Friday, July 12, 2019

Post-Graduate Studies #23

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Matthew Bradley

In our coverage of Ms. Marvel #23 (April 1979), I noted that the book was abruptly axed with a brace of Claremont/Vosburg issues in various stages of development.  By the time the would-be #24-5 were belatedly completed and published in Marvel Super-Heroes in 1992, Carol Danvers had undergone such, uhm, seminal experiences as her rape/impregnation by Marcus, having her powers stolen by Rogue, and evolving into Binary.  It would be another 27 years before I finally obtained those issues through the good offices of Professor Tom, during which time she had not only assumed yet another identity, Warbird, but also claimed the mantle of the original Captain Marvel—in whose strip she’d been introduced—and become a major movie star in the process…

Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #10 (July 1992)

The Vision and the Scarlet Witch in “The Terror!”
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Mike Mignola and Armando Gil
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Richard Starkings

Namor in “…I Won’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer!”
Story by Barry Dutter
Art by Patrick Archibald and Andrew Pepoy
Colors by Mike Rockwitz
Letters by Clem Robins

Ms. Marvel in “Sabretooth Stalks the Subway!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Vosburg
Colors by Heidi Goodhue (seriously?)
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Craig Brasfield and Jeff Albrecht

At Avengers Mansion, Ms. Marvel engages in a training-room session, with a worrisome lack of stamina, and some mixed-message banter with new teammate Iron Man.  Meanwhile, in the New York field office, S.H.I.E.L.D. Deputy Director Jasper Sitwell is overruled when refusing to train psycho Sabretooth in unarmed combat against the day the Canadian Ministry of Defense sets him to capture Weapon X (that’s Wolverine to you).  After a semi-gratuitous shower, Carol attempts a phone call she’s been dreading to “psychiatrist-cum-boyfriend” Barnett; the reason Mike’s not  picking up is that somebody needs to pick him up, lying slain as he is on the floor of his trashed office, and since he was last seen in #22 being watched by Mystique, we can likely do the math.

In Sheridan Square, Carol has lunch with John and Nancy Jellicoe, respectively her accountant and literary agent, who warn that her firing from Woman will require her to resume freelancing.  They are rudely interrupted by a S.H.I.E.L.D. security truck that crashes into the restaurant and disgorges Sabretooth, who flees into the subway while Carol changes into Ms. Marvel to free a trapped John.  He laughs off contact with the third rail, if not with a half-ton I-beam wielded by MM, who must also stop an express train that passed 14th Street before the police closed the line; losing speed herself after averting a crash, she finally fells her foe with a score of stun punches to his neck, but as the tale ends, she is stricken with seventh-sense images of Mystique…and Death.

Although given cover honors, this resurrected tale is relegated to the back of the book—perhaps due to its then-standard 17-page length—following a pin-up gallery featuring Wolverine, the FF, Dr. Doom, Machine Man, and the X-Men.  But complete with abortive original Cockrum/Austin cover, it’s worth the wait, in all senses, to be back in the mind of a nuanced Claremont character, even if Vosburg’s work sometimes looks better suited to Little Annie Fanny (and I say that as an unabashed cheesecake-lover).  MM’s banter with IM is a good example:  she’s flirtatious, noting that she essays to keep it light when not engaged in their “grim business,” yet the self-described “closet chauvinist” raises her hackles with the same sexism to which her father subjected Carol.

On a related note, her description of Mike (“he’s been hinting at a more…permanent relationship between us.  He really wants to marry me”) seems a bit charitable for a guy who evidently wants to blackmail her into drudgery.  But in a development I consider long overdue, Chris resolves the whole dysfunctional doctor-patient relationship by killing Mike off, and I for one will not mourn him.  In addition to sharing the name of Professor Tom’s late and much-loved cat, Sabretooth is, of course, a Claremont creation, introduced in Iron Fist #14 (August 1977), and as one of Chris’s more formidable villains he makes a good match for an opponent who is still being established as one of Marvel’s strongest super-heroines, although again, he believably acknowledges her limits.

Nothing here to make me revise my lukewarm opinion of Vosburg, who makes MM look goofy (e.g., story page 2, panel 2; page 12, panel 5, left) when she doesn’t seem like a PG Kurtzman/Elder outtake, and considering they had 13 years to polish this thing, the artwork looks pretty sketchy to me.  The montage depicting a dead Barnett on page 8 is a Psycho riff, starting on a close-up of his staring eye as the “camera” gradually pulls back to reveal Mike and the destruction.  Chris’s customarily complex characterization is always welcome, yet the story’s overall pacing leaves its climactic battle—which, given the respective threat levels of its participants, should have been a pretty impressive donnybrook—feeling rushed, and it is especially sad under the circumstances.

Bill Mantlo’s 22-page lead-off takes place before The Vision and the Scarlet Witch Vol. 2, and builds on his story in Marvel Fanfare #58 (August 1991), also inked by Armando Gil, here over  Mike Mignola’s pencils.  A town meeting in Leonia High School, at which their NIMBY New Jersey neighbors decry the “freaks,” is interrupted by a zombie eruption from the cemetery and the appearance of another “pillar of power,” for which Wanda is typically blamed.  But as her hubby points out, her mutant powers only simulate magic, and the ghostly Inquisitors emerging from the pillar were summoned by the town’s hate and prejudice, given a mystical manifestation by her “magic,” thus requiring the unhappy couple “to save even those who would destroy us.”

Also weighing in at 22 pages, with art by Patrick Archibald and Andrew Pepoy, Barry Dutter’s yarn precedes Namor the Sub-Mariner #8 (November 1990) and has multimillionaire J.Q. Stamp hire the Rhino to enforce his “art of the steal” attempt on Oracle, Inc.  Making like Br’er Rabbit, Namor dupes the Rhino into belting him near his indoor pool, but Stamp takes the next round by holding Carrie and Caleb Alexander hostage.  As Namor arrives to clean out his desk, a shapely Tigress Shark appears to avenge Oracle’s alleged exploitation of the oceans, so Subby directs her to the new owner; in return for rescue, Stamp agrees to cancel the takeover and confess to killing his rivals, only to learn that Namor freed his friends and Tigress Shark is really cousin Namorita.

Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #11 (October 1992)

Ghost Rider in “Fireworks”
Story by Tina Chrioproces
Art by Greg LaRocque and Vincent Colletta
Colors by Tom Vincent
Letters by Diana Albers
Cover by Bob Budiansky and Jeff Albrecht

Giant-Man in “Not to Touch the Earth”
Plot by Jim Shooter
Script by Dwayne McDuffie
Art by Bob Budiansky and Manny Manos (seriously!; pp. 24-37) and Don Hudson and Chris Ivy (pp. 38-42)
Colors by Steve Mattsson
Letters by Richard Starkings

Ms. Marvel in “Cry, Vengeance!”
Story by Chris Claremont and Simon Furman
Art by Mike Vosburg (pp. 43-69) and Mike Gustovich (pp. 70-79)
Colors by Heidi Goodhue
Letters by Jim Novak

In Mike’s office, Iron Man uses Mr. Fantastic’s Heat Image Tracer to record the “radiant energy patterns,” and projects a holographic replay of his murder; he and Ms. Marvel watch as a woman appearing to be Carol enters, kisses him, is recognized as an impostor, beats him to death, reveals her true form as Mystique (as yet unknown to MM), rifles the office to find Carol’s file, makes a phone call, and leaves.  At Mike’s gravesite, Carol is hit by seventh-sense images of flames and a collapsing skyscraper that literally knock her into his grave.  Tracing the phone number leads to the office of Southern Star Imports in a JFK cargo hangar, where she finds arms smuggler Peter Coelho’s Hong Kong airline ticket and hotel reservation…plus crates of cutting-edge armaments.

After being attacked by flaming replicas of herself in another flash, MM observes Coelho and the buyers he plans to betray, the Hellfire Club’s Harry Leland and Donald Pierce, but she is spotted by Sebastian Shaw’s aide, Tessa, and a fight ensues.  Disarming the cyborg Pierce (literally), she escapes by shattering a floor already weakened by mutant Leland’s “ultra-mass effect,” and falls into the sewer below.  Carol wangles the seat next to ladies’ man Coelho; while she beguiles him on the overnight flight—during which she sees herself clad as the Black Queen in another trance, being presented by her shadowy lover with a teenaged Rogue to kill—Raven ignores the warning of Irené Adler to leave Carol alone, desperate to forestall Destiny’s prediction of harm to Rogue.

She sends evil mutants Avalanche and Pyro to the Crown Colony Hotel to kill Carol, and as Pyro mentions Mystique, MM’s seventh sense shows an image of Mike’s killer; taking Avalanche out before he can fulfill her vision by collapsing the hotel, she realizes they won’t talk.  Coelho, the only lead left, is found in his room, killed by Shaw after Tessa learned of his double game selling the armaments to the Brotherhood.  “Weeks pass,” full of meaningless battles with the Avengers, until Destiny says that Carol “has gone from all possible futures I can perceive,” yet after “time passes once more” and she is sensed in San Francisco, Mystique again ignores Destiny’s warning that her hatred “leads to a dark, uncertain future,” and dispatches protégé Rogue to finish Carol.

Fighting to “forget about Michael, about Marcus, about the so-called friends who betrayed me!,” Carol explodes when Rogue mentions Mystique and—past caring who she is, or why she means Carol harm—turns into MM for a grudge match.  In the meantime, Raven arrives in full “What have I done?” mode, and is there to pick up the pieces after Rogue O.D.’s on MM and tosses her off the Golden Gate Bridge to be saved, now a powerless amnesiac, by Spider-Woman.  We end by flashing forward (or back, depending on how you look at it) to the events that made Rogue, like many a so-called “evil” mutant before her, defect to the side of the Angel et alia, while “an alien evolutionary ray unlocks buried potential in [the recovering Carol’s] augmented genes…”

At a whopping 30 pages drawn by two Mikes—Vosburg on the first 20, Gustovich on the rest—and again batting clean-up, this was clearly expanded to fit the new format, with an additional writing credit for Simon Furman and a series of false endings that awkwardly tries to bridge the gap in between the cancellation of MM’s book and Carol’s current status as Binary.  A figure as important as Marcus is mentioned only in passing, with no explanation, so it’s difficult to guess whether this material is intended primarily to enlighten the uninitiated, or for those who would take the interim events as a given.  Either way, it leaves the feeling that editor Rob Tokar wants to have his cake and eat it, too, when it might have been better just to complete it as envisioned.

Even as a hitherto “untold tale” of my beloved Claremontiverse, this feels overly ambitious, with Coelho—addressed by Carol as “lover” after the acquaintance of less than one plane trip—being identified as not just an ex-employee of the Deterrence Research Corporation, but an apprentice of founder Moses Magnum.  The story also crams in not one but two groups of X-Men foes, the Brotherhood du jour and the Hellfire Club, yet they have no interaction and, really, nothing to do with each other.  Worse, several elements (e.g., Carol severing Pierce’s bionic arm, plummeting into the sewer while having her mass increased by Leland and, above all, undergoing that Dark Phoenix-style vision) seem like unforgivable rip-offs of earlier and far better Claremont stories.

In short, it’s a mess, right from Reed’s convenient doohickey that was probably never heard of before or since; Mike being the scumbag that he was, it would have been far more plausible if he had hidden a video camera in his own office, so replaying that tape would accomplish the same objective.  And the artwork is so consistently amateurish that changing horses in midstream only makes it incrementally, rather than drastically, worse.  If finished and published in its intended state, this might have made a reasonably satisfying send-off for MM, and would certainly form enlightening connective tissue linking Mystique—who was, let us not forget, introduced in this strip—with the far-reaching events that Claremont depicted in Avengers Annual #10 soon after.

Arts lowlights include the practically simian Barnett in page 45, panels 5-7 (above); the squirm-inducing “naughtiness at 35,000 feet” scene on page 67 (left); Carol as evil crimson chipmunk in page 66, panel 9; and the utterly unrecognizable Shaw in page 73, panel 8.  Page 71, panel 6 (below): who is this figure we’ve never seen before?  Oh, it’s Ms. Marvel, whose formerly form-fitting mask has suddenly and inexplicably, in Gustovich’s clumsy hands, been completely redesigned in mid-issue!  But in fairness, I’ll give grudging points to the uncharacteristically detail-packed splash page; the reveal of Pyro’s flamebird in page 69, panel 2; the ECU of Avalanche—looking a lot like Juggernaut—in page 72, panel 5; and pretty much their entire portrayal of Raven, who looks good throughout.

Illustrated by faculty bêtes noires Greg LaRocque and Vincent Colletta, the cover story by Tina Chrioproces precedes Ghost Rider Vol. 1 #80 as the vacationing Johnny and Red enter Altro, a backwater town.  Sheriff Kuhn (who briefly jails them for DWW) suspects that Rev. Stryker, the leader of the survivalist Power Cult, killed his daughter Veronica’s fiancé, Frank Anders, when she broke with him and got a job at the local nuclear plant.  But she killed Frank herself, after he refused to leave the cult, which she and the boys infiltrate; released by Johnny, Zarathos plans to substitute Veronica, a willing sacrifice to this fiery “savior,” as Mephisto’s thrall, yet as the Rev tries to “save” her with explosives, Zarathos absorbs the flames and, weakened, reverts to Blaze.

The Giant-Man story seems to be another tag-team effort, scripted by Dwayne McDuffie from a Jim Shooter plot, with 12 pages done by Bob Budiansky and Manny Manos (presumably a close relative of Diverse Hands) and 5 by Don Hudson and Chris Ivy.  Defining “disposable” on every count, it has Bill brush off jobless Arlo Samuelson, who—afraid of losing material girl Donna—tries his untested levitation serum; economical substitutions leave him levitating uncontrollably, a boon in heisting the gold needed to stabilize his formula.  Increasingly irrational, Arie believes that if he touches the ground, feedback will kill him, but after reading his work, Bill realizes that it will discharge the levitational energy driving him insane, and Foster, proven correct, hires him. 

Note to Professor Tom:  The bulk of this post was written while wearing your “Keep Calm and Play Motörhead” t-shirt.

Bradley out (of Dodge).

And, just because we love you all so much...
The long-awaited return of MU cheesescake!