Saturday, September 09, 2017

On Monsters Unleashed: Prelude

This 264-page collection is billed as a prelude to Marvel's 2016 between-events event Monsters Unleashed, but it's a bit of a retroactive prelude. That is, these are a whole bunch of comics, the majority of them by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and published decades before the first modern Marvel event series...Hell, they predate the Marvel Universe itself, some seeing publication long before 1961's Fantastic Four #1.

These classic monster comics are 13 in number, and come from the pages of Strange Tales, Tales To Astonish and Tales of Suspense. There doesn't seem to be too much in the way of rhyme or reason to them, with the exception of a pair featuring monsters that have been recurring characters in Marvel's superhero line of late--"I Challenged Groot, The Monster from Planet X!" and "Orrgo...The Unconquerable!"--so it's probably safe to assume that these stories were chosen because these 13 monsters will be among those in the pages of Monsters Unleashed. So the first 150 pages are so are devoted to introducing us to Grottu, Monstrom, Gorgilla, Groot, The Abominable Snowman, The Blip, Vandoom, Goom, Googam (Son of Goom), Rommbu, The Green Thing, Moomba, Bruttu and Orrgo.

These 13 short stories all read like mid-century monster movies, with incredibly crazy monster designs (thanks to Kirby) and all the boring parts of such schlocky sci-fi films cut out of them, as there isn't much room for character development or pseudo-science or extraneous exposition or any of that nonsense in such short stories.

After Orrgo's strange tale, the collection jumps to 2013's Fearless Defenders #8, followed by 2015's Marvel Zobmies #1 (that's the Secret Wars tie-in series) and then the first issue of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and the second and third issues of Totally Awesome Hulk.

Why those particular comics? Well, Fearless Defenders by Monsters Unleashed writer Cullenn Bunn and artist Will Sliney features monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone teaming up with the characters of that short-lived series (a sort of answer to DC's Birds of Prey), and Elsa is also the star of that particular Marvel Zombies miniseries. Though the stories aren't entirely complete, I suppose they give one the basics about Elsa: She hunts monsters, she's British, her father was the famous monster-hunter Ulysses Bloodstone (and an asshole) and she's kind of mean.

Devil Dinosaur is another Kirby-created monster, although he came along a decade or so after the others in this book, and Kirby created him without any input from Stan Lee. Rather than publishing Devil Dinosaur #1, however, Marvel chose the first issue of the ongoing series written by Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder and drawn by Natacha Bustos. Makes sense. Not only is that a very good and tragically under-read comic that could only benefit from a trade like this pushing readers towards it, but introduces both the original conception of DD and his current status quo, in which he is living in modern New York City and is aligned with a middle-school super-genius.

Those issues of Totally Awesome Hulk are similarly good, and that is a series that was similarly under-read. That particular Hulk is Amadeus Cho, who literally took the mantle from Bruce Banner in order to save his one-time hero's life--I never figured out how this book fit with Civil War II--and his first story arc was dominated by monster-fighting.

It features Fin Fang Foom, whose first appearance is notably absent from the first chunk of the book, and the new character Lady Hellbender, who is traveling the universe "collecting" monsters like FFF and the two-headed turtle that Cho fights in the first issue of the series and so on.

Given that they chose to include this story instead of an earlier Fin Fang Foom story, like his first one, which would have fit in better with the first section of the book, I have to assume that Lady Hellbender plays a role in Monsters Unleashed, and obviously The Hulk least to some extent.

I guess one would have to first read Monsters Unleashed to be able to judge how well-chosen the stories in Monsters Unleashed: Prelude actually are. So maybe I can back to you on that later...?

But these are all pretty okay; the Defenders story is kind of generic and features at least one panel of downright terrible artwork, and the Marvel Zombies issue is kind of out of left-field, given that it's 1/4th of a tie-in to Marvel's most sprawling event ever, but everything is well worth a read.

Especially those first 150 pages, which we should probably spend some more time more closely reading...


First up, it's Grottu in "Grottu, King of The Insects!" He's a giant ant, who appears a golden yellow on the cover, but is a grayish black within. He's also said to be as big as an elephant, but is clearly much larger. Our hero here is blonde, lantern-jawed, chain-smoking reporter Frank, who receives an urgent telegram from a museum curator friend of his to got to Africa in search of the monster. I never received such telegrams when I was reporter. Perhaps I wasn't working at the right kind of newspaper. Wait, come to think of it, I never received any telegrams when I was reporter!

Grottu was apparently granted his gigantic size and incredible intelligence as a side-effect of testing by "white men from behind what white men call 'iron curtain' country." "Communists, no doubt!" In addition to being big, Grottu serves as a sort of giant super-general, commanding hordes of millions of ants as they raze villages. His unstoppable army of army ants makes its way to a port city, where the plan is to board various ships and then spread out all over the world, conquering it. There could be some subtle metaphor here, but I doubt it! The monster is killed when the white men dump a bunch of sugar on it, and the little ants swarm all over it, apparently crushing him under their weight?

Just six pages and 36 panels; Kirby, Lee and their collaborators didn't screw around!

That's followed by Monstrom in "I Found Monstrom! The Dweller in the Black Swamp!" Aside from the catchy name, Monstrom appears to be your then-typical, run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen swamp monster from the cover. There he's depicted as a humanoid of giant statue, rising out of the water covered in a viscous, dripping mud...hell, he could be made of mud!

Now, I didn't know this until I read TwoMorrows' Swampmen: Muck-Monsters and Their Makers, but apparently the lineage of comic book swamp monsters can be traced pretty directly back to writer Theodore Sturgeon's prose fiction story "It!", published in a 1940 issue of Unknown (The Heap would first appear two years later, and he was the trunk of the comic book swamp monster family tree).
Monstrom is pretty immediately distinguished by all other monsters that rise from the swamps by the bizarre appearance Kirby gave him, revealed on an opening splash page: The unwieldy-looking creature appears to be almost as wide as he is tall when crouching, and has orange, wrinkly skin suggestive of an elephant. Where its face should be is only a single-staring eye, and a crown of horn-like projections adorn its conical head. It also has a tail, and like most of these Kirby kreatures, its size varies depending on the panel; on one page it's only as tall as five or six men high, on the next page it's that tall at the waist, and its foot is bigger than the speeding car it tries to stomp on.

The hero in this story is also a handsome, square-jawed, pipe-smoking blond writer--this time a novelist, rather than a reporter--who has rented a cabin in the titular swamp to work on his latest novel. His It's his son who first meets Monstrom, and the city slickers flee, inadvertently leading the monster into town.

A lucky bolt of lightning strikes a telephone pole, setting it ablaze, and making Monstrom say "ARRGG--" Realizing he's afraid of fire, the townsfolk get torches and chase the monster back into the swamp, and it seems to shrink smaller and smaller the closer it gets to the swamp.
While the hicks whoop it up about having defeated the monster, the story ends with an extremely wordy panel, in which a tiny drawing of the monster resting alongside a very Silver Age-looking rocket ship is sandwiched between two slabs of narration, which reads like so (Please imagine it in Stan Lee's voice):
An alien with enormous intelligence, who has waited patiently for the time when Earthlings might understand him...fort he time when Earthlings would be advanced enough to help him rebuild his damaged spaceship! But that time has not yet come! We are still too ignorant--too barbaric! Perhaps one day it will be otherwise, but not yet...

Not yet...
To which I say, fuck you space man. You're the one who was so terrified of a lightning bolt and a half-dozen tiny Earthlings shouting and bearing torches. If you're so smart that you can build a rocket ship and fly across the stars, how come you act like Boris Karloff's Frankenstein when you see fire? I don't think your enormous intelligence is quite as enormous as Stan Lee seems to think it is.

(You know, I keep saying "Stan Lee," but it's possible Larry Lieber wrote this. Lieber and Lee are both credited as writers for these 13 old-school monster comics. Similarly, while Kirby handled the pencils, the inking was done by either Dick Ayers and Steve Ditko. Marvel just credits them all on the table of contents page, rather than distinguishing who wrote what and who inked what. All we know from sure from the credits Marvel gives us is that Kirby drew everything.)

That's followed by the charmingly named Gorgilla starring in "I Discovered Gorgilla! The Monster of Midnight Mountain!" This seven-pager was apparently dashed off shortly after someone rewatched King Kong. Aside from the gorilla-esque name, Kirby's design certainly doesn't make the monster look all that much like Kong. Humanoid in shape, the monster has a long mane of gray hair and a short beard, a long hairy tail and just four digits on its hands, each of which end with a blunt, square claw.

The title creature is discovered in Borneo. The local head-hunters worship him as a god, and he's kept behind some sort of wall. The explorers traverse a bridge that looks a bit like the tree bridge on Skull Island, and, at a later point, Gorigilla menaces them with a tree in a panel that looks not unlike a still image from Kong. To top it off, the climax comes when Gorgilla is challenged by a Tyrannosaur, which he wrestles to death. The cover also lifts from Kong, as the explorers realize that what at first resembles a huge hole in the ground is actually a huge footprint.
The human hero of this story is yet another handsome, blonde, pipe-smoking guy---this time an archeologist. He believes he's found the final resting place of "The Missing Link," and so he and a band of his fellow archeologists are off to find a creature "to bridge the wide gap between man and ape...a life-form that was half-ape and half-man!" This is, of course, pretty dubious science, but what's actually kind of hilarious is that when they lay eyes on Gorgilla, they become convinced that somehow this dinosaur-sized, tail-bearing, four-fingered, two-toed creature is the missing link between man and ape.
Like, I'm no scientist, but even if we ignore the alien extremities, I'm pretty sure we can rule anything bigger than a house out as a relative of any anthropoid apes, let alone our direct ancestor.

The next monster story introduces Groot, the breakout star of the Kirby/Lee monster stories, the one who made it to the silver screen before even Fin Fang Foom! It is, of course, "I Challenged Groot! The Monster From Planet X!", recently reprinted by Marvel as part of their True Believers line. The human star of the piece is a biologist named Leslie, who apparently isn't as rugged or manly as his wife Alice would like him to be.

In the very first panel, he narrates that they were returning home from a party, "and she was on her usual subject." Her dialogue reads, in part, "Honestly, that George Carter is a wonderful guy! He's so manly--so rugged! If only you more like that, Leslie!"

Sounds like a happy marriage! I wonder if Leslie will get the chance to prove himself the alpha male before this story is over?

The couple see some kind of luminous object land behind the treeline on their drive home, and put it out of their minds, until something weird happens: A pair of trees goes missing from their yard. When Leslie does investigate, he finds "a wooden giant" who is somehow able to draw wooden objects of all kinds to himself, absorb them and thus grow even larger.

Even with Leslie's warning, local law enforcement is powerless to stop Groot, as bullets don't penetrate his wooden hide deep enough to strike any vital organs. He delivers his most famous line--"I am Groot"--but he does so couched in a whole bunch of verbiage:
Earthlings--hear me!! I am Groot, Monarch of Planet X! I come to take an Earth village--your village, back to my planet! We want to study you, to experiment on you!
Groot talks a lot, and as he does so, we see this striking, strange imagery, in which we see the how of Groot's plan to abduct the village via trees.
There's another panel on the following page too, in which the trees become animate, their roots like legs and their branches like arms:
The great thing about these images, about the story in general, isn't just how different this ur-Groot is from the current movie star Groot--dig those branch-like antlers and the log-like ends of his fingers!--but the way in which it reflects the very simple, very basic, very innocent comic book story generation of the "good old days." That is, you just know that Lee or Kirby happened by a tree one day, and since, at this point, they were always thinking of monsters for comics, they basically just cast a tree as the heavy in a monster story and extrapolated from there.

This is basically where every Golden Age superhero of the boom period came from: Artist sees a bird swooping, and bam!, there's Hawkman. Artist sees a bee, and there are a handful of insect-themed heroes, none of whom really stick. In the same way a guy thinking about making new superheroes all the time applies just about anything that crosses his field of vision into a superhero narrative, you can sort of see the sources of inspiration for so many of these stories, in either their casting everyday objects as monsters, or what seem like they must have been inspired by particular movies or news articles or whatever.

The next story seems like it may have been something from an article or maybe a movie. The monster isn't an original creation, but The Abominable Snowman, and he is the title character in "I Found The Abominable Snowman!" The human hero here is another blonde smoker, but he's not a thinker or a professional. Rather he's a rough-looking customer named "Big Carl" Hanson, "a guy who will do anything for a buck!"
When he sees a photo of the legendary beast--strikingly designed with a bizarre beard that starts at the bridge of his nose--that a guy in a bar is bragging about selling, Carl clobbers the guy and takes the photo for himself. His plan isn't to sell the photo, but to capture the Snowman in the photo and sell it for even bigger bucks.

His method of searching is pretty awesome as he basically journeys to the foot of the Himalayas and starts threatening and roughing up people, insisting they tell him where the Abominable Snowman is. Think of Batman or Daredevil knocking heads in Gotham or Hell's Kitchen, trying to strongarm the location of a particular criminal out of the local underworld. Only here it's an amateur cryptozoologist looking for a cryptid.

The story has one of the better, more satisfying of the twist endings in the collection, which I won't spoil (UPDATE: I will note that the Snowman does indeed show up in Monsters Unleashed, and he's perplexingly off-model, being giant in size rather than just slightly larger than your average man. His role, like that of all the old Marvel monsters, is decidedly small, and mostly consists of Deadpool talking to him about his smell in the middle of a battle against the newer monsters).

The next monster has a name that will be familiar to any fan of Marvel's comics, even if they have never read this story: Vandoom. Like Xemnu, The Hulk (who is perhaps surprisingly MIA here, but did share the previously mentioned issue of True Believers with Groot), this is one of those examples of Kirby and Lee semi-plagiarizing themselves, or at least coming back to something that appealed to them previously while working on their later superhero comics. This Vandoom, star of "Vandoom, The Man Who Made a Creature!", also lives in Europe (Transylvania, to be exact), but rather than the metal-plated villain, he is a humble proprietor of a wax museum devoted to monsters (As with Frankenstein, whose monster actually appears in the first panel of this story after its title page, the name of the creator gets transposed onto the monster).

With tourists no longer interested in his wax replicas of the Universal monsters, he and his wife are destitute. And so he embarks on a seemingly mad task to create a monster of his own invention, one that will be the largest wax figure in the world. It is so large that its head sticks out of the top of his building, in fact.

During a dramatic storm, a bolt of lightning strikes the wax monstrosity's head and somehow brings it to life. Kinda like Frankenstein, although here it doesn't even make sense by the laws of theoretical fiction or monster movie science. The villagers take up torches and pitchforks and chase the monster around for a while, as is villagers' wont, until a cool, cruel-looking rocket ship with a scary face sculpted into it (like a space-age Viking ship, I guess) arrives and disgorges some horn-headed Martians, bent on conquering the world, as if their wont. The monster fights them off until they flee, deciding Earth is just too heavily defended, and then, exhausted, it dies.
"Now we know why fate gave life to my monster!" Vandoom declares, after he rebuilds his museum and its new titanic wax star. That's right, God brought his monster to life to save Earth from Martians. That all checks out.

Next we meet one of the more familiar of this era of Marvel monsters, due both to a memorable name--Goom--and another great design by Kirby, this one featuring a spherical-headed, Muppet-mouthed, vestigial-winked monster wearing shorts the same color as his skin. Like Groot, apparently, Goom hails from Planet X, as this story is entitled, "Goom! The Thing From Planet X!"

This story stars Mark, another blond scientist--a polymath who is "a good astronomer and a terrific psychologist"--whose bearded, pipe-smoking peers all mock him for his belief that there are unknown planets in the solar system, saying that his "latest fantastic enough to be in a comic book!" Indeed it is! Why, it's fantastic enough to be in a comic book like, say, 1961's Tales of Suspense #15 by Lee, Lieber, Kirby and Ayers!

After he puts in a whole two days of work at the observatory, Mark discovers a massive planet just beyond Jupiter, and begins beaming radio waves towards it, not unlike the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) initiative, which would have been in an infancy when this comic was published. Mark gets a reply in the form of Goom, he boards a huge space ship with a scary face design not unlike the one the Martians flew into Transylvania a few pages previously, and immediately starts showing off his awesome technology and powers. These include a gun capable of disintegrating a mountain, a suspiciously human-sized glass box able to turn adult human beings into babies and back again (suspicious because Goom said he thought Earth was uninhabited) and, finally, the ability to lift an entire city into the upper atmosphere with just his mind.

Realizing they are hopelessly outmatched, Earth surrenders. Everyone save Mark, who beams Earth's location back to Planet X on the gamble that "any race as advanced as Goom's must be too civilized to be evil." What made him think this? "I knew because of my training as a psychologist!" Okay Mark. Stephen Hawking might disagree, but Mark's gamble paid off because a trio of much better-dressed Planet X-lings appear and arrest Goom.

I guess Earth need never worry about invasion from Planet X again, right?

Wrong! For the very next story stars "Googam, Son of Goom" in "Beware of Googam, Son of Goom!!" The scion of Goom, starring in the collection's very first sequel (and the first nod toward anything approaching "continuity," as Groot's hailing from Planet X is of course not mentioned in the story of Goom), looks a lot like his dad, save he's much smaller, much redder and his mouth is devoid of square, gravestone-shaped tusks, making it a yawning, black hole that gives him an even stranger and more unsettling countenance than his dad.
Mark, who has now taken up smoking like any respectable mid-century man of science in pop culture, recounts the story of Goom and tells us that his son had just returned from military school. Billy, Son of Mark meets the infant Goom, who Googam had apparently stashed in a cave between panels in the previous story, is captured. Googam then holes up in the family's house, keeping them all prisoner while he grows and matures to the point where he can take over the world.

This section of the story is actually something of a psychological thriller, and has an unusual set-up compared to all these other monster stories, as Googam is basically just hiding out and keeping the family prisoner in their own homes, as if he were laying low from the law or something.

Billy is able to dispatch the monster all by himself eventually, with no help from his dad or the ruling class of Planet X.

The next story is called simply "Rommbu!", and it features the monster known as, um, Rommbu. In both the creature's design and plot, this story echoes that of Goom and Orrgo (or I guess it pre-echoes that of Orrgo). Once again the monster is a giant-sized humanoid of red-ish complexion, and he has the blank, staring eyes of Orrgo (though smaller) and the gaping, wide mouth of Goom and Son (though bigger). He also sports a pair of shorts, although these seem to be some rather tight-fitting briefs, with some space-age ribbing around the hips.

Our human protagonist is a career criminal named John, who has been handed a life sentence. The train he's riding to prison, accompanied by police officers, comes to a SCREEECH!-ing halt when a huge flying saucer lands on the tracks in front of it. Out strides the giant Rommbu, telling the random train passengers that his people are on their way from the Fourth Galaxy to conquer Earth, and he's come to accept their surrender. To demonstrate his power, he whips out a huge pistol and fires it on some bystanders, who...shrink. After reading a bunch of these stories where the space monsters don't kill anyone, I'm guessing this is yet another intentional effort on the creators' part to keep the death tolls more-or-less non-existent, with generally only one (1) monster dying per story. It's not as dramatic a fate as Goom's box that turns people into babies though, as he's already a giant. Shrinking puny earthlings to quite a few times more puny just seems kind of redundant.

While Rommbu is conversing with the Earthlings, John sneaks aboard his ship in an effort to escape, and ends up Rommbu's captive. If he can only destroy Rommbu, he'll have saved all of Earth, atoning for his crimes. Can he do it?

Yes. Yes he can.

Next up is The Green Thing in "The Green Thing!" I guess Lee and/or Lieber had just plain given up on titles, at this point? The Green Thing is fairly lazy in terms of monster names, and though he' a monstrous humanoid plant, under Kirby's pencils, he doesn't look a whole lot like any other monstrous humanoid plants you may have read about in other comics.

This comic's hero is once again a scientist with a crazy dream. His is to prove that plants have intelligence, and, to prove it, he wants to develop a serum that can increase plant intelligence. Once he things he has it, he flies to a small island off the cost of Australia, where grows "the highest known specimen of plant life," Ignatius Rex. Unable to find this plant, he just injects the serum into an ordinary weed, which immediately grows, gains intelligence, and begins talking and walking.

It takes a few panels to get used to that last bit.
Once he learns to walk and throw boulders, he figures he's ready to conquer the world, and so he commands our hero to take him to the mainland and use the serum to create an army of plant monsters. Then it fights a shark. The day isn't saved until a specimen of Ignatius Rex is found, gets a dose of serum, and then this smarter, more noble living plant kills The Green Thing, which turned out to be a real dick. Why, one could even say it was a dickweed.

Sadly, when the Ignatius Rex springs to life and goes on the attack, it does not shout, "Ignatius Rex!"

The next monster in the menagerie is named Moomba, and he stars in a story entitled "The Unbelievable Menace of Moomba." I kind of love the cover to the issue he appeared in, Tales To Astonish #23, as it announces "Moomba Is Here!", as if people were awaiting Moomba's arrival, or not sure which comics magazine to purchase in order to read about Moomba. He's another variation on the huge, orange/red humanoid in shorts design Kirby was so enamored with, although Moomba's variation on the theme included short, stubby arms that seemed to hand from its shoulders (at least in the interiors; on the cover he was proportioned a bit more like an ape), and a gigantic face that covered much of his chest.

In Africa, big game hunter Frank is disappointed that people on the other six continents (well, five anyway) aren't interested in animals anymore, but are only interested in African sculpture. I have no idea if there really was a huge demand for such sculpture at the time, but for the sake of reading these 13-pages, let's assume that was indeed the case.
Almost immediately Frank encounters a comically attired witch doctor who is busy trying to cast the evil spirits out of the same sorts of wooden figures Frank is collecting. He of course thinks this is a bunch of poppycock, and goes on his way until he comes face to face with what looks like a huge carving that "must be at least twenty feet tall," although it's clearly no more than two, maybe three times taller than Frank himself (who is not, I should note, 8-10-feet tall).

This is, of course, Moomba, who wastes no time in telling Frank that he is from a planet where "all life is made of wood, even as yours is made of flesh and blood!" His people have infiltrated Earth, posing as African statues, and are simply awaiting Moomba's signal to attack.

That is...well, it's actually kind of awesome.

While his evil plot is akin to that of Grottu and The Green Thing, who sought to lead armies of ants and super-plants respectively, it seems a lot less likely to succeed, as while there may be a lot of wooden statues of African origins all over the world, there can't possibly be enough to overwhelm mankind the way an army of insects or plants might.
Anyway, Moomba and his wooden army kick all sorts of ass, and have conquered the world, until the witch doctor casts a spell on Moomba, turning him into an immobile, unthinking wooden statue...threatening to let the spell take hold unless Moomba agreed to leave the planet and never return. So Moomba, a wooden creature of his word, summons all of his fellow wooden warriors, they jump up into the air, form the shape of a giant rocket ship and then fly away into outer space (!!!!).

Frank has learned a valuable lesson:
I will never again ridicule the practices of a native witch doctor, fore there is just a chance--a slim chance--that it was an unheralded, unknown witch doctor, who saved all of mankind from the thing called--Moomba.
Yeah, sew that onto a throw pillow.

Just two more to go. The penultimate monster is Bruttu, and he appears in "Beware of...Bruttu." (What, no exclamation mark?) In this story, Lee and company make use of the extended page-count to offer a more psychological story than some of the others. Bruttu is actually a comic book monster within the pages of the comic book story. Our hero is a short, skinny scientist named Howard who has a short-temper and won't brook any insult, fighting anyone who makes fun of him...and losing the fight.

This is explained during three panels set on a college campus, and continued into three panels set at the lab where he works as an adult scientist. There are several tall, handsome, "husky" (in Howard's words) guys who are always making plays for the beautiful lab technician, Anne Benson. There's this one great exchange where Howard is in the background, fiddling with some science props and, in the foreground, one of those big, handsome scientists is pouring one test tube into an another, and makes a crack about Howard ("Howard ought to work on vitamin pills! He might discover one that'll help him grow into a man!"). A scientist next to him, of the balding, pipe-smoking variety, responds, "Careful, he's liable to hear you! Then he'll start another fight and you'll have to beat him up again!"

I would just like to pausefor a moment and appreciate the insanity of a science lab stocked with scientists who are all great-looking physical specimens, and where fist fights occasionally break out. Not to stereotype scientists or anything, but they're not exactly the sort of professionals one associates with big, strong, virile, handsome men, nor juvenile, schoolyard insults, nor regular bouts of physical violence. But maybe things were different in the 1960s...? I don't know. I wish I could tell what kind of scientists they were, exactly. The equipment suggests some kind of chemists, but the most important piece of equipment there is "a new type of atomic machine," one so powerful "no one can be sure how it will affect atoms at maximum power."

Meanwhile, after a date with Anne, who Howard is convinced only goes out with him because she feels sorry for him, he regards a magazine featuring a kaiju-sized fuzzy giant in underpants in a comic book. "Bruttu! Good name for a monster as big as that!" (I assume Lee wrote this script, based on the fact that the script itself compliments an element of the writing of the script.)

Howard is still thinking about how cool it would be to be a gigantic, three-fingered, hairy orange giant so no one could push him around when he accidentally turns on the machine, and guess what happens?

That's right, he has been transformed into Bruttu! Because his vocal chords have changed as well, all he can do by way of explaining himself is growl, gurgle and roar, and, not really wanting to squash humans, he begins running around the city, striking shock and fear in all passersby, and being fired upon by police. He runs through a series of monster movie set-pieces--rail car, wax museum, Ferris wheel-having carnival--before he writes a message to Anne in the ground with a stick, and she accidentally reveals to "Bruttu" that she truly loves Howard ("Howard disappeard when you arrived! You were first seen coming out of his laboratory! That's it! You killed Howard! You killed the man I loved!")

It ends happily, with Howard returning to the lab, thinking of his old self while the machine is on, and thus he returns to normal, and he and Anne live happily ever after, probably (He must have learned his lesson too, because he didn't imagine himself as his old self but, like, a foot taller or anything.)

This is another story that seems to prefigure elements of Lee and/or Kirby's later comics work for what would become the Marvel Universe proper, with Howard's school life recalling that of Puny Peter Parker's, and the puny scientist-who-accidentally-turns-into-a-hulking-misunderstood-monster aspect reading like a rough draft for The Incredible Hulk. Hell, Howard even seems to have the same sorts of pants that Dr. Bruce Banner would wear, as when he transforms into Bruttu, they tear at the knees, but otherwise continue to fit him at the waist and thigh!

And finally, it's time to meet Orrgo, also known as "Orrgo...The Unconquerable!."

I have to confess, I kind of love these opening four panels:
Everyday Earth life seems horrible. At least the women, who are doing their household chores, seem to be happy with their lot in life, as the woman singing "Dum...Dee Dee Dum" to herself seems really into polishing that vase. Look at he poor men, though, complete with a foreman yelling at them to go about their mindless task faster. They look like they can't wait for a weird-looking monster from outer space to end it all.

And that transition to the explosion in the fourth panel? Magnificent!

The particulars of the story all seem to be borrowed from earlier stories in this very collection, although the pace, as well as the level, of the weirdness in this one is remarkable. A group of large, weird-looking aliens regard Earth from their home planet, two billion miles away, and they decide to conquer it. They are so powerful, one of them, Orrgo, says it shouldn't take more than one of them to conquer the planet, and so he sets about it.

He has some vague, mental "do anything" powers, which allow him to transport himself to Earth via thought alone--"Faster than sound...faster than fast as imagination itself"--and within panels of appearing in the center ring of a circus, he starts demonstrating those powers and conquering the world. He tells circus-goers that all of the worlds' governments must submit to him, and goes about levitating cars, bringing trees to life like Groot, melting artillery cannons, turning jet planes into bird plane hybrids and their missiles into eggs, even lifting an entire city high into orbit like Goom did.

Eventually he mentally enslaves all of man kind, and then, having conquered the world, takes a nap. At which point he's killed by a gorilla. That's our Orrgo!


Remember when I said I can get back to you later on how well chosen the stories in Monsters Unleashed Prelude were? Well, I've since read Monsters Unleashed, and it is now later.

I think I'm going to go with "poorly." As an excuse for re-publishing a ton of old Kirby/Lee monster comics in a cheaper, more affordable format, it is totally a worthwhile endeavor, but if a reader picked it up for background or context into the Monsters Unleashed miniseries, they are going to be rather disappointed.

Of that portion of the book, I think almost all of the monsters appear, at least in terms of cameos...with the exception of that particular version of Groot, who isn't in the series at all (though he does appear on the most misleading cover of the series). Few of them have what one might call "roles" to play in the story, however, with only a handful of them getting speaking lines, or even getting named in the series. Appearing in the middle section of the six-issue miniseries, they are but one of three groups of giant monsters involved, and basically are there as a nameless mob of Earth monsters siding with the heroes to battle alien invaders (which, as you'll see have found in the Prelude, most of them are as well).

Oddly, a few of the Marvel monsters who get the most panel-time and/or a line of dialogue do not appear in this collection at all, so even having read it first, there were a handful of monsters that were unknown to me.

Elsa Bloodstone does play a sizable role in the series, although I don't know that the two stories featuring her are necessarily the best ones; I would probably have preferred a first appearance, in keeping with the theme of the book, or perhaps an issue of Nextwave: Agents of HATE, as that's where this particular design and take on the character came from (Also, she and her fellow Agents battled Fin Fang Foom and Devil Dinosaur in that series).

The Moon Girl & Devil Dinosaur comic is well-chosen, as Moon Girl is probably the hero who gets the most and most important panel-time in the series, and that issue was her first appearance, if not Devil's (although, as I mentioned, it introduced Devil's original status quo as well as his current one).

Interplanetary monster hunter Lady Hellbender from Totally Awesome Hulk does not appear in the Monsters Unleashed at all, so apparently those 40-pages were included as a Fin Fang Foom story instead of a Hellbender story (She does briefly appear in Monsters Unleashed: Battleground, which collects all the tie-ins to Monsters Unleashed).

That's actually kind of weird, though, as one of the eyebrow-arching elements of Monsters Unleashed is that the heroes all profess confusion regarding the identities and intentions of the Marvel monsters, but Cho had just met/fought Foom. I think they may have been better served by using those 40 pages of space for more Kirby/Lee stories (like the first appearance of Fin Fang Foom), or maybe a few issues of Nextwave or some other Elsa Bloodstone arc.

No comments: