Avengers by Tom Palmer

Comic book artist Tom Palmer passed away at the age of 81 on August 18th.

Palmer started in comic books in 1968 at Marvel Comics, at the tail end of what fans generally refer to as the Silver Age. Although he initially worked as a penciler, Palmer soon transitioned into inking. He quickly established himself as one of the great inkers in the industry. In addition to his work as an inker / embellisher, Palmer was a colorist & painter. Palmer had runs on X-Men inking Neal Adams, Doctor Strange and Tomb of Dracula inking Gene Colan, Star Wars inking Walter Simonson and Ron Frenz, X-Men: The Hidden Years inking John Byrne, and Incredible Hulk inking John Romita Jr and Lee Weeks.

However, the title which I most personally associate Palmer with is Avengers. He initially inked & colored several issues in the early 1970s, first over John Buscema and then Neal Adams. Palmer returned to Avengers with issue #255 in 1985, and he remained on the book thru to issue #402 in 1996, doing inks / finishes for nearly every issue during that 12 year period. Just as Joe Sinnott had previously played a key role in defining the look of Fantastic Four for over a decade and a half via his strong, characteristic inking, so too did Palmer do the same for Avengers.

Here are some highlights from Palmer’s work on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:

Palmer really hit the ground running on Avengers #255 (May 1985). In addition to once again doing a great job inking John Buscema, who also returned to the series with this issue, Palmer produced a stunning painted cover that spotlighted the then-current Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau.

Another striking Avengers cover by Palmer is issue #273. The comics released by Marvel with a November 1985 cover-date marked the 25th anniversary of the debut of the Fantastic Four, and each cover had a portrait of its main character, or for the team books, one of the prominent members, surrounded by border artwork by John Romita. Avengers #273 had a portrait of the Black Knight by Palmer, who rendered the character in rich textures.

More often than not Buscema was doing loose pencil breakdowns on Avengers during the second half of the 1980s. It was Palmer’s job to produce the finished artwork, a task he did with incredible skill, rendering some very stylish, detailed pages.

This pages is from Avengers #277, the final chapter of the now-classic “Under Siege” storyline written by Roger Stern, which saw Baron Zemo form a new Masters of Evil to try to destroy the Avengers. Buscema & Palmer did great work on the final battle between Captain America and Zemo.

Buscema left Avengers with issue #300. Following a short stint by Rich Buckler, the new penciler on the series was Paul Ryan, with Palmer remaining on inks.

This amazing poster featuring most of the Avengers members up to that point in time was drawn by Ryan & Palmer. It was released in 1989, and was probably done by them around the same time as when they were working on Avengers #305 (July 1989) which contained a very similar scene.

Larry Hama had a short, underrated stint writing Avengers in the early 1990s, during which he shook up the team’s line-up and introduced some offbeat villains. Chief among these was the strange other-dimensional entities the Tetrarchs of Entropy. Ryan & Palmer certainly did an excellent job depicting those bizarre entities, as seen in issue #329 (February 1991).

Bob Harras became writer on Avengers with issue #334, and the next issue he was joined by penciler Steve Epting. Palmer remained on as inker, and for the next several years they were the creative team on the title, bringing some much-welcome stability to the book.

Palmer once again also began coloring Avengers with issue #343. He would hold the dual roles of inker and colorist on the series for the next three years. Here’s the splash page to Avengers #345 (March 1992), part of the “Operation: Galactic Storm” crossover, featuring Palmer’s inks & colors over Epting’s pencils. Left to right we have Quasar, the Eric Masterson version of Thor, the Vision and Sersi of the Eternals.

Palmer’s coloring was also on display on several Avengers covers such as this one, issue #375 (June 1994), the finale to Harras’ long-running Gatherers storyline. This great wrap-around cover, penciled by Epting and inked by Palmer, is definitely enhanced by Palmer’s vibrant coloring. I always felt Epting & Palmer did a fine job rendering the Black Knight and Sersi on Avengers, and that’s certainly on display here.

This is definitely one of my favorite Avengers covers from the 1990s. Click on the image to see the cover in all its full-sized glory!

Mike Deodato began penciling Avengers with issue #380 (November 1994). It’s interesting to see the very slick work of Deodato embellished by palmer’s highly textured inking, but I think it worked, really making the art stand out from the various other jobs the very popular Deodato was doing at that time. Palmer also does the coloring. The two of them definitely did good work on this dynamic double page spread featuring Quicksilver and Crystal.

Avengers #384 (March 1995) is another rare example of Palmer’s full artwork. Harras wrapped up a long-running plotline involving the ruthless machinations of the Greek gods in a genuinely heart-wrenching finale that left Hercules devastated. Palmer’s cover really captured the tragedy of Harras’ story.

All good things must come to an end. So it was with Avengers volume one, which concluded with issue #402 (September 1996) as the “Onslaught” crossover send both the Avengers and Fantastic Four over to an alternate reality for the year-long “Heroes Reborn” event. Palmer departed in style via an incredible painted cover.

I think it really speaks to Palmer’s skill as an illustrator that he does such a good job with this particular odd team line-up which had, among other things, the Wasp transformed into a humanoid insect and Thor wearing an overly-complex costume that just screamed “grim & gritty.”

This marked the end of Palmer’s regular association with the team, although he would return to the team from time to time, such as inking Will Rosado on the eight issue Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes II miniseries in 2007 and inking John Romita on several Avengers issues in 2011.

I was fortunate enough to meet Palmer on a few occasions at comic cons and store signings. He always came across as a good, polite person who made time for the fans.

The news of Tom Palmer’s death is sad. We’ve lost way too many incredible talents in such a very short time.

Magneto vs. the Red Skull round three: Axis

“Power does not corrupt. Fear corrupts… perhaps the fear of a loss of power.” – John Steinbeck

At long last here is the third and final part of my examination of the conflict between Magneto and the Red Skull, between the Holocaust survivor turned mutant revolutionary and the Nazi terrorist.  For those who have not already read them, here are links to Part One and Part Two.

Magneto 12 cover

Previously the Red Skull, who’d had the brain of the deceased telepath Charles Xavier grafted into his own, was brutally killed by Magneto.  Unfortunately, rather than ending the Skull’s threat, this caused him to transform into a new incarnation of Onslaught, the being originally created years before from the combined subconscious darkness of Xavier and Magneto’s minds.

(Or perhaps Onslaught was actually Rob Liefeld… I forget exactly.)

The Avengers and X-Men’s battle against the “Red Onslaught” and the terrible aftermath is seen in the Axis miniseries by writer Rick Remender and various artists.  Magneto’s perspective of these events is depicted in issue #s 11 and 12 of his solo series, written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Roland Boschi, with covers by David Yardin.

In Axis #1, illustrated by Adam Kubert, the reborn Red Skull / Onslaught is spreading a psychic hate plague across the globe.  Havok, Rogue, the Scarlet Witch and Magneto attempt to stop the Skull.  It seems a hopeless task, especially as the three members of the Avengers Unity Squad want nothing to do with Magneto.  Havok, perhaps under the Skull’s psychic influence, attacks the master of magnetism, shouting at him “You damn murdering hypocrite! You’re just like him, Magneto!”

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The Avengers and X-Men, alerted to the Red Skull’s threat, arrive in Genosha.  After long months of tense relations between the two teams, they finally realize that they need to join forces against this common foe.  The towering Red Onslaught, however, is unimpressed, and he summons a pair of immense Sentinels constructed out of near-unbreakable adamantium.  The Skull reveals that he previously used his mental powers to manipulate Tony Stark into constructing these robot monstrosities, programming them with the data needed to defeat Earth’s heroes.

(Side note number one: Was any of this previously seen or even hinted at before the events of Axis #1, maybe in an issue of Iron Man?  Because the reveal by Remender seems to come completely out of left field, with no build-up or foreshadowing.)

Between the Red Skull and the Sentinels, the heroes have little chance, the blame for which Magneto is more than happy to lay at Iron Man’s feet.  In the midst of battle, Magneto flees.  The Avengers and X-Men are defeated and imprisoned by the Sentinels.

Back in his sanctuary, away from everyone else, Magneto finally engages in self-reflection, and acknowledges his own role in causing this crisis.  “All that I have done… it was for nothing. I have committed unspeakable acts. I have hurt people. I have taken lives as easily as I might draw breath. All so my people, so mutants, might thrive.”

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Briar Raleigh, Magneto’s human ally who sympathizes with his goals, argues that he could not have foreseen the results of killing the Skull.  Magneto disagrees, informing her “After all this time, after so many atrocities committed in the name of mutants, after so many bitter failures, I was blind not to anticipate something like this.”

Attempting to spur Magneto out of his despondency, Briar plays old video footage of his brutal attacks against anti-mutant forces.  She then shows him an interview with a young girl he once saved, who says “People say he’s some sort of monster, or maybe a terrorist, or that he’s insane. But I’m just glad mutants have someone like him, someone who can be angry, who can do bad things, so that we might survive.”

Grimly resolved that he is the one who has been forced into the role of making the difficult but necessary choices, Magneto sets out to recruit allies against the Skull.  If the Skull’s Sentinels are programmed to defeat heroes, then he will ally himself with criminals and villains.  Among those he approaches are Doctor Doom, Loki, Carnage, Sabretooth and Mystique.

Deadpool, who is not, strictly speaking, a villain, but who is certainly nuts, gets wind of all this and decides to find out what is going on.  The merc with a mouth tells him “I kinda want to know what the hell you’re trying to pull. I mean, I thought you were supposed to be a good guy.”  Magneto somberly responds “Not even you are foolish enough to think me a hero. Such distinctions are for those who can look at their own reflections and not despair.”

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Magneto and his group of ne’er-do-wells engage the Red Skull and his Sentinels in Genosha.  During the battle, they manage to free the Scarlet Witch and Doctor Strange, and Magneto tells them to attempt an “inversion spell” to revive the suppressed remnants of Xavier’s consciousness in the Skull’s mind.  Before it can be completed, Strange is knocked out.  Doctor Doom steps in and forces Wanda to complete the spell with him.

The inversion is seemingly successful.  Onslaught is banished, and the Red Skull is returned to human form, unconscious.  Immediately, though, there are problems.  The Avengers want to imprison the Skull ASAP before he re-awakens.  The X-Men, however, want custody of him, to see if now they can fully restore Xavier to life.  The disagreement causes the two teams to once again find themselves at odds with one another, neither side willing to budge.  Their fragile alliance is shattered.  Even in defeat, the Skull achieves a dark victory, once again driving apart humans and mutants.

And what has happened to Magneto?  Wounded, watching all of this from afar, he hears the Scarlet Witch ask “Where are the villains?”  Magneto bitterly thinks to himself, “After everything we did… everything I did… these Avengers… even my own daughter… would still see me as another threat to be eliminated or contained.”

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As we soon find out in Axis #4, however, the inversion spell by Wanda and Doom worked much too well.  It caused everyone who was in Genosha to turn 180 degrees on the moral compass.  All of the heroes who were present are now ruthless, violent and selfish.  All of the villains are now moral and altruistic.  Sam Wilson, formerly the Falcon and now the new Captain America, wants to lead all of the inverted Avengers in taking over the world, creating an ordered society that they control.  The mutant Genesis is transformed into a reborn Apocalypse who leads the X-Men into war against humanity.  They construct a bomb that will wipe out all non-mutants on Earth.  Oh, yeah, and Tony Stark becomes an arrogant, greedy, hedonistic asshole.  If you thought regular Iron Man could be a jerk, well, inverted Stark is about a hundred times worse.

The now-elderly Steve Rogers and the few non-inverted heroes who managed to escape being captured by the corrupted Avengers are forced to ally themselves with Magneto and the other inverted villains to stop the X-Men and Apocalypse.  These events play out over the remainder of the Axis miniseries.

(Side note number two: Did Remender really need nine extra-sized issues to tell this whole story?  The whole thing would very comfortably have fit into a mere six issues.  I liked Axis, but it definitely suffered from being padded out with tons of fight scenes that played out over a bunch of splash pages and double-page spreads.)

Finally coming to Axis #9, with Jim Cheung artwork, Rogers and the inverted villains attempt to recreate the inversion spell.  Doctor Doom manages to summon Doctor Voodoo and his ghostly brother, and they take possession of the inverted Scarlet Witch.  Doom and the possessed Witch catch up with Rogers, who has located the Red Skull.  The man who was once the personification of human evil has been inverted into the remorseful White Skull… seriously, even his mask turned white.  How did that happen?

The White Skull begs Magneto not to once again resort to murder, to not kill Iron Man, and allow the new inversion spell to undo the damage.  Magneto reluctantly agrees.  Doom, the Skull, and the possessed Witch re-enact the inversion, turning everyone back to normal.  Well, almost everyone.  Iron Man, who refuses to go back to how he once was, is able to shield himself, and both Havok and Sabretooth are caught in his energy field.  That means Havok is still a violent fanatic who hates humans, Sabretooth still has a conscience, and Stark is still a douchebag.  Oh, well, can’t win ‘em all!

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In the closing pages of Axis #9, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch form a new Avengers Unity Squad, hoping to bridge the gap between humans and mutants so that a disaster such as this never occurs again.  Magneto, however, is in no mood to celebrate, realizing that Doctor Doom, the Red Skull and Iron Man have all escaped.  We see that the Skull is now the prisoner of Doom, a potential weapon to be used by the Latverian tyrant in the future.

Hopefully Magneto and the Red Skull will meet again.  Theirs is a dramatic, powerful enmity driven by mutual contempt & hatred.  They are simultaneously alike and as different as night & day.  Much can be revealed about Magneto through the comparing & contrasting of him to the Skull.

Magneto, as re-envisioned by Chris Claremont to be a survivor of the Holocaust, is undoubtedly a complex, complicated and morally ambiguous individual.  One can certainly see Magneto as the personification of Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous warning “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” Likewise the character appears to embody the old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

I have often regarded Magneto as a tragic but dangerous figure.  He is a man who experienced horrific losses in his childhood & early adulthood, and who is unable or unwilling to let go of the past.  All of this has led him to fanatical extremes.

The Red Skull commits evil acts because he is a psychopath.  Magneto, on the other hand, is driven by fear and guilt, by a burning obsession to never again become a victim.  Unlike the Skull, it is certainly possible to understand, even sympathize with Magneto.  But if in the end by his actions Magneto arrives at exactly the same place as the Skull, as an unrepentant monster, than all the rationalizations in the world are meaningless.

Magneto vs. the Red Skull round two: March to Axis

This is the second part of my examination of the enmity between the mutant revolutionary Magneto and the Nazi war criminal the Red Skull.  For those who missed it here is a link to the first part.

After their confrontation during “Acts of Vengeance,” it would be years before Magneto and the Red Skull would again encounter one another. They would finally come face-to-face once again in the prologue to the Avengers & X-Men: Axis crossover.

Magneto 9 cover

Although he has gone by several aliases during his lifetime, Magneto’s real name is Max Eisenhardt.  A Jew, Max was born in Germany in the late 1920s. After the rise of the Nazis, Max’s family faced severe discrimination, and they were eventually imprisoned in the Auschwitz concentration camp.  There the young Max saw his entire family murdered.  Max himself became a Sonderkommando, a Jew who under threat of death was forced to remove the victims of the gas chambers and place them in the ovens to be cremated.

This nightmarish existence was made all the worse by the abuses heaped upon Max and his fellow prisoners by a sadistic Nazi officer named Hitzig. At the time Max’s mutant powers were gradually beginning to manifest, and he sought to use them to kill Hitzig.  But between his young age, and his severe state of malnutrition, Max’s control of magnetism was much too weak, and he failed in the attempt to slay his tormenter.

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The unimaginable horrors which Max endured left lasting emotional scars upon him. Years later, after he was prevented by a bigoted mob from saving the life of his daughter Anya, his traumatic memories were re-awakened.  Looking upon the gradual emergence of mutants and humanity’s resulting fears, Max became convinced that a new Holocaust was all but inevitable.  Determined to prevent this, he adopted the ruthlessly proactive identity of Magneto, a figure who would crush humanity before they could perpetrate genocide against mutant-kind.

In the ongoing Magneto series, writer Cullen Bunn has portrayed the title character as a driven, brutal individual. In his quest to protect mutants, and to avenge crimes against them, Magneto has regularly utilized violence and torture.  He has maimed or killed his adversaries with scarcely any remorse, fanatically convinced of the necessity and righteousness of his actions.  Bunn very much captures the extremely fine line that can exist between freedom fighter and terrorist.

In issue #9, by Bunn and artist Gabriel Hernandez Walta, with a cover by David Yardin, Magneto finally learns that the Red Skull has grafted Charles Xavier’s brain to his own, gaining immense telepathic powers. The Skull, with his S-Men and Ahab, has relocated to the island of Genosha, where they have constructed a “mutant reeducation camp” i.e. a concentration camp for the extermination of mutants.  Magneto’s greatest fear given concrete form, he sets out to destroy the Red Skull.  He was never ever able to kill Hitzig, but perhaps he can expunge the guilt he feels for his failure by slaying the Skull.  “After all this time, I’ll get some reprieve from my disgrace.”

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Magneto confronts the Red Skull, echoing the words he uttered to the fascist mastermind years before when he buried him alive in a bomb shelter. “I told you once before, Nazi… I am your better!  But where I once showed you clemency, this time I have brought you nothing but death!”  Unfortunately Magneto’s powers are on the wane, and he is overwhelmed by the S-Men, who beat him into submission.

As the next issue opens, the Red Skull mocks the now-imprisoned Magneto. Using his mental powers, the Skull conjures up a psychic projection of Hitzig in an effort to break the Master of Magnetism.  This manifestation pursues Magneto through a lifetime of memories, inserting itself into each of them as a monstrous apparition, reminding him of his myriad failures.

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Finally back in the real world, Magneto finds that he has been left at the mercy of Mzee, the member of the S-Men who resembles a humanoid turtle. Mzee is ready to make Magneto suffer.  As the S-Man reveals “As a child, I watched your minions slaughter my family.  Those moments… their screams… were endless.  And no one came to help me.  I’ll make sure your misery lasts just as long.”  Here we see the cost of Magneto’s crusade made tangible.  In his barbarous quest to protect mutants by subjugating humanity, Magneto has created yet another generation of victims who learned to hate and who now seek vengeance.  By his actions Magneto has not changed anything, but instead perpetuated the cycle of hatred.

Before Mzee can act, though, Havok, Rogue and the Scarlet Witch intervene. In the pages of Uncanny Avengers #24 written by Rick Remender, the three members of the Avengers Unity Squad had been abducted by the S-Men and brought to Genosha.  They managed to escape, and they free Magneto.  The three mutant Avengers try to convince the weakened Magneto not to continue his fight against the Red Skull, but to lay low with them while they contact the rest of the Avengers for reinforcements.  Magneto, though, will have none of that, and even accuses Rogue of betraying mutant-kind.  “I forgot you abandoned Charles’ dream.  No longer an X-Man, merely another stooge of the human establishment.”  Rogue is understandably outraged by this, as well she should be.  As a member of the Avengers, she played a crucial role in saving the entire world from being destroyed by the Celestials.  But do not bother telling that to Magneto; so long as mutants are safe, the rest of humanity can burn for all he cares.

The argument between Magneto and the Avengers is abruptly halted when they are discovered by the Red Skull, Ahab, and the S-Men. As Uncanny Avengers #25 opens, with writing by Remender and artwork by Daniel Acuna, the Skull has frozen them all in place with his telepathy.  The fascist takes this opportunity to once again poke & prod at Magneto’s insecurities.

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Commenting upon Magneto’s state of mind, the Skull mockingly observes “It doesn’t take a mind reader to know why it frightens you so, Magnus. It is not the evil that might be uncovered within – it is the emptiness.  A willingness to do whatever it takes to achieve your means.  Including the gross manipulation of your own daughter.  Tsk tsk.  Oh, dear, she despises you, Magnus.  A hatred that matches my own.  Used by her father.  Driven mad for his purpose.”

As he previously did in “Acts of Vengeance,” the Red Skull is attempting to point out that he and Magneto are more alike than not. And this time the Skull brings Magneto’s daughter, the Scarlet Witch, into his argument.  Remender really hit the nail on the head with this, making a connection I had previously missed.  The Skull used and abused his own daughter, Sinthia, manipulating her into an instrument of his will, a warped reflection of his own sick mind.  As a result, Sinthia absolutely despises him.  And this is all too similar to Magneto’s relationship with his daughter the Scarlet Witch.  On numerous occasions he attempted to utilize Wanda’s reality-warping abilities as a weapon in the cause of mutant revolution, not caring what harm it caused her.  The result is that the Witch would very much prefer to have nothing to do with her father.

Unknown to the Red Skull, when Magneto was freed by the Avengers he took the opportunity to ingest a dose of Mutant Growth Hormone. His powers now restored almost to normal levels, he knocks out the Skull, releasing the Avengers from mental control.  Rogue, Havok and the Scarlet Witch engage the S-Men and Ahab.  Magneto, discovering several lobotomized mutants in one of the concentration camp buildings, furiously declares “This is what they do to our people, Wanda!  And so long as they draw breath there can be no unity.”  Enraged, Magneto uses his powers to seemingly kill the S-Men.  He then proceeds to physically assault the Skull, brutally beating him.  Defiant to the end, the Skull continues to verbally taunt Magneto.  Then, before the Witch’s horrified eyes, Magneto kills the Skull in cold blood, shattering his head with a block of masonry.

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The Scarlet Witch, Rogue and Havok are horrified. At first speechless, Rogue finally gasps “What have you done?”  Magneto attempts to justify his act, announcing that he has “killed evil incarnate” and “saved countless lives.”  Rogue mere responds “You – after all your words – you’re no better than him.”

Of course, that is not the end of things. By killing the Red Skull, Magneto inadvertently set loose something that was buried deep within Xavier’s mind.  Onslaught, the psionic entity that was once born out of the combined subconscious darkness of the Xavier and Magneto, lives again.  And it is now controlled by the twisted consciousness of the Red Skull.

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Thus is the stage set for “The Red Supremacy,” the first act of Avengers & X-Men: Axis. I will be taking a look at that miniseries, and the continuing struggle between Magneto and the Red Skull, in the near future.

Click here to continue on to round three of the war between Magneto and the Red Skull.