Saturday, August 30, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #101

"The Return of Zarrko the Tomorrow Man" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(February 1964)

Giving Thor an extra five pages really starts paying off with this issue. Stan & Jack are starting to follow their Fantastic Four model, where the first few pages are taken up with character development that let you into the characters a little more, rather than jumping right off into this issue's villain.

Thor is fuming from Odin's decree last issue that Jane Foster will never be allowed to marry Thor (Odin thinks Jane aided Mr. Hyde in defeating Thor, which she did in order to try to save Donald Blake). He's so enraged that he's throwing the Asgardian version of a fit.

It's so bad that his fellow Avengers--Iron Man, Giant-Man and Wasp--show up to try and calm him down and offer their help (rather than barking orders, screaming threats, and beating him up, which is what they would have done had it been the Hulk, just saying).

Odin and Loki are watching this unfold from Asgard, and with Loki at his ear going all Grima Wormtongue, Odin punishes Thor by halving his power, which becomes painfully apparent when Thor approaches Heimdall and demands entrance to Asgard. Heimdall defeats Thor, where once he would have been unable to withstand a hammer blow or Thor's fury.

With Thor at his lowest, Loki decides it's time to strike. He can't move openly against Thor, but instead uses the Well of Centuries to influence events in the year 2264. Way back in Journey Into Mystery #86, Thor fought Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, a time traveler from centuries in the future. After their fight, Zarrko lost his memories of the incident. Now Loki restores them, and Zarrko is immediately set on a quest for revenge.

Zarrko appears in New York City and starts wrecking things with what he calls an indestructible mining robot. Where once Thor could have easily made short work of the robot, he's handily defeated. Odin has halved the power of Thor's hammer as well. Thor, unable to destroy the robot, surrenders to Zarrko to save the 20th century, agreeing to return to the 23rd century and help Zarrko conquer. Hey, he beat Zarrko the first time with probably the same amount of strength--it was before he recovered his belt of strength, after all--so let's see what his plan is this time.

Odin, however, is angered beyond reason and just about ready to disown Thor and take away his hammer. Which, of course, is Loki's plan...

To be continued.

Stray observation:

:: Why, of course Odin and Heimdall have different outfits.

Thor and Loki never change their clothes. Damn kids.

"Tales of Asgard: The Invasion of Asgard" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos

Another in the "Boyhood of Thor" series, this short feature tells the story of a time when Thor helped save Asgard from invasion by the forces of evil. While Odin's forces build their defenses, Loki leads Thor to a hole in a tunnel through which the evil forces could attack--a hole made by Loki, who has informed the enemies of Asgard of its existence, hoping that they will overrun and kill Thor. So Thor stands alone against the Norn Hag, Ulfrin the Dragon, the Rime Giants, Skoll and Hati the Wolf Gods, Geirrodur the Troll, and the Last of the Ice Giants. Kirby's art here is bizarre and wonderful, and in some cases (above), unsettling.

Thor is able to hold the breach until Odin and his warriors arrive--but only barely--and the enemies are defeated. In the end, Thor has a little more strength to lift the hammer with. When he can hold it above his head, he will have the power of the God of Thunder.

As always, terrific stuff.

Next time: Johnny Storm's aquarium brawl; Baron Mordo returns!

Friday, August 29, 2014


Some interesting contextualization in character animation for a minute and a half.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jack Kirby Would Have Been 97 Today

Tumblr has been sharing a lot of stories and art of Jack Kirby today, and I don't really feel like I have a lot to say about the man. Bizarrely, I never used to consider myself a fan of his. I guess it's because I grew up in the age of "cool" comic book artists like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld. I was in my teens when the 90s comic boom and Image Comics all happened, and like a lot of lame kids, I championed their art over the old masters because it was so new and hip and different and exciting.

Wow, I was stupid. Show me McFarlane and Liefeld and Jim Lee and any of those Image guys today and my eyes just cross. Give me Kirby, man.

It's funny, because I've been doing this Marvels series for about a year, and it was only right before I started it that I really considered myself a fan. Which is kind of hilarious, because I'd actually been rediscovering or, in a lot of cases, discovering his work for five or six years now. In that time, and ending only in the last couple of months, I've read a lot of Kirby's 70s work. I read all of the 2001: A Space Odyssey series from Marvel, but from there I went on to his DC work. I read OMAC, and then read through Kamandi, which I had never read a single issue of before. I loved it. It was thrilling stuff; a pulp adventure through a prism of psychedelic sci-fi and fascinating social commentary. That took me a little while to go through, and then I went to Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen, and on through The New Gods, The Forever People, and Mister Miracle, which is one of the best comics I've ever read. There are single issues of Mister Miracle and The New Gods that are better than some entire runs of comics. I know I'm not really saying anything new, but I'm not going to be able to go through them in my Marvels series, obviously, so I'm gushing a bit.

One day I'll have to do a list of my favorite comics from the 1970s, because I'm really feeling like that's the era of comics I love the best.

I leave a lot of the Kirby fandom to the more serious Kirby fans; I really have nothing interesting to contribute about the man, except to keep doing the Marvels series. I just wanted to say that I dearly love his Fourth World comics, and Kamandi, and, hell, I thought OMAC was bizarre and kind of great.

I never really acknowledged how much of a fan I am. I guess I just kind of took him for granted. But god damn, was he great.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

G Is for the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband

Jim Henson was born in rural Mississippi in 1936, where he spent the first ten years of his life before mainly living his adolescence in Maryland and the Washington, DC area. People say there were parts of him that were very much the reserved, polite Southern gentleman--particularly in his manners--but you can also see his rural upbringing in some of the music he liked and often featured on The Muppet Show and in other projects.

The Gogolala Jubilee Jugband were a way to get some of the country and novelty music he'd liked as a kid onto The Muppet Show. They barely had names or distinctive personalities; they were mainly a music delivery device for fun little numbers. In fact, they were so non-distinct in character that they often had different performers. They were put together out of what the Muppet people call Whatnot Muppets, which are blank Muppets that any features can be molded on to. And their name speaks to Jim Henson's love of nonsense words.

They first appeared performing Roger Miller's song "You Can't Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd" on the fourth episode. Here are some other appearances:

:: Backing up Jim Nabors for "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."
:: Backing up Paul Williams for a Dixieland version of "Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song."
:: Asking the deep questions in the novelty song "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?" (with Jerry Nelson on the lead vocals).
:: Peter Friedman doing lead vocals on another old novelty song, "I'm My Own Grandpaw."
:: A breakneck version of "Mississippi Mud." Richard Hunt particularly seems to be having a great time singing the hell out of this.
:: Backing up Twiggy and a Muppet known only as Hillbilly Singer (performed by Jim) for a version of the old Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr duet "Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own."

The Hillbilly Singer had appeared earlier in the season, in a slightly different look, for probably my favorite segment featuring the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband, this cover of Tompall Glaser's "Put Another Log on the Fire," featuring Candice Bergen. (This song was, of course, written by Shel Silverstein.)

The final appearance by any of the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband is this little spot from late in the first season, a performance of the old Carson Jay Robison song "Life Gets Teejus, Don't It."

I'm not sure exactly why the decision was made to drop the band. They were part of a musical tradition that Jim Henson deeply enjoyed. They were actually the second Muppet country music band; the first was the Country Trio, which are really caricatures of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and Jerry Nelson. They pre-date The Muppet Show, appearing first on The Perry Como Winter Show, then on The Dick Cavett Show, and intermittently on The Muppet Show.

I wonder a little bit if the decision was made partially because of the departure of the two of the band's performers, Eren Ozker (seen above with Richard Hunt) and Peter Friedman, after the first season of The Muppet Show. Or, really, Jim could have just found new designs he liked and gone with them, as sometimes happened. Fozzie Bear and Miss Piggy were redesigned after that first season. The Gogolala Jubilee Jugband was replaced by Lubbock Lou and His Jughuggers, who stayed throughout the show and even appear in the "Happiness Hotel" song in The Great Muppet Caper.

The Muppet Encyclopedia says the group disbanded over an argument about whether or not to put a hole in the washtub, which is a nice wink at Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas.

Either way, we got some fun performances out of them while they lasted.

Have a music-filled day!

ABC Wednesday

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Marvels: Fantastic Four #23

"The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & George Roussos
(February 1964)

The last time we saw Doom, he was fleeing from a harbor warehouse after a fight with Spider-Man. Usually, when Doom appears in Fantastic Four, we get to see how he cheated death at the end of his previous appearance, but since he's just been biding his time, Stan & Jack instead start this issue with Doom building a team of thugs to help him capture the FF.

Marvel Wiki identifies these characters as the Terrible Trio, so I assume they'll be back again. Here they are:

Doom is able to increase their natural abilities with his XZ-12 Device. He makes Bull strong enough to fight the Thing, Handsome Harry able to hear Invisible Girl when she's invisible, and makes Yogi Dakor fireproof enough to withstand the Human Torch. The Terrible Trio use these abilities to capture the three teammates and deliver them to Doom. (I think Bull cheats a bit, though; he can't lick the Thing with brute force, so he uses a cosmic-beam gum to momentarily turn the Thing human again and knocks him out.)

Doom repays the Terrible Trio for their work by trapping them inside another dimension until he needs them again. Doom's employee benefit plan really sucks, but it's probably better than Walmart's.

Doom traps Reed with a robot version of the Thing, and he's got them all locked in a warehouse. It's been four months since we last saw Doom, and he's still skulking around the warehouses. But there's a reason for this! After a spectacular fight scene where Doom uses tricks like a flying belt and a refrigeration device in his armor which freezes Reed--and I do love that he never reveals these things until he has to use them, always surprising the FF--it's revealed that the warehouse is in the path of a solar wave!

"I should have guessed!" Sell it to someone who's buying, big brain.

According to Reed, when a solar wave interacts with a particular ionic particle dust, it opens some sort of rift in the cosmos, or something. I don't know, they never really explain it, they just kind of pretend to before focusing on the confusing-but-genuine suspense of the floor opening up into outer space while the FF race against time.

Sue quickly extends her force field to pin Doctor Doom to the outer wall, so that he'll go along with them. Doom, protesting "The world must not lose a magnificent brain like mine!", tries to stop it from happening, but trips into the void as the Fantastic Four use his entry hatch to escape and avoid the solar wave.

I'm genuinely interested to hear how Doom survives this one. Also, I love Jack Kirby's cosmic art. I know everyone does, but I still had to say it.

Stray notes:

:: Because there's more time without Doctor Doom explaining his getaway, there's a whole subplot where Ben, Sue and Johnny decide it's time for new leadership after Reed gets a little too bossy. Of course, they all vote for themselves and start fighting, which Reed takes the time to gloat over.

Eh, can't blame him, even though he was getting a little sharp with the orders.

:: There's some great business, too, with Reed accidentally pulling a dinosaur out of the past.

It's a neat couple of pages for this dinosaur lover. Reed's been testing Doctor Doom's old time machine and seems pleased to find it working perfectly after moving it to the Baxter Building after they previously used it to go back in time to Ancient Egypt.

:: Sue and Reed have a little spat, and she says "Oh, go polish a test tube or something!" Double entendre, or unintended?

She also wishes "THAT MAN" understood women better. Does she mean Reed or Stan Lee?

:: Johnny is captured by the lure of a new, tricked out roadster with lots of gadgets and a bubble dome. Never change, Johnny.

:: The eternal dilemma...

Also in the Special Announcements section, Stan talks up Dick Ayers' pencils and inks in the upcoming issue of Tales to Astonish. It's nice that he pushes the artists as well as the mags themselves.

I have to say, I don't find the Terrible Trio all that interesting yet, but I love it when Doctor Doom appears. It's always pretty special, and I hope we don't have to go too terribly long until we see him again. Fun issue!

Next time: Thor faces the Tomorrow Man. Again!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Song of the Week: "Shake It Off"

I'm trying, babydoll. I'm trying.

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #9

"The Man Called Electro!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(February 1964)

Stan & Steve continue to grow Spidey's impeccable rogues gallery. Electro is actually a pretty great villain, despite his ridiculous costume and his loopy origin. Electrician Max Dillon, who was gifted at his job but refused to perform unless paid extra money, was hit by lightning while working on power lines. Not only did he not die, but electricity was coursing through his body. Now, able to control electric power, he... well, he robs banks, because what else do you do in the Marvel Universe?

Electro only adds to Peter Parker's problems this issue. His first big problem is that Aunt May needs an operation, and Peter needs to scrape to be able to pay for it. His second is that his nascent relationship with Betty Brant is getting rocky. And his third is that J. Jonah Jameson is convinced that Electro is actually Spider-Man, and becomes obsessed with proving it.

This last problem occurs when Electro robs a bank while Jameson is there doing business. Electro calls Jameson by name, which convinces JJ that Electro must be someone he knows, rather than just ascribing it to the fact that Jameson's constantly on television complaining about what a menace Spider-Man is. Jeez, JJ, you can't bludgeon your way into prominence and then become confused when someone recognizes you.

Peter decides to go after Electro in order to collect the reward out for him. But Jameson starts demanding pictures showing Spider-Man changing into Electro, which just makes Peter angry. But--after a brief encounter where Electro almost instantly defeats Spidey with a shock so powerful that Electro is convinced he's killed Spider-Man--Peter is desperate enough to doctor the photos so he can collect the money from JJ and pay for Aunt May's operation. He's ashamed of himself for doing so, but things start to smooth out. Not only does Aunt May get her operation, but Betty Brant has been keeping May company and being very supportive of Peter.

But things get rocky again when Electro tries to initiate a prison break. The police contain the riot, but while all hell is breaking loose, Spider-Man is needed. Peter tries to take off with the excuse that he needs to take photos ("the dangerous pix are the ones Jameson pays the most for!"), but Betty begs him to stay, worried that he's becoming too attracted to danger and excitement. It turns out that Betty was once a classmate of Peter's, but left school early in order to work, but she's never told Peter why. But it has something to do with someone who she once knew... someone else who was attracted to danger... and she's been hurt... And though Peter and Betty only grow closer, he doesn't press her to talk about it.

In the meantime, Spider-Man shows up at the prison, publicly blowing up JJ's theory about Electro and Spidey being the same person. Spider-Man takes the precaution of wearing rubber boots and rubber gloves, and though the fight is exciting and dangerous, Spidey takes out Electro and leave him for the cops.

So, Aunt May made it through her operation, Peter and Betty are falling in love, Electro is behind bars, and Spider-Man has cleared his name. Anything else to clear up?

Ah, yes, the faked pictures of Spider-Man changing into Electro. JJ is angry at being made to look like a fool and screams at Peter, but, in a glorious moment, Peter actually takes command of the situation and tells JJ off, reminding Jameson that he's a freelancer, after all, and is free to sell his pictures wherever he wants... including pictures of Spider-Man fighting Electro.

Leading to this exchange:

And so everything works out. (Great expressions on Jameson.) And this time, Peter gets the girl, too.

The drama continues.

Stray notes:

:: I like that Aunt May's ailment is never actually named. That way it's more universal for the teenage reader who has had a sick relative to sympathize with. For his part, Peter's so torn up about it that he ignores his classmates, including Flash Thompson, who actually tries to be friendly after their boxing match last issue. The misunderstanding leads to this great expression:

Shocked Liz and Flash. I like Spider-Man's big supporting cast. The superhero drama as teenage soap opera is one of the things that really make this work. (Have you ever read the series Mary Jane? It was like a high school drama about Mary Jane, Liz, Flash, Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, with Spider-Man sort of going on in the background. I think that'd make an amazing TV series, since I'm ignoring those Andrew Garfield movies.)

Also, shocked Betty:

Ditko's art is just so damn good, and he keeps getting better and better. There are some great Spidey poses in this one. Here, check this one out:

That twist is great. Great artists can really show you a lot about a character through their body language, and Spider-Man's is unique in the Marvel Universe, especially in 1964. So far, the Beast is really the only other character who crouches a lot.

:: It's pretty clear that the police think J. Jonah Jameson is being an idiot in his assertion that Electro and Spider-Man are the same person. They're on Spidey's side. At one point, one cop even says to another: "He'll say anything to smear Spider-Man!"

:: The letters page features a letter from Gordon Flagg. Is this the same Gordon Flagg of Booklist? Stan explains to him that the reason letterers use so many exclamation marks is that periods don't always reproduce cleanly in printing, so exclamation marks cut down on the possibility of confusion.

Most of the letters are pretty complimentary towards the Doctor Doom appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #5. Michael Fallis of Salem, MA, sorta kinda prefigures Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends by urging Stan to include Iceman in the rivalry between Spidey and the Human Torch. Brady Flowers of Le Center, MN, wants a Spider-Man TV show, which Stan thinks is a great idea, but remembering the 1977 TV series that did happen, I'd say be careful what you wish for. Lots of negative comments about Steve Ditko's artwork. Some geniuses aren't recognized at the time, guys.

Another wonderful issue of Amazing Spider-Man, introducing another classic villain.

Next Marvels: Doctor Doom!