Thursday, September 15, 2011

Making Marvel Mine: Essential Iron Man Vol. 1 (Tales of Suspense #39- 72)

Iron Man, Iron Man
Does whatever an iron can
Shots lasers, and he flies
Commie spies, them he fries
To him, life is a big old bang up
With girls who have no hang ups
Life’s sweet for Iron Man!

So.... Iron Man. Okay, I knew going into this that Iron Man, at least in the early years, was NOTHING like the Iron Man we all know and love now. This wasn’t an awesome anti-war robot stompathon like the movies, this was the big anti-communism book Marvel had in the sixties. But... wow, even knowing that before hand, I was totally not prepared for how much anti-communism this book is packed with. It is just riddled with anti-communism. It was a different time... But it’s cool. I actually liked it, especially towards the end, when the book figures itself out.

The best thing I can say about the first issue is that the cover is cool. “He lives! He walks! He conquers!” is a great tagline, though I get the sneaky suspicion that when the cover was made, no one actually working on it had read the book. But whatever, it looks cool. So, Tony Stark is an awesome dude who manufactures the best weapons in the world for the good ole’ USA. One day, he was demonstrating some boss new equipment to the generals in Vietnam, when the group is attacked by “red guerrillas”.

Stark is injured and kidnapped by the commie bastards. Pretty much everything happens here like it does in the beginning of the Iron Man movie, just replace “Afghanistan” with “Vietnam”. Stark is kept alive by chest-piece designed by a Doctor Yinsen, another brilliant scientist captured by evil commie Vietnam rebels. Together, Yinsen and Stark build a set of armor around the chest piece, Yinsen gets killed, Iron Man is born and overthrows the evil Commies. Democracy reigns supreme. Because ‘Merica, that’s why.

Really, I cannot stress to you how many commies are smashed in this comic book. Here’s some of the villains: The Red Barbarian, a feared and deformed general for COMMUNIST Russia! Jack Frost, a disgruntled Stark Industries employee who decides to sell secrets to COMMUNISTS! The Crimson Dynamo, a COMMIE scientist in a suit of electricity powered armor! Titanium Man, another feared COMMIE general, only this time he wears a green super awesome powered armor! The Melter! He... melts stuff. But also, COMMUNIST! Scarecrow! (No, not THAT Scarecrow) A stage magician turned evil who stole plans to sell to COMMUNISTS! The Black Widow! (Yes, THAT Black Widow) Who at this point in her career is still a COMMIE spy! Hawkeye! (Yes, again, THAT Hawkeye) Not actually a Communist, but a disgruntled circus star (really!) who fell in love with the Black Widow, and helped her in her schemes to hurt Stark Industries, and I’m pretty sure that at least makes him COMMUNIST BY ASSOCIATION!

Oh, also there’s your traditional early silver age appearances of evil alien conquerors and time travel trips to bone Cleopatra, but really, at this point, doesn’t that go without saying?

And then we have our most interesting villain, the Mandarin. The Mandarin sometimes gets a bad rap as a Fu Manchu rip off, and while there’s a little bit of that, I think that the character is a lot more interesting than that. For example, despite living in China, it’s stated early on that the Chinese government openly fears him (which is saying something). Not only that, but the Mandarin explicitly states that he isn’t a Communist at all, he’s merely using the Chinese government for his own ends (that’s code for world domination, everyone). He’s a skilled martial artist who can literally beat up Iron Man with karate. And, most famously, he’s the wearer of ten rings, rings of extraterrestrial origin. Each ring has a different power, and they’re pretty much all awesome. Clearly, he’s the ultimate enemy here.

As for the supporting cast, there isn’t one at first, which is bothersome. At first, it’s just Tony, and his bodyguard Iron Man, who, of course, is really just Tony in disguise. This doesn’t make for interesting character dynamics. Luckily, about a third of the way in, we’re introduced to Happy Hogan, Tony Stark’s driver and body guard, and Pepper Potts, Tony’s secretary/Gal Friday. There’s some traditional love triangle nonsense here, but since I know how it ends (because I’ve seen the future... in comics, anyway), I won’t spoil any of that. By the end of the book Happy has figured out Tony is Iron Man, so that should make book 2 more interesting.

Like I said, much like Hulk and Thor, this is a slow burner at first, but by the end it’s much improved, and I was really enjoying it by the end. I look forward to the second volume, now that all the main characters are established.

Oh, and I forgot to mention the Unicorn in my list of bad-guys. But the Unicorn wears an orange and green costume, and he’s kind of lame. And yes, before you ask, he’s also a COMMUNIST.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What If Wednesday #8.1: What If The Spider Had Been Bitten By a Radioactive Human?

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.


Okay, so there’s a backup comic in this week’s issue. It’s.... odd. It wants to be funny, but it’s not really. But it’s there, so here it is.

So, sort of like they used to do in “Not Brand Ecch!” (Marvel’s answer to Mad Magazine. I’ll write about it some time), this back up has Marvel Editor Roy Thomas take over for the Watcher in full Watcher garb. Just... just go with it, this is about to get pretty weird. Because in this universe, everyone (except mad scientists?(GIANT mad scientists)) are anthropomorphic animals. So we meet Webster Weaver (REALLY?), a nerdy spider who lives with his Aunt Mayfly and Uncle Bug. And.... okay, lets cut to the chase, this is Spider-Man but with bugs and animals.

So, here’s who everyone is this time: Flash is a goat named Trash, Liz Allen is a … pink snake with hair? Or something? JJJ is a jackass named J. Jonah Jackass (of course), and Betty Brant is (most offensively, in my humble opinion) a pig named Miss Grunt. Webster goes to a science experiment, where the (strangely gigantic human) mad scientist accidentally bathes himself in radiation, goes crazy, and bites Webster’s arm. This, naturally, gives the spider human powers, and thus Webster becomes the Spectacular Man-Spider.

Dear god, it gets worse. Okay, you know Spider-Man’s origin, so can we skip to the meat? Uncle Bug dies because of Man-Spider’s inaction, and thus he becomes a hero. Moving on. All his villains have animal counterparts: Culture Vulture is a vulture with a diploma, Rude Rhino is a rhino in a vest and derby, Marvin the Hunter is a lion with a knife (truly upping the ante in terms of weaponized lions), there’s a truly terrifying Dr. Octopus clone who is now a cat with nine octopus arms coming out of his ass, Leapin’ Lizard is a Lizard in a labcoat (so no real change there) - there’s a bunch more, and they just get worse, so moving on.

There’s actually sort of a plot now- since we have 2 pages left- and the silliness just gets amped up. Some one threatens to destroy the Earth’s atmosphere, so Man-Spider is on the case. The final boss? An anthropomorphic can of bugspray. This is in no way a dated reference (in terms of destroying the Earth’s atmosphere? Just... just look up CFCs, kids). Man-Spider escapes the bugspray, the bugspray isn’t really captured or anything, Roy Thomas is suddenly turned into a woodchuck, the end.

Once again, really, that’s how it ends. It’s not as funny as Not Brand Ecch was, it’s mostly just a less cheerful Captain Carrot riff (I don’t actually know if Captain Carrot came out before this, but I’m a firmly pro-Captain Carrot person, so let’s go with that). But, it is what it is, a back up issue in a comic that doesn’t count. You kinda gotta see it to believe it, I guess.

Guys. This is a panel from this issue, and that's seriously only half the villains with bad names.

What If Wednesday #8: What If The World Knew Daredevil Was Blind?

On Wednesdays, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

This week isn’t great, but it isn’t awful, so there’s that. Spider-Man, possible ex-Nazis, and a rare What If truly happy ending are all present. In fact, Matt Murdock (Daredevil’s secret identity) should WISH his real life is as sweet as it is in this What If. It isn’t, and that’s why Daredevil can be the best book Marvel prints (seriously, Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, and Marcos Martin are KILLING IT on Daredevil right now). Anyway, I’m digressing right now, something that will happen a lot in this What If Wednesday. Let’s get started.

Ok, so before we even get started, I should probably do a quickie Daredevil origin, cuz I haven’t talked about him on What If Wednesday yet, and most people with good taste didn’t see the awful movie about him. So, when Matt Murdock was a kid, he saved an old dude from getting run over by a truck. Except, as he rescued the old dude, a radioactive canister fell off said truck (whose owners were clearly not big on EPA regulations), and struck Matt in the face. This blinded young Matt (hence this issue’s title) but also augmented all his other senses, which makes him awesome. Also, he’s a lawyer, his dad was a boxer who got waxed by the mob for not throwing a fight, he was trained by ninjas, he has a partner at his law firm named Foggy Nelson (yes, really), his secretary is named Karen Page, she would later go on to become a porn star who betrayed him but that’s not important right now, and I think we’re all caught up. Right? Awesome. Let’s dig in.

We start with a flashback to Daredevil #2, when he fought Spider-Man villain Electro. Guys, a lot of Daredevil’s villains are actually moonlighting Spider-Man villains. The ones who aren’t are either Bullseye or they’re lame as hell. Anyway, Electro has electric powers, if you haven’t figured that out by his name, and in the 60s he spent a lot of time fighting Dardevil. Anyway, in this version, instead of just fighting DD, Spidey was there too. Now, I’ve never read Daredevil #2 (but I probably will in a few months), but what I HAVE read is a TON of Spider-Man comics. And this comic says that Daredevil #2 happened at the same time as Spider-Man #25. Guys, that is BULLSHIT. I know this, because I have read Amazing Spider-Man #16 (twice), where Spidey and Daredevil team up to beat the Circus of Crime. Even if Daredevil #1 had JUST come out when that came out and was bi-monthly (which I think it was), there is no way that issue 2 of Daredevil came out NINE months later when Spidey #25 came out. Writer of What If #8 Don Glut: I CALL SCHNEANIGANS.

Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh right, Spider-Man and Daredevil teaming up to beat Electro. Uh... they do. BUT! In the process, Electro figures out Daredevil is blind, because when Electro shot a “blinding” electricity bolt at Daredevil, he wasn’t blinded by it. This sounds pretty stupid to me, because I don’t think Electro has ever blinded Spidey before, but I guess Electro is smarter than his outfit makes him look, because when he asks Daredevil what color his costume is, DD can’t work it out, so... secret’s out now guys. Electro goes to jail, Spidey makes fun of Daredevil’s outfit (he was still rocking his yellow and red suit, this being before the classic all-red look), and the Daily Bugle does what they’re best at- ruining superheroes’ lives- by publicizing Daredevil’s blindness.

Meanwhile, for reasons that apparently I’ll have to read Daredevil #3 to understand, Daredevil villain The Owl (would be mob boss with hollow bones who can sort of awkwardly fly. I warned you that most of DD’s villains were lame) decides he needs an attorney, and of course he hires Matt Murdock. Comics, everybody. Anyway, as the Owl is waiting for Matt Murdock to come back into his office, Daredevil shows up to beat him up. But since the Owl knows Daredevil is blind he has a device to fuck up his other senses... you know what, doesn’t even matter, cuz with Karen’s help, old Hornhead beats the Owl anyway. Oh, and Karen figures out Matt is Daredevil (duh.). Which is great, cuz now they can get together like they both want, guilt free about the whole “secret superhero” thing. No future as a porn actress in this universe, Karen Page! Oh, also Foggy overheard all of this, so now he knows who Daredevil is, and it bums him out. I gotta say, I like Matt Murdock a lot more these days when all his friends know the truth. Way less of an asshole. But enough digression.

There’s talk of going to an eye specialist to unblind Matt, Foggy is disgruntled, and apparently an ex-Nazi or something gets involved. Okay, that’s never said directly, but Matt and Karen go to Europe to find this specialist or whatever, and we meet Duke Klaus Kruger who rules a small European country with an iron fist. Apparently this is from Daredevil #9, and I really need to read Essential Daredevil vol 1 I guess. But seriously, mid 60’s tyrant named Klaus Kruger. There is no way this guy isn’t an ex-Nazi. And the country is called “Lichtenbad”. Hilarious. The people hate Kruger, but he has robot guards, so it’s kind of a wash. I’m not making this up, you know. These robots are in-explicitly dressed as medieval knights, which makes it even funnier when they show up to kidnap the eye specialist right after he performs surgery on Matt’s eyes.

Daredevil races to save the doctor, beats up Kruger, and the people of “Lichtenbad” revolt against their evil dictator. Democracy totally takes over, Matt is magically not blind, which would be great, except that now his super powers are gone, and we still have 6 pages to go.

So remember how Murdock was supposed to defend the Owl? That dude does not forget a grudge. Matt’s basically kidnapped, and has to defend the Owl in a mock trial at the Owl’s headquarters, and if he fails, the Owl will kill a judge he also kidnapped. Pretty sure the Owl is insane, everyone. Matt calls a witness at this fake trial, and that witness is.... Daredevil. This is a really shitty plan, but SOMEHOW no one notices that after Daredevil showed up, Matt Murdock disappeared. Fighting ensues, and despite no longer having powers, Daredevil saves the day.

After that, Matt decides he maybe should retire from being a superhero, since he has no powers. He publicly releases his identity, marries Karen, and becomes District Attorney. And Foggy gets the shaft, as usual. The end. (No really)

I don’t know enough continuity to comment about this issue much (beyond the GLARINGLY WRONG bit about Spider-Man #25). I guess the moral to this issue is that Matt Murdock’s life would be a lot less shitty if he just went public. I’m kind of... uncomfortable about the idea of “curing” the number one differently-abled superhero in the world, but it’s a what if, so I guess I’ll give it a pass. The Owl is still lame, but whatever, at least he’s not Stilt-Man (don’t even ask).

Next time! Oh man, do we have a treat for you next time, because next time it’s What If the Avengers Had Been Formed in the 1950’s? That may not sound cool, but this next issue has sprung literally dozens of sequel comics off of it, and most of them are AWESOME. See you next time!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

10 Cent Comics: Spider-Man #16

Last time, I read an old issue of Spider-Man from the 80’s that was pretty cool. This time, I read an old issue of Spider-Man from the 90’s that was just.... just awful. So let’s just dive into this right away: First of all, this is the last issue of Todd McFarlane’s stint as writer/artist of (No Adjective) Spider-Man. If you want a quick history on (No Adjective) Spider-Man, read the first three paragraph’s under Volume One in this wikipedia article: I’m too lazy to actually explain it, so moving on.

If you’re wondering what’s up with the cover, it’s sideways in a landscape format, and so is the rest of the entire book, because of course it is, it’s 1991. The title says that this crossover with the recently started X-Force book is “Sabotage X-Over Part 1” but by the first sentence of page 1 it’s obvious that shit went down in the last issue of X-Force that set all this up. And we’ll get to the plot in a moment, but first I want to talk about Todd McFarlane.

I’m not a fan, and I’ve always been honest about it. I have to admit, he draws one hell of a Spider-Man, and it’s no surprise that even 20 years later, many Spidey artists are still following (to some extent) in his footsteps. The thing is, while I like the way he draws Spider-Man, I hate the way he draws EVERYTHING ELSE. And I’d try to forgive that, but in this 22 page comic with the title “Spider-Man”, Spidey appears on 12 pages. 4 of those 12 are double page splashes, of which 1 of those 2 Spidey is just a tiny figure in the background. And 5 of the remaining 8 pages have him as a tiny figure in the background in just 1 panel. That leaves an additional 3 pages where Spidey is sort of important in HIS book.

However, X-Force, who as you remember, are not the main characters here, appear in 17 pages, including a double splash page of Cable rushing into action right at the reader (this 22 page book has 3 double splash pages and 2 more regular splash pages, which means over a third of this book is freaking splash pages). Oh, and before I actually get to the plot, can I just say Cable is in the most ridiculous outfit I’ve ever seen him in, and that’s saying something. To prove how awful the costume is, here’s the cover of X-Force #4, the second part of this “X-Over”:

Why the spikes going into his face? Why the gun longer than he is tall? Why the massive shoulder pads? The only answer is “the 90’s.” And believe me, it’s going to get worse when we get to the plot.

So, the book opens right after B-list X-villain Black Tom Cassidy has... ugh... detonated a bomb on the roof of the World Trade Center. Now, I’m trying to avoid looking at this from today’s perspective, since this was released two years before the first WTC bombing, and 10 years before 9/11, but.... ouch. Not winning any favors with that one. Also, Juggernaut is already on the ground fighting some of X-Force, and Spidey swings by to help say their loser asses. X-Force may be the most nineties-rific book Marvel produced, and lord do they look it. They get their asses handed to them for several pages, and Juggernaut shows us all 50 of his teeth (yes, I counted). I didn’t know the Crimson Gem of Cyttorak gave you extra teeth, but then again, I’m not Todd McFarlane.

Anyway, Spidey tries to reason with Juggernaut, having fought him before, while the X-Force kids down on the street lick their wounds. Meanwhile, on top of the ruined roof of the South Tower (ugh), the rest of X-Force are bitching at Cable for being a terrible leader (which, at this point, I’m with them there), instead of helping rescue survivors. Also, Black Tom is missing. He doesn’t actually appear in this book. Spidey continues to sort of talk down Juggernaut, until Shatterstar (who’s just as stupid as his outfit makes him look) decides the best course of action right now is to stab Juggernaut in the eye.

This enrages Juggernaut, who knocks over ANOTHER building (double-ugh). He drops a skyscraper on Spidey and the X-Kids, then laughs like an idiot until Spidey and the crew dig themselves out of the wreckage, and--

And that’s it. That’s how it ends. To be continued, in a book I hope never to read. And this comic is seriously way worse than it sounds. This was a shitty comic, and if you ever find a copy, buy it and set it on fire if you must, but DO NOT read it. Because if you do, you can never UN-READ IT. Life is just too cruel to let you.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

10 Cent Comics: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #120

I’m not going to lie, I love me some mid-80’s Spider-Man. Not many people appreciate it like I do, but I really love how rough around the edges it usually is. The stories are often lined with the urban decay of New York in that decade (this one certainly is), and Spidey really goes to some interesting, if dark, places. I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that this was the era when the black costume reigned supreme, and even though it’s not in this book (despite the cover), there’s definitely that kind of aesthetic here.

Basically, the plot is as follows: A greedy asshole of a landlord hires a gang of thugs to scare away all his tenants, because he wants to knock down the building to make way for high rise apartments for rich people. But one old man who’s been there for decades won’t scare, and the gang starts leaning on him big time. This is where are friendly neighborhood Spider-Man gets involved, and learns all of this.

The next night, Spidey is keeping watch on the place for hours, making sure that the old man is safe. But when a nearby mugging distracts the wall crawler, and he has to stop it, the gang strikes, pushing the old man out of the building to his death. After the police deal with the old man’s body, the landlord and the gang just decide to say screw it, and burn the place to the ground. Spidey, meanwhile, has snuck in, and just as the gang member who killed the old man lights the place up, Spider-Man startles him.

The next 6 pages are Spidey doing his best Batman impression, creepily following the gang member through shadows as the building catches on fire more and more. Eventually, terrified, the gang-banger realizes he’s screwed, and break down- There’s no escape from Spider-Man. Spidey forces the guy to confess to everything, and the gang members and the evil landlord are taken away. Also, there’s a little bit of uplifting nonsense about Peter deciding to take action with the other tenants in his own building, but it’s basically just added to appease the Comics Code, I think.

Is it a little heavy-handed and simplistic look at urban decay? Sure. It’s far from perfect, cliched a bit, but I liked it. It’s dealing with some heavy issues, that especially at the time it was written, were very real for most urban kids. Writer Bill Mantlo is one of the great, under-appreciated writers of his day, and he wasn’t afraid to take on some serious shit. And the art by a young Keith Giffen (with long-time Marvel veteran Vince Colletta on inks) is.... well, it’s ugly, but in a very, very good way. His Spider-Man has a lot of the weird angles of Ditko’s, all of the art is exaggerated, but it completely fits the tone of the book. And there’s so much play with shadows and darkness, it has this wonderful, creepy vibe. This isn’t a happy story, and he makes sure it doesn’t look happy, either.

Gotta say, a dime well spent.