Wednesday, April 4, 2012

June 1966: This Man... This Monster!

Strange Tales 145
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

S.H.I.E.L.D. deploys a dozen Fury LMDs, hoping that if one of them is captured, it can transmit vital information about the source of the flying eggs, while Nick questions the captive Fixer, only to learn that there is no apparent connection between Them (see this month’s Suspense) and the eggs.  Seeing through their trap, the Druid decides he is powerful enough to challenge Fury to single combat, and uses a light-absorber to conceal himself while he gets within range.  Even unarmed, Fury triumphs over his opponent’s Druidic elixirs, and Sitwell smokes his men out of the surrounding woods; their land-based eggs are no match for the heavily armed S.H.I.E.L.D. task force, so they give up, leaving Nick to wonder how ambitious Sitwell is.

MB: Okay, Don Heck has supplanted Purcell as the cream filling betwixt the Oreo cookies of Kirby’s “designing” and the still-pseudonymous Esposito’s inks (this month’s Bullpen Bulletins confirm that Adam Austin has at last been outed as Gene Colan).  And yet this doesn’t seem to have had a major impact on the artwork, which remains—to use a time-honored Bradleyism—aggressively average, so for me the most intriguing aspect of this issue is the byplay surrounding Sitwell, who has his baptism of fire against the forces of the rather disappointing Druid.  I’m not sure which is more unlikely:  The Powers That Be actually considering such a newbie to replace the ramrod of S.H.I.E.L.D., or the supremely self-confident Fury actually losing any sleep over that possibility.

PE: Well, Heck's not the disaster I thought he might be on this strip but, to use an analogy that Professor Matthew can relate to, with Kirby in the rear-view and Steranko a stone's throw away, it's like watching one of the Pierce Brosnan James Bond flicks. One wonders if sales of Strange Tales had been slipping and Stan was throwing in the towel by handing the art reins to Don. Of course, Don might have been regarded as a hot commodity back then and his landing may have been Stan's method of creating a buzz. It's a shame the strip has devolved from a smart spy take-off to shirtless Fury fighting a Druid. Why eggs? Maybe Stan Lee was enjoying the same "art enhancers" that John Lennon was using when he write "I Am The Walrus" (goo goo ga joob).  I can't wait to read the press release this nefarious bunch of terrorists send out when they change their moniker next issue.

Jack: Let's face it--the appearance of Don Heck on any title does not signal great comics on the horizon. Jasper Sitwell is the highlight of this dud.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

A magician named Mr. Rasputin steals secrets from nations around the world, intent on world domination. His plans are thwarted by Dr. Strange, who survives a gunshot wound and bests Mr. Rasputin in battle, with a little help from his trusty cloak and floating eye.

MB: Mr. Rasputin:  a terrific name for a so-so villain co-created by Dennis O’Neil, another newcomer who would be long associated with Marvel, but better known for his work on Batman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow at DC in the 1970s.  Besides suffering from an advanced case of the curious arthritic malady known as Ditko Hands, and claiming as an ancestor everybody’s favorite mad monk, Rasputin doesn’t have much to distinguish him, but the story itself is pretty solid.  In particular, I’d award points for Rasputin’s low-tech answer to being mystically outmatched, the starring role for Strange’s cloak of levitation, Doc’s friendly repartee with New York’s Finest, and the randomly black doctor who treats him, then still pretty unusual.

Jack: This is the first credit I've seen for O'Neil at Marvel. The story is not a memorable one.

JS: Next month, Dormammu vs Eternity... in case you had a chance to miss either one of them.

Tales to Astonish 80
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner heroically faces off against the deadly Behemoth while the fate of Atlantis hangs in the balance. The Behemoth is under Krang’s control, as he uses a puppet sculpted out of the creature’s likeness by the Puppet Master. Thinking he has the battle well in hand, he lets the pathetic Puppet Master go. Namor uses his powers to order some electric eels to attack the Behemoth. Their powerful electric charge fries the kinetic energy Krang was using to control the monster, and it also destroys the puppet. Without Krang’s brilliant military strategist's mind controlling him, the Behemoth is quickly defeated when Namor creates a vortex that causes the huge creature to sink  below the sea floor. Meanwhile, Dorma has gone off to find troops to help Namor in his battle. Krang shoots the few she finds and reveals to her his plan about defeating Subby, leaving out the part where his puppet of the Behemoth is no longer functional. He tells Dorma that the only way to spare Namor is to join Krang in marriage. She reluctantly agrees, unaware that her beloved has already triumphed over the monster. The ancient wise one witnesses what has transpired between the villain and Dorma and informs Subby, who is not very happy.

Tom: An okay ending that should have been better. The Behemoth looks like he could be a bouncer at a Muppet Bar. And didn’t Namor use the same technique to take out the Sea Weed Man?

PE: Is this a new wrinkle in the Puppet Master saga? Either it's never been shown that the puppet can feel what its host can or I fell asleep during that adventure. Either way, I'm glad Krang dismissed P.M. and can't get him back. He was starting to remind me too much of Humpty Dumpty. When Subby creates his watery vortex and Behemoth is sucked into the pit of quicksand, apparently Stan wasn't joking when he claimed the creature disappeared from human sight forever. The monster never made another appearance. Namor's Achilles' Heel isn't being on dry land, it's Lady Dorma, who is kidnapped by Krang for the sixth or seventh time in four issues. Enough already.

Jack: This is the first issue where Gene Colan gets to use his own name and doesn't have to pretend to be Adam Austin. Too bad Dick Ayers does the inking, which is weak in spots.

PE: It's an average Namor issue: a bit of action, a bit of soap, and a heaping helping of what makes the strip fly, Gene Colan's exquisite art. By this time, no one was better at Marvel. Not even the King. It's a shame that Bill Everett's inks only lasted the one issue but the good news is that he'll be back before the end of the year in a greater capacity (but that's another story). Check out the peculiar amnesiac footnote near the end of the story where Stan reminds us that the last time we saw The Puppet Master was in issue #34. I'm not sure which title he's referring the number to, but it's strange that Stan would forget that that P.M. was in this very issue!

Jack: I checked to see if he was thinking of Fantastic Four, but no such luck. I don't think our friend PM was in issue 34 of anything! By the way, I was a little disappointed in the battle with the Behemoth after all the buildup.

Our Story

The Hulk has been transported to the underground catacombs of his old nemesis, Tyrannus. The villain wishes to use the Hulk to help him get back a magical fountain of water that will restore Tyrannus’s youthful looks. Tyrannus now looks like a shriveled up old man and is dying slowly. He promises the Hulk power in his kingdom and a place where he will never be hunted by man. The Hulk agrees to help but falls asleep. Knowing that time is of the essence, Tyrannus reveals to the Hulk that he has also kidnapped Rick Jones, Betty Ross, and Major Talbot. The Hulk doesn’t care, though, as he has a hard time remembering them. The Green Goliath goes on the warpath once the Mole Man’s hordes of creatures attack. Alerted of the Hulk’s presence by one of his spies, the Mole Man sends his newest and deadliest creation to destroy him--the Octo-Sapien, a robot-like humanoid. The Hulk and the robot battle pretty evenly, with the Hulk almost losing, until he tackles it into a bed of water. A big explosion follows their descent; the story ends with the Hulk having reverted back into the human form of Bruce Banner.

Tom: It’s hard for me not to like a story that revolves around two egocentric monarchs like the Mole Man and Tyrannus doing battle. It’s like Stalin versus Hitler! Bill Everett’s depiction of the Mole Man is also interesting. He looks a little less creepy then his usual self; previously, he always resembled someone who would try to lure children into his crawl space. Now, he looks more like a degenerate who would try to lure children into his garage instead.

PE: A fun little yarn this time out, with retro 1940s-style artwork by Bill Everett, that sees The Hulk as a middleman between warring factions underground. The pulp just drips off these pages, from the sneers across The Mole Man's face to his secret weapon, "the robotic, multi-powered Octo-Sapien," a wonderfully goofy giant machine that would have felt very comfortable fighting the likes of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon to the lure of the fountain of youth. And just how vast is the "underearth"? You can clearly see blue skies as The Mole Man's "shock troops" make an aerial attack on Tyrannus' fortress. What exactly does a "Life-Reduction Ray" do? Does it shave a couple years off?

Jack: If only Stan could think! Stan smash! Bad comic! Send Tyrannus back to obscurity! Octo-sapien look like kitchen gadget! Wait! Stan running out of ideas! Time for Bruce Banner to return!

The Mighty Thor 129
Our Story

Thor returns to New York and, after briefly milling with some overzealous fans in the street, accepts a taxi ride to the town Towers on East 75th St., home to his beloved Jane Foster. He finds Jane has a new roommate, a mysterious, dark haired woman whose origin is difficult to pinpoint. Her presence is regal, however, and Thor, like others who’ve met her, finds himself compelled to bend a knee in awe. Thor tells Jane that, as it’s forbidden for a god and a mortal to wed, he’s decided to give up his immortal heritage and marry her as Don Blake. Returning to Asgard to tell Odin the news, Thor sees Balder, who had been about to leave to find the Thunder God. Why? It is the Day of the Three Worlds, when Thor must go the Land of Limbo to await the call of duty and be summoned to risk all to save the life of another. Odin will hear of nothing else until the mission is done. Meanwhile in Olympus, music and dance fill the air, until the mood is shattered by the arrival of Pluto. He has brought the Olympian contract to Zeus to enforce the co-operation of Hercules in fulfilling his role as the new ruler of the Netherworld. The son of Zeus is on his way to the same destination and climbs Mt. Olympus to plead his case. A yellow-crested titan attacks Hercules, but he dispatches it in combat in a moment. Though he is saddened by the fate his son has been tricked into assuming, the honour-bound Zeus commands Hercules to fulfill his obligation. The only hope is to find someone to fight in his stead, as the Prince Of Power himself is forbidden to do so. Ares, fierce God of War, hates Hercules; Hermes, swiftest of the Olympians, takes flight before Hercules can reach him. Pluto’s legions rise from the depths and, as Hercules calls for help one last time, his voice reaches Thor in Limbo. This is the call to duty that the Thunder God has been waiting for, and a vortex brings him to Olympus, where he announces to Pluto, “I dare!” 

In Tales Of Asgard, Thor and the Warriors Three (Volstagg, Fandrall and Hogun) are sent on a mission to fight Harokin, a barbarian leader who has a mighty weapon at his command: the warlock’s eye.

JB: There’s a lot of attention to detail going on in this issue; it’s a lot tighter than last month’s. We see the introduction of Tana Nile, and if you hadn’t read these issues before, you’d never guess the direction she’ll take us on in a couple of months. The opening sequence with the star-struck pedestrians in the street and the down-to-Earth cabbie, who understands Thor better than Odin does sometimes, is a nice touch of character development. Hercules learns the meaning of fear; we see there’s more to him than meets the eye. I know we see Ares in future issues; I can’t remember offhand about Hermes, but I’d sure like to give his chariot a try!

PE: LOL-moment of this issue when Thor proclaims to Nurse Jane that his love for her is so overwhelming he's willing to turn in his "Immortal" membership card to spend the rest of his life with her and Jane about spits her coffee across the room. "You'd become lame Dr. Blake for the rest of your life, you bronzed golden-haired he-man? Let's think about this rash decision for a moment, dear!"

MB:  It’s “Out of Left Field Day” in Thor-World, starting when Goldilocks decides, with what seems very little soul-searching, that having revealed his secret i.d. to La Foster, he’s going to chuck the whole Thunder God thing to focus on Nurse Jane and his practice, in that order.  We can imagine how this will go over with Odin (especially those of us who know what will later be revealed regarding Dr. Don), but it gets weirder when he comes home for a heart to heart on that very subject and learns that it’s The Day of the Three Worlds, which just happens to be what the doctor ordered for Hercules.  I know he’s been too busy to sit around staring at the date circled in red on his Women of Asgard calendar, but these are gods here—don’t they just know this stuff?!

PE: It's a mighty lucky day for Hercules indeed that Thor must participate in The Day of the Three Worlds where the Thunder God must fight a battle for another. Coincidentally, the only way Hercules can get out of Pluto's contract is if he can find someone to go to battle in his place. Talk about synchronicity! I'm eager to see if Stan and Jack remember that, after pulling Herc's fat out of the fire next issue, there are still two worlds left to battle in.

JB: Agreed Peter and Matthew, Thor’s quick decision to throw away his heritage to marry Jane, and her half-hearted objections are a little weird. 

Thor: “Hey Jane baby, maybe I could stay a god and we could get married anyway! My job might take me out of town once in a while, but…”

Jane: “Well honey, I don’t love the idea, but we’d sure have fun when you get back!”  By Thor #131, we get a better plan.

The X-Men 21
Our Story

The X-Men are hot on Lucifer's trail when a beam of light knocks their X-jet around. Also witness to the weird light are a bunch of cowboys on a Dude Ranch (you read that correctly). Before you can say Cowboys and Mutants, trouble is brewing, Lucifer's robots capture Xavier and we learn about his plan. We find out that Dominus was created to dominate the Earth, but Lucifer ends up on the big boss' (the Supreme One's) bad side once the X-Men manage to take out his all-star team of robots. The S.O. banishes Lucifer, the robots are destroyed, and the X-Men can sleep in peace. But not for long.
PE: It's very disappointing to me that Dominus doesn't have a tail, breathe fire, or wear huge baggy shorts. It's just another machine designed to end all human life on earth. Ho-hum. There's a whole lot of dialogue in this story and that's not always a good thing. Roy Thomas is obviously aping a lot of Stan's writing qualities, both good and bad. He knows how to extract cliff-hanging plot lines and menaces from the pulps but he also exhibits a tendency for bad puns and dopey pop culture references (for example, when The Beast reacts to a warning that a giant robot is behind him with "I didn't think it was Soupy Sales") that won't play well a year after publication never mind 45 years. On the other hand, there are a couple of unique twists that Steven Spielberg must have really dug when he was a kid, enough to employ similar devices in two of his science fiction films. The mesa where Lucifer's hideout is located looks a lot like The Devil's Tower in Wyoming that was used to good effect in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and those bits of energy riding a wave down into that hideaway look just like the "ride the lightning" sequence in War of the Worlds (2005).

JS: I can't believe you didn't sing the praises of the Western crossover. Or Iceman's trying to steal some of the Silver Surfer's thunder by mounting his own ice-surfboard. At least this issue spelled the end of this two-part snoozer.

Daredevil 17
Our Story

Spider-Man holds Foggy outside of a window, threatening to drop him unless he confesses that he is Daredevil.  He ends up backing down and leaving, but that doesn’t prevent Foggy from planting the seed in Karen’s head that he may in fact be The Man Without Fear. Meanwhile, the real Daredevil goes eavesdropping on the big wigs whose secret engine had been stolen last issue by the Masked Marauder.  He learns that the Marauder forgot to steal the specific fuel plans for the engine.  Hatching a scheme, Double D goes to see J. Jonah Jameson and lets him know of his findings.  Jameson holds a press conference and suggests that Spider-Man and the Marauder are working together.  Spider-Man sees the news and quickly rushes out to the World Motors building, since he believes the Marauder will rob them again for the fuel plans.  The Marauder arrogantly decides that this would be a good idea, because no one would believe that he and his crew would be foolhardy enough to rob the same building so quickly again.   Spider-Man and Daredevil meet up on a rooftop for a rematch.  Before a clear victor emerges, the Marauder and company land in a blimp.  The two heroes put aside their differences and take out the bad guys.  While victorious, the heroes let the Marauder escape when he dresses up in the uniform of a security guard who was knocked out.   Our story ends with Marauder overhearing Karen accusing Foggy of being Daredevil.  The villain now has a target for when he seeks his revenge in the future.  

Tom:  Not much else I can say about this one that I didn’t proclaim with last issue’s similar plot.  The whole hero misunderstanding thing has gotten tiresome.  At least the writers were able to show off both heroes' different personalities.  I never noticed that Foggy was that overweight until Spider-Man pointed it out, more than a few times.   

PE: DD convinces J. Jonah Jameson to not only buy TV time to goad Spider-Man but also to lie about a police matter. Doesn't that bother the conscience of the  Matt Murdock side of DD? As I predicted in the comments for last month's DD, The Marauder uses his Blindy Flashy Ray on Daredevil and it doesn't work because DD is blind. I put up my ten mint copies of Dazzler #1 but I want to get rid of them so badly we can just say I lost the bet, okay?

Jack: This continues to be an above-average series with a list of top artists. I get a kick of of the covers because I'm starting to recognize issues I used to own before the Great Selloff.

PE: A couple of intriguing (if not overly believable) plot lines this month. Foggy Nelson, in an effort to impress Karen Page, the woman he loves and a future hooker, tries to give the impression that he's got an alter ego named Daredevil. Never mind that the guy's about fifty pounds heavier and a foot shorter than Hornhead, this is the Marvel Universe. The other subplot we'll be keeping an eye on is the secret identity of The Masked Marauder. Is it someone we've already met or (as in the case of The Green Goblin) someone about to be introduced into the title? In his civvies, The Marauder hugs the shadows and won't show his face so I've a feeling a "shocking unmasking" is soon due.

Jack: I thought the Marauder was not a very compelling character but he was just enough to fit in this story, which was good overall. Foggy is such a drip! I suspect he is still smitten over how she looked when Wally Wood was drawing her.

The epitome of Marvel soap dope
MB: Romita passes Part Two of his Spider-Man “audition” with flying colors, and I think the worst you can say about Giacoia’s inks, both here and in The Avengers, is that some of the faces are a little cartoony.  But I can’t help wondering if this story might have fit comfortably within the confines of a single issue, since certain aspects of the script (e.g., Foggy’s inexcusable and dangerous deception of Karen, and the mistrust between DD and Spidey, which should never have been so prolonged after their previous alliance) seemed belabored.  While hardly a first-tier villain, the Marauder is interesting and appears to plan his capers well; my favorite touch was the way he used the World Motors i.d. on the blimp to lull those guards into a false sense of security.

Jack: I love the Romita art. For me, this is how Spidey is supposed to look.

PE: In this month's Bullpen Bulletins, there's an announcement about the first two Lancer paperbacks to reprint Marvel Comics, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.

Tales of Suspense 78
Iron Man 
Our Story

Iron Man finds himself "hopelessly outclassed" by The Mandarin's giant android, Ultimo, who has risen from the bowels of a volcano to wreak havoc on mankind. Shellhead proves he's no pushover though as he rather quickly tricks the giant into climbing back into his volcano and using his deadly eye beams. The volcano becomes active once more and Ultimo is burnt to a crisp. With the giant android out of the way and The Mandarin off to more pressing business, the red and gold Avenger has only one thing on his mind: getting back home. After hijacking a jet and maneuvering through American fighter pilots, Tony Stark is ready for a comfortable couch and a stiff one but when he arrives at Stark Industries he finds that Senator Byrd has had the plant shut down and issued a warrant for Tony's arrest. Suddenly, The Mandarin's castle looks a lot more hospitable.

PE: For a being known as Ultimo, I thought he was dispatched a bit too quickly. Why not hold him over for another segment or at least a few more pages. The entire 14-page Ultimo arc could be summed up as "Ultimo, the ultimate android menace rises from a volcano, squishes a few villagers, makes Iron Man admit he's not as powerful as the big guy, and then gets toasted three panels later." Even Shellhead should have shrugged and asked The Mandarin if that was the best he could throw at him. Mandy himself didn't seem too concerned that his big baby was reduced to a pile of ash.

MB:  I first read this story and its Cap counterpart in reprint mags published years apart, but together, they must have made one hell of an issue of TOS back in the day.  Shellhead’s dramatic defeat of Ultimo, who had him “hopelessly out-classed,” lived up to its atmospheric prologue, and although that happened on page 7, the story didn’t grind to a halt with a sickening lurch, as in last month’s FF, but continued smoothly with Iron Man’s amusing repatriation and the requisite cliffhanger involving Senator Byrd.  Although “Adam Austin” now steps out from behind the curtain to reveal himself as Gene Colan, Jack Abel remains concealed behind the “Gary Michaels” moniker, which is sad, because he could proudly sign his work here.

PE: Some genius The Mandarin is. He has his moat drained for the body of Tony Stark and, when said corpse doesn't turn up, naturally surmises that Iron Man has already rescued his billionaire boss's lifeless body. Doesn't anyone ever question the fact that wherever Tony is, so is Shellhead? I know we have these same problems with every alter ego and the ever-present superhero but somewhere between issue #77 and #78, The Mandarin becomes aware of the battle between Ultimo and Iron Man and nowhere is there a thought balloon above Mandy's head: "Hold on a second! What's he doing here? How did he know his boss was here?" 

Captain America
Our Story

Nick Fury is visiting The Avengers mansion to find out if the super-team has any info on S.H.I.E.L.D.'s new enemy, THEM. He finds Captain America working out in the danger room just as a synthetic man, created by THEM, bursts in and tries to eliminate both of them.

PE: This would have been a good time for Stan to address the problem of Nick Fury's aging (or lack thereof) since World War II. Nick and Steve Rogers were roughly the same age (Nick may have been older actually) when they teamed up in WWII, and yet they look like they're still the same age. I believe someone chimed in the last time I brought this up (I believe when Cap guested in Sgt Fury) but audiences of 1966 must have wondered the same thing. No surprise I enjoy the team-up of these two vets, the camaraderie, the one-upmanship, even the cornball one-liners. They're different but the same. That's a nice touch in the final panel when Fury hands Cap a S.H.I.E.L.D. badge. Sorta like when the pilots on airlines used to have kids come in the cockpit and get a set of plastic wings.

MB: Right from the socko splash page, reminiscent of the shield-slinger’s Suspense debut, the first modern-day meeting between Cap and Nick Fury (after a Howlers hook-up I don’t have) is everything one could hope for.  The story follows directly on the current S.H.I.E.L.D. saga in exploring the Fixer’s mysterious sponsors among Them—whose uniforms are those we now know from A.I.M.—and the conclusion satisfyingly ties up that long-dangling plot thread of Cap wanting to join Fury’s outfit.  Giacoia is practically ubiquitous this month, but shines brightest here over Kirby’s pencils, matched by an inventive heavy and Stan’s lively banter between the WW II vets, only one of whose longevity has thus far been explained.

PE: Marvel could have printed up several of the panels from this story (and the Colan Iron Man story as well) and sold them as posters. I've got a feeling we're about to get spoiled in the next few years' coverage.

The Avengers 27
Our Story

Goliath recovers, only to be told by a doctor that he must remain ten feet tall for the rest of his life or else risk death. Meanwhile, in the far east, the Commies have brainwashed the Black Widow, sending her on a mission to destroy the Avengers. Once in the US, she recruits the Swordsdman and Power Man to help her, but when she tries to recruit Hawkeye he refuses and a fight breaks out. Captain America is ambushed and taken captive; he calls for help from Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who rush right into a trap. The Wasp manages to alert Goliath, who bursts on the scene and helps the Avengers fight Natasha and her aides to a draw. The baddies escape, leaving readers to wonder if we are witnessing a new Avengers lineup that includes six members.

MB:  This issue didn’t quite hit a home run for me, since the story seemed to feature an excess of running around, but with a full complement of Assemblers, the heady pairing of Power Man and the Swordsman, and the Black Widow (albeit a brainwashed one, only exacerbating her already ping-ponging loyalties), it didn’t need to.  Goliath wears his new seriousness well (“You fools!  Do you think I’m playing some sort of game?!!”), and his impressive stature keeps things visually as well as dramatically interesting, especially under the continued influence of Giacoia’s steady hand on the inks.  I particularly enjoyed that trademark Heck “widescreen” shot in page 8, panel 3, and Cap’s last-page dialogue with a justifiably penitent Hawkeye; we’ll see if that lasts.

PE: Well, I don't know about visually interesting but the scale for Goliath sure is. In some panels, yep, Goliath looks ten feet tall. In others, such as the one where he's whining to Cap that no one can know the way he feels, he looks more like fifteen. Speaking of whining and moaning and complaining and feeling sorry for himself, I sure hope we've gotten all that out of the way and we don't have another heapin' helpin' of it next issue or I'll scream "Avengers Dissemble!!" His self-pitying whimper in the final two panels was the cherry on top. It's great to see The Wasp is as worthless as ever. Her landing on the tree branch and then afterwards the ground below is a classic moment of Waspishness. With the rise in quality of most of the other books, it seems this is the only title that stays stuck in the mud.

Jack: Oh, Prof. Peter! Have you not been following the Hulk? Dr. Strange? There is still plenty of mediocrity to go around.

PE: On the letters page Mike Friedrich comes to the defense of a letter writer in a past issue who had gotten a tongue lashing from Stan. Mike makes solid points when he answers "The Man" 's sarcastic question "Do you tell Walter Cronkite how to broadcast the news?" with "Yes... if we don't like his style, we don't watch him... if we don't like your style... we decide Marvel isn't worth buying. You better not forget it." You go, Mike!

The Fantastic Four 51
Our Story

Feeling like there’s not a lot to look forward to, the Thing walks the city streets in the pouring night rain. A stranger sees him and invites him in to take a load off and have a cup of coffee. He reveals he’s a scientist who, like Ben, knows what it’s like to be scoffed at for being different. What Ben doesn’t yet realize is that his coffee was drugged and, as he falls asleep on the sofa, we discover the real motives behind his benefactor's goodwill. He has created a duplication apparatus that he attaches to the Thing and himself. Soon he turns into . . . the Thing, and Ben becomes human again. A lifetime of resentment at not being recognized for his academic success has led him to despise Mr. Fantastic, who he sees as having had all the lucky breaks. Becoming the Thing is stage one in his plan to destroy the Fantastic Four and be recognized as a genius. He goes to the Baxter Building, where he finds Reed and Sue discussing Reed’s latest invention, designed to give humanity a fighting chance against menaces like Galactus in the future. The real Ben returns and does his angry best to convince the Richardses that they’re dealing with an imposter. Despite his “looking the part,” they don’t quite believe Ben is Ben, and he storms off, figuring it’ll serve them right for not believing him. Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot, at the Metro College Kozy Kampus Koffee Shop, get into an argument with football star Whitey Mullins, who tells the Torch he’s lame without his flame. Coach Mullins puts a stop to it and sees Wingfoot (whose father was a great Olympic decathlete) as a last chance to make a star athlete. We see Reed’s amazing invention: a huge machine that can create an entrance into sub-space and allow travel through space at light speed. Despite Sue’s objections, Reed dons his helmet and enters the machine, activating it; his only link to our world is a steel cable that he asks Ben to hold onto. Should Reed run into trouble, he’ll tug on the cable and Ben can pull him back. Reed discovers an amazing, four-dimensional world; the only drawback of this “negative zone” is that the negative matter is being drawn to a “positive” Earth, and when they touch, they’ll explode. Reed tugs on the line, but “Ben” on our side hesitates. He begins to see Mr. Fantastic for what he really is, a selfless scientist who cherishes family, friends and humanity. “Ben” faces his own inhumanity and decides to save Reed, then the cable breaks! He dives after it but is pulled into subspace towards Reed by the cable. As they’re about to reach the “Earth” and face the end, he redeems himself for the grief he’s caused. He grabs Reed and, with the strength of the Thing, tosses him back where they came from. Reed makes it back, and when the impostor perishes, our Ben becomes the Thing again. He rushes to F.F. headquarters, to learn there’s no clobbering to be done this time. The villain found his humanity when he needed it most.

JB: This is one of those things people who didn’t read comics would never dream existed, a real humanitarian tale disguised as a superhero story. We never even get the name of our “bad guy,” who in the end sees what it means to be a “hero.” It was nice to have a completely self-contained story after the recent epic sagas, proving that a classic doesn’t have to go on and on. Nice touches with Johnny at Metro College and Ben going to Alicia as the most likely one to believe him. Some dazzling art, too. The cover image is very powerful, as if Reed and Sue behind him are just part of Ben’s tortured thoughts. Say, did any Marvel comic ever have a title without an exclamation mark!? Oops, sorry.

MB: It’s unusual to see the cover and the splash page be so similar, but I won’t kvetch about double-dipping when both are so striking, and show how completely Kirby (aided by Sinnott) has transcended the amorphous Thing of early years to, uh, solidify Ben’s definitive likeness.  It appears that this “sub-space” Reed explores is what becomes known as the Negative Zone, the term used to describe the dome covering the Great Refuge in #48.  Considering what a major role the Zone will play later on, it’s amazing how yet another key introduction is slipped in between those of Galactus, the Surfer, and the Black Panther, and while the science behind Ben’s nameless doppelgänger is shakier than usual, his ultimate self-sacrifice is dramatically satisfying.

PE: I like the part where Reed says "Hold on a minute, mister! The Thing isn't exactly an easy man to imitate!" Does that mean Stretcho thinks it's a piece of cake manufacturing a fake Ben Grimm? If Reed were so dangblasted smart, he'd turn to The Thing or Ben Grimm and ask "Alright, tell me a little about our college days!" End of story. And why didn't our scorned scientist/faux Ben do away with the real Ben since his initial goal was to destroy the Fantastic Four? All teensy weensy nits compared to the enjoyment I got out of this story. I'd go way out on that thin limb and say this story was better than our previous Galactus/Surfer arc. When Reed becomes a castaway in the Negative Zone, there's real wonder and mystery. That last shot of Fakething on a bit of detritus in the Zone and awaiting his fate is a killer. Can't wait for the team to revisit the Zone and discover its Number One inhabitant in a couple years. The soap opera stuff is actually becoming enjoyable as well, something I never thought I'd say. I could have taken an entire issue of the Wyatt and Johnny versus star quarterback Whitey Mullins drama. Of course, the whole "johnny loves Crystal" saga will be rearing its ugly head again soon so I'll take what I can get right now of good supporting character exposition.

JS: This is one that I've long heard described as one of the best FF tales of all time. While I don't know if I'd go that far, it's certainly another good story in a stretch (no pun intended) of good stories.

The Amazing Spider-Man 37
Our Story

Released from prison after a ten-year stint, robot designer Mendel Stromm wants only one thing with his new found freedom: revenge on the man who wronged him. That man would be Norman Osborn, father to Peter Parker's campus acquaintance and owner of OsCorp. Stromm contends that Osborn stole a formula he himself had invented. Stromm wastes no time whipping up a new robot to trash Osborn's research facility. There's obviously something fishy about Norman, something shady. It's not long before Spider-Man is investigating Stromm and his wonder robot. In a climactic battle in Stromm's laboratory, Spidey puts the kibosh on the robot but Stromm has a heart attack after almost being shot by Osborn. His death prevents Stromm from revealing a secret he'd been holding over Norman Osborn. 

PE: Well, the obvious question is: did Stan know that he wanted Norman to be The Green Goblin? It's not clear from this issue's story, which introduces the character. There are some clues but they could be attributed to several other events in the story. The secret that Stromm threatens to reveal may just be about Osborn's theft. Having not read these stories until years later, I was always under the assumption that Norman had been around the title for years. This would have made the reveal so much more shocking than a character who had just been introduced. I was also mistaken that Osborn was a nice guy, helpful to Peter, and a loving father but he's actually a mean SOB. The reveal, therefore, shouldn't be a massive shock to fandom but we'll see what the letters page has to say when it happens.

MB:  This self-described “doozy” marks Ditko’s penultimate issue as well as the debut of mechanical genius Professor Mendel Stromm, whose vendetta against his former business partner, Norman Osborn, not only sets him apart from Spencer Smythe and his Spider-Slayers, but also ties in ironically with the cause of the pending Lee/Ditko schism.  And, just as Smythe’s evil outlived him in the form of his son, second-generation villain Alistair Smythe, the deceased Stromm would pop up many years later in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, first as a double called the Robot Master, and then as a cyborg, Gaunt.  There’s a kind of Escher effect on page 2 as Spidey watches the nameless thug watch Foswell watching Stromm and Max.

PE: Despite the important character intro, this feels like just another "Spidey fights a robot" yarn. Even though Ditko has one more issue left in his epic run, Stan was already waving goodbye to him on The Bullpen Bulletins page. As we now know, it was probably more like "Don't let the screen door hit you on the way out" but the official line is that Steve is leaving "for personal reasons." 

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #3
FM goes giant-sized, featuring the 2 Golden Age Cap stories "The Hunchback of Hollywood and the Movie Murder" and "The Weird Case of the Plundering Butterfly and the Ancient Mummies" (both from Captain America #3 - May 1941); "I am the Prisoner of the Voodoo King" (from JIM #82); "Beware the Uboongi" (from Strange Tales #100); Beware of Bruttu (from TOS #22); and "I Saw the End of the World" (from Strange Tales #73).

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #3

(featuring reprints of FF #4; the Iron Man portion of TOS #40; Doctor Strange from Strange Tales #110; Tales of the Watcher from TOS #49; and "Banished to Outer Space," the first part of Incredible Hulk #3)


Millie the Model #138
Modeling with Millie #47
Patsy and Hedy #106
Rawhide Kid #52
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #31

Be the envy of your neighborhood!


  1. Always liked Jasper Sitwell!
    Love that Thor cover!
    And why do Marvel characters think to themselves in exclamation points! (The DD soapy pic) I must go to the store! I need eggs! I wonder if it will rain tomorrow! Foggy really likes burgers! Sorry, carried away.
    Great week of posts, Profs!

  2. Ladies and Gentlemen! Please welcome Joe Tura! Joe will be trading in his amateur status in February and will be assigned his own classroom in which to teach "Marvel in the 1970s!" Joe, allow me to speak for the rest of the Professors when I say how fantastic it is to have you aboard! Exclamation Point!

  3. Any relation to "that great, great Polish actor"?

    How do you follow up a three issue classic? That's easy … with a single issue classic. This is one of the most famous FF stories, and for good reason. This simple story hangs on the “turn” of the mystery unnamed villain, who envies and hates Reed Richards, but sees the light just a little too late, at the cost of his own life. And, we get the first appearance of the Negative Zone, with great Kirby machinery and Negative Zone space scenes. Stan and Jack are working in unison here, with the dialog matching the action pretty closely. Stan shows a bit of restraint … Sue only says “Reed, my darling” three times, which is pretty good going, considering Reed's perilous predicament.

    Ditko's time at Marvel is running out, but before he leaves, I want to look at “Follow Me Quietly” a 1949 “B” crime movie. I should point out that I have never seen any comment by Steve Ditko or confirmation from anyone else that Ditko has ever seen this largely forgotten film, but it contains a couple of his favorite themes.

    The plot … Lt. Grant and Sgt. Collins (William Lundigan and Jeff Corey) are on the trail of “The Judge” an uncompromising criminal who considers himself above the law. So far he's murdered seven “deserving” people including his latest victim, a newspaper editor. Sending ransom note style letters, The Judge has bragged to Grant that he'll never be captured. The Judge has left items behind at the scene of every murder, including his hat, a glove, a few hairs, torn cloth, etc. which gives Grant an idea. Here are some screenshots from the movie.

    Pic 1. Lt. Grant takes the items, and with other information he has, gets a police sketch artist to come up with an illustration of The Judge. The artist produces a picture of a man about six feet tall, with a blank face, wearing a suit and hat. The sketch looks like the inspiration for any number of Ditko's villains from Spider-Man, and bears an uncanny resemblance to The Question.

    Pic 2. Grant then has a dummy made, which is used in police line-ups. As the police haul in suspects, as part of the process, they check to see if anyone matches the Judge's height and build.

    Pic 3. The Lt. takes photos of the dummy from various angles, and pounds the beat, hoping the photos will jog someone's memory.

    Pic 4. A Waitress recognises the style of clothes, and thinks it may be a bespectacled customer who comes in occasionally. Grant and Collins take the waitress to the police station, and set up the dummy as if it's sitting at a table, and add a pair of glasses.

    Pic 5. The Waitress is now sure it's the man she's seen, and after a bit more detective work, Grant and Collins arrest Charlie Roy, a previously unseen character, completely unknown to the police.

    Ditko was 21 years old when Follow Me Quietly first screened, and I can't help but wonder if saw it and retained a couple of elements for future use.

    In an interview, Stan Lee was asked about the exclamation points at the end of every sentence instead of a period (I call them a full stop). He said that in the comic book world they were called “bangs” and they were used throughout the industry because publishers were concerned that a period would disappear in the printing process.

    I'm fairly certain Steve Ditko knew exactly what was going on with the introduction of Norman Osborn. The blurb at the end of page 20 reads “Next Ish: While waiting to see more of the mysterious Mr. Osborn, we'll toss a new villain at you. Nuff Said.” I interpret that as “Ditko wouldn't work on the story that became Spidey #39 and drew something else” but, we'll never know for sure. Imagine being Sol Brodsky. For well over a year, he's had the unthankful task of being the go between, passing messages back and forth between Lee and Ditko. He must've heard a lot of yelling and screaming.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  5. Professor-Elect Joe: Thanks, buddy! Jasper certainly evolved over the years from his first goofy appearances in STRANGE TALES. Great to have you with us.

    Professor Pete: Hear, hear! Joe's wide-ranging interests and trademark enthusiasm will be definite assets to the faculty, and I just hope he always remembers who got him this cushy assignment. Meanwhile, am I wrong, or is this the first quasi-official confirmation we've had that--contrary to our masthead--we will indeed be continuing on through the glorious 1970s?

    Professor Jack: You just made yourself Joe's friend for life with that reference to TO BE OR NOT TO BE.

    Glenn: Speaking of assets, thanks for your characteristically fascinating feedback/input. For some bizarre reason, FOLLOW ME QUIETLY rings a bell, but I can't for the life of me remember where else I've read about it.

  6. Regarding Fury's longevity vs. that of the preserved-in-ice Cap: I don't know how sensitive people are to the issue of spoilers, but it was revealed in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #31 (December 1976) that Nick was kept artificially young by something called "The Infinity Formula."

  7. Professor Matthew-

    I've got the crew coming in a few days from now to do construction on the masthead. Stay tuned!


    Thanks for another fascinating contribution. You do know that the staff here will never give up harassing you into joining our faculty. Give in, Glenn! We need you.

  8. Professor Jack, I have a great comic-related story about that Benny movie reference! During college, when I started buying comics again after a long layoff, I went to Little Nemo in Forest Hills with a coupon from the Queens College paper, the QC Quad, and kept going back to buy more back issues (mostly What Ifs but got sucked into more and more and more, then started buying way too many new comics) and the owner/son, after he found out my name turned to his owner/Dad and said "Like the great Polish actor!" And a great relationship was born between comic store owner and comic book store patron!

    Glad to be coming aboard, and I can only hope to be 10% as enjoyable as the current faculty. You guys have set a high bar!

  9. Welcome Joe and Chris! You'll have a lot of fun here. Now Glenn, what about you? I think you know more than any of us!

  10. "PE: Well, the obvious question is: did Stan know that he wanted Norman to be The Green Goblin? It's not clear from this issue's story, which introduces the character ... I was always under the assumption that Norman had been around the title for years. This would have made the reveal so much more shocking than a character who had just been introduced."

    Actually, I think Osborne had been around for quite awhile. Take a look at page 6, ASM #23. That looks like Osborne centre in the last panel in the background of J.J. Jameson's club. And I seem to remember his distinctive hair in another club "shot" though the issue escapes me.
    ~rodan 57

  11. Ditko seems to have planned for the then unnamed Norman Osborne who first appeared in #23 to be the Green Goblin all along and it's a myth that Ditko quit Marvel over differences about the Goblin's identity -- in a essay Ditko wrote several years ago he specifically dismissed that as his reason for quitting. It really had more to do with royalties promised by Martin Goodman but never actually paid. The ending of this story, plotted as well as drawn by Ditko, should have been a dead giveaway that he intended Osborne to be the Goblin.