Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Dynamic Duo Of Kandor - Part 2

Nightwing and Flamebird were just some Silver Age flotsam until the advent of the delightful Superman Family comic. A blending of the Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Supergirl titles, this comic was a fun, typically light-hearted package month in and month out and its pages gave a home briefly to Kandor's own costumed crimefighers.

The  Dynamic Duo of Kandor make their first appearance in the comic when the original team of Jimmy Olsen and Superman enter Kandor to help out a scientist whose daughter seems to have fallen victim to a life of crime. For a time Jimmy / Flamebird joins her as a plague sweeps through the city and only the most extreme measures can save the bottled city.

Then things change when a new team is introduced. Van-Zee had been a longtime member of the Superman cast, one of the many Superman doubles in the universe, he and his wife Sylvia (an Earth woman) and their two children have a nice life in Kandor. He takes on as his apprentice a young man named Ak-Var who was released from the Phantom Zone after serving his sentence of thirty years. The two of them look enough like the original team of Superman and Jimmy that they become the Dynamic Duo with the populace little aware of the change. We later are witness to the moment when they decide to take on the roles and it pretty much adds up to a simple decision to make use of the costumes and equipment which are unused when the originals are out of town, which is almost all of the time.

Though they rarely got the cover, they had a spot in the comic (which shifted to dollar comic size soon in its run) for several years. To be honest the adventures by writer Paul Kupperberg and artist Ken Landgraf and Romeo Tanghal among others with occasional work by Carl Potts and a stunning finale by Marshall Rogers is for the most part competent journeyman work, typical for the Bronze Age. The stories are not all that compelling but they are interesting as Ak-Var sometimes clashes with his mentor Van-Zee, the latter preferring most of the time a more patient course in dealing with issues. The stories sometimes were mere chapters in larger epics which plowed through the whole comic, which limited their effectiveness when read as stand alone.

But in their careers they battled Brainiac, the mysterious "Crimelord of Kandor", and a host of plagues which beset the tiny city. Below are the covers of the issues which featured the team. They make the cover sometimes, but most times they are small fry indeed.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Dynamic Duo Of Kandor - Part 1

It's Jack Kirby's fault really. Or maybe the blame belongs to Don Rickles. I was no DC virgin but I had been swayed by Stan Lee's ingratiating banter and considered myself a Marvelite mostly when the King decided to pull up stakes and head over to the Distinguished Competition. I followed and found there a revived Jimmy Olsen comics loaded with wacked but compelling concepts. During that run we meet an employee of the Daily Planet named Goody Rickels who is the cousin of the comedian Don Rickles who guest-starred in the comic (weird enough for you yet?). In between the two parts of the Don Rickles-Jimmy Olsen crossover DC offered up one of their giant-sized reprint issues featuring some vintage Jimmy from before the Kirby takeover.

It was in these pages that I first encountered Nightwing and Flamebird, two heroes of the shrunken bottled city of Kandor of Krypton. Nightwing and Flamebird were in reality Superman and Jimmy Olsen who without superpowers in Kandor adopted the style of frequent partners Batman and Robin to battle crime. I loved the idea immediately and this became of my favorite all-time comics. The sheer wackiness of it appealed to me and the sleek handsome Curt Swan-George Klein artwork, the epitome of the Silver Age spoke to my inner fanboy. This "Dynamic Duo" was the brainchild of veteran science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton, but I have to confess it's the elegant design of the heroes which spoke to me most vividly. Rarely have two superheroes looked so good.

Now to properly establish the back story, it's crucial to mention that Kandor was once the capitol city of Krypton and was shrunk, stolen and bottled by Brainiac many years before Krypton itself met a grisly end. Spared that destruction, the people of Kandor lived out their microscopic lives aboard Brainiac's spaceship until that propitious day when Brainiac came to Earth and promptly stole Paris, Rome and eventually Metropolis itself. Superman of course fights back against this menace and in the process enters Kandor for the first time. There he learns that he is far from alone in the universe, that a whole city of his kind are alive if not exactly well. Of course Brainiac is defeated and the bottled city of Kandor finds a new home in the Fortress of Solitude where it will be kept safely until such time as Superman can find a way to enlarge it again. This pivotal story was told in Action Comics #242.

That day is still far away in Superman #158 when on Earth a wave of crimes is seemingly committed by a gang of "Supermen". Superman realized they are from Kandor and along with Jimmy Olsen enters the city to find out what is amiss. Since he has no superpowers in Kandor, Superman and Jimmy adopt the techniques of their allies Batman and Robin to unlock the mystery.

Patterning their identities on two birds of Krypton, the Nightwing and the Flamebird, they become Kandor's very own Dynamic Duo. They are helped by the scientiest Nor-Kann, an old admirer of Kal-El's parents and a man of means who offers up a hidden underground lab for a hideout and helps them get nifty utility belts which come with neat rockets to let them fly. The two battle the gang of "Supermen" who are led by a scientist who says he has a way to enlarge Kandor safely, but Superman doubts his methods. Superman proves to be correct and saves Kandor at the last minute despite how the people of Kandor had seemed to turn against him.

In Jimmy Olsen #69 the Dynamic Duo of  Kandor return for a thrilling adventure which puts Superman pretty much on his ass. They go to Kandor to help stop a villain called "Super Thief" who looks just like Superman but with a cameo mask. He's stealing various treasure from across Kandor. But soon after they hook up again with Nor-Kann Superman contracts Scarlet Jungle Fever and is incapacitated for much of the story. Jimmy / Flamebird confronts the super menace alone and even converts a telepathic hound sent to uncover his secret location into an ally he dubs Nighthound. After several wild misadventures which evoke all sorts of Kryptonian history Flamebird and Nightwing (returned from his illness) eventually uncover the menace who turns out to be closer to home than they ever imagined.

The Dynamic Duos join forces in World's Finest #143. Batman suffers a fit of depression and feels inconsequential in the face of the great powers of his longtime comrade Superman. To lift his spirits Superman concocts one of his typically overwrought plans to take Batman and Robin into Kandor where he and Jimmy will resurrect their Nightwing and Flamebird identities and so allow the heroes to work on a more even level. He even dreams up a hoax menace which turns out to be an actual threat when villains take advantage. "Metalloids" are metal creatures who are possessed Kryptonians who have been transformed into nearly indestructible metal beings. Superman's plan becomes known and Batman is angry, so much so that he wants to duel his former friend. But things happen to make the heroes once again bond and they of course defeat the menace.

There's something insanely charming about these stories. As contrived as they are, the very notion that Superman and Jimmy Olsen could think it makes sense to operate like Batman and Robin is delicious. That they look so good doing it is amazing and speaks to the craftsmanship of Curt Swan. Nightwing and Flamebird are among the sleekest heroes of the era and exceedingly modern looking in their time. The stories themselves are helpless examples of the vintage Silver Age Superman, filled with coincidences and filled with plot holes the size of asteroids, but they are nonetheless compelling in their own special way, a perfect example of how the whole is often much more than the sum of the parts.

More Nightwing and Flamebird tomorrow. 

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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Last Batman Story!

There is nearly always an attempt by the creators of comics to imbue centennial issues with special significance. The truth is few comics reach milestones like one hundred issues even so it is special and all. So when Batman hit its three hundredth issue in 1978 they made the comic a bit larger and brought in the rising talent Walt Simonson to illustrated a tale of the near future when Batman has withdrawn from a world increasingly bristling with computers and other technology.

A mysterious attack on the Wayne fortune and its attendant industrial enterprises causes first Dick Grayson (still in his guise as Robin though sporting the Neal Adams costume the character often assumed in alternate environments) runs afoul of mercenaries. Bruce Wayne becomes Batman again to investigate and discovers a complex plot which offers up color as a critical clue. Eventually the Dynamic Duo discover they are battling a group they think is named "Rainbow" but the truth is even more dangerous.

To read this story in its entirety check out this groovy link.

Written by David Vern Reed, this is a story which doesn't to my mind succeed as thoroughly as it ought. The plot seems complicated at times merely for complications sake, but nonetheless it does move along. Reed is a writer whose name I don't remember but I learned here that he was a veteran who had turned his hand at more than one Batman tale among many others.  This story which pits Batman against a techno-society which in many respects seems a bit antique even today does resonate with me as I myself often find new-fangled ways of doing things with the miracle of the virtual world not all that attractive. I'm for it when it demonstrably improves a situation or circumstance, but I don't always find updates do that. Again it seems merely a new way, not necessarily a better one.

Of course this was far from being Batman's last story, but a decent one nonetheless.

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Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Destiny War - Avengers Forever!

The Destiny War's final battle begins, and it starts up with a bang. The Avengers, imbued with a bit of the Destiny Force from Rick Jones drive off the Time Keepers, who seem more than anything focused on keeping themselves alive. The trail leads to the lair of the Time Keepers at the end of time where Kang leads the Avengers in an assault on the Forever Cannon, a deadly device powered by the Forever Crystal which Immortus had harvested from the remains of Chronopolis. But as the Avengers press their attack Immortus turns on his masters and denies them the Crystal but they take it anyway and destroy Immortus in the bargain.

To forestall the attacks of the Avengers and Kang the Keepers call forth evil versions of the Avengers from across time and suddenly the hall fills with armies of variations of the great heroes. The Avengers fight on against these dark versions of themselves and press their advantage, led by Rick Jones and the ferocious Kang. Even Libra joins the fray but the proves to be a mistake as the Time Keepers use him to turn the tide and use the Destiny Force inside Rick to freeze the Avengers in their tracks. They then seek to defeat Kang by forcing his transformation into Immortus. Then  Captain Marvel, the one member of the team who remembers the war uses the Nega Bands to change places with Rick Jones, as had his father before him. But this Rick is much older and the evidence  of many battles is displayed in his clothes and his wounds. He has but one arm, wears Doctor Strange's amulet as a broach, Falcon's boots, and a belt which suggest great utility and a shoulder wrap from a super-looking red and yellow cape, these last two details seemingly of another world entirely. This aged Rick meets and consoles his young counterpart and together the counter the evil Avenger army of the Keepers by calling forth an army of good Avengers from across countless time lines and alternate universes.

The Destiny War rages as an army of good Avengers from across time and space battle an army of evil Avengers. Battles and fights go on in all directions and Avengers on both sides fall. The Avengers led by two Ricks press the attack on the Forever Cannon while Kang fights to forestall his change into Immortus, but Kang's will proves too powerful and he sloughs off their attack. Kang once more he joins the furious fray with savage gusto. Old Rick Jones uses the Nega Bands to again become Captain Marvel to join the fight. The battles rage then young Rick Jones dives into the Forever Cannon and uses his Destiny Force powers to destroy it once and for all but perhaps at the cost of his own life.

He falls and lies still as Kang uses his poweful weapons to seemingly destroy the Time Keepers and with a bold bravado shouts his victory to the stars "Kang Conquers!" Captain America takes possession of the Forever Crystal and despite its allure to alter time he seemingly crushes it denying its power to Kang. The that aspect of Kang which almost became Immortus takes shape as a child who quickly grows into a young and vital Immortus who fired with new purpose leaves the scene and the Avengers behind. Kang now at long last free of his destiny to become the hated Immortus feels empowered and alive as never before and seeks new conquests. He too disappears into time.

To save Rick Jones Captain Marvel bonds with him as his father had once done at the end of the Kree-Skrull War and the two become a new hero who will have adventures following this one in a new title. The Libra steps in and sends them all home, with memories which will seem like dreams. Captain America is returned to the pitiless moment which shattered his confidence as a man dies in the White House, Yellowjacket returns to marry the Wasp, Hawkeye returns and makes a call about a mystery man he's found who we know to be Hercules, Mockingbird returns to the mansion to find Jack of Hearts and Wasp who know well of the Destiny War.  Wasp and Giant-Man return to help the Avengers as they have always done. The Supreme Intelligence though gets the last moment when we see that he has taken possession of the Forever Crystal, and it suggests adventures to come, as always.


Kurt Busiek said that Avengers Forever was not the story he and Carlos Pacheco began to tell, that one was too similar to an X-Men begun at the same time. So they switched it up and cobbled together this ultimate Kang epic, at the same time weaving together the myriad threads of nearly all the Avengers lore which had attached itself to Kang over the decades. Like the best jazz, they began with no real clear destination but rather allowed the story to unfold over time and seek its own ending. It did with a bang. Now if the finale of Avengers Forever can be faulted for anything it's that it has so many heroes in attendance that we never get a good look at all of them. That's frustrating, but there's no denying the gusto which permeates ever page of this wild time travel yarn.

Busiek has said he wanted to emulate what Roy Thomas, Neal Adams and the Brothers Buscema accomplished with the historical Kree-Skrull War, make a sprawling epic without a pre-ordained plan, allowing incidents and events to happen which would inform the direction of the story. I don't know the extent to which he and Pacheco accomplished this, but I do know the final result is a story which lingers in the mind like a fine meal.

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Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Destiny War - Kang Dynasty!

This ninth issue of Avengers Forever much like its predecessor is a look back through the lore of Marvel Comics at the lives and times of Kang the Conqueror. We meet Kang in a moment of recuperation and reflection, not for the moment at least the man of action but a Kang who is marshaling his mind and spirit for the next battle. In this repose in the relative security of a part of Chronopolis he thinks back over his myriad battles with the Avengers and others and we see, from his perspective, how he came to be the conqueror.

It begins in a future filled with destruction visited by a stranger from the past named Nathaniel Richards (possibly an ancestor of Kang) who makes a new utopian world. In this peaceful time comes the man who will be Kang and he wants adventure. He finds his ancestor's time machine technology and travels back to become Rama-Tut. Defeated by the FF he escapes to meet Doctor Doom (possibly and ancestor of Kang), becomes for a time the Scarlet Centurion, and then travels accidentally to the 40th Century to become for the first time Kang. He conquers the Earth then more through space and eventually hearkens back to his memories of the 20th Century (which he longed for as a 30th Century man) and begins his many battles with the Avengers. He meets Ravonna, loses her and from there it gets quite complicated.

To get her back he confronts the Avengers again, takes time to battle the Thing and Human Torch and the Hulk as well. Conquers the dimension of Cosmos and gains tech which will give birth to the Growing Men. Then he seeks the Celestial Madonna and is seemingly destroyed. But it's all a ruse and he returns to confront the results of his time travels, a myriad of Kangs of various capacities and he seeks to prune this cavalcade of himself and reclaim his autonomy. But he seems to fail but breaks himself into to two branches, one to create Chronopolis the other to deal with the Cross-Time Kangs. He battles the FF over the Celestial Madonna again and his again thwarted. He confronts a version of Ravonna who in some realities rules in his stead. Eventually the come together and live a time in stately repose, but again ennui strikes him and he returns to the past as Rama-Tut to eventually play that role in the Celestial Madonna saga. It is this Rama-Tut who becomes the Kang of this tale who becomes aware of Immortus and his deal with the Time Keepers to kill off the human race to save the universe. He plots to end other powers who meddle in time in order to gain a firm hand to confront his alternate self. His reflections end as Rick Jones appears and with the Supreme Intelligence at his elbow makes a pact with Kang to save the Avengers.

In the tenth issue The Avengers meanwhile are waking up after being captured by Immortus and the traitor Yellowjacket. They find themselves on a world confronted by armies of "Avengers" who serve Emporer Jonz Rickard, a descendant of Rick Jones who has mastered the Destiny Force. This army does not recognize the Avengers but rather thinks they are the Guardians of the Galaxy, a force for freedom in the universe. A battle rages before they are pulled out by Yellowjacket who is responsible for their mistaken identities by use of Limbo bugs. He takes them to Immortus and the Time Keepers where as prisoners they hear of the origin of the Keepers (who in other realities are the Time Twisters) and of their plan to use the Forever Crystal to power their cannon which will destroy 42 percent of the timelines in which mankind poses a threat to the universe.  Immortus too reveals that his work has been along these same lines, though on a smaller scale and with the constant hope to save as much of humanity as he can. The Avengers debate with the Keepers but they remain resolute in their mission to prune the time lines.

But Yellowjacket, himself promised a reality in which he has the Wasp as his wife, becomes convinced he's chosen the wrong side and helps trigger a revolt. They all seem for a moment touched by the Destiny Force which allows them to oppose the Keepers with some effectiveness. Then when all seems lost suddenly Rick Jones and Kang appear in the "Supreme Cycle". The Supreme Intelligence seems cozy in tucked in the back seat.

So the definitive Kang story reaches its climax as the "Destiny War" is upon us. Tomorrow the fighting breaks out in earnest. 

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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Once And Future Kang!

In The Avengers #267 we encounter for the first time (that we know of) the Council of Cross-Time Kangs. This is an epic which will sprawl across the series off and on until issue three hundred but here is the initial fracas.

The story begins with an Avengers which has among its members Storm and Colossus of the X-Men. Iron Man appears and brings with him a bomb which devastates the whole of New York City along with the Avengers. The "Iron Man" in question turns out to be Kang, a Kang who himself gets transported to a sitting council of three more Kangs who determine his schemes are too dangerous to the time stream for him to be allowed to live and summarily execute him. These Kangs go their separate ways but one follows another and they discuss the situation. It seems when Kang sets his plots into motion he creates alternate time lines and alternate Kangs, many of them inferior in some respect to the more or less originals. One Kang introduces his comrade to Ravonna who has been rescued in this time line and then kills him.  The story shifts to the Avengers mansion where the team (Wasp, Hercules, Black Knight, Captain America, and Captain Marvela long with new recruit Namor, The Sub-Mariner) are building a connector from the Mansion to Hydrobase. The Wasp, The Knight and Hercules encounter first the Hulk, then Giant-Man  and realize that they are in Limbo and these unconscious heroes are the evidence of the first encounter with The Space Phantom. They are then taunted by a robot Kang while the original gloats.

Cap, Captain Marvel, and new Avengers Namor the Sub-Mariner follow the first three Avengers and find nothing. Then we meet Kang and Ravonna as he builds more robot doubles.

The Black Knight, Hercules, and Wasp encounter the Space Phantom, then Dire Wraiths who want to be killed in battle and finally the Growing Man.The Earth-bound trio of Avengers build a time machine to take them to Limbo and look for their comrades. Battles rage across Limbo until the entire team is captured by Kang and put into stasis.

Once again Kang shares his elaborate history and details from his perspective his many battles and his eventual discovery of his duplicates across time and his decision to destroy them. The Avengers eventually escape captivity and confront Kang.

We then learn that Ravonna is not the loyal follower we thought and that another is in league with her. The Avengers and Kang battle until Immortus reveals himself and says that he not Kang is in charge of the situation. Unable to deal with his humiliating defeat Kang grabs a device from Immortus but it proves too powerful for him and he dashes into Limbo seemingly mad. The Avengers are sent home and Immortus and Ravonna discuss their Machiavellian methods.

This is a smooth well-crafted time travel story with good solid characters who are worthy. But this story does lack a certain excitement somehow. Perhaps it's because there is so much explanation needed to keep it all straight, I don't know. I admire this tale for its craftsmanship, but it does lack a certain magic somehow.

There are many other Kang stories, but that's all I have time for this month. Time has run out on this little visit down memory lane. Kang would forgive me, or perhaps not.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

World's Finest Rivals!

Lois Lane #89 sports a dramatic cover by Neal Adams which shows Lois and Bruce Wayne getting hitched while a miserable and mopey Superman glowers on.  "The Bride of Batman" is a frothy tale which begins in a world where Bruce Wayne is smitten with Lois and eventually asks her out, after Superman of course ignores her yet again. They fall in love and become happily married. 

Superman is largely reduced in this one to the well-meaning friend who stands jilted while the love of his life goes on to make happy existence for herself. Batman reveals his identity to Lois just in time for her to help him and Superman fend off an attack by the mob who are trying to spring a trap which will end the threat of the Caped Crusader and his allies in the Justice League. Lois does some dandy misdirection and helps end the threat and round up the gang. The story ends with the Bat-couple still happy and Batman Jr. well into his training with both Batman and Robin. Superman meanwhile settles for being the best friend.

In the story "The Saga of Superman Vs. Batman" (make a great movie title that) we have a tale in which Superman and Batman meet as boys when Superboy is just getting his career started. In this story Bruce Wayne's dad is still alive though  his mother has passed. A series of unfortunate coincidences involving a proposed cure for Kryptonite poisoning cause young Bruce to imagine Superboy has killed his father. That grudge inspires him to master criminal studies and makes him take on the role of Batman. Then he begins his scheme to to revenge himself on Superman, all the while pretending to be his ally. His real ally is Lex Luthor and that secret proves to be key to the whole story. The truth sets everyone free but not everyone survives.This is an imaginary story with a real punch and one which allows a darker side of the Batman to shine through for most of the story.

These are both dandy imaginary yarns that show that heroes are not always destined to be best friends, something we find all too often in modern comics reality alas.

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