up with if he were evil). Charlie then sees the prisoners of the Phantom Zone exerting a mental hold over Jor-El who is stricken with fever and susceptible to their mind attacks(I'm thinking those cellular regenerating units weren't such a bad idea, after all). As Jor-El is about to smash his Phantom Zone projector, his wife stops him and the council decide to blast the projector into space, thereby condemning all its' inhabitants to a life of etherealness.

Charlie's dream always ends here, and so that holds true this time as well. Charlie comes to inside of S.T.A.R. labs where he is unsure of how or why he is there. Zod and his crew are exerting their mental hold over Charlie and guiding his hands "from beyond" as it were to build a new Phantom Zone projector to break them out. Meanwhile, Clark Kent overhears that Charlie was having a problem at work and was sent home. I guess they have a history and Superman is the one responsible for releasing Charlie(and Mon-El)from their exile. He goes to check on Charlie and catches him firing up the projector and is just a second too late to stop him. Zod and the others are released and Charlie and Superman are now stuck in the Phantom Zone!

Having next to no knowledge of any of these characters, I found myself enjoying this tale. Colan's layouts are dynamic and his storytelling is clear, but Zuniga's inks are a bit sketchy at times. Colan's work here isn't quite as dark as he is known for, which works out well for a story told in the Superman universe, granted a somewhat dark tale, but it's Superman nevertheless. The story itself is actually pretty neat the way it comes together. It has a Dickens/sci-fi/EC bend to it and not at all what one would think of when they think of a Superman story, especially from this period. I've not read a great deal of Gerber-penned stories(though I did enjoy his Omega: the Unknown series). Any ways, I am greatly looking forward to reading the next installment. This was a blind buy on eBay and for $6.00 for the run, I can tell already it was money well spent. Now, onto Nathaniel Dusk!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Night Force #1: Colan and Wolfman Together Again!

Night Force #1

Written by Marv Wolfman

Illustrated by Gene Colan and Bob Smith

I know this came out at pretty much the tail end of the bronze age(1982), but it being the time of year for demons and other things that go bump in the night, I thought it would be good to use that as an excuse to read this recently acquired series.

So, in this inaugural issue featuring the reteaming of writer Marv Wolfman and artist extraordinaire Gene Colan several years after their stellar run on Marvel's Tomb of Dracula, we hit the ground running with all sorts of things going on. It feels a bit convoluted, but soon seemingly unrelated characters' stories intersect and things kinda sorta start to make sense.

There is Vanessa Van Helsing, who is being held against her will in a psychiatric hospital for having visions of demons. Also, we have Jack Gold, one time ave reporter for Time magazine, but now downtrodden reporter for The National Chronicle. He was sent by his editor to interview the 3rd player in this saga: Baron Winters. Winters apparently runs some sort of "occult practice" and has gained some notoriety for doing so. Lastly, we have Donovan Caine. He is a parapyschologist involved in military sponsored experiments with demonic rituals(!)whose manifestations seem to coincide with Van Helsing's visions. Got all that?

Ok, as Jack begins interviewing the Baron, they are interrupted by a phone call from the hospital where Vanessa is being kept. She apparently just had another fit resulting in wounds and the staff is dutifully worried and so invite the Baron's presence at the hospital. The baron refuses and tells Jack to go interview Vanessa as she would be better for his story. Jack shows up to talk to her, but before he can really get anything out of her, Donovan Caine shows up with a release for Vanessa basically putting her in his custody. He has big plans for her involving his demonic experiments.

There's also a subplot involving two men from the pentagon who are murdered while on their way to see Caine. Yet, later the same two men mysteriously show up and explain to Caine that there are foreign interests who are aware of his work and they are to guard him. Any ways, Caine wastes no time in beginning his experiments on Ms. Van Helsing and Jack tag alongs looking for a story. As the ritual begins, we see a motorcyclist get dragged down a manhole by some vaporous demon and the issue ends with Baron Winters and hit pet tiger, Merlin standing smugly in his garden stating he has pulled all the strings and brought all the players together. Now he must wait.

At first, I found the sheer amount of characters bewildering, but only because Wolfman imbues a great deal of character to each one. Even the g-men in the beginning, we learn one of their wives want to explore an open relationship. I don't know that I needed that information considering they both die on the next page, but there it is. Colan's art is appropriately dark and moody, but I find Bob Smith's inks to be a bit too sketchy. Dick Giordano inks Colan on the cover and it looks to be a much better fit. All in all, an interesting 1st issue and I'm definitely curious where this is all going.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Marvel Treasury Captain America's Bicentennial Battles

Story and Art by Jack Kirby
Inks by Herb Trimpe, John Romita, and Barry Smith

I really can't claim to know anything about Jack Kirby as a man, but I have to question what he did with what limited recreational time he must have had, but much of what I've read of the work he did in the 70s leads me to assume he might have hung out with Timothy Leary or William S. Burroughs. I mean, it's 1976. The U.S. is celebrating its' bicentennial birthday so why not have Marvel's most recognized patriot travel through time and visit America through some of it's most important moments as they are happening? Ok, sure, I'll buy this plot.

Captain America shows up at the domicile of one Mister Buda, who appears to be some sort of mystic. Against his will, Captain America is transported to Hitler's hideout where he relives a moment from his life where he and Bucky fight both Hitler and the Red Skull. Before he can wrap his head around seeing Bucky again, Captain is transported back to present day. He tries to leave Mister Buda's place and with a parting handshake, Buda imbues Cap with a "psychic talisman" which proceeds to take him on a journey through time.

Cap mixes it up with some gangsters in the 30's, meet Benjamin Franklin, intercedes on the behalf of Geronimo with the U.S Cavalry and oh so much more! 83 pages(with pin-ups!)chock full of Kirby zaniness. It really is a pretty neat, though oddly executed idea. And with 3 superstar artists handling inking duties, you'd think the strongest area would be the art. Well it is and it isn't. You'd think with him starting his career aping the man, Barry Smith would be a natural inking choice for Kirby, but by this point he is well on his way to developing his own style and it is very apparent here. The opening pages are pure Smith and it is a bit strange, but the melding of the 2 styles sort of works, though the results look little like Kirby. I believe Trimpe is the next one up and his inks really seem to bring Kirby's artwork down. Some of the faces look odd and the whole thing has a bit of a rushed look to it. I think the big winner out these guys is John Romita. He manages to keep Kirby's work intact while giving it a nice polished look.

If this is any sort of prelude to Kirby's run on the Captain America ongoing, I am in for a treat. Though, I can only hope for a musical dance number featuring Cap in that series! I think this predates the ads I saw in some of the 80s Marvel books for a Cap Broadway Musical by almost 10 years. Truly, Jack Kirby was ahead of his time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What If #9: The Agents of Atlas!

What If #9(What If the Avengers Had fought Evil During the 1950's?)

Story by Don Glut

Art by Alan Kupperberg & Bill Black

Cover by Jack Kirby

Ok, so it may sound like sacrilege to some, but I enjoy a number of comics being published today. I know, they are super-decompressed and take 6 issues to tell a story that would have encapsulated a single book 30 years ago. I find that, if done right, allows the characters to "breathe" a bit more and can deliver some good character moments. One such I enjoy is Jeff Parker's "Atlas" series. It's such a terrific blend of super-heroes and pulp action I find it impossible to put down. It has a nice "old-school" vibe to it that doesn't take itself too seriously which many of today's books lack. So imagine my surprise to find a comic had already been done some 30 years before featuring this exact same cast of characters! Sure, I was aware these characters existed individually in Timely/Atlas/Marvel's long history, but I had no idea a precedent had already been set for this unlikely group of heroes. I had to read it!

So, the set-up is Iron Man calls a meeting of only Captain America, The Vision, Beast, and Thor. He's wanting an answer to his burning question(the very same one mentioned in the title, in fact). But before anyone can hypothesize one, Iron Man directs the group's attention to a large TV screen. It is, in fact, his version of a dimensional transporter. You may be asking yourself, "I wonder if this is like the dimensional transporter that brought the Squadron Supreme into our world?" Well, worry not, as Iron Man indicates this is, indeed, the same, and we are soon treated to a look into 1950's Earth, but what is not certain is whether or not it's our Earth or a parallel one.

It matters not, however, as we are quickly thrust into the action as special agent Jimmy Woo sets out to form his team of "Avengers" to take down Yellow Claw and the motley crew HE has assembled. And what a treat it is, too. We meet Skull-Face, the skeleton of an alleged demon burned at the stake centuries ago, The Great Video, who can kill with his prolonged stare(!), Electro, the russian assassin(who also is a shriner, apparently, judging from his headwear), and last, and honestly, least, is Cold Warrior who can't even be bothered to have his powers summed up. I guess his name says it all. Any ways, each character has his own footnote indicating when they first appeared and they were all pretty old even for 1978.

Back to the story, Jimmy assembles his group to retrieve President Eisenhower who was kidnapped by Yellow Claw while playing golf with Agent Woo. They are, of course, successful in their mission. So it's only logical that the President asks the team to disband afterwards. Wait, what? Oh, apparently simple people believe that comic books and super hero types are responsible for all the world's ills like communism and martians. Actually, this bit was stab at the Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings from 1954 so that's pretty sly.

So, the story was entertaining, and on the art side of things, Kupperberg and Black are adequate with only some odd bits here and there where they seem to struggle with perspective. The one thing that bothered me, though, was right at the start with the cover and all through the book, Gorilla-Man looks nothing like a gorilla. In fact, with the odd facial hair, he more closely resembles Bigfoot, so I'm not so sure what was going on there, but there you have it.

The only postscript I have for this is that I came to new Atlas series a bit late, tracking all the back issues of assorted minis and what not, only to hear the news it's being cancelled at #5. All good things must end, I suppose, but we'll have always have Iron Man's way back machine to remind us of the good times.

Friday, June 11, 2010

"Listen to them, Manhunter. My heads never lie . . . Even if they speak with recording tape.

1st Issue Special #5

Written, Drawn and Edited by Jack Kirby

Inked and Lettered by D. Bruce Berry

Ok, so it's been quite a while since I last posted and I strongly felt the urge to get SOMETHING posted in the month of June so here it is.

The first appearance of Manhunter takes place over 3 chapters. The first chapter unfolds with Manhunter tracking his quarry to "The Cave of the Talking Heads"(though it should be noted David Byrne was nowhere to be found so maybe this takes place after he left the band). The place still lives up to its' name though, with bizarre, otherworldly heads mounted on the wall hurling taunts to our hero. In triple quick time(actually, page 2-3 as it's a strangely illustrated double splash page), Manhunter finds his man: a purple helmet/green robe-clad individual calling the shots from what can only be called a pope mobile. Manhunter takes down the energy spewing head with a blast from his own electric baton.
Chapter 2 finds Manhunter in trouble as the vaguely alien looking adversary drops the "electric head" on Manhunter. Death seems certain, but a lucky blind shot from Manhunter breaks through the villain's pope mobile. Buying him some time as he struggles with the contraption on his head, Manhunter manages to get the helmet off in the nick of time as the alien pope figure it revealed to be human and he comes at Manhunter with an axe! Manhunter thrusts the electric helmet into harm's way and the mad genius/alien/religious figure perishes by his own invention. The irony of it all! After the battle, it is time for introspection as the Manhunter strips off his chrome face only to reveal an old man hiding underneath. "Meanwhile, in a quiet suburb of a small college town . . ."(it actually says this in the caption on the following page), a frustrated, young public defender named Mark Shaw vents to his uncle how he is of no use to anyone as he can't help the people he is appointed to represent as they are victims and pawns of the powerful. Hearing this, his uncle reveals a secret door to an amazing artifact collection the uncle has beein quietly hoarding from his time as an archeologist. His uncle is the proud owner of a full Manhunter suit kept under glass. He tells his nephew a bit about the "Shan" sect and how they basically fight crime. This all leads to a medallion that will allow his nephew to contact the Shan and obviously become the next manhunter. Which brings us to chapter 3 . . .
We return to the elderly manhunter having an audience with his master. Here, we learn he is the last warrior of his race and he wishes to retire, but there is no one to take his place. His master assures him there is and leads him over to a gigantic lion totem that is apparently the other end of the medallion held by Mark Shaw. A brief exchange occurs and Shaw is granted the powers of the Shan. And none too soon, either! Right at this time, Mark learns the client he was currently representing was slain by the mob and it's at this precise moment, too that the mob shows up to tie up all their loose ends by icing Shaw as well. Clearly, they were ill prepared for the fisticuffs that would commence with the newly invigorated Manhunter! Shaw looks to destroy half his home in the ensuing melee, but he gets a name he's been looking for and is soon hot on the trail of his quarry! We cut to a scene in which we see this shall be Shaw's first test and if he succeeds, he shall receive his baton, thus releasing the old Manhunter from his servitude. The final panel reveals Shaw's target, and he looks more like a frog than a person. Talk about a cliff-hanger.
I know this character has turned up in various series, but I'm pretty sure Kirby never returned to him. I knew nothing about the character going into this, but this debut tale pretty much tells me everything I need to know. There's a fine mix of Kirby's bizarre and entertaining ideas on display here. Kirby's art was pretty consistent throughout and I thought Berry's inks on this issue worked better than on the Atlas story. It's definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

1st Issue Special #1 Jack Kirby's Atlas

While scouring the internet for 70's Jack Kirby stuff, I came across this short-lived series from DC. Jack Kirby made several contributions to the run, including its' inaugural issue. Atlas tells the slight tale of an extremely strong young man named, yes, Atlas and his follower, Chagra. It opens with them in a town marketplace as Atlas gives a demonstration of his power by crushing two huge stones in his hands. Chagra beckons to anyone in the crowd to challenge Atlas in combat. The town's strongest is offered up only to be felled with a single blow from Atlas. The townspeople believe the fight was rigged and begin to surround Atlas and Chagra only to be interrupted by a nobleman trying to pass through. Atlas dispatches the nobleman quickly only to be set upon by the king's soldiers. Atlas grabs a human shield and before the archers can attack Atlas, a voice is heard from off panel which triggers an extended flashback sequence from Atlas.

We are taken back to when Atlas was a child and his village was attacked by slavers. Atlas hid and watched helplessly as the men killed his father and took his mother away. Atlas is captured by the slaver's leader, Hyssa, but surprises him by dealing a blow powerful enough to incapacitate the slaver. Atlas manages to escape only to be captured again by a stranger hiding in the nearby field.

The stranger turns out to be Chagra and Atlas once again gets to show his strength and breaks away from Chagra. He goes into his family's hut and comes back out with a glowing crystal. Chagra recognizes the crystal as belonging to a group of people from the Crystal Mountain. The leader carries a fragment from the mountain and when the leader dies, he must pass the crystal on to his successor. Atlas is now in possession of the fragment and Chagra decides to become his subject.

The story goes through a couple more encounters giving Atlas a bit more character and further establishing his and Chagra's relationship before returning to the present of the story finding the voice that triggered this elaborate flashback belongs to King Hyssa! Hyssa remembers Atlas from his slaver days(those things kind of have a way of coming back to haunt you, don't you think?). It looks as all Hell is about to break loose, but that is where the story ends. There is a bit from the editorial urging readers to write in if they want to see more of Atlas, but, sadly it seems, this was not to be. There is also an article called, "The Story Behind the Story" and goes into the myths and legends of Gods and Jack Kirby and it kind of gives you an idea of what he was going for with this story. I definitely see some elements better mined earlier in New Gods. Kirby's art here is good, with inks by D. Bruce Berry. His lines don't seem to be as bold as Mike Royers and has quite a bit of fine linework. It's not what I'm accustomed to seeing his Kirby's 70's stuff, but is still strong. All in all, for a relatively obscure book, I find it be worth checking out. I was able to pick his other issues from this series as well and I'm looking forward to reading them soon.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different(Doc Savage #s 1 and 2)

So, it has been quite sometime since I last posted anything. Too long for my tastes, really. And it's not that I haven't been reading any comics. Quite the contrary, actually, but it's finding the time to post thoughts about them that becomes the sticky point. I have decided, though, instead of spending time and energy reading and then writing about comics I've already read, maybe I should focus more on books I haven't had a chance to read yet that are just as deserving of my attention. I've accumulated a good number of bronze age books, but have been occupied with staying current on reading new books that I haven't had the time to read these older gems, but that all changes now as we shift our gaze onto a Doctor of a different sort!

The opening salvo of Marvel's Doc Savage series starts off with a one-two punch By Steve Englehart, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Ernie Chua(on #2)and a cover by Jim Steranko on #2. The story opens with Savage's 5 man posse hanging out in the Doc's office, apparently awaiting Savage's return. Doc's father has recently passed away, but the gang has been unable to get in touch with him to let him know. It's a good opener though, as you get see each of their personalities as they interact with one another. The gang(Monk, Ham, Long Tom, Renny, and Johnny)are waiting for Doc's return while a weirdly-attired sniper posted on a building across the way has his laser rifle trained on the apartment clearly also waiting for Doc Savage to return.
The Doc soon returns and the gang delivers the news about Savage's father. Doc says his father directed him to check out the wall safe if anything should happen to him and finds a packet deeding him 200 suare miles of land in the Central American Republic of Hidalgo in exchange for a yearly fee of $100,000 and 1/5th of everything he removes. Just as the Doc reads this bit of info, the sniper takes his shot and misses! Luckily, Renny designed the windows with refractive glass which makes everything from the outside look 5 inches to the left of where it really is! The team track the assailant's whereabouts to an unfinished skyscraper where he leaps off taking his own life rather than being apprehended by Savage, but not before mentioning something called "The Son of the Feathered Serpent". Now convinced his father was murdered and this Serpent group had something to do with it, Doc and his crew make plans to travel to Hidalgo. #1 ends with an epilogue revealing a 2nd assailant involved in the plot as he communicates with his superior and is ordered to return home to prepare to kill Doc Savage and his men. Imagine having to wait 2 months back in 1972 to find out what happens next. Luckily, I happened upon this storyline 35+ years later and so didn't have to!

Issue 2 opens in mid action, as Doc Savage and his crew's plane is shot out of the air above Central America. They are able to safely crash land, of course, thanks the airbags equipped on the plane. The group are greeted by Hidalgo's president and secretary of state. The president informs them the anti-aircraft fire is from the revolutionaries in the country. The crew board a seaplane and are quickly on their way to their destination. Upon their arrival, the crew is attacked by a group of people dressed just like the sniper back in New York. The combat is halted by their King, Chaac, accompanied by his daughter, Princess Monja, who welcome Savage and his gang. They know who Doc Savage is and even speak English. King Chaac new Savage's father and he taugh Chaac English. There is dissension in the ranks, however, in the form of "Morning Breeze," chief of the warriors. He believes all outsiders should leave the Mayan people alone.

Chief Chaac explains to Savage why his father sent him to Hidalgo. Apparently, Savage Sr. told Chaac he would one day send his son to him for 30 days of judgment. If he was found worthy, Doc Savage Jr. would have access to the "unlimited" supply of gold found in their valley with the agreement that Savage would put 1/3rd of it in a trust fund(!) for the Mayan people and 1/5th of it would go to the country of Hidalgo. Savage isn't particularly interested in taking their gold, but the Chief tells him to sleep on it.

That night, Morning Breeze and his men try to kidnap some of the gang, but Monk can't sleep and he gets the drop on Morning Breeze. Despite his best efforts, though, Monk is unable to stop them and they make off with his companions. Monk pursues them and finds Morning Breeze throwing Savage's crew down a well filled with vipers. Monk is too late to save them, and in fact, covers his eyes as the last one is dropped. Well, it's not as bad as we think as we see Monk run up to the pit after Morning Breeze and his men have left only discover his friends alive. Doc Savage is there and explains he and Renny couldn't sleep either and they were out walking when they overheard Morning Breeze's plan so they hid in the pit and caught his gang as they fell in. The next morning, Savage comes up with a plan to convince the Mayans that his men who were supposedly killed by Morning Breeze are coming back as ghosts to accuse him of their murders in front of all the villagers. Morning Breeze is disgraced in front of his people and Savage now considered an emissary of the gods.

Morning Breeze journeys to a deserted pyramid where he meets The Son of the Feathered Serpent(or SFS here on out), whom he is working for. We learn Morning Breeze is doing all this so he can take the throne from Chaac and marry his daughter. SFS is wanting the Mayan people's gold to fund his revolution in Hidalgo. Having had his first two plots fail, SFS decides to unleash the red death. What is the red death? Well, it's a germ SFS dumps into the Mayans' drinking water which forces them to break out into red splotches and lose consciousness before eventually dying. And if that's not evil enough, SFS shatters the ONLY vial of antidote he for some reason had. Shockingly enough, this is determined to be what also took Savage's father's life. Savage takes samples of the water and spends many hours creating an antidote. Morning Breeze made full use of this time too, however, and began an initiative to spread propaganda against Chaac and Savage. Savage, emerges from his makeshift lab victorious over the germ that is killing the Mayans, only to be met with disdain by the very people who scant hours before considered Savage to be a messenger of the Gods! SFS shows up and adds to the peoples' fury by saying Savage and King Chaac poisoned them so they could appear to be heroes when they produced the antidote. Savage is once again shot at with lasers and it at this point he realizes SFS was behind the whole murder plot and his father's demise. Nevertheless, Savage manages to put some space between himself and his attackers and begins a flurry of salvation as he runs through the village adminstering the antidote as he comes across the fallen victims. Savage and his men are cornered atop a pyramid and as SFS, Morning Breeze and the others close in, one of the victims of the red death Savage cured shows up fully healed causing Morning Breeze to believe Savage is indeed a god and tries to flee only to be laser gunned down by SFS. An epic battle ensues between Savage and SFS ending in SFS being flung to his death all the way down to the bottom of the pyramid. In an amazing bit of Scooby Doo goodness, Savage removes SFS's serpent headpiece to reveal that the Son of the feathered Serpent is none other than Hidalgo's Secretary of State. Doc Savage is judged worthy by King Chaac and so begin the forbidden rituals to initiate new members into their tribe. They are led into a room full of gold. The princess asks Doc Savage to stay and rule by her side, but he declines citing he has much work to do. The gang speeds off in their plane to parts unknown in search of their next adventure.

All in all, I'd say it was an interesting story. Steve Englehart manages to give Savage's crew their own personality, even if Savage himself is a bit wooden. Maybe the source material is the same way, I don't know. Ross Andru's art is actually quite decent. I seem to recall seeing his stuff elsewhere(no, not Amazing Spider-Man as I haven't got any of his early adventures as of yet)and being left cold by it, but here it works for me. Any ways, if you are a fan of pulps(and who isn't really?)or high adventure, check these issue out! Hope to do this again soon.