Wednesday, April 25, 2012

September 1966: The End of The Green Goblin??

Daredevil 20
Our Story

After a night of uneventful hero patrol, Daredevil swings into his alter-ego’s law office, where he is attacked by three thugs who are looking for Matt Murdock.  Double D beats them up but lets them escape because he is curious as to why they are hunting him.  He leaps back to his apartment, where the same thugs show up and shanghai Daredevil in his guise as Matt Murdock. Next thing he knows he’s on an airplane heading for a castle on a strange island.  Once they land, Daredevil learns that the person behind the kidnapping is his old enemy, the Owl.  The villain has taken Murdock hostage because he is known as a great lawyer and can take part in a mock trial where he will represent the defendant, an old ex-judge named Lewis, who sentenced the Owl to prison after he was first defeated by Daredevil.  Matt does what he can to bring some legitimacy to the proceedings, but it’s pretty obvious that the fix is in as the Owl, acting as the judge, makes his own rules.  The jury is comprised of other criminals who Lewis has sentenced during his career.  The hoods would just as soon kill Lewis and be done with him except that the Owl keeps dragging things out in an attempt to torment him.  Matt Murdock asks if he can find a witness to speak in the defense’s behalf.  The Owl laughingly lets him go search the island to find someone.  Once outside, it doesn’t take long for Matt to change into his Daredevil costume.  He storms back into the castle for a brawl with the goons.  The story ends with the Owl using some slick pool balls to trip up Double D so that his henchman can subdue him. 

Jack: Though Stan’s note says that Gene Colan takes over the art chores because John Romita was busy drawing the Spider-Man Special, the fact is that this issue starts Colan’s wonderful run on this title. I am not the only professor here who loves Colan’s artwork, and Frank Giacoia’s inks enhance it as well as anyone would until Tom Palmer inked Colan in the 1970s on Tomb of Dracula.

Tom:  I don’t know, man . . . this might be the worst issue of Daredevil I’ve read up to this point.  Somehow, no matter how this story wraps up, I don’t think my opinion will change much.  Gene Colan is always welcome as a guest artist, but for a guy who drew a creepy-looking Dracula, his Owl just looks like an overstuffed dork.  Going so far out of his way to punish a judge who sentenced him to prison is a bit of a stretch, even for some kooky super-villain.  Too bad the Owl didn’t invest all this time and energy into defeating Daredevil, the guy who got him caught and sent to the big house in the first place.
Jack: Is this the first full-length book Colan drew for Marvel? He was doing half-length Sub-Mariner and Iron Man stories. I have to wonder if this was a bit of a rush job, what with all of the full and half-page illustrations. Still, the cinematic quality of his art and the use of shadows get me every time.

PE: Hard to believe this thread-thin storyline will be stretched over two issues when it barely sustains interest over one. Perhaps it's Frank Giacoia's inks, but Gene Colan's art is not among his best work, resembling Johnny Romita's art more than Colan. That's not an insult to Jazzy Johnny, just an observation. There's not a trace of noir-ish element that highlight his work over at Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. It also looks nothing like the fabulous DD art we'll be seeing from Gentleman Gene when he's freed from Fearless Frank's grasp beginning in #26.

Jack: I love the Owl and am thrilled to see him return! I also love the idea of the trial by villains. Has anyone else noticed that spelling errors are getting more frequent? “Intolerable” is misspelled (on page 19, panel 5) in the Essentials reprint but fixed in the Masterworks. Go figure. Also, does anyone else think the section pictured to the left looks like the work of Jack Davis? I wonder if Colan had help.

MB:  Confirming my expectations about Romita, Colan is supposedly pinch-hitting for him while he finishes the Spider-Man Special, yet since DD will become Gentleman Gene’s signature character, I am frankly not expecting to see Romita returning any time soon.  Giacoia provides some nice continuity, especially with the figures of Hornhead himself, although I was a little surprised to see the Owl pop up instead of the Gladiator and the Masked Marauder, having apparently deferred their dastardly vengeance until another day.  The Owl is one of those villains who has to be handled just right, as Joe Orlando did with his debut in #3, but fortunately Colan’s shadowy style is resolutely right for the task, and everything seems to mesh beautifully art-wise.

Jack: I was reading All Star Comics from 1941 and was reminded of Dr. Mid-Nite, the first blind super hero. I had thought Daredevil was original in that way, but I should have known that very little in comics was original after oh, say, 1941 . . .

The Mighty Thor 132
Our Story

Thor arrives at the outskirts of the Rigel system and is met by a group of the colonizers.  He demands they release the space lock set up by the Rigelians to aid Tana Nile in the invasion of Earth.  The colonizers’ refuse; when they realize they haven’t the power to stop Thor, a robot called an Indestructible is sent forth to do the job.  Able to withstand even the fury of a cosmic storm created by Thor’s hammer, the Indestructible is only defeated when Thor forces back its arm and it is struck by its own gamma-powered immobilizer beam.  At that moment a beam from the Black Galaxy destroys a nearby Rigelian battle cruiser.  The Grand Commissioner, leader of the colonizers, formulates a plan.  He intercepts Thor who is about to throw his Mjolnir at the space lock (which Tana Nile is using to slowly move Earth out of its orbit).  The Grand Commissioner convinces Thor that the menace within the Black Galaxy, which is getting more powerful all of the time, will soon venture forth and be as much a menace to Earth as it is to Rigel.  Thor agrees to go into the Black Galaxy to vanquish whatever foe lies within.  In return, the Rigelians will release the space lock from Earth if the Thunder God is successful.  Thor is accompanied by a Rigelian robot recorder to track the data from their trip.  Jane Foster, meanwhile, still under Tana Nile’s hypnotic suggestion, travels far away from New York by plane.  Just as the recorder determines that the Black Galaxy is a bio-verse composed of living biological matter, the hero and the recorder confront what they have been looking for:  Ego, the Living Planet.  


Tales of Asgard finds the weary warriors of Asgard victorious, having freed the land of Muspelheim from the conquest of the barbarian Harokin.  The injured warrior has fought his last battle, as the Black Stallion of Death appears to take him to Valhalla.  

J.B.:  The weird science of Thor continues in Part Two of the Rigelian space trilogy.  Mind thrusts, nullified molecular vacuums, and gamma-powered immobilizer beams abound.  We meet the Rigelian robot recorder for the first time, destined to become a great companion of Thor in the coming years.  The full-page photo of Ego might have scared some young kids in the day! 

PE: As I stated in my comments for #131, I'd prefer to see Asgardian menaces and more Herculian appearances rather than Fantastic Four space opera but, having said that, we get a good story and my interest was raised with its startling climax. It's one of those classic rambling tales that Stan and Jack told during the 1960s: "Well, there's this race of aliens come to earth to dominate mankind but that's just the kick-off to the real danger!" I like plot lines that confound my expectations.

J.B.:  If this sci-fi epic is a little too off the beaten path for some Thor fans, a read of Thor Annual #2 will set things to right.  The Tales of Asgard has a memorably haunted feel when the Stallion of Death approaches.

PE: A very prescient thought balloon over a cop's head when an officer observes Tana Nile in a pink mini-skirt and thinks, "What in the name of J. Edgar Hoover is that?"

The Amazing Spider-Man 40
Our Story

Having unmasked himself and The Amazing Spider-Man, The Green Goblin tells the wall-crawler his origin in minute detail. Widowed and left to fend for himself and son Harry, Norman Osborn finds himself wrapped up in his work and becoming an absentee father. When his business partner, Professor Stromm, takes out an off-the-books loan from their company, Osborn finds the perfect way to get rid of him and strengthen his power by calling the police. Stromm is hauled off to jail and Norman is left with a drawer full of notes for new formulae. Testing one out, Osborn unwittingly sets off an explosion which puts Norman in the hospital for several weeks. Doctors diagnose Osborn with brain damage but the prognosis is open to debate according to Norman who sees himself reborn as brilliant. Obsessed with the idea of becoming the greatest super-villain of all time, he crafts a suit and tinkers with some of the machinery around his factory and voila, The Green Goblin is born! All the while Gobby talks, Peter Parker is loosening the cables that bind him but, just before he's freed himself, The Goblin breaks his bonds and reveals that he'd rather fight Spider-Man in a fair fight than simply kill him. Not one to pass up an opportunity, Parker dons his Spidey costume and the battle begins. The battle ends when The Goblin stumbles into an electro-chemical charge and awakens with amnesia. Thinking it for the best, Spidey strips the man of his Goblin outfit, rescues him from the burning building and turns him over to the waiting police. He tells the officers that Norman helped him defeat The Green Goblin.

PE: Since The Green Goblin is the Marvel equivalent of The Joker, he's always been my favorite villain in the MU. Having said that, his origin is very by-the-numbers and seems rushed. The only welcomed variants being that the explosion doesn't actually give Norman Osborn powers, a la Bruce Banner or any number of Marvel characters, and that the guy is insane and irrational (also very much like The Clown Prince of Crime over at DC). I'm sure this origin was fleshed out sometime in the then-future. The climax is brilliant since, otherwise, Stan had painted himself into a corner. How else do you proceed with a villain who's insane and knows your secret identity? Either he ruins your life or you kill him. It would be fascinating to know when exactly "The Man" came up with amnesia as a cure. And Spider-Man's decision to let bygones be bygones and let Norman Osborn free (sans his GG costume) is a strange one considering all the damage he'd done and the fact that this "cure" might not be permanent.

JS: Bizarre gizmo time as The Green Goblin uses a "Retroscope Helmet" to project images of battles with Spidey. We in the business call it "padding the panels." Though these are images originally drawn by Ditko and re-imagined by Romita, it gives Stan an excuse to pad a couple pages with flashbacks. This issue also sees the return of Betty Brant in a cameo that serves as nothing more than an extra bit of the afore-mentioned padding. Does she love Peter? Does she love Ned? Will JJJ give her her old job back? Same-o, same-o.

MB:   I first read this classic in Stan Lee’s Bring on the Bad Guys, without the benefit of having part one (although it can stand on its own just fine), and in my mind’s eye, I will always see Norman Osborn with his face dripping sweat, whether in civvies or unmasked in his Goblin outfit.  Stan’s script skillfully portrays both Spidey’s existential “even if I win, I lose” dilemma—knowing that the shock of having Gobby reveal his identity might prove fatal to Aunt May—and the tightrope he walks in order to keep Osborn talking as his well-told origin unfolds. I enjoyed the ritualistic touch of their having to be masked for the “final” confrontation, superbly executed by a Romita who has found his feet fast, and while Osborn’s amnesia might seem a tad too convenient, Marvel obviously wasn’t ready to start killing off any major characters…just yet.

PE: The Green Goblin's retirement actually lasted quite a while, surprisingly. We won't see him again until 1969's The Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2 and he won't grace the pages of The Amazing . . . until the infamous non-Code approved "drug issues" #96-98 (May-July 1971). The novel approach taken by Stan, the "death by amnesia," will become tedious after three or four uses. After all, there are only so many ways you can get conked on the head and regain your super-villain memory.

Fantastic Four 54
Our Story

Grateful to the Fantastic Four for helping him defeat his enemy Klaw, the master of sound, the Black Panther gives his friends many gifts to express his gratitude. They share a game of baseball and enjoy a piano concert in their honour. When it comes time to leave, Johnny decides he wants to spend the rest of his school break going to the Great Refuge and attempting again to shatter the barrier that keeps the Inhumans  (including Crystal, the girl he loves) imprisoned. Wyatt Wingfoot asks to accompany him, while Reed and Sue go off to spend some time alone, and Ben returns to New York. The Black Panther gives the Torch and Wyatt a spherical craft to travel in, powered by friction-induced magnetic power. Johnny and Wyatt find the craft is perfectly comfortable inside, despite a sandstorm on the outside. The sandy ground beneath them gives way and the ship falls deep into the Earth. Unharmed, they exit the craft and find themselves in an ancient chamber, where they find a man dressed in a bizarre suit. He calls himself Prester John, the Wanderer, and he had been placed in a life-supporting “chair of survival” seven hundred years ago by the men of Avalon, a race thought to be mythical, who sadly were the cause of their own destruction. Although Prester at first seems hostile, he turns out to be a man of ethics who means no harm to anyone. He has with him a powerful weapon he calls the Evil Eye, a mysterious hand-held device of great power. When Johnny sees that one of its powers is to create and shatter an unbreakable barrier (as Prester had earlier put around, then removed from Wyatt and Johnny) he uses his flame to grab the eye. While all this transpires, inside the Great Refuge the Inhumans try to find a way to shatter the barrier around their land that Maximus, Black Bolt’s brother, has created. But Maximus has gone mad (or pretends to be?) and will not help them. In a desperate effort to free his people, Black Bolt harnesses the energy around him with the help of his cyco-electronic chamber, to power an absorba-bomb that hopefully will have the power to shatter the dome. The strain causes him so much pain, he screams--the first time in ages he has made any vocal sounds. Back with Wyatt and the Wanderer, they pursue the flying Johnny in the spherical craft. The Evil Eye hadn’t been properly turned off, and it will soon explode. Wyatt fires a light ray that knocks it from Johnny’s grasp seconds before it explodes. Johnny laments that perhaps it would have been better if he hadn’t been saved.

JB: It’s a lot of fun seeing the F.F. get a little chance to unwind, if only for a little while, with the Black Panther in the baseball game. They don’t get many minutes of peace; however, as Johnny is tortured by his desire to see Crystal again. Prester John is an unusual character; I hadn’t read this one before so I wasn’t aware of his part (or of the Evil Eye) in the Avengers/Defenders war. Wyatt has worked his way into the comic almost like an extra member of the team. I don’t know, however, how politically correct the exchange between him and Johnny would be today (“flaming ranger,” “oversized Tonto,” and my fave, “they went thataway!”).

PE: A solid issue, full of memorable images: the extraordinary baseball game that opens our story; the hamster ball given to Johnny and Wyatt to fly across the country in; our first image of Prester John, which reminded me a lot of the Space Jockey in Alien; and maybe most of all, cynic though I may be, the heartbreaking sight of Johnny Storm collapsing when he realizes he can't save his beloved Crystal (though I do have to remind all concerned that he saw her for a total of three or four panels in one issue and probably couldn't pick her out of a line-up now).

MB: Yet another noteworthy introduction, this time of Prester John and the Evil Eye; for those like me who worship at the altar of the Avengers/Defenders War, the importance of the Eye could scarcely be overstated.  I’m only surprised that, instead of merely accepting the gyro-cruiser from the Panther, the Torch didn’t ask T’Challa if he had something in his high-tech bag of tricks that might penetrate the dome, especially when he’s sitting atop the world’s biggest supply of vibranium, which might logically have some effect.  Any red-blooded American male would welcome Sue in that va-va-voom dress (a gift from the Panther in exceptionally fine taste) on the top of page 7, and it’s nice to catch the quasi-newlyweds feeling frisky after the ballgame.

Strange Tales 148
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

A frantic Dugan pulls Fury from the flames after an explosion in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s detention section, where he was interrogating the raiders from A.I.M., and then learns that the “dying” figure is actually an L.M.D., substituted before the prisoners were blown up via remote control.  Realizing that their own method of creating artificial men in hydroponic chambers is inferior, A.I.M. intends to capture an L.M.D. and restore their credibility with Them, while Count Royale arranges a diversion in which Fury is brought before a board of inquiry by the Council of Free Nations.  But the ambition of their star witness, Agent Sitwell, turns out to be a ruse, and Fury parachutes from the Helicarrier in time to meet Dugan and counterattack A.I.M.

Now you see it
Now you don't
MB: This story was not only laid out but also scripted by King Kirby, pinch-hitting for a vacationing Stan the Man, with both pencils and inks by Don Heck, who does a decent job despite Fury’s on-again, off-again five-o’clock shadow (check out the top of page 7 if you don’t believe me).  The uniformed and high-tech agents of A.I.M. prove to be a viable alternative to Hydra, substituting yellow suits and helmets for green robes and hoods, although their veneer of respectability gives them an advantage the nakedly evil Hydra did not have.  Sitwell is a new enough character that, at this stage of the game, we really don’t know what his true intentions are, and Jack gets a lot of comic mileage out of Fury’s exasperation with such Sitwell-centric hijinks as the 3-D X-ray gun.

PE: I'd have liked to hear the many uses of a gizmo that lets you see your enemy as a skeleton but, unfortunately, Nick Fury began grousing before we could learn more. Art aside (Heck is still the wrongest choice for this strip), this installment brings us back to the exciting world of S.H.I.E.L.D. we experienced in the first few chapters. A coincidence that The King scripted this one? Probably not. Nice twist climax that I never saw coming. It's time to clear the playing field of "secret organizations." The Secret Empire, Them, A.I.M. And, I assume, at some point we'll be seeing the return of Hydra. Confusing even for this so-called adult.

Jack: Kirby gets credit for the script and layouts, but this story is unremarkable. That must have been some vacation that Stan Lee took! We’ve been hearing about it for a couple of months now. What an ego! As for the story, I was glad to see that Fury was not really mad at Sitwell. I like young Jason!

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Dr. Strange is ready to go after Kaluu, who has stolen the book of the Vishanti. The Ancient One cautions him and explains why Kaluu is so dangerous. More than 500 years ago, in a hidden land in the Himalayas, the Ancient One and Kaluu grew up together and discovered how to harness mystic energies for their own use. Kaluu grew power hungry and took over as leader, making war on a neighboring village. The Ancient One banished him, but the barriers that had held him captive for so long were destroyed when Dormammu clashed with Eternity. The Ancient One senses that an attack from Kaluu is imminent.

Jack: I subscribe to Will Eisner’s theory that the best sequential art (comics) exists when words and pictures can’t be read separately without losing meaning. This story reads like a short story that Denny O’Neil wrote and then Bill Everett illustrated. Other than the very brief frame, it has nothing to do with Dr. Strange. The story is interesting and the pictures are well drawn, but this really doesn’t seem to belong in a Marvel comic—more like Classics Illustrated.

MB: After a transitional issue in which he seemed to be emulating Ditko’s work, Everett is now letting his own style come through, although unfortunately I’m less partial to the relatively cartoony Golden Age look he quite naturally delivers.  Newly solo again, writer Denny O’Neil turns in a somewhat lackluster effort, which failed to get this reader excited about our allegedly formidable newest villain.  Of course, the fact that the origins of the Ancient One and Kaluu are intertwined (à la the Black Panther and Klaw over in last month’s Fantastic Four) gives the latter some mythic heft, as does his purloining of the Book of the Vishanti from right under Strange’s nose, but overall, I found him neither visually nor dramatically interesting.

The Avengers 32
Our Story

The Avengers return to New York and Goliath immediately sets out to find a cure for his extreme size, aided by a black scientist who works for Tony Stark. Meanwhile, a hate group known as the Sons of the Serpent is running rampant, striking fear into the hearts of racial minorities and foreign-born. They beat up the scientist helping Goliath and soon capture Captain America. Their challenge to the Avengers: support their organization or never see Cap alive again!

Jack: Here we see what happened when Don Heck started inking his own pencils, and it’s not a pretty sight. I want to give a big round of applause to the people at Marvel for starting to introduce black characters like Bill, the scientist. The Sons of the Serpent are a creepy bunch who would stick around a long time, if memory serves.

PE: Stan wises us up to the terrors of the KKK (here the Sinister Sons of the Serpents) which, considering how popular that particular group of gentlemen was at the time, was a pretty ballsy move on Stan's part. I'm sure sales of The Avengers were hurt in the South. "The Man" also reminds us that a lot of the bad guys didn't come from within but also from without as we get a particularly nasty panel of a beat cop being dressed down by a stinkin' COMMIE!! The SS (ooh, they could be Nazi stand-ins as well, didn't think about that!) become yet another secret organization to gob up the pages of Marvel Comics. We've got too many of them right now between AIM, Them, The Secret Empire and now The Sinister Serpents. Nick Fury makes an appearance, still clean-shaven, so evidently the action here takes place between panels 47 and 50 of Strange Tales #148 (go ahead, count the panels, I dare ya) and I'm supposing that Captain America, by this time, has said "to hell with the secret identity" as he walks into Fury's meeting room, stock full of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, as Steve Rogers and reveals his undergarments with no guilt or shame.

MB: Counterintuitive as it may seem, Heck is not the best choice to ink his own work, even if his pencils do produce flashes of brilliance—like the “you’re beautiful when you’re angry” Jan in page 6, panel 5 and that magnificent shot of Hank on page 11—yet there is enough happening here to compensate, e.g., the return of the Widow and the debuts of Bill Foster and the Sons of the Serpent.  The SOTS are distinguished from A.I.M. et alia by having more of a public presence and a specific, shall we say, platform, although racism seems to be merely their stepping-stone to power.  It’s obviously a convenient coincidence that Hank’s assistant is black, but Bill will prove to be an enduring character (and star in his own short-lived title, Black Goliath, a decade hence).

Tales to Astonish 83
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner is off in a rage as he stalks Krang and Dorma, who he still believes has betrayed him for his nemesis.  It’s back and forth as Namor attacks Krang’s ship.  He either almost stops it or comes aboard before Krang is able to deter him by means of the various weapons and technology with which his ship is equipped.  No matter what, though, Namor will not be denied as he comes back time and time again with increasing fury.  As their battle goes on, we learn that the Number 1 bad guy from the Secret Empire has been watching from a penthouse.  He plans on using a Lobotomizer gun on Namor to get him under his control so he can rebuild his organization.  Desperate and scared, Krang breaks out a nuclear missile and shoots Namor.  The powerful weapon knocks Namor far off towards the seashore.  Number 1 goes to retrieve him and finds that Namor already has a case of amnesia from a concussion caused by the bomb.  Our story ends with Number 1 telling Namor that he is his friend, and that the entire human race is his enemy.
Jack: Kirby is back with a vengeance, and the story is very dynamic, though Dick Ayers has a bit of trouble in the latter pages with some of the facial details. I have been reading Kirby: King of Comics, a book I highly recommend to Marvel fans, and I just have to say that Martin Goodman was a jerk!

Tom:  A good issue that would have been better off with a final conclusion or a more thrilling cliffhanger.  The jury is still out on whether the Secret Empire is a formidable threat to super-heroes.  So far, they seem to be doing more backstabbing amongst each other than coming up with and carrying out any real dastardly plans.  We’ve already seen Namor fall under a villain’s control a couple of issues ago--do we really need to see it again? 
Jack: Those little wings on Subby’s ankles really bug me. Has anyone else noticed that Marvel heroes can’t fly without help? I wonder if that was a conscious decision to be different than Superman.

PE: I got the strangest sense of Deja Vu with this story. Those crazy, star-crossed fishfolk lovers, Dorma and Krang, have been stuck in that Sea-cruiser for months. No food, no drink, no potty breaks. They could be riding around in circles for the rest of this title. Who knows? I can't even remember why they got in the thing and where they were going in the first place, though Stan does his best to jam the entire back story into a few thought balloons for the sake of those of us who may have dozed off. A huge amount of those "Mad-Lib"-esque weapons this issue. I suspect when Stan was late for a deadline he'd open the dictionary, point his finger at several words and come up with such fancies as: Sonic Vortex Ray, Metal-Molecular Camouflage, Hydro-Force Blast, and Fission-Powered Shock Blast Mortar.

"Did I leave anything out?"
Jack: When does Krang’s pink skin stuff wear off? And what is Number One doing hiding in the Sub-Mariner strip? How will his cohorts in the Hulk strip ever find him? I sense a crossover coming.

PE: In the land of Marvel, coincidence is king department: At the beginning of our adventure, Krang mentions that Namor has a soft skull that's susceptible to amnesia. I'm familiar with the fact that Subby lost his memory way back when we were re-introduced to him in Fantastic Four #4 (itself a monument to coincidence), but no mention of it since. So it's little surprise, shortly after the reminder, when Namor suffers a soft skull injury and develops amnesia!

Our Story

After rescuing Betty Ross from the Boomerang last issue, the Hulk takes her up into the mountains for safety.  It’s here that he shows his soft side by providing her with a fire and shelter.  The Hulk leaps off into the sky to find food, but the military spots him and starts shooting.  As usual, they are no match for the Green Goliath.  After wrecking some army weaponry and vehicles, the Hulk sees that Rick Jones and General Ross are in their company.  He grabs the two of them and takes them back to where he is keeping Betty.  As Betty pleads with her father to show the Hulk mercy, since he may be Bruce Banner, the monster gets confused and leaps away.  During this time, Boomerang, in order to redeem himself with the Secret Empire, goes off and attacks the military base that houses the Orion Missile.  Talbot and his troops look unable to stop him.  Meanwhile, at a meeting of the Secret Empire, Number 2 orders that Boomerang be sentenced to death for his previous failure.  Number 9 disagrees with him, leading to a heated argument where Number 2 accuses him of having murdered Number 5.  Number 9 is prepared, however, and knocks them all out with a stun grenade.  He boldly proclaims that he will now take down Number 1 and become leader.  

Tom:  The Boomerang is back and he looks more like the mascot of a fast food burger chain than ever!  Unfortunately, that’s probably about the most exciting thing to happen in this tale.  Well, except maybe the further implosion of the Secret Empire as Number 9 starts to claim power.  It looks like that bet I made in a boast during last issue’s critique might come back to haunt me.  Hope I still have those Black Goliath comics in my parents’ attic. . . 
Jack: This is one of those stories that meanders around aimlessly for awhile and then really ends with a bang. I never thought I’d see the day when General Talbot began to have compassion for the Hulk. Way to go, Stan and Bill!

PE: The cross-pollination continues! While Number One is scouting talent in the Sub-Mariner strip, Number Two (that sound you hear is the five-year-old in me snickering when Number Nine says to his higher-up, "Yes, even though you have reached the rank of Number Two, I say you're wrong!") is making a move up the corporate ladder by offing his competition (Numbers 3-9, I assume). A fascinating crossover experiment that may see both strips meeting in the middle somehow. Thunderbolt Ross thinking he may be starting to understand why daughter Betty has fallen for a large green man? Sounds like a take on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? Say it isn't so!

The Mighty Thor King-Size Special 2
Our Story

Asgard is putting on the Tournament Of Titans, a rare championship when warriors from the ends of the universe come to contest their prowess in battle. The prize: suits of golden armor for the winners. A beacon of light is lit so that everywhere in the cosmos the invitation will be seen. Thor, Fandrall, Hogun, and Volstagg prepare to enjoy the celebration on the eve of battle. Forbidden to battle until the games begin, four brothers from the World of a Thousand Galaxies ignore the rules, making bullies of themselves. Brok the crusher, Tyr of the blinding blade, Galp of the steel arm, and the dwarf, Drom the spirit weaver, are stopped by Thor and the Warriors Three, who agree to battle their counterparts in the tournament. Loki and Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man, who are still sentenced by Odin to float, frozen endlessly through space, see the beacon of light. Loki hatches a plan: he uses the power of his thoughts to go to Earth and enter the shell of the Destroyer, in the temple where it had been buried (back in JIM #119). Alive again, the Destroyer, animated by Loki’s spirit, vows to go to Asgard and take the life of Odin himself. Unaware of the danger, those in Asgard begin the tournament with the warrior’s charge, where the two opposing teams gallop on horseback headlong into battle.  Unknown to Thor and his companions, Drom the spirit weaver has cast an enchantment whereby the opposing warriors multiply at each defeat, creating an unfair advantage for the brothers. When it appears that the Asgardians are near defeat, they have a chance to reclaim the victory for Asgard by taking up the personal challenges they had discussed before. Unaided, the four brothers are soon cut down to size by our heroes. It is then that the real danger appears: the Destroyer, who dispatches Heimdall effortlessly, and enters the golden city. While his appearance causes all others to flee, the Destroyer faces a valiant challenge from Thor, who holds Odin’s creation at bay for a time. Just as it seems as if time has run out, an astral form returns and resumes it natural state: Balder the Brave. Odin, sensing that it was Loki in the Destroyer’s body, had sent the brave one searching through space for Loki’s location. Odin sends a beam of forgetfulness to the God of Evil, and the form of the Destroyer collapses. Celebrating the victory and bravery of his people, Odin makes every Asgardian's suit shine of gold so that the memory of this day will never be forgotten.

JB: Thor Annual #2 is a whole heck of a lot of fun. It’s too bad that it was the last original Thor Annual for a number of years. The whole concept of an Olympic type competition for Asgard and warriors from many other realms lends a less serious, but not too light, slant to the story. I like that Thor wants to sneak off with the Warriors Three when Odin is remembering his own youthful exploits. And how satisfying to see them teach the boastful brothers from the Thousand Galaxies a lesson.

PE: I love the scene where Odin is rambling on about the glory days of his youth and Thor is trying to shush The Warriors Three, who are trying to get the Thunder God to come out and play. The scene works comedically probably because the Thor strip is usually bereft of anything resembling comedy (other than the unintentional humor of Nurse Jane Foster). But funny stuff there be here, including a riotous "battle scene between The Mighty Thor and The Warriors Three on one side and on the other Tyr, Galp, and Brok. When the Voluminous Volstagg notes, with false sadness in his voice, that there is none to fight him, a fourth opponent pops up: a dwarf. Volstagg immediately pipes up and challenges the little guy to battle, much to the amusement of all present.

MB: I don’t know where this annual—whose new material clocks in at almost twice the length of a monthly installment—is supposed to fit in Thor’s continuity, except that it clearly takes place after the banishment of Loki and the Absorbing Man, now mysteriously unhitched, in #123.  By virtue of its larger canvas, it plays like a steroid-enhanced hybrid of a regular episode and “Tales of Asgard,” with the latter’s larger panels and leisurely narrative style, and since the Lee/Kirby/Colletta creative team is consistent throughout, the synthesis is seamless.  I’ll always welcome an appearance by the Destroyer (especially now that Loki is pulling the strings, rather than that great white hunter), and it’s nice to see the Warriors Three involved in the main action.

JB: Once again, I like that the Destroyer really is unbeatable to all but Odin. Poor Heimdall doesn’t even get to participate and then gets zonked by the Destroyer. And I have to admit, it’s nice to have Loki get back in the scene; a while ago I was so tired of him I wouldn’t have said that.

PE: Its place in continuity threw me for a loop as well, Professor Matthew. During the aforementioned "come out and play" scene, Thor has his head gear doffed and looks like he could be a teenager. That's what I immediately took it for a "Tale of Asgard," but the Absorbing Man/Loki presence throws that theory out the window (and it's funny that Stan and Jack didn't involve The Absorber in the drama somehow, leaving him to float through space). As I said way back in my comments for Destroyer's first appearance (Journey into Mystery #118, July 1965), I prefer the movie incarnation of Destroyer, which does not have the power of speech and is, to me, much more menacing for that. The film also repositions Destroyer as a creation of Odin who carries out his orders from Asgard. In this comic version, he's a defender of Earth turned rogue thanks to Loki. The first thing Destroyer has to say when he's released from his underground prison is "Just wait'll I get my silver paws on that old man Odin!" All these nits aside, this is a great story, rousing and exciting. So Say I!

The X-Men 24
Our Story

The school loses its co-ed status as Jean Grey is forced by her parents to attend a real university (where real students like Johnny Storm attend classes). Meanwhile, the Locust arrives in town and begins giving bugs the Henry Pym Gi-ant treatment. It wouldn't be the MU if the Locust didn't also happen to be Professor Bug, I mean Hopper, a nutty professor at Jean's new school. The X-Men (not to mention the army) battle the Locusts Giant bugs, and after the he sees the error of his ways, Professor Hopper is left to wander off, supposedly to turn himself in to the authorities.

JS: Is it fate accompli if your last name is Hopper that you either need to pursue a career surrounding rabbits or entomology?

PE: If there was one iota of intentional humor in this issue, I'd hazard a guess that Roy Thomas was having one over on us all but, no, I believe this rip-off of a really bad science fiction flick (Beginning of the End, 1957) is 100% serious. Giant locusts are nothing compared to the silly guy with the beard and an insect suit. All it takes in the Marvel Universe is a big brain, unlimited funds, and a grudge to become a sixth-tier villain. This one's a hoot. Unfortunately, readers obviously didn't agree since Schistocerca Gregaria Man won't make another appearance until The X-Men #72!

JS: Once again, after risking their lives in battle, the X-Men gather around Professor Xavier to pontificate about how they sure hope the evil villain doesn't return, after they let him basically walk away. Perhaps the kids need to spend a little more time hanging out with the Avengers or Fantastic Four to pick up some tips on how this whole super-hero thing is done.

Tales of Suspense 81
Iron Man
Our Story

Tony Stark (or Toni Stark as he's addressed on our splash page--PE) has decided that no man can avoid his own government's calling so he'll give in to Senator Byrd's demands and testify before the committee. He decides to make a dramatic entrance as Iron Man and so he eludes police at the airport and rockets off for Washington in his armor. Meanwhile, as Iron Man ponders what the COMMIES will make of the news, the COMMIES just happen to be monitoring reports and decide this is as good a time as any to get revenge on the Golden Avenger for defeating their armored hero many months before. Having completely redesigned Titanium Man's armor to absorb the blow of a D-3V Missile (serious business!), it would seem that, yes, it would be the opportune time to humiliate Iron Man and America in one fell swoop. T.M. is launched in a rocket speeding at several times the speed of sound and arrives in Washington just as our hero does. Breaking out of his supersonic transport, Titanium Man launches himself at Iron Man and the fun begins . . . next issue.

PE: The perfect example of an issue where nothing happens but set-up. That's not necessarily bad if the next two sequences in this trilogy provide some excitement. There's a little too much of the old "I know I should testify but I really don't want to" back-and-forth in Stark's head and I'm not sure I understand the thinking behind having the cops drive you to the airport and then making a very public exit as Iron Man, all the while worrying about the fallout from a media unmasking. The only thing missing in his mental checklist is wondering whether Pepper Potts loves him or not and whether she'd be happier with Happy (or foggier with Foggy?). The art's a bit off this issue from the usual stellar Gene Colan Iron Man. Can't put my finger on it but Colan's shades aren't noir-ish enough (I had this same problem with Gene's work on this month's Daredevil as well) and if there's one thing I need, nay, demand from Gene Colan, it's lots of shadows. Don't get me wrong, he's still a very close second to Kirby in September 1966.

MB: By now, Colan has completely made this strip his own, and while the Titanium Man’s armor has admittedly benefited from a redesign, it’s still interesting to see how much more menacing Shellhead’s commie counterpart looks in the hands of Gene and Jack.  Come ’67, you’ll be able to compare the respective depictions of Ultimo, here in TOS and in the oft-cited Avengers Special #1, by Colan and his predecessor, Don Heck.  I realize that Tony will not only beat T.M., but also pull a rabbit out of his helmet to avoid revealing his i.d. to all of Congress, yet his resolve to do just that, if necessary, seems curious; I suppose that for a guy who’s kept such a big secret for so long, the prospect of unburdening himself must be tempting.

Captain America
Our Story

The Red Skull holds the ultimate weapon - The Cosmic Cube! Before setting to ruling the world, The Skull pauses to show Captain America a display of The Cube's power by creating a being out of the elements around them - a creature dubbed The Man-Thing! Cap makes quick work of the patchwork critter but he still has to deal with the power afforded The Skull by his new toy. Just as he's about to be blasted into atoms, Cap pleads with The Red Skull to spare him so that the Star-Spangled Avenger can serve him as a slave for the rest of his life. Not being the most bright super-villain from his Nazi-infected neighborhood, The Skull umps at the chance to have Cap answer his telephone and bring round the Rolls. Of course, Cap will have none of that and very quickly shows The Skull what's on his mind. When the island they're battling on starts to split apart, Cap manages to wrest away The Cube from his enemy and toss it into the sea. The Skull follows but is seemingly drowned under the weight of his armor.

PE: A fabulous adventure from start to finish. Though The Cosmic Cube is in its infancy, you can tell already it would become an icon in the Marvel Universe. So powerful and deadly yet so mysterious. We need to learn more about its origin. Thankfully, Stan won't make us wait too long as the deadly device makes a return appearance next issue. I'm of two minds concerning The Red Skull. I love the villain but Stan has yet to prove to me that a Nazi is a relevant villain in 1966. I realize the quandary Stan faced: The Skull personifies the 1940s Captain America but the readers at the time clearly didn't want vintage Cap or faux-vintage Cap for that matter. They wanted contemporary tales of a fish out of water. The Skull just doesn't fit yet.

MB: Just in the nick of time, Giacoia returns to help King Kirby polish off the first Cosmic Cube arc, and the two make beautiful music together, especially when depicting the Skull’s Cube-enabled flights of fancy.  Stan skillfully extricates himself from the corner into which many a writer has painted himself:  if you provide your villain with an all-powerful weapon, then where do you go from there?  Fortunately, he knows—as does Cap—that when said villain is an egomaniac like the Skull or, say, Dr. Doom, he is susceptible to that kind of “But what fun would that be?” reasoning with which heroes have saved themselves countless times; the Skull being apparently drowned by the weight of his own golden armor is a nice touch.

PE: Obviously this Man-Thing is not the swamp creature Roy Thomas created for Savage Tales #1 in 1971, only an early use of the term. The moniker must have stuck in Thomas' head when it came time to christen his answer to The Heap.

Also this month
Kid Colt Outlaw #130
Marvel Tales #4
Millie the Model #141
Millie the Model Annual #5
Modeling with Millie #49
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #34
Two-Gun Kid #83


Marvel Tales #4 reprints the entirety of The Amazing Spider-Man #7; the Torch story from Strange Tales #102; the Thor story from Journey Into Mystery #86; and from Tales to Astonish #39, the classic breath-taking edge of your seat ride known as "Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle" starring the equally breath-taking Ant-Man!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

August 1966: The Goblin Unmasked!

The Amazing Spider-Man 39
Our Story

The Green Goblin has decided the most delicious way for him to get his revenge on the Amazing Spider-Man is to unmask him and reveal his secret identity to the world. Not coincidentally, Peter Parker stops in at his family doctor for a head cold and receives some alarming news from the doc he shares with his Aunt May: she's an old woman and a bad fright or startle may be enough to kill her. Peter swears then and there that his dear old Auntie will never find out what kind of undergarments he wears. The Goblin hires a gang of thugs to threaten a crowd of innocent bystanders, knowing this would bring Spider-Man out into the open. One of the thugs sprays the wall-crawler with a formula that deadens his spider-sense. After the battle is over, unbeknownst to our hero, The Goblin observes him changing out of his costume back into Parker clothes and follows him back home. Just before Peter enters his house, The Goblin confronts him with his new information. Fearful that the fight and fright will cause the old lady inside to drop, Peter attempts to lure his foe away from the house but Gobby gets the drop on him and trusses him up. Taking him back to his lair, The Green Goblin unmasks himself and Peter recognizes immediately the face of Harry Osborn's father, Norman.

PE: One of the landmark issues of The Amazing Spider-Man still packs a bit of its initial wallop on me. Professor Matthew remarks below that he sees some evidence here of Ditko mimicry on the part of Jazzy Johnny Romita (and the artist has claimed that was his intention). I see no trace of Ditko here. Right from the get-go, Romita makes the title his own. Gwen looks like an attractive girl, rather than one of the cantina creatures in Star Wars. The revelation of the alter egos seems rushed and should have been protracted for maximum shock value. Why Stan couldn't wait another year or two to let Romita settle in and bring Norman Osborn in as a more visible character is one of those questions that will probably never be answered truthfully. The insanity that gripped the character in later years (both Norman and the Goblin) really isn't on display yet. Yeah, he's kind of nutty to dress up in a Goblin outfit, throw pumpkin bombs and threaten people but, as Christopher Nolan has shown so well, the heroes can't be playing with a full deck either. Was "The Man" giving Ditko one last dagger as he left the Bullpen? An emphatic "I told you so" or perhaps "I'm the boss and what I say goes"? Whatever the behind-the scenes drama that led to John Romita taking over ASM, history has shown that the results weren't a disaster. Far from it. I'm settling in for a good run.

JS: Can I say how nice it is to see characters with proportioned heads for a change? That said, Romita's Goblin is a little too cartoony for my tastes. I prefer a Green Goblin that looks a little more menacing.

PE: The social interactions this issue between Peter and "the gang" (Gwen, Flash, and Harry) are much more satisfying than the usual "Ah, go suck an egg" routine we've come to expect. This was the route this series needed to go down: maturity. If that's a result of Steve Ditko leaving, then perhaps it was a good thing after all. I'm sure Professor John will miss the eyes that slide down the character's head but he'll get used to Romita's more restrained style of art.

MB:   If, by some definitions, Kirby’s defecting to DC in 1970 marked the start of the Bronze Age, then Ditko’s departure must be considered the B.C./A.D. split of Silver Age Marvel.  Wikipedia quotes an Alter Ego interview in which Romita says he mimicked Ditko for the first six months, and there is some evidence of that here, but even Ditko-flavored Romita (factoring in longtime inker Mike Esposito’s work) leaves the reader confident that the torch has been securely passed into Jazzy Johnny’s more than capable hands.  The fact that we also get the unmasking of both the Green Goblin—leading to the Lee/Ditko break-up over whether he should turn out to be a person we already knew—and Spidey makes this an even more noteworthy issue.

PE: Peter Parker has the world's fastest head cold. He goes from talking "like thith" to no allergy-accent at all. Do I remember that quite some time later it's revealed that his spider-powers help his immune system or is that a misremembrance? I smell a No-Prize in my future. The panel where a street clothed Peter Parker leaps onto the side of a tree and stays affixed brings up a question I've had from day one but was too busy to ask: why does Spider-Man stick to surfaces with his shoes (or Spider-boots) on? Put aside the fact that the guy's been bitten by a radioactive spider and all that. It still makes no sense. If he was barefoot, fine, that would make it a bit less ponderable. If we were to make a very small set of eight shoes for a spider, would he still stick to a wall? I await the scientists out there to comment.

Fantastic Four 53
Our Story

Having survived the “hunt” that the Black Panther subjected them to, the Fantastic Four and their host, the leader of the Wakanda tribe in Africa, have earned each other’s mutual respect. The Panther’s subjects entertain our heroes (including Wyatt Wingfoot) with a tribal dance demonstration. In the privacy of his quarters he relates to the F.F. the story of his origin. His father, T’Chaka, was the chieftain of the Wakanda tribe in his day, and as wise a leader as he was unmatched in battle skill. The reason for the wealth of the Wakanda tribe is due to a nearby mountain within their boundaries that has a nearly endless supply of the rare and priceless metal vibranium. They lived successfully for many years, until a hunter who called himself Klaw, the Master of Sound, felt it was his right to take the vibranium for himself. He had developed a means of changing sound into solid mass, and to further his ambitions, he let loose giant red creatures in the jungle formed by this transformation. The Wakandas refused to give up their “sacred mountain,” and Klaw and his men gunned many of them down, including T’Chaka, without mercy. Swearing to avenge his father’s death, and to be as “brave as a black panther,” the man who has become said leader found one of Klaw’s men with his sound blaster. Clubbing the man, the young Black Panther uses the sound blaster to drive back Klaw and his followers, who have set the Wakanda’s village aflame. He succeeds in driving the enemy away (getting a direct hit on Klaw’s hand, paralyzing it), and sets about rebuilding his kingdom. In the ten years since, he developed his intellect by attending university, and increased the wealth of his tribe by selling the vibranium to various scientific foundations. The source of his “panther power” however, he keeps a secret. The battle he waged with the F.F. was a test of his own abilities to prepare himself for the eventual expected return of Klaw, who he’s been unable to find. As fate would have it, an alarm sounds the attack on the village of a giant red gorilla—one of Klaw’s creatures created from sound. The Torch and Ben battle the gorilla, then an elephant, who seem immune to flame, and can return energy used against them in kind. The Black Panther, knowing that Klaw would need complex machinery to create his sound creatures, knows also that his foe would need space and secrecy to operate it. Presto: a large, hidden cave on the part of the Wakanda land wasted by the battle of years earlier. Klaw is found, now sporting a blaster glove over his right hand. A red panther, another creation, is unleashed to fight his human namesake, who holds his own. Klaw returns the cat back into sound waves, preparing to blast the Panther with his glove. But the Panther has found what he seeks, the lever to overload Klaw’s equipment. He pulls it, barely escaping before the cave collapses under the explosion. As the F.F. convince the Panther to use his powers to aid humanity, Klaw, buried in the cave, jumps into the portal of his sound converter, which still has a glimmer of power, to be transformed into . . . what?

JB: I hadn’t been too familiar with the origin of the Black Panther before. It’s an interesting story. If we believe that even the wealth of vibranium could enable the Black Panther (did I miss his real name here?) to create a kingdom of this technology, then he’s an amazing hero indeed. It’ll be interesting to see him as a superhero in the city setting. 

PE: Is it just me or has The Invisible Girl been pretty much . . . invisible the last handful of issues. Yeah, I know she's the weak link of the four but she is a member and seems to have been relegated to doing nothing more than spouting inane dialogue like "Oh Reed, is it helpless?" or "Hold me, my darling!" Not that I'm advocating an Invisible Girl strip over at Strange Tales or anything bonkers like that. Klaw is a dilemma for me. If this was the first time I'd read a story featuring Ulysses Klaw, I'd be making cracks about his fifth-tier status. But . . . I remember very fondly some early 1970s appearances in the still-unseen red outfit he'll debut in three short months in this here title. So for nostalgia's sake alone, he gets a promotion to third tier baddie.

MB: I am sufficiently rusty on my Panther-lore that I’d forgotten he and Klaw essentially “created” each other, Klaw by killing T’Chaka and the as-yet-unnamed T’Challa by shattering his hand. Ben’s boorish behavior in this issue troubles me; I mean, he’s never going to have a second career as a diplomat, but he’s basically a decent chap, and even if we cut him some slack by assuming Ben is still peeved over their initially poor treatment by their host, the other members of his party are evidently willing to forgive and forget. But I love that Kirby and Sinnott artwork, notably the incredibly detailed splash page, and the Panther will be a welcome addition to the Marvel Universe, especially when he comes into his own as an Avenger later on.

PE: Ben doesn't come off rude to me, he comes off racist. He interrupts T'Challa's story to tell him that he's seen all the Tarzan flicks and read all the Bomba, the Jungle Boy comics so he knows where the story is going. You're right, Professor Matthew, about the behavior. It's forced and doesn't jibe with the Ben we've been reading for five years. In light of what happens to his hand, the man called Klaw should be happy he wasn't born with the name Nuts. When you live in the Marvel Universe, you must live by the laws of coincidence.

JB: I wonder if Ben’s numerous comments towards the Black Panther reflected a prejudicial viewpoint of Stan or Jack in any way (given the earlier characterization of the “Reds”)? In the book Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Universe, Stan talks about using his comics to portray everybody with equality, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt.

PE: In the letters page, Denny O'Neil types out a rant at Stan and Jack for making college professors in a previous issue look like asses. It's noted that O'Neil is now one of Stan's bright new assistants.

The X-Men 23
Our Story

Count Nefaria continues with his plan to 'steal' the District of Columbia, with our teen heroes (still his captives) forced to collect the blackmail money. With the Dome over DC, the army turns to their civilian expert on Mutants, Charles Xavier. As far as they can tell, he's not much help with the mutant menace. Unfortunately for the Count, his band of third-rate villains decide they want to cash in on the deal, so collecting his ransom money turns out to be more difficult than he planned.

JS: This is the famous issue where Xavier seals off his brain so that the X-Men cannot bother him, and yet he is still interrupted by a ringing phone. Don't recall that? Well, it's also the one where he pulls a Doc Strange and goes wandering about on the Astral Plane. Nothing? Did I mention he has a belt that allows him to walk around without his wheelchair? Ah, forget it...

PE: More misadventures of The X-Kids Vs. The Nefaria-ous Misfits. Most of this tale spends its time playing "hot potato" with a suitcase full of dough. Cyclops drops the case into the hands of The Porcupine, who's blasted by Iceman, who's pecked at by The Scarecrow's henchbirds, and on and on. Not much fun in the midst of this tedium. It is worthy to note that Professor X has devised a way to walk "for a few hours at a time" thanks to some gizmo he created. I'm assuming that, since X is still in the wheelchair in the current Marvel Universe, he didn't perfect the device. X uses Nefaria's trick of concocting mirages to fool the Count into thinking he's taken the case of money in our finale but I have to raise my hand and ask the class why Nefaria can feel the mirage. Well, at least we only have a short wait until the X-Men fight a more substantial villain . . . The Locust! How did Nefaria miss out on a character known as The Locust while building his Merry Band of Miscreants?

Daredevil 19
Our Story

The morning paper headlines report that Foggy Nelson is Daredevil! The real Daredevil runs over to Foggy’s apartment to make sure that his friend isn’t under attack. Meanwhile, the Gladiator is arraigned in court, but a bunch of thugs, disguised as reporters, bust him loose. They take the Gladiator to their boss, the Masked Marauder. The Gladiator attacks the Marauder after the Marauder dares to talk down to him and assert himself as the Gladiator's superior. The Gladiator is quickly taken down by some of the Marauder’s opti-blasts. In his apartment, Foggy gets attacked by a gang dressed up as newspaper reporters. Daredevil comes in to save the day, but he has his work cut out for him with there being so many gangsters to fight. He eventually is victorious and even Foggy helps him out a little bit. Back at his secret headquarters, the Masked Marauder has his hands full as the Gladiator takes him on again in a brawl. They stop once one of the Marauder’s henchmen, who escaped capture by Daredevil, returns to tell them the news that Foggy Nelson isn’t Daredevil. The villains decide to put their differences aside for the moment so they can work together to capture and finally destroy Daredevil. The story ends with the newspapers declaring that Foggy was never Daredevil, much to his and everybody else’s relief.  

Tom: Two good things come out of this issue. First off, it’s great to see this whole Foggy imposter mess end before it could be dragged out any further. Hopefully, this is the final chapter and it will never be brought up again. Second, it was a nice surprise to see some bad guy against bad guy action take place. While it’s not in the same league as Dr. Doom versus the Red Skull, the Masked Marauder duking it out with the Gladiator was entertaining from my perspective. Much better than the Daredevil sockfest against the usual horde of goons scenario.

MB: Even having missed the prior issue, I join in the general sigh of relief at the end of Foggy’s masquerade as Daredevil, which was obviously unsustainable anyway. I fear that ol’ Ring-a-Ding’s doing double duty here and on Amazing will turn out to be equally unsustainable, but I certainly won’t complain about an extra helping of Romita in the nonce, especially when it features the Gladiator, whom I consider one of DD’s most formidable foes. Given their volatile personalities, it’s no surprise that he and the Marauder (a better villain than I remembered) would be at loggerheads at the outset, yet the prospect of their partnership is daunting, and Hornhead’s skirmishes with the Marauder’s minions are clearly only a warm-up for the main event to come.

PE: Only in the Marvel Universe (okay, maybe over in the DC Uni as well) would super-villains (yep, even fifth tier baddies like The Gladiator) be brought into a police precinct uncuffed and fully costumed. I'm amazed he was able to escape with so many bright, attentive officers around him.

Jack: Is this the first time two Marvel super villains have battled each other without a hero in sight? It certainly made for a welcome relief from the endless parade of hero v. villain battles, or worse--hero v. hero misunderstandings turned into battles. I am really enjoying this series and I like the multi-issue arcs that are developing.

The Avengers 31
Our Story

Hawkeye, Captain America, and the Wasp head for South America to find Goliath, while Pietro and Wanda kill time in the Balkans, waiting for their full powers to return. Goliath and Prince Rey escape through underground caverns to the prince's hidewaway, where he tells Goliath that the flame is fed by a supply of cobalt, which could be used to make a bomb! The Keeper of the Flame grew heady with power and took control away from Prince Rey who, Goliath discovers, is also power hungry. Goliath is intent on destroying the flame, when the Avengers arrive on the scene and a battle ensues. They eventually succeed in destroying the cobalt flame and fly home with Dr. Anton in tow.

PE: The Super-Villain Labor Union was a much different entity back in August 1966 than it is today. You wouldn't get away with using another baddy's moniker the same month. I quote: "Any such goon usin' some other goon's handle within the same Marvel month will have his eyes removed by a Proto-Utono-Magnimus Ray." (Super-Villain Labor Manual page 437, paragraph 6). This Keeper is obviously a very patient and forgiving man or maybe he realized that that Keeper (in this month's Captain America strip) doesn't have much of a shelf life. In any event, the story this issue is pretty much the same as always: The Avengers bicker a bit (though that's kept to a minimum) but come together to save Giant-Man's behind. Jan's flare-up in the first panel where she says to Hawkeye "Maybe you don't want to help my ten-foot tall loser boyfriend?" is a bit out of left field and seems only there to remind the reader that this group really doesn't like or trust each other. Note to Stan: we get it. Quicksilver and Wanda seem to have aged in their native land rather than regenerated. Wanda's bouffant doesn't help matters.

MB: This has now consolidated its position as my long-term favorite book, and I love the current iteration; fond as I am of Wanda and—to some degree—Pietro, the advent of Goliath more than compensates for their leave of absence, giving the group the raw power lacked by the Quartet. Forgotten is the foolishness of Hank and Jan’s Tales to Astonish strip, and although the original idea of twin tiny adventurers was cute, Stan is wise to have minimized the size-changing rigmarole, still enabling the couple to handle both ends of the height spectrum as required. This issue concludes a two-parter more satisfyingly, and captures the whole Edgar Rice Burroughs or, per Hank, H. Rider Haggard “lost civilization” vibe more successfully, than some earlier efforts.

Jack: Matthew, I just don't see it. I thought this was a snoozer. But then, I like DC, so what do I know.

A bad hair day all around
in the Balkans!
PE: Every time The Avengers fight a third-tier villain like The Keeper, I expect to see a banner across the cover of the next issue: "This Issue The Avengers Welcome New Member . . ." based on their record of hiring super dopes with . . . um . . . records. Goliath has a lot of nerve lecturing Prince Rey about the evils of bombs and Cobalt and such. Does he remember he's a member of the race up top that loves to tinker with such things as well?

The Mighty Thor 131
Our Story
Having had won for Hercules his freedom from ruling the Netherworld for all eternity, the Mighty Thor returns with his friend to Olympus. Next stop for the Thunder God: Asgard, to ask a final time Odin’s permission to marry Jane Foster. To the surprise of perhaps the entire universe, the All-Father grants his son’s request, and Thor makes haste to bring the joyous news to Jane. But things waiting on Earth are different than Thor expects. Jane, travelling by bus, is still compelled to get as far away from New York, and Thor, as she can, thanks to the command of her roommate Tana Nile. Not really a human, Miss Nile is in reality a space colonizer from the civilization in the constellation Rigel. She reveals her true form, a large-brained, pink android-like creature, who plans to stake a claim--as the ruler of the planet Earth. The Rigelians have science centuries beyond ours, and to control planets they conquer they use a “space lock,” a beam that can move a planet out of its orbit at will. When Thor returns to Jane’s apartment, a bolt of force strikes him. Smashing through the wall, Thor finds Tana Nile and two Rigelian inspectors who have come to make certain that everything is in order for Tana’s conquest. Using a “mind-thrust” to make Thor fall to his knees, she explains her plans, then an inspector fires a beam that forms a block of clear protons to trap Thor, whom they feel, is powerful enough to take home for study. To learn more, Thor decides to bide his time until the inspectors' ship, with him aboard, has left the Earth for Rigel. The space lock is activated around the Earth, making Tana’s rule official. Confronting the Rigelians, Thor overcomes another of their weapons, the ability to adjust their bodies to incredible density, and renders them unconscious. He has no choice now but to wait, as the ship, on automatic pilot, heads for the Rigel system.

In Tales Of Asgard, Thor uses his disguise as Harokin to get the barbarian hero’s men to reveal the deadly weapon, the Warlock’s Eye. Ironically, of all the Asgardian warriors, it is Volstagg who gets it first, to his delight.

PE: Though not a bad story, it's clearly not one that belongs in The Mighty Thor. This tale of celestial colonizers with their unlimited density powers and Proton Coagulant Rays is better suited for the science fiction landscape of Fantastic Four. Bring me back Asgardian tales of yore. Kirby's design of Tana Nile revealed in all her Rigel-ian splendor (looking very much like a celestial Humpty Dumpty) leaves a lot to be desired. I should note I laughed out loud at the exchange between two Rigel workers. One saying to the other that since there is no overtime compensation, he'll be "wasting not one Galacto-moment!"

JB: Although this issue is a distinct change of pace for Thor, I’ll have to disagree with you Professor Pete. At times I’ve felt that 131-133 were about the peak of the title’s run, even if a dozen issues before and after were equally good. As much as I loved the preceding saga, the various sci-fi elements of the next several months give the Thor title a new depth. Some cool factors mesh together here. Finally Odin gives Thor permission to marry Jane, and his joy is palpable (the Thunder God decides sensibly, to ask Odin’s blessing before throwing away his godhood). Having weathered some weary storms the last months, Thor seems especially regal here. Faced with a very different kind of enemy, he confidently embraces the challenge, and the ending, as he waits for the ship to reach Rigel, is compellingly mysterious. This is another amazing cover (layers of Sun, Earth, Thor, and some nasty looking weaponry), which is very clearly the inspiration for Thor #327, years later.

Tales to Astonish 82
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Our Story

It’s round two in a continuation from Tales of Suspense as Namor and Iron Man get ready to brawl in a donnybrook of epic proportions. The fight is vicious and pretty even for the most part. Namor is wet at the beginning so that puts him at almost full strength. As the battle wears on, it seems as though Iron Man slowly gains the advantage as he powers himself up with electric currents from nearby machinery, and Namor’s strength slowly fades as he dries up. In the end, Namor spies Krang’s ship leaving the coast to go back under the ocean. He leaves Iron Man behind in order to pursue his arch nemesis and his lady love Dorma. The story ends with Iron Man choosing to let Namor go, and also contemplating revealing his own secret identity as Tony Stark to the government.

PE: The transition on page 3, from Colan to Kirby, is jarring to say the least. Not a bad thing, just a complete difference in styles from one panel to the next. Like sipping from a Bailey's and then chasing it with a Red Bull. Not so with Roy Thomas's coming off the bench to sub for a vacationing Stan. The drab and corny one-liners just roll off our heroes' lips same as always (Iron Man exclaims that Subby is a "refugee from Muscle Beach," one of those insults you swear you've read countless times already). I will note that if Ayers inked the whole kit and kaboodle, he does a much better job on Kirby than Colan. That shot of Iron Man on page three (reproduced below) is about as definitive as they come. I complained that the mid-section of this three-part arc (which appears this month in Tales of Suspense's Iron Man strip) was a whole lot of nothin'. Not so here. Roy and Jack make up for the wasted space and shove a wall-to-wall fight in our faces. Good on them.

Jack: After two pages of shaky Gene Colan work with weak Dick Ayers inks, we get 10 pages of full-on Kirby battle time! If this is the kind of work the King could turn out at the last minute, I have to give him a lot of credit, because it’s impressive. The story is nothing special—Iron Man and Subby fight for 12 pages until Subby gets distracted and leaves—but the visuals are a treat. Also, so far I am underwhelmed by Roy Thomas’s writing. I guess it’s understandable that he would copy Stan’s style initially until he got more comfortable. One more question: why does Iron Man’s mouth curve down when Kirby draws it?

Tom: A pretty intense battle that surprised me with how good it was--probably because the hero misunderstanding fight plot formula gets taken up a few notches when you have someone like Namor, who is always on the cusp of being a full blown villain instead of good guy. As much as I like Namor in his own series, I found myself rooting for Iron Man towards the end. His character showed some real guts for being a rich playboy-type.

MB: The credits of this conclusion to the three-parter started in Suspense are a story in themselves: Stan went off on vacation, leaving Roy to script his plot, and Gene came down with the flu after penciling only two pages, so the King—no stranger to Namor despite the credit-block jibe—pitched in. It seems utterly apt that this Frankenstein’s Monster of a story was inked by Dick Ayers, and we should probably be forgiving of any unevenness in the execution. Much was made in the previous installment of Namor’s alleged physical superiority over Iron Man, yet here we are reminded that Shellhead can certainly outfight Subby, and that if he not only is at peak power but also can keep Namor away from water, he will end up stronger.

Our Story

The Hulk has been transported back to the surface world only to land smack dab in the middle of a military missile testing exercise. He easily comes through it without a scratch. Meanwhile, General Ross is throwing a fit at Talbot for letting Betty get kidnapped by Boomerang. As luck would have it, as Boomerang carries Betty across the desert sky, he runs into the Hulk. As Betty screams for help, the Hulk senses something familiar about her voice and comes to the rescue. Boomerang’s employers have been having trouble of their own as villain Number 5 is assassinated. They all suspect Number 9 is behind it. The Hulk and Boomerang flight goes all over until Boomerang comes to the conclusion that he will never get rid of the Hulk, so he dumps Betty off with Jade Jaws in order to make his escape. Our story ends with Betty and the Hulk alone, as she wonders if the monster really is Bruce Banner.
Tom: Not much of a battle cry from Boomerang as all he did was fly away from the Hulk in this story when his little weapons didn’t do much to stop the Hulkster. It’s interesting for a long-time Hulk reader such as I, who never read the Tales to Astonish adventures, to find that the first villain the Hulk has ever saved Betty from, while she knew his identity as Banner, was this Boomerang putz. While I praised the villain’s mini-boomerang weapons as something different last issue, I can’t help but notice now how goofy looking his outfit is.

MB: If clothes make the man, then my estimation of “the” Boomerang will rise incrementally when he graduates to his later outfit, but he’ll never be higher than third-tier; “Tiers of a Clown” might be more appropriate, since in this ensemble he looks like a refugee from the Ringmaster’s Circus (perhaps he patronizes the Puppet Master’s tailor). My scattershot Hulk holdings from this era only increase my overall impression of the stories I have as a series of virtually random events, rather than an actual serial. Now we have the Secret Empire joining Them and A.I.M. among the nefarious organizations littering the landscape, which would be less surprising if they were being thrown at us by multiple writers rather than ol’ one-man-band Stan.

PE: If, as one of the henchmen of The Secret Empire contends, this evil organization "come out in the open at last", what would they call themselves? The Public Empire? I'd argue the assessment that The Boomerang (or, as he's known around here, "Red Donut Man") is one of "the most startlingly sensational new characters in the history of modern superlore" but the backstabbing going on in the Soon-to-be-Public Empire took my mind off the non-story revolving around the title character.

Jack: Let me get this straight. Number nine killed number five, so now only numbers one through four and six through nine are left. Apparently, Hulk and Boomerang are Objectives A and B for the U.S. Army. This is like Sesame Street! Boomerang seems to carry all of his little magnetic washers stuck to his super-villain uniform. What happens when he runs out? I find it interesting that Boomerang makes with the snappy patter as if he were a Marvel super-hero. That’s a good thing, because one can only take so much of Hulk’s limited vocabulary.

Tom: I’m going to go out on a limb here and bet that the villain Number 9 murder from within plot never gets resolved in any future issues. I’m so sure of it, I’ll bet my entire collection of Black Goliath comic books. 

Tales of Suspense
Iron Man
Our Story

Cornered in Stark Factory by Namor, Iron Man must fight for his life while being very low on transistor power. Through an elaborate ruse (Shellhead needs to get into a room behind Namor so he says "Whatever you do please, I beg of you, please don't throw me in that room, Oh Intelligent Fishman" and Sub-Mariner falls for the ol' reverse psychology ploy), Iron Man is able to re-charge his batteries and get a fresh suit on. By the time he's ready to fight however, Namor has had to do a little replenishing of his own down in Long Island Sound. Our last shot is of Namor rising from the water and playing kickball with huge boulders, swearing that someone (probably a certain Golden Avenger) is gonna feel his wrath.

MB: Curiously, although the creative team remains the same from last issue, my Iron Man Special #1 reprint of the trilogy shows inker Jack Abel credited under his own name in part one, and his “Gary Michaels” pseudonym in part two, which makes no sense at all. It’s interesting that despite this installment being published on Iron Man’s home turf at TOS, it consists in large measure of Shellhead’s getting the transistors kicked out of him by a typically hot-headed and misguided Namor, who mistakenly believes Dorma has betrayed him for Krang. But I.M. is nothing if not a skilled tactician, and his Br’er Rabbit routine buys enough breathing space to grab a fresh suit of armor and a full charge in time for the conclusion over in Astonish.

PE: The torso of the trilogy is a whole lot of nothing basically. Two-thirds of the story's 12 pages revolve around Namor trying to kick a door down and Tony Stark, behind that door, goading him. This entire tale illustrates perfectly the kind of padding that went on at Marvel some times. I continue to love the crossover potential but this could have been handled just as well, nay, better, had it been a regular 20 pager rather than stretched out to 36 pages. The reverse psychology bit is really juvenile and only leaves the reader wondering exactly how stupid the Lord of the Seven Realms (or whatever they call him) is. Well, I mean, if the reader wondered about the I.Q. of cartoon characters, that is. We are, at least, blissfully free of most of the soap opera that is Happy and Pepper (I'm sure you can simply read what's going on with Foggy and Karen over at Daredevil if you really need to know since the romantic triangle there is virtually the same as over here) and we're still delighting to the wonders of Gene Colan. That's something.

Captain America
Our Story

Heading for police headquarters where members of The Red Skull's gang are set to be interrogated, Captain America witnesses an A.I.M. plane explode and its pilot eject. Rescuing the man from a watery grave, Cap hears him utter nonsense about an ultimate weapon called The Cosmic Cube. But is it just the mutterings of a wounded man or is there such a weapon? We don't have long to wait for our answer as we are flies on the wall of the evil genius who is attempting to gain control of The Cube--The Red Skull!

PE: With just a few panels, The Red Skull this issue joins the very elite class of Insane Marvel Villains. His hypnotic suggestion to his right-hand man Wolfgang to commit suicide simply because Wolf had a slip of the tongue elevates him from Lousy Nazi to Cold-Blooded Murder. I'm amazed Stan had the guts to leave this scene in as it's pretty brutal for its time. Wolf doesn't walk into the ocean or take a cyanide pill, he eats his pistol.

MB: I doubt I would agree with the Red Skull very often, yet we are of one mind when he says that Them were foolhardy to think he would ever serve, uh, them, especially with a prize like the Cosmic Cube to inspire him to new heights of villainy. He is deliciously evil here, and his forthcoming showdown with Cap—whose high-altitude leap onto that A.I.M. jet without so much as a parachute gives “foolhardy” a whole new meaning—oughtta be a whopper. Unfortunately, while I admire Heck’s properly inked pencils on The Avengers, his own inking of Kirby’s work has produced art that is muddy and sloppy-looking, with the single, soaring exception of that splash-page close-up of a surprised Cap, which is suitable for framing.

PE: I had never understood the concept of The Cosmic Cube. I had no idea what it did. It's a big part of the Captain America movie and, I understand, that carries over into The Avengers flick next month, but it's not really explained there either. Now I'm told in this story that it converts the keeper of The Cube's thoughts into material, enabling every wish to come true. But what is the origin of this ultimate weapon? Who made it? This arc is talked of in hushed tones around comic fandom. It's one of those sacred story lines. But then I had always heard the same spoken of the "Sleeper" arc and we all know how that one turned out. I'm crossing my fingers for this one.

Strange Tales 147
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Following the attack on Them’s lab, Fury ruffles the feathers of several high-ranking officers before giving a ten-day furlough to all involved, except Dugan and Sitwell; meanwhile, Count Royale insists that he cannot demonstrate A.I.M.’s nuke-proofing machine because Nick’s security men confiscated his missile model. Fury suspects what we now know: that A.I.M. is a branch of Them, which attacks the barber shop concealing S.H.I.E.L.D.’s New York command post, forcing Nick to either sacrifice his agents or disobey orders by leading the raid personally. He, Dugan, and Sitwell nearly succumb to A.I.M.’s vibroshock transmitter, but Fury saves the day with his well-placed stun grenade, playing right into the hands of Royale.

MB: Despite the protracted and energetic melee at the venerable barber shop, which contains a bit too much slapstick for my liking (plus some understandable interest displayed by Jasper in their foxy blonde manicurist), this story feels kind of like it’s treading water in between weightier episodes. No objection to mixing it up, but methinks Stan had one eye on his upcoming vacation when he penned this script, in which the tremendous faith the powers that be showed in Fury’s leadership at the outset of this series—a faith that should have been in no way reduced by his smashing (for the moment) the very organization it existed to oppose—seems to have melted away. And, alas, nothing new to say about the Kirby, Heck & “Demeo” Co. artwork, which remains on autopilot.

PE: I have something to say about that artwork: it's awful. If this was the first installment of S.H.I.E.L.D. you'd ever read you wouldn't be able to tell if Sitwell was a kid or a middle-aged man. And the constant belittling of others by Fury is really grating. I know these military types can be like that (or maybe that's just a cliche I've bought into) but give it a rest, Stan. At this point, this series has gone very quickly from something I was looking forward to reading to all the way down at the bottom of the pile. I gotta believe Marvel fans felt the same way in 1966.

Jack: Sheesh! I thought this was a fun story. I like the thread running through it of how Fury is too rough and tumble to lead S.H.I.E.L.D., and for the most part the art is refreshingly free of Heck-isms. I also like the yellow beekeeper outfits that the A.I.M. agents sport.

Dr. Strange
Our Story

While at the local drugstore buying some cold medicine (?!?), Dr. Strange foils an attempted robbery by a couple of thugs. He returns home only to find that the building inspector wants him to get his Sanctum up to code. Wong, his faithful manservant, informs him that the bank account is empty. Not one to worry overly much about such mundane matters, Dr. Strange gazes into his crystal and checks to see that Baron Mordo is still imprisoned. He tries to get updates on Clea, Dormammu, and Eternity, but with little success. Suddenly, the Ancient One appears and warns Dr. Strange of a new menace: Kaluu, who taught the Ancient One all he knows!

MB: With Spider-Man now safe in Romita’s million-dollar hands, I’ve long felt that Ditko’s departure was a much bigger blow to Dr. Strange, and I believe we’re in for a bit of a revolving door before the strip returns to anything like a consistent creative team. At least Stan the Man returned to script the first half of this installment, before going on vacation and leaving O’Neil to act as the clean-up crew, while Bill Everett smoothly accepts the artwork baton with a surprisingly consistent style. The story itself is the comic-book equivalent of a clip show, perhaps justifiably taking a breather after our extended epic to summarize some highlights, also offering an amusing touch of the mundane and setting up Kaluu as Strange’s next adversary.

Jack: Other than a couple of swipes from Ditko, this strip is all "Billy" Everett, and it's refreshing. The story is essentially a trip down memory lane, catching everyone up on what's been going on with the Master of the Mystic Arts.

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #4
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #4
Millie the Model #140
Modeling with Millie #48
Patsy and Hedy #107
Rawhide Kid #63
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #33
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos Annual #1


Fantasy Masterpieces #4 reprints three Golden Age Captain America stories, including "Horror Hospital," (here retitled "The Menace of Dr. Grimm!" ostensibly because the Comics Code didn't allow the word "horror" in a comic book in 1966) from Captain America Comics #4 (June 1941), and three sf/fantasy stories from the pre-hero Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish.

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #4 reprints the entirety of Fantastic Four #7, the Iron Man story from Tales of Suspense #41, Doctor Strange's portion of Strange Tales #111, and "The Monster and the Machine" from Hulk #4.