Tag Archives: book reviews

A PESTILENT VAPOR (1903): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Future washington d.c.A PESTILENT VAPOR (1903) – Written by Alice MacGowan, this neglected story introduced a figure who should have become as famous in his way as H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man. 

The tale is set in “the far future” of 1950. The mad scientist Dr Sylvester assassinates the U.S. President for refusing to grant Sylvester the appointment he wanted to an overseas post where he could continue his bizarre experiments.

The not so good doctor is taken into custody and gets even more spiteful satisfaction out of the way the country is rife with rioting and protests. Dr Sylvester wants to further his plans by exploiting the spreading anarchy and disappears from his prison cell.

Sylvester has discovered a way of transforming his body into a gaseous state. When no one was watching him he turned into a vapor and drifted out of the prison, returning to his human form when he had reached safety. Continue reading

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MANTIS 26: KANG WAR TWO

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE  

Avengers 132 Kang War IIAVENGERS Volume 1, Number 132 (February 1975)  Kang War Two

AVENGERS ROSTER: Thor, Iron Man, The Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, The Vision and MANTIS

We rejoin our heroes right where we left off last time around. Kang the Conqueror launched his second attempt to take the Celestial Madonna – Mantis – so that their offspring can provide him with control over all time and space.

Kang double-crossed his newfound ally Immortus, another old foe of the Avengers from years earlier. Using Immortus’ technology Kang then plucked six supervillains out of the time-stream just a nano-second before their violent deaths. He brought them to Immortus’ realm of Limbo, which exists outside of the time-stream.

Those six villains formed Kang’s Legion of the Unliving. Their motive for serving him: if they don’t help him kill the Avengers then Kang will simply transport them back to the moment he plucked them from and they’ll die.

Do what he commands and he’ll let them live, with no repercussions to the time-stream because of the control of time and space that Kang will have thanks to his and Mantis’ offspring.

Mantis story holcaustKang imprisoned Immortus next to his future self Rama Tut II, then hit the Avengers with one of Immortus’ teleportation rays. That ray abducted our heroes and deposited them in scattered, random locations in the endless catacombs and tunnels beneath Immortus’ castle.

Kang announced himself to the Avengers over the broadcast system in typically melodramatic and operatic fashion:  

KANG: Hear me, Avengers! You have defied my will for the final time! Here, lost and alone in the Labyrinth of Limbo, you will die at my direction and at the hands of the most relentless terrors you have ever faced!

So saying, Kang led his Legion of the Unliving into the catacombs to find Mantis and kill the other Avengers.

Kang War IIKANG WAR TWO

Synopsis: Kang, Baron Zemo, the Ghost (should be the Ghost Mariner), Midnight, the Original Android Version of the Human Torch and Wonder Man march swiftly through the dark maze of stone tunnels and corridors. 

In the rear, the final member of the Legion of the Unliving moves more sluggishly and falls behind. Continue reading

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BEYOND THE ETHER (1898): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

MARSBEYOND THE ETHER (1898) – Written by W. Cairns Johnston. This little honey is so jam-packed with enjoyable weirdness that it’s sort of like “If Ed Wood wrote Steam-Punk.”

Two friends from Harvard reunite on a camping and mountain-climbing trip. In Maine they discover a mysterious new gas which erupts from the ground. The pair study the gas and decide to use its lighter than air properties to visit other planets in our solar system.

In a cosmic-level coincidence our heroes later stumble upon a previously unknown plant here on Earth. The plant can be used to induce suspended animation for space travel and to heal grievous injuries. The incredibly lucky explorers leave the Earth on board their balloon propelled by their new gas.

At 30,000 feet they use their newly-discovered plant to put themselves into suspended animation for their trip to Mars. More than three years later they wake up as they enter the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Clumsily, our space pioneers fall out of their balloon’s basket and land in the nest of a gigantic Martian eagle. Continue reading

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MANTIS 24: THE SWORDSMAN’S FUNERAL AND THE MYSTERIES OF MANTIS’ PAST

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE  

Avengers 130 Titanic ThreeAVENGERS Volume 1, Number 130 (December 1974)  The Reality Problem 

AVENGERS ROSTER: Thor (Donald Blake, MD), Iron Man (Tony Stark), The Scarlet Witch (Wanda Frank), Hawkeye (Clint Barton), The Vision (not applicable) and MANTIS (Mantis Brandt).

The Swordsman is dead. So is Moe Greene … Barzini … Tattaglia … All the heads of the Five Families. Today I settle all family business, Carlo, so don’t tell me you’re innocent. It insults my intelli- OH, sorry. I started channeling Michael Corleone there.  

In any event the Swordsman (Jacques Duquesne) IS dead, to begin with. As dead as a doornail. SORRY! I promise that’s the last time I’ll do that! The Swordsman was killed by Kang the Conqueror last time around, giving his life to save his beloved Mantis.

swordsman-funeral.jpgMantis, who was proven to be the mysterious Celestial Madonna that Kang is after, realized how much she really loved the Swordsman, despite her recent callousness toward him while she tried to romance the Vision away from the Scarlet Witch. She deeply regretted her actions, pleading with her dying lover to forgive her and to chalk it all up to her youthful pride. 

Two or three days have gone by since the Swordsman’s death in Peking as the Avengers battled Kang. Our heroes have been mourning the loss of their comrade while regrouping and trying to comprehend the universe-threatening situation they have found themselves in.

And there’s a lot to take in:

*** It’s the first time an Avenger has ever been killed in battle.

*** The Madonna Star continues to shine brightly over Avengers Mansion. Crowds remain thronged around the mansion for blocks because of this strange phenomenon which has spawned rumors that the End of the World is near.

*** The shocking death of an Avenger has added to the grim environment, magnifying global fears of imminent doom. The international tension caused by Kang’s attacks in Egypt, at the U.N. and in China doesn’t help any, either.

*** Kang is still at large and still determined to have the Celestial Madonna.

*** Exactly WHAT the Celestial Madonna IS and how she affects all time and space is still not known.

Mantis in action*** Exactly WHY Moon Dragon and the Scarlet Witch were having parallel experiences to Mantis’ own is still not known, either, but those parallel experiences added to the mystery of which one of them was really the Celestial Madonna.

*** The Vision and his teammates still cannot determine the cause of his recurring panic attacks/ deja vu traumas, more of which occurred while fighting Kang.

*** There is some speculation that the android Vision may be experiencing traumatic memories related to life experiences of the dead supervillain Wonder Man (Simon Williams), since HIS mental patterns were used for the Vision’s artificial intelligence. That was done back when Ultron-5 used them while creating the Vision as a weapon against the Avengers.   Continue reading

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MANTIS 23: KANG, THE CELESTIAL MADONNA AND THE DEATH OF AN AVENGER

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE  

Giant Size Avengers 2GIANT-SIZE AVENGERS Number 2 (November 1974)  A Blast From The Past

Call me crazy, but since this story includes that rarest of things: a superhero death that is final I would have gone with the title Death of an Avenger instead of a cliché like A Blast From The Past. 

Anyway … THINGS GET “TIMEY-WIMEY” FROM THIS POINT ON AS THE CELESTIAL MADONNA SAGA CONTINUES!

A BLAST FROM THE PAST

Synopsis: Nighttime in New York. The former Avenger Hawkeye, who has also quit the Defenders since the last time we dealt with him, opens up this installment by capturing a gang of jewel thieves.

When he turns them over to the police those cops tell Hawkeye (who probably slept the day away after a night of partying) about the day’s big news: Kang the Conqueror is back and he kidnapped the Avengers that morning. Kang boasted of his plans to wage war against the entire planet while waiting for something called “the Celestial Madonna” to reveal herself.

Mantis as the MadonnaHawkeye rushes off to Avengers Mansion where – even from several blocks away – he can see the incredibly bright artificial satellite called the Madonna Star still blazing away. Anxious crowds still surround the area, drawn by fears that the star means the end of the world and by rumors of some kind of “Madonna.”   

Inside the mansion Hawkeye finds the Swordsman, the butler Jarvis and Pharaoh Rama Tut – Kang’s other self. (Explanation below.) The three bring Hawkeye up to date on everything from our last installment, including the increasingly tense international situation after the slaughter of Egyptian troops at the hands of Kang’s creation. Continue reading

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THE INCUBATED GIRL (1896): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Incubated GirlTHE INCUBATED GIRL (1896) – Written by F.T. Jane, as in THE Jane who originated the Jane’s Guides. 

It would be overly glib to describe this novel as just a sci-fi version of Alraune because it definitely goes in some unexpected directions. Plus Alraune itself borrowed heavily from Homunculus, Mandrake and Mandragore folklore. There’s a touch of The Great God Pan as well. 

The Incubated Girl begins with British Egyptologist Blackburn Zadara discovering an ancient coffin of a Priest of Isis. There is no corpse inside but rather a manuscript and assorted chemical concoctions. Zadara returns to England with the discovery and translates the manuscript – it is a guide to creating human life by using the chemical substances that were buried with the manuscript.

Blackburn closely follows the instructions and months later he invites his friend Meredyth Wilson Sr over to witness the initial results of the experiment. Wilson watches as Zadara opens a large egg-shaped pod from which he removes a little baby girl.  

Blackburn Zadara names the child Stella and tells Meredyth that according to the Egyptian manuscript Stella will be supernaturally healthy and will never experience death as long as she never drinks human milk nor eats any meat.

Over the years as Stella grows, Zadara tries to create additional humanoids but those efforts always fail. The Egyptologist has been using specifically deaf-mute servants to attend to Stella to limit involved interaction with other humans.

By her 18th year Stella is beautiful and highly intelligent but is as selfish as a newborn and enjoys enacting revenge against anyone who gets on her bad side. Blackburn takes the incubated girl to London with him, but she abandons him there, since she finds him ugly and unpleasant. Continue reading

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MANTIS 21: NECRODAMUS ATTACKS

FOR PART 1 OF BALLADEER’S BLOG’S EXAMINATION OF MARVEL’S SUPERHEROINE MANTIS CLICK HERE 

Avengers 128 bewitched, botheredAVENGERS Volume 1, Number 128 (October 1974)  Bewitched, Bothered … and Dead

I’m sure Marvel Comics gave special thanks to Quinn Martin for providing the title to this particular story. Yes, it’s a play on the usual “bewitched, bothered and bewildered.”  

ANYWAY, WE ARE IN THE HOME STRETCH OF THE CELESTIAL MADONNA SAGA! MISS A CHAPTER FROM NOW TO THE END AND YOU’LL BE CONFUSED.

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED … AND DEAD

Synopsis: Nighttime on the rooftop of Avengers Mansion. The Avengers and Fantastic Four have just returned from the wedding of the former Avenger Quicksilver and the Inhuman woman named Crystal. The Avengers traveled in their Quin-Jet and the Fantastic Four – oddly enough – in their roofless Fantasticar.

Mantis xxxxThe two teams are hanging out chit-chatting before the FF will head home to the Baxter Building. As Midnight arrives a supernatural lightning storm strikes, threatening the lives of members from both teams with its repeated and tightly placed lightning bolts. Continue reading

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