Wednesday, May 23, 2012

January 1967: From Nurse to... Goddess?

The Avengers 36
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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
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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
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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!

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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

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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
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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
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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.
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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
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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


  1. What makes the apt Banshee criticism (judging by that oh-so-simian screen capture) even more hilarious is that Spider-Man eventually had a villain called the Gibbon. Without access to this run, I'm pretty sure Ted's brother turns out to be Ralph Dibney, aka the Cobalt Man.

    Dean Enfantino, as the official S.H.I.E.L.D. Point Person, I hereby grant you (and any other faculty member or external commentator) special dispensation to, uh, dispense with the periods in the acronym, although stickler moi will, of course, continue to deploy them. I'll even grant your point about Jasper's catchphrase, which I sometimes resort to out of amused nostalgia, rather than thinking it's realistic.

    I Googled "RBCC" and came up with the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce, the Royal Brussels Cricket Club, the Royal Berkshire Conference Centre, and the Rogue Basin Coordinating Council. Somehow I suspect it was to none of these that our intrepid 13-year-old Future Professor Jack dispatched his pithy missive... ("A good inker can do wonders"--amen, brothers!)

  2. Prof. Matthew: RBCC was the Rocket's Blast Comicollector, which was my favorite fanzine of all time. The best part of every issue was Don Rosa's Information Center, which included the earliest TV show episode guides I've ever seen, preceding Fantastic Television. Rosa was a great artist and a very funny writer who would go on to a stellar career drawing Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics.

  3. Sorry, Ralph Dibny (which I also misspelled) is the Elongated Man; I meant Ralph Roberts.

  4. Seeing the cover, I'm realizing Tales of Suspense #85 was the earliest comic book I owned (before dumping all my books for a big load of peanuts...sigh..), albeit with the cover half torn off.
    And kudos for the Yo Gabba Gabba shout out! (Why not!)

  5. Wow, Joe, if you or a family member bought TOS #85 when it came out, you've got me beat by eight months. I now own several older comics acquired since, but I believe AVENGERS SPECIAL #1--coming your way in September, Marvel time--is the oldest one that was actually purchased (by an older brother) back in the day. You can certainly tell; it's missing the cover and the first two pages!