Friday, October 26, 2012

November 1968: How Much is Too Much Spider-Man?

Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 7
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Namor is awakened by a nightmare in which the villain named Destiny is running for office under the pseudonym Paul Destine.  Unfortunately for the prince of the sea, the bad guy is doing just that in the real world.  Destiny has gathered quite a following thanks to his hypnotic helmet.  Namor wants to meet up with the recently captured Tiger Shark’s sister, Diane Arliss, so that he can inform her of her brother’s condition and whereabouts.  With Lady Dorma by his side, Subby heads to New York, where he soon realizes that his nightmare was real after he encounters a campaign truck for Paul Destine. After a brief altercation with some cops he makes contact with Diane.  After he informs her that her brother the Tiger Shark is still alive and held captive, Namor quizzes her about Destiny.  Once his name is mentioned, Namor can tell that she has been brainwashed by the villain and surmises correctly that everyone else who has watched him give one of his speeches has been entranced as well.  Destiny is about to give a big televised speech that night.  Namor crashes it and the two bitter enemies fight ferociously.  It’s a violent clash, with Subby not being at full strength due to lack of water.  The end happens when Destiny throws Sub-Mariner from the roof of the building.  The delirious villain then goes to levitate to the ground below but falls to his doom.  Namor relates to Dorma that he himself never fell to the ground and that it was all in Destiny’s warped mind because the madman couldn’t comprehend not being able to best Namor in battle.   
Tom:  A weird ending that seemed a little rushed.  It was still a good issue that moved at a breakneck pace.  It just seems that after all the time that was put into previous issues regarding Destiny’s whole back story that this seemed a little anti-climatic.  The poor villain wasn’t even featured on the cover, which was also very good if I may say so.  I’m a big fan of mixing real photography with drawings of the heroes.      

MB: So, the threat of unlikely politico Paul Destine, which has hung like a shroud over the vengeful Namor since the latter days of Tales to Astonish, is finally ended; apt, too, that Giacoia should have been succeeded by Adkins, whose relationship with Subby goes back to theAstonish era as well.  I’m a little disappointed that Namor never did get to the Baxter Building to ask Reed Richards for help in locating Destiny (although he got as close as New York Harbor, as seen in Captain Marvel #4), but that would likely have led to another Marvel Misunderstanding. Having Destiny’s death derive from a moment of supreme self-delusion, believing that he could levitate without his crown, was a nice touch on Roy’s part.  Loved the ladies and hated the cover.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 6
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During a test flight with Fury, pilot Cliff Randall dreams that their rocket cruiser is pulled into a hidden installation by alien “Others,” whose escape via a gateway soon to open will result in Earth’s destruction.  The Observatron shows that a planetoid from the asteroid belt is now on a collision course with Earth, yet when Nick and Cliff fly to its point of impact in the Andes to learn what is drawing it there, the dream comes true, and Cliff is revealed as one of the Others.  They came to Earth fleeing combat in their dimension and planted amnesiac “prodigals” to monitor us; assigned to pilot their craft through the dimensional barrier, with the planetary impact as a catalyst, Cliff finds a spark of humanity and flies into the asteroid.

MB: In his introduction to the second S.H.I.E.L.D. special edition, Archie Goodwin recalls that in ’68, “the whiz kid from Warren, master of the shock ending horror story, the gut-wrenching war tale, [was] trying to make a name for myself as a writer in the biggest comic genre…[and] at Marvel, the place where they did it best….I settled for playing it cool, learning all I could about the super hero business from Stan, Roy and [especially] Jim, and basically trying not to disgrace myself... You know what they did to me?  I had to follow his act.  When Steranko decided to move on to Captain America, they tapped me to jump into the breach for a couple of issues….How’d I do? Well, let’s just say there aren’t plans for a special reprint collection of my S.H.I.E.L.D. stories.”

PE: Amazing to me this mess was written by the same guy responsible for so many great Warren horror stories and would, six years into the future, co-create the brilliant "Manhunter" back-up series for DC's Detective Comics. This installment is meandering and unfocused (not that Steranko was particularly focused), twin deaths I'd never have thought to apply to the name Archie Goodwin. I'm off to read Blazing Combat.

MB: With this, the long death march to cancellation begins, and since Steranko’s visual style is utterly unmistakable, it might be argued that Frank Springer—fresh from illustrating Roy Thomas’s fill-in on #4—has even heftier shoes to fill.  Unfortunately, although Goodwin opines that he “did a really nice job of delivering the visual dash expected of a book like S.H.I.E.L.D.,” the cartoonish Springer is on my short list of least-favorite artists.  The story, scripted by Archie from a plot by Roy, is not the worst thing I’ve ever read, but as with #2, this type of SF tale (perhaps harkening to Goodwin’s Warren roots) seems somewhat out of place for Fury, despite the amount of weird science Steranko routinely slipped into the strip, while Springer’s art never helps it come to life.

The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special 5
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While moving a trunk out of the basement for his Aunt May, Peter Parker comes across a newspaper clipping of his parents from years before. Suddenly it all comes clear why May and Ben had never discussed his parents with Peter. The clipping reveals that Richard and Mary Parker were traitors, selling secrets, to a foreign country (and we'll leave it to you to figure out which country that might have been), before dying in a plane crash. Not able to concentrate on anything else, Peter finally gives in and, after pulling in a favor with Reed Richards, hops a flight in one of Tony Stark's experimental birds to Algeria. There he hopes to meet up with the man who identified the Parkers' bodies. After he questions the man he's searching for, The Amazing Spider-Man is attacked in an alley by a number of thugs. Shots are fired and Spidey is nicked in the head, falling into a nearby canal. Assuming their target is dead, the thugs disband before a webbed hand arises form the murky water. Knowing now he must be on to something, Spidey redoubles his efforts to discover the truth behind the mystery of his parents. A bot more unearthing leads him to a villa, behind which lies a bank of file cabinets. In one of those files, Spidey finds his father's M.M.M.S. International Spy Card. As he's perusing the card, he's interrupted by the owner of the villa, The Red Skull! Unaware that Spider-Man is after a particular file, The Skull orders his bodyguard, Sandor, to take the wall-crawler apart limb by limb. Spidey makes quick work of Sandor and The Skull takes a powder. Realizing that his parents were, after all, traitors, Spider-Man hangs his head and prepares to make his way back to the States. But The Skull, worried about the information our hero may have pulled out of his handy filing system, sends The Finisher after him. In the end, after he's defeated both The Red Skull and The Finisher, Peter Parker discovers the truth about his father: he was a double-agent, working for the U.S. government, infiltrating The Skull's organization and reporting back. At last knowing the truth, The Amazing Spider-Man can swing off into the sunset with pride.

Don't leave home without it.
PE: From start to finish, this is the weakest and most ludicrous of all Spider-Man comics I've read. At double the length, it's two times the insult. The idea that The Red Skull not only employed Peter Parker's parents as spies (holy coincidence!) but also kept a card file and issued membership cards with a skull logo makes me alternately laugh until I weep and shake my head in utter disgust. Spidey takes one look at the back of the card, says "Yep, that's my pop's signature" (never mind that he knew nothing about his father until recently, he's obviously committed the man's signature to memory), and buys that his parents were stinkin' traitors. Let's not forget that Richard Parker needed a safe place to conceal his U.S. Spy Card so he kept it sealed inside his Red Skull Card! The Finisher needs an Electro-Scanner and a bit of Spider-Man's uniform to track him down, even though Spidey's obviously the only guy swinging his way through The Casbah in a red and blue webbed outfit. The Skull's goons, bumblers that they are, found the web-slinger pretty easy without any Electro-Whatzit. Even at seven years of age, if I'd have spent two bits on this bird cage liner, I'd have taken out my Crayolas and written a right nasty letter to the Bullpen.

MB:  Once again, this annual is penciled by Stan’s brother, “Larrupin’ Larry” Lieber (although with Demeo inking and Romita “consulting,” the results don’t differ drastically from the monthly mag), and is, let’s say, upholstered, e.g., the opening requiring seven pages for Spidey to get winged by taciturn toughs in, of all places, the Casbah.  The takeaway is that after 66 issues, we address the mystery of Peter’s parents…at least we’ll hope people remember it for that, rather than Stan’s mediocre script, and even pitting Spidey against the Skull seems more of a head-scratcher than a masterstroke.  If you’ve already read this, then I won’t waste any more of your time by enumerating the story’s inanities—of which there are, alas, a dismally high number.

PE: Astoundingly, it appears May Parker hasn't aged a day in two decades since that panel of Peter propped on his dad's lap has a very grey May in the background. Was she born old? Hard to believe that, silence from May and Ben notwithstanding, no one in town would have tipped Parker off to the truth behind his parents. Wouldn't JJJ have made a big stink about it? I have no idea if this adventure takes place before or after the events that occur in The Amazing Spider-Man #66 this month but it's a bit ironic that Spidey vows, after finding out the truth "after all these years -- after all the heartbreak and shame" (of which he knew nothing), to "never again... bemoan (his) secret identity -- or toy with the thought of giving it up!" See below for an update on that.

Aunt May and Uncle Ben in their younger days?

JS: This issue also features five rather silly pin-up pages (including what Spider-Man might look like if he were drawn for other comic companies) and a three-page "humorous" look at what goes on in a plotting session with Stan The Man, Jazzy Johnny, and Larrupin' Larry.

The Amazing Spider-Man 66
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Mysterio is back in town and number one priority for the super-villain is vengeance. He makes a public appearance and, coincidentally, Peter Parker is witness to the magic show. Caught up in one of his periodic bouts of self-pity, Peter swears that he's had enough of costumed villains and the police can handle the orbed villain. In the positive column, Parker runs into Gwen Stacy, who exclaims she forgives all the treachery Peter has committed in the past few weeks and vows undying love for the befuddled teen. Meanwhile, across town, Norman Osborn has suited up and appears ready to get back into business. Mysterio breaks into all TV stations and issues a challenge to The Amazing Spider-Man: come out, come out, wherever you are! Since regaining the love of his sweetheart, Peter Parker renews his vows to fight evil and heads off to meet Mysterio. Unfortunately for our wall-crawling hero, Mysterio has a new ace up his sleeve: a bazooka-like weapon that reduces Spidey to six inches tall!

MB: Without trying to sound too curmudgeonly, this is not half bad for a Mysterio story, although having Fishbowl-Head admonish Spidey for wearing a “corny costume” really is the limit, and learning that he, of all people, was assigned to the prison pharmacy marks another Mighty Marvel Penological Triumph.  But to give credit where it’s due, the atmospheric amusement-park shots that bookend the story display the pre-Mooney art team of Romita et alia working to best advantage, giving our bad guy some heft.  The overdue rapprochement between Peter and Gwen is most welcome (as is the fact that the nascent pro-Spidey alliance uniting her father and Robbie has not been forgotten), even if Aunt May’s Threatened Relapse #387 is not.

PE: I had hoped that we'd seen the last of that "Hey, wait a minute, what did the world ever do for me? Let the police handle this instead of Spider-Man! No one appreciates me!" nonsense (especially after vowing the contrary in the ASM Annual). We all know the panel where Peter admonishes himself for being so selfish is not far behind (and sure enough, all it takes is the admission of love from Gwen two pages later). Norman Osborn's descent into madness has taken quite a leap since last issue, when he was questioning the strange visions he'd been having, to this issue's panels of Osborn dressed as The Green Goblin. Obviously, quite a few of the shades have been opened. A low grade issue, all around, from its sub-par art to its by-the-numbers story (including a return look at May Parker's extremely slow death), which surprised and disappointed at the same time. I dig Mysterio despite his one-note menace. It's nowhere near the swill of the Annual, but it doesn't merit a Mylar.

Daredevil 46
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Daredevil punches out an orderly at the prison then escapes by impersonating a doctor.  On the run from the law, he figures out that it was the Jester who framed him for murder.  He devises a plan to flush the creepy villain out by impersonating him on the Johnny Carson show.  Once the Jester sees the impostor Daredevil on television he becomes enraged and barges into the television studio.  Double D wins this round after they fight.  Once victorious, Daredevil exposes the Jester’s identity and the cops take him away to jail, with Double D being cleared now for the fake murder.  In the end, our hero still longs for Karen, who wants nothing to do with Matt Murdock.
Tom:  You could fit both the Hulk and the Blob through some of these Daredevil story plot holes.  The Jester makes his exit for now as one of the more charismatic villains that has been featured in this series. Big LOL moment when Daredevil pays some bum for his clothes as a disguise.     

Jack: I love Daredevil’s medical chart hanging from the foot of his prison bed: blood pressure, temperature and pulse all checked out normal on Monday. I wish we could have seen the prison doctor conduct that exam! Daredevil impersonating the Jester by putting a costume shop outfit over his duds reminds me of his classic Thor impersonation. The costume shops in New York have some impressive stuff!

MB: Remember how we used to wait with varying degrees of patience for the Hulk’s strip to pull itself out of the doldrums, even if only temporarily (thank you, Legion of the Living Lightning), and perhaps still do?  Well, there seems to be cause for hope on Hornhead’s side of the street...not that I ever had a problem with Gene’s pencils, but now Stan—borrowing the same “Will the imprisoned hero be unmasked?” bit he’d just used in Amazing Spider-Man—has toned down the strip’s silliness somewhat to bring the Jester trilogy to its solidly satisfying conclusion. Inker George Klein proves he is every bit as much of an asset here as in Avengers, while Colan’s fun-house layouts are once again eminently suited to the story and its somewhat unhinged heavy.

Doctor Strange 174
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Dr. Strange sets Clea up in a swanky pad in a nearby building in order to protect her. He then flies Victoria back to England, where they visit the castle of Lord Nekron. It seems Nekron sold his soul to Satannish a year ago and must forfeit it if he can’t find a mortal mystic to take his place. Guess who he has in mind?

Jack: I wonder if Steranko had an influence on Colan. This art by Colan and Palmer is the best I’ve seen at Marvel University. I thought Colan’s work on Daredevil was getting very creative, but his Dr. Strange layouts are amazing. I suspect his storytelling skill is also having a positive effect on writer Roy Thomas.

MB: I wasn’t crazy about this issue’s mercifully one-shot villain, Lord Nekron, but his Faustian bargain with Satannish made for a good story, and it’s always fun to catch a glimpse of one of those entities who are so often invoked in Strange’s spells and exclamations (Up next: Hoggoth?).  Roy also compensates by once again giving a commendable amount of face time to our distaff cast members—although Clea needs some new duds to go with those new digs—and even shining the spotlight briefly on Wong.  As for the artwork, Gene and Tom continue to grow better at drawing Doc, especially on that handsome splash page; my only reservation is with their rendition of the Ancient One, who simply doesn’t look like the same character Ditko had created.

The Mighty Thor 158
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Ragnarok has been aborted, the world is safe once more, and Thor returns to Earth, to pick up the pieces of his mortal life as Dr. Don Blake. Many are the questions that the human version of our hero asks himself. Is he really a human? And if so, who is Thor? Or is the “real” Thor somewhere else?  He thinks back on his life since that fateful day when he was on holiday in Norway, and how he found the cane that became the hammer of Thor. The Stone Men from Saturn, who had chased him into the cave where he found the cane, proved to be no match for the Thunder God, and fled. There hasn’t been much time for him to ponder this paradox, but Blake, reflecting on the people he’s met and places he’s been, can’t get it out of his mind. Where are the answers?

JB: It’s a good way to follow up such a classic quartet of a storyline as the one with Mangog -- to review the Thunder God’s life so far. And, to be fair, if you were reading the stories to this point for the first time, you might have been so caught up in all the adventures as to forget the whole identity crisis of Blake/Thor. The reflective moments Blake has offer some nice tidbits of artwork, of Asgard and it’s people, so we aren’t really bothered by the lack of an original tale here. Now, let’s get some answers!

PE: I've got no problem with Jack and Stan stopping to catch a breath after the pulse-pounding arc they just wrapped up but wasn't it just last week that I was musing that the "framed reprints" didn't come along until the 70s? Open mouth, insert boot. Stan has the balls to begin the reprint with "For the purpose of achieving total authenticity, the following flashback pages are reprinted in exact detail from the original origin of Thor..." Read that as "we were too cheap to have Jack (or Gene or Don or...) redraw the origin and this way we don't have to pay Jack a penny!" The prologue does bring up some questions I'd raised as to where Thor and Dr. Don go when the other is occupying space. Brings them up but doesn't answer them. Next issue: The Answer!

MB:  Not a lot of new material here, and what little there is really serves only to frame the reprint and set up the following issue, wherein we are promised “The Answer!” to questions that some of us were raising back in the Journey into Mystery period.  In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of this mélange is the dynamic between the story, such as it is, and the lettercol, in which several correspondents address those very same questions.  This falls into the period—mercifully brief, if I’m not mistaken—during which Marvel was printing only letters with no replies, so we are denied any editorial input on the matter, but without having read these stories for many years, my recollection is that some of the ideas they suggested are pretty close to what appears in #159.

The Invincible Iron Man 7
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The Maggia shores up its defenses with the help of The Gladiator. Together they kidnap Tony Stark and his date, Janice Cord, in hopes of luring Iron Man to their lair. Risking his reputation as a he-man playboy, Stark manages to gain access to his attache case and jumps through a window. When he gets to shelter, he changes his uniform and flies back as Iron Man to save his companions. Unfortunately for Shellhead, his repulser rays are damaged in the ensuing battle and he seems helpless to the onslaught of The Gladiator's buzz-saws. Meanwhile, at Stark Industries, The Maggia henchmen, led by The Big M herself (aka Jasper Sitwell's new girlfriend, Whitney Frost), ready themselves for the big break-in.

PE: A little sexual innuendo from Janice Cord's attorney after he and his client have negotiated with Tony Stark" "You're both getting on so well, now might be the time to show some of the holdings..." Oh, that Archie! Whitney Frost's ongoing battle inside her head ("I'm the Big M! But I love Jasper! But I've gotta get these weapons! But my Jasp might get hurt!") is the comic book equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.  The seemingly endless succession of fourth-tier and fifth-tier villains appearing in this title continues.

MB:  Continuing Goodwin’s winning streak on this title, the Gladiator seems a perfect foeman for Shellhead; I like the way his blade rips through the title logo, and of course his prior involvement with the Maggia makes his presence logical as the Whitney Frost situation heats up. Unfortunately, the story’s effectiveness is, uhm, undercut somewhat by the maddeningly uneven nature of Tuska’s faces, with major characters like Tony, Jasper, and Janice looking okay but the Maggia goons, in particular, too cartoony for words (as is Vincent Sandhurst, overshadowed by his brother Basil a few months hence).  In the lettercol, Jimmy Babula, self-appointed “Unicorn Fan #1,” makes the intriguing suggestion that old Uni be reformed and turned into a super-hero.

PE: He should try out for The Avengers. They've never turned down a fourth-tier or lower super-villain!

The X-Men 50
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Lorna Dane, new gal-pal of the Uncanny X-Men is transformed into The Queen of the Mutants by Mesmero.  There may be a question as to where her loyalties lie as the team discovers that Lorna is actually the daughter of Magneto. Will she become the new X-Kid or will she help pop bring down the team, now so much weaker since the death of Professor X?

MB:  My expectation was that this issue would represent a valiant effort by Jim Steranko (whose cover is admittedly striking) to offset the downward slide that Arnold Drake has merely accelerated, yet no matter how many one- and two-page shots he throws at us, it doesn’t seem to display Jaunty Jim at his finest.  Hank, in particular, looks like a misplaced cherub, oddly similar to the work of Heck and Roth; having read ahead to Jim’s first issue of Captain America, I know he can still draw, so I’m not sure whether to blame Tartaglione, or if Drake just poisons whatever he touches.  When I started the prior installment, Mesmero came out of left field so abruptly that I thought I’d missed an issue, and now I feel like I’ve missed two, the storyline is so disjointed…

JS: While it may not be Steranko's best, at least this issue is above average when it comes to providing visual entertainment. The visuals have more of a cinematic style than the standard comic book fare, reminding me of the early days of Gene Colan breaking up the status quo when it came to Marvel page layouts. And I'm a sucker for those double page spreads, perhaps because (writing aside) it feels like the story doesn't drag on as long as previous installments.

Werner Roth it ain't!
PE: While I agree that the story makes about as much sense as a comic book featuring the solo adventures of Johnny Storm, I do have to say, for me, the strip just ekes out a pass this time thanks to the bit of Steranko that peeks out of John Tartaglione's  mud inks. That may also be due to my lowered expectations thanks to the swill we've been subjected to in this title for the last four years or so. You're right, Professor Matthew. It's a case of peaks and valleys. Some of the panels appear to be sketched by a grade-schooler. I think Lorna Dane's ascendence to "Queen of Mutants" (shouldn't it be "Princess of Mutants" since she's Magneto's little girl?) would have packed more of a punch if we'd gotten to know her character for more than three or four panels before the "startling" reveal. And why does she hold her fingers as if she's either got web-spinners or attending a Black Sabbath concert? In the final panel, Magneto looks like he should have a cigar in one hand before he tells the X-Men about the hellacious day he had at work.

Captain America 107
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Twenty years on, the guilt over the death of Bucky Barnes wracks the very soul of Captain America. Plagued by nightmares of a finger-pointing Bucky-demon, Cap seeks professional help from Dr. Faustus. Unknown to Cap, Faustus is feeding our hero with nightmare-inducing narcotics and providing real-life hallucinations to drive the star-spangled Avenger to madness. Luckily, Cap gets wise to the doc and puts the kibosh on his diabolical plan.

PE: The King's art is as stellar as ever but the story's a hoot. We not only get the specter of Bucky for the umpteenth time but the Abbott and Costello-like spinning walls and fully garbed Nazis who disappear in thin air. The finale, where we see Faustus recreate the entire scenario of Bucky's death just to send Cap over the edge seems a case of the doctor needing a doctor. I've got to agree with one of Faustus' henchmen who says to his boss: "You're goin' to a lotta trouble to polish him off! Why not just slip him a Mickey and then one bullet'll do it!" These bad guys never learn. Steve Rogers' dependency on his drugs is harrowing (as grim as a CCA-approved comic can be) and predicts the ground-breaking "Pill-popping Harry Osborn" arc in The Amazing Spider-Man #96-98 (May-July 1971) that saw the first Marvel superhero comic book sans a cover seal in over a decade.

MB: Through no fault of his own, Doctor Faustus suffers from an unfortunate association:  whenever he is invoked, I immediately see him as I first encountered him, drawn by the dreaded Frank Robbins seven years hence.  This shopworn story has more substantive issues, though, e.g., the fact that it hasn’t been very long since the last time—which I do not believe was the first time—Cap thought he was losing his marbles.  I do know it was only two months ago, in Avengers #56, that Cap last wallowed in Bucky Syndrome, and although I realize that’s supposed to be his Achilles’ heel, it does feel, with the Red Skull having played the Bucky card as recently as Tales of Suspense #88-89, that we are in danger of going back to that particular well too often.

PE: That well done gone dry. We never do find out why Faustus wants to drive Cap nuts. Just another bored Nazi/Commie?

Captain Marvel 7
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Teleported home to face new accusations from Yon-Rogg about his loyalty, Mar-Vell is interrogated in the Truth Chair, but the results are inconclusive, so Ronan orders him to select a town in which to release a deadly virus, testing Earthmen for natural immunity.  Yon-Rogg fires a small charge of cosmic energy at Carol, whose bacon is yet again saved by Captain Marvel, and after she shares her suspicions of “Lawson,” he utilizes a cell transmuter to make his fingerprints match a photo of Lawson’s.  Quasimodo, the living computer, shows his mastery of all things mechanical to force the base commander to recreate the computer network used against Solam; his power thus increased, he squares off against Mar-Vell in a town of robot mannequins.

MB:Emblematic of this book’s precipitous decline, even the lettering is a problem, with Sam Rosen’s dialogue balloons breaking mid-phrase in the most distracting ways.  Not wanting to kick a Kree when he’s down, I haven’t said much about the artwork, yet as hard as poor Heck endeavors to maintain the style established by Colan, Tartag just keeps cutting him off at the knees.  Drake’s dialogue is ludicrous, his plotting is repetitious (Yon-Rogg accuses Mar-Vell of treason; Ronan adjudicates; Yon-Rogg issues orders even more onerous to obey), and as Mar-Vell is directed to wipe out an entire town or elseisn’t it convenient that he then immediately stumbles across one populated only with artificial people he can pretend to kill with the virus…y’know, like you do?

PE: I guess I'll be the one to take a positive from all the negatives. I thought the "mannequin town" was a nice twist. Okay, that was my positive.

Marvel Super-Heroes 17
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Dane Whitman thinks he has put the Black Knight behind him until he has a vision of his medieval ancestor while touring an English castle. Dane pulls a sword from a scabbard and becomes the Black Knight once again--and none too soon, since Modred has enchanted a down on his luck knife thrower named Le Sabre and turned him into a villain bent on the Black Knight’s destruction.

Jack: This is an enjoyable story highlighted by art by Golden Age stalwart Howard Purcell and inks by Dan Adkins “and co.” The Black Knight would hang around the edges of the core group of Marvel Heroes for a long time but no solo book followed hot on the heels of this tryout. There is a monster straight out of Robert E. Howard that I would swear was swiped from somewhere if Adkins were responsible for the pencils.

PE: Can't agree with you, Professor Jack. This one just about put me to sleep. It's an oddball to be sure, almost like a second origin story for The Black Knight (what would be called a reboot these days). The retro-story is obviously another trip to the well by Golden Age fan-atic Roy Thomas. I'll join those who feel that Roy not only added to the Silver Age of Comics but revolutionized it by paying homage to the past. The art by Purcell is gorgeous and reminds me of the stellar work that Joe Maneely did on the original Black Knight strip in the 1950s. It looks like a lot of time and care was spent on each panel. The Knight will become a regular member of The Avengers in 1985, further solidifying a membership that included, at one time or another, six bank robbers, five purse snatchers, three cat burglars, and a mass murderer. Well, it is a fine line between hero and villain.

Jack: The reprints include a Human Torch and Toro story from 1954 with dreadful art by our old friend Dick Ayers, followed by a delightful three-page Sub-Mariner story from 1955  by Bill Everett that shows the first time a 14-year-old Subby discovered he could fly. Best of all is the first half of an epic story from 1946 featuring the All-Winners Squad. This is the kind of Golden Age Marvel story that I love. Future Man, who looks like a little old lady, comes back from a million years in the future to kill everyone on Earth so the people of the future can come back in time and colonize the planet. Each chapter features one hero (or team) trying to save a continent. The wild thing about this story is that Future Man drops a germ bomb in a European city and everybody dies! Fortunately, Captain America and Bucky prevent further carnage. The second chapter features the Whizzer, Marvel’s rip off of the Flash. The story is so long that it will be concluded next issue! The All-Winners Squad was a copy of the Justice Society, but it was extremely entertaining.

"One vast heap of dead"

The Avengers 58
Our Story

The Vision asks if he can be a member of the Avengers. The whole group, including Iron Man and Thor, gets together to discuss it and, after trying to beat up their prospective new member, they trot out to Hank Pym’s place in the suburbs. Jan hooks Hank up to a machine that helps him remember creating a machine that quickly became sentient, attacking him and wiping out his memory of it. The machine evolved into Ultron-5, who came back to Hank’s house and used his machinery to create a synthozoid, a being made of synthetic parts but supplied with the thoughts and memories of Wonder Man, who had died back in Avengers 9. The mystery of the Vision’s provenance solved, the Avengers vote him in as a new member.

Jack: While it’s interesting to learn where the Vision (and Ultron-5) came from, this issue is a dud. We get the obligatory fight scene, where the heroes fight each other for no apparent reason, followed by a less than thrilling trip to the suburbs, a flashback, and a conclusion. On one full-page panel, we see what purports to be a portrayal of everyone who was ever an Avenger, and Spider-Man is right there in the middle of the group. Was he ever an Avenger? I must have missed that. Another strange scene features Thor swinging his hammer and transporting all of the Avengers through the sky with him. Is that a power he has had before? Not being a reader of Thor, I’ll ask the other professors if Thor can magically swoop everyone up in his aura and fly them off to the suburbs.
Just like a driver's license.

MB: For me, it doesn’t get any better than a properly inked John Buscema penciling a passel of Assemblers that includes the Vision, and the featured role for my beloved Hank Pym is but the icing on an already tasty cake. We finally crack open the whole can of Oedipal whoopass that is Ultron, which will have decades’ worth of ramifications, and in what turns out to be only the next layer of the onion, Roy reaches once again into his “Days of Marvel Past” bag of tricks to establish the use of the (temporarily deceased) Wonder Man’s brain patterns as the “secret of the Vision.” Speaking of whom, I leave it to your collective imagination to assess the impact of that stunning final page, proving that “Even an Android Can Cry,” on this little Maudlin Man…

Flower power, Avengers-style!

Fantastic Four 80
Our Story

Helping Crystal to keep the Baxter Building tidy during Sue’s stay in the hospital, Johnny and Ben are happy to take a break to read a letter from their old pal Wyatt Wingfoot. Reed arrives in time to here the gist of it: evil spirits and the legend of a living totem are worrying Wyatt’s people. With the baby’s birth a week off at the soonest, the leader of the team suggests they pay Wyatt a visit via the Pogo Plane. Before they arrive, the action already starts. Wingfoot, using the Gyro-Cruiser the Black Panther gave to him and Johnny, is exploring his tribe’s land to see if he can find some evidence of the evil totem. Soon enough he does; a walking mechanical giant who calls himself Tomazooma, and vows to destroy the people that created him. Wyatt manages to escape in the Gyro-Cruiser before the Totem can blast him out of existence. He reaches his grandfather, Silent Fox, his people’s leader, and warns him. The Fantastic Four had been talking to Silent Fox before Wyatt joined them. The legends of their people tell of Tomazooma as their protector, and Silent Fox is certain that this deadly mechanical contraption is a false one. The Red Star oil company who wants to buy the land has sent this weapon to drive Wingfoot’s people from their land, but his people are too brave to flee, and refuse outside aid in fighting their battle. Except for the Fantastic Four’s aid that is; as the trio finds that the false Tomazooma is a formidable foe. Reed calculates that the robot’s power source is inside his fixed mouth opening, and gets Wyatt to fire him (compressed into a ball) from a bazooka. His calculation is correct, and the robot collapses in the explosion that ensues. As the group relaxes in victory, the “real” Tomazooma appears to be faintly visible in a fading vapor cloud, or is he?

Totem Who Walks? Death What Walks? What's the Dif?

MB: So, they clearly had room to squeeze in one more stand-alone issue while Sue was in the hospital waiting to give birth, and with the team short one member, they threw in Wyatt’s return as well, although this tale is so frantic that he doesn’t really get a chance to shine. Interesting that in the concurrent annual, we get Annihilus, “The Living Death That Walks,” and here we get Tomazooma, “The Death That Walks” (aka “The Totem Who Walks”); obviously, in all of the excitement, Stan forgot to mix it up more.  It’s nice to see a little—okay, very little—of Wyatt’s tribal roots, and to meet his grandfather, Silent Fox, even if that whole Tomazooma/Red Star Oil Company bit is a tad sketchy; Reed’s Wham-O® Super Ball® solution looks real painful!

PE: What says "loony" more than a Tales to Astonish monster seven years into your run? After exploring new worlds, religious icons, and deep, human emotion for the last couple years (pretty much hogwash prior), wouldn't it be considered one step up, two steps back to release an issue that is wall-to-wall ludicrosity (so much so that I had to keep checking the cover to make sure this wasn't Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen)? Who knows if the deadline doom was looming while this issue was being prepared or Stan and Jack were having us on but there's plenty of humor (intentional and otherwise) packed in this one-off. I laughed out loud at:

- Tomazooma, The Totem That Walks. Our rather stiff villain hearkens back to Silver Age Marvel's salad days when Stan, Jack, and Steve would run out page after page of "Baboom, Son of Baboon!" and "I Was the Man Who Was!" in Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense, Journey Into Mystery, and Strange Tales

- Reed exclaiming "Tomazooma! The most fearful legend of all!" as if he was as learned in Indian folklore as in building particle neurolizers. Johnny must be aware of the legend as well since he recognizes the "twin electro-beams" blasting forth from Toma's eye sockets.

- Chief Silver Fox's armed tribe riding in "mechanized jeeps" (whatever that means). Obviously The Man and The King paying homage to all those late-night westerns. Check out Silver Fox calling the Pentagon on a super walkie talkie that would look at home in the fist of Nick Fury.

- The obvious political statement being made here about the evils of big business. Interesting that the oil companies would go to the trouble of researching the Indian legends and then crafting a huge android that fires "twin electro-beams" from its eye sockets. Why not take the easy route: shove some of that dough into the palms of crooked politicians and run the Indians off their land like we do in real life?

- My biggest guffaw was reserved for Reed Richards' impersonation of a cannonball. It seems like every issue we get a new power revealed for our favorite superheroes. Here we find out that Stretcho can actually condense his body down into the size of a softball and be shot out of a cannon!

All in all, the biggest waste of space this title has seen since the days of Diablo and The Impossible Man. 

JB: Agreed this issue isn’t a great one, though as a stand-alone story I preferred it to the Wizard or Android we got last two months. It's nice to see Wyatt Wingfoot back again. If his people were so rich from the oil under their land (i.e. they obviously sell it), would the Red Star oil company go to all this trouble to own the land and create this super robot when they could just buy the oil? Tomazooma is a funny-looking duck; he changes colour too apparently, black on the cover and pink and orange inside. The bit at the end about the “real” one fading into the clouds is an interesting, if silly touch.

Fantastic Four King-Size Special 6
Our Story

Ben and Johnny are surprised to find Reed in his lab rather than at the hospital with Sue, waiting for the baby. Reed tells them about the strange X-rays of Sue’s blood, and what the effects of the cosmic radiation could have on the baby. But he has found a solution, maybe. In the Negative Zone, that most dreaded of places, is an element of anti-matter that may be just what the doctor ordered. Reed plans to forge ahead on his own to get it, but his buddies will have none of it; so it’s the Fantastic Three to the rescue. Donning harnesses that will help them navigate in the anti-matter world, they leap through the barrier into the distortion zone, the transition area to their destination. Events are already shaping up ahead of them that will provide what they need-- and more! A deadly caped being named Annihilus wreaks carnage in the mad world he dominates, destroying planets mercilessly in his wake, to prove his superiority. It doesn’t take long for a flying creature to capture Reed, drawing him down to a planetoid where he is drawn by a magnetic device deep under the surface, one of many prisoners of…Annihilus. Following as quickly as they can, Ben and Johnny are likewise captured. The mad alien wears a “cosmic control rod” in the center of his chest, which he claims is his main source of power, giving him immortality. Bragging about this to Mr. Fantastic (who is then tossed into an “arena of execution” to join his teammates) gives Reed the answer he came for: Annihilus’s tool has the cosmic power, which, when tapped, can save Sue and the baby. Getting it proves tough, as weapons matching their strengths attack the F.F. ; a giant boot drops on Ben, a huge saw pursues Reed, and a flame-snuffing sponge flies after Johnny. They surprise Annihilus by overcoming the perils, smashing through the wall to where he is, and wresting the control rod from him. Reed guesses correctly that it is the power of conscious thought that powers the device, and he uses it for them to escape in the aliens rail-plane. Annihilus has more up his sleeve however, starting with a horde of beasts called Borers, creatures of great strength that have vice-like mouths. They attack the plane before it can escape to the surface of the planetoid, and give the boys a run for their money. Again, the cosmic control rod provides the answer, catapulting them away, destination: home.  Next obstacle, Annihilus’s speedy gun-ship catches up to them, firing missiles, their way. Again, the control rod averts disaster, turning the missiles back to Annihilus’s ship. However a new danger arises, as the rocks on which they have landed draw them into the heart of the Negative Zone, the planet where matter is turned into anti-matter. The cosmic control rod’s power is even neutralized here, so certain death seems likely. Ironically, it is Annihilus who comes to their rescue, not that he wants to. But having survived the missile explosion, he has followed them on a small mobile section of his craft. He demands the control rod; Reed strikes a bargain: the control rod (minus a little of it’s cosmic power drained into a portable container) for their anti-matter harnesses. Desperate for his live-giving rod, Annihilus agrees, and they make good their escape before he can come after them. Back in our world now, much debate has gone on at the hospital about Sue’s condition, of which Crystal is now aware. But goodness is on their side, and as the boys wait anxiously, they get the news. Sue and Reed are the parents of a healthy baby boy! The gamble paid off.

JB: I’m kind of jealous; over in Thor’s world, we only got two original annuals, the F.F. get life-changing events every time!! But I forgot that pretty fast thanks to this action-packed adventure. Annihilus is a very memorable villain; I recall first reading about him in later issues of F.F. before coming back to his first appearance (but not origin) here. The sense of menace is upheld, and you get the feeling it was really only the element of surprise that gave our guys a chance here. I don’t think Annihilus will underestimate them next time. The Negative Zone continues to provide mystery; what is down on that anti-matter world to which they’re inevitably drawn? Is Annihilus machine or being? He looks rather like a metallic humanoid insect. My LOL line would have to be Ben to Reed before they make the trip: “If anything happens to you, I’ll haveta go out’n work fer a livin’!”

MB: The tradition of depicting major life changes in FF annuals, started with Reed and Sue’s wedding back in #3, continues with the arrival of the as-yet-unnamed and apparently normal (stay tuned) Franklin Richards.  Since Reed had already been concerned about the cosmic cooties in Sue’s blood and their possible effects on mother and child, that didn’t come completely out of left field, and it gave us an excuse to return to the Negative Zone for our other important introduction, that of Annihilus.  I consider old Annie one of Marvel’s most formidable villains, and he gives the Thrilling Three a run for their money right out of the gate; Jack and Joe knock themselves out with full- and two-page spreads, photo montage, alien machines and more.

PE: I always thought The Negative Zone, with its strangely shaped planetoids and just plain goofy shit drifting through space, was very Lovecraftian and the winged nightmare known as Annihilus only adds weight to my theory. Even though he's the smartest scientist who can stretch his limbs real far in the Marvel Universe, I still question how Reed would know, sight unseen, that Annihilus' Cosmic Control Device is exactly what he came looking for. And even if the Comical Doohickey works in The Negative Zone, how does he know it'll be of use back home? And I love Annihilus but isn't he just a pint-size Galactus with wings? His credo "Only in the elimination of other life can Annihilus find immortality" sounds awfully familiar.

MB: “Specials,” as Marvel first called them, went into eclipse after a 1968 septet that included Tales of Asgard.  Annuals appeared sporadically through ’73, adding Captain AmericaIron ManSub-Mariner, and X-Men, yet these—like TOA—were reprints; they then vanished during the 1974-5 heyday of the similar but more frequent Giant-Size books, which in their death throes devolved into ostensibly annual reprints as well.  The real deal finally replaced those in ’76, with several one-time-only editions that year (DefendersDr. StrangeMaster of Kung FuPower Man) and the next (EternalsHoward the DuckInvaders), when they arguably peaked with Jim Starlin’s legendary Avengers/Marvel Two-in-One cross-over annuals that ended the Second Thanos War.

PE: "Annihilus, He Who Annihilates." Rolls off the tongue better than "Fred, He Who Annihilates" I guess, but was he named this at birth (or hatching or at the assembly line) even before he'd annihilated anyone? My LOL-scene of this otherwise stellar issue would have to be Sue Storm's doctor inviting Crystal (who he doesn't even know) to have a look through his microscope. That line never worked for me in High School science class.

Even though Crystal had left her nurse's uniform back at home...

The Incredible Hulk 109
Our Story

The Hulk has been on a tear in China, causing the destruction of military squadrons.  He accidentally stumbles upon a hidden base and is attacked.  As the green goliath takes out the troops, the leaders fear he is there to destroy a special missile they have been working on to attack the U.S.  They launch it before he can destroy it but the Hulk mistakes it for a spaceship that will take him to another planet where he can be left in peace.  He jumps on the missile for a ride and inadvertently causes it to change direction and land in the savage lost land of Ka-Zar.  While this has been going on, the whole planet has been affected by strange patterns of harsh weather and erratic changes from daylight to sunlight.  Ka-Zar saves Bruce Banner from being sacrificed by the Swamp Men.  Realizing that Banner is a smart man, Ka-Zar takes him to a cave and shows him a strange, alien device in the hopes that Banner can figure out just what it is.  Banner comes to the conclusion that someone had created the machine to reverse the rotation of the earth’s axis, which is the reason behind all the bad weather that will soon destroy the entire world.  Before he can figure out what to do, both are attacked once again by the Swamp thugs.  Bruce changes back into the Hulk and defeats them.  When Ka-Zar tries to stop the brute from leaving so he can fix the machine, the Hulk slaps him unconscious.   
Tom:  The appearance of Ka-Zar initially made me cringe before reading this story.  Luckily, his role in this issue wasn’t very large, with the Hulk mostly fighting the Chinese military.  What interests me is who or what is behind creating this doomsday weather device?

Summing up the plot of every Hulk story.
MB: In a departure from the norm, Frank Giacoia provides layouts rather than his customary inks, yet once again, under John Severin’s finished art, I’m hard-pressed to discern even Herb Trimpe’s pencils, let alone Fearless Frank’s contribution.  It appears I am not the only faculty member with reflexive reservations about any entry guest-starring Ka-Zar, who can now add Greenskin to his list of famous “hosts” (e.g., the X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man).  The story starts out like a throwback to the Hulk’s worst days from Tales to Astonish, and then Stan kicks it down another notch by tossing in this Rube Goldberg contraption that’s supposedly throwing the Earth off its axis with every “ta-pocketa”…which Bruce Banner can conveniently figure out.

Jack: At last, the secret to global warming has been uncovered, and here it was all the time, hiding in the dusty pages of a comic book from 44 years ago! If only we had known that it was all due to a doomsday machine in a cave in the Savage Land, we could have dealt with the problem long ago! Does anyone ever go to the Savage Land on purpose? Marvel characters always seem to end up there by accident.

The Spectacular Spider-Man 2
Our Story

After living for several months with "limited amnesia," a night out at the picture show sends Norman Osborn back to his secret closet. The Green Goblin Lives! Like a game of chess, The Amazing Spider-Man and his greatest foe circle each other until the inevitable showdown. After making The Goblin inhale some of the fumes from his Psychedelic Pumpkin, Spidey breathes a sigh of relief. Norman Osborn has returned... at least for now.

PE: Though it co-stars my favorite Marvel villain (a bad guy who has been away too long), this was one tired adventure. Padded out to three times the size of a normal Spidey comic, in the end nothing really happened. Peter Parker's story was not advanced. That's a pity as it seems like the perfect venue.  I have a hard time believing that someone can actually become stronger when a "limited amnesia" is lifted. Crueler, craftier, yes, but stronger? A variation on Norman Osborn's dinner party appears in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man.  I have it on good authority that The Goblin's next adventure will not disappoint but, overall, this was a mediocre month for Spider-Man, a month in which the character had three chances to shine but came up short all three times.

MB: In spite of the fact that this is “Now in full color!,” and features the long-awaited return of Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, and boasts a heaping helping of the ravishing Romita/Mooney magic, I liked it less than the premiere issue of Marvel’s short-lived experiment in oversized comics.  The reason is simple:  although it contains triple the pages of their standard format, there just isn’t enough of Stan’s story to stretch out over that length, even though there is nothing otherwise wrong with said story.  It might have made for an entertaining one-and-done, or perhaps a two-parter, but here it just seems slowly paced and padded with flashbacks; I guess we’ll never see the “Mystery of the TV Terror,” unless that was repurposed for the monthly mag.

PE: So why did this grand experiment fail? It wasn't because of bad writing or art, that's for sure. Though it's all speculation on my part (well, except for a few obvious reasons) I'd say it was:

1/ The price. You have to remember that comic books were twelve cents in 1968. For a 9- or 10-year old kid, one lawn mowed equalled four comic books (if you lived in an affluent neighborhood, that is), Why would you give up two more comic books to buy this thing? That's a big deal for a kid.

2/ The black and white first issue. I think a lot of the kids who took a look at that first issue saw b&w and got turned off pronto. The loss of color wouldn't mean much to the teens and "big kids," but the biggest chunk of the consumer pie, I would assume, was pre-teens. The market Marvel was eyeing belonged to Warren at the time but their titles were both horror-oriented and ideal for b&w. Not so for superheroes, a genre that had been presented in four colors for decades.

3/ The size. Where was a newsstand dealer going to exhibit something like this (and I mean those who really cared where to place it)? It's got Spider-Man on the cover so it looks like a comic book but it's bigger and it costs a lot more. Can't put it in the comic racks. Won't fit. Most of them, I would assume, would put it in with the Warrens (Eerie, Creepy), the Stanleys (Chilling Tales of Horror), and the delightfully goofy Eerie Pubs (Tales of Voodoo, Weird), not a zone a budding Marvel Zombie would frequent. That's not even to mention the fact that the newsstand was bursting at the seams and didn't have room to place product of a company that had exactly one dog in this race Marvel would encounter the exact same problem about a half-dozen years later.

This girl needs an intervention

4/ The market. That market that Marvel was hoping to carve a piece out of was, at the time, falling apart. You just have to look at what happened to Warren in 1968 for proof of that. Recent issues of Eerie and Creepy had been jam-packed with reprints (and for zines that had only been around for a few years, that spells trouble) and the new material editor Bill Parente was able to muster was dreadful. It took Warren three years to dig themselves out of their hole and avoid complete collapse but perhaps Marvel's honchos weren't as patient. After all, they had the four color line to fall back on. It couldn't have helped that it took Stan three months to get the second issue out. Despite all these problems, Marvel got up from the mat, dusted itself off and tried again two years later.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #8
Marvel Tales #17
Millie the Model #164
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #60

Stan forgives the Commies


    Fantastic Four: Stan and Jack had their, by this time, standard five minute discussion about FF #80, then Jack went off and plotted and pencilled the book. This time, when the pencilled pages found their way to Stan's desk, he had no idea what he was looking at. This was not what they had discussed. The story, what there is of it, involves Red Star Oil (not one of you mentioned Commies) creating a robot designed to scare the Native Americans off their land. In some ways this is a rehash of Hulk #4 where Mongu turned out to be a robot built by the Russkies. The big cringe here is Reed squishing down to baseball size. The term "jump the shark" hadn't been coined, but that's what my friends and I thought when we read this back in 1968. And, it was all Jack's fault. There are a couple of decent storylines on the horizon, but most of the rest of Kirby's FF run will be very routine.

    Spider-Man: Another cringe-worthy entry into what has become an incredibly dull book. Since Ditko left, not one new villain of any note has been created, and in most stories either nothing much happens or we get another pre-existing foe. The idea of Shrinking Spidey to six inches in height seems out of place. It's astounding to think that Marvel's two most important books have become such pale shadows of their former selves.

    Captain Marvel: The need to legally protect the name is the only reason I can think of for the continuing existence of this book. Tartaglione is wrong for Heck (Tartaglione is wrong for everyone), not that Heck is doing much of note here. Drake doesn't know what to do with the character, but he's in good company. No-one seems to know what to do with CM.

    Nick Fury: Back in the 50s, Rock and Roll musicians used to fight over who got top billing. One night Chuck Berry was given top billing over Jerry Lee Lewis. During his finale, Lewis set fire to his piano while playing Great Balls Of Fire. In this probably apocryphal story, he then walked off the stage, wandered over to Chuck Berry and said "follow that." When given the Nick Fury assignment, Frank Springer must have had the same feeling as Berry. With no chance of topping Steranko, what do you do? Up to this point in time, The Hulk had been the only superhero book to be cancelled. In late '68, a couple more titles have the smell of death.

    The reprint in Thor #158 was planned, and not due to a missed deadline. Kirby was up to his eyeballs in work, belting out the 48 page story in FF Annual #6 on top of the FF, Thor and Captain America books he was producing each month. Thor's origin was reprinted to at least give him a bit of a breather. So, what were the missed deadlines of the 1960s?

    Daredevil #1 was the first that I know of. DD was supposed to spearhead the wave of books launched in late 1963. Bill Everett turned in the pages late and unfinished, so The Avengers was hastily rushed into production to fill Daredevil's spot on the printing press.

    Marvel Super Heroes #13 appeared three months after #12 making it a month late.

    Not Brand Echh #10 was all reprint, and the first Marvel book to resort to reprints because of the dreaded deadline doom. The book went to double size with #9 and the Marvel bullpen struggled to produce forty pages of material.

    Doctor Strange 179 reprinted Spidey Annual #2 because Gene Colan had come down with the flu.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  2. Oops, I forgot a few. Nick Fury #4 was probably intended for #5, and moved up the schedule when Steranko was running late. Not exactly a fill-in because the story was going to be published anyway.

    Captain America #112 was created over a weekend by Jack Kirby when the third part of Steranko's saga ran late. Definitely a fill-in.

    X-Men #64 was by Thomas Heck and Palmer because Neal Adams couldn't fit it into his schedule. It's a substantial story, and Roy must have known in advance that Adams would not be available. Probably doesn't qualify as a fill-in.

    To sum up ... NBE #10 and DS #179 are the only 1960s Marvel book I can think of where Stan was forced to resort to a reprint to meet a deadline. Considering the pressure cooker environment he worked in, That's an impressive record.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  3. Really agree on the disappointment in the Spidey annual. I was interested in Peter's parents, but of course, they couldn't be normal people. They couldn't have been just killed in a plane crash or something, they had to be SPIES. Had the story of Pete's folks be presented in any other era than the James Bond Maia years, what would their story have been then? Mickey Demeo's inks trash another book, but it's not like Larry Lieber was all that good either.

    Over in Spidey 66, while I'm not a fan of Mysterio (with his Spock haircut and craggy features), Gwen and Peter's reconciliation was quite welcome. Gwen never looked lovelier. I wonder what the readers of the day would have said if they knew that, nearly 40 years on, Aunt May was still not dead.

    I hate the Daredevil logo at this point. No hyphen, so now his name is two words?

    Thor #158. The large picture of Thor's face…not Kirby. Who did the art there?

    Iron Man: George Tuska continues to bother me. Once I read he was on the book for a full decade, I lost interest in shell head. I stuck around reading the Masterworks and Omnibus, but (SPOILER) his depiction of Janice Cord's death is too vague and unconvincing. She looks like she's dancing instead of dying. I was done then.

    The X-Men: for me, a comic can survive with good art and a bad story, but not the other way around. X-Men survives here because it's just so damned cool to look at. Steranko is weird and his art fluctuates between Kirby Patiche and "William Shatner with a pencil," but it's always fascinating. I just wish they'd lose the damned back up feature. The art is awful. Hank is like 3 but has a face of a 30 year old.

    Hulk 109: I'm long tired of John Severin's sketchy art, but after one more issue, he's off the book for a little while. When we reach #111, we'll get some amazing Trimpe / Adkins art in what was my first Marvel Comic ever.

  4. Is William Shatner with a pencil supposed to be a bad thing?

  5. More Spidey! More Spidey!
    OK, maybe not considering the quality of this month's output, but in the future, there will be more Spidey books than you can ever want! I didn't remember the Skull story (or blacked it out on purpose) but did the Spectacular mag. But agree with Prof Pete on the failure theories.
    Love that Cap cover
    And that Hulk cover has to be the best cover featuring Ka-Zar ever! (I'm starting to be a little obsessed with Ka-Zar now and I don't know why....)

  6. Glenn: Can't tell you how much I value your continued input. Will somewhat have to revise my comments about CAPTAIN AMERICA #112 accordingly. And I agree that the rarity of '60s deadline-enforced reprints is impressive.

    I'm more forgiving, to say the least, of the post-Ditko AMAZING SPIDER-MAN than you, and find it interesting that of the three Spidey titles on view this month, the one I found most satisfying--if no standout--was the shortest. But I do feel some of the FF ennui that you mentioned.

    The whiplash-inducing downturn in CAPTAIN MARVEL would bother me less if I didn't think that Stan, Roy, and Gene did such a fine job in the first six issues (including MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #12-13). And, of course, the irony is that it later rebounded with my favorite Marvel arc.

    Scott: It seems we all concur on the Spidey annual. In fact, with rare bright spots like the Sinister Six, I don't think the annuals in general have been that great. Perhaps just as well that they'll be absent or reprints until they come roaring back with a vengeance in 1976.

    I think Tuska will always be a divisive figure, and although I enjoyed much of his decade on IRON MAN (the writing was obviously a factor as well), my defense of him will always be qualified, as with Don Heck's AVENGERS.

    We'll have to agree to disagree on your guiding principle about art vs. writing. I'm sure my pro-writer bias has a lot to do with it, but I'll always prefer a well-written comic with awful art (e.g., the Thomas/Robbins INVADERS) to a beautiful book with bad or uninteresting writing. Quite agree about those damned superfluous back-ups. I didn't even like to sacrifice story pages for "Tales of Asgard," which at least was well done; this is doo-doo.

    Turafish: That's one thing I'm not sorry I missed when I stopped buying comics c. 1985, the oversaturation of the Spidey market. It could be argued that they'd already done that with AMAZING, TEAM-UP, TALES, and then PETER PARKER (never read SPIDEY SUPER STORIES), but those I was able to live with. I gather things later got completely out of control, just as they did with the mutant books. For me, THE NEW MUTANTS started the over-X-posure, and again, I'm very glad I missed the worst of that frenzy.

    Cannot seem to warm up to Ka-Zar. Not that I'm trying to.

    With Citizen Kane, Orson Welles was credited with creating a multitude of new camera angles, storytelling techniques, editing, etc. However, most of what Welles "created" already existed. What Welles did was channel those innovations through his own personal vision, to create the distinctive Orson Welles style. And, so it was with Jim Steranko.

    Of the dozens of people who influenced Steranko, four were his main inspiration; two primarily for their illustrating style, and two mainly for their storytelling technique. The first was ... Wally Wood. Woody's detailed spaceship interiors and lavish rendering of figures must've caught the eye of a then unknown teenager in Pennsylvania. He certainly picked up a lot of Wally's techniques, including what Wood called "contrapuntal chiaoscuro," his method of creating the illusion of depth in static objects.

    If Wood's work had a downside, it's that it's not very dynamic. Characters typically just stand around. Even if they are moving or fighting each-other, the characters look like actors holding a pose for a still camera photographer. Steranko was a man of action, and if you wanted to learn about action, you studied the work of ... Jack Kirby.

    By the time Steranko launched his comic book career, Kirby was the house style at upstart Marvel Comics, and he had honed his considerable skills to perfection. Steranko tapped into this energy, utilizing Kirby's explosive action, crazy machinery, "Kirby Krackle" and even the King's patented square fingertips. For more examples of the Wood/Kirby influence, check out the covers to Nick Fury #6 and X-Men #50. The first was a tribute to Woody, while the second paid homage to Kirby.

    Most kids reading comic books in the 1960s (including me) had never seen Will Eisner's Spirit, which last appeared in 1952. Steranko picked up some of his drawing style, and much of his storytelling technique from Eisner, in particular, the splash page titles incorporated into the landscape or buildings, the long shots of city streets, and the use of street signs (stop, danger ahead) to foreshadow the action.

    Steranko also constructed pages of small, wordless panels designed to control the pace at which the reader moved through the story. He borrowed this from Bernie Krigstein. Krigstein was trained in fine arts, but after WWII found himself in the comic book industry. His early assignments showed hints of things to come, but it's his EC work, and particularly "Master Race" that he is best remembered for. Here is the final page from that story. Just brilliant stuff.

    Unfortunately, Bernie was a bit too far ahead of his time. After E.C. folded, he went to D.C. and was fired by Robert Kanigher, then to Atlas, where Stan Lee fired him for refusing to add word balloons to one of his wordless pages. He got out of the business and spent the rest of his working life as a commercial artist.

    Steranko had many other influences, including 1960s phychedelic poster artwork, the pulp cover paintings of George Rozen, Reed Crandall, Mort Meskin, Film Noir, and even Salvador Dali, but Wood, Kirby, Eisner and Krigstein were his prime influences.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)