Daredevil #1

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Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and I’m rereading one of my  Valentine’s Day presents from last year: Essential Dardevil. What makes this so much fun for me is the artwork from Bill Everett. Over the years he has become one of my favorite pencilers and the black and white format really makes his art pop so much.

On the story side, Stan Lee presents a typical origin from this time. We start off with a brief flashback before going back and presenting Daredevil’s history. His origin is very straight forward; Matt Murdock was raised by his boxer single dad. Eventually Matt winds up losing his vision albeit in a noble fashion, and his dad’s life is ended by an evil boxing promoter–appropriately named the Fixer. Matt winds up training to confront the Fixer and winds up becoming the super hero that we know and love called Daredevil.

The funny part of this story is the fact that there’s a blind guy sewing together the costume, developing a spring loaded grappling hook weapon and becoming a master gymnast/fighter. Matt became much more talented once he lost his vision. The other is that Matt’s best friend, co-lawyer Foggy Nelson and their secretary Karen Page both notice that he’s been disappearing frequently. But they never confronted him once during the issue.

Daredevil #1 really wasn’t the best written first appearance of a character especially when you compare it to some of the other stuff Marvel was putting out at the time. But what makes this great, again, is Everett’s artwork. It’s really strong.

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Silver Surfer #18: Last Dance

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The eighteenth issue of Silver Surfer would be the series’ last and it ends with a bang. The character’s creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are reunited in this issue. With a setting of the story being blue side of the moon that the Inhumans call home, Kirby does some amazing work in this issue.

After falling on the moon, Silver Surfer becomes an unwilling pawn in the war between Black Bolt and his evil brother Maximus for control of the Inhumans. After fighting both sides, finally snaps and attacks both sides.

The last page of the issue is the above splash page and it pretty much shows that Silver Surfer has had it with the universe. He’s done with humanity (and it’s Inhuman branch). That image of an irate Silver Surfer is just amazing and I’m so glad I read this series, if just for this.

Sadly, this was the last issue of the series and whatever direction the “savage” Silver Surfer would have taken is pretty much an unknown. This take on the character didn’t spill over into any of the other Marvel series at the time; he would reappear almost a year later in 1971’s Sub-Mariner.

 

Silver Surfer #15: Battling The Human Torch

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You just know any comic book that starts out with the Silver Surfer shopping for a trench coat and fedora is just going to end badly for him. By the middle of this issue he finds out that the Fantastic Four–who he thought were his friends–have been conspiring against him with the US Army.

But first, back to him clothes shopping. Surfer is offered them, as the salesman thinks he is holding up the store which is called “Exclusive Styles Men’s Clothing.” With a name like that it has to be fancy. Surfer won’t accept his generosity. Instead, he turns a stanchion into solid gold. He then doe what we all do with our new clothes: goes out on the town.

Unfortunately he overhears what sounds like the Fantastic Four teaming up with the army. Fearing captivity he lashes out and attacks them. It leads to a high speed, energy blasting battle with the Human Torch across the city that ends abruptly with the Torch almost getting hit by a train. Surfer snaps out of his rage in time to prevent that from happening, as he couldn’t stomach the thought of him letting a friend die in such a grizzly way.

The story ends with Surfer finding out the truth of the army’s visit to Reed Richards: they wanted to recruit him to help assist in the development of space travel. Surfer leaves completely distraught, having blown the one opportunity that mankind wanted to befriend him.

Silver Surfer #13: Dawn of the Doomsday Man

silver-surfer-13Lee and Buscema find yet another way to dupe the poor Silver Surfer.That seems to be a recurring theme in this series.

This time Surfer gets duped by a mad scientist named Dr. Kronton who has created a one man army corps called Doomsday Man. Literally, this is a robot killing machine. It’s gone rogue in an underground silo and he needs Surfer’s assistance in tracking it down.

The diabolical plan is to have Surfer no only free the Doomsday Man, but to have the robot carry a cobalt bomb into the United States. If Dr. Kronton doesn’t get what he wants, well, there will be a hole lot of beachfront property in southern Canada.

And yes, there actually was a cobalt bomb. I thought it was a bunch of grandiose Stan Lee verbiage, but I was wrong.

Once Silver Surfer finds out Dr. Kronton’s plan, he is able to stop the Doomsday Man which is on a crash course to Manhattan, just like every other Marvel villain from this period. He does that by throwing the robot into the earth’s core and heaving the bomb into space where it safely explodes. During all this chaos, Kronton dies off panel. I assume it was a heart attack. It ends with everyone blaming Surfer for all the chaos and Kronton’s death as he walks away sad, thinking that these people are monsters.

Silver Surfer #10-11

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These issues somehow manage to tie the Silver Surfer/Shalla Bal love story into a Latin American revolution during the 1960s. And yes, this story arc is as amazing as that sounds.

One of the key points in this series has been how there is such a huge disconnect between the Surfer and humanity. The story starts out with Surfer saving a man attempting to commit suicide and the police officer who was literally trying to talk him off of a ledge. Unfortunately, it becomes a scenario that Surfer is all too familiar with: instead of being thanked for his actions, he is getting yelled at for being a pariah and a danger to mankind.

Silver Surfer winds up travelling to Latin America and winds up getting sucked into a revolutionary war. Siding with the “freedom fighters” instead of the country’s established government, Surfer sets out to rescue one of their leaders, a woman named Donna Maria.

I like the fact that they make no effort whatsoever to identify what Latin American country it was set in. I don’t think it was possible to make it any vaguer.

As this is going on, Shalla Bal is being courted by Yarro Gort, who can’t stand that she still pines for Surfer even though he is no longer really a Zenn-La-ian. So Yarro decides that he’s going to break Shalla’s heart by taking them to Earth so she can see for herself that the Surfer has moved on with his life and that she should as well. Yarro has totally lucked out, as when they get to earth Surfer has just rescued Donna who is smooching him as a thank you. Yarro really is a dick.

Shalla doesn’t seem to be to worried about that and is more concerned by the fact that they’ve been captured by the evil army. Yarro shows his true colors and makes a deal with his captors: if they let him go, they can use his space ship’s weaponry to not only put down the rebellion but the Silver Surfer as well. Ultimately it comes down to an all out battle between Yarro and the government against Silver Surfer and the rebellion. Yarro gets killed, but Shalla is mortally wounded during the melee. Surfer then repairs the space ship and sends her back home to Zenn-La, as no Earth medicine could save her.

Stan Lee and John Buscema really get across with the words and art is how much sadness there is in the Silver Surfer’s life, not to mention that he always does the right thing, even when he has nothing to gain from doing so. He saved those men at the bridge only to be treated like a monster. He’s reunited with his beloved Shalla but has to send her to the other side of the universe so she can survive. It sucks being the Silver Surfer.

Silver Surfer #8-9

 

silver-surfer-9Silver Surfer #8-9 brigs the legend of the tormented soul of the Flying Dutchman into the Marvel Universe via the evil machinations of Mephisto. And boy, didn’t that last sentence sound like something Stan Lee would have written.

At this point, Mephisto is pretty much Silver Surfer’s recurring arch nemesis. The demon lord fears the Surfer and is trying to find a way to stop him. The latest involves finding the evil spirit of the old Dutch pirate Joost van Straaten and empowering him into his new “Flying Dutchman” state. And by that, Mephisto made him into a cyborg looking a lot like Deathlok. He also has these really lame looking grappling hooks for hands.

Any way they fight back and forth until the Silver Surfer is finally able to defeat the Dutchman. There’s a few really cool panels where Mephisto is getting involved unbeknownst to either the Surfer or Dutchman, but to no avail. The end of the story has the Surfer showing remorse for the Dutchman, who only teamed up with Mephisto in an attempt to free his soul. Silver’s empathy is enough to void the Dutchman’s deal and freeing him.

This wasn’t the best of Lee and Buscema’s work on this title, but the story worked. They all can’t be classics I guess.

Silver Surfer #6

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Well the streak had to end sometime. So far, Silver Surfer #6 is my least favorite issue in the run. It’s not that it’s a bad issue or anything; just compared to the rest.

In typical fashion, Stan Lee and John Buscema (who is joined by his brother Sal Buscema on inks) have Silver Surfer being depressed. He’s still reeling from the loss of his newly found friend Al in the last issue, and he still pines for Shalla-Bal back on his home world.

Thinking that Galactus’ intergalactic barrier will probably not be keeping him trapped on Earth forever, Silver Surfer tries to move at the speed of light in order to travel to the future in a method similar to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Unfortunately, the future he travels to a really terrible future.

It wasn’t explained if it was the near for way future, but the universe has been conquered by the evil Overlord of Dakkam. Both his home of Zenn-La and Earth have been destroyed.  So Silver Surfer does the only logical thing: he travels back in time to prevent the event that caused the Overlord to come to power and thus never conquer the universe. Unlike Captain Kirk, the Silver Surfer has no qualms about violating the space and time continuum.

Rules are meant to be broken, after all. Anyway, poor Surfer returns back to present day Earth, only to be lonely and trapped. Poor little guy.

Silver Surfer #3: The Last Temptation of Silver Surfer

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In Silver Surfer #3, the Silver Surfer bought a toothbrush, some toothpaste and a flannel for his face. No, those are the lyrics to that Squeeze song.

This tale from Stan Lee and John Buscema is all about making a deal with the devil. And in this case, Mephisto. The demonic lord of Marvel’s underworld makes his debut in this issue and does everything but formally say that he is the devil or Satan himself. Being that the Comics Code Authority was still in effect during this era, I’m assuming that might have had something to do with it.

With a theme of power and control permeating the story, Mephisto is introduced as being someone who has a keen interest in the Silver Surfer. His altruism–not to mention cosmic power–is seen as a threat to Mephisto.

Being that he is an all-knowing demon, Mephisto tries to tempt the Silver Surfer with the one thing he loves most in the universe: Shalla Bal. After attempting several other ways to trick (and in some cases, physical violence) the Surfer into submission, Mephisto gives one final offer of Shalla Bal in exchange of assistance (or at the very least, the allowance) of him collecting and corrupting souls throughout the universe.

Before the Silver Surfer can announce his decision, Shall Bal interrupts and pleads to not accept the offer. Their love isn’t worth the damnation of millions. Silver Surfer agrees that the good of the universe far supersedes their own love and rejects the Faustian deal. And the issue ends with Shalla Bal back on Zenn-La and the Surfer alone and still trapped on earth.

The story is pretty powerful and really is a morality play with Surfer having the weight of the universe on his chrome shoulders. Ultimately his (and Shalla’s) decision makes perfect sense. Sometimes making the right decision isn’t necessarily the best personal decision.

Silver Surfer #2: The Badoon Strikes Back

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I’m continuing my fun look back at the old Silver Surfer series. The second issue not only helps set the main themes for the series, but it also introduces a new villain to the Marvel  Universe that will play a big roll in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film next year.

The Badoon–a reptilian alien species–has targeted Earth as its net conquest. After a brief encounter with the Silver Surfer, they explain that they have come in peace and are only interested in ending all evil. Surfer can kind of agree with that, as during his brief time on the planet he has grown greatly disenfranchised on how mankind treats one another.

This opinion on the Badoon is changed when an imprisoned Earth woman shares their true intent: enslaving the planet. This doesn’t jive well at all with the Silver Surfer, and the rest of the issue has him fighting off the Badoon spacecraft and monsters that are attacking Manhattan. Eventually they give up on their conquest, only to return in the future of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Silver Surfer may have gotten rid of the Badoon, but his reputation took the worst of it. The aliens were using some sort of cloaking technology straight out of Star Trek that made them invisible to the world, making it look like it was the Silver Surfer attacking the city on his own.

Stan Lee does such a great job writing the character. He’s an outsider, cursed to live among a world that completely fears and distrusts him. Even when he does the right thing (in this case dealing with the Badoon) it only winds up hurting him in the end. That is combined with the fact that Surfer continually brings up the fact of how hypocritical human nature is. Oh yeah, and that John Buscema who drew this is pretty sweet too.

Silver Surfer #1

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With summer right around the corner, its beach season. To celebrate, I’m going to read about the premier surfer in comics history–the Silver Surfer. Granted, the chrome-domed hero never actually steps foot on a beach, but go along with me.

Silver Surfer #1 expands the character’s back story, showing what makes the man formerly known as Norrin Rand tick and why he made the choices in his life. It’s pretty clear that this is a continuation from his debut appearances in Fantastic Four, which is one of the things that I really like about the Stan Lee-helmed Marvel books of the early 1960s. The continuity really works, as he was co-scripting and editing everything the company was releasing.

Norrin lives on the far off planet of Zenn La, which is a perfect utopia. Unfortunately for him, he finds that society around him has become weak, if not ambivalent to the world around them. They overly rely on their technology and no one has the ambition to do anything out of he ordinary.

This lack of purpose is really evident when the world devouring Galactus comes to destroy Zenn La. Once their defense systems have failed, they whole civilization has pretty much given up.

So to save the planet (well mostly to save his longtime fiancée Shalla-Bal), Norrin makes an offering to Galactus. If the cosmic destroyer would spare this planet, he would serve as a herald of sorts, searching for planets that are less civilized for Galactus’ feeding. Norrin gives up everything that is important to him (Shalla-Bal’s love) in order to save his home planet.

Before you completely applaud Norrin’s nobility, he does look at this heraldship as an opportunity to explore the universe, as living in a Utopia is fairly boring. Now that we have a better understanding of his character, we have a better sense on why he was so upset to be imprisoned on Earth for defying him.

The writing on this (and the subsequent issues) is some of Stan Lee’s best. There is a fine mix of high-concept science fiction mixed in with his best Shakespeare-styled dialogue. It might be a little silly, but at the time no one was doing anything like this in comics. On the art side, John Buscema is just great

Happy 90th Birthday Stan Lee!

stan-lee-meets-spider-manToday longtime Marvel Comics writer/publisher/editor/goodwill ambassador Stan Lee celebrates his ninetieth birthday.

The man certainly dissolves a spot in the pantheon of American comic book creators (if not a spot on the Mount Rushmore of them). I know there’s a lot of controversy about how much he contributed in his collaborations with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, much of which no one really knows the full story. But that aside, you can’t discount how much effect he had on the direction of comic books at the time.

Everyone can agree that comics were pretty lame by the time Lee took over Marvel, and his ideas of the stories that comics could tell helped turn things around. It didn’t hurt that he was collaborating with some of the greatest men to pick up a pencil and comic board.

But what he did so well was serve as a public figure-head to why comic books were so much fun. He became the person when people thought about comic book creators (and I still think he holds that title today). Just as Walt Disney and Jim Henson became synonymous with animation and puppetry, Lee did with comics.

I think in the modern comics world there really needs to be someone like that who just exudes a certain excitement and showmanship to their craft. In that regards, I think the closest would be Mark Millar, who uses his bombastic personality to get attention to his projects.

Anywho, thank Stan for dedicating his life to the medium! The comics world would certainly be completely different without him!

 

Amazing Fantasy #15

So let’s talk about the first appearance of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15, which I am so proud to have in my collection. Well not the original, but one of the thousands of reprints they’ve made over the years.

Anyway, Steve Ditko and Stan Lee launched Marvel’s most recognizable character with this. I’m not going to talk about the story, because everyone and there mother knows it. So why is Spider-Man one of the most enduring characters in comics?

It’s because his origin and makes so much sense. Superman is just a super-powered alien who feels he has to be helpful. Captain America is fighting the good fight, a holdover from World War II. Batman is just motivated by revenge. This was all expanded over the years.

But Amazing Fantasy #15 fleshes out the character instantly. Peter Parker is constantly bullied, but winds up with these amazing (no pun intended) powers. And his arrogance disrupts his life; it’s his fault that Uncle Ben died. Peter takes it upon himself to make sure no one ever experiences the loss of a loved one to a criminal.

The beauty is that you get all of that out of one issue. After you read this, you know everything about Peter Parker, his life, his motivations, everything. This just might be the best debut of a character ever.

Amazing Spider-Man #1

So who saw Amazing Spider-Man for the fourth of July? I didn’t. But I did read the first issue of Spidey’s ongoing series from March 1963.

Amazing Spider-Man #1 wasn’t the first appearance of the wall crawler; he debuted seven months prior in Amazing Fantasy #14. This first issue by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee sets up the tone and direction the character would take.

Basically it really sucks to be Peter Parker. He’s still grieving the loss of Uncle Ben, and him and Aunt May are dealing with some serious financial hardships.

In the first story, Peter get super depressed after finding out that Aunt May has been selling her jewelry and such at the local pawn shop. She can’t pay the bills since Uncle Ben was murdered, which he still blames himself for. Peter plans a stage show with a promoter to get some money quickly. Unfortunately for him (and leading to an absolutely hilarious scene) Spider-Man can’t cash the check because he doesn’t have a Social Security card. I couldn’t stop laughing about this.

As this goes on, we meet J. Jonah Jameson for the first time and he hates Spider-Man.. How much? Even though Spider-Man saves his astronaut son from cashing to his demise, the elder Jameson makes the cover of the Daily Bugle have the headline “This Newspaper Demands That Spider-Man Be Arrested And Prosecuted!”

With the public fearing Spider-Man, Peter will never be able to make any money to support his family.

The second feature continues this “must find money” theme with Spider-Man attempting to join the Fantastic Four. Unfortunately he goes about that the wrong way; breaking into their headquarters at the Baxter Building and then asking them about the financial compensation they get for being heroes wasn’t the best way to go about winning them over. This day only gets worse as he has to stop the Chameleon is masquerading as him in order to steal missile defense plans to sell to the Soviets.

What Ditko and Lee did in this issue was get across how much it sucks to be Peter Parker. Nothing in his life works out. It’s his fault his uncle is dead. It’s his fault that his aunt is just scraping to get by. He has these great powers and abilities, yet everyone fears him. Not only that, but he does so much to help the world and gets nothing to compensate himself. Yet he has to, as he is compelled to do so.

This is why Spider-Man is so likable; he’s down on his luck and anyone can relate to that. Peter Parker is an every man underdog. This was such a fun issue to read; it still holds up nearly fifty years later.

Soldier Zero: Volume 1

A while back we talked about what a modern-day Jack Kirby without Stan Lee project, so lets talk today about a Stan Lee without Jack Kirby project. We’re talking about BOOM! Studio’s Stan Lee’s Soldier Zero: Volume 1, which packages the first story arch.

Lee’s involvement in this book seems to me mostly in the concept stage, with Dr. Who scribe Paul Cornell and artists Javier Pina and Sergio Arino rounding out the character. Soldier Zero is a combination of Knight Rider, the Guyver and Venom. Our hero is Stu Trautmann, a war hero who lost the use of his legs after a landmine explosion in Afghanistan. Stu is adjusting to both being in a wheelchair and civilian life when he unwillingly is bonded to the alien symbiotic/parasitic armor entity known as Soldier Zero.

Soldier needs Stu’s help in stopping Soldier One, another similar armor symbiote who has gone rogue. Stu has to begrudgingly agree to this, as Soldier One has already gone after his family due to his association with Soldier Zero. Things get only more complicated, as it seems there is a bigger intergalactic conspiracy at hand.

So how was this?

It was a decent read, and it really came across like a pitch for a new character. Everything made sense and it was a light read, but it wasn’t necessarily the most compelling story. I will say that it definitely peaked my interest to read the second volume once it comes out. It reads much better as a collection than as single issues. Had I waited monthly for each installment, I probably  would have given up on it. The art is fine, and Cornell should get a lot of credit for flushing out the character and making it work in a modern world. 

Like any comic book that wants to get attention, the issues of Soldier Zero got the multiple cover treatment. The end of the book features a nifty little gallery of all the variant covers from the series. The one on the left, which was an exclusive to New York City’s Midtown Comics was my favorite. I love the way it’s so retro looking.

But wait…doesn’t this remind you of something else? Does it remind you of something very familiar from Lee’s storied past, maybe something … silver?

If that cover reminded you of Silver Surfer #1, which graced comic book spinners everywhere in September 1968, you win a prize. This cover was done by comic artist extraordinaire John Buscema and is one of the most iconic images of the character.

To me, this was really appropriate to pay tribute, as this series featured some of Lee’s best written work. Getting back to Soldier Zero, it was a decent read that’s worth picking up if you can find it cheap or  at your library. You could do a lot worse…

Splash Page Saturday #9

 

I know this is late, so what? Last week was the fiftieth anniversary of the Fantastic Four’s debut! Hooray! Here’s a pinup by Jack Kirby featuring the Fantastic Four back in the Thing’s old neighborhood on Yancy Street.

And as usual, it’s a bad experience. You can see Dr. Doom up in the right corner, and he’s responsible for the welcoming graffiti. Happy anniversary!