RIP Stan Lee … thank you for (literally) everything!

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Yesterday we lost a giant in the comic book industry – indeed the entertainment industry. Stan Lee passed away at the age of 95. Love him or dislike him, his impact on comic books cannot be understated.

Mike Barnes of the Hollywood Reporter wrote a superb article about his life (with contributions by Duane Byrge and Borys Kit): https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/stan-lee-dead-marvel-comics-real-life-superhero-was-95-721450

Stan Lee, the legendary writer, editor and publisher of Marvel Comics whose fantabulous but flawed creations made him a real-life superhero to comic book lovers everywhere, has died. He was 95.

Lee, who began in the business in 1939 and created or co-created Black Panther, Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Mighty Thor, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Daredevil and Ant-Man, among countless other characters, died early Monday morning at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, a family representative told The Hollywood Reporter.

Kirk Schenck, an attorney for Lee’s daughter, J.C. Lee, also confirmed his death.

Lee’s final few years were tumultuous. After Joan, his wife of 69 years, died in July 2017, he sued executives at POW! Entertainment — a company he founded in 2001 to develop film, TV and video game properties — for $1 billion alleging fraud, then abruptly dropped the suit weeks later. He also sued his ex-business manager and filed for a restraining order against a man who had been handling his affairs. (Lee’s estate is estimated to be worth as much as $70 million.) And in June 2018, it was revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department had been investigating reports of elder abuse against him.

On his own and through his work with frequent artist-writer collaborators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and others, Lee catapulted Marvel from a tiny venture into the world’s No. 1 publisher of comic books and, later, a multimedia giant.

In 2009, The Walt Disney Co. bought Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, and most of the top-grossing superhero films of all time — led by Avengers: Infinity War’s $2.05 billion worldwide take earlier this year — have featured Marvel characters.

“I used to think what I did was not very important,” he told the Chicago Tribune in April 2014. “People are building bridges and engaging in medical research, and here I was doing stories about fictional people who do extraordinary, crazy things and wear costumes. But I suppose I have come to realize that entertainment is not easily dismissed.”

Lee’s fame and influence as the face and figurehead of Marvel, even in his nonagenarian years, remained considerable.

“Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created,” Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. “A superhero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world, Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.”

Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige also paid tribute. “No one has had more of an impact on my career and everything we do at Marvel Studios than Stan Lee,” Feige said. “Stan leaves an extraordinary legacy that will outlive us all. Our thoughts are with his daughter, his family and the millions of fans who have been forever touched by Stan’s genius, charisma and heart.”

Beginning in the 1960s, the irrepressible and feisty Lee punched up his Marvel superheroes with personality, not just power. Until then, comic book headliners like those of DC Comics were square and well-adjusted, but his heroes had human foibles and hang-ups; Peter Parker/Spider-Man, for example, fretted about his dandruff and was confused about dating. The evildoers were a mess of psychological complexity.

“His stories taught me that even superheroes like Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk have ego deficiencies and girl problems and do not live in their macho fantasies 24 hours a day,” Gene Simmons of Kiss said in a 1979 interview. “Through the honesty of guys like Spider-Man, I learned about the shades of gray in human nature.”

(Kiss made it to the Marvel pages, and Lee had Simmons bleed into a vat of ink so the publisher could say the issues were printed with his blood.)

The Manhattan-born Lee wrote, art-directed and edited most of Marvel’s series and newspaper strips. He also penned a monthly comics column, “Stan’s Soapbox,” signing off with his signature phrase, “Excelsior!”

His way of doing things at Marvel was to brainstorm a story with an artist, then write a synopsis. After the artist drew the story panels, Lee filled in the word balloons and captions. The process became known as “The Marvel Method.”

Lee collaborated with artist-writer Kirby on the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Silver Surfer and X-Men. With artist-writer Ditko he created Spider-Man and the surgeon Doctor Strange, and with artist Bill Everett came up with the blind superhero Daredevil.

Such collaborations sometimes led to credit disputes: Lee and Ditko reportedly engaged in bitter fights, and both receive writing credit on the Spider-Man movies and TV shows. “I don’t want anyone to think I treated Kirby or Ditko unfairly,” he told Playboy magazine in April 2014. “I think we had a wonderful relationship. Their talent was incredible. But the things they wanted weren’t in my power to give them.”

Like any Marvel employee, Lee had no rights to the characters he helped create and received no royalties.

In the 1970s, Lee importantly helped push the boundaries on censorship in comics, delving into serious and topical subject matter in a medium that had become mindless, kid-friendly entertainment.

In 1954, the publication of psychologist Frederic Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent had spurred calls for the government to regulate violence, sex, drug use, questioning of public authority figures, etc., in the comics as a way to curtail “juvenile delinquency.” Wary publishers headed that off by forming the Comics Code Authority, a self-censoring body that while avoiding the heavy hand of Washington still wound up neutering adult interest in comics and stereotyping the medium as one only kids would enjoy.

Lee scripted banal scenarios with characters like Nellie the Nurse and Tessie the Typist, but in 1971, he inserted an anti-drug storyline into “The Amazing Spider-Man” in which Peter Parker’s best friend Harry Osborn popped pills. Those issues, which did not carry the CCA “seal of approval” on the covers, became extremely popular, and later, the organization relaxed some of its guidelines.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber on Dec. 28, 1922, he grew up poor in Washington Heights, where his father, a Romanian immigrant, was a dress-cutter. A lover of adventure books and Errol Flynn movies, Lee graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School, joined the WPA Federal Theatre Project, where he appeared in a few stage shows, and wrote obituaries.

In 1939, Lee got a job as a gofer for $8 a week at Marvel predecessor Timely Comics. Two years later, for Kirby and Joe Simon’s Captain America No. 3, he wrote a two-page story titled “The Traitor’s Revenge!” that was used as text filler to qualify the company for the inexpensive magazine mailing rate. He used the pen name Stan Lee.

He was named interim editor at 19 by publisher Martin Goodman when the previous editor quit. In 1942, he enlisted in the Army and served in the Signal Corps, where he wrote manuals and training films with a group that included Oscar-winner Frank Capra, Pulitzer-winner William Saroyan and Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). After the war, he returned to the publisher and served as the editor for decades.

Following DC Comics’ lead with the Justice League, Lee and Kirby in November 1961 launched their own superhero team, the Fantastic Four, for the newly renamed Marvel Comics, and Hulk, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Daredevil and X-Men soon followed. The Avengers launched as its own title in September 1963.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Manhattan’s high-literary culture vultures did not bestow its approval on how Lee was making a living. People would “avoid me like I had the plague. … Today, it’s so different,” he once told The Washington Post.

Not everyone felt the same way, though. Lee recalled once being visiting in his New York office by Federico Fellini, who wanted to talk about nothing but Spider-Man.

In 1972, Lee was named publisher and relinquished the Marvel editorial reins to spend all his time promoting the company. He moved to Los Angeles in 1980 to set up an animation studio and to build relationships in Hollywood. Lee purchased a home overlooking the Sunset Strip that was once owned by Jack Benny’s announcer, Don Wilson.

Long before his Marvel characters made it to the movies, they appeared on television. An animated Spider-Man show (with a memorable theme song composed by Oscar winner Paul Francis Webster, of “The Shadow of Your Smile” fame, and Bob Harris) ran on ABC from 1967 to 1970. Bill Bixby played Dr. David Banner, who turns into a green monster (Lou Ferrigno) when he gets agitated, in the 1977-82 CBS drama The Incredible Hulk. And Pamela Anderson provided the voice of Stripperella, a risque animated Spike TV series that Lee wrote for in 2003-04.

Lee launched the internet-based Stan Lee Media in 1998, and the superhero creation, production and marketing studio went public a year later. However, when investigators uncovered illegal stock manipulation by his partners, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001. (Lee was never charged.)

In 2002, Lee published an autobiography, Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee.

Survivors include his daughter and younger brother Larry Lieber, a writer and artist for Marvel. Another daughter, Jan, died in infancy. His wife, Joan, was a hat model whom he married in 1947.

“J.C. Lee and all of Stan Lee’s friends and colleagues want to thank all of his fans and well-wishers for their kind words and condolences,” a family statement read. “Stan was an icon in his field. His fans loved him and his desire to interact with them. He loved his fans and treated them with the same respect and love they gave him.”

“He worked tirelessly his whole life creating great characters for the world to enjoy. He wanted to inspire our imagination and for us to all use it to make the world a better place. His legacy will live on forever.”

Like Alfred Hitchcock before him, the never-bashful Lee appeared in cameos in the Marvel movies, shown avoiding falling concrete, watering his lawn, delivering the mail, crashing a wedding, playing a security guard, etc.

In Spider-Man 3 (2007), he chats with Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker as they stop on a Times Square street to read news that the web-slinger will soon receive the key to the city. “You know,” he says, “I guess one person can make a difference … ’nuff said.”

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About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

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The 400th issue of … everything! My 400th blog!

This is my 400th blog. Not a big deal to people who blog everyday – they would hit 400 by the second month of their second year. My 300th blog was two years ago.

The 400th issue (or any anniversary issue) was a big deal in comic books, too. It’s a chance to celebrate an anniversary with a special issue (and increased sales) featuring the end of an epic story arc – or the beginning of one. It could be the final issue and/or debut – or a new creative team or character.

Note I say “was”. The last #400 was seven years ago; and in this age of reboots and renumberings we may not see another #400 for decades!

Getting to #400 takes time. If published monthly, a comic book would reach its 400th issue in 33 years.

I honestly believed I found all of them – American comics only of course … let me know if I missed any. Enjoy!

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As with my 300th blog, the only golden age comic to reach #400 was 4 Color Comics, from 1952.

4 Color printed several comics per month, sometimes weekly and at times even six per month! #300 was published in 1950, #400 in 1952. One hundred issues in two years…

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The Silver Age (roughly 1955 – 1970) had NO 400th issue of any comic!

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The Bronze Age (1970 – 1986) had its share of 400th issues. By this time the most popular comics were reaching their 30+ years of existence … starting with two of the longest-running comics at the time …

Adventure Comics from 1970 – the Legion of Super-Heroes long gone and the comic dedicated to solo Supergirl stories.

Detective Comics also from 1970 with superb art by Neal Adams and this issue featuring the debut of Man-Bat!

The Man of Steel book-ended the Bronze Age with two of his starring comics …

Action Comics was from 1971 and Superman was published in 1984.

The other 400s from DC in the late-Bronze Age were …

Batman (nor surprisingly) from 1986 and Sgt. Rock (not surprisingly to Silver or Bronze Age fans – DC’s war comics were very popular) in 1985.

WDC&SThe only other Bronze Age #400 was not from the Big Two nor was it a superhero comic: It was from 1974 …

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The rest of the 400s belong to the Modern Age (or whatever one wishes to call the period(s) after 1986.

Speaking of DUncle scroogeisney, other than WDC&S, only Uncle Scrooge reached #400, not Mickey Mouse, not Donald Duck… Most Disney comics were published by multiple companies over the years, but only Uncle Scrooge kept its numbering intact.

From 2011:

 

 

 

 

 

Only two other publishers (other than DC or Marvel) had comics reaching #400, including one of the longest running series of all time … from 1990.

Big boy

The other was Archie Comics …

Pep from 1985, Laugh from 1987 and Archie from 1992

This was Laugh’s last issue … he who Laugh’s last … and Pep Comics would only have 11 more issues to go before cancellation.

The rest of the 400s belong to Marvel.

Uncanny X-Men – 2001, Thor – 1989, Amazing Spider-Man – 1995, Incredible Hulk – 1992,  Fantastic Four – 1995, Captain America – 1992, Avengers – 1996

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See you at 500!

Special thanks to Lone Star Comics for searching their data base and using their photos!

Michael Curry

 

 

A long goodbye: a review of Avengers Infinity War Part 1

In a rare change, I saw a movie on the weekend of its release. I kept Friday free because I had a bit of a cold and an eye abrasion that I wanted some quiet time to heal (no court, in other words).

I slept in and by mid-morning felt so much better that I wanted something to do. Since the Avengers movie debuted the night before, I thought I would see if an afternoon show would be too crowded.

The theater was half-full even at 1:30 on a Friday afternoon with school in session. It was not too crowded and sat back with my popcorn to enjoy the show.

Wikipedia has a nice plot summary, so I am using this with my own comments added. If you are concerned about SPOILERS skip the regular font – my comments are in italics on the right side of the page.

I hate continued movies (Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean), paying full price for half a film … but I must admit I liked this movie very much and cannot wait for the conclusion.

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SPOILERS AHEAD!

From Wikipedia:

Having acquired the Power Stone from the planet Xandar, Thanos and his followers—Cull Obsidian, Ebony Maw, Proxima Midnight and Corvus Glaive—intercept the ship carrying the survivors of Asgard’s destruction. Thor, Loki and Hulk are powerless to protect the Asgardians. Heimdall uses the Bifröst to send Hulk to Earth before being killed. Loki gives Thanos the Tesseract to spare Thor’s life, but is killed after attempting to kill Thanos, who departs with his followers and obliterates the ship.

The movie starts about twenty minutes after Uncle Thor’s Goofy House of Wacky Fun (e.g. Thor: Ragnarok) – hereinafter called GHWF – leaves off. The so-called humor of GHWF still infects this scene like a late-stage venereal disease. But it does not last long. Perhaps the producers finally realized that the genocide of an entire culture is not the place for fart jokes.

Hulk crash-lands at the Sanctum Sanctorum in New York City, reverting to Bruce Banner. He warns Stephen Strange and Wong about Thanos’ plan to kill half of all life in the universe. In response, Strange recruits Tony Stark. Maw and Obsidian arrive to retrieve the Time Stone from Strange. After a battle including Peter Parker, Maw captures Strange; Stark and Parker pursue Maw’s spaceship, while Banner contacts Steve Rogers.

Thus tying in the excellent Doctor Strange movie and bringing into conflict the two most egotistical characters in the Marvel CU: Stephen Strange and Tony Stark. Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr excel here.  It is a joy watching these two superb actors relishing their roles.   It almost makes you forget their equally wonderful casting choice for Spider-Man.  Here the humor is in character and appropriately placed – it would have to be with Strange and Iron Man trying to out-pompous each other!

Oddly, Mark Ruffalo is given little to do – intimating the Hulk does NOT want to metamorphose back. Is he scared? Will this tiny but interesting bit of characterization be explored in the second movie? I hope so.

In Scotland, Midnight and Glaive ambush Wanda Maximoff and Vision. Rogers, Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson rescue them, and they take shelter with James Rhodes at the new Avengers Facility. Vision offers to sacrifice himself by having Maximoff destroy the Mind Stone in his forehead to keep Thanos from retrieving it. Rogers suggests they travel to Wakanda, which he believes has the resources to remove the stone without destroying Vision.

Seeing Captain America is the thrill of this scene. Chris Evans captures the essence of Cap as much as Downey does Iron Man’s. Viewing CA: Civil War is VITAL to understanding the interactions between most of the characters in this and later scenes.

The Guardians of the Galaxy respond to a distress call from the Asgardian ship and rescue Thor. He surmises Thanos seeks the Reality Stone, which is in the possession of the Collector at Knowhere. Rocket and Groot accompany Thor to Nidavellir to retrieve a weapon to kill Thanos. There, they and Eitri create Stormbreaker, an enchanted axe. Peter Quill, Gamora, Drax, and Mantis find Thanos at Knowhere with the Reality Stone already in his possession. Thanos kidnaps Gamora, his adoptive daughter, who reveals the location of the Soul Stone to save her captive adoptive sister Nebula from torture. Thanos and Gamora travel to Vormir, a planet where Red Skull, keeper of the Soul Stone, informs him the stone can only be retrieved by sacrificing someone he loves. Thanos reluctantly throws Gamora to her death, granting him the Soul Stone.

The Guardians provide most of the humor of the movie and it works wonderfully. Most of Thor’s quips are pulled back to his pre-GHWF days: calling Rocket a rabbit, etc. (Gee, a funny comment in keeping with his chraracter? To quote Thor in his previous movie: “What the hell?!”) The humor of Drax, Starlord and Mantis, are so appropriate ad in-character it finally reveals how forced Thor’s “comic” quips (I will never call these exchanges “dialogue”) are. Fortunately, it appears the adult writers threw out the childish ones when the scene shifted to Nidavellir and Thor became the more serious character he was meant to be.

And Nidavellir was exactly as I imagined it to be since the first Thor movie said the nine realms were really nine planets – steampunk on a cosmic scale! Peter Dinklage’s cameo as a dwarf was a highlight – as was making this “dwarf” tower over everyone else!

It was during the Nidavellir scene I realized what was happening. Three groups (the two Avenger splinters and the Guardians) split up and tackle different parts of the problem – holy moley! It’s a Gardner Fox JLA-JSA team-up!

Nebula escapes captivity and requests the remaining Guardians meet her on Titan, Thanos’ destroyed homeworld. Stark and Parker eject Maw from his ship and rescue Strange. Landing at Titan, they meet Quill, Drax, and Mantis. Strange uses the Time Stone to view millions of possible futures and states there is only one in which Thanos loses. The group forms a plan to confront Thanos and remove the Infinity Gauntlet. Thanos arrives, justifying his plans to Strange as necessary to ensure the survival of a universe threatened by overpopulation. The group subdues him until Nebula deduces Thanos has killed Gamora. Enraged, Quill retaliates, which breaks the group’s hold on Thanos, and he overpowers them. After Strange surrenders the Time Stone in exchange for Thanos sparing Stark, Thanos departs for Earth.

Another superb battle scene!

Upon arriving in Wakanda, Rogers reunites with Bucky Barnes. The Avengers task Shuri with extracting the Mind Stone. Thanos’ army invades and the Avengers mount a defense alongside King T’Challa and the Wakandan forces. Banner, unable to transform into the Hulk, fights in Stark’s upgraded Hulkbuster armor. Thor, Rocket, and Groot arrive on Earth and rally the defenders. Midnight, Obsidian and Glaive are killed and their army is routed. Thanos arrives and retrieves the Mind Stone from Vision, destroying him. Despite being severely wounded by Thor, Thanos activates the complete Infinity Gauntlet and teleports away.

There were prior battle scenes? The fight for Wakanda is so massive and incredible it makes us forget all that came before it. It compares with the Battle of the Pelennor Fields in Return of the King. Yes, I am comparing this movie to Return of the King.

Awesome. I am using the word in its original sense.

Watch Captain America and Black Panther run ahead of the other warriors. Pure athleticism and a wonderful small bit that will stick with me every time I think of this movie.

Thor’s appearance almost made me stand and cheer. Here is the son of Odin as he should be.

Thanos’ plan comes to fruition as half of all life across the universe disintegrates, including Barnes, Drax, Groot, Mantis, Maximoff, Parker, Quill, Strange, T’Challa, and Wilson. Nebula and Stark remain on Titan, while Banner, M’Baku, Okoye, Rhodes, Rocket, Rogers, Romanoff, and Thor are left on the Wakandan battlefield. Thanos, healed, retreats to a small nipa hut as he watches the sunset in satisfaction.

Omnipotent villains in comics always bugged me. Why doesn’t Thanos just wipe out ALL of the Avengers/Guardians and/or wipe them from existence since he has the power? It will be interesting to see what the remaining heroes do.

In the post-credits scene, Nick Fury transmits a distress signal as he and Maria Hill, amongst others, disintegrate. The device displays a red-and-blue star insignia.

This is what the post-credit scene should be – a tease of thing to come. “James Bond will return”. It introduces (kind of) Captain Marvel.

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So there it is.

I liked the movie very much but will hold off until the movie is “done” with the second part before I decide on a scale. It is always a thrill to see Chris Evans as Captain America and Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man –  and since Evans has already said he is “resigning” as Cap we must enjoy them while we can. Both actors have yet to disappoint even if their movies do.

I saw it in 3D. Don’t bother … except for the Wakanda battle the movie is darkly filmed – so much that I had to remove the glasses in some scenes just to see what was going on. Perhaps the lack of lighting helped keep them under budget?

Thanos was an excellent villain – he was not a raving lunatic but determined, pensive and … thoughtful. We have no doubt he thinks he is doing the right thing. Well, perhaps not the RIGHT thing, but the ONLY thing that resolves the problems of the universe as he sees it. Someone has to make the hard decisions, no one else can do it but him. It makes him even scarier…

The plot of infinity War is well-thought-out, the heroes each have their time to shine (which granted is not long). Given the scope of the movie, the action and characterization is VERY well-balanced.

And damn that entire Wakandan battle scene was cool!

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About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

 

 

Marvel Novel Series #10 – The Avengers!

#10: The Avengers: The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by David Michelinie

The book was published on September 1, 1979 and contains 192 pages; with the story beginning on page 9.

Chapters begin with an illustration of various Avengers; the specific characters shown are not necessarily the featured characters of the chapter. More thought could have gone into that. The artist(s) are not mentioned. More thought could have gone into THAT as well. One illustration I can confidently identify begins Chapter 8: the Wasp from the splash page of Avengers #83 (December 1970) by John Buscema. I’ve always loved that picture of the Wasp… Speaking of Wasp, it is strange they include members who are NOT in the story: Hawkeye, Black Panther and Wasp.

David Michelinie has written for DC and Marvel – including long runs on Iron Man and Amazing Spider-Man. Jim Rhodes and Venom were created and introduced during his tenures. By this time he had finished a superb trifecta of comics for DC: Claw the Unconquered, Star Hunters and Starfire.

The cover art is by the late Dave Cockrum, co-creator (at least) of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. His work with the Legion of Superheroes and the X-Men has achieved cult status.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

The back cover hypes the next book of the series.

In the Avengers animated television program, the team clashed with Kang in an episode called “The Man Who Stole Tomorrow”, but it had no other relation to this story.

***

An Inuit shaman enters Avengers Mansion during debriefing (they had just stopped an alien invasion) and, with the use of his totems, eliminates every member of the team and captures Captain America.

Clues from his incantations lead the Avengers to Alaska. Another reference leads Iron Man and Vision to Atlantis to confront Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor tells them this shaman’s tribe worshipped Cap while he was locked in ice. Namor threw the Cap-sicle into the nearby river. It eventually made it to the sea and Cap was rescued by the original Avengers (in the classic Avengers #4). The Avengers and Namor defeat the shaman (as well as his totem Brother Bear) and learn that the shaman’s powers were not magic but highly advanced science.

They deduce the villain Kang the Conqueror gave the shaman the scientific doo-dads.

So Thor whisks the team – Captain America still frozen in the ice-like energy field – to the year 3900 and the battle is joined!

 

 

 

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Marvel Novel Series #9: a Marvel Superheroes anthology

#9: Stan Lee Presents: the Marvel Superheroes edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman

This is the most unique paperback of the series for several reasons:

  1. It is the only anthology of the series.
  2. It contains the only story that was originally in a comic book before being novelized (the Hulk tale)
  3. It contains the only story that was later adapted to a comic book (the Avengers tale)
  4. It ties with #10 for the longest book (208 pages, but is second in actual text pages)
  5. It is the only book of the series with a story written by a woman.
  6. (more personally) it was the only book I owned of the series at the time they were originally published. It was also the first time I read about the X-Men (I would flip over to the cover while reading to guess which character was which), Daredevil, Man-Thing and Ultron.

It says something about the quality of this book that I still remember most of it 37 years later: Tony Stark‘s techno-fear (he shivers and the temperature in the lab is automatically raised – what if Ulton is in control?), the Wasp’s disgust at the shade of green in Moondragon’s costume, the other Avengers calling Vision “Vizh” – as a kid I was fascinated at this use of phonetic dialogue, etc. (I already had some stories under my belt), Man-Thing smothering the Hulk, Nightcrawler, when told to teleport into an unknown cylinder asking, “What if it is solid?”.

 

The book was published on August 1, 1979 and contains 208 pages; the first story beginning on page 9.

Delineation pages divide the stories – a blank page, a title page with an illustration of the protagonists (or some of them in the case of the Avengers and X-Men) and another blank page before the new story begins. This only leaves 188 pages of actual text, making it actually the second-longest book of the series.

The cover art is by the late Dave Cockrum, co-creator (at least) of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. His work with the Legion of Superheroes and the X-Men has achieved cult status.

Co-edited and compiled by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.  Len Wein is introduced in the section reviewing his Hulk story …

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The Avengers, “This Evil Undying” by James Shooter.

Speaking of the Legion of Superheroes … “Big” Jim Shooter began writing professional stories of the Legion beginning at age 14. He created Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, the Fatal Five and the Parasite (the Superman foe). He was Marvel’s editor-in-chief for nine years beginning in 1978 during the publication of this book series.

Through a post-hypnotic suggestion during their last battle, Iron Man revives Ultron. Ultron was last destroyed by the Scarlet Witch’s hex powers.

Iron Man, suspecting he might be manipulated, left a tracer for the other Avengers to find him in case he is controlled again. Good thinking. Iron Man WAS controlled and kidnapped the Witch, taking her to Ultron’s new lair.

The remaining Avengers – Captain America, Thor, Vision and Hawkeye – gave chase. The Wasp also joins in the fight- following Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch in her own way.

The final battle with Ultron is joined!

An excellent and fun story – one of the best of this series! It was adapted in comic book form in Avengers 201-202.

But the story wasn’t perfect- Hawkeye’s juvenile dialogue was grating even when I read it in 1979 – and I was the perfect age at which this story was aimed. Given more pages, his character could have been fleshed out. The “I am the weakest member which explains my sophomoric bravado” shtick (used a lot during the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days of the Avengers) was only touched on. He redeemed himself, of course, and showed him to be as heroic as any of the other more powerful Avengers, but by then I was sick of the shtick…

Captain America barked some commands and threw his Mighty Shield, but little else. The book focused on the members of the Avengers who hadn’t gotten their own novel yet … with one exception …

I wish there would have been more Thor!

Talk about hands-on management: Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter could still kick out a wonderful and readable tale! This could have easily been made into a full-length story with more action added (going after Ultron’s mechanical robotic “army” – two, count ‘em – with more time spent on Hawkeye, Cap and Thor). Why wasn’t it?

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Daredevil, “Blind Justice” by Kyle Christopher.

Christopher is the pen name for Martin Pasko, an Emmy-award winning writer known by us Bronze Age fans as a writer of Superman family of stories and the Swamp Thing revival. His origin reboot of Dr. Fate is still considered canon.  He also wrote Bronze Age Wonder Woman and the World’s Greatest Superheroes comic strip.

Comic book scribe Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Flash) lists this story as one of “the five most underrated Daredevil stories you must read” (http://13thdimension.com/the-five-most-underrated-daredevil-stories-you-must-read-by-mark-waid/) and with good reason!

A man and woman are put in witness protection after finking on the local mafia. They are treated so improperly by the government they come out of hiding and hire Nelson and Murdock to sue. The mob, headed by the Owl, go after the couple (and Foggy) with lethal force. Daredevil discovers a mob informant within their circle of office staff and friends (that’s as close as I can get without spoiling). Daredevil’s origin is also recapped.

The story is secondary compared to the parts detailing Daredevil’s abilities. His ability to “see” even though blind is superbly explained throughout the short story. He can read emotions by hearing pulse rates and heart beats; he determines body language by sensing air currents. He can read newsprint due to the shape of the ink on the paper. Describing these details in prose is handled better than when tried in comic book form – at least when Pasko is writing it.

***

The X-Men, “Children of the Atom” by Mary Jo Duffy.

This would have been among Duffy’s first work in the industry. Her first Marvel stories were in 1979: the start of her long run on Power Man/Iron Fist, an excellent story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Old Republic in Star Wars #26 (a personal favorite) and issues of Defenders and Marvel Two-in-One.

She gives us an excellent story that serves as a great primer for the X-Men. Considering the complex weave of the franchise over the past few decades, it is tempting to call the story simplistic, but it is not. It is a wonderful short story.

For ten pages we are introduced to Salem Center and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X and six of his students: Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Banshee, Storm and Colossus.

American and Soviet missiles are straying from their projected paths during an international test. Professor X deduces they are affected by a magnetic anomaly barely traceable at the Arctic Circle.

Who could be behind it? (I know! I know! Ooo! Ooo! Mr. Kotter!)

The X-Men go to the magnetic anomaly and find the stronghold of the supervillain of the piece … a mutant named …

No, not the Toad!

***

The Incredible Hulk, “Museum Piece” by Len Wein.

Len Wein is the co-creator of Marvel’s Wolverine as well as being the one who joined him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men he also co-created DC’s Swamp Thing. Here he writes of the Hulk meeting Marvel’s version of the muck-encrusted mockery of a man. In a literary sense, Len Wein shows us his Man-Thing.

This is the only story in the Marvel Novel Series what was a comic book first – a prose story adapted from Incredible Hulk #s 197-198 (also written by Len Wein).

The Hulk battles local Florida police and ends up carried by a helicopter to the everglades. After battling alligators and snakes, the Hulk finally rests and changes back to Banner. Bruce finds a small, mute, grey-colored man and befriends him just as they are attacked by pirates. Yes, pirates.

Turning into the Hulk, he dispatches the pirates quickly but then confronts their master – the Collector! The Collector turns the grey man into the Golem and orders it to attack Hulk.

The Collector also has Man-Thing in his sway, and orders Man-Thing to attack Hulk, too.

Hulk and his two friends are locked in a pod and kept docile by ankle-bracelets. Turning back into Banner, he easily slips through the ankle-bracelets; Golem and Man-Thing then slip through their bracelets easily due to their powers.

Hulk befriends Scheherazade and eventually confronts the Collector and his minions: alien warriors, soldiers from history, etc. Man-Thing and the Golem join in.

It’s a Monster Mash and an incredibly fun story! It was a good comic book, too!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.