Wednesday, July 11, 2012

August 1967: Not Brand Echh!

The Avengers 43
Our Story

Quicksilver learns to fly, Hercules and Cap become friends, and Janet Van Dyne learns that she inherited over three million dollars when she turned 23. Just another day at Avengers Mansion. Hawkeye learns where to find the Black Widow and he and Hercules jet off behind the Red Curtain, where they encounter the Red Guardian, a Commie super-hero. Hercules gets stuck in the Psychotron, convinced he’s battling the legendary Hydra, while Hawkeye is trapped alongside his beloved, crestfallen when he learns that the Red Guardian’s alter ego is none other than Natasha’s long-lost husband!

PE: I can see the staff meeting where Roy excitedly tells Stan about his new super-villain, The Red Guardian, who can wield his belt buckle just like Cap hurls his shield. "And what else?" asks Stan. "Urrm, what else do you need, The Man?"And I can appreciate that Tasha might still have that homing-beam contraption on her as (COMMIE ALERT) those stinkin' commies are notorious for bad pat-downs, but how is this homing device sending a visual signal of The Black Widow from above? Where the heck's the camera, floating in the space above her head?

MB: Buscema and Roussos are beginning to mesh a little bit better now, with more of Big John’s distinctive facial features brought out in the inking, and if anyone doubts that there is an upswing in the artwork, I will direct his or her attention to that suitable-for-framing full-page shot of the Hydra.  Conversely, the lettering—which I normally never notice—was abysmal, so I wasn’t surprised to see it credited to an unfamiliar name, Jerry Mann, instead of a stalwart such as Artie Simek.  Fun tag-team stuff with Hercules and Hawkeye, who has some nice solo action as well, plus the debut of Cap’s Commie counterpart, the original Red Guardian (who turns out to be the Widow’s estranged spouse), and a rousing finale capturing the camaraderie absent from the film.

Jack: Roy really seems to be showing off his background as an Educated Person, what with all of the references to Greek and Roman mythology--The Iliad, Prometheus, Dionysus, and the Titans were the ones I noticed. This is in contrast to Stan's references in prior issues to Soupy Sales and the Beatles. Most important to me in this issue was confirmation of Janet Van Dyne's status as most desirable Marvel female--she's gorgeous, only 23, and a multi-millionaire! She's like a rich, not-blue-skinned Dorma.



Fantastic Four 65
Our Story

All four members of the Fantastic Four wake from a nightmare. The same nightmare, it seems, has been had by all: an alien creature who claims he is the intelligence of the Kree race, and that he knows they are responsible for the destruction of the sentry recently, for which they will soon be sentenced to a fitting punishment. Lucky it was just a dream. Or was it? What better way to shake something so bizarre as utter normalcy; something our heroes get precious little of. Sue heads out to shop-till-she-drops with Crystal. Johnny (after a loving little spat with blue-eyed Benjamin) heads out in his new hot rod, and picks up Crystal. Soon Mr. Fantastic appears, and likewise “picks up” the Invisible Girl—off to the fanciest of dinners. Alicia’s is less normal. Fearing that voices she has been hearing are just her going mad, she is nonetheless compelled, when the voice returns, to accompany its owner away—right through the wall!  For the rest of our team, fun time is up; the dream was no dream, and indeed the Kree have sent an Accuser to Earth to try and sentence our team to whatever punishment he deems fit. He transports himself from his orbiting ship to New York, where he studies the advancements humans have made since the Kree’s last visit, ages ago. At first rendering himself invisible, the Kree known as Ronan finds a spot to set up an impenetrable cone of invisibility where one by one the the F.F. are “fizitted” away to face him. He makes known his mission, but the FF don’t give up without a fight. Ronan has a Mjolnir-like weapon, which he uses to place what feels like the weight of a planet on Ben’s back, and suck the Torch’s flame from his body, not to mention mete out some nasty shock bolts. Shocked at their rudeness in resisting his courtroom conundrums, Ronan cuts to the chase, sentencing them to what he calls simply the Extreme Penalty. Before he can carry it out, Ben has managed, inch by inch, to crawl his way behind the alien, and grabs him. At Reed’s word, Ben topples Ronan on his own weapon, which carries out the sentence… on the Kree himself. All traces of his visit now vanished, Reed wonders if we’ll see more of the Kree in the future.

PE: Sue and the boys must constantly pull their hair out when they ask Stretcho perfectly clear questions and get back melodrama of the highest order. When Sue asks Reed what the meaning of the shared dream The Four have had, he says "There's one explanation -- but it's almost too frightening to mention! It may have been -- a sentence of death!" He then goes on to explain that he really doesn't know what it means! But that's okay because, as he very quickly learns, all you have to do to calm Sue Storm down is to promise her a whole new wardrobe and a night on the town. "Who cares about the parasite that's found its way into our brains! Macy's, here I come!" The real laugh is that while Stan and the boys are claiming they're hip to women's rights by having a female superhero, they've got the team leader spouting "Wives should be kissed -- and not heard!" Reed has Ben execute "Stratagem 32" which translates to a full-Nelson.

JB: The Kree don’t have a great average so far, two here, two down. I don’t think that’s a pattern that the future will keep! Ronan is strangely fascinating, despite a Sandman-like costume, and a weapon bearing more than a little resemblance to Thor’s hammer. The F.F. got off lucky this time. The mysterious touches add a lot. That opening dream sequence is effective, and the mysterious person talking to Alicia is just as good. Speaking of which, we haven’t seen enough of the lovely blind sculptress lately. The package from the Yancy Street Gang is pretty funny; the false explosion doesn’t make one mailman want to come back (although delivering to the Baxter Building he’d never have a boring day). I like the greatest super hero team fighting in their day clothes too!


PE: We're still in the midst of a wave of classic stories and ideas. I like how Johnny explains the latest predicament The Four find themselves in (and an absolutely brilliant turn of events orchestrated by Jack and Stan): "Boy, wouldn't it be something if The Sentry was like a cop who has to call the precinct every few hours? Then, when the isle sank, and he missed his report, it alerted 'em on the Kree Planet?"  And what's with the "Mystery of Alicia?" Some super dude with the power to walk through walls spirits Ben's gal away. I'm tempted to sneak a peak at #66 but I'll play by the rules as I've a feeling this will lead to another surprise on the part of The King and The Man and I does like me my surprises.


The Mighty Thor 143
Our Story

Thor takes a moment of respite, indulging in a soda at a local eatery. Though the drink is on the house, the Thunder God can’t leave without telling the awestruck crowd that’s gathered around about his homeland of Asgard, from Bifrost to omnipotent Odin. Finally, like a bona-fide movie star, Thor has to run away and take flight to escape his milling fans. As Dr. Don Blake, he’s a hero of a different kind, giving the good news to a patient named Mr. Markham that he’s going to be all right. Two others are going to have a tougher time in the realm of Ringsfjord: Balder the Brave and Thor’s beloved, the lady Sif. Odin has sent them here to learn the intentions of the evil beings called the Enchanters. It doesn’t take long for the ghostly cloud of the Living Talisman (the spirit that serves our villainous trio) to appear, mouthing words of warning. Taking on the form of a giant Hulk-like warrior, the Talisman attacks, making his master’s intentions clear. Leave it to Thor’s favourite pals to defeat said foe, only to have the real danger appear on a nearby hilltop. Forsung, Brona and Magnir are their names, and they make clear their plan: to conquer Asgard. Turning the ground beneath the two Asgardians to quicksand seems to be curtains for them, until Sif joins hands with Balder under the mud, and uses her space-time powers to transport them to Earth, to warn Thor. Brona and Magnir head to Earth as planned, to destroy Thor, while Forsung, eldest and most powerful of the three, travels to Asgard to challenge Odin. Arriving on Midgard, Balder and Sif cause enough attention in the street that a local policeman escorts them to Don Blake’s office, as he’s “managed to get in touch” with Thor. They find Blake, who reveals himself to be the Thunder God, and bring him up to speed on the forthcoming danger.
In Tales Of Asgard, Volstagg uses his charms (he thinks) on the sister of Mogul, and unwittingly finds the tool that may save the day: the enchanted rod of wizard power. Thor, Fandral and Hogun, meanwhile, have their hands full, holding their own against the tireless forty horsemen of Satan.
JB: Stan and Jack seemed to want to make Don Blake more useful in recent months, like the touching scene where he delivers the good news to his patient that he going to be OK. The soda fountain opening nicely makes the point that although Thor fits in equally on Earth or in Asgard, we humans are  dazzled by the contrast. It’s interesting that Balder and Sif, after all this time, didn’t know that Thor and Don Blake were one and the same. What did they think Thor did on Earth when he put his feet up? I’d venture to say what makes Balder’s fondness for Sif a little different than other Marvel “triangles” is that he doesn’t let it stop him from acting as he would anyway, instead of moping around or planning to steal her away. Quite simply, the best issue so far of the 140’s; in my opinion, of the whole “decade.”

PE: That's quite some praise coming from the expert on Thor at The University and hard to argue, Professor Jim. Though I've never seen it on anyone's "Top Marvel Covers of All Time" list, this one resonates with me. It's a very powerful bit of action. Imagine yourself as the prospective (pre-teen) buyer, not familiar with this Thor chap. Who are these two figures floating down from the sky and, more importantly, who are the two green flaming fireballs set to lay into the blond with the hammer? I'd buy this one in a second. When we do our Top Ten Marvel Covers of All Time, don't be surprised if this is near the top of my picks.

MB:  Nifflehiem must have frozen over, because this is the first issue in who knows how long not inked by Colletta; fortunately, Everett does a superb job in his stead.  For Thor, this is one of those treading-water issues in which he does little more than regale his youthful fans with, uh, tales of Asgard, demonstrate why Don Blake is so beloved of his patients, and gets summoned into the fray by his Asgardian pals.  But to turn the spotlight over to Sif and Balder (whose silent jealousy is troubling but understandable) is hardly a disappointment, and Wild Bill’s change-of-pace embellishment enhances Kirby’s already spectacular visuals for both their initial encounter with the Enchanters and Thor’s verbal “travelogue,” both graced with impressive full-page shots.



PE: Professor Matthew once again steals most of my thunder but let me add a thumbs-up to Bill Everett's inking this issue. I think the highest praise you can give a guest inker on a Jack Kirby strip is that the transition was seamless. If the credits hadn't said so, I'd never have guessed Everett had a hand in it. That full-page spread of The Enchanters should have been transformed into a poster, so dazzling is it. Credit Jack Kirby with finding lots of great ornamental things to put on top of characters' noggins without making them look too much like Carmen Miranda.  I too find Balder's sudden jealousy puzzling. Hopefully, Stan doesn't turn this into the usual Pepper/Happy/Matt-style triangle. I couldn't stomach that. Ice cream shop notwithstanding, I found this to be a thrilling issue, leading up to a climax that screams out "BUY ME NEXT MONTH!" and I would!


JB: Fie upon it! Wouldst it be that I did my entries earlier, that I might beat my fellow professors to making such profound comments as they do! Alas, I shall have to be content to concur and add mine own two bits! I had a reprint of this one ages ago, and I always remember that it had a very special look, inside and out. Of course, I didn’t realize at the time that the guest embellishment of Bill Everett, one of Prof Pete’s faves, helped give it that look. The art is fabulous (I concur, fellows), especially the cover and the full page of the Enchanters.


The Amazing Spider-Man 51
Our Story

With Spider-Man out of the picture, The Kingpin sets in motion a grand scheme to make him the... um... Kingpin of Crime! Only one thing stands between the really big man and his goal: the muck-raking journalist known as J. Jonah Jameson (yes, you read that right). Unknown to The Kingpin, The Amazing Spider-Man has called off his retirement and his first job back is to put the whammy on the mobster's henchmen and their service station hold-ups. During one of the robberies, the wall-crawler manages to bug one of Kingpin's thugs and traces him back to The Kingpin's lair. There he finds a captured and blindfolded JJJ and discovers the truth about Frederick Foswell. During a brawl with his new arch-enemy, Spider-Man is taken by surprise by a gas emitted from The Kingpin's tie-clip. As consciousness slips away, he sees the giant mob boss gloating and wonders if this is truly the end of The Amazing Spider-Man.

PE: I almost thought we were going to be blessed with a pre-Godfather "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." I gotta say that The Kingpin is an imposing figure in the crime world but he definitely needs to set his sights higher than putting the squeeze on a bunch of "service stations" (for our younger readers, "service" is what gas stations used to provide in the glorious old days). Though he's been given a bad rep over the last 51 issues, J. Jonah Jameson shows a side he seldom reveals: that of the working journalist, risking his life to bring the truth to his readers. Nice to see Stan add another layer to what is usually a one-note character. The one aspect of the story that (still) niggles at me is Foswell's desire for anonymity. How can anyone aspiring to be a mob boss settle for a third-rate job as a reporter? Even as a cover. I lied though, there is one other small detail that bugs me: The Kingpin's blaster cane and gaseous tie-pin. I'd have preferred this character to survive on the merits of his strength and mob control rather than opting, in a pinch, for Tony Stark-style weapons.

MB: Esposito’s back, here with his “Demeo” pen name restored, and the mighty Kingpin takes center stage for the first time, as Spider-Man copes with the aftermath of his brief retirement.  Those who know the as-yet-unnamed Wilson Fisk only from the Miller-era Daredevil as more of an √©minence grise (or noire in the film) may be surprised to see just what a hands-on villain he was originally, in addition to his mob leadership.  I can’t help wondering for how long Stan has been itching to have Foswell, the erstwhile Big Man, fall off the law-abiding wagon, but  I like how he takes his time bringing the pot to a boil in this arc, stopping along the way to let M.J. call a spade a spade regarding her love quadrangle with Gwen, Harry, and Peter.

PE: I think this is the only Marvel strip where I'd like to see more of the alter ego side of the story. Of course, I know where everything is heading and where each plot twist winds up where our supporting cast is concerned but here, in The Amazing Spider-Man, is where Stan seems to find his best Soap Opera Mojo and "The Man" is definitely in the groove right about now. The 1967 reader must have been shaking his head in amazement at the romantic problems of Peter Parker. One hot red head who may or may not want Parker just as much as the "shy" blond. And where does this Harry Osborn character fit in the picture? I could stand an entire story called "The Personal Problems of Peter Parker!"


Daredevil 31
Our Story

Daredevil is reeling after having been left blind from a potion thrown in his eyes by Mr. Hyde. He is able to sneak out of the villain’s hideout before the police find him. It’s tough, but Daredevil is able to walk his way back into the city where he hails a cab to take him back home. He then comes up with a plan to pretend to be blind as Mike Murdock for Foggy and Karen. When he goes to the law office, it works! He leads them to believe that the condition was hereditary and just took longer to take effect for him. Karen is in tears. While this is going on, the Cobra and Mr. Hyde have been up to some straight-up thuggin’, knocking over safes and stealing tons of cash. Hyde seems to get off more on the power than anything. The villains happen to be just a couple of buildings over from Matt’s law office. With Hyde on the roof, threatening to throw a rock slab down into the gathering crowd below, it’s only a matter of time before Daredevil has Foggy help guide him along the edge of the buildings so he can stop them. As they witness the hero coming towards them, the two chicken villains run away. Our story ends with Foggy walking Double D home, only to have the Cobra and Hyde subdue them from behind.

Tom: You know a comic book story is in trouble when the antics of the villains are way more entertaining than whatever trials and tribulations the hero is going through. Seriously, if there was any justice in the Marvel world, Hyde and Cobra would have had their own spin-off series after they torture and kill Matt and his BFF Foggy. They could open up an escort agency with Karen as their secretary. I can just imagine some alternate reality where Hyde and Cobra are pissed as hell for being demoted from battling Thor to playing second fiddles to Daredevil Mike, the blind clown.

MB: Curiously, although Tartaglione inked both last issue and this one, it’s a relief to be able to state that Mr. Hyde looks more like his pruny old self.  He and the Cobra probably set the standard for codependent super-villains, and setting aside DD’s attempts to poach them from Thor (talk about being careful what you wish for!), they’re probably better suited to Hornhead in the first place.  In spite of being attributed to Matt—or is it Mike?—the line, “the whole thing is just nutty enough that they’ll have to believe it!” sounds more like wishful thinking on Smiley’s part, especially in a book that, for me, has always required a greater suspension of disbelief than most; I love how Gene just soldiers on, whatever Stan throws against the wall to see if it sticks…


Tom: I sure hope they never made some of these Daredevil stories in Braille form as I would bet it would be an insult to any blind person reading them. Oh yeah, even though I’m blind, I learned how to tight-rope walk before. No sweat!


PE: Less and less is sticking if you ask me. I love how future Happy Hooker Karen Page sobs when she finds out "Mike" Murdock has gone blind. Does she feel sorry for his loss of sight? Nope. She's in mourning because she had her hair styled and now the dope can't appreciate the lengths she'll go for him!. I'm repeating myself by stating that the only reason I continue to read this title (other than sheer idiocy on my part) is to see what kind of train wreck Stan will guide us into this time. He doesn't disappoint. What's more ludicrous here: the fact that Mike/Matt/Daredevil crosses a thin line 30 stories above the street while legitimately blind (while super strong Foggy holds the line for him!) or the fact that Mr. Hyde is so utterly stupid that he mistakes DD's flailing for clowning around? Your pick this time. Further proof to me that Jack Kirby was actually writing Fantastic Four and Thor while this nonsense was going on. Laugh out loud climax though.


Jack: This remains one of my favorite series. It's entertaining in a goofy way and Colan's art can't be beat, although Tartaglione's inks are sub-par. This issue seemed like a bit of a filler to me, since we don't really move the story along by the end. I have no idea how long the Mike Murdock subplot will last or how it will end, but I'm happy to be along for the ride.




Tales to Astonish 94
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
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The always surly Sub-Mariner is looking to attack the surface world after having met with his council of war. Even the level-headed Dorma can do little to calm her prince’s lust for battle. A note arrives from a man named Dragorr, newly crowned dictator of some small country, that invites Namor to join him in a quest to rule the world. Namor is deeply offended to say the least. He goes off to face this monarch for daring to make him such a petty offer. As Namor travels to the surface, we see that he is being monitored by a little man calling himself the Gnome. This evil creature reveals that he is in connection with Dragorr. Once he arrives on the island and confronts Dragorr, Namor falls under some type of mind control. It is revealed that the Sub-mariner was never wanted as a potential ally, only as a powerful pawn. Against his will, Namor is sent into combat against rebel troops trying to overthrow Dragorr. Namor’s mere presence is enough to cause them to give up and lose. Luckily for Namor, Dorma has been monitoring the events on her own and heads off to find out what’s really going on. Namor is captured and on the ropes as he hasn’t been in contact with water for a long time. With the rebels’ help, Dorma finds him and gives him a blast of water from a special gun she bought. Dragorr starts fighting Namor and appears to be his equal in strength, until Dorma shoots him with a water gun. It’s then revealed that Dragorr was nothing but a robot used by the Gnome to scare everyone. Namor crushes the droid and the Gnome is captured by the rebels.


Tom: Maybe it has to do with the summertime heat melting my brain, but I liked this yarn. Brain damage is the only excuse I have for ignoring the outlandish coincidences that conveniently popped up all over the story. The "big brute is really just a robot machine piloted by a human" plot twist was already done previously in the Hulk’s first solo series.


MB:  Pictorially, Namor is back in the capable hands of creator Bill Everett, absent from this strip since #91, with writer Roy Thomas providing continuity from last issue.  I’m not at all sorry to see Subby’s latest campaign against the surface world strangled in its cradle, since it was mostly sparked by the misunderstanding over that pesky It anyway, and I’m delighted at the active role Lady Dorma (who strikes me as one of Marvel’s most impressive female characters at this point) played in saving the day.  I am, however, sorry to see Namor yet again being used as someone’s puppet, and in truth I found that whole Dragorr/Gnome plotline a bit of a drag, far-fetched and contrived in the extreme, but luckily Wild Bill held up his end well.


PE: To the vast depths of mediocrity I pray the word "stygian" go, there to be met by "lame," "HAH," and "Soupy Sales." There's a heck of a lot going on in these pages, at times it's a bit too busy, as if Wild Bill had a few tales to tell but not much time to tell them in. The tale really should have been spread over two issues. At the hands of Bill Everett, Dorma once more lays claim to "Marvel's sexiest female" (no, I don't have fantasies about her -- she's a comic character, after all -- but she's a babe nonetheless). I never saw the twist ending coming (though I thought a little scaling was in order since The Gnome seemed to grow to man-sized after being ejected from his mechanical throne). Ironic that Namor sets out to declare war on the human race and then ends up helping out a band of rebels.


Jack: It’s nice to see Bill Everett back on Subby—at least, I presume he draws his own stuff. Glenn can confirm that for us! Dorma really interests me this month. She states that, at birth, the genetic pattern of every Atlantean is electronically recorded and permanently stored. She speaks Spanish. She can trace Namor by his genetic code. She fires a mean hydro-rifle (basically a giant squirt gun). Wotta woman!


Hulk
Our Story


It's the Inedible Bulk!
The Hulk comes across two hunters in the lonely wilderness, shortly after they have shot a Caribou with some kind of tranquilizer pellet. They run off in fear to contact the New Man who they claim they work for. Unknown to the hunters, the radio transmitter that they use to communicate with the New Man reaches much farther out than they could have ever imagined. The High Evolutionary answers their distress call from his lair in outer space. The Hunters let him know that they have stumbled onto the Hulk. Apparently, these hunters have been gathering different animals for the bad guy to experiment on. In a flashback we see how the Evolutionary created man-like animals he dubbed New Men, and even had his own planet for them to rule. Everything was peaceful until the New Men started to attack each other, causing war. Granted with the promise that they will no longer have to work for him if they capture the Hulk, the two hunters go back to confront the monster. The gas pellets do the trick as the green goliath passes out. The two hunters load him into a spacecraft where they’ve been depositing all of their captures, chain him up, then head for the hills. The Hulk awakens just in time to see the caretaker of the ship, one of the New Men, approaching him. After breaking from his chains, the Hulkster knocks out the New Man. The ending has the Hulk looking out a window and seeing that he is now in outer space.


Tom: Now that’s what I call one pretty damn creative story, and it’s just the beginning. Let’s see, two hunters that are paid to capture animals and bring them to a ship so some mad genius in outer space can transform them into human-like creatures. Pretty cool! Minus the Hulk, it would have made for a good Outer Limits or Twilight Zone episode. Okay, I sort of see the resemblance to the Island of Lost Souls.


MB:  With this episode, aptly titled “…To the Beckoning Stars!,” said heavenly bodies begin to move into alignment as Trimpe (already inking Severin’s Dr. Strange) debuts on what will become his signature character.  Guess this really is a new chapter for Jade-Jaws, since we haven’t seen hide nor hair of the Rosses, Major Talbot or—for that matter—Dr. Banner for a couple of issues now, and sending Greenskin off into space, which ironically is his most fervent wish at the moment, ensures that we’ll continue to avoid the old grind for at least a little while longer.  Although the High Evolutionary and his New Men were introduced in Thor#134-35, their fates would be much more closely intertwined with the Hulk’s for years to come.


This side of the back seat is mine.
PE: I'm not sure if it's our new inker that injects the pizazz that was missing in Ms. Severin's pencils last issue but I really liked the new look. A little rough around the edges and, dare I say, almost underground at times but that's what a slowly dying series like this needed. The story takes us off into a new direction as well and that suits me just fine as this title was just about to fall off my to-read pile (sorry, Profs. Jack, Tom and Matthew, but sleep calls now and then) but our climax shows that there may be something to stick around for. Outside of the recent Abomination arc, Hulk has been pretty painful to read. When I saw the blurb "featuring The New Man!" I had already set my snark-ray to "kill" (Where's "the old man?"; Who named The New Man? "Look it's the New Man!", etc) but Severin and Trimpe quickly made me set my weapon down.


Jack: Marie Severin's bearded hunter looks like something she would draw for Not Brand Ecch! When the Hulk draws the line in the rock, I wondered what it would be like to sit in the back seat of a car with him on a long family vacation. The High Evolutionary is an interesting character and I look forward to seeing what happens when Hulk reaches Animal Planet--I mean, Wundagore. I think this may be the first time Herb Trimpe worked on a Hulk story, even if he was just the inker. Eventually, he would be the definitive Hulk artist.


Tom: I have high hopes for the next installment in this series as the Hulk’s best adventures have always seemed to take place off earth.


Strange Tales 159


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


With the Helicarrier docked for repairs in New York, Sitwell, Dugan, and Jones go their separate ways while Fury accompanies Laura to headquarters, telling her of his youth along the way; she declines his offer to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. and leaves to “put some fun into her life!”  After a rare night spent in his own bed, Nick visits their Underground Network Intelligence Training (UNIT) academy, and sees some new recruits, including scientific whiz Sidney E. Levine (aka the Gaff).  Scheduled for a combat demonstration with an unknown opponent, Fury finds himself face-to-face with Captain America, and when he blacks out due to the aftereffects of the invisibility pill, he is aided by the Contessa Valentina Allegro de Fontaine.

MB: Am I the only grinch who finds it unpardonably sloppy that Fury and Cap are reunited both here and in this month’s Suspense, with neither cross-over story—however welcome they might be—acknowledging the other?  Steranko may be taking a bit of a breather after concluding the Hydra saga, but while his “cinematography” (as the credits suitably put it) is laid out as spectacularly as ever, it looks a little less polished than it has of late; that said, we get impressive looks at Fury’s groovy midtown pad and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “spy school,” and it’s fun to see Nick mixing it up in his suit and tie.  Two new regulars join our little cast, while Laura Brown apparently exits stage left, and Cap’s guest-shot foreshadows Jaunty Jim’s brief stint on that book a year and half from now.


PE: I thought Fury's swingin' bachelor pad was ludicrous, I don't see him living in an expensive, modern-furnished penthouse. Just me. Aside from that, I enjoyed the look behind-the scenes of Nick Fury, including a tantalizing peak at his teenaged self (preview of stories to come perhaps?), circa The Roaring Twenties. Steranko still has a ways to go before his women don't look like Betty or Veronica but he can draw action shots like nobody. I was a bit puzzled by Fury's collapse at the climax, felled by an errant explosive cigar and Cap's "Oh by the way, I stopped by here because the world is in danger again" seems like a throwaway after the pair just had a fun tussle for the sake of a few interns. Nice intro to The Countess. Gabe is purple on the splash page, by the way.


Jack: Yes, why is Gabe always purple or grey? I had thought it was because we are reading electronic versions of these comics but that makes no sense--all of the Caucasian characters are the expected color. I liked the first half of this story much better than the second half. It was a nice touch to have the young Nick Fury hanging around Yancy Street, where the Thing's tormentors would later reside. Based on the chronology here, Fury must have been born in the 1910-1920 decade, making him a very fit 55-year-old.


PE: On the letters page, future Jack Kirby biographer/historian Mark Evanier claims Steranko is actually "The King" himself and offers proof by citing several panels. Embarrassingly, he's shot down by Stan (or whoever replies to these things) and I assume he didn't offer up the theory again when writing Kirby, King of Comics.


Jack: I know how he feels, having suspected Jack Davis of ghosting a panel in Daredevil a while back. Only on reading many more issues of Gene Colan's work did I realize that some of his quirks are very similar to those of the great EC artist.

Don't worry--it's just Baron Mordo.
Doctor Strange
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Dr. Strange returns to Greenwich Village and restores his home, which Umar had destroyed. As all of the newly-released black magic spreads across the globe, Dr. Strange races against time to find a spell to dissipate it. The combined powers of the evil warlocks prove too much and they summon their leader from a distant place where he had been held captive. Dr. Strange is shocked to see the return of Baron Mordo!


Jack: After all of this buildup, we get Baron Mordo? I was hoping for Dormammu, but now we're stuck with yet another battle with the same loser who couldn't beat Dr. Strange in their 1001 prior battles. I remember this as a very good series in the '70s when Frank Brunner was drawing it, but it's sure been a long wait.


Nearly putting Home Depot out of business.
MB: Nice splash page, with the lantern-bearing Doc looking like a modern-day Diogenes as he ponders what has become of his Sanctum Sanctorum, and although the mechanism whereby he gets said digs back was a little hokey, I kinda dug it; too bad he was unable to retrieve Clea with equal ease.  Looks like I was right to equate the Mystics of Mankind with Mordo’s previous residue of evil, but even if the “M” branded on the face of their nameless leader left little doubt as to whose freedom they were seeking, I thought Roy handled the baron’s comeback well.  The big build-up encourages us to take him seriously as a foe once again, rather than seeing him merely as Dormammu’s cringing lackey, while Severin and Trimpe do their part.

Tales of Suspense 92
Iron Man
Our Story


While testing weaponry for the U.S. Army in Viet Nam, Iron Man is asked by a colonel to invade the hilltop fortress of Half-Face, "the commie equivalent of Tony Stark." In that castle, it is said that Half-Face is working on a weapon so deadly that the world is in danger should it be utilized. When Iron Man bursts into the fortress, he discovers all manner of obstacles. What he's not privy to (though we are!) is the masterpiece that Half-Face has been working on and is about to unleash upon the unsuspecting Avenger.


PE: Big-time COMMIE ALERT!! Stan doesn't jump up on his political soapbox much by 1967 but when he does, it's usually in this title. That's apt, since our hero is a billionaire weapon merchant in war times. Funny that it took Jon Favreau's big screen adaptation for me to see the irony of Shellhead having to constantly make amends for what his alter ego does for a living, but those ironies were in evidence in Stan's scripts. I was just too young to put two and two together. Since it appears that only a fraction of his face is straddled with infirmity, shouldn't Stan have avoided the obvious cries of "Rip-Off!!" from the DC fans (Two-Face, False-Face) and named him The Chinless Scourge, Iron Neck, Metal Jaw or, failing those, One-Fifth Face? What is an "ultimate doom?" Is that one level higher than a doom? Inker Giacoia does a stellar job this issue, ramping Gene Colan's noir to the nth level. Our finale, giving us a teaser of things to come next issue, hints at a villain in the Universal tradition. I've got a feeling I'm going to be disappointed when that sheet is lifted and the creature is unveiled. This issue though I'm all smiles. Great story, great art.


Captain America
Our Story


So who will it be, Cap?
A.I.M. is back and their main goal is to ice Nick Fury. Captain America's favorite blond SHIELD agent happens to be undercover and feeding "secrets" to the terrorist organization. To that end, a giant assassin android is dispatched to a barber shop where Fury is supposed to be enjoying a shave. Not aware that the female agent (Oh heck, let's just call her Sharon Carter, okay?-PE) has deliberately fed A.I.M. with Fury's location to prop up her cover, Cap attempts to stave off the android and unwittingly puts his future love (S.C.!) in danger. Nick Fury wonders aloud who can possibly save her from the clutches of A.I.M.


PE: Kirby's back! Wall-to-wall action (including a rousing one-on-one between the G-42 Mecho-Assassin and Captain America) and just enough plot to push us into the next issue. It's so good I'll even forgive Stan "Mr. Continuity" Lee for not joining the events of this story and the Cap/Fury team-up in this month's Strange Tales. This issue is famous for its howling gaffe (reprinted below), one that haunted Stan for years.

JS: I instantly recognized that panel. Doesn't that show up in one of the What-If humor issues down the road? (It was the Official No-Prize Book that came out in the mid-80s- Paste-Pot)


Atypical vote of No Confidence
MB: Kane is out, but probably felt no shame at ceding Cap to his co-creator, Jolly Jack, with inker Joltin’ Joe completing the Lee/Kirby/Sinnott triumvirate that so consistently delights us in Fantastic Four.  Mirroring Stan’s concerns regarding Thor and Iron Man, the continuity between Cap’s strip and Avengers has been a little bit shaky of late, but at least Steve’s attempts to catch up with the Assemblers gave the King a chance to draw Goliath et alia once again.  Presumably very few readers were convinced that Fury had actually been put away by this Mecho-Assassin, yet the resurgence of A.I.M. (last seen in ashes in #82, I believe), and Cap’s concern over the blond object of his obsession, seem to promise big doings to come.
The X-Men 35
Our Story


Banshee becomes the poster boy for the importance of being part of a super-hero team when he sets off solo to find Factor Three, only to be quickly dispatched by a robot that looks nothing like a spider. He manages to send a cryptic message that The X's are about to be attacked by a spider, so the kids are on full alert when a one-in-a-million event unfolds: The Amazing Spider-Man shows up in Weschester County. Despite knowing that Spidey is a force for good, The X-Men determine it makes the most sense to attack him first and ask questions later.


PE: Holy Marvel Misunderstanding! Won't these hero-types ever learn not to fight each other? Not in the Marvel Universe, they won't. I love how The X-Kids attack Spidey all the while thinking "Hmmm, have we been rash in our decision to fight rather than discuss?" This is the worst kind of lazy, cookie-cutter writing. It's happened too many times before and, sadly, it'll happen dozens more times in the years to come. I'm just glad The Banshee's attacker wasn't shaped liked a wasp!

JS: Or a Beast! I don't know about you guys, but when I saw the poor man's Martian War Machine on legs, I didn't think 'spider'. If only we later found out that Banshee had sent Peter Parker an invite to the country so he could entrap him and run off with his gaggle of girlfriends... no such luck.


Jack: I liked the cover and I thought the story held together pretty well. Yes, it's the same old misunderstanding, but Spidey's quips were funny and I am really getting to enjoy the Beast's erudite remarks.


PE: Holy Marvel Coincidence! Peter Parker just happens to stop his motor bike down near Professor X's property just as the mechanical spider that attacked The Banshee lands in the same spot and The X-Dopes get the message from the screaming mutant "Beware of the Spider!" Well, of course they're going to jump to conclusions. Spider-Man's been wanted by the law and hated by the public for years. Ulp! So have they! More continuity problems to screw with us. Peter Parker says that fate must have drawn him into the country (we know better though, don't we?), but that he needed the fresh air after the battle he'd just won with The Kingpin despite the fact that tussle won't end until next month's issue of ASM.

JS: Is it me, or does Parker get more snarky when he's outside the covers of his own book? To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't have minded if the muties had opened a can of whup-ass on him just to knock some sense into him.



Jack: I was more concerned with Master Parker's lack of a motorcycle helmet.

JS: Relax, Jack, this was the 60s. The recreational drugs would do more harm to his brain than a motorcycle accident.



Also this month


Fantasy Masterpieces #10
Ghost Rider #4
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #10
Millie the Model #152
Not Brand Echh #1
Rawhide Kid #59
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #45
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos Annual #3


Jack: Wasn't Fantasy Masterpieces 10 the one where they reprinted the first appearance of the All-Winners Squad? That was one cool comic. I bought it as a back issue in the 70s but it was still very exciting to see Marvel's rip-off of the Justice Society.


SOME HIGHLIGHTS


This month sees the debut of Marvel's first four-color stab at humor, Not Brand Echh. MAD Magazine was insanely popular at the time (selling an average of 1.8 million copies an issue!), in an ocean all its own but circled by plenty of sharks (Cracked, Sick, etc.). Stan Lee decided, rather unwisely, that this humor stuff was easy. He probably picked up a dozen or so MADs, made notes and then went to work. What we got was "The Inedible Bulk," "The Mighty Sore," "Spidey-Man," and "The Silver Burper." Panels were jammed with such MAD-isms as "Under Construction" signs, baggy pants, and slightly changed character names. What was missing was the funny stuff. Well, I thought it was funny when I was a 7 year-old kid, which is all that matters, I guess. It's just not a great return trip. The premiere issue includes Lee and Kirby's "The Silver Burper"; a Two-Gun kid parody by Rascally Roy and Marie Severin; a Torch vs. Namor strip with nice art by Bill Everett & Ross Andru; and John Severin's "Sgt. Furious and His Hostile Commandos!" The irony here is that Stan had spent years, in his Bullpen Bulletins and in letters pages, degrading DC Comics (without actually naming them) with the label Brand Echh and accusing them of copping ideas. So here was "The Man" smiling, throwing up his hands and saying "What, Me Worry?" Echh lasted only 13 issues but Marvel continued to emulate MAD throughout the 1970s with a variety of titles with varying success.


Jack: "The Silver Burper" is not funny???


PE: Not on the West Coast. You Easterners will laugh at anything.


Jack: And by the way, is the comic called Not Brand Ecch  or Brand Ecch? Stan keeps referring to it in the Bullpen Bulletins without the Not.


PE: Brand Echh was Stan's cutesy pie dig at DC, Charlton, and any other company creating comic books at the time.


Jack: I get that, but read the Bullpen Bulletins--he keeps referring to the title of the comic as just Brand Ecch without the Not. Am I going to have to go down to the basement and pull out my old Overstreet Guide?


PE: It's up to you, Jack, but don't forget I'm the Dean around here and, no matter what, I get the last 


Jack: Thanks to Bob Overstreet, I now know that the comic was titled Brand Ecch for the first four issues, then switched to Not Brand Ecch with issue five. The cover makes it look as if the title is Not Brand Ecch but this was not so, at least not until Stan realized that everyone was calling it that (my assumption).

JS: So what's the verdict ladies? Is this book more entertaining than The X-Men or not?


PE: Watching Kirstie Allie infomercials for Weight Watchers is more fun than 1967 X-Men!



3 comments:

  1. Totally agree with Prof Pete re: Spidey Soap. The personal lives of Peter and the gang are way more entertaining than the usual cookie cutter "if only I could tell her how I really feel" crap in the other Marvel books. Every now and then I go off on a Spidey Soap binge -- grab a stack of Essential phonebooks, and just read the soap opera parts.

    As for Balder, I always got a bit of a "Lancelot" vibe from this guy. Half expected a genuine Arthurian tragic romance angle to develop somewhere along the line, but it never really happened. Have to say there's not really a whole lot of "passion" in Thor and Sif's relationship anyways, so it's probably for the best.

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  2. For decades, comic book indexes credited the cover of X-Men #35 as ... layouts by Jack Kirby with finishes by Dan Adkins. However, here at Marvel University, we know that the only set of fingerprints on that sheet of art board belong to the “Sultan of Swipe.” It would be easy to think of Dan Adkins as some cynical comic book cockroach armed with a sheet of tracing paper, scuttling around behind other artists, waiting to copy their work, but, the truth is very different.

    Dan started working as Wally Wood's assistant in 1964, at a time when Wood's star was fading. The high paying glory days of E.C. were in the past, he'd just severed all ties with MAD after a falling out with Al Feldstein, and the market for Sci-Fi magazine illustrations was drying up. Adkins would've seen Wally's battle with Stan Lee over credit and payment for writing Daredevil. Dan witnessed Woody's violent temper, and knew about the marathon sessions where he penciled and inked stories over a weekend without sleep, fueled by an endless supply of coffee and cigarettes. Adkins saw what happened to comic book artists who chained themselves to their drawing board, and Wood warned him not to go down the same path.

    Instead, Woody taught Adkins every short cut in the book, showing him how to maximize his output while minimizing his effort. Wood had a substantial swipe file, and showed Adkins how to use it. However, where Wally might copy the pose of a figure from a Hal Foster Sunday page and turn it into a Wood illustration, Adkins would trace the entire character, transposing it onto the page he was working on. Last month, in X-Men #34, he swiped one robot from an Ed Emshwiller cover painting, and the other, he thinks, was traced from a Prince Valiant story.

    Here are a couple of brief interviews with Adkins. You might be surprised at how light-hearted the conversations are, with Adkins freely admitting the swipes, joking that 90 percent of his bad habits were Wood's doing, and confessing that sometimes, he swiped a lot more than he should've.

    http://twomorrows.com/alterego/articles/08adkins.html

    http://twomorrows.com/comicbookartist/articles/07adkins.html

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

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  3. "Peter Parker says that fate must have drawn him into the country (we know better though, don't we?), but that he needed the fresh air after the battle he'd just won with The Kingpin despite the fact that tussle won't end until next month's issue of ASM."

    XM #35 came out the same month as ASM#52, so the battle against the Kingpin is over.

    ~rodan57

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