Wednesday, March 21, 2012

April 1966: The Menace of Galactus!

Tales to Astonish 78

The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Namor confronts Dr. Henry Pym and the Wasp aboard a military station that has been drilling into the ocean floor. This has been causing Namor’s kingdom to suffer heavy earthquakes, along with possibly waking up an ancient beast. A nervous army trooper lets off a round from his rifle at the angry Namor. Dr. Pym tries to shove the trooper’s rifle so the shot misses, but unfortunately the stray bullet hits an oxygen tank that engulfs the station in a fiery blaze. While everyone tries to run around and prevent the fire from destroying them all, the Puppet Master has been monitoring them and is delighted that the Sub-Mariner has returned to the surface world. He quickly makes up one of his puppets in the form of Namor and uses it to control him and have him leave the station to come to his mansion. Hank Pym can tell something is not right with Namor, so he has the Wasp follow him. She ends up having her own adventure in The Avengers comic book. Since he is low on funds, the Puppet Master orders Subby to go rob the nearest bank. Much to the villain’s disappointment, though, Subby only steals bonds, and the Puppet Master needs cash. He sends Subby back to rob the same bank, where a huge group of military and law enforcement personnel are waiting. The Puppet Master orders Namor to avoid capture so the authorities will not know where his hideout is. The story ends with Namor being commanded to kill whomever he has to in order to escape.

Tom: This series is going downhill real fast. It’s bad enough that we have Hank and Jan hanging out with their usual lame, on again, off again, secret, non-secret identities and retirement, but now the Puppet Master is playing the main heavy villain? This guy is probably one of the most overused and ineffective bad guys that Marvel has produced in the whole 1960s decade. This issue felt like it was infected by a virus from the Human Torch’s Strange Tales-fiasco of a series. OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad . . . 

Unless Gene Colan has an amazing ability to mimic
Jack Kirby's style, I think this picture of the FF
is a cut and paste job!
Jack: Okay, let me get this straight. We just used up two issues of Tales to Astonish and two issues of The Avengers so that the Puppet Master could hypnotize Sub-Mariner and get him to rob a bank? That’s alright, though, because the Puppet Master has never looked so good as in Gene Colan’s hands, though I wonder what the little picture on the front of his new super villain suit could be. I am so enamored of Colan’s art on this strip that Sub-Mariner could do just about anything and I’d like it.

I'd make the "flammable" a priority.
PE: This issue illustrates perfectly why Stan scuttled the original classic line-up of The Avengers or at least the reason he gave for scuttling it. The Wasp flits back and forth between titles and seems to repeat herself and her actions. She's back on the boat with her boss/beau Henry Pym here, but we clearly saw her attacked by Attuma in The Avengers last month. The fortunate aspect about all this is that I tune out when I hear the words Janet Van Dyne anyway. The Puppet Master's funds may have been wiped out, which is why he needs Subby to rob banks for him, but at least he had enough dough to stop at the Super-Villain's Men's Wearhouse to get fitted for that natty Puppet Master vest and Chinos. A No-No prize to the first reader who can tell me what that design on his vest actually is. And keep it clean. This adventure continues the high quality we've seen in this title since Gene Colan took the reins despite the presence of a never-more-than-fourth-tier bad guy.

Jack: After careful study, I think the picture on his vest is . . . a puppet.

MB:  In a typical Marvel time-paradox, the return of Subby’s TTA predecessors, Hank and Jan, actually leads into last month’s Avengers.  I don’t know if I’m getting more tolerant or if Colletta is finally getting the hang of inking Colan’s pencils, but either way, Namor remains a commanding figure, of which Gentleman Gene’s layouts make good use. Also don’t know at what branch of the Super-Villain Boutique the Puppet Master picked up his current uniform, yet a less imposing set of duds can scarcely be imagined; interesting that even under his control, Namor—never known as a “deep” thinker—comes up with the sprinkler gag, which, to be blunt, displays more ingenuity than the bulk of the script or P.M.’s haphazard plan.

PE: We all know that Stan "The Man" Lee was a practitioner in the fine art of hyperbole, and in each month's Bullpen Bulletins you can witness first hand how Lee honed that art. His latest howler comes in an item about an article about comic books in The National Enquirer (back in an innocent time when you would brag about being in The Enquirer), where Stan claims that Fantastic Four sells "33,000,000 copies a year." There's absolutely no way that statement is true. The biggest selling title in 1965 was DC's Superman, which sold 823,829 copies per month (or close to 9.9 million per year). That year, Marvel only released sales figures for seven of their titles, but even if I were to triple the highest cited title's sales for the sake of argument (the best-selling cited was Journey Into Mystery, with an average monthly sale of 232,644 copies), that still only gets you 700,000 copies a month (really not impossible) or 8.4 million copies per year. It's more likely that Stan may have been "misquoted" and the 33 million figure actually should be attributed to total Marvel sales in 1965.

Our Story

The Hulk is back from his time-traveling adventure and is surlier than ever. Back at the military base, the drama is running high as people, especially Betty Ross, are having a hard time believing the fact that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are one and the same. Even though they believe he might be dead, the military, led by Major Talbot, is taking no chances and has set up a trap in case Jade Jaws returns. Sure enough, the Hulk leaps toward the base, but falls into a series of holes that have been dug up and camouflaged to capture him. Once inside the underground holes, powerful gas toxins are released upon the Hulk, rendering him weak and unable to escape. A new scientist named Dr. Zaxon has been brought in to replace Banner. The good Doctor has schemes of his own, though, involving a machine that he has built to siphon off the Hulk’s powers, giving Dr. Zaxon the ability to control weather, set off volcanoes, and conjure up scary apparitions to control mankind. At night, Dr. Zaxon puts on a metal suit and carries a gun that will kill the Hulk and take away his powers.

Tom: The Hulk series continues to prove that it was probably the most inconsistent title of its day. While it must have been hard to follow last issue's great Executioner versus Hulk smackdown, this issue felt like it took two steps back. I don’t ever seem to recall the Dr. Zaxon villain from before, and so far I’m not impressed. His outfit looks like he bought one of Tony Stark’s old test armor suits off of EBay.

Jack: Good Lord, what will the Hulk look like next? Bill Everett is back and, while he draws nice humans, his Hulk looks like he should be starring in a toothpaste commercial! And what of Dr. Zaxon? He looks like he inherited Iron Man’s old suit of armor.

PE: If you asked me to name a "dream project" for Bill Everett to be handed, my first choice likely wouldn't be The Hulk, but then my likeliest choice is right now in the able hands of Gene Colan in this here same title. Everett has a beautiful style but it looks like he wasn't given any kind of tips by the powers-that-be at Marvel. His Hulk sometimes looks like a monkey. His Betty Ross sometimes looks as old as Betsy Ross (grey hair and all). But those are small complaints and dusted under the Spider-Man rug when you consider the dire straits this strip was in a few months ago, art-wise. Speaking of Web-Head (I was), I wonder if Everett was ever considered for that title (or Doctor Strange, for that matter) when Ditko took his walk a few months later. Story-wise, I'm kept at seat's edge by the fall-out from blabbermouth Rick Jones's confession ("Well, now that he's dead I guess I can tell you and you and you and you and you . . .") and his nonchalance when he realizes Banner's still alive but, thanks to Ricky, now a wanted man for more than just treason. Extra points for Dr. Zaxon's retro-Iron Man suit.

Still some of that 'ol magic left in the pen
MB: With only sporadic issues prior to #85, I’m at a disadvantage here, although I gather from the senior faculty that I haven’t missed much; we are also joined this time by Bill Everett—who created Greenskin’s aquatic co-star in ’39—but I’m not certain I’d call him and Jack a dream team. I’m so used to the Hulk’s civilian i.d. being common knowledge that its revelation by a Rick Jones who believes him dead seemed long overdue, however slow Banner’s would-be inamorata, Betty Ross, is to accept the truth about Bruce. Speaking of things overdue, those will also include the exit of our mercifully short-lived (in every sense) villain, the nebbishy and forgettable Dr. Konrad Zaxon, master of “organic energy” . . . whatever the hell that might be.

Tales of Suspense 76

Iron Man
Our Story

Just as it seems all hope is lost, Tony Stark's Enervation Intensifier works its magic and transforms The Freak back into Stark's lap boy Happy Hogan. The biggest worry now for the trillionaire playboy is the fact that Happy has guessed that Stark's alter ego is the red and gold Avenger. How will he keep Happy from taking that secret to the press? Fate shines its lovely light on Tony Stark, however, as a slight case of amnesia has struck Happy Hogan and he finds it hard to remember who he is, let alone who his boss really is. Just then, the door is broken down and Senator Byrd appears, subpoena in hand, demanding that Tony (now back in his civvies) accompany him to Washington on the double. On the way, however, fate shines that light on the patrol car carrying Byrd and Stark. Tony is whisked away to the Orient, where The Mandarin has yet another world-beating scheme up his long sleeve: he plans to awaken the menace known only as Ultimo!

"I'm your what?"
PE: The 12-page format really bites the boys on the bottom this issue. There is perhaps too much story (and too many coincidences) here for a regular-sized comic, let alone the truncated variety. Tony Stark's Enervation Intensifier (another one of those gizmos where Stan opened up the dictionary, closed his eyes, and pointed?) is one hell of a machine. It not only transformed Happy Hogan from a huge, powerful Goliath back into a paunchy, manic-depressive errand boy, it gave him back his full head of hair! Never mind the weapons, Stark Industries could make billions off follicly-challenged males like me. I experienced another one of those uneasy moments where I questioned whether Pepper Potts is really a genius or not. It's the panel where she wonders aloud where the strange guy dressed in the white sheet went to while standing right next to Happy, dressed in a white sheet.

Jack: Do you have Tony Stark's phone number? The other day, my daughter very seriously suggested I try Rogaine.

Complete with boxers?
PE: The mysterious Ultimo gets the star treatment this issue without even showing up. I suspect that's due, once again, to the brevity of the strip. In quick succession we get the Freak-to-Happy change, the Senator Byrd threat (who breaks in just as Tony has finished changing), the disappearing Tony trick, the return of the Mandarin, and one lone panel of the backside of Ultimo rising from a volcano like some old Kirby/Lee monster. And let's all give a great big hand to the granddaddy of all dei ex machina, the selective amnesia. At some point in the next forty years, I believe every single character in the MU will suffer from it (some more than once). The story's still so intriguing, I'm interested enough not to skip the next installment!

Jack: Way to show off with the Latin plural, Prof. Peter!

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America finds himself in an uneasy alliance with the French fifth-tier villain named Batroc, the Leaper. Cap and The Leaper are trying to capture the unnamed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who's carrying a damaged cylinder of Inferno 42, an explosive cocktail so volatile it can destroy the city. The duo finally catches up with the agent just as she's collapsing from radiation sickness. The truce comes to an end at this point when Batroc bests the star-spangled Avenger and makes off with the Inferno 42, delivering it to his shady bosses. Cap turns up at the hideout, revealing that he'd been playing possum to get to the higher-ups. A fight ensues between Batroc and Cap and the mysterious characters disappear, ostensibly with the Inferno 42. Knowing that he's been cheated of his pay, Batroc opts out of his fight with Cap, telling our hero he's getting out of the city before it goes KABOOOM! Luckily, we learn, the packages had been switched yet again and the Inferno 42 is safe in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the ruse has taken its toll on their female agent, who seems achingly familiar to Captain America.

PE: We didn't know it yet but we'd gotten our first dose of future Steve Rogers squeeze, Sharon Carter, aka Agent 13. It will be interesting to see how they reverse the effects the Inferno 42 has had on Sharon since our last word on the blond is that she's one dead cutie pie. But, as Bruce Banner (or one of those really smart guys) once said, "What don't kill Hulk make Hulk strong in the Marvel Universe!" The twist has added an interesting wrinkle to the strip, which had been getting musty and boring. As I recall, things get even more twistier when we find out exactly why Sharon Carter looks just like the girl Steve Rogers fell in love with back in World War II.

Jack: I always dug Batroc. I can't explain why.

Strange Tales 143

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Shielded from the ESP division by scramble helmets, Mentallo and the Fixer (hereinafter MentaFix) remove Fury’s mind-control headgear after clamping him to a miniature H-bomb. Ignoring the strain on his heart, Tony Stark assumes command, while Fury mentally signals two snipers to fire a napalm-like substance that forces Mentafix to remove their helmets. Already shaky, the solidarity between them crumbles completely under the ESP attack, so with MentaFix—particularly the hypersensitive Mentallo, whose powers are wiped out by the assault—thus distracted, Stark is able to use his Neutralizer to disintegrate the bomb, and Dugan, et al. rescue Fury, who is revealed to have been equipped with a miniaturized mental transmitter.

MB: As with several recent Avengers two-parters, the set-up is better than the pay-off, and this rushed wrap-up confirms that MentaFix’s attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. deserved at least one more installment; e.g., if they wanted to hook Nick up to the bomb, why not just bop him over the head, instead of squandering all the possibilities of a brainwashed Fury? The unevenness of the art is presumably due to Kirby penciling it “with an assist by Howard Purcell,” while Dugan—his hair miscolored white in one panel of my reprint from NFAOS #18—is a dead ringer for Thunderbolt Ross. The WTF Dialogue Award goes to the two snipers (“Be sure your safety latch is switched off, pal!” “Mister, this gun doesn’t even have a safety!”), who are obviously wielding identical weapons.

Undeniably Kirby!
PE: Dugan's not the only one with hair issues. Our female volunteer extra-sensory perceptive seems to have gone out to the beauty parlor between issues, despite a national crisis, as last issue she was a blonde and now she's a redhead! The story's a bit rushed but still readable. The art's another story. There are heaping helpings of The King on display but far too much Purcell, especially in characters' faces, which look rushed. Purcell (1918-1981) was pretty much at the end of his career (though he would have sporadic work into the early 1970s) after working in the comics since 1940. He co-created "The Gay Ghost" for DC's Sensation Comics. Despite what the big brains at S.H.I.E.L.D. tell us, Mentallo will be back some day (though, unless I've missed an appearance somewhere, he won't be back until Daredevil #123 in July 1975).

Doesn't this remind you of a panel that
reminded you of Minority Report?

Jack: Howard Purcell got his start drawing comics in 1940, but his work in this issue is substandard. Seeing someone other than Kirby draw Nick Fury makes it obvious that Kirby was the creative force behind this strip. This episode is just plain dull. It really looks like Kirby ran out of time after page three, since the difference in art starting on age four is so pronounced. The Statement of Circulation in this issue is very interesting. As of Oct. 1, 1965, Strange Tales was printing 455,625 copies and selling 299,485. That’s an awful lot of copies to print and it’s amazing that over 150,000 did not get sold! Do we have any readers in the magazine business? What do you make of these figures?

Doctor Strange
Our Story

His face and hands encased in enchanted, metallic bonds, Dr. Strange must use his spirit form to try to save himself. He locates his cloak of levitation and manages to use it to capture one of Mordo’s disciples. His trickery is discovered by the female sorceress, however, and she traps him with a spell, insisting that he reveal to her the secret of his mystic amulet. Dr. Strange uses his mind to control the amulet and cloak in order to battle the sorceress and The Demon, a sorcerer. He defeats them, is freed, and reunites spirit form with physical form, vowing to aid the young woman who has been banished by Dormammu.

MB: Still plotted by Ditko, this was the first Dr. Strange script by newbie Roy Thomas, who would write the character on and off for 3½ years, including all of his first solo book. As in the previous installment, these are the kind of low-rent villains whom Doc would easily polish off under normal circumstances, if it were not for their exquisitely elaborate precautions, and it’s fun to see how systematically Strange has to offset the covering of his face and hands, and the theft of his spear and magic—uh, cloak and amulet. After the recent cosmic spectacle on display, such conventional settings as the Greenwich Village rooftop and brilliantly chosen (albeit ultimately unsuccessful) water tower make for a satisfying change of pace as well.

Jack: I don’t see much of a change from Stan Lee’s writing style, other than perhaps a bit less reliance on mystical phrases such as “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth” every few panels. Ditko’s art seems particularly polished.

JS: Professor Jack is overlooking one big 'Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth' this issue, as Strange decides to hid his physical body in a water tower. One that he points out is below(!?) freezing. Was that the best his astral-self could do?

Fantastic Four 49
Our Story

Galactus has landed on Earth. His equipment has determined that Earth will indeed provide a source of energy for him. Unfortunately, when he’s done draining our planet, there won’t be any planet left for the rest of us. This is the realization that is sinking in for the Fantastic Four, as they witness Galactus berating the Watcher for trying to keep Earth hidden from his view. After Ben and Johnny’s best attempts do nothing but annoy Galactus, the Watcher bids them return to their rooms inside and wait for him. The Silver Surfer, meanwhile, having been struck last issue by the Thing, has landed on the rooftop of Alicia Masters, the blind sculptress who is Ben’s girlfriend. Stunned but not really hurt, he slips through the skylight into her apartment, and Alicia immediately senses his nobility, despite learning he is not from our world. Her sincerity and lack of fear awake in him concepts he had not felt before: an understanding of beauty and the emotion of pity. As Galactus assembles his world-draining equipment atop the Baxter Building, and cameras broadcast the drama around the world, the Watcher reveals a plan to the Fantastic Four. As he is forbidden to “actively” interfere in cosmic events, the Watcher sends Johnny (the one best suited for the journey) through a space/time distortion, mentally accompanying him, to the home world of Galactus, to retrieve a device that can defeat the world-eater. The rest of the team sets out to delay Galactus by wreaking general havoc; smashing the equipment he has set up and striking a few blows. He in turn sets loose on them a half-android, half-alive alien creature named the Punisher, a silent, dwarflike servant of his who is far more powerful than he first appears. The Watcher ponders a new development--Alicia’s urgent humanity has touched the Silver Surfer, who contemplates the unthinkable: defending the worthy human race against his master.

JB: If the cover last month asked us what the F.F. and everyone else were looking at, this time around we see, and we run away! The hopelessness of the situation for Reed and company is imparted very well. This is a good example of how the middle installment of a trilogy can be the most effective; we already know the danger, we don’t know how (or if we can) to get out of it yet, so the characters have to really face their fears and deal.
PE: This issue, like the last, is dynamite. It's so good I'll forego the usual sarcasm I'd muster for the fact that, of all the skylights in all of New York, The Silver Surfer just happens to fall onto Alicia Masters's. What are the odds of that? If he hadn't come across our favorite blind artist (well, aside from Stevie Wonder, that is), mankind would be doomed. Nope, I ain't mentioning it. (Thanks for not mentioning it. - Professor John.) I will say that Reed Richards, unshaven, is the spittin' image of Nick fury sans the eyepatch.

JS: Speaking of 5-o'clock-shadow-Richards, I have to side with Johnny Storm. Who in the hell, when threatened with a potential cataclysmic event, is going to be thinking first about personal hygiene? Wouldn't it have been easier to just have him clean-shaven throughout, if that was the concern (although I prefer the rugged looking Reed just to mix things up a bit).

MB: There are many who would nominate this trilogy—which I’m not sure I’ve read before—as one of Marvel’s greatest accomplishments, Silver Age or otherwise, and I doubt I could make a decent rebuttal, even if I were inclined to. Both the cover and the interior artwork are, if you’ll pardon the pun, stellar, and I practically get a woody when I read dialogue like that between Oatu and Galactus (“The Watcher stands beside them in this fateful hour!”). I liked the mundane touch of Reed shaving while Ben tries to wash off the “cosmic insect repellant,” and I give Johnny credit for not mooning over Crystal, although it does seem odd that Ben displays no concern for Alicia—who isn’t stuck under an impenetrable dome inside the Great Refuge—or at least a desire to have her by his side during what may be Earth’s final hours, but that’s quibbling.

JB: The exchanges between Alicia and the Surfer are very memorable, as he begins to develop the philosophical slant that becomes his trademark. So too are the scenes of Johnny traversing his impossible journey (un-life barriers!). I don’t know where the Watcher draws his line of non-interference though—lucky for us!

JS: I've mentioned in the past my perfect representation of The Thing. This issue has some of my favorite renditions of the Flame-on version of The Human Torch. 

PE: I didn't know that there was a Punisher before the Punisher. Blink and you'll miss him.

The X-Men 19
Our Story

The X-Men have recovered from their bout with The Sentinels and Magneto, only to run head first into Mimic, who absorbs the powers of those around him. Yes, kids, as the cover implies he gets The Beasts feet and agility, Angel's wings, Cyclop's optic blast (and cool shades - I guess they sell those red lenses at Wal-Mart), Iceman's... icing, and the brain power of Jean and Professor X. While you might think, "how can the X-Men beat all of their powers rolled into one," you'll be surprised that not only are they able to do so, they do so in a single issue!

PE: Ah! It feels just like the "old days" again! Several pages of The X-Kids working out in their danger room, bickering. Cyclops gets to say "Knock it off, guys, this is serious. No horse play!" at least five times in a five-panel sequence. Dr. X uses the immortal line: "This is the most dangerous adversary we've ever faced and likely will ever face!" for the 19th time in 19 issues. And we get another villain named for his power, in this case mimicry. In the whole Marvel Universe, there must be two villains (or heroes) who have the exact same power. I wonder if there's any kind of registry for a name as there is with blog sites. Is there a waiting period during which the villain has to be referred to by his given name or a generic name? Maybe Iron man gets a newsletter telling him that the six-week wait is over and, yes, he can refer to Sigmund Mandaroski as The Mandarin. In any event, I think The Mimic skipped that waiting window (for shame!) as he's already got his "M" logo tights and a really big "M" machine back at home.

JS: Never a big Mimic fan, although I did like how the gen X-ers were able to defeat him. That said,  Professor lets him walk away, explaining in an offhand remark that he basically erased his memory! Um, I'm sorry Prof, but there's a bit of an ethical issue there. Acts like that justify some of the anti-mutant sentiment that's out there... and growing...

The Mighty Thor 127
Our Story

Having been defeated by Hercules, the Mighty Thor faces his internal dilemma: of what use is a Thunder God if he has not the power to fulfill his destiny as a protector of mankind? While his shame is in reality unwarranted, for Thor it is real, and not even words of truest love from Jane Foster can reach him now. He flies off to ponder his destiny . . .  alone. Hercules, meanwhile, high from his recent victory, has agreed to star in a film about guess who? Himself! But the eccentric new producer at Stardust Studios, who calls himself Pluto, as he sets about redesigning the studio to his own grandiose taste, is not exactly what he seems. He is Pluto, as in Lord of the Netherworld, destined to rule that domain of evil for all eternity, unless he can find another to agree to rule in his place. The carrot of fame and fortune for Hercules is but a sham, a trick. A twofold trick; first the film “contract” is an Olympian contract which, if Hercules signs, he will have agreed to become master of the Netherworld in Pluto’s place; second, the brash warrior’s pretty co-star is actually the Queen of the Amazons, spurned by Hercules in the past, and whom he will now be forced to marry should said contract be signed. Our heroic Thor returns to Asgard, having decided to face Odin’s punishment (for revealing his true identity to Jane) no matter what the cost. He instead finds Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost, imprisoned in a block of ethereal force, and the other warriors of the deathly silent realm either trapped by energy bands or immobilized, urging him to turn back. Seidring, to whom Odin granted the Odin-power to strip Thor of half his strength, has turned on his master. Drunk with power, Seidring has struck the All-Father down, diffused the threat of Asgard’s finest (unless they swear allegiance to him), and declared his rule of the throne. Thor refuses to surrender. With only half his power, Thor faces energy bolts, planetoids-turned-missiles, and a vortex of liquid wolf bane. Realizing that, sooner or later, Seidring will be victorious, Thor blinds him momentarily with a lightning flash, long enough for him to reach the Odin Sword. Rather than face the rule of such an evil tyrant, Thor vows to draw the sword, which would mean the end of life for all—including Seidring. The villain hesitates, but he realizes that Thor doesn’t bluff, and in a cowardly panic, returns the Odin-power to its rightful owner, and then flees. Odin feels regret for his dealing so harshly with his son, and lifts the unconscious Thor in his arms. 

In Tales Of Asgard, “The Meaning Of Ragnarok” is revealed to the warriors of Odin by Volla the Prophetess. They have returned to Asgard at Odin’s bidding from their mission aboard the Odinship.

JB: One might say it would be hard to top last issue, featuring Thor’s epic battle with Hercules. So Stan and Jack don’t try to, they switch focus instead; I would humbly say that this issue is even better. Having been utterly defeated, Thor has to face the question of his purpose. It’s ironic that after having gone through so much to reveal his true identity to Jane Foster, even with her in his arms, it is soul-searching and responsibility that take precedence for him. Odin likewise feels deep remorse for hurting his son (I wish I could say he wouldn’t strip Thor of his power again, but alas, it ain’t so!)--it’s quite a grown-up issue.

MB: Even setting aside Thor’s “rash defiance of his will,” Odin seems to have a passel of Asgardians turning on him—first Loki’s open rebellion, with the Absorbing Man as his enforcer, and now Seidring the Merciless, to whom he unwisely turned over his power. Clearly, the Big O is not the greatest judge of character, but the upside of this is that it makes Thor look better in his fickle father’s eyes, and he proves himself worthy by using Dad’s own weapon, the Odin Sword, to up the ante to the limit, threatening to bring on Ragnarok and daring Seidring to call his bluff. In the meantime, the cross-pollination of the Norse and Greco-Roman pantheons continues as we watch and wait with interest while “Mr. Pluto” plots and plans against Hercules in Tinseltown…

JB: It’s been refreshing to have a break from Loki. The Thor title at this point really feels like it knows where it wants to go. What would Loki have done if Seidring became ruler of Asgard? He wasn’t even behind the scenes this time. Hercules gets his share of attention without even being in a single panel; his ego must be swelling! And Pluto (mainly called Hades in Greek mythology, sometimes “Plouton,” which the Romans changed to Pluto) is a great villain, destined for some great future tales.

PE: I continue to snicker verily at Odin's see-saw act. One issue, he's ready to throw lightning bolts at his eldest, the next he's wondering why the heck he got so mad at the kid in the first place. That aside, I'm enjoying the heck out of this strip which, with this issue, commences a wonky Tales of Suspense-ish format with two stories running concurrently within the same strip. I'm sure eventually those two plotlines will meet (perhaps as soon as next issue), but for now Thor knowest not what Herc is up to and vice versa. Refreshingly, the son of Odin doesn't stop amidst hammer hurl and wonder aloud about the son of Zeus. Perhaps due to a scheduling conflict, Hercules doesn't even appear in his own story this issue!

Daredevil 15 
Our Story

Daredevil is high on life as he is happy to be back in New York once again. Unfortunately, Foggy has been having health problems related to the powerful blow that was struck by the Ox a few issues back. Speaking of the Ox, the brutish villain has formed an alliance, while in prison, with a creepy little man named Dr. Karl Stragg. The Dr. and the Ox escape from prison after shooting it out with the guards. The Ox takes Dr. Stragg to Mr. Fear’s hidden laboratory under the pretense that the Dr. has promised to make the Ox intelligent using his knowledge of science. The dumb Ox is duped, however, after the Dr. performs an experiment that switches each of their minds into the other’s body. No longer needing the stupid Ox, the Dr. smacks him aside to go on a crime spree, now possessing the ultimate combination of brains and brawn. Daredevil has been on the lookout for the two since he heard about their escape in the news. It’s not hard for him to find the Ox, as he is on a mindless rampage tearing up the city, drunk with his new strength. The two fight it out with Double D coming out on the losing end. Karen also happens by during the skirmish and the Ox takes her as a hostage after she blurts out that she recognizes him. The new, smarter Ox also takes an extra pair of his standard clothes that he happens to be carrying and dresses the unconscious Daredevil in them. When the cops arrive, they believe that our hero has turned to crime and has been the Ox all along. Back at Mr. Fear’s old pad, the original Ox, in the weak scientist’s body, is still hanging around, unsure of where to go or what to do. Still not a coward, he strikes the Dr. Ox from behind with some heavy machinery so that both he and Karen can escape. The enraged Dr. Ox goes on a rampage once again. This causes the police to release Daredevil and it’s time for round two. After a fierce battle on top of a building, the Dr. Ox seemingly plummets to his death. The wimpy scientist Ox, now feeling smarter than before, walks off into the night, determined to make the most of his newfound intelligence and turn himself back in to the authorities.

PE: I assumed Foggy was not feeling well in our intro because of after effects from becoming The Freak last issue . . . oh, sorry, wrong useless supporting character in love with the hero's secretary. Seriously though, once again we find out that no word balloon goes wasted in the Marvel Universe. The Ox hasn't been seen for months (or issue #6), but the second Foggy feels a little beat "because of that blow--months ago--from The Ox," coincidentally (or ironically, as Stan sees it), up pops guess who. I was slightly disappointed that The Ox didn't ask Stagg to "tell him again about the rabbits and the farm they're gonna have some day." What's the deal with Ox anyway? I know he's stronger than most men but rip-a-car-in-two-strong? Isn't that reserved for Thunder Gods, aliens, and guys who get bit by radioactive spiders?

Tom: I think this story might have been written by the Ox, and not the smarter one either. While I’m a fan of the whole Igor and Frankenstein style of brain swapping, this one was just too out there for me. Also, it seems like every time we see the Ox, he gets stronger. He’s gone from a super tough mob enforcer into an Incredible Hulk powered monster. Daredevil was the really lucky one as the cops didn’t seem to feel like taking any initiative and maybe actually removing his mask to find out his real identity. Ah, where is Mr. Fear when you need him?

PE: Oh goodness, not the ol' brain exchange plot again. I've never heard it described as exchanging mentalities though. New angle, I guess, but I liked it better when it happened to Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron. That was cool. This isn't.

Jack: This story is only slightly less crazy than the three-part Ka-Zar arc that just ended last issue. When will mad scientists learn that mind transfers don’t work out very well? I guess they didn’t show Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in prison.

PE: So, the dim-witted cops ("Look, it's The Ox dressed like Daredevil! Well, sure he's about two feet shorter than usual but it's gotta be him. He's got a yellow shirt and green Chinos!") take DareOx to jail but leave him masked!! I don't mean to be presumptuous but wouldn't it be so much easier to unmask him and check his face against the book of mug shots? Don't give me the hooey about rights. This is just d-u-m . . . dum. How far this strip has fallen since the first few issues.

MB: Because my collection is spotty on Daredevil’s earlier adventures, this is the first issue I’ve seen featuring Romita’s work, and any experience drawing guys swinging around New York on thin strands will obviously serve him in good stead in the future. Romita seems to share Hornhead’s exuberance on that splash page of DD cutting loose, but I have the same reservations over “Ray’s” inks here as with Abel’s in Suspense; the hero looks terrific, yet the faces of the Ox and Stragg leave something to be desired. Having forgotten the Fellowship of Fear wingding, I remember the Ox from his Enforcers gigs against Spider-Man, so this was a decided variation for everybody’s favorite bovine villain, who spends the next six years working out his identity crisis.

PE: For those still drying your eyes at the tear-jerking finale, let me assure you that this incarnation of The Ox is really dead. However, interesting things will happen with "The New Ox" (aka Dr. Stagg) but we won't spill the beans until we get to Daredevil #86 (April 1972).

The Avengers 27
Our Story

No sooner does Hawkeye recall the password to unlock the Avengers’ message recall machine but he is attacked by The Beetle, who has managed to get inside the Avengers’ stronghold. The archer makes quick work of his mysterious new foe. Meanwhile, under the sea, Captain America, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch battle Attuma. Things are not going so well for our heroes until Hawkeye arrives with an Aero-Sub he borrowed from the Fantastic Four. He catches up with Quicksilver and they soon locate Attuma’s command center. Attuma and his minions are no match for the full Avengers team, as Captain America sabotages the flood inducer and they all escape and return to Avengers Mansion. An urgent message concerning the Wasp portends a new crisis in the next installment.

Jack: Hawkeye is such a dope! He needed the Subliminal-Recall-Inducer to remember that the password was 1313. Doesn’t he know that’s the address for The Munsters?

The MU faculty all have to admit that panels
such as this are more than welcome!
PE: Unlike DaredevilThe Avengers has yet to show me quality (well, outside of that landmark issue #4) so I can't be disappointed by the continuing mediocrity. Why would The Beetle be breaking into Avengers Mansion? I assume we'll find out next issue if he got what he came for but then that's a big assumption, I suppose. That's a very bizarre series of panels at the climax. Attuma's craft goes haywire, he screams "It's sabotage! Someone has tampered with the control! It can only mean--" Boom! goes the craft and Stan notes we'll never know "what it can only mean--" Then we find out, in the very next panel, that Cap mucked up the controls. I think I'd appreciated it more if it remained a mystery. At least for more than one panel, that is.

Jack: It seems like Stan the Man liked to come up with goofy cliffhangers that he resolved in record time in the following issue. The Recall-Inducer jogs Hawkeye’s memory in a “single split second.” 

MB: For some reason, I often seem to like the first halves of these two-parters better, although I have no major complaints about this conclusion, certainly not over the resurgence of Giacoia to make the best of Don Heck’s pencils in the post-Wood era. The interlude between the Beetle and Hawkeye was somewhat bizarre (don’t think I’d leave even a sedated super-villain in Avengers Mansion if I had no idea when I’d be back), but I guess we’re going to get some sort of explanation next issue . . . like he heard they were short of insect-themed personnel. That situation might be rectified once we learn what’s happened to the Wasp, of whom we see neither hide nor hairdo here; in the meantime, I’ll award brownie points to any story that features a monster squid.


Jack: This group of Avengers is so dull that I am actually looking forward to the return of the Wasp and Giant-Man!

PE: You make a good point, Professor Matthew. Either The Once-Mighty Avengers are scouting again or maybe the application that was sent to The Beetle, and every other arch-criminal in the MU those long months ago, was delayed by the U.S. Postal Service. As for the point made by Professor Jack in re: Giant-Man and The Wasp, you, sir, need a vacation.

The Amazing Spider-Man 35
Our Story

Being the model prisoner has its advantages for The Molten Man, who finds himself released by a lenient judge. Not one to rest, MM immediately rejoins the underbelly of society by attempting to rob a jewelry store while disguised as a rich businessman. The hold-up is scotched by the arrival of The Amazing Spider-Man but, after a surprise right from MM, Spidey is dazed and allows the hoodlum to escape. Through a wild grasping of straws, Peter Parker becomes convinced that the bad guy is actually The Molten Man disguised as a rich businessman and he begins following the parolee around the city.

PE: "Boy! He sure packed a punch like iron! Iron! Iron's a metal! And his punch felt like metal! It's a long shot--but it could be--The Molten Man! I'd bet on it!" Surely, this is the most outlandish train of thought ever portrayed in Marvel Comics? What would make Peter Parker even think of the Molten Man? Why couldn't it have been The Green Goblin disguised? Sandman? Any one of the twenty or so evil super bad guys he's fought to this point? These kind of silly moments stop all the action and story for me. Speaking of silly, The Marvel Universe Penitentiary continues to make a mockery of the judicial system. Suspended sentence for a villain who terrorized a city and turned all kinds of items molten? Doesn't seem right to me but that judge will learn his lesson some day, I'm sure. And I'm still trying to figure out exactly what The Molten Man regrets.

MB: As a child, on a pretty steady diet of Kane and Romita reprints and Andru originals, I was exposed to relatively little Ditko, but this story was included in one of the oversized treasury editions (wouldja believe there’s at least one whole website devoted to them?) in 1975, so I have a soft spot for it. As an adult, I found the Batman-esque sequence where they “let [letterer Artie Simek] go wild with sound effects for a page or two” silly and self-indulgent, and I’m clearly not the only one, since that reprint omitted an entire superfluous page! Overall, the now-craftier Molten Man’s speedy return seemed a little less satisfying than his debut seven months ago, yet it was nice seeing him dressed to the nines, and that simple shot of him with the cigarette always resonated strongly with me, like a still from some ’40s film noir; come to think of it, except for J.J. and his stogies, we’re seeing precious little smoking in the Marvel Universe.

Yet another groan is elicited from one of our professors.
PE: I love, as we go along, the new rules and powers that are introduced for these characters. For instance, this issue we find out that, since The Molten Man's skin is metallic, his hands are "sensitive to the sound of the other metals in the lock tumblers." In other words, he can pick any safe because he's Molten! That two pages of "sound effects," as Professor Matthew noted, is pretty lame. It wouldn't be so bad if the "sounds" actually sounded like something. "Puh-Twee" is the sound I'd associate with Molty spitting on Spidey rather than a left uppercut. I've never been a fan of the snappy repartee between antagonists. I know you have to put something in the word balloons but this issue features such strained one-liners as "Don't kid yourself, there's always Irving Forbush" and "Sure! And you probably have 23% fewer cavities! So what?" These and more literally elicited my groans.

JS: Does anyone else wonder why Molten Man wears an outfit the same metallic color as his skin? I wonder if that was the idea of a lazy colorist. I prefer the odd looking villains in street clothes - kinda like Molten Man when in disguise, but after he's removed his mask.

PE: No personal life to speak of this issue. Very bizarre. We get no JJJ, no Aunt May, only a hint of Betty Brant's fate. A "tweener" issue to be sure, a weak one amidst quite a few strong ones. It happens now and then. I'll be patient.

Also this month
Fantasy Masterpieces #2
Marvel Collector's Item Classics #2
Millie the Model #136
Modeling with Millie #46
Patsy and Hedy #106
Rawhide Kid #51
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #29


Our reprint titles this month feature some ups and downs from the early days of the Silver Age and the waning days of the Golden Age. Was this the first use of the phrase "Golden Age" or had the comic fanzines already declared "The Golden Age" over? Let me go off on a tangent for a moment if you don't mind.  Looking back on it now, it's easy (though eternally debatable) where the "Golden Age" of comics ended and the "Silver" began. Most comic connoisseurs agree the Silver Age, in general, began with the first appearance of the rebooted Flash in Showcase #4 (October 1956) but, since Marvel's "universe" and "Silver Age" didn't begin until November 1961, does that imply that the"Golden" and "Silver" are segmented? I'm just rambling now but it's fascinating that, though Tales of Suspense #12 (featuring Gor-Kill, The Living Demon!) appeared in November 1959, it's a "Golden Age" book. Do the other publishers that managed to survive the 1950s into the 60s have "G and S ages?" Archie? Charlton? If not, do we use Marvel's or DC's ages when we refer to certain issues from those publishers? Fascinating!

Anyway, we were talking about the contents of the two reprint titles this month. Fantasy Masterpieces doles out the first appearance of future superstar "Fin Fang Foom" (from Strange Tales #89) with art by Kirby and Ayers; Don Heck's  "Orogo! The Nightmare from Space" (Journey Into Mystery #57); and Steve Ditko's "Those Who Lurk Below" (from the aforementioned Tales of Suspense #12).

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #2 features the reprinting of Fantastic Four #3, the Ant-Man portion of Tales to Astonish #37, and Amazing Spider-Man #4. Complete, Unabridged and Thrilling!

Jack: Thrilling, indeed! I remember as a young collector being very excited about these titles, since this was the only affordable way to read early stories.


  1. Professor Pete, your predictive powers are at their peak, for Wild Bill will indeed take over the Master of the Mystic Arts after Ditko's departure. We'll see how you regard the result.

    I seem to be the only one who remembers this, but in our review of SUSPENSE #64 (April 1965), I pointed out that it marked the first time Agent 13 had been identified. Of course, that being a wartime story, it was presumably Peggy rather than Sharon Carter, which makes things even weirder. Did the number run in the family?

    Incredibly, this early Punisher would return in FF #74 and IRON MAN #110, among others.

  2. You suggest that the FF pic in the Sub-Mariner strip is a cut and paste job. How right you are! The figures come from the cover of FF 49, published in the same month and featured on this very page.

  3. "PE: This issue illustrates perfectly why Stan scuttled the original classic line-up of The Avengers or at least the reason he gave for scuttling it. The Wasp flits back and forth between titles and seems to repeat herself and her actions. She's back on the boat with her boss/beau Henry Pym here, but we clearly saw her attacked by Attuma in The Avengers last month."

    I fear you are mixing up cover dates with newsstand dates. TTA #78 was on the newsstand concurrent with Avengers #26 even though TTA had an April cover date and Avengers had a March cover date.

    Marvel always had its monthly titles split between two cover dates until the comics went 20¢. (Perhaps in some Martin Goodman scheme to desensitize vendors into displaying his books longer.) The two comics above were January 1966 releases and the cover dates that month were March/April. In turn the next month's February issues would be April/May.

    The monthly checklists, house ads, date stamps and publication records make this clear. Therefore the continunity issues are not an historical artifact but a product of concluding, not illogically, that the same cover dates meant the same newsstand date.

    Heck, when quarterly books became more popular, there were times that a newsstand month had three cover differently monthly cover dates.

    Of course this does make reviewing slightly awkward if the books are organized by cover months and there are crossovers -- but then again the reviews are great fun and it's easy to click back and forth between entries. :)