Wednesday, May 9, 2012

November 1966: Fighting Fire With Fire!

Fantastic Four 56
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An annoyed Sue looks for Reed (the dizzy, dedicated do-gooder). She finds him with Ben in the space-time room of the Baxter Building, experimenting with ways to find a way to make sub-space safe to travel in, and perhaps a way to reach the Inhumans, trapped in the Great Refuge. Too busy to stop work, they cut her off; thus a frustrated Sue doesn’t see when Reed and Ben are imprisoned in the room by a wall of solidified sound waves. The culprit is Klaw, the master of sound; transformed by his own machinery into a being of living sound, just before his laboratory was destroyed. Seeking revenge against the one he blames for his misfortune—the Black Panther—Klaw has sought out the Fantastic Four who he suspects will know the Panther’s whereabouts. Having trapped Reed and Ben, Klaw plans to use Sue as a hostage to make his enemy appear, but she refuses to co-operate. Klaw tires of her unwillingness to confess, and prepares to unleash his sonic beam on her. At that moment Ben appears to the recue. Having tried numerous ways to escape, Reed surmises correctly that if Ben wears a counter-sonic harness, he just might be able to burst through the sonic barrier. The Thing battles Klaw to a standstill, the sound master’s sonic hand weapon unleashing enough power to stun the Thing—and cause a power failure in the city. A half-world away, Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot continue to try and win the trust of Lockjaw, Crystal’s pet dimension-travelling dog, in hopes he can transport them to the land of the Inhumans. Inside the Great Refuge, Black Bolt recovers from the energy he had to absorb, in his attempt to shatter the barrier surrounding them. Back in New York, Klaw chases Sue to the space-time room where Reed is trapped, planning on killing them both. He releases the sonic barrier, allowing Reed’s next plan to hatch. While trapped, he had radioed the Black Panther at his African home. Reed’s request: send two Vibranium bands, the one element that can absorb any sound vibrations, and which the Panther has a plentiful supply of.  After a little hand-to-hand combat, Reed smothers Klaw’s sonic blasts, leaving the villain powerless, at least until he can be contained in a cell—composed entirely of Vibranium.

JB: I’m going to hear myself saying this a lot these next number of months, but nice cover! I felt a little disappointed with the issue itself, though. Did Klaw even look for the Black Panther in Wakanda? The story is resolved nicely, and great to see Reed be the one to save the day (making up for his lack of husbandly attentions), but it seemed an unlikely turn of events.


PE: I love how Sue Storm does her cooking in her "circled four" uniform. Is that in case Doctor Doom bursts in while she's taking the Cordon Bleu out of the oven? The Sub-Space/Negative Zone/Great Refuge controversy rages on. I suspect it'll go the way of the thirty-five "secret organizations" that were tripping over themselves in Nick Fury's strip and streamline eventually. Growing pains. Credit should be (and has been) heaped on Stan and Jack for coming up with all these ground-breaking elements without blowing their brain cells. It's no wonder they forgot they'd already created things when they came to create new things.

MB:  It certainly didn’t take ol’ Klaw long to regroup and hit the vengeance trail, although going after the FF seems to me an overly complicated way of targeting a victim who is based on another continent.  I see we’re back to referring to that impenetrable barrier around the Great Refuge as the Negative Zone, and what we now know by that name as sub-space; the latter still provides us with some splendid visuals either way, with Jack and Joe cutting loose on what Ben refers to as the “frammistats,” “doohickeys,” and “yecchs.”  My favorite aspect of this issue, partly offsetting the fact that Klaw attempts to go the standard hostage route with Sue, is that for once, Reed’s physical prowess, so often sublimated to his awesome intellect, helps save the day.


PE: But what about Sue's roast? Was that saved as well?


Daredevil 22
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Hot on the heels of escaping an island before its destruction by a volcano, Daredevil continues to show why he is one of the best heroes in the business.  He even saves Judge Lewis again as the two of them land safely using the Owl’s mechanical flying robot before the villain detonates it to explode.  Back at home in the city, the treacherous duo of the Gladiator and the Masked Marauder are busy hatching a diabolical plan to ensnare Daredevil.  It seems that there is an opening for a leadership position in the Maggia, which the Marauder believes can be his if they are able to serve up Double D’s head on a platter.  The Marauder shows the Gladiator his newest creation: a creature that is super strong and powerful called the Tri-Android.  To power the android, the Marauder abducts three individuals by sucking them up through light bulbs.  Each of the abductees has his own particular talent.  One is a strong wrestler, another a sneaky heist man, and the third a criminal genius.  Using their energy, the villain is able to get his creation to function and he sends it to the arena where boxing matches are taking place.  Foggy is already in attendance after he gets some tickets for the fights anonymously in the mail.  The Tri-Android shows up and cleans house.  Standing alone in the ring, he issues a challenge for Daredevil to come face him.  Matt convinces Karen to take him to the arena and also to give him a Daredevil outfit that Foggy wore back when he was imitating the hero.  He reasons that he wants to talk to the Tri-Android in case the real Double D can’t show up, hopefully delaying and preventing the creature from hurting anyone.  Once at the arena, the fight is on.  Daredevil struggles a bit at first but eventually gains the upper hand.  The Marauder and Gladiator view the proceedings from one of their monitors.  Even though it looks like his creation is done for, the marauder reveals to his accomplice that he has one of his Levitation Rays hidden in the lights above.  This was the same creation used earlier to abduct the three goons.  Noticing that Karen and Foggy are in the arena, the Marauder gets on a loud speaker and orders Daredevil to surrender or he will kill the two of them.

Jack: The Masked Marauder is a humble super-villain—he just aspires to be one of the most famous criminals in the hemisphere, not the entire world. You have to respect that sort of humility. I think Gene Colan liked drawing big, bald guys—Tri-Man reminds me of the Freak over in Iron Man not too long ago. Karen page steals the moron award this month from Jane Foster’s purse when she doesn’t suspect Matt Murdock of being Daredevil, even though he put on a Daredevil costume, she drove him to the Garden, and then Daredevil showed up right when Matt disappeared.

Tom:  This was a very fun read as long as you can check your disbelief at the door.  I’m not even going to get into how preposterous it was with the whole Levitation Ray abduction part of the story.  In the end, though, I’m a big sucker for any boxing match scenes and I loved how Daredevil fought with the Tri-Android inside the squared circle.  I’m also enjoying the banter between the Gladiator and the Masked Marauder.  They just don’t make villain team-ups like that anymore.  When the Marauder revealed that he needed three men to make the android function I immediately thought that he was going to use Bird-Man, Ape-Man, and Frog-Man.  He might as well have used them because apparently it doesn’t matter what skill the person has that is used to power the droid, since it just seems to be a lumbering dimwit that follows orders and not much else. 

Jack: I want to go on record saying that, as of 1966, Gene Colan is my favorite Marvel artist. Sorry, Kirby fans!

It doesn't get any better than this!
MB: Well, we’re down to two “delineators” from three, with Giacoia and Ayers as the holdovers, and this time I’d at least hazard a guess as to the transition point, between pages 8 and 9.  Conversely, we’re now up to three villains (not counting the Owl’s one-panel cameo), with the return of the Gladiator and the Masked Marauder plus the introduction of the latter’s android, the Tri-Man.  I found it odd that although Stan tells us “Gentleman Gene is batty about drawing fight scenes,” no mention is made of Matt’s pugilistic heritage as the scion of “Battling Murdock,” but perhaps he was distracted from dwelling on such thoughts by the ludicrous plot of his suiting up as Daredevil, planning to fight the Tri-Man and hoping Karen doesn’t figure the whole thing out.

PE: Though the story's no great shakes, it is entertaining and Colan's art is finally hitting the spot on this title for me. The Karen/Matt/Froggy triangle is kept to a blissful minimum and the action's pretty much wall-to-wall. It could be a lot worse considering the Daredevil is fighting The Three Stooges.


The X-Men 26
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The X-Men continue to face off against Mayan God Kukulcan (formerly El Tigre) who relocates to the jungles of Central America. Meanwhile, Jean finds out she's attending school with Mimic (stay tuned for the next issue), and in the heat of battle Cyclops inadvertently (or not) zaps rival Angel with an optic blast intended for Kukulcan.

JS: If my calculations are correct, we're almost halfway to some classic X-Men issues! The high point in this particular issue is when Professor X points out the value of using an index to his students. Gifted, indeed.
PE: More than any other Marvel title, The X-Men is a drag to read. Other titles may have inane story lines but there's at least a minimum of enjoyment achieved in the reading. I get no such glee snoozing through these pages. The art is lifeless, the characters unremarkable, the situations they encounter unbelievable (even for a comic book) but worse, boring. It's really no wonder that several years later, Roy Thomas decided to throw a match on this dry brush. Stan created a format for The X-Men that has been adhered to for 26 issues and, it seems, new writer Roy Thomas wanted no part of shaking Stan's tree. At least not yet. We can hope that something worthwhile happens soon. The Angel adds "mind reader" to his resume this issue (see panel to the right).

JS: I can't figure out why Xavier doesn't don the magic legs so he can join the X-Men on their Jungle Cruise. It seems like he only does it around the house where his safety tentacles are always within reach. 


The Mighty Thor 134
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Having triumphed (of a sort) over the living planet Ego, Thor and his companion, the robot known as the Recorder, return to the nearby craft that will take them back to the planet Rigel. True to their word, the Colonizers have released Earth from the space-lock that imprisoned it, and called would-be conquer Tana Nile to return home. Before the Colonizers take Thor back to Earth, they have a near drive-by collision with the spacecraft of Galactus, though the planet-eater pays no attention, headed instead for the Black Galaxy. Tana Nile’s disappointment is forgotten when she learns the High Commissioner wants to marry her, having loved him from afar for years. Thor’s mission now: find Jane Foster.  The Colonizers give Thor the parting gift of a psyche-search gauge to help lead him to his beloved. Jane, meanwhile, has accepted the job offered her by the mysterious Count Tagar and his chauffer Porga. As the trio passes through a small European village on their way to the place they refer to as Wundagore, the townspeople warn them of armed “bandits” in the hills who may rob them, presuming said place to possesses great wealth. They are indeed attacked, but in only a moment armoured “knights” on flying atomic “steeds” come to their rescue, scattering the bandits easily. Soon after, Thor flies over this very road, and questions the tattered bandits, who are too frightened to be of any help. Flying onward, Thor is himself soon bound by steel ropes; he chooses to allow himself to be captured by the knights, and thus gain sooner entrance to the land of Wundagore, which is a majestic castle atop a nearby mountain. Initially hostile, the knights, upon realizing Thor is a force to be reckoned with, treat him a little more respect. They reveal themselves as “New-Men”, genetically advanced human/animal beings as might be seen in the far future of evolution. Their leader calls himself the High Evolutionary, and Thor pushes past the New-Men to the Genetic Chamber where he is working on the advancement of a wolf. Demanding the whereabouts of Jane, the masked, armoured High Evolutionary tells Thor where to find her, being too busy with his experiments to stop. The Thunder God finds his beloved, and after a brief but heartfelt reunion, he prepares to take her from Wundagore, despite her objections that no harm has been done, and she’s merely teaching the New-Men about the outside world. But even the moment or two that the High Evolutionary dealt with Thor has been too long; the wolf has changed into the combination of the end result of human and canine evolution, and, he is …evil.
 
In Tales Of Asgard, Thor and his buddies travel to Nastrond, a land laid waste to long ago by Odin when they challenged his rule. But it is not as dead as it seems; while the warriors sleep, Volstagg is awoken by an old man, who leads him not to a promised ancient cave of treasure, but away from his companions. The old man is in reality Fafnir the Dragon, the transformed former king of Nastrond!

PE: If one lesson can be learned from the last several issues of The Mighty Thor, it's that dames just ain't worth it. Think about it. If not for Jane Foster, Thor would be living the easy life of a God. Here, he just wraps up one adventure (begun when Jane Foster, Certified Nurse, is kidnapped by a Weeble from Outer Space) and then stumbles into more danger when he has to find his beloved. She's taken a job with someone who's a little more than what he advertised in the want ads and thus, Thor is attacked by goons in hockey gear. Do most New York nurses find this much danger on their rounds? The apex of "making Jane Foster relevant," Thor's discovery of his gal moonlighting as a school teacher to guys with zebra-heads, resembles a bad skit on Saturday Night Live.


JB: Peter: “making Jane Foster relevant” is a great phrase. It hits the nail on the head, because, nearing the end of her initial run in Thor, we just didn’t get enough “relevant” moments to make her place with Thor successful. It’s interesting though, how calm she is in the face of the New-Men and the glory of Wundagore, considering how frightened she becomes in Asgard a couple of months hence. Maybe it’s the unrealized potential her character had that left me frustrated; the God/human relationship could have done much more. Another loose end: what happens when Galactus enters the Black Galaxy to find Ego? They meet in the pages of Thor #160-162, but that’s a long way off. And why did Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch make a cameo? It must be that Marvel crossover craziness.

PE: I've mentioned I'd rather see Asgardian menaces than chapter-book cuddlies like the New-Men, at least in The Mighty Thor, but my colleagues disagree. Fair enough, as that's what comics are all about. This title had been maintaining a "serious," more adult tone, even with its dips into Outer Space silliness the last few issues, but the current story leaves me bored, an emotion not felt since the early days when lame Doc Blake (remember him?) was captured by Russkies. I'm hoping this book gets back on track fast.

MB: Despite the perennial problem of Colletta’s intermittently sketchy inks, this science-fiction-filled epic continues to be a welcome change of pace from Loki’s Asgardian insurrectiondu jour and Papa Odin’s paternal flip-flops.  With his New-Men, the High Evolutionary will be a major player on our little stage for years to come, and (like the return of the Golden Age Human Torch in this month’s Fantastic Four Special) the introduction of the Man-Beast will have major ramifications for the ever-expanding Marvel Universe later on.  All this plus the resolution of the current Colonizers/Black Galaxy plotline, the betrothal of Tana Nile, the Knights of Wundagore, a brand-new career path for Jane “Schoolmarm” Foster and a Galactus flyby—what’s not to like?

JB: The six months of sci-fi continue! I’m with you Matthew, what’s not to like about this crazy story? I always thought of this cover as a little inferior, maybe only because Thor is almost in the background, but at a closer look, with the brooding, armoured High Evolutionary, and the Man-Beast nearly invisible in the genetic chamber, it reeks of mystery. In the TOA this month, Volstagg is a delight as he gloats about his little adventure, only to be scared stiff as Fafnir the Dragon assumes his real form.

PE: I am pleased to report that we can add some new high-falutin' doohickeys to my list of "Weapons Whose Power You'd Never Be Able to Guess From Their Title:" the Mesa Beam (which renders you motionless), the Psyche-Search Gauge (which allows you to hone in on nurses with low IQs), and The Evolutionary Ray (ok, that one's self-explanatory). I loved Tana Nile's squeal of delight when she finds out The High Evolutionary wants to marry her, but I couldn't help but fantasize this story as written by Michael Fleisher. Nile gets back to Rigel only to find she's been lied to by her escorts and now will be cast out into The Black Galaxy for refusing to leave earth on her own.


The Amazing Spider-Man 42
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From all outward appearances, The Amazing Spider-Man has just knocked over a bank. Tons of witnesses, missing money bag, steel vault bars peeled back like a banana. Open and shut case, right? Seems like J. Jonah Jameson may have been right all along about out former friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and now JJJ has a cake and he's gonna get a really big fork. The large silverware arrives in the form of Colonel John Jameson, whose body has taken on super-powers thanks to a dose of outer space microbes. With a little coaxing from dad, JJJJr. heads off after Spidey. The two tussle on a rooftop while Spider-Man tries to explain the situation (which is still a mystery to us) but the Colonel ain't havin' any. The wall-crawler finally escapes long enough to let us in on what really happened back at the bank. Seems someone brought a bomb in to the vault in a money bag. Peter Parker happened to be in the bank at the time and his spidey-sense went off like an alarm. Realizing there was "no time to explain," he did what he had to do to save lives. Meanwhile, those space spores are doing bad things to Colonel Jameson's psyche and he heads off looking for a fight again. As a special conclusion to their sophomore bout, Spider-Man manages to zap Jameson with a generator and the astronaut returns to his normal size and, ostensibly, rosy outlook on life. In our finale, Peter Parker finally meets up with his (SPOILER ALERT!!) future wife, Mary Jane Watson and suddenly all thought of Gwen Stacy seems to disappear. For a while at least.

PE: Well, if the Rhino's outer shell is indeed a layer of skin as those bigheads hypothesize, I wonder how he visits the little boy's room. Shouldn't he at least have on some Fin Fang Foom briefs? Sure didn't take long for JJJ to convince his son to hunt down the guy in the spider-suit. The guy who just happened to save his life a couple times. JJJ comes off as much more than just the pest we've known for 42 issues, he's more like a monster now, willing to risk his son's health, and maybe life, just to prove he's been right all along. The cherry on top is that his son will be the hero. Jonah's sudden change near the end of the story from blood-thirsty to conscientious definitely doesn't ring true for me. Too sudden.

MB:   This is a landmark issue, if only for our long-awaited first full look at Mary Jane Watson, with the immortal last-page reveal that—in a single panel—says it all, as far as I’m concerned, about the otherwise appealing Kirsten Dunst’s miscasting in that pivotal role.  John Jameson’s transformation as a result of his aeronautical adventures (and not for the last time) is an interesting development, and Jonah proves once again that he is not above anything, including manipulating his own son to serve his twisted interests.  Stan keeps the pot boiling regarding the captive Rhino, complete with a Foggy Nelson cameo, while Romita, now inking his own pencils, provides Marvel with one of its single most iconic images ever in M.J.

PE: The Marvel misunderstanding rears its ugly head yet again but this time it's purely Spider-Man's fault. He plays the old "no time to explain" game while taking the time to web the guards, break into the vault, nab the money bag with the bomb in it, and finding a safe place to dump it, all without even trying to throw a "there's a bomb in the bag!" explanation to anyone who'll listen. The wall-crawling dope even throws in one-liners while he's robbing the bank. For all we know he doesn't even look in the bag! Did he think it would appear any way other than how it looks? 

JS: Unanimous praise in The Spider's Web for the new direction. One reader, Mike Glicksohn of Canada bemoans a title that has "been treacherously laid low by deteriorating artwork and a succession of inferior and inadequate opponents." That's Ditko he's subtly referring to. I agree. There are a few Romita trademarks that annoy me at times: the posed hero with the clenched fists at his side and the "constipatory grin/scowl with exposed teeth" look.

The Avengers 34
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The Living Laser uses his powerful beam to rob a bank and the Avengers are called in to find the culprit. Coincidentally, his alter ego is Arthur Parks, who  has had the hots for Janet Van Dyne ever since he caught a glimpse of her. He knows that she is the Wasp and thinks he can win her love by defeating Goliath and the Avengers. He attacks Goliath at the Avengers mansion and the fight that ensues spills out into the surrounding woods. Goliath knocks out the Living Laser and when Hawkeye and Captain America arrive the threesome take the villain in their flying ship. The Living Laser escapes from the ship and goes home to improve his laser beam. He engages in some random acts of vandalism before Captain America, Hawkeye and the Wasp track him down at his hideout, where they are quickly captured and held prisoner by laser beams.



MB: Okay, I would never call the Living Laser a first-tier villain, but longtime readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn that, first, I have a soft spot for him and, second, he can be seen in (all together now, class) Avengers Special #1, a kind of “who’s who” of the heroes and villains from the Lee/Heck era.  Although somewhat reminiscent of the dreaded Human Top, the obsession Arthur Parks instantly develops for everybody’s favorite size-shifting heiress (“If only I understood these things…like a man!”) gives the story an unusual twist, while the return of Bill Foster is of course equally welcome.  In fact, setting aside an obligatory sigh over Heck-as-inker, this is a satisfying beginning to what promises to be a solid if unspectacular Avengers two-parter.

PE: I'll expand on that word unspectacular. This strip is so unspectacular at this time that the only thing that makes me open its unspectacular pages is to see what manner of incredibly unspectacular villain Stan has come up with. The Living Laser (luckily Stan scotched the first draft which labeled him "The Dead Laser") reminds me a lot of The Unicorn but I can see your comparison as well, Professor Matthew. They're all fifth tier residents. I love how the "demoniac human dreadnaught" dressed in women's suede boots and stylish midriff belt goes on a rampage of destruction and mangles steel girders, obsolete planes and rotting tugboats all earmarked for demolition anyway. Way to show the public you're not one to be messed with! Actually, since The Living Laser is avoiding any bad behavior, watch for him to be the newest member of The Avengers by issue 40!

Jack: Stan apologizes on page one for not following through with last issue’s promise of a big change for Goliath, adding that this will occur next issue. He also engages in some “humorous” Dick and Jane style captions that serve to highlight how inane this tale really is. Poor Jan—at various points in the story, she announces that she’s going shopping, plans to visit the hairdresser, and wishes she were a man so she could figure it all out!


Fantastic Four King-Size Special 4
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When Ben, Reed and Sue are looking through some fan mail, Ben sees a letter asking about the original Human Torch. Reed says he had a few chances to see this Torch in action during the war. At that moment, Johnny, Wyatt Wingfoot and Lockjaw appear via a little dimensional travelling, relating to the team their efforts to get the giant dog to take them to the Great Refuge where the other Inhumans are imprisoned. At the same time, an old foe of the Fantastic Four, the Mad Thinker, has managed to find the original Torch, who was also the first android, created by a Dr. Horton. The Thinker awakens the android, who remembers how Dr. Horton had been unable to control the power of flame he had given him, and tried to contain the Torch in a container, surrounded by concrete. A tiny leak of oxygen had enabled the Torch to escape. Beyond this, the android’s memory is unclear, and the Mad Thinker neglects to remind him that he had become a crime-fighter. The Thinker has found a way to control the Torch’s flame, and at threat of being returned to nothingness, the Torch agrees to follow the evil one’s plan: destroy Johnny Storm, the “new” human torch. When Johnny is out testing his ability to create and control near-Nova heat (to try to break through the barrier imprisoning Crystal of course), he is attacked by the original Torch, who says only that he has no choice but to destroy his younger namesake. The older, android Torch is stronger and has more experience controlling his flame, but their powers are very even, as they cause the ground beneath them to melt, and eventually end up in an underground cavern. Johnny learns during the course of battle that it is the Thinker who is behind the attack, and that the mad one’s computer, Quasimodo can arm a destruct cell placed on the original Torch at any time, should he fail in his mission. Luckily the rest of the F.F., along with Wyatt and Lockjaw (who Reed realizes uses the thought waves of individuals to tune in on and open a dimensional track to) appear, and thanks to Mr. Fantastic’s liquid asbestos lotion, Ben is able to contain the original Torch. Lockjaw tunes them in to the Mad Thinker, and takes them to his hideout. The Mad Thinker activates Quasimodo’s destruct-eye beam, “killing” the android torch, then he escapes via an aqua chamber. As the F.F. lament the death of the original Torch, the computer Quasimodo slowly fades into silence, wishing to be human before he, too, dies.

JB: The Marvel universe only became more powerful when they brilliantly tied the past and present together. It was sad to see the original android Torch die; did he return in later years at all? Quasimodo’s dying plea to become human was a little touching too, poor monster. Seeing the reprints of F.F. #’s 25 and 26 shows how far the book has come in thirty issues, especially visually.

PE: When Johnny Storm realizes Lockjaw has brought he and Wyatt Wingfoot to the Baxter Building rather than behind the Inhumans' Secret Fortress, he curls up in a ball on the sofa and cries. Only Sue can comfort him while he moans about Crystal: "It's the end of my world!" Some superhero this guy is. He's a... big crybaby, is what he is (I'd use that other word but ostensibly this is a family blog).



PE: Holy Mackerel! Is this a coincidence or what? Ben Grimm gets a letter from a fan asking him if he knows anything about the original Human Torch and pages later he's fighting him! Who'da thunk? This issue we get to learn a little more about Johnny Storm's powers. If he's hit with a fist that's on fire, it will  regenerate his powers. Hmmm. I'm not surprised at the revelation just at the fact that he knows this tidbit. How many times has he been hit with a flaming right in his career?

MB: This annual (and it should be noted that, back then, Marvel used the titles “Annual” and “Special” fairly interchangeably, although I’m going with what’s printed on the covers) is momentous for marking the Silver Age debut of the original Human Torch, whose subsequent career would be more complex—and far-reaching—than Stan could have imagined at the time.  The battle between the two Torches is equally historic, but while Quasimodo would return in later years, I don’t consider his introduction to be especially significant.  “Wrong-Way” Lockjaw continues to spice things up with his unpredictable teleportational powers, giving Stan a convenient way to divert Johnny and Wyatt from their Himalayan adventures for this little opus.

PE: Fans of the Boston Celtics have showered praise on their "big three" of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce but we Marvel fans know the original "Big Three": Captain America, Sub-Mariner, and The Human Torch. All through the 40s and 50s, these boys put the kibosh on super villains, Nazis, and yes, the lowest of the low, the stinkin' commies! Created by Carl Burgos for the legendary Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939), which also featured the origins of Namor and Ka-Zar, The Human Torch became an immediate hit for then-Timely Comics and soon won his own book. At one time, The Torch appeared in three titles, including the newly-renamed Marvel Mystery Comics, Human Torch Comics, and All-Winners Comics. It was in All-Winners that The Torch became a member of the apropriately named All-Winners Squad, a 1940s version of The Avengers (or a Timely answer to DC's All-Star Squadron), with teammates Namor, Cap, The Whizzer, and Miss America. In the late 1960s, Roy Thomas would pump new blood into the old team and re-create them as The Invaders. The Torch also had a "Bucky" named Toro. It's strange that, since they fought side by side in The Big War, there hasn't been much interaction between Captain America and Namor here in the 1960s. That has nothing to do with this particular adventure. I'm just thinking out loud. I join Professor Matthew in sighing in nostalgic glee at the mere mention of The Invaders.

Jack: When I saw this cover, I remember that I used to have this comic, and the sight of the original Torch made me go back and read the story. I thought it was great, and the Quasimodo fadeout is very sad. This is the kind of comic that really got me excited when I was a kid!


The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special 3
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After much discussion, The Avengers have decided they want to test The Amazing Spider-Man for a slot in their super-group. Easier said than done. Murphy's Law seems to take effect when the wall-crawler shows up for his written exams at the Avengers mansion. What begins as a friendly get-together quickly disintegrates into fisticuffs. When the dust settles, The Avengers propose their test: Spider-Man must bring The Hulk to them. Easier said than done. Once Spidey find the green goliath, he tries subdue him but finds The Hulk much too powerful for him. After much soul-searching, Spider-Man decides that he doesn't want to turn over his target to The Avengers and walks away from the offer to join.

PE: Jan's old excuse that she doesn't trust Spider-Man because wasps don't get along with spiders is as stale as her boyfriend's get-up. The faux acrimony between Spidey and the team could also use a new layer of Old Spice. In one panel they're all wishing Spidey the best on his try-out and in the next, Iron man is telling him to get out of the room as the wall-crawler is "breathing down our necks." One thing's for certain when you see a Marvel cover with two or more heroes: there's gonna be some good-natured wrasslin'.


MB:  If you’re going to do a story about Spidey meeting the Avengers, then it makes sense to combine the artists responsible for both strips, with Heck interpolating his pencils betwixt Romita’s layouts and Esposito’s inks.  With all those Avengers milling about—suddenly rejoined by founding members Thor and Iron Man, despite the continuity problems that led Stan to remove them from their book—it’s no surprise that the balance looks weighted a bit in Heck’s favor, although to my knowledge neither he nor Romita is especially associated with the Hulk.  I wish I were happier with the story, but the idea of loner Spidey as an Assembler seems ludicrous, making it all the stranger for him to state at the end that he “wanted it so bad [he] could taste it!”


PE: If The Hulk breaks through a wall of gamma radiation, wouldn't Spidey be affected as well? And what makes the cameo appearances of Thor, Daredevil, Iron Man, and Hulk so bizarre in relation to continuity in their own strips is that Stan's excuse for the former Avengers being present is that Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch are off in Europe (which coincides with the events of the regular Avengers strip) and thus cannot attend the vote. Seems highly contrived. Overall, the story reeks of a "remake " of The Amazing Spider-Man #1 wherein Spidey tried to join The Fantastic Four. 

JS: Our big 72-page special also contains the reprinting of an early two-parter featuring Doc Ock (from ASM #11 and #12)


Strange Tales 150
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Against the advice of Sitwell and Dugan, Fury uses himself as a test subject for the firing of the Overkill Horn, which triggers a nuclear missile half a continent away, and is rumored to be in the hands of a supranational power that could use it to detonate all of earth’s atomic stockpiles.  Narrowly surviving the sonic backlash, he orders a round-the-clock “death watch” for the device’s distinctive sonar images, and accepts an invitation to be the guest of honor at wealthy Don Caballero’s weekend party, held in the ancient ruins of Karnopolis.  We soon learn what Fury already suspects:  Don C is the new Supreme Hydra, with an Overkill Horn of his own, and—far from being gulled into inviting Fury—can’t wait to give him a ringside seat.

MB: And the artwork goes from glop to gold—or at least Silver (ha ha)—in one easy lesson; I’d been holding my breath awaiting the advent of Steranko when another giant, one at least as significant in the larger scheme of things, dropped into my lap unexpectedly, here and in this month’s Tales to Astonish.  The bracing impact of John Buscema’s pencils, even in between Kirby’s layouts and Giacoia’s inks, is like shifting from 2-D to 3-D, accentuating the drama inherent in Stan’s script, and Sitwell especially, although he still looks like a little bit of a nebbish, is recognizably human, rather than a cartoony caricature.  Don’t quote me on this, because memory is a tricky thing, but I believe it is with this episode that the promise of Strange Tales #135 truly begins to be fulfilled.


PE: Big John's first work for silver age Marvel (he did quite a bit of work for Timely in the late 1940s through the 1950s)  is miles above what we've been subjected to of late. We're a few years away from Buscema's domination of two of Marvel's flagships, Thor and Fantastic Four (arguably three, if you also throw in Conan the Barbarian), but I'm smilin' ear to ear that we'll be enjoying his stuff on the Hulk strip over in TTA for the next few months and The Avengers beginning next year. That just leaves the story, which is a bit meandering, what with Overkill Horns and Super-Mega Overkill Horns. Fury's dialogue could very well come out of Ben Grimm's mouth. 

Jack: This is the first time I’ve seen John Buscema’s name pop up. He would later become one of my favorite Marvel artists, but this story—if it really is all his work—doesn’t look much like what he would do in the ‘70s. In fact, until the last few pages, I would not even recognize this as Buscema’s art.

Doctor Strange
Our Story


As Kaluu wonders in vain where Dr. Strange and the Ancient One have escaped to, the twosome travel back through time to ancient Babylonia, where the Ancient One vanquishes the Griffin, which guarded the Book of the Vishanti. Dr. Strange returns home and quickly dispatches of Kaluu with the help of the spell-reflecting book. Meanwhile, over in Dormammu’s realm, the Mindless Ones break through the barrier now that the Dreaded One is gone. Clea sends a message to Dr. Strange for help, but the creatures are sent packing by none other than Dormammu’s sister, Umar, who has also been released by her brother’s disappearance.

Jack: It seems like Roy Thomas and Bill Everett may finally be getting comfortable with the Dr. Strange strip, because this is the best story in some time. The pacing is crisp, the villains are interesting, and Umar looks like a formidable foe. I am actually looking forward to next issue! I am glad that my studies of the Bible and ancient civilizations are finally paying off, since I can report that Marduk was, in fact, an ancient Babylonian god. Unfortunately, according to some quick internet research, Marduk also appears to be the name of a heavy metal band.

MB:  This episode’s formal title is “The Conquest of Kaluu!,” but I much prefer the one on the cover (complete with a new masthead giving Strange and Fury equal billing), “Exit Kaluu…Enter Umar!,” both because it’s so delightfully literal and because it lends itself to spoofing as “Exit O’Neil…Enter Thomas!”  That’s right, children, Rascally Roy is back, and in each case, the substitution is for the better, providing Doc with his first formidable female villain and the reader with a return trip to Dormammu’s dark dimension.  Everett’s style seems to suit Umar better than Kaluu, who looks like he has a raging headache on the splash page, so I’m not at all sorry to see the last of Mr. K for the time being, although I gather he’ll be back later on.



Tales to Astonish 85
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

After he is struck by one of General Krang’s weapons, Namor realizes that he is too weak to keep up with the villain so he goes for a swim to recover.  Number 1, of the Secret Empire, is holed up in a penthouse in New York.  He notices outside his window that the Hulk is slowly making his way towards his dwelling.  Scared, the villain pulls up Namor’s whereabouts on his monitor.  Having secretly implanted mind control devices in his ears when Namor was last in his company, Number 1 activates them in the hopes of using the underwater prince to save him from the Hulk’s wrath.   The villain has no such luck, though, as the control devices mainly just give Namor a severe migraine before he is able to detect them and rip them out.  With the Hulk looming closer and closer, the desperate Number 1 sets up some dynamite explosives, timed to go off when the Hulk climbs his way up the building.   As Number 1 attempts to leave, the bottom of his outfit gets caught in a steel door, trapping him.  The bomb explodes with the police later finding his unrecognizable corpse; the Hulk is unaffected by the explosive.  In the end, the Hulk showing up at the villain’s building was just a bizarre coincidence, as the monster was just evading the police.   

Tom:  Pretty stupid story that showcased a pretty stupid villain blowing himself up because he got spooked out due to a pretty stupid coincidence.  Yet, for some reason I liked it.  Maybe it was because of the ending that showed some shadowy figures of Hydra who seemed happy to cross off the Secret Empire on a list that had A.I.M. on it as well?  Also, don’t ask me why I care, but what the hell ever happened to Number 9?! 

Jack: I’m just glad Number One had a big numeral 1 printed on the front of his hood. I might have been confused but for that. Early in the story, Sub-Mariner refers to his amphibian strength. Now, according to Wikipedia, most amphibians can only reproduce in fresh water, not in salt water. This could present a whole new set of problems for Lady Dorma.

MB: Whatever reservations I may have about Everett’s work on Dr. Strange do not extend to his inking of Colan’s pencils on his aquatic adventurer, who—oddly enough—is relegated to a glorified cameo in his own half of the book.  Not sure how often you’d want to use it as a plot mechanism, but Namor appears to be undergoing a passel of mind-control these days; seems like only yesterday the absurdly dressed Puppet Master was pulling his strings. I might also opine that a little too much space was devoted to Subby detecting and destroying the devices that control him, but at least we finally get to write off that hokey Secret Empire (for the moment) as the reborn Hydra eliminates its branches that, like A.I.M., have served their purpose.

Jack: Subby clearly makes a visit to Palisades Amusement Park, which was across the Hudson from NYC in New Jersey until it was torn down to make condos in the early 1970s. I remember going there on a family trip and enjoying the Batman ride, which was one of those rotating concrete cylinders you have to walk through without falling down.

PE: Way too  much time spent on the whining and moaning of Number One (in fact, I might snarkily quip that this subplot has actually been Number Two) but thankfully that seems to be over while the other plot element that never seems to go away is that of the unending journey of Krang and Dorma. If Subby needs to "bathe in the glorious, nurturing, life-giving qualities of the water", why don't our other resident Atlanteans? Judging by the "Coming Next Issue," this ain't a story that's going away any time soon.

Hulk
Our Story

The Hulk continues his trip to New York City with every available cop on his tail and some military planes that shoot him down whenever he flies into the sky.  As he is being hunted, General Ross launches the Orion Missile in a test run.  The deadly weapon is only supposed to orbit around the ocean in case it malfunctions.  In Florida, it is shown that the old man who paid Rick Jones to drive his car to New York is a Commie crackpot who schemes of destroying the city.  Rick Jones is able to find the Hulk and convinces him to hop in the car he is transporting to escape.  When Federal Agents bust into the old Commie's residence to arrest him, he presses a button that activates a hidden robot in the trunk of the car Rick was transporting.  The robot is big, blue and twice the size of the Hulk, but that’s no matter as Greenskin easily beats it to pieces.  Before it’s completely destroyed, though, the robot is able to throw off the Orion Missile’s coordinates, causing it to head straight for New York.  Somehow knowing that the missile will destroy the whole city, the Hulk leaps onto it in an attempt to stop it.  Unfortunately for Jade Jaws, he forgets why he is clinging on to the weapon and reverts back to Bruce Banner.  Our story ends with the seemingly helpless scientist unable to prevent his own death or the destruction of the city.  

Rick is one cool cucumber!
Tom:  This was better than last issue’s story, which really isn’t saying much.  The quality for the Hulk has really taken a few steps backwards considering that not long ago he was facing the Leader, brawling against Hercules, and visiting the Watcher’s world.  I thought the whole Commie villain era was hopefully pretty much over until I read this uncreative nonsense with a giant robot hidden in the trunk of a car.  It looks like Professor Pete will have to slap on the dreaded Commie Alert! logo once again.

MB:  Although I don’t find Big John’s Hulk debut as noteworthy as his work on S.H.I.E.L.D.—and John Tartaglione’s inks may be a factor here—it’s miles ahead of the artwork I’ve seen sporadically on this strip up until now.  Judging by my patchwork quilt of prior issues, it looks like we’re finally stabilizing Greenskin’s verbal and intellectual level at what will be standard for the foreseeable future, so between that and his now-no-longer-secret identity, the big green galoot is becoming the Hulk I know and love.   Didn’t realize a Hawaiian shirt was the uniform for foreign agents, but demerits to both G-2 for giving Gorki MORE than sufficient time to flip that switch, and Stan for flouting the laws of physics with his mass-increasing giant robot.
Paging 1956--your missing panel
has been found . . .
PE: So, I'm going to blow up New York but I'm not going to do it in any of the classic styles. I hire a kid to drive my car from Florida into the Big Apple and tell him not to open the trunk. I've told him very sternly so I trust my act of terrorism will see its fruition because this teenager will surely not look in the trunk! It might have been a little more believable if this guy was underworld muscle getting rid of some dead weight. It's an amazing coincidence that Rick Jones, who happened to answer the ad, is a friend of The Hulk, who is always chased around by General Thunderball Ross, who is the supervisor of the Orion Missile which is the target of . . . oh, never mind.

Jack: Nice to see John Buscema take over the Hulk, though his art looks strikingly like a 1950s style rather than the style we all will welcome in the not too distant future. I love the panel where we see Hulk sitting in the passenger seat of Rick’s jeep. I bet he did not have a lot of leg room.

PE: I don't dock Stan for dressing our Commie (that is, if he is a Commie) in a Hawaiian shirt. After all, he's in Florida and they all dress like that down there 24/7 (although that particular pattern was discontinued in 1962). No one but a Communist would tuck in his Hawaiian shirt!  I will deduct points from "The Man"'s score however for not explaining why H-Hour is being celebrated in both Hulk and FF strips this month. Or are there different definitions for H-Hour? You can see why I'm always confused. Betty Ross makes a grab for the Airhead Brass Ring that has seemingly been the property of Nurse Jane Foster for a couple years when she sighs to her General pop about the Orion Missile, "Oh dad, it's such an impressive sight!"


Tales of Suspense 83
Iron Man
Our Story

Still locked in battle with the deadly Titanium Man, Iron Man pulls out all the stops to protect the huge crowd that has gathered to witness. With one last ditch effort, IM is able to short circuit TM but the larger, stronger foe is able to give off a sonic boom and escape in the confusion. The loud noise jangles Happy Hogan and lifts his veil of amnesia. As Tony Stark embraces their love, Pepper Potts, Hogan ponders what he should do with the information that has become available to him again: he knows who Iron Man really is.

PE: A mixed-bag in the story department. There's a nice one-on-one going on between Iron Man and Titanium Man but Stan seems more interested in the bystanders' opinions (including those of LBJ) and so, continually pulls us away from the raging battle. As a diversion, TM creates a sonic boom that magically cures Happy Hogan's amnesia. I hope Norman Osborn wasn't within earshot. Lots of cornball dialogue (Pepper, watching the tumultuous fray, only wishes "Tony Stark were here." to which her on again/off again doughy beau exclaims "I'd be as much help -- even with my amnesia -- as him!" Of course, by the final panel, Hogan has hit the gym and looks very much the dashing Cary Grant type rather than a man who hits Mickey D's three times a day. Aside from the incredible change-o machine that is Happy, the art here is really nice. We're not back to the ideal Colan (noir to the extreme) yet but with the aid of Gary Michaels (Jack Abel) we're slowly but (hopefully) getting there.


JS: I think this is one of those medical breakthroughs you hear about that comes from military spending. Sonic booms cure amnesia! Brilliant!

PE: I'm not a scientist nor do I pretend to be but would a sonic boom create a visual diversion for Titanium Tincan to escape? Now's the time for you budding science majors to edjacate me. I'm also not an expert on the thought processes of a woman (just ask my ex-wife) but can one female's affection really bounce around between three men so quickly? In the space of three or four panels, we have no idea if Betty Brant Pepper Potts is in love with Happy, Tony or, get ready for the ultimate iron-y: the golden avenger himself.

JS: In all fairness, I'm not sure which one Happy loves, either...

Captain America
Our Story

Mistaking The Adaptoid for Captain America, a sixth-tier villain named The Tumbler tries to make a name for himself in the Marvel Bad Guy Universe. Not ready for the attack, The Adaptoid/Faux Cap learns that it takes more than just a nice uniform to make a fighting man. Meanwhile, in the next room, the Real McCoy manages to slip his bindings and join the fray. Once he's defeated The Tumbler, Cap hauls The Adaptoid down to Avengers headquarters to do a little examining.

Hang on a sec while I tell y'all a little story
PE: I've always been the rogue comic reader who wants to see what's going on while the bad guy stops the action to tell a long origin story. Does he lean up against a bookcase with a Tiparillo, hand cocked on hip, and look skyward while musing? Does he vocalize all the word balloons? As far as The Tumbler's origin, it's nothing new but I do admire the fact that the guy was able to master every bit of training he attempted. His motive for attacking Cap is a bit... oh, lame might be a good word. We don't even know what his plans are, post-Cap beatdown. The Avengers need men like The Tumbler.

MB:  Presumably pinch-hitting for Giacoia this month, MUbĂȘte noire “Richard” Ayers doesn’t embarrass himself, but it must be said that his inks are on the sketchy side.  No more so, I fear, than Stan’s stalling-for-time story, which might be the only one in which Cap spends the first half tied up offstage…and is almost certainly the only one in which he is compared—even erroneously—to a cabbage.  Those may seem like pretty small potatoes as famous firsts go, yet they are somehow strangely suitable to the issue in which we first make the acquaintance of the Tumbler, a villain whose origin is as unmemorable as the ease with which he penetrates Avengers Mansion is unnerving; I won’t reveal his ultimate fate, but it is quite fitting.

PE: Cap trusses up The Adaptoid and carts him off to The Avengers Mansion, remarking how uncanny the resemblance is. It's unclear whether this resemblance includes the Steve Rogers under the suit or not. An intriguing question, to me at least, is whether the suit is the outer skin of The Adaptoid or whether he can take that suit off and walk the streets as Steve Rogers. A letter in the "Mails of Suspense" column from Marvin Wolfman, two years away from work at DC and a handful more from a stint as editor at Marvel. 



Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #131
Marvel Tales #5
Millie the Model #143
Modeling with Millie #51
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #36
Two-Gun Kid #84


4 comments:

  1. Professor Jim, the original android Torch--aka Jim Hammond--did indeed return, but in a very surprising way. Many years later, we learned that it was his body Ultron used as the, shall we say, raw material for the Vision (whose mind was copied from Wonder Man's brain patterns). Of course, as Professor Pete reminds us, you'll also be able to see lots of him in THE INVADERS.

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  2. Thanks Professor Matthew! I'll have to keep these facts (and many others) in mind as we move on into the 1970's.

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  3. The Torch/Vision connection was retconed out by John Byrne in the West Coast Avengers and then retconed back in by Kurt Busiek in the Avengers Forever mini-series.

    And that was back when Marvel still gave a damn about continuity. Now it's gotten a tad bit confusing.

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  4. Ah, Mary Jane Watson....Probably another good reason why I've always been obsessed with redheads....
    Oh yeah, another great week by the faculty!

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