Wednesday, October 5, 2011

April 1964: Here Comes Daredevil! And The Black Widow Too!

Tales of Suspense #52

Our Story

If there's one thing we've learned in the Marvel Universe, it's that the Commies never forget a slight. That includes the defection of Anton Vanko, the creator of The Crimson Dynamo suit and a very bright scientist who owes his life to Tony Stark. He's since pledged to use his smarts to better the world, and the United States in particular. Russian bigwigs send two spies, Boris Turgenev and Natasha Romanova to collect both Vanko and Stark and bring them back to Russia. Natasha (aka The Black Widow) works her charms on Tony Stark while Boris sees to the lab and Vanko. In the end, Vanko gives his life to save Stark from Boris (now donning the Dynamo suit) and the beautiful Black Widow escapes.

PE: For one of the world's great geniuses, Tony Stark really isn't all that bright. He doesn't know that the newcomers, Boris and Natasha (!), are responsible for the destruction at the factory. He's so busy playing horndog he doesn't see what's going on right under his nose.

JS: Yep, a page right out of the Russian villain playbook.

PE: Big intro here: The Black Widow aka Natasha Romanova (we don't learn her last name this issue). This isn't the Black Widow we've come to know over the years. She wouldn't get her skin-tight black leather garb for years (The Amazing Spider-Man #86, July 1970 to be exact) and she was introduced as a villain here in TOS #52. She'll become something of a fixture here for a while before moving her wares to The Avengers. In her first appearance, she's nothing more than a sketch with very little detail.

JS: I thought the character had a great look (the absence of the black bodysuit not withstanding), but didn't do much more here than distract old man Stark. But then again, I guess that's all it takes.

Fantastic Four #25

Our Story

After the beating he took at the hands of his former teammates, The Avengers (back in Avengers #3), The Hulk only has one thing on his mind: revenge. Unaware that the team is searching for the green-skinned goliath in other parts of the U.S., Hulk tears his way to New York where he finds a not-so- Fantastic Four. Reed has caught some kind of super-germ that has slipped him into an on-again off-again coma. Sue and Johnny are powerless against the Hulk's mighty strength. This leaves The Thing to do solo battle, but is his might enough to conquer the world's strongest being?

PE: Reed Richards lapses into a "helpless coma" not once but twice this issue. Each coma lasts about four panels.

JS: I've done the same, reading some of these issues. What's with them not fixing the Bob Banner references? After reverting from The Hulk to Banner, he says, "This may be the last time I'll have the identity of Bob Banner." Is Bob Bruce's twin brother?

PE: This battle between The Thing and The Hulk is everything that had been promised during their first meeting (back in FF #12). Whereas that was a big build-up with no pay-off, this is a wall-to-wall action saga and well-plotted as well. The Thing is beaten in the cliffhanger ending but jumps back up for round two. The Avengers and Rick Jones pull off important cameos (they'll both be back next issue) and there's the mystery of Reed's illness, all leading up to what may really be the first title-crossover in the Marvel Universe. A solid entry despite a weak art job (The Hulk has never looked more like a green Brooklyn thug as when portrayed by Jack Kirby and George Bell). At least Sue Storm has lost the beehive.

JS: Agreed. This was a match up that wasn't a let down. There are few better suited for a match-up than Thing and The Hulk.

PE: On the Fantastic Four Fan Page, reader Jimmy Edelstein of Stoughton, Mass bravely asks the question: Why is it always the commies? My sentiments exactly, Jimmy. Must have been tough standing up amongst all the Commie-haters in 1964 and asking why we can't see more super-powered villains from other worlds, from other dimensions, from other companies even (Marvel wasn't above appropriating villains from DC).

JS: Just to clarify, is The Hulk a commie?
Strange Tales #119

The Human Torch

Our Story

The Human Torch is down in the dumps again! Doris Evans jilted him, he didn't make the high school football team, the rest of the Fantastic Four went on vacation without him, and Spider-Man is grabbing all the headlines. Worst of all, a charismatic street corner speaker known as The Rabble Rouser is inciting citizens to turn against The Torch. When a policeman threatens to arrest our hero for breaking a new ordinance against bursting into flame, Johnny does what any sane superhero would do and heads to New Jersey to think.

Meanwhile, we learn that the Rabble Rouser is actually an undercover Red agent who uses his mesmerizing wand and persuasive voice to manipulate American suckers into thinking that friends are enemies and enemies friends. He uses a sub-surface vehicle (last seen in Fantastic Four #21) to kidnap Prince Nagamo during a parade. The Mayor gives Johnny special permission to flame on again, and The Torch gives chase. He catches The Rabble Rouser and defeats him, with some timely help from Prince Nagamo, who uses his walking stick and judo chop action to disarm the Rouser.

Johnny uses RR's wand to hypnotize him into becoming a patriotic American, and even Doris Evans reveals that she was just trying to make Johnny jealous!

PE: When Stan exclaims on the splash page that The Rabble Rouser is "a really different super-villain," I thought he might mean he was a memorable one. Alas... The Rabble Rouser (with his will-sapping wand and green pajamas) is every bit as forgettable as... well, the last batch of villains The Torch has fought. And a commie to boot! Why would the local police and government admit to listening to someone who calls himself The Rabble Rouser? 

Jack: I think Stan was giving his readers a subtle message back in 1964--those people stirring up trouble in America today are really undercover Commie agents! Maybe not so subtle . . .

JS: Granted, it took quite an imagination to form the Marvel Universe as we know it. As the Rabble Rouser reminds us, not all ideas are great ones.

PE: Lots of really stupid bits here. The Commie craft The Rabble Rouser travels in under the ground, first used by The Hate-Monger in Fantastic Four #21, has a suction device that sucks up Prince Nagamo like a vacuum cleaner. Johnny Storm stands around, biting his nails, wishing he could flame on but if he did he'd be breaking the law. Nagamo could be skinned alive but Johnny'll act like a spoiled brat. Give me a frickin' break here.

JS: I also thought that following orders at the expense of the safety of others was definitely out of character. The Johnny we know would have flamed on in a heartbeat, ordinance be damned.

Jack: Prince Nagamo looks veddy British when we finally see him; I was expecting an African prince with that name!

PE: In the course of the story, we're told that The Human Torch has been taught "battle tactics by masters." Really, when did that happen? Will this be explained to us in Great Untold Tales of The Human Torch's Early Days?

Jack: I think the masters are Reed and Ben. Certainly not Sue!

JS: I was going to say I thought it was surely Sue. She can't spend all her free time at the hair salon.

PE: Gotta say (again), I'll take Cosmic over Communist menaces any day. It amazes me that a charismatic and dangerous villain such as The Rabble Rouser was never to be seen again in the Marvel Universe, not even in an issue of Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One (where mediocre villains are always welcome).

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Two burglars break into Dr. Strange's home and steal a huge gem, only to be transported to the Purple Dimension, where they perform slave labor for the all-powerful Aggamon. Dr. Strange follows and releases them from bondage by taking their place. He battles Aggamon, who gives up rather than face death. Dr. Strange makes sure that Aggamon cannot enslave anyone from then on and returns to Earth, only to learn that the burglars have turned themselves in to the police!

JS: The big showdown between Strange and Aggamon is not on par with the grudge match between The Thing and The Hulk in this month's FF. It looks like Stevie and Aggy get bored with it themselves before one is victorious.

A typical Dr. Strange fight scene...

Jack: I liked this story because there was no sign of Baron Mordo. There was also no sign of this guy in the Purple Dimension:

JS: Let this be a lesson to us all. Giving Wong the night off can only lead to bad things.

Tales to Astonish #54

Our Story

The American Government asks Giant-Man and his essential partner, The Wasp to investigate Santo Rico, a small country that has just elected a communist leader (Commie alert!!). Smelling a rat, Uncle Sam wants to find out if election results were tampered with. Obviously this is a case for Giant-Man and The Wasp and the two magnificent heroes are put on a plane to Santo Rico, where they meet up with the new despot, a charming fellow nicknamed El Toro (which, Stan is quick to remind us, means "The Bull" in Spanish), who wears a deadly horned headgear and takes to ramming his enemies. Since there are two constants in a Giant-Man/Wasp story (the first being mediocrity), Jan is quickly kidnapped and held for execution. Only the tracking talents of Giant-Man's faithful Spanish ant army save the day and the Duo soon rid Santo Rico of El Toro (The Bull).

JS: I know Stan Lee's anti-drug tales were still some ways off... but did anyone stop to think this excessive pill-popping (not to mention the growing and shrinking) might not be healthy?

PE: I want to see proof that this strip had fans. If I'd read this when I was a kid, I'd have given up quickly. Every issue follows the same path: Henry and Jan argue playfully about something (here a vacation), they're summoned to a threat, they bungle their way through a battle, Jan is kidnapped, Henry rescues her, they defeat the villain, they joke about their argument and walk off into the sunset. There are no memorable villains.

JS: I hate to admit it, but I'd almost read a 13 page adventure of Waspy and Gi-Anty hanging out around the house than one more throwaway tale of also-ran villains. I was kinda hoping they'd give El Toro a shrinking pill, so he could become El Torito.

PE: 24 years later, Steve Englehart would revive El Toro (The Bull) for West Coast Avengers #33 (June 1988).

Journey Into Mystery #103

Our Story

“The Enchantress And The Executioner”

Returning to Earth in our present day (well, 1964), the weary Thor returns to his office, and lies down as Don Blake to rest and recover (from battling the Tomorrow Man last month). Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Loki once again takes advantage of Odin’s discontent at Thor’s persistent love of Jane Foster, and suggests a plan. Why not use beauty instead of brawn to turn the Thunder God’s heart from his mortal flame? Enter the exquisite Enchantress, a cunning blonde Asgardian, whose evil heart would make her the perfect match for Loki, could they but trust each other. Disguising herself as a mortal patient seeking medical aid, the Enchantress’ plan to steal Dr. Don Blake’s heart is foiled when Jane enters the office to see them “kissing”, and Blake dashes off after a heartbroken Jane. Realizing even her eternal charms are not enough to conquer the heart of Mighty Thor, the Enchantress returns to Asgard to seek the help of deadly fellow Asgardian the evil Executioner, whose desire to win the Enchantress’ favor knows no bounds. He happily agrees to dispose of Jane Foster for the chance to win the goddess’s approval. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Thor frantically searches for Jane. But it is the Executioner who beats him to it, sending Jane into a limbo world of no-when. Thor arrives in time to see Jane’s banishment and a battle worthy of gods ensues. The Executioner’s weapon, a massive axe, has considerable powers of its own: summoning forth the forces of sun and ice as well as being able to split sub-space (ergo, Jane’s journey). But Thor wrests it from his foe’s hand just in time and forces the Executioner to admit defeat—but at a price. In return for freeing Jane from a lucky limbo land, Thor has to surrender his hammer. Seeing that he has no choice, the Thunder God agrees. In a very busy sixty seconds before Thor will revert to Don Blake, the Executioner’s nearly successful efforts to lift Mjolner are ironically spoiled by none other than the Enchantress, furious that her partner in crime has freed Jane and broken his word. A spell begins to transform the Executioner into a tree, and in a panic, he releases Thor from his promise to give up his hammer. Such is the invulnerability of Thor’s weapon that even the Enchantress’s spell cannot affect it. Tired of the theatrics, Thor creates a vortex that sends his foes packing to Asgard. Don Blake then begs the forgiveness of Jane, who pretends to put up a fight but is secretly thrilled. But beware, Odin is not…

A fascinating Tales Of Asgard this month, as Thor journeys to see Mimir, a sub-king within a mini-realm in Asgard. His mission: to enforce the reluctant Mimir’s pledge to create the first humans (Aske and Embla) on Earth, using a twig from Yggdrasill, the tree of life. The Stan Lee/ Larry Lieber tale this month, “To Live Forever”, is another fun take on the ambitious mad scientist as he learns it may not be exactly as it seems when he masters immortality—not exactly like living in Asgard!

JB: If Journey Into Mystery (and other Marvel titles) were getting incrementally better all the time, then JIM #103 is definitely one such increment. I guess we may have to resign ourselves to the hand of Loki to at least set in motion every force against Thor, but here it is kept to a minimum. Finally in the main pages we see some other Asgardian foes worthy of Thor’s mettle. The Enchantress is stunning indeed, and a different approach for a villain, but take heed all you non-Janer’s out there: even she lost out to our mortal DMF! The Executioner (forget the same-name military tyrant from JIM # 84) looks and acts the part of a deadly killer.

JS: The Enchantress rocks, and I agree that The Executioner is a worthy foe. One of the better Thor tales in a while.

PE: Odin is one crappy father. He has nothing better to do than sit in his throne all day, pondering his son's love for a mortal. He's so against the bond that he listens to three or four schemes from his really rotten son and picks the best one. This happens, it seems, daily in Asgard.

JB: Jack Kirby’s distinguished artwork is getting better and better, and he does justice to the scale of these new villains. The blanks of Asgard past are being nicely filled in by the Tales Of Asgard series. Mythologies of past cultures certainly are as interesting as anything we come up with now.

JS: Jack Kirby draws an honest-to-goodness babe with The Enchantress. Things are definitely looking up in Thorville. 

PE: Stan gets to draw on his days writing for such Marvel romance titles as My Only Romance ("Don't Ask Me to Marry You!") and Secret Story Romances ("I Remember Your Kiss!") for the scenes between The Enchantress and Doc Blake.

JS: Jane's sure the doc loves her, but is surprised he hasn't mentioned marriage. The fact that he won't ask her out on a date doesn't seem to trouble her... but the lack of a proposal does. Women!

JB: I’ll probably get fired from Marvel University for favoritism, but I was secretly glad Jane could win out over even the Enchantress. I think Miss Foster has some spells of her own (reading between the panels)! Sounds dangerously like a Harlequin romance; oh no!

PE: Twenty issues in and Stan's still using the word "lame." I'm wondering when the American Association of Handicaps contacted Stan and gave him his first dose of Political Correctness. Stay tuned. I'll notify you of the change.

JS:  Funny that a story like this wraps in a single issue, while some decidedly lesser tales are being spread across multiple issues.
PE: I think a greater dynamic for the climax of the story, after Thor has defeated The Executioner and The Enchantress, would have been the swath cut through Asgard by an enraged Thor. Surely, he must know that Odin and Loki had something to do with this latest challenge. Instead, we see an enraged Odin.

The Amazing Spider-Man #11

Our Story

Peter Parker finally discovers what's been eating Betty Brant. Her brother, lawyer Bennett, owes a lot of money to the mob and has promised convicted and jailed mob boss Blackie Gaxton that he'll have him sprung. The answer to the problem is recently paroled Otto Octavius who will break Gaxton out for 100 grand. Things go wrong as they usually do and Betty and her brother are kidnapped by Gaxton's gang. Spider-Man arrives to rescue the pair but, during a battle, Bennett is fatally shot and Betty takes out her grief on the web-spinner. Doc Ock escapes to fight another day (in the next issue, actually).

PE: That mystery that I was so tantalized by in the last couple issues turns ho-hum in this one. The only memorable thing about this story is the death of Betty Brant's brother and her (very brief) hatred of Spider-Man. A rare misfire (I hope) in this classic run of Ditko Spideys.

JS: Yeah, quite a bit of the panel fillers of Spidey vs Doc Ock are uninspired. Doc Ock was more interesting the first time around. But I'm feeling confident that good times are just around the corner.

Daredevil #1

Our Story

"The Origin of Daredevil," written by Stan Lee, illustrated by Bill Everett.

A lot happens in this origin story! Matt Murdock was raised by his father, Battling Murdock, an aging boxer who instilled in the boy the value of a good education. Matt hits the books hard and secretly works out in the gym as well, becoming a top student and very physically fit. As a teenager, he saves a blind man crossing the street from being hit by a truck, but is himself hit in the process. Of course, this being a Marvel origin story, the truck was carrying canisters of radioactive material, and one hits young Matt in the face. He is blinded in the accident but discovers that all of his other senses have been strangely heightened.

Matt graduates from high school and his dad signs a contract with The Fixer (uh-oh) to get money to pay for his son's college tuition. Matt meets his college roommate, Franklin "Foggy" Nelson, and succeeds in school while his dad's boxing career is revived. Dad doesn't realize that all of his bouts are fixed until it's time to throw the big fight; he refuses, and is murdered by The Fixer's men after he wins. Matt swears to avenge his death.

Graduating from college, Matt goes into the practice of law with Foggy and meets their cute secretary, Karen Page. Matt assumes a second identity as Daredevil, sewing some old shirts together to make a costume and fashioning a trick cane. He finds the Fixer and his gang; after a fight, The Fixer drops dead of a heart attack. Matt tricks the trigger man into confessing to murder with police in earshot, and he is able to rest easy, having avenged his father's murder.

PE: Not a well-packed truck that was. Driver slams on his brakes, radioactive cylinder not only falls off truck but opens as well. It's the Marvel Universe where radioactive material is just around every corner. I'd have preferred Stan left the radioactive card out of the deck anyway. Why not just have Matt's other senses be heightened because of the blindness. Hey, it's just as outlandish as Stan Lee's reasoning. I think (but someone correct me if I'm wrong) they shied away from that explanation as the years went by. I'm not sold on the boomerang cane either. It makes no sense whatsoever. Foggy Nelson and Karen Page remind me a bit too much of "Happy" Hogan and "Pepper Potts" over at Iron Man's strip. One more nit before I rave: when Matt's explaining how all his senses have been heightened, he explains that his fingers have become so sensitive he can tell how many bullets are in a gun by the weight. How many guns has this kid handled?

Jack: Despite all of the required suspensions of disbelief, I really enjoyed DD #1. This is one of the more exciting debuts of a Marvel superhero in quite awhile.

JS: The art was a pleasant surprise.

PE: Two words: Bill Everett. Wow! Everett's gorgeous art and Stan Lee's throwback story give Daredevil #1 the feel of a genuine 1940s comic book. Best known for creating Sub-Mariner for Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939), Everett fills every panel with a dazzle. I see he worked on some other Marvel titles in the 1960s and I'm looking forward to them very much (though one, The Hulk, with cautious optimism). I'm surprised Bill Everett was given the go-ahead for Daredevil as his art is so radically different from any of the other Marvel artists of the time (the only one in the ballpark would be Ditko).

JS: Contrary to much of what we've been reading, this doesn't feel rushed. Let's hope this is a sign of things to come. Like Doc Strange, Daredevil is a title that now has me interested to see what comes next.

Jack: What really strikes me about his art here is the way he makes DD's costume look like it is anything but skintight. It also took me some time to realize that DD's ears are not kitty kat ears, they're devil's horns.

PE: I've never read the early issues of Daredevil so I have no idea what to expect. This was the title to buy in the early 1980s, of course, when Frank Miller took what was essentially a dying title and turned it into a monthly thrill ride. I loved those issues but those in the know have told me the master at Daredevil was Gene Colan. His almost uninterrupted run of seven years begins in #20 (September 1966).

Jack: I think you'll really like this series. It starts good and gets better!

Also this month

Modeling with Millie #30
Patsy and Hedy #93
Patsy Walker #114
Rawhide Kid #39


Once again, Stan Lee attempts to meld two of his successful comic genres with mixed results. "The Ape Strikes" (Rawhide Kid #39) is a badly written and horribly drawn abomination that probably should have been aborted on the way to the printer but somehow saw the light of day. Having said's also a kitsch classic. Rawhide is minding his own business when he's attacked by an ape.

Overpowered, he's taken to the laboratory of Dr. Karlbad, a slightly touched country doctor who's got it in his head that he cannot rest until he's transplanted the brain of a human into his trained gorilla. Rawhide manages to escape and alerts the local sheriff, who rounds up a posse to go hunting. They find the gorilla, armed with a rifle and, apparently, a crack shot. The monkey disarms the posse, kidnaps a small boy and seems intent on bringing him back to the mad scientist when Rawhide catches up to him. The gorilla is shot and cornered in a cave. When the voice of the doctor is heard coming from the cave, there's a thought in Rawhide's mind (itself a miracle) that the doctor might have been successful at transplanting his own brain into the ape. When the gorilla exits the cave, hands up high, and surrenders though, there's some doubt about that theory. The gorilla won't speak. It's all very vague until a lame tack-on in the last panel that explains that the doctor went out the back door of the cave and he'll back some day for his gorilla. I was so looking forward to the explanation of a country doctor operating on his own own brain and plopping it into another skull. I'm still looking forward to the flashback showing the doctor teaching the gorilla how to shoot a rifle! Such a let down. Speaking of lame, it seems, from his art, that Dick Ayers had never seen a gorilla before. The monkey changes form and size from panel to panel. Still, if you give me the choice of "The Ape Strikes" or "The Peril of the Porcupine," doubtless you know what I'll choose.

Jack: Marvel was never too far from copying DC in these early years. DC fans know that any time the writers and artists could find a way to use a gorilla in a story, they would.


  1. Let us not forget that after the late “Gentleman Gene” Colan’s long run, Bob Brown pencilled DAREDEVIL from 1974 until his untimely death in January 1977. (This followed a short but spectacular run on THE AVENGERS, including their half of Steve Englehart’s classic Avengers/Defenders War.) Brown brought a distinctive style to the strip that, for some of us, made it a keeper even before the Miller era.

    Executioner and Enchantress? Sign me up. Black Widow? Ditto. How bizarre that she and DD, who later shared a book (and a bed), debuted the very same month, albeit on opposite sides of the fence.

  2. Somewhere over the years, between when I read Daredevil first, and recently, when I re-read the first ten or so, I had forgotten that Daredevil attained his heightened senses from radioactivity. However, I still love the fact that Matt Murdoch essentially gets his fitness from training rather scientifically enhanced means. Matt has considerable humility, an attractive aspect of Daredevil. I agree: Bill Everett is great. Actually, we get to see a few interesting artist before Gene Colan took over. I haven't read the issues Bob Brown or Frank Miller pencilled, but Colan was amazing; he gave Daredevil a really unique look.