Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Machine Man - Mister Monster!

While on hiatus the Machine Man series gets a boost by the lead character being featured in the pages of the hot Marvel comic The Incredible Hulk.

Beginning in issue #234 of the comic by Roger Stern and Sal Buscema we meet X-51, the robot known as Machine Man who comes into conflict with the Hulk. Both are manipulated into fighting by the gangsters known as "The Corporation".

We get a few issues of wall-to-wall slam bang action as Jadejaws and X-51 battle it out. They seem well matched at first but as happens most of the time the relentless assault of the Hulk begins to win the day and Machine Man suffers significant damage.

When the Hulk ends the melee by bringing down the skyscraper which houses The Corporation, the battle ends for him while Machine Man must be repaired. More on that when Machine Man's comic is revived with a new team.

One thing that Marvel got right most of the time was that when a series ended abruptly due to poor sales, the stories were almost always picked up somewhere in the larger Marvel Universe and given a proper send off. (Warlock, It, Woodgod) The Hulk was a common place for this to happen with Machine Man getting the help here to transition from the Kirby years to what was to come.

More on that next week.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dojo Classics - Edge Of Chaos!

Pacific Comics was one of the more interesting Indy publishers in the early days of the direct-sales market. One title the Pacific crew came up with was a potential opus by Gray Morrow called Edge of Chaos which has a pretty dandy high-concept.

A man named Eric Cleese ("Hercules" of course) is lost in the Bermuda Triangle and whisked into the ancient past (vague timeframe) by aliens who have been stranded on Earth and have become the basis for our mythological gods. He meets a beauty named Diona and accepts a mission to undo the harm the alien-gods have done so that the aliens can at last go home. He must battle a renegade alien named Moloch who mourns for his dead mate, and he does this with a couple of buddies he picks up in a local bar named Flan (a drunken fellow with a baboon face) and Slag (a neanderthal looking chap). As the first issue ends the trio ride off to complete their mission riding prehistoric beasts.

The final two issues of the run though fail to really follow through on the excellent set-up. In the second issue Eric and his buds fight the "Hill Hag" a sorceress and her monsters. They overcome her fairly readily, then in the next issue we have to see all this great landscape wrapped up as characters are eliminated and the status quo is transformed because the three-issue series is coming to an end. It's a pretty random and confusing conclusion with characters popping up faster than the reader can process them, though given the space crunch Morrow does okay I guess.

It's a disappointment because this series had great potential. A strength is the artwork of Morrow, a man who was unusually gifted at drawing lovely women in all manner of undress. A weakness is his writing. Many of the pages are overwritten, with words overcoming the pace of the story. There are instances where captions get lost on the page and the text almost contradicts what we're seeing on the page. This series seems to have fallen victim to some scheduling or contractual problem that made its conclusion rushed and ironically chaotic. It's a pity.

UPDATE: Gray Morrow's artwork continues to shine through the years. He was a singular talent who seemed unusually capable of rendering lovely, sexy, realistic women. (Not like the sex doll fantasies which pass for women in so many comics in recent years.)  His heroes were grounded in a base reality which added to the fantasy which always seemed to erupt.

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Get Your Tales In A Twist!

If there was ever a bit of visual irony in the back issue bins, it's when modern readers stumble across pretty much any issue of Twisted Tales from Pacific Comics. There's an image such as the one above by Rich Corben with the peculiar brand of "PC" in the corner. Whatever you might want to say about these "twisted tales" from the pen of Bruce Jones, one thing you won't say is that they are "Politically Correct" - a term blessedly unknown in the 80's.

Twisted Tales is the pretty much the brainchild of Bruce Jones, the writer of all the stories which are among the best Warren horror stories not written for the pages of Creepy and Eerie. Jones, who has had a long career writing comics specialized in horror and Twisted Tales was part of a little mini-house he operated within the confines of Pacific Comics. Twisted Tales had a sci-fi sister book called Alien Worlds, but it's TT that stands in my memory and it's because of these covers.

With talent like Rich Corben and Berni Wrightson it's no wonder the images still grab after so many decades. These men were the kings of horror  art in their generation.

They are joined on cover art duty by John Bolton, at the time an up and coming British artist making his bones on fantasy and such, but displaying a real flair for horror here.

Another artist brought over the pond was John Pound who had that old magic and fit in quite well.

Twisted Tales survived the demise of Pacific Comics and ended up  at Eclipse. (Didn't everyone end up at Eclipse  at one time or another? It feels like it.)

After ten harrowing issues the run comes to an end, but still thanks to the great printing and the pure punch of the imagery they still hold up. The interior art and stories were fantastic with talents like Alfredo Alcala, Mike Ploog, Rand Holmes, Doug Wildey, Brett Blevins, Butch Guice, Val Mayerik, Bill Wray and others even Jones himself who ain't a half-bad artist in his own right.

Vile stuff ! Really vile. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Mystical Thinking!

Ms.Mystic has to be one of the most visually arresting characters ever concocted. Her form-fitting costume is festooned with zip-a-tone and which attracts the eye even more intensely to her lovely shape. It's a genius notion and Neal Adams was certainly a proper gent to have it.

She debuted in the third issue of Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers and went to have a notable debut issue from Pacific Comics. This lovely lady is actually a mystical nigh mythic creature in tune with the needs of the planet Earth and seeks out and punishes those who harm the natural world or upset its balance. She's an Eco-warrior for certain and it's a great idea for a comic book.

But Neal Adams was as busy man and it's a year or more before we get a second issue. And sadly that second installment is also the last one for many  years.  So the notion the new series would be "bi-monthly" ad suggested was laughable.

Ms. Mystic returns when Neal Adams and his cohorts at Continuity Associates start their own comics company. Alongside other physically impressive heroes, Ms. Mystic sadly loses some of her special glamour in a comic book universe filled with pretty dames who kick ass and take names.

A recent issue of Back Issue magazine reminded me of the lovely Ms.Mystic and I think I have the first two Pacific Comics issues around here somewhere, though they elude my grasp at the moment.

Ms. Mystic might be just about ready for her comeback, or maybe her day is done. Hard to say, but I might check out a new installment by Neal Adams. He seems to be revisiting all his past glories in recent years.

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

Captain Victory - Continuity Is Tribulation!

When it came time to give Captain Victory an origin, Jack "King" Kirby offered up an epic trilogy which not only showcased the youth and early career of the commander of the Dreadnought:Tiger but deepened Kirby's earlier work at both DC and Marvel. How did he do that, well let me explain.

The story begins in Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers number eleven in the notorious Section 51, a part of the ship filled with offbeat aliens who have gotten refuge status of sorts on the Tiger. These weirdos are not unlike mischievous children and to quiet them after a particularly raucous event while waiting for the Tiger's engines to be replaced, Victory tells them the story of his own origins, or at least an origin. It begins when he was a wee child of eight and we learn he lives in a distant area of space dubbed Hellikost with his cousin "Big Ugly" a genocidal brute and other members of an extended family of psychotics. They brood appear to live in awe of Lord Blackmass, a disembodied Voice who sometimes commands them to attack other worlds and torture and murder the locals they find there. Victory is something of a tactical savant who helps scheme out these campaigns with the help of a massive empathetic computer. With the help of that computer Victory finally is able to strike out and kills Big Ugly in retaliation for his many crimes.

Later Victory is able to escape Hellikost, with help by the computer who gives him access to remarkable technology from an earlier era, technology used by his father himself the son of the insidious Blackmass.

Victory did not know his father but the nature of the technology tickles the imagination of any comic book fan who was lucky enough to read Kirby's New Gods.

In issue twelve Victory leaves Hellikost behind and finds a world occupied by Captain Klane, a former member of the Galactic Rangers who has used up his allotted fifty clones and hangs onto the last life with brutal energy. He takes it upon himself to help raise Victory, though it's a rough upbringing to say the least. Klane has used technology to engage the native population who imitate with great speed what they find and become increasingly warlike and capable of waging ever-inceasing technological warfare. Eventually Klane is about to be killed and Victory is sent away before that final moment.

Now a young man, in issue thirteen Victory joins the Galactic Rangers and we follow his career as he quickly rises through the ranks. We meet the love of his  young life but the two of them are separated by orders and he pursues his career.

Eventually he becomes a Captain in the very campaign in which his love is killed. We see him take command of the Dreadnought: Tiger and encounter his command and the  officers under his command for the first time.

Sadly aside from a single special this is the final Captain Victory story by Kirby. But in this origin we learn much about what the title really might mean and what might have come had it been allowed to continue.

While Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers showcases a Jack Kirby who by dint of Father Time has diminished talents, there still seems to be this allure caused by Jack's desire to tell big stories. The mythic scope of the Fourth World does seem to resonate here as well, though without the acute focus. This (if we believe that Victory is the descendant of Orion) is of a universe lacking the singular element of Darkseid which galvanized so much of the disparate folks in the DC material. Though in this story and the one which preceded it, there is a notion of a grand mystery which seems to be that evil raising itself up once again. And artistically Kirby was diminished with the spectacular vistas missing some of the drama which more supple anatomy and composition might deliver. The inking is maybe some to blame as Thibodeaux is not as adept as Royer, but that's not what most of it seems to be. Kirby has clearly lost a step by the time this series appeared, though even at that he was superior to most of his colleagues.

One more to come. Or is that all -- we'll see next week.

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Groo In The Telling!

And then there's Groo the Wanderer! He debuted in (of all places) Destroyer Duck #1, the original comic dedicated to raising funds for the legal case of one Steve Gerber as he battled Marvel for the rights to Howard the Duck. A few pages in the back and we had on our hands one of the most successful and durable comic book characters of all time.

Created by MAD man Sergio Aragones, the wildly talented humor artist, Groo tapped into the then-popular sword and sorcery lore which permeated comics like the seminal Conan the Barbarian among a multitude of others such as Warlord, Red Sonja, Arak, and many others would-be barbaric contenders. Mark Evanier is the Groo-whisperer, a longtime writer for TV and comics who adds words to the stories that Aragones develops and draws. This team along with letterer Stan Sakai and colorist Tom Luth have been at the wanderings of the boobish Groo for a great many moon now. Generations have come and while Destroyer Duck and other shiny objects of the Indie wave have diminished into the West, still the moronic Groo abides.

Before awarding Groo his own comic the mavens at Pacific Comics previewed him in Starslayer (another of those straight barbarian types). After getting his own title, Groo plugged along for a cool eight issues before Pacific fell victim to financial woes. Groo though, stronger than the company that nourished him found a momentary footing at Eclipse (where he'd debuted) before finding a rather permanent home at Epic Comics, the Indie brand of sorts for mighty Marvel. There Groo out-lasted nearly everyone and went to bounce around at Image and Dark Horse and all over even down into our modern day.

It seems there's no killing this doughty barbarian, as much as we might want that. He's the Energizer Bunny of comics, he just keeps running. Good stuff!

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Uncollected - Metal Men!

I have to admit that I like Metal Men, or at least the notion of the Metal Men. Five distinctive robots seeking to find peace with the world and one another and at the same time save it from imminent destruction on a regular basis is a dandy premise for a comic book. But it's the personalities of these five robots, each supposedly derived from the nature of the metal which primarily comprises them. Gold is cool and adaptable, a proper leader, Iron is tough and strong and reliable, Lead is a bit dim but always ready able and willing to do what needs doing, Mercury is fluid and difficult, a good partner but one requiring patience, and Tin is the weakling but still possessed of an inner strength. Add to that mix the one female, the beautiful Tina and you have a proper crew run by their maker Doc Magnus, a genius with a keen understanding of science if not psychology.

Metal Men had a terrific run with writing by their creator Robert Kanigher and the art team of Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Later Mike Sekowsky took command and tried to make the pure Silver Age heroes fit into the Bronze Age. It failed ultimately and they went into limbo, getting snagged by Bob Haney  now and again to show up alongside Batman in The Brave and the Bold.

Then in the late 70's DC tried them out again in a new series, this with writing by Steve Gerber and artwork by an up and coming Walt Simonson. Under a Dick Giordano cover this was a handsome package, but Gerber gave way to Gerry Conway who likewise passed the baton to Marty Pasko. The art though remained steady with Simonson producing some amazing material and later when he moved on the series got handed to Joe Staton. Based on the artwork alone this series deserves a reprinting in a handsome trade. These names will sell, I know they will. Come on DC, do the right thing.

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