Thursday, September 30, 2021

A Marvelous Ret-Con Cover Gallery!

From the very beginnings of the Marvel Universe, Stan and the gang wisely chose to resurrect some of the more successful characters from the halcyon days of Timely and Atlas. The most notorious revival was of the Sub-Mariner who had proven to be a quite successful character for the company in earlier times and was even considered for a television show in the 50's. The Namor we meet in the pages of Fantastic Four #4 is rowdy character who is quickly smitten by Sue Storm, a quasi-romance that will linger in the comic for several years, even after Namor rediscovers his lost kingdom of Atlantis. 

But even before Namor there was the reimagining of the Human Torch who for the first time actually lived up to the name. Where as Namor was the same character as we'd seen in the Golden and Atomic ages of comics, albeit with an altered story line, this new Human Torch was Johnny Storm, a new character altogether, though Marvel immediately saw that he might be a headliner as he hand been in decades past. The Torch was quickly given a solo slot in Strange Tales to attempt to maximize his popularity such as it was. 

The next revival at Marvel was a bit of a surprise, as it came in the pages of the short-lived original Hulk series. It was of the villainous Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. The Golden Age original had been Nazis and these are just clever thieves. Later it was suggested the Nazi Ringmaster had been the father of the Silver Age one, but who knows what the story is today, if the Circus of Crime can even be a thing in these modern days. 

Next was the third of the "Big Three" from Timely. Captain America is unfrozen in Avengers #4 and goes on to become a mainstay of the book and eventual titular leader. He of course will get his own series before long. I've always found it odd that Marvel was so tenuous about his revival, having done a false one in the pages of Strange Tales before the actual for real Cap joined the MU. 

The next revival and retro-continuity character is actually two, one a villain and the other a hero. The Black Knight was a high profile character for Atlas and a bad version was dreamed up in the modern day for Giant-Man to battle. He went on to fight Iron Man before his untimely death. His equipment was inherited by Dane Whitman who chose to use it as a hero and not a villain and eventually the Atlas Knight was tied into all of this in the pages of various Avengers comics. 

Ka-Zar is likely the revival and ret-conning of the oldest character in the Marvel mythos as his precursor was a Tarzan wannabe from the pages of vintage pulps published by Martin Goodman's outfit even before they dabbled in  comic books. Never having read them myself I cannot say if Zabu is likewise a revival or a brand new character. Anyway we are introduced to the Lord of the Savage Land in X-Men #10. 

Another villain returns from the Golden Age when Captain America's most memorable opponent (if you don't count Hitler) returns to scheme and plot anew. The Red Skull had returned in a manner of speaking in stories while being new were set in WWII, but then he comes into the 20th Century when he awakens and seeks the Cosmic Cube. Tales of Suspense housed this revival.  

Now things get a bit dicey, because as it turns out Carl Burgos was trying to get control of the character he'd created so long ago for Marvel. To stave off his attempts the actual Human Torch, the android, was revived and given a new back story of sorts in Fantastic Four Annual #4. This story was then used to show that Marvel had indeed made use of the character and ironically Jack Kirby, who later battled for recognition and some level of ownership of the myriad characters he'd created was the artist on this tale. 

Reaching back into the 1950's Nick Fury battled the Yellow Claw in the pages of Strange Tales. Coming with the classic "Yellow Peril" villain was his arch nemesis Jimmy Woo who eventually became a member of SHIELD.

Red Raven #1 is a weird comic book from Timely's Golden Age and it features the first work by Jack Kirby for the company that will become Marvel. But Kirby had no hand in the revival of the Red Raven in the pages of X-Men #44 when the Angel encountered his Golden Age winged counterpart while on a mission to save his comrades. This story was by Roy Thomas and Don Heck. 

The Human Torch had been revived twice, once as Johnny Storm in a new persona and then as the original (or at least a version of same). Now it was time for Toro to get his due in the pages of Sub-Mariner #14 by Roy Thomas and Marie Severin and we find out how he's lived since those days when he was partnered with the world's most heroic Golden Age android. This is a tragic tale as Toro also dies in this very same appearance. 

Roy "The Boy" Thomas loved the Golden Age of comics and he loved bringing back versions of these characters. One such example and arguably the most successful was The Vision who debuted in Avengers #57. As far as I know this Vision, remarkably rendered by John Buscema had no connections to his Golden Age inspiration save for sharing a name. 

Thomas was at bat again when he and Sal Buscema decided to send a trio of Avengers back in time to WWII to confront a team who were soon to become The Invaders. The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America had joined forces before as part of the All-Winners Squad, but here we see the Big Three as they take on Black Panther and the newly minted Vision and Yellowjacket. This happened in Avengers #71.

One of the conundrums of comics is that heroes are owned by companies who make wide use of them. Captain America had been revived before in the 1950's and that revival was at direct odds with the tale told so skillfully in the Avengers. So how to account for it? Steve Englehart decided that the Cap and Bucky of the 50's were do-gooders who were inspired by the originals, but in the stunning four-part series beginning in Captain America #153 we find that they also ingested the racist and xenophobic attitudes of their era. 

It's Roy Thomas again, this time assisted by Rick Buckler who bring back the rest of the All-Winners Squad -- The Whizzer and Miss America. In the pages of Giant-Size Avengers #1 we meet their son "Nuklo" who sadly was affected by the things that gave them powers and becomes a monstrous threat. It's a heartbreaking tale. 

The Invaders finally get sanctioned in 1975 when Roy and artist Frank Robbins tell brand new stories of the adventures of the Golden Age Big Three as they battled Hitler and his allies. I adored this series and while it's a masterwork of retro-continuity it does bother folks who are fans of the original Golden Age stories for the liberties it takes with time frames and whatnot. But for me it was pure fun from the moment they debuted in Giant-Size Invaders #1. 

We'll wrap this up with another return and ret-con from the 1950's. Marvel Boy was a moderate hit in the Atlas years and got some exposure as a reprint Marvel Tales. We find out what really happened in the pages of Fantastic Four #164 by George Perez. The "Crusader" is Marvel Boy by another name, and sadly he's not a hero any longer. Marvel has never stopped ret-conning its characters and we see that endlessly as the amount of time Captain America was in the ice increases as the years roll by. Things must always change alas. Even Bucky came back to life. If I've forgotten anyone please let me know. 

Tomorrow something completely different as October arrives. 

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Man-Gods From Beyond The Stars!

Under this stunning Neal Adams cover is a thrilling exploration of these notions of spacemen and prehistoric mankind. Check out this link to the Atomic Commie Comics Reading Room

Here's a house ad that announced this singular magazine from the "House of Ideas". Note the prehistoric chaps in this one are more primitive than on the Neal Adams cover. More akin to the ape-men in 2001: A Space Odyssey perhaps. 

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Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Deviant Deviations - The Skrulls!

So it turns out that not only were Deviants featured in the very first comic book of the Marvel Universe, but they were the main villains in the second. Fantastic Four #2 featured the weird menace of the shape-changing Skrulls, who hearkened from the depths of space. These are just regular Skrulls in this adventure, beings who are able to invade and infiltrate a culture because they can become almost anything to disguise themselves. 

Turns out they are a variation of the Deviant stock created by the Celestials for a world far far away from our humble Earth. One of my favorite baddies is Super-Skrull who turns up first in Fantastic Four #18 and in addition to his natural Skrull shape-changing abilities he is gifted with the powers of the Fab 4 itself. 

Sometime later we learn that the Dire Wraiths, the malicious aliens battled by toy-gone-comic hero ROM are yet another variation of the Skrull line. Those nutty Celestials sure were busy in the Marvel Universe. 

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Monday, September 27, 2021

Deviant Deviations - The Gortokians!

In X-Men #41 we meet the Gortokians. This is yet another subterranean race which eventually will be yet another variation of Deviant genetic technology. They were specifically bred as slaves who were used to erect the sprawling underground cities occupied by the Deviant race. The race was almost completely destroyed by underground nuclear testing. 

The one exception was a particularly nasty chap named "Grotesk" who sought vengeance for his slaughtered people and tried to achieve by killing Professor Xavier, the leader of the X-Men. At that time the X-Men thought Professor X was indeed slain and the team eventually broke up for a brief time. But soon they learned that another mutant named "Changeling" had substituted himself for Xavier while the latter prepared for a massive alien invasion. 

It is suggested in some sources that the "Golden People" first and only seen in Marvel Super-Heroes #19 in a Ka-Zar story are a remnant of the Gortokians. 

Next time it's the ultimate Deviant deviation when we head into deepest space with the Skrulls. 

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Sunday, September 26, 2021

The Eternals And The Dreaming Celestial!

With the advent of the direct-sales market in the 1980's, comic book companies were able to offer up limited series which came in the three, four, or sometimes twelve issue versions. These were remarkable because it allowed for some characters to get a peak at an audience without a full-blown commitment to a series which might need canceling after only a few issues of poor sales. Among the most famous of the limited series of course was Crisis on Infinite Earths for DC and for Marvel there was Secret Wars. But there was also at Marvel a twelve issue series for The Eternals. This one was one written by Peter B. Gillis and drawn by Sal Buscema with inks in the early issues by Al Gordon. But before the limited could kick off there was some necessary housecleaning concerning the Eternals. But it didn't really start there. 

In the sixth Iron Man Annual the spanking new Iron Man Rhodey Rhoades discovers the Eternals and the Deviants and finds the former enslaved by the latter due to pernicious mind mines which render the Eternals powerless. There is just one problem with this story, and that's there are not enough Eternals. They are rescued right enough, but only in the final pages where they clean up on the Deviants. Zuras, the leader of the Eternals has been murdered though and that will have consequences. 

Next the Eternals show up in a trio of Avengers issues by Roger Stern and Al Milgrom, in which for the first time Eros of Titan learns of his heritage and its connection to the Eternals and Inhumans of Earth. It all begins with a party thrown by Sersi (a common event in Eternals stories) and before you know it the Avengers are part of a scheme by the bizarre villain Maelstrom (who is part Deviant and part Inhuman) to gain power when the Eternals are within the Uni-Mind. The upshot of this story is that with the demise of Zuras, most of the Eternal population decide to leave the planet Earth and seek their fortunes among the stars. 

The Gillis-Buscema story picks up at this point and we find the remaining Eteranals are Ikarus, Thena, Makkari, Sprite, and Sersi alongside new Eternals Phastos, Korphyos, and Kingo. These seem to be Eternals who have done an especially effective job of blending into human society or have found singular purpose in the world. Thena seeks to become their leader and assume the power of Zuras and the others accept her but not with the respect she feels she deserves. Also on hand are the Deviant mutates Karkus and Reject (who is now called "Sweet Prince"). Also on hand is Margo Damian. 

The main villain of this story is High-Priest Ghaur a priest of the Deviant culture and despite some shenangians by Kro who eventually assumes the leadership role in Lemuria, it is Ghaur and his Deviant cultists who have a plan to give them immense power over not only Deviants, but also humans and Eternals, and perhaps even the Celestials themselves. 

We meet Phastos who is something of a recluse but is of great benefit to the Eternals in that he manufactures many of their primary weapons. In keeping with the Eternals conceit that they resemble in many ways the classic Greek Gods, Phastos of course evokes Hephaestus from that pantheon. 

Kingo on the other hand is a Samurai who just so happens to also be an actor in Samurai movies. He has taken "Sweet Prince" under his wing and is attempting to cool the ferocious mutate's temper and make him an even more effective warrior. 

Much of the story in the early episodes concerns itself with Thena and her troubles as leader of the Eternals. Two things prey on her mind, one is a perception that she is not respected by her peers as was Zuras and her heartfelt affection for the Deviant Kro. The latter might go to explain the former. 

On the other hand Ikaris is proving to be a warrior of a relentless nature pressing always for the few remaining Eternals to go on the offensive against perceived Deviant threats. When the Deviants breach the Pyramid of the Winds which had been guarded by the Polar Eternals for untold ages, Ikaris is convinced they are up to dastardly deeds and he would be right. Their plot concerns the "Dreaming Celestial" a member of the Celestials' Second Host, this renegade was put down by his peers and entombed beneath the Pyramid of the Winds. 

With Thena and Kro on the run from both the Deviants and the Eternals, as both are understood to be traitors to their kind, Ghaur gains access to the tools to revive the Dreaming Celestial and seemingly bend the mighty being to his will. 

My favorite single story in this entire run (with the debut issue a close second) is issue nine which showcases one of Sersi's wildly entertaining parties. Many familiar faces and costumes show up as this is essentially a raucous comedy issue. So well done by both Gillis and Buscema, it's a damn shame that this is their final issue in the series. 

With the ninth issue Walt Simonson takes over the writing and Keith Pollard steps into the penciling chair. All I can find out about the change is that seemingly Jim Shooter did not particularly like Gillis's scripts so I guess that moved him on. Why Sal Buscema left with him is unknown, at least to me. 

The story beings to wind up to its finale with the Eternals infiltrate the city of the Deviants in an effort to stop Ghaur's schemes. Thena and Kro as well as Margo Damien are in the city as well. 

Spoiler Alert: Sadly, this story sees fit to kill off Margo Damien, though the plot device is used to send an attack out on Ikaris. The death of Margo was unexpected and really didn't add up to much given how long she'd been in this storyline, from the very beginning in the original series. It left a sour tasted for certain. End of Spoiler Alert. 

Paul Ryan takes over the pencils in the finale with Ghaur having gotten the power of the Dreaming Celestial and seemingly having become him to some degree. How it all ends I'll leave out of this review, but I will note that weirdly the Eternals seems to fade from this final chapter and the newly organized West Coast Avengers handle a bit more of the fight that I'd have imagined. This is a series that begins with a great deal of energy and does a fine job of freshening the Eternals concept for the 80's Marvel Universe. It's a shame that Gillis and Buscema were not allowed to complete their work as I suspect the finale would've been a bit better. Still and all it's a rousing read for Eternals fans. 

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Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Eternals - Secrets From The Marvel Universe!

Save for The Invaders, What If? was one of the most entertaining new comics of the Bronze Age. Whereas the former was a work of Retro-Continuiity, blending the classic advenures of Timely's Big Three - Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and the Human Torch into a broader canvas fitting into the Marvel Universe, the latter was just the opposite...sort of. What If? was about answering the questions many of us fanboys had asked about certain key moments in Marvel's history. What if  Spidey had joined the Fab 4? What if the Hulk had gained intelligence? These questions had been nagging and now we got answer of sorts. The fourth issue of What If? even contributed to the new history of the Invaders by showing how there had been a Captain America when Steve Rogers was on ice. So it wasn't a great shock when there appeared a back-up feature in What If? which showcased how the Inhumans, the Eternals, and the Titans were all connected. It took elements of stories told by Jack Kirby, Jim Starlin and others and wove them into a nifty fabric that was in the end greater than the sum of its parts. 

The Eternals - Secrets from the Marvel Universe was a nifty one-shot which featured all eight of these short back-up tales from issues #23 to #30 of What If?. The series was written by Mark Gruenwald and Peter Gillis. They are drawn mostly by Ron Wilson, though Rick Buckler does contribute one chapter. These stories function almost exactly like Jack Kirby's Inhumans back-up from Thor so many years before. In fact it can be seen as a continuance of that same series. The back stories of the Eternals, the Inhumans and the Titans seem to conflict at first glance, but a little manipulation and the application of a nimble imagination and we see that what was once in conflict is become elegant and beautifully blended. 

These stories were also collected in The Eternals - The Dreaming Celestial Saga. I'll be taking a look at that tome tomorrow. 

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Friday, September 24, 2021

Deviant Deviations - The Lava Men!

The Lava Men were first revealed to the Marvel Universe readers in the pages of Journey Into Mystery #97 when he battles a lone Lava Man. I love the way that Jack Kirby and Don Heck rendered the Lava Man in this story, he's very distinctive and menacing. (I notice on the cover that Kirby has borrowed the old Alex Schomburg trick of having the hero and the villain presented much larger than the fleeing folks below.) This was of course at a time when Marvel was only just beginning to get a sense of each book participating in a larger universe, so the Lava Man was created without regard to any other subterranean race. 

The Lave Men show up as a race when they battle the Avengers in the fifth issue of that venerable run. Like the Moloids and the Tyrannoids the Lava Men were a variation of life created by the Deviants during their never ending experimentation with the genetic code imparted to them by the Celestials.  Spectacular stuff! 

More to come when we meet more disparate Deviants on Monday when the Gortokians show up. 

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