Wednesday, June 13, 2012

April 1967: It's a Downright Abomination!

Daredevil 27
Our Story

The Masked Marauder is out to recruit Stilt-Man as his new partner in crime.  To impress the hydraulic tough guy, the Marauder shows him his latest invention: a helicopter with a force field around it.  If anything touches the force field, it will be evaporated into nothingness.  The Masked fiend comes up with a plan to kidnap Matt, Foggy, and Karen, since he is convinced that one of them knows the secret identity of Daredevil.  Meanwhile, as Daredevil searches for Stilt-Man, he comes across Spider-Man fighting some thugs.  He helps Spidey subdue them and lets him know that Stilt-Man is on the loose.  Double D retires back to the law office and Stilt-Man is able to kidnap him, Karen, and Foggy.  He puts them aboard the helicopter where the Masked Marauder is waiting.  After some brief interrogation, Matt tells the villains that Daredevil is his twin brother Mike.  Believing him, the Marauder sends Stilt-Man to find Mike Murdock.  It’s not an easy task looking for a made up person and eventually Stilts crosses paths with Spider-Man.  The two fight it out as the Marauder attempts to throw Matt off the helicopter.  Quickly changing into his Daredevil costume under the helicopter, Double D climbs back on board to give the Marauder a beat down.  During the skirmish, the Marauder gets unmasked before he falls out of the helicopter and hits its force field, accidentally killing himself.  Spider-Man is unable to take down Stilt-Man so he takes a powder.  Unfortunately for Stilts, Daredevil happens to be passing by in the helicopter and is able to subdue him for the cops to arrest.         

Colan is veering dangerously close to Wally Wood territory...
Tom:  So much to like and so much to dislike in another issue of Daredevil.  While it’s no great loss that the Marauder met his demise, I kind of wish the title of this issue lived up to what it advertised as I can’t stand the Mike Murdock alter-ego angle.  On the good side, the action and art was great as usual.  Is it me or did Spider-Man seem a little out of character in this story? 

MB:  Unfortunately, the title “Mike Murdock Must Die!” turns out to be more wishful thinking on the part of the Marauder (who will return despite his apparent demise here, although I can’t remember if it turns out to be the same guy under the hood), or possibly the reader, than an actual imperative.  Spidey’s glorified cameo, which finds him graceless and out of character after what I think was an amicable parting with DD last time, serves only to remind us of the plot thread—left frustratingly untied, as I recall—of his writing to tell Matt he’d figured out his secret identity, which also seems out of character.  The disposal of the Marauder leaves time only for a somewhat perfunctory takedown of Stiltman, making this a frenetic but ultimately average issue.

PE: Spidey asks DD a very good question: how does Hornhead know Webhead isn't smiling? Are you going to tell me his radar senses can detect a smile? In an awesome display of power, Stiltman demonstrates to The Masked Marauder exactly why he doesn't need a partner. With a push of a button, he whooshes up on really big legs. My question is: so what? How does this translate into fighting superheroes? When he's approached by a super guy, he pushes his button and the hero can only punch away at his legs? I see plenty of excitement ahead for this sixth-tier villain. The funny thing about that incident of the Spidey letter is that, when I read the issue, I somehow expected the letter to be a fraud. Now, I guess we'll never know until one of today's writers picks up the dropped ball and runs with it. The big laughs this issue go to the dejected Stiltman after he can't find Mike Murdock in the phone book. If he ever wants to get to the fifth-tier, he better work on his detecting skills. It must be one hell of a downer laying a trap for Daredevil and the wrong superhero shows up! As far as The Masked Marauder's death scene; you're gonna love this, Professor Matthew. That death ray beam thingie that was around the helicopter? In his next public appearance, MM will explain in Iron Man #60 (July 1973) that his disintegrator was actually a teleportation device and allowed him to exit stage left. I couldn't come up with plot devices like that and brag to people at cocktail parties that I wrote comic books.

Jack: I love the cover, with separate drawings of DD, Stilt-Man, the Masked Marauder, and Foggy and Karen—with word balloons! The story may be called “Mike Murdock Must Die!” but the goofy brother never appears—or dies. There is no good reason for Spider-Man to show up, and of course the little matter of his letter of a couple of issues ago is never mentioned. As usual, DD does some impossible things, and the death of the Masked Marauder is a surprise, but this story—as busy as it is—never seems to go anywhere.

PE: That radar sense. I tell you, it's more than uncanny, it's... inane! Matt can actually tell when The Masked Marauder leans back and deactivates the copter's force field? Give... me... a... break, From that to Matt predicting the trajectory of a bullet to changing into his DD outfit (unseen) while falling out of a helicopter to popping back into said vehicle without anyone on board the wiser, this is one impossibility after another. There's a big difference in trying to pass off a giant oriental dragon in gym shorts and presenting events that have foundation in reality and gravity. And just where the heck is that Mike Murdock anyway?  Great Colan art by the way. Let's get the guy a writer and a sense of reality now.

Fantastic Four 61
Our Story

The Fantastic Three (temporarily missing Johnny) return home only to find that Reed’s machinery has a life of it’s own, and it doesn’t like them. After diffusing the danger from the atom igniter gun and a pair of gravi-polarizers (both picking on Ben), it occurs to Reed that whoever has broken into the Baxter Building (turning their own weapons against them) may have gone to the space-time chamber. Heading that way, they are dumped on by a sea of sand, which threatens to “drown” them until Ben knocks out a wall to divert its flow. In a whirlwind of flying sand they see the cause of their troubles: who else but…the Sandman? Since their last meeting, he’s brushed up on his science, designed some new duds complete with added devices (thanks to his pal the Wizard), and seeks to destroy the Fantastic Four. Events in Europe take place that will affect our team in the near future. The surfboard of the Silver Surfer returns to his place of imprisonment, freeing him and restoring his cosmic power. Free once more, he destroys his captors in a blast of cosmic justice. In a hidden shelter the recently freed family of Inhumans, led by Black Bolt, ponder their next move. Crystal gets permission from their leader to find the man she loves, Johnny Storm, and with the help of Lockjaw, her giant dimension-travelling dog, she sets out to do just that. The two materialize in the middle of a football game at Metro College, and while Johnny isn’t there, Wyatt Wingfoot is. He recognizes Crystal from Johnny’s description, and tells her that she missed him by minutes, as he left to join his teammates when he heard of their struggle. The Torch arrives at the Baxter Building to find the Sandman has indeed locked himself in the space-time chamber. Ben, pinned by the generator unit for the machinery within, dares not move for fear the negative energy released will destroy the city. Johnny lends his aid, burning through the door to the chamber, but the Sandman is prepared for them. When liquid nitrogen (one of Sandy’s new tricks) causes his sand molecules to freeze, the Torch’s flame backfires, creating a poisonous gas as soon as it comes into contact with the sand. Reed reasons their only hope is to do what he ordered them not to ever do: open the door to the negative zone! The Sandman escapes by smashing his way out a window, as the tremendous forces suck debris and people alike into it’s midst. The unfortunate one to get sucked in, with the door closing behind him, is Mr. Fantastic, straight into the negative zone and almost certain death. The others ponder the fate of their loved one and leader.

PE: I was really impressed with the tying up of loose ends from the three-part epic. A sequence like The Surfer getting his board back might sometimes be handled "off-screen," explained away with a Stan Lee asterisk when next we see the silver superhero, or not explained at all (we call this the "DC Non-Continuity Rule"), but here the event threatens to steal the spotlight from the "Main Event" (The Sandman). Norrin Radd's act of vengeance towards his tormentors (one of whom revels in holding up pictures of the solar system and asking his captive if he can see "the unending vastness that you call home!") is atypically cold-blooded and had me pumping my fanboy-fist. "That which is reaped must one day be sown! This then is the day... the hour... the moment... of cosmic retribution." It's also the dawning of a new Silver Surfer. Will he stay the same pissed-off loner? Only time will tell.

MB:  I guess after an epic like the “Doomsday” tetralogy, the only thing to do is sit back and…plunge the FF instantly into a new peril that starts with a bang on the splash page, and ends with Reed Richards apparently doomed!  They certainly can’t be accused of letting any grass grow under their feet, and although they shift scenes a bewildering number of times (like a Star Trek episode where every character must be featured), the main plot is non-stop action with, I believe, the historic first use of the term “Negative Zone” in its modern context.  It’s funny how some super-villains dance with the ones what brung ’em, while others move around; I still think of the Sandman as a Spidey villain, in his old blue-collar outfit, despite his “adoption” by the FF.

JB: Sometimes I wonder if Stan Lee plotted some of these stories and then thought, “Oops, how the hell am I going to get out of this one?” There are other events we’ve waited a long time for, like the likely reunion of Crystal and Johnny. I think I first read about the Sandman in the F.F., but I agree, he seems more like a Spidey villain. His mouth is so wide in the second panel on page 11 he looks like a human pit-bull. I know these guys must be exhausted, but even so, could Sue really fall asleep in the midst of such deadly danger? The issue does cover a lot of ground, but I found it too busy for my liking. The Sandman is almost just a catalyst for Reed’s fate.

PE: I prefer the "old blue-collar" Sandman to this new high-tech version. Where does his lovely green suit go to when he converts to nothing but sand. Is the outfit made of unstable molecules and able to re-form as Sandy wishes it? It never fails to amaze me how dumb The Fantastic Four can be. A room filling with sand and they have no idea what the menace facing them could be? And I wonder if the City of New York knows that Reed has a Space-Time Generator Lever that can destroy the entire town if you happen to accidentally bump into it. Most WMD have safeguards. The Negative Zone climax is a corker. I can imagine being a kid reading this in 1967 and thinking there is no way I can wait 30 days to find out what happens to Stretcho. I'd be so excited I wouldn't even wonder why The Sandman attacked The Baxter Building in the first place or if The Negative Zone has oxygen. I'm not even wondering about those points right now!

The Mighty Thor 129
Our Story

Thor, his hammer stolen by the trolls in their underground battle on Earth, has sixty seconds before he reverts to the human form of Don Blake. At that moment a subway train heads his way, and curtains appear to be drawing for the Thunder God and his lady the stunning Sif.  It is her magical power however, to bypass time and space, that saves the day, as they depart not a second too soon. Her accuracy unerring, the two arrive below Asgard in the troll kingdom. In the realm above them, the war wages madly; the trolls have weapons of power and complexity that Odin realizes must come from some other source. Even the power of his magic scepter, which decimates countless trolls, is rendered useless by the force of Orikal’s uti-force cannon. Undiscouraged, the All-Father leads his warriors forth, no matter what the cost. A more fortunate turn of events takes place below, as Thor and Sif find his hammer. The bizarre power of Orikal has created a duplicate of Mjolnir, now in the hands of Ulik. Thor’s own mallet returns to him now, and once again, he and Ulik, more evenly matched than ever, renew their clash. Sif dispatches an assembly line of lesser trolls, until King Geirrodur   summons Orikal to turn the tide in their favour. Thor and Sif and are raised high against a rock wall by an unseen force, open targets for a rain of weapons. Thor’s answer—smash open the wall that holds them! In so doing the come face to face with Orikal, the awesome alien held prisoner in a well of flames in the cavern beyond. He (or it?) reveals that he has no real interest in the struggle between Asgard and the trolls; he is merely doing what Geirrodur demands, in hope the troll king will grant him his freedom. Before the Asgardians can learn any more, Ulik enters the scene. This time however, it is Orikal that the troll has eyes for, knowing that until the alien is destroyed, Ulik can never be the mightiest of all. The super troll unintentionally reveals the lever that controls the flames from below, and before Ulik can increase the flames to maximum power, Thor knocks him out with a mighty throw of his hammer. Thor then turns off the flames, after telling Orikal to withdraw his aid from the trolls. Such a promise is scarcely necessary, as Orikal is a creature of honour, and before he disappears in a shimmer of energy, he compliments the Asgardians on their spirit. Thor and Sif spare the remaining trolls, including Geirrodur, and return to Asgard, where the troll army, without all the magic weaponry, have fled to the depths below.

In Tales Of Asgard, Thor and the Warriors Three find that the Mystic Mountain of Mogul is underground, in a giant crystal stalagmite.
JB: Interesting that the duplicate Mjolnir apparently wasn’t as heavy as the original. Not only could Ulik lift it, but Sif as well, when she quietly relieved it from the unconscious troll.  When the two exit the invasion tunnel back to Asgard above, the hammer doesn’t seem to be present. Maybe it vanished like the other instruments of Orikal. A pity this cool alien disappeared so soon, his brief appearance was very memorable.

PE: For those who think I may have taken leave of my senses last week by proclaiming The Mighty Thor "the best Marvel title of 1967," I present this issue as further evidence. If anything, this installment doubles the intensity and excitement. I can just imagine "The King" at his drawing board smiling and laughing at his own inventions. There's a lot of violence here as well; Comics Code-approved of course, but Sif gets in what looks to be a beheading (an act I haven't seen in a Marvel comic to date) and she and Thor put down a wave of trolls in spectacular fashion. The Asgardian goddess is one tough chick: in our finale, Geirroddur vows to regroup and then hit Asgard with all he's got and Sif tells the Thunder God he should off the whole lot of them right then and there and avoid future problems. That panel of the dynamic duo bursting through a wall and facing Orikal for the first time, his back to us and his throne encircled by fire, is goosebump-inducing. On the other hand, Ulik hooking himself up to the switch on the wall (!) that controls the flames around Orikal's throne had me larfing out loud for several Marvel Age minutes. That "quality shield" bestowed below could just as easily have been awarded last issue as well.

MB: Okay, it’s time to take The Bradley Challenge:  I defy any person or persons to utter the dialogue supposedly spoken between the last issue and this one in less than sixty seconds and actually get it out of their mouths in the time allotted (yeah, but how long did Peter Parker stay in school, Professor?-Paste Pot).  Aside from that, and the fact that Coletta’s inks sometimes make Sif look more like Tana Nile, I found this an eminently satisfying wrap-up to the first Ulik adventure, especially the close-ups of Odin and Geirrodur in page 4, panel 5 and page 9, panel 6, respectively; the bizarre spectacle of Ulik brandishing not one but two Mjolnirs; Sif’s bravado in battle; and Ulik coming climactically unhinged.  I was totally ready for Thor to extinguish the fire imprisoning Orikal with a storm, and nicely surprised at the actual resolution.

JB: I always think of these runs of issues by number more than year, thus end the Thor tales of the 130’s, where we got bounced from space to Earth to Asgard; perhaps the finest ever stories for Thor. The next “decade” will give us a few single issues, then back to some continued tales, with some real ups and downs. Professor Mathew—the panel of Geirrodur you refer to looks a lot like the Demon, Etrigan, in Jack Kirby’s later D.C. run. Oh, and once again, what a cover!

PE: Dost thou thinketh that Stan Lee lets fly the -eths at a moment's notice and, verily, with no rhyhmeeth or reasoneth? The Thunder God can engage in an otherwise modern english conversation but with one goofy word thrown in as in: "The dangers in this unspeakable realm surpasseth all description! The power that shall confront us is verily beyond belief!" I'll be keeping check on the word "surpass" as uttered by Thor from here on out.

Tales to Astonish 90
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

While Namor has been victorious over the last few challengers to his throne, another old enemy has been planning an attack.  Byrrah is his name and Namor believes him to be a harmless opponent from years past.  He even put Byrrah in charge of producing weapons for the military.  Byrrah has waited long enough.  Going to speak at various public councils, the villain is able to use his amazing speaking powers to turn the people of Atlantis against Namor.  He has them believe that their prince is nothing more than a war monger.  When Namor hears of this treachery, he confronts Byrrah.  The cocky bad guy challenges him to a test of combat under the ancient laws.  Namor agrees and the two meet to duke it out.  Byrrah outsmarts the Sub-Mariner in a few key tactical battle plans.  While the rules say that neither of them shall show up armed for the contest, there is nothing that says they can’t use items in the underwater environment around them to fight.  Byrrah had shown up before the bout to rig several items to his advantage, such as putting an explosive in a sea shell.  The most deadly of his constructions is putting chemicals on a saw-fish.  Once he hurls the fish at Namor and cuts him with it, it causes him to weaken and lose his strength.  Eventually, Byrrah punches out Subby, becoming the winner and new king!  Namor is demoralized.  He’s not so much upset with the loss as with how all the people of Atlantis have backed and welcomed Byrrah as their new leader.

Tom:  Quite a surprise.  While I’ve never claimed to be a Sub-Mariner expert, I was pretty sure that I knew all of the villains in his underwater rogues' gallery.  Byrrah came out of nowhere and managed to beat the star of this title in basically half a comic book story.  Good for him.  Namor gets a little too cocky now and then and it will be interesting to see how he handles this defeat.  The best part was the strategy the villain used to come out on top.  Byrrah didn’t really cheat, he just bent the rules.

Jack: Byrrah, which sounds like a noise you would make by sticking out your tongue, is said to be Namor’s cousin and the emperor’s stepson. Ever the diligent Marvel U professor, I went straight to the internet, only to find myself trapped in the web of confusion that surrounds such sites as the Grand Comics Database, Wikipedia and Comic Vine. Wikipedia has Byrrah first appearing in Marvel Mystery Comics 82 (May 1947), while the Grand Comics Database has him first showing up in Sub-Mariner 35 (August 1954), which is after what I would consider the Golden Age. The emperor appears to be Emperor Thakorr, who may have been mentioned in Marvel Mystery Comics 1 (May 1939) or maybe not until the 1990s. Wikipedia says that this emperor was Namor’s grandfather on his mother’s side.  As Peter says, I really need a vacation.

MB:  Naturally, I’m unfamiliar with this Byrrah chap’s Golden-Age activities, and I don’t remember him having a stellar Silver-Age career, but this story shows him to be  a cagey opponent, so I’m willing to relax and go along for the ride.  The pleasure of seeing Everett work on his own creation enhances the trip, as does such character interplay as Dorma’s unswerving loyalty and Namor’s contrition over lashing out at Lord Vashti.  For me, the only negative aspect of the story, one we may have touched on during earlier upheavals, is that the Atlanteans seem awfully fickle, gullible, and otherwise easily swayed, especially after the number of times Subby has saved their collective butts; perhaps he deserves better subjects.

Jack: I really do learn things doing this unpaid slave labor. I learned from Dr. Strange what it means to crave a boon, and now I learned what plebiscite means.

The blond thought this was a go go bar.
PE: This could just as well be an issue of Fantasy Masterpieces as this entry so closely resembles one of Subby's adventures from the 1940s. That's a good thing. The only drawback is the overly-familiar story, which finds Namor yet again losing control of his mindless minions. Stan has to find a new vein as this one's done bled out. Byrrah's first appearance was back in Marvel Mystery Comics #82 (May 1947), late in Sub-Mariner's initial run.

Jack: As for the story, it’s too much talk and not enough action. The people of Atlantis are as fickle as the citizens of Gotham City over in Batman—they turn on Namor in a heartbeat! The letters page this issue includes a note by Bill Mantlo, future Marvel writer and later unfortunate victim of a rollerblading accident.

Our Story

The Stranger recaps his plans to wipe out mankind by using the Hulk as a tool of mass destruction.  He reveals that he has several sites he wants the Hulk to attack that will set the ball rolling for the end of civilization.  Having other matters to attend to in the galaxy, the Stranger leaves, trusting that the Hulk will carry out his orders without a hitch.  The mindless, savage Hulk leaps toward his first assignment, a missile base that he must ruin.  While hurtling in the air toward the base, the Hulk tries to remember why he is going there.  (This happens to me a lot--Prof. Jack) This strain causes him to revert back to Bruce Banner.  Banner remembers the Stranger’s evil plans and comes up with the only solution to end the matter--kill himself.  He plans on doing so by using a gamma ray machine on himself at full power.  While he is tinkering around with the machine, a spy disguised as a soldier observes him.  Military troops that are on the look-out for any suspicious activity stumble upon Banner and take him away to a cell.   The spy was originally supposed to take pictures of the gamma equipment for his employer.  Left alone with the device, the temptation is too hard for him to resist and he turns it upon himself.  The gamma ray turns the spy into another type of giant green monster, one that will go down in infamy as the Abomination!  Drunk from his newfound powers, the Abomination flexes his muscles by throwing things around and destroying the base.  Banner has seen what’s been transpiring from his holding cell and knows that the only one who can stop this creature is the Hulk.  He gets angry and wills himself to transform into his green alter ego.  The two beasts clash in a violent but brief rumble.  The Abomination appears to be too powerful as he knocks the Hulkster out unconscious.  Not wanting to be a target for any missiles or guns, the Abomination kidnaps Betty Ross.  As he leaps with her off into the air, General Ross wonders what can be done to stop this new monstrosity.   

Tom:  That’s why I love this Tales to Astonish title and would have to vote it as one of the most underrated of its era.  Not only did we have an exciting Namor story at the beginning of this issue, but it gets followed up by this landmark Hulk tale that introduces arguably the Green Goliath’s most famous antagonist. 

Jack: Finally, we get a panel where the Marvel method of naming villains is confirmed. Betty: Who—or what—can that Abomination be? Ross: I don’t know Betty---but you’ve chosen a perfect name for it! Abomination: They called me an Abomination---and they’re right! I am again reminded of the naming of Steve Martin’s dog in The Jerk.

MB: Kane’s Silver-Age advent at Marvel may be overshadowed by big dogs Buscema, Colan, and Romita—all Timely veterans—but I’m happy that during his too-brief tenure here, he introduced what I consider a candidate for the Hulk’s arch-enemy.  I’ve yet to see the second Hulk movie’s rendition of the Abomination, but as rendered by Kane, he’s one tough, ugly son of a bitch, a Commie spy who has absorbed even more gamma-ray power than Banner, without the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality to offset Greenskin’s savagery.  This is a dude who will always give the Hulk some serious trouble (see that great shot of the emerald adversaries in page 9, panel 3), and for my money, he’s a much bigger threat than the Leader’s gizmos ever could be.

PE: He was lucky that Bruce Banner thought to equip his top secret ultra-dangerous Gamma machine with a foot control (a big fat red button to boot). At least it had a safety switch. It's in this story that we find out all Russkie spies were issued green BVDs (or did the Gammas alter the color of his tighty whiteys as well?). I'm sure in the future we get a re-vamped or rebooted origin story as here it happens just a little too quick but I'm with Professor Matthew; this is The Hulk's arch-enemy. You can tell me The Leader, Doc Samson, or even The Wendigo 'til you're green in the face but The Abomination (whose name, we'll later find out, is really Emil Blonsky) is the perfect Yin to Hulk's Yang. Betty Ross is responsible for naming The Abomination, by the way. Her cavalier line "Look, dad, it's an Abomination" is picked up quickly by all the beat writers and run with. It's all in the delivery, I believe. She could have just as easily said "Look, dad, it's a Soviet Spy Transformed by Gamma Rays into a Really Big Ugly Monstrosity" but fate stepped in. For her troubles, she's kidnapped for the 40th time in this strip's history. Pretty soon she'll learn the base is not the safest place.

Strange Tales 155
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

After taking the Q-ray machine and its creator, Anton Trojak, aboard the Helicarrier for a test, Fury is attacked by two Hydra killers in his quarters, and defeats them using infra-red contact lenses.  His most trusted men are hypnotized by “Bronson,” while Fury is subdued with an electrical shock  (from which he is partially protected by his electronic absorber) by “Trojak,” another incognito Hydra agent, and tied to their aphonic bomb.  Escaping just as the AUTOFAC chamber is destroyed in a soundless explosion, Nick battles his entranced agents, but even a brainwashed Sitwell cannot turn against S.H.I.E.L.D., and Fury overloads the Q-ray menacing them before Laura is found, alive, in the wreckage of the AUTOFAC chamber.

MB: Starting here, and for the foreseeable future (although he will eventually relinquish the inking duties to other hands), this strip is going to be all-Steranko, all the time; at one point, I believe the writer-artist even serves as his own colorist, although letterer Sam Rosen’s job appears to be secure.  Right from that exciting cover—in which he emphasizes how badly outnumbered Fury is by letting the figures of the Hydra agents dwarf his—Steranko is in complete command, and our long wait has been totally justified.  His uniquely cinematic style is in full play with such devices as the “zoom in” on Fury at the top of page 3, the stylized “lighting” of the infra-red sequence on page 4, the “pan” across the middle of page 5, and that psychedelic “Kill Fury” panel on page 9.

PE: Well, that "big revolution" is on the horizon and I can see little bits of it here and now but I'd like a little more from the story. It seems to be the same little vignette every issue. Do we ever get out of the "menace of HYDRA" arc long enough to get our breath and see Fury handle a different threat? I'll admit it's unlike any other Marvel comic but then that was true when Kirby held the reins all those months ago. Since I didn't grow up on Steranko (and I've made a promise to myself not to cheat and look ahead), I'm especially curious to see if the jump from this ultra-cartoony (albeit with flashes of expressionistic brilliance) style to the comic groundbreaker I've read about is an overnight transition or if we have to wait a bit. I'm still on board.

Jack: The faces are still cartoony, but no other Marvel strip looks like this—not even close. Steranko’s layouts and the dynamic nature of his art are really impressive. Do the faces ever get sorted out, or is this how it always looks? The main Steranko art I have stuck in my head are the covers of his History of Comics, and those looked pretty spectacular. Also, we can tell that Fury is speaking to President Johnson because the chief executive says “Ah” instead of “I” in his Texas drawl.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Dr. Strange races through space faster than Umar’s spell and saves Clea. With much difficulty and a little help from the Ancient One, Strange and Clea return safely home. The Ancient One sends Clea into hiding to protect her and entraps Dr. Strange in hopes of protecting him from Umar.

Jack: Clea needs to improve her wardrobe. She’s still stuck in the same Spandex pants Steve Ditko gave her.

MB:  I hate to say this, but as much as I cheered the replacement of Kaluu with Umar (who remains the better villain, for numerous reasons), I’m still not sold on the current storyline.  In fact, the two strips that had previously made this one of my favorite books have taken opposing trajectories, as Fury reaches his apotheosis under Steranko, while Strange seems to wander in the wilderness.  Marie Severin’s art is uneven, with Umar here resembling some sort of hag, and her backgrounds appear drab, which Ditko’s worlds of wonderment were anything but.  I’d be surprised to learn that Stan had any master plan for this arc, which feels as though he made it up as he went along, with Strange simply lurching from one crisis to the next.

The Amazing Spider-Man 47
Our Story

In a flashback sequence, we learn that The Green Goblin had offered a bounty of $20,000 to Kraven, the Hunter for the capture of The Amazing Spider-Man and used his own alter ego, Norman Osborn, as his front. Of course, as we saw in Kraven's last appearance (issue #34-Paste-Pot Pete), that didn't go as planned. Now that he's been released from prison, Kraven wants two things: his money from The Goblin and revenge on the "only living being who's ever defeated" him, Spider-Man. In the alter ego section of Spider-Man's life, Peter Parker and his roommate are visited by Norman Osborn, who doesn't yet remember that just recently he had unmasked Spidey and threatened to kill him. We also get to attend the swingin' going away party for Flash Thompson. An uninvited guest to the party, Kraven, busts in and attempts to take Harry as a hostage in order to draw out Norman. Peter does his best "I'll get the police" routine and comes back in his fighting gear. Kraven uses his new weapon to neutralize Spider-Man's powers but becomes distracted by the arrival of Norman Osborn before he can deliver the killing blow. When he confronts Osborn and relaizes the man has no idea what The Hunter is talking about, he loses the thrill of the hunt and hightails it before Spidey can regain his powers.

PE: Peter Parker may be able to swing from rooftops and beat up bad guys but when it comes to dancing, he's bad, dad! That appears to be some kind of 1920's hip-shaker he's involved in, one I'm not that familiar with. I'm still having a problem associating this Gwen Stacy with the one I grew up with (not in real life, you ninnies, I mean in the funny books). Am I misremembering this girl as being more of the quiet, shy type rather than Mary Jane's clone?

Nope, that ain't Ditko!
MB:  So, let me get this straight:  Kraven the Hunter was working for the Goblin all along, but Stan never bothered to tell us before now?  I don’t know which bothers me more, such shameless revisionism (usually somewhat justified by the desire to clarify or correct an earlier plot point), or Stan’s inability to find a better way to get from A to B if what he wanted was to pit Kraven against the Osborn clan…like, oh, I don’t know, having him try to kidnap the son of a successful businessman.  Gee, that was difficult.  I’ve never been a big Kraven fan in the first place, but I certainly respected him more as a free agent with his own unusual code of honor than as a hired gun; apparently, Stan and Johnny think they can distract us with Pete’s hot chicks.

PE: What I want to know is what kind of prison are they sticking these super-bad guys in that they're allowed to conduct their goofball experiments? Kraven says he's had months to perfect his new Breast Lasers, which will neutralize Spidey's electrolytes or somesuch nonsense. Did they let The Hunter hang out in the stir with his costume on? Was this the same pokey that the 1966 TV Batman's arch-enemies did time in? The "alternate angle" bit of the story doesn't bother me, in fact, I think it shows some imagination. Certainly better than the recycled story lines we get in every issue of Daredevil and The X-Men. It's nice to see The Goblin, albeit in flashbacks, once again. We can only hope that it's not a long wait before Harry accidentally whacks pop in the head with a pool stick or something.

Tales of Suspense 88
Iron Man
Our Story

The Mole Man has captured Tony Stark's factory and with it Stark's brand new Atomic Earth Digger, designed to bore through to the center of the earth. That's not all he has since Iron Man and Pepper Potts were also along for the ride. Iron Man must face a mechanical dragon and millions of mindless molemen before he manages to save the day through trickery.

PE: The Mole Man wants Toby's Stark's Atomic Earth Digger so that he and his molemen can dig through to the surface and take over our world. Um, what about using all the holes that are left by the buildings he's been sucking down?

MB:  This may be eligible for some sort of special “Fewest Panels Devoted to the Actual Villain” award, because despite the number of his jaundiced, subterranean munchkins in evidence, we see very little of the Mole Man himself (which is no great tragedy in my book).  Pepper’s appearance seems rather abrupt, and it’s a little disheartening to be back in Tony’s I-mustn’t-reveal-my-true-feelings-for-her mode, but she does look rather fetching in her distressed duds.  Once again, the ending feels a tad hasty—which may be down to Gene and not Stan—but it’s good to know that that nice Mr. Mole Man put all those other buildings right back where he found them; I’m sure there was no nasty structural damage, or anything of that nature.

PE: One of the lamest, most abrupt endings I've read since the early days of this strip. Why didn't Iron Man simply grab hold of Pepper and fly out through the hole much sooner since it seems that's all he had to do to get out of there. As Professor Matthew notes, it doesn't help that every dialogue balloon is followed by a thought balloon about "how much he hates to talk to Pepper that way but he doesn't want her to suspect how much he really loves her blahblahblah." And what's with the "Let's not tell the authorities that The Mole Man was responsible. We'll tell them that Stark's machine went hogwild!" What, and destroyed three buildings? What possible motive could there be to hide the truth? Baffling!

Captain America
Our Story

A message from someone claiming to be Cap's long-dead partner Bucky is beamed into Avengers HQ. The Bucky look-alike claims that he was taken prisoner and has been held all these years, against his will, on Sea Gull Isle and only just got away long enough to send out an SOS. Mentally weighing the advantages and disadvantages of a cry for help from a supposedly dead boy who doesn't seem to have aged a day, Cap hops into a Tony Stark jet and heads for Gull Isle. At the same time, a bubble holding Power Man and The Swordsman lands on the Island and a strange voice tells the duo they will be rewarded nicely if they defeat Captain America in battle.

PE: I like Gil Kane a lot but Cap really isn't his character. This story cries out KIRBY!!! with its magnificent machinery and aircraft. Then there's Cap himself, a Kirby character if there ever was one. However, having said that, I got a kick out of this entry. Anything having to do with Cap's World War II days and partner Bucky usually lights my fanboy-fire. Add to that the return of Cap's #1 foe...  ah, but that would be spoiling the surprise that will be doled out next issue (although, as Stan Lee notes in the letters column, "half of you have him pegged already!" This story is especially interesting for those who have read "Winter Soldier," an outrageous and implausible, almost DC Elseworlds-ish arc that ran in Captain America back in 2007. In the tale, we learn that Bucky was saved from the plane explosion that supposedly killed him by the crew of a Soviet submarine but is struck with a form of amnesia. He's trained to be a Soviet spy. If you've read (or seen) The Bourne Identity, you can fill in a lot of blanks along the way but to make a long story short, Bucky reappears just before the events of "The Death of Captain America" (which was just about as truthful as any other death on comics) and eventually becomes the new Cap! Though I don't have much time or patience for contemporary comics (nor post-1980 comics in general), I thought "Winter Soldier" was a lot of fun and actually had me haunting my local comic shop for the first time in twenty years.

MB:  Things are pretty stable this month on the personnel front, with Giacoia returning to Daredevil and Steranko consolidating his S.H.I.E.L.D. takeover; the big change is that after last issue’s Thomas/Sparling one-off, Lee is back on Cap with a new artist, Gil Kane, who is currently in the midst of his brief Hulk stint as well.  Surpassing the prior story is virtually a given, yet they do so with flying colors, Kane’s distinctive style proving well suited to the strip, and we finally find out what compelled Cap to abandon his post in last month’s Avengers.  As previously noted, I am a big fan of the Swordsman/Power Man combo, although this episode is so fast and furious that we don’t really get to spend much quality time with them.

The Avengers 39
Our Story

Hawkeye is depressed when h reads in the paper that Black Widow as stolen secret plans for an atomic sub. He doesn’t know that she’s a double agent working for SHIELD! Meanwhile, the Mad Thinker is back with plans to kill The Avengers so he can get his hands on Tony Stark’s gizmos. He sends three new villains out to do his dirty work: Hammerhead defeats Hawkeye, Piledriver takes care of Goliath and the Wasp, and Thunderboot makes quick work of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Hercules appears in the nick of time to free The Avengers, and they turn the tables on the Mad Thinker and his triumvirate of terror.

Jack: I don’t know if it’s Roy Thomas’s writing or George Bell’s inks over Don Heck’s pencils, but this series is getting more enjoyable. Hercules doesn’t hurt—he’s a very entertaining character. The triumvirate of terror isn’t very terrifying, though I did appreciate the big letters on their chests that help identify who’s who.

MB:  I waffle between putting a villain like the Mad Thinker into the third tier, on the basis of his actual merits (he’s basically a one-trick pony, whose trick of predicting events to the split second was pretty hokey in the first place), or the second, on the basis of sheer seniority and persistence.  This issue’s Triumvirate of Terror definitely drags things down a notch, exacerbated by the fact that the Thinker is almost unrecognizable after what appears to have been a complete makeover.  That these three clowns—one of whom looks like an oversized tube of toothpaste—can subdue five Avengers is an embarrassment, and in short, this is one occasion when I would not try to refute the accusations of mediocrity sometimes leveled at this book by my colleagues.

PE: And I won't disappoint you, Professor Matthew, by suddenly finding anything worthwhile in this series. Issue after issue, this comes off as "The Little Team that Could." I thought the appearance of Roy Thomas would inject some new blood in this tired title but I'm afraid we're still a few years (and perhaps a Neal Adams) away from the really good stuff. As I mentioned in regards to an issue of Fantastic Four, the very concept of The Mad Thinker is flawed. As he's making all his impossible computations, like knowing what Hawkeye will be doing, he should know he'll fail and be busted. Stan missed the ball on this one as TMD should have been named The Mad Forecaster and had a huge crystal ball for a head. Speaking of flawed and heads, how about that Hammerhead? Not to be confused with the Hammerhead we'll be introduced to in The Amazing Spider-Man #113, this guy's got an anvil on his head and is, for some strange reason, able to use his head as a battering-ram without suffering any side effects like, oh I don't know, concussion or a broken neck. Roy must have realized he had something ... special ... with the Triumvirate of Terror as he never used these three stooges again. 

The X-Men 31
Our Story

The older buddy of one of Jean's school chums turns out to have a suit of Cobalt armor in his closet that rivals Iron Man's outfit. When he gets a rap on the noggin, he goes a little crazy and decides to attack Stark HQ. As this is an issue of X-Men and not Tales of Suspense, you can rest assured that our mutant heroes save the day.

JS: Just to be clear, we're basically a bad colorist away from an Iron Man/X-Men crossover, yes?

The X-Kids invade Riverdale

JS: I don't know how sales of the X-Men were trending at this point... we're still a few years from the decline and ultimate rebirth (like a Phoenix?) of the franchise... but I'm curious if the Iron Man lookalike on the cover was designed to pull in some Iron Fans who might otherwise be skipping Mutant Monthly.

PE: Another issue of X-Men, another offer of "a well-deserved weekend off" from Professor X. When will these kids learn that a vacation always spells trouble? Never trust a guy who calls his brother "Tiger." At least Roy admits that The Cobalt Man is nothing more than a rip-off of Iron Man. If you have no new ideas and a deadline looms, look in the box in the attic - there may be something you can pirate. This super-villain has one other unique trait: stupidity. Not only is he unimaginative in costume design but he also creates a suit that will blow you up if you wear it for more than two hours. Sounds advantageous to me.  Our letterer this issue (Sam Rosen) must have been doing this issue after hours with the lights out as there are more typos than usual and Warren's old sweetie pie, Candy Sothern (if there ever was a porn name...) actually admits, even under Comics Code scrutiny, that she "wangled a job at the U.N. Building!" The happenin' joint where all the local "kids" hang out, The Coffee-A-Go-Go is indeed a magical place. Where else could you Go-Go dance to the hip-shakin' rhythms of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone"? Methinks Roy was trying to show how hep he was.

JS: Can someone explain to me what it is that the X-Men do? Time and again it seems that they'll go after a bad guy until he recognizes the error of his ways, at which point they gather around and smile, acknowledging another job well done as another potential threat to humanity walks away freely?

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #8
Ghost Rider #2
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #8
Millie the Model #148
Modeling with Millie #53
Rawhide Kid #57
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #41


  1. Presumably the work in the Baxter Building was done by the same venerable firm of lab-builders used in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, prompting Dr. Pretorius's immortal line, "Don't touch that lever--you'll blow us all to atoms!"

    Golly, Professor Jack, I've been craving boons since I was a kid--where've you been?

  2. Forget Thor--you guys have made The X-Men look like the MUST READ of 1967!

  3. Is it my imagination or was Stilt-man a bit more well-spoken last time we saw him? This ish he's all "Nuts!" and "Gonna" and "Guy" -- it kinda threw me.

    Hercules is looking VERY Steve Reeves this month.

    Gotta say I'm not too keen on Marie Severin's Dr. Strange either. She'll do a better job on Hulk and Subby in a year or two from "now", with help from slick inkers like Giacoia and Craig.

    You fellas like Gil Kane's Hulk and Cap art more than I do. I've never been crazy about his inks, they look cold and lifeless to my eyes. In an interview Kane was asked which inkers he liked over his pencils, to which he retorted, "None of 'em!"

  4. Oh, and Professor Pete -- your memory IS playing tricks on you, I'm afraid. Gwen was never the "shy, quiet" type. She wasn't as flashy or flighty as MJ, but she was quite the with-it chick in her own way, at least in the early days. Unfortunately, she will get increasingly mopey and needy down the road a ways.