Wednesday, November 9, 2011

September 1964: At Last! The Origin of Doctor Doom!

The Avengers #8

Our Story

The Avengers are called into action by The Pentagon to face a new villain. Or maybe not so new. Kang, The Conqueror, who comes from the year 3,000, has been on earth before, disguised as Pharaoh Rama-Tut (see Fantastic Four #19 and Fantastic Four Annual #2 for the details- Pesky Pete), but now has decided that our present is the place to settle down. The Avengers seem helpless to stop his assorted weapons and are soon taken captive aboard Kang's ship. Only The Wasp and Rick Jones remain free. The two titans of the twentieth-tier join forces (Rick brings along his Teen Brigade) while all the nations of the world (yes, even the COMMIES!) likewise settle their differences and become one world united against this evil presence. Rick and His Teen Brigade manage to convince Kang they want to surrender and join the winning side. This enables them to get onboard the spaceship and free the Avengers. The team fight Kang to a standstill but the evil genius gets away, off to another time perhaps.

PE: The whole Rama-Tut into Kang flashback sequence is fascinating, the first glimpse of the kind of complicated, inside-out, plot developments that would make Marvel famous in years to come. However... we never get to find out why Kang suddenly changes his appearance from Pharaoh to Purple Circlehead. One panel he's the former, the next he's the latter. I'm sure we'll find out soon (well, maybe sooner than I thought since Kang co-stars with Dr. Doom in Fantastic Four Annual #2, so stay tuned!).

JS: It looked to me like a cool suit of the future. Let's face it, if he came back in Egyptian garb, or using the name Rama-Tut, would anyone be shaking in their boots (but we humans quiver at the sight of the Color Purple?-PE)?

PE: Iron Man is stunned by Kang's ray and has a moment of "My heart is weakened and I'd be dead if not for this damned armor that keeps me alive," witnessed by The Mighty Thor. The Thunder God notes that, as the lame Dr. Don Blake (his mortal alias for those not paying attention), he can tell that I.M. is having trouble breathing and it could be his heart. First off, does Thor now have Superman's X-Ray vision to be able to see through I.M.'s armor? Secondly, this brings out something that hasn't been addressed in Thor's regular strip. Does the Doc share a body with Thor at the same time? Do the two identities share one brain? I always assumed that when Thor materializes on earth (via the cane), Blake goes to some kind of purgatory (for want of a better word), but now that seems unlikely. I'm really confused.

JS: Let's see, the Avengers have been vanquished, and our only hope is that they happen to have a weapon they can use to defeat him, or that Rick Jones Teen Brigade can do the job the super-hero all-stars could not. Best prepare for life under the iron fist of Kang, me-thinks.

PE: For her part to save the world, The Worthless Wasp flies back to Pym Central while her partners lie comatose on the ship. She searches Hank's lab until she finds what resembles a futuristic bazooka. "Aah, I think this is what Hank needs," she says. How could she have the foggiest notion what Hank needs (never mind the salty comments)? The last I saw (from the mind-numbingly bad Giant-Man strip in Tales to Astonish), the only things Jan can differentiate is the color of lipstick to go with her evening gown and that Thor and Captain America are blonde hunks. Suddenly she has a degree in weaponry and science!

Jack:  Horny Jan alert—she assumes Kang must be pretty handsome under that mask! (Or she digs the purple threads -JS)

PE: That weapon that Jan got back at the lab turns out to be a special gun that shoots a gas pellet that "rots and decays any type of wiring or insulation." Impressive that the solvent stops at material and doesn't rot the body as well. Lucky Tony Stark had just finished this new weapon or The Avengers title may have ended at #8! Kang's no slouch with the new weapons either as we witness the power of the Neutrino Missile, which is harmless to Kang but fatal to all others. I almost expected Stark to yell out "Oh yeah, well how about this?" Whoops, that's exactly what he does!

JS: Just like in real life, random button mashing always gets the results you want as Rick Jones manages to find the button in the spaceship that sets the Avengers free!

PE: The art, by The King, is top-notch this issue but comes with way too many close-ups. Lots of little panels so we don't get to see that grand Kirby vision much here.

Strange Tales #124

The Human Torch

Our Story

The Thing visits The Torch at home to tell him that Paste-Pot Pete has been paroled for helping The Avengers (see The Avengers #6).  Of course, old Pete has no intention of going straight.  He rented a vacant glue factory and designed a new suit for himself.  He attacks The Thing in order to get The Torch's attention, leading to a final confrontation at the glue factory.
PE: As a practical joke, The Thing lifts part of Johnny's home off its foundations. Does Ben Grimm know anything about central heating, gas lines, water mains, or electrical outlets? This house could be a deathtrap now. What a riot! Imagine what will happen the next time it rains! As Stan might say: "Don't try this at home, true believer!"

Jack:  I have to admit, Paste-Pot Pete's new outfit is a big improvement over his old one, though the lack of a Paste Pot makes his name a bit silly.  How about Paste-Filled-Vest Pete?

PE: But you forgot the most startling change in PP-Pete: he's shaved! I must confess to being ignorant to the ways of the super-criminal having lived a law-abiding and non-nuclear life, but I'll never figure out why these fifth-or-lower-tier goons just get out of Ryker's Island and the first thing they can think of is "I gotta get The Human Torch back for putting me in prison ten issues back!" These guys are frickin' geniuses as we've noted endlessly. Piss-in-a-Pot Pete could sell his amazing glue recipe for millions but he's got his sights set shorter than that.

Jack:  I did not see any horsies at the vacant glue factory.

JS: It's villains like Paste-Pot Pete that make me loathe to read Human Torch stories. Fortunately, this issue had an interesting plot-point as well: Johnny Storm goes bowling!

PE: As per our usual quota of one new rule or startling revelation per issue, we learn that the Fantastic Four wear rings that glow bright red when a non-member of the team is flying the Fantasti-Car. I would assume we'll find out that these rings glow other colors of the rainbow for different emergencies: Green for Old Villain has resurfaced; Brown for New Villain; Blue for a fight with another superhero; Magenta for a cancellation at Sue's beauty parlor, etc. Or maybe the whole idea will disappear after this one appearance?

Jack:  In an editor's note in the final panel, Stan The Man announces that The Torch and The Thing will team up every issue from now on.  Thank God for that.

PE: I felt the exciting climax was maybe a bit too rushed. Stan could have made this a two-parter! You know what would be great, Professor Jack? If Sue Storm and Red Richards were to make guest appearances each month. As it is, we're treated to page after page of bickering, The Torch giving The Thing a  hotfoot and The Thing bending girders around The Torch's neck. There were so many fascinating aspects of in-team bickering that Stan felt the need to toss Ben Grimm into this title so that he could explore each one fully.

Who knew that simply shaving
off his goatee would turn Paste-
Pot Pete into the fifth Beatle?
JS: You know, had they included Mister Fantastic and Sue Storm in each issue, they could have called them the Fantastic Four! What a missed opportunity!

Dr. Strange

Our Story

Dr. Strange is out one evening, relaxing by flying over the city in his spirit form, when he spots a beautiful woman in a red cloak wandering the streets, victim of a spell.  He guides her to his bachelor pad but can't figure out what's wrong, so he visits the Ancient One.  He travels back to an ancient time and battles Zota, defeating him but nearly becoming trapped and unable to return to the present.  He sends the mysterious woman back to her own time and place in ancient Egypt, revealing that she is Cleopatra!

Jack:  I read this story twice and still couldn't make heads or tails of it.

PE: I read it once and that's enough. I'll take a wild guess and say that Steve Ditko wrote as well as drew this strip as it has the same feel as some of his Charlton comics a few years later. What began as a very promising title several months ago has devolved into a monthly astral projection and oaths to the "crimson bands of Cyttorak" and other such nonsense. A big disappointment this series has turned into.

JS: How does Strange stay in such good shape? It appears that the only exercise he gets is when in ectoplasm-mode. And is it just me, or might you have a few questions for Cleopatra if you had her in your living room? Nah, just send her on her way...

Jack:  It's a little shady that Dr. Strange can pick up a hot chick walking the streets alone and "guide" her back to his place "for her own good."  We have another name for that behavior today.
Dr. Strange uses his powers
to pick up a streetwalker.

Tales to Astonish #59

Our Story

As The Avengers work out and watch films of The Hulk in action, The Human Top plots revenge against Giant Man.  Hank and Jan start to go out to dinner, but plans change when Hank decides they need to fly to New Mexico right away to find The Hulk and ask him to rejoin The Avengers.  Arriving in New Mexico, they go to a certain air force base, where they ask Dr. Banner if he has seen The Hulk.  Banner drives off in a jeep, and his anger over The Hulk’s not being left alone causes the inevitable change into the rampaging green giant.

The Human Top had followed Hank and Jan to New Mexico, where he orchestrates a battle between The Hulk and Giant Man.  General Ross learns of The Hulk’s whereabouts and fires an atomic missile in his direction; The Wasp hitches a ride in the missile, hoping to keep it from killing Giant Man.  Giant Man appeals to The Hulk to stop the missile; The Hulk intercepts it and sends it off into the nearby hills to explode in safety.  The blast turns him back into Bruce Banner and Giant Man returns home to hang out with his fellow Avengers.

In a backup story titled “Let’s Learn About Hank and Jan,” we discover that Hank and Jan can get bigger or smaller and that they have lots of gadgets.

An announcement reveals that The Hulk will return as a solo character in the next issue.

JS: It's villains like The Human Top that make me loathe to read Giant-Man stories. Am I detecting a trend, here?

PE: Ah, crap, The Human Top.  At least he was smart enough to get rid of "that stupid old costume" and now wanders the streets in a vest and slacks, presumably made of (all together now) unstable molecules. As usual in the Marvel Age of Coincidences, Giant-Man is studying footage of The Hulk with increased intensity, sighing that he wished he knew where the Hulk was right then and if only he could do something for him. As you can tell by the above synopsis, it's not long before Giant-Man and Hulk are facing off. I'm surprised that Gi-Man didn't have two screens going at once, one with Hulk and the other with The Top.

Jack:  Jan seems a little less horny than usual this issue.  I'm surprised she didn't comment on how rugged and manly those military men at the air force base were.

PE: Single worst depiction of Bruce (Bob) Banner I've ever seen (left). One page later, we get the worst Hulk ever (right). I'm sure at some point Dick Ayers was a master. At this point, the evidence suggests otherwise. Our revelation this issue is that Giant-Man carries a "carbon-dioxide powered" miniature rocket in case he needs to shrink into Ant-Man and there are no ants around. Of course, just as when he shrinks to a little guy he retains his normal-guy power (hey, when he grows to big size, does he retain his normal-man power?), the rocket has super-sonic speed!

JS: I don't mind the Franken-Hulk, but yeah, Buck-Tooth Banner needs work.

Jack:  The Ditko Hulk back in the first Hulk solo series was pretty awful, too! 

PE: Well then, Professor Jack, hold on to your hat because there's an announcement in this issue that says Lee and Ditko's The Hulk begins next issue!

JS: I love the panel with the plane coming in to land. This looks like the kind of landing they try to prepare you for when you initially board a flight. Put your head between your knees and kiss your ass good-bye. Call me crazy, but I think I'm ready to give The Hulk another chance.

PE: Biggest LOL-moment: Giant-Man needs to evacuate a town before The Hulk gets there so he rolls up a billboard in his hand and uses it as a bullhorn (with lights hanging out the end). Forget for a moment that billboards don't roll up like that, they'd collapse, and you've got a surreally stupid image.

Jack:  Pretty cool how, within seconds, everyone in town is in their car and driving away at top speed. Hopefully, they didn't head toward the hill where the atomic missile exploded soon after.

PE: Much like Paste-Pot-Pete in Strange Tales this month, The Human Top seems to exist for no other reason that to destroy Giant-Man. There seems to be no other motive in the goon's actions. He sets up elaborate traps to reach that end. Does he believe that if he conquers Giant-Man, the world is his oyster? Doesn't he realize that once he dispatches G.M., there's Thor, Spider-Man, and a half dozen real heroes ready to battle him. These villains are geniuses but they're such dopes.

JS: I'd love to ask Stan, in retrospect, if using about Paste-Pot-Pete or The Human Top in a story was any different than Dr. Doom or The Green Goblin in his eyes. He had to know these guys were crap, didn't he?

Jack:  And The Human Top made things easy for Dick Ayers by realizing that wearing a costume was pointless.  Now, he just spins around in his civvies.  I was wondering if he was planning on committing criminal acts in the nude, but no such luck.  Now he spins around in a snazzy purple vest.

PE: A helpful "Let's learn About Hank and Janet..." feature replaces the usual Wonderful Wasp backup this issue "because we love our readers!" No, honest, that's what it says.

The X-Men #7

Our Story

Professor X must go off on a solo business venture, leaving Cyclops in charge of The X-Men. His leadership is tested right off the bat when Magneto attempts to lure The Blob into his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. As when The X-Men tried signing him up, The Blob really wants no part of any mutant fraternity but he's tricked into luring The X-Men into a trap. After a dust-up, The Blob comes to find out just how much Magneto wants him in his gang.

PE: We get our first look at Cerebro, Professor X's mutant-seeking gizmo that will come to play a big part in The X-Men title. This is also the issue that Scott Summers (Cyclops) first becomes The X-Men leader in absence of Prof. X. Its refreshing that, at least in the onset, Summers' fellow Xies don't pout and whine about not being chosen to lead. I'm sure that will pop its head up in good time though.

JS: I didn't realize how limited Cerebro was in the beginning. It tracks the 5 Mutants we've been introduced to outside the X-Men, and little light bulbs blink when they think about how cool it is to be a mutant.

PE: Somewhere down the road, The Scarlet Witch's powers must become streamlined and more defined. Right now she has the power of "causing mishaps to befall others." A bit vague.

JS: The Beast needs to visit the Fantastic Four to get some unstable molecule shoes. This might just be Quentin Tarantino's favorite issue of the X-Men, since so much emphasis is placed on the feet of the Beast and the Blob. Speaking of The Beast and the Blob, it's interesting to see how Stan shows them to be so similar

PE: Unfortunately, after just seven issues, this strip has become almost exclusively X-Men Versus Magneto. There are other mutants surrounding him, of course, but none of substance. When the well dries up, Stan begins to repeat himself. This story is simply a reworking of #3 when the X-Men tried to recruit The Blob, only to find him unwilling. Here, Stan has simply placed Magneto in the  recruiting role. Next step is usually guest appearances from Sub-Mariner and The Hulk. Stay Tuned.

JS: And here I thought we would be seeing The Blob join the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, but by the end of the story, everything's right back where it started.

Fantastic Four Annual #2

Our Stories

Finally, after three years, we see the "Origin of Doctor Doom!" Born Victor Von Doom to gypsy parents, the future super-villain seems to be your ordinary good-looking, happy kid until the local Baron summons Von Doom Sr. (an expert with healing herbs) to his castle to care for his dying wife. Unable to save the Baroness, Von Doom and little Victor have to ht the road before the evil Baron can track them down and exact his "revenge." The grueling trek through snow is too much for the elder Von Doom and he dies, leaving Victor to fend for himself. Having lost both parents to "the evil of mankind," Victor swears he will rule the earth one day and begins a voyage of wrongdoing. Along the way, he's invited to enroll in "State University" (the same college attended by Ben Grimm and Reed Richards). While there, he experiments with forces he should never have tampered with and pays the price: he's disfigured in a horrendous blast. Expelled from the university, Von Doom heads for the Himalayas where he's taken in by Tibetan monks and taught "their ancient secrets and lore." Von Doom crafts himself a full-body armor and iron mask and christens himself Doctor Doom.

In the second original story, the clumsily titled "The Final Victory of Doctor Doom," the evil genius is rescued in space, after the events of Fantastic Four #25, by the Pharaoh Rama-Tut, defeated by the FF back in FF #19. The Pharaoh sets Doom up with transport back to earth and heads back to the 25th Century. Arriving on earth, Doom has a faux Latverian Embassy party set up and the FF are its special guests. Once there, the Four are served a special "berry drink" that enables Doom to control their thoughts. He turns the team against each other through a series of illusions.

PE: An iconic origin tale which will, as with all the other Marvel origins, be fine tuned and amended throughout the decades. Here, nearly fifty years later, despite some clunkiness, it retains its wallop. After three years of weak adventures, Doom finally gets a story worth his legend. Our other new story is just more of the same "misunderstandings and illusions lead to battle between the Fantastic Four and ... each other!" At so many junctures during this "battle," each team member asks for calm and then says something along the lines of "OK, if it's a fight you want..." Sheesh, this well ran dry the first year of the Marvel Universe. There is one great line delivered by a flustered Reed as Sue is throwing a jealous fit upon seeing Reed making it with another woman (or thinking she did): "Sue, stay visible when I'm talking to you!"

JS: I'll grant you that getting a Doom origin was somewhat interesting, but I don't rate it the classic that you do.

PE: And, coincidentally, we get a reprinting of the very first Doctor Doom story, the lackluster "Prisoners of Doctor Doom" from FF #5.

JS: Now there's a story I'm thrilled I didn't have to read again!

PE: The Pharaoh puts forth the theory that he and Doom are actually the same person from different time periods, which is an intriguing proposition but stuffed full of head-aching dialogue. The conversation between Doom and Pharaoh Rama-Tut reads almost like a parody ala Not Brand Ecch. Doom insists that the new-found partners cannot attack the FF together because, since they might be the same person, should one perish, the other will cease to exist. These are the kind of time/space paradoxes that Marvel would excel at a few years later, but it seems as though Stan hadn't read enough science fiction to work out all the angles properly just yet (at least not without a giggle or two). The story gives you the impression that villains defeated by the Fantastic Four are orbiting the earth constantly.

JS: I thought this was the most interesting part of the Annual. I liked that it resolved Doom spinning away in space, and that it pulled in our boy Rama-Tut. The only other thing I wish it specifically addressed was the Kang/Rama-Tut connection.

The Ultimate Sweet-Talker
PE: Reed has one of those premonitions, only super heroes have, of Doctor Doom returning to earth to stir up trouble. This despite having seen the good doctor hurtling through space with no visible means of survival. The Mole Man is on the horizon and I've a feeling Sue Storm will be looking at old clippings of their first run-in with MM very soon. But then I guess Reed must not trust his premonitions since, about ten minutes after having said premonition, the FF are invited to a Latverian Embassy dinner. Hmmm, let's see, which FF foe rules Latveria? And whatever does that title mean? "The Final Victory of Doctor Doom." Does this mean he's quitting after one final win or that the Fantastic Four will never again triumph? The Rama-Tut saga takes another intriguing turn in this month's issue of The Avengers!

Fantastic Four #30

Our Story

Vacationing in rural Transylvania, The Fantastic Four manage to get lost in a thick forest and happen upon a huge castle. A villager relates the story of the castle's owner, Diablo, an alchemist sealed up in the fortress one hundred years ago by the villagers, fearful of his sorcery. Staying the night in a local village, Ben Grimm is drawn to the castle in his sleep, where he uncorks the seal and releases the evil sorcerer. Promising to make Ben handsome again, Diablo makes The Thing his bodyguard and begins selling his potions to the top bidder, making millions of dollars from his potions. Reed (perhaps a bit jealously) pleads with Ben, trying to convince him that Diablo's cure is short-lived. The truth comes to The Thing very shortly thereafter and he puts right to his error by popping the genie back into the bottle.

JS: Talk about a missed opportunity. The splash page, a vacation in Transylvania... a legend known as DIABLO... and yet it is not a classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby earth/rock/tree monster.

PE: New Sue Storm ability alert: Sue can make someone else invisible while she's regaining her visibility. Do you think Sue knows all about these special powers she has and practices them or do they sneak up on her in the middle of a battle? A power such as this one might have come in handy in the previous 29 adventures.

JS: I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but the way Reed reacts to another doing interesting science experiments that put his own to shame is sad. how about giving a guy named Diablo the benefit of the doubt?

PE: Diablo is yet another in the seemingly endless supply of forgettable first-time villains Stan plucks from his brain as if it was a conveyor belt. Obviously an "evil" answer to Doctor Strange, Diablo (real name: Esteban Corazon de Ablo) would return to menace The Four several times over the next five decades. In fact, he'll be back in early 1965. So much for the tight seal Ben Grimm put on the alchemist's castle to keep him in.

Tales of Suspense #57

Our Story

Out on a date at a carnival, Tony Stark must call on the power of Iron Man when an attraction goes haywire. Ignored in all the fuss is one of the carnival's human attractions, the archer known as Hawkeye. Watching with jealousy as Iron Man gets all the attention, the young man decides he'll become a superstar as well. He crafts himself a costume and goes out, looking for trouble. Trouble is what he finds when he breaks up a robbery but is suspected of the theft by the police. Fleeing the scene, he's picked up by a woman in a car. The woman happens to be superspy Natasha Romanova, The Black Widow, looking for a partner in crime to eliminate Iron Man. Hawkeye takes one look at the comely villainess and decides he'd like the job. Armed with multi-faceted arrows, the angry archer attacks Iron Man, but finds that Shellhead won't go down as easy as expected.

PE: Lucky for Black Widow she happened to be out that night looking for an accomplice when Hawkeye comes running down the street, looking for a ride! And the both of them have it in for Iron Man. Who'd'a thought? And talk about a whirlwind romance. Hawkeye gets in Natasha's car, gets an eyeful, and three pages later, she's "the only one I've ever loved!"

JS: How much longer before the Black Widow dons her latex outfit? I think she's still got a lot of potential, but feel she's wasted in these throwaway cameos.

PE: I'm not sure I understand how some of Hawkeye's arrows work. They don't seem to hit their target, instead opening or exploding just in the right spot (such as his nylon rope arrow, which opens and entangles Iron Man).

JS: I never realized Hawkeye started out as a bad dude. I need some info, Paste-Pot.

PE: Hawkeye (Clint Barton) is an interesting character. Like his The Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and his partner here, The Black Widow, the bowman would hang up his villain suit for a place of honor in the Avengers Mansion. The change-over would occur in Avengers #16 and Hawkeye would be a constant in The Avengers title as part of the ever-changing roster as well as part of the West Coast Avengers team in the late 1980s. He'll be a part of the big-screen team next year, played by Jeremy Renner of The Hurt Locker and The Town.

JS: His cameo in Thor was pretty cool. I look forward to seeing how the character develops in the comic.

PE: In our back-up story, "The Watcher's Power" is tested by space pirates. More cartoony art by Larry Lieber and George Bell in the old Tales to Astonish tradition.

Journey Into Mystery #108

Our Story

After saving a boy from being hit by a runaway truck, Thor feels the thoughts of Dr. Strange calling out to him.  Following the mental summons to the home of the master magician, Thor finds that Dr. Strange is in rough shape after fighting off a spell from his enemy Mordo.  Thor calls an ambulance knowing that the skill of his alter ego Don Blake will be required to save the day. 

A hairy operation and the surgeon pulls off the impossible saving Dr. Strange who swears to offer Blake any help should he need it.
While Odin and his fellow warriors are off in battle Loki steals the chance to come to Earth disguised as a patient seeking medical aid.  In a flash, the God of Mischief has tossed Dr. Blake’s cane out the window and flees with an unconscious hostage – Jane Foster.  Helpless without his cane to turn into Thor, Blake goes to see Dr. Strange to ask the sorcerer’s aid in finding it.  Once found the cane becomes the hammer and the physician the Thunder God.  He sets of to find Loki.

A hand to hand battle is to the advantage of the stronger Thor until he falls into one of Loki’s traps:  a narrow hole in the ground.  In the moment it takes Thor to escape Loki sends a psychic bolt into limbo where he has imprisoned Jane Foster.  But don’t worry – an urgent mental cry from Thor enlists Dr. Strange once again who protects Thor’s beloved with a force bubble.  At threat of his destruction Loki returns Jane Foster to earth.  

Odin, meanwhile, has returned to Asgard and sends a warrior through a magic cloud to seize Loki and take him back to Asgard.

In Tales of Asgard this month, Thor disguises himself as a weary traveler and infiltrates the Kingdom of the Dwarves to save his cohorts who have been offered as slaves to the trolls.  Promptly Thor falls through a trap door – into the arms of the trolls who plan to work him in their mines.  The God of Thunder reveals himself and frees his fellow Asgardians from the trolls’ evil clutches. 

PE: Let me get this straight. Thor's flying along and happens to see a truck about to run over a kid so he keeps flying, lands "half a state away: and slams his hammer so that the vibration will send the truck over the kid? He does this, Stan explains, because Thor would never have been able to land where the kid was and stop the truck in time. Huh?

JS: See Thor battle Loki! The showdown we've been waiting for since... wait, again? Loki's plan to out lame Doc Blake was brilliant, and he had pretty much done away with Thor before explaining why Blake's cane no longer did the trick.

PE: There's only one thing more constant in this strip than Loki and that's the word "lame" which makes its 26th consecutive appearance, tying a record set by the word "hairdresser" in the Fantastic Four title.

JS: How many times will Heimdall be fooled by folks turning into bees to sneak past him?

PE: Odin loves his son. Odin is disappointed by his son. Repeat...

JS: So how come Doc Strange wasn't invited to join the Avengers?

PE: Well, if I was Iron Man, I'd be plenty pissed off. I ignore a call fro The Avengers and the lot of them suspend me from using the Avengers Jacuzzi for two weeks. Thor swings his hammer at Giant-Man and tells him to buzz off. There better be coal in Thor's stocking come Christmas time, at the very least.

JS: Also in this issue's Tales of Asgard: Thor kicks Troll butt. News at eleven.

PE: Well, it shore is purty at least.

The Amazing Spider-Man #16

Our Story

The Ringmaster and His Circus of Crime have returned (last seen in Hulk #3), with a whale of a plan: they plaster posters for a show featuring Spider-Man at the big top, a show where The Ringmaster plans to hypnotize the audience and make off with all their valuables and cash. A couple of cracks in the plaster arise: Spider-Man, seeing the posters and not wanting to disappoint his loyal public, shows up for the festivities. The Ringmaster hypnotizes Spidey and he's out for the count. The other surprise for the evil genius is that a member of his audience is Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil). Being blind, Matt is not susceptible to hypnosis. He suits up and the horned hero sets out to save the day, only to face a hypnotized Spider-Man , now acting as The Ringmaster's bodyguard. After a brief skirmish, Daredevil is able to release Spidey from his hypnotic trance and Web-Head cleans up the crime circus without breaking a sweat.

JS: How is it that a criminal circus could go town to town robbing people without anyone catching a clue? Doesn't seem like the brightest plan to me, but I don't live in the Marvel Universe...

PE: Are Peter and Betty an item? Are they splitsville? If you had a girlfriend, but never actually took her out on a date, would she qualify as a girlfriend? Make a decision already, Stan!

JS: Stan's clearly pushing the Mary Jane Watson card. When we finally meet her, she had better be impressive.

PE: I'm not sure if I'm buying the whole "Daredevil doesn't get hypnotized because he's blind" plot point. As Spider-Man explains in our rip-roaring climax: "In some ways (The Ringmaster) managed to create an electronic energy flow which magnifies all the thoughts of the one nearest the hat, and projects them outward with irresistible impact." Now, I'm no scientist, but if Daredevil can feel vibrations from such mundane objects as a ceiling fan or hear a cat lick its behind a block away, how could he not be a prime candidate for this little trick?

JS: What about all the people who fall asleep at the circus? Or those who aren't paying attention? But assuming folks who can see can't keep their eyes off of the Ringmaster, what I want to know is how blind Matt Murdock doesn't smell Spider-Man when Peter Parker is right nearby?

PE: The "battle" between Daredevil and Spidey only lasts a few panels but the fight between the Web-Slinger and the Circus goes on and on for a full five pages of banality. Spidey tosses a barbell, swings on a trapeze, takes out five clowns at once. Gimme a full-out attack by Paste Pot Pete over this yawn-inducer. Stan evidently disagreed with my assessment as The Ringmaster and His Circus of Clods will return in six issues' time. Trivia note: far into the revisionist Marvel future, we'll find out that this villain is the son of the original Ringmaster (of Death), who fought Captain America during World War II as an agent of The Red Skull.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #118
Millie the Model #122
Modeling with Millie #33
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #10
Two-Gun Kid #71


Kid Colt, Dope is more like it. Colt lets his big heart do the thinking for him once again (he'll never learn). When a bounty hunter attempts to bring The Kid to justice, our hero gets the better of the man very quickly, only to learn from a nearby sobbing woman that the bounty hunter only wanted to bring in Colt to pay for his mother's operation. Realizing his life has been a waste, Colt gives himself up to the gunman. As The Kid is being loaded into the wagon, he learns that the bounty hunter and the sobbing woman were running a con on him. Once to the prison, he's put on "The Chain Gang of Pecos Pass" (#118) with three old enemies, Doctor Danger, Bull Barton, and The Scorpion, who have been steaming in their own juices since being nabbed by The Kid. At least in the old West, these "super-villains" were stripped of their costumes and weapons, unlike some of the prisons in the Marvel Universe. Despite this, the bad guys get the drop on the guards and escape, leaving Kid Colt forgotten. He makes quick work of his leg irons and escapes as well via (you'll love this) his faithful horse, Steel, who had followed the prison wagon and then laid low 'til the boss got free. He catches up with the trio of baddies in a saloon on the other side of the border. Thanks to the Marvel Age of Coincidence, Kid Colt finds the bounty hunter and his girl there as well. He nabs the trio and exacts his own kind of violence-free revenge on the con artists.

Jesse James is tired of all the great press The Two-Gun Kid is receiving so he has his brother Frank head off to town to bait The Kid's best friend Matt Hawk (unbeknownst to Jesse and Frank, Matt is Two-Gun, but we already know that) into representing Jesse in court. Once there, Jesse reveals his plot to Matt and then waits for The Kid to show. We know that ain't happening so something else has to happen or this comic story would never end. Fortunately for Matt, his bodyguard Boom-Boom has followed the lawyer to the James ranch and attempts to free his boss. Unfortunately for both gentlemen, the James Gang capture Boom-Boom. While in captivity, Matt reveals to his muscle that he is actually the great gunslinger. Stan plays with Western history a bit in "Showdown with Jesse James" (#71) but the story's entertaining enough. The reveal scene is done well, with Boom-Boom initially disbelieving until he sees the famous Two-Gun costume under his boss' street clothes. 

An impossible mission, the army brass call it, but Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos wouldn't have it any other way. In "On to Okinawa (#10), the boys are charged with landing on the island and rescuing Colonel Phil "Pillbox" Parker, captured while stealing top secret documents. The Howlers have 72 hours to arrive and complete their mission before bombers take out the entire island. While the story is better than the previous issue, the art (by Ayers and Bell) still looks rushed. The only way to pick Fury out of his Howlers is by his chin hairs. Though he's unnamed in this adventure, we're introduced to Simon Savage, a submarine captain who aids The Howlers in their mission. Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders was a short-lived sister to Sgt Fury that lasted 19 issues (from January 1968 through March 1970). The Raiders would face Fury's arch-enemy, Baron Strucker as well as HYDRA.


  1. If memory serves me correctly (an increasingly dubious proposition), it became a running plot point within a few years that Avengers Tony Stark and Don Blake knew each others' secret identities. Maybe Thor's little epiphany here is a harbinger of that, notwithstanding Pete's justifiable perplexity at the logic behind it?

    With the Hulk taking over in the next issue of TTA, I'm surprised not to see a bigger bray of triumph over the demise of the oft-lambasted Gi-Ant-Man/Wasp strip. However, despite my stated affection for those characters as used in later years in THE AVENGERS, I will concede at its passing that I really can't defend their strip.

    I can tell you right now from my moonlighting (as a reader and commentator, not a writer, I hasten to add) over at Bronze Age Babies that any hope you have of Wanda's powers becoming better defined are in vain. They apparently get less, rather than more, defined later on.

    I'd forgotten that the whole "unseen Mary Jane Watson" thing started this early. Talk about a lengthy buildup...although ASM #42 will prove, at least visually, that she was worth the wait.

    By the way, although my actual comic books are somewhat inaccessible at the moment, it has occurred to me that I have some of these early issues in the mass-market paperbacks issued by Pocket Books long ago, so I may actually start to read along and/or catch up with some of them instead of just reading your admirable synopses.

  2. Professor Matthew!

    It is my solemn duty to inform you that the Giant-Man swill will continue for another ten issues of TTA. Hulk does indeed begin next issue but Giant-Man doesn't give up his slot to Namor until #70. You will hear us braying when the time has come.

  3. In the immortal words of Stephen Strange, uttered when that strip really got cooking a few months hence (about which I'll have more to say at a later date), "Curse me for a novice!" I correctly remembered that the Hulk/Giant-Man clash directly preceded Greenskin's new strip, but totally forgot that said strip initially accompanied rather than supplanted Giant-Man's, which was in turn supplanted by Namor's. TALES TO ADMONISH! Sorry.


    Say what you will about Heck, and many have done so both here and at BAB, but the panel you've reproduced depicts Hawkeye precisely as I think he should look. Again, I think that having Heck draw both Shellhead's strip and THE AVENGERS (if not necessarily at the same time; I can't recall, but M.U. will certainly tell all) provides welcome character continuity. Also, it's tough to tell here with just the cover to go by, but was this issue the advent of Iron Man's Mark 3--or are we up to Mark 4?--armor, without the polka dots on the faceplate?

    Also, if you're amenable, I might start sending you the odd (perhaps very odd) observation for you to splice into the posts, based on my aforementioned Pocket Books mass-market editions of, say, Spidey, Doc, and/or Cap.