Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rick Jones, the Ultimate Sidekick

Marvel Digital has a highlight of Rick Jones's career (if you can call it that). While this covers some of Rick's highlights, it misses a lot. Here's my take.

Rick is one of Marvel's oldest characters and their longest-running supporting character. His first appearance was in Hulk #1. The government was about to test a new atomic weapon (back in the days of above-ground testing) when Bruce Banner spotted someone in range of the blast. He told is assistant to stop the countdown and rushed to get this person to safety. The intruder turned out to be Rick Jones, an orphan who sneaked onto restricted land as a bet. He had no idea of an atomic test. Banner's assistant was a spy and failed to stop the countdown. Banner got Jones to safety but was caught in the radiation from the blast. Banner and Jones were put in an room for observation. When the sun set, Banner changed into the Hulk and escaped. Jones followed, figuring that he owed the Hulk. Their relationship changed a few times during the Hulk's original run. At one point, Rick gained mental control of the Hulk.

Rick formed a group of ham radio enthusiasts called the Teen Brigade. Back then, a lot of people bought high-powered radios. Under favorable weather conditions, the signal could reflect off of the ionosphere and the ham radio operator could talk with people all over the world. When the Hulk was reported to be on a rampage, Rick and the Teen Brigade called the Fantastic Four for help. The god Loki changed the frequency that they were broadcasting on in order to lure Thor into a fight with the Hulk. Iron Man and Ant Man were listening to the same frequency and ended up forming the Avengers. Because of his role in creating the Avengers, Rick was given access to Tony Stark's mansion where the Avengers met.

After Captain America was revived, he mistook Rick for his lost partner, Bucky. Cap took Rick on as an apprentice along with the rest of the Teen Brigade. They managed to save the Avengers from Kang and Count Nefaria. At the same time, Rick used his Avengers ID to have a meeting with the President (I think it was LBJ by that point but he was off-panel) to ask for help for Banner. Banner was imprisoned a couple of times on suspicion of espionage and released thanks to Rick. Later, Banner was shot in the head and apparently killed. Rick stole the body and exposed it to gamma rays, reviving Banner as an intelligent Hulk. When the Hulk vanished and appeared dead, Rick finally confessed Banner's secret.

Rick finally got a chance as Captain America's costumed sidekick for a couple of issues.

During the Kree/Skrull War, Rick was imprisoned with the Kree Supreme Intelligence, a composite being who stimulated Rick's capacity for mutation. For a short time Rick became powerful enough to end hostilities between the two races.

DC comics let the trademark to the name Captain Marvel lapse and Marvel Comics created their own version. Originally he was an alien with divided loyalties sent to spy on Earth. Marvel decided to rework the character, making him more like the original Captain Marvel. The original was a boy who shouted "Shazam" and became the Captain. Marvel's new version was sent into the Negative Zone where he could only be released when someone wearing a pair of "nega bands" traded places with him. This person turned out to be Rick Jones. Rick also started a career as a singer.

The two were eventually separated. At one point, Rick exposed himself to radiation in the hope of gaining super powers. Instead he got cancer and became a supporting character in ROM. After being cured of cancer, Rick returned to the Hulk where he actually became the Hulk for a couple of issues. The Leader drained his "Hulkness" away but Rick remained as a supporting character in the Hulk for years (through most of Peter David's run). Rick fell in love with a Vegas showgirl named Marlo and the two hosted a talk-show for a while.

Captain Marvel's son became the next Captain. He was artificially created and was merged with Rick so that Rick could give him guidance.

When the Red Hulk appeared, some hints were dropped that he was actually Rick. It quickly turned out that Rick was actually the new Abomination.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Lost - Richard's backstory

We finally got the story on Richard. There weren't any real surprises. All of the major points had already been hinted at.

[spoiler alert]

We started out with Richard explaining that the island is Hell. Deja vu. That was a theory floating around in the first season. It's wrong, of course. If the people on the island are dead then there would be no body count - they'd already be dead.

We got our first flashback of the season to Richard (Ricardo) in the 19th century. His wife, Isabella, was dying, probably from Malaria. The closest doctor was hours away and a jerk. He told Richard that he would not travel in a storm at night to save Isabella but he had expensive medicine. Ricardo offered all of his money and Isabella's gold cross (we know it is real gold because it stayed buried for over a century without corroding). While pleading with the doctor, Ricardo accidentally trips him. The doctor hits his head on a table and dies. Ricardo takes the medicine but arrives too late. Isabella is already dead.

While in jail for murder, Ricardo is visited by a priest. He confesses but the priest refuses to give absolution (another jerk). Instead he arranges for Ricardo to be sold as a slave. He is chained in the hold of the Black Rock.

The ship is caught in a storm and a huge wave carries the ship deep inland, smashing Nathan's statue on the way.

The officers decide to kill the slaves before they can revolt. The captain is in the process of doing this when the Smoke Monster appears and kills everyone on deck. It then comes through a hatch and kills the captain but leaves Ricardo, still chained to the hull. Ricardo tries to escape. He is visited by the Smoky appearing as Isabella who tells him that they are in Hell. Later Smoky appears as the Man in Black and releases Ricardo. He gives Ricardo a dagger and sends him to kill the devil (Nathan). The dagger and instructions are the same that Sayid was given.

Nathan seizes Ricardo from behind, disarms him, and convinces him that they are still alive. Nathan explains that the island is like a cork, keeping evil bottled up. Ricardo joins him and Nathan makes him immortal.

Back in the present, Richard is in despair. After devoting decades to serving Nathan, he is left without a purpose. He digs up Isabella's necklace which he buried back in the 19th century and tried to join Locke's side. Instead Hurley shows up along with Isabella's ghost. Richard becomes reconciled.

Several questions remain. Nathan said that he summons people to the island and tests them. Just who is he to be able to do this? The show keeps switching back and forth between science and magic but this seems to have taken it over the edge. In an earlier episode, Smoky referred to his mother. Nathan is looking for a replacement. Are both of these characters regular people who have taken on a supernatural role? What determines who Smoky does and does not kill? What was the effect of destroying the island in the alternate time? Did this release Smoky there?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I took a break from reading old Avengers and Hulk comics and caught up on She-Hulk. I skipped the original series except for the first issue and the second series by John Byrne and picked it up with the third series which started in 2004.

She-Hulk's original series was always a B-character. The rumor was that Marvel only created her on advice of its legal team to secure copyright following the popularity of the Hulk TV show. Stan Lee wrote the first issue then moved on. John Buscema was the artist. This was one of very few comics that Stan wrote in the late 1970s and his last new character. On the other hand, Buscema was often assigned to a book for the first few issues to get it off the ground, then reassigned. Lee and Buscema were responsible for the original run of the Silver Surfer so this pairing was meant to give the character a superstar launch.

It was actually a mediocre effort. To capsulize the plot - fugitive Bruce Banner wanted to spend some time with someone friendly so he went to visit his cousin, Jennifer Walters, a lawyer. While the two were talking, some hit men who were upset about one of Jennifer's clients shot her. after taking shelter in an empty doctor's office, Banner managed to slow the bleeding but she had lost too much blood to survive until medical help arrived. Using knowledge from his early days in college when he wanted to be a doctor instead of a physicist, Banner gave Jennifer a blood transfusion then vanished. Later the thugs made another try at killing Jennifer. The excitement caused her to turn into a female version of the Hulk.

The version of Bruce Banner used was much closer to the TV show than the comic book version. There was even an opening panel about the various names he was known by. He was "Bruce" most of the time but Stan slipped in the early 1960s and called him "Bob" a few times. The TV show thought that Bruce was "too gay" and used "David". He also had to explain to his cousin that he was the Hulk, even though this had been common knowledge in the Marvel Universe for years (but not on the TV show).

As a character, She-Hulk was not as strong as her cousin nor as inhuman looking. She looked like any seven-foot tall woman who worked out regularly and had green skin. She was short-tempered but didn't lose her intellect the way that Banner's Hulk usually did.

She-Hulk's original run was unmemorable and only lasted 25 issues. In the last comic she decided that she preferred being the She-Hulk and would stay that way permanently. Not long after that she joined the Avengers. In 1985 she replaced the Thing in the Fantastic Four which was written and drawn by John Byrne. Byrne loved the character and enhanced her looks some - giving her long wavy hair, a thinner build (except when she was pumped up) and larger breasts. After the Thing returned, Byrne did a She-Hulk comic which included a lot of cheesecake. She also resumed her law career and became a party girl.

Which brings us to the series that I have been reading. After too much partying, the Avengers kicked her out of the mansion. She also lost her job with the prosecutor's office and took a job with a law firm specializing in super hero cases. From there the comic became a cross between a regular superhero comic, Aly McBeal, and Boston Law. Supporting characters included Amazing Andy (the Mad Thinker's Amazing Android), and John Jamison aka the Man-Wolf. While the tone was tongue-in-cheek, the comic took on adult questions such as equating Eros's (aka Starfox) ability to affect pleasure centers with date-rape drugs. She also slept around a lot. A running joke was that she had even slept with the Juggernaut (it turned out that an extra-dimensional duplicate had instead).

During John Byrne's run, She-Hulk often broke the fourth wall and talked directly to the reader. During her run as a lawyer she never did this but the legal department used comic books as reference material. It had long been established that, in the Marvel Universe, comic books were based on real-life character under license. The Comic Code seal meant that they were published under an arm of the government and therefore admissible in court. The ignored retconning and only mentioned continuity problems once.

This version of She-Hulk may have been good in court (and, apparently in bed) but she was easily manipulated. She also had a lot of identity problems. Due to various manipulations she often had trouble changing from Jennifer into She-Hulk. She also changed back in her sleep fairly often which was a surprise to whoever she was sleeping with. Her sexual hi-jinks made her a less-than admirable character. The lawyer phase lasted a dozen issues and was brought back for another 22 issues. After that Peter David took it over and gave the character a new direction. In David's version, Jen was fired and dis-barred and was working as a bounty hunter with a Skrull side-kick. This lasted until issue 36 when she was canceled (again).

There were major continuity problems between She-Hulk's own book and the Hulk where she was a frequent guest-star. This was an editorial mistake. The editors didn't bother to coordinate the two. As a result, Jen was working with Tony Stark and SHIELD when the Red Hulk attacked but had had a major falling out with Stark in her own comic.

Of the two approaches in the 2004-2009 comics, Peter David's was the more conventional and the more entertaining. The legal adventures tended to be a little too far-fetched, even for a Marvel comic.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lost's Final Season

I think I know where Lost is going with the final season and how they are going to tie up the series. The whole thing is about finding a successor for Nathan. There have been several references to this.

We now know that some of the survivors are "candidates". They were watched over and prepared from childhood by Nathan. Sometimes he met them in person. Other times he watched from his lighthouse. Each candidate has a number. The current set seems to match Hurley's numbers. There have been others, each one having his own number but most are gone.

This is being opposed by Smoky, the Smoke Monster who now appears as Locke. The real Locke was a candidate - probably a leading one given his rapport with the island. Sawyer/Ford was another candidate but he seems to have switched sides. So has Sayid. I can't believe that Sun or Jin would abandon the other. I'm not sure if Kate is a candidate or not but she is not a leader.

That leaves two candidates - Jack and Hurley. On the surface they are opposites - Hurley is easy-going and hates making decisions while Jack is tightly-wound and can't help being a decision-maker. They have some similarities, too. Hurley talks with the dead. Jack has healed people in seemingly miraculous ways. Both have been psychologically broken and needed the island to heal. Also, since returning to the island, Jack has been mellower and has made fewer bad choices. I suspect that Jack will become Jacob's replacement which will seem like an act of martyrdom - it will seem like it but he was a total screw-up on the outside world and has nothing to return to.

On the other side, Smoky is gathering his own set of candidates. Sawyer and the refugees from the temple have joined him but Ben rejected him.

So what is Smoky and who is (was) Jacob? I think that Smoky is the spirit of the island and wants to be free. Jacob was his jailer. Others have been Smoky's jailer in a line going back to Egypt.

What about Richard? I've always wondered if he came to the island on the Black Rock. The scene between him and Jack seemed to confirm this. It has been implied that he came as a slave and that Jacob freed him and made him ageless and undying (just as Michael was unable to kill himself). The only thing arguing against that is Richard's eye liner which could mean that he was brought to the island by the Egyptians.

Some questions - Ben's people made lists when the original Oceanic flight crashed. Where they doing this as a reflection of Jacob's list? Why do you have to kill your father in order to join Ben's people? Both Ben and Locke has to kill their fathers as an initiation. Was this a way of proving their commitment to the island? They keep insisting that they are the good guys but they have a high body count. Are the "good" because they help contain Smoky?

As for the flash-sideways - they seem to show what people would have been like without the island. I will not say that they seem happier, but they seem more at peace with themselves. Jack managed to keep a marriage together long enough to have a son. Locke worked through his bitterness and seemed to like his father. Ben is capable of self-sacrifice. On the other hand, Sayid is not a nice person in either world.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Old Avengers/New Avengers

When the Avengers was created it featured most of the unaffiliated heroes in the Marvel Universe - Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Wasp. By issue fifteen, the team was really hitting its stride. The Hulk was long gone, replaced by Captain America. The other characters were better-defined.

Issue #15 was fast-paced. Baron Zemo returned and gathered his Masters of Evil - the Executioner, the Enchantress, the Black Knight, and the Melter. Zemo kidnapped Captain America's sidekick, Rick Jones, and flew to his base in Africa followed by Cap. The other four faced off against the remaining Masters of Evil.

During the fight between Zemo and Cap, Zemo was killed in a rock-slide. This was a point of honor for Stan Lee for years - a villain died and you saw his body so he will stay dead.

In issue #16, everything changed. The fight between the Avengers and the Masters of Evil was wrapped up quickly. After that, Thor left for Asgard for a trial of the gods. Captain America's plane was blown up so he had to walk back to civilization. The remaining three decided that they were tired of being Avengers and that they needed a break. They recruited a trio of replacements. Cap returned in time to be appointed leader of the team.

This was just one of many changes going on in Marvel at the time leading to what I think of as Marvel 2.0. Giant Man's strip in Tales to Astonish was replaced with the Sub-Mariner. The Human Torch and the Thing's strip in Strange Tales was replaced with Nick Fury, Agent of Shield. The Hulk went from a mindless brute to being intelligent (for a while). At the same time, the X-Men and Daredevil went from bi-monthly to monthly comics. They even tried changing the name from "Marvel Comics" to "Marvel Pop Art Productions".

Issue #17 was the first with the new team. In many ways this issue started what we think of as the Avengers. Previously the team had a rotating chairman. From this point forward, it would have an actual leader. This issue introduced the lower level of the Avengers mansion, filled with high-tech crime-fighting equipment. It was the first one that had the Avengers training together (although the X-Men and the Human Torch had been doing training exercises for some time). It was also the first issue where the Avengers had their own custom-built jet.

The issue began with the new members questioning Captain America's leadership. In order to add some power to their ranks, they announced a search to add the Hulk to their ranks.  They were given a clue that the Hulk was in the desert. While searching for him, they fell into a trap. The Mole Man decided to kill off the new, weaker team using the Minotaur - a giant creature who would have given the Hulk a fight. The Avengers used teamwork to defeat the Minotaur and the Mole Man, proving that they did not need additional strength. As all of this was happening, a few panels were reprinted from the Hulk's own strip showing where he was while the Avengers searched for him.

This was the strongest issue to date. There was character development and growth. You could see the group become a team.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Avengers Evolution II

More on the early issues of the Avengers.

It is interesting watching the characters change. In Avengers #1, Iron Man was in his original armor designed by Jack Kirby. By Issue #3 he was in the lighter suit designed by Steve Ditko. The helmet on this one had a faceplate that could swing up (but almost never did). Don Heck modified the armor to the version that was used for another couple of decades in Iron Man's own strip. When he took over the Avengers he updated the armor there, too.

Henry Pym went from Ant Man in the first issue to Giant Man in issue #2. He and the Wasp were still using pills to change size. By issue #8 he and the Wasp were using their cybernetic helmets to change their size. Giant Man's costume also changed. As Ant Man he had a bulky helmet. He swapped this for a lighter helmet that was almost a plain mask when he became Giant Man. He also changed his costume lightly. The original suit had stripes coming over is shoulders and joining a circle with a second circle beneath it. This was changed to alternating white and black stripes that went over his shoulders and down to his belt, almost lie suspenders. When Don Heck took over this stripes became solid black and joined. He got a revised costume with a blue overlay to his costume and helmet in issue #14 only to retire in issue #16.

The Wasp's mask changed several times. I'm not sure if there was ever an official version.

Captain America's shield got some electronics so that he could throw it and control it remotely. He switched back to straps an throwing it quickly.

Thor stayed unchanged.

Power levels changed, also. When Jack Kirby was the artist, Thor seemed to pull powers out of a hat. Iron Man mainly used beams from his palms to make people spin in mid-air although they usually escaped. Giant Man wasn't much stronger than Captain America.

Things changed around when Don Heck took over. Thor's powers were more limited. Iron Man was the one pulling powers out of a hat. Giant Man seemed stronger and used his growth and shrinking powers to maneuver around his opponents. Captain America threw his shield more.

They used Tony Stark's town house for meetings starting in the second issue.

The Avengers did not have a fixed leader. They had a chairmanship that rotated. Even the Wasp got to be in charge. By the 7th issue they had a set of by-laws. They also used Roberts Rules of Order - possibly the only time these were used so extensively in a comic book.

Transportation was interesting. In a couple of really early issues they used a jetcopter. This was probably a regular helicopter with a jet turbine. Helicopters were still pretty new in the 1960s and it looked stock. They also borrowed a submarine from Tony Stark. Later they left transportation to each member. This meant that they arrived at different times, making it easier for the villains.