Wednesday, June 5, 2013


If Wishes Were Horses
Written by Tony Isabella and Bob Ingersoll

Summary:  The Ringmaster reflects on his childhood, recalling the incident that prevented him from doing a horse act in the circus.  Later, he discovered his father’s diary, and to his horror, learned of his past as a Nazi.  He never forgave his father.  Hoping to restore the magic of the circus, he dedicated himself to hypnotism.  After inheriting the failing circus from his parents, Ringmaster eventually succumbed to using his father’s Nullatron device to brainwash his creditors.  The circus soon evolved into a criminal front.  In the present, Ringmaster discovers their audience tonight consists of a children’s cancer charity.  He orders his troupe to perform a genuine show, allowing the circus to remain pure for the children.

Continuity Notes:  The original Golden Age Ringmaster was Fritz Tiboldt.  The Nullatron  is the device on his hat that hypnotizes people.  His son, the current Ringmaster, is Maynard Tiboldt.  Looking online, Fritz and his wife were murdered by Nazis in the comic continuity, while they die of natural causes in this story.

Review:  Surely no anthology of Marvel Comics supervillains would be complete without twenty pages of prose focused on the Ringmaster.  While this might seem like an obvious candidate to skip over, there’s a lot of good material here.  Isabella and Ingersoll flesh out Ringmaster in a credible way without making him unrecognizable, and the concept of duty “forcing” both Tiboldts to cross lines they swore they never would is executed well.  After the story reaches the point that Maynard Tiboldt is clearly a villain and actually getting quite good at avoiding the authorities, it’s easy to wonder why there are three pages left.  Bringing in the children at the very end and giving Maynard a respectable justification for giving up crime for just one night is a poignant way to end the story, tying everything back to the opening without overloading on schmaltz. 

Doom (Squared)
Written by Joey Cavalieri

Summary:  An escape artist named Theo invades Latveria’s borders.  He sends a subtle message to its citizens, encouraging them to break away from Dr. Doom.  Doom allows Theo entry into his castle after Theo solves a series of mysteries.  Doom discovers that Theo’s DNA structure has been changed to match his own.  When Theo falls for Doom’s final trick, he’s killed.  Doom sends Theo’s ashes to his uncle Phoebus, the ruler of nearby Sylvania.  When Phoebus throws the urn down in anger, the same virus that killed Theo is released in the castle.

Continuity Notes:  I’ve never heard of the fictitious Marvel country of Sylvania before.  (It's apparently a reference to the movie Duck Soup.)  What other countries that share names with electronics brands exist in the MU?  The Republic of Panasonic?  The liberated islands of Magnavox?

Review:  So, Doom’ story is half as long as Ringmaster’s.  That makes sense.  Actually, I’m not complaining.  Brevity never hurt anybody, and Cavalieri is able to tell the story he needs to tell in only a handful of pages.  The narrative opens with Doom playing a game (described as the Latverian equivalent of “Battleship”) against a Doombot that’s had its intellect increased a hundred fold.  When Doom finally defeats it, he questions if he’ll ever find an equal.  Abruptly, the scene shifts to Theo’s story, and while it’s obvious that Theo is being played as an intellectual rival to Doom, we don’t understand the significance until Cavalieri reveals Theo as a sort of biological Doombot.  It’s a simple story that reasserts the idea that no one is Doom’s equal.  Not a robot with an enhanced brain.  Not a younger model with designer DNA.  Even a rival for his intellect couldn’t match his sheer ruthlessness.  Cavalieri gets the point across effectively, allowing the anthology to quickly move on to…

Child’s Play
Written by Robert L. Washington III

Summary:  After Ghost Rider stops one of Mephisto’s schemes, Mephisto turns his focus on a child named James Carruthers.  Mephisto tricks James into believing that Ghost Rider is a villain, offering to grant him superpowers, and to cure his terminally ill brother, if he agrees to a bargain.  James is given ice powers, which he uses against Ghost Rider.  When Ghost Rider stops their fight to help a civilian, James realizes he’s no villain.  Mephisto arrives enraged, demanding James honor their deal.  Ghost Rider voluntarily transforms back into a human, technically fulfilling James’ agreement.  Mephisto revokes James’ powers, but does heal James’ brother.

Review:  The only characters in the Marvel Universe dumb enough to make a deal with Mephisto should be children.  Period.  This is a fairly generic story, although Washington has chosen an appropriate hero to be targeted by Mephisto (one that a child could easily believe is a villain), and the scenes that flesh out James work pretty well.  The sudden narrative shift from third-person narration to James’ first-hand account, right down to the ebonics, could annoy some readers, but James is kind of likeable by the end.  I mean, his brother’s sick and the bigger kids pick on him all the time.  Leave him alone, okay?


Adam Farrar said...

Why use Sylvania when Symkaria is right there? Maybe there was some confusion at some point in editorial?

The oddest thing about doing a Ringmaster story isn't just that he's a minor villain, he's a minor villain that wasn't being used. His only appearance in a 1996 comic wouldn't come until Steve Gerber's Spider-Man Team-Up #5 (cover dated December) a part of the crossover story with The Savage Dragon/Destroyer Duck #1. He was only in one issue each year for 1994 and 1995. Though he would appear in three entire issues in 1997. But it sounds like the story was actually good which isn't surprising considering the talent but it's still an odd choice.

Anonymous said...

I don't think they'd be able to use Symkaria for that sort of plot, due to continuity issues with the comics.

I'm sure the name Sylvania was meant to make it sound like a nation which would be located near to Transylvania, which in the Marvel Universe still exists as a principality and borders Latveria.

The Marvel Universe's "Eastern Europe" must be gigantic, considering the amount of nations.

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