Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Defeat of the Secret Empire

Starting with Hydra in 1965, by 1966 Marvel Comics was all-in with villainous secret agencies. Combined with the interwoven plots of the time, things could get a little confusing. Here is the tale of the defeat of the Secret Empire. Note: in the 60s, Marvel continued titles from old monster comics and split them between characters. Tales to Astonish at this time was Submariner and Hulk, Strange Tales was Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD and Doctor Strange, Tales of Suspense was Iron Man and Captain America.


Tales to Astonish 81

Meet the Secret Emipe!

The international conspiracy hires Boomerang for the mission, who starts off as a cool, James Bond type

I always thought Boomerang was underrated as a villain. Basically a more reliable Bullseye with better gear. Boomerang kidnaps Betsy Ross to exchange for the plans of the Orion Missile.


Tales to Astonish 82

Someone double crosses Number Five, Number Nine being the suspect

Hulk happens to jump past Boomerang and Betty, they fight, Boomerang throws Betty at him to get away. This is the closest Hulk comes to having intentionality.


Tales to Astonish 83: 

Submariner: After fighting Krang, Namor get amnesia again and falls into the water right in front of Number One of the Secret Empire.

Hulk: Boomerang goes back to the Secret Empire after Hulk rescues Betty. He promises to make up for his failure by capturing the Orion missile itself. We see the beginning of his raid before cutting back to Hulk, who does nothing this issue except interact with Betty and fight with the military.

Number Two of the Secret Empire is accused of treason and throws a stun grenade at the six others, declaring his intention of taking on Number One.

We end with Hulk bouncing away without knowing what happened to Boomerang's mission.


Tales to Astonish 84

Submariner: The Secret Empire is described as destroyed, all save Number One. Not sure how destroyed it really is, seeing as it's leader and entire network is still intact. Number One is vengeful, but presumably at the Hulk, rather than at Number 2?  At this point we don't know what happened to Boomerang's mission.

Number One controls Submariner and has him wander around New York looking for the Hulk (we have to wait to find out why Ol' Green Skin is in town). Namor steals some clothes, watches a newsreel about the Hulk, flies off, gets zapped by Krang again and regains his memory and self-control.

Hulk: Hulk goes to the military base looking for Betty and finds it deserted. He seeks the Avengers for help, which is a good enough reason to get him New York as any.

Always environmentally conscious, Marvel recycles the story from the first half of the issue - Hulk steals some clothes and sneaks into the same theater to see the same newsreel, sitting down as Namor flies off. The newsreel wraps up the Boomerang story, with Talbot out-bluffing Boomerang. I wonder if the art was drawn for a more linear story and then re-edited for this recap - the narration even tries (in vain) to justify the camera angles.

Not much happening on either side of the issue, and what was there was repeated almost verbatim.

Strange Tales 149

We become aware that AIM and the Secret Empire are both branches of Them.

Only it turns out to be Gabe Jones, Agent of SHIELD


Tales to Astonish 85

Submariner: Number One tries to regain control of Namor to attack the Hulk.

Hulk hasn't had a whole lot to do with any of this, just had Betty thrown at him by Boomerang, figured he'd want revenge on Number Two or SHIELD, depending on how much he's figured out. But looks like he's fixated on the Hulk as some kind of Breaking Bad deal.

Number One has a backup plan, to send sound waves to Namor's ear to control him. Namor fights a rollercoaster, gets rid of the disc, and his story ends. Meanwhile, Hulk seems drawn to Number One's position. #1 blows up his apartment, but gets killed in the blast while Hulk survives.

And that's the end of the Secret Empire...for now

I figured the subsequent Hulk story would explain why he was climbing the building like King Kong, but nope, he moves on to another story. Hulk and Namor don't even run into each other, much less fight.

This just covers the Secret Empire elements - the story intertwines with Submariner versus Krang and Iron Man, SHIELD vs AIM and Hydra, which in turn intersect with Iron Man vs Titanium Man and Cap vs Red Skull. Tale of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and Strange Tales (aside from Doctor Strange) were all woven together in 1966.

A harbinger for things to come for Marvel crossovers, the story itself is not so seamlessly plotted. A casual reading implies that the Hulk destroyed the Secret Empire, but at best he foiled one of Boomerang's plots. It reads like there was supposed to be Boomerang/Hulk showdown, but they cut that short to get Hulk in New York to fight Subby, and then that didn't happen. So how is the Secret Empire destroyed? Readers want to know:

It ultimately gets destroyed when Number One blows himself up, but even after 3 through 9 get defeated, we've got 1 and 2, plus their international network and vast resources. Tales to Astonish implies the Hulk destroyed it, but if you read Strange Tales you'd know Howling Commando Gabriel Jones took them down.  But how?

I had the same question Doug did until the obvious hit me - Gabe was undercover as Number Two! Had to read his megalomaniac speech to himself again about taking over the Secret Empire and it was consistent with a SHIELD agent destroying them from within. Marvel was neither shy nor subtle, so I'm assuming it was an oversight that they didn't spell it out more clearly in alliterative editor's notes. Also strange that they completely dodged the question in the fan mail - Marvel tended to explain away their plot holes or give sarcastic answers. I checked the letters' page for the next year and no no-prize was awarded.

Even once you put the pieces together, not much actually happened. Boomerang and the Secret Empire were defeated, almost off page, by Glenn Talbot and Gabriel Jones respectively, while Hulk and Namor mainly wander around avoiding cops and the military, but then again that's Hulkie's jam.

Read (most) of the full story in Incredible Hulk Masterworks Vol. 3 from Amazon

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Series Showdown: Spaceways vs Hook

Both books had hermaphroditic aliens with accompanying discussion on pronouns, with Hook even creating new ones. Hook was fun, while Spaceways was mostly filler and even the author lost interest. Spaceways is discorporated into individual atoms and scattered to the winds.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Amazons (1984)

Amazons (1984)
ABC 1/29/84

A young doctor is framed for malpractice in the death of a congressman and uncovers (a little too quickly) a conspiracy by a cult of Amazons to increase their political power. Slow moving and dull, even by TV movie standards. With Madeline Stowe and Peter Scolari, who deserved a better career despite all the juggling.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Hook 2: The Boosted Man by Tully Zetford

Hook 2
The Boosted Man 
by Tully Zetford (Kenneth Bulmer)
1974 New English Library

Ryder Hook takes a shuttle down to a planet, only to find the inhabitants attacked by a fungus that makes their eyes droop out of their sockets. The shuttle turns around, only to be refused landing by the mothership. Hook crash lands on a supposedly uninhabited planet to find a thriving industrial planet, rich in culture. Hook and his co-passengers find themselves working their days at cushy, well-paying jobs directing robots and spending their nights in fancy restaurants and going to the opera.

This is, of course, all an illusion. Slaves toil in radioactive factories, lulled into complacency by hypnotic generators. Hook snaps out of it due to his connection to the boosted men. Hook is a cyborg, but only had part of the procedure completed. He's capable of speeds so fast that time stops still and his clothes catch on fire, but his partial powers only kick in if he's in proximity to another, more powerful boosted man.

This leads to some interesting story devices. Hook doesn't know where the boosted men are or where they are, and if he dispatches them too quickly or moves too far away he'll lose his power and even be overwhelmed by the illusion. Hook has to figure out a way off the planet, rescuing a couple allies he's met, while being chased by security forces and hiding from the invincible boosted men.

This one was less violent and more light-hearted than the first installment, with Hook spending much of his time running around in hyper-speed naked bonking guards on the head. Great fun, and can only complain that it didn't get more mileage out of it's clever plot devices.

Paperback from Amazon

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Heavies: Vincent Beck on the Monkees

 Took me forever to figure out where I recognized him. "Dropo, you're the laziest man on Mars."

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Crow: Temple of Night by S.P. Somtow

The Crow: Temple of Night
by S.P. Somtow 
1999 Harper

Thai-American journalist Stephen Lelliott works on a story about the Thai sex industry, focusing on a young prostitute Dao and her two brothers. Dao is killed by budding serial killer, Embassy nebbish Dirk Temple, followed soon afterwards by Stephen, who rises with the power of the Crow to flip around and get vengeance.

The first half is very slow and hampered by a glaring plot point. Dao's virginity is up for auction, and Stephen gets some cash from his producers to win the auction, with the view of following her from Thailand to her new life in America. But he's not buying out her contract, a fact which everyone seems to be aware. If the plan was to sneak her away from her pimp, he didn't need to pay for her virginity. As it is, he pays the money for nothing while they both act as if the act would free her. Things like this wouldn't bother me when we're dealing with crows bringing people back to life, but this was the only thing going on for the first half of the novel.

Also distracting was Stephen's death, dished out by a child gang shooting him with super soakers loaded with acid so strong it melted him down to the bone and burned a hole through the floor. Things finally start becoming horrific, in the 90s serial killer style of little actual violence, just the aftermath of it in the way of gruesomely displayed bodies. Eyeballs scooped out with spoons, children shoved back in the womb, crucifixions, intestines lining the walls like plumbing, the works.

Stephen comes back as a Crow and takes vengeance on Dirk while protecting his grandmother and Dao's surviving brother from limo chamfered AK-47 wielding goons. This leads to underground sex shows of the social and political elite, who are ripped to shreds by giant murders of crows. Goes so over the top it ends with kaiju size manifestations of cosmic figures fighting over the city.

I'm finally getting into the headspace for the Crow once I figured out how to balance the self-seriousness and the silliness. This one had too little Crow and too much milling around, but it pulled it off by the end. I was expecting Somtow to be more poetic and/or pretentious, but this came out like fairly standard 90s fair.

Paperback from Amazon

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Spaceways 2: Corundum's Woman by John Cleve

Spaceways 2
Corundum's Woman
by John Cleve (Andrew J. Offutt)
1982 Playboy

"I've got your slicer trapped up my stash, jacko!"

Janja continues her space adventures, this time with Captain Corundum, and seeking revenge on her former slaver Captain Jonuta. This is as close as a plot as you're going to get.

We get a lengthy scene of Jonuta haggling for slaves before escaping space cops in orbit, to be followed by Corundum haggling for mining equipment before escaping space cops in orbit. Janja and Corundum go drinking, Jonuta gets his bank accounts frozen, and Janja ends up in the ship of another pirate, Hellfire. I guess there's going to be a running device of Janja ending up with a different crew at the end of each installment.

And then there's the sex. More sex, and nastier, than the first, and Offutt finally makes use of the Jarps, an alien race of sex crazed hermaphrodites, but he gets tired of it after the first couple sex scenes. We end up in a situation where the minimal story just gets us to the sex scenes, and he skips over those to get back to the story, leaving us with not much else.

Paperback from Amazon