Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Paneled Goods: Sunday w/ Thor, Howling Commandos and Captain America

Sunday morning started off with a short stack of comics procured from Long Beach Comic Con.  Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos issue 98 from May of 1972 caught my eye as the cover touted a comic book version of "men on a mission" flick The Dirty Dozen.  Costing a cool .20 cents 40 years ago, I paid a not bad $1.00 for the well read copy.  Co-creator of Ghost Rider Gary Friedrich handled writing duties while 10 year series regular Dick Ayers lays down his fantastic pencils.  After a previous mission lands Sgt. Nick Fury in the hospital, second in command Timothy Aloysius "Dum Dum" Dugan is put in charge of whipping a group of military rejects and prisoners into shape for a top secret commando mission.  With the help of regular Howling Commandos Dino Manelli, the handsome Hollywood actor and London's ascot and beret wearing Percival Pinkerton, the trio have two weeks to whip their motley crew into some semblance of soldiers.  With names like Hoss Cosgrove, Ace Hamilton, Hillbilly Wagner, Bullseye Miller, Snakeye Simpson and Howard Shigeta, all ethnicities are covered with backgrounds in professional wrestling, martial arts, country-western singing, sharp shooting and charges like manslaughter, drug running, intoxication, stealing and assaulting an officer among them.

Since it's a one issue adventure, we get a flashback to the operation where Fury is injured, Dugan's lack of confidence taking command, his Commando's psyching him up, training the rotten eggs and the final mission of capturing a German detachment for interrogation in just 21 pages.  Pick up any modern comic and see if half that much happens...a quick and entertaining read, I'm surprised they were able to pack so many characters and action into so little space.  But that's the beauty of old school comics, it's just go go go.  Contained in this puppy were several ads about working out, one featuring Mr. Olympia himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger!  Back in the 70's The Oak was making a living selling mail order workout materials before transitioning to films.

Captain America # 259 hails from July of 1981 with pencils by one of my favorite artists of all time, Mike Zeck and written by David Michelinie.  Costing .50 cents 30 years ago, again, I picked up this issue for a buck.  The cover of Cap fighting Doc Ock was just too good to pass up.  My collection from this era is pretty complete but I don't recall reading this issue.  Looking super yoked, Steve Rogers can't sleep one night and decides to get in some breakfast eggs before heading out to deliver some drawings as a commercial artist and a work out at Avengers Mansion.  Feeling like he's being tailed, Cap changes into a sweet black turtleneck and blue leisure-ish suit.  After rapping with Jarvis at Avengers HQ, getting swole and showering, Cap is given a letter from a soldier he met in World War II, Ray Coulson, a motorcycle riding courier.  Now an older man, Coulson needs Caps help as his son John has flown the coop and joined a motorcycle gang.  Turns out things weren't so good at home after Mrs. Coulson passed away.  Cap tracks son John down not to take him back but simply deliver an apology on behalf of his father who was trying his best.  Too bad The Huns are a bunch of punks with a Nazi flag hanging in their hideout and look to test Cap to a show of strength before letting him speak to John.  It's all interrupted when Spider-Man villain Doc Ock shows up, wanting to nab Cap's shield to study it's composition and strengthen his mechanical arms.  Of course nobody messes with Cap's shield so he goes about a whuppin' Doc's ass and winning the respeck of the violent biker gang.  John decides to come home to patch things up with pop and as a thank you, gives Cap a custom made motorcycle as a thank you.  This leads to many an adventure on the road in later issues where Cap travels the badlands in a souped up van that can launch out his bike.  In this issue we get an awesome advertisement for Hostess Chocolate Cupcakes where Spider-Man uses the sweet treats to trap a robber because nobody can resist Hostess Cupcakes and milk! 

The mother lode would be contained in the first volume of Walter Simonson's run as writer/artist on Thor.  Starting with #337 from 1983, these newly collected and cleaned up issues are phenomenal.  The cover touting a showdown between Thor and alien Beta Ray Bill brings you in right away.  Basically, Thor is living on earth to learn humility and protect the realm.  When he's not the hulking blonde god of Thunder, he's walking around as alter ego Donald Blake.  With the tap of his walking stick, Blake can transform into Thor.  Head of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury shows up in his flying car to ask Thor to check out something other worldly and we're off and running.  Thor inspects a seemingly empty space vessel and awakens Beta Ray Bill, a monstrous, horse faced, orange skinned alien.  The two duke it out, ending with Bill being able to heft Thor's magical hammer Mjolnir, which can only be done by a handful of peeps like dad Odin or pure of heart Captain America.  Ruler of Valhalla Odin calls Bill and Thor back to the astral kingdom then pits them against each other in a duel to the death inside a volcano to determine who shall be worthy of carrying on the mantle of the royal Asgardian warrior. 

Man, this was just too good.  Simonson's art is crisp, detailed and exciting.  The colorization is vibrant and looks brand new.  We get sorrow, strength and determination from Beta Ray Bill's sad origins of being the last of his planet's kind, selected through trial and combat to be their savior and being subjected to numerous physical and psychological experiments.  Odin is truly the O.G. here as his power and reach seem limitless, decreeing this and that, making deals for his son and Bill.  We get Thor's supporting cast of mischievous brother Loki playing tricks on Thor's lusting partner in combat, Sif, who gets to kick all kinds of ass to prove her mettle and keep boredom at bay.  Beta Ray Bill looks like some kind of monster but ends up being an honorable creature saddened by the loss of everyone he knew.  Proving again that sometimes, the beast can be the beauty...or Beta Ray Thor!

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