Wednesday, March 14, 2012

March 1966: The Coming of Galactus!

Strange Tales 142

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD
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S.H.I.E.L.D. readies its defenses against Mentallo, including a quick-draw “Wild Bill” robot that isn’t ready for testing, while the E.S.P. division uses its new automatic encephalogram-inducer to visualize Mentallo as he penetrates the Fixer’s “undersea sanctuary” and proposes an alliance. Unable to hear what transpires or pinpoint the location, they must wait until the Fixer (who is in league with a shadowy organization known only as “Them”) and Mentallo attack, which they soon do. Between the Fixer’s inventions and Mentallo’s mind-reading abilities, they sweep S.H.I.E.L.D.’s defenses aside with disturbing ease, paralyzing Fury and his men with Element Z, and placing an electronic mask on Nick that will enslave his brain.

MB: Curiously, this month’s winner in our Musical Inkers game, Mike Esposito, has used his real first name and only the last half of his Mickey Demeo pseudonym, but by any name, he lets Kirby be Kirby with solid yet unobtrusive inks; believe it or not, that “Wild Bill” robot they threw in as a bonus will be back in Captain America #190 in ’75. Funny that Mentallo calls his newly minted partner “the poor man’s Tony Stark,” since I sometimes think of the Trapster (né Paste-Pot Pete) as the poor man’s Fixer. The Christmas-colored pair is a good team—their abilities complement each other well, and so far they’re free from the bickering of, say, the Cobra and Mr. Hyde—while Stan caps it all off by introducing that immortal rallying cry, “Don’t yield! Back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”

PE: I want to know about "Them." I love these throwaway plot elements that may or may not come up again in the future or may metamorphose into some other menace. I'm assuming that "Them" doesn't include Van Morrison on vocals in the Marvel Universe. How do The Fixer-Upper and Mentallo (which still sounds, to me, more like a breath mint than an evil villain) huff and puff and blow down S.H.I.E.L.D.'s wall with an "unimaginable sonic pitch" without blowing out their own eardrums. Who can draw machinery like The King? His panels of exotic weaponry and heretofore-unimaginable vehicles are jam-packed with style and sophistication. Kirby was the comics' equivalent of CGI.

Jack: Wow, that is some cover! And the interior art is classic Kirby. Knowing how these comics were put together, I can only imagine Stan Lee receiving these 12 pages and trying to come up with dialogue and captions to fit the products of King Kirby’s wild imagination!

PE: In the Bullpen Bulletins, Stan takes a shot at the competition, claiming that "they've been knocking themselves out trying to imitate the now-famous Marvel style. "All of a sudden, we find watered down versions of our own pulsating plots and devastating dialogue all over the place!" An amusing rant, to be sure, from the guy who brought us the Fantastic Four (ripped off from DC's Justice League), Hawkeye (um, Green Arrow anyone?), and Quicksilver (I'd say a bit of a likeness of The Flash). Stan goes on to assure readers they can pick up the competitors' rags since Marvel will be selling them script rejects in the future. In another bit, Stan asks the readers if they knew that several of Marvel's artists are actually "talented story men in their own right." He then mentions a few but curiously absent from the line-up is persona non grata Steve Ditko.

Did this remind anyone else of Minority Report?
Doctor Strange

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Quickly discovering the hidden bomb, Dr. Strange tosses it skyward, where it explodes. Shock waves put him off his guard long enough for three sorcerers to capture and imprison him in a metal mask and gloves. Without his cloak and amulet, Dr. Strange must use his superior brain power and spirit form to escape. As the story ends, he stands alone atop a building, hands and face still imprisoned.

JS: I have to admit I was quite disappointed with the throwaway resolution to the hidden bomb cliffhanger setup in the climax of the last issue.

Jack: The metal gloves and mask are a cool image, but this series needs more recurring characters if it’s going to get less repetitive! Next issue, Roy Thomas takes over, so there’s hope.

MB: Well, Doc didn’t exactly get a chance to rest on his laurels—or to rest, period—after defeating Dormammu (although at least he got a decent meal last issue), and Mordo’s minions don’t allow him to press the search for Clea, which unfortunately occupies the semi-restored Ancient One at an inopportune moment. This motley crew really gives Strange a run for his money, and it’s fascinating to see how Doc fights back despite being deprived of his trusty amulet and cloak. Not sure who this babe is calling herself Mordo’s “deputy leader,” but I wouldn’t want to bet against Doc when the reckoning arrives, even in his current imperiled state.

Tales to Astonish 77
The Sub-Mariner
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The Sub-Mariner has his crown back, but much to his peoples' chagrin, all is not well as earthquakes have set his own people against him. While he may be a king, his people have become hurt and desolate because of his lack of authority. No problem, as he seeks out the cause of the catastrophe, only to find a giant drill that is burrowing into the earth’s underwater crust. Temporarily happy, Namor believes that this is only the innocent humans' doing until he comes across the one and only Henry Pym, who happens to be drilling for experimental purposes. Namor stops the drill with his own might before big Hank sets loose the American military on him. That's no problem for Namor, who vanquishes them. It appears that Sub-Mariner has the upper hand until the dreaded beast that lays under the sea is about to arise and wreak havoc on Atlantis, just because the earthlings wanted to see how much their experiments would help the earth!

Tom: My heart sank slightly once I realized it was big Hank in charge of this mission that would bring Subby to his knees. Okay, maybe not so much to his knees, as Namor would easily rub out the frog-men and military just as any usual hero would. A decent story, at least as far as these older serials go, but I'm afraid this series has now deteriorated into the same old Marvel nonsense now, thanks to big Hank. 

Jack: Gene Colan uses his real name for the first time in this series, and I continue to love his art. This is the second Subby story in a row to feature three full-page panels in the course of a 12-page tale. For some reason, everything that happens in this story seems interesting and entertaining. Subby is a consistently good strip!

PE: If nothing else, "To Walk Amongst Men" provides Henry Pym and his lovely gofer-girl Janet with their most exciting adventure. Yeah, they're only minor characters, but maybe that's the point. There's no sign of The Wasp or Gi-Ant Man (but I do smell one coming), so none of the usual mediocrity seeps into this tale. I suspect Stan was getting readers primed for Janet's re-emergence in this month's Avengers saga. The Behemoth sub-plot certainly adds an air of mystery and menace to the strip and this reader can't wait to see just what this creature is. This title just went to the top of my "to read" pile. Imperius Rex!

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It’s no joke as the Hulk takes on the Executioner for a brawl to determine who is the toughest all around. While the battle is pretty stagnant, the rest of the world in the future hangs in the balance. The Executioner wants to hold the future civilization as his own when he takes on Asgard. As the Hulkster and the main villain take turns beating each other up, Major Talbot stalks and interrogates Rick Jones. Jones finally fesses up and admits how Bruce Banner and the Hulk are one in the same person, much to Talbot’s surprise. In the end, the Hulk transports back to his own time and place before a clear victory.

Tom: While I was in praise of the Hulk's identity being let out of the bag, I still wasn’t happy with wimpy Rick Jones cracking and letting the secret out the way that he did. Oh well, at least we readers won’t have to endure the stupidity of all the other major characters who couldn’t get a clue about what everyone else thought was pretty obvious. 

Jack: I have to admit that I enjoyed this episode, especially John Romita’s art. The battle between Hulk and the Executioner was great, though I have no clue what the Executioner was doing in the future. The Rick Jones subplot was even entertaining—about time he spilled the beans about Hulk’s real identity! I am looking forward to next issue, which I can’t often say with the Hulk.

PE: For once, Stan's hype of "A new chapter in the life of The Hulk is about to begin" seems to be true. At least until Major Ross takes a fall in that slippery cave and becomes the victim of selective amnesia ("I can't remember what that kid Jones told me but I shore do remember that I love only Betsy Ross... or is it Betty White... er, Pepper Potts?"). All this, of course, is just speculation on my part. It's been decades since I read these and I have a hard time remembering what last month's TTA was about. I would have kept Rick Jones's reveal a little closer to the vest rather than spilling it out on the cover, but this was long before Marvel perfected the "shock ending" in the 1970s and Stan just loved to draw those readers in. Good Hulk adventure. Don't hear those words too often yet.

The Mighty Thor 126
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Having battled his way past the “Ritual Of Steel,” defying his father Odin’s order nevermore to set foot on Earth, Thor has done just that. The crowds have led him to the sight of his beloved Jane Foster sipping a soda with Hercules. Thor’s in no mood to socialize and Herc’s in no mood not to, so a few heated words later, the battle is raging. The street collapses from the force of Hercules’s punch, and a ride atop a subway train takes our immortals to the site of a building demolition, where they don’t have to worry about injuring anyone on the sidelines. In Asgard, Balder’s attempts to soften Odin’s displeasure meet with failure, as the All-Father determines what punishment to mete on his son. Odin decides to cut Thor’s power in half, even though to do so now could prove fatal, while he fights Hercules. Unable to strike such a harsh blow himself, Odin gifts his own power to Seidring “the Merciless,” highest of his council members, to do the deed for him.  Seidring fires a bolt of energy from his hand, striking Thor square on the back. Thinking it a mere bolt of light, Hercules continues to fight with his full strength, almost killing the Thunder God by tossing a decaying brick building upon him. Thor keeps it from crushing him with the aid of his Uru hammer long enough to roll out from under it. He tries to lift a bulldozer to throw at Hercules, but buckles under the weight. Hercules kicks it from Thor’s grasp, and with a final blow, fells the Thunder God, defeated for the first time. The crowds flock to the Olympian, as all crowds do to a winner. The few who remain scorn the Thunder God, save Jane Foster, who runs after him, urged on even more by the words of Odin: “he has done penance enough.”

In Tales Of Asgard “The Summons” is sent by Odin for his warriors to return home. It is in the form of an anti-energy flash that gives Thor the chance to rescue Loki from the clutches of Queen Ula of Thryheim and her flying troll warriors.

JB: As the first non-Journey Into Mystery issue of Thor, this one always seems to be pretty pricey when you look it up. Full-action issues don’t always live up to their potential, but this one does. It’s a stem to stern battle, led off by the stunning cover (Walt Simonson, as a tribute, used this same pose for the cover of Thor #338 in the early 1980s). Thor and Hercules, while they grow to share a great friendship, are virtual opposites, from hair colour to personality. Even in the heat of battle, Hercules admits to himself he can see the torment Thor is going through, while the Thunder God likewise thinks he can’t bring himself to strike a fatal blow, despite his anger.

PE: I believe this could qualify as Marvel's first "splash page to climax" battle issue, and what a doozy it is. I may ratify my thinking in the near future but I'd say the Marvel we've come to know and love begins this month. The fight between the two titans is what comic books are all about. Only a few pages devoted to the Odin subplot (although that does have an impact on the finale) and a couple panels of brainless Jane, who starts off the issue wishing these Gods weren't fighting over her! Umm... excuse me, aren't you the focal point of this tussle, you egotistical, simple nurse? Particularly effective (and chilling) is the panel of Hercules standing over the defeated Thunder God.

MB: For Hercules to accuse Thor of egotism is pretty hilarious, but their donnybrook is a satisfying one as the Lee/Kirby/Colletta trio rises to the occasion with its metronomic regularity, even if the object of the exercise is unworthy.  In fact, that full-page shot demonstrates The Jack and Vince Show at its best, all bursting sinews and pile-driver fists and epic spectacle, with two heroes who look like they’re carved out of stone or wood.  Stan could understandably have Herc, a demigod, outmatched by Goldilocks under normal circumstances, yet the (belatedly) repentant Jane has indeed set in motion forces that will affect the course of Thor’s newly eponymous mag.

JB: Odin makes more than one bad choice here. First he picks a fine time to cut Thor’s power in half, and second, he gives his power to Seidring, even admitting he deserves the nickname “merciless.” Thor may have lacked humility at times, but his dad could use some self-control. Jane, hereafter, doesn’t bemoan her loneliness; perhaps she’s realized her responsibility in these events.

PE: Kind of a bizarre fade-out this, in which Odin, who has sapped Thor's power because of Jane Foster, pleas with Marvel's most famous nurse to be by his son's side in his time of need. Not sure what pop is up to here but I can't wait to read #127! 

The Amazing Spider-Man 34
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Kraven the Hunter finds it impossible to live without adding one more mounted head to his wall: the only creature on earth to evade his capture, The Amazing Spider-Man. Sneaking back into the States (remember, he was deported several issues ago--Pesky Pete), Kraven begins impersonating Spidey and harassing J. Jonah Jameson in an effort to draw the wall-crawler out in the open. Peter Parker's been enjoying a bit of quiet and the company of Aunt May (who, since the life-saving operation last issue, has gotten a second wind), but this rash of insulting behavior forces Peter to suit up and find the impostor. Once tracked down, Kraven reveals himself and spritzes Spidey with "jungle scent," which effectively dulls his Spidey-sense and makes him Kraven's equal. In the end, though, Spidey is just too much for The Hunter and Kraven, as promised, confesses to police that he was the impostor. Meanwhile, we learn that Betty Brant has resigned from The Daily Bugle.

PE: Nice twist towards the beginning of our story when we see Peter Parker confess to Betty Brant that he's Spider-Man. I knew it had to be a dream, but I assumed it was from the fevered sleep of Peter and I was surprised to see it was actually a nightmare Betty was having. Interesting turn of events regarding Betty Brant. There's really no warning that our favorite secretary would pull a disappearing act and so, when it comes, it's all the more effective. Of course, I assumed it was merely Betty with a new hairdo until the expository.

MB: While I’ve never been a big Kraven fan, I’m obliged to admit that the boys handled him well here; his plan is effective—nothing smokes Spidey out like impersonating and discrediting him—and I love how they call J.J. a “man-about-town,” making him sound like some eligible bachelor!  Okay, Peter’s collegiate social woes are suspiciously similar to his high-school ones (again, Gwendy is almost unrecognizable in appearance and temperament), yet even though the ingredients in this recipe aren’t the most original, they still make a tasty dish.  I don’t know how Kraven was able to whip up a “jungle scent” to flummox Peter’s Spider-sense, but it’s great that his insistence on beating Spidey personally led to a de facto team-up against the hoods, and the same sense of the rightness of things compelled the defeated Kraven to vindicate Spidey.

PE: I'm willing to swallow that Kraven can wrestle with and defeat a lion but how the heck did he manage to come up with a fully-functioning Spidey-suit? I'm not even going to try to guess what "jungle scent" is comprised of but I'll bet it doesn't smell nice. The idea is introduced but then pretty much dropped by the wayside. Spidey's senses don't seem too dull to me.

JS: Yeah, when Spider-Man has trouble coming up with a spare suit, it seems kind of silly that his nemesis can find one off the rack in just his size. And while I'll give K the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't wearing his Hunter-gear underneath it, he sure managed to change quickly when the time came.

PE: This issue may be the inspiration for the Aurora Spider-Man model manufactured in 1966. That panel of Spidey on the dilapidated staircase looks remarkably similar. On the letters page, we hear from Richard Pini, who would create the mega-comic, Elfquest, in 1978 with wife Wendy.

The Avengers 26
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After bickering with Captain America, Hawkeye leaves in a huff. Out at sea, Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne decide that Janet must race to New York as the Wasp to warn everyone of Namor’s approach. Janet is captured by Attuma, who plans to flood the cities of Earth. Janet sends a distress signal to the Avengers—who, minus Hawkeye, rush to her aid and battle Attuma and his men. The Avengers are in danger of finding a watery grave as Hawkeye tries to learn their location.

Jack: For some reason, I have always been attracted to covers with a white background. Can’t say why. The Hawkeye/Cap arguing is getting old fast. Janet is really looking good! In the Bullpen Bulletins of this month’s Strange Tales, Stan claims that he took Iron Man, Thor, and Giant-Man out of The Avengers so the continuity didn’t get screwed up with their own books. He also claims that this is why the Torch and Thing strip was removed from Strange Tales.

PE: The multi-talented Janet Van Dyne shows how to hold your breath and whisper out a mayday to The Avengers at the same time. Go ahead, try it. She also looks splendid in her one-piece swimsuit.

Jack: There is a bit of a continuity mess here. The events of this issue occur in the middle of the Sub-Mariner story in next month’s Tales to Astonish, which may have confused readers at the time, unless the April TTA came out before the March Avengers.

MB: This is the earliest credit I remember seeing for the prolific Frank Giacoia (aka Frank[ie] Ray)—apparently a favorite of pencilers as diverse as Kirby, Colan, and Kane—who does a better job than Ayers on Heck’s work, however low that might be setting the bar. Briefly seen in this year’s FF annual, Attuma is always welcome in my book, and although some might lament the return of the future Pyms (reintroduced in this month’s Astonish, which I sadly do not have), I look forward to having them back in what I consider their proper forum, rather than their ill-fated strip. Love ’im or hate ’im, Attuma thinks big and his grandiose schemes make for good drama, while Jan is level-headed and resourceful, so we’re back in form after last issue’s misfire.

PE: Though this title was never top of the heap, it seems to be sliding ever further down the quality scale. Scarlet Witch looks as though she's aged twenty years since the last issue. Hawkeye's squabbles with (fill in the blank) are long past tiresome to dreary. If you've got the world's weakest superhero team and you've just been advised the world is in eminent danger from a force you know you can't handle, you do something about it. You contact back-up. You don't go out to fight Attuma at three-quarters of your normal power. This is just silly.

Fantastic Four 48
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Maximus the Mad has used his atmo-gun to unleash vibrations into Earth’s atmosphere that will destroy human life, leaving only the Inhumans. The pleasant shock to everyone but Maximus is that the Inhumans, save for their powers, are no different from humanity, and no one is harmed. They have lived in hiding all this time out of fear that they were mankind’s enemy. Maximus plays his last card, a deadly one. Before anyone can stop him, he reverses the charge on the atmo-gun, fast creating a “negative zone” that will form an impenetrable bubble around the Great Refuge, cutting it off from the rest of the world. Using Sue’s force field to shield them from the rapidly forming zone, the Fantastic Four flee. Johnny doesn’t want to be separated from Crystal; she proclaims her love for him just as Ben grabs the Torch. They make it out in the nick of time, the negative zone is now solid, and they depart in their plane, never knowing if they’ll see the Inhumans again. At that moment, soaring through space on a glistening surfboard, is an equally brilliant being of a silver/white colour. The nearby Skrull planet blacks out their solar system, for they know that the being whom they identify as the Silver Surfer is the herald of a much more powerful and deadly being named Galactus. Our peerless heroes, meanwhile, have landed their plane at home and set out to investigate some bizarre phenomena—a second sun that erupts into a flame that engulfs the entire sky. As panic spreads among the masses, Johnny takes off to investigate; the others follow in the F.F.’s jet cycle. Some think the flame is the Torch’s doing, as an angry bunch of guys use a hose to soak Johnny, dousing his flame and bringing him to the ground. The rest of our team catches up, and with a little help from Ben, the “thugs” are set to route. The flame in the sky vanishes, and the F.F. head back to the Baxter Building. Reed locks himself in his lab, much to Sue’s displeasure. Huge rocks now fill the sky outside. When Sue finally bursts in on Reed, she sees what he’s been doing: having a little chitchat with … the Watcher. It’s he who’s been causing the crazy weather, and for good reason. The Silver Surfer is nearing our solar system, and if he finds our planet of sufficient energy, he may signal Galactus, his master. This wouldn’t be so bad, except Galactus drains planets of all their energy, rendering them barren and unable to support life. The Watcher hopes he can shield Earth from detection, but the Silver Surfer flies with such skill that he penetrates the rocky shield and finds what he’s looking for. He lands atop the Baxter Building and sends a signal his master. Moments later, a large spherical ship appears in the sky. Then, stepping out onto the roof of the Baxter Building, is the towering, armoured giant named Galactus!

PE: After The Thing has to physically remove Johnny Storm from the body of Crystal, he has a feeling "I'm never gonna think of 'im as a kid again!" I swear I've heard that line somewhere before!

JB: There are some nice comic touches (no pun intended), too: the Torch hand to hand with a bunch of street toughies, and I especially like Ben’s finger tap (plink!) of the last loudmouth!

MB: Even the self-described Maudlin Man finds it odd that Ben and Sue would equate Johnny’s pining for Crystal, whom he hardly knows, with the prospect of losing their own longtime significant others; meanwhile, it appears that the “negative zone” keeping them apart is not to be confused with Captain Marvel’s future home away from home. Incredible that they’ve packed the Inhumans, the Watcher, the debuts of Galactus and the Silver Surfer, and a cameo by the Skrulls (“Have you not studied your cosmic history?”) into a single issue, certain to merit at least one shield and possibly two. With that succulent Kirby/Sinnott artwork, especially the last-page reveal of Galactus—not to mention the photo-montage that looks like a cross between 2001 and Thunderbirds—they’ve already fulfilled their promise of “super-galactic grandeur” to come, yet with human touches like Ben’s nod to Joseph E. Levine and encounter with “one wise-guy.”

JB: As you guys say, this is one packed issue. It’s not a typical one; a lot of important characters are mingling. The feel of the story is one that Stan and Jack knew in advance that the Silver Surfer and Galactus would be such mainstays in the Marvel Universe, but how could they? The cover is very interesting, no one’s moving, yet it carries a lot of intrigue, the Watcher side-by-side with the F.F. and us ordinary folk.

JS: Yeah, it must have been an amazing setup for the kids at home, although I still prefer the next issue's Surfer cover.

PE: I'm glad you set me straight on the differences between "negative zones," Professor Matthew. I thought for a moment that we'd not only see The Surfer and Galactus but also Annihilus as well. That would be packing a lot of iconic first appearances into one issue. It's stuffed as it is. This is an odd story. It's almost as if there was just too much story to pack into the last issue but not enough to fill another, so Jack and Stan wrap it up in the first six pages and turn their sights on the skies. A wise decision. What follows the abrupt send-off to The Inhumans and, thankfully, the curtailment of the Johnny and Crystal relationship (for a few issues at least) cannot help but blow your mind. We're now a couple issues into what is arguably the go-to classic story arc of all time. Kids will look in wonder at the sky. College students will write papers about The Surfer and his deep quest. And, about forty years in the future, Hollywood will make one of the worst superhero films of all time based on this story. 

JS: Whereas it took years for me to develop an appreciation for Galactus (thanks in part to being introduced to him via a godawful 1983 one-shot, Galactus: The Origin), I was a fan or the Surfer from the first time I saw him. What's amazing is that if you think about it, a space-guy flying around on a surf-board is pretty silly—even in the Marvel Universe.

PE: The Surfer's a fabulous character, very deep and tragic. The board's another story. If, in the origin story, it comes to light that the Surfer was watching Frankie and Annette on television one afternoon and thought "There it is! The perfect vehicle for surfing the universe for the Big Man! I gotta have one!" then I'll be perfectly fine with how close to our Earth surfboards it is.

JB: I’ve never been quite sure whether the Silver Surfer is white or silver, but the “white surfer” wouldn’t sound so majestic. Galactus is very impressive in his debut. Maybe he’s been talking to Superman--having your first letter on your suit must be a universal catch factor. I like the “lighting” in many of the frames, especially ones with the Watcher. As you say, Professor Mathew, the photo montage adds a distinctive touch (did D.C. at the time do these, or soon after?).

Jack: I think these started showing up at DC around the time Kirby defected!

JS: I think they always look interesting, but I never did get them. Has anyone done an in-depth analysis of the Kirby photo-montage? Was it faster than doing another drawing, or was there some strong inspiration to do so from time to time?

PE: I can't remember ever feeling such menace jump off the pages of a superhero comic book. From the fiery skies to the sudden appearance of floating debris to the coming of The Surfer, there really is a sense of impending doom here. The cherry on top is our first look at Galactus, monogrammed kilt and all. I wonder who his tailor is.

PE: In the letter page, future Marvel writer Donald McGregor sends one last missive before entering the service.

The X-Men 18
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On the verge of destroying the X-Mansion, Magneto realizes he can utilize it as his own home base, where he cobbles together several of Xavier's machines to crank out a Mighty Mutant Maker (just add water). Meanwhile, our X-kids, less Iceman, who is still recovering in the hospital, are floating into space to their doom. Iceman summons his strength to take on Magneto, and the rest of our heros join the fight after coming up with a nick-of-time solution to their drama. Everything is wrapped up in a tidy bow when Magneto is chased away by 'The Stranger.'

PE: I had to sigh a bit and hold up my "time out" sign when I learned this issue that Magneto can hypnotize people. Why wasn't I made aware of this before? Are you telling me that after ten or twelve or howevermany fights Magnet Man has had already with the X-Kids, we're only now finding out that he has the power of "magnetic attraction?" This is one weak story, from the story that goes nowhere and does nothing (except squish all kinds of big words together and make weapons out of them) to the abysmal art. Easily the worst penciling left in any Marvel title (and that includes my on-again/off-again romance with Don Heck), thanks to the titanic team-up of Jay Gavin/Werner Roth (who gets a vote of confidence from Stan on the splash page when "The Man" calls Gavin "adequate") and Dick Ayers (a mere "tolerable" in Stan's words). Magneto's half-baked idea of harvesting mutants, from the DNA of The Angel's parents, goes nowhere fast, and his less-than-macho exit stage left when The Stranger comes a-callin' at the climax is laughable. This is the most powerful mutant in the world, tucking tail and flying off in his Magneto-rocket? I can't wait until the inevitable return.

JS: Granted, it seems like it's been a while since we had an entry into the, "I never knew he could..." file. 

Seriously. Ka-Bok?
MB: A decade after I stopped buying new comics, I started acquiring X-Men: The Early Years to fill the gap following the Amazing Adventures reprints, but they canceled these, too, so you guys are on your own for the next several years', Marvel-time. To add insult to injury, in the “double-sized final issue,” the tools replaced the final page of #17 and the first 3½ pages of #18 with 1½ pages of awful bridging art that looks like a five-year-old did it, so unless they wanted to make the Kirby/“Gavin”/Ayers team look better by comparison, the whole thing’s an epic fail, with neither issue reprinted in its entirety. As for the story itself, Magneto’s “I’m going to put you in an outlandish death-trap and then leave so you can escape” routine is right out of To the Batpoles!, his mutant mass-production scheme is outlandish even by Stan’s standards, and his sudden flight in the Magneto-Mobile in fear of The Stranger seems decidedly out of character.

JS: I think you can sum this one up by comparing the Magneto reveal from the close of the last issue with the Magneto on the run from the Stranger panel in this one. No contest. This one was a disappointment.

Daredevil 14
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The Plunderer has uncovered the power and unleashed the might of the ore to gain himself new strength and a new costume. Daredevil takes a retreat, but still finds the time to message Foggy and Karen about what has been transpiring. They go out to England to further observe the new bad guy in town. The Plunderer has been quite busy, as he has killed Feepers and has a new costume! In the end, Daredevil defeats the Plunderer along with the help of Ka-Zar. All is right in the world as Matt reunites with Foggy and Karen.

Tom: Things slow down a bit, and for the better, in my opinion. The Plunderer proved himself to be a worthy adversary for Double D, while the plot went back to a more simple, yet comfortable tone of good versus bad.

Jack: Very enjoyable! The conclusion of this three-issue story was the best of all. Daredevil has been one of the most consistent titles as far as having good art, and John Romita turns in a very solid piece of work. I preferred the Plunderer’s pirate outfit to his silly super-villain costume, but overall this story was a lot of fun. Inker Frankie Ray was Frank Giacoia, who provides a nice finish to Romita’s pencils.

PE: I find it hard to elevate above the fourth tier a villain who has a bowl of fruit stamped on his belt. And when Daredevil puts the kibosh on the Blunderer in the rip-roarin' climax, he violates Rule #1 in the Villains' Handbook (Simon & Schuster, 1963): never confess to what you've done, no how, no way. Never mind that they can use it against you at the trial. It makes you look like a sissy. Daredevil's shocking exclamation that he's discovered the Achilles' Heel of The Plunderer's Vibrato-Ray came about ten pages after I thought to myself, "Gee, how about plastic weapons?" Like picnic forks and knives or plastic explosives. I could write this stuff.

PE: I get that Ka-Zar's years in the jungle have made him lean and mean, but breaking steel chains while bound? I don't think so. "Stronger Than Mastodon! Stronger Than Bore! Mighty is Ka-Zar! But the Story's a Snore!"

"Is that a bowl of apples on your belt or are you just happy to see me?"

Tales of Suspense 75
Iron Man
Our Story

Turned into a bumbling, mindless FREAK by Tony Stark's latest gizmo, The Enervator, the chauffeur formerly known as Happy Hogan, wreaks havoc and presents a real threat to Iron Man. Should Shellhead shut the beast down and risk losing the best caddy he ever had or could he possibly reverse the effects of The Enervator before it's too late? As happens now and then to all of us, The Red and Gold Avenger seems to be running out of energy faster and faster these days with no electrical socket in sight. After a grueling battle, Iron Man is able to position the FREAK just right and blast him with the Enervation Intensifier. It doesn't seem to be working as we make our exit but it's making molten steel out of I.M.'s armor. To Be Continued.

PE: It's getting to be about once an issue now when Iron Man starts running out of juice. Either his alter ego Tony Stark should find a bigger battery or Shellhead should hang up the armor. It's getting silly. I.M. screams in pain... in his thought balloon. Ever tried to scream in pain in your mind? Takes some practice. It's funny that Iron Man would call Happy "Freak" since he knows him as Happy Hogan. 

JS: Getting to be? Perhaps, if by that you mean he's only needing to plug in once per issue.

PE: I'm not sure exactly what menace the mindless Freak poses since he never does anything but chase Iron Man around the building. I.M. seems convinced his former ashtray emptier is big trouble as he contemplates the pros and cons of "destroying" him. It's evident that he's been granted "super hearing" as he can hear Pepper Potts talking across the factory. Leave it to a helpless Marvel dame to just faint right in the middle of a crisis. This ain't the strong-willed Pepper we'll get to know years down the line (it's for sure Gwyneth Paltrow didn't read up on these issues for inspiration).

JS: I didn't know Happy's fate was to become Frankenstein. I hope for his sake they back him out of it pretty soon.

PE: I do have to credit Stan Lee for one thing: at no time during Happy's freakishness did Shellhead think "Well, if I destroy Happy, that will take care of my competition for Pepper's love! But no, I shouldn't think like that--after all, Happy's the best friend a man could ever have!" Gene Colan's making it hard to remember who had art chores before he came along (or who came after, for that matter). Did Stark build an Enervator and a Enervation Intensifier as well? Overkill. 

JS: Nice variation in panels from page to page, although I don't always think the panels given the extra space are deserving of it. Still, it breaks up the monotony.

PE: I love when Senator Byrd's police escort gets antsy outside Stark Industries because the good Senator is taking his time. Instead of calmly knocking on the door, the cop pulls his gun and shouts "I'm gonna see what's going on in there!" Of course he's right but that's beside the point.

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America finds himself high above the ocean in a free-fall after having destroyed the Sleepers last issue. Luckily, a well-executed dive into the water saves his star-spangled life. Meanwhile, across town, sinister forces are at work, trying to reacquire the Inferno 42 compound that was taken from them by S.H.I.E.L.D. Inferno 42 is a highly combustible formula that the bad guys intend to use to extort the city with. To regain their weapon, they hire the French super-villain, Batroc the Leaper (we know he's French because he says "nevaire" instead of "never"), to steal the Inferno 42 from S.H.I.E.L.D. agents on the street, but Nick Fury's super group is one step ahead of them. It takes a bit of time, but Batroc eventually tracks down the female agent who has the Inferno 42. Captain America jumps in and, during the battle, the agent gets away, but the cylinder holding the deadly chemical may be damaged and leaking death by the second.

PE: The moping Steve Rogers is becoming hard to live with. You lost your partner. You lost 20 years. You're a stranger in a strange land. You feel sorry for yourself constantly. Get over it already. You're supposed to be a symbol for millions, not Captain Whineypants. The only intriguing thing about this scenario is that it brings up memories of people from Cap's past: Sgt. Duffy and the girl who told Steve Rogers she'd wait for him just before he went on ice. I'm hoping Stan gets to these loose ends before long rather than the endless panels of "woe is me" and fifth tier villains like Batroc The Leaper. Coincidentally...

JS: Seriously? Batroc? Oh what I wouldn't give for some Red Skull Nazi hijinks right about now!

"Do you haff a lisonse for yer minkey?"
PE: I don't question that Steve Rogers can fit most of his Cap uni under his three-piece civvies. I've forgiven the fact that his shield goes unnoticed on his back below his suit coat despite its clearly being larger than his back is broad. I just can't get over Steve walking the street in that nice blue suit and red boots. I'd see him coming down the street and yell "Look everyone! It's Captain America in street clothes!"

JS: I want to know why Cap didn't recognize the supposed SHIELD agent.

PE: All I had to do was be patient for a few pages and my wish would come true. I might have known that Stan and Jack would let no flashback or memory go wasted. I love how, once he's been defeated by Cap, Batroc exclaims "Hold on a sec, I just remembered, the cylinder may be damaged!"

JS: I hate when cylinders are damaged, particularly those that can wipe out huge chunks of the popultation in a single pop.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #127
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #28
Two-Gun Kid #80


  1. Since the Goblin, too, will soon come up with a formula to negate (or at least dampen) Peter's Spider-sense, we're really forced to ask certain questions. How do they even know about it in the first place, since I doubt Peter has published too many scientific articles revealing his trade secrets? I can't swear to it, but I don't think his battle-banter has included a lot of, "Hah! You thought you could surprise me, [fill in the blank], but my Spider-sense foiled you!" Second, even if they knew about it, by what method could Kraven or the Goblin--neither of whom is a biochemist, to the best of my knowledge--develop such a formula, especially without having any other subject possessing Spider-sense on which to test it before using it in battle? Yeah, I know, it's just a comic book...

    I had that Aurora model, by the way.

  2. During the plot conference for FF #48, Stan and Jack came up with a godlike being capable of destroying the Earth. Accounts differ as to how the character originated. One version of the story has Stan, at the beginning of the plotting session exclaiming, “the only character the Fantastic Four haven't fought is God” or words to that effect, with Kirby taking the idea and running with it. Another version gives Kirby sole credit for the creation of Galactus.

    However, there IS agreement on the origin of the other character making his debut. According to Stan Lee, when the penciled pages landed on his desk, he had to phone Jack Kirby to ask him about the mysterious entity with the surfboard. Kirby told Stan that he figured a being as powerful as Galactus would have a herald at his command to act as an advance scout, and added him to the story. Jack simply identified the character as “The Surfer.” In the final script, Stan expanded that into “The Silver Surfer.”

    This tells us a lot about Stan and Jack's working methods in the mid 60s. It proves that they discussed the story together. There is a popular theory, held by Jack Kirby zealots, that at this point in time, Kirby, like Ditko, was working in virtual isolation, plotting and drawing the stories, then sending the pages to Stan Lee to script. The fact that Stan was baffled by the Surfer character means he must've been involved in the plotting, and knew that Jack had deviated from the plan. It also proves that Jack Kirby created characters with no input from Stan Lee. This contradicts another theory, perpetrated by Stan Lee zealots, that Stan created everything on his own. Okay, on to the story.

    The storytelling is top notch here, steadily building up as we learn about Galactus, the attempt by The Watcher (a.k.a. The Meddler) to hide the Earth, the rooftop encounter with The Silver Surfer, and the final reveal. One clever touch is the Skrulls. They appear in just two panels, but they're used to perfection to convey the upcoming danger, and emphasize that Galactus, whoever he is, doesn't play favorites. Everyone is a potential target.

    Compare FF#48 to similar plotlines in X-Men 12 and 17, where the story dragged while we waited for the big reveal. This time, all the pieces are in place. No complaints about the artwork either. We're treated to the first of the Kirby/Sinnott cosmic space scenes, and, put simply, this is Kirby at close to the top of his game. Ahhh, the memories.

    I always liked the Hulk, or more accurately, I always liked the idea of the Hulk … an anti-heroic, misunderstood character not in control of his own destiny. Unfortunately, the character suffered more than most by a seemingly endless parade of rushed artwork, sloppy inking, and plot repetition. Seriously, how many times can the Army hunt him down? For the most part, re-reading these Tales To Astonish Hulk stories for the first time in decades has been a frightening experience. I'd forgotten how second rate the strip looked, and read, for most of its run.

    However, there's nothing second rate about the cover of TTA#77. This is Kirby inked by Romita, and to my eye, the Hulk depicted on this cover is the definitive Hulk. This is what he looks like. I'm sure others have their favorite rendition, but this is mine. Inside the book, Romita's pencils and inks over Kirby's layouts looks pretty decent too. The storyline, begun in TTA#75, transporting the Hulk into the future, away from the Army, was a welcome change of pace. Back then, Rick Jones revealing the Hulk's identity to Major Talbot was a radical move. Up to that point, secret identities were revealed to friends, not enemies. In retrospect, it was probably a desperation measure to try to improve sales of a second tier book.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  3. Glad to see that even given the snarky, 20-something Fan Boy Post-Modern deconstruction you run on 1960's-era Marvel (which I DO appreciate, although it's hard for you pups to understand the cutting edge impact these torrid tales had back in the day; read some standard DC fare for contrast) you are all appropriately wowed by the first appearance of the Surfer and the Big G (Big Letter on his chest and all). And yeah, the idea of a cosmic skyrider needed a frickin' surfboard is goofy. The bottom line: it worked then. Works now.


    Mark by the beach

  4. After the first two blogs John and I did, Thriller and The Outer Limits, we both had our middle names changed to Snarky since most people began their e-mails, "Dear Mr. Snarky..."

    And, to deconstruct your all-encompassing description of our talents, I doubt if "snarky" and "fan boy" can be used in the same sentence. Snarky or not, I have a love for the old Marvels and get a kick out of 75% of them (even some of those Ant Mans were fun). You couldn't pay me enough money to read the DCs that were being pubbed at the same time. For our comments on those DCs, check out our "Batman in the 1970s" posts over at bare*bones every Monday.

    Thanks for contributing, Mark.

  5. Plus I gather most of the faculty is, broadly speaking, fifty-ish, a far cry from "20-something." So, hardly "pups," even if I for one was too young to read the bulk of the Silver Age stuff when it came out.

  6. I really hope I was included among the snarky, 20-something fan boys. I turned 49 this week and am delighted to think that anyone would mistake me for someone half my age!

  7. Right behind you in three months, my brother. Happy Birthday!

  8. Happy Birthday, Professor Snarkybrook! I guess that makes me the wise old mage in the treehouse since I was born the month Fantastic Four #1 hit the stands.

  9. Dagnabbit, one of you young whippersnappers has stolen my walking frame. :)

  10. I feel a lot younger than my 47 years now! I guess there was some good stories going on here somewhere, if we're still reading 'em.