Wednesday, September 28, 2011

March 1964: Captain America Lives Again!

The X-Men #4

Our Story

Magneto is back but this time he's not alone. Still upset with the human race, the X-Men's deadliest foe has joined together with four other rowdy mutants: Scarlet Witch, who can move things with her mind; her brother Quicksilver, Marvel's answer to The Flash; The Toad, Marvel's answer to their own The Beast; and Mastermind, an ace at illusion. The Brotherhood decide for their first evil act to invade Santo Marco. Magneto steals a battleship and shells the small country until the population surrenders. Rescue arrives in the form of The X-Men, though in the big battle Professor X is injured and his psychic abilities may be gone.

PE: As soon as we get past the obligatory three pages of "in the gym" workout action, we're treated to a very complex and layered plot line, one that will continue for decades. The "good" mutant vs. the "bad" mutant and what exactly the defining lines are. Even at this early stage, you could see the gears turning in Stan's head. Scarlet Witch and her twin brother Pietro (aka Quicksilver) are introduced in the Marvel Universe as villains but you can tell, even in this appearance, their hearts aren't in it. Before too long (SPOILER ALERT) they'll hand in their Brotherhood membership badges for spots on the Avengers roster. It would be revealed in the Vision/Scarlet Witch mini-series in the early 1980s that Magneto was actually the pair's father and the twins were scurried away to protect them from his influence. Sounds a little too reminiscent of Star Wars to me and, since it was obvious Stan didn't have that in his master plan from the beginning, it'll be interesting to see the dynamic between the three in these early issues.

PE: Good story but I have to wonder what the significance of invading Santo Marco was. I thought it would be revealed that the country was full of mutants ripe for Magneto's picking but the invasion occurs and liberation is not far down the road.

JS: All four members of the BOEM would go on to have healthy careers in the MU in the years ahead. Mastermind gets a nice (and brilliantly justified) upgraded look when he joins up with the Hellfire Club to take part in what would become the X-Men's greatest arc.

PE: Professor X's abilities are damaged at the conclusion but, ostensibly, they'll return soon enough. So will the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

JS: Gotta love how he launches himself out of his wheelchair, head first, into the booby-trapped door. I guess he was tired of the kids having all the fun.

Tales of Suspense #51

Our Story

Tired of earning pennies in his acrobatic stage act, The Uncanny Umberto decides to steal some smart crows and a storefront costume and become The Scarecrow! His first order of business is to rob rich playboy Tony Stark. Even Iron Man can't prevent The Scarecrow from stealing some blueprints for a super-secret technological whatzit from Stark Industry files. Seeing dollar signs, the farm-ready villain sets up a meeting with some of Castro's boys (Commie alert!!) on a gunboat until Iron Man shows up and sinks the little ship, leaving The Scarecrow stranded on a beach in Cuba.

PE: The Scarecrow is yet another in a long line of dopey third stringers who "heard that Iron Man was a bodyguard of Tony Stark's" but isn't smart enough to notice they're never in the same room together. How does a bodyguard protect someone he's never around?

JS: What's with Pepper getting all catty with the boss' date? She needs to learn to put business before pleasure... even if that's not what Stark is known to do.

PE: This is another of those cases where I really have to stop and wonder why this guy needed a costume. The thing must get hot as hell, he can't really be as nimble as he normally is, and it's not as though he's going back to his acrobatics act on his off-hours.

JS: I assume he'll prove to be no relation to The Scarecrow that was part of the Marvel Monster squad of the 70s (nor the truly creepy Batman villain-PE)? The big surprise this issue was the Heckle and Jeckle cameos.

PE: Teaching some crows a few simple tricks is one thing but birds that can drop sacks over a victim's body and cinch the ties? The real winner though is when Scarecrow goes the Ant-Man route, jumping out a high-rise window only to be cushioned by a pillow of crows. I know, I know, this is a comic book about a guy who constantly hooks up AAA batteries to his failing heart.

PE: There are two back-up stories this issue. The first, "The Green Thing" is another of the wild and entertaining Larry Lieber/Matt Fox concoctions that appeared as fillers at about this time. "The Green Thing" is an intelligent plant that a farmer finds in his greenhouse one day. The plant relates that it comes from another planet and is here to conquer earth for its race. The fiendish flower, toying with the rube, promises that if he can destroy the wacky weed, there will be no invasion. Try as he might, the gardener can't nip the rascal in the bud and mankind is doomed, it seems. Until salvation arrives in the jaws of a diving crow (possibly one that got lost from the Iron Man story). The fabulous art, as I'm sure I've noted before, reminds me of the few underground comics I got my hands on when I was a youngster. A collection of Fox's Marvel stories from the 1960s would a welcome addition to any comic lover's bookshelf. Our second story is another yawn-inducing "Tale of the Watcher" called "The Primitive" about life on another planet. More Fox!
Tales to Astonish #53

Our Story

The quilled assassin known as The Porcupine has perfected his costume and wants revenge for his defeat at the hands of The Wasp and Giant-Man (although, Porc is quick to note, he was actually Ant-Man at the time). With the help of the local town's Giant-Man Fan Club (who, when they're not eating at McDonald's, dress as Giant-Man's favorite foes), Porc sneaks into the big hero's private gym and puts his new costume to the test. In a moment of weakness, Gi-Man allows Porc to get too close and the quilled hoodlum steals a handful of his pills. Thinking he's swallowed big boy pills, Porc laughs and taunts his adversary with promises of defeat. Unfortunately for the not-too-bright genius, he's actually downed several reducing pills and quickly shrinks to the size of a microbe, leaving Giant-Man to ponder why most of his foes are idiots.

JS: No offense to the brilliant scientist, but I have to disagree with Pym's assessment that changing from Giant-Man to Ant-Man during his free fall wouldn't make a difference. Drop a man and an ant from a building, and see which has a softer landing.

PE: I'm assuming this is Stan's "letter of love" to early Marvel zombies but it comes off more damnation than praise. The Giant-Man fan club looks to be populated by dwarfs, hunchbacks and slow-wits. Stan must have come in contact with some of those early fans! When Alex Gentry shows up at the door to fan headquarters, these fans cordially invite the old-timer in rather than call the police and report a child molester.

JS: So let me get this straight—would these guys go to a Star Wars fan club meeting dressed as Star Trek characters? It seems like they're more excited by Giant-Man's enemies than the man himself.

PE: The Porcupine notes that, once he's tricked The Wasp to leave Giant-Man's side, he can defeat the huge hero. Has Porc seen some reports on The Wasp I haven't?

JS: Clearly he's not the sharpest tool in the shed.

PE: Amazingly, Giant-Man hypothesizes exactly what happens to Jan (The Wasp) when she's trapped in The Porc's auto. Why didn't Stan just show us the sequence of events?

JS: Maybe he was cutting Ayers some slack.

PE: I am very interested in how Stan will bring back the dope known as The Porcupine.

JS: I'm not ashamed to report that I had already forgotten about Porky since his last appearance. I only hope that I can forget him again before his next one.

Early rendering of Shaq?
PE: In "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale" back-up story, The Wonderful Wasp tells the tale of the giant stone statue, Colossus, who comes to life to stop tyranny on a far-away planet. This Colossus should not be confused with the statue who appeared in two issues of Tales of Suspense ("I Created the Colossus" TOS #14, Feb 1961 and "Colossus Lives Again" TOS #20, Aug 1961) and would be rebooted by Tony Isabella for a short-lived (but highly enjoyable) run in Astonishing Tales (#21-24, Dec 1973-June 1974).

Strange Tales #118

The Human Torch

Our Story

The Wizard escapes from prison disguised as a guard and flies away with a jet pack he just invented, dreaming of the ways he can use it to commit profitable crimes. He tricks the Torch into running out of flame and ties him up, then assumes his identity by using a mask, costume, his jet pack, and a cold-flame unit.

He stops by the Fantastic Four's office to say he and Sue need a vacation, then goes home to gloat and plan some more. Johnny and Sue (who has also been kidnapped by the Wizard) signal Mr. Fantastic and The Thing and are quickly rescued. Johnny confronts the Wizard, who uses his anti-gravity disk to ascend skyward. The story ends with the Wizard zooming up into the stratosphere, unable to stop his own ascent.

Jack: The cover of this issue looks like Kirby's work, complete with the usual elongated Wizard face. Inside, we are treated to the cartoons of Dick Ayers, and the Wizard's face is noticeably less stretched out. I love how he covers his beard with actor's putty made from melted crayons!

JS: No amount of putty is going to make old long-face look like the small headed guard he impersonated.

PE: Prison rehabilitation in the Marvel Universe has reached a new nadir. The wizard is able to build a jetpack out of a toilet seat and sarsaparilla right under the watchful eyes of prison guards.

Jack: Notice that the shape of his entire head changes when he puts on a mask.

PE: Let me get this straight: The Wizard decides that the safest thing to do, while he's perfecting his new anti-gravity gizmo, is to assume the identity of someone else. So far so good. He then picks The Human Torch to impersonate. Wouldn't it be easier to conk Iam Nobody of 333 N. Main Street (with no wife or children) on the head and hide out at his place than try to assume the skin (and fire) of a national idol and part of a famous team? I see land mines ahead. The guy ain't the genius he's trying to sell to us.

Jack: He spends an awful lot of time gloating. And what's with checking in with Reed and Ben to get vacation time? How many weeks a year do FF members get? Do they get health benefits?

PE: Another new Torch-trick. While he and Sue are trapped in a near-airless compartment, Johnny sends a flame ball around the box to search for air. When the flame is triumphant, Johnny concentrates all his power on forcing the fire through the pin-sized hole and then shaping into the 4 signal outside the box. Is the Torch now psychically able to communicate with his flame? I'm not sure about this one.

Jack: The Torch's powers have always changed to match the situation.

PE: Despite the fact that Johnny is trapped and The Wizard has assumed his identity for no more than a couple hours (or five or six panels in Marvel Universe time), the evil genius finishes his weapon in time to use it against The Torch. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to use The Torch's pad for half a day. He didn't even get to take advantage of all the chicks that hang 'round Johnny's joint (or fight Spider-Man).

Jack: Did you notice Sue's ability to enclose herself in an invisible force shield that is flame-retardant? Talk about new powers.

PE: The Wizard is finally brought down by The Torch's patented "white hot searing miniature nova flame." But the evil genius has an ace up his sleeve and his anti-grav device sends him hurtling towards space. The Torch muses that if any evil genius can survive a lack of oxygen, it'll be The Wizard. Johnny's right, of course, and we'll see more of The Wizard in 1965.

JS: If I never read another Wizard tale, it will be too soon. How did this guy keep coming up on the pick-a-villain rolodex?

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Creatures from another dimension possess the unsuspecting inhabitants of a small Bavarian village in order to begin their plan for world domination. Dr. Strange catches on and has a mental battle with one of the aliens, defeating him and saving our planet from invasion.

JS: Gotta love how they demand silence of the readers, so as not to disturb the good Doc.

PE: A bit of a long-winded, confusing alien story. I think the Doc should stick to the black arts and not stray too far into Tales to Astonish. The glossary of Doctor Strange terms obviously wasn't created yet, as Stan (or Steve) mention "the mighty Mormammu." Dormammu would become a major force in the Doc Strange universe very soon.

Jack: I beg to differ, Professor Peter! Dr. Strange has already called on the Dread Dormammu (see, for example, ST 116, p. 4, panel 3) and the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth. The vocabulary is there but our favorite fiery-headed creep has yet to show up. I suspect Stan fell victim to the dreaded proofreaders (or a bad memory) once again when Doc called on Mormammu--though it does go well with "mighty"!

JS: I think one of the problems is that the inter-dimensional beings look a little too much like space aliens.

Journey Into Mystery #102

Our Story
Returning to the future of the 23rd century, Zarrko holds the Mighty Thor to his promise of assistance. The Thunder God damages machinery, causes the breakdown of essential services, and wreaks general havoc, though without causing anyone bodily harm. Addressing the World Council who make the laws of the future, Zarrko demands to know the location of the Master Machine that makes the real decisions of the 23rd century. With this information Thor and Zarrko journey to the isolated island where the machine is located. Thor shatters the entrance to the cave to get at the device. A “C-bomb”, a defensive weapon imprisons them with gravitational force, but Thor manages to shatter it. Having kept his word to Zarrko, delivering him mastery of the future Earth, Thor feels free to do battle with the evil scientist. Using the resources of the Master Machine, Zarrko tries to subdue the Thunder God, but Thor manages to transfer enough power through his hammer to give the machine the energy to once again defend itself. The future Earth is spared as Zarrko is captured.

In the Tales Of Asgard, Thor confronts Hela, Goddess of Death, to offer himself up as a sacrifice to save Sif, who had been taken by the storm giants.

JS: The latest trick out of the Thor playbook—swing the hammer at twice the speed of sound and travel through time. If only I could do that to get some of the time spent reading these stories back...

PE: The main feature (the conclusion of the Zarrko storyline) is nothing special but the Tales of Asgard is another strong entry. This time we learn how Thor finally lifted the mighty Mjolnir, get to meet a young Balder (not yet The Brave) and Sif, and witness Thor's first encounter with Hela, Goddess of Death.

JB:Here they state that Sif is Balder’s younger sister; later this seems to be forgotten.

JB: It‘s interesting that a machine is controlling all our destinies in the future

JS: I just want to know when Thor decided to pass on Sif to hook up with lame-Doc-loving Jane Foster?

Fantastic Four #24

Our Story

An alien child is in Times Square, using his incredible power to have a good time, unwittingly causing widespread destruction. The Four must figure a way to stop the rampage without hurting the mischievous imp. Luckily, Reed finds a way of contacting the child's parents (who believe the toddler is in daycare) and they arrive to rescue earth from their "Infant Terrible."

PE: In our opening scene, Life Magazine is at the Baxter Building for a photo session and The Fantastic Four do everything they can to prove they should actually be titled The Full-of-Themselves Four. When Sue Storm does that half-invisible trick, do you think you could see her intestines? No? Well, what do you see when she's half gone and half there?

JS: I think they used that setup purposefully, to hammer home the point of the story. Unfortunately, it all adds up to an issue best forgotten.

PE: Once again, without even facing the foe, Reed Richards exclaims "This may be the most difficult fight we'll ever face!" He is the genius though as he, right out of thin air, decides that if the police make enough noise with their sirens, the marching green men will disappear.

JS: They quickly realize he's an infant because he behaves like a human infant. Good thing they didn't notice that he kinda behaved like Johnny Storm—they might have offered him his own title.

PE: A very unique spacecraft design, wouldn't you say, Professor John?
George Pal 1953
Stan + Jack 1964

JS: The question is, did they do so as a wink to the kids who had seen War of the Worlds, or were they assuming that none of the kids will have seen it...

PE: The alien's not the only strange thing going on in New York. Stan and Jack have two pilots parachute... from a crashing helicopter!

JS: That's a disintegrating helicopter, Peter. Get your ludicrous scenarios right.

PE: Silly, nonsensical, cliched, and derivative. Not the kind of story you want between the covers of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine." For the umpteenth time, I'll remind readers that the FF will get better, a lot better (it may even earn that "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" hype), but it sure seems like it's taking a long time to get there.

JS: It's not the worst of the monthly titles, by a long shot, but when it's bad, it's "(Infant) Terrible."

PE: On the Letters page, we hear from future comic book writer and low budget film director Don Glut.

The Amazing Spider-Man #10

Our Story

There's a new crime boss in town and he's known as "The Big Man." He rules with an iron fist and three deadly henchmen: the lassoing Montana, the man-mountain known as The Ox, and the martial arts master, Fancy Dan (collectively known as The Enforcers). The Big Man has reined together all the racket bosses for a city-wide crime spree. Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson has been acting strange and taking walks around the city. Coincidentally, most of his walks are in the vicinity of "The Big Man." Could JJJ be leading a double-life of crime? Plus: what is the secret that Betty Brant is withholding from Peter Parker and why does it force her to leave town without saying goodbye?

PE: Last issue Aunt May went under the knife. Now the old gal needs a blood transfusion and her worried nephew happens to be the right blood type. "Shortly after," she's in a car to Florida with friends! I wonder if Stan is hinting that Peter's radioactive blood might be just the ticket for an ailing Aunt May.

JS: Well, she is still alive almost 50 years later...

PE: I was all set to believe that JJJ was "The Big Man" until the evidence started pointing his way and then I figured it was too obvious. I love the mysteries in this strip right now. Who is "the Big Man"? Why does Betty Brant owe money to a loan shark? It has to have something to do with the tidbit she dropped in #9, right?

JS: I didn't buy the JJJ thing—it was too extreme to believe that he'd become a crime boss. I do, however, agree with you that things are getting interesting with Betty.

PE: Not coincidentally, it turns out, we're introduced to disgruntled Daily Bugle columnist Frederick Foswell. I would have preferred that the mystery be dragged out over a few issues (or more) as the upcoming Green Goblin arc did so masterly. When we find out that Foswell is "The Big Man," the effect is not as great since we've just met the guy. The whole thing doesn't add up anyway. Why would Foswell evade escape and head right to work on his next column at The Daily Bugle (other than to drag the suspense out a bit as to whether JJJ was the crime boss)? If he was a great master criminal, what was he doing working at the paper in the first place?

JS: I was underwhelmed by the Big Man and his Enforcers. I felt they were too pedestrian after the line up of super-villains Spidey has faced.

PE: We get our first "Spider-signal," a spotlight to alert police that Spider-Man needs them, very reminiscent of a tool used in a competing comic company's flagship title. I'm surprised said company didn't have lawyers knocking at Marvel's door. From what I've read, that company was a pack of dogs when it came to protecting its share of the market.

JS: Keep in mind that's how he's calling the cops for help, not the other way around. Cross-town Batty's got nothing to worry about.

PE: As the cover blurb teases, we get to find out exactly why J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man:

JS: I frankly didn't buy his 'why I still hate Spider-Man' epilogue.

PE: "The Big Man" and The Enforcers proved popular enough to return several times over the next few decades. In the "too interesting to ignore" department, John Favareau of New York writes in that The Lizard "is the most worthy villain ever to match wits with the Spider-Man." The Jon Favreau wasn't born until 1966 (in New York) but it was close enough for me to mention. In the "special announcements" section, it's disclosed that the readers overwhelmingly voted that letters pages should remain. Another top-notch issue of the best-written and illustrated superhero comic being published by Marvel at the time.

The Avengers #4

Our Story

Continuing the battle royale of last issue, The Sub-Mariner escapes the grasp of The Avengers but then goes on a rampage in the Arctic. Coming upon a group eskimos bowing before a figure frozen in ice, Namor loses his cool and tosses the ice-bound man into the water. Luckily, The Avengers just happen to be cruising by as the figure coasts downwater and they rescue the thawing phantom. Once they get it on board, they're shocked to find that the man in the ice is World War II superhero Captain America. Still alive but dazed from nearly twenty years of suspended animation, he agrees to journey with The Avengers to their headquarters.

Surfacing in New York, the heroes (save Cap) are turned to stone by a mysterious alien. Tracked down by Cap, the outer space visitor relates that he's being blackmailed by The Sub-Mariner. The alien's ship is sunk below the ocean and Subby has promised to release the craft if The Avengers are turned to stone. Cap assures the alien that the team will do everything they can to raise the spaceship if he'll bring back his new friends.

The alien obliges, the heroes raise the ship and then have their first battle side-by-side with Captain America. Once the battle is over, Cap is invited to join the super team. He agrees happily.

PE: One of the greatest events in Marvel Universe history, a brilliant move on the part of Stan and Jack, and the return of one of the most enduring superhero characters of all time.

JS: And all that with what could very well be the least impressive splash page of all time.

PE: I can understand Cap being a little foggy as to who this fish man is but Sub-Mariner should remember the man he fought beside in World War II (alongside Bucky, The original Torch, and Toro) in the All-Winners Squad. The story of how Cap came to be in the ice would be retold and remolded to several different writers' styles through the years (just as every Marvel hero has been toyed with). Some of the sketches will be filled in. For instance, we'll find out in Avengers #6 that the exploding plane that killed Bucky belonged to Baron Zemo.

JS: What a stroke of luck that the Avengers sub just happened to be patrolling the area in which Cap was drifting. By the way, when did they get a sub?

PE: Even classics, we learn, have their lapses of logic now and then. How is it that Giant-Man opens up the "air-tight escape hatch" of the submarine far below the surface of the ocean and grabs Captain America without drowning The Avengers? How does Cap know that he's been frozen in ice all these years, idolized by eskimos?

JS: I'm thinking he read the script. Despite the cool introduction of Cap, I thought some of the sub-plots were pretty weak. The alien visitor that spawned the Medusa legend might have made for a fine backup feature in Strange Tales, but it feels shoehorned into this Avengers installment.

PE: The fascinating aspect of the Cap mythos, to me, is the fact that the 1950s Cap is ignored. The star-spangled avenger relates that he's been frozen for twenty years, since World War II. In fact, Hitler was still in power went Cap went on ice. The last time comic readers had thrilled to an adventure had been September 1954 when Cap and Bucky foiled a plot to bomb the United Nations building in Captain America #78 (with art by John Romita). Costumed heroes, for the most part, were on their way out and kids were plunking down their dimes on horror and crime comics. A couple of issues of Cap's comic were actually titled Captain America's Weird Tales before closing out the run as simply Captain America (with the subtitle of "Commie Smasher"). Aside from a handful of Sub-Mariner Comics, superheroes were dead at Atlas/Marvel until November 1961. As for the mystery of how Cap could fight commies in the 1950s while on ice since the 1940s, that's another wonderful story!

The definition of iconic

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #115
Millie the Model #119
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #6
Two-Gun Kid #68


The Howlers must parachute into North Africa to stop the advance of General Rommel's army in "The Fangs of the Desert Fox" (Sgt Fury #6). A bad chute leads Manelli to a hospital bed and Fury is forced to bring in a substitute. Turns out the new man is a bigot and doesn't want to fight alongside of some of the Howlers. Fury must contend with both The Desert Fox and this new cancer within his mini-army. Another densely written mini-epic. Kirby's art is awe-inspiring and I sure wish he was utilizing this much talent on Fantastic Four (but we know now that he soon will). Fury's commandos don't pull off the fantastical feat of destroying Rommel's army and are, actually, commanded to stand down at the climax. After our bigot is hurt in battle he must undergo a blood transfusion from, you guessed it, a Jewish commando. Only a tacked-on preachy message at our finale weakens the impact of this saga.

Kid Colt finds himself the victim of "The Scorpion's Sting" (Kid Colt, Outlaw #115). The Scorpion terrorizes the Old West with a magical sting every time he points his hand and aims. When Colt runs into him while running from a posse, Scorpion demands The Kid join up with him. Colt refuses and feels the outlaw's fury. Colt finally gets to the bottom of the mystery (The Scorpion is actually Sam Scorpo, inventor of a hidden silenced derringer contraption) and hands Scorpion over to the authorities. Of course, the real Scorpion will be popping up in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in about ten months.

Two-Gun Kid has his hands full with "The Macabre Mystery of the Purple Phantom" (Two-Gun Kid #68). The Phantom is a cattle rustler who can make himself disappear when he needs to. Most of the time it's when Two-Gun is just about to apprehend the villain. In the end, it's just another bad guy with a little ingenuity and phosphorescent paint.


  1. Despite the big news about Cap, you were right to lead with X-MEN. The original issue was a little before my time (being a big nine months old), but I was lucky enough to encounter the story as a reprint--in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES, I believe--at a young age, when Wanda and Pietro were key Assemblers, and it was good to read their history. The Lee-Kirby team was firing on all cylinders, and I vividly remember that shot of Xavier hurling himself from his chair.

    Always had a soft spot for the Enforcers, due to their return opposite the Hulk and the Green Goblin in AMAZING #14, and especially in Bill Mantlo's Spidey/Torch/Sons of the Tiger/Big Man/Crime Master/Sandman wingding in MARVEL TEAM-UP #39-40. But this cover is forgettable.

    As for Cap, what can I say? I always liked him best as an Avenger, so this issue, warts and all, is a true landmark for me. I see it's been one year to the day since I commented on Peter's bare*bones post about the Englehart arc on the '50s Cap. And I somehow never saw his follow-up inviting me to post one of my "Marvel Snapshots" there. Perhaps we should talk...

  2. Some really good comics this month. I get the feeling Marvel is starting to heat up!