Wednesday, February 22, 2012

December 1965: Among Us Hid The Inhumans!

Journey Into Mystery 123

Our Story

The Mighty Thor has agreed to take the reporter Harris Hobbs to see Asgard. The Absorbing Man has ignobly attacked Odin, with Loki planning to take over rule of the golden realm after his cats paw has done his work for him. And that’s just the beginning! Arriving on the rainbow bridge with Hobbs, Thor sees that Heimdall is absent from his post as guardian. Knowing something is amiss, he hurries with Hobbs into the city to find the battle raging between the Absorbing Man and Odin. The All-Father slowly realizes that cosmic bolts and molecular cyclones are as easy for Crusher Creel to absorb as rock or metal.  On Earth, another type of storm brews, as the lost Norn Stone is found in an Asian jungle by the witch doctor of a tribe threatened with Communist takeover. The stone having fallen from the sky, it is seen by the witch doctor as a sign from the gods that he is meant not only to turn back the communists, but to rule the world as well.  Thor (with Hobbs holding himself together enough to take it all in), eager to join in the fray, is asked by Odin to hold his hammer for a moment. Seeing that any further battle will destroy his kingdom, Odin surrenders his scepter to “Loki the cunning”, who glows with greed, proclaiming the rule of a new age. The Absorbing Man feels the scepter should be his, and a mighty tug-of-war begins. All this has played out, as Odin knew it would; the two evildoers can’t let go of the scepter. Odin, his real power coming from within, hurls the pair, eternally bound to each other, to fly through endless space for an indefinite time. Thor returns to Earth with Harris Hobbs, whose memory even now fades; he questions if Thor even took him to Asgard. The witch doctor meanwhile, has adopted the name the Demon from some of the villagers he has sworn to his side, as he builds his army to conquer the world.

In the Tales Of Asgard, the approach of Ragnarok, the end of the world, seems imminent, as Odin watches dark writhing clouds from atop the highest mountain in Asgard. The crew of the Odinship, led by Thor, enters “The Jaws Of the Dragon”. As it’s rock head rises from the stormy sea, it is the efforts of Balder the Brave that save them, when he blows so hard on his mighty horn that the dragon is shattered into countless pieces.

JB: Nicely interwoven story here, hard to believe that the Absorbing Man has been with us for four issues. We get a clear picture of Odin’s real power source—himself, as he must finally see Loki for the villain he really is.

PE: Yep, a satisfying conclusion to The Absorbing Man storyline. Without peeking, I wonder just how long Stan can keep Loki exiled in space. It only took him a few issues to find Doctor Doom a way back. My money's on a short flight. One thing's for sure: Odin has got to have his eyes wide open by this time. Calling his son "god of evil" is just not said around the dinner table of a functioning family. The new sub-plot involving the witch-doctor turned Demon looks interesting. This strip is still flying just above-average for me. 

JB: The Demon is an interesting character visually; mainly he ties us over as we approach the longest continued storyline that Lee/Kirby would do in the Thor run.  Speaking of visuals, the cover is a sort of symbolic one. I love the panel of Thor and Harris Hobbs when they first arrive on Bifrost. I wonder just how far the distance to Asgard is from there, as Thor tells the reporter to walk with “slow and measured tread.” 

MB: Although Stan leaves a few newer plot threads dangling with that cockamamie Norn-stone-enhanced witch doctor (aka The Demon), he ties up many more with Loki’s rebellion and Hobbs’s attempt to blackmail Thor.  It’s fitting that Loki and his creation, the Absorbing Man, are banished together—although not permanently, I’m sure—as we learn the not-so-shocking news that Odin is far mightier than both of them.  And Thor is lucky that he got only a mild reprimand for bringing Hobbs to Asgard; even after helping to save his dad’s bacon, I could see Thor getting one of those “Begone, churl!  Thou dost presume too much!” speeches.

JB: If nothing else, the Tales Of Asgard segments flesh out the great supporting characters surrounding Thor, this time highlighting Balder (the one significant missing Asgardian in the Thor movie).

Fantastic Four 45

Our Story

As the building beneath them shatters (from the mighty foot stomp of Gorgon last issue), Johnny, Ben and Reed use their powers to save themselves from the fall. Johnny takes flight to find out where Dragon Man has gone when he took flight with Sue moments before. He catches them quickly enough, and creates a blinding light to temporarily blind Dragon Man, grounding him.  Reed rushes to get his airjet-cycle ready to go in pursuit, but Sue, Johnny and Dragon Man return peacefully. Sue’s convinced the laboratory created creature that they mean him no harm. Leaving the others to figure out what to do next, Torch decides to take a walk when he calls Dorrie Evans to find she has another date. He wanders into a run-down neighborhood, and finds a vision to burn any thoughts of Dorrie out of his head: a lovely young girl with orange hair. She panics when he sees her, and a momentary storm appears, apparently created by her, and she disappears. The next day, Johnny isn’t much help to the team as they clean up shop at the Baxter Building, so he cuts out for a walk to guess where-- the sight of the beautiful sight from yesterday. Sure enough, he finds the girl again. She flees, but when she sees Johnny flame on, she relaxes, introducing herself as Crystal, and calling him “one of us.” He plays along to find out more about her, and she leads him (along with her mysterious,  giant “dog” named Lockjaw, who appears out of nowhere) through a secret entrance into her world. She reveals that an absent leader named Blackbolt built their home for her kind. Johnny meets some of the others. First up is Karnak, able to find the weakest spot in any object and shatter it with a karate-style chop.  Another is Triton, a green-skinned partly cloaked figure who seems to control powers of water. Next to appear are none other than Madame Medusa and Gorgon. As the Torch tries to piece together the mystery of this race he later coins “Inhumans”, Triton tries to capture him with fireproof walls that spring up out of nowhere, forming a cage that fills with water. The ceiling isn’t fireproof though, and Johnny burns his way to the surface to form the emergency “4” flare in the sky. Despite the delay of a scuffle between Dragon Man (solved by a tranquilizer shot) and the Thing, Reed’s latest gizmo, the airjet-cycle is ready to go, and they head to the scene of Johnny’s signal. As the Torch leads them to the scene of the entrance, a wall of rubble, courtesy of Karnak and Gorgon, tumbles down on them. Ben shatters it in time, as a heretofore-unseen Inhuman appears, smashing through a wall: Blackbolt!

JB: Despite the conceptual similarity between the Inhumans and the X-Men, these new characters, not really villains, can hold their own identities as worthy opponents.  I always preferred these guys. It’s a nice entrance for Crystal, Johnny’s soon-to-be girlfriend of long standing. Dragon Man and the brief appearance of Sandman and the Trapster in jail, keep this issue a busy one.

PE: That Reed Richards is just as sweet talkin' a husband as he was a boyfriend. When Sue cautions him about getting too close to the battling Thing and Dragon-Man, he puts her in her place yet again: "Stop sounding like a wife and find me that gun, lady!" Lots of big-time intros this issue. The landmarks will start to come fast and furious, I suspect. Johnny is on the skids with his long-time girlfriend Dorrie just in time to meet up with Crystal , who will fall into the gf slot for several years to come. We also get our first looks at the other Inhumans (we've already met Gorgon and Medusa): Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton, and their mascot, Lockjaw. Reed unveils his Airjet-Cycle. Take a breath as it's going to get very busy around here for the next five to ten issues.

JS: It's been quite a long time since I read this issue, but I had forgotten we only get the tease of Black Bolt this issue. Fortunately, good times are on the horizon!

JB: Is there no end to Reed’s inventions? What a blast to ride in that airjet-cycle! It makes a great full pager, but it’s the cover that is the masterpiece of this issue; a mix of beauty and  mystery.

MB: The slow reveal of the Inhumans continues, appropriately beginning as the Torch meets—and is immediately taken with—his soon-to-be flame (ha ha), Crystal, through the introductions of Lockjaw, Karnak, and the hooded Triton to a glimpse of Black Bolt at the finish. Unfortunately, Sinnott’s inks notwithstanding, Gorgon still looks like a bizarre caricature of his future self, some sort of cross between Castro and a farm animal.  They’re taking their time with everybody’s favorite genetic offshoots, who will become such a significant cornerstone of the expanding Marvel Universe, although it’s a darned shame that neither of their ’70s solo series, in Amazing Adventures or their short-lived eponymous book, could make a go of it; what a waste.

PE: So, it's Johnny Storm who coins the phrase "Inhumans." That must have gone over well with his "inhuman" girlfriend, Crystal.

Daredevil 11

Our Story

Daredevil is caught eavesdropping on the villains at their headquarters by Bird Man. A brief fight ensues, ending with Daredevil’s seeming demise. The hero is okay, though, and he starts to put a plan in motion to find out the secret identity of the Organizer. He has it narrowed down to three prominent politicians in the Reform Party. As Matt Murdoch, he asks a skeptical Foggy for his help, and Foggy reluctantly complies, thinking that Matt is just jealous of him. In front of the three suspects at a gathering, Matt and Foggy bluff out loud that they have evidence in their office that reveals who the Organizer is. Sure enough, later that night, their law office is broken into. Daredevil uncovers a plot to kill the mayor when he overhears Deborah, Foggy’s old school crush and undercover villain, talking to the Organizer through one of his monitors. She agrees to work with Double D and the authorities since she didn’t want to go along with the murder plot and was marked for death by the Organizer. Deborah lures Frog Man into a trap and he is beaten by Daredevil. Daredevil switches costumes with him and goes on to meet the Organizer with Bird Man and Ape Man. Daredevil attacks them in his frog disguise, while secretly recording the rambling villain’s plans for city conquest. It’s broadcasted all over the television and radio waves so the police have the evidence. Daredevil retreats to recoup, donning his usual hero attire. Abner Jonas, the party candidate for Mayor, turns out to be the nefarious Organizer. He tries to set up another candidate with no luck. In the end, Daredevil defeats Ape Man and Bird Man, bringing the Organizer to justice. All is not rosy for our hero, as he leaves the law firm because of the poor business they have been having, rationalizing that Foggy by himself with Karen will be able to prosper more without him.

Now that's a Wally Wood panel!
Jack: First, the good news: Daredevil is now monthly! Now, the bad news: This is Wally Wood’s last issue. Even though he was only inking “Bobby” Powell’s pencils, the trademark Wood greatness made itself evident. Witness the va va voom shot of Debbie on page seven if you doubt Wood’s ability to impose his will on a penciller. As to the story, Stan’s wrap-up of Wood’s plot from last issue is standard fare, ending with a much too heaping helping of sappy romance. Next month, the Daredevil artist merry go round continues as John Romita takes over!

PE: If you were Wally Wood and you had to put up with Stan Lee's ego, you head for the door before too long as well. Stan explains in his intro the issue that he allowed Wally to script the first part "just for a lark... but now it's up to sly ol' Stan to put all the pieces together and make it come out okay in the end." Obviously, this guy could be a genius but he could be an ass as well.

Tom: I’m sure my fellow professors will probably disagree with me on this one, but this finale kind of sucked. Too much going on with secret villains, goofs dressed as animals, corrupt politicians, and the love triangle is getting depressing along with being boring. Last issue I kind of liked, but this conclusion started to drag. According to the bullpen, Stan the man took over writing duties. Could this have had something to do with it? The Organizer guy and his whole shtick grew tiresome, making me long for Mr. Fear to come back.

Gosh! Could that ring be a clue?
PE: This professor won't disagree, Professor Tom. This is one big stinky mess. First we get Matt Murdock, standing in a room with Foggy, thinking that two of the three candidates have "unusually fast" pulse rates. Then three panels later, as he and Happy Hogan Foggy Nelson are walking Karen Page back to the office, he thinks to himself, "Karen's heartbeat is unusually rapid. If only I could tell whether it's Foggy or me who is responsible." Why didn't he think the same of the three candidates? Maybe the politicians thought one of the partners was hot. And, while we're on the subject of super-sense, why is it that, with all his heightened senses, DD can't figure out who The Organizer is just by listening to his voice? Stan throws in a really lame explanation that Daredevil can somehow sense that the ring on the bad guy's finger is the same as the one on Jonas'. Heightened senses, my foot. And what kind of a dope is The Organizer if he can't tell someone else is in the Frog Man's suit? 

Jack: Apparently, in Marvel Comics New York City, “Agent of Shield” is a TV show!

PE: How long before Stan explains that Daredevil, with his heightened senses, can actually read the thought balloons in the room? That last page is awash in dopiness.

Tales to Astonish 74

The Sub-Mariner

Our Story

As Dorma is encased in a plastic cage, Sub-Mariner battles for their lives against the hordes of Faceless Ones. While individually no match for Prince Namor, they try to overwhelm him with their seemingly endless numbers. Krang has been having troubles of his own with the citizens’ uprising. He’s got it under control, though, when he unleashes his Robo-Tank! It’s basically a big underwater tank piloted by a little robot guy that shoots down the citizens with electric bolts. Krang boasts to himself that once they regain consciousness, the rabble rousers will no longer have the determination to overthrow his regime. The ancient old dude that Namor met a couple of issues ago is trying to find him. Using his telepathic mind, he tracks him down to the Faceless Ones’ lair. The story ends with Dorma being held in Subby’s arms, while he promises the Faceless mob that they may win, but it will cost them dearly as he prepares for final battle.

Tom: So far so good, as Subby’s series continues to swim toward excellence. First chink in the armor though may be Krang’s moronic looking Robo-Tank weapon. It looked like it was being piloted by a distant cousin of that robot that was in the old Fantastic Four cartoons. Krang is starting to grow on me as villain. Before, all I remember him for was getting his ass handed to him by Dr. Doom in a sword fight in Marvel SVTU. He’s kind of like an underwater Fu-Manchu.

MB: Not so very long after Namor was barking at Lady Dorma to “unhand” him, he puts her well-being above his quest for the trident that could help him regain his throne, although I somehow suspect that this will turn out to be the final test. These Faceless Ones don’t appear to be as interesting as the Mindless Ones over in Strange Tales, and yet surely we don’t want to leave Dorma at their mercy in her giant Ziploc® bag; as in Night of the Living Dead et alia, their greatest strength lies in their numbers. The citizens of Atlantis, fickle though they may be, prove they are not beyond redemption by risking their lives to rebel against Krang.

PE: That hometown rebellion was the highlight of the issue for me (well, other than the usual wonderful Colan artwork). I thought it was more subtly handled than the usual Stan Lee action scene. For reasons that will become apparent as you read through this month's comics, I love that Krang orders his Robo-Tank to "perform function 'G'. This month, Marvel Comics was brought to you by the letter 'G'.


Our Story

The Hulk has been sent to the Watcher’s dwelling by the Leader to claim the Ultimate Machine. However, another powerful alien brute has been sent by his home planet to obtain the same prize. The Hulk does battle with a big, red, amphibious monster that causes the Watcher to transport them to an abandoned planet to finish their extreme combat. Even though he is not permitted to interfere, the Watcher justifies his move by rationalizing that the two monsters could do too much damage to his scientific equipment, and put his own life in danger. The battle goes back and forth, on land and in the sea. Finally, the Hulk wins when he rips up the stone ground from underneath his opponent, and hurls him with all his might into the air. The Watcher has seen enough to declare ol’ Greenskin the winner, since the red beast would have been soaring in the air for days before landing. He transports the loser red monster back to his home planet and the Hulk gets to take the Ultimate machine back to Earth. Once he is back inside the Leader’s hangout, the Leader snatches the golden orb away from him and lets it form around his big head. At first the Leader is deliriously happy as he can feel the Ultimate Machine fill him with enough power to make all of mankind his slaves. His happiness is cut short as he soon begins to realize that something is wrong. He panics briefly, before seemingly dying as the Hulk looks on in bewilderment.

Bad art or bowel movement?
Jack: The pages used to reproduce this story for the Essentials volume must have been in bad shape, because the art looks terrible, even for the Grade Z team of Bob Powell and Mickey Demeo. Though it was supposedly “designed” by Jack Kirby, I’m hard pressed to see evidence of it. I found this story boring until the last page, where it suddenly gets interesting. The Leader is dead? Not so fast. 

Tom: Great Marvel fisticuffs action. This story seems to be the precursor to when the Hulk series started turning into a regular smackdown each issue, with Jade Jaws always going up against some villainous opponent who would try to knock his block off. The big, red, fish critter that got defeated in this story is sort of a lost classic villain of the Hulk. He would come back again every once in awhile to engage the Hulk in further tests of fighting, but he never received the popularity of other Hulk antagonists like the Abomination, Rhino, Leader, or Absorbing Man.

Don't you mean BARRROOOOOM!?

Jack: I would mention that this story reminds me of Fredric Brown’s “Arena” and the Outer Limits episode “Fun and Games,” but that would just get me in more trouble.

PE: Don't worry Jack, Schow doesn't read this blog.

Avengers 23

Our Story

Having quit the Avengers, Steve Rogers takes a job as a sparring partner for a champion boxer, though he races back to Avengers mansion as soon as he hears that the Avengers have disappeared. They have been kidnapped by Kang the Conqueror and brought to his future world, where he wants to display his prowess so that Princess Ravonna will agree to marry him. The Avengers fight hard and are soon joined by Captain America, whose challenge to Kang led to his also being brought to the future. The battle is not going well and, when Ravonna spurns Kang’s advances, he sets his army toward destroying her kingdom, with only the Avengers poised to stop him.

Jack: Kang was always one of my favorite Marvel villains, and his appearance, which had varied from story to story up to this point, is really beginning to take shape under the guiding artistic hands of Don Heck and John Romita. Romita’s inks really dominate Heck’s pencils (as did Wally Wood’s last issue), making this a feast for the eyes, at least for this long-time Romita fan. It also seems like Captain America is starting to look the way I remember him looking from the early 70s. Last of all, I want to praise Kirby’s terrific cover!

PE: Kang says his century fears him but that's a hollow triumph when coupled with the major defeats he's suffered at the hands of The Avengers. He then decides that taking them on now that they lack any super power whatsoever would be great fun. Talk about a hollow victory! And none of the remaining Avengers (Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Quicksilver) were even involved in the past quarrels, so how is that revenge? He is brilliant though, flying into town in a UFO that resembles the top of Avengers Mansion. The "Mighty" Avengers walk right into his trap, then look at each other quizzically and ask each other if there really was a 12th floor to Avengers Mansion. Heck's art gets completely lost in John Romita's inks. That's a good thing. The pleasure of "Jazzy" Johnny's presence will be felt only for only this issue, unfortunately, before we're subjected to the underwhelming duo of Heck and Ayers on art chores. As Ronnie Van Zant once elegantly put it: "Somebody show me the back door."

MB: Stan really puts the new Avengers to the test, pitting Cap’s Kooky Quartet Minus Cap against one of the Assemblers’ toughest foes, Kang. I’ve always found his relationship with Princess Ravonna interesting because, as her father points out, he really does love her, in his own weird way, and even she admits she might reciprocate if he weren’t such a, well, conqueror. We get an early Silver Age credit for legend-in-waiting John Romita, whose inking—like Wood’s—complements but does not overshadow Heck’s pencils (oddly, those training-camp scenes almost smacked, if you’ll pardon the pun, of Frank Robbins), while Stan’s obviously having a whale of a time writing Kang’s dialogue: “Silence! Your punishment will be swift and severe! Now go!”

PE: On the letters page, Stan admits that the "Marvel Pop Art Productions" logo that ran on the covers of all the Marvel Comics from August through November 1965 was a mistake. Ostensibly, it was used to try to draw in older fans looking for advanced reading fare.

Strange Tales 139

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

Our Story

Hydra’s “most potent hypnotic devices” are unable to wrest the secret of the Braino-saur from Fury’s subconscious, so their leader plans to wait and execute him after the world has surrendered.  Stark reveals the Braino-saur’s purpose—to disarm the betatron bomb in orbit—and supervises its blast-off, while Jones and Dugan spearhead a last-ditch effort to locate and rescue Fury.  Analyzing the guidance system of the captured Hydra-Ram reveals its point of origin, and the boys fire it up to look for Fury, who uses both his explosive shirt and an offer of assistance from the Hydra leader’s right-thinking daughter, Agent G, to escape his cell, so they shoot it out with human goons and battle the mechanical Hunter as S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives.

MB: After an enjoyably metafictional cover that depicts Dr. Strange reading Nick Fury’s adventures in Strange Tales, we’re mixing it up here at S.H.I.E.L.D. today:  the cartoony Severin style has given way to Joltin’ Joe Sinnott’s finished art over Kirby’s pencils, while Hydra’s head honcho is referred to variously as Imperial Hydra and by his better-known name, Supreme.  Somehow, that suits the ups and downs of this uneven strip, which seems to have overcome its sophomore slump with a combination of breakneck action, incredible gadgets, and trademark Furyisms (“We ain’t even got time to bake a cake!”).  We learn all about food “reduced by energy compression,” and Howlers fans will be glad to see the climactic attack accompanied by a lusty “Wah-hoooo!”

JS: At least Hydra has their priorities right—the food service for their prisoners is top notch. Thanks Stan for the explanation how a pile of sand turned into a steak. If he hadn't explained how a pile of dust turned into a cooked slice of meat and then a sandwich, well, I might have been taken out of the story.

PE: Ironically, the problem I had with this issue is the art. I know. I know. Just two issues ago I was complaining about Severin's art and here I am complaining about a replacement. Sinnott's art is way too cartoony for me. It's not bad (Ayers on SHIELD would be bad), don't get me wrong, it's just not right for this strip. But for the science fiction trappings, this could be an issue of Sgt. Fury (complete with five o'clock shadow). I thought it hilarious when Imperial Hydra discovers that his own daughter has released Fury and moans "Where have I failed as a father?" Stan promises next issue will see "the long-awaited end of Hydra" but I think he's pulling our collective leg.

Jack: After getting used to John Severin, we get Kirby and Sinnott, which is not a bad trade off. I would like to know more about energy compression and its uses in food service. What was with the Hydra agent in the last panel holding a red, white and blue shield that read “Priority A-1”? Or was it floating in front of him?

Doctor Strange

Our Story

It’s a tag-team throwdown between Dr. Strange and Mordo, with the Ancient One out of his coma and able to give a wee power boost along with advice to the good doctor. Mordo’s power is supplemented by that of Dormammu, as Clea watches helplessly by the Dreaded One’s side. Dr. Strange uses his wits to make the Baron look bad, but as the story ends it looks like Dormammu has had enough of sitting on the sidelines.

Jack: This was an unusually exciting episode, even though it is basically just Dr. Strange and Mordo casting spells at each other. When will we learn Clea’s name? Ditko’s pencils and inks are very strong, producing some of his best art.

MB: As with the concurrent issue of Spider-Man, this story’s plot is no longer attributed to Ditko; he and Stan are simply credited with “art” and “script,” as they will be next month, but after that, things start to get interesting. Regardless of its pedigree, this excellent episode ratchets up the tension even further and, like the cinematic serials that form its structural model, begins with an exact rerun of the prior chapter’s ending. We haven’t seen this much interplay between Strange and the (conscious) Ancient One for a long time, and although the arc has yet to reach its climax with next issue’s Doc/Dormammu rematch, we can already see how the wisdom Eternity spoke of enables Strange to outfight Mordo in spite of his extra power.

JS: While I'm looking forward to the Dormammu showdown, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed that Mordo isn't living up to the arch-enemy I thought he would be when he was introduced.

Tales of Suspense 72

Iron Man

Our Story

The world has become Iron Man-crazy thanks to his defeat of The Titanium Man last issue. Well, most of the world loves Shellhead, that is. Not Countess, who still harbors a grudge against Tony for standing her up months before. To get even, she hires The Mad Thinker and his Android to find out Iron Man's real identity. To that end, The Thinker has his android kidnap Tony Stark to get to the truth. Stark isn't about to give up his moonlighting job however and a melee ensues. The Thinker once again is shown up for the fraud he really is when Iron Man blows up the villain's lair and his Android to boot.  All is not peaches and cream though as, once he returns to his factory, Tony Strak is told that Happy Hogan has taken a turn for the worse.

PE: Pepper Potts has her character expanded this issue. She becomes more of a complex girl: usually she can't figure out who she loves more, Pepper or Tony (the scales usually tip in favor of the hunk in trouble that issue). Now, however, she's discarded her hatred for Iron Man and transferred it to Tony Stark. She now, in the words of Stark, has "a new hero worship for Iron Man." This could get complicated if she ever finds out who I.M. really is. It'll be an ever-revolving love/hate relationship.

JS: The android is a kooky creature to be sure, but when he gets Iron Manned, it's just plain silly looking.

PE: Why are newsrooms "thruout the nation" clamoring for Iron Man's real identity? Do they pay this much attention to the aliases of Giant Man, Captain America or Spider-Man? Why, for that matter, does everyone in this comic suddenly have the desire to have I.M. unmasked? Is this some sort of evil plot of The Mandarin's?  No mention this issue of The Thinker's new look? He looks younger, more buff and that thing on his head's gotta be a rug. He's also got a bit more of the hepcat in his dialogue balloons (at one point, he tells Tony Stark that it's "deadly dangerous to defy the Thinker!") And here we go again. If The Mad Thinker is so smart and can figure anything out, why does he have to kidnap Tony Stark to find out Iron Man's true identity? Couldn't any villain perform that task? 

JS: He must have been the Super Villain who was on call that day.

PE: The new, classic exclamations are piling up around here. My landlord asked why my TV was so loud and I answered "What in the name of a thousand transistors are you talking about?"

Captain America 

Our Story

Captain America has just finished telling another bedtime story to Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Pietro. Melancholy from thoughts of fallen comrade Bucky Barnes, Cap retires for the evening, but can't seem to get the past out of his mind. In his dreams he sees The Red Skull, during their last battle of World War II, laying defeated amidst the rubble. When Cap approaches him, The Skull explains that his beloved Third Reich will live on through his three "sleepers" who will awake in 1965. Cap discovers the secret of the "sleepers" when the first awakes in Bavaria. Our Man of Stars and Stripes engages the giant robot in battle but soon realizes that the contraption has no interest in little battles as it stomps off to rendezvous with his two slumbering brothers.

PE: As I surmised last issue, Stan was becoming weary of the WWII Cap dramas and transports him back to the present day for his solo adventures. Well, sorta... The major cliffhanger last issue: would Pvt. Steve Rogers be courtmartialed for desertion is explained away offhandedly by Cap in a couple of word balloons. I didn't buy Stan's explanation that the higher-ups in the Army knew that Rogers and Cap were one in the same so he could never really be in trouble. If that were so, why would Steve be nervous about his desertion? And did the higher-ups know who Bucky was as well? Anyway, it turns out that the stories told in the last few issues were actually camp fire tales told by Cap to his Avengers partners (including a too-friendly and over-admiring Hawkeye). 

JS: What a disappointment! I was thinking we were in for a longer run of WWII tales.

PE: I thought the sequence where The Skull lies defeated and confesses to Cap that his dream ain't over just yet was very effective. Not knowing what the "Sleepers" were (I hadn't read this arc before), my mind wandered to The Boys From Brazil and its similar scenario. I do have a major continuity question though: after his Skull dream, Steve Rogers rises from bed and opens the metal box he took from the Red Skull before a cave-in prevented him from interrogating his nemesis further. Our hero comments that he's kept the box "all these years... waiting for this moment." Where did he keep that box? Did he have a locker somewhere that survived the twenty years he was in hibernation? What else was kept in that locker besides that cute pic of Bucky he keeps framed next to his bed.

JS: The idea of the sleepers is far better than the execution. THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! indeed.

PE: I like the first part of this arc well enough. There's the mystery of the sleepers and the enormity of the first weapon when it's woken, the anticipation of an appearance by The Red Skull (you know it's going to happen eventually), and the ease in which Stan slides back and forth between the 1940s and 60s. I just can't stand this art. Tuska's Nazi burgomeister could have stepped out of a Mad parody and the Sleeper (which should be awe-inspiring) resembles a coffee pot with boots. We should be happy it doesn't have trunks, right? What Kirby could have done with this strip! Art aside though, I'm still looking forward to future installments.

The X-Men 15

Our Story

Iceman and The Beast are captured by The Sentinels and taken into their underground fortress. There The Beast is bombarded with a Mental Psycho-Probe and forced to relate how he became The Beast and an X-Man. His partners manage to release Iceman from a glass prison but, on the way to rescue Hank, are rendered immobile by The Sentinels. The head Sentinel, Master Mold, delivers an ultimatum to his creator, Bolivar Trask: create enough Sentinels to rule Earth or die.

PE: A good enough second chapter to this story line but The Sentinels still look like little play robots to me, no sense of danger at all. We get a few more high-falutin' gizmos: The weapons mounted inside the Sentinels' bunker are labeled "Nature Activator Rays" by Xavier. Later, Hank McCoy falls victim to the Mental Psycho-Probe. I always wonder if Stan ever did any homework with these contraptions or if he'd just throw two cool-sounding words together and fly by the seat of his pants.

Sentinels by Mattel?
JS: Once again, I'm able to appreciate the Sentinels knowing how they will be used in the years ahead. Sure, they're probably the most impractical means of dealing with Mutants (and not very effective at this stage in their development), but there's something about them that remains interesting. I'll be curious to see if the next generation of Sentinels will be described as being of the Master Mold size.

MB: Now monthly for the first time, as Daredevil will be starting with his next issue, our merry mutants take the battle inside Master Mold’s fortress in the second  segment of the original Sentinels trilogy.  I’ve now learned that penciler “Jay Gavin” was a pseudonym for Werner Roth; this time out, the King and Dick Ayers are the Moe and Curly to his Larry, and—to give a single example—the anguished shot of Trask in page 7, panel 4 looks like he wandered in from a totally different mag.  Just as we learned about Xavier’s hateful upbringing with Cain Marko while the Juggernaut battered at the gates, this battle is intercut with the biography of the bouncing Beast.

PE: And a lazy origin it is, Professor Matthew. There's nothing that smacks or originality to it. It's cut and pasted from other heroes. Exposed to radiation. Picked on as a kid. Misunderstood. Interchangeable with a half dozen other super guys.

JS: It did come across as a 'filler' origin story. But I was never a big Beast fan until he got the blue fur...

The Amazing Spider-Man 31

Our Story

Spider-Man busts up a robbery by the henchmen of The Master Planner (a villain who's crossed paths with the web-slinger under a different guise) but the bad guys still manage to cart off the expensive scientific equipment to their undersea lair. Meanwhile, Peter Parker has his first day at ESU, a whirlwind of activity that nearly succeeds in knocking the teen flat. That finally occurs when he gets home and his Aunt May collapses and must be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Distraught, the teen spends his days sleepwalking through his classes and seeking out crime at night in order to pay bills with his photography. Parker is so muddle-headed at school that he doesn't notice the new students around him, including future girlfriend Gwen Stacy and future best friend Harry Osborn. Believing Peter to be egotistical (rather than sleepy) the fellow classmates chirp about his bad manners. When Spidey breaks up another robbery of equipment, The Master Planner vows it will be the last time Webhead meddles in a bad guy's business.

PE: Gosh, it's confusing keeping all the Master Planner verbiage straight this issue. Why, in one sequence, Plan "G" is carried out and Task Force "R" is sent to recover the spoils of said plan. It's no wonder these henchmen bumble as much as the superheroes. Can you just imagine all these teams on the battlefield. Captain America yells out "All right, Hawkeye, execute Plan "G" now!" and both sides execute their own Plan "G" at the same time? It could get ugly! What's even more confusing is that Professor X has Iceman execute a "Plan G" in this month's X-Men. I wonder if Marvel superheroes have some kind of protocol for this if they're working together on a case. "Now, look," says Professor X, "under no circumstances are we to execute Plan Z while we're helping out Iron Man. I've studied his paperwork and his Plan Z is the opposite of ours."

JS: Do you think Stan was being lazy, or was he cribbing the alphabet soup planning from some other source?

PE: I'm not sure how this story went over with 1965 readers -- too much talking heads, not enough action? -- but to this Marvel maniac, one who knows what happens years in the future to the newly introduced Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, this is pure eye candy. In one issue we're introduced to the girl who finally won Peter Parker's heart (for the first time) and then took a tragic header off a bridge and the man who would become Peter's dearest friend, a junkie, a schizophrenic and, finally, the apple that didn't fall far from the tree. Ditko's version of Gwen hypes the bombshell aspect whereas, with time and other artists, we come to know her as a "nice girl." I remember being an eleven year old kid when "that event" happened in The Amazing Spider-Man #121 and actually shedding a few tears. Nothing that I'd read in a comic book had ever had such an effect on me and nothing has since. If pushed, I'd offer that run of #121 through #149 as my Golden Age of Spider-Man (yep, Spider-Clone included!). Now, what were we discussing?

MB: This is certainly a “major life changes” issue for Peter, featuring not only the oft-ailing Aunt May’s biggest health challenge to date, but also the start of his career at ESU and the debuts of Harry Osborn [insert Dragnet sting], Gwen Stacy, and Professor Warren. It bespeaks Stan’s maturing scripting, and Spidey’s impressive array of characters and subplots, that we’re quite happy to have the business with the Master Planner—whose identity I believe I remembered while reading this story—take a decided back seat.  For the girl who became Peter’s tragic love interest, Gwendy seems awfully shallow here, yet what’s really disorienting is to see her and Harry, so firmly associated with John Romita, rendered by Ditko, who is now no longer credited as plotter [Dragnet sting optional] and reverts to the panel-heavy format to cram it all in.

JS: Unfortunately knowing that Aunt May still has quite a few decades left in her makes her 'episodes' far less dramatic.

Aunt May is going to die. Take three.
PE: A fabulous issue, one of the best Spideys thus far. I'm not quite sure why The Master Planner wants his real identity hidden from the world he's about to conquer but I'll chalk it up to a good mystery. This is one of those issues that makes you want to skip ahead and read the next one right now!

JS: Despite her occasionally exhibiting the early warning signs of Ditko-head, Gwen Stacy is a unique looking babe in the Marvel Universe.  Now, how much longer before we get normal looking characters in Spider-Man?

1965 Year-End Review

At the end of 1964, Marvel was publishing seven monthly superhero comics, two bi-monthly superhero comics, a monthly war comic, three bi-monthly westerns, and four humor comics, two of which were monthly. From a distribution standpoint, things did not change very much in 1965. By the end of the year, the two bi-monthly superhero comics had just gone monthly (Daredevil and X-Men), and one of the bi-monthly humor comics was about to end its run (Patsy Walker).

More important to us, though, were the changes in the contents of the superhero books. New artists like Wally Wood and John Severin were changing what the comics looked like—no longer was Marvel a three-person company made up of Lee, Kirby and Ditko, with occasional contributions by other creators. This trend would pick up steam in 1966, as Stan Lee’s (alleged) attempt to write all of the comics singlehandedly would slow down.

As for the contents, new heroes and villains were introduced, many of whom would last a long time in the Marvel Universe: Ka-Zar, Medusa, the Absorbing Man, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, the Juggernaut, and Hercules were all either introduced or featured more prominently in this year’s issues. Reed Richards and Sue Storm tied the knot, and the Sleepers awoke.

And the MU professors are eternally grateful for two events that occurred in comics with an August 1965 cover date: Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish, and Nick Fury replaced the Human Torch in Strange Tales. Those two series changes alone led to a significant improvement in the content of the monthly books (and a more than significant improvement in our mental health-Prof. P).

By the end of 1965, the Merry Marvel Marching Society was in full swing, Marvel merchandise was being sold in house ads, the Bullpen Bulletins were beginning to take shape, and the Marvel revolution was about to begin. In 1966, things would explode, as a TV series would bring Marvel characters into millions of homes.

Also this month

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1
Millie the Model #133
Modeling with Millie #44
Patsy and Hedy #103
Patsy Walker #124 (final issue)
Rawhide Kid #49
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #25


Marvel Collectors' Item Classics was created for much the same reason as Marvel Tales: to make money off comics that had already been published. Not that that was a bad thing since the collectors' market at the time was microcosmic and finding those elusive first few issues of your favorite Marvel title was nigh impossible. Back then, not many readers cared about 9.2 grading and mylar bags so reprints in a big jumbo package was the proverbial "present under the Christmas tree." The first issue reprints (in their entirety, says Stan "The Man"): Fantastic Four #2, The Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #36, Tales of Asgard from Journey Into Mystery #97, and The Amazing Spider-Man #3. The title would continue to reprint, chronologically, Fantastic Four and a variety of other strips (with a retitling of Marvel's Greatest Comics with its 23rd issue) until it was reduced in size with #34 when it focused exclusively on FF reprints. It lasted 96 issues.


  1. Professor Pete's "flying just above-average" assessment of THOR perfectly matches my own. I was never a huge fan of the book, regardless of the creative team du jour (though I frequently enjoyed the artwork much more than the writing in later years), but this one is impressively consistent and doing a generally good job.

    I agree with Professor John that the full-page shot of the airjet-cycle in FF was outstanding.

    Sad to see Wood departing DAREDEVIL and THE AVENGERS (especially with Ayers waiting in the wings on the latter), although I'm certainly not gonna complain about Jazzy Johnny filling in on both books. However, I am obliged to remind Paste-Pot that Ayers inked the very first S.H.I.E.L.D. outing, which for my money is still the best-looking episode to date. I do like to give the Devil his due when possible.

    Never had access to the Sleepers arc, which I'd always thought was something to be discussed in hushed tones, but looking at those panels you reproduced, I can see where the art, at least, would be underwhelming indeed. The sooner we get Tuska safely into his signature berth on IRON MAN (not that I'm eager to see Colan's exit, mind you), and out of trouble on strips like this one, the better.

    Thanks, as always, for the nice year-end wrap-up, and for shedding some light on those oh-so-vital reprints. Some of the stuff I read in those early, multi-story issues of MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS (don't think I saw any MCICs until I was actually buying back issues of reprints!) and MARVEL SUPER-HEROES (formerly FANTASY MASTERPIECES) has really stayed with me, and of course the ongoing FF, Hulk, and Spidey reprints in MGC, MSH, and MARVEL TALES were a staple of my youth. Interestingly, they resurrected the FANTASY MASTERPIECES title years later for Silver Surfer and Warlock reprints.

    In past installments of Marvel University, I'm sure I've appeared to some to be overly critical of Stan Lee, by pointing out instances where he denied others plotting credit, and taking it for himself. Well, I guess now, as we head into my personal favorite period of Marvel history, is as good a time as any to outline my opinions of Lee. To simplify things, lets split him into three people, Stan Lee Editor, Stan Lee Scripter, and Stan Lee Plotter.

    Firstly, Marvel was owned by Martin Goodman, whose publishing empire dated back to the 1930s. Goodman had a simple business plan … figure out what was popular, and flood the market with similar product. Stan Lee had no say in the financial side of the business. It's important to mention this, because over the years, Lee has been blamed by his critics for some of Goodman's business shortcomings.

    I think Stan Lee was a great editor. He almost never had the money needed to lure the best talent to Timely/Atlas/Marvel and had to oversee many more books, and creative staff, than any of his counterparts at DC. For the most part he was popular with the bullpen and office staff, treated them well, and did his best to keep them in work. Taking the lead from William Gaines at EC, Stan made the letters pages less formal and more fun to read, and presided over the Bullpen Bulletins, which promoted members of the bullpen as personalities, helping Marvel to establish its identity.

    As scripter, Stan Lee's clever dialogue and characterization set Marvel apart from its competitors. Try reading a contemporary issue of The Justice League. There is no characterization. Everyone speaks with the same voice. Lee's jokey dialogue and soap opera elements may be over the top at times, and could work against the drama portrayed by the artwork, but, Lee's style helped establish Marvel as a major comic book company, appealing to a slightly older audience.

    Technically, thanks to the “Marvel method” Marvel books didn't have writers. Writing was divided into “scripting” and “plotting.” Where his name appeared in the credits as writer, Lee scripted the stories, but who came up with the plots? To this day it's the $64,000 question. At DC, the artist received a typewritten story from the writer, describing the action in each panel, the dialogue in each panel, and even the number of panels per page. The artist illustrated the story, following the writer's instructions.

    At Marvel, Stan Lee, and the artist, say, in the case of The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby, discussed ideas, and between them hatched a plot. On any given story, the plot could be all Lee, or all Kirby, or anything in between. The artist went off to his drawing board, figured out what was happening in each panel, what the characters were saying, and how many panels per page, then sent the pages back to Lee for scripting. Earlier in the evolution of the Marvel universe, Lee provided fairly detailed one page typewritten storylines for the artist, which means, back then, he was doing the lion's share of the plotting. Four years in, we know that on books illustrated by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, they were providing most, if not all of the plots.

    We also know that, in mid 1965, Ditko demanded sole plotting credit, and got it (and stopped talking to Stan Lee), and that Wally Wood demanded writing credit (technically he was the plotter) and got it, but neither were paid for their plotting. For Wood, working at Marvel was strictly business, and he left roughly a year after he arrived. For Marvel's artistic big guns, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, initially, the freedom to design the pages and participate in the plotting was exhilarating, but eventually, both would come to dislike the marvel method, and the lack of credit for their plotting and other creative contributions.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  3. The "Draft Glenn" movement is only gonna intensify after this...and rightly so. I was disturbed by what seemed to be an anti-Stan undercurrent in this post, and am glad to have someone with your knowledge make the nuances of the situation a little (okay, a lot) clearer.

    I'm probably too easy on Stan myself, but feel that even if you give every anti-Stan argument the benefit of the doubt, his accomplishment was still an amazing one, and for that I make no apologies. Certainly his vision in assembling what became the Marvel Universe, and the style he established that set Marvel apart--not only for its product but also with the relationship between creators and readers--had everything to do with the company's unprecedented success.

    I suppose when it comes to plotting, one could think of Lee and Kirby (or Ditko or whoever) as the Lennon and McCartney of comic-book creators. The majority of Beatles songs were credited to the team, but it's widely known that many were mostly (or all) McCartney OR Lennon. I think the success--in every sense of the word, both artistic and commercial--of the finished product is what matters most.

    While we're examining the evidence, did Marvel collapse upon the departure of "big guns" Kirby and Ditko? Quite the contrary; it soon entered what I consider its peak under a new generation of writers and artists too long to enumerate here. And I gather that a big part of that is due not only to Stan but also to his successor, Roy Thomas. My impression is that Roy shared Stan's determination to make the Marvel Universe as consistent and coherent as its sprawling nature would allow, and his own contributions as a writer are well-known.

    So count me a Stan fan, warts and all. He isn't perfect, but man, his batting average is better than most.

  4. I have to jump into the Stan Lee discussion, since I've given this a lot of thought since we opened the doors to Marvel U last year. Stan was writing comics from the early 1940s, yet we seem to think he grew as a writer from Nov. 1961 to Dec. 1965. I'm not sure I buy that. I have always been a DC fan who liked Marvel too, and I can't help noticing that a lot of the Marvel heroes were copied from DC, especially in the early days. The stories and art from 61-65 have not been very good, for the most part, and we often find ourselves getting excited about something because we know what's coming later.

    It seems to me that a big part of what made Marvel great in the late 60s was the infusion of talent OTHER than Lee, Kirby and Ditko. The proof that Marvel was really good was that DC started to copy them by the late 60s!

    For my money, the 1945-50 Sprit sections by Eisner, the Barks ducks, and the EC new direction period are the best comics ever published. Stan, Jack, and Steve were creative on occasion, and stole cleverly, but the best of Marvel came from other hands.

    Now let the attacks begin!

  5. Wow, and I thought I was asking for trouble by suggesting that Marvel's best came post-Ditko and Kirby! In any event, we seem to agree that the best is yet to come. I lack your broader frame of reference regarding the stuff that came from before or outside of Silver Age Marvel, so this Man of Bronze can merely salute you for your erudition...and courage! :-)

  6. I tend to agree with everything youse guys are saying. I'm not sure if this post was particularly anti-Stan, but I took my shots at him, in particular, on the Daredevil issue. I'm not privy to what went on behind the scenes, I've heard the stories, obviously. If I'd been Wally Wood, reading that "I'm such a great guy for letting Wally sink 'r' swim for one issue but here I am, the Shakespeare of comics, come to rescue the day" crap in my comic book, I'd've decked Stan before quitting.

    It brings to mind a story from (if you don't mind an off-topic tangent for a moment) Keith Richards' autobiography, LIFE, wherein Mick Jagger walks into Keith's hotel room and asks where Charlie Watts is. Keef tells him Charlie's upstairs sleeping after a long day. Mick calls Charlie, tells him to get downstairs right then. When Watts comes into the room, obviously half-asleep, Mick says "Now, there's my drummer!" Charlie punches Mick in the billion dollar mouth and tells him if he says anything like that again, Mick can go looking for another drummer.

    I guess the point is, people get angry about Stan Lee's position in comic history because Stan, much like Bob Kane, lapped it up without telling the truth for years and years. It's only recently he's fessed up a bit.

    Am I wrong? Having said all that, I still love Stan "The Man."

    “Mad was at its best whenever you first started reading it." Sam Viviano (former Mad Art Director and cover artist).

    This quote about Mad magazine is just as relevant to comic books. To choose one example, for mine, the Fantastic Four peaked from issues #44 to #67 and the Kirby/Sinnott rendition has never been equalled, let alone bettered … but, this is the version of the FF I grew up with. I read and collected Marvel books from 1965 to 1970, when I was between the ages of 11 to 15.

    Not so coincidentally, I think this period is Marvel's peak, and every week, I'll be recounting what I remember as the rise, peak, and fall of the Marvel universe. From my vantage point, the post Lee/Kirby FF books that I read regurgitated well worn themes from the 1960s. However, if those post Lee/Kirby issues were the first FF stories you read, then the themes would've seemed fresh and new, and the 1960s stuff would look antiquated.

    I'd like to think I've been fair with my criticism of Stan Lee, restricting myself to events that can be corroborated, such as Ditko and Wood demanding and getting credit, and that I've rightly praised Lee for his role as editor, scripter, and promoter of the Marvel universe. Don't worry, in a future instalment, I'll criticise Jack Kirby for making the FF “jump the shark.”

    Matthew Bradley: “While we're examining the evidence, did Marvel collapse upon the departure of "big guns" Kirby and Ditko? Quite the contrary; it soon entered what I consider its peak under a new generation of writers and artists too long to enumerate here.”

    Like any house, the house of Marvel didn't collapse when the people who built it moved on to their next projects. After the Lee/Kirby/Ditko era, a new wave of writers and artists came along, and built an extension on the back of the house, but, the new wave needed the existing house to build upon.

    The Kirby style was an important part of Marvel's image, even after he defected to DC. When Kirby left, readers were subjected to a period of “imitation Kirby.” Under instructions, John Romita and John Buscema wasted their talent aping Kirby's style. When his fourth world books hit the stands, Kirby found himself in competition with “Jack Kirby.” Marvel had begun reprinting the late 50s monster stories, and at the time, along with FF reprints, had more Kirby books on the stands than DC. Clearly, Marvel thought Kirby was a threat.

    Jack Seabrook: “Stan was writing comics from the early 1940s, yet we seem to think he grew as a writer from Nov. 1961 to Dec. 1965. I'm not sure I buy that.”

    Funnily enough, this conundrum is regularly brought up by the Kirby camp. They argue that Stan Lee couldn't have produced twenty years of mediocrity, then suddenly create a host of successful characters all by himself. I have to say, it's hard not to agree. But, who came up with the characters? Exactly what part in the creative process did Kirby and Ditko play? What caused this comic book Cambrian explosion? I really wish I knew the answer.

    Jack Seabrook: “It seems to me that a big part of what made Marvel great in the late 60s was the infusion of talent OTHER than Lee, Kirby and Ditko.”

    In the late 60s, as Lee and Kirby were running out of steam, my three favorite Marvel books had no input from either of them. Unfortunately, all three books were cancelled. :(

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    P.S. Don't forget, these are just my opinions.

  8. All excellent (and fair) points, especially the one about the "peak" being whenever you started to read, or at least get serious about, comics. And by saying I liked the '70s stuff a bit better, I'm taking nothing away from those champion house-builders, Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, regardless of exactly who did what. I think the fact that we're re-reading and writing about this stuff a half-century later shows that we can all agree to "Make Mine Marvel," even if we disagree on the specifics. And again, these are all just opinions.

    I subscribe to a few groups about comic books, and on one of them, the subject of the origin of the X-Men has come up (again). The “Anti Stan League” has been working on all sorts of theories, including “it was all Jack's idea,” swiping the idea from The Doom Patrol, and lifting concepts from The Legion Of Super Heroes.

    Roy Thomas also subscribes to this particular group. He rarely involves himself in the various discussions, and mostly seeks members help with Alter Ego articles he's working on … asking if someone can scan a particular page of a comic book, or looking for photos or contact information for past comic book creators.

    This time, he posted a response, outlining his understanding of the origin of the X-Men. (In his reply, Roy used the word Timely instead of Marvel a couple of times. I've corrected that here).

    “Stan Lee, editor of Marvel, saw both Spider-Man and F.F. were selling, so he split the difference and got together with Jack Kirby to create a new "kid group" of mutants. It's hardly necessary for Kirby, despite his being the co-creator of the Young Allies, Boy Commandos, et al., to have come up with the idea and pitched it. After all, Stan had been around as a teenager when YOUNG ALLIES got going, and saw Jack and Joe depart for DC and soon launch Boy Commandos and the Newsboy Legion. Stan (or Jack, if it had been his idea) was hardly operating in a vacuum after years of mutant stories and a year of Spider-Man and two of F.F., but is it really necessary to come up with a convoluted method of creating the X-Men instead of what is most likely?

    As if Stan (or, for that matter, Jack, in some scenarios) had to swipe the idea of a handicapped leader from the not-yet-out Doom Patrol (surprising coincidence that that is--but only "surprising," hardly "beyond belief" or even "likely") ... or Martin Goodman had to suddenly, unexpectedly come up with an idea for a new super-hero (anybody remember the last time he'd done THAT, as opposed to MAYBE suggesting a revival of an old one?)... or somebody at Marvel abruptly started paying close attention to the admittedly successful Legion of Super-Heroes and somehow single out one thread out of the many in that multi-heroed strip? Sometimes the thought processes of fans amaze me still.


    The bottom line is, Roy worked with Stan and Jack for years, and even he doesn't know with any certainty who created what, when they collaborated on the X-Men.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  10. And now for something completely different , I'm gonna side-step the Stan Lee discussion entirely, and focus on one stray comment made by Professor Enfantino, re: SPIDEY 121 - 149.

    Sir, you are DEAD. ON.

    To me, that is the quintessential run of Spider-Man. Issue after issue, that run just fires on all cylinders. All the characterizations are terrific, the art is zingy and exciting, the Superhero/Soap Opera ratio is damn near perfect, and it's filled with so many memorable moments -- the introduction of the Punisher, the hilariously stupid Spider-Mobile, Aunt May marrying Doc Ock, Harry going Looney Tunes and becoming Green Goblin Jr, Peter and MJ's realistically awkward romance (culminating in their magical First Kiss), etc. etc. Hell, I even dig the Gwen Clone storyline -- it could have gone really REALLY wrong, but it totally works as the climax of this particular run.

    Okay, it's not a "perfect" run -- The Grizzly is pretty lame, and the Mind-Worm is lame AND creepy. But it's my favorite, hands-down. I re-read that entire run every couple years, and by golly, it still holds up.

  11. What!?
    Don't burst my bubble. I haven't read those two issues in years but I have very fond memories of The Grizzly and Mind-Worm (picked on kid gets his revenge). During the summer, we'd stay near the beach in Santa Cruz and the Boardwalk had an amazing newsstand that carried all the comics. I'd go down every day and buy two or three Marvels. I bought those two issues there and lots of Marvel monster reprints. I can't describe the way the hair on my young arms would stand on end at the climax of every Spidey-thriller. How did the writers always manage to finish off a Spider-Man adventure with a whopper of a surprise?

    And it wasn't just Spidey. I'd argue that The Avengers of the early 70s kills the 60s issues. Same with Thor and Captain America. Goes without saying for The Hulk and Iron Man. Good times!

  12. Me again.

    The Thomas / Buscema run on AVENGERS is pretty solid -- Buscema was at his peak as a balls-out action artist, so every issue is a visual treat. Thomas' plots were fun and imaginative but I have to confess I find his prolix Pseudo-Stan dialogue a bit of a slog. Englehart's subsequent run is pretty damn definitive, though the quality of the art varied wildly. So, basically, I agree -- 70s AVENGERS beats the living crap out of 60s AVENGERS.

    Englehart also shined on CAP and HULK, but again, art-wise -- meh. Our Pal Sal was serviceable, competent -- but on his best day he was no match for Kirby, Colan, Romita or Steranko. Trimpe's stuff is too goofy and stylized to be considered merely "competent" but it IS kinda charming and weirdly appropriate for Ol' Greenskin. Whereas Hulk rarely had decent art in the 60s (outside of the few Kirby issues) and Stan's stories were pretty simplistic and repetitive.

    So, 60s CAP vs 70s CAP -- tie. 70s HULK beats 60s HULK by a wide margin.

    IRON MAN, though -- seriously, Mike Friedrich and George Tuska and Mike Esposito vs. Stan Lee and Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia? It's not even a contest -- 60s IRON MAN all the way.

    THOR -- much as I loved Conway's SPIDEY, I don't think he ever quite "got" Thor (or the F.F. for that matter). And Buscema, though still excellent overall, was a bit past his glory days. Not quite "phoning it in" yet, but also not nearly as inspired and exuberant as his AVENGERS, SILVER SURFER and SUB-MARINER stuff from '68 - '70. Lee and Kirby win hands-down.

    But look, I have a nostalgic fondness for those 70s runs too -- and I'm sure my high regard for the Conway / Andru SPIDEY run is just as inconceivable to people who grew up on Ditko and Romita. So -- different strokes and all that. :)

  13. Anon:

    When considering Iron Man, I was simply evaluating what we've seen so far. Don Heck is serviceable but I remember Iron Man in the 70s being pretty cool. As you say, different strokes. I'm very much looking forward to Gene Colan on Shellhead, having partaken of his 1950s horror delights over in Strange Tales (unabashed plug).

    I'm also operating on 35+ years of "nostalgic sleep." I haven't read 90% of those 1970s comics since, well, the 1970s. The only 70s comics I've read in the last twenty or so years would be the Englehart "Other Cap" arc in Cap and the Falcon #153-156, which I've argued, and will argue to my grave, is the single best arc in comics history. For sheer genius and plotting skills, Englehart wins the Gold with an all-around 10.

    This is where people will bring up The Avengers Kree-Skrull war, The FF Galactus intro, Ragnarok, whatever. Save your arguments. My ears are shut. Cap 153-156. Nothing better. :>

  14. If forced at gunpoint to pick a single arc, I'd probably have to go with Starlin's first Thanos War in CAPTAIN MARVEL, but you guys have hit on many of my other favorites.

  15. I'd have to agree with Professor Bradley that the Thanos War was probably the best from that era. My own personal favorite would probably be Project Pegasus in Marvel Two-In-One. Come on, it had Deathlok versus the Thing!

    Even though it's a little too far ahead for that era to be included,(actually early eighties I believe) I'm compelled to also throw in the Contest of Champions mini-series. I'm a sucker for those Grandmaster contests.