Wednesday, June 20, 2012

May 1967: Return of the Vulture!

Daredevil 28
Our Story

Matt goes off to New York to lecture about law to the students at a college campus.  At the same time, another professor who works there is convinced aliens are about to invade, though he is written off as a crackpot.  Sure enough, Daredevil has to stop a swarm of giant, ugly alien invaders from taking over the planet.  After fighting with them, he causes the aliens to destroy their own weapon that causes blindness and mind control.  Saying that it would take too long to repair the damage to their weapon, the aliens admit defeat and take back off into the skies.

Tom:  I’m guessing that Stan was a big Outer Limits fan after reading this stinker.   Maybe this story wasn’t all that bad.  Just kind of disposable as it definitely seemed out of place in Daredevil’s usual cannon of adventures.  

Could this character be based on Gene Colan's alien?
MB: Surprisingly, this issue was inked by Dick Ayers instead of Giacoia, yet Gene’s pencils seem strong enough to withstand any damage, and I’m obliged to admit that the close-up of Karen in page 5, panel 3 is a real knockout.  Much as I dislike the Mike Murdock persona, he certainly seems to bring out the best in Colan, who uses devices like the juggling on the first two pages to visualize his freewheeling nature.  The amount of weird science on display here is quite impressive, especially regarding DD’s almost magical hyper-senses, but considering the number of aliens to have paraded through various Marvel mags already, it seems odd that they’ve put so much emphasis on the “inexpressibly incredulous instant” of this supposed first-contact scenario.

You be the judge.
PE: I was about to mention that, Professor Matthew. Why, in a world where New York is being constantly threatened by Mole Men and Galacti, would anyone scoff at some extraterrestrials? I've given up on the notion that this series will provide me anything but a few loud laughs each issue. No, the Mike Murdock sub-plot isn't funny anymore but the "New Issue, New Power" revelation certainly is. This time out we find that DD can tell if something is native to an area or not because of the "disruption of air molecules" around him. What fabulous BS this is. I can just see Colan and Lee in the office, Stan chuckling, "Wait 'til you hear this one, Gentleman Gene!" Colan's first reveal of the alien, a really big green foot, is chilling. Too bad that's followed up by showing its face, decidedly unchilling.

Jack: Love it or hate it, Daredevil is rarely boring, but this issue was an exception. Who thought it was a good idea to have DD fight aliens? The idea of the aliens having a ray that makes everyone on Earth blind might have seemed like it would put Daredevil at an advantage, but it’s wasted here, and the menace is gone so quickly that it never seems to make much of a difference. Mike Murdock’s appearance is the highlight of the issue!

PE: As far as Foggy and Karen stumbling into the aliens' "Sight-Stealing Ray," I firmly believe if the pair were in New York and there was a hurricane in Kansas, they'd find a way to be imperiled. After vanquishing the aliens, Daredevil sighs "It's over... at last!" At last? The whole threat lasted about ten minutes in Marvel time. The blindness plague was so brief, Foggy and Karen might just as well have blinked!

Stan just can't help unloading another barb at those stinkin' Commies!
The Mighty Thor 140
Our Story

All hail to Asgard! The troll war hath been won! Thor, with his dad’s permission, returns to Midgard to pick up the pieces of his life as Don Blake, M.D. Not far away, a museum expedition has unearthed a still but apparently alive creature, orange skinned with purple armor, and warm to the touch. A scientific expert has been called in to take a look. The mystery is, the creature, doll-sized when found has slowly grown to the size of a full-grown man. Suddenly he awakens, and apparently intelligent, pushes the men aside as he exhibits great strength; impervious to bullets, he smashes though the wall spouting mouthing’s about “the master”, whom he seeks for guidance. Each contact of any force he encounters makes him grow larger. A group of policemen arm themselves and soon pursue the growing man to where he was last seen: a city park, now a graveyard of uprooted trees. They find him alright, but are powerless to stop him. Then a beam of light strikes the giant, and he shrinks to doll-size again.  The master has been found in the form of Kang The Conqueror. The creature, having been rendered small by Kang’s de-energizer beam, is his master’s secret weapon, created to help him defeat his own enemies in the future, and buried here in hiding, where he was accidentally unearthed. By this time, the police have brought a confused Dr. Blake to the scene (because he’s been able to contact Thor at times). Blake is forgotten once they arrive, as Kang releases the growing man again to keep the police at bay. Presto, Thor is indeed summoned, and enters the fray. Thor has more than enough strength to fight the growing man; the problem is the blows of battle cause the growing man to increase his size at an alarming rate.  Kang appears again, and stops Thor long enough with the cobalt power of his glove to make an escape (with a re-shrunk growing man) into his time machine, disguised as a huge boulder, and protected by a cosmic force field. Thor’s answer: a universal infinity vortex, which his hammer places Kang’s ship in, and which will send the conqueror to a timeless, spaceless dimension.

In Tales Of Asgard, the search for Mogul continues, as Thor and the Warriors Three meet the challenge of Mogul’s giant slave: the Jinni Devil.

JB: Welcome back Kang the Conqueror, first seen in The Avengers # 8. While an interesting idea, his growing man, a “stimuloid” isn’t the best foe. The best things about this issue are some small ones. Thor misses his life on Earth (and acknowledging that Odin must have had something to do with the ease of losing Jane Foster), and returns despite having to leave a proud Sif back in Asgard. The convenient notion that Dr. Blake might be able to reach Thor without any thought to his secret identity is quite funny, as is Odin taking a bath in his gigantic “pool of peace.”

PE: Somewhat of a comedown after the fabulous epic we've just experienced in the last few Thors. The Growing Man (first draft monikers reportedly included The Enlarging Man, The Erecting Man and Captain Grow but, admittedly, hearing a female Marvel bystander scream "That man is enlarging" might not have passed the CCAA) is an infinitely forgettable villain who doesn't really do anything but grow, tear out some trees, and menace a handful of cops. The real surprise here is the appearance of Kang, who seems set to depart on a big conquering trip but is nipped in the bud by Thor's "Universal Infinity Vortex," another one of those new powers that heroes seem to come up with when most needed. Problem with these last-minute super-powers is that we, as readers, will wonder why Thor never uses it again. Our climax suffers from Abruptus Maximus, a condition that "The Man" and "The King" suffered from now and then, I suppose, due mostly to boredom from their own characters. At this point, I'm surprised that the Dynamic Duo (Jack and Stan, that is) don't abandon altogether the "lame Doc Blake" alter ego as any appearance of said Doc seems to be a contrivance.

"That man seems to be growing! Like a Growing Man!"
MB:  I dimly remember the Growing Man from a 1970s Iron Man appearance, possibly in or around the Midas saga, and I know the Avengers tackled him at some point, but as always, it’s interesting to revisit his debut.  I will bludgeon a deceased equine, though, by opining that those “Tales of Asgard” pages might have been better devoted to a less pell-mell ending, which for me started to go south when Thor, displaying knowledge of a decidedly non-Asgardian technology, declared that the Growing Man was a “stimuloid”; well, sure, every little storm giant knows that, right?  What exactly it means to put something “within a universal infinity vortex,” I haven’t the faintest idea—nor, I would hazard a guess, did Stan when he penned that pearl of techno-babble.

JB: Take note of Odin’s response when Thor requests that he needs to return to Earth, which he has sworn to love and protect: “Thy words have the ring of truth my son!”  Five issues from now, the All-Father will go berserk again over this matter, but his response here seems much more reasonable considering the hard-fought victory just won against the trolls (maybe Thor forgot Fathers Day).

Fantastic Four 62
Our Story

Sucked in by the irresistible force of the Negative Zone, Reed Richards floats therein, being drawn ever closer to the explosive area near the negative Earth. Although they cannot save him, Ben realizes that they can talk to him via the trans-barrier phone, but a few static-filled words don’t help. At that moment, Johnny’s ultimate wish comes true, as his lost love, the Inhuman Crystal, arrives with her dog Lockjaw, who has brought them here with his dimension travelling powers. Timing is everything, and it takes a moment for Crystal to see that the Torch’s cool reaction to her arrival is because of Reed’s predicament. She suggests that her fellow Inhumans (who are busy routing some foreign soldiers from occupying the island the Inhumans have chosen as their refuge) may be able to help, and disappears as fast as she came. Help they can, and do, as Black Bolt, when he hears the situation, selects Triton as the one with the best chances of success, due to his ability to navigate through the endless ocean. Once reunited with the F.F. the aquatic Inhuman enters the Negative Zone safely through a series of chambers. Using a hand held rocket gun to maneuver himself, he finds Reed in the nick of time. While these events transpired on our side of things, Reed observes that intelligent life exists within the Negative Zone, as a passerby craft fails to notice him. What Reed fails to notice is that the purpose of the craft was to exile a powerful alien criminal, who, as fate would have it, is marooned on the other side of the very rock Reed has grasped hold of. When Triton rockets Mr. Fantastic to safety, they are so close to the explosive area that the alien, who had been sedated and put in a space suit, is revived.  Unable to return to whatever pillaging life he had in the Negative Zone, the alien who calls himself Blastaar has observed the retreating duo, and follows them back through the distortion area to our world. Emerging after them, the cautious alien remains hidden from our joyous team. Quickly he views our world as a new place of conquest, and as he looks outside a window he is spotted by the Sandman, who had escaped to the safety of the Baxter Building roof last issue. The two are of a type, and form a hasty alliance; all the while plotting to themselves the uses he can put the other to. At least for a moment, Sue/Reed, and Johnny/Crystal experience the joy of reunion.

JB: I was wondering reading this one why Lockjaw wouldn’t have had the power to transport himself
 into the Negative Zone? Couldn’t he have understood from Crystal what needed to be done? I have to say, I enjoyed Mr. Fantastic’s musings about the meaning of life on the cosmic full-pager #8. On the other hand, I don’t really buy the unidentified “Eastern invaders” with their nuclear sub and ray cannon (except it gives the Inhumans a chance to show off their powers).  If this were the Thor title, maybe this would be the material cut for a Tales Of Asgard (Baxter Building Blues?) equivalent. Full marks to Crystal for quick thinking in coming to the aid of our team, especially when she really wanted to heat it up with the Torch. I’m not sure about Blastaar; he looks cool, but sounds like so many other villains at this point. We’ll see next ish.

PE: Readers picking up Fantastic Four for the first time with #62 would have thought that Crystal (or "Crys" as her longtime beau fondly calls her) and Johnny ("my dearest") are an old married couple, rather than two people who barely know each other. In fact, I was surprised The Torch recognized Crystal's voice. Reed and Sue's marriage might be working out better if they gave this kind of a romance a shot! With the growing importance and visibility (and panel time) of The Inhumans, Fantastic Four is almost like one of the anthology books now. There's so much magic and wonder captured between these pages. Every element (except maybe Blastaar who comes off as a Ulik clone) screams "Give me a bigger role in this universe" and a lot of these plot threads, we now know, do become important milestones. One plot ends (Reed in The Negative Zone), one just begins (Blastaar), while one continues (The Inhumans). With The Black Panther, The Surfer, and The Inhumans all eventually getting their own titles and another major character on the horizon, Fantastic Four has become the comic book equivalent of All in the Family with all its spin-offs. Just one question: Was Sandman patiently standing on the roof of The Baxter Building through the entire issue?

MB:  Today’s Moron Award goes to whoever reprinted this issue’s double-page spread of Reed flying through the Negative Zone back to back in Marvel’s Greatest Comics #45. There might be those who—also reading this with 20/20 hindsight, and knowing he’d be okay—felt that too much was made of his allegedly impending demise, but this Maudlin Man was quite moved by the others’ grief (ditto Reed’s brave “final” soliloquy), and having Johnny and Crystal reunited just then was an ironic masterstroke.  Top marks, too, for a Kirby fully unleashed on this spectacular story, a Sinnott whose consistently eye-ravishing inks have left us all totally spoiled, the featured role for Triton, and the impending odd-couple villainy of the Sandman and Blastaar.

The Amazing Spider-Man 48
Our Story

The Vulture lies dying in a hospital bed after a prison mishap. Before going to that aerie in the sky, he wants to make sure he's passing the feathered baton to someone who'll finish a job he never finished. His cellmate "Blackie" Drago promises to tidy up lose ends by defeating The Amazing Spider-Man but, just before he leaves the dying man's bedside, he admits (with a smile) that he set up the accident in prison so that he could inherit The Vulture's wings. Getting free from the prison gates and nabbing the wings, he takes to the air and begins a crime spree rivaled only by The Porcupine. Suffering from a bad head cold, our hero is, at first, reluctant to step out and hunt down the new feathered fiend but eventually the mounting spree becomes too hard to ignore. Meeting up with the flying felon atop the George Washington Bridge, Spidey finds his flu is much harder to tackle than the bad guy and he passes out. Only the snow on a rooftop saves him but The Vulture is convinced he's put the kibosh on The Amazing Spider-Man.

PE: Blackie seems pretty confident it won't take him long to find those wings but if I was working off the directions "500 yards from north gun tower near broken pines" I think I'd be a little cautious about raising a ruckus on my way out the gate. And it's snowing! What was Stan's plan re: Harry, Petey, Gwen and MJ? Mate-swapping? MJ comes on to Harry. Peter's got his eye on Gwen. Methinks "The Man" had one of his eyes on General Hospital for new angles.

JS: But remember—Peter is enamored with Gwen's new hairstyle because it matches MJ's, as good old Harry-O is quick to point out. Just wait until Harry gives up the corn-rows for long flowing locks—Oops! Spoiler alert!

PE: We get another rare glimpse of Peter's lab professor, Dr. Warren who, years later will play a very important part in the controversial Gwen Stacy Clone saga. He'll also be revealed as super-villain... whoops, you'll have to be patient. That particular discussion won't occur for about another 100 issues. Stay tuned (and don't peek at Wiki!). As of 2012, there have been six Vultures in the Marvel Universe and "Blackie" will maintain his lofty position for a very short time, showing he couldn't quite cut the super-villain life in the end. I do have to say that I like the skull cap he inaugurates this issue. Certainly makes him look more menacing than his predecessor, who could have been portrayed in a film version by Walter Brennan. Spidey's fighting with a really bad head cold but he's lucky he's not in the hands of today's comic writers or it would probably be the clap.

MB: Ah, here it is, the famous “Spidey goes into battle with a head cold” two-parter, so frequently cited as an example of the mundane problems that set Marvel’s super-heroes apart from those of its Distinguished Competition.  Since I always grouse (ha ha) about what a nothing villain the Vulture is—although he gets points for seniority, in more ways than one, having been around since issue #2—I appreciate such attempts to liven up this story, most notably the prison stuff and the introduction of a new Vulture, albeit a short-lived one, as I recall. If I were not already mindful of the advantage of flight, I certainly would be after having Drago hammer it home relentlessly…but how does a pair of wings mysteriously confer super-strength?

PE: Very good point, Professor Matthew. I had a similar problem with Stilt-man over in Daredevil a couple issues ago. Sure, The Vulture can fly away once he's committed a dastardly act but he still has to break in to the jewelry store or Fort Knox or wherever and his wings aren't going to get him in any easier. If anything, they'd be a burden. And how is it he can lift a man with one hand while he's flying? Prison barbells, I'd wager.

Tales to Astonish 91
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

It’s a dark day as Atlantis has a new leader in Byrrah.  Namor is taking his loss in his own typically foul manner.  To make matters worse, his old enemies Attuma and Krang have joined up with Byrrah to rule the sea kingdom together.  As punishment, Byrrah has Namor banished to the Inferno Isle.  It is on this island of volcanoes that he must face a giant monster made of lava.  While Namor realizes he cannot fight the creature mano-a-mano, he figures out that if the monster touches water, it turns to mud.  Using his maneuvering skills, Namor is able to knock the monster into the water so it destroys itself.  Meanwhile, loyal Dorma has located a machine that projects a beam that can brainwash anyone that it touches.  It turns out Byrrah wasn’t as smooth as a talker as he would have people believe.  Dorma figures out how to use the machine to reverse the citizen’s original good thoughts and support of Byrrah, making them all realize they have been duped.  When they start revolting, Attuma and Krang turn on him and reject him as a fraud, with Attuma even punching Byrrah in the face.  Namor arrives back just in time to save his kingdom from one of Attuma’s high-powered cannons.  In the end, Namor is once again leader of Atlantis, while Byrrah is banished to the farthest reaches of the deep, with no friends and seemingly very few prospects.

Tom:  This finale was a little disappointing because it seemed rushed.  While previously we had a storyline involving Krang kidnapping Dorma that seemed to drag on for eons, poor Byrrah is just a little too easily dispatched of considering it was only last issue that he defeated Namor.  They should have at least had a rematch this time around.  Oh, and that lava monster looked pretty damn cheesy.   

MB: This story was inked by newcomer “Dandy Danny” (later Dapper Dan) Adkins, an artist who worked on many Marvel characters in various capacities, but was most closely associated with Dr. Strange.  It seems I owe the Atlanteans an apology because, like Namor, I did not know their betrayal was caused by Byrrah’s hypno-ray, yet luckily for him, the Byrrah/Krang/Attuma “Axis of Evil” was short-lived.  I can’t help wondering if they kept all of that hardware on hand merely to exile people to Inferno Isle; unfortunately, it appears that my Marvel Super-Heroes reprint was cut (as, I am increasingly learning, was all too common) to the extent that the climax of this story is almost incoherent, but at least the denouement is enjoyable.

Jack: After having read a couple of comics this month scripted by Roy Thomas, it was a relief to read a Stan Lee script! Things move pretty fast in this story but the battle with the lava monster is cool and Bill Everett is really the best artist to draw Namor. 

PE: Nice to see the budget this issue included Krang and Attuma but their contracts must have stipulated cameo roles. If you blink, you'll miss 'em. As with the previous Bill Everett entries, the story is more of the same (Namor must fight off advances to usurp his princeliness), but who the heck cares when you've got Bill's art to ogle? The monster of Inferno Isle conjures up the great BEMs of the 1950s-60s pre-hero Tales to Astonish.

Our Story

Realizing that only the strength of the Hulk or the intelligence of Dr. Banner can defeat the Abomination, Thunderbolt Ross orders his men to bring the Hulk to a lab in hopes of resuscitating him after the terrific beating he took from the Abomination.  Once recovered, the Hulk starts to go off on another one of his rampages.  It isn’t until Rick Jones pleads with him that he reverts back to Bruce Banner and then comes up with a plan to lure the Abomination out of hiding.  Using his Infinite gamma ray creation as a magnet, Banner gets the Abomination to leap back to the base with Betty.  Bruce turns back into the Hulk and the fight is on.  It’s a different battle this time as the Hulk quickly gains the upper hand.  While all this has been transpiring, the Stranger has been observing from above.  After witnessing the Hulk act in a valiant manner, he decides that he was wrong about needing to destroy mankind.  The Stranger does feel that someone as evil as the Abomination might be of some use to him, so he transports him away into the sky, thus eliminating him as a threat to everyone else.

Tom:  This ending was a little light on the action for my tastes.  Now I’m actually more interested in what kind of mischief the Stranger is going to use the Abomination for.     

PE: This issue we witness the supreme irony of Thundercloud Ross wishing continued good health to The Hulk. In our continuing coverage of dopey comebacks, I submit:

Soldier #1: It's Rick Jones, The Hulk's only friend!
Soldier #2: I don't care if it's Gunga Din!

MB:  We are promised a “new chapter” in the next issue, and will have a new artist to illustrate it, but the Kane Kwartet has ended with a bang, and by gum, Smiley and Sugar-Lips have pulled the strip out of its lengthy doldrums, at least in the short term.  This story is so full of tension and human drama that I practically turned into the Hulk myself from reading it, while the defeat of the Abomination—for which both Bruce Banner and his emerald alter ego can take equal shares in the credit—was satisfyingly handled.  It was nice of the almost-forgotten Stranger to appear and tie up the loose ends, especially by whisking the Abomination into space with him, but don’t worry:  like Schwarzenegger (who could have portrayed him), he’ll be back.

Jack: I love Gil Kane, but he’s wrong for the Hulk. How many times do we have to see Thunderbolt Ross looking all sweaty and shocked in close-up? The Stranger comes out of nowhere at the end and whisks the Abomination away into space right in the middle of a pretty good fight with the Hulk. I still don’t see much of a difference between the Hulk before the Stranger got him all worked up and the Hulk after that. He’s still green and angry.

PE: Rick Jones holding on to The Hulk's giant green leg should have come off supremely schmaltzy (especially with Jones looking to Heaven and asking for a little assistance) and yet, I'll be damned if it isn't a stirring, effective sequence capped by Greenskin's transformation back into Banner and Rick's final whisper, "Thanks for listening to me. Thanks!" Is that directed at Banner or a higher power? The climax certainly bodes a brighter future for our emerald goliath but forty years of Monday Morning Quarterbacking tells me differently!

Jack: The cover is great, with Hulk and Abomination facing off. The coloring is really impressive!

The X-Men 32
Our Story

We find that Professor X has a secret dungeon in the X-Mansion, in which he's been keeping his step-brother imprisoned for months (all for the good of mankind, to be sure). In an attempt to drain the Juggernaut of his power, the Professor fails, big time. The X-ies get home in time to go a few rounds with the big guy, who takes off when he gets a telepathic invite from Factor Three. We're left with Xavier clinging to life, unaware if he'll survive one more issue!

PE: Cain Marko (aka The Juggernaut) has been chained in Professor X's basement dungeon for months. Does the Prof feed him intravenously or can mutants fast for months at a time? Plan F-1 calls for The Beast and Iceman to flank their opponent. Looks like it's back to the gym for the boys!

Jack: This is so bad as to be almost beyond belief. We start with three pages at the Coffee A Go Go, including a poetry reading, and it just goes downhill from there! The Satan’s Saints motorcycle gang crashes the party! Professor X screws up again, proving for the zillionth time that it’s never a good idea to sit in one of those electrical gizmos where the good guy puts a thing over his head and the bad guy does the same. When has this ever worked in the good guy’s favor? I remember the Juggernaut as a pretty cool villain and The X-Men as a good comic, but it sure as heck wasn’t on the basis of issues like this. All I can say in a positive vein is that I like the yellow and blue costumes and I’m glad Iceman doesn’t look like a walking snowball anymore.

JS: Oh, sure, Professor Jack. Pop in now. Where have you been as we've suffered through the past thirty-some odd issues?

PE: At least Daredevil has the gorgeous art of Gentleman Gene Colan to distract you from its utterly insane story concepts. The X-Men has nothing to recommend it and should have been canceled years before the axe eventually fell. Considering how proud Stan was of his line, he should have been embarrassed by how far into the cow pies this series fell. Roy's dialogue gets worse each succeeding issue if that's possible. I swear the Beatnik craze was long over by 1967, but here we've got passionate poets and their grating dialect. The X-Kids talk far out as well:

Bobby: Tell me where that juke-joint is -- and I'll move in!
Zelda (Bobby's gal pal): Like fun you will, Romeo!

Did readers even understand this double talk back in the day?

JS: Scott gets inches closer to expressing his love for Jean... and doesn't. Of course, she's not much of a mind reader.

PE: The motorcycle rumble sequence is like something out of a bad sitcom. How about this for pithy dialogue:

Juggernaut: Soon you shall all be united -- in death!
Beast: Death? You can't mean --

What else would he mean, you dolt?

Strange Tales 156
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

With Fury confined to quarters for his supposed incompetence, “Bronson” is ordered to take Laura from the crippled Helicarrier to terra firma in the Dyna-Saur, Tony Stark’s modification of the Hydra saucer ship, for emergency care.  Presumed dead after a bomb destroys his cabin, Fury has actually been suspicious of Bronson for some time, and stows away as they travel to his true destination:  Hydra Island, a synthetic Pacific atoll enclosed in an impenetrable dome.  There, the Supreme Hydra threatens the world with a plague known as the Death Spore; reveals his true identity to Fury—who has been captured in combat—as his WWII nemesis, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker; and sentences him to death via alpha particle exposure.

MB: This entry took me a bit by surprise, because although I remembered the identity of the Supreme Hydra—Strucker being an inspired choice that tied Fury’s two titles together—I didn’t recall that they wrapped up this storyline, which I see happens next issue, so early in Jaunty Jim’s tenure on the strip.  None of which takes anything away from the quality of the story, which is of the, shall we say, highest caliber, with Steranko’s imagination and talent operating at full throttle to come up with new gadgets for Fury and new stylistic flourishes.  The visual treats this time out include a series of panels that show most of the Marvel super-heroes reacting to Strucker’s ultimatum, a spectacular double-page spread, and our first glimpse of Nick’s now-iconic skin-tight black suit.

PE: A visual feast indeed! The SHIELD strip now resembles an EC science fiction comic (Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Incredible Science Fiction) more than a Marvel. After seeing what this has come to, one wonders what Steranko might have done with Fantastic Four in an alternate reality. Baron Strucker is an old friend from Sgt. Fury but I was taken by surprise as well by the reveal. Strucker's comment that it had been 24 years since the two had seen each other brings up that ol' debbil Marvel timeline again. The writers would constantly shoot themselves in the collective foot while trying to explain events like this and Peter Parker's extended school terms. For this to be possible, Nick must be at least 50 (he didn't look 26 in Sgt. Fury but we'll give Steranko the benefit of the doubt) here in Strange Tales #156. How long until we get the explanation for his Cap-esque fountain of youth? A hell of a cover by Marie Severin, by the way, one that I'd love to hang on my wall.

Nope, Steranko can't draw the Hulk either.
Jack: I try to read these stories but I can’t seem to follow them. Honestly, I don’t have any idea what’s going on. There seem to be too many word balloons interfering with the pretty pictures. I think Steranko would have been better off just telling the story with his art and leaving out the dialogue. The art is spectacular, especially the full page of Fury and the concluding two-page spread. At this point, Steranko’s art is among the best in comics.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

After Umar appears on a New York street and wipes out a crowd of onlookers, the Ancient One summons Dr. Strange back from banishment to face her. As Umar continues her rampage, attacking the Ancient One from the other side of the world, Dr. Strange unleashes Zom, a legendary monster whose power dwarfs that of Umar. Umar and the Ancient One engage in a battle at Stonehenge until Zom appears, causing Umar to flee back to her own Dark Dimension.

Jack: Well, that banishment didn’t last long! These Dr. Strange stories all seem to run together. The last panel is hilarious, as the evil, uncontrollable Zom stands around jawing with Dr. Strange and the Ancient One about how he’s going to kill them.

MB: Seeing Umar unleashed in our dimension reminded me quite strongly of The Magician’s Nephew, the Narnia novel by C.S. Lewis in which the future White Witch, Jadis, wreaks havoc in London.  Despite the fact that her ancient enemy, Zom, has one of the least imaginative names and goofiest appearances in Marvel villainy, I found this installment a decided upswing from the last one (with a concomitant improvement in Umar’s looks).  I loved the high stakes represented by the whole “the uncontrollable cure may prove more deadly than the malady itself” routine, per the Ancient One, and although Zom himself leaves something to be desired, the fact that it took both Dormammu and Eternity to imprison him gives one pause.

PE: On the Bullpen Bulletins page, we get the first Stan's Soapbox, wherein Stan tells us what's on his mind, where he's lecturing, what movie star he had dinner with, etc. No wonder Kirby got pissed off. Seriously though, Stan's Soapbox became a must-read for all us little (and not so little) Zombies and the whole lot of them were collected in the appropriately-titled Stan's Soapbox: The Collection (Hero Initiative, 2008). I'd have preferred to see them reprinted as they were originally run (in their little yellow boxes) rather than re-formatted but it's nice to have them all in one package.

Tales of Suspense 89
Iron Man
Our Story

When an accident at the new Stark Factory sends Pepper Potts into Happy Hogan's arms, Tony Stark at last realizes his secretary is not in love with her millionaire boss but with his chauffeur. This sends Tony into a spiral of depression, relieved only by an unending supply of gorgeous girls. Meanwhile, back at Ryker's Island, Iron Man's arch-enemy The Melter (last see in Avengers #6) has magically reassembled his Melting Gun and uses it to bust out of the stir. Next stop: Stark Factory where he intends to make the trillionaire playboy craft him a new improved melting ray. That is, if The Melter can find Tony under the pile of naked women in his water bed. When the showdown finally gets underway, Iron Man realizes that The Melter's powers are too great for him and, deciding to play another angle, he switches to Tony Stark to try to figure out what the bad guy wants.

PE: I thought for sure after the last super villain assembled a nuclear bomb in auto shop, these wardens would have learned their lesson but it's obvious that even super villains are allowed "fun time" in the pokey. Iron Man notes that The Melter is "the one foe I'm powerless against." Really? Seems like a bit of unfounded hyperbole from a man who's defeated The Mandarin, The Crimson Dynamo, and The Scarecrow. Dopey pop reference of the issue:

The Melter: Iron Man!
Iron Man: Who'd you expect -- The Lovin' Spoonful?

Not much thought went into these comeback lines.

MB: Stan was probably correct in anticipating that some readers would feel this story was a little heavy on the hearts-and-flowers stuff, although the “montage” on page 4 (subsequently deleted in Marvel Double Feature) was kinda cool.  But it’s nice to see that Pepper appears to have made her choice between Tony and Happy, at least subconsciously, and to have a reminder of the loyalty Stark inspires among his other employees, not to mention a resolution of the Senator Boyd [sic] subplot.  As for the Melter, I’d never rank him as a first-tier villain, yet he is inarguably the most natural foe imaginable for an armored super-hero, and I like the ironic twist that Shellhead felt he’d stand a better chance with him as Tony than as Iron Man.

PE: "Hearts and Flowers"? Looked more like Gin 'n' Trojans to me. All it takes is seeing Pep hug Hap and Tony Stark is bedding everything save the country cows (and they may be next). Yeesh! 

Captain America
Our Story

Our opening panel reveals that the mastermind behind the attack on Cap by Power Man and The Swordsman was none other than The Red Skull, risen from his watery grave (back in TOS #81). The Skull reveals to Cap his plan to entrap whole cities in huge bubbles and make the grovel before him. He then reveals his biggest surprise for Cap: Bucky Barnes! Of course, it's not the real Bucky Barnes, just a really life-like robot that Cap makes quick scrap metal of. Annoyed, The Skull informs the star-spangled Avenger he's had enough fun and it's time to die. The walls begin to close in on Captain America.

PE: The Skull explains how he survived his descent to the bottom of the ocean wearing a full suit of armor. The Cube, though not in his possession nor anywhere around him, still gave him oxygen enough to breathe underwater. What total rubbish! Better not to explain how the guy makes it back to civilization than make up such tall tales. I prefer my fantasy believable! The Red Dope has Cap defenseless in his bubble and tells him that his death must be slow and savored. Hasn't this guy learned anything in the last twenty years? You've got the guy helpless, kill him now. If only I was a super-villain.

MB: The revelation that the Red Skull was the mastermind behind don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em goons Power Man and Swordsman hardly floored me, but you won’t hear me kvetch.  Similarly, although the idealist in me thinks he could use a dedicated inker to give his lines a little more definition, Kane’s work is fluid and dynamic, and he excels at action and strong emotion, two qualities in abundance in this lively tale.  You don’t want to play the Bucky card too often, yet Stan does so adroitly here, and even though we know intellectually that it can’t really be young—or not—Mr. Barnes confronting Cap, Smiley and Sugar-Lips make us feel the shield-slinger’s pain as his nemesis rips the scab from his never-healing wound.

PE: For the umpteenth time, one of our Marvel heroes is fooled by a robot. These mad villains must be light years ahead of our scientists because a robot's a robot no matter how life-like its features. How is the Buckybot programmed to duck Cap's blows or deliver a left to the head? Is The Skull standing off to the side with a remote like some mad Wii player? I'll say this though, despite its flaws, this is the closest I've seen so far to the kind of fun "Marvel History Lessons" stories that I ate up like Nacho Cheese Doritos in the early 1970s. A similar story line will pop up during Steve Englehart's stellar run on Cap in the mid-70s where we find out that Cap's partner, The Falcon, may be a creation of The Skull. 

The Avengers 40
Our Story

While the Sub-Mariner intercepts a torpedo and fights with a submarine, Captain America contacts the Avengers with a request to find the Cosmic Cube. They cross paths with Subby and Hercules asks him if he is also hunting for the Cube. Figuring it must be something powerful, Namor quickly locates the Cube on the ocean floor and realizes its powers. He uses the Cube to help him in a battle with the Avengers, but it falls in a crevice created by an earthquake and Subby goes back to his undersea kingdom. Underground, the Mole Man picks up the Cube but discards it, not realizing its significance.

PE: Shades of Daredevil, the Sub-Mariner's been back in the Marvel Universe for over five years but we're only now learning that he can hear radio messages underwater and trace them back to the sources through his "Hybrid Senses." The big guffaw this issue goes to Captain America, when he informs his teammates they need to find the Cosmic Cube. When quizzed, Cap explains "Can't stop to explain! But whoever possesses it... has the power to conquer the universe!" In the end, The Avengers (minus Cap but plus Herc) do a good job tracking down The Cube, find it and then lose it. The kicker is that they don't seem all that bothered by their colossal mistake. A power that can destroy the universe but they're more interested in getting back to Avengers HQ to see what Jarvis has whipped up for lunch. Well, except for Hawkeye, who has only sex on his mind. Stan's been so worried about continuity (his asterisk boxes are all over this story) and yet he drops the big ball when it comes to our "surprise reveal" at the climax: The Mole Man and his mindless minions were blowed up real good at the climax of last month's Iron Man strip. While I don't expect Moley to stay dead, I do wonder why we didn't see a (* The Mole Man and his one million little blind guys made it out the back door in the three seconds they had before their underground cave went ka-blooey) from Stan or Roy.

Jack: The House of Ideas must have been out of ideas this month, because Rascally Roy went back to the old standby plot of having Sub-Mariner guest star when nothing else was going on. Hercules is a great addition to the team, and the bit at the end with the Mole Man is cute, but the best thing about this issue is the announcement that John Buscema will replace Don Heck next time around!

The Cosmic Sugar Cube?
PE: It's a Small World Department: The crew have to head to the tiny Carribean island of Puerto Nuevo (which, Wikipedia tells me, is actually a small borough of Baja, California) to find The Cube at the same time the prince of Atlantis is heading there to sink some subs.

MB: And so, after 32 admittedly variable issues, we bid farewell to Don Heck, who reportedly ceded the pencils to Buscema on the monthly book to work on the upcoming annual, and didn’t return for years, but even more than original artist Kirby, I think he can fairly be said to have established the look of the team.  Under Bell’s inks, he gives a decent account of himself, but it’s a shame that Roy—who took a while to hit his stride—has given him such a chaotic plot, worsened by once again witnessing events that won’t be explained until next month’s Suspense. You’d think a story combining the Assemblers, Namor, and the Cosmic Cube couldn’t miss, but the coincidences are howlers, while the botched use of the Cube constitutes criminal misconduct.

PE: If I haven't grown to love Heck's pencils I've, for the most part, gotten used to them. However, his Namor is the worst I've ever seen. What is it about the Sub-Mariner's chest that seems to have dumbfounded Don? At turns, Namor looks bloated, thin, or equipped with breasts in his throat. While the story's a drag, at least Roy is working in some plot elements, like The Cube, that get the iconography cogs turning rather than simply the same format we've been slogging through the past, god knows how many, issues: some unknown force breaks its way into Avengers HQ and we find out it's The Porcupine and The Scarecrow or some other malevolent-but-ultimately-a-joke menace that keeps the team occupied and squabbling for 20 pages of badly-drawn panels. If it sounds like I'm at the end of my tether with this series, you're right. I have very fond memories of this title and so far, they're unjustified.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #134
Marvel Tales #8
Millie the Model #148
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #42
Two-Gun Kid #87


  1. I feel like I've explained this several times before--ditto why Namor has pink skin--but the existence of the "Infinity Formula" that has preserved Fury's youth is revealed in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #31 (December 1976).

    Re: Stark, lighten up, Paste-Pot! You know damn well you'd do the same thing if you had a zillion dollars and looked like Errol Flynn...

    I love the fact that, just as I will almost always find a way to turn the conversation toward, say, AVENGERS SPECIAL #1 or Starlin's first Thanos War, Professor Pete can do the same with those treasured Englehart Cap issues.

  2. Doubtless you'll have to remind me a few more times about that "Infinity Formula" before our magical run comes to an end but what would a 1967 reader think of the forever young Nick? Or would a 1967 reader really care?

    My mission in life is to make sure everyone in the world has a set of Cap #153-156. Until that dream is realized, I have much work to do.

  3. I can remember this like it was yesterday. It was Saturday morning, and my friends Ross and Robert dropped in. We jumped on our bikes and rode to the local Newsagent to pick up this week's supply of Marvel Comics. We'd been going nuts for the past 30 days wondering who would save Reed Richards. The Newsagency was a typical Victorian era shop front, narrow but deep, and the comic book rack was located across the back wall. Ross always ran through the store so that he could get to the comic books first. Robert and I were just inside the front door when Ross picked up a copy of FF #62, held it in the air, and yelled out “It's the Silver Surfer.”

    Check out the cover. The character to the left looks like the Surfer, is the right color, and the stance helps sell the idea. The figure could easily be standing on a surfboard obscured by the asteroid and “Kirby Krackle.” However, there was another surprise waiting for us when we got back home and started reading. It wasn't the Surfer who saved Reed, it was Triton. Let's take another look at the cover. On closer inspection the squiggle across the forehead does make the character resemble Triton, but you'd have to take a second or third look to notice it. Years later, either Stan Lee or Sol Brodsky (can't remember for sure) was asked about the cover, and they said the misleading cover was accidental, and that the figure was supposed to be colored a light greenish hue, but someone in production got it wrong. To quote Don Rickles “Sure they did.”

    Here's the cover of “The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science-Fiction” dated March 1954. I can't help but wonder if Jack Kirby remembered this cover, and used it as a springboard for his own version of a criminal attached to an asteroid.

    Continuing the color theme … when Jim Steranko delivered his part of Strange Tales #156 to the Marvel offices, he sought out Stan Goldberg, and instructed him on how the book should be colored. His main concern was the double page spread with all the Hydra agents in the background, standing in their cubicles. Steranko wanted each Hydra agent to be colored individually. He was concerned that Goldberg, always pressed for time, would simply fill in the background a solid green, burying the artwork. Goldberg stared at Steranko, threw the pages back at him and said “color it yourself” and from that point on, Steranko colored all his own work.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  4. Ah, the old "Spidey's got the flu" gag. Usually accompanied by a round of Peter hitting the panic button and thinking "I'm dizzy, weak and feverish -- I must be losing my powers!" before realizing all he has to do is pop a couple of Sudafeds, drink plenty of liquids and hit the sack for a few days. This is a recurring trope during the Lee/Romita run, happens about once every eighteen months. Poor guy sure is succeptible to illness -- apparently, Enhanced Immune System wasn't one of the powers he got from that radioactive spider bite.