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.


  1. Re: Romita, in all fairness, the Ditkoesque quality I THOUGHT I saw was so slight that I almost certainly would never have noticed it if that quote from Jazzy Johnny hisself hadn't got me looking for it. And Professor Pete has hit the nail on the head that an increased maturity marks the Romita era, one reason why it's such a seismic shift. All hail King Ring-a-Ding!

    As for THE AVENGERS, Professor Jack, I've learned to live with being the odd man out on this title. Different strokes for different folks, which is--to some degree--what this blog is about. I do love me my Goliath. Speaking of which, Professor Tom, I liked BLACK GOLIATH!

  2. Professor Bradley-

    Whoa now! I do too! I wouldn't have bet all five of my precious issues of the adventures of Bill Foster if I wasn't certain that the #9 rogue scenario wasn't going to be put on the back burner and eventually forgotten by the Marvel Bullpen.

    The comic company definitely dropped the ball when they backed the wrong black super-hero, Luke Cage, instead of Black Goliath in the 1970's. Power Man and Iron Fist? Please. It should have been Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts! Now that would be a series I would have bought. Of course, I would have purchased any crap that Marvel would shoot out from that era.

  3. Hey, Professor Tom, I apologize for misconstruing your attitude toward Black Goliath, and agree that he was much more interesting than Cage. The only two pre-Iron Fist back issues of POWER MAN I made it a point to acquire were, you guessed it, those in which Black Goliath was introduced. I loved Iron Fist, so between that and my equally compulsive Marvel buying, I stayed the course on PM/IF for years, but never liked Cage, and once Claremont and Byrne left the book (after about five minutes), I never really cared for it. Love the idea of Black Goliath and Jack of Hearts. Is that your own inspiration, or was there ever talk of pairing the two?

    One of the things that fascinates me most about Black Goliath is the huge time lag between Bill Foster's debut in AVENGERS #32 (September 1966) and his introduction as Black Goliath in POWER MAN #24 (April 1975). The only comparable lag I can think of offhand is between the debut of Carol Danvers in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES #13 (March 1968) and her introduction as Ms. Marvel in MS. MARVEL #1 (January 1977). That's staying power.

    As for the Secret Empire, I've mentioned that my Hulk holdings from this era are very spotty, and unfortunately I missed the next two issues. So although I know how the whole Secret Empire thing plays out in general (and won't spoil it now), I don't know if they ever resolved that particular plot point. Sorry.

  4. Professor Bradley-

    No need to apologize my good man, in part because what I wrote was in somewhat jest. By that I mean I always found it to be a joke that out of all the titles Marvel experimented on from the 70's, it's no big surprise that Black Goliath didn't make it. What is a little funny, at least to me, is that his series didn't go on for more then five issues. FRANKENSTEIN went at least triple that running length. Now, I'm not saying the BLACK GOLIATH series was great by any means, but at least it wasn't boring, what with him fighting Stilt Man and Igor's long lost cousin the Vulcan.

    I just wasn't very keen on his character or costume at that point. When Bill Foster became Giant-Man II, and a for a short time a semi-regular backup hero in Marvel Two-In-One, that's when he became a more interesting character. I remember feeling bad for him as he struggled with cancer.

    Jack of Hearts and Black Goliath came from my own inspiration, so thanks for liking the idea! I always thought it was a clever move by Marvel to take two characters that were struggling in their own books and then combine them into one title. I'm sort of surprised they haven't tried that more often.

  5. It will, as always, be interesting to see how my contemporary re-reading of BLACK GOLIATH compares with my youthful memories.

  6. One of the things I love about this blog is in seeing the chronological context of the individual issues discussed. I first saw many of these stories in reprints, scattered over a number of years -- for instance, FF #53 was the first Kirby FF story I ever saw, in MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS, (and it totally blew me away, natch) -- but to see all these issues lumped together here, you realize what a frickin' AMAZING month the King had! The second part of the classic Black Panther intro, the first chapter of the Epic Colonizers serial, the penultimate chapter of the Cosmic Cube saga and to top it all off, that gobsmacking Subby / Iron Man donnybrook (banged out over a weekend apparently) -- it's literally unimaginable that that any current comics artist could come anywhere near such a feat.

    Re: the "padding" in this month's Iron Man story in TOS -- keeping in mind that all this stuff was often done from the sketchiest of Stan's outlines means that the artists were practically plotting the stories themselves, sometimes literally making it up as they went along. Some artists were clearly better at this than others -- in Colan's case, I've often thought his pacing was a bit odd. He'd spend an entire page on a door being opened or some other atmospheric detail, and often found himself wrapping up a story in two or three tiny panels when he'd realized he'd reached his
    page count. Now, I'm not saying this to knock the guy -- his stuff was always bee-yootiful to look at -- but actually plotting a story from scratch was not his strong suit.

  7. Can we call you Anon for short? Your initial experience with many of these stories mirrors my own, at least up until the mid-'70s. So I, too, find the context provided by this blog of great value as a reader, in addition to having fun contributing. And that's a very astute observation about Colan's quirky pacing, something I'd never really hit on before.

  8. I wouldn't blame all the pacing on Colan in specific. A lot of the pacing problem comes from the Marvel Method of making comics they were using at the time. Instead of having the story written and laid out by one person...the editor/writer plots the issues loosely, the artists draws it based on those loose notes, then the writer comes back and does dialogue based on what the artist did. Its why many Marvel comics at the time read a bit schizophrenic.

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