Friday, June 30, 2017

Tie-ins, Part XXVI: Amazing Spider-Man #352

Some random Spider-Man books, Part 5
Spider-Man and the Tri-Sentinel, Round 2…

…the bad news: No Captain Universe powers
…the good news: Nova! (not sure that’s gonna help much)

"Death Walk”
Writer – David Michelinie
Pencils – Mark Bagley
Inks – Sam de la Rosa
Letters – Rick Parker
Colorist – Bob Sharen
Editor – Danny Fingeroth and Eric Fein
October 1991

Marvel had this brainy idea back in winter of 1989 to try the old switcharoo on the superheroes. Fighting the same villains over and over again made for a tired formula. The X-Men always taking on Magneto and Thor always besting Loki….and so and so forth. Lame. Boooorrrring!

Someone in the bullpen (and I’ll be damned if I can figure out who) had a brilliant story idea: have the villains all swap heroes. Fantastic Four fighting Doc Doom was a stale idea, but having Thor vs Victor Von Doom was a fresh idea that excited writers, artists and the comic buying public alike.

How to get it done was the only problem. I mean, villains don’t tend to work together even when they stand to gain personally. Given that many of them would balk at working with rogues of opposing ideologies (think Magento and Red Skull, for instance)…and others would sooner kill themselves than submit to another villain’s authority, it seemed impossible to make the idea workable storywise.

Luckily for Marvel they had a God in the Machine… Namely Loki, to be exact. Loki masterminded this scheme to swap out one set of heroes’ foes for another’s, the idea being that perhaps their powers might prove more effectual against a different champion of justice. And Loki had through his magic a way to brainwash everyone into believing they were one in control of the entire scheme.

It wasn’t easy and eventually when the heroes still found ways to defeat the bad guys from the Marvel mag one spot over on the spinner rack, Loki’s mind games fell apart most spectacularly.

Spider-Man got his share of wild matchups, facing off against Magneto, Graviton, the Hulk, Trapster, Titiana, Brothers Grimm, Dragon Man, TESS-One and Goliath. The crowning battle came last, as Loki magically blended three mutant-killing Sentinels into one vicious engine of destruction and sent it on a rampage to destroy the nuclear plant near Long Island, killing everyone along the Eastern seaboard.

Luckily for everyone involved, Spider-Man was in possession of the Uni-power. The Uni-power is a special bit of mischief that wanders indiscriminately from person to person, allowing them to become the cosmically powered Captain Universe. With this unimaginable force at their command, they are tasked with averting one great cataclysmic event…

…and then the power moves on to the next person.

Spider-Man supposedly blew the “Tri-Sentinel” to dust at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #329, but all good villains deserve at least one resurrection from the grave, so low-and-behold ASM #351 found that he wasn’t quite all the way destroyed and now was in the hands of the radical terrorist survival group The Life Foundation.

And by “wasn’t quite all the way destroyed” I mean it doesn’t have so much as scratched paint.

The Life Foundation wanted to use the deadly Tri-Sentinel to “secure” their hidden mountain survival cave with all the other looneys who think the worlds going to end soon. Of course, in the Marvel 616, the world ending unexpectedly is kind of a daily worry for everyone that remembers Galactus almost ate the Earth a little bit ago.

However, they were smart enough to install a failsafe inside it that would destroy it utterly (ahem! Again). On the side of them not being so smart, was they sent it after Spider-Man, since the webslinger had previously foiled their plans.

Somehow last issue (thanks Crapbox!), Spider-Man got trapped inside the giant robot while his buddy Nova got a palm full of binding metal coils. The inside of the Tri Sentinel are just as dangerous as the outsides too, and Spidey finds himself being gassed to death in an energy bubble. Lucky for him and us that bubble doesn’t extend below the floor he’s standing on.

Unfortunately, this maneuver takes him further from where he wants to go: namely a switch that releases “Antarctic Vibranium” which will melt the Tri-Sentinel in a heartbeat. Mark Bagley’s doing the pencils here and as the book goes on, you’ll begin to appreciate his style quite a bit. As soon as Spidey dodges these rivets being fired at him, that is.

As Peter tries to figure out a proper path back to that switch a new problem emerges. First, the Tri-guy chunks Nova into a nearby building…

…and then rockets its way out of the Life Foundation’s hidden compound. Cameron Drake, leader of the foundation, orders the scuttling his operation as the Tri-Sentinel takes off. And he blames it all on our favorite wall-crawler, too.

Richard Rider isn’t giving up on Spidey and takes off in hot pursuit, pouring on the speed to catch up to the Tri-Sentinel. Spidey meanwhile has found the central processing unit of the robot, complete with computer keyboards and he begins hacking its programming. And yes, it does appear that it is back on course to wreck nuclear devastation on a massive scale.

Using his wits, Spider-Man grounds the sentinel, but gets trapped in coils for his trouble. This does allow Nova to catch up, however and he begins an ineffectual attempt at taking it down from the outside.

Mr. Drake isn’t out of this mess yet, however. Nova made off with some very incriminating evidence, and Drake orders a team sent to wipe the disk using a modified laser cannon before he can expose the foundation or its members. 

And Nova is still tailing the now walking Tri-Sentinel, attempting to lessen the body count as it makes for the Nuclear facility near Long Island again. Love that swoop in and save!

Spider-Man uses the robot's own defenses against itself, having it shoot the coils holding him in place so they are shredded enough for him to escape. But time is rapidly running out for the pair and the menace looks unstoppable.

The closer he gets to the failsafe switch, the more deadly the traps coming after Spidey. So much so, that he’s forced to retreat back to the CPU. It appears the pair will be unable to stop the death of millions.

…that is until unlikely help arrives in the form of a Life Foundation airship firing a beam of laser energy that scrambles electronic data. It tries to take our Rider and the disk he's carrying, but he’s too swift.

He uses them to distract the Tri-Sentinel, which puts them in danger, so he saves them. Which allows them to hit him with the beam, and also make it through the Tri-Sentinel's defenses…

…which also appears to mangle up the robot’s abilities.

…in a big, big way.

Thinking in tandem, Rider “coerces” the pilots of the flying lime-green hovercraft to train their beam on the Tri-Sentinel.

Which gives Spidey enough time to make it to the fail-safe…

…one press of which…

…immediately shorts out our robotic bad guy and…

…leads to a meltdown on a massively impressive scale…

…that isn’t without danger to our favorite web-slinger.

But does lead to some VERY impressive panels. Bagley’s pencils and de la Rosa’s inks do a fine job of showcasing the story at this point. As do the colors provided by Sharen.

As our heroes wait for the Antarctic Vibranium to be secured, they share a bit of camaraderie over their victory and the disappointment of losing the evidence on the Life Foundation.

Ultimately though, they part with a bunch of respect for one another.

The issue climaxes the story from last issue in a great action setpiece, showcasing both Spider-Man and Nova’s strong points as characters. I’m a huge fan of Sentinels as bad guys and this one in particular. He’d go down as my second favorite Marvel killer robot, right behind Nimrod. (third is MODOK, if you must know).

Sure it is light on actual story, being the final part of a two-parter, but we get to see lots of great action and stong moments from both our lead and our guest star. I dug this issue quite a bit. The art, especially. Might have to dig more Bagley out in my Crapbox dives. Looks like they are definitely worth seeing.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Tie-ins, Part XXVI: Marvel Team-Up #71 featuring Spider-Man and Falcon

Some random Spider-Man books, Part 4
With Spider-Man villains you take the good…

…along with the really, really bad!

Writer – Bill Kunkel
Pencils – Dave Wenzel
Inks – Dan Green
Letters – Rick Parker
Colorist – Franooise Mouly
Editor – Jim Shooter
July 1978

Spider-Man has one of the best rogue’s gallery in all of comicdom. Their names are synonymous with fear and dread, these perpetrators of great criminal deeds and sinister master plans.

Doctor Octopus. Green Goblin. Venom. Vulture. Kraven the Hunter. Sandman. Electro. Chameleon. Kingpin. Scorpion. Mystero.

All of these fellows are Spider-Man’s heavy hitters. But along with his big league competition, there are some Spider-Man foes who aren’t even up to T-Ball status. Since this is the crapbox, we bat about 50/50 when it comes to the stature of who our arachnid avenger faces off against. On those instances where we end up a little short, we find ourselves dealing with a Walrus...or a Corona (lime, please?).

...Or a Plantman.

In this story, writer Bill Kunkel didn’t allow Spider-Man to take on so fearsome an adversary as Plantman all by his lonesome. Oh, no! That wouldn’t do. What if he succumbed to Plantman’s power of…uh, power over…um…

Okay, I’ll level with you, folks. I don’t know if the Plantman has any powers. I guess we better read the story to find out.

We begin our tale “Deathgarden” with Sam Wilson, The high-flying Falcon, finding his buddy Steve Rogers a/k/a Captain America lying near death in Harlem.

Steve’s in a bad way and the only clue as to how he got that way is the flower he is clutching in his hands.

Before playing detective, Sam can tell Steve needs medical attention. One call to S.H.I.E.L.D. later and the bad news of Steve’s condition becomes clear. He’s dying. And it’s not because of crappy VA Hospital services either. It appears he’s been poisoned! That flower in Steve’s hand wasn’t just toxic, it was of a variety S.H.I.E.L.D. never encountered before. By the time they develop an antidote, Steve’s a goner.

Who could have done such a dastardly deed?

The head doctor has an idea of someone who might be researching plants such as this and his lab has been broken into recently. Falcon is off like a shot to save his pal.

And wouldn’t you know it? At that very moment, criminals in matching jumpsuits are stealing a load of super-secret, special fertilizer. Never fear, though. Spider-Man already has the situation well in hand, having seen the theft occurring while swinging by on his nightly patrol.

As Spider-Man takes out the last thug, Falcon shows up on the scene.

It’s only at this moment that Spider-Man realizes that he’s been protecting potting soil, a revelation that earns out web-head a brief nap courtesy of a zappy ray gun and a not quite konked-out criminal.

In a flash a few of his quarry slip through his fingers. Then The Falcon makes his presence known and starts a shoving match. Appears he is completely rattled at the thought of losing Cap, so much so that he’s telling stories in reverse order. This confuses Spidey and we get a brief scuffle while the heroes work out what’s what.

Falcon seems to think Spider-Man has the anti-toxin and was stealing the fertilizer. It isn’t until he gets tossed next to a downed henchman that he realizes what’s really going on.

And talk that criminal does. His information leads the duo to this palatial estate on Long Island Sound. Seems our super-villain du jour isn’t in the game for money.

After webbing up a couple of guards, Spider-Man steals a uniform and makes his way into the manor house to find the anti-toxin, which is much better than Falcon flying in and trying to take these guys on one at a time.

And it is here, while undercover, that Spider-Man discovers the identity of Cap’s poisoner…none other than The PLANTMAN. (da-da..da-da..da-da…da-da..da-da-DA! PLANTMAN!)

I’d talk about how lame the Plantman is, but look at him here. 

He gets an entire page of TALKING TO HIMSELF, he is so pathetic. Monologuing to your arch-nemeses is fine, but he doesn’t even get that. He just spends his time wearing green tights and telling his plants how “Daddy is going to rule the world one day, and won’t those mean superheroes RUE THE DAY they ever made fun of Plantman.”

You know – Okay, enough with me picking on the guy. He is a credible threat. He is the only person standing between Captain America and death right now. Let’s show him a small modicum of respect.

It’s not like someone could just burst in and trick him into giving up the location of the anti-toxin. He’s more intelli--*


And actually the hardest part so far has been listening to Plantman prattle on for an entire page. 

But now the heroes have brought the wrath of Plantman himself down on them. He uses his plant control gun-thingie to have that creeper vine strangle Spider-Man. Next he uses it on a black orchid to have it shoot razor sharp spikes at Falcon.

I’ll give him this, in a deadly greenhouse full of weaponized plants, Plantman does alright against a couple of heroes. However anyone can see it’s just a matter of time until someone gets close enough to take him out.

Also he wouldn’t fair too well against anyone, superhero or regular joe, in a normal setting. Even one with a lot of plants for him to control. “I have complete control of that ornamental holly! Now if you get close…er, can you scoot a bit closer, it can’t really move…yes, as I was saying it will now annoy you with its prickly leaves! Bwah-ha-ha!”

So give it all you got here, Planty! This is probably your swan song.

And to prove my point, Red Wing nabs his plant-control gun and Falcon double-punches him in the face. Nite-nite, Plantman.

With that, it is all over. The anti-toxin is secured, the Plantman and his minions captures, Spidey and Falc bond, and Steve is quickly back on the mend.

I always loved the Marvel Team-Up and Two-in-One titles. They usually provided fun moments of seeing an odd assortment of heroes paired up with Spidey/Thing. I’ll admit to never having heard of either the penciler or the writer of this book before, but I feel they did a decent job of entertaining.

As for villains like Plantman? Clearly he was somewhat of a knock-off of Batman’s Poison Ivy, just in a much less attractive package. He barely ranks as a C-list villain, yet there he is as part of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery. Bet he won’t be the last odd-ball villain the Spider-Man section of the Crapbox throws my way.

Only time will tell…