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Friday, July 22, 2005

Avengers 21-30... Me and My Friends

Avengers #21 through to #30 could very well be seen as the start of “Marvel’s Amazing Cosmic Opera” Stan stumbled on a good thing an ran with it…the concept of duality.

You see each and every story now has at least two subplots, one is the “cosmic” part , the other the “soap-opera”. Let the Avengers battle ever more powerful and outlandish villains, armed with impressive weaponry and crazy contraptions. And take them away from this island earth, lead them to a far distant planet, in the far-flung future and have them battle…battle hard.

But at the same time leave room for the little interpersonal relationships. While each Avenger is fighting Doom, Kang, Attuma or Baron Zemo, have them worry if they’ve really lost the love of their life or if there really is a place for them among the Avengers. Make it so that the protagonists really get on each other’s nerves but deep (way deep) down inside they idolise each other and would willingly lay down their life so the other could go on.

And the roster shuffling continues, as the Wasp and Giant-Man return to the membership of the team, except not through the best of circumstances,.Giant-Man, aka Hank Pym, has some serious problems going on, mainly getting stuck at ten feet when sizing down. The "stuck at ten-feet" subplot would continue for a while, and includes some of the kitschiest dialogue the Marvel Universe would ever produce. Poor Hawkeye has the hots for ‘bad-girl” and Soviet-spy (dirty RED traitor) The Black Widow and Cap is still missing Bucky. Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch still feel like outsiders and most of the time seem to call each other “brother” and “sister” instead of “Pietro” and “Wanda”…weird mutants

I didn’t really care for the Atlantis storyline in #26 & #27 and the Goliath drama in #28 through #30 was weak, but the Doom + FF crossover in #25 was excellent, as were the first four issues with Space- and timetravelling Kang and the Enchantress.

Don Heck is still Don Heck, meaning the art is adequate but easily forgotten, Stan is really starting to find a flair for the team, but the plotting is still far, far better than the dialogue which is pretty dire. At least the verbal bouts between Cap and Hawkeye were amusing.

Letter pages were great as always, lots of questions and lots of errors pointed out. I also spotted a letter by Bronze Age comics-writer and plotter…Mike friedrich in Avengers #29

This time I’ve chosen the cover to issues #25 and as an extra bonus, here’s a Marvel House ad from issue #24…isn’t it FAB !!!

4...is the magic number

Did something I haven’t done in 25 years…went to a matinee movie….alone
I just HAD to see the Fantastic Four movie and as evenings are filled with taking care of the kids and absolutely nobody I knew was the slightest bit interested in seeing the movie, I went to a 3PM showing and was (by far) the oldest person at the screening (and the only one sitting by himself).
Anyway most of the 8-14 year olds must have thought I was some sicko as I had the whole row to myself, nobody even came near the “strange old man

I liked the movie, preferred it to Batman Begins, :but maybe that’s just the fan-boy talking.

Acting was decent all-round, Jessica Alba surprised me as I was expecting a really dire performance from her, but except in the action scenes were she was hamming it up, she did ok.

Story-wise I was satisfied as well, I don’t mind when movies retcon the comic book origins, as most origins are dated and not always geared towards non-comic book fans.
The origin with the space-station and the radiation was up to speed and I also liked that they made Johnny a tad older than in the comic books, as a 15-year old Johnny Storm going along on a rocket ride in FF#1 always bothered me. The public loving the FF, but fearing Ben was also well done.
The first hour or so dragged a bit but the final 45 minutes zipped by and I was surprised the movie was already over (always a good sign)

Effects were very good, only once did I notice something that could have been done better (Reed stretching on the bridge in the beginning) but the rest was solid. A LOT better than Spider-man #1 (which I think is a better film, but which was plagued with cheap CGI)
The effects for both Torch and Invisible Girl were believable, as was the Thing “suit”.
Throughout the movie I noticed we didn’t get a lot of clear shots of Reed stretching, so I thought they were masking it as it couldn’t be done realistically and they’d rather leave a lot to the imagination. But then during the showdown with Doom I was pleasantly surprised when reed turned into a human blanket, comic-style. Really well done !

The part I had the most trouble with was the characters. Being an FF-fan, this was always going to be a sore point for me.

The Thing was perfect, absolutely spot-on. Tragic, heroic and unpolished but with a heart of gold. Couldn’t have been done better

The Human Torch was cocky, self-assured and full of spit and vinegar, reassuringly stupid at times as well. The “cool” factor of the movie. Again spot-on

Mr.Fantastic was so-so, the nerdy brainiac part was done well, except Reed was never this shy and lacking in confidence. The Reed Richards of the comics is a man who knows he is the top brain around and hardly ever has self-doubts. But it’s an origin story, so we’ll let it slide

Invisible Girl, got her powers a lot faster than in the books and learned to control them in record time. A good evolution, as Sue was nothing more than “filling” in the first issues and only got a place in the spotlight due to fans calling out for more “action-Sue”
Only problem I had was that Jessica Alba was just too good looking to play Sue. You can’t stop staring when she’s on screen and miss a lot of her personality…but maybe that’s just me.

My biggest gripe is with Dr. Doom or Elektro/Colossus/Doom as he seems to have become.
I really had a problem with the “power from the fingertips” mutation. I could have lived with the steel skin, but Doom is on a par with RR so he would use science (or magic) to defeat the FF. Electrical rays are ok, but please let Doom invent them and build them into his armour and not just ‘have them”
I also had a problem with the middle-American accent Doom had, not a trace of Eastern-European in there….a pity.
And the mask just didn’t work. Just like the movie Green Goblin it was Power Ranger time. Maybe a more boomier voice would have worked. Doom just wasn’t regal enough for me.
Doom isn’t a mean person, he doesn’t hurt people because he can, he hurts people because they get in his way. So the shoving of the doorman in the Baxter Building’s lobby was totally out of character.

I didn’t get shivers down my spine at all from Doom, like I did from Ben and Johnny (it’s clobbering time, flame on) or from Reed (unstable molecules) or from that perfect ending, the flaming “4” in the sky.

Bring on Galactus, The Watcher and the Surfer for the sequel (oh and the Fantasticar)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Give the people what they want !!!

...and seemingly the people want more early Silver Age Avengers covers...so here are a few more. I should have my reviews of issues #21 through "30 up tomorrow. So swing back later

As always, the covers are bigger than shown here so just click and drag them to the URL-bar and you should get a better picture

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Avengers 11-20 Cap takes a fall

Avengers #11-20, highlights the personal developments that occur between Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Sure, there's lots of action, but one gets the feeling that for this era, Stan really wanted to make the action the backdrop to the human dynamics, and not the other way around.
We also get “treated” to a lot of anti-communist propaganda as a lot of the throwaway villains are “dirty Reds” Sign of the times I guess

With Kirby now gone, save for the occasional cover, Don Heck has large shoes to fill, but he manages to pull it off. Heck one of the lesser loved Silver Age pencillers is terrific at drawing faces, interiors and the human figure, but all-out action scenes leave him somewhat lacking.
Still miles better than most of the stuff that gets churned out today

In Avengers #16, there is a dramatic shift in the line-up, see the first of many roster changes that would become a trademark of the Avengers.
When you have a group of superheroes as strong as the original Avengers (Hulk, Thor, Iron Man…) it is really difficult to come up with some decent villains, and so Lee and Heck jettison most of the original group and replace them with two of the angriest Marvel superheroes, Hawkeye and Quicksilver. With Wanda thrown in for good measure.
Three new members, ironically all of them being former "bad guys!" Hawkeye, a pest from Iron Man's feature stories in Tales of Suspense, and Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch

We also witness the first traumatic breakdown of Hank Pym. In issue #15, after the Wasp was accidentally shot in a fight which left her critically wounded, ol' Hank simply can't take the stress, and is an emotional basket case for the rest of the ride. Little did readers know this was only the first glimpse into future psychological problems.

And then the bad guys…well as mentioned still a lot of communist dictators and their cronies, but the quality was improving with Baron Zemo, the Executioner, the Enchantress, the Black Knight, The Melter ,Count Nefaria and the Living Laser all making life hard for the Avengers.

Best part of these stories is the continued bickering and even returning hostility between Cap and Hawkeye. Something DC at the time frowned upon but which was the reason Marvel, the little company that could, outsold the giant each and every week. It took another 5 years before DC would realise people like supermen with a human side, an identifiable side.

Favourite cover of this run ? Avengers #20 without a doubt, you can almost taste the drama in this one.

Oh and as a side note, in Avengers #17 I found a filled-in coupon for the Merry Marvel Marching Society. Luckily the original owner of the book decided not to cut it out, but only to fill in her (!) details. So Wandie Kipchalk of Vancouver, BC in Canada if you’re reading this, I have your book and I’m not giving it back. Besides you just turned 60 this year and fragile as I am there’s no way a 60-year old secretary from Canada can take me. Maybe 40 years ago when you filled out the coupon… who knows ?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

How I spent my Summer Holiday

Well Summer’s here again and so is my 9-week holiday (sorry but it’s so cool, I have to brag about it). Every year I try to see a full series on DVD and read an entire series or run of comics.
In 2003 I watched all 3 Millennium seasons on DVD and read the entire MoKF comic series back to back.
2004 was the “Summer of Seinfeld” as I watched all 180 episodes but also read Defenders #1 - #150.
But for some reason I was slow to start the geek-fest this Summer. But finally I decided to watch the first 100 episodes of the great 50’s SF-show “The Twilight Zone” and read Avengers #1 through to #350 (I read #350 through to 503 last year around Xmas)
The biggest thrill is that I’ve hardly seen 4 or 5 episodes of the Twilight Zone prior to now and that I’ve read maybe 20 of the 350 Avengers books (and none earlier than #200).

Update : Well I just read Avengers #1 through #10 and the start was bit of a disappointment. Sure the Kirby art is great, lots and lots of all-out action, and Stan’s writing is good, corny but good (hey it’s the 60s…)
But the Avengers-as-a-team isn’t really happening, they’re all over the place and don’t seem to accomplish a lot.
Best of the bunch is Avengers #4. Not only the debut of the Silver Age Captain America but a very entertaining book. For the first time I started caring what was going to happen to the Avengers.

And those non-pc 60’s…ya gotta love em.. Wasp is portrayed in a very sexist way. She’d rather be powdering her nose, shopping etc. than fighting evil.

All in all an entertaining read from over 40 years ago. Jack Kirby’s Pop Art stylings have influenced so, so many artists, and with good reason. Even pop art painter Roy Lichtenstein’s work seems at least partially influenced by Kirby. Journeyman Don Heck takes on the art chores in the last few issues, and his work is acceptable, but spotty at times

Best cover of the lot is (of course) #4 with Captain America literary jumping on the scene…but everyone knows that one, so I went for my other favourite #7

Always loved this cover, looks like everyone is going for Thor's nuts