Wednesday, August 29, 2012

March 1968: Hela, Goddess of Death!

Tales of Suspense 99
Iron Man
Our Story

The Maggia (with the aid of Whiplash) has captured Iron Man and taken him to a stronghold aboard a floating casino. Lucky for Shellhead, Nick Fury's nerdiest agent, Jasper Sitwell, is hot in pursuit. Just as he boards the boat however, The Maggia is attacked by the forces of A.I.M. The boat is damaged and begins to sink, leaving Iron Man magnetized to a lab table.

PE: This issue reminds me of the days when there were three or four different shady organizations running around the pages of Strange Tales, all at once. I can tell the difference between A.I.M. (big yellow hats) and The Maggia (mob goons in wrinkled three piece suits) right now though so those old problems shouldn't rear their heads. Why do all these terrorist organizations have the same gizmos but different names for them. Case in point: A.I.M.'s Ultrawave Transviewer, another one of those doohickeys that manages to see into little corners it shouldn't be able to access. Why not call it a Secret Camera? This issue features a little too much Junior-SHIELD for my tastes. I know Professor Matthew really likes Archie Sitwell but the schtick is grating if it's used too much. The most interesting aspect of this final issue of TOS, of course, is the arrival of Archie Goodwin, once the lifeblood of Warren Publications, for a 30-issue run on Shellhead's various titles.

MB: Whether in connection with their imminent expansion or not, I don’t know, but Mighty Marvel is really mixing it up with the creative teams this month.  Case in point: fledgling Sub-Mariner scripter Archie Goodwin here supplants Stan on Shellhead, with holdover Colan’s efforts now inked by EC legend Johnny Craig, who had worked with Goodwin at Warren Publishing, but was reportedly ill-suited to super-hero strips.  No complaints from this quarter so far on Craig’s style, which is a little cartoonier than Giacoia’s, but doesn’t obscure the essence of Gene the Dean’s pencils, and it’s promising for the reader, if not for Iron Man—aided and abetted by “Super-Sitwell”—that he got stuck in the middle between the Maggia and A.I.M.

Captain America
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Captain America discovers his most hated foe - Baron Zemo - managed to survive the deadly landslide that buried him years before (in Avengers #15 - Pesky Pot Pete) and the man who hasn't washed his hair in decades remains steadfast in his desire to rule the world. Using his Hypno-Light Missile, he weakens Cap and The Black Panther (whose Wakanda is being terrorized by the henchmen of Zemo) and reveals his plan to rule the world with a Death Ray satellite. Meanwhile, Agent 13 (the nameless woman who shall be known as Sharon Carter some day) has been working undercover in Wakanda as   Irma Kruhl, winning the trust of Baron Zemo. In our shocking finale, Zemo orders Kruhl to assassinate The Panther and Captain America (the man she loves!) as proof of her loyalty! Looking down at the unconscious form of her beau, the Agent somberly realizes that her mission comes first and she'll be looking for a new squeeze very soon. The good news is that the "Name the Agent" game ends in just two issues. 

MB: The transition in inkers from Sinnott to Shores is now complete, and although Syd’s style is demonstrably different, it’s no surprise that he and Golden Age colleague Kirby are a good match. Cap and the Panther continue to be an equally satisfying team (e.g., T’Challa’s singularly apt, “Better to die as men—than to live—as slaves!”), even if it does seem awfully convenient that Cap travels all the way to another continent and still manages to bump into Agent 13/Sharon Carter/Irma Kruhl/Whoever; I guess it really is a small world after all.  We will learn next issue (Spoiler Alert!) just how perceptive Cap is when he asks his hooded foe, “What’s changed you, Zemo?  You seem colder—even more diabolical than ever before!”

PE: I thought to myself, "How could this guy be colder? He's the rat who iced your little partner!" I'm glad there's something to that prescient, if a bit dopey, statement. Though I like The Black Panther, I think he's wasted here in yet another of those "Death Ray Over the World" storylines. How do these bad guys get these gizmos up in the sky without NASA finding out? Do they build them in their backyards and then slingshot them into space? SHIELD obviously knew about the satellite long enough ahead of time to set (Sharon Carter) up with a phony identity. On the letters page, future super comic dealer Bud Plant pines for the days when Marvel heroes would have hand-to-hand combat with their foes rather than armed with Zap-Rays.

The Amazing Spider-Man 58
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Rescued by Ka-Zar after a near-drowning, the very soggy Amazing Spider-Man finds that his memory has miraculously returned (it's the New York water, I'm sure) but he's got a new problem: J. Jonah Jameson has been contacted by Dr. Smythe, who's created a new Spider-Slayer and has revenge on his mind. This Spider-Slayer can not only track Spider-Man anywhere in the city but also has super powers. Only his super-scientific brain helps Spidey evade death by luring the Slayer to Smythe's laboratory (stocked full of spiders) and gumming up the robot's senses with "too many spider-impulses."

PE: I'm relieved that the Spidey-Amnesia anvil has been lifted from around the title's neck but the way in which it's resolved has to be one of the silliest expositions ever in comic history (yes, even Marvel Comic history): Spidey is rescued from his watery grave by the suddenly friendly Ka-Zar and realizes the cold water must have erased his amnesia! I'll be studying Dr. Philip Marquand's Case Studies of Real Life Amnesia Victims and Their Incredible Stories in Words and Pictures (Slipped Memory Press, 1967), the same volume Stan had by his nightstand while writing this issue, to see how it is that amnesia victims know they had amnesia when they come out of their haze or how they magically remember the events during their trauma. Spidey sits down with Ka-Zar and Sabu and tells him all about his evil partnership with Doc Ock. I was waiting to hear that harbor water can also infuse its victims with ESP. To add to the dopiness, New York's Finest stands aside as Sabu destroys a city block, one cop exclaiming "Ah, don't worry about it. I hear Ka-Zar is loaded. He can pay for it!"

MB:  I missed last issue’s return of the Romita/Heck/Demeo artistic troika from Spider-Man Special #3 (not that I lament a Ka-Zar appearance), and I’m not certain if Heck would take it as a compliment or an insult that I see almost no evidence of his work, sandwiched between Romita’s breakdowns and Demeo’s inks.  I’ve just acquired this issue, and am intrigued at the idea of a pro-Spidey alliance between the son of his biggest non-super-villain detractor and the father of Peter’s nascent girlfriend.  Actually, J.J. blurs the super-villain line in this yarn as he teams up once again with Spencer Smythe, whose first official Spider Slayer (that name was not used in #25) not only looks less goofy than the prototype, but even owes a little to the Destroyer.

PE: Previously, I had niggles with Steve Ditko's art and thought Romita took a couple issues to rev up the engine. The art here is the worst I've seen on this title, with Heck and Demeo (Esposito) doing dastardly deeds to Jazzy John's layouts. In an interview published in Alter Ego #9 (July 2001), Romita explained that the addition of Heck and Esposito (as well as the newly-recruited Jim Mooney a little further down the line) was supposed to speed Romita's monthly output. That didn't exactly work out, according to the artist, since his editor would have him "fix anything that (Stan) didn't like!" But it's not only the art that sinks this tugboat. The story smells like laundry left in the washer overnight, from the amnesia erasure to Smythe's sudden madness and the lazy action scenes, all leading up to Spider-Man's head-scratching cure for the Spider-Slayer (which makes no sense since the Slayer was in that lab with all those spiders at the beginning of our adventure). The nadir of this title.

Daredevil 38
Our Story

Daredevil has his mind trapped inside the body of the evil tyrant Dr. Doom. Meanwhile, the villain has his own mind in our hero’s body. With Double D stuck inside a dungeon-like cage, Dr. Doom is off to snuff out the Fantastic Four. Using his noodle, Daredevil yells for Doom’s lackeys to release him, reasoning that the arrogant Doom would not have told them about his brain-swapping plan. Once they let him out, Daredevil/Doom orders them to track down and give a beating to Doom/Daredevil or be punished. The goons do just what they were ordered to, with the villain using the hero’s body to fight them off before using his mind control ring to command the henchmen to go back and attack the Doom body with the mind of Daredevil. They go back and it’s Daredevil/Doom’s turn to brawl as our hero at first has a hard time using the villain’s armor but eventually gets used to it before some cops come and break up the fight. Daredevil starts to play hardball as he uses Doom’s radio to order his military troops in Latveria to declare war on the four nearest surrounding countries. Realizing that maybe his scheme wasn’t as brilliant as he thought it was, Doom hightails it back to his embassy, where he throws in the towel and uses his technology to reverse his and Daredevil’s minds back to their normal bodies. Acting like he has no hard feelings, the villain bids farewell to Double D, but behind his back, he imitates the hero’s voice via radio to let the Fantastic Four know that Daredevil still has the mind of Dr. Doom, which they believe. Foggy starts dating jailbird Debbie.

 Tom: It looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue before writing the summary for this tale of insanity. As my fellow professors implied not too long ago, maybe this series was meant to be taken as a comedy. Just imagine the theme from Benny Hill playing as the Doom henchmen run off to attack him then scurry back to the embassy to fight with Daredevil/Doom…or is it Doom/Daredevil?

MB: I was all set to hammer Stan on the illogic of The Big Switcheroo: Wouldn’t Dr. Doom notice DD was blind? How would DD, even if sighted in Doom’s body, cope with losing all of his other enhanced senses? Why wouldn’t DD use all the weaponry in Doom’s armor? Etnitpicking cetera. But damned if he didn’t pull it off better than I expected—he anticipated and addressed each of my objections in turn, and even though his answers were largely hogwash, he got credit for giving it the old college try. I found it especially entertaining that DD did so well mimicking Doom’s speech patterns, yet the arrogant Doom didn’t even bother trying to do so in turn; the work of Colan and tag-team inker du jour Frank Giacoia helped considerably, naturlich.

Jack: I miss Mike Murdock! This is an odd story. Other than a brief fight with Dr. Doom's minions, there's no fighting in this issue, and no showdown between Daredevil and Dr. Doom. Daredevil outwits Dr. Doom by being clever and Doom steals a page from the Joker's handbook, telling Daredevil that he is amused by his defeat and thus won't fight. It's odd that Daredevil just walks away, since he usually goes right after villains who are "many times more powerful" than himself. It's also interesting that this issue has a March cover date but the story is continued in the April issue of Fantastic Four, "on sale now."

That's right, we bad!

Strange Tales 166
Doctor Strange
Our Story

Dr. Strange battles Voltorg, the Giant Tin Can, while Yandroth borrows the teleportation tubes from the Enterprise and zips off to who knows where with Victoria Bentley. Dr. Strange hops in a teleportation tube himself and tries to follow, ending up at Stonehenge, where he sees a vision of the Ancient One.

MB: Dapper Dan displays some versatility by trading the penciling chores (turned over to George Tuska) for a plotting credit, in addition to his duties as an inker. If unlikely to threaten the primacy of stablemate Steranko in the auteur department, he gives Doc a persistent foe in the form of our not-so-little drummer boy Voltorg (né Voltorr), whose relentless attack reminds one of an outsized Energizer Bunny, and it’s nice that the Ancient One apparently returns next issue. Adkins and scripter Lawrence at least give Victoria Bentley a little more face time this month, and speaking of faces, Gorgeous George’s distinctive style is often obscured by Dan’s strong inks in that department, but action was ever Tuska’s specialty, and is well supplied.

Jack: If I understand the Marvel Method correctly, it's usually the penciller who plots the story, not the inker. I wonder how Adkins managed to plot and ink this one, which doesn't have much in the way of the trademark Tuska style (read: teeth).

It's just a jump to the left . . . 

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

Fury uses the High Altitude Wing Kite (H.A.W.K.) Harness to pursue the Claw’s escape craft, holding on until it reaches his hideout in the middle of New York Harbor. As Nick effects his entrance with a pyro-band and works his way through a labyrinth of traps, Jimmy Woo is captured by the Claw’s men and teleported to the subsurface citadel, where he is confined in the Thermo-Frigid Intensi-Ray Machine to undergo a fatal “polarization.” Fury then appears, attacking the Claw while the latter’s niece, Suwan, races to release Jimmy, her true love, but although Nick and the Claw try to save her, their struggle prevents them from doing so and she is apparently frozen to death, leading the grieving Jimmy to swear revenge on them both.

MB: I’m strenuously avoiding metaphors of tumescence to describe the sensation of seeing Steranko inked by Sinnott, but it’s especially, uhm, hard to do so when this story contains what I consider to be one of the defining images of the “zip-suited” Fury, bordering the panels on page 10. That splash page of a stogie-clutching Nick in his batwing sky-diving get-up is equally guaranteed to knock your socks off, and we even get the obligatory match-flare shot, this time with Dum Dum. Jaunty Jim kicks it up another notch with his groundbreaking layouts, most notably in the multi-angled page 6, where he cleverly visualizes the “maze of death”; the pinwheel effect on page 7, with its M.C. Escher-style optical illusion; and the aforementioned Fury-as-border from page 10.

PE: Don't forget that crazy, psychedelic suspension beam on page 4! I wonder if SHIELD's gizmo creator had to come up with special ceegars for Colonel Fury (could he possibly survive underwater spy missions without one?) as that splash page begs the question, "how does a man soar high in the air in a H.A.W.K. suit and still toke on a stogie without changing his flight pattern?" I've said it before and, doubtless, I'll say it again, but I see a youthful Steranko in his art studio with piles of The Spirit dailies stacked all around him for inspiration. That's not a knock, mind you, as I believe Jaunty Jim brought back to comics something that was missing since the days of Eisner's famous detective: style. Couple that with the artist's obvious fascination with the then-exploding psychedelic art scene and you get the most unique look in comic books. Imagine how much of a gamble it was to let Steranko have his way amidst the bland and interchangeable artists that populated the pages of better selling titles. Funnily enough, in the Coming Attractions box on the letter page, it's noted that Sternako has promised "Mighty Marvel's first venture into "psychedelic artwork!" Obviously, the warden wasn't paying attention to what the inmate was already doing.

Jack: I did not so much "read" this story as I "experienced" it. I may pull up some Hendrix on YouTube and read it again. I think this is the best artwork I've seen on a Marvel story since we started reading way back in November of '61.

The Mighty Thor 150
Our Story

As the Wrecker leaves Thor for dead, Hela Goddess of Death appears, to take the Thunder God to Valhalla, home of gods that have left the land of the living. However a shimmer of life, a wraith of Thor, still lingers, and is not yet ready to go. He attempts to tackle the Wrecker once more, but his astral form is both unsolid and unseen. A last ditch effort finds the Thunder God laying down his ghostly form to rejoin his body. Is it life or death? With Hela departed, the former prevails. While all this happens on Earth, Balder and Sif face danger aplenty as they travel through the Norn forest. Karnilla’s forest Barbaric, a huge warrior, pins Balder with a two-pronged arrow, but the brave one manages to free himself and overcome his bestial foe. Sif, however, has vanished, and soon Balder succumbs to a cloud of slumber herbs, fired from a gun pellet by the witch queen’s loyal trolls. Sif is brought before Karnilla, her veritable opposite, where a hidden Loki is keeping watch. The Norn Queen convinces Sif that by entering the body of the Destroyer (which she has located with her magic powers) she can save her beloved Thor from death at the hands of the Wrecker. The raven-haired goddess agrees, and Karnilla sends her to Earth, and then shares a diabolical laugh with Loki. Sif/Destroyer finds the Wrecker, and promptly blasts him aside—broken crowbar and all. Thor sees only that he has a new, far deadlier foe, not knowing it is Sif who has saved him, and prepares to attack.

“Triton” is the Inhuman we meet this month in the back pages, the only Inhuman who breathes water rather than air. Swimming in the vast freedom of the ocean, he mistakes an underwater creature (from the Black Lagoon?) to be attacking a human woman, but it is only a film crew. They fire tranquilizer guns at the Inhuman, and put him in a water tank on their ships deck. Triton is not as helpless as he appears, merely biding his time to see what the humans will do.

JB: I don’t know if it’s because we expect it, or if the writers/artists anticipate it, but I swear a change in year (’67-’68, etc.) or numbers (140’s -‘50’s, etc.) brings about a change of quality every time. Case in point here, as the latter marks a return to some of the best issues of the Thor title (the 160’s are pretty damn good too).  

MB:  In this month’s final issue of Tales to Astonish, we learn that Loki is eager to divert Big Daddy Odin’s attention away from the plight of his actual son on Midgard, and here it’s easy to see why, with the Goddess of Death seemingly disappointed that Thor is (per Monty Python) “not quite dead.”  Whether by accident or by design, this story really turns the spotlight on strong female characters, be they good (Sif), bad (Karnilla, the Norn Queen), or indifferent (Hela).  I’m always glad to see the Destroyer, but really hope they’ll get around to explaining next issue why he/she/it can no longer talk, making Sif conveniently unable to explain herself to her boyfriend; interesting how the Wrecker, who gave Thor such trouble, is bested so easily by the Destroyer.

PE: The counterpoint to Hela's consternation with the Thunder God's lack of rigidity would be Loki's initial glee. Though they've fought long and hard (as most brothers would do) over the last 67 issues, you'd think there would be a bit of sadness, at least maybe a pregnant pause. Though I'm fond of Hela, a more effective costume might have been dark robes rather than something she bought at The Inhumans' garage sale the weekend before. I suppose she may have been lost amidst all the fabulous costumes The King designed for our bevy of new characters but the presence of Hela should evoke eeriness rather than a shrug. Does Balder actually kill Barbaric? He says the beast is "vanquished beyond vestige of doubt" but very rarely does a Marvel hero take a battle to its obvious conclusion (we had that classic Iron Man story a few months back where Shellhead killed his opponent and felt no remorse but other than that I'm hard pressed to serve up an example). 

JB: The cover, with the red/green contrast, as the death goddess Hela (in her first mainstream appearance in the Thor title) beckons the Thunder God, is a beauty. Page three is almost as nice. Good point Professor Matthew about the strong female roles that come to fore here. I’m surprised Hela let Thor off so easily. The first time too the Norn Queen is referred to as Karnilla--love the sound of all these ladies names! I have to admit to being a little pleased to see the Destroyer—one of Thor’s greatest foes-- make mincemeat out of the Wrecker.  

PE: Once again, I'm reminded what a cool villain The Destroyer is. My fondness, believe it or not, grew out of Kenneth Branagh's film version last summer, an all-powerful 21st Century version of Ray Harryhausen's Talos from Jason and the Argonauts. Well, that's how I saw it. Bolt upright with a fabulously sharp headpiece and robotic gait, rather than the slumping, jogging astronaut seen here, the cinematic Destroyer is that all-too-seldom-seen feat, a villain improved upon from his comic roots.

Marvel Super-Heroes 13
Captain Marvel
Our Story

After converting his hand-held uni-beam into a wrist-blaster that can reverse its destructive effects with an artificial magnetic core, Mar-Vell tries to return to the ship to renew his supply of breathing potion, but is almost killed when Yon-Rogg “accidentally” fires their laser.  The burst downs a small private plane, and upon learning that the dead pilot, Walter Lawson, was a guidance-systems expert assigned to the base, Mar-Vell alters his papers to take his place, sustained by a capsule of breathing potion beamed to him by Una.  He is introduced to the head of security, Miss Danvers, and shown a 30-foot robot found in the South Pacific, which he recognizes as Intergalactic Sentry #459…and which Yon-Rogg revives and sends against him.

MB: A recent Bullpen Bulletin noted that they were keeping Captain Marvel’s debut “on sale for an extra month, to give you collectors an extra thirty days to latch onto this irreplaceable premiere issue.  We’ve got mighty big plans for [him], so we strongly advise you to get with him now, in order to be in at the very beginning!”  The decision to give Mar-Vell his own monthly magazine seems to have been an abrupt one, since we were promised that this story would be continued in Marvel Super-Heroes #14 instead.  Stan wastes no time turning his newest creation over to heir apparent Roy Thomas, with Colan inked by Paul Reinman; Roy, in turn, introduces a secondary character who—like Bill Foster in The Avengers—will become a 1970s super-hero, Ms. Marvel.

PE: Though all the Marvel titles are reliant on either a pinch or pound of science fiction, Captain Marvel seems, to me anyway, to be the strip most infused with the genre. I may be stating the obvious here but the spaceships, giant robots, and Mar-Vell himself could have been torn from the pages of an Edmond Hamilton pulp story (and Hamilton wrote comic books as well). At the same time, Roy Thomas seems hell-bent on delivering a dead serious story, eschewing the Keystone Kops writing he was exhibiting on The X-Men at the same time. Not having kept up with The Avengers the last few months, but reading my colleagues' praise of Rascally Roy's direction with that title, I'd say this is the first evidence I've seen of the great comic book writer Thomas would soon become. Anyone else see a similarity between Sentry 459 and The Destroyer, currently on view in The Mighty Thor?

MB: The new story is backed by the usual array of vintage material:  untitled tales of the Golden Age Black Knight and Vision (from Black Knight #2 and Marvel Mystery Comics #25, respectively); “Human Torch—Fugitive at Large!” and the Namor entry “Invasion!!” (both from Sub-Mariner Comics #35); and the Romita-drawn “Top Secret!” (Young Men #25), with Captain America and Bucky up against “the most dreaded killer in all the Red spy network.”  The letters page features a request for new adventures of the Black Knight from X-Men artist-to-be Dave Cockrum, whose appetite was whetted by an earlier story reprinted in Fantasy Masterpieces #11; the editors direct “Davey’s” attention to his Silver-Age heroic namesake, just recently introduced in Avengers #48.

Jack: That drawing of Cap REALLY looks like the work of Frank Robbins.

Fantastic Four 72
Our Story

Ben, Johnny and Crystal feel the emptiness of Reed and Sue’s departure to normal life, but don’t have long to wait… the Watcher appears before them. His message is grave: the Silver Surfer is about to attack humanity! Reed and Sue, travelling to California by train, downplay their concerns for their teammates. The Silver Surfer, sick of the greed and hatred in the humans all around him, has decided that the way to save the human race, is by giving them a taste of their own medicine; to cause destruction all around him so the people of Earth will unite against a common foe, and learn the folly of their ways. When the Torch tries to stop him, the Surfer surrounds him with cosmic force. Ben comes next, jumping from the jet cycle to the flying board, but up in the air, he’s at a disadvantage. The Watcher finds the train the other half of our team is on, and stops it easily, without harm. He warns Reed and Sue of the danger, and sends Mr. Fantastic (but not Sue) to join the game. Reed uses the equipment in the Baxter Building to help him find the Thing and the Surfer. The Pentagon by this time has ordered the use of the Sonic Shark, an experimental missile designed to use and unleash cosmic power. Reed is afraid that even the Silver Surfer’s powers may not save him, and indeed the missile seems to ready to do it’s job. Sheer brute force saves the day, as Reed maneuvers Ben close enough with the Pogo Plane for him to wallop the missile into the upper atmosphere, where it explodes without causing undo harm. The grateful Surfer, weakened but unharmed, sees the error of his method, and finds hope for humanity after all.

PE: An oddball one-shot that feels more like an opening salvo in yet another cosmic epic. A bit longer and this would have been perfect for a King-Size Special. The Surfer's tantrums seem entirely random to me. He's been living amongst the human race for months now and wakes up one morning with a startling plan in his shiny dome: I'll create one mankind by uniting them against me! What fun I'll have destroying buildings and, ostensibly, killing innocents with the falling debris. Wasn't SS around when Galactus threatened our world and we came together as one for about, oh, twelve hours and then resumed regular programming? I do like the concept of The Sonic Shark but wonder how it won't be pulled out of its protective carrying case from now on when a super-baddie threatens the peace.

MB:  Even the ever-excellent Joe Sinnott seems to be especially on his game with this issue, befitting its weighty subject, and although my gut reaction is that the Surfer’s behavior is a bit out of character, it is perhaps unfair to say that, when Stan has written said character since Day One.  I’d gotten a bit jaded with full-page shots lately, since so many of them seem to be by the numbers and/or not really necessary, but that aerial view of the Surfer above Manhattan made me say, “Whoa!”  It seems strange that Reed, so determined to distance himself from the FF until the baby is born, should wear his uniform under his clothes (shades of Superman!), but I suppose he figures, “Hey, you never know”; it also takes the Watcher about thirty seconds to recruit him.

JB: Maybe it’s just relief after the Mad Thinker saga dragged on so long, but this issue was a blast! No one’s missed how unlikely the Surfer’s method is that he chooses to achieve his goal of uniting humanity, but he takes us right along with him on this joy ride. The bizarre oddity of the Watcher appearing in the Baxter Building, and later stopping the train, are delightful. And he manages to spout some poetry along the way (“All-powerful? There is only one who deserves that name! And his only weapon is…love!”). Even the predictable turnaround the Silver Surfer makes at the finale still can’t help but rouse a glimmer of hope (for humanity and comic books). This is the best F.F. cover in a while; stunning. An easy read that could happily have gone on longer.

Tales to Astonish 101
Our Story

Bruce Banner is taking a long siesta after his green counter-part got done slugging it out with the Sub-Mariner last issue. The mischievous Loki spies the helpless scientist while searching Earth for his hated brother Thor. This gives him the bright idea of transporting the Hulk to Asgard with the intention of the savage goliath wreaking so much havoc that Odin will become distracted, allowing Loki to rid himself of Thor once and for all with his father being too busy to interfere. The plan gets off to a great start as the Hulk knocks the guardian of the Asgard entrance, Heimdall, out of his way before he barges into the city. The Hulk is then confronted by the Warriors Three. While they fight it out a bit, it doesn’t get very serious and eventually the Hulk pretty much just asks to be left alone and if they could explain to him how he got on this strange world in the first place. Loki is unhappy that his strategy didn’t go exactly the way that he planned. In a move of petty revenge, he transforms the Hulk back into Bruce Banner while he is leaping over a ravine. The story ends with Banner apparently falling to his death.

Tom: You’ve got to hand it to the Bullpen in regard to how they creatively handle the Hulk’s misadventures. Even when the stories aren’t all that great, like this one, at least they aren’t ever boring. The way he talks and acts, the Hulk is starting to remind me of some super-powered, belligerent drunk. Only instead of bar hopping, he bounces from state to state, to different worlds, planets, and dimensions. In the end, a blacked out Bruce Banner awakens wondering just what the hell he did and where he was at the night before? Did he piss anybody off?

MB: For the first time since #93, Giacoia returns to ink Marie’s Hulk, and does his usual excellent job as Jade-Jaws is whisked rather capriciously off to Asgard for an encounter with the Warriors Three, the latest in a long line of monkey wrenches thrown forcibly into the works by Thor’s evil adoptive brother, Loki. Lest we forget, Goldilocks and Greenskin were once (briefly) fellow Avengers, but the Hulkster is clearly an unknown quantity to Hogun’s Heroes. Fortunately, the Marvel Misunderstanding between them is short-lived, ending as soon as the noble Asgardians sense his intrinsic innocence, yet before you know it that darned God of Mischief intervenes yet again, propelling Bruce in an apparent death plunge into…his own mag.

Jack: What the heck is going on? Loki transports Hulk to Asgard just to stir up trouble? It may not make much sense, but this is a fun story. I have not been reading Thor, but if the supporting cast is this entertaining, then I guess I should be!

Tom: It’s the end of an era and the dawn of a new one when this title next issue becomes The Incredible Hulk! Thanks for the fun memories Tales to Astonish!

Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Namor has been suffering from nightmares where he sees an evil being that torments him. He believes he recognizes the sinister person, but because of his amnesia he is unsure who it is. Seeking out his old home in the Arctic, Namor hopes to find some clues that will shed some light on his nightmares. On his journey, he tangles with and easily defeats a U.S. fighter jet. Back at the devastated Atlantis, Lady Dorma and Warlord Seth survey the crumbled surroundings as the people move forward to find another home to build at a different location. Everyone believes Namor to have perished as a hero and saved them from a previous explosion. Subby arrives at his former home as a child where everything is now covered in ice. Inside a hidden catacomb, he is attacked by a giant warrior made of ice. Sub-Mariner defeats the ice warrior and knocks it through a wall. To his shock and amazement, the evil looking being he saw in his dreams is awaiting him.

Tom: I can’t say that I recognize this creepy looking guy at the end who has super-villain written all over him, but I’m sure we’ll all find out just what his story is when Namor goes on over to Tales of Suspense where his adventures will continue (according to a note in this issue). The story in itself wasn’t anything really memorable. However, I’ll always be more than happy to read a comic when a gratuitous monster or creature, in this case the ice warrior, is thrown in to amp up the action level a little bit.

MB: Having turned the typewriter over to Stan for last issue’s full-length wingding (which I missed), Goodwin is back, while Adkins remains restricted to inks, this time over the welcome work of Gene Colan, the strip’s inaugural penciler way back in #70. Yet what a difference a delineator makes, in this case betwixt the amorphous scribbling of Vince Colletta then and the clean clarity of Dapper Dan now, with the reader the clear winner. Namor looks terrific, as do the frozen wastelands and ruins he visits, and those bookend appearances by the villain we will come to know as Destiny give the story an almost EC Comics feel (one half expects Subby to utter a closing “Choke!”); I also enjoyed the somber dignity of the Atlanteans.

Jack: When Subby headed for the Arctic circle, I half expected him to find Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Let's all have a moment of silence for Tales to Astonish, which ends its 101-issue run with this issue. We made it through Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Hulk and Sub Mariner. But according to the coming attractions at the bottom of the letters page, next issue the Hulk takes over Tales to Astonish by himself while Subby moves to Tales of Suspense. Stay tuned to next week's post to learn what REALLY happened.

PE: Well, TTA indeed becomes The Incredible Hulk but that journey over to Tales of Suspense won't happen. TOS ends its long run this month as well and Subby will get his own troubled title in two months.

Our crack researchers dug up this
unused and rejected page by Jack
Kirby revealing Sub-Mariner's
mysterious foe at the Arctic Circle. 

The Avengers 50
Our Story

The three remaining Avengers wonder how they're going to hold the group together, while Hercules battles a monster in Limbo and then locates his fellow banished Olympians. Zeus sends Hercules back to Earth, were he joins the Avengers in fighting Typhon. Hercules uses one of Captain America's judo moves to finish off the big guy and leads him back to Olympus. The gods are restored to their rightful place, Typhon is sent to Hades, and Hercules's term as an Avenger comes to an end. The rest of the Avengers vow to find Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and bring them back to the fold.

MB: When it comes to an artist inking his own pencils, Big John Buscema is clearly at or close to the top of the heap, and although we could debate precisely when Roy nailed his style on this book, he has obviously done so. With two major villains for the Avengers to tackle, Roy wisely deferred Magneto to another day, focusing on Typhon and the plight of the Olympians to give Hercules a stunning send-off from his first stint as an Assembler. The effect of upgrading to Buscema’s gorgeous, exquisitely detailed artwork here and in the previous issue is (to borrow a phrase I once coined in a context I’ve forgotten) like going from 2D to 3D; I had trouble getting past the splash page, off of which two of my favorite characters practically leaped with tension.

Jack: This was a fitting anniversary issue, although it seemed more like Hercules Comics than The Avengers. I agree with Prof. Matthew's assessment of Buscema's art--it's muscular and exciting. The circulation report says that the issue closest to October 1, 1967 sold 318,000 copies--less than X-Men! On the letters page is a missive from 16 year old Tony Isabella, who would go to work for Marvel in 1972.

Eyes on the prize, Wanda!

The X-Men 42

Our Story

Once again, the X-Men are forced to deal with the sub-par villain Grotesk. As reglar readers will come to expect, he's no more interesting this time around than he was in the last. While it's not quite enough to make the overall issue interesting, the final panel almost makes up for things.  If they only hadn't telegraphed it with the cover, some readers may actually have believed they were reading the last of the lone heroes.    
JS: Don Heck's lackluster pencils do nothing to help elevate this tale.

PE: It's perhaps stating the obvious but this story (and Professor X's behavior) makes no sense whatsoever. Never mind that X is seemingly in two places at the same time (at X-Mansion with his unrequited love, Marvel Girl, and at the laboratory across town with the Oscillotronoscope-Ray), the bald-headed genius just can't make up his mind. He doesn't want to send help for Cyclops and Beast to defeat Gro-Tesk, the Sub-Human That Lived but the goal is to put the monster down before he reaches the earthquake-causing gizmo. He has Marvel Girl act purposely vague about his intentions to the rest of The X-Kids and then suddenly calls them to the lab to help fight Gro-Tesk. And, I know this is a real silly question but, if this doohickey is going to shake the world to dust, why not destroy it before it can be used? Can't wait to see how Roy worms his way out of the corner he paints himself into with the final panel's "death" of Prof. X. A clone created by the Prof. just before he had his breakfast that morning? A cryogenic freeze until Reed Richards can find a cure for whatever ails our leader? Will Marvel Girl open the shower door to a smiling Xavier and discover it was...all...a...dream?

Jack: Has anyone else noticed how often Marvel characters say "there's no time to go into that now?" So many misunderstandings could be avoided if they'd just take a minute and tell each other what's going on. Is it just me, or have the covers been getting better across the board? This one really struck a chord with me, though I'm sure I remember it as the cover of X-Men 90 rather than this issue. The annual sales report is in this issue and it states that X-Men sold a whopping 345,000 copies of the issue closest to October 1, 1967. Imagine sales figures like that! No wonder Stan Lee is loaded. And by the way, I really enjoyed this issue!

JS: Look at that image to the right. You can almost imagine that coming from an interesting comic.

Next issue: Cyclops goes to
Wal-Mart to get his visor straightened.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #2
Kid Colt Outlaw #139
Marvel Tales #13
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #52
Two-Gun Kid #92

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

February 1968: At Last! Namor vs. The Hulk! Winner Takes the Title!

Strange Tales 165
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Riding to Fury’s rescue, Dugan spearheads an epic aerial attack on the Yellow Claw’s Sky Dragon, while the cowardly Claw himself orders Voltzmann to cover his escape and kill Nick with the Ultimate Annihilator. Fury is freed by Dugan just in time to whale the tar out of “Voltzy,” removing his omnipresent shades to reveal a badly scarred face, but then takes his own lumps from the Claw, who has used his robot replica “duplikeds” to create a diversion. En route to his getaway ship, the armor-plated Claw shrugs off S.H.I.E.L.D.’s new Magnetic Pelfrag Shooter with an anti-charge force, mercilessly bludgeons the unprotected Fury with his metallic blows, and laughingly leaves our hero in a crumpled heap as he flies to safety.

MB: Fearless Frank is back, after Wild Bill pinch-hit for him last issue, and he and Jaunty Jim go all out with that two-page spread of the S.H.I.E.L.D. “buccaneers” pouring out of the Helicarrier to board the Sky Dragon, plus the full-pager of Fury taking it in the gut from the Claw’s spiked fist. Dum Dum looks a little off, in a way that I can’t quite quantify, but with compensations like the shadowy, quintessentially Sterankoesque shot of Nick at the bottom of page 9, I consider the old walrus as collateral damage of an acceptable kind. I love the monolithic effect of Fury slumped over the title to next issue’s yarn, and hope we’ll get the story behind Herr Voltzmann’s scarred visage (reminiscent of countryman Strucker); in any case, the showdown promises to be a doozy.

PE: That Voltzmann reveal is a winner, with Steranko avoiding the usual uber-melodrama of a final panel shocker and instead almost un-patching the bad guy offhandedly. The elevation of Steranko's story-telling skills continues with this wall-to-wall action yarn packed with full page pin-ups of he-men and snarling villains. It's a pity that today's PC crowd won't stand for an Oriental villain (at least one that embodies the 1940s view of the Oriental villain) as The Yellow Claw would make a snazzy bad guy for a big-screen Nick Fury adventure.

Jack: The full-page and two-page spreads are pretty, but where's the beef? The story moves so slowly in this series that characters never seem to get developed. I know it's just a comic book, and Steranko's art is always crying out to be blown up to poster size, but sometimes I wish he'd slow it down and give us a little more depth.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

How long can you stay fresh in that can?
Dr. Strange passes through a subterranean tunnel and invades the lair of Yandroth, a bald scientist whose machinery fails to defeat the sorcerer. Magic spells and a sock to the jaw seem to defeat Yandroth, but then Dr. Strange is confronted with his fearsome creation--Voltorr!

MB: Victoria who? Hey, I’m just kiddin’—after all, La Bentley gets an entire line of dialogue during her single-panel appearance this issue, even if it is a total cliché that appears to have been lifted from Lady Dorma’s Little Blue Book. The thing that has always bothered me most about this story is actually no fault of its creators; it’s just that when I see the last-page shot of Voltorr brandishing what looks for all the world like a pair of electrified drum sticks, I think of him as some sort of mad percussionist, recalling that widely reproduced still of the kid from The Tin Drum. That said, the magic vs. science stuff is always fun, and Adkins is in there punching with his solid artwork, e.g., the shot of Doc facing Yandroth’s “devilish device.”

Jack: Does it seem to anyone else like the Dr. Strange series has devolved into "can you top this?" every issue? You may have defeated Yandroth, but how about Voltorr?!?

Fantastic Four 71
Our Story

Hearing the sounds of battle, Sue enters Reed’s lab. At first she thinks they’re dead, but soon realizes they’re just unconscious. No time for thought however, as coming straight at her is the Mad Thinker’s deadliest android! Turning invisible, Sue is lost from the android’s attention for a moment, as it contemplates who and how to destroy next. A shot from Reed’s electi-force beam doesn’t hurt the android, but it does revive the others. While the android comes for her, not all is lost; Reed’s menta wave-bolt (from last ish) has returned Ben to his normal self. Conclusion: It’s Clobberin’ Time! While a fall from the heights of the Baxter Building doesn’t hurt the android either, it gives the others time enough to realize that Ben’s back in the saddle. The android rockets back upstairs, and seems to have an answer for every method of attack. Gas renders Ben temporarily unconscious, and blasts of cold eventually capture Johnny in a block of cold crystal, snuffing his flame. Reed has gotten Sue to comparative safety, where he orders his pregnant wife to remain. Returning to the battlefield, he’s just in time to see the android dangling the torch less Torch out the window, and grabs them both. Zapped by the android, Reed thinks fast, and leads the lifeless killing machine into the doorway to the Negative Zone, which comes in handy when you want to get rid of difficult-to-defeat enemies! Crystal arrives, and the exhausted crew seems to be on the mend, until an angry Reed announces he and Sue are done with the Fantastic Four.

JB: Another multi-panel cover, like a movie with too many stars, seems to promise a lesser issue, but we can kind of forgive that, as once again we think, “how’re they gonna get out of this mess?” I’m sure they would have found a way even if Reed hadn’t opened the Negative Zone door to send the android off to see Blaastar (nice panel by the way). The most stunning news of the issue is Reed and Sue’s resignation from active service, although who knows how long it will last!

MB: Although I’m not a fan of multi-panel covers, this one accurately conveys the frenetic nature of the interior, as Stan and Jack wrap up our Bad Ben tetralogy with the aptly titled “…And So It Ends…”  We certainly get off to a cinematic start, with the back-to-back full-page shots of Sue’s shocked reaction and the grim tableau that confronts her, while action-lovers have nothing to complain about since, like last issue, this is mostly one big slugfest.  The epithet “It’s clobberin’ time!” is unusually welcome—signifying as it does Ben’s return to normalcy— even if the subsequent misunderstanding with Reed (which, along with Sue’s “Must it always be…like this…?,” presumably contributed to his last-panel shocker) is a little bit too contrived.

PE: The thirteen-part "epic" Ben Goes Bananas storyline reaches its much-anticipated and prayed-for conclusion about three pages in but could have dragged on another two or three issues had Jack and Stan not shown pity. We can almost sense the dreaded Marvel Misunderstanding rearing its ugly head when Ben snaps out of his delirium to face a fighting-mad Thrilling Three. Thank heavens it's dropped after a measly five panels. I do like how, in one panel, Reed says The Thing would say anything to save his skin but, two panels later, he tells The Torch that Ben would never lie to them, no matter what spell he was under. Um, where has Stretch been the last umpteen issues? As for the shocking conclusion - it was only a matter of time before Stretch and Inviso-Girl would announce retirement since their partners have hung it up several times already. Observant letter writer John Arvites of Illinois asks Stan if inker Joe Sinnott wasn't mistakenly credited for Fantastic Four King-Size Special 5. Stan reveals that it was in fact Frank Giacoia. Prediction: The Mad Thinker will return in Sub-Mariner #14 and that appearance will be just as yawn-inducing as this one.

The Avengers 49
Our Story

On Mt. Olympus, Hercules discovers that the rest of the Immortals have been banished to an unknown limbo by Typhon, one of the ancient race of Titans. Back on Earth, Magneto is so anxious to get the band back together that he addresses the U.N. General Assembly, demanding a separate nation for mutants. When chaos erupts, a stray bullet grazes Wanda, causing Pietro to join forces with Magneto. The Avengers--now reduced to Hawkeye, Goliath and the Wasp, ponder their sudden loss of strength while, on Mt. Olympus, Typho succeeds in banishing Hercules along with the rest of the immortals and setting his sights on conquering Planet Earth.

MB: “When Stan and Roy saw the pulsatin’ pencils for this action-packed ish,” says the splash page, “they insisted that nobody—but nobody—could do justice in inking them but artist Big John Buscema himself! So hang on, frenzied ones—Avengerdom will never be the same again!!” Add in the fact that a long-coverless original of this is among the first comics I ever owned, and you’re talking about one hell of a seminal issue. It’s still one of the best I have read since I started contributing to this blog: every page is like a painting, easily blowing away all previous Buscema art here and on the Hulk to set a new standard of excellence, while Roy’s script matches him beat for beat, putting the Avengers on the ropes and setting up the 50th issue.

Jack: Of the five comics I'm reading each week (month), The Avengers is the most consistent in quality. This is interesting, because Roy Thomas's scripts on the other titles are not very good. However, in The Avengers, he's doing a great job of setting up multiple story lines and having them intersect in interesting and unexpected ways. Right now, there are at least three main plot threads weaving around each other, and it's fun to read. Buscema's art is also very strong, as Prof. Matthew notes. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 57
Our Story

Though he's finally defeated Otto Octavius (just before Marvel retitled the comic The Amazing Spider-Man featuring Dr. Octopus), The Amazing Spider-Man finds himself without a memory. Forced to find refuge where he can, our favorite web-slinger struggles to search for clues to his identity. Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson catches the ear of Ka-Zar, who is vacationing in New York, and convinces him that Spidey is a menace to be dealt with. Ironically, the only man Spidey can turn to for help is JJJ's son, astronaut-turned-Colonel John Jameson, who's convinced our hero really has lost his mind. Harry Osborn discovers a spider tracer in Peter Parker's closet and becomes convinced that his roommate has been kidnapped by the wall-crawler. Soon the news goes out on the street and "Spider-Man, Menace" once again becomes a rising chant. During a ferocious battle with Ka-Zar and his cat Zabu, the wall-crawler is stunned and presumably drowns. Could this be the last issue?

PE: Considering how many times these super-heroes are struck down by amnesia, you'd think they'd plant a card in their utility belt reading "You're Tony Stark. You have a billion dollars in the bank. Just head for 123 East Main Street and have a good time until your memory comes back." I'll have to do some research but I don't think there are any Ka-Zar guest appearances that warrant the words "you'll never forget" on a title banner. In fact, if history didn't show I'm wrong, I'd say a guest appearance by Lord Plunder and his sabretooth would sound the death-knell for a title. It certainly shows that Stan had no idea where to take this silly arc. Stan does stop just shy of having Spidey forget how to eat or sleep but compounds troubles by introducing Marvel Plot Contrivance #1: The Misunderstanding Which Leads to a Hero Clash. Ka-Zar can't stand or trust JJJ but decides, what the hell, I'm going to go attack this Spider-Man character in a city I don't even live in. Speaking of silly, in what universe would a city allow a man with a prehistoric animal on a leash?

JS: The best scene in this aberration is Harry Osborn discovering the spider tracer while nosing around Pete's closet. But even that goes sour when Harry jumps to conclusions. It doesn't get much more ludicrous than Spider-Man's voyage through New York, looking for someone to help him with his identity, inadvertently stopping at the windows of every one he knows! Why did Stan leave Aunt May out of the journey? The personal stuff was always top-notch in The Amazing Spider-Man and, in an issue like this, saves the title from being Daredevil or The X-Men. Hot on the heels of Harry's discovery and Gwen Stacy accusing Spidey of harming her buddy/boyfriend Petey comes the 57th consecutive collapse of May Parker (a character flaw record broken only by the 59 consecutive heart attacks suffered by Tony Stark) and a doctor who diagnoses the old bat and, honest to gosh, says something along the lines of "the only thing that will make this woman well is to know her nephew is ok!" Do they teach that stuff in Med School? If so, sign me up.

PE: To put a bow on this odiferous package, we get a sub-par art job co-penciled by Romita and Heck. Believe me, you can tell where the Heck Don contributed.

The Mighty Thor 149
Our Story

Thor’s battle with the Wrecker is a one-sided one; with his power reduced by Odin, the Thunder God is soon pushed aside. Heading to the bank for a quick payday, the Wrecker is interrupted by our ailing hero who just won’t quit. Neither will his supporters Balder and Sif, who watch helplessly in Asgard via the enchanted crystal in the Chamber of Visions. The loyal duo convince Odin to look for himself, but in that brief moment, the crystal has been stolen by Loki, who has taken it to the Norn forest, to hide it from curious eyes. Still forbidden to return to Earth to aid Thor, Odin grants Balder and Sif’s request to travel to the Norn Kingdom to find Loki. Thor lures the Wrecker away from the bank to fight amidst a more deserted neighborhood, and in so doing wrests the crowbar from his foe. The Thunder God gets a few more moments respite, but the Wrecker gets his crowbar back soon enough—and topples a building on his exhausted Thor. Digging through the rubble the villain finds his opponent, apparently dead.

In the hidden kingdom of Attilan, Agon, ruler of the Inhumans, tells his nineteen year-old son Black Bolt, who has lived in virtual seclusion because his voice could shatter the entire city, that he is old enough to meet his family. Medusa, Gorgon, Karnak and Crystal all understand Black Bolt’s predicament, but his brother Maximus sees the meeting as a chance to bait his brother. The pattern is established that will carry into adulthood for them all.

MB:  Fond as I am of a good scrap, especially with a villain as formidable as the Wrecker, we seem to be a bit heavy (as it were) of late on these all- or mostly-action tales, which make me long for a little more plot.  It’s interesting that the Wrecker now attributes his newfound power to Loki, rather than the Norn Queen, and I’m sure that when Dean Enfantino completes his doctoral thesis about the problems of uprooting entire buildings or city blocks, it will contain an appendix on the likelihood of toppling such a structure with a crowbar, be it enchanted or not.  I am finally getting a taste of the Inhumans back-up feature, and am delighted to see that it’s inked by Sinnott rather than Colletta; no surprise that Br’er Maximus was just as much of a butthead in his youth.

PE: Though it could be argued that, as Professor Matthew points out, this is wall-to-wall action with hardly any "title advancing," it's well-executed and suspenseful. Not many times have we seen  our heroes this helpless and the final image of a broken and battered Thor is particularly disturbing. Sif and Balder's undying loyalty for The Thunder God and their attempts to sway Odin's mood once more fill in the background bits admirably. But, oh, those mood swings...

JB: The cover of this issue reminds me of Thor #141, except that the panels used here aren’t the same as inside. However that doesn’t stop things from getting a little tiresome. Sorry, I just can’t see the Wrecker as a decent opponent (wait’ll you see him get what’s coming next month!). Again, Balder and Sif steal some scenes without even trying too hard; and the Norn Kingdom looks to hold promise of a good adventure. Our trip through the 140’s has been very mixed; luckily things are about to turn around…

PE: When it came time to fill out the birth certificates, The Inhuman parents obviously had a flair for the dramatic ("I think I'll name this one Gorgon!") but poor Crystal got the mom and pop with no imagination. She can't turn to crystal. Did Medusa's ma know her hair would be "mystical" with one look at the ultra-sound or did it take some time for the curls to work? The story itself is an exciting one, with the standout scene obviously being Maximus using Crys as a human shield.

Daredevil 37
Our Story

Daredevil is easy pickings for the diabolical Dr. Doom after having gone the distance in a brawl with the Trapster last issue. Even though he tries to fight him off in the subway tunnel, and during a limo drive that the villain later takes him on, our battle fatigued hero is easily knocked back into compliance. Once he is at Dr. Doom’s Latverian Embassy, the entrapped Double D is subjected to various forms of mind torture such as believing he has been shrunk down to the size of a toddler. In the end, Dr. Doom reveals his sinister plot to Daredevil: he will use him to destroy the Fantastic Four. He switches minds with Double D and leaves him stuck in a plastic tube. Daredevil can only watch helplessly as the evil Doctor heads out to kill the Fantastic Four with his mind in Daredevil’s body!

Tom: Dr. Doom definitely makes this comic classier even though I kind of got the impression he was slumming it in a series that usually showcases such D-list villains as the Stilt-Man, the Beetle, the Marauder, etc. A goofy ending, but it does leave the reader in suspense.

MB: Giacoia has lobbed the ball back into Tartaglione’s court, while reverting to his S.H.I.E.L.D. duties, but the break seems to have done “Tarty” (yes, I actually saw him referred to that way on a Bullpen or letters page) some good. Colan’s rendition of Dr. Doom, of which we see quite a bit, is excellent, and that full-page shot of him and Galactus—whom I would not have expected to play to Genial Gene’s strengths, regardless of inker—is nothing short of spectacular. You’ve gotta give Stan some major credit in the chutzpah department for the DD/DD match-up, and except for the body-switching business, about which I’ll have more to say next time, he keeps it interesting without going too far off the rails; the best part is…there’s no sign of Mike Murdock.

Jack: Colan really carries this issue with his terrific work on Doom, Galactus, and (of course) Daredevil. Like so many Marvel comics lately, this issue seems like a long prelude to next issue, and the body-switching is never a good idea, as I pointed out in a prior post in reference to an issue I can't recall. Didn't work with Lou Costello and the Frankenstein Monster, and I predict it won't work for Victor Von Doom.

Tales to Astonish 100
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner monitors the Hulk’s burial under an exploding mountain via one of his special monitors. Namor reasons that the green monster could be the perfect ally since neither of them seem to have any friends left. As Namor heads to land, in a bizarre coincidence, his enemy the Puppet Master spies him. The villain is thinking along the same lines as the Sub-Mariner except he creates a puppet of the Hulk in order to get the beast to kill his nemesis. After making the Hulk puppet, he orders the Hulk to burrow his way out from under the mountain. General Ross, his daughter Betty, and Rick Jones are on scene to witness the Hulk’s escape. Rick tries to talk to his old buddy, but since this is a mean Hulk, under the Puppet Master’s control, he smacks the teenage kid aside like a flea. Namor shows up to offer his hand in friendship. Once he is face to face with the Green Goliath, even Subby can tell something is amiss with the brute. On the Puppet Master’s orders, the Hulk attacks the underwater Prince and an epic fight ensues. The two gifted warriors exchange punches like calling cards, with both giving as good as they get. The fight on land usually goes the Hulk’s way, with Namor occasionally being able to lead the brawl into the ocean where he gains the upper hand. The end finally arrives after Namor wins in the water, causing a swell of water to launch the Hulk back onto land where he is so exhausted that he changes back to Bruce Banner. Namor finds him and leaves Banner since he doesn’t realize that the two are one and the same. Also, the resulting tidal waves crash into the secret headquarters of the Puppet Master, apparently causing his demise.

Tom: While it’s easy to be negative and bring up a lot of obvious things wrong with the storyline for this particular issue, I’ll leave that to my fellow professors since, all in all, this issue is probably one of my favorites, so far, as we trudge through the Marvel archives. My favorite confrontations have always been between bad guys versus bad guys and while neither of the two stars/combatants in this tale could really be labeled a villain, their anti-social and arrogant demeanors make them close enough for me. While I’ve always like the Hulk better than Namor, I surprisingly found myself rooting for Subby during this skirmish. Maybe it was because the Hulk was under the command of the annoying Puppet Master? Thankfully, someone in the bullpen decided to make the Hulk very similar to his usual self for the titanic battle, instead of being a brain dead servant under the villain’s command which is usually the case when this putz bad guy makes an appearance.

PE: For the first time in the six plus years of Marvel history we've covered, we get a truly epic "Hero vs. Hero" story. None of the previous superhero misunderstandings (Avengers v. X-Men, Spidey v. DD, Thor v. Hulk, etc.) have been handled this perfectly. Sure, there are the usual silly coincidences (Namor decides to make Hulk his buddy just as the thought pops into the head of The Puppet Master--who's looking more and more like Zippy the Pinhead with each appearance--that ol' greenskin should give a walloping to Subby) and Marie Severin makes The Hulk almost handsome in some panels but I can excuse all that and revel in what would stand as the most exciting clash of titans in history right up until Godzilla met Megalon.

Jack: Gee, what says "Super Special 100th Issue" more than another appearance by the Puppet Master? I am a bit concerned about Rick Jones's self esteem, since he refers to himself as a Nobody from Nowheresville. You'd think that someone with the influence to set up the Teen Brigade would be beyond this sort of self doubt by now.

Tales of Suspense 98
Captain America
Our Story

Arriving at the jungle lair of The Black Panther in The Panther's special jet, Captain America is fired on by a mysterious "Solar Bolt Ray." Upon landing, the star-spangled avenger is attacked by The Panther's guards but is finds quickly it is only a test to make sure he's the real Cap. The Panther reveals to Cap that the reason he was called to the jungle was the menace who wields the deadly ray. Cap learns that the deadly ray is only a tip of the iceberg as The Panther reveals that high above the earth orbits a Solar Heat Projector, capable of wiping out a large land mass with one blast. When the duo attempt to take over the land base of the satellite, they are captured and the true identity of the villain is revealed to be Baron Zemo!

PE: Holy Coincidence! The lovely SHIELD agent who will one day be known as Sharon Carter is in Wakanda when her beau arrives. It's amazing to think that the lovely (Ms. Carter) has been a mainstay around these parts already for two years and remains anonymous. I'm up for a re-appearance by Baron Zemo, a villain I never get enough of, perhaps because of his Golden Age roots (yeah, I know, true believer, that he didn't actually appear in the Golden Age until Avengers #4 but he's still retroactively of that era). I think, by the way, that it's Cap who acts rather rashly when he sees the Panther's men approach and thinks "I can't be sure of their intentions..." and attacks anyway. This, after riding in a jet for several thousand miles, without knowing intentions. Doesn't jibe. It's a decent first act though.

MB:  Joltin’ Joe Sinnott is joined in the inking chores this month by Syd “The Kid” Shores, who (per the Bullpen page) “illustrated many of our top strips during the First [sic] Golden Age of Comics,” including Cap’s itself.  It’s also old home week in the villain department, as shown by the climactic reveal of Zemo as the bad guy behind the solar heat projector, which—among other things—anticipates Blofeld’s orbital laser in Diamonds Are Forever.  I found the Panther’s demi-abduction and testing of Cap to be overly reminiscent of his introduction in Fantastic Four #52, although I guess T’Challa’s expressed concern that he might be facing an impostor is justified by all of the recent shenanigans surrounding Cap’s “secret” i.d.

PE: As noted with Strange Tales, Marvel begins to "flip" the anthology strips to coincide with their covers so Cap headlines the title for the first (and last) time.

Iron Man
Our Story

Captured by The Maggia and tortured by Whiplash, Iron Man must resort to visual trickery to save his fat from the fire. But that ol' debbil, low batteries, soon proves to be our hero's downfall.

PE: Iron Man has an Image Reproducer built into his armor that he's never used before? Stan probably should have thrown one of those "lucky I just crafted this last week in my laboratory" thought balloons over the Avenger's head and I'd have not thought twice about it. Whiplash proves to be one of Shellhead's dumbest villains as he believes that he's suddenly surrounded by a roomful of Iron Men. How long has Jasper Sitwell been wandering the grounds of Stark Enterprises looking for Iron Man? Hours? Days? Long enough for Morgan Stark to whisk away his billionaire playboy cousin to The Maggia. And this is SHIELD's new boy wonder? Silliest scene in a Marvel comic this month has to be Tony Stark's legion of gal pals (aka The Stepford Birds) demanding that Iron Man find their sugar daddy.

MB: This installment might best be described as a holding action by I.M. and our stalwart Lee/Colan/Giacoia creative team, since other than offering himself up as a target, Shellhead does little but delay the inevitable with the use of his image reproducer.  Nick Fury looks pleasantly kempt in his one-panel cameo, while the stuff with Jasper and Tony’s parade of inamoratas—presumably the fruits of his whirlwind romances in #89—is goofy fun, in addition to planting that raven-haired beauty who seems better able than most to connect the dots between the absences of both Stark and Iron Man.  In short, this story falls squarely into the vast middle ground between potboiler and classic, with solid GiaColan artwork as its strongest asset.

PE: And who is that mysterious maiden? I'll just say that hers is an interesting, though far-fetched, story that will be revealed to us in the years to come. On the Mails of Suspense page, future screenwriter Bob Gale (the Back to the Future trilogy) tries to explain Marvel chronology and does a pretty good job for a teenager. Gale would write issues of Daredevil and The Amazing Spider-Man in the 2000s.

The X-Men 41
Our Story

The dynamic duo of Hank and Bobby are out on a date with the gals when they encounter a Sub-Human in the subway. The Sub-Human, nicknamed Grotesk, is actually Prince Gor-Tok, a subterranean pissed off at the human race for essentially killing off his love Princess Ingar. Seriously, I'm not making this up. To add insult to injury, the story drags on to the next issue.

MB: A recent Bullpen Bulletin notes that after illustrating the Buck Rogers newspaper strip during a leave of absence, and “returning briefly some months back to help us in a pinch,” George Tuska has re-upped for good, here lending his services as inker to the erstwhile Avengers combo of Thomas and Heck, with results more Heckian than Tuskaesque. It’s reassuring to see that Grotesk (Gor-Tok, aka the Sub-Human) obeys the Marvel villain-naming conventions (“I seem to have supplied my assailant with a brand new cognomen!”). But it’s disheartening that when this issue was reprinted in #89, the “Origins of the X-Men” back-up feature was replaced with “For the Rest of Your Life!,” a brief Lee/Ditko SF “zapper” from Amazing Adventures #11.

PE: You can almost believe that The Beast plucked the moniker "Gro-Tesk" right out of the air until you find out this dope's name in the old world was Gor-Tok, Son of King Krono (later in the story he even lengthens his new handle to Gro-Tesk The Sub-Human). Professor X seems to have taken a page out of Odin's Handbook: Rule 68-A, Be really testy with those around you and don't explain yourself. They'll forgive you by the next issue. The back-up feature really shouldn't have been titled "Origins of the X-Men" after all but, maybe, "Early Stories of The X-Men." This installment is hardly an "Origin of Cyclops" as it spends most of its blissfully short running time documenting the origin of The Living Diamond (formerly known as Jack O' Diamonds). In any event, this is nothing more than a normal-length adventure chopped into smaller bits. Why Stan decided the main feature should be pared down is anyone's guess.

JS: I for one have grown to appreciate the shorter tales. Or I guess I should say I have grown to appreciate the shortness of the tales.

Jack: Good thing no one called him ugly, or he would have gone around referring to himself as "UGH-LEE." They also put really thick black lines around Grotesk's word balloons, I guess to show that he had a really deep voice??? As for The Living Diamond, do his fingernails and hair grow? And, if so, how does he clip them? Are the clippings valuable?

JS: I'm pleased to point out that we're now within 100 issues of one of the greatest X-Men story arcs of all time!

PE: On the letters page, we get contributions from future Marvel writer and humorist Fred Hembeck, future Batman letter-hack (and, in the mid-1970s, Batman and Detective Comics letters page editor) Guy Lillian III, and a (perhaps not the) Saul David.

Also this month

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #13
Millie the Model #157
Not Brand Echh #6
Rawhide Kid #62
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #51