Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review: The Eternals by Jack Kirby

Jack Kirby, the King of Comics and certainly one of the architects of the Marvel Universe! I mentioned in this earlier article "Jack Kirby's Back: FOOM 11 and Captain America 193 covers" that I wasn't necessarily a fan of his mid-seventies Marvel work. I have been trying to revisit that material lately with fresh eyes to see what I thought.  BTW, currently the first volume of The Eternals is free on Comixology Unlimited if you have that service and want to give it a try.

The Eternals 3

Here is what I remember of this time, late 1975 and into 1976. Kirby's first publications coming back to Marvel were 2001 A Space Odyssey (Marvel Treasury Special) and then Captain America. The Eternals didn't start until months later, towards late spring 1976. We were teased about it for months...and it seemed tantalizing! Those of us who loved New Gods from DC Comics had high hopes this was similar quality and scope. But when I finally got my hands on the first issue...I was a bit disappointed. It was far out, all right, but it didn't have the same punch as New Gods 1, which started off explaining the whole setup and the focusing on the main players in that conflict.

Kro and Ikaris

The Eternals 1 starts the story slowly. I think you could almost say The Eternals is an example of decompressed storytelling, or perhaps we could say it is Mosaic storytelling. There is a wide scope and the players / concepts are slowly unfolding, even though there is action and conflict. The guy we think is probably the star of this book, Ikaris, doesn't even get into costume until issue 3.


In order to appreciate The Eternals, you need to consider the influences at the time. There was a very popular paperback book titled Chariots of the Gods? by Erich Von Daniken which put out a theory that extra terrestrials visited ancient mankind and influenced our development. This theory included various religious myths, saying that these events had been the work of aliens and not angels or spirits. To an uninformed person, science appears to be magic. Marvel Comics had published a 1975 Marvel Preview magazine which I wrote about earlier, Neal Adams and Alex Nino on Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars. In addition, Arthur C Clarke had a popular science fiction novel, Childhood's End, which was enjoying a new wave of popularity in paperback. In this story there were Overlords who would determine Earth's fate after a 50 year waiting period. Demons in this story were humanity's misrepresentation of another species. The Deviant Kro in The Eternals is pretty much using that Clarke idea.

Eternals - The Gods have returned

With The Eternals, Kirby is trying to take these science fiction concepts along with his favorite theme, that the Gods (New Gods, Asgardians from Thor, etc) are actually alien beings with superior technology. The scope of the artwork in The Eternals may be on a grander scale than anything Kirby did before. The first issue brings the Celestials back to Earth in a massive spaceship. If you are young, reading this issue and hoping to see a hero like Thor or Orion, you were disappointed. That archetype never arrived in The Eternals 1. What did arrive are these massive alien beings, The Fourth Host, and they were only alluded to within the story. We learned the Celestials experimented on Apes to Uplift them through science; the Apes evolved into three races on Earth: The Eternals, the humans, and The Deviants.

The Eternals main cast members

Now here is one thing that was confusing back then. Kirby called The Celestials "Gods" but they weren't just ordinary Gods, they were Mega Overlord Gods. The ones who were going to decide the fate of mankind after 50 years. What would become our main cast of Eternal characters were Gods of Myth. Sersi was Circe, Thena was Athena, Makkari was Mercury, and so on. Kro was from the Deviant race, clearly the Devil when he sprouted horns. After a number of issues we got to meet this entire cast. We saw hints that nearly every religious pantheon was influenced by a member of The Eternals. I am sure Kirby must have seen the potential for this series to go 100 issues or more.

Ajak

In the second issue of The Eternals we met this guy, Ajak. I love, love, love the design of this character. He is clearly influenced by the Aztec / Inca design. He was known by the Incas as Tecumotzin, Lord of Flight. He just looks spectacular. Unfortunately he is stuck inside an Incan ruin for much of the series. Ajak's main job is to communicate with The Celestials and be their spokesperson. He does see some action later on.

Arishem, leader of the Fourth Host

There are astonishing splash pages and double page spreads in The Eternals. This is nothing new, by this time Kirby fans are used to that and expecting more. In the third issue we see this double page spread of Arishem, leader of the Fourth Host of Celestials. Again, such a wild and fantastic creation! If you though Galactus was terrific, this is Galactus to the next level and beyond.

There is a big complex story in The Eternals, which may have gotten away from Kirby a bit. Readers wanting to see a traditional good vs evil story get a bit of that in The Eternals vs The Deviants. Kirby has some interesting themes there, some commentary on the use of ovens for extreme Deviants and Nazi / Roman like behavior. But while young readers may have wanted more of that stuff, it wasn't what The Eternals was really about.

Eson

The most interesting part of The Eternals are the deployment of members of the Fourth Host around the world. They don't do much other than observe, but their very appearance causes nations to react nervously. They do interfere a little more directly with The Deviants (shown above), as they previously destroyed their ancient city Lemuria centuries ago.

Nezzar

There is one neat little story about how the Soviet Union military reacts to the presence of Nezzar of the Fourth Host. They launch an attack against this giant creature who deflects it with the power of his mind. It turns out the launch order for the attack was never given, but he simulated the outcome in the minds of the leaders and gave them all a stroke. That story may be cribbed from some other source but it was neat. I could not help thinking about The Celestials deployed among all different types of countries, that seemed a little bit like the recent movie, Arrival.

Eternals summoned for Uni-Mind

The Eternals themselves become even more compelling by issue 11 when we get to travel to Olympia and witness their leader, Zuras, summoning all of them to participate in the Uni-Mind. This double page spread does remind you of the glory days of New Genesis in the New Gods. It's also a far-out concept as these Eternal beings meld themselves together into one giant golden brain that flies off into outer space, to ponder the mystery of The Celestials return. I couldn't help but think of The Forever People coming together to summon The Infinity Man. In that case they were trading places with another being from The Source, but it seems like a concept Kirby was very interested in. People coming together for the common good.

As a young person, I stopped reading The Eternals by issue 12 or so. This time around I read all 19 issues plus the first and only Annual. It was a lot of fun and clearly there is a pantheon of charactes here that could be mined for other series or movies. The story itself is flawed: there is no through line, no spine of action to drive you through the story as Orion does in the New Gods. Ikaris appears to be the main protagonist, he has a cool costume, but his personality is bland. If you compare Ikaris to Thor or Orion, he just doesn't measure up to those heroes. The character we briefly see in one issue, The Forgotten One (aka Gilgamesh), seems vastly more interesting than Ikaris. There is no overall compelling villain in the mode of Darkseid to propel The Eternals forward. Sersi, with her witty and wild personality, was the breakout character who went on to join The Avengers. I don't know any of the behind the scenes drama on this series, but I am curious now how Marvel editorial staff might have interfered or caused changes to be mind.

Neil Gaiman attempted to fix many of these flaws in his 2006 mini-series The Eternals, which I plan to re-read next. Nuff Said!

Update: I did re-read The Eternals 2006 7 issue mini-series by Gaiman and John Romita Jr. I remembered liking this when it came out originally. But reading it on the heels of the Kirby work, I did not like it very much. It actually made me appreciate the genius of Jack Kirby even more, the 1970s series was much better in comparison, despite any of the flaws that I mentioned.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Thing Tuesday: Marvel Two In One 61, Starhawk and Her!

This cover fits in with my recent article on Warlock the Complete Collection...

Marvel Two-In-One 61 Thing and Starhawk by Perez and Austin

Marvel Two-In-One 61, The Thing and Starhawk by George Perez and Terry Austin! Warlock was known as HIM when he first appeared in the Fantastic Four, so naturally Mark Gruenwald had to create someone called...HER! But I don't recall whatever happened to this character. Nuff Said!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: Warlock the Complete Collection by Jim Starlin

Last week, I reviewed the Captain Marvel collection by Jim Starlin. That was a great view of Starlin's entry into Marvel comics, developing his characters such as Thanos, his cosmic concepts and artwork grew with each issue. He left Captain Marvel after he finished his Thanos saga, and the letters page announced he would be taking on Warlock as his next assignment!

Marvel Premiere 1 Warlock by Gil Kane

For those of us who read Warlock in the early 70s, this held great promise. Warlock was already a somewhat cosmic character, created by Jack Kirby in the Fantastic Four. Later he graduated to his own series starting in Marvel Premiere 1 and then his own self titled magazine. This era is covered in Warlock Masterworks Warlock Vol. 1. Gil Kane's artwork is pretty nifty, and Roy Thomas sets up a unique scenario for Warlock, with Counter-Earth. It is heavily steeped in 70s sensibilities and echoes of Jesus Christ Superstar. There are so many Christ parallels right up until the end, which has Warlock flying off to the stars for further adventures. The story wrapped up in Hulk 178 (after Warlock's comic was cancelled), which appeared in August 1974 cover dated comics, just 1 month before Starlin's exit on Captain Marvel. It's a good volume for 1970s Marvel / Warlock completists or fans of Gil Kane (sadly he doesn't draw all of the stories but does do most of the covers).

Strange Tales 178 splash Jim Starlin

Shift forward 5 months later to comics cover dated Feb 1975: Strange Tales 178 featuring Warlock is published. Jim Starlin does everything: the writing / pencilling / inking on this issue and the next couple. His artwork is glorious and it really pops when you read this digitally in Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection (Warlock (1972-1976)) I thought Starlin's artwork could not get any better by the end of Captain Marvel but here he takes it to another level entirely. After a brief recap to get readers acquainted with Warlock, the reader is introduced to the Universal Church of Truth which is out to punish a young rebel who is seeking Warlock's help. We get our first distorted view of the leader of this church, The Magus.

Strange Tales 179 Warlock Jim Starlin

The 2nd Warlock story by Starlin, Death Ship in ST 179, may be my favorite issue of this run. The pencils and inks by Starlin are superb and in fine detail. From the cover you get the idea that Warlock is trapped with a bunch of crazy alien monsters. Incidentally, take a close look at the upper right hand corner of the cover. The Comics Code seal of approval was changed by Starlin to read Approved by the Cosmic Code. No one caught his change, perhaps because deadlines were tight and things were rushed out the door at the mid-70s Marvel Bullpen.

Strange Tales 179 splash Jim Starlin

The splash page is terrific. Warlock looks enigmatic and mysterious in space. The background is finely rendered. At this point in time, Strange Tales was published bi-monthly, which means it came out every 2 months. Starlin must have taken the lead time to work on the first few issues of this series. Warlock is captured and taken prisoner on this ship, which is manned by Captain Autolycus. He is sent to the brig but quickly learns these are not menacing aliens but persecuted beings who have been harmed by the Church.

Warlock uses the soul gem ST 179 Starlin

Warlock's tale takes a wild twist into Michael Moorcock territory during his battle with Autolycus, who has gotten the better of him and about to deliver the final death blow. The gem upon Warlock's forehead - given to him by The High Evolutionary in Marvel Premiere 1, a strange undefined source of power - suddenly roars to life and steals the soul of Autolycus! The Captain's memories flood in Warlock and fill him with a sense of dread. For fans of Moorcock, they could see the similarities between the Soul Gem and the Stormbringer, Elric of Melnibone's sword who not only took souls but lusted after them. Re-reading this again, decades later, I paid close attention to Marvel Premiere 1 where the High Evolutionary gives Warlock the gem.  It really seems to come out of left field. The HE has the gem and gives it to Warlock for an extra boost to his power set for the mission on Counter-Earth. No explanation is given as to how the HE came to possess this gem; HE doesn't make any claim to have manufactured it on his own.

Warlock 9 cover Jim Starlin and Weiss

I am not going to review the Warlock saga issue by issue - other people have done that better than me, Back Issue Magazine 34 has a great recap. How did it feel to be reading these tales, as a young person in the 1970s? It seemed revolutionary! In the Captain Marvel stories, Starlin had some interesting concepts, not necessarily about Thanos and Death, but rather about the nature of a warrior. In Warlock he seemed to be taking on several themes. The duality of man's own nature. The tyranny of a church. Order vs Chaos. The possibility that a tyrant such as the Magus was actually a Champion of Life. Did certain tyrants throughout our actual history move humans forward?

The Magus revealed Starlin

The Magus was fully revealed at the end of Strange Tales 181, a bizarre polar opposite of our hero, who had been battered mentally through various tortures and possibly driven insane. The design of the Magus is pure genius. I never thought a purple hued guy with an afro would be such an incredible villain. But here he is, with a skull accessory on his metal belt, no less! He also has the thunderbolt on his chest, something that Warlock discarded a few issues earlier, because it drove Starlin nuts to draw that constantly.

Warlock 10 cover Starlin Weiss

At the end of Warlock 9, Thanos steps into the battle, and that was a complete shock. It was unclear was happened to Thanos in Captain Marvel 33 after the Cosmic Cube was shattered. He was a God, then he was no more. He was not erased from existence, but as Warlock 10 explained, he was stranded in space and rescued by his robotic ships. Thanos became aware the that Magus was a Champion of Life, and as Thanos was the opposite, a lover of Death, that made them enemies.  Thanos started playing a long con to wipe out the Magus, which included helping our hero Adam Warlock. And that long con involved suicide, which I don't believe I had ever read in a mainstream comic before. But here again was something really cool, which was that Starlin wasn't just regurgitating the work of Stan and Jack. Starlin was developing his own mythology and expanding on it wherever he went.

The Magus attacks Warlock Thanos Jim Starlin

A special note must be made about the work of Steve Leialoha, who took over finishing the art over Starlin's layouts after he stopped doing full pencils / inks. Very rarely do you see two artists mesh so well together. You can think of Kirby / Sinnott or Byrne / Austin, and Starlin / Leioloha are a great team right up there. Steve Leialoha is a fine penciller / storyteller in his own right, having published neat stories in magazines like Star Reach.

Avengers Annual 7 splash by Starlin Rubinstein

I can't review this issue by issue as I said, but each one does look gorgeous on my iPad as I read the Kindle / Comixology edition. When it was on sale it was $3 and I got another free digital trade as part of a promotion. Greatest three bucks I ever spent. Re-reading Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection made me feel like a kid again, and while some things don't age well, I feel like this material does.

The whole saga is here, Strange Tales to Warlock to Avengers Annual 7 and the conclusion in Marvel Two In One Annual 2.  Warlock was cancelled in 1976, according to that article in Back Issue, due to a paper shortage - the comic sold pretty well at the time. A year later, in 1977, Archie Goodwin offered Starlin the opportunity to return and finish things up in Avengers Annual 7. This was almost by accident. But it gave Starlin a unique opportunity to tie up the ending of Warlock's tale and provide a mirror scene to the one in Warlock 11 - his death. And then there was the final coda to Thanos' story in Marvel Two In One Annual 2, featuring The Thing and Spider-Man rescuing the Avengers in space.

Warlock and Thanos returned 13 years later. The latter in the pages of Silver Surfer (issue 34) and Warlock during The Infinity Gauntlet series. During this gap in time, we thought that was pretty much the end of their story. Yet they have returned again and again and soon will make full appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Nuff Said!


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Marvel Super Heroes 47 Hulk cover / original art by Jim Starlin

Since I am on a Starlin rediscovery kick lately, here's a 1974 reprint cover I am crazy about: Marvel Super Heroes 47, featuring The Hulk!

Marvel-Super-Heroes-47

I love Starlin's Hulk! He captures the fierce monstrosity of the character and the transformation here from Banner into the Hulk is classic. It captures the original intent to make this monster related to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Marvel-Super-Heroes-47 original art

Here is the original art to this cover, which looks nifty in black and white.

At this point in time, Marvel Super Heroes was reprinting Tales to Astonish. The Bronze Age Babies twitter account recently asked which we preferred on reprints - the original cover from the comic being reprinted, or a new cover? That is easy for me, hands down I liked the new covers because they gave artists like Starlin a shot to draw these classic characters.

Nuff Said!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Thing Tuesdays: Stranded in the Desert

Update: I originally published this on January 13, 2009, but since I just reviewed Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection yesterday, I thought I would republish it!

Think you are having a bad day?  If you’re Benjamin J. Grimm and you’ve just saved the world (in a team-up with the Hulk), what thanks do you get?  None!  Not even a ride out of the desert when Marvel Feature #12 begins…

marvel feature 12 splash page

Since it is a Marvel comic, you just know the Thing won’t be left alone for long.  Sure enough, Iron Man shows up and they fight a couple of Thanos’ goons, the Blood Brothers.  At the end of the tale…

marvel feature 12 still stranded

…The Thing is stuck in the desert again!  What a blamed revoltin’ development!  Nuff said.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin, The Complete Collection

Captain Marvel Jim Starlin Complete Collection

A couple of weeks ago, Marvel had a fire sale on many of their Kindle / Comixology digital collections. I grabbed many of them (too many) and one of the first that I re-read was Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection. This retails now for $9.99, during the sale it was $4, but it's a great trip down memory lane regardless of the price. This could be called Thanos Volume 1, because it not only includes Captain Marvel #25-34 by Starlin and others, it also includes Iron Man 55 by Starlin and Mike Friedrich (first appearances of Thanos and Drax the Destroyer), Marvel Feature 12 (The Thing and Iron Man vs the Blood Brothers, working for Thanos), Moondragon's origin from Daredevil 105. The collection ends with the first and probably the best Marvel Graphic Novel ever, The Death of Captain Marvel. Plus covers and material from various reprints over the years.

Captain Marvel 25

Naturally reading the original comics is great, but let's face it, unless you've got them perfectly preserved they degrade over the years / decades. Reading these digital versions is a blast because the colors and details really pop. Take the cover to Captain Marvel 25 as an example - I doubt the copy I have in my longbox looks that good. I bought the original off a newsstand in 1973, knowing nothing about the character other than the Avengers held him in high regard. I did know a lot more about Rick Jones, having read about him in reprints where he was Captain America's sidekick.

The collection doesn't start with Captain Marvel. It begins with Iron Man 55, where Drax and Thanos enter the Marvel Universe for the first time. Starlin's artwork is a bit rough in this story and the first few CM issues. He doesn't write the dialogue for these stories, but he's clearly the plotter and designer of all these new characters. Starlin introduces so many great new characters in these stories, I suspect in hindsight it's incredulous that he developed them for Marvel. His debut issue of CM involves Mar-Vell facing a horde of enemies, which is really a test conducted by Super-Skrull to report back to Thanos on the Kree warrior's abilities.

Captain Marvel 26

Starlin's artwork is a bit rough in these first few issues. But he's improving with each one of them. I loved issue 26, where The Thing fights Captain Marvel. The fight is due to mistaken identity - Mar-Vell believes The Thing is really Super Skrull; The Thing can't explain the situation because his vocal cords have been silenced. Flimsier excuses have been used before! It's the beginning of a beautiful partnership between Starlin and The Thing.

Captain Marvel 29

Jim Starlin really ratchets up to the next level with Captain Marvel 31.  This is the issue where he writes the full story for the first time, and he has Al Milgrom inking him for the first time. The cover is iconic and was used on slurpee cups and other stuff. Mar-Vell transformed from a Kree warrior to a the Protector of the Universe by becoming "Cosmically Aware". This was a very 1970s concept, like if you meditated enough or became one with nature you could improve things more than with just sheer violence. But it seems Starlin had a plan for this character from the start. In the early stories, Mar-Vell is a very capable warrior but a bit reckless and prone to mistakes. A very strange, almost Ditko-esque being named Eon helps Mar-Vell walk through his past mistakes and to transform into something new. And into someone with blond hair instead of silver, because the latter made him look too old!

Captain Marvel 31 original artwork

Starlin's original cover to Captain Marvel 29. John Romita clearly re-touched the face and neck, which probably did not please Starlin.

What were the immediate changes in Mar-Vell due to Cosmic Awareness? He became aware of himself and his surroundings. He began to see bigger patterns. He still fought like hell, in the next issue there was a terrific battle with the Controller. But at least Mar-vell tried to talk the villain out of it before kicking his ass.

Thanos uses Cosmic Cube

Thanos gets a hold of a Marvel object that is so powerful, you wonder why anyone would lose track of it: the Cosmic Cube. After years of villains fumbling around with this object, Thanos is the one to finally make full use of it. He becomes a God, or an Insane God as the next issue teaser states. By this point, Iron Man, the Destroyer, the Titans and others have teamed up with Captain Marvel to fight Thanos and the odds were insurmountable.

Captain Marvel 33 final battle

By the time the final issue of this story came to a conclusion, the tension was ratcheted higher and higher. Thanos was learning to use the full extent of his godhood, although you wonder why he doesn't just evaporate Captain Marvel into atoms. This could be explained by a discovery made later in the Infinity War: Thanos has some defect of character that does not want himself to succeed. Perhaps that is too easy of excuse, but I bought into it!

IMG_0026

Thanos does decide to terminate Mar-Vell's life right upon his discovery about the Cosmic Cube having some residual link to Thanos' godhood. In this issue, Starlin makes the next leap forward in storytelling and artwork. It's such a mind-bending battle with Thanos in the proceeding pages, as he warps reality around Mar-Vell and Drax. Then he decides to pull the plug on Mar-Vell, by aging him quickly, but not before he can fossilize and destroy the Cosmic Cube.

Captain Marvel 34 Nitro

After this epic was done, for the readers at the time, minds were shattered. Wow. This guy Thanos had taken things to a extent no Marvel Comics villain had ever accomplished before! I was going to be a Starlin / Captain Marvel fan for life. What was going to come next? Could we look forward to years of Starlin on Captain Marvel? This was beyond compare. Unfortunately, the next issue arrived, Captain Marvel 34. The plot/artwork is by Starlin, dialogue by Steve Englehart, and it sets a new status quo for Mar-Vell's post-Thanos adventures. He battles a new villain, Nitro, a guy who explodes and reforms himself back together afterward. At the very end of their battle, Mar-Vell gets exposed to some lethal poison gas (powerful enough to destroy a whole city), collapses, and is seemingly dead. I remember thinking, well, Starlin will solve this problem next issue.

Captain Marvel 35 letters page announcement

Wrong! We got the shock of our lives, when Captain Marvel 35 (not included in this digital collection, I scanned the above from my collection) arrived with artwork by Alfredo Alcala! A nice artist on the black and white mags, but not on CM! The letters page explained that the Nitro issue was Starlin's last one. He was leaving to work on another somewhat cosmic character: Warlock! But this would set up a pattern for Starlin. He didn't mind killing off characters when he was done with them. Captain Marvel survived the poison gas and went on to many more adventures courtesy of Englehart / Milgrom and other creators - but there were longer term effects.

Death of Captain Marvel - Nitro gas

This Captain Marvel collection goes from issue 34 right into The Death of Captain Marvel. This was published originally in 1982; Starlin's last issue of CM appeared in 1974. This was a big event, for not only was Marvel getting into the Original Graphic Novel game, they were killing off a character, and there was no doubt that it would happen. Starlin was able to use the events of his final issue to deliver the death blow to Mar-Vell: cancer. And this story is a real tear jerker. There are no big fights, although there is an appearance by Thanos, post his final battle with Warlock from Marvel Two-In-One Annual 2. It is really a sad tale of what happens when anyone gets cancer and they can't win. They try to fight it, they accept what is going to happen and start to say goodbye to loved ones. I believe Starlin's father had died earlier of cancer, which gives a lot of authenticity to it. I cried when I read it originally; I cried reading it again.

I loved Captain Marvel by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection! It made me feel like a kid again. Nuff Said.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Avenger Annual 7 original cover art by Jim Starlin

I recently re-read the Warlock collection on Comixology - the penultimate chapter to this saga is Avengers Annual 7 from August 1977! The cover was an amazing work by Jim Starlin...

Avengers Annual 7 Starlin cover

Showing the Avengers + Captain Marvel (another Starlin character) in combat with the thralls of Thanos. Warlock stands on a hill in the distance, silently observing. The head of Thanos in the background is eerie, due to the overlay process used on the cover.

Avengers Annual 7 original art

For the orignal art, here are the main figures. Looks very cool even in black and white. On the horizon there is no Thanos or night time sky...

Avengers Annual 7 overlay

Here is the original art plus the overlay for the blue plate plus extra logo. It looks like Starlin used a razor blade to make the white streaks continue on from the hill Warlock is standing on.

I will be doing a review of this Warlock collection soon. Stay tuned! Nuff Said.