Wednesday, May 16, 2012

December 1966: STERANKO!!!

Daredevil 23
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While standing in the middle of a boxing arena, Daredevil observes the Masked Marauder’s Tri-Android creation beginning to get sucked up into the air. The hero grabs a hold of the droid to follow, which is just what the villain wanted. The transportation ray takes them back into the Marauder’s lab where he is waiting along with the Gladiator. Daredevil has his hands full as the three criminals who were used to power the android are unleashed upon him. The Gladiator is encouraged by the Marauder to sit this fight out since he is more valuable than the expendable hoods. One at a time, Double D takes out the brutish wrestler, the fast on his feet thief, and the criminal mastermind. The Gladiator has seen enough and starts to brawl with Daredevil. Being a smart man who hedges his bets, the Masked Marauder knows that the Gladiator could lose. He quickly contacts the Maggia head honchos and offers up both Double D and the Gladiator in return for a spot on their criminal team. The Maggia goons happily agree. They tell the Marauder to transport the two to a movie set that is a replica of an ancient Roman coliseum in Europe. The Marauder does so, leaving the two combatants battling in front of a criminal crowd. It’s a pretty heated battle that’s fairly even. An actual lion that was used in the movie is accidentally let out of its cage during the skirmish. Daredevil subdues it, saving the Gladiator’s life. Daredevil seems worn out, but the Gladiator refuses to execute someone who saved his hide. Impressed, the Maggia offer him the spot that was originally going to go to the Masked Marauder. He accepts and they leave Daredevil on his own.

Tom: Very cool story. One definitely can’t complain that this tale didn’t have enough action in it. If anything, maybe the fisticuffs needed to be toned down a little slightly--either that or some of the all-around weirdness. They go from fighting in a mad scientist's lab to being transported to a movie set in another country. I always knew there was something about the Gladiator to admire and this issue proves it, with the villain showing a streak of honor in the end. At least the weaselly Masked Marauder got left out in the criminal underworld cold as well as he should have.  

Jack: A fun issue, where Daredevil fights a few goons then fights the Gladiator in an arena. I love how the Brain, the old, balding villain who presumably is super bright, is as ripped as any hero. Marvel villains must have one heck of a gym membership plan. By the way, does the Gladiator shave with those rotating discs?

PE: Can't complain about the action this issue. It's wall-to-wall. That's a good thing as it crowds out the Karen Page melodrama threatening to pop up every few pages or so. DD catches a big break as the Maggia decide to let him walk away scot free at the climax. They've got one of their worst enemies captured in a coliseum, complete with a caged lion, and they let him walk? The Masked Marauder's band of dopey henchmen, each with his own well-thought-out nickname, reminds me of the stellar crew rounded up by The Owl not too many issues ago. I do like that Stan has left DD stranded somewhere overseas ("deep in the heart of Europe") without his wallet or a change of clothes. I'm sure he'll think of something to get himself out of this mess (perhaps he'll explain next issue that he keeps a spare suit of clothes and a ten pound note in every port of Europe just in case?).

MB: This month’s Bullpen page confirms that Colan will stay on as DD’s penciler to let Romita focus on Spidey, while Giacoia is the last inker standing, and is probably the preferred choice among the three we had two issues ago. There’s been no improvement in the silliness of Matt practically broadcasting his “secret” i.d. to Foggy—who’s been popping up in Amazing as the Rhino’s court-appointed counsel—and Karen, but I have no complaints about the action. DD facing off against the Gladiator in a coliseum was a masterstroke, and although the Maggia has a rather unusual method of selecting its leader, the Gladiator refusing to fight the man who’s just saved his life, and the Maggia letting Hornhead leave unmolested, made for an interesting finale.

The Avengers 35
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Goliath shows up just in the nick of time to save Cap and Hawkeye from being made into julienne fries by the Living Laser’s trap. The Living Laser, who is holding the Wasp captive in a glass jar, agrees to assist the rebel forces of Central America’s Costa Verde for a cool ten million dollars. The three Avengers zip down to the jungle in search of Goliath’s beloved and get involved in the fighting, but the Living Laser zaps and captures Goliath. Our hero manages to recover his ability to change sizes and escapes his predicament, while the Living Laser is knocked out by a power feedback from his own device. The Avengers stay out of the conflict in Costa Verde and return to New York with the Living Laser.

MB: Since this issue’s original cover—which was completely redrawn, and decidedly not for the better, on my Marvel Triple Action reprint—heralded “the big change in Goliath,” I’d always automatically assumed its title, “The Light That Failed!,” referred to Hank. But now that I’ve reread it, and remembered that Hank’s restored size-changing abilities saved the day, I think it refers to the defeat of the Living Laser; either way, though, I believe it marks the first credit on the Assemblers for future mainstay Roy Thomas, currently better known for writing X-Men. Roy does a pretty seamless job of picking up where Stan (who remains as editor) left off on the debut of the Laser, not a top-tier villain, but one who made solid appearances against solid adversaries.

PE: The sound effects man (Swingin' Sam Rosen) must have been bored this issue as we get the debuts of "SPLAKSH!" "SPLUNCH!" and "BOKKA!BOK!" I'm not sure about Goliath's assumption that his two partners will survive their hundred foot drop into the river if he executes the world's biggest belly-flop (SPLAKSH!). Can't say that the debut of Roy Thomas as regular writer on The Avengers is a success but I will say that there are a few brush strokes I admire, chiefly his villain's irrational love for Janet Van Dyne. The guy must be insane. Roy gets a pass on this one and several more to come, I'm sure, as his stuff will become gold somewhere down the road. On the letter page, future X-Men superstar artist Dave Cockrum (1943-2006) begs Stan to do an Avengers Annual "featuring all the Avengers, past and present, in one adventure." Cockrum will get his wish in 1967!

Jack: This whole Living Laser story kept reminding me of Austin Powers, from the laser beams to the villain’s demand for ten million dollars. That was probably the only entertaining thing about this issue. Over the last few months, we seem to have had several Marvel comics’ visits South of the Border, all of which are interchangeable. 

Fantastic Four 57
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Hearing that Sandman and the Wizard are ready to spill the beans (on what?), Reed, Sue and Ben arrive at the state prison to find, surprise… it’s a trap. A few thumps later, Reed snaps on a vent that vacuums him up. Before Sue can put her force field around the remaining sand to contain him (Sandman can’t keep his sand molecules separated for any length of time), she is nabbed by the Wizard. The Police likewise nab him, while Sandman makes good his escape. A third of the way around the world in Latveria, the Silver Surfer, resting atop a mountain, is spotted by a watching Dr. Doom, who sends an invitation-bearing missile to his feet. The intrigued boarder flies to Doom’s castle, and gets a tour through some of Victor’s incredible laboratories. Doom tries to convince the Surfer he’s a benevolent monarch, but his evil vibes keep the silver one disbelieving. Cosmic power Doom wants, and the Surfer has it. He displays it, but won’t allow the doc to keep a weapon he forms and dissolves out of the molecules around them. While this transpires, the Sandman makes an appearance at the Baxter Building to menace Sue and Reed, while Ben is out looking for him on the jet-cycle. They put him to route, but not before he locks himself in Reed’s equipment storage room, long enough to steal some devices and escape. Meanwhile, Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot have almost got Lockjaw trained to take them to other dimensions on command, though not where they want to go—the Great Refuge. Unknown to them, Black Bolt starts to recover his strength he lost while saving his fellow Inhumans from the bomb that had threatened them. In Latveria, Doom distracts the Surfer with a scene of space from his satellite, and clamps an energy-inducting apparatus on himself and the Surfer. The deadly result: Dr. Doom now possesses the cosmic power of the Silver Surfer. 

JB: Similar to the way Loki was absent for many recent Thor issues, we’ve seen some of the best F.F. tales in the last while without Dr. Doom. Now that he’s back, we get a fresh look at how good a villain he really is. Although it seems unlikely Victor could capture the Surfer’s power so easily, the result is powerful, especially when Doom flies by the board. The lame way they portrayed this story in the second F.F. movie didn’t cut it for me (nor did the Galactus “cloud”).

MB:  This cover is a bit misleading, suggesting as it does that we’re going to see Doom tangle with the FF (after a respectable absence for a change) herein, but the Kirby artwork is so awesome that we quickly forgive it.  And even without that, there’s such a lot going on here that it’s almost too much, including two battles with the Sandman, another episode of The Wyatt and Johnny Show, and the obligatory quick peek inside the Great Refuge.  Most important is the first of several encounters between Doom and the Surfer, who uncharacteristically looks like he’s overdosed on happy pills at the bottom of page 13, although his naïveté in trusting Doom will be his downfall moments later, leading up to the full-page shot of Doom in possession of his power.

PE: What I want to know is, what exactly did the Thrilling Three expect to hear from The Wizard and The Sandman when they're told that the duo is ready "to sing?" "Okay, yeah, I robbed that bank! You can go now!" And why does The Sandman come out of hiding to attack Reed and Sue at the supposedly impenetrable Baxter Building? I thought his gripe was with Spidey. Reed and Sue execute "Plan G" this issue (Sue puts a force field around Reed while he fights The Sandman). I'm putting Stan and Jack on notice right here and now. I'm taking notes and Plan "G" better stay the same from here on out.

JS:  The most inexplicable exclamation this issue is not "Look out, it's the Sandman again" or "You fools! How long do you think you can hold me?" It's Sue Richards constantly bemoaning the state of The Fantastic Four in 1966: "Johnny is still searching for The Inhumans -- we never know when the Silver Surfer will return -- the mystery of sub-space is always beckoning -- and now this, old menaces, threatening us anew!" Amazingly, Sue doesn't wonder out loud where Doctor Doom is or when she and Reed will consummate their marriage. If I was Reed, I'd just tell her to shut her yap. I'd do it but I'm not a comic character.

PE: There's some unintentional laughs here (at least I think they're unintentional). The Surfer, not sure whether to believe Doom's self-description of peacenik: "Your voice mouths soothing words of peace and righteousness -- and yet, every fibre of my being recoils at the lust for power which pervades the very atmosphere about you!" Almost as if it was taken from a Pink Panther movie, one scene has Doom trying to convince The Surfer that his "devoted subjects actually dance in the streets at the merest mention of my name" just as one of those loyal villagers accidentally touches Doom's cloak. Without missing a beat, the deadly doc puts the "worthless, insufferable clod" up against a wall, leaving the man fearing for his life. That panel Professor Matthew alludes to, the Smiling Surfer, is a hoot and reminded me of Not Brand Ecch!

JB: Some other funny moments are when the Surfer offers to rebuild Doom’s castle, and the good doctor says “my serfs shall set it to rights,” or that the Surfer somehow knows the rocket with the invitation to Latveria contains a message and not a bomb. When Doom asks the Surfer to prove his cosmic power by creating, say, a weapon, it had me thinking of my son’s Puss N’ Boots book when Puss tells the Ogre “I bet you couldn’t turn into a mouse!” For a while, I thought our space-faring friend was going to fall for it, but Doom can’t place nice for long. The comedy and the drama worked well together.

The Amazing Spider-Man 43
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Colonel Jameson has been treated by doctors and cleansed of the space spores that transformed him into the superhero without a name last issue. The Rhino doesn't know that though and he swears he's still going to capture JJJ Jr. and turn him over to the highest bidder. To that end, Spider-Man enlists Dr. Connors (aka The Lizard!) to help him devise a new formula for his webbing that will dissolve The Rhino's outer skin. In other news: Peter Parker hits it off big time with Mary Jane Watson which puts Gwen Stacy safely on the back burner of his affections; Flash Thompson is drafted; and May Parker isn't well. The final bit might not be news.

PE: Mary Jane's like dreamy, you know, but she talks like a late 1950s Roger Corman flick. Foggy Nelson, on loan courtesy of the publishers of Daredevil Magazine, is back to his portly ways. You'd think that the right hand (Romita) would know what the left hand (Colan) was up to but obviously no one was comparing notes. I suspect our title-crossing attorney will be back in the pages of Daredevil, sans about thirty pounds, next month. Matt Murdock wishes he could go after The Rhino but thinks to himself that Spider-Man should get first crack at him. Seems a bit selfish, no? "I'd love to save the possible victims and their property but after all, The Rhino did debut in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man!" This is the first I've heard of this policy but I suspected as much. Nice touch having a street cop save Spidey's hide from the charging Rhino. I'll be keen to see how Stan (or Roy) gets around the dissolving suit when The Rhino resurfaces in Hulk #104 (June 1968). No fair peeking.

MB:  Unlike Don Heck (and you know I say that as a qualified admirer of his Avengers work), Jazzy Johnny does an excellent job inking his own pencils, so this satisfying conclusion to the Rhino/John Jameson trio leaves Romita with a spotless record, five issues into his tenure.  The real revelation here is Peter’s breath-of-fresh-air rapport with Mary Jane so early in his respective relationships with her and Gwen, especially surprising to those of us reading the tale with 20/20 hindsight, and marred only by his reaction to what should be good news, that she did not have the expected hissy fit when he had to bail on their date.  The Rhino’s climactic exfoliation was fun, albeit impermanent, and John’s jaunty sign-off with Spidey simply priceless.

PE: We get a very elementary origin for The Rhino which illustrates that my bathroom break query of last month was on-the-nosey. Is it just me or is Romita's version of Rhino's face very reminiscent of Ditko? I know Jazzy John claimed he was copying Steve's style until he got a feel for the title but I haven't seen evidence of that at all until now. Another one of those crazy thoughts struck me while reading this issue. How does Peter Parker get those fabulous shots of Spidey fighting his foes? Does he deliberately keep the fight within the limited range of his camera's eye? While he's about to pop The Green Goblin with a left does he keep Gobby's head in range with his right? Never mind that he can adhere to walls, it's the small details that stick in my craw. When we get a cameo by Dr. Curt Connors, that can only mean one thing! And, though The Amazing Spider-Man built its foundation on the "everyday teen," the mopey Peter Parker, constantly feeling sorry for himself, is getting really old. When Peter planned his first date with MJ, you just knew something would come up to force a cancellation. If it's not a super villain it's the fifteenth reading of the final rites over the walking corpse of May Parker. 

JS: Call me crazy - as I like a redhead as much as the next guy... but I think MJ needed to see a stylist. That straight, boring cut just doesn't do her justice.

PE: On the letters page, Stan discusses at length the concept of aging Marvel characters. Fascinating reading when considering this was at the dawn of the Universe. 

The Might Thor 135
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As Thor and Jane Foster prepare to leave Wundagore, it becomes apparent a new danger will prevent them. Distracted by the ruckus of Thor’s arrival, the High Evolutionary has left the wolf he was experimenting on in the genetic lab too long; now a man/wolf combination of the distant future, it sets out to kill. The chocolate –coloured creature has amazing strength, knows combat techniques and has mental powers not known in the present. A temporary respite is gained when the High Evolutionary uses a sub-sonic discordian (like a super dog whistle) to cause the creature enough pain to flee. The Man-Beast has his own plans, and seals himself in the genetic chamber behind an anti-matter barrier. He creates an army of evil “new men”, not as advanced as he, but deadly nonetheless. Plan B: a vibra-beam device, creating vibrations that the Man-Beast will find annoying enough he and his allies will come to destroy it. As Thor sends Jane to a safe place from the coming battle, the High Evolutionary has gathered his new-men together, including his ambassador, Count Tagar. Armed with shock-guns or hand–to-hand, the battle ensues, and the evolved ani-men of Wundagore slowly gain the upper hand over their evil counterparts. Thor reaches the Man-Beast before he can harm the High Evolutionary, and dispatches him despite the mind blast it throws out.  Without their leader, the evil creatures are driven into the Star Chamber, a small spacecraft, set on course for the uninhabited galaxy Dromisana. It blasts off, sending them where they will have a chance to create their own society. The High Evolutionary reveals to Thor he was a scientist who had created a genetic accelerator. Scoffed at by his peers, he tested his device on his pet Dalmatian—successfully. Alas, a hunter, who thought it an ordinary animal, shot it. Realizing he needed to find a place to work in privacy, he discovered in his travels a uranium lode that made him rich, and he created Wundagore as his home. He bids Thor and Jane leave, and as they watch from a nearby mountain, Wundagore is revealed to be a giant spaceship. They watch as it disappears into the night sky.

Tales Of Asgard finds the Thunder God and the Warriors Three battling  Fafnir. Odin watches from Asgard, knowing that the dead kingdom of Nastrond will never blossom again until the dragon is defeated.

JB: I’ve always found this issue an enjoyable and satisfactory read. Without a background, the cover is stark, but effective. The manner of how the High Evolutionary came to create Wundagore is a little far-fetched. Maybe I’ll check in my back yard for some uranium. A geneticist who can build a craft intended for long space travel is pretty amazing too. But who cares? This is sci-fi, Marvel style. Next month we get back to Asgard and godly adventures, as we see what happens when Jane finally gets her chance at immortality.  

MB:  For once, we get a story that actually ends with a satisfying conclusion…and on the last of its allotted pages; golly, what will Stan think of next?!  Not that we have, by any stretch of the imagination, seen the last of the High Evolutionary, Wundagore, its knights, the New Men—both good and evil—or the Man-Beast (aka Super-Beast), who has significantly been established as one truly badass villain (“A force has been unleashed this day—like none the world has ever known!”).  It looks as though Jane’s teaching tenure was destined to be a brief one, but perhaps that’s just as well, if the Thunder God really is getting all marital-minded, and in the meantime, Jolly Jack and Vince cut loose with a whopping three full-page shots, including the splash page.

PE: Oddly, we're asked to accept The High Evolutionary as a good guy despite actions to the contrary last issue. Was Stan grooming HE to become another "hero with a shady past" a la The Black Panther, Hawkeye, and Black Widow? Another heir to a vacant Avengers throne? Poor Jane never even got to use her teacher's discount down at the Supply Store For Nurses Turned Schoolmarms to Mutants.

Tales of Suspense 84
Iron Man
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Just as he's about to reveal his secret identity to the Senate subcommittee, Tony Stark doubles over in pain and must be rushed to the hospital. A minor heart attack, but what really worries Stark is that rumors abound that he is actually Iron Man. Pshawing those reports with a "Check me out, I've got a weak heart. How could I do those acts of valor?" won't silence the media. Worried that the public will finally get it right, Stark's chauffeur/grocery bagger Happy Hogan dons the iron suit yet again to establish an alibi for his boss. Unfortunately for Happy, he's doffing the iron suit when The Mandarin tunes in with his Global Scanner and, mistakenly believing the Man Friday to be the real thing, uses his Teleporter Lens to beam him to his castle.

PE: The second worst endless red-herring in Marvel history (the second being the "Death of Aunt May") is regurgitated by Tony Stark's fiercely loyal but none true bright gopher. In the immortal words of Robert Plant: "How many more times?" At least he joined Jenny Craig and isn't splitting his metal seams this time out and somehow he managed to talk Stark into signing off on this stupid idea. One question: if The Mandarin has a nifty Global Scanner, why hasn't he caught the real Iron Man stripping before?

MB:  Although off duty over at Astonish this month, Colan keeps his hand in with Shellhead, and we are once again treated to Giacoia’s fine work on both halves of the book, complementing but never obstructing each penciler’s distinctive style.  I doubt this is the last time Happy will don the Iron Man armor to protect his boss’s secret identity, but we’ll hope it’s the end of Tony’s ill-advised intention to reveal same to the formerly abrasive Senator Byrd, whose genuine respect and concern for the ailing Stark are refreshing.  We close with our typical TOS cliffhanger, involving the return of the always-welcome Mandarin, and it must truly be said that when it comes to the split books, this one can accurately be described as in its prime.

PE: Looks like the senate scene from Iron Man 2 was lifted from our opening here. Senator Byrd becomes Stern in the film and he looks nothing like Garry Shandling but it's pretty clear this was the inspiration for screenwriter Justin Theroux. Pepper Sprout and Happy Hogan show what good friends they are by moaning and worrying in a hotel room instead of rushing to the hospital to be with their boss/friend. They finally do jump in a taxi but not before wasting several thought balloons on who loves who in this messy triangle. Gotta agree with my colleague on one thing: Colan and Giacoia are at the top of their game. There doesn't seem to be a better inker for Gene on Iron Man and Daredevil (especially the latter which cries out for those darks and shadows).

Captain America
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Having trussed up The Adaptoid in Avengers Mansion, Captain America invites his fighting comrades to come have a look and give him their opinions. Unknown to Cap, the android is playing possum and absorbing the powers of the four Avengers. When he returns later, he's confronted by a 12-foot tall Stars and Striped archer with wings. 

PE: Cap monkeys with The Adaptoid's wings as they're miles above the earth and they freefall. Cap's logic that he'll hold on 'til the last second and then hit the water safely flies in the face of all the scientific experiments conducted before 1966 that show if you fall miles to earth, there is no letting go to safely land! In the end, The Adaptoid reaches out and latches onto a girder on the George Washington Bridge, the kind of mid-air halt that killed Gwen Stacy several years later but doesn't even slow down our Star-Spangled hero. Still in all, that bridge and subsequent dive into the Hudson are the type of action sequences that make comic book reading enjoyable even after all these years. You can almost feel that fall from the bridge and gasp as Cap hits the water. Luckily for him though, this fall doesn't instigate another twenty year nap.

MB:  Coming from me, it’s a great compliment to say that this splash page makes it look like we’ve picked up an issue of The Avengers by mistake, and it’s terrific to see Jolly Jack’s impressive rendition of Goliath somewhere in addition to one of their covers, although his exterior work here is pretty excellent as well.  This version of the Adaptoid is just so much cooler than his non-Super iteration, like a homegrown android Super-Skrull; they must have had a blast designing his new appearance to blend elements of four Assemblers—and in green, yet!  And finally, we are treated to another demonstration of what a superb fighter Cap is, still able to triumph when hopelessly outclassed, even if his triumph is merely to remain alive.

PE: I can suspend my disbelief enough to ignore the fact that the Adaptoid is absorbing the outfits as well as the traits of The Avengers (a nice touch would have been a set of breasts since he obviously couldn't have gotten much more from a morphing of Jan) but where is the giant bow and arrows coming from? They seem to exist independently. Ostensibly, they'd be an offshoot of The Adaptoid's body but the weapons aren't attached as such. Did the super villain find the time to craft the weapons in The Avengers metal shop located just below the billiards room? At least his giant shield obeys "Professor Pete's laws of Adaptoiding" since it never leaves his body. And where did he get the green? 

X-Men 27

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Professor X invites Mimic to join the X-Men (strange as it may seem, considering he already IS the X-Men), only to have him turn on the mu-teens. We soon find out that this time around he's at the beck and call of The Puppet Master, low-rent Fantastic Four Villain.
PE: The slipshod story by Roy Thomas seems to be made up of parts from other titles. The Puppet Master (who now seems to make life-size puppets as well) uses a scanner just like the one The Mandarin uses over in this month's Iron Man. Must have been a half-price sale at The Marvel Villain Surplus Store. The Mimic, though an old X-Men villain, has all the same abilities as The Super Adaptoid over in the Captain America strip. Another one of those oddball cameos by Pietro and Wanda. I wonder if it was time for a contract re-negotiation and their agent was holding them out of their own title for a few months. The Puppet Master introduces his new bodyguard, The Defender. I was waiting for the obligatory dialogue between Jean Grey and Scott Summers:
Jean: Scott, that monster! What is it?!
Scott: I don't know, Jean! It seems to be some kind of ... defender!

Cue every cop and radio announcer referring to the android as THE DEFENDER!

Alas, it never happened! Once again, Werner Roth's art is the definition of by-the-numbers. No dynamism, no character, just bland lines.

JS: Desperate to add to the team line-up, the X-Men approach former Brotherhood of Evil Mutants charter members Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as well as Spider-Man. Everyone turns them down, having already been recruited by the Avengers. Seems like the only team not currently hiring is the Fantastic Four.

PE: Lucky for The Mimic, The Puppet Master's dolls don't work the same way voodoo dolls do or, thanks to Warren Worthington, he'd be smashed to a million pieces. I do like Roy Thomas' description of the scene where The Angel basically sneaks up and grabs the doll out of PM's hands: "Summoning all of the fortitude born of long, arduous hours of X-Men training, Warren Worthington hurdles forward..."

JS: When a villain ends up with a kettle on their head, chances are you're not reading a comic that will go down as one of the all-time best. But on the bright side, Jean's been using her down time during real college to design new costumes for the team...

PE: Guy Lillian III is a phenomenon I haven't seen much of since we began our comics-filled journeys in this blog and covering the Batman comics of the 1970s over at bare bones: a cross-company letter hack! Lillian's name pops up here in X-Men and in just about every Batman comic we've critiqued through the end of 1972.

Strange Tales 151
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
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By the time Fury reaches Karnopolis (having left strict orders that when the Overkill Horn is located, an H-missile be fired regardless of his presence), there is no longer any pretense that he is a party guest: he is attacked by giant robot statues and knocked out with nerve spray. Don Caballero, the new Supreme Hydra—who has been masquerading as the Grand Imperator of Them—confiscates Fury’s high-tech suit and demonstrates a scale model of Hydra’s more sophisticated horn before strapping Nick to the target post. He breaks free and steals a conveniently idling jet, whose radio is dead . . . unaware that the horn is a dummy engine on the plane, now being targeted by Sitwell, and will sound when he reaches maximum airspeed.

MB: Well, I was right: starting with Big John Buscema’s one-off last ish, we’ve boarded the express elevator to the top, and are entering the period of sustained greatness that made this strip—and multitalented newcomer Jim Steranko—a legend. His “illustrations” (evidently inking his own pencils) are a little tentative in spots, which may be because at this point he’s still working over Kirby’s layouts, but that incredible splash page of Fury in the rocket-pack device announces his awesome talent with all the subtlety of a brick through a plate-glass window. Stan, too, is totally on his game, with the suspense surrounding the Overkill Horn lending an air of excitement to the proceedings, as do Jasper’s orders to launch the H-missile even if it blows Nick up with the horn.

PE: I agree that the splash page here is classic, very James Bond-ish, which is the style Stan and Jack introduced on this strip 16 issues again but an atmosphere that seems to have been lost in goofy and unexciting plot lines since. The splash aside, though, I'll be the lone dissenter and say "I don't get it" if quizzed about the Steranko mystique. His classic stuff always came off to me as a Will Eisner swipe (not a bad thing, by the way) but I didn't grow up with Jim Steranko's Nick Fury so I'm here to learn as well as discover. Here, he clearly needs a lot of practice when it comes to facial features. Dum-Dum looks a bit "squished," Sitwell's a blonde Peter Parker, and Nick looks a bit like Charlton Heston. Oh, and the coloring crew has once more botched Gabe, this time making him look like The Grey Gargoyle.

Jack: From the Kirby/Steranko signature on the cover to the somewhat primitive Steranko art over Kirby’s layouts, this issue has an excitement in the art that is partially due to the actual work and partially due to our knowledge of what is to come. Here we go, folks—the Marvel Universe will never be the same!

PE: I've got my fingers crossed.

Doctor Strange
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Now that she has been freed, Umar wants to know what she’s missed, so she uses the Lamp of Lucifer to do a “previously in Dr. Strange” and once again sum up everything that has happened in the series to date. She figures out that Dr. Strange is a powerful enemy and uses Clea to bait him into coming after her.

Jack: By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, not another recap of the Dr. Strange saga! In contrast to what happened in Strange Tales 147, Dr. Strange uses a magic spell to fix his house (House Hunters Interdimensional?) and to whip up a pile of money. Bill Everett draws some purty pictures, but enough stalling already!

MB: Taken on its own merits, this story is quite good: Doc’s co-creator got back in harness to write it, and Everett seems understandably much more inspired by Stan and Umar—who’s quite the babe—than he was by O’Neil and Kaluu. I wouldn’t even be averse to the whole recap format, especially when it’s as well executed as it is here, if it weren’t for the fact that a mere four months ago, the three of them did exactly the same thing while they regrouped in the first post-Ditko issue. Worst of all, they’ve not only rehashed the whole “Wong needs filthy lucre to get the Sanctum Sanctorum shipshape” bit, but also resolved it by a method (i.e., Doc conjuring up stacks of cash) that mysteriously did not appear to be an option last time.

Tales to Astonish 86  
Our Story

Mad with power since he acquired the throne of Atlantis, the evil Krang decides to start a war with the surface world. He unleashes a giant tidal wave that ravages the city of New York. Namor is still in town and once he sees the disastrous wave he knows immediately who is responsible. He flies off to a radio tower with the original plan of getting in touch with some of Atlantis’s top scientists to come up with a solution. Unable to reach them, he realizes that the next best thing is to get in touch with the United States Air Force, tipping them off that Krang’s ship should be in the vicinity of where the wave first originated. His info is solid and the U.S. fighter planes blow up Krang’s ship, causing the wave to stop its path of destruction. Luckily for Krang and Dorma, they were in the city as Krang wanted to observe firsthand the chaos he caused. When they go back to their now non-existent ship, the army captures them with a net and brings them to Columbus Circle. Even though he was responsible for ending the attack on the city, the officials still believe that Namor was the one responsible for what happened and that he is working with Krang and Dorma. Namor is told through loudspeakers where the captured duo are being held and he goes to reclaim them as the military stands ready to subdue him with various tanks and weaponry. At the same time, Krang’s surface antidote has been wearing off, causing him and Dorma to revert back to their original blue color and being unable to breathe in air.

MB: The same Bullpen Bulletin informing us that Colan will be Romita’s permanent replacement on Daredevil also says Gene’s being given a breather on Subby this month in favor of “a new bullpen luminary.” That would appear to be overstating the case, as I believe this is virtually the sole Marvel credit for Golden Age and DC vet Jerry Grandenetti (excepting his 1975 Night Stalker parody for Arrgh!), but be that as it may, Wild Bill eliminates any shock to the system by providing continuity with his inks. The story itself is no great shakes, with the device of Namor being blamed for Krang’s depredations somewhat tiresome, especially when the Hulk undergoes the same sort of misunderstanding in the second half of this very issue.

Tom: Having Krang proclaim himself to be the still-reigning king of Atlantis served as a reminder to me of how long this plot has dragged on. It’s still enjoyable, don’t get me wrong, but one begins to wonder when it will end?

PE: It's nice to see the "Dorma and Krang" two-actor stage play has finally changed sets after a dozen or so issues. Thanks to the comic book gods, Bill Everett oozes through Grandenetti's cartoonish pencils in most spots (most glaring in its un-Everettishness are the crowd scenes) but, as Professor Matthew points out, the story is a rehash of dozens of other issues. The problem we have with these 12 pagers is that the story never seems to advance. That's an old complaint, I know, but you'll continue to hear it. Grandenetti is fondly remembered for his work in DC's war comics in the late 50s and early 60s but my first taste of the artist was in the pages of Creepy where he was, for me, the Warren equivalent of Frank Robbins, cartoony and "rubbery." Like Robbins though, I can point to a couple examples where Grandenetti's weird style actually lent itself to the strip ("Voodoo Doll" in Creepy #12 would be one). Other than this issue and the aforementioned Aargh!, Grandenetti worked for Marvel only once more, a war parody in Crazy Magazine #18.

Jack: Subby continues his sightseeing tour of Manhattan, taking in Rockefeller Plaza and Columbus Circle. The art team of Grandenetti and Everett turns in work that is more cartoony than that of Colan, yet it seems less annoying than what Everett has been doing as penciller. If a giant tidal wave floods Manhattan, where are the rest of the Marvel Super Heroes? One would think they would notice the water as well as Krang’s giant ship. And just when I was beginning to think they had forgotten that Krang and Dorma had blue skin, their complexions start to change! I was surprised to learn that a random New Yorker in the crowd was aware of the existence of Atlantis and knew that Atlanteans all have blue skin.

Our Story

Bruce Banner rides atop the Orion Missile as it heads straight for New York. Banner is able to find the switches to allow him to change the missile’s trajectory and he changes it so it heads towards the ocean. He changes into the Hulk before it hits the sea. As this is going on, some detectives have found a secret lair of the Hulk’s old nemesis, the Leader. They contact the Pentagon to let them know of the discovery. Thunderbolt Ross, Betty, and Talbot show up along with the troops. Inside a clear cage is a humanoid that the Leader created before his death to defeat the Hulk. Since the Hulk has been blamed for the Orion Missile fiasco, Ross orders a scientist to get the humanoid up and running to take down the Hulk. The scientist is successful; however, the pink humanoid monstrosity takes off from the lab. Nothing is able to stop it. After the Hulk washes ashore he is found by Rick Jones. The two sneak off and find a hideout. As the military tries to slow down the Leader’s creation with weaponry, the monster and the Hulk run into each other. A battle of the titans occurs briefly, with the story ending with the humanoid about to seemingly be victorious in combat.

Tom: Things look to be getting back on the right track after the last couple of stinky issues. The Hulk-Killa seems to be one nasty creation. Was it a mere coincidence that the humanoid came so close to the Hulk’s hideaway or is it equipped with some type of Gamma tracking device? I’m actually not sure if the Green Goliath will be able to take him down, unlike Boomerang. I had to chuckle at the villain’s Rocky Balboa-like training that showed him getting ready for a future rematch against the Hulk. Sorry Boomer, but I like the Hulk’s odds if you end up throwing your special discs at him again.

MB: Like a lot of Hulk stories, this one seems largely an excuse to get us from cliffhanger A to cliffhanger B, but Buscema’s pencils make up for a lot (even managing to make Boomerang look less silly), and Esposito’s inks are an improvement over Tartaglione’s work last issue. For anyone to credit ol’ Jade-Jaws with the smarts to threaten Gotham by riding an Orion missile like Slim Pickens is absurd, but perhaps no more than Ross and Talbot thinking it’s a good idea to activate the Leader’s untested Hulk-Killer humanoid. This plotline will seem oppressively familiar to those who have seen J.J. try to sic the Scorpion or his ilk on Spidey, only to pray for the Web-Slinger to bail him out when the whole plan inevitably blows up in his face.

PE: I got my morning laugh when a "special crack team of police officers" discovers the hidden lab of The Leader after... well, however many months elapses during 12 Marvel issues. Of course, that laugh was accompanied by a shudder when I remember the years of agony we had to endure during that Leader arc.  Surely, the longest, most boring story line in comics history? Whoops! Here comes ex-Yankees reliever The Boomerang. Suddenly a story involving The Leader wouldn't be so bad. Thunderbone Ross must be the daffiest general in the U.S. Army since he insists on bringing his hostage-in-waiting daughter along to every dangerous assignment.

Jack: Buscema’s art is quickly maturing to the look that we all know from Marvel in the ‘70s, and he has just about drawn the definitive Hulk, certainly the best looking Hulk I’ve seen so far. The story is just an excuse to get Hulk into another fight, but at least it’s nice to look at.

PE: You're right, Jack, this is the best Hulk so far (but that's not saying much considering all the strike-outs so far) but Hulk #106 (and the debut of the definitive Hulk artist, Herb Trimpe) can't get here fast enough for me. Until then, the green goliath just looks like a big guy in purple shorts.

Phase Two arrives

1966 Year-End Review

Marvel Comics in 1966 was a story of public relations and brand development rather than explosive creativity. At the beginning of the year, Marvel was publishing nine super-hero comics a month: Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Journey Into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and The X-Men. Strange Tales featured Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and Dr. Strange; Tales of Suspense featured Iron Man and Captain America; and Tales to Astonish featured Sub-Mariner and Hulk. At the end of 1966, the same nine monthly super-hero comics were being published with the same twelve strips.

Total comics per month went from a low of 12 to a high of 17. Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos remained the only war comic (issued monthly, with an annual). Kid Colt and Two-Gun Kid alternated months with Rawhide Kid; the three western comics remained bi-monthly. Millie the Model continued as a monthly with an additional annual; Millie also appeared in the bi-monthly Modeling With Millie, and Patsy and Hedy also remained bi-monthly.

The only new comics to appear in 1966 were reprint books, which combined reprints of stories from the 1950s and early 1960s, reprints of Marvel stories from the Golden Age, and reprints of stories from the Marvel super-hero revival in the 1960s. Fantasy Masterpieces was a bi-monthly, going from 12 cents a copy to 25 cents a copy after two issues. Marvel Collector’s Item Classics was a 25 cent bi-monthly, as was Marvel Tales. Marvel Super-Heroes King-Size Special was a single 25 cent issue that coincided with the premiere of the Marvel Super-Heroes TV cartoon syndicated series in the fall.

As Marvel began to mine its own history for profit, the ongoing super-hero books showed improved quality but few new characters of importance. In March, Journey Into Mystery changed its name to The Mighty Thor, recognizing its successful hero. That same month saw the debut of Galactus and the Silver Surfer in Fantastic Four. Giant-Man returned to The Avengers in May and renamed himself Goliath. In July, the Black Panther first appeared in Fantastic Four.

Steranko breaks the chains of Harvey!
More important was the departure of Steve Ditko following the July editions of The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange. Ditko had been a Marvel mainstay for many years and, with Kirby, had been essential in launching the 1960s Marvel revival. His exit from Marvel in mid-1966 marked a major change in the way the comics looked.
Other key events: the Green Goblin’s identity was revealed in the July issue of The Amazing Spider-Man; the Red Skull first held the Cosmic Cube in July’s Captain America story; Mary Jane Watson was finally shown in the November issue of The Amazing Spider-Man; the Golden Age Human Torch returned in the Fantastic Four King-Size Special #4, also in November; and in December, Jim Steranko debuted on the Nick Fury strip.

Other trends: annuals or king-size specials appeared for Sgt. Fury, Thor, Marvel Super-Heroes, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and Millie the Model; new writers such as Denny O’Neil and Roy Thomas began to take some of the writing chores off of Stan Lee; and artists such as John Romita and John Buscema began to make their mark alongside mainstays Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, Don Heck, and Bill Everett.

Marvel Comics strengthened its brand and expanded its audience in 1966, but the massive expansion of the line was still to come.

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #6
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #6
Millie the Model #144
Modeling with Millie #52
Patsy and Hedy #109
Rawhide Kid #55
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #37


  1. Actually, Professor Pete, Stan established the Laser's irrational love for Jan in part one, so we really can't give Roy credit for that. It's true that it took him a while to find his feet on what became one of his most celebrated books. As for Cockrum, I loved his art on X-MEN, so it's no surprise I share his taste!

    Forgot to mention the nice bit with the cop saving Spidey from the Rhino, and appreciate your doing so. Funny, I don't normally care for redheads, but I'll take the ravishing Ms. Watson with that 'do any day!

    Methinks Jaunty Jim Steranko had a copy of this issue of THOR at hand (ha ha) when he created the Satan Claw seen in STRANGE TALES #157.

    Paste-Pot, glad we're in agreement on the awesome GiaColan team on Shellhead and DD. As for the Super-Adaptoid, I said he was cool...but I never said he was logical!

    It may surprise you to know that I didn't grow up with Steranko's Fury, either; I certainly grew up aware of its mystique, but didn't see most of the stuff until years later, in either the S.H.I.E.L.D. Special Editions or musty old back issues. Professor Jack has hit the nail on the head that at this point, I'm as excited about what's to come (which I DO get) as I am about what's on the page in his earliest issues.

    Tartaglione will be back in about six months, subbing for Giacoia on DAREDEVIL, and I'm sory to say his work there impresses me no more than it did on last month's Hulk story. A shame that Big John didn't get more of a crack at Jade-Jaws, and I agree that as seen here, Boomerang makes even the Leader look good.

    Bless you for these handy Year-End Reviews, which always help keep things in perspective. But who's the poster child for Phase Two?

  2. Professor Matthew:

    That's an early shot of Rascally Roy Thomas, winner of the Tom Petty look-alike award.

  3. Indeed, TALES OF SUSPENSE is definitely peaking art-wise, with Giacoia meshing beautifully with both Colan and Kirby, and bringing out the best in each artists' work. Think about that for a minute: could there BE any two pencillers whose approach to graphic storytelling was more stylistic different? And yet Giacoia knocks it way out of the park and makes it look effortless. Truly remarkable.

    MB: Nice to read a whole commentary session on an issue of AVENGERS without a single crack about Heck's dodgy inking of his own pencils. Then we get to the SPIDEY recap -- oh brother! Look, you guys aren't the only ones who dislike Heck's loosey-goosey inks -- far from it! -- but there are also a few of us who totally dig his spontaneity, his mix of sketchy pen lines and bold brushwork. Seriously, just go back a few issues to when Ayers was stinking up Heck's pencils if you wanna see some REAL junk. Ah well, different strokes....

    PE: yeah, Steranko's first couple of issues are a bit shaky (though, again, I kinda dig 'em), but trust me, four or five issues from now Jaunty Jim's gonna be kickin' ALL kinds of ass.

    JS: you're crazy. CRAY. ZEE.

  4. Couple other points...

    PE: I'm about 99% sure that the scripters came up with the sound effects, not the letterers. Blame Stan for "SPLAKSH!", not Sam.

    Re: Jerry Grandenetti -- I LOOOOVE his stuff, especially those weirdly stylized stories in the early Warren mags. This ish was one of the first Subby stories I ever laid eyes on (in the MARVEL SUPERHEROES reprint book), and I liked it a lot. I also think he and Everett meshed
    very well together. Wish he'd done more superhero stuff for Marvel, actually. Alas, I guess Stan wasn't crazy about his stuff or something. Pity.

  5. Anonymous: Sorry if I came across as overly anti-Heck, especially since--if anything--I consider myself a Heck apologist on balance. For me, he really defined the look of the team, much more so than Kirby.

  6. No worries, MB -- I don't think you were being too harsh at all, even if my impression of his inks is much more favorable. In any case, your opinion is of course entirely as valid as anyone else's, and yes, I have noticed you do say nice things about Heck as well as the occasional dig. Juxtaposition and timing plays a factor as well -- the preceding issues inked by the ever-reliable Giacoia looked very slick indeed, probably making Heck's inks look rushed by comparison. I was looking at these past few issues this morning, in the Masterworks edition, and I honestly couldn't tell you which inks look better to me, Giacoia or Heck -- beautiful apples and oranges.

    One last thing re: Heck's inks -- about ten years ago, I was chatting with Dave Stevens at Comic-con, and the subject of Best Kirby Inkers came up. Knowing how super-slick Dave's own inking style was, I expected him to name Sinnott or Giacoia as his fave, but no, his favorite Kirby Inker was, you guessed it, Don Heck.

  7. Another enjoyable post!
    Some quickies:
    Love Wyatt Wingfoot -- and I'm not really sure why. He kinda took up space, but geez, I wish I wore a t-shirt as good as him!
    Mary Jane's hair is perfect as is. Nuff Said!
    Not Brand Ecch! Excellent!
    Hank Pym is a mess...and this month merely scratches the surface of his issues later on. (Duh)
    Super-Beast is kinda dumb. Seriously.
    I think Roy Thomas, as great as he was at times, was the wrong writer for X-Men.
    That Spidey Aurora model? Greatest. Aurora. Model. Ever.
    This was the month I was born! Whee!

  8. Back when she was the Invisible Girl and especially during the Silver Age, Susan Storm was always moaning about something. It was simply in her nature.