Saturday, 27 September 2008

The Human Torch Meets ... Captain America

Strange Tales #114, November 1963.
(By Lee, Kirby, and Ayers)

So, I know what you're thinking: "Wasn't Captain America defrosted by the Avengers in Avengers #4, a few months after this issue was released? So who's this joker?" Who indeed...

Our tale begins as the Human Torch's daily workout is interrupted by some of his college pals. No, I don't know what happened to his secret identity from a couple of issues back either.

Naturally, Johnny Storm is a big fan of Captain America, having read comic books about his adventures when he was a kid. Thankfully, this was in the days before we had a rolling timeline. These days, I guess Johnny would have been read antique comics by his great-great grandfather or something.

Anyway, at the antique car fair, trouble erupts in the form of a couple of ne'er-do-wells who pinch a racing car and race off. The Torch sets off after them, but he's not alone.

The two heroes stop the crooks' getaway, but fall to arguing amongst themselves.

Fortunately, the cops show up to catch the villains. The Torch goes off in a sulk, whilst Captain America takes the credit, the cad! Heading home to meet his girlfriend, the two argue over the merit of the returned hero, with "hilarious" results:

Meanwhile, Captain America is back, and it looks like he's a bad 'un...

While the escaped cons draw the attention of the police, the villainous Cap is robbing the local bank. How very... mundane.

Wait a minute, did he just say "sky-platform"?

Holy crap, he did! This costumed criminal has built or bought some sort of Kirbytech helicopter thing, in order to steal a sack of swag from a crappy little town in upstate New York? Does Lee's plot just get really vague at this point, leaving Kirby to fill in the blanks, or was Kirby making it up as he went along, leaving Lee to try and make some sense of it all?

Anyway, let's plough on, shall we? After parachuting to safety from his Kirbycopter, "Cap" escapes in a truck, pursued by the Torch, who's in for a surprise...

I mean, seriously, what? How organised is this guy? Were asbestos-lined trucks just lying around New York back in the 60s? Or was there a supplier of superhero-inconveniencing traps, based on 5th Avenue, back in those days?

Naturally, the Torch escapes his fate, and captures the Cap impersonator, who turns out to be an old foe of the Torch's, the Acrobat, an incredibly minor villain making, justifiably, his last appearance. Presumably he was kneecapped by whomoever was dumb enough to lend him the Kirbycopter. And the point of this story?

I guess we all know what response that appeal met with. "Hey, assholes! Captain America wears BLUE shorts!"

Saturday, 13 September 2008

A Skrull Walks Among Us!

Fantastic Four #18, September 1963. Again.
(By Lee, Kirby, and Ayers)

As I may have mentioned in the past, I used to run a Marvel Superheroes RPG, back in the days when I still had the time, energy, and enthusiasm to try to run a decent game. In the course of the campaign, I learned many hard lessons about super-powered combat. So, with the aid of this issue of FF, let me bring you

Dr Sordid's 10 Tips For Truly Effective Super-Villains!

1. Good Planning Is Half The Battle.

As the Emperor of the Skrulls demonstrates here, it's vitally important to put the appropriate time and money into developing your super-villain. That can make the difference between reducing your enemy's homeplanet to rubble, and being left with andromedan egg on your face.

2. Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery.

Surprisingly few superheroes consider how to counter their own powers. Which is odd, when you consider just how often a superhero meets his evil twin, or has his powers stolen by a villainous scientist.

3. Always Go One Better, Just In Case.

If you're going to make copying your enemies abilities your schtick, it's wise to make sure that the R&D department provide you with a bit of extra oomph, on the off chance that you encounter a hero who's smart enough to consider the previous point.

4. Put On A Good Show.

When presenting to a potentially hostile, audience, you can't go wrong with a good strong introduction. If enough people believe you're capable of single-handedly conquering New York, then their faith in the heroes who show up to take you on can be dented, which never harms your chances, when it comes to the inevitable fight sequence.

5. Don't Take Any Crap From Civilians.

Residents of the Big Apple are notoriously reluctant to welcome visitations from alien invaders. It's best to beat the crap out of any pipe-smoking, fedora-wearing New Yorkers who give you any back-talk. (Oddly, a variation on this advise, replacing "alien invaders" with "tourists", appears in the most recent edition of the Rough Guide To New York. Who'da thought it?

6. Resist The Urge To Gloat.

Should your first encounter with the heroes go well, then it's best not to rub your opponent's nose in it. Heroes have an annoying tendency to bounce back, and you can bet anything you say now will come back to haunt you later. Remember: pride cometh before a fall, so a slight smile should be your only outward expression of satisfaction.

7. Goats Are Not Scary. Not Even A Little Bit.

This one should be self-explanatory, but just in case: before you invade an alien planet, check which animals are regarded as fearsome, and which are thought of as cute or ineffectual.

8. Never, Ever, Let Super-Smart Heroes Get Access To A Laboratory.

If you have a weakness which can be exploited, you can bet your bottom Altarian Dollar that the heroes will find it, if you give them an opportunity. So, either don't give them that opportunity, or better yet, don't have any such weakness in the first place.

9. If All Else Fails, Cheat!

If things are starting to not go your way, then it's time to pull something out of your back pocket. And, speaking from personal experience, let me tell you that hypnotism is a seriously underrated superpower! Why fight your foes, when you can mesmerise them into beating the crap out of each other instead?

10. Always Have An Escape Plan.

If you've had your arse handed to you by the superheroes, then I recommend you have a means of avoiding being sealed up in a volcano for ever. A teleporter, perhaps, or a rescue ship from your home planet. If not, it may not be the end of the world, as the odds are you'll be back anyway before too long....

Thursday, 4 September 2008


X-Men #1, September 1963
(By Lee, Kirby, and Paul Reinman)

Even as they were releasing the first issue of The Avengers, featuring some of their best known characters, Stan and Jack were sticking their necks out by *also* releasing another team book, featuring an entirely new group of characters, all with WEIRD FREAKY POWERS. Like, um, wings and ice and shit. Well, not that last one, but you get the picture. Here they are now, summoned by Professor X, headmaster of the School For Gifted Youngsters.

(It's not actually a call to action - the Professor just wants to know who's pinched the wheels off his chair.)

Having assembled his class, Professor X welcomes a new student, the most famous redhead in comics history.

Note the stylish fashions of the pupils of Professor X's school. Check trousers and a bow tie, 'Slim'? Ouch. And is that a blue safari suit that Hank's dolled up in?

Ms. Grey is understandably confused about Professor X's motives for luring her to this school for squares, so the Professor gives her the 4-1-1.

Fortunately, despite being members of an all-male school, the X-Men know well how to handle one of the fairer sex. sort of.

Yeah, this is going to work out well. Anyhoo, whilst the boys quarrel over who's going to nail Miss Grey first, the action shifts to Cape Citadel, where the US government are launching one of their mighty space rockets (apparently, although he's already gotten to the moon, six months earlier, Reed Richards hasn't bothered to give Uncle Sam any help with their space program). But wait, what's this?

After twatting the rocket out of the sky, Magneto (for it is he) proceeds to launch a one-man invasion of the missile base.

True to his word, Magneto makes short work of the army personnel, and confronts the man in charge.

I love how much respect the letterer shows the art in this panel. Was it a particularly bad shot of Magneto's head? Anyway, back at the school, the boys are continuing to get used to their new classmate.

It's all a bit Porky's American Pie, isn't it? Any second now, Hank McCoy's going to sticking his knob through the hole into the girl's shower-block. Before Jean can tear the boys a set of new arses, the Professor summons the class to his study, tells them about Magneto's assault on Cape Citadel, and sends them off to defeat him. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten that the Master of Magnetism is in control of the base defences...

The X-Men are put through their paces, both by the missiles and by Magneto himself. For a brief moment, the bad guy even manages to overcome them. But this being fiction, and they being the heroes, it doesn't last long.

And so it begins, the rivalry between the X-Men and Magneto. And also, the beginnings of the X-Mens' reputation as being feared and hated by humanity.

Eh? Oh well, enjoy the popularity while you can, guys...