Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Dojo Classics - Out Of The Crypt!

After Zuras dispatches the "Cosmic Hulk" the Eternals find themselves immediately embroiled in another battle, this time with "The Thing in the Big City Crypt". That "Thing" is an old Deviant it turns out, one named "Dromedan". Long ago he had been defeated by Zuras and was locked in a tomb beneath New York City with a giant helmet which stifled his ability to mentally control the will of others.

Dromedan proves to be a most worthy opponent battling Ikaris, Makkari, and Zuras to pretty much a stand still and threatening the subdue the will of vast populations on Earth when Sersi joins the fray. Her abilities turn the tide at last and Dromedan is finally destroyed when after Sersi has distracted him with multiple images of Ikaris, the Polar Eternal unleashes his powerful eye beams which seeminly disintegrate the ancient enemy once and for all.

Dromedan is an impressive looking enemy, but is dispatched with relative ease though admittedly it takes four Eternals to do the deed. What Dromedan does add to the narrative is an idea Kirby has played with much more thoroughly in other venues, and that's the idea that the power to subdue someone's will to your own is an awesome and frightening power. It seems in many ways to the core dread on Kirby's part. He explored the idea of course at length in the "Fourth World" with the Anti-Life Equation and to lesser degrees with villains like Dr.Doom, Loki, and as we see here Dromedan.

Here's a look at how the first Dromedan cover was developed.
More to come.

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Monday, September 20, 2021

Dojo Classics - Cosmic Hulk!

Now we come to one of the most confounding aspects of the The Eternals. Clearly Jack Kirby wanted the Eternals to occupy a separate universe from the larger Marvel Universe he himself largely constructed the foundations for. But there was clearly pressure from the editorial offices at Marvel, led presumably by the late great Archie Goodwin, to incorporate aspects of the MU into the Eternals. Kirby included SHIELD agents, though aside from a reference there's little to visually suggest that's what they are.

And he even included a weird moment when thanks to the Eternal power of illusion a human being suddenly has the head of old Blue Eyes himself the inimitable Benjamin Grimm, the Thing.

But the reference was vague, as if the Thing seen there was perhaps a fictional character in the Eternals universe. That's the same sense we get when, of all things, the Hulk guest stars for several issues. Now this is not the Hulk we know, this is not Bruce Banner, but rather a robot version of the Hulk created by two bright college students for a college prank. Their inspiration for the Hulk seems to have been the "Marvel" character and not once do you get the sense that the actual Hulk is something the humans are familiar with. So it is this robot Hulk who accidentally gets infused with ambient cosmic energy when Zuras unlocks the Uni-Mind which incorporated most if not all the Eternals themselves. Powered by the energy the robot Hulk becomes a raging menace who must be brought down by Ikais and Makkari and the rest of the Eternals in NYC.

The battle rages across the rooftops of the city, not unlike when Orion battled Kalibak in the last few issues of the New Gods. This time the struggle seems somewhat less significant though no less brutal. Ultimately after two full issues, the robot Hulk is drained of his cosmic might by Zuras and literally disappears when a new threat looms.

That though is not the last we see of the robot Hulk, who becomes a handy device to feature old Jadejaw's mug in several comics when continuity suggested it was unlikely. One of the most memorable turns was in an issue of Cloak and Dagger.

What the case might've been, Kirby was able to feature a guest star from the old Marvel Universe without actually doing it. I think I was somewhat frustrated at the time, but now I think it was a clever ruse on his part to meet the desires of his masters and yet still maintain the integrity of his story.

One note of possible irony is that according to the lore it was a Hulk poster produced for Marvelmania which was the final straw for Kirby before his departure for DC. He produced the poster, but it was not his work that was published, but that of Herb Trimpe who had done the work again and clearly was instructed to use Kirby's original as his source, if not template. Not getting credit for work he clearly was responsible for couldn't have left him feeling too happy.

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Sunday Funnies - Prince Valiant 1973-1974!

In Prince Valiant Volume 19: 1973-1974 by Foster and Murphy from Fantagraphics we have the first full volume not drawn completely by Hal Foster the creator of Prince Valiant in 1936. He is still writing the strip and laying it out, but John Cullen Murphy has taken over the primary art chores. In the volume begins with a reminiscence of Murphy by fellow comic strip maven Jerry Dumas

The saga picks up where it left off with the budding romance of Jacques the troubadour and the young acrobat Joan. They are married off post haste and the story quickly turns to Prince Arn who has found a friend in Boltarson, the son of Boltar, Prince Valiant's longtime ally and husband of Tillicum who was Arn's nurse. They head North and meet up with various adventures in which Boltarson questions Arn's bravery but quickly learns he has mistaken guile for guts. The duo make for Thule and soon Arn is sent on a mission to help install the new king of Holvik, who it turns out doesn't want the job. The heir Heidmar arranges to take the place of an ill-fated serf and rides off escaping his duties. The job of king goes to the untrustworthy Grimner and his chosen wife Princess Frieda. After that Arn encounters Lydia who stakes a firm claim on his young heart. When he is ordered to check on Grimner he is reluctant but does the job and helps to settle down the area which has been invaded by Wanderers. He is wounded and returns to Camelot where he convalesces thanks to Lydia while his father finishes his mission in Holvek. There is much treachery and both Grimner and Frieda end up dead and another is selected to be king, who it turns out is Lydia's brother. But when Arn sees Lydia meet her brother at the docks with much affection his tender affections are wounded so much he leaves Camelot without a word. Arn provisions a ship of Vikings but soon leaves them when they desire raiding over trade. He then grows up a bit and loses his fathers tunic design to fashion his own in red. He becomes a knight errant and soon has a clever squire in a loquacious fellow named Paul. They have adventures and even end up in a castle under siege. Seeing it is hopeless they escape but do rescue a lost young girl who they named "Squirrel". Paul becomes attached to her and eventually he marries and becomes a happy father of many. Arn then encounters Sir Gawain and the two go to fight jousts, some not fair at all. Meanwhile Lydia's brother is searching for Arn and eventually finds him and tells him the truth. Overcome with joy Arn is breathless to get to Thule. The two stalwarts find a hidden valley in which the people have been protected from invasion for two hundred years and later a castle in which the reluctant queen has been dead behind a locked door for over fifteen years while her mad lover waits for a word. Soon after and Arn  and Gawain part company when the latter heads home to Camelot. Arn encounters more Vikings, helps two young lovers find themselves and then when he gets to Thule he is reunited with Lydia at last. Prince Valiant becomes the focus when he goes to stop a giant warrior form terrorizing the district. He overcomes this threat with his usual cleverness and bravery. As the tome ends we are treated to the daydreams of young Galen and later yet another siege on a castle. But that story will be next time. 

The extra treat in this volume is a classic Hal Foster piece from 1942 -- The Song of Bernadette which was a Book-of-the-Month Club offering. The complete piece is here. This installment wraps up "The Sunday Funnies" for at least the next month or more. Hopefully I'll be able to get back to it in November and bring more Prince Valiant to the Dojo. Until then. 

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Saturday, September 18, 2021

The Mighty Thor And The Celestials Saga!

Retro-Continuity is an artform. In the world of comics which forward decade by decade, it has often become necessary to tweak the details of certain characters and worlds to make them dovetail with other immediate concerns. The greatest and most famous "ret-con" is still the in famous DC "Crisis" which pruned the DC Universe of countless worlds and scores of vintage characters. Their reappearance over the course of time is ret-conning too. Ret-Conning was a fun practice especially in the Bronze Age when the fanboys who had digested countless comics had their chance to play with the toys. Steve Englehart was especially deft at the practice with his attempts to account for the 1950's Captain America and Bucky which was at odds with the continuity of the Marvel Age. Later he plucked Patsy Walker out of the funny pages and gave her a potent role as "Hellcat". But the undisputed master of the Ret-Con is Roy "The Boy" Thomas. His Invaders comic was a masterpiece of the art and later his All-Star Squadron was even more so, though I do think things got a bit out of hand in that series in terms of minor details being considered worthy of attention. But one of Roy's better Ret-Cons was the way that he took hold of Jack Kirby's Eternals and fused them into the larger Marvel Universe tapestry. Assisted by continuity maven Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio, Thomas made sense of the Eternals in a MU which was already brimming with gods of all sorts. But it's a tale not without flaw as we shall see. 

The ball got kicked off in the seventh Thor annual by Roy and artist Walt Simonson in which we see Thor at the time of the ancient "Third Host" of the Celestial visitation. This had been referred to in Kirby's series but now we are front and center as Thor teams with some Eternals we know such as the Polar Eternals Valkin, Druig and Ajak along with the father of Ikaris a chap dubbed Virako. They battle the Deviant Dromedan and we see the arrival of the Third Host almost as Thor is swept away and his memory wiped. 

And it's the story of how Thor regains his memories of these events as well as his own secret history that motivates most of what is dubbed "The Celestial Saga'. It begins with Thor miffed with his Daddy Odin, as he often was, because of Odin allowing Balder the Brave to continue in a state of near-death to stave off yet another Ragnarok. He remembers his Celestial adventure and heads to the Andes and finds the great dome the Celestials had put into place to keep interlopers from finding them. He also finds a plane which has lost control and takes it in tow staving off a mighty crash. This saga is written by Roy Thomas and drawn in the beginning by "Big" John Buscema with Chic Stone handling the inks. 

Gammenon the Celestial gathers up Thor and the plane and takes them inside the dome where Thor encounters Ajak and Professor Daniel Damien and we find out that three years have passed since Fourth Host arrived. Turns out there is a SHIELD agent on the plane as well as a Deviant in disguise named Ereshkigal. As thor battles her other Eternals such as Ikaris and Sersi are gathering in NYC. Thor defeats the Deviant and takes the plane home. 

After depositing the broken plane Thor goes on to encounter the Eternals in NYC and goes with them into the underground of the city where they encounter more Deviants including Kro the Warlord. 

Thor and the Eternals and their allies come into conflict with the Deviants and end up destroying their base under the city. Keith Pollard takes over the penciling chores with this issue and draws every issue thereafter save one. 

Then Thor and the Eternals Ikaris, Thena, and Sersi along with the Deviant Mutates Karkus and the Reject head to Olympia where Thor meets Zuras and comes into conflict with "Hero" the Forgotten One who now serves the Celestials. Meanwhile Sif is on a mission for Odin to collect some old armor. 

Thor is taken aboard the ship of the Celestials and encounters the "One Who is Above All", the top Celestial. His battle with Hero continues as do the quests of Sif and the Warriors Three who have been sent to battle Fafnir the dragon. 

Thor sees a vision of  Odin bending knee to the Celestials and heads to Asgard to find out what that's all about. While the Eternals wait to form the Uni-Mind to confront the Celestials Thor ends up in Asgard battling the thing Sif had been sent by Odin to find, the relentless Destroyer. Thor is thrown from the Rainbow Bridge when he is defeated by the Destroyer. 

And ends up in Mexico where he finds more Eternals and Deviants, this time disguised as "Luchadores", the wrestlers of Mexico. In this story guest-drawn by Arvell Jones  Thor has great success in the squared circle. 

Meanwhile the Eternals have made the Uni-Mind and been repelled by the Celestials and find that their city of Olympia is invaded by the immortals of Olympus led by Zeus and Hercules with Odin having organized the attack. Thor fights on the side of the Eternals and falls under the spear of his father Odin. 

But of course Odin cannot harm Thor really and calls off the attack and abruptly leaves. The gods of Olympus head back home and decide to leave the Earth to others to fret about. The Eternals consider their opitions and Thor begins a long quest to discover the truth behind Odin's words that he had killed Thor before. To this end he seeks out the "Eye of Odin" the one he'd plucked out which had grown to immense size and is sentient and is something of an oracle. 

We then begin a long odyssey as the Eye tells Thor of his own past and even beyond that history to a story in which the Gods of Asgard, called the Aesir did fall in during a Ragnarok. All this happened two thousand years before when the fire that raged in Asgard proved to be the star that led three wise men to a certain rather humble manger. 

Then the Eye begins to tell of the earliest days of Asgard's new beginning and how all the survivors of the Aesir became as one and that one was named Odin. This then becomes an adaptation of sorts of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, with Thor playing certain key roles as the saga unfolds. 

He battles against the giant Fafnir who had been promised Idunn of the Golden Apples, the very apples that given the Asgardians immortality. That promise was made by Odin in exhanged for work done by Fafner and his brother. Odin for his part makes the memory of this go away from those involved. 

Then Thor becomes "Siegmund" the hero of the Cycle and he contends with Hunding for the affections of his wife Sieglinda who is his sister. Hunding doesn't understand this and they battle to the death, Siegmund's death who dies under the spear of Odin in a manner of speaking since Odin empowers Hunding. 

Then we follow Brunhilde the Valkyrie who betrays Odin and is put into a deep sleep atop a mountain surrounded by fire. The hero who can free her is Siegried, the son of Siegmund by Sieglinda (though Marvel glosses over this point a bit for obvious reasons), He is raised by dwarves who want the Ring of the Nieblungs and see him as a way to get it. 

To be honest this story gets very confusing at points as now Thor as Siegmund battles the dragon Fafnir and gets the Ring and frees Brunhilde. But this is contrary to the wishes of Odin. 

So in the next issue Siegfried (Thor) falls in love with the wife of the leader of the Gibichung Clan due to a spell and rejects Brunnhilde who is sought by the very husband of the woman he fell helplessly in love with. (My head's spinning a bit at this point.) But there is more betrayal and eventually a truce is declared and this series of visions mercifully ends. By this time Roy is no longer writing the series but has been replaced by Mark Gruenwald who had helped plot it, but this long diversion from the Celestials plot does a great deal of damage to the ongoing story. 

Finally at long last in the three hundredth issue of  Thor (now I guess I know why they were stalling) written by Gruenwald and Macchio and drawn by Pollard with inks this time by Gene Day. We reach (at long last) the finale of the Ring adaptation in which it is revealed that Odin is shown the arrival of the Celestials in a vision and he begins plans to stand against them. All of the folderol to this point has been part of the plan. We are introduced to the Sky Gods of many mythologies who hold a meeting and it's determined by all that when the time comes, Odin will inhabit the Destroyer which grows to the size of the Celestials and using the already oversized Odinsword will protect Earth from the final judgment. The battle rages but the solution is when twelve "Young Gods" are presented to the Celestials and Arishem makes his decision in favor of Earth's survival. As it turns out we'd seen some of these mortals made into Gods way back in Thor #201 when he battled Ego-Prime. It's nifty to see these long-standing plots come together and it would've been far dandier if they'd been assembled in a more timely and expedient fashion. 

There is a coda ending on this sprawling sage when Thor learns that Mother Earth is his true mother and he ends up fighting Shiva, representative of the Sky Gods. When he wins that battle he is at long last able to return to Asgard where he meets up with his mates (including a revived Balder) and they celebrate in fine Viking fashion. 

And so we have some wonderful Retro-Continuity here working the sprawling Eternals adventures into the larger MU, but we also have some less successful work in the rather terrible pacing in the story. It's a shame as I had delightful memories of this saga, and now I see the flaws. Still and all a noble effort by Roy and gang. Actually my biggest complaint about this collection is that the cover image they use. The cover by John Buscema for issue #283 is used as the back cover of the collection and it would've made a magnificent front cover. It's a stunning image that captures the Celestial dilemma in a single image like a good cover image ought. 

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Friday, September 17, 2021

Dojo Classics - The Astronauts!

"The Astronauts" is one of the best Eternals stories and introduces one of the most fascinating characters. "The Forgotten One", an Eternal punished by Zuras for unnamed crimes has in Earth's past been a great hero. Later it will be revealed he was Gilgamesh, Hercules, and others.

When the Deviants send a flying bomb to the ship of the Celestials, Sprite, an always-young Eternal who inspired Shakespeare's Puck,  goes to the Forgotten One and enlists his aid. All the other Eternals are within the Uni-Mind, so with Sprite's help the newly clothed hero flies to intercept the kamikazi mission by the depraved Deviants. Also flying to the great ship is a space shuttle piloted by two American astronauts.

The One-Above-All, the hidden leader of the Celestials detects the threat and solves the problem with typical Celestial cleverness by shifting the crews of the three vessels. The American end up on the Eteranal ship which they are able to fly safely to Earth. The Deviants end up on the American shuttle which they crash, thus fulfilling their death wish. And the Forgotten One ends up on the Deviant bomb-ship which he disables before being transported to the great Celestial ship itself. The story ends with the hidden Celestial taking an interest in the nameless Eternal hero.

The matter-of-fact manner in which the Celestials deal with the puny threats they face from the races of Earth only reinforces their superior natures, their godlike aptitudes. They calmly and without seeming malice merely eliminate the threats with the most basic adjustments.

The Forgotten One is a great character who alas will get no more play in the relatively short run of the series.

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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Dojo Classics - The Rejects!

The Eternals King-Size Annual one and only is an odd affair. It concerns itself with the Deviants Reject and Karkus who were taken under the care of Thena on her visit to Lemuria. The pair offer up an interesting contrast which underscores one of Kirby's themes in the story. In fact they function like adopted brothers, of distinctly different natures and it's perhaps appropriate that Thena, the one Eternal who fraternized with a Deviant, specifically Kro, would become their foster parent.

Reject is exceedingly handsome, often mistaken for an Eternal, but he is possessed of a violent nature which practically demands war. In contrast Karkus who as a Deviant Mutate seems most monstrous indeed by traditional measures demonstrates a poet's spirit and seems a most gentle soul, though one most capable of fighting.

These two find themselves cooling their heels on Earth while Thena attends to matters of an Eternal nature. Meanwhile warriors and creatures from the past are turning up and raising a ruckus throughout the city. A Deviant scientist is behind it and he does himself in when he conjures up Tutinax, a legendary Deviant warrior who give Reject and Karkus all they can handle. Thena returns in time to help out.

This story titled "The Time Killers" is perhaps a play on words as Kirby clearly seems for this one to contribute little to the broader unfolding saga in the main comic. I suspect Kirby was given the assignment of an annual and filled with a story which is entertaining, but properly isolated for those who didn't follow him over to the alternate title.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Dojo Classics - Sersi!

Arguably the most successful of the Eternals is the vivacious Sersi. First introduced in the third issue of the series, she is in fact the legendary witch who confronted Odysseus and his men on their long journey and she lives a life of relative ease in New York City's more affluent regions. Her flirtatious nature and stunning beauty make her a standout creation. But we do learn she is an Eternal in need of an audience, as her abiding relationship with  Dr.Samuel Holden indicates. Sersi needs to be appreciated, and definitely thinks she's worthy of that admiration.

When the series ended, the Eternals lapsed into limbo. Eventually characters and concepts were revived and more properly integrated into the larger Marvel Universe. No character from the series more successfully integrated than did Sersi. She was tapped to join the Avengers and had a long and fascinating career with the Assemblers.

For a time, she and the Black Knight (Dane Whitman) not only had a romance, but also formed the core of a storyline which dominated the series for a few years.

Sersi is a powerful character, a strong female hero and I'm sure she's not done.

Of all the Eternals, Sersi is the least likely to be forgotten. She'd approve of that.

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