Wednesday, June 6, 2012

March 1967: Hercules an Avenger?

The Mighty Thor 138
Our Story

Thor arrives on Earth, where the troll king Geirrodur has sent Sif, as captive of Ulik, the mightiest of all the rock trolls. But more than menacing our lovely goddess, the trolls have a plan. Orikal, an alien of unimaginable power who arrived from beyond our universe, didn’t suspect any ill will from the rock trolls who first encountered him, and they imprisoned him in the one thing he could not escape from: a sea of volcanic flame. King Geirrodur has forced Orikal to serve the trolls in aiding them in the war against Asgard, at threat that the troll king will turn up the flames that would destroy him. Thus the trolls have gained knowledge of Thor’s secret identity as Don Blake, and plan to capture him in his human guise. The Thunder God has reverted to the form of the doctor, and still able to sense Sif’s aura, he hones in on her whereabouts. The enemy lurks underground in a hidden cavern, and when Blake walks above them, they cause the molecules of the sidewalk to dissolve, so he falls below without so much as one human witness. Before Ulik approaches, the trolls who hold Don Blake demand he tell them how to turn the cane into Mjolnir. Seeing this as his only chance, he tells them to tap it on the ground, and as they are distracted, he dives for his walking stick just as it becomes the mighty hammer. Their greed is his benefactor, and Thor stands once more. Ulik arrives, and renews his grudge match with the Thunder God.  Concurrently, the war rages above as below, and the trolls, armed by Orikal with weapons that defy even Asgardian magic, gain inroads into the golden realm. Thor gains a moment of respite in his battle with Ulik, and he finds Sif asleep, imprisoned in a transparent sphere. Checks and balances: as Thor regains his love, he loses his mighty weapon. A magic orb sucks the hammer into its mouth, and the trolls flee into a vanishing dimensional vortex. Sif’s prison dissolves, she awakes, and sixty seconds remain ere a Thunder God becomes a mortal, helpless on the planet Earth.

Tales Of Asgard finds Thor and the Warriors Three searching for the Mystic Mountain where Mogul rules. They gain knowledge of its whereabouts with the aid of the ancient wizard, Wazir.

PE: First of all, classic cover, at least in this household. We haven't seen the lame doc in what seems like years and so you can almost forget here who he becomes when he taps that rickety stick. And welcome back that word "lame" which I felt surely must have fallen by the P.C. wayside by 1967 but, nope, like an old friend it's back! As far as story and art go, it would verily seem that Jack and Stan (or maybe just Jack?) hit a grand slam this issue. The two battles being fought simultaneously and the appearance of Orikal, heretofore only spoken of in hushed whispers, leave little time for the reader to catch a breath. Yeah, Orikal looks a bit "piled on," one of those creations that Jack might have said "Yeah, he just needs a little something else! I know, I'll jam a flashlight in his forehead!" but he is pretty awesome in the same way Galactus was the first time we laid eyes on him. Professors, I ask you, is there a better Marvel Comic title in 1967?

JB: I love the trolls; they’re so delightful to despise! Agreed, Professor Peter on the cover, most notably because not a single word is needed to impart its impact (even a reminder to tell us that). Orikal is a fabulously overdone character, who like Odin or Zeus or Galactus (and many more in the years hence) is both powerful beyond imagining, and at heart benevolent as well. I don’t believe he ever appears again, unless it was in another title. The epic drawing of his first appearance is a stunner; did D.C. comics of the day do the same with the full-page artwork? You could imagine this as a great trilogy for another Thor film; certainly it’s one of a handful of the epic tales that, yes, did make Thor the must-have Marvel title of 1967, or any other year (sounds like the ravings of a mad fan, doesn’t it?).

MB: Poor Artie Simek can’t seem to make up his mind how to spell “Geirrodur” (note the gaffe in page 6, panel 3), for which I honestly can’t blame him, and in the face of all that mighty Kirby/Colletta spectacle, I’m in a forgiving mood.  Stan adroitly handles the suspense of having our Asgardian friends menaced both at home and on Midgard, while Ulik is a foe who can never be taken lightly, especially with the “fist pounders” that always put me in mind of high-toned brass knuckles.  And, as if their physical prowess and sheer numbers weren’t enough, the Trolls have an additional edge in the form of that unfortunate starlost captive, Orikal, who most notably enables them to do the unthinkable, overcoming the Uru magic with which Odin created Mjolnir.

PE: While Thor flies around looking for his new love, Sif, does he contemplate stopping by his old office and checking up on Jane Foster or the waiting room which must be filling up with impatient patients?

Strange Tales 154
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

“Agent Bronson” prepares to relocate Laura to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Western HQ while the AUTOFAC computer is programmed to identify the Supreme Hydra, and Fury gets a new set of duds and gizmos. Bronson’s signal enables Hydra to pinpoint the location of the Helicarrier and launch a huge robot, the Dreadnought, right through the hull; it very nearly kills Fury before he can destroy it with the auto-destruct mechanism in his ring. Having deduced that Bronson is the Supreme Hydra, Laura sneaks into the AUTOFAC chamber to try to confirm her suspicions before voicing them to Nick, but although she does so, and even discovers his true identity, Bronson chloroforms her and reprograms the computer to finger Laura as the evildoer.

MB: In this transitional installment, Steranko assumes full art duties for the first time, and also earns a plotting credit, with lame-duck Thomas handling the scripting. In a conversation with Stan from Comic Book Artist #2, Roy noted, “After writing the first few S.H.I.E.L.D. stories that he drew, I was happy to let [Jim] write them, as well, because he had his own ideas and I had other things to do.” Jaunty Jim pours Laura Brown into a miniskirt, gives us a cutaway of the Helicarrier and a formidable foe in the deadly Dreadnought, and playfully names Nick’s armorer “Boothroyd” in a definite nod to James Bond. Added Thomas, “S.H.I.E.L.D. was never a big seller, but it was one of the influential books. Steranko and Neal Adams were influential beyond their selling power.”

PE: Transitional is exactly the word I'd use to describe this chapter. We're not completely out of the smart-ass one-liners but they seem to have been toned down a bit. I'll lay money the "fighting brothers" routine that Dum-Dum and Gabe engage in is inspired by John Wayne westerns like Rio Bravo and El Dorado. The standout bit here is obviously the humorous exchange with Q Boothroyd, the punchline of which I didn't see coming! But then there are the panels where Steranko stands the traditional on its ear, as when he switches to black and white for the gamma ray segment. Steranko's still cartoony when it comes time to draw human faces (or Laura Brown's anatomy) but everything else is stellar, almost Kirby-esque. How is it that the Dreadnought rips a hole through the heli-carrier and Fury is not sucked out into space? This could have been explained away by another nifty gadget (like the suit buttons that provide for oxygen. the cigar that extinguishes flame, the watch that attracts metal, coincidentally all the things Dreadnought throws at Fury) but I guess we're left to believe that Nick has some very heavy shoes on at the time. He's definitely got a real sturdy pair of pants since the destructo-ring takes out the Dreadnought and Nick's shirt but leaves his chinos in near mint condition! Just thinking out loud but Hydra comes off almost like a Cthulhu-ish cult to me rather than the obvious. Overall, a fun espionage thriller.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Dr. Strange avoids the mindless one and heads back to Dormammu’s realm to search for Clea. He explores the pit in which Umar casts her enemies and meets Veritas, who points him toward Umar’s castle for the answer he seeks. Dr. Strange battles his way in and is felled by Umar, but she is shocked when Veritas shows her her real appearance. Vengefully, she declares that Clea must die!
Jack: So if Dr. Strange leaves his mortal body, it can’t be harmed? Since when?

MB: As related in the Bullpen Bulletins, “Our Leader asked [Marie Severin] to take a whack at Doc Strange, because Wild Bill Everett wanted to devote himself full time to his beloved Sub-Mariner.” Perhaps not surprisingly, Severin’s rendition of Umar, at least on this story’s satisfyingly symbolic splash page, is a little bit more feminine than Everett’s, whose triangular face sometimes made her look like Namor in drag (more attractive than it sounds). As for poor Clea, though, she has virtually never been afforded the opportunity to be anything other than a long-nameless damsel in distress, and in this current arc, she doesn’t even have any actual scenes, but is simply alluded to, like some mystic bone over which Doc and Umar are squabbling.

Jack: Marie Severin’s art in this issue looks like that of Robert Crumb in spots and in others it looks like a kindergartener’s scrawls. Weird!

Robert Crumb?

Marie Severin, age 5?

The Avengers 38
Our Story

Hawkeye and Goliath argue about whether to admit Back Widow to the ranks of the Avengers. Black Widow is shanghaied by SHIELD to go undercover behind the Bamboo Curtain, so she tells Hawkeye and his pals that she is busy. Meanwhile, on a mountain, Hercules is battling with Ares when the Enchantress spikes his drink with a love potion that makes him obey her every whim. Still smarting from her last encounter with the Avengers, she tells him to destroy them. Hawkeye and the Wasp have left the mansion, in a snit about the way the Black Widow situation was handled, so they do not witness Hercules battling Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch—Captain America is also busy elsewhere. Eventually, Hawkeye and the Wasp return and Hawkeye’s sulphur-tipped arrow counteracts the effects of the Enchantress’s brimstone potion. Hercules snaps out of it and apologizes to the team. The Enchantress disappears. Zeus is angry at Hercules for crossing the street and going to Earth without permission and banishes him to our planet for a year. The Avengers offer him lodging, which he gladly accepts.

PE: Let's go down the checklist: The Marvel Misunderstanding... check. The hero possessed by a bad guy/gal and forced to do bad things to other heroes... check. Amazing coincidences... check. The in-team dust-up... check. Romantic problems... check. Roy's definitely settling into Stan's chair here as we also get lots and lots of moan-inducing dialogue, as when Hawkeye protests The Widow's trip "behind the Bamboo Curtain" and is answered with "Can anyone ever truly escape his past--while he yet lives?" Raise your hand if you were blindsided by all the in-team squabbling over The Black Widow's patriotism or lack thereof. The only surprise is that we don't get a HAWKEYE BUSTS LOOSE! banner across the cover. It might be fun to keep a tally of which Avenger quits the most times over the life of this blog. Thank goodness Hawkeye had that untested brimstone arrow to shoot at Hercules since only brimstone can break The Enchantress' spell. Fancy that! Most important revelation this issue is that Captain America's go-to meal is a ham and cheese sandwich.

Jack: It looks like Roy Thomas is starting to get the hang of scripting Marvel comics, because this is a pretty enjoyable story, even as it jumps from place to place and scene to scene. Don Heck’s Hercules will never match Kirby’s, and I’m getting tired of Wanda’s cheesecake poses every time we see her, but the art is certainly adequate to tell an entertaining tale. Hercules is such a good character that his year of banishment on Earth is good news for us readers. 

MB: After many moons, Marvel has at last paired Heck with a dedicated inker again, and George “Bell” (aka Roussos) does a creditable job, although things are less sanguine on the romantic front. By now, it’s hard not to conclude that Stan the Man and Roy the Boy (wouldja believe the dynastic implications of those nicknames only recently struck me?) have it in for the Widow and Hawkeye, the way her allegiances keep changing…or appearing to do so. As for the faux-mance between the Enchantress and the ever-gullible Hercules, Zeus seemed a bit hasty in exiling his son to Earth, but longtime readers of Thor are accustomed to such shenanigans with the Thunder God and his mercurial pater, and this will give the Thor-less Avengers an Immortal Quotient.

PE: Coincidentally, the internet was overloaded last week with reports that The Enchantress will fight side-by-side with her old partner The Executioner in Thor 2 (expected Thanksgiving of 2013). The obvious choice to portray the seductive goddess, Lucy Lawless, had not been signed as we went to press. For the Marvel ephemera junkies like me, the Statement of Ownership is like the golden ticket in the Wonka bar. I dig dig dig knowing circulation numbers. For those of you out there who similarly can't sleep at night unless you know if The Avengers outsold Justice League in 1966, I have the facts and figures here to calm you (us) down. According to the Statement published this issue, the average number of copies sold during 1966 of The Avengers was 269,994 (including 2,000 mail subscriptions). The nearest issue to filing sold 312,000 (including subs) which means that sales were on the rise for the title. Justice League was selling an average of 408,219 so the Marvel team-title had a ways to go to catch up. This was the first year that Marvel posted the figures for The Avengers so we can't do a comparison of the years prior but I can tell you that by 1969, when the entire industry had gone into a slump, sales of The Avengers had fallen to 240,000 but had overtaken its DC counterpart (233,000). For what it's worth, the #1 selling comic magazine in 1966 America was Mad with a whopping 1.6 million served! For more on the circulation numbers, scroll to the bottom of this page.

Jack: The circulation report says that The Avengers was averaging about 270,000 copies a month in paid circulation. Now, at 12 cents a copy, that’s $32,400/month. Assuming Marvel gets 25% of that, that is $8100/month just for The Avengers. I would bet the creative team got no more than $1000 per issue total among them, leaving a profit of over $7000/month for just this book. If Marvel got this on eight titles a month, 12 months a year, that’s $672,000 profit, not a bad haul for Martin Goodman in 1967 dollars, and that doesn’t even count all the T-shirts, posters, and cartoon royalties. Those dimes and pennies sure add up!

Daredevil 26
Our Story

Last issue’s wackiness continues as Matt impersonates his made-up twin brother Michael. Karen kind of digs it while Foggy can’t stand the guy. Besides, Foggy has more important things on his mind like defending the Leap-Frog in court. The geniuses of the court let the Frogger put on his special spring shoes to see if they will fit. Needless to say, the villain uses the chance to leap out the window into the streets below for freedom. He doesn’t land very well and is introduced to the Stilt-Man outside who wants to team up with him. Daredevil pops up to corral the frog baddie and it’s rematch time between him and the Stilt-Man. It’s a grueling fight that Double D manages to win. We learn that the Masked Marauder is Mr. Farnum, Matt and Foggy’s landlord for the law office.

Tom: It comes down to whether you like the big Stilt-Man or not. I personally like the character. He’s better than Michael Murdock, with Leap-Frog ending up somewhere in the middle. At this point, the Masked Marauder’s identity wasn’t much of a surprise. Hey, as long as Ka-Zar isn’t hopping around in the comic book and scratching himself, I’m happy.

PE: As usual with this title, there will be no derogatory remarks made towards Gene Colan's art. That's a given. The other given is that the story will be filled with inanities and non-events. Let's take Matt Murdock's second alter ego, Mike Murdock, for example. I can see Matt talking like a jackass when he's "Mike" around others, but when he's all alone and we're the only witnesses? No way. The goofy shit that comes out of his mouth doesn't jibe with the Matt Murdock we knew 20+ issues before the arrival of "Mike." Hands up (and be honest) those of you who didn't know by page 6 that The Masked Marauder was crotchety Mr. Parnum, mean landlord of Hogan and Murdock? You know, maybe Ditko had it right after all. Maybe it doesn't need to be someone we already know. At least Stan admits that the unmasking is not exactly a surprise since Parnum is effectively the only supporting character when we rule out Pepper and Happy. Don't think I didn't rule out Happy. Ever since he kept The Crimson Dynamo from killing his boss on the battlefield, he's been acting a little weird. Whoops, wrong dumpy useless chauffeur.

MB: Apparently inking his own work for a change, Colan keeps up the quality, and although the quality of villains on display in this issue is debatable, they make up for it in quantity with the Inconsistently Punctuated Leap[-]frog, Stilt-Man, and the Newly Unmasked Marauder. Glossing as quickly as possible over the towering stupidity of providing Froggy with his footwear in the courtroom, it’s interesting how these villains are so eager to team up; if nothing else, the Marauder and Stilt-Man could probably go legit and corner the hydraulics industry with their combined expertise. Given the antics of Mike Murdock, and Matt’s generally lighthearted demeanor, it’s tough to reconcile Stan’s DD with the deadly serious Miller version of later years (how long 'til we get to DD #158, Professor Matthew?- Paste Pot).

PE: Someone should tell Matt that the sunglasses "Mike" wears make him look more blind than the real blind guy. I beg to differ with Daredevil's assertion that if "Stickman ever managed to get Leap-Frog safely away, what a team they'd make!" Oh yeah! In most addition, six plus six equals a greater sum but when you're adding two sixth-tier villains together, the result is zero. And finally, I think that no explanation for the reappearance of Stiltman after he had shrunk down to nothingness (back in the pages of DD #8) would have been easier to swallow than the dopey solution Stan offers up.

Jack: Why does Farnum go to all the trouble of dressing up as the Masked Marauder and climbing in a window to search the offices of Nelson & Murdock? He’s the building manager! Doesn’t he have a key? This is a great example of an entertaining story where not much happens! Stilt-Man still puzzles me. How is this a useful tool if you can be defeated by a rope wrapping around your legs? And hooray for more Mike Murdock—he’s the comic book equivalent of what I imagine Stan Lee was like. One more thing--is it possible that Johnnie Cochran read this issue during the O.J. Simpson trial? Springy shoes--glove--just a coincidence?

The Amazing Spider-Man 46
Our Story

Hanging out on the side of a building, minding his own business and trying to mend his wounded arm, Spider-Man is amazed to find the building rocking back and forth. Investigating, he happens on The Shocker, a new costumed clown whose gimmick is that he can increase the power of his punches with his Vibro-Smashers, Spidey quickly finds out that this isn't just another kook but rather a legitimate threat who can back up his boasts. Beaten badly by The Shocker, Spidey can only await their next match. Meanwhile, in the wall-crawler's real life, Peter Parker is offered a place to stay by one-time nemesis (and son of The Green Goblin) Harry Osborn. He tells Harry that before he can agree, he'll have to check with his Aunt May (who's surely going to be pushed over the edge by this request!). Peter's startled to find out that May already has something up her sleeve. Mrs. Watson's asked her to move in! Later that day, Spider-Man gets his rematch with The Shocker and figures out a way to outsmart the villain. All around, a good day for Peter Parker!

PE: Lots of ding-dong-daddio dialogue here. The credits cite Stan as the writer but it sure sounds like a younger guy, one who might think "Your own pad, dad?" would be hip and with it (and may just have been in those early days of 1967). Freddy Foswell must be Lon Chaney the third. What a great get-up. In reality, he'd look like he had a big dumb mask on. Speaking of dumb, Foswell wins "Biggest Chump of 1967" award for putting two and two together and figuring out who Peter Parker really is and then talking himself out of it even though the evidence is served to him on a platter. I guess only he can dress up and outsmart everyone.

MB:  Although I would never call the Shocker a first- or even a second-tier villain, I’ve always had a soft spot for him, presumably because one of my earliest comics is his second appearance (“Rocked by the Shocker,” with its terrific offbeat cover) in #72.  He always seemed to give old Spidey a run for his money, and there was something about that crazy quilted costume of his that I found very striking.  Of course, the big news this issue would probably have to be considered Peter getting an apartment with Harry Osborn, despite the fact that after saying, “It sure is a pleasure to have everything turn out A-okay for a change!,” our apparently bipolar hero finds himself wondering if, in becoming Spidey, he had “lost the capacity…for happiness!

PE: I'm amazed that Stan didn't go with the obvious moniker rather than The Shocker. After all, he vibrates buildings, he's equipped with Vibro-Smashers, and any blow Spidey delivers is vibrated right back at him. Yep, The Shocker misses induction into the Super-Villain Hall of Fame by just, um, inches!  Once again, a bad guy's origin makes you wonder why he didn't simply go to work for NASA, with all those big brain cells and ideas for Vibro-Smashers dancing in his head, rather than breaking open safes for a couple grand. Of course, the startling revelation is that the warden at Ryker's obviously has no problem with his inmates building really big gizmos they can use to break out with. The console of his doo-hicky looks as big as a deejay's booth.

Tales of Suspense 87
Iron Man
Our Story

Ever the trailblazer, Tony Stark has created an Earth-Borer, designed to help scientists crack the earth's core with a little more speed. Unfortunately for Stark, the gizmo seems to work all too well and someone below isn't all that happy with the results. Buildings around New York begin to disappear, leaving huge, gaping maws in their place. The final building to fall victim is the Stark Factory itself, containing Iron Man. When the building reaches the end of its journey, Iron Man discovers the mad mastermind behind the cave-ins is none other than The Mole Man, who welcomes our hero to the center of the earth by blasting him into unconsciousness.

PE: Tony Stark knows that his Earth-Borer, which runs off atomic energy, is extremely unstable and dangerous and yet he waits  mere seconds before it reaches "critical mass" to have Pep and Hap evacuate the factory! No wonder the local villagers want to string Stark up for venturing into areas only Mole Men were meant to visit. We've touched on this before but I still think it peculiar that the Fantastic Four would not immediately get involved when giant skyscrapers disappear into the ground since they're very familiar with the m.o. Yeah, I know it's only a four-color fantasy but let's imagine it as a real world for a moment. The inflatable Tony Stark doll on the couch next to me is nodding in agreement.

MB: To say that this installment far outshines its Captain America counterpart is setting the bar pretty darn low, yet it should also be noted that as with last month’s Daredevil, the stellar GiaColan art combo is doing the heavy lifting here.  Stan’s script isn’t bad per se, but it is a little off-kilter, with Stark Industries suddenly surrounded by a suspicious mob that seemed like it should be carrying torches in a Frankenstein movie, plus the members of that “subversive spy ring” who so blithely waltz into S.I.’s heavily shielded chamber.  What annoyed me the most about this story, however, was Shellhead’s apparent perplexity regarding the sinking buildings, since he and his fellow Assemblers tussled with the Mole Man back in Avengers #12.

PE: As far as I can remember, this is the first time we learn that Iron Man has a built in sonar sense (akin to Spider-Sense) that lets him know when someone or something is sneaking up on him. I.M.'s "battle" with the three would-be traitors is a load of fun, and an antidote to eight pages of back and forth with The Mandarin, climaxing with Shellhead's perplexed exclamation, "You tried to hit me with that chair?!!" Professor Matthew's right, as usual, when he points to I.M.'s lack of brain power when it comes to the sinking of the buildings. After being trapped in his factory as it's sucked into the ground, Shellhead is awed by the soft landing once the descent stops: "This is far more than a natural phenomenon!" You think? When this arc is over, I wonder if the Stark factory will be rebuilt or if Stan and Gene will just hope the readers forget it ever happened. It's gonna be quite a job hooking the sewer, electricity and water back up. Not to mention the atomic energy. The readers weren't fooled by that "shock" finale though, since The Mole Man is featured right on the cover!

Captain America
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A new villain calling himself The Master Planner has begun a string of robberies dressed as Captain America. It's up to Cap to prove to a suspicious pubic and antsy police captain that the real Avenger had nothing to do with the crimes.

PE: Artist Jack Sparling's a strange blip on the Marvel radar. It seems as though he whooshed into the Universe for a one-month, two-title stay (he also pencils this month's X-Men) and then hopped right back out. He'll show up again in the 70s for a few issues of Ghost Rider and a title here and there but I knew him better for his work at Warren at about the same time as TOS #87.

MB:  Okay, we’re in trouble right from the splash page:  I always said the Master Planner was a totally forgettable alias for Dr. Octopus in Amazing Spider-Man #31-33.  Roy seems to have proven my point by using the same dull moniker for this dude; as rendered by Jack Sparling (who he?)—even with inks by Joe Sinnott that are uncredited in myMarvel Double Feature reprint—he resembles nothing so much as a large, demented leprechaun. Why is the public not a wee bit suspicious of this ersatz Cap who appears sans trademark shield, wielding an unfamiliar weapon, and acting totally out of character?  Who bankrolls his garishly garbed goons, “sub-car,” and proton beam?  Where does he get the technology?  And, most important, who cares?

PE: Wow, this is different alright, startling in its mediocrity. Thankfully it's just a hiccup on Cap's road to iconicity as the Sparling/Thomas team is a one-off and next issue we'll be back on solid ground. I would swear that Jack Sparling drew one Master Planner profile and then cut and pasted the thing throughout the story! The guy's always standing with arms out and mouth open like some demented, red-headed Neil Diamond. The Planner's goons are dressed, in their stylish zebra stripes, like the henchmen who would back up Batman's villains on TV. We're treated, yet again, to a public so fickle and stupid that they jump to the first conclusion they're force-fed. And why doesn't Cap himself think to mention the absence of his shield on the fakester? Easily the worst Captain America story yet, one that I have to believe was born out of the desperation of Stan Lee trying to fill the gap between Jack Kirby and Gil Kane. It happens. It'll happen again (hopefully not until January 1980!). 

Fantastic Four 60
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As Reed, Sue and Ben watch an ocean liner stranded on a rising bed of rock (thanks for the vacation Doc.) on the F.F.’s satellite T.V. screen, the Thing gets frustrated at their lack of action. The arrival of Wyatt Wingfoot lets them know that the other member of the team, despite being cautioned, is about to tackle Doom alone. Johnny Storm’s newly practiced speed and precision with his mighty flame are ineffective however; as Dr. Doom merely changes his molecular structure to absorb the best the Torch can throw at him. Doom’s prescription is to sick a cyclone on the Torch, which pursues him and snuffs out (hopefully only?) his flame. A present from the Black Panther, a supersonic craft faster than any of their own, comes in the nick of time, as the remaining F.F. trio can’t wait any longer to go to Johnny’s aid. Reed had hoped to wait to act until army ordinance, with Tony Stark’ help, could make the full sized version of his anti-cosmic flying wing, designed to drain it’s victim’s power the more resistance is offered.  A beanstalk-style tree that grows with astonishing speed snares them in midair, crushing the craft. Ben grabs a hold of the tree while Reed makes a parachute of his body to carry himself and Sue to safety. It’s Ben whom Dr. Doom reaches first, and the latter puts his surfboard aside, using his cosmic power to increase his strength to a level comparable to that of the Thing. Landing close by, Reed and Sue discover a weakened Johnny still alive, and the three make haste to aid Ben, who, after a valiant fight, has been rendered weightless, floating in midair by the doc. The F.F. give it everything they’ve got against Dr. Doom, including a brilliant move by Sue that sees him fly into a rock face she renders invisible, but really they’re just putting off the inevitable. Fortune favors them however, and the anti-cosmic wing arrives, absorbing some of Doom’s cosmic power as it flies by. But Reed is no fool, and his plan is more complex: as the wing heads high into the atmosphere, Doom pursues it intent on destruction. The decree of Galactus months before, that ordained the Silver Surfer be unable to leave the confines of Earth, still stands, and as the surfing villain reaches the edge of space, he loses the power he stole from the Silver Surfer. As the board sails back to the castle where it’s rightful owner is imprisoned, the fate of Dr. Doom remains unknown.

JB: By ghost-professor Glenn’s report on Marvel’s unspoken cover policy, here we have Dr. Doom and the Thing standing sideways, with the rest of the team facing us in the background. If not having the foreground figures facing us is a slight bending of policy, it doesn’t diminish the effect at all, in fact we feel the Thing’s exhaustion in the face of “doom.” The hand-to-hand between Ben and Dr. Doom is a thriller. I have to say for me that although the ending is a quickie, it was quite plausible, and while it would have been fun to keep the hopeless battle against Doom going longer it would be difficult to come up with a better solution. The background scenes of the Inhumans as they deal with the problems of their venturing into the outside world, and the musings of the Watcher as he resists the temptation to interfere, fill the book out nicely.

MB:  This is superior storytelling all around, from the scintillating Kirby/Sinnott art to Stan’s superb characterizations:  Doom haughty and fatally overconfident; Ben belligerent and impatient with Stretcho’s high-tech solutions; Reed calm and confident that the right—and his frammistats—will prevail; Johnny impetuous and desperate to prove himself.  Miraculously, Sue is allowed to show more moxie than usual, and because we saw the prototype of the flying-wing widget last ish, it can fairly be said that Reed’s victory does not come out of left field.  It’s fascinating that characters such as the Panther, the Inhumans, and even the Surfer (all eventually spun off into their own books) are not merely guest stars but a kind of consistent supporting cast.

PE: On the contrary, Professor Matthew, I could say that the victory comes right out of left field. Does Stan expect me to believe that even the genius of Tony Stark could build that Flying Wing in less than a day? And I could further say that the entire scheme hinged on Doom following that ship into space. Pretty chancy when you're talking about the fate of mankind. I could bring all that up but I won't. This was a fabulous arc, one of the best yet in the pages of FF, and the only real complaint I have is that Stan and Jack didn't stretch it out to a fourth issue. This ending is entirely too quick.

The X-Men 30
Our Story

The Warlock (aka centuries-old Merlin the Magician) grabs Jean and the Professor against their will. When the rest of the X-Men show up, Warlock offers up a deal to show what a sporting fellow he is—survive his tournament and he'll put aside his plans for world domination. Somehow the X-Men manage to do just that, returning Merlin to a deep slumber... for now.

JS: The slumming of the X-Men continues. I swear, if the last panel in this issue had been the splash page, I don't think I could have forced myself to read it. I've included it after our comments, lest people see that and decided they don't even want to read about this issue. Let's hope this is the only time we have to endure Jack Sparling. The panel to the right demonstrates his uncanny command at drawing perspecitive...

PE: As mentioned above, Jack Sparling steps in this issue for a tardy Werner Roth and actually does a tolerable job (Is that a typo? Surely you mean terrible! - Perplexed Professor John). Maybe it's the John Tartaglione inks (Sparling was inked by Joe Sinnott over on the Cap strip) or maybe it's just that Werner Roth was the worst artist working on a Marvel comic at the time. Writer Roy Thomas matches the incredibly bad dialogue from that Cap strip here, as when Jean Grey asks how The Warlock knows her real name and is answered: "There are few things on heaven or earth, female, which are unknown to one who has discovered the conveted (sic) secret of life immortal! For, twas my power which brought you both here against your wills -- as it shall be my power which shall soon be supreme all over the earth!" Sheesh! Well, Roy had only recently quit his job as a high school teacher so obviously all that high-falutin literary junk was still swimmin' around in his mind. The rest of the story's no better -- Yap Yap Yap. If I was the target audience for this comic, I'd have dropped it like a hot sack of DCs.

JS: When the team is initially drawn to Warlock's magic hand, it's described as almost magnetic, leading Bobby to suspect Magneto. Of course, Bobby probably forgot that the X-Men at this time didn't have adamantium skeletons (yet), so unless they were being pulled by their fillings or X-Uniform underwire support, the perpetrator was probably NOT the master of magnetism.

Tales to Astonish 89
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Attuma has gained control over the Servo-Robot and things couldn’t look any worse for Atlantis. Namor, brilliant combat tactician that he is, doesn’t need long to realize that his army troops with their weapons aren’t going to be much use against this towering, robotic Godzilla. Namor orders his troops to fall back and to help the civilians evacuate the city. Subby uses his own speed to battle the robot in order to buy precious time. He also orders sharks, octopi, and a large whale to join the fight to slow the thing down. Dorma pitches in by getting a camera from Namor’s living quarters when ordered to. Namor hits the jackpot when a giant plastic tube goes into the ocean and sucks up the robot into the air and back onto the ship belonging to the aliens who accidentally dropped it. Namor explains that he knew Attuma couldn’t have created such an awesome specimen, so he figured that whoever did would be looking for it.  He used the camera to take a picture of the robot to send out into space air as kind of a flier.

Tom: A good enough ending that had some terrific action thrown in to keep the suspense going. Come on, anytime you have a whale up against a giant robot, that just screams excitement.

MB: As explained in last issue’s introduction to this two-parter, Bill and Stan wanted to create an old-fashioned rock-’em-sock-’em story, without an overabundance of psychological underpinning, and by that standard, I think they’ve succeeded admirably. That said, a little greater attention to the script might have resulted in a somewhat more sophisticated solution than the “let’s project an image into the sky and hope for the best” routine (one shudders to think what would have happened if Namor hadn’t had his “projecto-camera” handy), but that’s quibbling. Having read very few Golden Age stories, I imagine the boys had been churning out just this kind of yarn twenty years earlier, and it was probably fun for them to evoke those days.

PE: Everett was just as dependable as Colan to bring a high level of pizzazz to an average story such as this. It's not a bad story, there's just not much to it and its abrupt finish seems mighty rushed. Still in all, an enjoyable read. The "Next Issue" banner promises more of those Golden Age thrills as Sub-Mariner welcomes one of his vintage villains.

Jack: Boy, the Atlanteans sure are lucky it wasn’t a cloudy day or the spaceship was off somewhere else when Subby sent up the Bat Signal! Talk about a Deus Ex Machina!

Our Story

Sound asleep after defeating the Boomerang, Bruce Banner is discovered by the cosmic being known as the Stranger. The Stranger captures him and then teleports a powerful machine he created to the Desert Mountains to give him control over the Hulk. When Banner turns into the Green Goliath, he attempts to fight off the creepy Stranger. His efforts fall short, though, and eventually the furious Hulk is set loose upon mankind under the villain’s mind control. The Stranger wishes to make Earth a peaceful planet. He figures that the best way to do that would be to wipe out all the earthlings and start from scratch. He hopes to accomplish this by using the Hulk as his puppet of destruction.

Tom: This story pretty much just sets the ground rules for what’s to come next issue. I can’t really find anything to complain about and will have to wait and see how things pan out.

MB: Even this month’s Bullpen Bulletins acknowledge the turnover in Hulk artists, stating that “we’re trying to chain [Gil Kane] to the drawing board, and if we succeed, it seems as though ol’ Torn Pants will have his own steady artist at last,” but I guess we know how that’s going to turn out. As I mentioned when he made his debut in X-Men #11, I am not overly familiar with the Stranger (I guess there’s a pun in there somewhere), which simply reinforces an overall feeling that I don’t know what to make of him, despite thinking he’s kinda cool. His agenda seems quite definite in this story, yet I get the sense that neither his powers nor his goals are clear or consistent from appearance to appearance, but with Kane on hand, I’m along for the ride.

PE: Seems a simpler road to go down for The Stranger would be a handful of nuclear weapons. They're a lot more manageable, I'd think, than the jolly green giant and might be a bit faster to purge the earth of all life. I'm not adverse to action action action, but Bruce Banner is a character I'd like to spend some time with (I don't mean socially, you nitwits). There's a lot of interesting nuances to Banner, as opposed to lame doc Blake, and it might be a nice change of pace from the assembly line of third-tier villains that have been thrown Hulk's way (have you noticed that the instant one of the bad guys is dispatched, another one pops up with an "Ah, The Hulk! Just the beast I've been looking for!"). The Stranger proclaims he "walks forever alone" which begs the question: "Why isn't he called The Loner?" 

Jack: Imagine a conversation between Thunderbolt Ross and Nick Fury. “This is an army base . . . not a chicken-scratchin’ playground!” Hey, stop Bogarting my lines!” The Stranger programs the Hulk to hate mankind and to want to smash and destroy everything he sees. And this is different how?

PE: Brainless babe Betty Brant must have some form of intermittent amnesia as every issue she asks her pop Thunderballs Ross what he's going to do about The Hulk, and when she gets the same answer as last issue, she bursts into tears and tells dad that her boyfriend is lost under that mountain of green. Lots of dopey pop references that today's audience would probably shake their head at. "He's not Mao-Tse-Tung, you know," "It's The Hulk, not Mary Poppins!" and "I don't care if he's the nephew of Godzilla!" Well, that last one might fly today. At least Stan seems to have tired of Soupy Sales.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #133
Marvel Tales #7
Millie the Model #147
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #40
Two-Gun Kid #86


As mentioned previously, this was the month that Marvel published its Ownership Statements, the paperwork that allowed the company to file for a mailing permit. Not all titles had Statements published (Daredevil and Two-Gun Kid seem to be the odd titles out as the reprint titles were, ostensibly, too recent to warrant the Statements) but here are the sales figures (average copies sold) we were able to wrestle from Marvel for the year 1966:

The Amazing Spider-Man     340,155
Fantastic Four                        329,379
The Mighty Thor                   296,251
The Avengers                         269,994
Sgt. Fury                                 268,499
Strange Tales                         261,069
Tales to Astonish                   256,145
The X-Men                            255,070
Tales of Suspense                  252,239
Kid Colt Outlaw                    214,555
Rawhide Kid                         202,823
Millie the Model                    190,217

Just for the heck of it, here are the 10 best-selling DC titles of 1966:

Batman                                   898,470
Superman                               719,976
Superboy                                608,386
Lois Lane                               530,808
Jimmy Olsen                          523,455
World's Finest                        513,201
Action Comics                       491,135
Adventure Comics                 481,234
Justice League                        408,219
Detective Comics                   404,339

As you can see, every one of these outsold Marvel's top seller. Crunching numbers, if we go by averages, Marvel's top ten sold a total of 32,920,272 copies while DC was able to sucker enough little kids to buy up 66,950,676 zines! I'll leave it to one of our readers to give us an idea of what today's Top Tens would sell.

How young Bill Gates got started.


  1. That panel of Mike Murdoch doing his Dork Dance is both hilarious and mortifying.

    The Warlock dialogue quoted above makes my head hurt -- Thomas at his flowery worst. Sadly, in upcoming years, there's more (WAY more) where that came from.

    And Jack Sparling -- wow. I defend a lot of artists who routinely get slammed around here (Heck, Grandenetti, Frank Robbins et al) but I can't find anything nice to say about Sparling. Praise Odin that his visit to Marvel-land was so mercifully brief.

  2. Professor Pete, you've hit on another obvious parallel between Fury and Bond that I wanted to mention: no matter what outlandish gizmo they equip him with at the start of the story, you just know that's gonna end up being exactly the frammistat he needs a few pages later.

    For me, the uneven quality you cited (which will sadly persist) would turn out to be the fatal flaw in Marie's work on Dr. Strange, with her protean depiction of Umar being Exhibit A.

    What could be more all-American than a ham and cheese sandwich? Presumably with a glass of milk as a chaser (and some Wanda cheesecake for dessert?). Regarding the title of this post, it won't become official until October, but yes.

    Just file that Sparling Blip along with Jerry Grandenetti and, later, writer Raymond Marais.

    What the hell is with Xavier's flying Big Wheel?