Wednesday, February 29, 2012

January 1966: Thor Reveals His Secret Identity to Jane Foster!

The X-Men 16
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The X-Men have been captured, with only Xavier not trapped by Master Mold. Trapped inside a globe, our teen mutants take advantage of an opportunity to escape when the Sentinels open it to deposit the Beast, who was the object of their experimentation (as seen last issue). Xavier stumbles across a means of disabling the Sentinels, which he and the authorities deliver just in time, as his students are about to be destroyed once and for all. Meanwhile, Trask, who had agreed to create a Sentinel army for Master Mold, has a change of heart and destroys the complex. Once again, the X-Men make it out just in time. Despite what the penultimate panel implies, we haven't seen the last of Trask or his Sentinels.

MB: Seeing the fortress containing both the Sentinels (including Master Mold) and their creator, the misguided but ultimately repentant Bolivar Trask, blown to smithereens at the end of the trilogy doesn’t bode well for the Sentinels as recurring villains, but Marvel obviously worked around that one somehow. The Kirby/“Gavin”/Ayers artistic troika seems to have cleaned up its act a little, with some better facial close-ups, and Stan is in good form with his characterizations, as the X-Men display some nice teamwork, although I don’t get why Xavier can’t come up with some sort of way to prevent people thinking he’s just zoning out when he uses his powers. Like this month’s Avengers, the story concludes with another unidentified villain waiting in the wings.
JS: Just based on this story arc, I can't imagine why a reader would be particularly enamored with the Sentinels. The weakness exploited by Xavier was uninspired, and yet without it, we might have seen our X-Men defeated once and for all this time out. Fortunately, as far as Trask and The Sentinels are concerned, the best is yet to come. 

The Five Stooges

PE: I keep hearing that but do I have to wait until 1974 to see the best of what's to come? There's not much else here that compels me to keep reading the title. The last panel hints at some mystery. That's intriguing but usually it's Doctor Doom's shadow on a wall. Hope we're dealing with some other menace here. 

Daredevil 12
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Matt Murdock has left Foggy and Karen behind so he can let them grow financially without him since the law office hasn’t had good business lately. He decides to see the world and takes a luxury liner cruise. Things don’t go peacefully for him as the ship is attacked and hijacked by a legendary pirate named the Plunderer. Daredevil is able to outfight the Plunderer’s pirate crew until the evil doer threatens to start throwing the ship’s hostages overboard into the sea. Daredevil has to reluctantly become the pirate’s prisoner. Meanwhile, in a savage land lost in time (Skull Island), Ka-Zar is busy fighting off nomadic barbarians, aka Swamp Men, who want to kick him off of his turf. The Plunderer isn’t too happy that the Swamp Men have already attacked the island that he wants to plunder, but he doesn’t have much time to go after them as Ka-Zar attacks him and his crew. As the savage Ka-Zar quickly defeats the pirates with his giant, pet saber-toothed tiger named Zabu, Double D tries to approach him to form an alliance. There is no reasoning with the Tarzan rip-off, who attacks Daredevil. In a brief battle, Ka-Zar wins after knocking DD out. All that’s left is the Plunderer. He too is no match for the savage’s fury. However, he shoots his machine gun wildly so that one of the bullets hits all of his crates carrying explosives. Once they go off, it’s a smoke-clouded melee. As Daredevil regains consciousness, he realizes to his horror that Ka-Zar’s super knockout blow has caused him to lose his powers, making him just a blind man once again. Ka-Zar notices a resemblance between Daredevil’s costume and that of his recent pals, the X-Men, and he wonders if he’s come to the wrong conclusion about the man without fear. He picks up and rescues Daredevil, depositing him in a cave. Going back out to continue fighting, Ka-Zar is attacked by a giant monster plant. The story ends with an ape-man creature hovering over an unconscious Daredevil.

Tom: I’ll make it no secret that I have never been a fan of the blond Ka-Zar. He always seemed to be a generic, boring super-hero, with terrible dialogue spewing out of his mouth like a human Incredible Hulk. (I’ll apologize in advance if this offends any of my colleagues.) That being said, I surprisingly kind of liked this story. The Plunderer might be lame, and the jungle setting unsuitable for an urban knight such as Daredevil, but it all kind of worked out well for an entertaining yarn.

PE: I half expected the dialogue from Ka-Zar would rhyme. "Stronger than mastodon! Stronger than wild boar! Mighty is Ka-Zar! Let's hit the liquor store!" Somewhere in California, Edgar Rice Burroughs was rolling in his grave.

Jack: I’m happy to see John Romita join Marvel, but this is far from his best work. The Plunderer is yet another example of a dopey name for a villain—a pirate who plunders? Let’s call him the Plunderer (Now, Professor Jack, let's be fair. He was born Lord Parcival Plunder so it would be natural to call him The Plunderer, wouldn't it?!-Professor Pete)! Ka-Zar’s speech is also hard to take. Stan tells us that the Swamp Men’s dialog is corny because he had to translate it from the “guttural swamp dialect, a tongue which very few of us majored in at college.” Ka-Zar lives on Skull Island, which means King Kong must be around there somewhere. The killer plant looks like a leftover from a Roger Corman film.

PE: Ka-Zar's dialogue is hard to take? How about DD's: "I sense vegetation... such as earth has never known for millions of years! As though I've been transported to the dawn of time!" This, while he's still miles from the shore of said vegetation. This sort of nonsense backs my assertion that Stan never had a clear definition of what Daredevil's powers should be. It's one thing to tell us that, because of radiation and supreme training skills, this masked man can smell perfume from three blocks and take on a set of heavily armed henchmen but quite another to tell us he can jump out of a window and land, legs askew, on the bumpers of two different cars without killing himself.

Strange Tales 140
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD
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Disabling the Hunter, Fury hides inside a ventilation duct with the Supreme—er, Imperial—Hydra’s daughter (felled by its ultra-sonic stunner) to avoid sniffing coma gas.  Meanwhile, Agents Jones and Dugan use the Electro-Jab to fight the Tiger squad, and Tony Stark blasts off from the Helicarrier in his Braino-saur to disarm the orbital betatron bomb. As the reunited S.H.I.E.L.D. forces defeat the Tigers and occupy Hydra H.Q., Stark removes the firing device, and the Hydra honcho is revealed as…no, not Leslie Farrington, the powerful head of Imperial Industries International, but his humble secretary, Arnold Brown, who now prepares to push the destruct button that will annihilate both Fury and the daughter for whom he did it all.

MB: It’s always fun trying to parse the credits of some of these mid-’60s issues; this one attributes the “presentation,” “drawing,” and “delineation” (which I presume is roughly equivalent to the usual layouts, pencils, and inks) to Kirby, Heck, and Sinnott, respectively. Perhaps over-optimistically entitled “The End of Hydra,” this action-packed issue throws Heck into the artistic mix, although frankly there’s very little evidence of his style on display, and it promises “a world-wide roundup of all the known Hydra agents.” But really, with Fury having been put in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. specifically for the purpose of smashing Hydra, we as readers wouldn’t want him to be deprived of the foe that provides his raison d’ĂȘtre, which would leave him like a Drax without his Thanos.

Jack: Skate board units A and B? Thank goodness for Tony Stark! If all of the Hydra agents can be rounded up so easily, why didn’t they do it before?

PE: Imagine being the one who has to hail the "Amazing Jet-Powered Porsche 904 Land-Air Personnel Transport" (or AJPP904LAPT for short). What would possess Stan to pump up his vehicle name just this once? Usually it would be the Sky-Port or the Helo-Blimp. I smell a ghost writer here! If anything, the cliffhanger climax of this somewhat exciting yarn promises that Hydra will continue to strike in the future. And why is Dum-Dum Dugan suddenly speaking like a Dum-Dum? "He gotta answer! He gotta be alive!" On the letters page, we get correspondence from future horror film journalist Bruce Hallenbeck (The Hammer Vampire).

PE: Once unmasked, it is revealed that Hydra Supreme is, in actuality, schoolteacher and sometime Meth cooker Walter White.

Doctor Strange
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Dormammu has had enough! He puts the Mindless Ones to sleep so he can let down the protective barrier and conserve power. He sends Dr. Strange, Baron Mordo, and the Ancient One to a dimension at the edge of infinity. Dormammu summons an audience of alien despots and challenges Dr. Strange to engage in combat. They agree only to use their minds and enchanted Pincers of Power. The battle is waged and Dr. Strange uses his wits and a little Judo to bring Dormammu near defeat. Only a last-minute intervention by Baron Mordo keeps Dr. Strange from emerging victorious.

Jack: While this is a good fight, I couldn’t help thinking it was a lot like professional wrestling, even down to Mordo’s cheating from the sidelines. Was Dormammu always so ripped?

JS: I'm sorry, the "Pincers of Power"? Not quite what I had in mind for an epic showdown. 

MB: Finally, after months of fending off the artificially enhanced attacks of Baron Mordo, Dr. Strange goes mano a mano (or perhaps I should say pincer a pincer) with the Dread Dormammu for the first time since ST #127. It’s great to have the DD brought to center stage, and I enjoyed seeing his preparations for the bout, e.g., sedating the Mindless Ones, but with Mordo having made Dormy unwittingly win by treachery, those of us who have read the aforementioned ST #127 can guess which way this is likely to go. The one who gets short shrift is Clea, still nameless and relegated to a few token panels per issue, if that; in retrospect, it seems surprising that that they should take so long to flesh out Stephen’s future inamorata and disciple.

JS: After longing for something other than a wrestling match on the astral plane, I should have been more excited by this issue's tussle.

The Amazing Spider-Man 32

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To no one’s surprise, The Master Planer turns out to be old Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus. Ock’s new plans necessitate a large quantity of ISO-36, a serum that just happens to be arriving in New York to aid a special patient suffering from blood poisoning. That unique patient happens to be Aunt May and our hero opines that May’s blood was contaminated during a blood transfusion with nephew Peter. When Octopus hijacks the shipment of ISO-36, Spider-Man goes temporarily insane and tears apart the city’s underworld looking for information on The Master Planner. Meanwhile, back at the hospital, doctors fear May is slipping into a coma. The wall-crawler’s path of destruction is not for naught though as he finally stumbles onto The Planner’s henchmen in a basement attached to the villain’s undersea lair. Octopus shows himself to his arch-enemy and a battle ensues. During the fight, a main support beam is damaged, Octopus escapes, and heavy equipment falls on Spider-Man, pinning him. The melee had not only loosened machinery but caused structural damage as well and the roof begins to leak. Unable to move, Spider-Man faces drowning but paramount on his mind is his failure to save his Aunt May.

PE: The Marvel Age of Wacky Coincidence continues as we see Ock needing ISO-36 just as badly as Aunt May. Who’da thunk? I’m still not sure why the big secret about The Master Planner’s secret identity. It’s not like the alias would allow Ock to walk the streets unmolested or something. And then, rather than keeping the mystery going, Stan and Steve do the reveal on the second page! Huh?

JS: What next, Spider-Man dons a costume so he can be another crime fighter?

PE: More of that dopey “I have to make her hate me so she won’t love me” goop from The House of Ideas as Peter Parker is deliberately mean to Betty and her beau, Ned. None of this nonsense rings true. All Parker has to say to Brant is “Look, Betty, I care for you but it won’t work out. I hope you and Ned will be happy together” rather than make a transparent horse’s ass of himself in front of not only the unhappy couple but JJJ as well.

JS: Where's Gwen Stacey when we need her?

MB: Since it’s revealed on page 2 of this issue, I can now state that after reading the last one, I did indeed correctly remember not only the identity of the Master Planner (I can see why that name didn’t stick with me, since he doesn’t exist, except as an alias for Doc Ock), but also why the trilogy would be considered famous. The notorious cliffhanger leads into one of the most celebrated issues of Amazing, and knowing that it came so close to the departure of Ditko—now once again credited as plotter—makes it all the more intriguing. So well handled in the second Spider-Man movie, Ock is one of my favorite villains, and seeing Spidey driven to desperation over his need for the ISO-36 to revive Aunt May drastically ups the drama quotient.

PE: Stan, messing with the Marvel Timeline (and my brain) has Spidey tell Foswell that he had fought him “years ago when you were a gang boss.” That’s impossible as, according to my incredibly elaborate Marvel Time/Space continuum theorum, Foswell (as The Big Man) was arrested after the events of Amazing Spider-Man #10, or roughly 22 weeks before the events of this issue. Yes, I realize he had an extremely short stint in the stir but the Marvel judicial system has long been known for its motto of “Rehabilitation over Punishment.” Sheesh, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Is anyone out there listening to me?

JS: This issue ends with what stands out as a standout cliffhanger. While it's no mystery that Spider-Man will survive, it's a great build-up to the next issue.

PE: Our climax sets up one of the most iconic Spidey sequences of all time next issue. Should be a good one.

The Avengers 24
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Kang’s forces attack the kingdom, which is protected by a plasto-shield. Once it has been breached, the Avengers battle the enemy forces but soon surrender. Kang claims Princess Ravonna as his prize, but his generals insist that he honor his past practice of killing all conquered monarchs. Kang breaks with his generals and joins forces with the Avengers in order to save Ravonna. The generals cannot prevail without a strong leader and are soon bested. Kang honors his promise to send the Avengers home. After they depart, one of the defeated generals tries to shoot Kang, but Ravonna is killed as she leaps in front of him.

MB: Well, it was too good to last: the inks having devolved from Wood and Romita back to Ayers, who’s obviously stopped eating whatever he had for breakfast the day he penned S.H.I.E.L.D.’s debut in Strange Tales #135, the art has taken a noticeable hit. The story, too, has the frenetic feel of one of the later, more formulaic Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with all of these factions running around in a strange land (or, in this case, era), with the net result that the Quartet almost gets lost in the shuffle. But we get enough of the Lee-Heck moxie to make it merely an average issue, and the unusual Ravonna cliffhanger helps; on page 14, ol’ Sneaky Stan uses Hawkeye’s “Next thing y’know we’ll be swearin’ in Dr. Doom!” from #20 almost verbatim.

Cap does the Twist?
PE: Good point there, Professor Matthew. I thought more along the lines of the Keystone Kops but Tarzan will do. Incredibly, since you know my feelings about Dick Ayers, the art didn't make me want to throw up my arms in surrender. It wasn't great but, other than the panels where we see things like Captain America running in place when he's supposed to be standing and talking to another character (almost like a photoshop feel), I could deal with it. It's the story, as usual, where I find the most fault. Kang loses his army so the first thing he thinks is "I'll turn to The Avengers for help," goes to Cap with his story and, don't you know, immediately has the team on his side. I'm with Hawkeye on this one: "Have you lost your marbles, Mr. Stars and Stripes?" The trust comes just a little too quick. When compared to the "Good Old Days" of Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Giant Man, and The Wasp, Cap's yell of "Avengers Assemble" when both his teammates are standing right in front of him seems pretty pitiful. Of course, as Billy Joel once said "The good old days weren't always good..."

"Easy old man. We're right in front of you!"

Jack: When I saw Don Heck and Dick Ayers’s names as the artists for this issue, I was prepared not to like it—but I did! Kang is already developing into an interesting villain. Has anyone ever investigated Stan Lee’s use of Biblical quotations and themes? I know he was Jewish, and the tradition of killing the conquered monarchs goes all the way back to the ancient Israelites. I am sure that there was an Old Testament story about a king who failed to kill a conquered opponent and was punished for it, but I can’t remember who it was.

PE: I found this issue to be laden with text, too much text, much too much text, way way too much text! A comic book should take x amount of minutes to read, not xxx (unless it's an EC Comic, of course). I found the (SPOILER ALERT) death of Ravonna to be a very effective climax (if she's dead, that is). As for our "mystery villain" who's keeping tabs on our not-so-super team (I still want to know where these guys have all their cameras mounted), I'll just conjure the image of a certain Latverian whose name was raised in this issue. Marvel is the home of the coincidence.

Jack: What’s the point of a secret identity when Hawkeye calls Cap “Steverino” in front of a crowd?

Journey Into Mystery 124
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After hearing about the Demon’s exploits in a newspaper, Thor decides that he will investigate further, but not before checking in at the hospital to see how Jane Foster is doing. He changes to Dr. Blake, and finds that Jane isn’t recovering as expected (from minor smoke inhalation). Instead she’s in a state of depression, tired of Don Blake’s comings and goings for long periods of time with no explanation. She tells him to get lost—for good. This, and the guilt of what her love for him has cost her, is the impetus Thor needs to tell Jane the truth, that he and Don Blake are one and the same. Her heart renewed by this newfound knowledge, Thor feels safe leave long enough to stop the menace of the Demon. This former witch doctor, with the power of the Norn stone that literally fell into his grasp, continues to conquer villages across Asia and add them to his army. While Odin rages in Asgard that his son has dared to reveal his secret identity to the mortal girl, different things are happening in distant Olympus. Zeus decrees it time to send his restless, willful son Hercules to visit Earth, not visited by any of the Olympian gods for centuries. As the Demon prepares to demolish yet another fortress, he gets more than he bargained for: a Thunder God on the path of justice.

In Tales Of Asgard, the flying trolls of Ula, queen of the Stone Hive of Thryheim, approach the Odinship. The crew is recovering from the recent victory over the Utgard Dragon; destroyed by the mighty sounds of the horn Balder the Brave blew.

JB: This coming year, 1966, would, I humbly judge, be the best in the Thor run; preceding and following years were still great, but not so consistently so as this. The frustration that the Thor/Jane relationship has caused them both (and us readers) finally gets blown out of the water when he comes clean with his secret identity. We see Jane show some backbone, telling him to hit the road before she sees the whole picture. The coming year provides some amazing adventures for Jane and Thor.

PE: The roller coaster that is the father/son relationship of Odin and Thor seems to be in a dip right now (it is an even-numbered issue, after all, so give it 'til next issue to find itself back up) since pop is outraged about his son coming out of the closet in front of Jane Foster. I thought for sure Kirby's "camera" would pull back after Odin's meltdown and we'd see Loki, right over his shoulder, whispering "I told you, sire, this one's no good." The big guy would reply "That you did, son, I should have listened to you. I've never been fair with you!" Doesn't pop get tired of dreaming up new punishments for The God of Thunder? How many times can he banish him from Asgard or strip him of his Mighty powers? Let's see something new.

MB: Thor’s interactions with New York’s finest, and especially with the ordinary Gothamites, make a nice prelude to the story proper, in which the panels devoted to the poorly named Demon (about whom there is nothing intrinsically demonic) are wisely minimized. It’s interesting that Thor and Spider-Man, each told that the torch his lady carries for his civilian i.d. is endangered by the secret she senses he is carrying, react in opposite ways. Blake does the Full Monty for Jane, while Peter cedes Betty Brant to Ned Leeds, but having dodged a bullet for bringing Hobbs home, Thor clearly won’t escape Odin’s wrath for revealing his identity to Jane.

PE: The cover's a bit of a cheat. Hercules doesn't show up until near the end and it's just to nod and look strong. The Demon seems to be an afterthought pushed to the side by Thor's relationship dramas. Speaking of which, would I be a cynic to think that Odin has some kind of potion to render Jane Foster an amnesiac or does she actually push on with the knowledge that one half of the man she loves is a lame doctor? This issue isn't really bad, it's just what I would call a "tweener," the section of the arc that's very clearly setting up events in the future. Like a Lost episode that spends forty three minutes explaining to us why a gruff killer like Sawyer spends all his idle time reading Steinbeck when all we want is to get to the Kate episode where it's shown why she prefers to swim nude.

JB: The first of seven issues in one of the definitive Lee/Kirby Thor epics. As you say Peter, the story sets up the quicker pace to come. I think we’re all glad to see Hercules come back, and to get another glimpse of Olympus (much more of which we see over the next months). I fondly remember reading Marvel Treasury Edition #3, from 1974. It reprinted JIM/Thor issues #125-130. They skipped #124, but the story still made sense. In Roy Thomas’s book, Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Universe, the man (SL that is) counts this saga as one of fifty memorable moments in Marvel’s history (a great book, even if intended for a general audience).

Fantastic Four 46
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Frightened that their “hideout” has been discovered by the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, (Karnak, Gorgon -holding Medusa to keep her from escaping- Crystal, Triton, and Black Bolt) attack the F.F. Black Bolt, their leader, has it out with the Thing. Ben is a little stronger, but lacks the Inhuman’s speed and skill. Triton dampens Johnny’s flame, and then renders the Torch unconscious. Reed surmises that Black Bolt gets his power through an antenna device on his head that converts the electrons around him into energy. He then rips Triton’s hooded, sleeveless cloak off, realizing it contains water, which the Inhuman needs to breathe. While Triton makes a dash to jump off the nearby pier into the water, Sue uses her force field to protect Reed and her from Gorgon and Karnak. It becomes apparent from listening to the Inhumans during the struggle that they are fleeing from someone called the Seeker, and have remained hidden from him for years. The Inhumans feel that the F.F. are a threat to their being discovered, and they are really just defending themselves. The Seeker is closer than they think, and he captures Triton under the water. A neatly bearded man in a red uniform, the Seeker’s mission is to capture the Inhumans and return them to a place called the Great Refuge; where they had escaped from years before, seeking freedom. Thinking that Dragon Man, now tranquilized in the Baxter Building, is an Inhuman also, the Seeker and his men take the reptilian android to their place of hiding, to run some tests on him. Black Bolt, meanwhile, has temporarily exhausted his antenna’s electron charge in his battle with Ben, but first manages to stun the Thing with a “master blow.” Crystal’s dog Lockjaw appears, and uses a steel girder to hold Ben at bay while the Inhumans retreat. Realizing that the Seeker must have captured Triton, the Inhumans disappear through a dimensional vortex, created by Lockjaw. Johnny and Crystal, already with strong feelings, call out to one another, but too late. Vowing to find them again, our heroes return to the Baxter Building to find Dragon Man gone. Not to be foiled, Reed not only has the Seeker and his men on camera (from their earlier visit), but also follows their particle trail to the craft where he is hiding, with a captured Triton in a water-filled bubble. The F.F. are caught on arrival, and the Seeker relates to them his story. The Inhumans are a race that developed concurrently with humanity, and were highly advanced when we were still cavemen. Genetics was one of their strongest fields of interest, and they carefully bred many of their kind with different unique powers. They eventually hid from humanity, who attacked them for their differences. The Inhumans as the F.F. know them today, are from one such ancient family. Realizing that Dragon man is not one of them, the Seeker is prepared to release him to our team, but it is too late. The mighty creature awakens, and angry at his capture, breaks his bonds. In the confusion that follows, Triton’s water bubble is shattered and Dragon Man escapes.

PE: Sue Storm asks Reed Richards a good question that I'd like to ask as well (I just don't know who to ask): what's the difference between an Inhuman and a Mutant? I won't bother asking Reed, as he tells Sue "because they say they're Inhumans!" Reed's brain constantly amazes me. It takes one look at the silverware attached to Black Bolt's skullcap and knows it "absorbs energy from the electrons around him and converts it to speed and strength." All that from just a few glances! Fantastic! He'll later amend his statement with the following: "His antenna creates some sort of Mental Dimension Displacer Force!" Hands up from those of you who think he's baffling us with...

JB: A fast moving, action-filled issue. We learn a lot in a short time about who the Inhumans are and where they are from. I find it unlikely that they would be so frightened by the Seeker. He seems more like a misguided, arrogant scientist, maybe with the technology of a Reed Richards or a little more. With all the powers the Inhumans have at their disposal, he doesn’t seem like much of a threat. As “honorary professor” Glenn said, the issues from #44-67 were the F.F. at their peak, and I suspect in rereading them here, I’ll find that to be true.

MB: Artwise, no complaints here—far from it, as Sinnott polishes to perfection the uncut diamonds of Kirby’s pencils, and the FF themselves, in particular, have never looked better to date. If I’m a little impatient at times for the plot to get moving, it’s only in hindsight, since I know so much about the Inhumans already, although it’s clear that later we’ll learn a lot more about their origin than we’ve been told, and the story doesn’t seem to jibe with Black Bolt heading their royal family. If there’s a weak link here, it’s probably that outlandishly garbed and annoyingly arrogant runt of a Seeker, who’s apparently an Inhuman himself, but I can’t make out what the deal is with those henchmen of his; they look too, shall we say, uniform to be members of his race, yet with all of his security concerns, it’s inconceivable that he would rely on humans.

PE: Since The Seeker's moniker is based on "a life dedicated to tracking down Inhumans," shouldn't he be Inhuman Seeker? What will he seek once he catches them? If he's got nothing else to seek, would he be The Ignorer? The Idler? Addition to Reed Richards' fabulous museum of "One and Done" gizmos: his Hidden TV Recorder, which tracks "heat particle trails."

JB: A note on Roy Thomas: I see in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletin this month, that Stan officially welcomes Roy aboard their ranks. I wonder who had Roy as a schoolteacher in St.Louis?

Tales of Suspense 73
Iron Man
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Iron Man shows up at the hospital Happy Hogan is being kept only to find his chauffeur is missing. The only clue is a hoof print on the window sill. Quickly deducing it's his old arch-enemy, The Black Knight, escaped from prison, Shellhead tracks the Knight to an old, dark, gloomy castle just outside Washington. When Iron Man enters, he's greeted by several holograms of The Black Knight. Not knowing which one is the real one, he lashes out and drains his own power in no time. Sensing his enemy is helpless, The Knight lifts him aboard his steed and flies high into the sky, dropping Iron Man at a height that would kill most armored superheroes. This good guy still has his wits about him though and grabs hold of The Knight as he's falling. Both tumble into the forest below, Iron Man hitting a lake and The Knight mysteriously disappearing. Down to his last drop of energy, Shellhead is able to make it back to the castle and call police to notify them of Happy's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Senator Byrd is prepared to swear out a warrant for Tony Stark's arrest unless he produces Iron Man's secret identity. Our final panels show that our red and gold hero is in bad shape, collapsed on the floor of the castle.

PE: I've said it already about the Sub-Mariner strip, but Gene Colan's artwork makes enjoyable any strip he works on. Immediately there's more of a "realistic look" to Shellhead and his supporting cast. As for the story, it's a fairly enjoyable tale though it doesn't really go anywhere and we're left with the mystery of The Black Knight's fate. We won't find out what happened to him or his trusty steed until Avengers #47 (December 1967). I know what happens but you'll have to wait about six months to find out from me. I like how Colan messes with the size and shape of the panels. I know that kind of thing will be commonplace in a couple of years when a young turk named Steranko rents a room at the House of Ideas, but we've been subjected to pretty much a standard format for the last four years and it's a nice change.

JS: This was definitely one of the more visually entertaining issues, and despite it being a straightforward confrontation between Iron Man and the Black Knight, giving it such an interesting setting was a step in the right direction. Do you suppose Dracula was lurking in the shadows somewhere?

PE: Roy Thomas's first superhero script for Marvel. Roy's first Marvel script ("Whom Can I Turn To") appeared in last month's Modeling with Millie #44. In Alter Ego #50, Roy recalls: "Stan Lee, who'd plotted the tale with Gene, rewrote so much of Roy's script on this... roughly 50%, by Roy's estimates... that he made it one of the very rare Marvel stories with no itemized credits." Roy Thomas' arrival at the House of Ideas marks the next phase of the Silver Age of Marvel Comics (if not immediately). It's no secret that, in my mind, Stan laid the foundation but Roy built the mansion.

MB: During the second phase of Shellhead’s stint in Suspense, co-creator Don Heck was succeeded by Gene Colan—under his “Adam Austin,” uh, pencil name—here with average inks by “Gary Michaels,” aka Jack Abel; apparently, some of the artists had to conceal from DC the fact that they were moonlighting for Marvel. This inaugural effort (written by another pivotal newcomer, future Bullpen mainstay and EIC “Rascally Roy” Thomas), largely set within the shadowy confines of the Black Knight’s castle, is perfectly suited to Colan’s style. If I recall correctly, he handled the strip through the one-shot Iron Man & Sub-Mariner, plus the premiere issue of Shellhead’s solo book, and must therefore be considered a key Iron Man artist.

Captain America

Our Story

Desperately trying to stop the awakened "Sleeper," Captain America is learning that the mechanical giant is a lot sturdier than any foe he's ever faced. Triggering an avalanche of boulders only proves to bury the monster for a bit of time. At that very moment several miles away in Telbeck, Frau Wolfmann and her henchmen unleash the second sleeper, a soaring craft, which quickly searches out its brother and joins with it as one huge flying machine. Cap manages to get atop the machine and notices a mechanical "cradle" that will be the final home of the third Sleeper when it awakens. Meanwhile, Agent Three begins that process.

PE: I like the story, which is one part War of the Worlds, one part The Mysterians, with a heaping helping of espionage thrown in. The Sleepers do present an awe-inspiring menace, especially when meeting up and joining. Well, except for those dopey boots., of course. What I don't like about the strip is the cop-out "violence." A couple of times we are led to believe (for a millisecond) that this is the devilishly bloodthirsty Third Reich we're talking about here and they take no prisoners. So when Frau Wolfmann and her boys use a shovel to cause the explosion that wakens the second Sleeper, I thought "Wow, this woman gave her life for the Reich!" That is, until the next panel which tells you that the explosion happened miles away. Again, Agent Three enters the pawn shop to get his little box and shoots the pawn shop owner, I got a chill. then he tells the man it's only gas and he'll awaken. Why the punch-pulling? These are the worst scum on earth and they're not going to go to lengths to make sure anyone in their way is politely admonished or gently put to sleep. They're going to kill everyone around them. Or should. It's what they do for kicks. I'm still looking forward to the continuation of the story and the eventual return of The Red Skull. I just hope George Tuska's gone by then. Thank goodness there aren't too many female characters in this strip. George doesn't draw very good looking women. Granted, Nazi women aren't supposed to look hot.

JS: I'm sorry. Did you say awe-inspiring menace? Did you mean to say yawn-inducing menace? Sleepers indeed. I did get a laugh out of Frau Wolfmann. I hope we'll meet up with Herr Wolfmann soon enough. I'm also growing tired of stories never ending. I like a good cliffhanger as much as the next guy, but have they given up on a) stand-alone stories, or b) ever wrapping stories up?

PE: In the letters section, we get our first contribution from future science fiction novelist Alfred (A. A.) Attanasio and another from Don McGregor (still several years away from being a member of the Marvel Bulpen).

Tales to Astonish #75
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner holds a dying Dorma in his arms while the hordes of the Faceless Ones move in for the kill. Suddenly, the battle is interrupted by the grand visage of the mighty Neptune. He orders the Faceless Ones to cease, as he would like to ask Namor some questions. Namor doesn’t deny that he strayed from his quest to help out the love of his life. He expects to perish and pleads for mercy for Lady Dorma. Neptune is proud that Namor showed compassion and love for Dorma, so he banishes the Faceless Ones while rewarding our hero with the magnificent Trident. Unfortunately, Subby has little time to celebrate as Dorma will soon be dead unless he can quickly get her to the palace and use a rejuvenator ray on her to restore her life. Giving the ancient old man that has been following him the Trident, Namor and his old lady swim back to his palace. After defeating some guards, he next has to face the dreaded Robo-Tank that squashed the citizen uprising from last issue. Subby takes the tank’s best shots, then picks it up and smashes it to a pulp. Dorma’s life is saved and the ancient old dude arrives in the nick of time to give Subby the Trident. The story concludes with Namor using it to subdue Krang and end his reign of terror.

Tom: Meh. The quest kind of ended in a dud. It was an enjoyable climax, but it seemed a little rushed. Tough guy Krang sure goes out without much of a fight unless he puts up some resistance next issue, which I’m looking forward to. The bullpen promises that Krang will receive a nice, big, heaping bowl of justice, Namor style!

"First thing I do when I become ruler is find my left elbow"

MB: As I’d predicted, Subby’s devotion to Dorma proves itself the clincher, rather than the undoing, of his quest for Neptune’s Trident, which turned out to be a little less epic than I expected. Colletta’s inks (which, sadly, continue to make the close-ups a bit sketchy) are not the only thing this strip and Thor’s have in common, since each features a prince of the realm who bears a selfless love. Yet this resolution seems to be almost a rebuttal to Thor’s romantic woes, as Neptune extols Namor’s honesty—demonstrated by Stan’s particularly stirring dialogue—and spirit of self-sacrifice; also loved the recurrence of Namor’s old and loyal subject.

PE: Well, Neptune sure is a lot hipper than that old stuffed shirt, Odin, respecting and ewarding the younger generation rather than punishing them. Yeah, I agree with my colleagues that the story ended with a whimper rather than a Krang, but there's that gorgeous Gene Colan art to soak in at least. Even if 90% of the panels show Subby cradling Dorma and not much else. Except for a few lapses (see panels  above and below), Colan's art alone continues to elevate this above the cartoons of Iron Man, The Avengers or Subby's title-mate. Speaking of which...

The Hulk
Our Story

The Hulk picks up the Ultimate Machine after it has killed the Leader. Needing to distance himself in order to think about his next move, he leaps away into the mountains. Back in America, General Ross has had his military scientists put together the last machine that Bruce Banner has ever created, using left over blueprints. They aren’t even sure what the weapon, dubbed T-Gun, will do. Rick Jones is still imprisoned for associating with the Hulk. He pleads to some military guards to let him call the White House, which they laugh off. The Hulkster reasons that his exterior is tougher than the Leader’s, so he tries on the Ultimate Machine, putting it over his head just like the villain did last issue. Even the mighty Hulk is unable to sustain the powerful pain of knowledge that the Watcher’s technology gives him. He rips it off his head before it kills him. Still, the machine allowed him to hear Rick’s pleas to the guards to call the White House. Since Rick was his friend, and it would give him something to do, the Hulk leaps toward the White House. The Watcher retrieves his technology so that no others will have it. General Ross and the troops spot the Green Goliath as he ends up by the White House. Taking a foolish gamble, they shoot him with the T-Gun, which Jade Jaws instantly recognizes since he still sort of has Banner’s brain. The T-Gun ends up being a device to test time travel, and he story ends with the Hulk somewhere in the far future, facing off against some strange, mutant-looking creatures.

Tom: If Professor Jack thought that last issue’s story was boring, then this tale might have put him in a coma. I understand it’s just a transitional tale to further along the Hulk’s adventures into a deadly future scenario, but I can always do without Rick Jones, whining Betty, and tool Talbot. General Ross is slightly amusing, just because of his overall ignorance about what’s occurring around him.

Jack: Hulk sure gets around! He hops from one continent to another, he was on the Watcher’s planet recently, and now he’s in the future. Bonus points to Stan Lee for not having him fight Thunderbolt Ross every issue.

PE: And for our finale... Hulk Beyond Thunderdome! Is it my imagination or does Esposito's art get worse with each passing issue? The "Hulk-talk" is annoying as well. It's not the way Banner talks nor is it the way the big green guy talks so is it some middle ground? And is that middle ground a New York dock worker? At least that endless Leader arc is over. Or is it?

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #126
Millie the Model #134
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #26
Two-Gun Kid #79


  1. Although I risk being accused of "me-tooism," the Sentinels clearly exemplify a concept or character with which subsequent writer/artist teams (e.g., Thomas/Adams, Claremont/Cockrum, Claremont/Byrne) ran more successfully than the one that created it. Like anything else around here, they're seen--and beloved--through the rose-colored glasses of 20/20 hindsight. So: 1974? No. 1969? Maybe. I'm unable due to lack of familiarity to say if relief comes any sooner, but the dire straits of '69 suggest not.

    Re: Daredevil, uh, that's "Murdock," guys. (I won't even mention "Blackbolt." D'oh!)

    Bringing things full circle once again (which I guess makes me a circle jerk), Hallenbeck is cited in my Matheson book for his FEMME FATALES interview with Virginia Wetherell. So there.

    Professor Paste-Pot, you dear man, of course I'm listening, even if Retroactive-Stan is/was not.

    Wow, two ERB hits in a single MU post. Cool!

    Professor Jack, excellent point about Cap's not-so-secret identity. That's been bugging me too.

    Re: the Seeker, I felt this way after reading the story, and feel so again after reading the summary above, namely that it's ludicrous for him not to have known the Dragon Man wasn't an Inhuman. He was charged with retrieving a very specific set of Inhumans who'd fled the Great Refuge, and they weren't numerous enough that the D.M. could simply get lost in the shuffle.

    If my many comments on last week's post didn't make it obvious already, I second Professor Peter's motion on the vital importance of Roy succeeding Stan as Writer- and then Editor-in-Chief. Kudos for name-checking THE MYSTERIANS!

  2. Congratulations Professor Bradley! For pointing out the improper spelling of Double D's last name, you will be awarded this weeks 'No-Prize.' Though if I were a stingy Professor I could use the lame excuse that Matt changed his last name to 'Murdoch' to avoid Foggy and Karen from tracking him down.

    "Black Bolt," and the Inhuman crew were a group that I could never figure out if I liked or hated them as a kid. It seemed like every story they were in would end up with them fighting some super-heroes over a misunderstanding. In the end, everything would always be resolved with both sides a little bruised up, but friends in the end. Black Bolt himself reminds me of a more silent Sub-Mariner.

    I always liked Lockjaw/Lock Jaw though. Talk about an awesome pet.

  3. It will certainly be interesting to see how I react to the two Inhumans solo series of the '70s, of which my memories are hazy at best. For all I know, I may feel the same!

    In the early 1960s, DC teamed with the Aurora Plastics Corporation to make model kits of some of their major properties. Initially, Aurora produced Superman, Batman and Superboy model kits. Later, Robin and Wonder Woman were added to the roster, and on the back of the Batman TV series, Batmobile, Batplane, and Penguin kits appeared.

    Now, it was Marvel's turn. At this point in time, Martin Goodman had barely tapped into the potentially lucrative licencing aspects of his comic book characters. In late 1965, Marvel struck a deal with Aurora to produce model kits of The Hulk, Spider-Man and Captain America.

    The cover of Tales To Astonish #75 seems to have been the chief inspiration for the Hulk figure kit, which featured a rampaging Hulk in a similar pose to the comic book cover, placed in a desert scene surrounded by rocks, explosions and metal wreckage. Unfortunately, the likeness of the finished product wasn't particularly good.

    Aurora had already enjoyed great success with figure kits, issuing their versions of the classic Universal monsters. The monsters sold in the millions, and the biggest selling point was the great James Bama artwork on the boxes. For The Hulk box art, they tapped a freelance commercial illustrator who, at the time, was also drawing the Ben Casey newspaper strip. His name was Neal Adams. Adams, then 24 years of age, was still about a year away from his first comic book work.

    As was fairly typical for Aurora, the art didn't accurately represent the model inside the box. Adams' Hulk was more subdued, fuming in anger while standing among the smoke and wreckage. Neal Adams seems to have gone back to earlier source material than the sculptor. Facially, Adams' Hulk resembled Jack Kirby's likeness from the late 1962 issues of The Hulk comic book. The Marvel figure kits appeared on the shelves in late 1966.

    Here's a pic of the TTA cover, Hulk model, and Neal Adams box art for comparison.

  5. Thanks, Glenn! I always loved those models but they never quite looked like they were supposed to when I finished them. My most successful efforts were the three Star Trek ships, with the Klingon cruiser my personal best!

  6. I know this comes about 2 1/2 years too late, but I always thought when re-reading this issues that the stories took place monthly, not weekly, in Marvel Time. It wasn't until 1968 or so that Marvel Time slowed down and moved away from Real Time (tm).