Saturday, February 27, 2010

Who is the Rulk?

The Red Hulk (Rulk) has been around since the latest Hulk reboot. A lot of clues have been dropped about his identity but many of them were "red" herrings. The biggest clue was overshadowed by one of those red herrings.

The two most obvious candidates are Leonard Samson and Thunderbolt Ross. At one point they even showed Samson's coat, irradiated with gamma radiation and stretched out as if someone grew while wearing it.

Both Ross and Samson have appeared with the Rulk.

I haven't spotted many other clues but there are a few. He likes guns. He seems to know a lot about SHIELD LMDs (Life Model Decoys). He knows Samson and Ross.

There is one other clue but it's a negative one. Samson vanished for a few issues when they were dropping strong hints that he was Rulk. At the same time he vanished, a crushed body turned up that was quickly identified as SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain. Almost nothing else was said about this.

So, why kill off a character who has been around since 1967? I don't think that they did. I think that Quartermain is the Rulk. He was with Samson at the time that Rulk appeared. Samson was involved, maybe even responsible. A body, or even a fake body, was planted to explain his absence. He even led a team of Hulkbusters at one point. Who better?

I'd say that you heard it here first but a Google search shows that someone else thought of this a few months ago. He also thinks that Quartermain has green hair when he is himself. This is incorrect. Issue 14 shows four people talking together. One has green hair and the other three are wearing caps. We see one of the figures in a cap go into an alley and change into the Rulk. During the change you can see his hat fall off and it is lying on the street when he finishes his change. Later we see that Samson was the one with green hair (and no cap) and Ross was one of the people with a cap.

Next question - who is the red She-Hulk? She quotes military strategy. She could be Betty Ross, back from the grave. That was my first guess. Her father is a general, after all. It seems too easy.

Since Quartermain is a secondary character that they slipped in, I think that the Red She-Hulk is another secondary character, possibly another member of SHIELD. Her torn outfit looks a little like a SHIELD uniform which supports this. I'm guessing Maria Hill, former deputy director of SHIELD.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Iron Man and Transistors

Every comic book featuring Iron Man from the early 1960s has constant references to transistors. Unless you grew up in the 60s, this will go over your head so I thought I would go into a little detail.

During the first half of the 20th century, electronics used vacuum tubes. These had a few wires inside a glass tube which kept the air out. Air acts as an insulator so they had to have a vacuum. These were big. The smallest ones were as big as a tube of lipstick. The big ones were as big as a light bulb. They took minutes to warm up before they started to work. They were heavy. They needed a lot of power. There was no such thing as a portable radio back then. The best you could get was a car radio which ran off of the car battery (and could run it down if the motor wasn't running).

The transistor changed that. It was tiny, durable, and only used a fraction of the power. Suddenly portable, battery-powered radios and even TVs were possible. Of course, the radios were still the size of a paperback book, AM-only, and they only came with an earphone for one ear but you could carry one around with you for the first time.

So, transistors were a "big" thing.

Now, Stan Lee didn't really understand what a transistor was. He just knew that they were responsible for miniaturization. He figured that you could attach a transistor to a magnet and boost its power. And he was really confused about the relationship between transistors and batteries so Iron Man was constantly "charging his transistors" instead of his batteries.

No one talks about transistors, these days. They were replaced with integrated circuit chips which hold the equivalent of many transistors. If you are carrying a smart phone then you are carrying millions of transistors around with you. That's why the Iron Man movie changed the focus from his transistors to his power source.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Evolution of the Avengers

I've been taking advantage of Marvel's digital comics to reread the early issues of the Avengers. I hadn't read most of these comics since the 1960s so it I have a different perspective.

For now I'm covering issues 1-9. The first eight of these were Lee/Kirby with Don Heck taking over as artist with issue nine.

First, general impressions - Marvel had three team comics during this period - the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men. Even though Lee and Kirby did the early issues of all three, each had a very different feel. They were all pretty early in the overall evolution of Marvel. Pages were broken up into regular panels - four or six to a page. Stories were self-contained but there was some continuity between issues.

The FF and the X-Men were almost families. The Avengers was different because it was a collection of heroes who already had their own books. They barely knew each other and none of them shared his secret identity with the others.

In some ways, the Avengers was a marketing ploy. Each issue introduced all of the characters enough that you could pick up their own books and know what was going on. There was always a couple of panels of Thor as Don Blake, often with his nurse, Jane Foster. You always knew that Iron Man was really Tony Stark and that his armor had to be recharged regularly or he would die. Issues with the Hulk usually included Bruce Banner and often included General "Thunderbolt" Ross and his daughter.

The Avengers spent a lot of time fighting each other and the Sub-Mariner. They joined to fight the Hulk. In issue #2, an alien impersonated different members making them fight some more. In issue #3, the Hulk quit and fought the Avengers, escaped, fought then joined the Sub-Mariner, and finally the two of them fought the Avengers. In issue #4, the Sub-Mariner tossed the piece of ice containing Captain America into the ocean. Later he and some of his Atlanteans fought the Avengers. In issue #5, the Lave Men pushed a "living rock" into the surface world in the South-West. The Hulk appeared and fought the Avengers (again) in the middle of this. Finally, in issue #7, Thor was magically hypnotized into attacking the other Avengers.

Not many memorable characters were invented during this period. Baron Zemo was introduced when Captain America was revived. We first saw him in issue #7 and he died in issue #15 although his son is still around.

Issue #8 finally created a memorable new (sort of) character - Kang the Conqueror. Kang had actually appeared twice before as the FF villain, Rama Tut, but here he was given a new name, costume, and technology. Between his advanced armor and his space/time ship, he was able to take on the Avengers single-handed.

Issue #9 introduced Wonder Man. He died at the end of the issue but came back from the dead several times, even having his own comic book for a while.

Issue #9 also marked the end of Jack Kirby's run and the beginning of Don Heck's. I always thought of Kirby as the superior artist but this issue surprised me. I realized that I have been judging Kirby by his later work. In 1964, Kirby was still a conservative artist. Heck's work was much more dynamic. He did not limit himself to regular panels or angles. It would be another couple of years before Kirby's work changed.

One last thing that struck me was how difficult it was to balance a team with Thor. Often either Thor or Captain America would end up separated from the others. In fact, Thor was much more powerful than the other Avengers put together so most plots had to work around this somehow. I suspect that this was one reason that Stan changed the line-up after a couple of years.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lost - the final season

We are three episodes into the final season of Lost. The producers promised no more flashbacks or flashforwards. Instead we get Flashback-and-to-the-sides. We see the surviving cast in "real time" and we see what would have happened to them a few years ago if the flight hadn't crashed. It's hard to say where they are going with this. Will this continue to be a parallel universe, unconnected to the one we've been watching or will they somehow converge at the end? Is this just a way of confirming what Locke/Smoky said - that they all had pitiful lives and were better off on the island? (Not counting all of the ones who died.)

Speaking of Smoky, we now know that he is the second John Locke. We've seen him appear as dead people before. I think that the only time he has previously appeared to multiple people at once was as a horse to Kate and Sawyer (assuming that was him).

We've see the circle of powder that keeps Smoky out before. The first time Locke went to Jacob's cabin he crossed a line of the same powder. We saw the powder again when he tried to find the cabin but it had moved.

Hopefully the people in the temple are related to Ben's people. It would be too weird to have two groups living on the island. Ben's group seemed to support Jacob over Smoky and the temple group seems afraid of Smoky and the island.

Dogen, the head of the temple, said that he was afraid that the island's spirit had sunk into Sayid and tried to poison him because of it. Is this what Locke (the real one) was communicating with? Claire was last seen with Jack's father, Christian. Now, we are told that the island's spirit sunk into her and poisoned her. She seems to have become the new resident mad-woman. There are parallels between Claire and Rousseau, the previous mad-woman. Both had her child taken from her. Both ended up living alone in the jungle. It appears that both spend their spare time setting traps to catch the others.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hero vs Hero

Back in the 1960s, it was a cliche that any time two Marvel heroes met, they had to fight, first. Digging through some of Marvel's Digital Comics, I looked up some examples and I can remember some others.

Marvel started small, adding one character or group at a time. Stan Lee was a genius at cross-promotion. As new heroes were created, they met well established heroes. This exposed the new characters to a wider audience with the idea of increasing sales. It also laid the foundation of the Marvel Universe. DC had a wide variety of characters. Most of them never crossed paths outside of the JLA. At Marvel, most of them lived in New York City so they often made cameo appearances. Spider-Man might be knocked off a lamp post by Thor's jet stream.

My focus here is the more formal appearance. Some of them were straight guest shots. Ant Man was called in when the FF faced a microscopic enemy. More often they were fights.

The Hulk's first appearance with the FF was an obvious cross-over. It happened near the end of the run of the Hulk's original comic. By that point, Bruce Banner would run to his hidden lab and expose himself to gamma rays in order to turn into an intelligent Hulk. In this case, the FF was called in to investigate acts of sabotage. General Thunderbolt Ross was sure that the Hulk was responsible but Banner and Rick Jones insisted that someone else was. After a rocket sled was wrecked (while the Thing was riding it), the FF found a series of caves and tunnels. In one of these they ran into the Hulk and tried to capture him. The battle was pretty evenly matched until a hidden ray knocked out the Hulk. The FF tracked it to Banner's assistant who was a communist saboteur (he even carried a membership card in a subversive organization in his wallet).

A few months later the Hulk was added as a backup to Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish (several early Marvel comics started out as science fiction/horror comics and it was easier to keep the original name and add the hero). The issue before the Hulk was added, he fought with Giant-Man. Here's a bit of trivia for you - this issue was the first time the Hulk said, "The madder I get the stronger I get."

Not a lot happened in this issue. It mainly introduced the cast and set up that the Hulk was now changing when he got angry. Giant-Man and the Wasp went looking for the Hulk to see if he wanted back into the Avengers. Banner assumed that they were hunting him, got angry, and changed into the Hulk. An old Giant-Man villain, the Human Top (now known as Whirlwind) orchestrated the fight and arraigned for the military to fire a nuclear shell at the Hulk, not knowing that Giant-Man was also present. The Hulk caught the shell, threw it in a different direction, and vanished.

When Captain America was added as a backup feature with Iron Man in Tales of Suspense, they had the prerequisite fight. Iron Man was testing the underwater capability of his armor and stumbled across Kraven the Hunter and the Chameleon. He captured Kraven but the Chameleon escaped. Shortly after that, Captain America appeared at Stark's office in a torn costume. He said that he had been captured by the Chameleon who absorbed his memories and planned on attacking the Avengers. Iron Man rushed to the Avenger's mansion to confront the imposer. Of course, the guy in the torn costume was the Chameleon and Iron Man was fighting the real Captain America. Eventually Giant-Man and the Wasp broke up the fight.

Spider-Man ran into the Hulk during his first fight with the Green Goblin. The Goblin convinced a movie director to make a movie in the southwest featuring a fight between Spider-Man and the Goblin along with a trio known as the Enforcers. It was all a trap. Spider-Man and the villains went off to rehearse in a cave. The Enforcers blocked the entrance and attacked. They were quickly subdued but during the fight with the Goblin, the Hulk appeared. They had chosen his cave to fight in. Spider-Man tricked the Hulk into unblocking the cave and escaped, carrying the unconscious Enforcers with him. The Goblin escaped. The most notable thing about this issue was that it clearly established power levels. Spider-Man hit the Hulk as hard as he could and nearly broke his hand. The Hulk wasn't fazed.

The biggest fight/launch was Avengers #1. Thor's enemy, Loki, saw the Hulk and decided that he had a chance of killing Thor. This was during the Hulk's smart phase. Loki use an illusion to lure the Hulk into wrecking a train. The Hulk's friend, Rick Jones, tried contacting the Fantastic Four with a ham radio but Loki changed the frequency of their message to one that Thor was listening to. As it happened, Iron Man and Giant-Man were also listening to the same message. They converged on the Hulk and fought with him until Loki was revealed. Then they decided to form the Avengers.

In Avengers #2, a shape-shifting alien came to earth an assumed the forms of different Avengers, causing them to fight each other again. At the end of the issue the Hulk quit the group. In a later issue joined forces with the Sub-Mariner to fight the remaining Avengers.

The X-Men fought the Fantastic Four. This issue was special to me. It was the first Fantastic Four comic I read and my third Marvel comic. This time the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master joined forces. Under the Thinker's direction, the Puppet Master took control of Professor X using a radioactive clay doll. The Professor convinced the X-Men that his telepathy had uncovered a plot by the FF to take over the world. He sent the team to approach the FF then attack them. Under the Professor's direction, the X-Men captured Sue and brought her to an island the Thinker had already prepared. The X-Men were clearly outclassed but the Thinker's traps gave them an edge. After the FF was subdued the pair revealed themselves and the Puppet Master used the Professor's telepathy to render the X-Men unconscious. The Beast resisted long enough to crush the Puppet Master's doll. The FF was released and the Thinker and company had to flee.

Thor and the Hulk fought in an issue of Thor. This was a straight "who's strongest" knock-down, drag-out fight. It was actually an extended flashback from a two-panel fight the two had in an early issue of the Avengers (see above). The two got separated from the main fight and Thor wanted to prove who was the better warrior. He asked Odin to be able to fight without his hammer. Odin gave him five minutes. The battle was still going on when the time ran out and Thor recovered his hammer. The implication was that the hammer gave him an edge but the flashback trailed off there. The Hulk and Sub-Mariner vanished before the fight could conclude.

1968 started what I think of as Marvel 2.0. Reed and Sue got married. The Avengers got a new line-up. Tales of Suspense retired the Human Torch and the Thing for Nick Fury, agent of Shield and Tales to Astonish swapped out Giant-Man for the Sub-Mariner. As the lead-in for this, the Sub-Mariner fought Daredevil.

When the character was revived, the Sub-Mariner found that his people had abandoned the city of Atlantis. In FF Annual #1 he found them but they abandoned the new Atlantis because of Manor's divided loyalties. He found them again and assumed his role as ruler. He decided to settle his dispute with the surface world in court and ended up with Matt Murdock (Daredevil) as his attorney. The court ruled that his suit was out of their jurisdiction. At the same time, Namor was informed that there had been a coup. Warlord Krang had seized control of Atlantis. Namor tried to escape. Daredevil fought him and lost but out of respect for a valiant foe, Namor departed peacefully.

When it was decided to give the Silver Surfer his own book, Stan felt that he was too powerful. In an issue of the FF, the Surfer decided to unite humanity by giving them a common enemy. He attacked the Earth. A special missile was sent after him. It was supposed to drain his power then use it to explode, killing him. The FF saved the Surfer from the missile and he called off his attack but was left weakened.

One last fight deserves mention. The Sub-Mariner and the Hulk shared Tales to Astonish for some time. Before they got their own comics, they had one last fight. This one actually had a winner. The Sub-Mariner beat the Hulk by creating a whirlpool around him.

Marvel heroes would continue to fight but this marked the end of promotion through cross-over fight.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Digital Comics

I recently subscribed to Marvels' digital comic books. I also have a couple of DVDs of collections - one for the X-Men and one for the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer. I'd like to compare them with each other and with the paper editions.

Comic books were designed to be on paper. There are no two ways about this. This is also the only form that they have any collectible value. That said, there are disadvantages to having them on paper. They take up a lot of room and they require careful storage to keep up their value. Finding an individual issue can be difficult unless you spend a lot of time filing them and you can't carry them everywhere without risking damage.

The biggest disadvantage of comics on paper is that it is expensive and difficult to read issues that you missed.

The DVD collections have scanned comic books in PDF format. Each book is converted to a scanned image, exactly as it appeared including ads and letters pages. This is a fairly pure experience. You see everything as it was. You use your PDF viewer to zoom in and out, up and down.

Marvel's digital comics take a different approach. They are stored in Flash format with navigation buttons at the bottom for going forward and backwards. The Flash animation has been preset to zoom in or out to make the comic easily readable. The images have been cleaned up. There is no yellowing, no folds, no staples, and nothing but the story itself. You do not buy the digital comics. You buy access, either by the month or by the year. As long as your subscription is valid you can read everything in their library which is being added to daily.

I've been using the PDF images for my FF blogging. Last night I read the FF's first meeting with the Hulk and the first four issues of Thor's return from Marvel's Digital Comics. My impression is that the PDF images work fine for older comics but will not be as convenient for newer ones. The old comics stuck pretty much to a six panel per page format. This was later changed to four panels with some oversized panels. On my PCs, the screen is smaller than the original comic so I zoom it to something like the original size then move the page up and down to read. Newer comics mix panel size constantly. One page might be divided with one panel taking up most of the page and a couple of smaller panels inserted on top of it. This does not lend itself as well to the PDFs.

The Digital Comics will zoom in and out, up and down, trying to follow the story while letting you see the layout of the page. This works fairly well although some word balloons are a bit hard to read when it is showing the full page. You can also override this, scolling the page up or down and changing the zoom. Ironically, the Digital Comics have problems with the older issues. The pages might have been divided into six panels per page but the viewer does not always synchronize properly. There were several times that a word balloon was cut off at the top and I had to scroll up. This is only a minor complaint.

Conclusions: All three ways work. If you are more interested in the story than the physical comic then the digital versions are a good choice. If you want to see the most recent issues then you still have to buy your comics on paper. If you want a wide selection that is still incomplete then the Digital Comics are a good choice. If you want a deep selection - everything for a single character then the DVD collections are good. The DVDs have the additional benefit of portability. You can take them anywhere that you take your laptop. The Digital Comics require a network connection.

Note: Don't even think about trying this on an iPad. It doesn't support Flash or external, optical disks.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

FF Blogging - FF Annual #1

It's been a while since I blogged about old issues of the Fantastic Four.

I started reading the Fantastic Four with FF Annual #2. It was years before I saw the first annual and I think that this was the first time I reread it.

Growing up in the 1960s, Marvel's annuals were a big event. DC put out super-sized collections of reprints but Marvel was too new for that. Their annuals featured a new, extended-length story, a reprint, and some extra material. At a time when DC shoehorned two stories into a regular-sized comic, the extended story was unprecedented. Stan Lee fit extra-large subject matter into the story, in this case, the Prince Namor, Sub Mariner.

The Sub Mariner was the first Golden Age hero that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived. The Human Torch found him as a wondering, amnesiac, derelict in FF #3. After giving him a shave and dropping him in the ocean, namor regained his memory and went to rejoin his people. He found their city deserted, apparently due to nuclear testing. He declared war on the human race, starting with New York City and the FF. He also developed a crush on Sue Storm.

At the beginning of the annual, Namor found his people again and took him place as their ruler. Lady Dorma and Warlord Krang were introduced and would go onto become long-time supporting characters in the Sub Mariner's own comic.

The FF combined a vacation with an investigation into some strange sightings at sea. This turned out to be a trap. The Sub Mariner captured them then sent them to the United Nations to deliver his declaration of war. During the UN session, a scientist explained the evolution of Namor's people and the circumstances of his birth. The scientist turned out to the the Sub Mariner in disguise. When the UN rejected his demands, he launched his attack.

New York quickly fell to the Atlantean invaders. The FF captured a few soldiers and Reed figured out how to disrupt the helmets that let them breath out of water. His army fled but the Sub Mariner invaded the FF's headquarters and captured Sue Storm.

The other three followed but were attacked by sea creatures commanded by Namor. They were at a disadvantage and about to fall when a jealous Lady Dorma broke the window of the ship holding Sue. Sue nearly drowned and Namor commandeered the command craft to take her to a human hospital.

When he returned, Namor found that he people had deserted him again because of his divided loyalties.

That's a lot of story! These days it would have been spread over multiple issues and later gathered into a graphic novel.

As a backup, the annual had a reprint story and some pinups.