Wednesday, February 1, 2012

September 1965: Titanium Man! Molten Man! Seaweed Man?

Journey Into Mystery 120

Our Story

Who would have thought that the blast furnaces of Pittsburgh could do what Thor himself could not—weld the pieces of his severed hammer together? Repair complete, the Thunder God returns to Asgard to give Odin the bag of Norn Stones used by Loki to steal victory in the recent Trial Of The Gods. He fails to notice one stone drop on the jungle floor of Earth. Still sentenced to serve Odin’s warlock Ularic, the god of evil bides his time until he unleashes his latest plan. Turning Ularic’s own sorcery to his advantage, Loki puts his captor to sleep, and contains him in a time vault. The pretense of confinement now working to his advantage, Loki scans space for the perfect cats paw to aid in his twofold plan: the defeat of Thor, and the over-throwing of Odin’s rule. Unsuspecting, a restless Thor returns to Earth to see Jane Foster and catch up with Don Blake’s medical practice. He finds his office locked up, and Jane nowhere to be found. Seeking the help of his fellow Avengers, he finds the “new crew” of Quicksilver, The Scarlet Witch, and Hawkeye too young and arrogant to confide in, and storms off to do his own thinking. Thor may be frustrated by her disappearance, but we see Jane, kidnapped, held captive but unharmed, by a brooding hooded figure. Thor doesn’t have long to think however, as a fiery sphere plummets to the city streets. Investigating, Thor finds the “bubble” soon bursts, to reveal Loki’s unwitting but deadly cats paw: the re-energized, helium-to-human Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man.

In Tales Of Asgard this month, the warriors of Odin “Set Sail.” As the Odinship flies beyond the borders of Asgard, the seeds of mutiny are growing amongst the crew, as division lines begin to form.

PE: Far too many times have I ignored cover art. I just take it for granted most of the time but this cover is unusually striking to me. I love how the covers blend and yet also separate. The insides are another matter. As gorgeous as that cover is, it's a bit of a cheat since Crusher Creel doesn't show up until the final page.

JB: A couple of odd thoughts: Do you guys go with the cover or inside page for the official title each month? I’d say the latter for me. The mystery deepens with the month of release question; I notice they advertise some Oct. ’65 titles in this issue (Sept. ’65), i.e. F.F. 43 instead of 42.

MB: This is pretty good for a story that could have borne a cover burst reading, “Special No-Action Issue!” (although, of course, that’s only true if you define “action” as narrowly as “hero fights villain”).  Once again, I feel that as enjoyable as “Tales of Asgard” can be, the main story cries out for those few extra pages, yet there’s some nice stuff here, starting with the wonderful splash page of Thor repairing Mjolnir and his interaction with the steelworkers.  In a book that recycles villains as quickly as this one, it’s no surprise to see the Absorbing Man returning already, but he’s certainly given a satisfyingly dramatic build-up, and since Loki was in effect his “father,” it’s only right to have him put Creel back on the board.

JB: As we enter the 120’s, some of the best issues of JIM (the words soon to be dropped from The Mighty Thor title) are upon us. The start is rather slow, as you say Mathew, but there’s still enough beautiful (pop) artwork and mystery to keep us going. Crusher Creel looks a lot more menacing this time around, and I love the seemingly endless parts of Asgard we are getting introduced to. Case in point this time is Ularic’s laboratory-- pretty high tech!

PE: Yet another technical question occurred to me when I saw the panel reproduced to my right: Just as I wondered what happens to the "body" of Dr. Blake when Thor arrives on the scene (purgatory? another dimension? Switzerland?), I question whose "personality" rules the brain of Blake/Thor. When the lame doc is wandering the streets of New York, is it always with his own set of memories and thoughts or are they constantly at war or sharing equal time with those of The Thunder God. Does Blake think one thing and Thor swoop in to note "How wrongeth that thought be"? I can't see Thor using the slang term "That cinches it." Why doesn't Blake's soul resent the invasion of another, ala The Hulk and Bruce Banner?

JB: The mystery of the Blake/Thor identity crisis stays with us for some time. Way ahead in issues 158-9 they try to put all the questions to rest. It looks as though Stan and Jack may have been confused themselves with how to reconcile it. I may be the only one glad to see Jane back, but who boo-booed with the blonde hair? Maybe her captor let her try some dye to make her feel better. And look out for Mrs. Volstagg in the TOA!

PE: It's been far too long since the extreme intellect of Jane Foster brightened our Thundery comic books. Thank goodness she's back after what seemed days and none the worse for wear and tear. She's still able to mouth a few inanities during her brief panel-time this issue. But, hmmm... who could that shadowy character in the background be that urges our beautiful but IQ-challenged nurse to forget her love for Don Blake?

Strange Tales 136

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

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Hydra spots Fury in midtown Manhattan, but as they summon an assassin squad equipped with jet-packs, he smells a rat, so by the time they converge near the unassuming corner barbershop that conceals S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, he’s ready for them.  The agents following Fury are captured, and he uses a hypno-beam to convince them that their target is actually inside a nearby warehouse.  After effecting their entrance with a Hydra-Ram, the squad of assassins is rounded up, subdued, and captured in a clean sweep.  Round two to Fury and Co.

MB: It’s sad that on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s sophomore effort, Kirby’s contribution is already downgraded from full pencils to layouts; lucky I prepared everybody for a letdown. Golden Age vet John Severin is no slouch, but “sensational stylist” though he may be, said style is rather cartoony, a big disappointment after last issue. We make our first visit to that famous barbershop (shades of Del Floria’s tailor shop on The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), while technology such as the Hydra-Ram and jet-packs shows us that Fury is up against a well-armed adversary that is every bit the equal of the Helicarrier set.

PE: I can't look at Severin's stuff without thinking of Cracked's mascot, Sylvester P. Smythe. I love his art, don't get me wrong, but I think it's better served on war and western comics than here. Severin has the unshaven, gun-toting man in the wilderness down to a science. Fury exclaims at one point that he can't wait to use the new "hypno-beam" that Section W has developed for him. If I was one of these Marvel scientists, I'd pay attention to what's going on around the Marvel Universe. I think there's some trademark infringement going on here and there. You telling me neither Dr. Doom or The Wonderful Wizard (or whatever he's called these days) hasn't devised a "hypno-beam"?

Could that "one" be Agent H?
MB: While I won’t criticize this effort as vociferously as I praised the last one, it does feel as though we’ve missed a chapter or two, or—more precisely—are reading a different strip, in which the mighty S.H.I.E.L.D. suddenly somehow seems rather dingy.  Although the splash page is great, with Fury reflected in the extreme close-up of a high-tech Hydra telescope, Severin’s style so eclipses Kirby’s that Nick looks like a hybrid of Popeye and James Bond.  It’s almost as though they took a breath and realized they couldn’t maintain that pace, but we’ll get back up to speed later, I promise.

PE: I'd liken the first installment last issue to a two-hour pilot of a major action television series, full of set-ups and character introductions, and this issue is naturally a bit of a letdown. It's still massively entertaining when compared to most of the other Marvel fare this month. For heaven's sake though, let's get Fury out of that Wall Street suit and into the iconic black leather. With all the firepower and multi-billion dollar machinery and gizmos, the thing that amazes me the most is that Nick Fury can hold an intelligible conversation while that fat stogie (which always seems to be the same size) hangs from his mouth.

Jack: I will be a voice crying in the wilderness in support of "Johnny" Severin's art in this episode. I am always happy to see an EC stalwart return in a Marvel strip--first Jack Davis on a western, then Wally Wood on Daredevil, and now John Severin on Fury. Next month: Graham Ingels draws the Fantastic Four (I would kill to see that!-Pesky Pete)?

JS: I'll back Jack up here. Perhaps because I didn't think the previous issue was stellar, this one didn't seem that much of a drop in quality to me. I don't know if any of my fellow professors will be able to relate, but after reading this one, I thought that Larry Hama must have read up on these SHIELD tales before working on Marvel's GI Joe series in the 80s. It's not much of a stretch to get from Hydra to Cobra, and Fury running around with his varied SHIELD teammates sure felt like Duke rounding up the GI Joe team. I'll be interested to see if the similarities continue in future issues.

Doctor Strange

Dormammu captures Clea and orders Mordo to stop Dr. Strange before he learns the meaning of Eternity. Dr. Strange flies around the world visiting various mystics and eventually locates a scroll; following a spell written on it, he enters another dimension, thinking he’ll unravel the mystery of Eternity there. Unfortunately, he misread the scroll, and is taken prisoner by a demon. Our hero uses wit and skill to defeat the demon and returns to the Ancient One’s side, determined to probe his mind for the secret he seeks.

MB: Like the recent Shazana story, this is basically a sideshow to the quest for Eternity, yet it’s an undeniably enjoyable one, and if nothing else serves to underscore how difficult and dangerous that quest is. I don’t recall for sure if we see the Aged Genghis again (I think so), but he’s an interesting character and I would welcome a return appearance. As always, there is much to admire here from Steve and Stan, such as the goat-like demon, Ditko’s distinctive dimensions, more tension simmering over the fates of the Ancient One and Clea, and in particular the endlessly entertaining interaction between Baron Mordo and his sorcerous patron, Dormammu (“He searches for Eternity??! You witless clod!”).

Jack: The demon looks a bit like The Creeper, Ditko’s weird DC hero. I thought this was a very good episode, probably due to its having less Mordo and more wackiness.

JS: This continuing storyline has had its share of ups and downs. Fortunately this is one of the more entertaining installments, but I sure hope it gets somewhere before too much longer.

The Amazing Spider-Man 28

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Tired of using his dime store replacement Spider-Man suit, Peter Parker makes a visit to Spencer Smythe's house to switch uniforms (you'll remember, back in #25, that Smythe created the machine designed to capture Spidey for J. Jonah Jameson and his suit was captured instead-Pesky Pete). When he gets there, Peter makes the switch and is about to leave when he witnesses an altercation between Smythe and one of the scientist's assistants, Mark Raxton. The two have been working on a liquid metal alloy and Raxton has decided he wants to keep all the profit for himself. To this end, he's taking his alloy and going home. During the tussle, the alloy is spilled on Raxton and he finds himself a Molten Man, with a body hard as steel. Spider-Man must use trickery to trap his new enemy and get to his graduation in time.

PE: Here we go again with the "Instantly-Named Villain" paradox. Raxton has liquid steel spilled on him and thinks to himself "I've become an actual Molten Man!" That part's not a big deal. It's a few panels later as Spidey swings by and notes that he "heard the crowd mention a man with molten skin!" That's the part that always sticks in my craw. I can see a crowd watching Raxton destroy things and say "Oooh, he's a strong guy. He must be Gold Man!" or something along those lines but who would think to exclaim "That guy's downright molten!"? I know what you're thinking. Just let it go. I should.

JS: I'm willing to bet that a lot of these villains were cretaed in name first. "How about Molten Man?" "Sounds great! We can pour liquid steel on him as his origin." Of course, there's no explaining Paste-Pot Pete.

PE: While we're picking nits, the steel may make his skin harder and easier to bash things in but would it make him strong enough to lift a car? Not sure about that one.  Molten Man has some incredible dance moves as well. Stand up from your sofa for a minute (mind the potato chips) and try kicking out your left foot (as if to come in contact with another body) while delivering a thundering left hook. Can't be done without falling on your ample bottom, can it? I know because I spent all morning trying it and I'm not molten, I'm black and blue. While you're perusing that panel, check out Molty's right foot. Yeah, Steve Ditko was the master of the wiggly worm fingers but this kind of body architecture goes way beyond that.

Don't try this at home
MB:  Featuring Peter’s graduation from Midtown High and the debut of a vintage villain, this is a noteworthy issue; I don’t know if Molty is considered a fan favorite, but I always regarded him as a formidable foe and had a soft spot for him, completely forgetting that he was a former associate of Smythe’s.  The twin scholarships for Peter and Flash and the choice of J.J. to give the graduation speech were satisfying dramatically, yet make the reader feel that—despite being nominally set in the real New York—this strip takes place in its own, hermetically sealed world.  I theorized a different reason for Liz “Hilton’s” fit of pique, but will refrain from explaining why, so as not to spoil anything for those less familiar with the subsequent storylines.

PE: What's up with the Liz "Hilton" thing? How does a writer forget the name of one of his long-running characters? Or was letterer Sam Rosen asleep at the wheel? Ditko critic-extreme Professor Scoleri will find much to rant about this issue including the stretching abilities of Peter Parker's forehead and receding hairline. Most artists study faces and figures but it appears Ditko might also have been studying the White Cliffs of Dover at the time as well.

JS: Did kids in the 60s call each other Ditko-head on the playground as an insult? I find it hard to believe that this is the same artist who was doing much better work with Doctor Strange in Strange Tales

PE: I had to chuckle when Raxton rips his trousers in half and says "Here's my costume. Now everyone will recognize the molten Man!" I must admit that seeing Molty in a three piece suit was somewhat startling but then Ditko's version isn't the one I remember most. That one would be Ross Andru's version in the #132-133 storyline (May-June 1974). Not sure I've mentioned this before but if I was backed into a corner and quizzed my favorite Spidey artist, the answer would be Ross Andru. Now, I haven't read those comics in thirty years so I'm interested to see if they hold up on re-reading when we get to them sometime next year. As for Molten Man, he's a lesser villain (I'll go third tier but no higher) but he's memorable and not as disposable as so many of these early 60s Marvel villains. We'll see Molty show up again in a few months but then he'll disappear for the good part of a decade and resurface in the aforementioned 1974 arc.

Avengers 20

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Thanks to the quick action of Quicksilver, Captain America is saved from his skyscraper plunge (see Avengers 19-Pesky Pete) and The Avengers head after The Swordsman. Just as they've cornered him though, he disappears into thin air. This chain of events is startling to the villain as well but becomes crystal clear as soon as he re-vaporizes in the palace of The Mandarin. The oriental master of evil lays out his plan for The Swordsman: The Mandarin will trick The Avengers into allowing The Swordsman to become a member of the team by projecting a faux image of Iron Man into Avengers Mansion. The image supports the hiring of The Swordsman and that's good enough for the team. Cap is suspicious though and keeps an eye out. Swordsman plants a bomb for Mandarin but has a change of heart at the last second (he's falling for Scarlet Witch) and tries to disengage the device. Just then, Cap sees him and misunderstands. A battle royale ensues.

PE: I've got another one of those pesky "new powers alerts" for you. The Mandarin can use one of his rings to molecularly transject someone to his palace but it comes at a cost: it dissipates many months of his Delta Energy source. Which must be why he's never tried it on Iron Man.

Amen, Hawkeye!
Jack: Superheroes make everything so complicated! When Cap is falling from a great height, Quicksilver zips around to make an air current to slow his fall, then Hawkeye shoots an arrow to cut the ropes binding his wrists, then the Scarlet Witch makes rivets pop out of a girder so it moves into place for him to land on. Why didn't the Scarlet Witch just levitate him down to the ground?

PE: When Hawkeye protests the faux Iron Man's request for The Swordsman to be inducted in The Avengers, the fake Shellhead asks the same question I've been asking: if The Avengers hadn't relaxed their "standards," would Hawkeye have been allowed in? Later, Hawkeye muses that the next Avenger will be Doctor Doom. Then The Avengers show what dopes they are by shrugging and exclaiming "Whelp, any friend of Iron Man is a friend of ours!"

Jack: I'm just happy to see the Mandarin. I always liked him as a villain. Maybe it's all those rings---

PE: A very average story (even among average Avengers stories) that goes nowhere but it goes nowhere slowly. I'm not sure, if it wasn't for Stan Lee's crowing (even on the cover), I could tell the difference between Wally Wood's inks and Mike Esposito's inks. There's not a hint, at least to me, that Wood had anything to do with this.

MB: Much as I liked the top half of this two-parter, the conclusion is in some ways an improvement, most noticeably the art:  the firm line of Wood’s inks allows Heck’s dynamic style to shine through, while showing off his pencils to their finest advantage.  We also get the start of the relationship between the Swordsman and the Mandarin (who hates Iron Man so much that he schemes against the Avengers merely in anticipation of Shellhead’s rejoining them), which will come to full flower in Avengers Special #1.  The clever resolution of last issue’s cliffhanger, with Cap’s rock-solid—and justified—faith in his fellow Assemblers to save him, tops off the sundae.

PE: Which just goes to show what I know about inking!

Fantastic Four 42

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Still under the hypnotic grasp of The Wizard, Ben Grimm battles his three partners alongside The Wizard, The Sandman, The Trapster and Medusa. The Wizard draws yet another ace when he manages to trap Johnny Storm in his evil mental cage. Can The Invisible Girl and Mr. Fantastic win back the loyalty of their two zombie-fied partners in time to walk down the aisle? To be continued...

PE: Part Two of the three-part "epic," this feels like yet another "battle for the sake of battle" issue. The Wizard's able to control The Thing and The Torch, arguably the strongest pair of The Four, and then exclaims that he can't get everything he wants in the world until Sue and Reed are destroyed. Why doesn't he think to hypnotize the remaining Two and then he'd have an Amazing Eight rather than a Scary Six? I'm just waiting for the inevitable "The Wizard orders The Thing to kill Reed and his love for the man is so great that it breaks the hypnotic hold" scene that should be the capper of this "saga." If we avoid that, then perhaps we can claim a success. As it is, I'm still not buying this as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine." I wouldn't even print "Kinda Maybe One of the World's Okayest Comic Magazines" yet.

JS: I don't know what I find more troubling, that Mr. Fantastic can be squeezed into a cocktail shaker, or that when squeezed into it there was still plenty of air for him to breathe for quite a while.

MB: Talk about going from bad to worse:  as the curtain goes up on Act II of our little drama, the Wizard has already turned the Frightful Four—with the Sandman having ditched his color-coordinated purple outfit—into Five by controlling the Thing’s mighty muscles…not to mention those teeth Ben is suddenly sporting.  Then he turns his Id Machine (does this make him the original Wizard of Id?) on Johnny, leaving the soon-to-be-Richardses as the Fantastic Two.  I am thrilled to report that when Reed temporarily turns the tide by borrowing equipment from the Wizard’s own storehouse, it works better than the portable water sprinkler he’d put on the Torch.

Tales to Astonish 71

The Sub-Mariner

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We continue where we left off, with Namor stuck in a cave and a giant monster squid bearing down on him. The first clue to the elusive Trident is supposed to be from a seashell that Namor has found. Instead, he uses it as a weapon, hurling the shell like a razor-sharp discus so that it lops off the squid’s tentacles, killing the beast. Once the prince is victorious, the spirit of Neptune arises from the shell to speak to him. Neptune reveals that the next clue on Namor’s quest is in the Forbidden Deeps, where he must now go. Twirling like a torpedo, Subby launches into the buried cave entrance, burrowing himself free. He comes across the Krang flunkies who buried him and trashes them easily. While this has been going on, Krang’s soldiers are starting to get the citizens upset as they kill whoever doesn’t cough up gold and riches, in taxes, for the military machine. Before he reaches the Forbidden Deeps, Namor finds an old man on the far outskirts away from civilization. The ancient one relates that he was ordered to stay there by Neptune, and when the time was right, he would go forth to tell the underwater people that Namor is the true lord of the sea. Namor’s luck apparently runs out once he goes into the Hidden Deeps. A giant monster, made of sea weed, batters him around like a rag doll. The story ends with the monster crushing the hero in its massive hands.

Tom: Wow! This issue goes on to prove that last month’s story wasn’t a fluke. Another fun read that continues to impress me. Giant-Man wasn’t exactly a hard act to follow, but the bullpen might actually have a classic series in the making. Here’s hoping that the great quality continues onward.

PE: Stan has two females this month use the same schmaltzy line "My heart will turn to ashes." Nurse Jane Foster over in Thor and Lady Dorma here. Stan must have been pretty fond of that line. More than forty years later, I still can't read a Sub-Mariner comic without audioizing the voice of John Vernon every time Namor bloops out a word balloon. For those not familiar with the name, Vernon voiced Namor in the 1966 cartoon series. The actor then went on to fame as the mayor in Dirty Harry and Dean Wormer in Animal House (and the unfortunate spin-off TV series, Delta House). Vernon was so dynamic that his voice was also used in that same Marvel 1966 cartoon run as Tony Stark in Iron Man and as Major Glenn Talbot in The Hulk.

Tom: Namor is his usual arrogant self in this series, which adds to the fun of it. I’ve got a feeling that his attitude will get watered down eventually, into being more of a good guy. For the time being, I’m digging how he handles things. Unlike other heroes, who would have wrapped up the giant squid in a spider-web, or somehow would have knocked out the beast so that it could live another day, Subby has no problem chopping the sucker up and giving the creature a dirt nap.

MB: The last page of this story is torn out of the copy of Sub-Mariner Special #1 that I unwittingly bought (I suspect there was a poster of Namor on the back, since there’s one of Dorma on the facing page); fortunately, I see from the splash page of the next one that I didn’t miss much. Unfortunately, the remainder only confirms that if the moody style of Gene Colan—billed as such in this reprint, although I believe he was originally credited as Adam Austin—is well suited to the wine-dark depths, Colletta’s inks are far less so to his pencils, which frequently look amorphous. As the quest for Neptune’s Trident proceeds, I’m enjoying the larger panels and the unhurried storytelling that allows for episodes like Namor’s morale-boosting encounter with his elderly, loyal subject.

Jack: Yep, in the original comic the art is credited to Adam Austin.

PE: Another well-done story, not one with startling revelations certainly but one that feels like a piece of a big puzzle. Maybe one of the big corner pieces. The Giant Seaweed Man does ring in bell a new age for Marvel: the briefless monster. Had Kirby drawn Seaweed man a few years ago in the pages of Fantastic Four, I bet you money the big hunk of moss would be wearing boxers. The strip is blissfully free of the kind of panel that's become standard in Fantastic Four or Daredevil:

Namor: Oh my, it seems to be a giant man made of seaweed!
The Giant Man Made of Seaweed: I... am... Seaweed... Man!
TV news reporter: Namor was attacked by Seaweed Man today...

We are glad that panels such as this did not appear . . .


Our Story

Rick Jones warns the Hulk that Ross has launched a super missile at him and the gigantic humanoid that he’s battling. The Hulk grabs Rick up pronto, leaping away just in time before the missile hits the giant goon. The troops gather around the fallen pink humanoid, with plans to taking it for observation. The Leader doesn’t want his creation to fall into their hands, so he detonates a fire ring around the big creature, burning it. The Hulk stops to revive Rick because the kid has stopped breathing from the shock of the leap and the blast of the super missile. After he’s brought back to normal, the two go off to one of their secret caves. The Hulk may now have Banner’s mind, but he is more angry and savage then the mild mannered scientist normally is. Still having a bullet lodged in his skull from a couple issues ago, the Hulk frantically works on the gamma machines so he doesn’t return to human form and die. Ross and the military observed them enter the cave so they surround it. Ross threatens to blow up the cave with nuclear bombs after the Hulk lobs some boulders at them. The Hulk bickers with Rick, telling him to leave, which he finally does. It looks like the Hulk is about to meet his doom until an apparition of the villainous Leader appears. The Leader gives Hulk an ultimatum at the story’s end. Jade Jaws can either stay in the cave and get killed, or pledge allegiance to the almighty Leader and be transported away to his headquarters.

Tom: I didn’t like this one as much as the last issue. The story is starting to get bogged down with the whole bullet lodged in the head predicament along with the Green Goliath now having Banner’s mindset. The artwork is getting stranger as the Hulk’s mug is starting to look mutated. What’s even weirder is the Hulk making a Rock Hudson reference while he and Rick are alone in the cave . . .

Jack: I thought the Mickey Demeo art was terrible until it hit me—this is how the Hulk looked on the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon TV show! I recall that they used stories from the comics and photographed the panels, so this story must have been one that they used and I think one of the close-ups of the Hulk was featured in the advertisements for the TV show.

Tom: When reading a two story series like this, it’s hard not to draw comparisons between the two. If you put them up side by side, the Hulk’s adventures are starting to look like a filled in coloring book tale, while Namor’s comes off as more adult, though I’ll use that term loosely. Good fun all around though.

Jack: The Hulk has had some good moments since being revived in the back of Tales to Astonish, but it has been a very uneven series, probably because of the artwork. It has not been the best work of Ditko or Kirby.

PE: Oh boy, this is bad stuff. If you're going to give a title an "epic" feel and drag a story out over months and months, you better have a story worth telling. This reads like the same 'ol crap every issue with the added bonus of increasingly atrocious artwork. There is no definition in Esposito's characters or landscapes. Everyone looks alike save the color of their hair or skin or the addition of a mustache. His Hulk has the same wide-mouthed grin in every panel, signifying pain, anger, puzzlement, or God knows what.

Tales of Suspense 69

Iron Man 

Our Story

The commisar of a (COMMIE ALERT! COMMIE ALERT!) communist work camp near Siberia, Boris Bullski tires of the lack of respect his seniors have for him. He has three scientists concoct a suit made of titanium, a suit so powerful it could destroy that American swine, the commieland-hating Iron Man! The armor ready to go, Bullski, now carrying the moniker of Titanium Man, issues a challenge to Iron Man to fight him in a neutral site. The ultimatum is delivered worldwide so that Iron Man will be humiliated if he turns the challenge down. Shellhead decides he can't let the world down and accepts Tito's invite. When the battle begins, Iron Man quickly realizes he's outmatched by the much bigger, stronger Bullski. The hidden land mines don't hurt the evil Red's chances, either.

PE: Could someone tell me what Tony Stark's latest gizmo, the Sub-Miniature Reverser does? Is it designed to make little things that used to be big things little again? It's so frustrating when we're not given the whole scoop on these fascinating machines. And what a fabulous name for a happenin' nightclub, "The Frug A Go-Go." The Frug, wikipedia tells me, was a short-lived dance craze derived from another short-lived dance craze, The Chicken. Why, oh why, didn't we get to see Happy and Pepper doing The Frug?

JS: Titanium Man? Really? Was Stan even trying at this point?

PE: Just so that we don't miss the message (again), Stan makes sure to remind us (again) that commies don't play fair. The commies lay down traps for Iron Man before he's even at the battlefield (again). An American superhero would never resort to lows such as those. I'll bet you anything Sly Stallone read this comic book when he was a kid and then again just before he wrote Rocky IV.

"I must break you."

JS: Does Tony Stark not have enough goimg on in his life between being an Avenger, a billionaire businessman and a playboy that he's got to fly out to participate in international grudge matches in a carnival atmosphere?

PE: Happy's back to lookin' like a baby who needs his nappy changed. Got news for ya, Hap. The look's not complimentary and I doubt the chicks dig it either. Well, maybe Pepper, but everyone knows (even Hap) that she's only using him to make her boss jealous. Please excuse me while I have a good larf: "The burgomaster of Alberia reviews the agreed-upon rules of combat..." Who's sanctioning this televised match, Don King? 

MB:  One of the fun things about reading Marvel Comics of this era is that an important villain such as the Titanium Man—straight from “Commieland”—is introduced every couple of issues.  Not surprisingly, Shellhead had a number of armored adversaries (e.g., Crimson Dynamo, Guardsman) who thought their tin suits were a match for his, and while they never prevailed in the long run, they often gave the Golden Avenger a run for his money.  The build-up and cliffhanger have obviously deferred the bulk of this fight to the next issue, but it’s clear it won’t be any walk in the park for Shellhead, and the Titanium Man’s historical link with the Crimson Dynamo only adds to the appeal of this story, in spite of the Cold War hysteria of Senator Byrd and his ilk.

PE: Though Countess Stephanie de la Spiroza seems familiar (A lover jilted by Tony Stark? Join the club!), this is her first appearance. She'll be back very soon though. The other guy who seems oddly familiar, of course, is The Titanium Man himself. The character threw me right back to the first year of this strip when every other bad guy was decked out in a suit of whatever metal was popular that month (to Professor Bradley's list above, I'd add The Unicorn). He's certainly no first-string villain so you have to shake your head and sigh that maybe Paul McCartney didn't really know that much about Marvel Comics after all. "Magneto and Green Goblin" has a better ring to it.

Captain America 

Our Story

While his partner is helping fight World War II as Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes is kidnapped and taken to the mysterious Greymoor Castle, home to the crazed and bitter scientist, Dr. Cedric Rawlings. Approached by the Nazis to perfect a sure-fire way to eliminate Captain America and Bucky, the scientist has created a way to shrink his subjects down to nothingness. With Bucky trapped at the Castle, the Nazis know it's only a matter of time before Cap will come busting through the door. 

JS: Greymoor Castle sounds appropriately gothic for our tale. It reminded me of the Forgotten Prisoner of Castlemare Aurora model kit. I like to think the hanging Skeleton is all that's left of Bucky!

PE: I didn't mind Dick Ayers' pencil work this time. It's very Kirby-esque. The story reads as though it had been written in the 1940s, which was Stan's goal after all. Bill Mantlo returned Cap to Greymoor Castle in 1981 (#256, April 1981 to be exact), with art by the late, great Gene Colan. This was the first issue after John Byrne's legendary run on Cap (#247-255). 

MB: As with the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip, Kirby here begins contributing only layouts instead of full pencils, and with the Red Skull now only invoked rather than seen, things seem to be throttling back a bit from the greatness of the last few issues.  That said, however, the “rendering” by Ayers isn’t bad, and the combat scenes on page 7 are especially well done, befitting the artist who inherited the Howlers from the King.  The standard-issue traitorous crackpot scientist is no better or worse than most, and it’s nice to see Steve in action in his other uniform for a change, even if his understandable concern for Bucky leads him to overlook a crucial piece of intelligence, so I guess I’ll just sit tight and see where this goes.

JS: Note to Cap: you might want to think twice about busting a hole in the fuselage of an aircraft that you plan to continue flying.

PE: I dig crazy Nazi professors (is he talking about us? -JS) (especially the ones with only one hand) almost as much as those crazy commies! If you were to get all your history from movies and comic books (definitely the route I would recommend) rather than those boring, heavy history books, you'd know that the Nazis didn't have any sane scientists. Rawlings definitely had a Mad Thinker vibe to him and I actually did some research to make sure that somewhere down the road some goofball comic writer at Marvel didn't tie the two (as we'll find out together, everyone in the Marvel Universe is related).

The X-Men 13

Our Story

Continuing the drama from last issue, Professor X's step-brother, Cain Marko, now the deadly Juggernaut, has sworn vengeance on Xavier and is making his way through the X-Men to get to his prey. X throws everything including the kitchen sink (aka Johnny Storm, The Human Torch) at Marko but it doesn't seem to stop him. Fortunately, once X is back up to his normal strength, his and the combined abilities of his X-Kids and The Torch weaken The Juggernaut long enough to separate him from his strength-giving helmet. Once the hat's off, so's the game.

PE: A perfectly average time-waster. Nothing much happens. The entire 20-page saga revolves around the journey of Juggernaut from one end of a room to another, stopping here and there for bumps in the road. There's a big battle with very little consequence (although it must be of some import since X deems it necessary to wipe Johnny Storm's memory of the fight clean -- anyone out there in MU-Land care to explain that one?) and a lot of cliched dialogue. I do not believe for a moment that a common thug, albeit one with super powers, would use a line like "If I must taste the bitter dregs of defeat..."

JS: While I wouldn't argue with your description, I thought it was reasonably entertaining. Did they pull in The Human Torch because they owed him extra appearances when they cancelled his solo strip in Strange Tales?

Call for the Teen Brigade! Call for the Teen Brigade!

MB:  One might think that after the exquisite build-up given to Cain Marko last issue, no battle could possibly do it justice, and that with an unknown named Jay Gavin now providing the pencils over Kirby’s layouts, the artwork would be further destabilized.  Yet the X-Men’s fight with Juggernaut lasts the entire issue, even requiring Xavier to enlist the Human Torch’s aid, and enables them to display excellent teamwork and ingenuity (like Hank luring Juggernaut into the Danger Room).  As for the art, it’s still a little cartoony at times, but the inking credit reveals one of the most satisfying two-word combinations ever found in the English language:  Joe Sinnott.

PE: I don't see any evidence of Jack Kirby here. The layouts must have been some kind of stick figures on a napkin delivered to the pseudonymous Jay Gavin at the 11th hour. Gavin was actually Werner Roth (1921-1973), who worked at Atlas in the 1950s, penciling several issues of the western Apache Kid. His art wasn't bad, it just wasn't Kirby. But who was? He does deliver one of the essential panels for fanboys worldwide: that of Jean Grey in a nurse's outfit tending to her battered partners in the climax. I like to think that this was the reward Professor Xavier handed out to his sexually naive XXX-kids. 

JS: I was trying to figure out where in the Mansion that infirmary would be. Thanks for clarifying that it was the Danger Room dialed in to a 70s porn set.

And a million fantasies are launched!

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #124
Millie the Model #130
Modeling with Millie #41
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #22
Two-Gun Kid #77


  1. Certainly with you guys on Wally Wood's contribution to DAREDEVIL (and especially THE AVENGERS), if not yet sold on Severin.

    While I wouldn't call Andru my FAVORITE Spidey artist, he's the guy who was drawing AMAZING when I became a serious buyer; simultaneously, I was reading Romita reprints in MARVEL TALES, so between them, those two feel definitive to me. Andru wasn't right for every strip, but I thought he was excellent during his long Spidey stint. His style seemed to suit the book well.

    Re: Roth, I believe he handled the strip for some time after Kirby's departure, which--to be brutally frank--may help to explain its lack of success and eventual cancellation. Alas, I don't have most of those issues (X-MEN: THE EARLY YEARS, on which I am currently relying, is about to be cancelled), so I'll have to depend on the senior faculty to keep me apprised.

  2. You're right on the money about my love for Andru. Same with Herb Trimpe on Hulk, Rich Buckler on Thor, John Buscema on Fantastic Four, and brother Sal on Captain America. Interesting to see if I still think highly of those issues when we get to them next year.

  3. Of the other examples you gave, Trimpe seems most analogous to Andru, i.e., you might not be thrilled to see his name on the credits of another strip (especially Declining Marvel fodder like GODZILLA or SHOGUN WARRIORS), but his long stint on INCREDIBLE HULK speaks for itself and, for us readers of a certain age, might be considered definitive.

    Conversely, either Buscema brother was a welcome presence on any number of books; I consider John probably Marvel's finest pure penciler, as opposed to, say, writer-artists like my "Two Jims" (Starlin and Steranko). Sal seemed like their quintessential utility player, and probably drew most of the strips at one time or another, usually very well. As for Buckler (Deathlok shout-out!), once he became less of a Kirby clone, he was also a fairly versatile penciler, and--of course--especially yummy under Sinnott's inks. But who wasn't?