Wednesday, May 30, 2012

February 1967: Doomsday!

The Avengers 37
Our Story

The Avengers are all trapped in big glass canisters as the Ultroids prepare to siphon off their powers and transfer them into their own bodies. To pass the time, they get to hear about Ixar, the alien king who lost a war and had his mind put into a computer. His quest for power led him to Earth. The Avengers escape and quickly overpower the Ultroids, until Ixar assimilates all of the Ultroids’ strength into himself and becomes a big orange fighting machine. The Avengers battle him to a standstill until the Black Widow makes Ixar an offer he can’t refuse and he returns them to Earth, zooming off in his spaceship to conquer other worlds.

PE: So Ixar craves super powers and to that end he and his Ultroids search the galaxies and the best they can come up with is the 1967 version of The Avengers?! This was the most powerful band of heroes the earth (or any other world) had to offer? A super soldier, a fast guy, a woman who can do hexes (I’m still a little confused about that), an archer, a tiny complainer, and a 10-foot scientist given to mood swings. Were the Fantastic Four on vacation? Between The Altoids and The Mimic, Roy Thomas really dug villains who absorbed powers in early 1967. Throw in The Super-Adaptoid over in Captain America and you have virtually nothing else lately.

Wanda edges out Janet for Marvel
babe of the month.
MB: Bolstered by the real Pietro and Wanda, as opposed to last issue’s faux Witch, it may be said—per Quicksilver—that “now, truly, the Avengers are at full fighting strength once again”; in fact, with the Widow on the periphery, and Hercules on deck, I’m wondering if Roy is going to feel the need to start pruning back. While I won’t necessarily finger the number of our beloved Assemblers as the culprit, this issue does have a crowded feel to it, between the sketchy Heck art, which often looks cramped, and Roy’s dialogue-heavy script, which further clutters the panels. Since Roy started out winding up the Living Laser outing, this two-parter marks his first all-original effort…and it must be considered a fairly modest one, despite some interesting ideas.

Jack: It's not fair to have that nice Gil Kane cover and then everything goes to Heck inside. Didn't the Ultroids beat the heck out of the Avengers just last issue? This time around, when they get out of their glass prisons, they knock out the Ultroids in short order. And what's with all of the Marvel heroes ending up in Europe? Maybe Daredevil can fly the Avengers home.

Fantastic Four 59
Our Story

Mr. Fantastic alerts the world’s allied military leaders to be prepared with everything at their disposal, in case the Fantastic Four fail to stop Dr. Doom. Then he locks himself in his lab, determined to find a solution. Meanwhile, the Latverian ruler uses his newfound cosmic power to make examples of his supremacy, at different places around the globe. He turns back an attack of incoming bombers by causing their metal to dissolve in a cloud of corrosive acid; he creates 24-hour bouts of total darkness and bitter winter. Doom’s ego has become so big that he feels the Silver Surfer (or anyone else), whose power he has stolen, aren’t even worth the time to dispose of. Reed thinks he has a possible solution; a device that when it strikes it’s victim, will make them weaker the angrier they get. He tests it out on Ben, successfully, who when struck by the flying prototype, is angry enough to hit Reed, but too weak to do any damage. Johnny, meanwhile, is convinced that if he practices controlling his speed, and the power of his flame, he’s the only one who will be able to stop Dr. Doom. Wyatt Wingfoot, fearing for his friend, radio’s F.F. headquarters to get their help of convincing the Torch otherwise. In the Great Refuge, Black Bolt signals his people, summoned together, to go to the shelters beneath the city. His plan is to unleash his greatest power to shatter the barrier surrounding them: his voice. He succeeds, thought the city is in shambles. It is decided that Black Bolt and his family will venture forth into the outside world; the rest of their people will rebuild the city and await their return. All but Maximus, the ruler’s mad brother, are pleased. Reed’s weapon, with Ben’s help, is nearly complete, as the world awaits the next attack of Dr. Doom.

JB: Well, for the first time I can think of, the title proper, “Doomsday,” has no exclamation mark! Oops. On a minor note, I love the look of the title banners the Marvels of the time used. Likewise, I’m enjoying the contrast the work of inkers Sinnott and Colletta creates with Kirby’s art in the F.F. and Thor mags respectively. Some nice panels like the one of Black Bolt flying over the city, and when Dr. Doom enters the Surfer’s cell (a kind of visual “devil and angel”). The evil Doctor may be unintentionally giving the world time to prepare their defenses, but his playful acts of wickedness are entertaining.

MB: This is another one of those issues that’s as much a warm-up for the grand finale as anything else, but there’s so much going on—lovingly depicted by Kirby and Sinnott—that one can’t in good conscience complain.  Doom’s stolen cosmic power is so close to godlike that the whole exercise seems like a more elaborate do-over of the recent Cosmic Cube storyline in Suspense, with the attendant problem of how our heroes can possibly overcome it.  Of course, the fact that Black Bolt has finally freed the Inhumans from imprisonment in the Great Refuge is likely to have major ramifications, especially with the six members of the royal family and court going out among us humans; meanwhile, Wyatt’s level-headed loyalty to the Torch is heartening.

PE: Seems a nifty device that Reed has created, a gizmo that makes its target weaker as it gets angrier. Why not try it on The Hulk? Surprising that Stretcho didn't give it a ten-dollar name like the Ire-Inducer or the Anger-Manager. If I were an Inhuman, I'd be awfully confused by Black Bolt's messages. His "impending disaster" stance is the same as his "let's all go topside and join the humans" stance. Of all the Inhumans, the one most fascinating to me is Mad Maximus. I'm very interested in seeing where his story goes. 

The Mighty Thor 137
Our Story

Sif, the beautiful goddess who is sister to Heimdall, displays for Thor the battle skills she has developed over the years. As enchanted as much by her as by her talents, Thor shows his own skills are none to be ignored. Both however, fail to notice the imminent danger that has surrounded them: a legion of trolls, at war with Asgard, and seeking prisoners. Though not long a match for Thor, the creatures nonetheless escape to their subterranean depths with Sif, and Thor gives pursuit into the maze of tunnels. He loses track of them, but has been led into a trap; appearing before him is Ulik, a hideous monstrosity, and most powerful of all the rock trolls. Sif, meanwhile, is brought before the somewhat less frightening but equally hideous king of all the trolls, Geirrodur, who has plans for the feisty goddess. He renders her unconscious with a gas (the vapors of quietude), and sends her to Grak, the troll guarding their invasion shaft, a tunnel centuries in the making that will lead them directly into the heart of Asgard. The Mighty Thor has other things (or A thing) to contend with. Ulik’s strength is as powerful as legend has told, and armed with two metal hand pounders, he gives Thor a fight for his life. When the titans are at a stalemate, Ulik vanishes in a beam of light, and an apparition of King Geirrodur appears. He tells Thor that Sif has been sent to Earth, held captive by Ulik, and there she will die if he doesn’t go to her rescue; while Asgard may well fall in the Thunder God’s absence if he does. Thor reasons that Sif is in need of more help, and disappears in a spinning vortex to arrive on our planet. Grak opens the invasion shaft, and the troll invasion begins in earnest. What Thor doesn’t realize, is that Geirrodur knows his secret… a certain Dr. Blake!

“The Tragedy Of Hogun!” is revealed in the Tales Of Asgard this month, as Thor and the Warriors Three come across the bound form of Saguta, one of Hogun’s countrymen. Before he dies, Saguta reveals it was the wizard Mogul who thus tortured him, for daring to leave the tyrannical rule his people have been placed under. An enraged Hogun shouts out a challenge, and Mogul indeed appears, only to taunt them, then be whisked away by the magic Jinni Devil, who is his slave.

JB: There are some villains in each comic that are truly unforgettable; for Thor, Ulik is definitely one. The full page when he first appears is startling, and Kirby/Colletta depict him as something that would make even Thor’s stomach turn. The battle is the best since Thor and Hercules went at it, and he wasn’t exactly mopping up the rock floor when Geirrodur whisks Ulik away. I like the mystery too: how does the troll king know Thor’s secret identity? -Why have they risen up now, after all this time? -Wasn’t Thor’s own hammer forged by the (same?) trolls in ages past? And ok, why does Ulik’s armor seem to disappear and reappear in the first few panels of their fight?

MB:  Okay, so we’re hitting the romantic reset button here with Thor and Sif, who seems to be a fitting companion for the Thunder God in every sense…although the machinations of the Rock Trolls unfortunately leave little time for dalliance.  The good news is that their plan for the invasion of Asgard offers the opportunity for a passel of splendid Kirby/Colletta visuals, from an establishing shot of their long-in-development invasion shaft and a look at the classic Kirbyesque Troll weaponry to the melee with Thor and Sif and that stunning full-page reveal of Ulik.  Being a god and all, Thor doesn’t have too many villains who really give him a hard time, but they’ve obviously set Ulik up as one of them, and I remember him and King Geirrodur from later adventures.

JB: The issue is memorable for two other reasons. Sif is clearly one; she’s a spirited feisty gal, and mighty easy on the eyes (and correctly called the sister of Heimdall, not Balder, as they said in her first appearance in Journey Into Mystery # 102). The second is the interesting background of Hogun, and the events that have led to his being called the Grim. Possibly the sixteen pages of the main stories helped make their pacing fast and furious, and the TOA are great background, but a full twenty pages for the main event would have been nice.

PE: Well, now that Stan has dispatched the space opera hijinx and is concentrating on Asgardian threats, this title once more goes to the top of the "to-read" pile each week. Leave the cosmic adventures to the FF. Thor only proves he's all man since his broken heart (due to lame Nurse Jane) lasts all of three seconds before he does an imitation of a Tex Avery character at the sight of Sif. Kind of creepy when he mentions he used to babysit her but I guess immortals have a different concept of age anyway. The declaration of war by Geirrodur in the climax is brilliant. This is the kind of story that transformed Marvel into the best comic book company in the mid-1960s. You wouldn't see multi-issue arcs like this over in Superman or Batman.

The Amazing Spider-Man 45
Our Story

Conquest of the earth by reptiles is the plan on The Lizard's mind. To that end, he's letting loose hundreds of snakes and crocodiles, all willing to do his bidding. Only thing standing in his way is The Amazing Spider-Man but, with one arm in a sling, how much good is the wall-crawler?

PE: For a moment there, while Spider-Man is deliberately attempting to make The Lizard angrier, I thought maybe Reed Richards had made a fleet of his Anger-Disturbo Ray and shipped them out to all the superheroes in New York but then comics would get pretty boring wouldn't they? I've gotta believe there's more of a story to that dopey blank-balloon panel (reprinted below) than Stan wanting his fans to get in on the act. DEADLINE DOOM strikes again? An oversight? While I like The Lizard as a villain, this story wasn't among the better Spidey tales in the Romita era so far. It's a by-the-numbers fight-it and right-it issue with a heaping helping of "I feel so sorry for myself" to add the cherry on top.

MB:  Even without a dedicated inker, the Lee/Romita team is so smoothly firing on all cylinders already that I’m playfully tempted to ask, “Steve who?”; we’ve been on a steady and nutritious diet over the past seven issues of gorgeous gals and major villains both old (the Green Goblin, the Lizard) and new (the Rhino).  Mary Jane, on whom the romantic spotlight seems to be falling at the moment, is a polar opposite of the more maternal Betty, whom we wish well in her planned nuptials with Ned.  Spidey’s friendship with the Connors family was always a special one, and this issue provides a pleasant reminder of how Peter’s above-average intellect can complement—or, in this case, compensate for a diminution in—his superb physical prowess.

PE: No way Spidey would get away with grabbing a croc by the tail and using him as a bludgeon on his reptilian pals these days. ASPCA and PETA would be on scene in seconds to shut him down, end of mankind be damned. Points to Perky Petey for musing that his (SPOILER ALERT!!) future wife, Mary Jane Watson, is "pretty as a pumpkin seed, but just as shallow." Even though that statement makes no sense whatsoever, I know what the kid is trying to say.

Tales of Suspense 86
Iron Man
Our Story

Iron Man comes to the rescue of Happy Hogan, who disguised himself as his hero and was captured last issue by The Mandarin. The Mandarin has modified his deadly rings and has more than one trap awaiting Ol' Shellhead in his castle. Once I.M. has eluded the deadly traps, he throws down his gloves and challenges The Mandarin to a hand-to-hand battle. Despite his expertise in martial arts, Mandy is no match for a man in an armored suit. I.M. locates Happy in a basement dungeon He also finds out that the Oriental madman has set a missile on a course for an American military base but, with a little of his engineering ingenuity, Iron Man is able to replot its course... right to The Mandarin's lair (KABOOM!!).

PE: There's a moment here very reminiscent of Ditko's famous panel of Spider-Man lifting the machinery (back in The Amazing Spider-Man #33) where Iron Man pushes against the closing walls. I had to laugh out loud when Shellhead tells The Mandarin he's taking off his iron gloves so he can battle with his foe man-to-man. Umm, what about the rest of your armor? Nicely done ending where Tony Stark shows a little coldbloodedness by rerouting the missile to strike the Mandarin's castle, knowing full well his enemy will be there when it does. I'm sure it won't be long before we find out that a/ The Mandarin used his Tele-porto ring to beam him to another spot or b/ the back door was open. Exciting installment here and, as Professor Matthew notes, it could have done with a few more pages at the climax.

MB: As if to compensate for the current Daredevil, GiaColan gets a meatier—if paradoxically shorter—narrative to illustrate; any tale that starts off with Shellhead and his arch-enemy exchanging death threats clearly can’t be all bad.  Gentleman Gene amps up the tension with his jarring panel layout on page 4, and if we needed any further proof that he is an Iron Man artist par excellence, the suitable-for-framing full-page shot that follows provides it in abundance, as Tony totals the Mandarin’s trash-compactor gadget.  Stan’s bellicose dialogue matches Colan blow for blow (“I’ll shatter your worthless iron shell and peel it from you like a crumbling cashew nut!”), and my only complaint is that the serial format forces a hasty ending.

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America fights his way deep into Yashonka, a weapons-developing base inside (COMMIE ALERT!) Russia, searching for SHIELD Agent 60. Determined that Cap will not escape and tell all the decadent democracy-loving countries in the world of the new, deadly weapons they've created, the Yashonkians throw everything in the book at our star-spangled hero, including a giant robot. Able to shrug them off, Cap takes an electro-shaft right to Agent 60, disguising himself as Commie Colonel Kuro Chin. By the time Cap has reached 60 though, the agent is a shell of his former self, broken down from stress and fatigue, and can help no longer. He bids Cap good luck but, in the heat of battle, makes a surprise appearance and saves Cap's skin, taking a fatal bullet in the process. The Z-Ray is destroyed and the agent's death was not in vain.

MB:   Alone among Marvel’s split books, TOS maintains a consistent creative team this month, with Stan scripting and Giacoia inking Kirby’s and Colan’s work on Cap and IM, respectively.  I’m playing catch-up, bereft of the previous tale, which sadly featured Hydra and Agent 13; I’m hardly heartbroken over missing an appearance by Batroc, but it’s an open question whether I’d rather see a story with no super-villains, such as this, or a third-tier heavy like the Leaper.  Instead I’ll focus on enjoying Agent 60’s heroism, plus the endearing goofiness of a yarn in which atomic weapons are deployed with wild abandon, and S.H.I.E.L.D. uses the code names “Shield Star” and “Eye-Patch,” which nobody would ever figure out, right?

PE: It's been quite a while since we were able to fly the full-fledged COMMIE ALERT! flag hereabouts. It's good to see that Stan and Jack still knew who the enemies of the good ol' U.S. of A. really were. I was too young to know why we were always getting the "duck and cover" drill in elementary school (by the time I got to Junior High, I guess they'd figured out my desk wasn't going to save me from a mushroom cloud) but now, reading all these Marvel Comics, I can see why. Everyone and their Aunt May had a nuclear device. Some countries evidently had Z-Rays as well. It's interesting to note that Stan has still not given Agent 13 a name. Nice touch when Agent 60 breaks down under the stress he's been under for years as a spy. Not everyone has Cap's nerves of steel. Despite its brevity, I really liked this installment. Lots of action, a little bit of expository. I'm on the phone to Marvel Pictures to remind them of this story for Captain America 2 (due in 2014!).

MB: I can’t resist relating this anecdote:  in the mid-’70s, Marvel Double Feature reprinted these TOS stories, but unlike Marvel Super Heroes (which reprinted Astonish), it did not pair the two stories from the same TOS, with Shellhead running some seven issues ahead of Cap.  Many reprint mags used the original covers, so some chowderhead decided to put this one on MDF #3, conveniently forgetting that although it contained A story from TOS #86, it did not contain the Cap story there illustrated.  Well, the cover was just generic enough that it might not have mattered, if it weren’t for the fact that seven issues later, he or she or some sibling in chowderdom used the same cover, with minor color changes, for MDF #10, which did include the Cap story it depicted—way to go!

The X-Men 29
Our Story

While goofing off on a 'snow day,' the X-Men inadvertently stir up the Super Adaptoid, who combines powers of four of the Avengers. Meanwhile, the Professor's black sheep, Mimic, isn't coming around to the whole team-player concept. When Xavier gives him the boot, he runs into the S-A and offers to join up and become a Super Adaptoid himself. Things don't go as planned, and the two mix-and-match villains end up knocking heads. In classic Marvel fashion, by the end of the grudge match, Mimic has learned the meaning of true friendship

PE: Oh heavens! Our splash could been reprinted in the 1970s in the special "The X-Men Went to Riverdale High School" issue of What If? And, can I ask this silly question: Bobby the IceMan has a run-in with The Super Adaptoid, runs back to tell the others, and they don't believe him? Let me go back through the previous 28 issues quickly and catalogue all the other-worldly and super-powered foes these X-dopes have fought. Why in the world would this green menace stir disinterest and disbelief?

"Archie! Betty and Veronica are lookin' for you!"
JS: The Super Adaptoid that combines the powers of four of the Avengers? What an appropriate villain to match up with Mimic, the loser who combines the powers of the X-Men. Does anyone else find this to be particularly lazy character creation? At least the Super-Skrull, who combines the power of the FF, was original when he came on the scene.

PE: Finally, after all this time we get to see Maneuver 2-C. Definitely a smoother play than 6-F but not quite as jaw-dropping as Jean Gray's 36-Double D. Another dreadful issue, this one topped off by a confusing twist at the climax: The Mimic loses his powers. Since we weren't clued in to the reason, I was surprised Stan "The Man," reduced to editor on this title, didn't order a blank panel and chime in at the end that readers could write their own finale! Another Marvel Madness First! Gawdawful art by Werner Roth (not a first) reduces some characters to sticks, others have malformities. Just look at the leg on Jean Gray (to my left). How does she sit down when she has no bottom?

JS: With all of the X-boys layered up for the winter, I want to know if it's Cyclops leering stare that keeps Jean's naked legs warm. 

Daredevil 25
Our Story

No sooner has our hero disembarked from a plane back in America, then he becomes spectator and unwilling participant in the antics of a new villain. Equipped with bouncing springs under his feet, the bad guy can leap about without any policeman being able to catch him. As the villain hops away, Daredevil can only hope to run into him again sometime in the future since there was no chance during this encounter for him to change into his hero costume with all the witnesses around. Matt has an even more pressing matter: what to tell Foggy and Karen when he meets up with them again at the law office. Since abandoning Karen at the boxing match to face the Android, he hasn’t so much as called or written them a letter. Someone who has supposedly written a letter, though, is Spider-Man, letting Matt know that he is aware that he is Daredevil. His two law office mates had opened the letter addressed to him when they weren’t sure if he was ever coming back. Matt at first lies to Karen, saying that because of all the pressure he was under, he needed to take a vacation out of the country and gave an usher a note at the arena that he was supposed to give to Karen to explain everything. When confronted with Spider-Man's letter, Matt comes up with the excuse that he has a twin brother, who Spider-Man must have confused as Daredevil. Foggy has a real hard time swallowing this as he and Matt have been friends for a very long time and Matt has never once mentioned having a twin brother. Matt goes so far as to disguise himself later on as his twin brother to fool Foggy and Karen. While this charade has been going on, we learn that the new villain is a toy creator. Donning a new costume to make himself look like a frog, he dubs himself Leap-Frog and goes on to commit thefts across the city. At the end, Daredevil tracks him down. The Frogger puts up one hell of a fight, but in the end, Daredevil prevails.

Tom: This issue was sort of a hybrid of the worst this series can offer and the best. The best is represented by some slam bang action and good artwork. The worst, well I’ll let my fellow professors handle the task of pointing out the stupidity of the Matt’s twin angle. I’d elaborate further, but thinking of it too much will cause blood to shoot out of my nose. While I liked the Frog villain to an extent, didn’t they have a guy dressed up as a Frog not that many issues ago?

PE: Yep, it's official. Not Brand Ecch was a spin-off of Daredevil. Can't wait for the obligatory team-up of Leap-Frog, The Owl, The Beetle, and The Porcupine.

Stan adds another tier 

MB: The Leap-Frog? Seriously? And the sad thing is, he may not even be Exhibit A in the case for awarding this issue a Landmark Dopiness shield, thanks to Matt’s quick-as-a-whip creation of twin brother Mike. That’s right, he hasn’t had enough trouble juggling two identities, not to mention trying to keep Foggy from getting iced when he “borrowed” one of them without asking permission, but now he’s gotta conjure up a third one, and a sighted person at that, which threatens to put us into the realm of the worst Hollywood screwball comedy with these inevitable plot machinations. The stalwart GiaColon art team does its best to distract us from this silliness, and their Karen Page is certainly one smokin’ hot secretary, but let’s face it, they’re only human.
It would have fooled us too
PE: This issue continues the dizzying spiral into depths of inanity heretofore explored only by the writer of The Human Torch and Ant-Man strips back in the day. Since the writer of those blights and this are one and the same guy I suspect that, now and then, Stan "The Man" Lee liked to blow off steam and remind the world that these are comic books, after all, and aimed at six year old boys and thirty year-old men with... issues. How else to explain a "super-villain" whose power lies solely in the mattress springs on the bottom of his flippers (BOINNNNNNG!!), and a hero who creates a twin brother as an alibi. How long before Foggy's impersonating Mike Murdock? Stan's only mistake was having Matt Murdock as a passenger on the plane in our intro rather than as the pilot! And what exactly was the point of Froggy's display of "power" in the first few pages? To strike fear into the hearts of the NYPD officers who've faced The Hulk and Galactus time and time again? Can you see this seventh-tier bad guy getting stuck in the carpet as he's heading out the door? More than any story I can remember in our tenure, "Enter: The Leap-Frog" screams DEADLINE DOOM!

Jack: What a bunch of grouches you cats are! I dug this issue the most. Mike Murdock is one swingin' cat and the Leap-Frog made my heart skip a beat. Seriously, the art is so good that I thoroughly enjoyed this harmless tale. This is the Gene Colan I loved from Tomb of Dracula.

PE: Professor Jack, I've already granted that two-week respite you asked for. No need to prove to us you really need it!

Tales to Astonish 88
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Attuma is back with a vengeance as he, along with his barbarian horde, attacks Atlantis once again. And once again, he and his cronies are defeated by Namor. They go back to their underwater hideout to sulk. As Attuma gives them a pep talk, a spaceship flies above earth. Unseen aliens talk about searching planets for intelligent life. They pass up Earth, though, not having the time to check it out. In the back cargo compartment of the ship, a giant metal robot, called the Servo-Robot, accidentally falls out of the ship all the way into the earth’s ocean. It floats into Attuma’s turf, so naturally he and the barbarians attack it, believing it was sent by Namor. Lucky for them, the robot hasn’t been programmed to attack anyone yet, since their swords and weaponry are useless against it. They tie the Servo-Robot up with seaweed and Attuma is able to open up its control box. He’s able to program the robot so that it obeys the sound of his voice. Our story ends with Attuma planning on using his new toy to kick Sub-Mariner’s ass.

Tom: These are the kind of stories I like. Whether or not that shows that I have bad taste I’ll have to let my fellow professors be the judge. It’s always nice to read the standard tale that throws a curve-ball once in a while. This issue’s story starts out being the typical Namor versus the barbarians clash, then has a sci-fi/alien twist thrown in. I just kind of wish the robot looked a little more menacing.

Jack: Wild Bill Everett is perfect for this strip if we can't have Gene Colan. It's pretty funny that Stan tells us this will be an action-oriented tale just like they used to do in the Golden Age. So many other Marvel stories are just long philosophical discourses.

MB: Despite having ceded Dr. Strange to Marie Severin, Bill Everett would continue to pencil—and sometimes ink—this strip on and off almost through the end of its run here in TTA. After last issue’s concluding pageantry, Stan drops us in medias res with an abrupt attack by the always-welcome Attuma, whose wish for a mighty weapon is soon answered with the servo-robot (evidently from the Sleeper school of pincer-handed robots). My college writing instructor used to say that, since coincidences do happen in real life, it was okay to have a plot set in motion by one, just not resolved by one; this story passes that test, although we do have to suspend our disbelief to accept that said barbarian could master the alien controls.

Hide your tin cans, denizens of Atlantis!
PE: That's one heck of a suit of armor the Servo-Robot has on if he can fall from outer space (itself quite a deed) into our atmosphere and then into the ocean in a matter of two panels (we know it's in a span of seconds because the alien bozos are still talking the whole time). He's lucky they taught swimming lessons to robots back on Alterius-29 of the 14th Nebula. As Professor Matthew slyly notes, that Attuma's not just a pretty face. He takes one look at the Servo-Robot, tells his guys where the control panel is and then rewires the whole gizmo. One thing we learn this issue is that earth is a shortcut between the 35th and 36th Nebula. That may come in handy for Reed Richards at some point in the future.

Our Story

Now we know why he did not run for re-election in '68.
It seems as though the Hulk might now be in the clear from being regarded as a national menace. Surrounded by squawking news cameramen, he does his best not to let his temper get the better of him. Military troops are also still on hand in case he goes berserk. The whole world is watching. President Johnson writes a special delivery letter to General Ross in which he leaves the Hulk’s fate up to him. If the Hulk is deemed innocent in his eyes, then Ross may grant him a full pardon. The villainous Boomerang has been watching from above and would prefer the Hulk go back to being hated so that he can isolate him more easily and kill him. Using one of his explosive throwing discs, Boomerang hits the Hulk and the pain causes him to freak out. The Hulk mistakes the attack as the work of the newsmen and military troops. He throws things about and leaps away in a rampage. Thunderbolt Ross tears up the President's letter and declares the Hulk a danger to society. Boomerang lures the Hulk into the far off mountains for battle. Using another one of his special weapons that is filled with knockout gas, Boomerang slows the Hulk down so that he’s moving in sleepy slow motion. To finally kill the Hulk, Boomerang blows up a dam and then flies over the Hulk to gloat before he drowns. The Green Goliath isn’t beaten yet, though, as he punches the nearest boulders into dust, causing a sonic boom that knocks Boomerang onto the other side of the dam. The monster leaps over to discover that Boomerang's rocket shoes no longer work and his leg is broken. Boomerang  pleads for the Hulk to save him from the oncoming tidal wave of water. Because of the effects of Boomerang’s gas, the Hulk can feel himself turning back to Banner. On instinct, he grabs the villain and leaps away. Unfortunately for the Boomerang, the Hulk no longer has the strength to hold him and he gets dropped into the ravine below. The story ends with Bruce Banner exhausted and passing out of the ledge of a mountain.

Tom: Here I thought that Boomerang was just a loser villain taking up space until he got traded to Spider-Man’s comic in return for the Hulk series getting the Rhino. It turns out he was a very pivotal character in making the Hulk’s life a miserable wreck. For that alone he should have gotten more of a beating then he did in this issue’s finale. A pretty solid tale as far as Hulk stories go.

 MB: This is the earliest work I’ve seen by Gil “Sugar-Lips” Kane, who would be the final victim of the Hulk’s notorious revolving door for artists. Like Colan, he had a distinctive style that was by no means right for every strip, yet while I wouldn’t call Kane’s Jade-Jaws definitive (a vexing question in itself), I do think it’s a shame that he didn’t get more than four issues in which to flex his emerald muscles, and Buscema is admittedly a tough act to follow. As for the story, having the Hulk’s chances for LBJ’s dangled amnesty dashed by a low-rent villain such as Boomerang—who wimps out before paying the price with his apparent death—is a cruel irony, even though we were fully aware that Greenskin’s heroic status was inevitably temporary. 

The Marvel U staff late on a Tuesday night.
Jack: Eli Katz--I mean, Gil Kane--penciled the Hulk story in Tales to Astonish 76 under the pseudonym of Scott Edward, but looking back at that issue there is little to no evidence of the great Mr. Kane's signature style. This issue is completely different, and I love it! I am a huge fan of Gil Kane's art. While his Hulk is a little jarring after the classic Romita look of the last few issues, his dynamic storytelling more than makes up for it, and Boomerang never looked so good.

PE: Well, he was a hero for those twenty seconds before that ol' debbil, the Marvel Misunderstanding showed up. He's got that to hold on to. Thunderlips Ross' 180 degree changes are dizzying to say the least. Last issue he was ready to bomb the *%$# out of the Hulk, then he pushes his daughter out of the way to kiss the Green Goliath. Now, he's back to his ol' lovable self, nastily shredding Hulk's pardon without a moment's hesitation. Since I've cheated and snuck a peak at The Boomerang's future appearance sheet, I know he's not really finis but his "death" scene is very effective, all the moreso as it's of his own making.

Strange Tales 153
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

During a rare shave, Col. Fury recaps his debt to Hydra’s only female member, who saved his life, but the car in which Sitwell and Jones are trying to take her to safety is blown up by Hydra agents. As Fury and Dugan fly to their aid in the captured saucer, the new Supreme Hydra attains “the ultimate hiding place” by assuming the identity of captured S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Bronson. Jasper and the three ex-Howlers are reunited in battle with Hydra, pitting the new portable electro-image distorter against their armored Hydra-Piller vehicles, yet when the reinforcements summoned by Dum-Dum rescue the rescuers, Fury has no idea that the man he recommends for a citation for his heroic role in the battle is really his incognito nemesis.

MB: For neither the first nor the last time in Marvel’s Silver Age history, Smilin’ Stan has turned the writing chores over to Roy Thomas (briefly, as it turns out), while the daughter of the late former Supreme Hydra, Arnold Brown, has acquired a first name, Laura, in the process.  This is the final issue to feature Kirby’s layouts, and since it’s always wisest to keep one’s expectations low, I’m praying that the pure Steranko artwork doesn’t disappoint me when it arrives next month…albeit encouraged by such flashes of soon-to-be greatness as that atmospheric close-up of Fury in page 12, panel 5.  Making the new Supreme Hydra a master of disguise really starts to pay off in this installment, with “Bronson” assigned to protect Laura after bailing out Fury et alia.

PE: Well, let's hope the great Steranko isn't as encumbered by word balloons. I'm a big fan of story myself, but there's hardly any room to let the Steranko vintage breathe here. The characters almost seem to be dodging these deadly white clouds of dialogue. And deadly some of them are. Roy's falling into Stan's lame one-liner routine here. When Dum-Dum observes that a crowd of "creeps must be agents of Hydra," Fury exclaims "I didn't think they wuz sellin' girl scout cookies." I'll bet that line has come out of the mouth of Benjamin Grimm more than once.

Jack: And that's the problem I have with the SHIELD stories--the dopey dialogue. I really find it hard to believe that the leader of the top spy agency talks like one of the Bowery Boys. Does Fury ever stop talkin' like dis? Wot a meathead! If I wuz him, I'd get someone ta teach me sum better diction.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Trapped among the Mindless Ones, that old horndog Dr. Strange is distracted by what he thinks is Clea, on whom he seems to have a major crush. He battles the Mindless Ones, using fists and sorcery, and finally breaks free of their dimension, only to find that the Clea he has rescued is actually a Mindless One in a disguise cooked up by Umar, who is running the show from afar.

Dr. Strange, Master of Kung Fu
MB: No longer doing double duty on Doc and Namor, Wild Bill Everett has here been supplanted by Marie Severin, whose older brother, Golden Age vet and sometime S.H.I.E.L.D. artist John Severin, died on February 12 at age 90. But Stan the Man is staying the course for the moment, and although Umar’s power is clearly considerable, it’s a bit more interesting to watch the duel of wits in which she and Strange are engaged over poor Clea’s fate, plus the Mindless Ones are always good value in my book. Marie’s style is more painterly (for lack of a better word) than Bill’s; since I believe she’s settling in for an eight-issue stint, we should have ample opportunity to see how well it meshes with the character in the months ahead.

Jack: For some strange reason I really liked Ms. Severin's art in this issue. I did not think Bill Everett was a good fit for the Dr. Strange strip, so the change is welcome. The Mindless Ones crack me up. All they ever do is fight! Kind of like Congress.

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #7
Ghost Rider #1
Marvel Collectors' Items Classics #7
Millie the Model #59
Patsy and Hedy #110 (final issue)
Rawhide Kid #56
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #39


Not to be confused with the cursed hog rider introduced in the 1970s, The Ghost Rider was Marvel's attempt to cross-pollinate the superhero and western genres. This incarnation of Ghost Rider was based on a character created by Ray Crank and Dick Ayers back in 1949. Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Ayers streamlined G.R. for the 1960s and gave it a go, thinking the superhero half of the zine would bring in more readers. The first four issues featured a new 17-page G.R. story written by Friedrich, penciled by Ayers and inked by Vinnie Colletta and a back-up reprinted from a pre-hero Marvel western title. The G.H. story in issues 5 and 6 were expanded to 20 pages. The most intriguing aspect of the title may be the 5-pager, "The Tough Ones," in the final issue, written by future Batman superscribe Denny O'Neil. Pencils on "The Tough One" were handled by Herb Trimpe (his third Marvel job after work in Kid Colt, Outlaw #134 and 135), just a year before becoming the definitive artist on The Incredible Hulk. The experiment lasted a mere seven issues and the first six were reprinted in 1974-75 as Night Rider.

Jack: Can we get some love for the final issue of Patsy and Hedy? 110 issues and never a word from the faculty. Black Goliath never made it that long . . .

PE: No, really, Professor Jack, the vacation is yours!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

January 1967: From Nurse to... Goddess?

The Avengers 36
Our Story

The Scarlet Witch returns to Avengers Mansion and tells Steve Rogers that Pietro has been captured by space aliens whose ship landed in the middle of their quaint Eastern European village. The Avengers—accompanied by Black Widow, who Hawkeye has nominated for membership—jet off to the continent and infiltrate the ship, only to battle the Ultroids, super-powerful androids wielded by Ixar from Sirius. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch have been captured already (the Wanda who went to New York was an android in disguise), and Hawkeye, Goliath and the Wasp are taken prisoner; it’s up to Captain America and the Back Widow to defeat the invaders from space.

Jack: Did anyone else get a sense that Kirby may have helped out in a few spots this issue? The interior of the ship and the last panel make me wonder. I like the Black Widow, but that hairdo has to go. I will patiently await her makeover in a few years involving long hair and skintight black leather. For now, it’s a good thing she has big letter “B”s on her earrings and a big letter W” on her broach just in case she forgets who she is.

MB:  Turns out Roy Thomas’s script last issue was not pinch-hitting but the start of the legendary long run that would link his name inextricably with this title, and for all of you Heck-detractors, it won’t be long before he completes the transition to a new creative team by passing the pencil—uh, torch—to John Buscema.  Aptly, Roy alludes to events in his other current strip (from X-Men #28) while bringing back our favorite mutant siblings, although we don’t see the real Wanda and Pietro awake in this ish.  Again, the Widow is reduced to a virtual afterthought, and editor Stan proves he needs new glasses when Hawkeye calls Cap “Web-Head” in page 14, panel 1, but that full-page shot on page 9 shows that Kirby has no monopoly on huge, alien machinery.

PE: I'm as tired of the in-team squabbles as the next guy but, refreshingly, Roy Thomas gives The Avengers something worthwhile to bicker about for a change. I can see why it would rub Goliath the wrong way that the roster has been opened up (and will remain opened up) for ex-criminals. Earth's mightiest heroes are made up of exactly one-half ex-villains and the welcoming of Black Widow into the ranks would push the cons into the plus column. You gotta dig the Widow's wild jewelry. First superheroine I've seen with big spangly earrings! Roy's still getting his feet wet here so I'll forgive him when he has Hawkeye call Cap "web-head!"

Heck? Or Kirby?
The Amazing Spider-Man 44
Our Story

Helping Spider-Man defeat The Rhino (last issue) proves costly for Dr. Curt Connors. While waiting at the train station for his wife and son, Connors gets that itch again on his non-existent right arm, a sign that his alter ego The Lizard will soon be making an appearance. Not wanting to spook his family, Connors runs off into the underground just before the transformation. Luckily for Mrs. Connors, Peter Parker just happens to be at the same station seeing his Aunt May off for her vacation. Changing into his Spider-Man outfit, Parker promises Connors' wife he'll find him. This proves more than a bit difficult since the doc has gone way underground. Unbeknownst to Spidey, The Lizard just happens to be looking for him as well. Liz's plan is to hoof it back to the Everglades and start up his "super-strong giant lizard world domination" plan again but first he wants to make sure the wall-crawler won't stand in his way. The Lizard frames Spidey for a jewelry heist and then lies in the grass waiting for him to come looking. When the inevitable battle ensues, Spider-Man injures his arm and must crawl off to heal.

PE: It's amazing that a villain we now classify as iconic (second, if not first, tier) would disappear from the pages of Amazing for over three years! But then most of the rogue's gallery (Doc Ock, Elektro, Mysterio, The Vulture) has been missing in action for a long time. It's my pleasure to report (with all the powers of a Monday Morning Quarterback) that Stan and Jazzy Johnny will soon remedy these oversights. The Lizard's assumption (though correct in the long run) that a skyscraper break-in will throw suspicion on Spider-Man seems to fly in the face of a city filled with super-heroes. That panel (reprinted to my right) of The Lizard moseying down the street never fails to bring me to tears from laughter. I'm aghast at Mary Jane's fashion statement at the diner. It looks as though she's wearing a sliced up beach ball. This is a girl headed for stardom?

MB:  While Romita’s on a roll, what could be more welcome than a long-overdue return engagement by one of Spidey’s oldest and best—or worst, depending on how you look at it—foes, the Lizard?  As always, the drama inherent in the fact that Doc Connors, among Spider-Man’s few true friends, is trapped inside this scaly villain makes his reappearance all the more challenging.  Romita sometimes seems constrained by those Ditkoesque small panels while trying to cram in both the exposition and the evolving romantic triangle among Peter, Gwen, and Mary Jane (which, again, comes as a bit of a surprise for those of us who remember M.J. mostly as Peter’s post-Gwen love interest), but fortunately cuts loose a little when the Lizard is onstage.

PE: I think Stan is really getting the personal jazz down. The rat-a-tat in the diner provides good plot progression and snappy dialogue. Gwen's comeback at Flash Thompson ("Flash, do me a favor?... Stop breathing on me!") is priceless and so different from the way I remember Gwen Stacy. The only lapses are located in the weak finale, when Peter tells M.J. he can't watch her dance the next night (because the public would see Peter Parker's injured arm, remember that Spidey has the same injury, put two and two together and...), which we know will lead to the inevitable flare-up between Peter and M.J., and the final panel when Stan resorts to bad habits and has his teenage hero whining and drowning in self-pity. Like using old and moldy ice cream  on top of an otherwise nicely baked pie.

JS: Always happy to see the Lizard. But grew tired of every other sentence from Mary Jane appended with 'dad'. Like, a little too hip for my tastes, dad.

PE:  I agree with Professor Matthew in that there's a tad too much Ditko for my tastes in the eight and nine panel pages, especially the flashbacks to the first appearance of The Lizard. I wonder if Stan delivered Johnny instructions to recreate the Ditko look in that sequence or if it was Romita's idea. Romita does as good a job with The Lizard as Steve Ditko did years before but he's not a very complicated character to draw.  Scuttlebutt has it that Sam Raimi intended The Lizard to show up much earlier than 2012 and he laid a wonderful trail of bread crumbs with the performance of Dylan Baker as the one-armed Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3. Unfortunately, the studio (and director) jettisoned the series and opted for a re-boot instead. In a couple weeks we'll see just how badly Hollywood can screw up a big lizard in a lab coat in The Amazing Spider-Man.

We could understand Alicia Masters dressing like this but not M.J.
PE: Dwight Decker, future comic critic and editor of The Comics Journal, contributes a letter to "The Spider's Web." Sounding nothing like someone who would write for TCJ in another decade, Decker hopes Peter can keep Gwen at bay since she's "a beast of prey" and further hopes that Mary Jane has super powers. I'm thinking Dwight didn't show this to Gary Groth while filling out his application.

Tales to Astonish 87
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The good old U.S. military thinks that they have Namor right where they want him now that they have captured Krang and Dorma.  Luring Namor with them as bait, the troops wrongly blame him for the tidal wave attack that happened last issue.  Even though they blast him with bazookas, our hero is able to fly in and take the two captured prisoners out to sea.  Once in the water, Krang attacks a weakened Sub-Mariner while Dorma rushes off to Atlantis to tell Vashti, the ancient one, what is transpiring.  Once he gets their exact location, Vashti uses a machine to transport them back to the palace.  Namor is favored by the people and, more importantly, the Atlantis military, as the rightful ruler.  He dictates that Krang will have to fight him in combat for all to see.  Since he is stronger than any other Atlantean, Namor makes things even by letting Krang don whatever weapons or armor he would like to use.  Krang is confident that he will win as he picks out armor, electronic gloves, and an indestructible helmet.  He does well at first, absorbing Namor’s blows with no problem and even batting around the prince for good measure.  Eventually, Namor goes berserk, lifting and launching Krang into a wooden pole, thus ending the test of combat.  Krang’s punishment is to be sent into the deepest underwater prison until further notice.  To award Dorma and to make up for thinking she had betrayed him, Namor awards her status as his equal, to sit upon the throne with him as his peer. 

Tom:  While this series has definitely been sidetracked here and there with some silly plot developments, it’s all worth it when it climaxes in an enjoyable finish like in this issue.  Nice old school artwork by the way, that looks more sharp and crisp than most of the other stuff that came out this month.

Jack: Teleportation beam? Medi-ray chamber? Is this Atlantis or the Starship Enterprise? This story features some of the best Bill Everett art I’ve seen since he came back to Marvel on a regular basis, and it’s nice to have a happy ending without a cliffhanger for a change.

MB: Looks as if Colan’s “breather” on this strip is gonna be an extended one, and after The Grandenetti Anomaly, it’s just Stan and Bill, who must like working together enough to handle both Dr. Strange and Subby.  As with last month’s Thor, this is a story that actually ends in a satisfying conclusion, with a villain unequivocally defeated (for now) and a love ringingly endorsed—none too soon, since this is the second lengthy misunderstanding we have had between Namor and Dorma in this strip’s short history.  The artwork is terrific, and my only quibble would be that although there is a dramatic point to be made by having Namor beat Krang so quickly, despite all of his paraphernalia, a little too much time was perhaps spent establishing gadgets he never even got the chance to use.

PE: I enjoyed the story but more importantly I rejoiced at the notion that this may be the end of this extended Krang arc, which was threatening to become the second longest and most boring TTA arc in history (after the decades-long Leader story line). Nice dynamic art by Bill Everett. Krang's electronic brass knuckles show that while the Atlanteans are always complaining about the damage we've done to their world, our society is good for something. A silly question that popped into my head this issue: Why is Namor prince of Atlantis? Why not King?

Jack: Note the ad for the TV cartoon show on the side of a building near the bottom right side of the cover!

Our Story

The Hulk continues his futile battle against the Hulk-Killer humanoid from last issue. The Green Goliath nails the pink monstrosity with everything but the kitchen sink and is still unable to stop it. Since the Hulk is still thought to be responsible for attempting to destroy Manhattan with the Orion missile, General Ross has no qualms about destroying him along with the Hulk-Killer by using a Proton shell. While the battle of the monsters is raging on, an interrogator learns that the spy who got the Orion missile off course originally had acted alone and that the Hulk is actually a hero. When Talbot receives this information, he contemplates hiding it so the Hulk will be killed and Betty will be his for the taking. Eventually, he does the right thing by telling Ross what really happened. With the exhausted Hulk almost defeated, Rick Jones runs into the melee to try to help. The Hulk-Killer smacks him aside, causing the Hulk to turn back into Bruce Banner. Working quickly, and with the military under Ross’s hesitant blessing, Banner rigs a heavy piece of machinery so that it will short circuit the Hulk-Killer. Reverting back into the Hulk, he uses his strength to hit the android with it and saves the day.

Tom: I’m going to go on record and state that this is the best drawn issue of the Hulk so far. Hopefully the high quality continues as we have come a long way. It’s nice to see Boomerang wasting space in yet another issue. This loser even goes so far as to show up during the Hulk and Hulk-Killer fight to gloat, even though all he has done so far is change his costume slightly and maybe modify some of his weapons.

Jack: I agree with you, Tom. Buscema’s art is really nice! This was an enjoyable Hulk story and, paired with the good Subby tale, a fun issue of
Tales to Astonish—and that’s not something we’ve been able to say very often.

PE: Did I blink and miss the issue where Hulk suddenly starts thinking and speaking intelligently? I find it hard to take seriously a villain (The Boomerang) who uses the word "blouse" when describing his costume. Another milestone this issue--we find out that when Hulk get a "sudden shock" it turns him back into Bruce Banner. If the story was any good, and I didn't think Stan would change the rules again next issue, I'd label this a "landmark." A couple more head-scratchers: back in a New York police precinct, the terrorist from last issue is undergoing the third degree and doing everything he can to prove to the cops that the Hulk is an innocent man. Now, why would he do that? Thunderbolt Ross turns on a dime from Hulk-hater to Hulk-lover. Also, when we get our final Hulk-into-Banner at the climax, Bruce is just as musclebound as his alter ego. What gives?

MB: The revolving door of artists that has hampered this oft-criticized strip for years shows no signs of stabilizing as Buscema completes his three-part stint, once again well served by Esposito’s inks.  Despite the lurking presence of the revamped Boomerang, this is another story that offers more resolution than usual, and I’m not sorry to see what purports to be the end of the Leader’s umpteenth big boring blob of pink plastic or whatever it is.  I am glad to see Greenskin/Banner cleared of complicity in the Orion missile attack, since old Jade-Jaws gets enough bad press for the stuff he does do, and while I wasn’t surprised to see the weaselly Talbot thinking about letting an innocent Hulk take the fall, it was heartening that he did the right thing.

The X-Men 28

Our Story

The X-Men, including new member The Mimic  go up against The Ogre and future X-Man The Banshee (working for Factor Three).

JS: My favorite bit in this issue was when Xavier takes out the Ogre by rolling under his legs. There should be a name for this move... but I'm not sure if Xavier will ever use it again.

PE: Factor Three is either a new brand of make-up or, worse, yet another of those secret organizations that have been popping up all over Marvel in the last few months. I'm crossing my fingers. The Ogre is another in a line of sixth-tier X-villains with nothing more than a powerful suit. The Banshee, on the other hand, will join The Mimic in competing with The Avengers for most ex-con members. He'll be around in the 70s when the title gets the re-boot of the century but I assume he'll look a little less like a gibbon. I smell a future plotline in Jean Grey's college boyfriend, Ted. This isn't the first time he's ominously mentioned his successful brother Ralph. Usually these references end up meaning something. Is Ralph Factor Three? The next X-member? A red herring that goes nowhere? We'll find out together.

JS: I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Banshee looked like a monkey.

PE: A Barry Smith writes in to the "Mutant Mail-Box." Not sure if this is the Barry Windsor-Smith who would contribute art on this title in a couple years and, along with Steranko and Neal Adams, completely change the Marvel Universe landscape, but he did go by Barry Smith at the beginning of his career.

Fantastic Four 58
Our Story

On the roof of the Baxter Building, during a freak thunderstorm, two negative images of Dr. Doom appear, first of his face, then his entire form. Reed downplays the incident, but suspects that there’s more to it than meets the eye. While Reed and Sue head off to a Southampton cottage for the weekend, Ben decides to give Alicia a ring, but gets a rude interruption: Dr. Doom, real this time. The prior apparitions were indeed caused by him, to toy with the F.F. Ben is a little baffled by Doom’s newfound cosmic blasts and his riding the Silver Surfer’s surfboard, but doesn’t waste time sorting it out: it’s clobbering time! Clobberin’ is more difficult that before, even when Ben jumps on “board”, and despite a valiant effort, Ben ends up frozen like a statue in the park, where Doom vows to return later to destroy him. Lockjaw, the dimensionally inclined dog, brings Johnny and Wyatt back to the Baxter Building. They see the destruction the battle has wrought. The Torch flies around and finds Ben in the park. He surmises that Reed’s metabolic accelerator will bring Ben back, and leaves Wyatt to the task, heading off to Southampton where he figures his other teammates are. Reed and Sue’s getaway proves none too romantic when Doom arrives, and gives them a taste of his cosmic power. Johnny can hold his own, but nothing short of his super-nova will have any real effect, and it is too powerful for any surrounding life. Ben and Wyatt complete the scene, but it makes no difference. Reed orders his teammates to cease and desist. He surrenders to Dr. Doom, who gleefully decides they’re not even worth destroying; instead they can live to be his helpless subjects.

JB: Why is it super villains, just before they’re victorious, decide to let their victims live? So they can survive until next issue, I guess. I love the panel of “the Thing in the park” as the couple walks by. Hey, maybe I could get a few superhero statues for my garden! Ben gets another good moment, as he jumps out of his britches when Reed interrupts his ghost stories. The negative apparitions of Dr. Doom are an excellent visual shock. Only Reed would tinker with his toys while Sue gets (un?) dressed! And I like the way that Wyatt fits so nicely into the team; he has a natural instinct that the others sometimes don’t.

PE: Some odd behavior on the part of Mister Fantastic. When the electrical storm reveals the image of Doctor Doom, not once but twice, he calms his wife down with the typical "Don't be silly, woman, it's just an illusion of the storm! Now go finish that pot roast!" All the while, Reed knows something's up (we know because the thought balloons above his head clue us in) but he doesn't want to upset his wife. You know, The Invisible Girl, the one who's fought battles beside her three teammates to save the world innumerable times? So rather than gird themselves for the inevitable meet 'n' greet with Doom, they do what most superheroes would do: they drive off to their summer cottage for some r'n'r. For the world's smartest man, he's really not that smart.

MB:   The Lee/Kirby/Sinnott grandeur just keeps steamrolling on, and—now that last issue’s preliminaries are out of the way—we settle down to one of the FF’s most memorable battles to date.  Doom’s purloined cosmic power is fully in keeping with his epic trash talk (“You insufferable—unspeakable blot on the escutcheon of humanity”), and to see him riding the Silver Surfer’s board is a real mind-bender.  The only true WTF moment occurs when Johnny finds the Thing with “the vibration rate of [his] body…slowed down to a standstill”; I don’t know which is farther-fetched, that Reed has an off-the-shelf portable metabolism accelerator, or that the Torch instantly deduces it will end Ben’s statuedom and also knows how to instruct Wyatt to operate it.

PE:  What's so difficult about pushing button A and then button B, Professor Matthew? The showstopper here is obviously the super-nova battle between Johnny and Doom. The title's been reduced to three Fantastics lately but The Torch returns in flamin' style. This is a great second chapter in a four-part epic (at least I hope it ends up an epic). I'll even surrender to Doom's final proclamation that he'll be back on a whim to destroy the team when they least expect it. The guy's just that arrogant.

The Mighty Thor 136
Our Story

From atop a European mountaintop, Thor and Jane Foster embark on their most fateful trip—to Asgard.  The dimension-defying power of Thor’s Mjolnir takes them instantly to Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge. No sooner do they arrive, than they witness the Asgardian cavalry riding off to battle against a new foe: the deadly kingdom of the Trolls. The stunning spectacle (including a captured troll prisoner) set Jane a little uneasy, but they nonetheless pass Heimdall’s watch to seek all-father Odin, who is talking strategy with his council.  Odin greets the starry-eyed Earth-girl, and wastes no time in educating her on the live she’ll have as a goddess. He grants her instant immortality, and gives her a dazzling new garb… and the power of flight-by-thought. Frightened by the unsettling sensation, she loses faith, and plummets to the ground; Thor catches her in the nick of time. Odin, brushing aside his son’s words of caution, sets in motion a much more difficult test for Jane. Even his councilman flees after Odin bids him strike a giant tuning fork, a sound that calls forth one of the deadliest creatures known to Asgardians: the Unknown. A multi-armed giant behemoth, the Unknown feeds on fear, and thus has found little nourishment in Asgard.  Jane is put in a dark room alone, and as her eyes adjust to the dark, she sees the foul form approaching her. Forgetting her power of flight, Jane calls out in fear. Thor enters the fray, driving back the creature until it disappears. The experience has all but driven Jane insane, and she makes known her intolerance for the madness of life in the kingdom of the gods. Then, as quickly as she arrived, Jane is gone. Banished by Odin as unfit for godhood, he has sent her to a new home on Earth, with no memory of Thor, or Don Blake, or any of the events of the last few years. She has a new job, as a nurse for a Dr. Kincaid (the spitting image of Don Blake), and happiness finally seems within her grasp. Not so for Thor, who is torn between grief and anger. Odin feels for his son, but has no tolerance for disparity, stating that Jane was never meant to be an immortal. He sends the Thunder god off to the realm of Glundershelm, there to ward off the menace of the Unknown, still at large, and no doubt seeking access to Asgard via the Glade of Crystals (another tuning fork, perhaps a dimensional path). A rouge troll sounds strikes the crystal, and flees as the monster returns. Broken-hearted, Thor offers little resistance, and seems resigned to perhaps his final battle. But when a Valkyrie warrior joins Thor’s attack, he cannot let another face the same fate, and he fights as before. The darkness clears to reveal a stunning raven-tressed beauty. She reveals herself to be Sif, sister of Heimdall, and that she has loved Thor from afar since childhood, unnoticed.  Stunned by her beauty, Thor allows his heartache to be softened by Sif’s company, and they walk into the twilight, as Odin watches the scene of his making.

Tales Of Asgard concludes a story of another time, as Thor and his companions defeat the dragon Fafnir, and Odin restores life to the parched kingdom of Nastrond.

JB: I’m one of Jane’s few big fans, but this isn’t a Sif vs. Jane thing. Sif is gorgeous and powerful, and probably a much better match for Thor. And believe me, I like her. Some of the adventures to come are ones Jane might not have survived, but Thor’s love of Jane gave him a vulnerability that was unique, and I’ve never quite let that chip on my shoulder go, at Stan and Jack for not giving the Jane character the chance to fulfill her potential. Considering how she didn’t blink an eye at the New-Men, just the sight of Asgard shouldn’t have set her off so much. And if Odin’s councilman ran in fear from the Unknown, what chance did Jane have?

PE: Believe me, I never thought I'd utter the words "solid entertainment" and "Jane Foster" in the same sentence but there you go. 1967 may be a very good year indeed. I thought Stan took this story in all kinds of weird directions, all of them intriguing. Yeah, we kind of figured out long ago that eventually Jane would come up for Goddess-hood, but didn't we assume it would have a happy ending? Our resident nurse shuns her new social status, and Thor, to return to her day job. Meanwhile, Thor, the broken-hearted God of Thunder, finds love approximately eight seconds (in Marvel time) after Jane's departure. So quickly, in fact, the reader would have to wonder if Sif might be a sorceress. I've got history with this strip so I know how this all ends up (sorta) but didn't know the origins. I'm along for the long ride.

A more contemporary view of our favorite nurse. Art by Emanuela Lupacchino
JB: The Jane Foster character does have an enduring popularity. Gerry Conway brings her back in Thor #231, and her future exploits, while scattered, are numerous. She does marry Dr. Kincaid; they have a son named Jimmy. She is reunited with Thor/Dr.Blake upon occasion; she gets to share her life force with Sif, and even becomes the resident doctor for the Avengers (as well as some alternate reality stories) for a time, to name a few. Both she and Sif play large parts in the 2011 Thor film, and both are presented in slightly different, mainly successful ways. Jane (Natalie Portman) is a strong-willed yet nerdy scientist brought clearly into the modern world, and the romance between her and Thor sizzles while being played down. Sif (Jaimie Alexander) is like the younger girl, smitten but not about to lose her head. There’s just a touch of rivalry between the two; a nice setup for whatever happens in the next Thor film (we hope). But the best news of all, my fellow professors will get a long break from my rants on Jane Foster! Now to the kingdom of the Trolls, and a great new super-foe…

The new, improved Sif
MB:  You knew we had to resolve the whole Jane Foster situation sometime, although this may not be what you, or especially Thor, expected; we certainly knew Odin was never gonna let him get away with that Edward VIII abdication crap.  I’m as smitten with Sif as the next guy—or god—and I know that she and Thor make a perfect couple, and that Jane isn’t likely to be widely missed…yet something still sticks in my craw about the way Daddy O handled it.  He’d probably yawn, “Hey, we gave her a shot, and she screwed the pooch,” which is true as far as it goes, but I hardly think she was fairly prepared for her Immortality Exam, and by messing with the heads of both lovers afterward, either via amnesia or by ensuring a rebound romance, I don’t know if he did them a favor or just deprived them of their free will.

JB: Verily, a sound most solemn doth now assail mine ears, the sound of… change. If sadness and joy are flipsides of the same coin, well, here it is. After years of waiting, Thor and Jane get their fifteen minutes, if that. 
Professor Peter: You’re right! Who would have suspected the way this would turn out? But the story moves along so fast it keeps you captivated.
Professor Matthew: Nicely said! I don’t know if we’re supposed to think Odin planned the whole thing and lied (his word is an “eternal bond” did he say?), or did Jane screw it up for herself? A bulletin within the next issue or two says more answers are to follow, but as far as I can see, Stan never offered any sound explanation for the change in the Thunder God’s love life. Maybe Glenn knows an inside tidbit?

Strange Tales 152
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Quickly deducing his dilemma, Fury wiggles his wings to let S.H.I.E.L.D. know he is aboard the stolen jet, and—confident that Jasper will launch the strato-mine anyway—hits the drink within range of a rescue sub, having set the automatic pilot to take the plane back to Karnopolis.  There, the Imperial/Supreme Hydra is revealed to be a master of disguise, who drops the identity of Don Caballero for that of Emir Ali-Bey before departing for Egypt.  Zeroing in on the Overkill Horn, the strato-mine reduces Karnopolis and Hydra’s outpost to a smoking pit in the center of the Sahara; wasting no time, Fury reaches Egypt first and leads an attack to prevent the Supreme Hydra from questioning and killing his predecessor’s daughter.

MB: Once again, the Kirby/Steranko dynamic is less satisfying than what will follow when Jim starts to expand his portfolio…but for now, it’ll do.  A Bullpen Bulletin this month describes Steranko as “a titanically talented newcomer, with a really exciting background.  Believe it or not, he was formerly one of our most successful stage magicians—being billed as the greatest liberationist (escape artist) since Houdini!”  Skipping the pun about “escapist” entertainment, we open with a wild shot of Nick upside-down in the cockpit; curiously, both Fury and Strange appear inverted on their respective and striking splash pages in this issue.  The shot of the horn bursting through the plane’s wing like a red dragon  is also impressive, even if Sitwell looks really goofy in spots.

PE: Though I may not make points with my Fury-loving professors, DON'T YIELD, BACK SHIELD sounds as dopey as a used car commercial. No serious organization would spout such an inanity and I have to believe that, behind the scenes, Nick Fury is doing everything he can to ban that phrase at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. While I'm mentioning S.H.I.E.L.D., will I get in all kinds of hot water if I forego all the periods between the letters and refer to them as simply SHIELD? Seriously, I have to wake up an hour early each morning to type in all those periods. As Professor Matthew mentioned, Steranko's pencils continue to be cartoony (if anything, they are more cartoony than last issue) and if I was a little Marvel tadpole back in late 1966, I'd be pleading with Stan to bring Don Heck back! Flashes of Kirby shine through now and then (as in the brilliant spaceship panel).

Jack: I enjoyed the story and the bits of Kirby’s layouts that bled through the Steranko overlay, but Steranko’s art still has a long way to go. At this point, it’s not even up to the Don Heck level—and that’s saying something!

More early Steranko . . .
Still more . . .
Doctor Strange
Our Story

Dr. Strange or Dr. Seuss?
Dr. Strange is inexorably drawn toward the Doom Dimension, battling new adversaries along the way. He finally reaches his destination and meets Umar, who tries to deceive him by telling him that he must venture into the realm of the Mindless Ones to rescue Clea. 

Jack: I can’t tell if this story is good or if it’s in the category of “so bad it’s good.” Umar fits the mid-60s Marvel mold of women who have to use their feminine wiles to defeat a man, and the monsters she conjures up look like big piles of dung. The final panel, which looks like a typical Saturday night on Main Street for the Mindless Ones, is unintentionally hilarious.

MB: Lee and Everett get it in gear as Strange and Umar meet face to face in the latter’s [Dark] Nether/Nameless Dimension of Death/Doom; as with the Negative Zone, Stan seems to be having a little trouble nailing down nomenclature at this point.  But who cares, when Dormammu’s foxy sibling proves herself to be as crafty as her flame-faced brother, taking Doc’s measure with a series of tests before using her “feminine wiles” to try and trap him. Everett is completely up to the task, his self-inked pencils providing the perfect visual equivalent to Strange’s descriptive phrase “the velvety Umar,” and as Clea once again becomes an innocent (if unseen) pawn, there can—for this reader—be no more satisfying hurdle to come than the Mindless Ones.

I see a resemblance . . .

Tales of Suspense 85

Iron Man
Our Story

In the midst of "playing" Iron Man again (this time for the benefit of his boss), Happy Hogan is beamed up to the castle of The Mandarin. The evil Oriental genius actually believes that the Stark chauffeur is his iron-clad enemy of old. Meanwhile, upon learning of the inadvertent kidnapping, Tony Stark creeps out of his hospital bed, takes a taxi to Stark Industries, and grabs another suit of iron. He heads for the lair of The Mandarin via rocket-ship and arrives just as Happy is about to meet his maker.

PE: When you've got the awe-inspiring pencils of Gene Colan (now firmly nestled as Marvel's best artist) do you really need a story, let alone a plot? Well, maybe. This is a tweener, existing only as a tease for the next issue, but that finale is indeed grand. The sight of the real Iron Man standing in The Mandarin's doorway, spouting a throwdown while his arch enemy shakes his head in bewilderment, gets my vote for best panel of the month.

MB:  “Frankie” Giacoia appears to have grown more comfortable inking Iron Man’s armor than he was a few months back, and he and Colan clearly make a solid team.  Here’s an example of a serial episode that’s basically just a big build-up to the next battle, but even though we don’t actually see Shellhead mixing it up this time around (coming no closer than the armor-clad Happy getting his ass whupped by the Mandarin), Stan and the boys keep it exciting, with more of Gene’s experimental layouts to sweeten the already tempting pot.  Stark’s preparations for the showdown are suitably suspenseful, leading to a glorious cliffhanger, and the to-do over Tony’s new armor certainly promises some impressive fireworks to follow next issue.

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America is told that the female SHIELD agent who saved his life once (way back in TOS #76 according to Stan) is being held captive. Knowing it's a trap but unable to resist, Cap walks right into the clutches of the evil French villain, Batroc. What Cap doesn't know is that Hydra is actually behind the whole nefarious trap and, after a bit of a tussle, the two foes are forced to join forces when the Hydra agents lose their patience and decide to wipe out all three of them in one shot. Batroc and Cap defeat the paltry hands of Hydra and release the comely super-spy.

PE: The re-introduction of fifth-tier Batroc is obviously an excuse to bring back that cute, but deadly, SHIELD spy but it leads to an intriguing team-up between foes. Stan still hasn't slapped a name on Cap's new sweetie but we'll soon find out her intriguing back-story and how it relates to Cap's World War II duty. Like the lead-in, there's not much story here but Kirby's art continues to thrill.

JS: I guess the price you pay for getting the return of a great character like The Lizard in one comic is the return of Batroc in another. Where's the Red Skull when we need him?

Daredevil 24
Our Story

After ending his last adventure in Europe, Daredevil scrambles to get home. Before taking a flight back to America, he reads in the local paper that his old buddy Ka-Zar has been blamed for looting, robbing, and pillaging. All the clues point to Ka-Zar, especially his Saber-Toothed tiger’s paw prints. Daredevil heads to Lord Plunder’s castle to help his friend and finds a mob of villagers ready to burn the place down. Double D enters the castle only to have Ka-Zar mistake him for a traitor. The two fight it out for awhile until they fall off a balcony into the ocean below, where they find a submarine that turns out to belong to Ka-Zar’s evil brother, the Plunderer. Daredevil and Ka-Zar join forces to take down the villains and clear Ka-Zar’s name.  

Tom: Like a bad penny infected with the anthrax virus, Ka-Zar just keeps turning up. Man, did this story just plain suck. A couple more issues like this one and Ka-Zar is going to get my vote for worst hero of the century. While it was very noble of Daredevil to risk his personal safety to help out a friend, one hopes that he will learn his lesson in the future after the mentally impaired Ka-Zar attacked him with little reasoning. While I can suspend my disbelief for when Double D flies an airplane, I find it harder to do when we see Ka-Zar dressed up in fancy clothes. This Neanderthal tool seems like he would need instructions every morning to remind him to put on his underwear first, then pants. Sorry professors, I just really, really, really, despised this issue. Bring back the Gladiator!

Jack: Uh oh—someone is referring to himself in the third person, saying how great he is, and talking to his pet saber-toothed tiger. It’s either a hip hop star or Ka-Zar! Daredevil has now added flying a plane to his blind man’s bag of tricks. And what’s with the Latin American guerrilla band “somewhere in Europe” with one member called Miklos? Hold on—it’s another battle between two heroes over a misunderstanding! Not to mention the return of the Plunderer in his goofy outfit. I love Daredevil! I could read Archie if Gene Colan drew it.
Is that a club in your sheath, or...

MB: We seem to have settled into a comfortable groove of Giacoia inking Colan here and in Suspense, and Gentleman Gene keeps things interesting with his unconventional panels, but it’s a shame Stan’s script is so suffused with silliness.  Perhaps most glaring is DD’s sudden, utterly implausible ability to fly a plane; bullshit explanation aside, even a sighted person with no training wouldn’t be able to handle that on a moment’s notice, and it’s difficult to imagine Matt Murdock having signed up for flying lessons.  In addition to jet-setting among countries without a passport, and just happening to turn up in England when Ka-Zar (whose I.Q. fluctuates wildly) needs him, Hornhead also manages to open the hatch to the Plunderer’s sub without letting in any water!

PE: Arrrrgh! I hate when Professor Matthew steals all my funny bits. The straw that broke this Professor's back was the asinine piloting sequence. Why bother with the "blind" charade any longer? Matt Murdock can "read" a newspaper, hear a particular heartbeat amidst a crowd of thousands, jump out a window without knowing exactly where he'll land, watch an Adam Sandler movie and laugh, and now he can get a job as an airline pilot! Stan even pops in a "Don't bother writing to complain, kiddies! He can do it cuz we say he can do it!" disclaimer box. That's not all that makes me shake my head this issue. In addition to the world's most leak-proof submarine (even when the hatch is wide open) we get Daredevil musing that it's no wonder Ka-Zar and Zabu are suspected of the crimes they're charged with, as it's "pretty tough" to fake tiger tracks and the footprints of a barefoot man. This from a guy who's fought borderline supernatural villains! The art's up to Colan's standards but the story's a deadly dull dog, a rushed one-off thankfully not padded out to two issues. The Plunderer is re-introduced and dispatched within a couple of panels and a major expository at the finale is handled in one. 

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #132
Marvel Tales #6
Millie the Model #145
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #38
Two-Gun Kid #85

From the January 1977 RBCC
Professor Jack--fighting the
good fight for 35 years