Aug 19, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 906: The Adventures of the Thing #4, July 1992

When I read the first page of this issue, it read to me like an interaction from The Venture Brothers. Which, of course, is a parody of just this kind of superhero story and series, but it occurred to me that, through parody like VB, it's possible for a Fantastic Four comic to become a retroactive parody of itself. If that makes any sense.

This is a nice little rarity in the life of the malodorous Man-Thing. Rather than a constant state of pain due to the incessant fear that seems to follow him around, the swamp creature instead basks in the radiance of Ben Grimm's heroic nature. There are so many moments in this comic that really are textbook cases of the hyperbolic nature of superhero storytelling. A rooftop Oscar-moment facing the setting sun, flashbacks of old war stories while staggering half-dead, refusing to give up. And, truly, they're glorious. It's over the top and ridiculous, a story of extremes, in art and in letters. I think it may rank as one of my favourites of this era, and reaffirms my opinion of Marvel Two-in-One and writer Tom DeFalco's tenure on the title. They're really, really good.

To be continued.

Aug 18, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 905: Vanguard Illustrated #6, June 1984

(A slight detour from The Avengers. I'm away camping over the weekend, so here's some preprepared posts.)

The early 80s really were a golden age for science fiction anthology titles. And so many major artists appeared in them. Today's feature story is an excellent short illustrated by George Perez and written by Joel Cavalieri. It skirts the edge of the science fiction genre cemented by the accompanying stories, though it's a lovely articulation of a Shadowrun adventure, predating that game by a few years, I think.

I've noted before that you're often getting a mixed bag with these anthology titles. Today's is a bit different. Though some of the stories seem to be continuations of serials (should probably have read the series in, y'know, order), I couldn't quite make up my mind whether they were, or were simply written to sound like they were. Reading them from the latter point of view was immensely satisfying. And that's perhaps a nice way to approach any random anthology title. Unless you know for sure, you never know if the story you've read was meant to be part of a larger story or just seemed like it. There's an excellent article on caricature by David Carrier in A Comics Studies Reader that posits that a single-panel comic is actually a part of a virtual series of panels, and our understanding of the single panel depends on our ability to see what has, or might have, come before, and what comes after. Such comics are possibly only because we have the gift of hypothetical thought. So could we consider a comic presented as a part of a series in the same way? And fill in hypothetically what might have happened before, and what comes next?

Though I may read a prior or subsequent issue and blow that theory out of the water. At least for this series.

To be continued.

Aug 17, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 904: Avengers v.1 #238, December 1983

Late night out. Totally forgot to blog this. Will do so in the AM.

Or the PM, as the case may be. I'm off camping this weekend, so this is going to be really short. Starfox helps the Vision regain some of his health using Tritanian technology, which seems to have given the Vision a newfound confidence. Methinks problems are afoot.

That aside, I was wrong about Moonstone and Blackout vanishing until the end of Stern's run. Their capture is the main focus of today's issue, though Blackout manages to inadvertently facilitate their escape - but where they escape to may not be to either his or Moonstone's liking. Not to worry. We'll see them again.

To be continued. 

Aug 16, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 903: Avengers v.1 #237, November 1983

Sort of a "meh" kind of ending to this set-up of super villains taking over a research facility. I suppose that considering there's over 50 issues in this run, not all of them are going to be absolutely stellar.

Spider-Man and the Avengers battle the four escaping super villains, though they only manage to capture Electro and the Rhino. Moonstone and Blackout, as I noted yesterday, will return later in the series, and to much greater effect.

The guest appearance by Spider-Man, much like the earlier Dr. Strange appearance, is in large part due to Mr. Stern's handling the scripting on the Wall Crawler's title as well, and I think it's a good thing that it's a guest appearance, and not a recruitment. Much as Spider-Man wants to join the Avengers, his semi-rogue nature means no government clearance, and thus no Avengers membership. It'll take until the team disassembles, under Brian Bendis's aegis, before Peter Parker becomes a part of the team.

More Avengers tomorrow. To be continued.

Aug 15, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 902: Avengers v.1 #236, October 1983

You know those lazy Summer days when Spider-Man shows up at your house, and then you're called away to an emergency at Project Pegasus, which you avert, but there's another crisis brewing there that you don't know about yet?

Well, the Avengers have one of those days in today's comic, which opens with the line "Avengers Mansion on a lazy Summer day..."

Having heard about the pay cheque from She-Hulk, Spidey decides to take the Avengers up on their offer of membership, but things have changed in the interim (15 issues), and the Avengers aren't so sure anymore. It doesn't help that the Web Slinger broke into their house and disabled some of their security contraptions. But Spidey just rolls like that.

This is a pretty good little standalone issue, again, though it seems to be rolling into a major confrontation of some more characters who will reappear in the assault on the Mansion story years down the line. We see the return of Blackout (from where, and because of what, I have no idea), though he's certainly less-mentally damaged than he appears in the later issues. What happens to him might well be the subject of the next couple of issues. And his connection to Moonstone is an interesting one too. She's one of the villains who, by the issue's end, has rallied to face off against the Avengers. I find Karla Sofen fascinating - she comes across as a highly educated, highly powered sociopath, though once we hit Thunderbolts territory, her sociopathy seems to recede a bit. Maybe. I think the notion of a villain who's not only really powerful but also really intelligent is a cool one. And she's not over the top intelligent like a lot of the tinkerer/inventor types who populate the Marvel U (I'm thinking of yesterday's Wizard, or Doctor Doom, or the Fixer). No, Dr. Sofen is a very, very smart psychiatrist, so not only is she capable with her powers, but also with understanding human (and mutant, and alien, etc, etc.) motivation. This makes her tricky in both fisticuffs and battles of the will. I'm going to keep an eye on her, and perhaps, after the Stern Avengers run, look into reading through at least some of Thunderbolts.

We'll see.

To be continued.

The Earth-H Files - The Joker in "The Cornered Clown"

From Justice League of America #142, May 1977.

Aug 14, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 901: Avengers v.1 #235, September 1983

A nice little one-off today, featuring an unlikely team of Avengers. When word of a prison break goes out, the Wasp (whose development into an amazing leader is a joy to behold) sends a team of Captain America, She-Hulk, and Scarlet Witch out to investigate. It's a superhero tale on a slightly higher metaphorical plane, as each character encounters a problem that in some ways reflects a dilemma they are having in their personal lives. Cap even acknowledges it on the sly at the very end, telling the Wasp that the Wizard "gave us all a pretty good challenge...a welcome challenge, I daresay." The most blatant example is the She-Hulk's trap, an unending series of bare white rooms. She walks out of one and into another. This is indicative of her frustration over her living situation, the rooms as the apartments she's seen over and over again. Not until she breaks the pattern does she figure her way out of the trap. The Scarlet Witch in particular comes out the other side feeling less helpless about the Vision's injuries, and more like her old self. So, through superheroics, superheroes confront the effect that trauma is having on them. This is why I call it a story on a higher metaphorical plane - it's almost as if the universe (or, say, the writer) is giving these characters tailor-made situations that help them to reinforce themselves against the challenges they face.

Which, I guess, is what it actually is, but then why do we feel the need to worry about the psychologies of these characters, to such an extent that we contrive scenarios like these to fix their mental health? I think it's because we believe in them.

To be continued.