Wednesday, March 28, 2012

May 1966: The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!

Strange Tales 144

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

The Druid presides over a witches’ sabbath at which “mystic rites combined with modern, sinister science” are literally launched at Fury in the form of their flying Egg of Satan (no, I’m not making this up). The object of the exercise almost saves them the trouble, but shuts down the reactor in the wreckage of the atomic aircraft downed by another egg at the end of last issue, just in the—dare I say it—nick of time. Fury and Dugan are pursued from the crash site by the ominous ovoid, which remains operational despite the borer bomb that drills through its shell, yet the Druid, maneuvering the egg from his subterranean observatory, is doomed to disappointment as the boys “make an omelet,” per Dugan, with their grenade guns.

MB: The Kirby/Purcell/Esposito artistic troika remains unchanged from last issue, but in the Creative Credits Department, Kirby is listed as “Designer” this time around. Sadly also unchanged is the “we’re far too macho to show our true affection and respect for each other” antagonistic dialogue between Fury and Dugan which, while presumably SOP in the Howlers' strip, wears a bit thin for this reader. The jury’s still out on current villain the Druid, about whom we know too little (e.g., the motivation for his hatred of Fury) as of yet, but more important, we make the acquaintance of newly minted Agent Jasper Sitwell (“S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, class of ’66”), who will eventually mature into a much more interesting, multi-faceted character than the mere comic foil he is here.

PE: The hilarious thing is that Nick spends the whole story telling everyone in ear shot to shut up (even the quiet ones) and get to work but when Dum Dum tries the sarcasm angle on Sitwell, Nick says "Easy, Dum Dum! The kid's on our side, ain't he?" In other words, there will be no dressing down unless it's done by Colonel Fury. At times, this installment reads like it was meant for Not Brand Ecch (if Ecch had been dreamed up yet, that is), what with all the shouting and flying eggs of Satan. And that is a genuinely funny closing sequence. The Druid seems more like a villain designed for Doctor Strange rather than Nick Fury. He didn't have much of a shelf life, only appearing a handful of times over the ensuing 45 years. After this two-issue stint, he'll disappear until Captain America and The Falcon #187 (July 1975).

Jack: I have to admit that I thought this story would be a clunker when we got to the Egg of Satan on page two, but it turned out to be exciting and funny at the same time. There is enough Kirby in the layouts here to overcome the weak contributions by Howard Purcell, and I found Dum-Dum’s loyalty impressive. The introduction of new recruit Jasper Sitwell at the SHIELD barber shop in the last few pages almost reminded me of a Mad Magazine parody—I liked it!

Doctor Strange
Our Story

The Ancient One’s spirit form searches dimensions for the banished girl, but to no avail. Dormammu sends Asti, a floating, talking mask, to prepare a trap for Dr. Strange, who flies off to the outer edge of infinity to investigate a powerful spell that must have been cast by Dormammu. The Dreaded One has warned Tazza, ruler of the kingdom where Dr. Strange is headed, that the Master of the Mystic Arts comes to destroy him. Dr. Strange arrives in the weird dimension and battles many spells, eventually confronting Tazza and defeating him. With no sign of the girl, Dr. Strange heads home.

Jack: Asti, the All-Seeing looks more like Asti, the time-saver for Steve Ditko! This is a pretty good story, though, and Ditko’s work has grown noticeably more polished over the course of this series.

MB: Rascally Roy’s maiden two-issue stint scripting Dr. Strange ends here, but it’s clear that he’s already mastered the character’s personality and speech patterns; presumably, working with co-creator/artist/plotter Ditko didn’t hurt. This story is reminiscent of those little change-of-pace sideshows that used to take Doc off the beaten path (and into another dimension) during his quest for Eternity, a one-and-done that basically ends in a stalemate. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing—after all, dramatically, we don’t want Strange going directly against Dormammu or even Baron Mordo every issue, although it’s nice to see the Big D pulling the strings, and I think we get more of his little eye in the sky, Asti the All-Seeing, in the future.

Tales of Suspense 77  

Iron Man
Our Story

Trapped in the castle of The Mandarin, Tony Stark listens to the evil villain's fantastic tale of building a giant android he's named Ultimo! To keep the monster hidden from sight, The Mandarin has hidden it in a nearby volcano, but the creature is building power so quickly it threatens even its own master. Our hero's attache case lies at the bottom of the moat surrounding the castle and an exit is getting harder to find. Luckily, The Mandarin grows tired of toying with Tony Stark and gives him a full Power Blast to the chest, conveniently knocking the billionaire through the doors to the moat. As Stark is searching for his armor case, Ultimo has left his domicile and begins his destructive path towards The Mandarin's castle. Can even Iron Man put an end to a 100-foot android with atomizing laser beam eyes?

PE: Though not much really happens in this middle chapter, I found myself glued to the panels in anticipation of the big guy's arrival. Could it have been the crisp dialogue that always ended with something along the lines of " . . . nothing can stop the power of ULTIMO!"? I loved how Gene Colan played with the panel shapes and sizes. Just compare them to the by-the-numbers layout of the co-feature this issue. I always thought it was Steranko who began fiddling with the conventions of a Marvel Comic, but here's evidence that other pioneers were in the building at the time.

MB: Ultimo is one of those literal heavies who is so powerful that he would be diminished by overexposure; of course, his being the creation and minion of Iron Man’s arch-enemy, the Mandarin, helps. I first encountered him in the oft-cited
Avengers Special #1, which is still a year or so down the pike, but his introduction here is handled masterfully, with a big build-up enhanced by Colan’s off-kilter panel layouts and rife with, yes, suspense. Gene the Dean and Abel seem to be meshing a bit better by now, and it’s pretty ballsy of the creative team to devote fewer than two pages to Tony Stark’s armored alter ego, with our hero facing gigantic hurdles in both of his identities, from the depredations of the jingoistic Senator Byrd to Ultimo.

PE: The name Gort was already taken so Stan had to go with the flashier Ultimo, but I'm not fooled. Our robot here is just a larger version of the one that made the earth stand still back in 1951. And can I add how refreshing it is to make it through an entire issue without having to work out in my head if Stark's secretary is yo-yoing between her boss and the other guy (Happy? Foggy? Sneezy?) or an independent working woman just trying to get by on her brain cells alone? A very satisfying tale.

Captain America
Our Story

As the beautiful S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (from last issue) still burns in his mind, Steve Rogers thinks back to the only woman he ever loved, a freedom fighter he met and ultimately lost in World War II. Coincidentally, she's a dead ringer for his new muse.

PE: Nicely done WWII flashback story whose holes will no doubt be filled and small details elaborated on very soon. John Romita's just about nailed Cap by this time, making the character his own. Aside from a few nits I could pick . . . well, alright you asked. Was there really enough time back during the war for Cap's sweetheart to have a picture taken and framed for him? At least the pic wasn't signed like that dreadful Bucky portrait ("To Cap, all my love, Bucky") but I still wonder where he kept all this WWII stuff. Did he make one last trip to his locker before the fateful day he was blown off a rocket and took a 20-year nap or did he have the framed pics on him when he was thawed out? And seriously, Stan, how many times this year are you going to use the selective amnesia plot device? This time, it's our sweet sexy freedom fighter (whose name, we'll soon learn, is Peggy Carter) who loses the memories of her love for Cap due to a jarring mortar blast. Amnesia is the easy answer to being backed into a corner.

MB: Like Daredevil, this is another character I’m rejoining after an enforced hiatus of several issues, and another Giacoia-inked early Silver Age effort from Romita (over Kirby layouts). Having missed the entire Sleepers saga, I don’t know if Cap’s little amnesia-stricken partisan playmate is a carryover from previous stories or a new addition, but in light of the French setting, fromage is an apt term for the corny coincidence that finds her around the corner, unseen, as the guilt-ridden Cap grieves for her absence. Romita, who would return for a brief stint on Cap’s solo title in 1971, does his usual fine job, although at this stage of the game he seems to capture the essence of the shield-slinger better in frontal shots than he does in profile.

PE: Fromage is a splendid description of a lot of the dialogue here as well. "That lightning and thunder . . .  it's like the angry roar of the past... trying to capture me again" sighs Steve Rogers from his balcony. Most of the soap opera expletives are reserved for Peggy, whose breathy sigh must have reduced Cap's knees to melting plastic: "Will we never be able to lead normal lives? How can we speak of love... when the world is in flames... when I don't even know your name!" Sheesh!

Fantastic Four 50
Our Story

Convinced by Alicia Masters that the human race is not insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things, the Silver Surfer tries to convince Galactus to abandon his plans to drain our world of it’s energy, and all human life. But the master is unmoved by his herald’s plea, and the Surfer attacks, encasing Galactus in a cocoon of ethereal energy. It is of short advantage however; Galactus easily frees himself, and reluctantly takes up the battle. The Watcher remains unmoving atop the Baxter Building with the Fantastic Four, still mentally guiding Johnny Storm back through time and space to our world. The Torch is in a mild state of shock at the wonders beyond comprehension he has experienced, but he has brought with him the one weapon that can defeat Galactus: the Ultimate Nullifier, which can destroy a universe. The mighty planet-eater agrees to leave the Earth, surprised but not vengeful, and Reed gives him the Nullifier. As the Surfer will no longer serve him, Galactus strips him of his space-faring powers. He vanishes, warning humanity to take care how they light their spark of greatness, which will save or destroy them one day. The surfer takes flight to ponder his new destiny. What do the Fantastic Four, and we humans, do after having been an instant away from oblivion, but to carry on with our normal lives. Alicia arrives, thankful to the Surfer for his heroic act. Ben interprets her gratitude for something more, and wanders off in a pool of self-pity. Johnny is off to Metro College where he meets future roommate Wyatt Wingfoot, a Native American Indian from Tulsa. Other petty seeds are being sown: football star Whitney Mullins scoffs at Metro College coach Thorne that the team is nothing without him; another scheming, yet unnamed man plots on the sidelines… for the destruction of the Fantastic Four.

PE: Marvel's first numbered landmark issue has a fairly good wrap-up of the Galactus saga, though I'd prefer it was a "full-length thriller" if, for nothing else, to explain how Alicia got to the top of the roof by herself, why no one seemed concerned about her running around and, most important, why The Forgetful Four left the poor defenseless girl to fend for herself up there! I also feel the need to gripe about that title: "The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer." It really wasn't about The Surfer. Oh sure, he was a part of it but that title almost begs an origin story. But then again...

MB: Okay, we’re fifty issues, or just over four years, into the inaugural title of the Marvel Universe, and I think any reasonable observer would have to admit at least the possibility that it has begun living up to its cover hype as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Joltin’ Joe continues to make the art look as good as it ever has to date, and after this conclusion to the original Galactus trilogy, nothing else in Marvel’s current output (still virtually all written, or at least scripted, by Stan—think about it) can equal, let alone surpass, the magic that Lee and Kirby are creating. My only reservation is that, although I welcome continued stories, I still have trouble with those that end in the middle of an issue, which seems to disrupt their natural rhythm: “See the spectacular showdown with Galactus! Oh, and then Johnny goes to college.”

JB: To the point of these mid-issue plot wrap-ups, this one is quite abrupt. I don’t mind when upcoming events are mixed in with the main story, as long as the central events are the main focus. After the buildup with Galactus and the Surfer, it did seem to reach a conclusion too early. Still, anything after Galactus would seem mighty mundane, so it adds some realism to the characters. This remains, I’d say, on most Marvel fans Top Ten lists for best Golden Age sagas.

PE: I think my comments on the curtailed story lines put me squarely in your camp, Professor Matthew, but this issue's a bit different. I was set to be right pissed at Galactus catching an inter-dimensional train halfway through the issue but then Stan and Jack begin bombarding us with fascinating little subplots. What's up with the egotistical football quarterback and his washed-up coach? Why the heck is Johnny driving around in ex-girlfriend Dorrie's sports car? Doesn't he have zippy autos of his own? Does Dorrie know she's been dumped for an Inhuman who's not even around? Who's the Clark Kent lookalike named Wyatt Wingfoot and what impact will he have on Johnny Storm's new life? I was enthralled by these new loose ends and can't wait to get to #51. 

JS: Frankly, if all issues were as good as the first half of this one, I can live with a half-issue of filler. My favorite bit is when Galactus professes his admiration for the Surfer right before he sets out to kill him. I honestly didn't remember that, and it gave the big G a whole new dimension to appreciate. Of course I'm not  totally clear why, while in the possession of the ultimate nullifier, Reed didn't just use it to chase Galactus off. Are you really going to hand over the greatest weapon to the creature who was within moments of destroying life on Earth as we know it? If this Galactus character ever shows up again, I think 'ol Reed Richards may come to regret that decision...

PE: On the letters page, we witness greatness. Well, he was only 13 years old at the time but he'd grow up to write for such Marvel titles as Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, and most famously his stretch on The Amazing Spider-Man. Yep, the man who would someday kill Gwen Stacy and The Green Goblin, little Gerard Conway, once thought that FF #47 was "the greatest story printed in this century!"

JB: I saw that letter from Gerard Conway, and wondered if he was the famous Gerry Conway! In addition to the titles already mentioned he had a pretty long stint on Thor as well, taking over in issue #193, going all the way up to #238. I was disappointed when Kirby left the Thor art chores, but I felt that Stan was getting a bit tired, and I welcomed Gerry’s crazy cosmic style.

The Amazing Spider-Man 36
Our Story

Scientist Norman G. Fester only wants to prove that meteors have living organisms within them but he can't seem to catch a break. No college wants to fund his research and bank presidents laugh in his face so he begins his research at home (not the most ideal situation). Fester manages to crack open a meteor sample he's found and is exposed to its interior gases, which instantly grant him super strength and agility. The super-smart, super-strong Fester realizes that research money is now within his reach. He does what any Marvel super brain would do: buy a generic costume, dub himself The Looter and begin looting. Meanwhile, the hero of our strip is having college problems. Having spent too much time fighting bad guys, Peter Parker finds himself without any friends (or social skills, it seems) on campus. To drown his sorrows, Spider-Man takes to the air looking for the new menace about town but is unable to locate him. Coincidentally, they bump into each other the next day at a science display. Parker's there with his class and Fester's there to steal a meteorite to shore up his waning power. The Looter's plan is thwarted when Parker changes his clothes but the bad guy gets away. Knowing that The Looter was there for something special, Spider-Man stakes out the museum and his patience is rewarded when Fester makes a return appearance. This time Spider-Man is ready for him.

PE: I'm willing to give Stan and Steve some points for going with the more generic villain name "The Looter" rather than the more obvious "Meteor Man" but then, years later, Fester will adopt the more obvious choice when no one seems to pay attention to him. Well, anyone can be a Looter, but it takes a special someone to be a Meteor Man. Fester has no unique powers per se. He's just a strong guy who can jump high and use a "dazzle gun" to blind his enemies. The suit's a bit too generic as well. He's just another super-intelligent Marvel scientist who ultimately made a bad career choice.

MB: As we count down to Ditko’s departure, he and Stan have given us a solid if unspectacular issue that features a minor but not uninteresting villain, who will later and more aptly be known as the Meteor Man, and whose back story makes for diverting reading. If at times I grow impatient with Peter’s soap-opera social problems, that is mostly because he has, in such large measure, brought them upon himself, first by failing to provide a perfectly reasonable explanation (i.e., Aunt May’s life-threatening illness) for his earlier preoccupation, and now by his indefensible snubbing of Gwen’s friend Sally. But they admittedly also have the side-effect of making me long to see Peter and Romita’s gorgeous Gwen enjoying their temporary happiness.

PE: Gwen Stacy is unlike any other girl in the world. She thinks Peter Parker is stuffy and elitist and yet gives him chance after chance to prove her wrong. Poor Parker always seems to have an "I got to change into Spidey" moment just as Cupid is aiming his bow at the teenager. This nasty, acerbic Gwen Stacy in no way resembles the sweet, loving Gwen we'll see soon when she's free of Ditko's none-too-soft embrace. Her jab at Peter, that the thought of him as a football player is the "funniest thing I've heard all day," surprises even Flash Thompson in its pettiness. It doesn't help that Parker is surrounded by the most unattractive women in comics. Man, that Ditko could draw guys in long underwear but he was no Frazetta when it came to chicks. Gwen's friend Sally looks as though her eyes are sliding down her face in two consecutive panels.

Call me insensitive but these could
very well be the ugliest girls in comics!

JS: I tell you I just can't take the continued menace of the Ditko-head any more. Someone wake me when we've got a new artist.

PE: This is a decent read, with just enough balance between action and pathos, but I can't help thinking I'd sure like to get these one-shot issues out of the way and get to the Main Event three issues from now.

X-Men 20
Our Story

The X-Men robbing a bank! Or is it just imposters in off-the-rack X-jumpsuits? Turns out it's the latter, including The Blog and Unus working for Lucifer. Xavier takes the time to tell of a prior Tibetan encounter with Lucifer, as if he were a young James Bond. Until he gets a big rock dropped on his legs. Oops. Turns out the X-Men were formed (in part) to someday face Lucifer. And Dominus, but not until our next fateful issue!

JS: Am I alone thinking that Lucifer's costume looked a little too much like Magneto's? Let's be clear. Lucifer is NO Magneto.

 PE: I'm not certain I fully understand Lucifer's plan involving the smear of The X-Men's good name. What will it accomplish? To gain the mistrust of the public? That fear was already there. In keeping with "Leave the Loose Threads" Month at Marvel, Unus and The Blob disappear halfway through the story, ostensibly to return next issue, but if Lucifer's so almighty powerful, what does he need with a couple of third-tier bad guys? In any event, all the action serves as garnishing to the Professor X semi-origin story wherein we learn how Xavier lost the use of his legs. Nothing groundbreaking. The more interesting question is, since I don't like to peek, will I get to see yet another Kirby/Lee giant monster knock-off next month in the form of Dominus? This is Roy Thomas's first issue in a long stint on X-Men.

JS: What would compel someone, on their first outing writing the X-Men, to do a Xavier-centered story? Perhaps the Big X has his fans, but I think if you line up all the X-Men throughout history, I'm thinking he still falls below Dazzler.

PE: In the
Bullpen Bulletins, Stan relates the visit to the Marvel offices by director Federico Fellini. On the letters page, 17-year old future Doctor Strange artist Frank Brunner bemoans the poor printing in Marvel Comics and wishes the artist musical chair games would stop. I know a lot of Doc Strange fans would immediately point to Ditko as the premier Doc artist but I'd have to choose Brunner's work on the Strange strip as definitive. Brunner's art screams otherworldly and Lovecraftian.

The Avengers 28
Our Story

Henry Pym contacts the Avengers for help in rescuing the Wasp, who has been kidnapped by the Collector, a villain who wants to add the Avengers to his hoard. Pym reveals himself to be Giant-Man and, with a new costume provided by The Scarlet Witch, rechristens himself Goliath. The super team tracks down the Collector and battles both him and the Beetle, who is part of his collection. Just as the Avengers seem to have prevailed, the Collector and the Beetle disappear by means of a time machine. Goliath tries to shrink back to normal size but gets stuck at ten feet tall and passes out.

PE: How many more times do we have to be subjected to Hawkeye flying off the handle when Cap tells him to do something? How many times after that do we have to get the follow-up panel where Hawkeye questions himself about why he feels the urge to needle the Star-Spangled Avenger? Captain America's doubt about Henry Pym being Gi-ant Man makes no sense whatsoever. How would Pym know the Wasp had gone missing if he wasn't High Pockets? And if he was going to waste his time impersonating an Avenger, Cap should know he'd at least pick a real hero like Thor or Iron Man. Who in their right mind would want to be Gi-Ant Man? But my largest groan was registered when we find out that Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, has been sewing a new uniform for Gi-Ant Man, in her spare time, just in case he decided to come back to the group! Has she done the same for Thor, The Wasp, Iron Man and The Hulk?

Jack: It’s a good thing Captain America told Henry Pym that he was a “real Goliath”! Imagine if he had said “You’re a real dork”! Then we’d have Dork-Man on the Avengers. This reminds me of a scene with a certain dog in Steve Martin’s The Jerk.

With quite a bit of alarm, Henry Pym discovers
his new uniform has caused his right
shoulder to grow abnormally large! 

MB: I haven’t said a lot about covers, but this one always elevates my pulse: Goliath is one of my favorite iterations of one of my favorite characters, and I love that blue-and-yellow uniform towering so spectacularly over his fellow Assemblers. Also enjoyed the quintessentially Heckian (?) shot on the bottom of page 10, where that forced perspective makes Hank look even bigger, while his climactic dilemma of being stuck at ten feet tall opens up a new and interesting chapter in his career, in which his dismay over his freakish appearance recalls that of the Thing. And we learn that the Beetle is doing the bidding of the Collector, a villain who is fun almost by definition, because you never know what—or who—will materialize from his eclectic collection.

Jack: The Collector has some pretty cool stuff! A flying carpet from Persia, beans from Jack and the Beanstalk—he could have a reality show on cable TV! Note: Frankie Ray’s real name (Giacoia) is revealed in this issue’s credits.

PE: It's good to see that, despite a new moniker, Gi-ant, err, Goliath is still the Avenger who gets the worst lines. When he and Cap inadvertently step into a chamber where the walls begin to close around them, he exclaims that the Collector is "as dangerous as any foe we've ever faced." Seriously? The walls close in and he's as dangerous as the Hulk, Loki, Sub-Mariner, Kang, or even (let's scrape the bottom here) Count Nefaria? The most dangerous weapon he can muster is magic beans.

Jack: Apparently, Captain America got the message that the alphabet had been used up, because he calls for Maneuver Nine.

The Mighty Thor 128
Our Story

 Exhausted from having battled Seidring the Merciless, Thor sleeps to recover his strength. Odin pronounces the sentence for said traitor who had been one of his trusted council: banishment to rule the rock trolls on a distant world. Back in Stardust Studios on Earth, Hercules meets Hyppolita and Pluto, not realizing who they really are. He signs the Olympian contract binding him to rule the Netherworld, thinking it merely the plot of the film. Alas, too late! Pluto and the Amazon queen reveal themselves, to the dawning realization for Hercules, that this is no joke. The floor opens to reveal a stairway to the dreaded depths below, and two titan warriors appear to enforce the Olympian’s fate. In Asgard, Thor continues his recovery. A hunting adventure on a royal ice skimmer finds the Thunder God not quite up to the task of shooting an armored beast-fish, and Balder has to fight it off to make their escape. A little later though, Thor bests voluminous Volstagg in a jousting match, and Odin declares him fully recovered, his original power restored. Thor requests his father's permission to return to Earth, and restore his honour in a rematch with Hercules. Upon reaching his rival, Thor is stunned to see the son of Zeus battling endless numbers of warriors from the depths below—and leaps to aid his plight. Pluto and Hyppolita, in light of Hercules’ newfound aid, vanish, taking the case to the one who can enforce the Olympian contract without question: Zeus. When he learns of the contract, Thor departs; knowing Hercules has a far more serious fate to face.
In Tales Of Asgard, we hear the tale of what happens in the “Aftermath” of Ragnorak, when the Midgard Serpent and Surter the Fire Demon lead the forces of evil to the destruction of Asgard. Odin’s finest are speechless, pondering the future, until Odin points out it is Loki who will be the cause of it!

JB: I hadn’t been aware of Tales To Astonish #79 before; but it sounds like Herc’s battle with the Hulk is a little disappointing, similar to Thor’s in Journey Into Mystery #112. Still, it explains his absence last issue. When did his mace turn blue? And what’s Jane Foster up to this month; what do you mean, who cares?!

MB: Marvel’s interpretation of Hercules has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but in this instance he seems particularly dull-witted as he falls for the scheme of the—let’s face it—not terribly well-disguised Pluto and Hyppolita, who are cleverly calling themselves “Pluto” and “Hyppolita.” Better to focus on the Asgardian side of things, where we spend some quality time with the loyal Balder, while Big Daddy Odin is finally starting to show his only (real) son some of the respect he has earned, and Thor puts honor ahead of his planned grudge match with Herc. The Special Marvel Edition reprints I’ve been reading of the past few issues don’t include “Tales of Asgard,” so it was a treat to see this famous installment, depicting Ragnarok and its aftermath.

JB: It is a memorable installment of Tales Of Asgard Matthew. We’ve managed to come from the birth of the gods to their death in a couple of years. It’s not often these guys are all speechless!

PE: I had a bed just like Thor's when I was about eight years old. How a "Thunder God" could not lose his street cred while lounging in a big dragon boat is beyond me. Nice in-joke when Herc's agent threatens to replace him in the film with Steve Reeves. The pacing this issue is a bit frenetic, a bit too much packed within its 16 pages, but it's still a very readable story and, now that I think about it, too much story in 16 pages beats no story in 10 (the Hulk, anyone?) any day. 

JB:I wish I’d had a bed like Thor’s, Peter; no nightmares could get you in that thing! It looks a little like Thor doing the Odinsleep. His recover gives us some examples of Asgardian recreation. I’m not sure if the rock trolls that Seidring is sent to rule are any relation to the trolls that appear in the upcoming issues #137-9? I don’t think so, as Seidring doesn’t seem to be around then.  

Tales to Astonish 79

Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Prince Namor is surrounded by military troops after he robbed a bank while under the control of the Puppet Master. Though wounded by gunfire, he is able to escape and jump into a river. Back in Atlantis, the monstrous Behemoth has been unleashed. The Behemoth starts to wreck the city. Lady Dorma finds Sub-Mariner and lets him know of the attack. Namor fills her in on how he was put under the Puppet Master’s control. Using his strong, mental, kinetic energy, Namor is able to break the Puppet Master’s spell. Krang has been monitoring the proceedings in his castle, admitting to himself that he is partially responsible for unleashing the Behemoth. Though he knows the monster is stronger than Namor, he also realizes that Namor could win by out-thinking the stupid beast. Krang goes to the Puppet Master’s hideout and orders him to create a puppet of the Behemoth so that he can control it. The story ends with the Sub-Mariner about to do battle with the Behemoth, which is now under Krang’s control.

Tom: This one has gotten interesting again. While I griped about the appearance and use of the Puppet-Master as the main villain last issue, it’s all starting to come together creatively. Next issue’s battle looks pretty exciting.

PE: The tomfoolery involving the Puppet Master is wrapped up unsatisfactorily two pages shy of the strip's climax. I'll have to admit here and now that I can't, for the life of me, remember why the Puppy Master wanted to control Subby in the first place. We're certainly not reminded in this installment. With the appearance of Behemoth here and Ultimo over in the Iron Man strip, a reader could almost believe he'd fallen into some kind of space/time vortex and arrived in 1961 where Kirby and Lee ruled the stands with Fin Fang Foom, Gorgilla, and Rommbu!

MB: Reunited with his beloved creation, Everett unsurprisingly surpasses Colletta’s variable efforts inking Colan on this strip (either staying out of the way of or bringing out the best in Gene’s pencils, I’m not sure which). The tale itself is a curious mélange; although his presence overshadows the entire proceedings, we don’t actually see too much of the Puppet Master, which considering his ridiculous ensemble is just as well, and I’m also a little dubious about this Behemoth critter. Collaboration of any sort between Krang and the P.M. seems highly unlikely, but I enjoyed the Army scenes and Namor’s destruction of his puppet by sheer will, and especially the brave, resourceful depiction of Dorma, who is a fitting mate for the Avenging Son.

PE: I'll give you that it's a different look having Everett over Colan but I'm not sure I'd agree that it's necessarily better. Gene's art seems to lose quite a bit of its noirishness sans Colletta. Don't get me wrong, though--Colan's genius still shines through. That Super-Villain Team-Up between Krang and Puppet Master that closes out the issue has to be the quickest hook-up ever recorded. Three panels between the light bulb going off over Krang's head and his confrontation with the nattily-dressed Weeble. 

Jack: This continues to be a standout series. It’s neat that Bill Everett returned to Sub-Mariner after so many years, if only to ink Colan’s pencils. I respect Everett’s place in comics history, but his inks do not enhance the pencils as much as inkers in prior issues. Still, the art is terrific, with two great splash pages, and the depiction of the Behemoth is wonderful. It seems a little far-fetched that Krang would seek out the Puppet Master for help, but I’m willing to go along with it since the storytelling and art are so good.


Our Story

Hulk makes quick work of Dr. Zaxon as Hercules travels cross-country by train toward Hollywood. The two meet by coincidence and engage in an epic battle. Hercules appears to be winning but, when the army starts to attack, the Hulk decides he is outnumbered and bounces off to a hiding place.

MB: It bespeaks Bill Everett’s versatility that although he provides the artwork or “delineation” for both strips in this month’s Astonish, the two halves look nothing like each other, befitting their respective Kirby layouts and Colan pencils. If Zaxon were any kind of a viable villain, I’d be miffed that he’s disposed of—permanently, yet—in two pages, but he isn’t, so I’m happy to proceed to the quasi-crossover with Thor, as Hercules heads for his appointment with the lord of the underworld in Hollywood (hmmm...). Sadly, the suspicions raised in me last issue about the Kirby/Everett match-up were well-founded, and to put it politely, the results don’t do justice to the momentous meeting between Hulk and Herc en route that they have attempted to portray.

Tom: You've got to give someone credit at Marvel for quickly deciding it would be better to knock off Z-list villain, Dr. Zaxon, rather than have his lame charade of power conquest drag out for a couple of issues. Farewell Doc, we hardly knew ya. A pretty good action story with the Hulk and Hercules being very evenly matched. Unlike other good guy versus good guy over a misunderstanding scenarios, neither of these two comes off as a prince. They are both basically a couple of hot headed jerks who just like to fight and blow off steam.

PE: It's almost as though, sometime during early 1966, Stan Lee started getting impatient with his own writing. How else to explain the recent rash of stories (in various Marvel titles) that are given one issue and three pages of the next to resolve? Was Stan becoming such a keen writer that he knew instinctively that he was on the wrong track and should get on to the next adventure? Since we're then only given 8 pages to digest a second story line involving Hercules, there's really not much more than a fragment here. It's a fun little romp though and I love how it fills in a bit of time between the events of Thor #127 and #128, almost like a deleted scene on a DVD. Hercules is shaping up to be a very entertaining fella.

Jack: Bill Everett’s Hulk still looks funky, and once again a cliffhanger is wrapped up too quickly, but Hercules is such a good character that this story is entertaining. I like the way these comics are starting to intertwine, with this issue finding Hercules on the train for Hollywood, putting it somewhere in between a couple of issues of Thor. The only problem here is that Hercules is so much more interesting than the Hulk; it makes me wish that this series were about the son of Zeus rather than the green monster!

Daredevil 16
Our Story

A mysterious villain, known only as the Masked Marauder, has come up with a brilliant strategy to not only help him steal valuable materials, but also eliminate two heroes in the process. The Masked Marauder orders his numerous henchmen to dress up as Daredevil. Then, his disguised cronies are to attack Spider-Man so that it causes a rift between the two crime fighters. They do as commanded and Spidey is not very happy with Daredevil, unaware of the whole scheme. The two fight it out on top of a building and it enraptures the whole city. With the cops busy securing the hero fight, the Marauder and company go to the General Motors building and steal the plans for a new secret engine, called the XB-390. Double D is able to secure Spider-Man before taking off. The next day, J. Jonah Jameson starts running stories in the Daily Bugle, making the heroes look bad for fighting each other while the crime was going on. Both heroes now wonder if the other was in league with the Marauder. While patrolling the streets, Spider-Man’s senses go wild and lead him to the law office of Foggy and Matt. Convinced that Foggy is Daredevil, he crashes into their office. The story ends on a cliffhanger as Spidey is about to pound on Foggy.

Tom: As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a real big fan of the whole super-hero throw-down-because-of-a-misunderstanding plot lines, something that the folks at Marvel had no problem producing with regular frequency over the years. At least the action was pretty decent, though. Spider-Man doesn’t come off as very bright in this issue. His Spider-Sense couldn’t have told him that he was being attacked by imposters?

PE: I'll go out on a limb and say that when Roy Thomas read this issue of Daredevil as a youth, he thought "I could make a monthly title out of simple misunderstandings" and in March 1972 he did, with the first issue of Marvel Team-Up. The premise is immensely dopey. There are, what, thirty phony DDs working for the Masked Marauder and they all have the same build? They'd have to have in order to fool a professional like Spider-Man. That goes for the billy clubs with the built-in lines. Where does the Marauder get his intel?

Jack: If we ignore the usual trite setup that pits two super-heroes against each other due to a misunderstanding that should have been apparent to both in a few moments, we can thoroughly enjoy John Romita’s tryout to replace Steve Ditko on the Spider-Man strip! 

PE: The World Motors Center, which houses the grand prize XB-390 the Marauder is seeking, will no doubt be taking applications for new security guards pretty soon. Two of them approach the back of the Marauder's truck and calmly ask him to move his vehicle as it's in a restricted zone. It's only after they realize he's costumed do they become alarmed. Never mind the 100 foot air hose leading from the van to the top of the building they're supposed to be guarding.

Jack: Interesting that Matt Murdock notices that Spider-Man’s exploits are so often photographed and concludes that the web-slinger must set up an automatic camera to take the pictures himself.

"Check this out! My feet never touch the ground!"

PE: I'm on page 11 right now (in real time) and for the second time, the Mediocre Marauder has used his Blindy Flashy Ray twice already. I'll bet ten mint copies of Dazzler #1 this guy tries to use it on DD by the end of this two-parter next issue. Wanna bet? In the meantime, someone needs to explain to me how DD manages the flying trick he executes on page 15 to wrap Spidey around a pole. No one without the power of flight (or, at least, levitation) is going to be able to pull this one off.

Jack: I’m sure Professor Peter noticed the Marauder’s use of Plan W—we are getting near the end of the alphabet, so Marvel characters will need to come up with new names for their plans!

 MB: Here’s a segue, reportedly not a coincidence: Romita starts penciling Daredevil; Spider-Man guest-stars in Daredevil; Romita starts penciling Spider-Man. There’s an enjoyable irony in the Masked Marauder temporarily blinding one of his faux Hornheads (not to mention a nice symmetry in DD meeting Spidey in #16 of each mag), but it’s offset by the dopiness of the real DD, who knows he’s being impersonated, yet doesn’t make the first words out of his mouth “It wasn’t me!” when he encounters Spidey. That said, if you’re gonna do the venerable heroes-get-tricked-into-squaring-off-and-then-team-up-against-the-true-foe routine, it’s unlikely to look any better than this, with that shot of the pinned Spidey on the bottom of page 15 a real standout.

Jack: Romita had his work cut out for him with the faux Daredevils—it’s not easy to make them look different when all you have to work with is a squiggle for a nose and a line for a mouth!

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw
Millie the Model
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos
Two-Gun Kid


  1. Professor John, I don't know if I'm in the minority here, but you can count me as a huge Professor X-Fan. I always thought he was absolutely one of the coolest characters going, and even if this particular story sounds like it's far from the greatest, I always regretted that the gigantic gap in my X-MEN collection included the story of how he ended up in that wheelchair. Werner Roth's art doesn't seem like any big loss, but I am also saddened to miss out on so much of Roy's early scripting, particularly on my beloved mutants.

    I foolishly hoped Hank would start getting some respect from you guys once he graduated to this new identity and costume I love so well, but no such luck. I even conceded that his ASTONISH strip was lame, yet to me, it's like night and day. Of course, I grew up with Goliath, and only read the Gi-Ant-Man strip decades later, which probably has a lot to do with it, but you can bet I'll continue championing ol' Goliath.

    Professor Pete, I mostly agree with you about the story/page ratio in THOR, especially as contrasted with the Hulk strip. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record--and as much as I liked this Ragnarok episode--I continue to lament the pages that could be devoted to the main story instead of TOA. This book remains unique as a kind of cross between the split books and the full-length ones, and as the storylines become even more elaborate in the months ahead, they cry out more than ever for the full-length treatment.

    However, you demean the memory of my late, lamented SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP by equating the Puppet-Krang mashup with it in any fashion.

  2. It's interesting to see the positive comments regarding Gerry Conway. I seem to recall he wasn't so popular back in the 70s, when he was killing people off left and right!

  3. In particular, a certain cute blonde.

  4. I certainly remember Conway fondly as one of the best of that new crop of writers whose work entranced me so much in the '70s. Looking forward very much to revisiting his oeuvre as the MU juggernaut rolls on...

  5. Nick Fury's car utilizes airbags a decade before they were introduced in any real car. Airbags were invented in the 1950s, and it's possible Stan or Jack read about them in Popular Mechanics or somewhere else, and picked up on it. Legend has it that physically, Jasper Sitwell was modeled on Marvel newcomer Roy Thomas. Marvel gets a new writer … S.H.I.E.L.D. gets a new agent.

    Neal Adams is often credited with introducing angular panel layouts in comic books, but, Gene Colan beat him to it by a few years, and he's probably not the originator either.

    The “Ultimate Nullifier” is sort of like Corbomite that works. If Galactus destroys the earth, he'll destroy himself too … and it's no bluff. As we've already found out, Galactus and the Watcher know each-other. Jack Kirby had already figured out an origin for Galactus that never saw the light of day. More about that when we get to Galactus' appearance in Thor. The overlapping plotline angle really starts here. On page 14, we're reading the first page of the storyline for FF #51. As a kid, with so much going on, 30 days was just too long for me to wait for the next issue.

    A scientist breathes some alien gas and gains super strength. A year later, the same thing happens to Dr. Smith in an episode of Lost In Space. Curiously, the LIS script was written by Peter Packer. Did Packer know about Parker? :) The working relationship between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko has deteriorated to the point that Ditko is just hanging in there. There will be no more classic story arcs … just a series of single issue stories, that while not bad, are not great either.

    I like X-Men #20 … actually, I like the Blob and Unus (thanks for the great name Stan storyline, but not the Lucifer part. It's the simplest thing in the world. The Blob and Unus, wearing X-Men uniforms, go on a crime spree, figuring the authorities will hunt down the X-Men. Although the other part of the story reveals how Professor X lost the use of his legs, Lucifer is just such a weak character that he seems unworthy of any sort of footnote in Marvel History. The events should've been part of X-Men #12 with Xavier's step-brother responsible for the paralysis.

    Daredevil meets Spider-Man again, and for the first time, so does John Romita. Stan Lee already suspects that Steve Ditko won't be around much longer, and concocts this story to see what John Romita can do with Spidey. As usual, Stan's instincts are correct, and Romita doesn't disappoint.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  6. Corbomite that works? Dr. Zachary Smith? Glenn, you're speaking my language!

  7. Glenn, funny you should say that about Juggernaut. For the longest time, knowing how much history Charles and Cain had, I thought Juggy WAS responsible for crippling Xavier.

    I have by no means seen every episode of the original STAR TREK, but of those I have, "The Corbomite Maneuver" is my favorite. As noted on We Are Controlling Transmission, I had the good fortune to interview its screenwriter, Jerry Sohl, before he passed. A nice guy.