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Flashback: Review of Fantastic Four 157 (April 1975) September 8, 2008

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Either I’m easy to please, or I’ve been really lucky the past couple weeks because this issue is yet another great read that was randomly picked. I mean, the cover should say it all: the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, AND Dr. Doom? How could this issue NOT be good? The story is the finale of a three-parter (I haven’t read the first two parts, so I’m not too familiar with the entire story) as Doom has captured the FF (which includes Medusa as a current replacement for Sue) and is transferring a portion of the Silver Surfer’s Power Cosmic into his own Doomsman android.

First off, Rich Buckler needs to be awarded kudos for his very Kirby-esque pencil job. He also definitely gets tons of cool points for his last four pages being seemingly framed by fire (which makes sense when the master villain is revealed.) Of course, good art is always to be paired with a great story, and Roy Thomas delivers. Much of it is typical FF drama as the team tries to work their way through a series of dangers and traps that Doom has planted for them.

But the heart of the story comes with the seeming reunion of Norrin Radd and Shalla-Bal. Shalla-Bal seems to have lost her memory of the Surfer, until the two embrace, only to find tragedy. The reason she has lost her memory is because she never had it: she is only an Earth look alike, tricked into serving Doom to help capture the Surfer. As the Surfer is able to break free and help the FF defeat the Doomsman android and Doom himself, the Surfer leaves, sorrowing, and wondering if he shall ever see his Shalla-Bal again.

Here, Thomas pulls back the curtain and reveals that all of this was carefully constructed by Mephisto to further torture the Surfer. And the worst (or best, depending on how you look at it) part? There was no look-alike. The girl is indeed Shalla-Bal who has been implanted with false memories from Mephisto. Norrin will continue to attempt to escape Earth to find his true love, while she will be living here, unknown, while he does this.

As I said, I didn’t actually read the first two parts, but I probably will. If this issue was any indication, this arc is a great piece from the early “Bronze Era” of Marvel Comics. It may be old, but if you ever get a chance to read these issues, I once again have a high recommendation. (I’m almost hoping next week’s pick will be a bad or mediocre one, so I don’t have to keep telling you guys to look up all these great old back issues! 😉 )

Next week: Fantastic Four 285 (A Secret Wars II tie-in!)

-LOTRKing

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Flashback: Review of Uncanny X-Men 40 (January 1968) July 14, 2008

Posted by lotrking in Comic Book Reviews, Flashback.
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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Remember that ol’ phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, insert the word “comic” right before book, and you probably have an accurate description of this issue. After my random number generator chose this book last week, I took one look at the cover and thought: “this book is about to get the biggest bashing of all time.” Heck, I almost even threw a note in last week to expect a big bashing this time around. Let’s examine the cover for a moment: we have the X-Men looking for a monster that looks like it came straight from the 30s horror movie, neck-bolts and all. Second we have the caption: “The X-Men Meet Frankenstein!” Now anyone who has actually read the novel will know that Frankenstein was not the name of the monster, rather the scientist who created it, “the monster” is never given a true name. Being a huge fan of the novel, it always irks me when someone gets this wrong. Name nitpickiness aside, the X-Men facing off against the 30s horror movie version of an iconic character sounds like a recipe for cheesiness.

When I actually read the darn issue, imagine my surprise when my preconceptions turned out to out to be exactly wrong! I’m lead to believe that writer Roy Thomas didn’t write the cover, because he correctly refers to the creature as “Frankenstein’s monster” throughout! Many kudos points to him! Likewise, Xavier himself admits to being a huge fan of the novel also (more kudos points awarded!) In fact, it looks as though Roy Thomas is attempting to build a long-awaited sequel to the novel, by, at first, basing several plot points from the end of the novel. In theory, fiction-to-comic crossovers can work. Heck, I’ve got what I’d like to think is a pretty cool idea for a crossover between the Fantastic Four and one of my favorite books series (that’s a story for another time chaps!)

So far, my emotional roller-coaster went from being prepped for ultimate cheesiness, to being surprised and pleased. Unfortunately, the final stop was disappointment. The story sets up to actually be a good one, I was ready to read an entertaining attempted sequel to one of my favorite classical novels. Alas, “Rascally Roy” muddles things up as he attempts to tell the “true origin” of the monster, one that doesn’t make any sense in context of the original novel. It turns out that the “monster” was actually an android created by friendly exploring aliens, intended to act as an ambassador. When the android malfunctioned and terrorized humans, the aliens chased it to the arctic, where it was eventually frozen in ice, and found in the modern time. (He was thawed, that’s how he entered this issue originally, I suppose I should’ve mentioned that.) Xavier reasons that Mary Shelley somehow heard this story and wrote the novel. Of course, this new story bears no resemblance whatsoever to the novel, except for the fact that they both end in the arctic. They may as well have written this issue to be about a strange monster attacking, engaged it, and then learned its “alien creation” story. It really has no links whatsoever to Frankenstein. I realize that this was X-Men at its low point, right before in went into the “repeats” that continued for a few years, but did they really have to use this kind of disappointing gimmick to sell an issue? I really can’t recommend this unless you want a really rather odd (and nonsensical) spin on a classic tale.

Next week: Special Edition! Not Random! Review of the 1978 Silver Surfer Graphic Novel by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby! Excelsior! (Okay, that last comment was random, but seemed to fit in with old-school Marvel-sounding hype. Besides, you know you’ve always wanted the chance to say “Excelsior!”)

-LOTRKing

Flashback: Review of Avengers 51 (April 1968) July 7, 2008

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In Flashback, LOTRKing reviews a random back issue (in most instances, one he hasn’t read before) and attempts to make sense of both the story and its place in Marvel history.

Once again we dip into some Silver Age Marvel, but luckily this one is one of the better selections from that period. Sure, it wasn’t the best comic ever published, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the last look into the Silver Age. This particular issue features the roster of Thor, Iron Man, Goliath (Pym), Wasp, and Hawkeye and begins as Pym is attempting to regain his powers. His first test fails (quite painfully), and the story soon progresses as we are introduced to the mysterious Collector. If my memory serves me right, The Collector belongs to a fraternity of beings called The Elders. I don’t remember what they do as a group, but I do know that they once tried to destroy Galactus and the universe, so that they could be the new “Galacti” of a reborn universe, and Silver Surfer had to stop them (or something like that). Anyway, that story didn’t come about until way after this, and I’m not even sure if The Elders had made an appearance yet. In this issue all we learn is that The Collector is an ancient alien being that likes to, well, collect stuff. (Why didn’t they just name him Pack-Rat-Man? 😉 ) And, having come to Earth, he decides to collect the Avengers one by one.

The first Avenger he “collects” is Thor, though this isn’t revealed until later, and he has tricked him into drinking an “obedience potion” made with Asgardian herbs (yes, I know, one of those quirky Silver Age gimmicks, but at least it makes sense in the context of the story). He then uses Thor to help him capture Goliath, Wasp, and Hawkeye, and later restores Goliath’s failing powers because he does not want a “defective” Avenger (bad idea buddy). As The Collector sends Thor out to retrieve Iron Man (which results in a pretty cool battle sequence), Wasp, Goliath, and Hawkeye are able to escape. This results in yet another battle, and, much to the Collector’s dismay, the destruction of many of his artifacts. When the battle causes one of his collected machines to go haywire, he is forced to use a temporal dislocator to teleport to another time (why simple teleportation wouldn’t have worked better is beyond me). With these three Avengers in a hovering ship being fast consumed by flames, all looks lost. Luckily, The Collector’s disappearance nulls the effect of the obedience potion on Thor, who has knocked Iron Man unconscious and left his armor barely functioning. Thor returns to the ship to rescue his fellow teammates, and we are left with what looks to be a happy ending.

Of course, the reader always needs to get pulled back, so we still have the vanished Collector drifting around, who we already know will pop back up. Likewise, the very end of the issue introduces a new hero called The Panther (I’m assuming this is T’Challa, the Black Panther), who will join the roster next time. So all-in-all, a fun read, but nothing you have to go hunting through back issues for. If you ever come across it, you may as well take a look at it, otherwise, nothing major missed.

Next week: Uncanny X-Men 40

-LOTRKing