Wednesday, January 18, 2012

July 1965: Gi-Ant Man's Last Stand?

Strange Tales 134 

The Torch and The Thing  

Our story

The Watcher visits the Fantastic Four, but since Reed and Sue are out apartment-hunting, he settles for Johnny and Ben. It seems that Kang the Conqueror is at it again. This time, he appears to Merlin the magician in the days of King Arthur. Kang locks Merlin away and then takes over all of Arthur’s knights, planning to change history so that his future foes never exist. The Watcher sends the Torch and the Thing back in time, where they foil Kang’s evil plan and save the world of the future.

Jack: So ends the wretched Torch series not with a whimper, but with a Kang. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The sustained mediocrity of this series made it one of the first two in the Marvel Age of Comics to be canceled, along with Giant-Man. Bob Powell’s Watcher looks like the New Year’s Baby! Look for the Human Torch Essentials at the next Mercer County, NJ library book sale, because my copy is going in the donation pile!

Wouldn't it have been faster to fly?
Happy New Year!
PE: As viciously odiferous as this series was, I actually thought the last story was not bad. I said "not bad," not "good." Sure, it's a rip-off re-imagining of that really rotten Fantastic Four story of old, the one where Ben Grimm becomes a pirate and wants to stay back in the past, but it seemed as though Bob Powell might have actually studied Jack Kirby's handling of The Thing one lazy summer day and thought "Hold on, he's not supposed to be an orange gorilla?" I'm probably overreacting with my delight at mere mediocrity rather than bottom of the barrel fish entrails but usually halfway through a Torch/Thing story I vow never to read a comic book again and that "plateau" was only in view this issue. Of course, I may just be excited that I never have to read a solo Torch/Thing story again!

Dr. Strange: 

Our story:

Dr. Strange returns to Earth and parks his body in a comfy chair in a “sidestreet hotel” as he flies off ectoplasmically to give the Ancient One a checkup. In Tibet, he bathes A.O. in a strengthening beam from his amulet (Vitamin B-12?). While trying to solve the mystery of Eternity, he is located by one of Mordo’s spirit minions, and the chase is on again. Meanwhile, over in the Dark Dimension, Clea lends a hand by weakening the barrier that keeps the Mindless Ones at bay. Dormammu is suitably distracted, Mordo is weakened, and Dr. Strange lives to fight another day.

MB: Back on Earth, the game is again afoot, and with only half the book at his disposal, Ditko relies on a high panel-per-page average to cram it all in. The story is chock-full of incident: in the space of a mere ten pages, we get the start of Strange’s search for Eternity, his cosmic game of chicken with Mordo at the heart of the solar system, and the as-yet-unidentified Clea’s brave, selfless betrayal of Dormammu. It is entirely appropriate that she uses the Mindless Ones to distract him, since it was their threat that obliged him to accept Strange’s help in the first place, and besides, those guys just look freakin’ cool, like a cross between Cyclops and a Golem.

JS: I'm growing a bit tired of the unlimited astral reach these guys all seem to have. Do they travel at the speed of light? One moment they're underwater with sharks, and a few panels later they're at the sun?

Jack: Where have I read this story before? Oh, right—two issues ago. Ancient One in a coma? Check! Clea worried about Dr. S? Check! Mordo’s spirit minions giving chase? Check! Dormammu has to sign off Skype to deal with Mindless Ones? Check! While I like this story arc, they had better move it along pretty soon!

Tales to Astonish 69 

Giant-Man  Our story

The battle of the century continues from last month as the evil scumbag, The Human Top, has kidnapped Jan and holds her captive at his secret headquarters. Big Hank is distraught. He sets out to find his loving partner with no luck as the trail has gone cold. Back at the Top’s crib, he reveals to the Wasp his master plan. Around his lair, he has built an artificial little town that is life size. Underneath the fake town, however, is a giant pit that he hopes big Hank will stumble into. Jan is able to secretly communicate with one of her wasps, who goes and finds Giant-Man, revealing her location to him. Giant-Man characteristically falls for the bad guy’s trap, falling through the fake village ground into a metal prison hole. Jan can’t bear to be apart from her boyfriend and she joins him. The Top, who apparently thought he had a shot with Jan as his partner once Hank was given a dirt nap, is enraged. From his control lab, he freezes the heroes into solid ice. After this is done, he has a crane scoop up the Giant-Man ice statue back onto ground level. Just then, Hank and Wasp break out of the giant ice statue’s hand, with Hank back to normal size. The Top tries to escape, but Hank takes him down, using the same freezing method the bad guy had used on them. Giant-Man relates to the police that he and Jan just hid in the hand cavity of the giant ice statue, once Hank shrunk down to normal size after letting the ice form around his huge frame. The ending has our hero contemplating retiring from the super hero game. 

Tom: It’s a sad day, as one of the greatest heroes of all time ends up not having the heart to go on fighting anymore. R.I.P. big Hank. I’ll pour out a little malt liquor in your honor.

Jack: Stan refers to Tales to Astonish #68 as “now famous” and a “sellout” issue. If it was so famous and successful, why cancel Giant-Man? Could Stan the Man be pulling our leg?

Tom: The bullpen points out that the Top will surely have no supporters after he cold cocks Jan for interfering with his plans. I’m not sure if I was still a fan of his after he pulled that stunt, but I still wasn’t completely rooting for Giant-Spam either. More like 50/50 at that point. I really didn’t care who was victorious, just as long as the crappy story ended.

Jack: Poor Human Top—he plops the Wasp on a big, yellow water bed but gets nowhere. Knowing Jan’s past, he must be one of the few men alive who fails to turn her on. 

MB: We really get a sense of the rats leaving the sinking ship as editor Stan shunts scripting chores over to Al Hartley, while the thankless job of inking Powell’s pencils one last time devolves onto John Giunta (who he?). Maybe I missed something, but I’m confused about the Top: this is a guy who later has a resurgence as Whirlwind, during which he works as Jan’s chauffeur, yet here he’s spouting sub-Shakespearean dialogue in his scenes with her. And where does he get the funds for the extensive and elaborate construction with which he traps Hank; can he really have that many ill-gotten gains after his various defeats by Giant-Man?

What Jan really wanted all along.


Our story

We continue from last issue, where the Hulk has been captured by the Leader, along with the super intelligent bad guy gaining possession of the Absorbatron, a device that renders the H-bomb useless. The Leader transports both to his secret hideout in the desert before the Navy Task Force captures him. Thunderbolt Ross and Talbot discuss Banner’s apparent treachery, blaming him for the Absorbatron disappearing and planning on killing him if necessary. Rick Jones happens to hear this outside their office window as he walks by. Meanwhile, the Leader has the Hulk strapped to a gurney, trying to perform tests on him. When he walks away, the sleeping gas he is using to subdue the monster does the opposite, changing the Hulk back to Bruce Banner. Banner sneaks off and, using the Leader’s own technology, sends an urgent message out to be rescued. Lucky for him, Rick has gone to one of their old hangouts and receives the message as to where Bruce is located. He tells Ross, who mobilizes the military to capture back the Absorbatron. When the Leader finds out that the Hulk is no longer in captivity, he releases more sleeping gas to flush him out. This causes Banner to revert back to being the Hulk before the Leader can see who the alter-ego is. The Hulk goes on a tear, destroying the Leader’s lab and trying to destroy the Leader. The villain shoots the Hulk with a special high-powered gun that almost stops him, but not before the monster destroys the precious Absorbatron. The bad guy takes off in his ship just before the troops arrive, furious and more determined than ever to defeat the Hulk. Our story ends with the apparent death of Bruce Banner from the gun blast. He changes back into human form just as Ross, Rick, Talbot, and the army troops show up.   

Tom: I must say that I’m impressed. A good story with decent art work. I couldn’t ask for much more. Well, maybe get rid of Rick, who seems to have replaced the almost as equally annoying Betty, but that’s a small quibble.

Jack: Rick Jones sure can run! Even the army can’t keep him away from Bruce Banner. Captain America is going to be SO JEALOUS! And the poor humanoids get no respect. The Leader vaporizes them and they return to nothingness! If only we could do that with about 35 issues of Human Torch tales. We can now add the Leader’s gas to the ever-growing list of things that cause Hulk to change back to Banner and vice versa. 

Oh no! Can it be true?

Journey Into Mystery 118

Our Story

After the defeat of the Communist troops, Thor returns the Vietnamese girl Kim to the safety of the U.S. troops. Gathering the bag of Norn stones to return to Asgard (to prove that Loki cheated in the recent Trial of the Gods), Thor is struck by with an anesthetic shell from an evil-hearted game hunter who spots him flying by. None other than Loki is guiding the hunter’s actions, for if Thor returns the stones to Odin, the God of Evil’s guilt will be established. Loki’s plan gets still darker; he guides the hunter to a barren plateau that explodes to reveal the Temple of Darkness, built by Odin in ages past. Driven by Loki inside the temple, the hunter finds: the Destroyer. Built by Odin (to remain hidden until such a time as needed to save the Earth from a great menace) as a lifeless shell that only becomes mobile when occupied by someone’s spirit, the willing hunter is the one who is in the right place at the wrong time. Thor catches up with him, aided by the directions of the hunter’s native guides. The Destroyer is designed to kill the first thing he sees, presumed to be an enemy of Asgard, but in this case, Thor himself. Realizing that he has unleashed too powerful a foe, and that should Thor die, his own fate will be sealed, Loki goes to tell Odin, and save Thor. Odin however, is sleeping the sleep of life (otherwise known as the Odinsleep) that he must do one day a year to retain his immortality, and from which he cannot be awakened. The guards toss Loki into the Dungeon of No Escape, not believing that for once, his words are true. Even knowing that Odin made the Destroyer indestructible, Thor nonetheless wages a brave but doomed battle. A bolt of limitless force slices Thor’s slices a piece of Thor’s Mjolnir clean off, so the battle becomes hand-to-hand. Designed to have access all the powers in the universe, the Destroyer melts the ground beneath Thor’s feet, and then as the Thunder God sinks, solidifies it to the strength of Asgardian diamond, trapping him. Another destructive bolt of elemental destruction gets ever closer to, the end?

As the quest to find the enemy who has put a crack in the Odinsword prepares to embark in Tales Of Asgard, a special “weapon” is given to Thor by a wise aid of Odin’s named Morduk, to aid in the mission. “The Crimson Hand,” when shaken by another, forces only the truth to be spoken by both parties.  Loki appears with a recruit named Bragg. Upon greeting him with a handshake, Thor discovers that Bragg has intent of slaying the Thunder God from behind once the quest has departed. A moment is all it takes to dispatch Bragg, as Loki feigns surprise, and quickly departs.

JB: If JIM#114 wasn’t already, this issue is easily the most epic Thor tale yet.  There’s fine attention to detail in the artwork, some nice angles and great full pager of Daddy-O(din) sawing logs. 

PE: I love how Loki comes to rue the decision he's made to release Destroyer and sic him on his half-brother. Of course, his regret is only because he knows Odin will unleash a nasty punishment on him once he gets word of his favorite son's untimely demise. I'm not sure I understand how the temple was revealed to the big-game hunter. It's said several times that Destroyer is Odin's secret weapon for armageddon. A last resort when all else fails. How is it that Loki's able to crumble the mountainside and open the temple? This issue must have been a favorite of the script writers of the Thor film, as there are a couple of inspirations, the obvious being the villain but also Odin's sleep. In the film, Odin sleeps a real big Odin-sleep after having a traumatic experience while here it's just an all-day nap he must endure once a year. Destroyer was much bigger in the movie and I think the upgrade suits him. 

JB: The Destroyer looks pretty intimidating. In the Thor movie they kept nicely visually to the original concept shown here; although he’s far less powerful in the film than here. Actually he’s quite a simple villain, not really evil unto himself, but virtually unstoppable. 

PE: This is a dynamite issue and I'm looking forward to the conclusion.

MB: I have ambivalent feelings about this issue, despite its introducing the Destroyer, one of the all-time great Thor villains, who made such a positive contribution to the recent film. Yet the sight of Thor being felled by a sub-Hemingway reject didn’t go down so easily, nor did the somewhat clumsy introduction of said Destroyer. Why would the ruler of the Scandinavian-based Norse gods have concealed him in the jungles of Indochina, of all places? And, if that temple “built by Odin, untold ages ago” had been “hidden beneath the concealing plateau—since time immemorial,” it seems unlikely that modern man would have heard legends of it. But boy, he sure can mix it up.

JB: Odin’s tired this month; he’s sleeping in the main tale and the TOA. The Crimson Hand is a cool tool; I don’t think it appears again? Not even a mention of Marvel romance this time either. It’s nice to see Loki trap himself with his own evil ways.

The X-Men 12

Our Story

A new and deadly menace is threatening Professor X and his X-Men at X-Mansion: the Professor's estranged step-brother, Cain Marko aka The Juggernaut, who will stop at nothing to put his little brother in a box. Years before, while fighting side by side in the Korean War, Xavier could only stand by helplessly and watch as Cain found the statue of Cyttorak and was infused with incredible power. Marko becomes, in X's words "a gigantic, inexorable force that moves onward irresistibly, crushing anything it finds in its path!"Marko tromps through each new barrier the X-Men throw at him until he tears down the steel wall and smashes into the mansion to face the mutants. To be continued.

PE: For the 12th time in 12 issues, Professor X proclaims that this latest menace will be the deadliest they've ever faced. The menace turns out to be his big bully step-brother. In one of those long drawn-out origins, X tells his X-kids all about the vicious. Are you like me and wonder exactly how the characters tell these stories we see in vivid detail? "And so then my step-brother puts his hand up in my face and says 'Hey, wanna see somethin'? Nyuk-nyuk' and then he slaps me in the face! Can you beat that?" Then, as his brother is knocking the building down around him, Cyclops sensibly says "Shouldn't we go out and fight the guy?" and X says "No, we've got time for me to tell you the rest of this origin story"! Why not say "That's my brother, he's mean, he's a Juggernaut!"

JS: Cerebro will prove to be a very powerful tool in the search for mutants.  We'll have to wait for the next issue to see if there's a story worthy of so much buildup.

PE: The whole story is a build up to a reveal. The longest origin story in the history of Marvel runs concurrently with a big shadowy figure destroying barriers around X-Mansion. What could he look like? How big is he?

JS: And why does he wear that silly headgear?

PE: Professor X as star quarterback??? This sounds like the kind of b.s. the revisionists would be up to years later. This is one line I ain't buying. He was also a track star, we're told. Because he has ESP, he's able to tell when the other runners are tiring and therefore run faster. When I ran track in high school, I could tell the tired ones as well. They were lying in heaps on the grass. How can ESP make a man run faster? How does X use his mental powers to help his brother jump out of a crashing car? We're getting into Daredevil's "let's make up the rules as we go" territory. The first 11 issues of this title ranged from Outstanding to middling. None of them that I can recall would be on a par with The Human Torch or Gi-Ant Man for ludicrosity. Congratulations, Stan.

JS: I don't know if measuring against the bottom of the scale is going to win over any readers...

PE: One of the X-Men's oldest and sturdiest villains, The Juggernaut is not served well with his first outing. The art stinks and I like Alex Toth. There's very little Toth on display here and I have to think that's because of Vince Colletta's inks. Many of the characters look like elementary stick figures in some panels and several times we endure the curse of no backgrounds. Says here that Kirby provided the layouts. I see no evidence nor influence of Kirby and I'm squinting real hard.

MB: Never mind that the Kirby/Toth/Colletta artwork is a bit of a mishmosh; herein true greatness lies, a Landmark Issue if ever there was one, including not only the origin of Professor X but also the introduction and origin of one of Marvel’s greatest villains, Juggernaut. His name rich with Biblical associations, Cain Marko is another of those characters best used sparingly, so as not to diminish his impact, and I love the fact that in such a generally science-based book, his powers come from a mystic force right out of Dr. Strange! Did ever a villain get a better build-up, with his tale told in tense tones by his intended victim while he batters, unseen, at the gates?

PE: Er... Um...

The Avengers 18

Our Story

Captain America is having doubts about his leadership and questions what his life is all about. Quicksilver enjoys a circus act of acrobats, Hawkeye perfects a new, amazing ultra-sonic vibration arrow, so strong it can move a one-ton safe. Meanwhile, (COMMUNIST ALERT!!!!) in the "communist-ruled puppet state of Sin-Cong," the Commissar, another impossibly large Asian ruler is bleeding his people dry. In an effort to gain notoriety, the big guy sends out a faux SOS to The Avengers in order to lure them to his compound. There, he hopes to defeat them and spread his legend throughout Asia. Cap takes the bait and The Avengers head to Sin-Cong. Once there, they realize they've been duped as they're attacked from all sides by The Commissar and his men.

PE: Knowing that it ain't a Marvel team of superheroes without the discord, Stan throws in a bit of discussion about what The Avengers stand for, Cap and Hawkeye on one side, Quicksilver and The Witch on the other. The wedge is removed after only a few panels and the World's Weakest Super-Group is reunited as one. I will say that it's an interesting experiment Stan is conducting here, a super-group void of any super power. I would suspect the letter column will get interesting as well.

JS: Will somebody please slap Cap. I'm tired of his brooding. Hey Steve - they thawed you out already!
PE: We're finally getting a peak at The Avengers playbook. Here we witness Captain America call for Plan Seven, which translates to "Quicksilver runs real fast and knocks out the bad guys." I'm still wondering if each Avenger has his own set of Plans (say, The Witch has Plan One through Six, Silver has Seven through Twelve, etc.). If that were the case, what would happen if Cap called out for The Witch to execute Plan Seven and she didn't have one? Obviously, Cap has planned for everything. He tells his partners, as they're passing out from breathing some form of noxious gas, that if they hold their breath as they're going under, their unconscious state won't last too long. Say what? I'm no doctor but don't you breathe even when you're asleep? I think i read that in a high school textbook once.

JS: Is everyone else tired of evil giants that turn out to be robots? I honestly can't recall if we've seen this exact storyline, but it certainly feels as if we have.

PE: The Commissar comes with no explanation as to why he's so big and powerful until the final panels. The expository reveals that the big Asian was actually a very life-like robot controlled by a "Wizard of Oz" behind a curtain. I find it hard to believe that a band of intelligent heroes couldn't discern a robot from a human being. After 18 issues, with but one exception (issue #4), I still find that The Avengers is a waste of precious reading time.

MB: Don’t turn around—the Commissar’s in town! Hardly among the more enduring villains in the Marvel stable, yet since one of those is coming in the next issue, I can afford to be patient. Also not so keen on newly minted Avenger the Scarlet Witch being thrust so soon (or at all, really) into the helpless-female mode, but that’s the damned Reds for you, and of course she ends up saving the day, so there. Heck’s art seems generally solid, despite the disappearance of Hawkeye’s mask on page 11, although I’m not sure that Ayers is exactly doing Don any favors.

The Amazing Spider-Man 26

Our Story

The Crime-Master has been delivering ultimatums to all the big mob bosses in town: work for me or you're through. He's also delivered that message to The Green Goblin, who's not exactly happy about the situation. Meanwhile, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is up to his ears in problems. As naive, intelligent Peter Parker, he's managed to lose both of his Spidey suits (as seen in issue #25-Pesky Pete) and landed himself in the principal's office after taking on Flash and his crew single-handedly. His love life is a sham: Betty's convinced that Peter sold Spidey down the river last issue and Liz Allan is tired of breaking up Peter/Flash dust-ups. Just when it seems that there are nothing but problems ahead for our teenaged hero, he manages to come up with a spare suit from a Halloween costume store. Not the ideal situation but it'll do in a pinch. Donning his new gear, he heads for battle. The fight is on the docks where The Green Goblin and The Crime-Master are headed for a showdown. The winner will be crowned King of the Underworld. Hindered by the low-budget costume, Spidey is beaten by The Goblin, who plans to use the wall-crawler as a pawn in his scheme for power.

PE: It's nice to see Stan finally moving past the usual Peter/Flash mix-ups. I was getting extremely tired of Flash goading Parker into doing something very un-Parker like but the event stopping before fruition. Usually, as happened this issue, that something would be Liz Allan getting between the two, with the "Jeez, I almost blew my Spidey identity" thought balloon over Peter's head. Yep, that happens this issue but the drama continues when Peter gets called into the principal's office and takes full responsibility. Flash, overhearing the conversation, owns up to his part in the melee. I know, further down the road in this series, the two teens actually become friends but I'm not sure how close we are just yet. Maybe this was the first step.

JS: That part didn't ring true to me. Flash has given Peter so much grief for so long, I find it hard to believe that he's a good guy at heart.  But it's a plot device that's been used again and again in teen movies, so obviously somebody thinks it works.

MB: Webhead’s ongoing costume woes are classic Marvel, and Ditko’s art doesn’t seem so cramped this time; shots like Betty confronting Peter against that shocking pink background on the bottom of page 5 are a little melodramatic, but make things more interesting from a visual standpoint. I like that Flash once again shows himself not to be a total heel, while his simultaneous contempt for Peter and hero-worship of Spidey is always a fun plot device. Crime-Master is a formidable villain, and Steve’s plot provides a nice set-up for the cliff-hanger ending.

JS: So we go to great lengths to establish that the costume is an ill-fitting Halloween costume, and yet the Green Goblin can't seem to get the mask off? Come on, Gobby!

PE: Perhaps two ultra-secret super-villains was one too many? Honestly, I can't remember who The Crime-Master is (and I'm writing this having only gotten up to page 10 so far) and the mystery is killing me, but knowing Stan's track record for ultra-secret reveals, I'm sure I'll be disappointed when I find out who the Big Man is (and I'm not going to cheat by looking him up on Wikipedia or reading ahead). Knowing now that The Goblin turned out to be a character not even introduced yet makes me suspect a similar reveal in the works. He can't really be Foswell, can he? Stay tuned.

JS: Are super villains so dumb that they'd divulge their secret identities to one another?

PE: If The Crime-Master's get-up looks familiar, it's because Steve Ditko later remolded him as The Question in 1967 when he was working for Charlton (and Alan Moore later "borrowed" him for Watchmen's Rorschach). I couldn't get into The Question until Denny O'Neil re-booted the character for DC (who had bought the rights to the Charlton characters) in 1987. It only lasted 36 glorious issues but it's one of my favorite comics series.

JS: He reminded me of Rorschach from The Watchmen.

PE: Is now a good time to talk about spider-sense? I've never understood the rules of Spider-Man's warning system. In this issue, it warns Spidey that The Crime-Master is going to shoot him behind a set of closed blinds from a position across the street. I can understand the tingle going off if the danger is in the general proximity of Spidey's body but this almost seems like ESP. It warns him of a danger that may happen in the future. How far in the future can this power sense the event? If Doctor Doom was going to fire a nuclear missile directly at Spider-Man, at what point would his Spider-sense begin tingling? Pick up your pencils. You have exactly one minute.

JS: He'd feel it shortly before impact... but too late.

PE: Call me nuts but, from start to cliffhanger finish, this is the best Spider-Man issue yet. Never saw this one comin'! The art's fabulous. The plot is intriguing. The sub-plots don't meander and disappear in a puff of meaningless thought balloons. The Goblin's starting to get that wacky, crazy edge. I'm still enthralled by the mystery of The Crime-Master.

JS: I didn't have my hopes up from the cover, but it was more entertaining than I had expected. Let's hope  the next chapter is even better.

PE: On the letters page, Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber makes his case for Spider-Man guesting in Millie the Model.

Tales of Suspense 67

Iron Man

Our Story

After receiving a tongue-lashing from Pepper Potts, Iron Man sulks in his little charger room, unaware that he's about to be attacked by an old enemy. Count Nefaria has dropped his old moniker and adopted the startling new title The Master of Dreams (or, as one panel addresses him, The Master! of Dreams-PE). His first target, since this is Iron Man's strip, is The Golden Avenger. Nodding off while still awake, he's attacked in his dreams by The Unicorn and The Crimson Dynamo. Fighting them off is almost too easy for Iron Man but we learn that it was just a test dream for The Master! of Dreams! Later, when Iron Man flies to Ireland to try to talk a pouting Happy Hogan into returning to the states, our hero is thrust into another dream-state where he battles more fourth and fifth-tier villains, Jack Frost, The Black Knight, The Melter, and Gargantus. One by one, he defeats the bogus criminals and, upon waking from his dream, decides he needs to take more vitamins, never knowing who his real foe was.

PE: I dug issues like this when I was a kid. It's a veritable who's who of Iron Man villains. Of course, it's all a dream but, no matter, we still get to see all these great villains! Only disappointment: no Paste Pot Pete.

JS: I always felt cheated by this kind of story. They'd do anything to sell a comic.

PE: It's seems at some point every issue Iron Man has to leave to recharge his batteries. Usually it comes just before or during a big battle. This issue it comes just as he's receiving a scolding from Pepper Potts. His constant wearing down reminds me of that wonderful Japanese TV series of the 1960s, Ultraman. The giant silver karate expert had a light on his chest and when his power would wear down it would blink red. We were constantly reminded that if the red light stopped blinking, Ultraman would be no more. I wonder if the producers of that show drew any inspiration from the Iron Man comic.

JS:  I wouldn't think so, but stranger things have happened.  I think I've made my opinion clear when it comes to 'we interrupt today's adventure to plug Iron Man into the wall.'

PE: Why would a super-villain (granted, a fifth tier villain) change his name from the ultra-cool Count Nefaria to the Village People-esque The Master of Dreams? For that matter, why would Stan change it? That's quite the gizmo Dreamy has, a "world-wide electro-scanner" which, it seems, can see anywhere he wants it to. Its first vision is Iron Man charging up. Could he follow I.M. around until he took his armor off and discover his true identity?

JS: Do you think he was just trying to spice things up? It seems like it would just add to the logistical nightmare of juggling all the continuity, not that I think that job landed on Stan's plate (outside what he kept track of by writing damn near every Marvel comic.

MB: It was wise of the Dream-Master—who (shocker) survives that climactic blast—to go back to his old handle of Count Nefaria, under which he would still bedevil various Marvel heroes for years to come. And, although this incarnation of the former Maggia chief is pretty goofy, these rogues’-gallery stories can be fun, even if we just had one in The Amazing Spider-Man two months ago. But please, spare me the laid-on-with-a-trowel brogue! At least my wife, whose favorite words are “Made in the U.S.A.,” enjoyed Tony’s little speech.

PE: One of the most clumsily written comics I've read during this run. It's not even clear if the first attack of The Master! of Dreams! is the villain telling us what he's got planned or a dream attack already under way. The reader doesn't know until the "action" is over. And further, do the villains in the dreams speak with The Master!'s voice or are the bad guys in a dream state as well? Well, no, that can't be right as The Crimson Dynamo is dead. As Shellhead questions: "Would a character in a dream tell someone that he too is in a dream?" Good question, Mr. Stark. I got another one for you: Do the Irish really say things like "Begorra, me boy" and "Faith an' Bejabbers" but otherwise speak perfect English?

This just in: Kelsey Grammer to play Gargantus in Iron Man 3

Captain America

Our Story

Under the influence of The Red Skull, Captain America begins his training to murder the allies' top military leader. Meanwhile, Bucky is lined up on a wall with other prisoners to be executed by his Nazi captors.

MB: I don’t know how long they will last, but this strip is clearly in its glory days now, the artwork having stabilized into the Kirby grandeur we know and love, despite another Stone/Ray switcheroo. The faux German accents are a little distracting, yet the wartime action is solid, and although drugged by the Skull, Cap looks every inch the mighty Sentinel of Liberty. Bucky, for his part, shows himself to be far more than the teen-in-jeopardy sidekick, giving a good account of himself in the battle, and even gunning down a Nazi or two.

PE: You're not kidding about those German "accents," Professor Matthew. Stan should have either gone with straight German word balloons with *translations below (unmanageable, to be fair) or just have the Germans speak in English with a - *translated from German-Snazzy Stan - at the beginning of the story. As it's presented here, it's a distraction comparable to a tea break every ten seconds in a rip-roaring action scene. It stops the flow. Otherwise it's another ace chapter in this Captain America retro-saga.

JS: I was also put off by the overdone German dialogue, but I'll accept that as a product of its time. If they didn't talk the way they do, it would probably have been harder for kids to follow that they were the bad guys. Gotta love Hitler cowering at the sight of Cap.

The Fantastic Four 40

Our Story
The Baxter Building is still under the control of Doctor Doom but, if The Fantastic Four and guest-star Daredevil, The Man Without Fear, have anything to say about the situation, it won't be his for long. DD heads on up to the top of the building to run interference while The Four sneak in via an elevator to get hold of one of Reed's gadgets that will restore their powers. Doom finally realizes that The Four are powerless and he uses that to his advantage until Stretcho is able to sneak away and get hold of The Stimulator. Once blasted with Stimulato-rays, our super team is back on the map. Doctor Doom is defeated but allowed to go free in the end. Ben Grimm has had enough of the superhero life and announces he's quitting.

PE: I'm not sure which bit of Stan Lee hype on the splash page I'm supposed to swallow: that "The Battle of the Baxter Building" is "destined to take its place beside the battles of Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Dunkirk." or that it's "possibly the greatest action-drama you will read this year." How could Stan use the word "possibly" after the comparisons in the first quote?

JS: Are you suggesting that Stan was susceptible to hyperbole?

PE: The concept of The Fantastic Four's armory being used against them is an intriguing one but some of the gizmos Dr. Doom unearths in Reed's lab are almost laughable. Why would Richards install an under-floor refrigeration unit? Of course, Doom has some nifty gadgets up his sleeve )literally) as well, like his "instant hypnotism impulser, which can upset your total sense of balance in one split-second."

JS: Do you get the sense that Stan had some sort of bible where he was keeping track of all this? I'm thinking he was making it up as he went, damn the consequences later!

PE: Holy Deus ex Machina! At least Ben Grimm questions Reed Richards about why they've been running around powerless all this time when there's a machine (The Stimulator) that can recharge The Four's powers. I wasn't going to mention this convenient way out for Stan as I assumed the big reveal about The Stimulator had happened while I'd fallen asleep. Stan must have realized he'd painted himself into quite a corner and his readers were paying their hard earned twelve cents for a comic called The Fantastic Four not The Questionable Quartet. Even in 1965 at the age of 4 years old, I would have howled out loud at this dopey plot twist.

JS: I keep searching for signs of the classic FF that I know is right around the corner, and the shot of Ben Grimm, back in rock form, is just what the doctor ordered. Kirby at his best in this particular issue.

The Thing... as he was meant to be!
PE: And how does this epic end? Doctor Doom attempts to murder Ben Grimm but when the tables are finally turned and Ben gets the upper hand, Reed steps in and reminds The thing that Doom has diplomatic immunity and they have to let him go. Doom walks right out the door with Reed cooing to his teammates that they've stripped the Doctor of his machismo and he'll probably never bother them again. That's the final straw for Ben Grimm. He's tired of being an ugly lumpy orange fella and he quits the group for the fifth time in two months (Marvel time). Stan's about to bring out Marvel Cliche #6 again (stay tuned for our special spotlight on the ten Marvel cliches beat into the ground like dead horses).

Also this month
Kid Colt Outlaw #123
Millie the Model #129
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #20
Two-Gun Kid #76


  1. Jack, if you're seriously thinking of ditching your ESSENTIAL HUMAN TORCH, I'll take it. I'm an anal-retentive completist when it comes to Marvel super heroes (among other things), lame though the strip was, and I only have scattered reprints from that run. Which reminds me to express my amazement, if I haven't already, that Marvel actually thought those stories were worth reprinting in the mid-70s. Go figure.

    Guess we'll agree to disagree on Juggernaut!

    I think the idea with Spidey's mask is that under normal circumstances, Gobby would have been able to remove it, but here, he couldn't, because Spidey had too recently reinforced his costume-store special by webbing the mask to the suit. That said, why is this a Landmark?

  2. I always liked the Juggernaut! I think his outfit is cool. Reading over these summaries, it's interesting to see how the Commie menace has roared back after having been pretty quiet for awhile in the Marvel Universe. You'd think we were gearing up for a war! As to Count Nefaria, I have in my mind a big drawing of him from the new X-Men--wasn't he the guy who killed the new hero in one of the early issues of the X-Men revival? Finally, how cheap is renaming the Mafia the Maggia? Just one letter over. Stan wasn't trying very hard that day.

  3. We've actually got two badges.

    The old-style Cap Shield denoting a 'landmark issue' - signaling an important character introduction or milestone.

    The round cap shield with the gold star might can be considered Professor Pete's seal of approval. It's understandable that folks will be less familiar with that as to date, only a handful of issues have warranted the recognition.

  4. John: "Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" Sorry, it's a Pavlovian response for me to invoke that oft-misquoted line from THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. Otherwise, understood, and thanks for the clarification. "Don't yield--back shields!"

    Jack, just wait a couple of months/weeks until the Titanium Man makes his debut in SUSPENSE; that'll really up the Commie Quotient. And yes, that is the same Nefaria who slew John Proudstar (aka Thunderbird) almost as soon as he had become one of the new X-Men. The Count's career has been, to say the least, checkered.

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