Thursday, 31 July 2014

FOURTH WORLD THURSDAY - HAIL HOMO USURPUS!

JO #137 cover by Jack Kirby
Welcome, once again, to Fourth World Thursday as another chapter of Jack Kirby's cosmic opus comes under scrutiny. We're back down to Earth again this week, in fact so far down that we're underground. Yes, we're back in the crazy world of Jimmy Olsen. Now, as you'll remember the last issue of Olsen had Mokkari and Simyan of the Evil Factory "breeding" a new genetic terror to unleash against Jimmy and his friends at The Project. All we saw last time was some "thing" with four arms starting to emerge from a giant egg.  
Well, at the start of this issue we find the titular Four Armed Terror in all its Kirbyesque glory, rampaging through The Wild Area, where it encounters Yango and Gandy from the biker drop-outs The Outsiders. You remember The Outsiders don't you? The biker gang that made Jimmy Olsen their leader? Well, I'm glad you remember them because Jimmy obviously hasn't. He's not mentioned them once since he reached The Project. How soon they forget!
The Four-Armed Terror on the loose!
Anyway, The Terror makes short work of the two bikers and continues on its way to The Project, leaving Gandy and Yango to dash back to The Habitat to alert their compatriots to the oncoming danger.
Meanwhile, back at The Project, unaware of the impending danger, our intrepid heroes are participating in a Hippy love-in. By using a "Solar-Phone", a strange Hairie invention that, we are told, "gathers in the radio-signals from the stars and convert them into mental musical images", which basically gives Kirby an excuse to do three pages of his patented "Kirby Photo Collages", through which Superman, Jimmy, The Newsboy Legion and various Hairies float gracefully.
Suddenly our heroes psychedelic trip comes to a crashing end as a series of explosions rock The Project. Yes, the Four Armed Terror has arrived! And he's on a direct course to The Project's nuclear reactors! Somehow, I don't think this can be a GOOD thing! Superman takes off to investigate, telling Jimmy and the Newsboys to stay behind. Yeah, like THAT'S going to work. No sooner is the Kryptonian out of the room then the youngsters are in hot pursuit.
Yango takes command!
The Four-Armed Terror's arrived at the nuclear pile and starts tearing at the machinery, setting off a series of explosions that tear through The Wild Area causing a mass evacuation by the leaderless The Outsiders. Jimmy Olsen may have forgotten them, but never fear, Yango is here! Yes our goofy, but lovable, dropout takes it upon himself to assume the leadership role. And he does a pretty good job too, getting his biker chums to safety as Habitat and The Wild Area crumble around them. 
Despite the fact that they're heading straight into a radioactive zone, Jimmy and the Newsboys continue to follow Superman, who by now has encountered the FAT... er, the Four Armed Terror and has engaged it in one almighty punch up. So when the youngsters turn up all they succeed in doing is distracting the Big Blue Boy Scout just enough for the Terror to get the upper hand (or hands). For, by using some bizarre ability, the Terror is able to absorb radiation from the pile and convert it into "some strange form of energy particles" which it fires from its hands. These energy particles coalesce around the heroes forming a giant pink "egg" around them. With the heroes disposed of, the Terror continues to demolish the atomic pile, while watching from their secret base Simyan and Mokkari congratulate themselves on a job well done. For their single Four Armed Terror is surely going to destroy the reactors and cause an explosion large enough to destroy not just the Project, but the city of Metropolis, which just happens to be right above them.
Monsters On The Loose. This is NOT a good thing!
And while our Apokaliptans are gloating, in the depths of their base another egg hatches producing another Terror. And another. And another...
"The others are stirring!" proclaims Simyan. "They're breaking free of their protective shells Mokkari!"
"It is their time, Simyan!" replies Mokkari. "Their birth heralds the age of holocaust! Hail Homo Usurpus! Earth lies before you for the taking!"
"Aaruk! Aaruk!" cries a Four Armed Terror.
Things are NOT looking good here! Not good at all!
Who will save the day? Well, there's a clue in the books title. And it sure ain't Jimmy Olsen!
So the saga of The Project continues apace. The King's plotting seems to have tightened up since the earliest chapters and the artwork, still inked here by Vince Colletta, is vintage Kirby.  In fact, the grotesque Four Armed Terror feels almost as if it had wandered over from one of Marvel Comics pre-hero monster titles such as Tales Of Suspense or Journey Into Mystery. And there's even a hint of character development as Yango steps up to the plate to protect The Outsiders as their new leader. Sadly that's the last we'll see of him, at least in the Kirby Fourth World stories. We will, however, come across him when we reach the apocryphal Fourth World tales as Yango does show up briefly in Lois Lane and the post-Kirby Olsen.
Next time however, it is time to look in once again on Scott Free as we once again visit Mr. Miracle. I'll see you then, next time for the next Fourth World Thursday.







Thursday, 24 July 2014

FOURTH WORLD THURSDAY - "KING OF THE DAMNED! I CAN FINISH YOU NOW!"

NEW GODS #2 COVER BY JACK KIRBY
Once again, it's time to take a look at Jack Kirby's great cosmic opera that has become known over time as The Fourth World. With this installment, we return to the centrepiece of the King's meisterwerk, "The New Gods".
This second issue begins with what is known in TV circles as a "cold open", a five page "pre-credits" sequence which starts with a splash page recapping some of what we have seen before. That after the cataclysm that destroyed the Old Gods, two worlds were born, the hell of Apokalips and the heaven of New Genesis. Then, a quick visit to Supertown where we find High-Father, leader of the New Gods (New Genesis Division), communicating once again with the mysterious source. "WAR - FOLLOW ORION" says the enigmatic flaming hand. The message is clear. Others from New Genesis must join Orion in the war on Earth. The annoyingly chirpy Lightray is the first to volunteer, but High-Father forbids hims to go. "The time is not yet!" proclaims the bearded one. "It is my command!"
Thus endeth the pre-credits sequence.
Back on Earth, Orion and the four Earth people he rescued last issue, detective Dave Lincoln, secretary Claudia Shane, typical teenager Harvey Lockman and insurance salesman Victor Lanza arrive at Lincoln's apartment only to find Darkseid waiting for them. Orion promptly accuses old stoney face of breaking the treaty by kidnapping the humans, to which Darkseid's nonchalant response is simply "I dare anything! I am Darkseid!"
Leading to an interesting exchange between the two.

ORION: "King of the damned! I can finish you now!"
DARKSEID: "Finish me --and you finish yourself! You hesitate, Orion! You can sense why--but you
don't know--do you--? But Darkseid is free of mysteries! He can act!"

At which point Orion is jumped from behind by one of his stooges called Brola, whose weapons of choice appear to be one hand that is made of stone, and a cattle-prod in the other hand. The battle is short-lived as Orion pitches Brola straight through the apartment wall. Both Darkseid and his minion promptly disappear, teleported away to one of Granite Puss' secret bases under the city.
A quick thought here. Was Lincoln able to claim on his insurance to the damage to his apartment? Or did the company refuse to pay out claiming it was an "Act Of God"? But I digress.
Desaad and his Fear Machine.
In his secret base Darkseid gives Brola a literal kick up the backside, sending him whimpering away and pops over to see #1 henchman Desaad, who we saw briefly in the Forever People last week. Now with a name like Desaad, what sort of person do you think he is? Yep, a sadistic weirdo! Not just ANY sadistic weirdo though, he's a mad scientist sadistic weirdo, coming up with all manner of bizarre machines with only one intention - to cause as much pain, mental or physical, as possible. 
The newest of these contraptions is "The Fear Machine". Hmmm! I wonder what that does? I'm sure we'll find out soon. Very soon actually as Darkseid demands a demonstration. And he doesn't want to waste time for Desaad to get his test subjects so he has it used on some his minions. Who are reduced to quivering, terrified wretches. Darkseid hopes that by reducing the whole city to such a state, he will discover the mind that holds the Anti-Life Equation. Ah, yes, the Anti-Life Equation. It's been mentioned a few times so far both here and in the Forever People, but it's here we are told by Darkseid just what it is. What the Equation actually does is remove free will, for someone who has no free will cannot truly be alive.
Back at Dave Lincoln's apartment, Orion decides to bring his disciples... er, new friends up to date with the story so far. Which is also handy for new readers. How convenient!
He produces a Mother Box which shows the foursome a "previously on Jimmy Olsen and Forever People" style update. Interestingly, as well as scenes of Mantis, The Wild Area and a Boom Tube, we also get a hint of a future storyline when we get the briefest of sights of the undersea creatures "The Deep Six".
Meanwhile Desaad has powered up his Fear Machine and set it loose on the area. Orion quickly sets out to find the source of the invisible beams causing panic in the city. Which doesn't take long as Mother Box soon tracks the origin to an advertising hoarding behind which the full scale version of Desaad's nightmare machine is hidden.
One quick burst of astro-force later, the Fear Machine is done with and Orion returns back to Lincoln's apartment where his new found friends swear their allegiance to Orion's cause.
Back at their secret base Desaad and Darkseid are studying the results of the experiment, which in the end didn't yield the hoped for results. The Anti-Life Equation still remains hidden. Desaad is quick to blame Orion, but Darkseid doesn't quite see it that way...

DESAAD: Orion has made a mockery of this test! When we capture him -- give him to me!
DARKSEID: You're a fool, Desaad! Blinded by your own mania! We could never take one such as Orion captive! His kind dies in battle! And in death would look greater than a vermin like you!
DESAAD: So! The great Darkseid rises quickly to the defense of an enemy!
DARKSEID: Orion is an enemy to be respected!
DESAAD: Yes, it is strange how very like us he is -- in his fierceness and --
DARKSEID: Silence, Desaad! Were Orion my own son -- he would mean nothing to the purpose of our mission! And in that mission we must not fail!

In the last issue High-Father admitted that Orion was not born of New Genesis, and now Darkseid is dropping some pretty heavy handed hints about his true origin. We shall, of course, learn more in due course.

Looking back at this issue, not much actually happens. Orion has a brief fight with Brola and then smashes a billboard. There's a lot of exposition, although it is fairly well done, unlike some of Kirby's early Jimmy Olsen issues where it seemed to be shoehorned in. What is apparent though is the overall vision that Kirby had for the series is mostly in place, unlike those early Jimmy Olsen's which at times seem to have been made up as he went along.
And the best is yet to come...
Join me next week for another Fourth World Thursday.
See you soon,
Steve



Wednesday, 23 July 2014

WISHLIST WEDNESDAY - 60s MARVEL HORROR

Tower Of Shadows #1 unused cover by Jim Steranko
Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday, an occasional (probably VERY occasional!) series in which I'll look at collections I'd like to see, however improbable. Marvel Comics have, over the past couple of decades been collecting much of their 1960s and early 1970s output in a series of hardcovers (and later also in softcover) called Marvel Masterworks. Over 200 volumes have been published in the series to date, covering nearly all the superhero output, plus some Western (Rawhide Kid) and War (Sgt. Fury) titles. The series has also gone back to cover some of Marvels 1940s Golden Age material and 1950s books from the period when they were known as Atlas Comics. One area that has so far escaped collection though is the early 1970s horror titles. While I suspect that ongoing series such as Werewolf By Night and Ghost Rider will eventually be collected, I don't hold out much hope for the various one-off stories that emerged in Marvel's short lived horror anthology titles.
In 1969 DC Comics had done a major revamp of it's two long-running mystery titles, House Of Mystery and House Of Secrets. Both had in recent years shifted their emphasis from horror/suspense stories firstly to science-fiction, then to superheroes. Then, at the close of the 1960s, the books came full circle and returned to their roots with new mystery/horror stories by artists like Berni Wrightson. Neal Adams, Mike Kaluta, Jack Sparling, Joe Orlando and Alex Toth.
The re-imagined books obviously sold well enough to attract the attention of DC's main competitor, Marvel Comics. Their response was to launch two new horror/mystery anthology titles, Tower Of Shadows and Chamber Of Darkness. Both featured new stories by the industry's biggest names of the time. Adams, Jim Steranko, Barry Windsor-Smith (back in the days when he was plain old Barry Smith), Gene Colan and John Buscema all provided art for the new titles. Despite the talent involved  the books didn't sell as well as DCs and the new material was gradually replaced by pre-hero monster reprints before being relaunched as Monsters On The Prowl and Creatures On The Loose.
So what could we expect from such a Masterworks collection? Well, here's a list of those odd stories from Tower Of Shadows/Creatures On The Loose and Chamber Of Darkness/Monsters On The Prowl plus on odd story from Adventure into Fear. 

At The Stroke Of Midnight from TOS #1.  Art  by Jim Steranko.
TOWER OF SHADOWS #1  
At the Stroke of Midnight! (Writer/Artist Jim Steranko)  
From Beyond the Brink (Writer/Artist Johnny Craig)  
A Time to Die (Writer Stan Lee; Pencils John Buscema; Inks Don Heck)

TOWER OF SHADOWS #2
Witch Hunt (Writer Roy Thomas; Pencils Don Heck; Inks Dan Adkins)
Look Out Wyatt! Automation's Gonna Get You (Writer Gary Friedrich; Pencils John Buscema; Inks John Verpooten)
One Hungers (Writer/Artist Neal Adams)

TOWER OF SHADOWS #3 
The Moving Finger Writhes (Writer Len Wein; Pencils Gene Colan; Inks Mike Esposito)
Midnight In The Wax Museum (Writer Gary Friedrich; Art George Tuska)
The Terrible Old Man (Writer Roy Thomas (from a story by H. P. Lovecraft); Pencils Barry Smith; Inks Dan Adkins and John Verpooten)

TOWER OF SHADOWS #4
Evil Is A Baaaad Scene! (Writer Allyn Brodsky; Art Don Heck) 
One Little Indian (Writer Marv Wolfman; Pencils Gene Colan; Inks Dan Adkins) 
To Sneak, Perchance To Dream! (Writer Denny O'Neil; Plot/Art Tom Sutton) 

TOWER OF SHADOWS #5
The Demon That Devoured Hollywood! (Writer Roy Thomas; Pencils Barry Smith; Inks Dan Adkins)  
Flight Into Fear (Writer/Artist Wally Wood)
Time Out! (Writer Gerry Conway; Art Syd Shores)

TOWER OF SHADOWS #6
The Ghost Beast (Writer/Artist Wally Wood)
Contact! (Writer/Artist Tom Sutton)
The Scream From Beyond (Writer Steve Skeates; Pencils Gene Colan; Inks Dan Adkins) 

TOWER OF SHADOWS #7
The Scream Of Things (Writer Allyn Brodsky; Pencils Barry Smith; Inks Vince Colletta)
Of Swords And Sorcery! (Writer/Artist Wally Wood)

TOWER OF SHADOWS #8
Sanctuary! (Writer/Artist Wally Wood)

TOWER OF SHADOWS #9
Pickman's Model (Writer Roy Thomas (from the story by H. P. Lovecraft); Artist Tom Palmer)

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #11
The Underground Gambit (writer Len Wein; Art Herb Trimpe)

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #12
Master And Slave (Writer Al Hewston; Art Syd Shores)

CREATURES ON THE LOOSE #13
Where Walks The Werewolf (Writer Len Wein; Art Reed Crandell)

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #1
It's Only Magic (Writer Stan Lee; Pencils John Buscema; Inks John Verpooten)
Mr. Craven Buys His Scream House (Writer Denny O'Neil; Artist Tom Sutton)
Always Leave Them Laughing! (Writer Gary Friedrich; Pencils Don Heck; Inks Frank Giacoia)

COD #2 cover by John Romita
CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #2
Forewarned Is Four-Armed! (Writers Roy Thomas and Neal Adams; Pencils Marie Severin; Inks Herb Trimpe and Tom Sutton)
The Face Of Fear! (Plot Stan Lee; Script Archie Goodwin; Art Syd Shores)
The Day Of The Red Death (Writer Roy Thomas; Artist Don Heck)

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #3
The Warlock Tree (Writer Gerry Conway; Pencils Barry Smith; Inks Syd Shores)
The Tell Tell Heart (Writer Denny O'Neil (from the story by Edgar Allen Poe); Art Tom Palmer)
Something Lurks On Shadow Mountain (Writer Roy Thomas; pencils John Buscema; Inks John Verpooten)

COD #4 cover by Marie Severin
CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #4
The Monster (Writer/Pencils Jack Kirby; Inks John Verpooten)
The Man Who Owned The World (Script Denny O'Neil; Plot/Art Tom Sutton)
The Sword And The Sorcerers (Script Roy Thomas;  Art Barry Smith)

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #5
...And Fear Shall Follow! (Writer/Artist Jack Kirby)
The Music From Beyond (Writer Roy Thomas, based on the story "The Music of Erich Zann." by H. P. Lovecraft; Art Johnny Craig)
The Beast From The Bog (writer Denny O'Neil; art Paul Reinman)

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #6
A Change Of Mind (Writer Len Wein; Pencils Sal Buscema; Inks Syd Shores)
Put Another Nickel In (Writer Mimi Gold; Art Dick Ayers)

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #7
Gargoyle Every Night (Writers Roy Thomas and Bernie Wrightson; artist Bernie Wrightson)
Mastermind (Writer/artist Tom Sutton)

CHAMBER OF DARKNESS #8
Believe It... Or Not! (Writer/Inker Bill Everett; Pencils Dan Adkins)

MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #9
Desert Scream (Writer Allyn Brodsky; Pencils Jack Katz; Inks Barry Smith)

MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #10
One Last Wish! (Writer Gary Friedrich; Pencils Don Heck; Inks George Roussos)

MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #11
Escape! (Writer/Artist Ralph Reese)

MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #12
The Maiden And The Monster (writer Stan Lee; artist Leo Summers)

MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #13
In The Shadow Of Tragg (writer Gerry Conway; artist Syd Shores)

MONSTERS ON THE PROWL #14
Terror Of The Pterodactyl (Plot Al Hewston; Script Steve Englehart; Art Syd Shores)

ADVENTURE INTO FEAR #10 
The Spell Of The Sea Witch (Writer Allen Brodsky; Pencils Jack Katz; Inks Bill Everett) 
There are probably other odd stories I haven't yet come across, but what a collection this would make!
Well, I can dream, can't I?
I'll be back sometime tomorrow with the next edition of Fourth World Thursday.
See you then,
Steve
 
 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A NEW STEVE DITKO KICKSTARTER

A very quick post...
As I have mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Steve Ditko, and a new Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign has just been announced for a new Mr. A comic, published as usual by Ditko and Robin Synder, You can find out more and get involved, if you so choose, at the Kickstarter site STEVE DITKO's MR. A. I've already pledged, and it is good to see that this time there IS an option for international readers.

I'll be back tomorrow with Wishlist Wednesday.
See you then,
Steve

Monday, 21 July 2014

MUCK MONSTER MONDAY - ANOTHER HEAP IN THE MIRE

Once again, it's time for Muck Monster Monday, and this week our attention turns, once again, to The Heap.
A Heap - if not THE Heap returns. Art by
Hector Varella
Yes, that's right, in 1971 comics first swamp creature returned to print. Sort of.
Skywald Publications was a company founded in 1970 by Sol Brodsky, the former production manager for Marvel Comics, and entrepreneur Israel Waldman. It's primarily remembered for it's black and white horror anthologies Nightmare (23 issues), Psycho (24 issues), and Scream (11 issues).
Amongst the writers who worked for Skywald were Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Doug Moench, Gardner Fox, Dave Sim, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Artistic duties were handled by, amongst others, Bill Everett, Gene Day, Bruce Jones, Tom Sutton and John Byrne.
It was in the pages of the second issue of Psycho (March 1971) that writer Charles McNaughton and artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito introduced a new version of the iconic bog beast.
This Heap was pilot Jim Roberts, whose cropduster plane crashed into an Army toxic waste dump. Exposed to a strange nerve gas, Roberts mutated into a shambling mound of slimy green matter. Unlike his earlier counterpart, the Roberts Heap kept his intelligence, although he was unable to communicate verbally with those he encountered during his global search for a way to free himself from his curse, whether by kill or cure.
Ross Andru soon took over the scripting duties on the strip, followed by Al Hewetson. Other artist on the strip were Pablo Marcos and Xavier G. Vilanova.
There was also a one off comic book called The Heap cover dated September 1971 which was written by Robert Kanigher and illustrated by Tom Sutton.
With the demise of Psycho with it's 24th issue, this new Heap faded back into obscurity.
Whether Skywald actually legally acquired the rights to use the character from Hillman Publications who had published the original Heap stories is unclear, although Roy Thomas, then an editor and writer at Marvel Comics said in an interview with Alter Ego magazine (Vol. 3 #81, 2008) that he had suggested to Sol Brodsky the idea of reviving The Heap... 

The Heap #1 Art by Tom Sutton and Jack Abel.
"I was also responsible for Skywald Publishing introducing a Heap character. I had lunch with Sol Brodsky soon after he left Marvel Comics to co-found Skywald. He was looking for heroes to do. I couldn't write for him, so he was kind of picking my brain, and I wanted to help without getting too involved, since Stan Lee wouldn't have liked that. I told Sol, 'Well, we have the Man-Thing, so you ought to get someone to revive the Heap.' He remembered the character since he was a comic-book artist in the 1940s."
It's interesting that Roy should mention the Man-Thing there, because as far as I can tell, Man-Thing had yet to make it's first appearance in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971). If Roy DID mention Man-Thing in his lunch date with Brodsky, then Sol must have really rushed to get the Heap story out before that Man-Thing debut. Either that, or the Man-Thing story had been sitting around for a bit.
And so, as the Heap goes shambling off into the sunset (again), we turn our attention to the big two swamp creatures. The afore-mentioned Man-Thing and his DC counterpart Swamp Thing.
That's next time on Muck Monster Monday.
See you then
Steve

Thursday, 17 July 2014

FOURTH WORLD THURSDAY - "A PURE REPRESENTATION OF EARLY, POST ATOMIC, MIDDLE CLASS HOME VISUALS!"

Forever People #2 cover by Jack Kirby
You know, I didn't realise until quite recently that I came to The Forever People quite a bit later than the other Fourth World titles. For some reason the newsagents I used to get my comics from rarely got in Forever People, although they never missed New Gods or Jimmy Olsen. Mister Miracle was usually available, although the odd issue was skipped here and there. So it wasn't until I started frequenting specialist shops and comic marts a few years later that I was able to read that missing corner of the Fourth World. And maybe because I was that bit older, or possibly because I just wasn't reading it contemporaneously with the other titles, I was never quite as attached to our bunch of super-powered biker-hippies.
Anyway, this issue starts off in a light-hearted vein as the Forever People arrive in the big city and promptly cause all manner of problems by parking the Super-Cycle in the middle of a busy intersection.
This obviously lead to more than a little bit of resentment, leading to one onlooker to suggest that the police act to get rid of the "Hippies", much to Big Bear's amusement, leading to the following exchange...

BIG BEAR: The dialect is primitive, brother! But the humor cries out for a straight man! Tell me, Mister Corn! What's a hippie?
ONLOOKER: Ha, ha--dat's easy! All ya gotta do is show him a bathtub--an' if he runs--he's a hippie!
BIG BEAR: HA HA HA HA! It's like direct involvement with ancient vaudeville! Thank you, for the experience, brother!

At which point Big Bear gives said onlooker a,  er... bear hug! And practically kills the poor bloke!
The FPs finally twig that just maybe they have outstayed their welcome in this neighbourhood and pile onto the Super-Cycle and depart for other parts by using the vehicle's "Phasing" capacity - which basically means it disappears from one place with an almighty "FZOM" and appears somewhere else.
Now, Big Bear's comment about ancient vaudeville is interesting. Either he's learnt a lot about Earth history or there was something similar in New Genesis' past. And that is something I find it hard to believe.
Done! Done! DONE! After my nap!
Time to look in on our bad guys. Darkseid is giving a bit of a tounge-lashing to one of his henchmen, an insect-like fellow called Mantis. Mantis is pulled screaming out of his "power pod", which he needs to recharge himself , by two of Darkseid's minions and thrown on the ground in front of old stony face. Mantis, it appears, has been a very naughty boy by sneaking off to Earth behind Darkseid's back to try to claim it for himself. Not that Darkseid seems to mind. Mantis is welcome to Earth as long as he doesn't try to challenge Darkseid's power. For Darkseid has a bigger prize in mind. The bollocking over, Darkseid dismisses Mantis, who promptly jumps straight back into his power pod for a nap.
Back to the Forever People, who have materialized in a decidedly seedy part of town where they encounter a crippled kid called Donny and his elderly uncle, Willie. Uncle Willie isn't too impressed with the Forever People and threatens them with a gun. Time for Beautiful Dreamer to lay a whammy on Willie by using her abilities to make him see them as normal kids. Willie agrees to rent out an apartment to the FPs in the building he and Donnie live in.
Midnight. And in a nearby graveyard Mantis stirs, and starts making his way into the city firing bursts of power from his hands.
Even though it's late the FPs are hard at work, finding furniture for their new home. Big Bear refers to the stuff they've found as "pure camp", while Mark describes an old broken TV set as "A pure representation of early, post atomic, middle class home visuals!" Looks like Mark's also done his homework about old Earth!
Infinity Man reappears in a blast of Kirby Krackle!
Serafin gets the TV working by using a Cosmic Cartridge which he describes as "sensitizers, probes-- receivers" that "resonate with the universe". In other words they basically do whatever is needed for the plot...
At this point a news report comes on with report of the chaos in the city. Serafin quickly recognises Mantis and summons the rest of the Forever People. The five cosmic teenagers promptly decide that discretion is the better part of valor and use the magic word "Tarru!" to summon Infinity Man. Oh wait! It's now "Taaruu!"
Obviously it's spelt (or, more probably, pronounced) differently if there are all five Forever People present rather than the four we had last time. On the other hand, Infinity Man's awful dress sense is still in place no matter what combination of FPs are used to summon him.
Most of the rest of this issue is Mantis vs. Infinity Man and once again Kirby shows he is the Master of the battle scene. Mantis runs riot through the city, despite the best attempts of the local police to stop him. Infinity Man joins in and quickly gets the upper hand over his insectoid foe, but Mantis turns the tables by using his energy powers to encase IM in a block of ice and then goes off on another rampage. Fortunately Infinity Man can draw "upon powers gained in distant regions -- where natural laws do not apply!" to "manipulate the atoms of this frigi-block -- re-structure it - so I am freed!". Or, as they say in Latin, "Duex Ex Machina".
Battle rejoined, IM uses a "infini-beam" to release all of Mantis' power in one fell swoop. Defeated, Mantis crawls off to his pod for a power nap, while Infinity Man again returns from whence he came, returning the Forever People back to Earth. Beautiful Dreamer says "But we were one -- and so, shared his experience". Which seems to suggest that Infinity Man in indeed a gestalt of the five teenagers. The youngsters muse about the direction that the war has taken, while Darkseid and his number one henchman Desaad watch Mantis skulk back to his pod. And there the story ends, with old Stoney Face actually seeming to be slightly amused by Mantis' defeat. And a next issue box promises us "Life Versus Anti-Life". That sounds like the mysterious "Anti-Life Equation" that has been mentioned both here in Forever People and over in New Gods will finally be explored.
That will have wait for a few weeks as next week it's time to return to Orion in the next chapter of New Gods, "O' Deadly Darkseid".
See you then,
Steve

Monday, 14 July 2014

MUCK MONSTER MONDAY - IT'S A GLOB BLOG!

Incredible Hulk #121 cover by Herb Trimpe
Welcome back to Muck Monster Monday, where this week we'll be looking at Marvel's first returning swamp creature. No, not the Man-Thing, whose debut was still a year and a half away. We are talking about The Glob. Now, if you don't remember The Glob, it's not that surprising as the character only appeared a handful of times, most notably as an antagonist for The Hulk. And it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk that he/it made its debut.
Oh, a quick aside here. There had been another character called The Glob in the pre-hero Marvel monster title Journey Into Mystery (#72, September 1961). That Glob has no connection to this one, and although it looks like a typical swamp creature it is actually just a statue that comes to life because of some magical paint. Which is why I've not included it in Muck Monster Monday.
A Glob is born! Art by Herb Trimpe.
Right, let's get back to this Glob. We first meet him (or is it it?) in the pages of Incredible Hulk #121 (November 1969). Joe Timms was a petty criminal in prison when he received a letter telling him that his wife was close to death. In an attempt to be with her one last time, Timms broke out of jail, but in attempting to get across a nearby swamp he stumbled upon a patch of quicksand and was pulled down. For a number of years his body lay there, until a passing Hulk kicked a can of radioactive waste into the swamp. The waste reacted with the swamp and Timms' remains and then from out of the mire rose a grotesque mockery of a man, which we (or rather Roy Thomas, who wrote the story) shall call -- The Glob!
The Glob stumbled upon Betty Ross, and mistook  her for his/its lost love. It grabs Betty and drags her into the swamp pursued by  both the army, led by her father General "Thunderbolt" Ross, and The Hulk. After an initial confrontation between the Hulk and The Glob, during which the emerald hued monster discovers that his blows have no effect on the swamp creature, The Glob continues to take Betty further into the swamp. However, as the Glob approached the spot of it's birth, the same radioactive waters that spawned it, start to destroy it. The Glob starts to melt away, it's last action is to protect Betty, allowing the Hulk to get her to safety. Writer Roy Thomas shows great affection for the swamp monster genre, while penciller Herb Trimpe, surely one of the industry's most under-rated artists, in on top form. Check out his full page illo of The Glob rising from the mire somewhere on this page.
The Glob obviously proved popular and was quickly brought back a mere eight months later in Incredible Hulk #129 (July 1970).  The Hulk's arch-nemesis The Leader learns about The Glob's existence and re-creates the swamp creature. Planting the idea in the Glob's mind (or, at least, what passes for a mind) that The Hulk is attacking Betty, The Leader sends the swamp creature on a cross country rampage ending in Los Angeles, where the Hulk's alter ego Bruce Banner is currently hiding out.
The Glob attacks Banner, triggering the inevitable transformation into the Emerald Titan. The two engage in battle, ending up in a power station. High up on a tower, the Hulk electrocutes the bog monster, causing him/it to fall to the ground. There's an explosion and the Glob is blown into a million pieces. That's not quite the end of the story though, for as the Hulk strides off into the metaphorical sunset, we see two of the Glob fragments start to move slowly, but surely, together.
I TOLD you! I'm NOT going there!
It was a few years before readers once again encountered the Glob. In 1974 he/it returned again, not in the pages of The Incredible Hulk, but in Man-Thing. Or rather Man-Thing's quarterly companion title Giant-Size Man-Thing. No, I'm not saying anything. We've all heard the jokes about that title. 
After his encounter with the Florida based swamp monster, the Glob once again encountered The Hulk in a two part story in Incredible Hulk #197/8 which also featured a guest appearance by Man-Thing.
And then the Glob disappeared. A second Glob popped up in Incredible Hulk #398, but the original vanished, not to be seen again until 2005 when he/it turned up alongside Clone of Frankenstein, Gorilla-Man, Grogg, N'Kantu (The Living Mummy), Nina Price (Vampire By Night), Warwolf, and The Zombie as one of Nick Fury's monstrous Howling Commandos. One final appearance in the pages of She-Hulk, and that's all she wrote for Joe Timms.
Now, the first appearance of The Glob obviously proved popular, hence his rather rapid return eight months later. But was The Glob popular enough for someone at Marvel to think about a regular comic featuring a swamp creature? Who knows, but it wasn't too long before Marvel's more familiar muck monster Man-Thing made his first appearance. And we'll come to him in a couple of weeks. Next week however -- The Heap! Again! 
Before that of course there's another Fourth World Thursday, and a little feature in the works about some of Marvel's short horror stories.
'Til next time,
Steve

Thursday, 10 July 2014

FOURTH WORLD THURSDAY - "THE HUMAN CELL... HAS YIELDED SOME STRANGE DEVELOPMENTS!"

The Saga Of The D.N.Aliens...

SPJO #136 Cover by Neal Adams
Having looked at Kirby's other three Fourth World titles over the past three weeks, it's time to return to the bizarre adventures of Jimmy Olsen. We ended on a cliffhanger, with a clone of 1940s hero the Guardian about to take on the giant, green kryptonite enhanced duplicate of Jimmy created by The Evil Factory. You remember, the one that's already taken out Superman, supposedly the most powerful being on Earth. So how long is the non-superpowered Guardian going to last?
Not that long, actually. About five pages. And that's including a double page spread. So, with the Guardian down, Jimmy rushes in to try to revive The Man Of Steel. BAD move, as he is promptly grabbed by his emerald hued counterpart.
The giant is taken aback when he discovers that he and Jimmy look exactly alike. Well, apart from the green skin, green hair and a whopping great size difference. Supes takes advantage of the hesitation caused by the creature's uncertainty by stomping the floor, causing a mini-tremor that throws the giant off-balance and drop Olsen. At which point there's a blinding flash, a cloud of pink smoke and down goes the not-so-jolly-green-giant.
So what happened?  Unseen by anyone, a miniature clone of Scrapper had parachuted in, landed on the giant clone's head and set off a grenade full of sleeping gas. His job done, a squadron of mini-Scrapper-clones (who will later be called Scrapper Troopers) also parachute in, set up some cryogenic equipment and freeze the sleeping giant with a coat of liquid nitrogen. Which makes him look a bit like another Kirby Kreation, the Silver Surfer. The Newsboy Legion (mark I) rush in, and have the creature taken away for further examination.
Over at the Evil Factory, Simyan and Mokkari are getting castigated by Darkseid for failing in their mission to destroy "The Project". Time to come up with another plan, but first they trot off to look at a giant mock-up of their rival. I guess Simyan or Mokkari REALLY wanted a model railway growing up!
Back at The Project, Superman, Jimmy and the Guardian congratulate themselves on a job well done, despite the fact that all they did was keep the giant busy until the "Scrapper Troopers" arrived to save the day. But then, hey, they're just clones after all. They don't need any credit!
Right, that explains EVERYTHING! I think!


Unusually for a Kirby Komic, for the rest of the issue nothing much happens. The Newsboys (Mark I) tell their offspring about the fate of the original Guardian. Jim Harper was shot in the line of duty, and as he lay dying he revealed to the now adult Newsboys that he had indeed been The Guardian. And they promptly nicked some cell samples and cloned him.
Meanwhile the Man Of Steel gives Jimmy another tour of The Project. More clones - Gabby replicas this time, whose sole purpose seems to be switchboard operators in The Project's communications section. And then even more clones, being brought up in a nursery.  "They belong here, Jimmy! The Project grows its own!" explains the Big Blue Boy Scout. Er, that sounds suspiciously like all The Project is doing is breeding "people" that are just happy to work for nothing. And how are they doing this? Good job Superman has a handy-dandy wall chart to explain everything. Or not!
Now, it appears that there are three types of clones being created at The Project - "Normals", "Step-Ups" (clones with higher intelligence which include The Hairies we saw in earlier instalments) and... "Aliens". Or rather one Alien. The titular D.N. Alien, in fact. A purple/grey dude with yellow horns called Dubblex. Exactly what Dubblex is isn't really explained, other than Superman's rather vague "The human cell has been subjected to a wide range of conditions -- and has yielded some strange developments!"
DUBBLEX - I'm not sure he's happy about being the local talking point!
Dubblex's post at The Project is purportedly a researcher, but seems really to be only there for The Project to show off to visiting dignitaries. “Dubbilex is resigned to being The Projects’ ‘conversation piece!’ He’s seen by every visiting V.I.P.!” says Superman, who is obviously taking Dubblex away from some vital research to show him off to a visiting dignitary... er, cub reporter.
"There was one senator who called me "The Man From Mars!" sighs Dubblex in response.
As the pair leave The Project's resident alien, Superman ponders what their hidden enemy is up to with the cells they have stolen. Good question Supes! Fortunately we readers have one superpower you don't. We can use our super ability of turning the page...

Aha! Mokkari and Simyan have obviously run out of Gamma Rays, because they've been zapping some human cells with "Beta Rays". The result is a batch of giant eggs, one of which is about to hatch, spawning...
Something with four arms. Something we'll see more of next issue...
Coincidence? Marvel's Four-Armed Men!
A quick aside. Here's a strange coincidence - this issue of Jimmy Olsen had a cover date of March 1971. Amongst DC's rival Marvel's comics for that month was "Where Monsters Dwell" #8. And what did this reprint comic have as it's lead story? A Kirby illustrated tale about a race of creatures with four arms called "Look Out!! Here Come... The Four-Armed Men!" originally published in Marvel's "Tales To Astonish" # 26. Most odd! Anyhow, back to the issue in hand.
After the breakneck pace of earlier installments of Jimmy Olsen, this issue just sort of fizzles out. After the initial eight page battle sequence, the rest is primarily exposition. It's still interesting stuff, and an enjoyable read, with Jack throwing concepts at the reader left, right and centre. The art is still prime Kirby, albeit maybe not as detailed as his work on the other Fourth World titles, especially New Gods. It's probably due to Jack putting more effort into his own creations rather than the title he inherited, but even if he didn't have the same enthusiasm for Olsen, he still gives us plenty of Kirby Goodness.
And to this day, Jimmy Olsen is my second favourite of the four Fourth World titles, behind New Gods. Why? Simply because it is so much FUN!
Next time on Fourth World Thursday, it's Super War over in the pages of Forever People.
Before that, there'll be a new Muck Monster Monday, where there shall come a Glob!
See you soon,
Steve
    


Monday, 7 July 2014

MUCK MONSTER MONDAY - OUTER SANCTUM

"Come in, I've been waiting for you! I've been waiting for you to fix my squeaking door!... What?... You say you're not the carpenter?... You have come to hear a story?... Very well!"

During the course of Muck Monster Monday, I'm not generally going to be looking at the one-off bog monsters that have wandered through the four colour pages, such as those that appeared in the early Marvel monster titles like Tales Of Suspense. There will be a couple of exceptions however, such as this one.
In 1952 EC Comics launched a new humour comic book onto the market. Written primarily by it's editor Harvey Kurtzman, Mad became one of the longest running humour titles, still running today, and certainly one of the most influential with it's groundbreaking parodies.
In the comic's fifth issue - and it was still a traditional comic book, not yet having adopted its more familiar magazine format - Kurtzman and artist Bill Elder parodied the long-running radio show "Inner Sanctum Mystery" which ran from 1941 to 1952. The show, more commonly known simply just as "Inner Sanctum" was an anthology show featuring tales of mystery, suspense and horror, featuring tongue-in-cheek introductions by "your host, Raymond".
But if satirizing the radio show wasn't enough, Kurtzman and Elder also chose to parody comics most famous (at the time) swamp creature "The Heap".
Another Heap is born!!
I have no idea if "Inner Sanctum" ever did an adaptation Of Theodore Sturgeon's story "It!", or indeed any stories featuring swamp monsters of that ilk, but the combination works perfectly. Although occasionally I do wonder what "Ghastly" Graham Ingles would have done with it, Elder's art is perfect for the story, cramming more sight gags into one panel than some comics manage in an entire issue.  Kurtzman's story is great fun, and it's interesting to note that when our walking garbage Heap is born, Kurtzman describes it as "a horrible glob of standing swamp thing".
Hmmm! Two other swamp creatures to be, mentioned in one caption!
The story can be found in numerous reprints, and can be seen in various places on the old interweb including here Outer Sanctum! Check it out.
Next time on Muck Monster Monday, I glob about The Blog. Er... I blog about the Glob!
See you then
Steve









Thursday, 3 July 2014

FOURTH WORLD THURSDAY - "HE CHEATS DEATH! HE DEFIES MAN! NO TRAP CAN HOLD HIM!"

Well, for some reason last week's Fourth World Thursday featuring the premiere issue of New Gods proved rather popular. I'm not sure how it happened, but I got more page hits last Thursday than I usually do in a fortnight! And strangely enough it happened again on Friday! So, thank you one and all!
Mister Miracle #1 cover by Jack Kirby
This week it's time to move on to the fourth Fourth World title, featuring the escape artist Mister Miracle. Now, I'll admit up front that of the four Fourth World books, Mr. Miracle was my least favourite, but it was obviously more popular with the comic buying audience than the other titles as it outlasted both Forever People and New Gods (Kirby had already left Jimmy Olsen behind as he had other, non Fourth World, projects on the horizon such as Kamandi, OMAC and The Demon).
Anyhow, we open with our eponymous hero practicing his escapology in a field aided by his assistant Oberon. Noticing a young man watching over the fence, MM tells his vertically challenged aide "Secure the locks, Oberon! Make sure that the metal grips with unyielding firmness!", adding as Oberon secures him into a complex metal harness, "We must give a flawless performance for that young onlooker!"
Now, Oberon doesn't seem to be particularly happy about all this, as he believes MM is past his best, and that shackling him up, locking him up in a wooden cabinet, and aiming a flame-thrower at it, might, just might, be hazardous to his health. MM, of course, laughs at death and ignores Oberon's protestations. So, into the box he goes. Oberon picks up a flame-thrower and er, fires away.
Horrified, our young onlooker dashes in and attempts to help but MM easily breaks out of the burning box. He introduces himself to the young lad as Thaddeus Brown, while the lad in kind reveals his name as Scott Free, much to Thaddeus' amusement. "I was raised in an orphanage" explains Scott with a wry smile, "And many of the foundlings were given such names to sort of--well--make them feel as individuals."
Scott's about to set off on his way when up drive a bunch of goons from our old pals Intergang, last seen licking their wounds after running into Superman back in the pages of Forever People #1. I suspect this bunch of Intergoons aren't going to fare much better...
Yep, MM, Oberon and Scott make short work of the thugs and send them away with their tails between their legs. Seems Thaddeus has some history with Intergang's local Division chief, a guy who goes by the sobriquet "Steel Hand". Hmmm! I wonder how he got that name?
Steel Hand - Power! POWER!
Oh, I see! Apparently he lost his right hand due to an incident with a Tommy Gun and it was replaced with an artificial hand made of... wait for it... steel. But this isn't any old common or garden artificial steel hand. No, for "With radiation treatments it gained power -- power!" Enough power to shatter a bar of solid titanium. A BIG bar of solid titanium at that! The wonders of comic book radiation! And Steel Hand is NOT happy at all that his goons have messed up the Mister Miracle job. Now he's going to have to take care of it personally.
Meanwhile, Thaddeus offers Scott a place to stay for a few days, which Scott gladly accepts, partly to keep an eye on Thaddeus, and partly because he has nowhere else to go. We get a potted history of Mister Miracle, how he started out as "The Great Thaddeus" and later adopted the identity of Mister Miracle after an idea by his son Ted, who was later killed in Korea. Thaddeus reveals he is preparing for something called "The Big Trap", an escape so dangerous says MM, "even if I slip my chains in perfect time, I may not survive!".
Scott takes this moment to demonstrate some escapology tricks of his own. After getting Thaddeus and Oberon to wrap him up in chains, Scott uses a mysterious device to shatter the chains into "a million pieces" via "intense magnetic repulsion". Although Scott is cagey about the device, and the others he keeps with him, Oberon insists that such gadgets could help Thaddeus defeat "The Big Trap". Mister Miracle, however doesn't think so, claiming that "Every professional must live or die by his own methods!"
The next morning, Mister Miracle prepares to rehearse another death-defying stunt, which involves being tied to a tree, whilst a giant metal sphere hurtles towards him. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Thaddeus and his friends, Intergang has found them. As Mr. Miracle struggles with his bonds, a shot rings out. Although Scott diverts the giant sphere with a power burst from his hand, he is too late. Thaddeus lies dying, and all Scott can do is help his last moments pass peacefully with the help of a small box that he wears in a brace on his arm. A Mother Box, although it's not called that here, and bears little resemblance to the much larger device we saw The Forever People use last time.
Oberon tells Scott the history between Steel Hand and Thaddeus. They met in hospital some years beforehand and Steel Hand bet Mister Miracle a considerable amount of money that he could devise a trap that the escape artist couldn't get out of. When Thaddeus found himself in need of money to finance a comeback, he approached Steel Hand, by now a big shot with Intergang and reminded him of the bet. Steel Hand decided to have Mister Miracle removed, not because he was worried about losing the money, but because he was afraid of losing face with his gang.
Needless to say Scott decides to avenge Thaddeus, so surprise, surprise, he takes on the Mister Miracle mantle and pays a visit to Steel Hand in his own office. How did he find it? Your idea is as good as mine. Maybe Mother Box told him...
Anyway, Steel Hand is understandably surprised when the supposedly dead Mister Miracle comes crashing through his window. "You! I - I don't believe it! You're dead -- dead!" Obviously Steel Hand hasn't noticed Mister Miracle's new voice and different physique. 
"No, I said the SECRET missile site, not the out in the open one!"
Anyhow a bunch of Intergoons rush in and make quick work of Scott and so we come to a classic comic book cliche. Yes, it's time for the good old "villain puts the hero in a death trap which he can't POSSIBLY escape from" routine. Except, for probably the first time ever in comics, it does actually make sense here, for this is the death trap he had originally planned for Thaddeus before he decided that just having him shot was probably the easier option.
So what is this ingenious death trap? Well, it involves Scott being strapped to a missile and being launched into space. And where is this missile? Why, at the "secret Intergang missile site", of course. As opposed to the one everybody knows about, I suppose!
So Scott's chained to a missile and is sent heading skyward. He doesn't make it to space, though as the missile explodes shortly after take off, much to Steel Hand's delight. His pleasure is short-lived however, because guess who's waiting for him back at the office?
No, it's not Jimmy Olsen - I know he gets everywhere, but come on!
It is, of course, Scott Free, the new Mister Miracle. Steel Hand, understandably, goes berserk, trying to crush Scott with that steel hand of his. Meanwhile as the two crash around the crime lord's office Scott demonstrates the tricks he used to get out of that "Murder Missile Trap" as the story's title calls it.
"Hyper-sound intensifiers" took care of  the metal chains, and they work just as well on Steel Hand's hand. "Retro-jets" blasted him away of the missile, and he uses them here to pummel away at Steel Hand. And finally a "Compact Cocoon Spinner" which we're informed "turns out yards of plastic material at fantastic speeds" which he used to form a parachute, and now uses to cocoon Steel Hand, just in time for the police, accompanied by Oberon, to come hurtling in to cart Steel Hand away.
And so ends the first issue of Mister Miracle, with Scott Free taking up the mantle of the late escape artist. What interesting is that there's no obvious connection to Kirby's other Fourth World titles. No mention of Apokolips or New Genesis, nor is there an appearance by Darkseid. In fact other than the appearances of Intergang and a Mother Box, there is nothing to tie it in to Kirby's other books as yet. And even that ubiquitous Mother Box, when it appears here, isn't named and as I said before looks nothing like its previous appearance.
So how DOES this title fit in? That will become apparent over time. It may not seem it at first, but this will prove to be a very vital part of the mosaic that makes up Kirby's Fourth World.

Monday, 30 June 2014

MUCK MONSTER MONDAY - BORN ON A MONDAY

Solomon Grundy's first appearance - art by Paul Reinman


Solomon Grundy. Born on a Monday. Christened on Tuesday. Married on Wednesday. Took ill on Thursday. Worse on Friday. Died on Saturday. Buried on Sunday. This is the end of Solomon Grundy.


The second muck-monster in comics is not a creature you may not think of as being part of the genre, at least not initially, but on closer examination there are a number of reasons for my including him here. The character is, as you may have guessed, Solomon Grundy, originally introduced in an story entitled "Fighters Never Quit" in All-American Comics #61 (October 1944) as a villain for the original 1940s Green Lantern. Although his appearance is that of a brutish, chalk-faced humanoid, rather than the shambling mounds of vegetation we would normally associate with these creatures, his origin story is all too familiar...
The scene is Slaughter Swamp in the latter part of the 19th Century, where the body of the murdered merchant Cyrus Gold in unceremoniously disposed of. Fifty years on, his corpse rises from the mire, a huge lumbering mockery of a man, part human, part swamp matter. He has little memory of his previous life, but one thing he does remember, however vaguely, is that he was born on a Monday. When a vagrant he encounters likens him to the nursery rhyme character Solomon Grundy, because of that fact, the creature that was once Cyrus Gold adopts the name.
Grundy fought Green Lantern a few times in the Golden Age and even took on the entire Justice Society Of America on one occasion. The character was later revived in the Silver Age and became a thorn in the side of many heroes including Batman and Superman.
At times Grundy is seemingly destroyed, but is then reborn in a new incarnation, some of which are more violent than others, and his intelligence also varies from the initial almost mindless creature, to more intelligent versions.
It is later revealed during Rick Veitch's run on Swamp Thing, that Grundy was in fact a failed attempt at the creation of a plant elemental by the Parliament Of Trees, who we'll learn more of further down the line. Their attempt was doomed to failure, as the human part of the elemental has to have died in fire. Without that fiery death, the transformation was not completed, leaving a form of semi-functional Plant Elemental.
As with The Heap from last week's Muck Monster Monday, Grundy's origin has changed at various  times over the years, but the basics remain the same. He may not look like the traditional swamp creature, indeed he resembles a neanderthal zombie, but in his origin at least he firmly belongs to the Muck Monster family.
Next time, a return visit from The Heap. Sort of. Things get Mad around here as we visit The Outer Sanctum!

Before that, I'll be back Thursday, with the next Fourth World Thursday.
See you soon,
Steve


Thursday, 26 June 2014

FOURTH WORLD THURSDAY - "FIRST TO APOKOLIPS -- THEN TO EARTH -- THEN TO -- WAR!"

NEW GODS # 1 COVER BY JACK KIRBY
And so we move on from the raw recruits, The Forever People, to the seasoned veterans as we begin our look at, for me at least, the greatest of the Fourth World titles - The New Gods. And it begins with, not as you may expect a prologue, but an epilogue...

PROLOGUE... I MEAN EPILOGUE!
"There came a time when the Old Gods died! The brave died with the cunning! The noble perished, locked in battle with unleashed evil! It was the last day for them! An ancient era was passing in fiery holocaust! The final moment came with the fatal release of indescribable power--which tore the home of the Old Gods asunder--split it in great halves--and filled the universe with the blinding death-flash of its destruction! In the end there were two giant molten bodies, spinning slow and barren -- clean of all that had gone before -- adrift in the sounds of cosmic thunder... Silence closed upon what had happened -- A long deep silence -- wrapped in massive darkness... It was this way for an age...THEN -- THERE WAS NEW LIGHT!"

And which universe was it that had died? Kirby obviously intended for it to be a representation of the Marvel Universe. I've said before that Kirby may well have intended to introduced the New Gods in the pages of Marvel's Thor comic, with the intention of having the Norse Ragnarök which is described by Wikipedia (I know, I know, not the most reliable of sources) as "a series of future events, including a great battle foretold to ultimately result in the death of a number of major figures (including the gods Odin, Thor, Týr, Freyr, Heimdall and Loki), the occurrence of various natural disasters, and the subsequent submersion of the world in water. Afterward, the world will resurface anew and fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet, and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors."
Well, that sounds about right, doesn't it? And, if you look very carefully, on the first page of the epilogue/prologue, there appears to be a figure in the heat of battle with a winged helmet about to smite an opponent with what might -- just might -- be a hammer.
If you think about it, Kirby was once again, as usual, well ahead of the rest of the industry. If this WAS his plan at Marvel, it would have changed the Marvel Universe forever. In other words one of those cosmic events after which nothing would ever be same (until a handy reset button is pushed later on) that have become de rigueur on an almost yearly basis in modern superhero comics. 
Orion, our hero and not the happiest of chaps!
Anyway, back to the issue at hand. In this two page prologue/epilogue Kirby somehow portrays a literal cosmic level of war and destruction and rebirth. And in the final panel, hurtling towards the reader we meet our one of our heroes, Orion, en route to his home world of New Genesis. As he arrives he is greeted by Lightray, another of the eponymous New Gods. Lightray's a rather exuberant chap with the ability to manipulate light and fly really fast. His cheerful demeanor is at odds with Orion's more belligerent nature, although the two seem to be good friends. Together they descend to the paradise that is New Genesis and the floating city Super-Town, glimpsed all too briefly in the premiere issue of Forever People, now seen it all it's magnificent Kirby glory.    
And it's in Super-Town that we are introduced to more of our ensemble cast. First there's the intellectual Metron, who rides around in his floating Mobius Chair and is obviously not fully trusted by Orion who suggests that Metron would sell the universe into slavery for a scrap of knowledge. And then there's High-Father, the leader of the New Gods, who resembles nothing more than a Moses-style prophet, complete with beard and magic staff. And it's High-Father that's summoned Orion home for a trip to the Burning Bush, er sorry The Source. They approach a blank wall on which a fiery hand mysteriously appears to write enigmatic messages. Time for a not-that-awkward exposition scene

HIGH-FATHER -  This wall is our link to the "Source". It lived, even as the old gods died!
ORION - That is so! It is eternal! It is the life equation! And it's power is part of your Wonder-Staff!

Oooh! A "life equation!". Last time we had Darkseid searching for an "anti-life equation". I wonder that's all about?
Apokolips. Not a nice place to visit!
So the burning finger writes it's message and it says "ORION TO APOKOLIPS--THEN TO EARTH--THEN TO WAR!!!!" Apokolips is, of course, the dark mirror image of New Genesis, a world whose surface is scarred by volcanic furnaces called energy pits. A world of labour camps, ugly buildings housing uglier machines. And it's ruled by, as we've seen before, Darkseid.
Orion is quickly out of the door, leaving Metron to suggest that Orion is a rather untypical child of New Genesis. In fact, he really could only be a product of another world -- Apokolips! A fact that High-Father reluctantly admits.
Meanwhile Orion spends six pages fighting his way through Darkseids' defences, the flying "Para-Demons", the canine "Dog Cavalry", and various other minions, only to find the stony-faced tyrant isn't home. He is of course on Earth, as we've already seen, leaving a super-computer called a "Mass-Director Unit" to rule in his place. 
Darkseid may not be home, but his son is. Kalibak is a big Neanderthal type with a big club. He is ready to take on Orion, but Metron pops up in his Mobius Chair (oh, didn't I mention it also travels through space and time?) and stops the battle before it even starts. And then - you've guessed it - another exposition scene, this time to bring readers up to date with what we've already seen, or at least as been hinted at, in the pages of Jimmy Olsen and Forever People. That Darkseid is on Earth, looking for the mysterious "Anti-Life Equation" which is apparently buried deep in the subconscious mind of some unsuspecting human.    

Metron then points out that Darkseid has even brought humans to Apokolips to probe their minds here. This is apparently against the rules according to Metron, leading Orion to exclaim "Darkseid has defied High-Father himself!"
All of which hints at some treaty between the two planets, which, as we will later discover, is indeed the case.
And so it begins...
Orion finds four humans in the next room, sets them free and summons a Boom Tube to take all five of them to Earth, where Orion tells the humans that they have been caught in the crossfire of a war between two worlds, in which Earth has become the latest battleground. And then, against a stormy background, Orion calls Darkseid out. And on the last page, a masterpiece of Kirby art, Darkseid replies "I hear you, Orion! The battle begins!"
And thus ends the first issue of The New Gods. By far the best issue of the Fourth World so far, Kirby's storytelling jumps up a notch or six, and his art too is elevated to a whole new level, from the opening Fall of the old Gods, through the depictions of Super-Town and Apokolips, to Darkseid's chilling final page appearance against an eerie green storm. And, as they say, the best is yet to come!
One final thought or two. This was the second story Kirby did for DC after his return and in some ways feels like it should have been published first. I, however like the fact that it was actually published fifth, allowing a degree of mystery to build up through the preceding issues of Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen and Forever People. Not that you need to have read any of the earlier Fourth World books to enjoy this. It stands perfectly alone, despite it's connections to the three other titles.
Next time on Fourth World Thursday, we've met the raw recruits, we've met the seasoned veteran, now it's time to meet the conscientious objector - Mr. Miracle.
See you soon,
Steve

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

FOURTH WORLD INTERLUDE #3 - THE CANON

I have, in the past segments of Fourth World Thursday, mentioned that I regard the canonical stories of the Fourth World as the 69 tales seen in the original Kirby runs of "New Gods", "Forever People", "Mister Miracle" and the King's issues of "Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen". That's 55 main stories, plus the 14 shorter tales that make up the "Young Gods Of Super-Town", "Tales Of The D.N.A Project" and "Young Scott Free" back-up features.
So these are the 69 stories which I'll be covering in Fourth World Thursday...
The main stories...


SUPERMAN'S PAL JIMMY OLSEN

...Brings Back the Newsboy Legion!
The Mountain of Judgement!
Evil Factory
Saga Of The D.N.A. Aliens
The Four Armed Terror
The Big Boom!!
The Guardian Fights Again
Will The Real Don Rickles Please Panic?
The Man From Transilvane
Genocide Spray
A Big Thing In A Deep Scottish Lake
Brigadoom!
Homo-Disasterous
A Superman In Super town
Monarch Of All He Subdues


THE FOREVER PEOPLE
In Search Of A Dream
Super War
Life Vs. Anti Life!
Kingdom Of The Damned!
Sonny Sumo
The Omega Effect
I'll Find you in yesterday!
The Power
Monster IN The Morgue!
The Scavengers
Devilance The Pursuer


NEW GODS
Orion Fights For Earth!
O' Deadly Darkseid
Death Is the Black Racer!
Orion Gang And The Deep Six
Spawn!
The Glory Boat
The Pact!
The Death Wish Of Terrible Turpin!
The Bug!
Earth -- The Doomed Dominion
Darkseid And Sons


MISTER MIRACLE
Murder Missile Trap
X-Pit!
The Paranoid Pill
The Closing Jaws Of Death
Murder Machine
Funky Flashman
Apokolips Trap
Battle Of The Id!
Himon
The Mister Miracle To Be
The Greatest Show Off Earth
Mystivac!
The Dictator's Dungeon!
The Quick and The Dead
The Secret Gun
Shilo Norman, Super Trouble
Murder Lodge
Wild, Wild Wedding Guests


And then there's the shorter, back up stories...

TALES OF THE D.N.A. PROJECT
Hairie Secrets Revealed! (JO 142)
The Alien Thing (JO 143)
The Torn Photograph (JO 144)
Arin The Armoured Man (JO 146)
Genetic Criminal (JO 148)

YOUNG SCOTT FREE
Part 1 (MM 5)
Part 2 (MM 6)
Part 3 (MM 7)

YOUNG GODS OF SUPERTOWN
Introducing Lonar (FP 5)
Introducing Fastbak (NG 5)
Raid From Apokolips (FP 6)
Lonar and His Horse Thunderer (FP 7)
Vykin The Black (FP 7)
Beat The Black Racer (NG 8)

At the moment my plan for the shorter stories is to do one blog entry for each feature, so the five DNA Project tales will be covered in one entry, the six Young Gods stories in another, and the three Young Scott Free stories in a third.   

That means there should end up being 58 Forth World Thursdays, not counting the occasional interludes such as this one and the ones dealing with the apocryphal non-Kirby stories. And then, who knows? Although I will probably look at Kirby's later "endings" to the saga in the stories "On The Road To Armagetto", "Even Gods Must Die" and "The Hunger Dogs". Even though they may not been Kirby's original intended ending, they were at least by the King himself. Still, that's a long way off.

The next regular edition of Fourth World Thursday will appear on your screens on, not-surprisingly, Thursday at 00:30 BST, when I'll be looking at the first issue of New Gods. Five down, fifty-three to go...
See you soon,
Steve

Monday, 23 June 2014

MUCK MONSTER MONDAY - HEAP'S OF FUN!

Air Fighters Comics #3 - 1st Appearance of the Heap
Less than two short years after Unknown published Theodore Sturgeon's seminal story "It!", the first of many similar creatures made in appearance in the comics pages. Hillman Comics were first in on the act when the Skywolf story "Wanted By The Nazis"  in Air Fighters Comics #3 (December 1942), written by Harry Stein and drawn by Mort Leav, introduced Baron Von Emmelmann, a German fighter pilot who is shot down at the end of the First World War over a Polish swamp.
Somehow clinging to life, his body decayed and merged with the plant life in the swamp, until during the early years of the Second World War, a strange creature rose from the mire. A creature that would become known as "The Heap". In appearance it resembled nothing more than a huge, shambling, green, haystack with a root for a snout.
After his initial encounter with the fighter ace Skywolf, the Heap turned against it's former countrymen, fighting with the Allies against the Nazi regime.
It later started wandering the globe, sometimes encountering other sinister creatures, sometimes wandering into town, helping people in need, like a moss encrusted version of Shane.
Splash page to the Heap story in Airboy Vol. 10, #3
After Air Fighters Comics #3, the Heap continued to appear sporadically in the Skywolf series as a guest star, before being given it's own back up strip starting in Airboy Comics (as Air Fighters Comics was retitled in 1945) vol. 3 #9 (1945) and continuing until the final issue, vol. 10, #4 (May 1953).

In the earliest issues, The Heap was accompanied by a young boy, Ricky Wood whose model biplane stirred deep buried memories within The Heap of his/it's former life.
Later on in this run, the Heap's origin was slightly tweaked, with the revelation that the Roman Goddess Ceres was responsible for The Heap's origin.
Oh, wait a minute, another story says it was Mother Nature that was responsible.
And another variation of the origin says it was the souls of innocent babies, murdered by an ancient warlord that brought the monster to life!
Er, make your minds up Hillman!
Although the strip ended in 1953, the character wasn't forgotten and was a major influence on Marvel Comics' Man-Thing and DC Comics Swamp Thing. In fact, The Heap even made a brief blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo appearance during the "Parliament Of Trees" issue of "Swamp Thing" by Alan Moore and Stan Woch.
The Heap returns in the 1980s
Then, in 1986, Eclipse Comics picked up the rights to some of the Hillman properties and launched a new Airboy comic, which occasionally featured The Heap as a supporting character. The muck monster also appeared in another Eclipse title, the team book "The New Wave". After Eclipse Comics went bankrupt in the 1990s, the company's assets were acquired by Todd McFarlane's Image Comics. McFarlane introduced a new Heap in the pages of his popular comic "Spawn", but that's a story for another time...
In the meantime the original Heap stories have found a new audience in a three volume hardcover series entitled "Roy Thomas Presents The Heap" from the British publisher PS Artbooks. For more information, see their website http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/

Links for the individual volumes can be found at...

Vol. 1
Vol. 2
Vol. 3
That's it for now for this Heap, but rest assured we'll be looking at other Heaps soon.
Next time on Muck Monster Monday, a look at DC's first Swamp Monster. No, not Swamp Thing. In fact, you may not even think of him as a muck monster, even though his origin is virtually identical. Who is it? I'll leave it to you to work it out. But he WAS born on a (Muck Monster) Monday...

See you soon,
Steve