Sunday, October 30, 2011

King-Size Special! Marvel Collector's Item #4!

Marvel Snapshot: 1976
by Matthew R. Bradley

The big news for Marvel fans in 1976—as always, I’m going by cover dates here—was the return of artist Jack “King” Kirby, the Golden Age veteran who had co-created most of the major characters with Stan Lee at the dawn of the Marvel Age, and then defected to archrival D.C. Comics in 1970.  Kirby kicked off the year by taking over his signature character in Captain America #193 with the Madbomb saga, culminating in August with Cap’s 200th issue, coincidentally published during America’s own much-ballyhooed bicentennial.  In July, he had launched a new strip, The Eternals, but at least in the eyes of this observer, Marvel’s decision to let him write as well as draw his books (which I’ve always assumed was a condition of his return) only proved that despite his prodigious talent, Kirby should have stayed an artist.

By year’s end, Steve Englehart was gone from three books he’d written religiously throughout 1975—Avengers, Captain Marvel, and Dr. Strange—as well as one he’d picked up in April, the perennial BOF underdog favorite Super-Villain Team-Up.  A resurgent Gerry Conway handled the transition to new regular writers on both Avengers (highlighted by newcomer George Pérez’s pencils, Hellcat’s origin, and Wonder Man’s return) and Captain Marvel, teaming up with Bill Mantlo on #47 after a Chris Claremont fill-in, yet perhaps inevitably, despite their collective efforts, the post-Jim Starlin Mar-Vell was a shadow of his former self.  Marv Wolfman began a holding action on Dr. Strange #19, following the departure of Englehart and Doc’s longtime artist, Gene Colan, while Stainless Steve introduced the Shroud in SVTU #5, and Mantlo took the reins in December with an excellent multi-part Avengers crossover.

Conway looked like a one-man writing Bullpen in December, represented on at least six books, including Ghost Rider, to which Mantlo, erstwhile mainstay Tony Isabella, and Wolfman (who provided a Daredevil crossover in #20) all contributed scripts that year.  Not to be outdone in the “musical writers” department, Iron Man had previously featured the work of Len Wein, Roger Slifer, Mantlo (who introduced Blizzard in #86), Archie Goodwin, and Jim Shooter, mostly illustrated by George Tuska.  Merry Gerry was also the last man standing on Defenders, after Steve Gerber wound up his Headmen saga and ended his landmark run with artist Sal Buscema in #41, while Isabella seemed to be in the descendant, tag-teaming with Mantlo and Claremont on Champions before the former finally settled in at the helm, with BOF fave Bob Hall on pencils.

Mantlo was, in fact, fast becoming the man of the moment, working with Sal on an impressive year-long Marvel Team-Up stint, highlighted by an epic time-travel storyline and broken only by a December fill-in from, you guessed it, Conway.  Aptly, Boisterous Bill also wrote the lion’s share of that year’s stories in their other team-up book, Marvel Two-in-One, including Sal’s memorable MTU/MTIO Basilisk crossover.  With Our Pal Sal occasionally spelling Bob Brown, Wolfman stayed the course on Daredevil (save for a December fill-in by, no, not Conway, but the equally ubiquitous Mantlo), providing the origin of DD’s soon-to-be nemesis Bullseye in #131, and created the ill-fated Nova in September, with penciller John Buscema quickly succeeded by brother Sal.

Marvel continued introducing new books at a furious clip in 1976, and although most were short-lived, few fizzled as fast as Black Goliath, introduced by Isabella in February but immediately taken over by Claremont before being cancelled with #5 in November.  Collectors cornered the market on the first issue of Howard the Duck, a characteristically offbeat character whom Gerber created in the pages of Man-Thing and shepherded in January into his own cult-favorite title, on which Frank Brunner was soon supplanted by Colan.  Less popular was Gerber’s collaboration with Mary Skrenes on the enigmatic Omega the Unknown, which debuted in March with artwork by Jim Mooney, while one of the few long-term success stories was Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, launched in December by, uh, you know.

Perhaps to compensate for this flurry of activity, a few strips gave up the ghost that year, but in the case of Don McGregor’s Jungle Action, which ended in November with #24, the stage was clearly set for the impending launch of Kirby’s Black Panther.  Poor, doomed Luther Manning entered the special hell reserved for characters whose books have been cancelled when Deathlok, as chronicled by Rich Buckler and, yes, Mantlo, was orphaned by the demise of Astonishing Tales in July with #36.  Ironically, the Gerber-scripted adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy—whose origin from Marvel Super-Heroes #18 had been reprinted in that very same book—were undeservedly not long for this world in Marvel Presents, with art by Al Milgrom.
Surely the biggest loss was writer-artist Starlin’s Warlock, the final issue of which (#15) entered BOF lore unexpectedly the one time I entrusted my next-oldest brother, Stephen, with the responsibility of picking up my comics for that week.  With his unerring eye for quality, Steve thought it looked neat and added it to the stack, but I, who had probably never seen Warlock before, couldn’t get past the fact that he had spent MY 30¢ on something I hadn’t empowered him to purchase.  Understandably enraged by my incessant 13-year-old whining, he finally tore the comic to pieces, and when I think what an original Starlin Warlock would fetch today, I feel positively ill at my own stupidity.

Amid this turmoil, Doug Moench and John Warner steadily wrote the bimonthly Inhumans and Son of Satan, respectively, while Claremont not only revived the Sentinels and introduced Phoenix during his first full year with Dave Cockrum on X-Men, but also worked with future X-Men artist John Byrne on Iron Fist.  Roy Thomas had unbroken runs on Invaders, introducing Baron Blood in #7, and Fantastic Four, peppered with Pérez pencils and appearances by the Hulk, Power Man, Galactus, and the High Evolutionary.  Wein managed a trifecta on Incredible Hulk (as Sal lovingly delineated the Abomination, Man-Thing, and Jarella), Amazing Spider-Man (with a Nightcrawler/Punisher two-parter enhancing Ross Andru’s ongoing run), and Big John Buscema’s always-impressive rendition of Thor.

Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen , now in its third printing, and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009).  Check out his blog, Bradley on Film

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

July 1964: Marvel's Answer to The Joker?

The Amazing Spider-Man #14

Our Story

There's a new super-villain in town, a costumed nut named The Green Goblin, and he seems to have a very short fuse when it comes to Spider-Man. In an effort to capture the wall-crawler, The Goblin enlists the aid of The Enforcers (last seen in ASM #10-Pesky Pete) and the unwitting assistance of a Hollywood producer to convince Spidey he'll be paid fifty thousand bucks to star in a movie blockbuster about his life. Our teenaged hero naively goes along with the scheme, thinking about all the things he can do for Aunt May with the dough, but it's not long before he puts two and two together and it equals four bad guys. And that's not even including guest star The Hulk, who Spidey stumbles on deep in a cave. Will The Goblin get the upper hand with his Spidey-Sense altering pumpkin bombs or will Peter Parker triumph against the forces of evil once more?

PE: I suspect that comic fans picking up the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man had no idea that the funny looking green guy on the cover would become, arguably, Marvel's most famous villain. As with Doctor Doom's first appearance (back in FF #5), this future Hall-of-Famer isn't given much to swing at in his first at-bat. It's another of those "My Gosh, isn't Spider-Man the most gullible super-hero? Oh wait, he's just a teenager!" storylines. The Enforcers weren't all that interesting four issues ago and they're still a collective yawn.

JS: It is somewhat interesting when what will become such an iconic character has a lackluster debut. The whole, "let's make a movie" deal is really stupid.

PE: First evidence The Goblin is insane: he flies into the headquarters of The Enforcers (Fancy Dan, Montana, and The Ox) and announces "I'm now ready to give the four of you your orders."

JS: That certainly helps set the tone of the character. Of course the one thing I was always disappointed in was that it was a costume. Growing up I always thought he was actually a green goblin.

PE: Ditko needs to stay miles away from The Hulk. It's just not his character. But, for me, no one would actually "get" The Hulk until Herb Trimpe in the late 1960s. Anyway, The Hulk's cameo is nothing special, just a way to keep his name out there in front of fans. I suppose that Stan was still trying to gauge whether this brute was popular enough to garner his own zine. The answer would come, in a way, three months later.

JS: So I guess I'll take it as a positive that you're implying I might actually get a 'good' Hulk story before the decade is out? I agree that you could cut those pages out of this story and never notice they were gone.

PE: Oh, but we were talking about The Goblin, weren't we? It's no secret (to me, at least) that The Green Goblin is my favorite Marvel villain, Stan Lee's answer to The Joker, I'm sure. I could scan the hundreds of interviews with Stan Lee I have in my library and I'm sure I'd finally come across the one where he admits as much. Or maybe not. The Goblin's career very much mirrors that of The Joker. Both started out as mischievous clowns but slowly evolved into homicidal maniacs, eventually becoming the biggest draw in the company's flagship title. Of course, what cemented The Green Goblin's place in this fan's heart was that double jolt staged by Gerry Conway in 1973. It was (and, to me, remains) the biggest shock ever in comics. The saga of The Goblin should have ended with his death in ASM #122, but greed tends to bring the dead back to life easily in comic books and, thanks to sons and clones and cyborgs and bastard children and, inevitably, a resurrection, The Goblin goes on to this day. I've spoiled events in 1973 for you but I won't spoil the true identity of The Green Goblin until we all find that out together in ASM #39.

Journey Into Mystery #106

Our Story

With his hammer out of his reach in the viselike grip of a powerful machine (as we saw last month), Thor must face the Cobra and Mr. Hyde with his bare hands. He tosses them aside long enough to dash into the crowd, so as to come up with a way to get his weapon back. Before the evil pair can bring harm to the crowd, Don Blake (60 seconds have passed) “betrays” the Thunder God in front of the crowd, promising to reveal his whereabouts in exchange for the return of his cane. When Cobra finds but can’t reach the walking stick by slithering inside the device, Hyde promptly tears it apart. In the ensuing chaos Blake becomes guess who, and dispatches the Cobra into the hands of the waiting police. Hyde transforms back into Calvin Zabo and escapes. Thor soon finds him, and Hyde (back again) knocks his hammer from his grasp. A hand-to-hand battle results in the same result for Hyde as his partner. Meantime, Jane Foster walks out on Dr. Blake again, disgusted at how he turned on  Thor.

Balder the Brave is the subject of our Tales Of Asgard. Odin is displeased that our brave friend felt returning a bird to it’s nest was important enough to pause from battling the storm giants, and orders Balder smitten by his fellow Asgardians. The love all living things feel for him reveal Balder’s gentleness to be the equal of his power.

PE: This story exists only to find out how many times Thor can be separated from his hammer. It could just as easily have been condensed into a one-parter. Nothing happens! As I noted during our discussion of the last issue, Thor is a God and he's facing two third-tier villains. Why can't he mop the floor with them in a couple minutes flat? Miles away in quality is the Tales of Asgard this issue.

JB: It is getting a bit tiresome with the "separation anxiety". If Hyde is only as strong as a dozen men, Thor must be a lot more than that. At least it was pleasing to see Thor get some guts and face Hyde hand-to-hand. Finally we get confirmation on Hyde's method of transformation to Calvin Zabo and back.

JS: Thor started off as one of the biggest surprises for me, as I had never really read the title growing up, but the further along we get, it seems to be blending in with some of the lesser titles we're subjected to each and every month.

JB: I'm a big fan of Balder, and it was great to see him the central character in the Tales Of Asgard. Soon Vince Colletta will be with us all the way in Thor, giving JIM a whole new look. No offence to the inking of Chic stone, but Vince offers a sharper edge.

The X-Men #6

Our Story

Simultaneously, coincidentally, Magneto and Professor X decide that adding Sub-Mariner to their team might be a good idea. Magneto lures Namor to his "secret, hidden island" and tries to romance him into becoming an ally but the Sea Prince is wary of the super mutant. Just in the nick of time arrives The X-Men and battle lines are drawn.

PE: Finally, Stan and Jack have dumped the obligatory "danger room" intro. Now we have The X-Men bickering at the dinner table and using their powers in amusing fashion to irritate each other. Speaking of mutant powers, is the Dr. Strange trick Magneto uses (his mind leaves his body in an "illusory figure") something new or did I miss this in a past issue? I wasn't aware that the big guy could do anything other than command big hunks of metal.

JS: While Xavier does it all the time, this was the first such out of body experience for Magneto. But when Xavier normally does it, he uses his Cerebro Mutant finding machine to do it; not just have his astral self hop up out of his wheelchair.

PE: Whoops, I spoke too soon. It took Stan four pages to get to the Danger Room this issue.

PE: Professor X hires out a boat to sail the X-People (Is Jean Gray an X-Girl? X-Person?) to Magneto's island. So, I guess, to save some bucks, he hired out a pirate ship (complete with gangplank)?

JS: Duh, everyone knows she's Marvel Girl (of course how she got the company name in her moniker is beyond me).

PE: Sub-Mariner notes that Magneto's secret island is hard to find, even with directions. Yeah, but do you think the gigantic magnet might give away the secret? If Magneto really is The Scarlet Witch's pop (as we'll find out years down the line, mind you), he's really creepy using her as sexual bait for Namor.

JS: Good call on that. A pretty clear sign that this wasn't a known backstory element in the beginning.

PE: I guess Stan ran out of ways of using Namor in the Fantastic Four's title and had to branch out (much in the way he does with The Hulk). It'll be another year before Subby gets his own book (well, half of his own book, that is) so get used to these occasional pop-ins.

PE: "Let's Visit the X-Men," the new letters page, makes its debut.

The Avengers #6

Our Story

In a remote South American jungle, Baron Zemo finds out that his World War II enemy, Captain America is still alive. Still saddled with the headgear that Cap unwittingly attached to Zemo's head with Adhesive X, Zemo decides that twenty years is long enough and the dish shall be served at last. He enlists the aid of three super villains (The Melter, The Radioactive Man, and The Black Knight) and heads to town with several barrels of Adhesive X and a plan to bring Captain America out in the open. The bad guys begin spraying Ad-X all over town but with a little help from Rick Jones and his Teen Brigade, The Avengers manage to round up most of the bad guys and head them off to the pokey. Baron Zemo may or may not have escaped. Stay Tuned.

PE: For an evil genius, Baron Zemo ain't so bright. He enlists nothing but fourth-stringer henchmen. The Avengers fight back by enlisting the aid of Paste Pot Pete for an antidote to Ad-X.

JS: The X-Men had their Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, so I guess it's only fair that the Avengers get the Masters of Evil...

PE: At his Teen Brigade headquarters, Rick Jones busts in through the door, telling his fellow Cub Scouts that they've got a "double red alert emergency" on their hands. Are there degrees of emergencies with The Avengers? If so, why hasn't Stan been kind enough to diagram those for us.

JS: Just wait until there's a double-secret red alert emergency, mister smarty pants.

PE: More fun from The House of Coincidence. "I really would like to avenge Bucky's death and get hold of that Zemo. I wonder if he's still alive." Meanwhile, in a remote South American jungle, Zemo reads a newspaper announcing that Cap is alive.

PE: The shadow of Peter Palmer and Bob Banner arise again as we learn that Rick Jones is now Rick Brown, Cub Scout! I still find it a bit farfetched (yes, even in tales of knights on flying horses) that The Avengers would allow these semi-trained teenagers to put themselves in the line of fire.

JS: I guess if it's any consolation, at least Rick Jones and the Teen Brigade never got their own title (they don't, right? Tell me they don't!).

The Melter doing what he does best
PE: The Black Knight seems astonished, even a bit offended, that The Avengers are not going with The Masters of Evil game plan to attack their respective superhero. As Thor's hammer comes sailing at him, he cries out: "Thor's hammer!! But he was not supposed to be my foe!!"

JS: I think he's got a point. I think there's an unwritten rule that states one must take out their own nemesis before engaging someone else's. "Hey, guys—who's responsible for The Melter?"

PE: We finally get an acknowledgement from Stan that taking pill after pill is going to wear a guy out. At one point during the battle, Giant-Man must "pull himself together after his physically exhausting ordeal of changing size so quickly and so often..." Imagine the strain on his heart going from big to small back to big again in a matter of seconds.

JS: We've been raising that for months! What took him so long?

PE: These Marvel artists are still struggling with the size of Giant-Man from panel to panel (even when he's not taking a bottle of pills hourly). One panel he seems to be a bit larger than a man (perhaps nine feet at the most) and in the next, his arm appears to be as big as a vehicle. And when did Thor stop talking like an Asgardian and more like a Yancy Streeter?

Tales to Astonish #57

Our Story

That nutty Egghead is back with a new invention designed to ruin Ant-Man's perfect day. Hank has just created a wonderful new weapon for The Wasp that will make her the most powerful little female heroine in the Marvel Universe, an air gun strapped to her wrist. But Egghead's invention is another story altogether (and we here at Marvel University wish this tale were being told over at the Distinguished Competition), a miniature transmitting tower plopped on an anthill that feeds bad info to Ant-Man. First up from the faux Ant-enna: news that Spider-Man is going to attack Giant-Man and his luscious little winged insect girl. Shrugging off any questions as to why Spidey would be attacking the duo, Giant-Man and The Wasp head out to pick a fight with the wall-crawler. In the end, it's just a misunderstanding.

PE: I'd call Egghead the most one-dimensional villain in Marvel Comics but, for that honor, there are several other Strange Tales and TTA villains standing in line. Here though, Eggy shows a bit of brains in developing a transmitting tower, stationed near an anthill, that will broadcast a bogus call to Hank Pym. Have you stopped ot wonder why these super villains go to extremes to develop such niche weapons? How about a bomb planted in Hank Pym's pocket protector drawer? Seems that might be a bit much easier and final.

JS: Where's the fun in that? Can I make a pitch for anyone not following our 1966 Batman-a-day blog to check that out? Particularly if you're interested in seeing what a classic Egghead should be...

PE: The Wasp shows why we here at Marvel University consider her essential: Hank Pym sends her to look for Spider-Man and explicitly tells her not to use her new super weapon (an air gun on her wrist). Next thing you know she's cruising the skies, spots Spidey and thinks "I have got to use this new toy on my arm!" Whoops!

JS: Women!

PE: Another of Stan's shameful "cameo comics," designed to pump up rotten sales on this title. Sorry, Stan, Spider-Man can't help put oomph into this dead horse. Not even three years into the Marvel Universe and the "misunderstanding battle between heroes" has already been bled dry. Next gimmick, Mr. Lee? I think at this point in the series, a super-villain team-up of Egghead and The Human Top is inevitable. Cross your fingers.

Tales of Suspense #55

Our Story

Concluding the Mandarin storyline from last issue, Tony Stark must find a way ot stop the ringed villain from stealing Stark Industry's missiles. Iron Man "accompanies" Stark to The Mandarin's castle to destroy the ray that's being used to nab the missiles right out of the air.

PE: In the opening panel, not only does our narrator say that "a smile appears on the iron countenance of" Iron Man, but The Mandarin rages "How dare you smile in the face of death?" How, indeed, does a smile show across Iron Man's metal mask?

JS: Unstable molecules?

PE: At one point in the battle royale, The Mandarin drops a huge chunk of steel on iron Man and it pushes him right to the lower level, leaving a Three Stooges-esque Iron Man hole in the ceiling!

JS: Thank goodness the ceiling was made of cookie dough.

PE: Curiously, Iron Man doesn't even attempt to capture The Mandarin. He's able to release the Stark missiles and then escapes the mansion, leaving the evil dude spouting profanities at the sky.

JS: Peter, you forget that if our hero actually captured or god forbid took out his foe, they'd run out of things to do.

PE: Sometimes these Marvel romances seem to blossom overnight, sometimes it seems they pop up between the panels. On his ride home from the airport, Tony Stark is sitting in the back with Pepper Potts. Actually, it looks as though she's sitting on his lap. When the car gets a flat, Happy's forced to fix it while Tony and Pepper go off for a romantic look at the moon. I think maybe Stan forgot where these romances were at times, how developed (or underdeveloped) they were. One issue, for instance, Jane Foster knows that Don Blake loves her, and the next they're back to the "I wish I could tell her I love her" games.

JS: Or perhaps Stan just had relationship issues of his own. Of course, I guess now is a good time to thank him for the Pepper Potts Pin Up Page. Yowza!

PE: There's also a helpful "all about Iron Man" featurette designed to answer questions that fans have brought up about Shellhead. The question "Why can't you write good Iron Man stories," curiously, is not answered.

Fantastic Four #28

Our Story

The Mad Thinker has returned for revenge against The Fantastic Four. To aid him in his plot, he has enlisted The Puppet Master to craft a doll of Professor X. Once this is done, Puppet Master gets into X's head and commands him to have his X-Men attack The FF. All kinds of superhero battle ensues.

PE: 28 issues in and still no sign of intelligent life. If I hadn't read a big batch of FFs when I was a kid, I'd never know now that the darn thing gets better sometime in the future. This is just the same-ol', same-ol', one team attacks another team for some reason or another, they figure out the misunderstanding (or in this case, the plot), and join forces to defeat the real enemy. This is yawn-inducing stuff, I'm afraid to say. It's not as bad as The Torch solo stories or Ant-Man but it's not something that keeps the reader engaged.

JS: I know there are some great issues of FF just around the bend... unfortunately they can't get here fast enough.

PE: I'll give credit to Stan and Jack on one point: when The Puppet Master crafts his X doll, he follows The Thinker's imagining of what X would look like. Why he would conjure up the image of a bald man, I have no idea (coincidence?) but at least he didn't fancy the Professor handicapped. I was waiting to see a clay wheelchair but no dice, the doll is standing erect.

JS: I will admit a certain fondness for the Puppet Master, but even he's getting tiresome after so many appearances.

PE: Big No-Prize boner on Page 6, Panel 6: Cyclops notes that Reed's response is "just what the Thinker predicted it would be." Cyclops has no knowledge that The Thinker is behind this attack. He's been told, by Professor X, that The FF has turned evil and plan world domination. Hey, in a story this boring, you latch onto anything that holds your interest!

JS: Or hope that the letters pages offer something to get excited about...

PE: The letters page brings a rave for the lettering of FF by writer Robert ("I Am the Cheese") Cormier. In the announcement section (now informally called "the bullpen" by Stan, our editor fesses up to the big mistake they've made a few times lately, calling Bruce Banner "Bob." To avoid any further flubs, they rechristen him Robert Bruce Banner. Ah, a bit of history!

Strange Tales 122

The Human Torch

Our Story

Returning from another dimension after having been sent there in Fantastic Four #23, the nefarious trio of Handsome Harry Phillips, Yogi Dakor and Bull Brogin decide to go after the Fantastic Four one at a time, starting with The Human Torch. They trap him at home and hide him in a trailer on the edge of town. He sends smoke signals that get the fire department to come to the rescue, then quickly defeats the trio, returning home only to be chastised by sister Sue for leaving the house a mess.
Jack: You know it's bad when the cover says these three were last seen in FF #23, but on the splash page it says FF #22. "Rapidly written by Stan Lee" indeed!

PE: It's even worse when the level of villain in Strange Tales dips down to "remember when Doctor Doom, the most fearsome enemy of the Fantastic Four, brought the team to its knees with a super-plot? Well, forget Doctor Doom for a moment. Remember those three guys he had in the background during that story? Wouldn't you like to know more about them?" Is there such a thing as sixth-tier villains?

JS: Sorry sir, sixth-tier is booked. You'll have to try the seventh-tier.

Jack: Four pages of intro in a 14-page story--as Stan's caption says, "One thing you've got to admit... you've probably never read a longer introduction before!"

PE: Bizarrely, the first two pages have not a bit of dialogue. It's all expository narrative.

Jack: There's so much to ridicule in this story it's just not fair. Only one more year of Torch in Strange Tales.

JS: If that didn't mean 12 more issues, I'd be excited.
PE: Dick Ayers may be highly regarded in many circles and, to be fair, maybe I haven't seen the stuff he's being hoisted for. This art (along with the art for Two-Gun Kid #70, see below) are strictly by the numbers. In places, characters speak to each other facing the reader rather than each other. There's no dynamic, no angles, it's all told flat as a board. We know the story's going to be crap, they haven't surprised any of us yet, but at least give us some purty pitchers, right?

Dr. Strange

Our Story

Not Ditko's best work!
Exhausted from his unending battle against the supernatural forces which menace mankind, Dr. Strange dozes off, only to be captured in his sleep and drawn into the Nightmare World by his enemy, Nightmare. Nightmare messes with Dr. Strange like The Amazing Kreskin with a kid on stage at a local high school, until the good doctor turns the tables by summoning the creature Nightmare fears the most--The Gulgol! Nightmare agrees to give Dr. Strange back his powers if he'll get rid of The Gulgol; Dr. Strange does so and reveals that he hypnotized Nightmare and tricked him into seeing an enemy who was never there. Strange returns home and awakens as dawn breaks over Manhattan.
Jack: I don't know who inked Ditko on this story, but the art is below his usual standards.

JS: How is it that you guys didn't notice Iron Man in this issue?

PE: And the story is nothing to holler about either, Professor Jack. It seems as though Stan (or Steve) came up with this fabulous idea, a Master of the Mystic Arts, but really didn't know how to run with it, at least for the first handful of issues. We're getting recycled "ectoplasmic force" stories or "Baron Mordo Returns" over and over. Make no mistake, it's not unreadable like our Torch stories but it's not classic material either. Not yet at least.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #117
Millie the Model #121
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #8
Two-Gun Kid #70


Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos are sent to Germany to destroy "The Death Ray of Dr. Zemo" (Sgt Fury #8), alongside new Howler Percival "Percy" Pinkerton (replacing fallen Howler Junior Jupiter). Percy shows he's capable right off the bat with his combat skills and deadly umbrella. The Howlers make it to the castle of Zemo and disarm the mad genius but he manages to make a getaway. Since we're all Monday-morning quarterbacks here, we knew that not only would Zemo escape, but that he will play a big role in the World War II Marvel Universe as well as in the "present day" mythos. This story is a prequel of sorts to the story in Avengers #6 this month. Stan Lee explains to us in the brand new letters page (with the unimaginative title of "Tell It to Fury") that readers' requests for a monthly dose of Fury have been answered but it comes at a high price: Dick Ayers replaces Jack Kirby as full-time penciler on the strip. Ayers' work here isn't bad but it's nowhere close to the type of intricate battlefield detail we've become spoiled by in the first seven issues. Perhaps Ayers will grow on me.

Kid Colt, Outlaw is offered a pardon by the governor if he'll catch "The Fearsome Fat-Man (#117). In a story that could only have been told in the hazy crazy non-politically correct world of the early sixties, our hero faces down the 300-pound Australian who packs a mean boomerang and can roll himself into a ball and roll over his enemies like "ten-pins." The Kid manages to overcome the overweight menace but, as usual, something comes between him and his pardon. He proves that once again he has a heart the size of a full-grown bull.

Stan Lee continues his attempts to drag the Marvel Western kicking and screaming into the Marvel Age of Superheroes in "The Amazing Mr. Hurricane" (Two-Gun Kid #70). Two-Gun is tracking a ruthless hombre named Harry Kane (Harry Kane= Hurricane, I get it), when the two men are caught up in a tornado and the outlaw makes his getaway. Left without a horse or food, Kane happens upon a medicine man practicing black magic and loots him of his booty. While taking a sip of what he thinks might be hoch, Kane is struck by lightning and becomes the world's fastest man. He can run really fast but more importantly, he can draw real fast. He makes himself up a really silly costume (with bolts down the front) and goes on a crime spree until his career is curtailed by Two-Gun. Stan's cruising here but then penciler Dick Ayers is stuck at the starting gate. Really awful art.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

King-Size Special! Marvel Collector's Item #3!

Marvel Snapshot: 1975
by Matthew R. Bradley

Steve Englehart continued to shine among Marvel’s writing staff in 1975, with a solid year each on The Avengers, which cross-cut between its monthly regular and quarterly giant-size formats, and the alternating bimonthlies Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange. After probing the Vision’s true origin, the Assemblers welcomed Moondragon and ex-X-Man the Beast, while Mar-Vell and Doc encountered the Watcher and Dormammu, respectively. In June, Englehart ended his long run on Captain America, collaborating on #186 with John Warner, who joined Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo, and Marv Wolfman in the revolving door through the end of the year, with Sal Buscema and the Red Skull providing much-needed continuity.

Gerry Conway was once again another mainstay, albeit one who appears to have begun a year-long hiatus in the fall, leaving Marvel Team-Up in the more than capable hands of Mantlo and Buscema. Conway was succeeded by Len Wein in his long runs on both Amazing Spider-Man, following a fill-in by Archie Goodwin on #150, and Thor, after some pinch-hitting by Roy Thomas and Mantlo. In between return engagements by Mysterio, the Scorpion, and the Tarantula—lovingly rendered, I believe, by Ross Andru—Spidey faced clones of himself and lost love Gwen Stacy; meanwhile, the Thunder God tangled with Loki, the Absorbing Man, and Ulik, among others, and met the pantheon of Ancient Egypt.

Following Wein’s swan song on The Defenders in #19 (with Chris Claremont), Steve Gerber began his long and memorable tenure, highlighted by the Headmen and the Guardians of the Galaxy, and broken only by a Mantlo fill-in on #30. Taken off his plate in July was Marvel Two-in-One, but not before a Defenders cross-over, after which Claremont and Thomas assisted in the transition to Mantlo as its more or less regular scripter. And, according to my incomplete records, Gerber wrote at least some of that year’s Son of Satan stories in Marvel Spotlight, ending with a Claremont entry in #24 and giving way in December to a solo book written by Warner; significantly, Buscema’s work was represented on all three strips.

Gerber stayed with Daredevil just long enough to collaborate with Claremont on #117 before a fill-in by Conway and a five-issue run by Isabella, after which Wolfman settled in as the regular scripter. A similar stability descended on Fantastic Four when, following three issues written or co-written by Wein, Thomas hunkered down for a two-year stint, much of it in collaboration with Rich Buckler. With Bob Brown on pencils, as I recall, DD battled Hydra beside longtime co-star the Black Widow, then went it alone against the Copperhead and the Torpedo, while the FF were embroiled in complex storylines involving the Silver Surfer, Dr. Doom, the Inhumans, Arkon, various other dimensions, and the Crusader ( Marvel Boy).

Early in his long run on Incredible Hulk, the seemingly omnipresent Wein stayed the course throughout 1975 (illustrated mostly by Herb Trimpe), as did Isabella on the bimonthly Ghost Rider, featuring a Hulk two-parter. In August, however, Isabella was replaced by Claremont on the Iron Fist strip that moved in November from Marvel Premiere—which, like Spotlight, thereafter eschewed continuing characters—to its own short-lived book, acquiring artist John Byrne along the way. Once again, Mike Friedrich and Don McGregor hung in there all year on, respectively, Iron Man (excepting a Mantlo fill-in on #78), where the War of the Super-Villains was in full swing, and the bimonthly Black Panther strip in Jungle Action.

Launched that year were the revamped X-Men, created by Wein but taken over by Claremont in one of the longest unbroken runs of the post-Stan Lee era; several new titles similarly morphed from giant-size to standard format. These included two BOF favorites from Thomas: The Invaders (WW II exploits of Captain America, the original Human Torch, and the Sub-Mariner) and Super-Villain Team-Up, pairing the modern-day Namor with Dr. Doom, on which Thomas was soon supplanted by Isabella and Jim Shooter. In October, The Inhumans got their own book, scripted by Doug Moench, and The Champions—ex-X-men Angel and Iceman, former Avenger Hercules, the Black Widow, and Ghost Rider—were created by Isabella.

Fighting the good fight, Moench, Mantlo, and Buckler kept the ill-starred Deathlok strip (and character) on life-support into the beginning of 1976 in Astonishing Tales. And, moving from strength to strength, writer-artist Jim Starlin followed his classic Captain Marvel epic by launching the second Thanos War, chronicled in the Warlock strip that moved in October from Strange Tales to Warlock’s own book, briefly revived with #9. Ironically, I came late to the Warlock party, and only read those issues (in which Warlock allied himself with Thanos against his demented future self, the Magus) in high-quality special editions in the early ’80s, which will bring us to a somewhat embarrassing story in our next installment.

Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen , now in its third printing, and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009).  Check out his blog, Bradley on Film

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

June 1964: Mysterio!

The Amazing Spider-Man #13

Our Story

Someone is impersonating Spider-Man (and doing a very good job of it) while committing crimes around the city. Fearing he's cracking up, Spidey visits a psychiatrist before realizing that's not such a good idea if he's to retain a secret identity. He finds out very quickly that he's perfectly sane and the real culprit is a new villain with the crackerjack name of Mysterio. Using illusions and mists that put Spidey's spider-sense a-whack, Mysterio's plan is to smear the good name of our hero and put himself up on a public pedestal as the man who destroyed Spider-Man. Of course, the web-slinger has other ideas.

PE: Even though the evidence was laid out right before us, I just knew Spider-Man wasn't guilty of those robberies. Even though Stan was being sly with us in those first few pages (Peter even questions his own sanity), I had a hunch it was an impostor. You read enough of these funny books, you get a feel for them. Speaking of sanity, could Spider-Man be the first superhero to visit a shrink? Certainly he's the first Marvel hero and this was right around the time everyone starting going to psychiatrists. Can't see The Dark Knight on the couch though.

JS: I like Mysterio, He was dispatched a bit too quickly in this first appearance, but he has the makings of a cool character from the outset. Another exhibit in the argument that Spider-Man generated more top tier villains per capita than the rest of the superhero books combined.

PE: This issue continues that wonderful dichotomy of having Flash Thompson as Peter Parker's worst enemy and yet Spider-Man's biggest defender! Flash is the only kid who believes Spidey is innocent (well, other than me) and he's got the muscle to pound any detractors to the ground. All the while, he hates Peter for being a nerd and "stealing" his girl, Liz.

JS: They also begin to chip away at the relationship with Betty that was just starting to flourish.

PE: I know this is a strip about human spiders, but sometimes the reality-based concoctions in these things throw me for a loop. Spidey's airtight web-helmet that enables him to "hold (his) breath long enough to get to safety" is just one of those devices. Why would it make breathing easier?

JS: I know. It would be much easier to take one of Reed Richards' pills.

PE: Betty Brant is worried about Peter finding another girl, perhaps the pretty blonde who's been hanging around (Liz). I know Stan has been steering Peter towards Betty (and we know that he'll steer him away not too long from now) but this seems like another Don Blake-Jane Foster romance where neither is admitting anything while inside their own head admitting everything.

JS: Our old friend JJJ may have been behind this script, as apparently it was deemed necessary to give him a valid reason to hate the bug again, beyond his jealousy.

PE: How did Mysterio know about our hero's "Spider-sense"? Is this something Spidey has made known to the general public? If so, he's an idiot. It's just as big a blunder as revealing your secret identity. Somehow I think it's just another one of those things we're not meant to ponder too long.

JS: Perhaps we'd all be more forgiving if we weren't aware of the following decades of continuity.

PE: The only flaw in Mysterio's plot to conquer the world is his sidetrack to discrediting Spider-Man. As he shows very soon after meeting up with Spidey, the guy's got game. He can bring the illusions, he can mess with the Spider-sense, he's got a heck of a right cross. Why waste time and energy (and nylon spider-webbing) to smear Spider-Man's name? Just go out and rob banks like the rest of them. Takes less time and you get richer that way. Discredited or not, Mysterio should have known that sooner or later he'd have to deal with a very pissed-off Arachnid. Why give him more ammunition. Who knows? It's a big city. Maybe you draw the attention of The Wasp instead!

JS: One wonders why this tale didn't rate a multi-issue arc.

PE: Though not the greatest origin of all time (why does this successful stuntman/special effects whiz turn to a life of crime and why does he obsess about Spider-Man?), Mysterio is undeniably a great Ditko creation. He looks just like something out of one of Dr. Strange's "otherly dimensions." It's just a skeletal first appearance but still one to make an impression. We'll find out later that the stuntman's name is Quentin Beck and that he had become disillusioned with his job, turning to a life of crime to pay the bills. I have very fond memories of reading a Mysterio adventure in The Amazing Spider-Man #141-142.

Director Kevin Smith, during his controversial tenure as writer on Daredevil, had Mysterio blow his own brains out (DD Vol. 2 #7, May 1999). Completely off-topic, I think Kevin Smith's run on DD was completely successful. Say what you will but the man can tell a great story. I'd liken the old guard's hatred of this arc to that of the parents of the kids bringing home Elvis records in the 1950s.

Journey Into Mystery #105

Our Story

The Mighty Thor returns to his office (Don Blake’s) from a meeting with the Avengers. He spots his old nemesis the Cobra lurking about on a nearby building. Not having planned on being spotted, the Cobra distracts Thor with his cobra darts and cable long enough to sneak into a nearby window. The only problem is, the window is where our old friend Calvin Zabo (aka Mr. Hyde) hangs out. A struggle takes place as each villain thinks he can outwit the other, until they realize that they have a mutual enemy. You guessed it, our favourite Thunder God. Meanwhile back at the ever -exciting office of Don Blake, the good doctor is so frustrated that Jane Foster has gone on a date that he decides to lock his cane in a locker. The purpose: to see if he can go a full day without being Thor, and thus determine if he can give up his role as the son of Odin. Mr. Hyde demonstrates to the Cobra a unique invention called the reversal ray. All one need do is to point it at any unwitting victim to then see where that person has been, like a film going backward. The dynamic, ah demonic duo, lure Thor into the open by robbing a jewelry store and hitting him with the ray. They escape (Hyde leading Thor astray and turning back into Calvin Zabo) and learn that Thor came from the office of Don Blake. At this point the ray won’t show them any more, because Thor hadn’t been there a moment before, Blake had. While puzzled by this, the two realize that the doctor has some connection with the Thunder God and head to his office. They capture and bind Blake just as Jane returns from her date, which she cut short. Not wanting Jane to get hurt, Don tells Hyde to get his walking stick from the locker and strike it on the ground, as a “signal” to Thor. In the flash of the transformation, Cobra and Hyde think Blake has escaped, and wonder at Thor’s mysterious appearance. They set “plan B” into effect, setting off in different directions to lure Thor to a crowded spot where he can’t use his hammer. The spot of choice being a Heavy Machinery Show where the Cobra uses an atomic powered hoist to snatch the Thunder God’s hammer from him. Sixty seconds stand between defeat and victory for Thor (or at least a month until next issue).
In Tales of Asgard this month, the abilities of Heimdall are put to the test when King Brimer and Queen Nerda of the storm giants use the abilities of a Vanna, an invisible air creature to sneak past the Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge and determine the weaknesses of the home of the gods.

PE: Once again, we encounter great scientific minds (in this case, Dr. Calvin Zabo aka Mr. Hyde) who can create incredible machines, probably worth billions of dollars, but turn to a life of crime instead. Why? To rob a few banks. To get revenge on Thor. Some of these thugs, like The Sandman or The Mole Man, just can't help being bad. The best job they'll get is a Wal-Mart greeter. Zabo, on the other hand, could do anything he wants but squanders his brain on bad deeds. I shake my head and wonder why.

JB: Apparently, Zabo can turn to Hyde and back whenever he wants to, although this is never stated.

JS: Is anyone else getting tired of the been-there, done-that thought balloon conversations never spoken aloud between Blake and Foster? I thought they finally got over their fear of talking to one another a few months back.

PE: Zabo's latest invention is a ray beam that, when trained on its subject, can project that subject's past on the wall. Ostensibly, Mr. Hyde creates this new toy to zap Thor and find out where the Thunder God's hidey-hole is. All they really have to do is watch him land in Don Blake's window. If Jane Foster wasn't always busy moving magazines around in the waiting room, she'd catch him coming in as well. Thor's not hiding much. There's no Thor-cave under the building.

JS: So who exactly was the target audience for Zabo's latest toy? Aside from being a genealogist's best friend, I don't see much practical application.

JB: Maybe if he perfects his invention, he could see backwards in time enough to see how all the mysteries of the past really happened. Did aliens really help with the pyramids? That'd be more interesting than robbing a few banks.

Moe and Larry searching for Curly
PE: I find it hard to believe that two mid-level villains could be any threat to the Thunder God, let alone the two stooges known as Mr. Hyde and The Cobra. I did know right from the beginning of Mr. Hyde's nefarious scheme that we'd see Jane Foster in peril. I had hopes that, since she was off on her hot date, I was wrong but alas...

JS: Pulling together two third-tier villains does not a super-villain team-up make. Even combined, Cobra and Mister Hyde don't amount to a whole lot. And yet, here we have the first part of a two-part epic.

PE: Mark your calendars--an issue without Loki!

JB: Yes Pete! That evil brother is nowhere to be seen. Still, I agree that the really great villains are a little ways away.

JS: This issue's Tales of Asgard is about the time someone slipped past Heimdall. Basically a little tinkerfella is made to sneak into Asgard by a Lady Frost Giant. While we don't see his fate, I'm thinking Odin made a snack of him.

JB: In some ways the Tales Of Asgard are more interesting than the main stories. We get to learn more about the creatures and realms befitting a character like Thor. No more Larry Leiber stories though. I confess I miss them a little.

PE: These "Tales of Asgard" stories are so well done, it's hard to believe it's the same crew writing the main feature. 

Fantastic Four #27

Our Story

Namor tires of loneliness at the bottom of the sea and decides yet again that Sue Storm is the girl for him. Not wishing to hear Sue's opinion of the matter, he kidnaps her and imprisons her in his undersea kingdom. A fighting mad Reed Richards (who was just on the verge of proposing to Sue) heads out after the fishman sans Ben and Johnny. Knowing that their stretchable leader can't defeat Namor on his own, they enlist the occult powers of Doctor Strange to pinpoint the Sub-Mariner's location. Can they reach their enemy before Reed does or will they arrive just in time for the wedding?

JS: So who else thinks Sue Storm in a one-piece bathing suit wasn't actually what Reed was thinking about, so much as it was what he wanted his colleagues to think he was thinking about, lest they realize he was in fact all 'test tubes and six-syllable words"?

PE: Doctor Strange reads the mind of a fish to find out where Namor's hidden kingdom is.

JS: I was beginning to wonder if the good Doc was going to do a cameo in astral form only, until he showed up in person to use his special transport powers that apparently only work with the flesh and blood doc.

PE: Reed Richards has invented a pill that not only allows him to breath underwater without gear for an hour but also to survive the deadly pressure of walking the sea floor. I'm making notes in case this comes up some time in the future. It's an invention that should definitely be marketed.

JS: Sometimes I think they'd do better not explaining something than give it an explanation that begs so many more questions.

PE: Yet again we get the definition of romance in the Marvel Universe: she thinks, he thinks, she won't say it, he won't say it. At least we know eventually it's gotta happen but the chase around the flagpole is getting old.

JS: I think that's why they made a point of having Reed say he was going ring shopping. How much further out is that special wedding album, anyway?

PE: Doctor Strange's guest appearance smacks of an attempt to boost low Strange Tales sales. He doesn't do much other than transport the team to and from Namor's lair. As for Sub-Mariner's 26th appearance in 27 issues...yawn. He'll be back again in no time.

JS: All things being equal, it was nice to inject the good Doctor into the Marvel Universe once and for all.

Tales of Suspense #54

Our Story

Tony Stark is summoned to the Pentagon when the spy missiles he sold the military start malfunctioning. Knowing that his product is A-Grade, Stark volunteers himself a journey to Viet Nam to find out what's up. The culprit turns out to be The Mandarin, back to his evil ways. After donning his armor and doing battle with the mad genius, Iron Man's transistors are sapped and he's up a creek without a battery. The Mandarin cackles as he watches our metal hero struggle and Tony Stark ponders life without Pepper Potts.

PE: In the time-honored tradition of Donald Blake and his secret/not-so-secret love with Jane Foster, Tony Stark finally admits that there might be something more than just employee relations going on with Pepper Potts. Oh, there's not any foolin' around, mind you, it's all in the guy's head. He sends Happy Hogan off to inspect Stark factories just to keep him away from Pepper. I'm beginning to think that Stan Lee was a half-empty type guy. My proof is the really bad relationships his male characters have (think Reed Richards, Peter Parker, Hank Pym, Blake and Stark). Was this because Stan believed that his target audience didn't want the mush, they wanted the machismo? If so, why park the horse at the starting gate?

JS: As much as I bad mouth Giant Man, the one thing about that book I enjoy is the relationship with Wasp. I realize now that it must be because that relationship is novel compared to all the rest of the romances...

PE: The Mandarin is pretty much wasted in a story that spends most of its time recapping how fabulous Iron Man's powers are. Stan had mentioned (in an announcements section) that the "spotlight" titles (TOS, TTA, and Journey) would be utilizing more two-parters in the future. That's a great idea but don't give us padding on a story that can't muster interest at a one-issue length.

JS: Better a weak Mandarin tale than one of the also-ran villains, I say.

PE: In a "Tale of the Watcher," titled "Hands Off," Larry Leiber proves to me that, despite his protestations in his Alter Ego Magazine interview, his art ain't half as interesting when he's not inked by Matt Fox. Chic Stone makes Leiber's pencils look like the nondescript doodles you'd find on the back of a cereal box. Too bad, as the story is a decent one, short though it my be, about a race that has decided to jettison radioactive waste into space when its dumps are full. The Watcher must face the moral dilemma of standing still and doing nothing while the toxic turd drifts towards an inhabited planet.

Strange Tales #121

The Human Torch

Our story

The Plantman is back! Having been in hiding since his defeat at the hands of the Human Torch (Strange Tales 113), gardener Sam Smithers developed a new plant ray and a hideous costume to go along with it. Like so many other second-rate villains, he has an unhealthy obsession with Johnny Storm. His approach this time seems to center on throwing water on Johnny as often as possible to prevent him from bursting into flame. He takes a time out to rob a museum before getting back to what he really enjoys--fighting with Johnny. He even attempts to harass Johnny's girl, Doris Evans, but Johnny knocks him out without even having to flame on. The Plantman vows that he'll be back, to the everlasting disappointment of the readers.

PE: I'm not sure Stan will ever own up to these tales of the Torch as part of the Merry Marvel Age of Masterpieces. I'm running out of ways to say "bottom of the barrel" in regards to Torch and Ant-Man stories. I'd love to hear from readers who actually thought this stuff was good. There are fans for anything, right?
Jack: After a pretty good story last month involving the Iceman, this month we're right back in the trash heap with the return of a villain who never should have appeared in the first place.

JS: While Plantman is useless, the actual plants that walk around, and the creepy looking mansion, almost—ALMOST—made this issue enjoyable.

This is just embarrassing!

PE: I felt sorry for the plants that are destroyed by Johnny. They're just unwilling foils. Obviously, word didn't get around on the grapevine (pun intended) last time The Plantman used these green henchmen. They rebelled in their first appearance. Here they just lie down and wilt.

Jack: I count a total of nine panels where the Human Torch actually appears. The rest of the story has Johnny in various states of being wet.

PE: First recorded attack in the Marvel Universe with cactus needles.

Jack: The acorn attack is typical of how low this series can go.
For that haircut alone he
should be incarcerated

Dr. Strange

Our story

Dr. Strange responds to a phone call for help by traveling lickety split in his unphysical, ectoplasmic form. He discovers that Baron Mordo has tricked him and stolen his physical body while he was away from it. Since he will not be able to re-enter his body if he is outside it for 24 hours, Dr. Strange must search high and low for the bag of bones, fighting off Mordo's minions along the way. The good doctor finds his body in a wax museum, but he cannot re-enter it due to another of Mordo's spells. He tricks Mordo into another battle of their phantom selves before giving the Baron a taste of his own medicine and locking him out of his own body for 23 hours.

In an untold tale, Dr. Strange sent his ectoplasmic
form out in a fruitless search for Prince Albert in a can.
Jack: This is a pretty good story, even if the title is a bit misleading--the wax museum doesn't have much to do with what happens.

JS: Professor Jack is too kind. This might have worked as a Ditko short, but it goes on far too long for what little there is here. Is this what we have to look forward to from Dr. Strange and Baron Mordo— two duke it out in the astral plane and leave in a stalemate?

PE: It was literally talking heads there for a while as Baron Mordo explains all the rules to the Doc's ectoplasm. Let's see how long these rules last in the Marvel Age of Forgetful Writers. The rest of the story is filled with stiff dialogue and an unengaging story. "Wax Museum" didn't pull me in like some of the past Dr. Strange stories. I've an open mind still.

Tales to Astonish #56

Our Story

Hank Pym has finally decided to pop the question to Jan but, unfortunately, she's picked this moment in time to play a game of "Let's make Hank jealous" and informs the befuddled scientist that she'll be going out tonight with a socialite who's bound to propose to her. Enraged, Hank pouts and throws himself into his work. Luckily, an excited message from some of his informer ants puts Hank's mind on danger and intrigue rather than female problems. His ants inform him that there's a creepy magician in town and he may be up to no good. Not coincidentally, across town at her swanky party, Jan crosses paths with the new villain, known as The Magician (because he's a magician), and is quickly entrapped in his vacuum cane. Hot on her trail is Hank, popping pills faster than Elvis, who sets up an elaborate ruse involving two yachts, loud music, and silhouettes of dancing cardboard figures to lure The Magician out in the open. In a stunning climax aboard a sky-blue blimp (the color of which enables the vehicle to travel undetected to the naked eye), The Magician hypnotizes Giant-Man (twice as fast as a normal human being because his "eyes are so large"!) and the newly-released Wasp opens the air valve on the balloon. Jan watches in horror as the blimp falls from the sky, ostensibly killing the man she may or may not love. Fortunately for Jan (and unfortunately for Marvel University professors), Hank has survived the fall by taking a small pill and latching onto a falling piece of debris, crafting it into a paper airplane, and soaring to safety. Jan and Hank end our tale by pledging true love to each other but we all know that will be forgotten by our next adventure.

JS: Ah, Hank, that hopeless romantic. He had the jeweler engrave the ring just as he specified, "I LOVE YOU." What an original sentiment...

PE: While Hank Pym is feeling sorry for himself, he's not paying attention to his ant-communicator. We can see an exasperated ant waving his mandibles and exclaiming "Zzzzbzdbbzzzz! Vvvzzzkkack!" ("There's an emergency here! Hey, are you listening to me, Pym?").I guess I'm lost as far as what this ant-com can relate. Are the ants mentally visualizing The Magician and his building somehow or are they carting a video camera around town?

JS: That's no Magician—that's Snidely Whiplash...

PE: Jan once again demonstrates why The Avengers are nothing without her. When she attends her millionaire pal's soiree, The Magician pops up and robs all the rich snobs of their cash and jewelry. Jan excitedly explains to us that her suit is so small she's lucky enough to store it in a secret compartment of her bracelet. In the next panel, voila, Jan is The Wasp in full attire. A couple questions come to mind, if you'll pardon the digression: does she pull the suit out of the bracelet while she's big Jan or struggle with it once she's little Jan (and, ostensibly, totally nude with a really big bracelet) and how does she explain to the rest of the guests later on that she was gone but her dress remains in a heap on the floor? Anyway, back to the indispensable Wasp and why she's my favorite small winged super-heroine. Jan manages to shrink herself down, threatens the villain with bodily harm if he doesn't return what he's stolen and then gets sucked into a vacuum cleaner conveniently located inside The Magician's cane (why he'd have that, I have no idea) where she stays until she's rescued by Hank.

JS:  He's a Magician, Peter! It's a trick.

PE: Of all the Marvel titles we review, this is the one that gives us the most fodder for ridicule. It's no wonder Simon Pegg wants to direct an Ant-Man feature film. There's a treasure trove of comedic material here for the filmmaker to mine.

JS:  Actually, it was Edgar Wright directing, with potentially Simon Pegg starring... about the only thing that could make that film watchable. But it died on the vine, and so no Ant-Man in the Avengers.
PE: Dick Ayers' art this issue is horrendous. Hank Pym looks like an old man in several panels. No wonder Jan's looking for love elsewhere.

Daredevil #2

Our story

Daredevil continues his ongoing series with a battle against Spider-Man's nemesis, Electro! Plus, a brief cameo appearance by The Fantastic Four!

The story starts out with Matt Murdoch being visited at his law office by the ever-loving, blue-eyed Thing. You see, the lease is almost up at the Baxter Building, headquarters for the F.F. The Thing would like a lawyer to inspect the pad before they decide to renew. Murdoch agrees to the job, then later on goes to bust up a car theft ring where he disposes of the usual crowd of henchmen/palookas. Unbeknownst to Daredevil, the evil Electro is watching him from the shadows, as the criminal enterprise was his own. However, our villain doesn't seem too bummed out about it as he goes home to watch television at his hideout.

Coincidentally, while Electro watches the news, it is announced that the F.F. will be heading to the Nation's capital to receive a presidential medal. Electro comes up with a scheme to break into the Baxter Building in order to swipe Mr. Fantastic's scientific secrets and sell them to a hostile nation for a fortune! Needless to say, when Electro breaks in to the hero's home, he winds up brawling with Daredevil. It is here that our hero shows his resilience by coming back from a beating, and also coming back to planet Earth after Electro shoots him into outer space in a rocket.

In the end, Daredevil prevails, but unfortunately since he was so busy fighting a super-villain, his alter-ego was unable to do the inspection. This causes the grumpy Thing to take his business elsewhere.

JS: Getting shot into space on the FF's rocket didn't faze old Matt Murdock. He just navigated that puppy back down in a region where he didn't hear too many heartbeats (over the rocket engines, to be sure). And then from horse to helicopter, he's right back in front of Electro as if nothing happened. I'm willing to accept his uncanny abilities for a blind man, but when Daredevil is doing things that a person with sight couldn't possibly do...

PE: Add to that a villain with the powers of Electro running a chop shop? Something smells here.

UTW T. McMillion: Yeah, I know.....I know, you're right, John. The creators were pretty flexible and generous with what Daredevil's powers were early on in the series. Still, as Peter pointed out with issue #1, the artwork by Bill Everett and now by Joe Orlando was ahead of its time compared to their peers. I felt like I was looking at a modern day comic book as opposed to some of the other clunky drawings being dished out back then.

PE: I have to politely disagree, Professor Tom. Joe Orlando was a great artist. He just wasn't a great Daredevil artist. He was fabulous on those old ECs and he would recreate that era over at DC in the late 1960s with House of Mystery and House of Secrets, but his work here is sketchy at best. The script (ostensibly by Stan, who's credited) is awful and the patter between Foggy Nelson and Karen Page sounds like microwaved Happy Hogan and Pepper Potts. The entire story line hinges on coincidence after coincidence, which wouldn't seem so bad if there weren't also the lapses in logic as deep as the Grand Canyon. If the "blind man in a spaceship" scene didn't elicit guffaws, try "blind man, with gloves, hanging from a helicopter over New York by his billy club."

Jack: Jack Davis drew one of the westerns awhile back, and now Joe Orlando shows up to take over Daredevil! EC lives!

UTW T. McMillion: Say what you will about him (I guarantee he can take it!) but Electro is one bad-ass villain. Does his outfit look kind of stupid? Yes, it does. However, no more so than if some Venice Beach body builder decided to walk into your local Arby's dressed up as Captain America or Hawkeye.

PE: The only positive thing I can say about this issue is that it got four out of five MU Professors together for the first time. Stellar!

Also this month

Modeling with Millie #31
Patsy and Hedy #94
Patsy Walker #115
Rawhide Kid #40


"By special arrangement with the publishers of Two-Gun Kid Magazine (on sale everywhere thruout (sic) the free world"), we have our first Marvel Western Team-up. "The Rawhide Kid Meets the Two-Gun Kid" (Rawhide Kid #40) finds the two gunslingers facing a grizzly bear trained to shoot rifles and rob express stages. What's really going on is served up, to anyone paying attention (or who's bought a Marvel western comic), about half way through the story. It's actually Ace Fester, tortured genius, who's crafted a bulletproof grizzly outfit to loot the stagecoaches. Why he's gone to such trouble to design a heavy and insanely hot outfit is anyone's guess. More fascinating is the "Ownership Statement" printed this issue that the magazine companies have to file (and publish once a year) with the Post Office to retain their second class mailing privileges. The numbers offered up give a good picture of how well the title was selling. In 1963 (the previous year of filing), Rawhide Kid was selling an average of 194,150 copies (against an actual published total of 331,294), this at a time that Action Comics was selling more than half a million copies per issue. That's not a fair comparison, of course, as western comics were heading downhill fast and juvenile/humor titles (such as Archie, Flintstones, and Uncle Scrooge) were the rage, but it's an indicator of where Marvel westerns were at in the grand scheme of things. Rawhide Kid was Marvel's biggest selling western at the time.