Wednesday, December 21, 2011

March 1965: The Coming of Ka-Zar!

The Amazing Spider-Man 22

Our story

Dissension in the ranks of the Circus of Crime leads to the dismissal of its leader, The Ringmaster and the elevation of a new boss, The Clown. Not satisfied with the old moniker, the team decides The Masters of Menace will get them more respect and a better table at the Five 'n' Diner. Once all that is resolved, it's business as usual as the villainous batch of crackpots pull a heist at a fashionable art gallery. Thinking the Ringmaster is still calling the shots, Spider-Man has been following him around all day. Turns out the 'master is planning on robbing his former stooges and paying them back for their treachery. Meanwhile, after being conked on the head at the gallery, J. Jonah Jameson fights for his life in a hospital bed. 
PE: Spidey takes a page out of The Torch's book from last issue. Barging in on a perfectly legal meeting between ex-cons and harassing their ringleader is not the sign of a forgiving soul.

 JS: The real victim here is the Ringleader, who gets bounced from the club he formed.

Jack: Spidey is right when he tells the Masters of Menace that they should be called the Union of the Useless!

PE: Masters of Menace? I was thinking more along the lines of Fumblebums of the Fifth-Tier.

JS: Once again I find myself wondering where all the classic Spidey villains are.
PE: Uh-oh. If Jolly Johnny Scoleri had a problem with Ditko's magically inflating and deflating faces last issue, wait 'til he gets a load of this one.

JS: I just don't get it. His J. Jonah Jameson is spot on. His Spider-Man is as good as I think he ever drew him. But (as evidenced in the scans above) most of his humans suffer from "misplaced facial elements on an oval head" syndrome. Absolutely horrible.

PE: In the middle of hypnotizing The Ringmaster and learning where the villain's ex-teammates are hiding out, Spider-Man stops to call the hospital to find out how JJJ is doing. Curious.

PE: Why would these dopey criminals waste their time stealing art? Doesn't this town have a bank? It wasn't so long ago that we were blabbing in awe at the succession of great issues with great villains in this title and we get two sub-par villains and two equally sub-par adventures in a row. I think we need a quick dose of Goblin. Hey, who's that comin'?

JS: Princess Python offered some decent comic relief AND a giant snake, so that has to count for something.

PE: in the letters page, future Washington Post journalist and CNN host Howard Kurtz extolls the artwork of issue #18 as "simply terrific."

The X-Men 10

Our story

The X-Men are sent to the Antarctic by Professor X to investigate a strange muscle man clad only in a loincloth and sporting a saber-toothed tiger for an ally. Once there, they discover a passageway to an underground world, one not seen for millions of years, populated by prehistoric creatures and savage men who can slingshot volcanic gases that cause sleepiness (akin to the affects of reading an issue of Tales to Astonish) . They are saved from the tribe of neanderthals by Ka-Zar, lord of the Savage Land and his trusty saber-tooth, Zabu, but not before Marvel Girl is whisked away by the cavemen. Being that superheroes are hotheads and this wouldn't be a Marvel Comic without a "misunderstanding battle," The X-Men attack the duo. Order is finally restored and Ka-Zar agrees to help find the missing Jean Grey, held hostage miles away in a pyramid. While scouting, The Angel is taken captive and he and Jean are served up to a T-Rex on top of the pyramid. Fast-thinking and telekinesis save the day and The X-Men learn they've made a good friend in Ka-Zar.

PE: Stan and Jack allow us a rare "privileged look inside" the danger room this issue. So rare that every adventure begins with the same look. And the same cross thoughts between Scott (Cyclops) and Jean (Marvel Girl): "When she gets anywhere near me, I become as limp as fruitcake but she doesn't even know I'm around" and "Oh, Scott is so handsome, especially that one eye in the center of his head that blows out a ray that could melt my jingly bits, but all he sees in me is a telekinetic tomboy." Professor John, you've read all the X-Men stories forty-three times. How many issues until they sigh and admit they kinda like each other in a mutant sort of way? Between Peter and Betty, lamo and Jane-o, Robert Bruce and Betty, Pepper and Tony, Hank and Jan, Cap and Bucky, Matt and Karen, Reed and Sue, and Scott and Jean, I'm feeling comically and sexually frustrated. Can't anyone find love in a four-color world?

How could he possibly think you're the enemy?

MB:  Setting aside the fact that virtually every move comes straight out of the Edgar Rice Burroughs playbook (it reads like Tarzan and the Mutants at the Earth’s Core), Stan’s script is serviceable, keeping the Don Blake/Jane Foster “Oh, why doesn’t s/he love me?” stuff between Scott and Jean to a minimum while introducing the durable characters of Ka-Zar and Zabu.  But despite the customary vigor of Kirby’s art, it seems as though he and/or Stone was unpardonably sloppy, with many a goofy-looking character shot.  Most egregious, perhaps, is page 4, panel 3, where Jean, even unnaturally hunched over though she is, appears to be taller than Bobby, while Hank looks like he either has stepped out of a vintage issue of Mad or is imitating Joe E. Brown.

PE: I'm surprised Hank, as smart as he is, doesn't question the near-perfect speaking skills of Ka-Zar and Maa-Gor, the killer (in fact, since their elocution is so spot-on, why not Fred, Lord of the Savage Land and Bernie, the Killer?). Cavemen around my apartment building don't speak as well as this pair.

Can he love a woman who looks like The Two-Gun Kid?
PE: It's lucky that Scott activated his eye-beam or the X-kids would never have found the secret door to the Forbidden Land and there would have been no adventure with Ka-Zar. Then where would we be? Back in the danger room? Stan throws in the kitchen sink with this one. We get pyramids, dinosaurs, saber-toothed cats, conversing cavemen, and mutants, all elements from different time periods. If this were 1975 rather 1965, Stan would throw in a few UFOs and disgraced presidents to fill in the gaps.

Jack: Although I agree that this is not one of Kirby's better covers, I'd almost give this issue Landmark status for introducing Ka-Zar. The whole Lost World thing is pretty cool!

PE: Consider it done, Professor Jack. I bestow the Landmark designation upon this here issue. It wouldn't earn the alternate shield by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a decent read (albeit with a rushed climax) and it does introduce comic readers to Tarzan Ka-Zar.

Jack: Maybe the other professors can help me here, but why do the X-Men wear masks at home?

PE: Well, Professor Jack, many superheroes have problems separating home life from the road. This is very common among those with dual identities. Rock stars dress in silk at home, athletes drink gatorade 24/7, Scoleri will mistakenly leave the house wearing his stormtrooper gear. According to Jung, reality blurs after a while. 

PE: Ka-Zar is a character with an interesting history. He began life as a Tarzan knock-off in the pulps. This Ka-Zar was only a boy when his plane crashed in Africa and is raised by jungle animals when his father is murdered. Rather than a saber-tooth, Ka-Zar was accompanied by a lion he had saved from a tar pit. Evidently, pulp fans needed only one jungle lord as the pulp lasted only three issues (from October 1936 through June 1937). Resurrected for the comics by Stan and Jack, Ka-Zar would go on to semi-pro status, guesting in a few hero titles until earning his own strip beginning in Astonishing Tales #1 (August 1970, and continuing until  #20) and finally starring in several of his own titles. Arguably, the blonde caveman's "golden age" would be Bruce Jones' and Brent Anderson's version in 1981, Ka-Zar the Savage.

The Avengers 14

Our story

The Wasp, victim of a stray bullet fired in a crowd of militants last issue, lies dying in a hospital bed. Her only hope is Doctor Svenson, a lung reconstruction specialist living in the wilds of Norway. Thor is dispatched to find the genius and finds a mad scientist instead. Not taking "no" for an answer, the Thunder God essentially kidnaps the scientist and flies him to the hospital, only to find that the doctor is not who they think he is. Turns out aliens from another planet have kidnapped Doctor Svenson and replaced him with one of their own. The faux doctor dies before he can tell The Avengers where Svenson is being held. It's up to the massive brain power of the four remaining Avengers to locate Svenson. The road leads to the North Pole, where we find the surgeon being held by the Kallus, aliens living far below the surface of earth. The outer space critters are finding it hard to breathe in earth's atmosphere and if they're to survive, Svenson needs to find a cure. Meanwhile, the enemies that sent the Kallus into hiding on earth have located their targets and attack, adding even more confusion to the seemingly hopeless situation. Can The Avengers stop an alien war on earth and save the (even more than usual) helpless Wasp in time?

PE: The Avengers storm an emergency room with Jan in arms (Gi-Ant Man stubbornly refuses to let Thor fly her ahead to the hospital), ostensibly knocking more needy patients to the side, upending plasma bottles and disturbing the lunch breaks of the doctors. When Thor gives his medical diagnosis to Jan's surgeon, the doctor asks the Thunder God if he's ever had medical training. Thor then worries that he may have given away his mortal identity. Why doesn't Goldlocks simply exclaim "I am a God, puny mortal, I need no earth-bound training, now fix this woman or thou shalt feel the brunt of my hammer"? How could the physician question that? Though I question why lame Doc Blake didn't show up on the scene just in case he's needed. As it is, it takes the resident quack thirty minutes to emerge from the operating room with his "somber verdict": "I'm afraid I have bad news! It's just as I suspected! The patient is in critical condition!" With a bullet in her lung,  I could have made that judgement thirty minutes before! I'll give the doc the benefit of the doubt since there was no blood present on Jan's uniform.

In a shocking display unbecoming of an Avenger, Iron Man attempts to take advantage of Gi-Ant Man's grief
Gi-Ant Man contemplates life without the constant nagging of Jan but discovers a new pal in Iron Man

PE: You gotta love how Stan works in these tight conditions. There's always a top-notch surgeon located in the Himalayas or Zanzibar (or, as in this case, Doctor Svenson of Norway, an MD specializing in "lung reconstruction") that the resident team must locate and whisk away. One wonders if our local sawbones would remember where the best proctologist could be found had Jan sustained her injury a little south of her lungs ("Why yes, it seems I remember that there is a Doctor Bottoms located in the lower bowels of Cleveland!"). Topping that is the fact that a lung reconstruction specialist is researching "respiration in Arctic regions" when he happens upon a race of beings who need lung reconstruction. What are the odds? How long were the Kallu holed up in the downstairs? I get the sense it's only a matter of months, maybe a year. And yet the race is able to build a fully-functioning city below the surface of earth. Mind-boggling!

JS: I found it amusing that things go from Jan having mere minutes to live, to let's go off and have an adventure with space aliens, all of which is somehow resolved just in time to tell us in the last panel that (SPOILER) Jan will live to annoy us again!

The Watcher debuts his new Karate outfit
PE: Why in the world does Hank retain Gi-Ant status while in the hospital? How can Doctor Svenson survive the G-forces (and bitter cold) of Thor's super-sonic trip across the globe. If my math is correct (and it is, make no mistake) a trip from Norway to New York in "less than one hour" (Stan's own words) equals a speed of at least 3800 miles an hour. No way the surgeon lands without a little lung reconstruction of his own.

JS: I guess we're being introduced to the group power - Avenger Speed!

PE: I applaud The Avengers for splitting up and attempting to find hidden aliens, with no clues as to their whereabouts (with an eight hour deadline!), but tell me how Captain America and Gi-Ant Man can help? Iron Man and Thor can fly at least but the other two can't do much traveling at all. And why is it that Thor's uru hammer can find the hidden Dr. Svenson but not some no-good aliens? My question is partially answered when Pym plugs into his "master helmet" which is "hooked into anthills throughout every continent on earth." In a matter of seconds, every ant in the world is checking out the "good girl" poster of Jan on their chamber wall and shaking their mandibles. "Nope, ain't seen her." As for Cap, he enlists the aid of Rick Jones and The Teen Brigade. He might have had better luck finding caviar in the hospital cafeteria. Laughably, Iron Man doffs his armor to activate his new "geiger counter missile," designed to scan "inhabited parts of earth for any signs of alien life". Why would you build a fancy schmancy doodad and program it to search only inhabited parts of the world? Despite the race against the clock, Tony Stark has the wherewithal to don his favorite scarf! The team continually references the "48 hours" they have to rescue The Wasp from collapsed lungs as though 48 hours plus one minute will be too late. And, not that I want to see a nude Jan, but wouldn't the doctor prefer to operate on The Wasp minus her costume? 

JS: Will there come a day when we don't see them use the crutch of the aliens among us plot?

PE: How insensitive and arrogant is it that The Avengers think nothing of letting a race of (admittedly short and ugly) space visitors die so they can save one of their own? Haven't they risked their lives in the past for less? 

JS: Sometimes, the needs of the few, or the one, outweigh the needs of the many. So sayeth the Shat.

PE: As witnessed in this issue and this month's X-Men, the core of the earth is a vast, hollow series of countries it would seem. One wonders if a traveler could walk from Kallusia-ville to the Savage Land and then wrap up the road trip in Molemania. 

Jack: This is a pretty good issue. I liked the parallel stories and found myself pulling for the Wasp to make it.

PE: You're a better man than I, Professor Jack. I says "kill her and then have the big guy off himself." Make the pages of Tales to Extinguish readable again. I will say this is one of the more entertaining issues of The Avengers so far. It's an alternative classic of  the "what more can Stan throw in here?" ilk that elevated some of the early Ant-Man tales to readable status. I laughed at the several panels showing that, clearly, Iron Man cannot keep his hands off Hank Pym! The story itself is actually written by Paul Laiken and Larry Lieber (I thought I smelled something funny coming off these pages) based on a plot by Stan. Laiken was actually a pseudonym for Larry Ivie. I'm not sure why Ivie, just getting into the comics business after being a big-time fan for years, is using a pseudo here but it might be because he was writing T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents for Tower at the time (anyone out there have further info on that?). Ivie had already made a name for himself as editor of the first three issues of the influential monster movie mag, Castle of Frankenstein, and would go on to publish seven issues of the much more esoteric Monsters and Heroes (1967-69) before dropping back into obscurity. The whacky thing about the "Laiken" credit is that Stan mentions in the letters page that he himself wrote 6 pages of the story and  Larry Ivie wrote the remainder.

Strange Tales 130

The Human Torch and The Thing

Our story

The boys are at it again as the Torch and the Thing fight in the Baxter Building.  Reed threatens to fire them if they don’t get to work before Reed and Sue head to a conference at City Hall.  The two heroes work on a big machine that they keep wrecking due to their constant horsing around.  Meanwhile, both of their girlfriends notice that the Beatles will be performing in the city and they want to go.  The Torch and Thing agree to take them.  Johnny shoots off some fireballs in the air so that the couples can sneak in through a back entrance.  Once inside, they meet the Beatles!  It’s short-lived, though, once they are alerted that three hoods have stolen the concert’s payroll, leaving the band with no money.  The Torch and Thing chase down the crooks in a carnival and subdue them.  Of course, before winning, the Torch is briefly defeated by the bad guys after receiving a water bath.  Unfortunately, by the time they get back to the concert, it is already over. 

Tom:  Wow!  Quite possibly the stupidest story in this series, and that’s saying a lot.  Three no-name petty crooks steal a payroll and the heroes have to get it back?  What?  They couldn’t have dragged out the Terrible Trio again, to make this whole charade even more idiotic?

Jack: Please tell me that did not just happen!

Tom:  The lighter side of me kind of liked this tale for nostalgic purposes.  The Beatles’ appearance, albeit brief, was kind of cool, and I’m not even that big a fan of their music.

PE: Oh, was that The Beatles? The only one discernible from the four would be Ringo and that's because of his famous schnozz. The rest of them could be anybody. Didn't they have pictures of THe Fab Four in the bullpen office?

Jack: As bad as it is, Bob Powell's art is a big improvement over that of Dick Ayers.

PE: I fear, Professor Jack, that "big improvement" is a relative term. I doubt you'll ever find this story in a "Best of Marvel" volume. 

Dr. Strange

Our story

An unknown entity gives Baron Mordo unlimited power so he can defeat Dr. Strange. Mordo takes two helpers and attacks Strange and the Ancient One. Strange takes the Ancient One and barely escapes Mordo’s fierce attack. Mordo follows Strange in his spirit form and we learn that his new powers were provided by Dormammu, who keeps his word not to attack Dr. Strange by using Mordo as a proxy. He sends spirits out to find Dr. Strange, who carries a bundle of rags made to look like the frail form of the Ancient One. Mordo enlists the aid of Black Magicians worldwide while Strange visits Sen-Yu, another friend of the Ancient One. Dr. Strange unsuccessfully tries to hide in street clothes, but is quickly found. He cleverly avoids capture and fights off other magicians. He wins the battle but, with Dormammu’s aid, Mordo plans to win the war.

Jack: Exciting story, good art—even Baron Mordo works! And it’s great to see Dormammu again. This story is so clearly superior to the Torch/Thing effort that Dr. Strange takes over this issue's cover!

JS: When Strange whisks the ancient one through a secret door, exactly where the hell do they end up? Is that supposed to be underground in Little China? Or some bizarre level of the astral plane?

MB: "Beginning now!!  The start of the greatest black magic spectacular ever presented…"  Could be.  You may as well resign yourselves to the fact that I can't say enough good things about this arc.  When the splash page features Dormammu feeding Baron Mordo limitless power from his Dark Dimension to destroy Dr. Strange, you know you are in the presence of greatness.  Even the earthbound scenes have an epic scope to them, reminding us that both Doc and Mordo have adherents all around the world (not to mention outside it, like those cool ninja guys Dormammu supplies).  The Ancient One's concern for Strange's safety in the initial attack, perhaps sensing that the ultimate victory would lie in Doc's hands, is touching, but you know there's no way Doc is gonna lie down for his mentor sacrificing himself.  Ditko's delicious art leaps off the page, and the battle scenes are electrifying, with "ionic screens" cracking left and right, and the drama quotient off the charts as Doc and the Ancient One face mortal peril.  That cliffhanger ending--the first of many--with Doc looking like Marvel's own Richard Kimble as he flees into the night, promises untold delight to come.  "You mortal bungler!!"  Game on.

Jack: I love the cliffhanger ending!

JS: Look forward to seeing where this one goes...

Tales of Suspense 63

Iron Man

Our Story

Back from defeating The Mandarin, Iron Man must get busy on perfecting a new gizmo to keep his heart beating. The world still imagines Tony Stark dead and bathroom breaks are few and far between for the beleaguered billionaire playboy. At last he manages to right his precarious situation and is able to come out of the closet. Realizing that Pepper Potts shouldn't be waiting on him and that Happy Hogan is a great guy, Tony tells the pair that he has, in fact, been yachting with his new fiance and only just discovered that the world thought him dead and buried somewhere. Meanwhile, a phantom very slyly calling himself The Phantom begins sabotaging Stark Industries. Does Tony Stark have the wherewithal to juggle a fifth-tier villain like The Phantom along with the heartbreak of losing Pepper Potts to his toady?
PE: Obviously Stan has thrown in the towel on trying to keep the Avengers/Iron Man chronology flowing smoothly. I'm not sure why he bothered when none of the other titles were kept in synch. Jan wasn't dying in TTA like she was in The Avengers and the "Tony Stark is dead" plot thread only found its way into an Avengers issue once, I believe. Stark is alive over in the team book, but still very much dead here. Iron Man whines and moans about the disrespect paid him by Pepper and Happy, but I'll assume that's to keep them from bothering him while he works on the new chest armor he needs to keep his heart beating. The "Tony is dead" thread needed to be swept under the carpet as it was going nowhere.

JS: And at least by the cover date, the Tony Stark is dead story popped up in the Avengers before it was in his own (shared) mag!

PE: Does Tony Stark really have that much time to stand around and think about how he "should give up on Pepper and let her go off and marry Happy because he's a good guy and does she really love me anyway 'cuz I think she's a swell gal" all the while concentrating on inventing new weapons and fighting crime as Iron Man  at the same time? 

JS: Methinks Stan Lee was a complex man...

Umm... maybe to go with the corny name?
PE: Stark is being such a prick to staff scientist Birch that it's no surprise when the secret identity of The  Phantom (quite a novel moniker that) turns out to be... I'm not telling! It's laughable that he calls himself The Phantom in a private moment and then, without broadcasting it the world, he's known to everyone as The Phantom. Characters just start using The Phantom as his name. Wisely, Stan never tried this with The Mole Man (Torch: "Check it out, Reed! The guy looks like a mole, man!").

Someone hand me that airsickness bag, please
JS: Yes, the Phantom joins the long and undistinguished list of also-ran villains.

PE: How many different factories has Stark lost to sabotage over the last 25 issues? How many plants does the guy own in the same city or is it always the same one that gets burned to the ground and then rebuilt?

JS: I feel like I've been bemoaning the 'gee-whilikers, I've got to plug into the wall or I'm going to die' thread for as long as this title has run. Can we just plug a nuclear reactor in his chest and be done with it?

PE: The worst thing about this lifeless twaddle is the fact that 12 story pages that could have been used towards the Cap story were wasted on this strip instead.

Captain America

Our Story

PE: Essentially a primer for those fans who were wondering about the origin of Captain America. At times it reads as if Stan wanted to compact all 15 years of the initial Cap comic into 10 pages rather than over several issues but this is pretty close to how long the original story ran back in 1941 in Captain America Comics #1. The only noticeable difference is the name of the scientist who perfects the "super soldier serum." In the 1941 version, he's Dr. Reinstein, here he's Dr. Erskine.

From Captain America #1, 1941

MB:  This issue is something of a watershed, marking not only the first Silver Age telling of Cap's origin, but also the start of a long run of period stories in TOS; perhaps Cap's recent guest spot in Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos had something to do with that.  It is also the first time in TOS that Kirby's pencils on Cap were inked by Frank Ray, who traded duties with Chic Stone during the first ten issues, after which the King shifted to layouts.  Ray's style is not dramatically different from Stone's, and there is still the occasional oddity, like the sergeant on page 7 who doesn't even look human.  I don't recall offhand how this compares with other post-Golden Age versions of Cap's origin, and they obviously retconned things like Howard Stark's involvement in the recent film (which I loved), but since this is its first recap in the Marvel Age, I guess it should in a sense be considered definitive, albeit brief.  Stan's sometimes schmaltzy scripting is entirely appropriate here, given the character's patriotic nature and the fact that this story's creators--not coincidentally both Jewish--lived through World War II.

JS: I'm pretty darn excited to launch into  a series of WWII period Cap stories. In my mind's eye, Cap versus Nazi's seems like a combination that can't be beat.

PE: I think, in the actual transformation scene from puny Steve to Captain America, the film does a better job of sustaining suspense and delivering the peril of the experiment. The skin-and-bones Rogers becomes the muscle-bound Adonis a bit too quickly for my tastes. We also get a bit more of Steve Rogers' back story in the movie. That said, I still think this origin is comic storytelling at its best, compact and exciting. As noted above, sometimes a little too compact! We know (after fifty years worth  of hindsight) that we'll get a lot of that skipped-over background soon enough. A genius move on Stan's part sending us back to the glory days of Captain America and Bucky. Face front, True Believer! This is about to get good!

JS: So just to be clear, was Steve Rogers the soldier really the inspiration for George Baker's Sad Sack? Both the pre-serum look and the post serum antics while in normal soldier gear do not live up to my expectations of the real Captain America.

PE: Years after writing a fan letter predicting Hawkeye would soon be considered a hero, George Hagenauer became novelist Max Allan Collins' research assistant. There's also a letter from future Topps publisher, Ira Friedman. In that letters page, Stan assures readers that the new/old Cap adventures won't be "faded reprints."

Fantastic Four 36

Our story

The world is shocked and delighted at the same time when Reed Richards and Sue Storm announce their engagement. But good news doesn't halt bad guys as we've learned several times in the past. Four really bad people have joined forces for one single goal: destroy the Fantastic Four. Many have tried but none have succeeded. While hijacking a jet one day, Paste Pot Pete and The Sandman happen upon The Wizard, heading for space. Sensing that he needs help, the duo save The Wizard and the three join forces. All that's needed is a female member and her name is Medusa, whose amazing head of hair can do things other women can only imagine. Together they deem themselves The Frightful Four. First order of business is to break up the fun times being had at The Baxter Building, where the Four are holding an engagement party.

Jack: Who would have thought that taking two loser villains (the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete), teaming them with the Sandman and adding Medusa would yield a pretty good team of villains?

PE: Not me! Piss-Pot Pete's assertion that "with his paste, he can rule the world" seems, to me at least, to be a bit of a boast. Although the fact that he can squirt a dose of his thicky icky at a "low-flying plane" and hitch a ride is one heck of a trick. 

Jack: Reed and Sue announce their engagement to the public and have a neat engagement party, attended by the Avengers and the X-Men. Spider-Man steals some food through an open window.

PE: Sue's hair seems to have a taken a positive turn. This fiance stuff agrees with her. I like the look. I thought the engagement itself was handled peculiarly. We've had 35 issues of "Does he love me. She doesn't love me" and then Reed and Sue make the decision "off-panel" between issues. We had a hint of what was going on at the finale of their last adventure but you'd think that Stan, being the love/romance/bleccch sap he was at the time, would milk a scene like that for all it's worth. I'm not complaining, mind you. I suppose the scene would have played like this:
Reed (thought balloon): I really love her and want to ask her to marry me but I know she doesn't love me. She loves the Sub-Mariner.
Sue: (thought balloon) Gosh, Reed makes my heart melt but all he cares about is Sonic Aviative Transgressor Rockets and the gravitational pull of Solar 6-3rd Planet of The Orion Galaxy. Could he really love me?
Reed: (thought balloon): She'll never say yes
Sue: (thought balloon): Perhaps I was meant to be an old maid
Reed (while studying fight footage between the FF and The Mole Man): Sue, I have something to ask you...
Sue: Yes, Reed?
(Just then the Mole Man breaks the door down)

PE: Holy Coincidence! So much hapens in the Marvel Universe at one time, it's no wonder that villains don't run into each other more often. The Wizard, sent off to the stratosphere in an earlier Human Torch "adventure" nearly ends up a bug on the windshield of Pastey and Sandy. I'm sure if they'd been heading north instead of south, they'd have been hit by Doctor Doom, heading back to earth after being defeated by the FF several months ago. Hmm. Where is Doc Doom?

PE: Time has been kind to Medusa but, I have to say, if I'd been a 9 year-old Marvel fan in 1965, I'd have let out a rip-roar of laughter when we meet the magically-tressed inhuman for the first time. Umm... a villain whose power is that she can hold things with her hair? Can we all admit now that Stan was out of ideas by this point? Yeah, the guy was a genius, but super hair? We know now that Medusa was the first piece of a huge puzzle that will begin to take shape in the next few months in this title.

PE: Oh, so this is the issue where The Wizard became The Wingless Wizard! And thank goodness that horrid costume Medusa's wearing doesn't last long. The readership contains kids too young to be exposed to a dominatrix.

Jack: Future X-Men artist Dave Cockrum has a letter on the letters page.

Tales to Astonish 65


Our story

Knowing that he needs an edge to compete in the increasingly violent world of heroics, Hank Pym is working on a new helmet that will let him grow and shrink by remote control.  Jan suggests that she make him a new costume to go along with the helmet because she thinks his current one is a joke that makes all the villains laugh at him.  Hank gives his blessing then goes on to harass their pet cat, using it as a test subject.  In typical fashion, Hank doesn’t exactly know what he’s doing and he and the cat trade turns changing in size a couple of times.  While this is going on, some serum spills on a spider and makes it grow to a monstrous size.  The Wasp helps out her boyfriend while the spider starts making mincemeat out of both of them.  Hank is able to get his act together.  He knocks the spider out of a window, then shrinks it before it hits the ground so it doesn’t crush any innocent bystanders.  In the end, Hank is pretty proud of himself for having Jan be so charmed by him.  The two plan on going dancing to end the night.

Tom:  I’ll give big Hank credit.  Not only is he thoughtless and uncaring towards Jan, but he has routinely put both of their lives at risk with his dangerously unsafe ineptness when it comes to monkeying around with science projects that he doesn’t completely understand.  Yet, in the end, Janet is always enamored by him.  Yep, that boy is 100% player.

PE: If The Avengers only knew that they've got The Absent-Minded Professor amongst them, I trust their ranks would grow smaller. This is one of those harmlessly stupid stories where nothing happens but it happens quickly (the opposite of the swill on display over in the Torch strip). Bob Powell's art happily gets lost in Don Heck's inks. That's a good thing. 

Jack: Jan is so fickle! Didn't she think Thor was hot stuff not so very long ago? Now he's just "stuffy."

Tom:  If these stories are supposed to be funny, I’m not laughing, except at the new costume equipped with a special-ed helmet.  Yeah, the new Air Jordan Giant-Man gear will solve all of big Hank’s problems.  Sub-Mariner was probably really nervous that this new getup was going to catch on with the masses and he’d never get his shot at co-starring in a comic book.

MB: I've read stories in which a super hero got a new uniform, but I don't remember reading one in which the creators--through the mouth of a character--heaped such abuse on the old one as Jan does here; since I think the original Giant-Man outfit was vastly superior to what she came up with, I guess I don't put much stock in her opinion.  It's certainly interesting (well, make that unusual) to read a Giant-Man story in which the bad guy is essentially…Giant-Man, since any menaces involved were created by his own carelessness.  Starting here, Bob Powell provided the pencils for Giant-Man's last five TTA appearances, but since he had a different inker each time (Don Heck, in this case), they didn't really have a consistent look.  Powell was yet another Golden Age vet, and one who--according to Will Eisner--once got punched out by George Tuska!

Jack:  By the way, I don't think that's how a pole vault works. Don't you put the end in front of you on the ground?


Our story

Hulk battles the Humanoids as the Leader looks on. An army attack causes a ledge to collapse, sending Hulk into the sea. He swims away and transforms into Bruce Banner, who is taken prisoner (Commie alert!) on a Russian sub, where he is forced to work alongside other captured scientists. Chained in a small cell, he wills himself to get angry and changes back to the Hulk, going on a rampage. A fellow professor feeds him as a Russian leader prepares to attack the behemoth with a proton gun.

PE: COMMIE ALERT!! It might seem amazing to the uninitiated but those commies were pretty bright despite sending nothing but dopey criminals over to our shores. They must have had mug shots of all our famous scientists on the walls of their submarine rec rooms. No sooner is the shirtless water-logged Bob Banner dragged aboard than he's I.D.'ed by the ship captain.

Jack: This is a weak entry in the Hulk soap opera, made worse by yet another Commie menace.

PE: I thought maybe, just maybe, the stinkin' commie fiends were smart enough to figure out that since "where Banner goes, the Hulk follows" the two have to be the same guy. Alas, the Russkies turn out to be just as dumb as the Americans.

PE: The multi-part arcs can be a postive if used correctly. Unfortunately, Stan hadn't figured it out yet. What we're really given is a "faux" multi-part epic. The Hulk will drift back and forth into The Leader story line but this isn't really one big story with title-changing events. Nothing happens in this story. Banner is captured, turns into the Hulk, and prepares to escape. We're set up for another "To Be Continued," but I suspect we're facing exactly the same nine pages of nothing next issue. And if Stan were a good guy, he'd write in some explanation, for his artists' sake, for the constantly changing size of the Leader's dome.

Journey Into Mystery 114

Our story

After thwarting the escape attempt of a runaway enemy criminal, Thor soon has someone far more deadly to deal with. Loki gifts convict Crusher Creel with the power to absorb the essence of anything he touches, and thus gain its power. Following a tip that reporter Harris Hobbs left Dr. Blake, Thor sets off in pursuit of Creel.  He finds him, but is taken aback by the ability Creel has to turn into living rock, wood or metal by touch. Interrupted by Hobbs seeking a news scoop, the Absorbing Man, as Crusher has called himself, escapes. Thor finds him soon enough, and they battle anew, until the Thunder God disappears, finding himself in Asgard, where Balder informs him that Loki has kidnapped Jane Foster.

“The Golden Apples” is a Marvel version of Little Red Riding Hood, as Fenris the evil wolf-god, attempts to apprehend goddess Iduna, travelling through the forest on her own, with the golden apples of immortality. Hakuun the Hunter saves the day, having seen the action from a safe following place.

JB: I always used to key on JIM # 114 as the start of the really great issues of Thor, but after reading this one again, I’d say we’re not quite there yet. The Absorbing Man is a classic Thor villain though, and this is a just a taste of things to come in the near future.

PE: If Loki is so dagnabbed powerful, why does he have to resort to using gizmos like his "subautronic space distorter"? And where can one buy that in Asgard?

Jack: This is a very good story, and Absorbing Man is a great villain.

PE: I agree but... (you knew there would be a but, didn't you) the panel of Loki's invisible hand slipping Crusher a mickey is hilarious. And was there ever a time when a convict had to wear a ball and chain inside the prison cafeteria?

JB: Beautiful cover art; you know just looking at it, this villain is something special. Harris Hobbs the news reporter is a worthwhile character as well. Interesting Tales Of Asgard, but it ends without much struggle.

PE: Second use of the endearing term "Button Nose" in a Marvel comic this month (the other being Reed Richards to Sue Storm). Note to self: check romance comics of 1965 for use of "button nose." I seem to be out of the room quite a bit when our characters make headway in their romances. Reed and Sue get engaged somewhere between issues 35 and 36 and, unless I missed something, Doc lame-o and Jane are now out in the open with their affections. We know they've loved each other since day one, but I've not seen Jane use the word in a conversation with Don before. It's good to see Thor never changes though: he breaks a date with the only woman he will ever love to go chasing a super villain that may or may not exist based on an off-hand remark from a reporter. I'm sure the next time Jane gets kidnapped (soon) he'll regret (again) not showing her how much he loves her.
MBIt's funny to see all of the letters in this issue grousing about continued stories, particularly in light of the title's unusual status at that time.  While not a true split book like Suspense or Astonish, and no longer featuring backup SF/horror tales, it was still prevented from running book-length stories due to the presence of the "Tales of Asgard" feature.  Certainly the advent of a major villain such as the Absorbing Man calls for a larger canvas, especially when part one is almost all action.  It's also interesting that despite the frequent overlap in characters and setting, "TOA" really does feel like a different strip due to the differences in panel size, inker (Vince Colletta, whose work I often don't care for elsewhere, vs. Chic Stone), and overall storytelling style.

PE: I thought reporter Harris Hobbs would be more than meets the eye, Loki in disguise or one of Thor's other foes lying in the grass, but he's just a nosey journalist. Hobbs becomes a semi-regular through the 1960s.

Jack: Don Blake calls Jane Foster "button nose." Over in Tales to Astonish, Hank Pym calls Jan "button nose." These are the kind of details that make up a graduate-level thesis here at Marvel U.

PE: The issue ends with Jane Foster being kidnapped by Loki. I swear I didn't peek. I hate being right all the time.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #121
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1
Millie the Model #127
Monsters to Laugh With #3
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #16
Two-Gun Kid #74


 Like the Marvel Tales Annual (which will soon become a regular title), Marvel Collectors' Item Classics presents reprints of "classic" Marvel hero stories. Looking back at them nearly fifty years (even with my jaded eye) it's hard to argue with the title. But... two to three years after first appearing, I'd be hard pressed to call anything a classic (in particular anything featuring Gi-Ant Man). Issue #1 reprints Fantastic Four #2; Amazing Spider-Man #3; the "Tales of Asgard" backup from Journey Into Mystery #97; and the Ant-Man "classic" from Tales to Astonish #36. With #23, the title became "Marvel's Greatest Comics" and continued (reprinting Fantastic Four issues) until January 1981 (#96).
In the awkwardly titled "A Fortress in the Desert Stands" (#16), Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos must force their way into a Nazi stronghold in the desert of North Africa with the help of some unfriendly Arabs. I'm not sure what's worse: the snail's pace of the story or my growing dislike for Reb and his vicious Southern drawl. Not one of the better Furys (Not bad! Even the art by Dick Ayers is bearable, though the different dialects get tired and the Arabs lay it on too thick-Jack).

Arab girls in the middle of the desert in WWII look
 like they would not be out place dating the Human Torch.


  1. Re: Cap and Bucky, don't ask, don't tell, and most definitely DO NOT pursue. But I heartily agree on all of the love connections that aren't happening...yet, although many of them do end up paired off in the (relatively) long term. The sameness of the subplots and dialogue doesn't help. I'm ashamed to admit I had no idea Ka-Zar wasn't "created" by Marvel.

    I want to see a nude Jan. (You guys haven't even instituted the obligatory "Marvel Babe of the Week/Month" feature. What gives here?)

    I was actually going to comment on that highly atmospheric shot of Dr. Strange that you used as a grab, but you have once again proven that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well done.

    And thanks for devoting some space to reprints, a subject of growing significance to me, as I will soon discuss in my next "Snapshot" post. I share your surprise that Marvel reprinted the stories, and dubbed them "classics," so soon.

  2. Matthew -

    Take another look at Egghead Betty in the Spider-Man cap above. In time, I'm sure we'll see a Marvel Babe of the Week emerge, but I don't expect that to evolve from the pencils of Silly-Putty Steve Ditko or Jawbone Jack Kirby.

    And now for a rebuttal from the president of the Jane Foster Fan Club, Jim Barwise... ;)

  3. As noted, Sultry Sleeping Jane will be a candidate next week/month; otherwise, your point is a valid one.

  4. For my money, whenever Wally Wood draws Karen Page in Daredevil, she wins babe of the month, hands down. Va-va-voom!

  5. All this manly sweaty talk reminds me of the time I walked into my local comics store in the early 80s. The debate between two... very large young men... was whether Jean Grey's breasts were bigger than Mary Jane Watson's. I'm not kidding here. These guys were discussing this loudly as if the two cartoon characters really existed. I'm not sure but I think that was about the time I got out of comics. Not sure if one had anything to do with the other.
    For my money, it's She-Hulk, by the way.

  6. Gentleman, let's try to raise the maturity level with the discussions on this blog. You all come off as childish with your selections. Afterall, everyone knows that Gwen Stacy is the hottest chick to ever appear in a comic book! Va-va-va-voom!!!!!!!

  7. I've done Gwen Stacy. Ink was messy as hell but it was very satisfying. Can any of the rest of you so-called "men" top that?

  8. Lol! No, you got me there. Hmmmmmmm.....She-Hulk you say? Now that you mention it.....

  9. Back to Thor, wait until Sif appears on the scene. Babe, babe, babe! In the Thor movie I thought it was a good move though, to play down the Sif character as a romantic interaction with Thor; she was more of a battle companion. They did hint at a touch of jealousy by Sif, vs. a very different, and interesting Jane.
    Tom's right- we need to get our minds out of the gutter!

  10. March 1965 was an important date in the history of Marvel Comics, and, surprisingly, Stan Lee seems to know it.

    He modestly proclaims "Beginning now!! The start of the greatest black magic spectacular ever presented…" Actually, it's the first instance of what made Marvel Superheroes great … the extended saga.

    This particular saga will run for sixteen months, and end with Steve Ditko walking out the door, never to work on a Spider Man or Dr. Strange story again. I bet Stan didn't see that coming. The other well remembered sagas of the day, in the pages of The Fantastic Four and Thor, haven't quite begun, but they're starting to take shape.

    At this point in time, Lee has an unhealthy dependence on Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko to produce the bulk of the artwork, so we can forgive them if their work isn't as high in quality as it should be.

    In this month alone, Ditko pencilled, inked, (and plotted) 40 pages. It's to his credit that his Dr. Strange artwork doesn't seem to suffer. Jack Kirby smashed out 70 penciled and plotted pages, 20 pages of layouts (and probably most of the plot), and a few covers. Kirby must've been a machine. (first post and I'm already doing statistics)

    Clearly, the Torch/Thing, Giant Man and Hulk stories are at the bottom of Stan Lee's list of concerns. There's a never ending roster of rotating artists with Kirby and Ditko often finding themselves dragged back onto The Hulk in a desperate attempt to get the character to work. As if they haven't got enough to do.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  11. I read DAREDEVIL #7 shortly after this post ran, and reached the same conclusion as Professor Jack.

    Speaking of being on the same page, Glenn and I certainly are when it comes to Dr. Strange.

  12. Mike from Los AngelesDecember 26, 2011 at 2:25 PM

    FYI, "Frankie Ray" was a pseudonym for Frank Giacoia. Similarly, "Mickey Demeo" was Mike Esposito and "Adam Austin" was Gene Colan. Back then, certain companies didn't take kindly to having their talent work for competitors.

  13. Glenn!

    I'm so glad you've found the fork in the road and visited the University.


    Thanks for visiting and extra thanks for the info!

  14. Ka-Zar was first resurrected for the comics by Martin Goodman in Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939).

    Great blog!