Wednesday, July 13, 2011

March 1963: He Lives! He Walks! He Conquers! It's Iron Man!

The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Our Story

In a special premiere issue, we get two action-packed Spidey sagas. In the first, Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson is doing his best to convince the city that they have a menace in their midst in the costumed vigilante known as Spider-Man. The motivation is not clear but it's apparent he'll go to great lengths to smear the wall-crawler's good name. When JJJ's son, astronaut John Jameson has a mishap in a rocket, Spider-Man comes to the rescue, only to be scorned once again.

In our second story, Peter is desperately trying to find a way to help out with the house bills and, thanks to Jameson's smear campaign, can't find work as Spider-Man. He even attempts to join the Fantastic Four but gets off on the wrong foot with them when he breaks into the Baxter Building to "audition." Meanwhile, super-villain The Chameleon, who has a disguise for everyone (and everything, maybe) capitalizes on the public's distrust of Spidey by stealing top-secret government documents in hopes of selling them to the Russkies. Spider-Man arrives just in time to avert The Chameleon from carrying out his dastardly plan.

Peter Enfantino: J. Jonah Jameson behind a typewriter? Lots of tweaking to be done here. I've a sense that Jonah's hatred of Spidey has to do with the attention the web-slinger gets for his heroics and the possible attention that takes away from the editor's son, John, a real hero in his estimation. John Jameson's just an astronaut (and background, really) here but, of course, in about ten years he'll become a much fuller character when he comes back to earth with some bad jewelry .

John Scoleri: I did like that they set the tone for JJJ and Peter's relationship from the outset.

PE: Another landmark this issue: we get Marvel's first cross-over when Spider-Man attempts to join The Fantastic Four. Of course crossovers were the norm over at DC but since Marvel had only a handful of characters in this "silver age" there weren't very many possibilities as of yet. That would change quickly and soon multi-issue arcs between titles would be passe. In fact, Marvel would introduce new titles in the early 1970s with the sole purpose of joining heroes in one story (the Spider-Man starring Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One featuring The Thing).

JS: Aside from being the title character in the book, had this been an issue of The Fantastic Four, I would have walked away thinking we just met their next great arch-nemesis. He basically kicked ass and took names, showing up the FF like nobody's business.

PE: For one brief moment (and an entire story), Spider-Man's real identity is Peter Palmer! Was Stan's proofreader out to lunch when this story came through the office?

JS: Marvel has removed all traces of that typo in subsequent reprints. I'm sure they'll be thrilled that you dug it up.

PE: Does The Chameleon's "multi-pocket disguise vest" hold a mask for everyone in the United States? The only disguise I bought was his Spider-Man costume. And how the heck did he figure out how to send a message only spiders (and those with spider-sense) would understand?

JS: I'm willing to bet that Ant-Man and his pals heard it, too.

PE: A Russian sub emerges in New York (big red sickle emblem so as to not be too conspicuous) and not one cop around to ticket him for loitering?

The Incredible Hulk #6

Our Story

The Hulk's first series comes to an explosive ending in this final issue entitled, "The Incredible Hulk vs. The Metal Master!" Bruce Banner has been having some problems lately with his transformations into the Jade Giant. Not only are the transformations becoming more painful, when he reverts back to his human form, he is visibly bigger and more muscular. From a monitor in his Hulk-Cave, he observes an alien being, dubbing himself the Metal Master, that has taken over General Ross's military base. The diabolical creature has imprisoned Ross, Betty, and Rick! This new alien rogue shows off his prowess by trashing a tank, destroying missiles, and busting up the good General's latest Hulk catcher rocket. The Metal Master can control, yep, you guessed it, metal. Bruce transforms himself with the Gamma machine to confront the would-be world conqueror. Unfortunately he has a slight problem in that his body might now be the green Hulk's, but his head has remained in human form! Luckily, Banner happens to have a green Hulk latex mask handy which he dons before leaping towards the base. The Metal Master plays with our hero a bit before hitting him in the back of the head with a metal bar from a cage, knocking the Hulk out cold. The alien leaves, and the military jumps at the chance of finally capturing the Hulk by default. A military guy removes the mask, however, the transformation is completed by this time with the Hulk back to having his usual ugly mug.

The poor Hulkster wakes up a loser in a stone cage where he is visited by Rick Jones. Old Jade Jaws calls his partner a traitor for letting him end up like this and pretty much threatens to kick his ass once he is freed again. Heartbroken, Rick goes home. After getting some advice from a friend, he decides to unite teenagers from across the country through the use of Ham radios to form, 'The Teenage Brigade.' Meanwhile, the Hulk breaks out of his prison and goes back to his hideout where he uses his machine to revert to Bruce Banner. Rick shows back up too. He contacts his new Sausage Brigade to send various odds and ends materials to Bruce's lair. While this is going on, The Metal Master flexes his powers in Russia, trashing their military in a similar way he did at the U.S. base. The villain then goes to Washington D.C. to administer some of the same carnage. Unfortunately for MM, the Hulk is back looking for vengeance! The Hulkster carries a rocket gun in his mitts which he threatens to use against Metal Master. The alien scoffs at this, but every time he tries to use his powers to make the gun explode, nothing happens. Eventually, the Hulk gets close enough to MM where he is able to grab the extraterrestrial, and threatens to pulverize him unless the galactic creep leaves earth. Being a big wuss, Metal Master complies. It turns out the Rocket was a fake all along, made from the various parts Rick's team of losers was collecting. The Hulk thanks the high school dropouts before grabbing Rick under his arm to go back to the man cave, no doubt so they could be alone to kiss and make up.

Jack: Gotta love the Ditko art in this one. Hulk looks like a rather short body builder (p. 2, panel 5), but Betty Ross is pretty darn cute! Ditko's girls are much more attractive than Kirby's.

John Scoleri: I hadn't noticed. I was too busy trying to understand why Banner's head didn't transform into the Hulk. And then why he just happened to have a Hulk mask—not just a sculpt mind you, but a color-accurate mask with hair. I'm beginning to realize that Stan Lee wasn't too worried about these stories being scrutinized very closely. 

Jack: Banner could have played in the NBA in about 1974 with those shorts! 

JS: I'm thankful that Rick Jones' Teen Brigade did not receive a spin-off book. Perhaps the bi-monthly arrival of Spider-Man, along with the dreadful adventures of the Human Torch, proved to be enough teen spirit to compete with those Archie kids.

Jack: I was not aware that Thunderbolt's daughter also sewed the first flag in the American Revolution...

JS: I'm hoping Peter will fill us in on why The Hulk was cancelled after six issues (since clearly consistent quality was not a requirement—Ant-Man/Human Torch, this means you!).

PE: Lousy sales? The 6-year old readers demanded more clarity in their story-telling? Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, boys, and just be happy we don't have to review the scrapped Hulk 7: Bruce Banner gets caught at the supermarket without his stretch shorts while hulking out and the housewives around him discover...

Fantastic Four #12

Our Story

Bringing Alicia back from the Symphony, The Thing is mistaken by troops for The Hulk, who is rampaging in the area. Coincidentally, Thunderbolt Ross is in town to recruit the FF to destroy the green behemoth. Bruce Banner and Rick Jones plead their case that it is not The Hulk who is responsible but a mysterious "wrecker." The Fantastic Four (in particular, The Thing) seem gung-ho to lock horns with the big galoot. They get their wish! In the end, The Wrecker's plot is foiled and The Hulk's good name is cleared.

Peter Enfantino: It took 12 issues but, at last, The Ben Grimm/Thing we all know and love!

JS: And versus The Hulk, no less. Looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

PE: Two cross-overs in one month. The FF co-star in The Amazing Spider-Man #1 and host The Hulk in their own title. The first of many appearance of the "ever-lovin'" Hulk in the FF comic, The Thing and greenskin would tangle several times over the years.

JS: Don't forget the FF in Strange Tales.

PE: My MarveL-O-L moment of the month (perhaps the year): Tell me it isn't so that the stinkin' Red Commies in the Marvel Universe are so dumb, they carry their Party Card with them at all times? Karl Kort, important scientist on a military base and double-agent, forgets to hide his card back home and carries it in his wallet for a Commie discount down at the Yancy Street Bar?

JS: How else could you spot them?

PE: This story gives us a good perspective on how bad guys get their names. Bruce Banner and Rick Jones spend the first 15 pages of the story refering to a "wrecker" who destroyed the top-secret Project 34 Banner was working on (we find out that it's actually Russian double-agent Karl Kort). Then when Kort kidnaps Rick, he signs his note "The Wrecker." Not The Destroyer (already taken), the Demolisher, or even the Messer-Upper. These villains have no imagination. Thank goodness, The Lizard wasn't around when someone called him a Big Ugly Green Crocodile-ish Looking Thing. That would have been a mouthful.

JS: It's sure feeling like the creative well was running dry by this point. 

PE: It takes 17 pages before "one of the most dramatic moments in the history of adventure-fantasy occurs" (Stan's words, not mine) and before that we're subjected to a lot of "just wait 'til you see what I can do against the Hulk" talk and little action. And, can I just say again, that Rick Jones' jazzy talk is gettin' embarrassing?

JS: Just when I thought we were through with The Hulk for several months, here he is in FF. Question is, will he remain in hiding for the next six months until his appearance in Avengers #1, or will he make other guest appearances along the way.

PE: On the Fan Page, future science fiction writer Steven Utley lists his picks for actors to play the villains in a FF film: Peter Lorre (The Moleman); Boris Karloff (Dr. Doom), Johnny Weismuller (Sub-Mariner) and Yul Brynner (The Puppet Master).

JS: What, no Rondo Hatton for the long-faced Wizard?

Journey Into Mystery #90

Our Story
In a distant galaxy, on the warlike world of Xarta, Ugarth, the evil leader of his race, plans to bestow the leadership of his people to his son, Zano. After, that is, one last conquest, of a helpless planet called... Earth. Back on said planet, Dr. Don Blake decides he's going to reveal to his nurse Jane Foster, that not only is he in love with her, but that he's really Thor, the God Of Thunder. His father Odin promptly forbids this. Going for a walk, Blake sees what appears to be a world gone mad: cars driving on sidewalks, billboards pasted over windows, a polka dotted bridge, and people acting completely out of character. Changing into Thor to solve the mystery, he surmises people wouldn't be acting so strangely unless they were imposters. Searching the city, Thor finds an alien spacecraft that traps him to it's hull with irresistible magnetic force. Having put his hammer down to examine the craft, Thor reverts to the form of Don Blake before the aliens- the Xartans- find him. Taking Blake inside, he sees several other humans, the same ones he had seen acting in such a crazy manner before. The Xartans (whose secret power is being able to shape-shift into any form they wish, adapting the powers of the form they turn into) don't mind blabbing their plan to the captive humans: to disrupt and weaken the residents of first the city, then the entire Earth, as a prelude to conquest. Blake pretends to turn in Thor, who the other humans vow will defeat the aliens. First the alien Zano challenges Thor to battle, and when he is defeated by the Asgardian, Ugarth steps into the fray. After a tough competition, Thor bests Ugarth, and hurls him into space, where the majority of the alien fleet follow in defeat. Thor orders the humbled aliens who remain to turn into trees, declaring that, as trees, they will never have the thought process to return to their original forms.

JS: After the blanks and negatives in past issues, I braced myself for the Carbon Copy man to turn innocent people into carbon paper.

JB: Some interesting things in this issue, including the first of a few issues in the 90's illustrated by someone other than Jack Kirby, in this case Al Hartley. We see the beginnings of Thor's frustration at not being able to reveal his true identity to Jane Foster. Odin's language hints at the Shakespearean dialogue to come. Perhaps Thor is attempting some re-planting for all the trees he's knocked over so far! 

JS: Al Hartley is no Jack Kirby, that's for sure. Don Blake looks oddly misshapen in every panel he appears in, and never quite the same twice.

Tales of Suspense #39

Our Story

Billionaire scientist/playboy Anthony Stark has it made. Girls, wealth, brains, you name it. Testing a new weapon for the military, Stark is taken captive by the scurvy Red dog known as Wong-Chu, a despot so vicious and egotistical he challenges entire villages to hand-to-hand combat for their lives. Tony Stark is mortally wounded while being captured, with shrapnel close to his heart, and time is running out. With the help of world-famous physicist, Professor Vinsen (also a prisoner of the Mad Red Dog) Stark crafts a suit of arm with a dual purpose: the armor (somehow) will keep the shrapnel from reaching his heart and the suit will enable them to free themselves from their prison. The armor is complete but the Professor is murdered by Wang-Chu and his guards and Stark is left alone to avenge his new-found friend and defeat the tyrant Chu.

Peter Enfantino: Reading this origin story for the first time in decades, I'm struck by how good of a job Jon Favreau and his team of screenwriters did updating and streamlining this origin for the 2008 hit movie. I still don't buy the "traveling shrapnel" bit. This is just a bare bones origin to those of us who have followed Iron Man through the years. We still have Pepper Potts and the classic red and yellow suit down the road. A very good origin nonetheless, scripted by Larry Lieber (who may not get enough credit for this character since it was big brother Stan who invented him and "plotted" the first adventure) and drawn by the much-maligned Don Heck.

JS: I was impressed that we get six story pages before Iron Man makes his initial appearance. That goes a long way towards developing the character of Tony Stark. based on this story, I'm optimistic that we're not in for another painful serial character. Speaking of which...

Tales to Astonish 41

Our Story

Henry Pym decides to break out of his "I dine only with ants" phase and visit a friend, a fellow scientist, only to find the man has vanished behind a locked door. In the days to follow, several other scientists disappear in thin air. In a rare display of ego, Henry Pym declares that since he's a scientist, he'll probably vanish as well so he'd better be prepared. Well, as they say, some heroes can get caught with their spandex around their ankles and Henry Pym is not ready for... The Window Washer! Not an ordinary pane cleaner, this guy works for Kulla, a tyrant from another dimension who seeks revenge against the people of his planet/dimension/whatever for backing him into his fortress. He's amassing an army of earth's biggest brains to create for him an Electro-Death Ray. Though Pym reduces down to Ant-Man, he's obviously not carrying any of his friends in his pocket. Luckily, the 12th Dimension has picnic pests as well and, once he alters the frequency of his Cybernetic Helmet, Pym is able to call up volunteer troops.

Peter Enfantino: Call it inane. Call it silly. Call it goofy as all hell. There's something that keeps me coming back to Ant-Man though. Where else in a 1963 code-approved comic could you find one man telling another: "Quick, slip me in your pocket!"? And the fiendish Window-Washer! Sadly, his only Marvel Universe appearance.

JS: Once again, we're treated to a lackluster story. On the bright side, the art this time out, courtesy of Don Heck, is perhaps the best this series has seen to date.

PE: This was Don Heck's first art job on Ant-Man and I think it actually works better than Kirby's art on this strip.

JS: Now if they could only increase the caliber of the stories. The only thing that elevates these Ant-Man adventures from the bottom of the barrel is the bottom of the barrel, or as we like to call it, The Human Torch.  

Strange Tales #106

Our Story

Since everyone in Glenville has already figured out that Johnny Storm is the Human Torch, it comes as no surprise when the Storms receive a visit from Carl Zante, The World's Greatest Acrobat, who tells Johnny that he's being exploited by Reed Richards. Zante wants Stan to quit the FF and join him to form a new crime fighting team as The Torrid Twosome.

Hotheaded Johnny goes to Reed and demands a salary. When he is rebuffed, he quits the team and joins up with Zante. Tricked into helping Zante rob a bank, the Torch realizes too late that he has been a fool. Zante shoots him and leaves him for dead in the bank vault.

But the Fantastic Three, having sensed that something was amiss, stop Zante, and the Torch emerges from the bank with only a wounded arm. He catches Zante and the Fantastic Four are reunited.

Peter Enfantino: Someone finally wised up and let writer Larry Lieber know that the superhero identity of Johnny Storm was never a secret. Poor Stan Lee probably wasn't even reading Strange Tales and knew nothing of the gaff until he read the letters page of Fantastic Four #10. One very astute reader asks why all the secrecy over in the pages of Strange Tales? Stan puts on his best "spinner cap" and answers that all will be explained soon. And it is: if you were to ask him, Johnny Storm is the only resident of Glenville who doesn't know the true identity of The Torch. Even his sister, Sue, is astonished that Johnny thinks it's a big secret.

Jack Seabrook: Johnny is not the brightest candle in the chandelier.

JS: Is it just me, or could this just as easily have been an (albeit lesser) issue of FF?

PE: I've always wondered (and wonder now as I look at the panel where The Acrobat is seducing Johnny Storm to join his team): when a character in a comic is relating a flashback, does he voice the dialog balloons as well?

Jack: The Acrobat reminds me of Super Mario.

PE: For the third time (or is it the fourth time) The Torch quits the FF. I'd like to see some of the vents that take place here in Strange Tales resonate over in the FF's title but it seems more like the old TV show bear trap: one week's events do not carry over into the next. If the Torch were to break his arm in his FF appearance, I'm sure he'd be just fine in the same month's Strange Tales.

Jack: It's not clear why getting shot in the arm makes that arm unable to FLAME ON! And since when does Johnny needs to say "FLAME OFF"??

PE: The plotline of "the gullible superhero who falls inadvertently into a life of crime" would be resurrected thousands of times in the coming decades.

Jack: I don't blame Johnny for wanting to get paid. Who pays the rent on the Glenville house he shares with sister Sue?

PE: Some of the art in this episode is really bad. The panel to the right makes Reed Richards a sexagenarian and Johnny unrecognizable. 

JS: In today's world, there's no way Reed Richards would be sporting a pipe.

Jack: Dick Ayers goes solo with the art this time, instead of inking Kirby's pencils. I thought the more cartoonish style was refreshing after a steady diet of Kirby.

JS: I didn't appreciate it as much as Don Heck's Ant-Man this month, but do agree the change didn't hurt.

Also this month

Gunsmoke Western #75
Kid Colt Outlaw #109
Love Romances #104
Millie the Model #113
Two-Gun Kid #62


A sheriff and his deputy get a rare drop on Kid Colt while he’s snoozin’ in the desert. The sheriff is after the notorious Dave Dragon Gang but he’ll take Colt as a consolation prize. After all, as his deputy rightfully claims “We’ll be the two most famous lawmen in the territory if we can nab ‘im, sheriff!” Colt manages to get away but is shot in the escape. Leaking oil at a gast rate (even though it’s only a flesh wound), The Kid passes out and the duo recapture their prize bounty. While gloating, the two are in turn snuck up on by the infamous Dave Dragon Gang! Dave, being the cutthroat he is, takes the lawmen’s horses and scats them to walk fifty miles to the nearest watering hole. Kind soul Kid Colt has a “angel/devil on the shoulder” moment and decides he wouldn’t be able to live with himself so he initiates a shootout with the insidious Dave Dragon Gang and the lawmen do the clean up. Kid Colt is given his 400th “pardon on the spot.” I’m wondering if he keeps these letters in his bedroll and do they help him in any way? Seems as though, next town over, he’s a wanted man again. He should begin keeping his pardons in alphabetical order and then hit only the cleared towns. Art on “The Dragon Gang Strikes” (Gunsmoke Western #75) is by Jack Keller.

Chased by a posse to Pecos Hill, near the Gulf of Mexico, Kid Colt finds himself with no choice but to stowaway on board the ship of a modern-day (well, for the late 1800s, at least) pirate. Soon he’ll find himself “At the Mercy of the Barracuda” (Kid Colt Outlaw #109; art by Keller). There’s not a lot to like here really: lackluster script by Stan, an art job barely above sketching, and a seafaring Kid Colt. Someone must have told Stan that the “Colt walks into a bar and here comes the sheriff” stories were growing thin but this is not the answer. Very humorous splash page though. In it we see Kid Colt’s trusty steed Nightwind, Blaze, Steel Boy, breaking his boss out of jail. Who tied the rope around the window and how does this horse have the almost-supernatural ability to understand English? And where does he hang when his rider is off on horse-less adventures. Do Steel Boy, Thunder, and Nightwind all chew the cud at a local oasis?

Matt Hawk answers an anguished plea from his sweetie, schoolmarm Nancy Carter to meet her at the schoolhouse. Nancy’s having trouble getting her students to show up to school because of “Moose Morgan, Gunman at Large” (Two-Gun Kid #62). Moose has let it be known that if his son doesn’t go to school then no one in the town will. He’s dead serious as he shows when the school board meets and he threatens to bust some chops if the meeting ain’t adjourned pronto. Luckily, the Two-Gun Kid makes an appearance and puts Moose and little Moose in their place. The boy must like the old-fashioned hide-tanning Two-Gun administers, as he cries out “Don’t Stop!” Jack Kirby provides visuals.


  1. Boy this was a busy month for Marvel! Spiderman, Iron Man, last issue of The Hulk! I love the cover of Fantastic Four #12- the anticipation is intense. Likewise, Iron Man's first appearance looks stunning; imagine seeing that on the news stand. I kind of like the monotone colour of his first suit.

  2. This was the best they could come up with for the Hulk's last issue? Good riddance. My heart sank once I realized the Hulk wasn't going to punch the Metal Master in the face when he finally caught him in the end. That Teenage Brigade nonsense had to have been lame even back then.

    As bad as the Hulk series was, it's got nothing on the Torch's Strange Tales saga of stupidity. Zante caps off another shitty villain. Too bad the Torch didn't serve some jail time for that bank robbery assistance.

    I don't know about the rest of you readers, but that Two-Gun Kid ending was pretty intense. It looked like something out of the Deadwood television series. Christ, no wonder there were weirdos running around trying to ban comic books back then.

  3. I didn't know that Spidey made money being Spider-Man and that the bad name being created for him would stop him from getting paid jobs.
    What kind of things do people pay him for? Catching flies with his web? Making a trampoline for the kids with his web? Do Superheroes get paid for being Superheroes?

    The Two-Gun Kid left me wide-mouthed and shocked. Wow. I agree with UTW -- it is not so much of a surprise any more about the attempt to ban comic books.

  4. I think the reason the solo Torch stories didn't take off was because the character was so sewn into the fabric of the Fantastic Four that any Torch strip would inevitably read like the FF part 2. Plus the continuity problems as already presented in this issue of Strange Tales.

  5. Dandy-
    That very well could be. I'm getting the sense, from reading the first 100 or so Marvels we've read (kids, don't try this at home) that Jack and Stan really didn't have the tools yet to create an engaging story. Despite the occasional bit of genius, most of this is pretty dismal stuff. I'd still take this over similar era work over at DC though. There might also have been someone higher than Stan (Goodman maybe?) waving a "I am the reader, I am six years old" banner at Lee and Kirby to remind them that funny books were for toddlers not the high school/college crowd they'd unearth during the late 60s. I recall Forry Ackerman having the same problem with Jim Warren while writing "adult material" for Famous Monsters.

  6. Dandy-

    I think the only way the Torch series would have worked would have been if they sent the Torch to some other alien planet for the series or paired him up with a different hero every month like the Marvel Two-In-One comics.


    I don't even want to think about what the DC Universe was like during this era! I can only imagine the retarded adventures Plastic Man or Aqua Man were having.

  7. Thank you, Peter, for "the much-maligned Don Heck." He was, after all, Iron Man's co-creator, for, uh, Pete's sake! I loved his long tenure on the Assemblers, where his pencils--although admittedly not as brilliant as those of, say, Big John Buscema--had a raw power that suited the group format and the action scenes very well. Plus it provided some nice continuity to have him handle Shellhead in another book as well.

  8. Matthew-

    As I've said before, no one will mistake me for an art expert but I knows what I like. Heck can be frustrating at times, seemingly rushed (which is probably what he was) but at times his style reminds me a lot of Alex Toth's. And that's a good thing.

  9. JB, a correction: Joe Sinnott drew most Thor stories in the early 90's issues of JOM. I happen to know 'cause I'm re-reading them now.

  10. Mark: Thanks! Joe Sinnott did indeed do a number of the JOM issues in the 90's. I quite like his work; the extra loooong hammer for instance! Still, we all agree, his inks are his claim to fame.