Wednesday, August 8, 2012

December 1967: Shazam!? Not Your Father's Captain Marvel

Marvel Super-Heroes 12
Captain Marvel
Our Story

A star ship descends, assigned to succeed where Ronan the Accuser failed and punish Earth’s defiance of Sentry #459 (see FF #64-5), but Colonel Yon-Rogg flouts procedure and sends Captain Mar-Vell—whose lover, Medic Una, he covets—out on the mission alone.  Unwittingly disrupting a missile test with his suit’s “radiation factor,” the reconnoitering Kree is attacked by the base’s soldiers, defending himself with his universal beam blaster and the super-strength given him by Earth’s lesser gravity.  Fleeing with his air-jet belt, he Americanizes his name to Marvel and takes refuge in a hotel; via his wrist monitor, the Imperial Minister of the Supreme Intelligence reiterates his life-or-death task.  [Based on reprint in Captain Marvel #36.]

MB: Effective with this issue, the renamed Fantasy Masterpieces begins its brief stint as a prototype for the try-out books Marvel launched with increasing success in the ’70s, before hosting reprints from Tales to Astonish.  I’ll let more knowledgeable commentators discuss the character’s origin vis-à-vis his competing namesake, but this is Marvel’s first new super-hero strip since the debuts of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Sub-Mariner in August 1965, and the only one for several years that did not feature established characters.  Sales evidently earned Mar-Vell his own book after the next issue, yet the strip limped along on a sporadic schedule until September 1980, in spite of its brief brilliance under Jim Starlin, who killed off the character in Marvel’s first graphic novel in 1982.

PE: Growing up a Marvel nerd in the 70s, there were only a few titles I avoided and Captain Marvel was one of them. The character just never floated my boat in the "guest star" roles I caught him in. Now, having read this debut I'd have to say my little brain wouldn't have been able to follow the overly-complicated plot as I wasn't up on Kree lore at the time. Now I'm cautiously optimistic about future installments.  It's cool to know that earthlings aren't the only race in the galaxy that give their weapons dopey names. Here we get a "Universal Beam Blaster," which is basically a cannon that leaves a swath of black across a limited field. Great concept, good execution, lousy name.

MB: Although this strip was created by the Daredevil team of Lee and Colan (complete with erstwhile inker Frank Giacoia), the lamentable antics of Mike Murdock et alia are about as far from its SF seriousness as Earth is from “the faintest backwash” of the Kree empire.  I can’t help wondering if they’d had this in mind when they laid the groundwork of the Kree empire in those two recent FF stories, which unfortunately I lack.  Per the Marvel Comics Database (MCDb), this issue also reprints an untitled Human Torch story and “Kill Captain America!” from Men’s Adventures #27 & 28, respectively, as well as “The Beachhead Blitz” (All-Winners Comics #12), “The Abduction of King Arthur!” (Black Knight #1), and “The Sub-Mariner Strikes!” (Sub-Mariner Comics #38).

PE: It's a shame that Fantasy Masterpieces didn't burn up the comic stands as a regular all-Golden Age-reprint book seems as though it would be a natural. The odd thing is that, though Marvel reprinted several of the solo stories they pretty much ignored the Torch/Cap/Namor team-ups (or The Invaders as Roy Thomas would crown them a decade later). Glancing through the five reprints here, I'm struck by how even the weakest of the bunch (the Cap story, which looks as though Cap's head has been drawn once and then glued into each panel, by John Romita the Senior of all people!) has that engaging darkly inked look that's missing from any of the Silver Age strips. As far as the history of the name "Captain Marvel" goes, it's a well-told story (and a very ironic one at that) that DC sued Fawcett in the early 1950s in order to stop the publishing of the hugely popular Captain Marvel and Marvel Family titles that had been Fawcett's bread and butter since 1940. DC's contention was that Marvel was a rip-off of Superman and courts evidently agreed, as the character was ordered into mothballs. In 1968, Marvel smartly jumped on the trademark of Captain Marvel to create this new character. In 1972, DC acquired the original Captain Marvel character and art from C.C. Beck and went about re-introducing him to a new generation of comic buyers. Ulp! as one of DC's characters may have said, imagine their surprise when they weren't allowed to use the title Captain Marvel on their new baby but rather SHAZAM! out of fear of a lawsuit from Marvel! What goes around comes around.

Jack: I never liked the green and white Captain Marvel, but I loved the character once his costume (and hair color?) changed under Jim Starlin's guidance. I was always a fan of the original Captain Marvel and I was very excited when DC brought back the Big Red Cheese in the 70s.

PE: I'll add once again that, had I actually been a comic buyer in 1967, I would have been stalking the stands looking for new issues of MSH to soak up the Golden Age adventures of The Torch, Namor, and Captain America. The stories aren't much to crow about but that art is exquisite! 

The Mighty Thor 147
Our Story

Awakened from his hypnotic trance by police gunshots, the God of Thunder realizes that he has been duped by the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime, and has helped them steal the golden bull. Thor surrenders to the authorities, mystified at how he got into such a predicament. Princess Python makes a big fuss at being pinned by the bull, loud enough that when Thor frees her, her giant snake whisks her away to join her clownish cohorts and escape. In Asgard, Odin decides that it is time to free Loki from the limbo to which the evil one had been sentenced. Balder and Sif arrive in the throne room at the same time that the God of Mischief returns, and plead their case to the All-Father to release Thor from his sentence of Earthly confinement, stripped of his powers. This only serves to make Odin angry, and to make Loki aware that Thor is ripe to be slain. While Loki makes his way to Earth, Thor faces more humiliation in prison from a mocking cellmate. When an unknown benefactor  pays Thor’s bail, the police set the costumed avenger free, whereupon he faces his agent of good will, who offers him a ride. It takes but a moment for Thor to recognize that it is a trap; and the key is Loki! Immediately his half-brother attacks, and Thor retaliates; but without his magic powers he is but delaying the inevitable. Balder and Sif decide to risk Odin’s wrath to go to the aid of Thor, just as Loki seems poised to slay him. The All Wise witnesses this, and furious at the rash defiance, hurls a bolt of retribution Midgard-bound.In the tale of the Inhumans we learn “The Reason Why” the branch of humans of ancient times split off from the rest of mankind to make great advancements. It is because, in the dim past, the mighty Kree race bestowed upon these humans the gift of great knowledge. A Kree sentry stationed on Earth investigates this development, explaining to them from where their advantage came from. It turns out that the Terrigen Mist that the humans have discovered will give them each a new inhuman power, thus birthing the name Inhumans. The Sentry departs.

JB: First off the Inhumans: we see not only the origin of their powers, but the choice of their name as well. Nice tie-in with the Sentry from F.F. # 64. The thunder still isn’t back full force, but an improvement from last issue for sure. We sometimes groan when Loki makes yet another attempt to kill (nasty word) his brother, but his entrance on the scene here is a welcome relief. I don’t know why Odin feels he should punish Thor and give Loki a break, but boy he’s one unhappy daddy. I can really see Tom Hiddelston’s voice mouthing some of the lines Loki spouts here, especially as Thor sees through his disguise as a human. The cover sums this up the issue nicely, if you don’t have time to read it, you’ll still get the gist of it.

PE: Pretty far-fetched that, after being arrested for cattle rustling, bail would be granted for a guy who can transport himself to another world with the whip of his hammer. And where are all of Thor's Avengers buddies in his time of need? He has to look to the kindness of his evil little brother for bail money instead of Tony "Deep Pockets" Stark. Surely the arrest of a God of Thunder made the 6 o'clock news. That Loki is one dumb sonofagun or else he just can't help himself! Pop tells him he has the lay of the land, he's the new favorite son (despite being told he's evil by his own father!), provided he keeps his nose clean. So what does he do five minutes later? Zip on down to earth to pick on his suddenly weaker older brother! But I thank him for doing that and taking us away from the misery of The Ringleader and his Stooge Circus. Extra bonus here is that it's a crackin' good tale and ends with a gen-you-wine cliffhanger! What could Odin possibly do to show how pissed off he is after he's already taken Thor's Mighty away from him? Reduce Sif's magical bustline? Take away The Brave's hair and make him, umm, Balder?

 I know there are those among the faculty who have felt that Loki appeared too often in these pages, yet while there may be some validity to that observation, I prefer to think of him along the lines of what Kang was to the Avengers, and Death-Stalker (or, later, Bullseye) was to Daredevil,  in the mid-’70s.  Be that as it may, I’m certainly glad to see him back here, when his step-brother’s diminished abilities make them more evenly matched, so Loki can tackle him one on one rather than sending an Absorbing Man or Destroyer against him.  By the end of the issue, it looks like half of Asgard  has incurred Odin’s wrath, so it will be interesting to see just where we go from here; meanwhile, I enjoyed seeing Thor’s meek acquiescence to the letter of the law.

PE: And I'm liking me some Inhumans! If I'm not too confused by the intricate plotting going on by Jack and Stan, the group was pretty much created by The Kree? Fascinating! Bring on Chapter Three!

The Amazing Spider-Man 55
Our Story

Tearing apart half the city looking for Doctor Octopus, The Amazing Spider-Man is having no luck. The only clue he's been given is by the Doc himself: he's on the verge of the biggest crime of the century. That crime would be to steal the Nullifier, a weapon so powerful and deadly that the army intends to keep it stored at Stark Industries. Having a man on the inside, Ock is able to obtain the trip route and he easily overcomes the army to nab the Nullifier. In a stroke of genius, the villain decides the safest place to hide the weapon from the army would be its initial spot of delivery: Stark Industries. Spider-Man figures out the madman's plan and heads to Stark, where the two duke it out until Doc Ock uses the Nullifier on Spidey. The device leaves the webhead an amnesiac.

PE: That sound you hear is the very audible groan of a comic reader tired of Comic Book Cliche #3 (right behind 1/ the misunderstanding and 2/ the disclosed alter ego): Amnesia! I don't mind all the obvious padding in order to extend what should have been a three-parter into four, but do we really have to open up that old cliche cupboard again and take down the bottle of "I don't remember a thing but I guess I better listen to the guy with giant steel arms"? How much should an amnesia victim remember? The difference between right and wrong? What's worse is that I believe using Cliche #3 this issue will lead to the inevitable use of #1 next issue. Maybe Doc will also talk Spidey into unmasking on TV and we'll get the rare hat trick. Not much in the way of Personal Peter Life Advancement this issue either, unfortunately, unless you count the gentle catfights between Mary Jane and Gwen, which are alternately amusing and tired. Make your choice already, Parker!

 They’re pulling out all of the stops with this lengthy arc, even having Spidey revisit the site of his watery life-or-death struggle from the old Master Planner days, and putting John Jameson in charge of security for the Nullifier ups the ante several ways; it’s always nice to see him defending Spidey, even if subsequent events do seem to confirm J.J.’s suspicions. Setting the climax at Stark Industries, from whose distinctive structure the Grey Gargoyle tossed a petrified Iron Man in last month’s Suspense, enhances that wider Marvel-Universe feeling.  As usual, Romita and “Demeo” dazzle us with gorgeous girls, whose claws are fully extended, and splendid fight scenes—I was especially struck by the nice variety in Ring-a-Ding’s panel layouts.

PE: There's a letter in The Spider's Web from Kevin Hancer, future author of The Paperback Price Guide.

The Avengers 47
Our Story

Banished to a rocky planet in outer space, Magneto and the Toad lament their fate, not knowing that on Earth, scientists Whitman (nephew of the Black Knight) and Norris are experimenting with a device that allows them to contact other planets by means of magnetic rays. At Avengers Mansion, Captain America quits the team so that he can go back to being Steve Rogers. Hawkeye goes home and snaps at Natasha, while Hercules flies off to Mt. Olympus and finds it deserted. Whitman's magnetic ray machine has the unexpected consequence of bringing Magneto and the Toad back to Earth; after Norris brains Whitman out of jealousy, Magneto dispatches with Norris. Magneto wants to reunite the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and sends a coded message to Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. They arrive at the castle and battle a series of robots that Magneto uses to test their powers. Pietro tells Magneto he is now an Avenger, causing Magneto to knock out both worthies on his way to world domination. 

My initial response, when I saw that Colletta had turned the pen over to George Tuska, was “Be careful what you wish for”—not that I’m reflexively against Tuska, whose decade on Iron Man speaks for itself, but not every inker is right for every penciler and/or strip, and one wants to show Big John’s work to best advantage.  Damned if I didn’t prefer the Buscema/Tuska team (excepting their train-wreck interpretation of the Toad, only partly mitigated by a drop-dead gorgeous Natasha), whose work was deployed in unusually spacious panels.  While this issue seems primarily like a prelude to the next, filled with flashbacks and the comings and goings of characters from our little stage, a Magneto/Avengers bout must be worth the price of admission.

This time he really means it. No, really!
Jack: This has to be one of the best issues of The Avengers to date. Buscema's art is terrific and the plot is so complicated that it sets in motion subplots for at least a half-dozen issues (unless Roy wraps them all up by next issue's page two). It's great to have Magneto back, as he is one of my favorite Marvel villains. By the way, this cover really works for me--the combination of the yellow background, the characters down the left hand side, and the main scene with Magneto all add up to an eyecatching image.

Good Girl Art doesn't get much better than this!

Fantastic Four 69
Our Story

The great chemist Dr. Santini, who was to help Reed find a formula to turn the Thing back into Ben Grimm, has instead deceived the Fantastic Four. He instead has modified Reed’s equipment for an alternate purpose: to turn the Thing against his teammates—and has succeeded! They don’t yet realize that it isn’t Santini at all, but one of the F.F’s deadly enemies, disguised to infiltrate and destroy them. Ben attacks Reed, who has to think fast, grabbing his high-voltage discharger in an attempt to slow his friend down. So enraged is he that Ben is scarcely affected by the blast, and wrests the gun from Mr. Fantastic, who escapes the lab in time to warn Sue. Her force field saves them until Crystal and Johnny arrive on the scene, the latter melting the gum with his flame. Sue clues her brother in, and his flames give them a breather while Reed orders the Torch to jet-cycle Crystal and a pregnant Sue to safety—then return. No longer needing a disguise, “Santini” sheds his skin to reveal the Mad Thinker! As Ben gets past the flame in his path to attack Reed anew, the Thinker rifles through Reed’s files, computers and equipment, seeing that Reed has found the Negative Zone. Ben meanwhile, lunges at Reed, in the process going out the window. Mr. Fantastic can’t bring himself to let his friend die, so he stretches out to catch him, getting pulled out in the process. Ben’s fall slowed, he grabs the girder of a building, while Reed assumes the shape of a sail to make his escape. Furious, the Thing hijacks a truck and takes up the chase. Johnny catches up, and distracts his former pal until a clap envelops his flame. By now, Sue has the military involved, and a group of planes fires some warning shots at Ben. A helicopter gives Reed a chance to escape. At police headquarters, Reed surmises the identity of their enemy, and the police begin a massive search. The Thinker, anticipating this, has headed for cover already. Ben naps a hat and coat from a building window and slips off into the crowd.

JB: Well I can’t say that I’d get it right every time, but the identity of the Mad Thinker seemed pretty obvious here. I’m finding this tale a little hard to get excited about, although the pacing was decent. With some of the alternate covers Glenn has found for us recently, I could imagine the darker page one, with a different background, looking  pretty good. I’d have liked to see more android action…but wait, issue #70 is just around the corner!

PE: As predicted, the mystery villain reveal is a downer: the return of The Mad (but boring) Thinker. I can't help but think "he can't be much of a thinker if he doesn't see failure at the onset of each of his plans" whenever he pops up. Stan and Jack will continue to dress him in new uniforms throughout the years but, to me, he's just The Red Ghost without the chimps. And what kind of super-intelligent being would exclaim in amazement after stumbling onto the gateway to The Negative Zone despite opening a door that says "Danger. This is the door to the Negative Zone"! At least The Thinker is correct when he says "I best be getting a move on now as Reed Richards must have guessed my secret identity by now" just as Stretch runs down a list of "qualifiers for this month's guest super villain" ("guy digs computers, he's got a fool-proof plan, he's got be a good thinker... hey, I've got it!"). Don't those qualifiers fit just about all the FF villains? Stan missed a golden opportunity by not having Red shout "It's got to be... Doctor Doom!"

 Okay, I must confess, the Mad—pardon me, All-Powerful—Thinker had me fooled with that “hastily-grown moustache,” which had led me to suspect that our mystery villain was the Wizard, or possibly Diablo.  It’s interesting that, while completely brainwashed against Reed, Ben doesn’t stomp around going “Master…says…must…kill… Richards,” but has his own personality; I don’t like the title, though, because “By Ben Betrayed!” sounds like it’s of his own volition.  Marvel was sometimes frustratingly coy about where the annuals took place in the continuity of the monthly mags; here, for example, we have an apparent reference in page 7, panel 3 to Sue’s pregnancy (“…least of all now!”), but no clue if it’s been revealed to the others yet.

Strange Tales 163
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

An oxygen tablet and a folding bayonet enable Fury to escape from the Claw’s monster cephalopod, leaving a sonic shatter cone as his calling card, as Suwan learns of her uncle’s plot to steal the new ultra-weapon being developed by A.I.M., the Ultimate Annihilator.  Alerted by Jimmy Woo, and backed up by another recent graduate of UNIT, Clay Quartermain, Nick tackles A.I.M. on the waterfront and intercepts a package containing a dragon figurine.  The dragon emits the names of four physicists, each of whom constructed a section of the weapon, but the Claw begins eliminating them, and although Fury sets a trap by posing as the last, the Claw hypnotizes him, assembles the weapon and seemingly blasts Nick out of existence.

MB: I’m going to come right out and say this, heretical though it might sound:  as much as I admire every element of Steranko’s prodigious talent, especially having read confirmation that he also served as his own colorist from #156 on (Thank you, Glenn!), I think I prefer his artwork with a dedicated inker such as Giacoia.  We lose none of his fluid action scenes or spectacular layouts, like that awesome shot of the dragon on page 9, yet the faces are much improved, and the overall effect looks like a million bucks.  Jaunty Jim’s newest creation, Clay Quartermain, is another of those characters who, if memory serves me right, winds up settling in after a somewhat grating start, à la Sitwell, and Val seems to be getting a bit more of the spotlight she so richly deserves.

PE: In the epic storyline reintroducing The Yellow Claw, we finally get the evil genius himself to make a stop by Strange Tales. Suwan, Yellow Claw's niece (do all bad guys have relatives hanging out with them?) is a little too close to a previous plot device, the daughter of the Supreme Hydra. I love the fact that A.I.M. has christened its new weapon "The Ultimate Annihilator." Since we know this one is doomed to failure, it makes the next one all that harder to title. The "Even Bigger Threatener?" The "Holy Crap, This Has Got a Hell of a Kick Neutralizer?" I was going to make an offensive statement about the new effeminate SHIELD agent, Clay Quartermain (Quarter-Man?) until I got a look at how Fury is sashaying in that panel above. I shouldn't make fun of people who have their face frozen in a permanent smile but, seriously for a moment, was this some kind of a joke on Steranko's part? I was disappointed that we didn't get to see exactly what A.I.M.'s weapon, "The Anti-Charge Bazooka" was capable of since it was fully loaded with tennis balls and ready to wreak havoc. Fabulous climax has me clamoring for more!

Jack: I agree with Profs. Matthew & Peter that this is very cool stuff. The art is superb. Glenn, oh expert in all things Marvel, why did Steranko decide to give up the inking chores? He's only producing 12 pages a month, for goodness sake--about the amount Kirby or Ditko used to do between breakfast and lunch on a slow Friday. The Yellow Claw and his niece remind me of Fu Manchu and his daughter.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

The Living Tribunal announces that Nebulos's staff has so much evil stored up inside it that it must be destroyed. The two mysterious characters battle fiercely, but it takes the courage of Dr. Strange to defeat Neubulos and capture the evil staff. As a reward, the Living Tribunal spares the Earth and sends Dr. Strange off through space to find Victoria Bentley.

MB: There seems to be a chronic inability here among editor Stan, scriptwriter Jim Lawrence and/or letterer Al Kurzrok to agree upon whether Nebulos is the Lord of the Planet, or Planets, Perilous, although perhaps it’s academic now, since ol’ Nebbish appears to be toast by the end of this installment.  I can’t say I was ever all that clear on what his stick—er, shtick—really was, and obviously Dapper Dan’s pretty pictures are carrying a lot of the load while the revolving-door writers struggle to gain some traction.  I’m hoping that the finale of the initially promising but ultimately meandering Living Tribunal storyline this time, and the search for Victoria Bentley next time, bodes well as we count down the last few issues of Strange Tales.

Jack: It seemed weird that the Living Tribunal suddenly went from a floating tri-face to a great big super-hero with rippling muscles and a Spandex suit. In any case, this was a neat finish to the story arc and, once again, I'd rather look at Dan Adkins swiping from other artists than Werner Roth's originals in the Sub-Mariner series.

Tales of Suspense 96
Iron Man
Our Story

Hurled to his death by The Grey Gargoyle from his own Stark Industries rooftop, Iron Man is blessing the moment Jasper Sitwell was given the job of babysitting the Stark armada, rather than cursing his nerdness, when Sitwell is able to successfully save I.M.'s stone armor from the fall. Meanwhile, The Gargoyle has stolen Tony Stark's deadly Cobalt Ray device and threatens to use it against The Mighty Thor but Iron man saves the day when he turns his own chest transmitter against his Grey foe. Using the weapon, however, drains all the power that keeps his heart beating and he's left unconscious. Fearing there's no other way to save the hero's life, Jasper decides to unmask him.

PE: Obviously, I'm going to mention the fact that Jasper Sitwell violates everything we know about space and time continuums by watching Grey Gargoyle hurl Iron Man from a rooftop and having the wherewithal to not only notice a nearby parked "sand truck" with keys intact but then start and drive the truck to the right spot in a matter of about, say, ten seconds. The fact that Iron Man doesn't break his stone neck by falling into the back of the truck is only an added bonus. I'm also going to mention that it stretches belief that the time it took to hurl I.M. off the roof and when G.G. lays his insulated hand on the Cobalt weapon is an hour! If we're talking about adhering to Marvel time, that would have been about five minutes tops! One thing I learned this issue is that The Grey Gargoyle has measures of touch. He threatens Iron Man with his "most potent touch," one with a "long enough duration" that I.M. will "never recover."

MB: Moving from strength to strength, this solid episode winds up the current Grey Gargoyle plotline, yet still leaves us with the requisite cliffhanger for our soon-to-end split-book serial format.  It demonstrates what wonderful things can happen when Smiley rises to the level of GiaColan’s game (even with that hokey turning-energy-into-stone jazz), and Gene’s rendition of the Gargoyle is superb, especially the low-angle shot of him forcing his way through the doors while searching the factory for Stark’s new cobalt weapon.  Jasper has already proven his worth to both Shellhead and this reader, and saving himself by touching the Gargoyle not only tickled me with its ingenuity, but also provided us with a splendidly memorable visual.

PE: Professor Matthew mentions how The Grey Gargoyle turns one of Iron Man's repulser beams into solid stone. I was wondering if that doesn't open the door for G.G. to use something equally non-material such as sunlight as a weapon in the future.

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America's retirement seems to be a bit of a pain the butt for local police, who are called out en masse to accidents involving fake Caps but, on the bright side, a boon to costume shops. After a long day saving a regular Joe just trying to make a buck impersonating the star-spangled avenger and a little sweet-talkin' from Nick Fury, Steve Rogers decides he was born to be Captain America and faces life as a superhero without a secret identity.

MB: I think there’s a lapse in logic here—the unveiling of Steve Rogers as Captain America was coupled with the announcement that he’d retired, so why wouldn’t the underworld correctly assume, therefore, that anyone dressed as Cap wasn’t Steve? Anyway, it’s fun to see all of those lame faux-Caps in the police lineup (where’s Master Planner Mark II when we need him?), even if it does look a little incongruous that Nick Fury apparently bothered to get all dressed up, yet not to shave.  Cap’s retirement lasted only a little longer than Spider-Man’s did less than six months ago, while each inevitably reached the same inescapable conclusion—in the immortal words of Popeye, I yam what I yam—and then went back to work.

PE: I've got another silly question for you, Professor Matthew: if you were some big dope who just had to impersonate a superhero, for whatever dumb reason, and knew the underworld was gunning for Captain America, wouldn't you avoid the stars and stripes and buy yourself, oh I don't know, an asbestos suit and a jet-pack? If this storyline had been a three-issue arc, we might have seen Aunt May in the red, white, and blue. I especially love the exchange between the faux-Cap hired by the judo studio and a mob goon named Bull:

Faux-Cap: Wait! Let me explain--- I was hired by a judo studio--- for publicity!
Bull: So what's that prove? They coulda hired the Real McCoy, couldn't they?

The acrobatic dive by Steve Rogers to save the Judo guy, now falling from the roof of a skyscraper, is a hoot as well. Our main villain, The Sniper, just happens to be sitting in the window of a nearby high-rise, waiting for the real Captain America to come swingin' by. What a heck of a coincidence this turns out to be! And how about Bull and his mafia buddy evidently jumping from rooftop to rooftop? I'm tempted to go the "My Name is Professor Jack and Daredevil is Supposed to be Silly, So Sue Me for Liking It" route, but this was a rushed and stinky resolution to a fabulous opener last issue. For once, I'd argue that Stan and Jack should have left the souffle in the oven a few more months. In 1974, Steve Englehart will have Cap hanging up his shield for different (read: better) reasons in the controversial Nomad storyline. 

Jack: Hey!

Tales to Astonish 98
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner is in a race against the Plunderer as he hurries to make it back to his kingdom to prepare for the villain’s impending attack. Namor beats up a killer whale and rides on the back of the speedy beast. The Plunderer and his crew attack Atlantis from their ship. A U.S. submarine happens to be traveling nearby and it, too, is drawn into the conflict. The American sub drops depth charges all over the place, sinking the Plunderer’s ship but also destroying most of Atlantis’s buildings. The Plunderer escapes in a small ship. Namor tries to stop him but is unsuccessful. The story ends with Namor’s people looking for revenge against the surface world, as they release attack ships in an all out war.

Tom: I liked this one a little better than I thought I would. The American Submarine involvement was a nice touch and it was a little bit surprising considering how they were the ones to defeat the Plunderer, rather than Namor. This story would probably even play out better in today’s comics with more expansive and detailed artwork.

MB: At first I was apprehensive, when I noted that as of last issue, Thomas was reunited here with his longtime and frequently lambasted X-Men colleague, penciler Werner Roth, and then I was reassured, when I noted that Dan Adkins had taken time off from his duties on Dr. Strange to rejoin Subby’s team as inker.  Unfortunately, even Dapper Dan’s firm hand seems unable to rein in the Plunderer and his crew, who continue to look like a bunch of clowns, but the good news is that Namor is eminently ready for his close-ups, and the Lady Dorma is as fetching as ever.  As for the story, the Rascally one appears to have run amok a bit, with perhaps one too many factions and/or coincidences in play, but I’ll admit it’s never dull.

Jack: I read this story and thought it committed the cardinal sin of being dull. The Roth/Adkins team is not a good match for the art and Subby looks more cartoony than ever. This strip is spinning its wheels right now. It's hard to believe Namor will get his own book soon.

Our Story

The Lord of the Living Lightning and his evil organization are on a roll after having tricked the Hulk into attacking a military base. The Hulk destroys tanks and causes enough chaos for the Lightning crew to swoop in and take over the whole base. Even with the Hulk knocked out by gas the damage has been done. General Ross is furious as he meets up with the Lightning leader. The Lightning head honcho wants Ross to surrender the base during a countrywide broadcast. Ross naturally balks at first until he is shown that the organization has his daughter held captive along with the unconscious Hulkster.

Tom: This story felt like a rehash of typical Hulk adventures from previous issues. By this point, the Hulk fighting the U.S. Army has grown stale since it seems like it is about the millionth time that he has done so. I did like Marie Severin’s artwork, though.

MB: Happy Herb winds up a five-issue stint inking Severin’s pencils, and I’m obliged to admit that Betty Ross looks as lovely as I ever remember seeing her in page 4, panel 4; the bird’s-eye-view shot in the next panel is also an interesting choice, emphasizing her dilemma.  I’ve only just tumbled to the “Bohemian Rhapsody”-style aptness of pitting the forces of General Thunderbolt Ross against the Legion of Living Lightning, although such cleverness, if intended, doesn’t get me excited about a storyline I still find tedious, since both the legion and its leader seem quite generic.  Somewhat uneven though it is, with a few bizarre poses thrown in (e.g., page 7, panel 1), the artwork remains the primary satisfaction, with Ross in high dudgeon.

Jack: Prof. Matthew, you called it right. The story is goofy fun but not particularly memorable, and the Lord of the Living Lightning seems to be having an awful lot of success for such a nobody. The best part of the story for me was the art, which has a crazy aspect to it that brings out Severin's tendency toward caricature.

Daredevil 35
Our Story

The villainous Trapster is out to redeem himself after a string of losses against the Fantastic Four. To get his street cred back, he goes after Daredevil with a foolproof plan to defeat him. Since he knows that Daredevil is always in contact with the law office, he attacks while Matt, Foggy, and Karen are there.  He blasts Karen and Foggy with his glue gun then brags to Matt about his plans to make Double D disappear. Daredevil goes out to face the Trapster and, when he finds him, the two battle it out. In a surprise maneuver, the Trapster uses some of the Wizard's gravitation discs to send Daredevil floating off into the sky. Thinking that Double D is done for, the villain then moves on to the next part of his plan and dresses up as Daredevil. He’s able to bluff his way into the Baxter Building while only Sue Richards is there. The Trapster easily subdues her with glue, then rigs her with explosives that will go off once her teammates return, triggered by their own body heat. Meanwhile, Daredevil is able to gradually get the discs off so he returns to the ground safely. Because the Trapster was smart enough to brag about attacking the Fantastic Four to Daredevil when he saw him last, our hero high tails it over to their headquarters. The story ends with Double D climbing up the Baxter building and attempting to get inside.

Tom: The Trapster is probably one of the lamest super-villains of all time. He makes the Beetle seem like Galactus. He’s definitely not interesting or fearsome enough to warrant more than a one-shot appearance. I’ve read worse Daredevil stories then this one,but that isn’t really saying much.

MB: So the erstwhile Paste-Pot Pete, tired of getting the traps kicked out of him as a member of that other FF, decides that everybody will be impressed if he takes out someone a bit more villain-friendly, and sets his sights on…DD?  Curious to know how many names he skipped over while working his way down the list.  I’m as big a fan of continued stories as the next dude, but only if they’re justified, and I’ve been sensitized to the padding issue by some recent annuals like, oh, Hornhead’s.  This issue contains not one but three full-page shots, including the splash, and while Gentleman Gene isn’t going to provide us with any dogs—snide Tartaglione comment optional—they’re not that spectacular, and they do seem to, shall we say, run out the clock a bit.

Jack: I loved this issue and I'm no fan of Paste-Pot Pete The Trapster. I like Colan's full-page panels and think his stories in general have a nice balance of words and pictures that make them flow smoothly and quickly toward a conclusion. I really liked the lack of silliness this issue and I thought it was neat that Sue Richards was alone in the Baxter Building when the Trapster showed up. The cliffhanger is exciting and I can't wait for next issue!

Matt uses Karen's nail polish
remover to dissolve the paste,
leaving a horrible smell in the
office that lasts for weeks.

The X-Men 39

Our Story

The stakes don't get any higher than this, as the 3rd version of the X-kids costumes are debuted. Or is it the long awaited return of Professor X? Oh, and that whole Factor Three "epic" story(awn)line comes to a, well, let's just say a conclusion. The Mutant Master's true identity is revealed, and the good and evil mutants join forces to defeat him.

JS: To start with the positive, this issue features an eye-catching cover.  In fact, one of my favorite if not my favorite thus far. Unfotunately, the old adage you should never judge a book by it's cover holds true here...

PE: So we've finally come to the end of the long "epic" known as The Factor Three arc and, as expected, it fails to deliver anything remotely resembling a thrill. In fact, "The End" is the only positive I can pull from this mess. I love when The X-Kids get their new uniforms from Jean Grey, who seems to have enough extra time on her hands to become a seamstress, and the winged X-mite exclaims "For the first time -- I really look like an angel!" Really? Angels dress in yellow and red spandex and suspenders? Not in any heaven I plan on retiring to. And Jean missed  the boat by not sewing up a halo for his head. As for "The Origin of The X-Men" back-up this issue, since it appears it will be a long-running feature (I haven't peeked) I'll cut Roy some slack but so far this should be titled "The Early Days of The X-Men Academy" rather than "Origins." We don't, as yet, get to see Cyclops lasering his way through his mother's womb or Icebaby sliding down a frozen slide at recess but I'm holding out hope. This feature certainly shows off Roy's budding writing chops much better than the lead-off. Now let's get him a competent artist.

Jack: The Factor Three conclusion was a little confusing until the big green guy from Sirius showed up and I perked up right away. What is with Sirius, anyway? They are always sending bad guys to take over the Earth. Must have lousy cable TV. As for the backup story, I thought it was cool to see a young Cyclops on the run, especially when he ended up with the hobo gang by the side of the railroad tracks. Does he have specially treated asbestos fingers? When his eye beam shot out he put his hand over the beam and it did what my garden hose does when I put my thumb over the water stream. It's a good thing we didn't get a panel of Scott Summers's amputated fingers.

JS: Did anyone else feel like the identity of The Mutant Master was decided on the page it was revealed? I agree with Professor Jack that it looked like things might be getting interesting—perhaps a visit from Cthulhu—but that excitement barely lasted the 9 panels he appears on before being dispatched.  At this point, I think we're all in agreement that what this comic needs is a visit from Frankenstein. But what are the odds of that ever happening...

Jack: Glenn--since I have not read a fanzine regularly since the late 70s, can you recommend anything (print or online) that is good to read now on classic comics like the ones we're reading? I don't read current comics but I would be interested to see what's being written on the older stuff.

Also this month

Marvel Collectors Item Classics #12
Millie the Model #156
Not Brand Echh #5
Rawhide Kid #61
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #49

1967 year-end review:

There was not much change from the beginning to the end of 1967 at the House of Ideas. The most stable series were
Daredevil, a monthly that was written by Stan Lee and drawn by Gene Colan all year, and Fantastic Four, also a monthly, which was written by Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby all year. Both series also had an annual by the same creative team.

Lee and John Romita collaborated on the monthly
Spider-Man, but Larry Lieber drew the annual. Roy Thomas wrote the monthly Avengers, but art chores bounced back and forth between John Buscema and Don Heck, and Heck drew the annual.

 and The X-Men were also monthlies, but had no annuals. Lee and Kirby produced Thor, which featured two different back-up series. The X-Men was written by Thomas and drawn by a series of artists, including Werner Roth, Ross Andru, Don Heck, Jack Sparling and Dan Adkins.

The three monthly shared comics continued to feature the same series.
Tales to Astonish had Sub-Mariner and the Hulk; Lee, Thomas and Raymond Marais wrote Subby while Lee alone wrote Hulk. Sub-Mariner's art was by Bill Everett, Adkins or Roth, while Hulk's art was by Buscema, Gil Kane, or Marie Severin. Herb Trimpe began inking Hulk in preparation for taking over the strip in later years.

Tales of Suspense, Lee and Colan were the creative team all year on Iron Man, while Captain America was written by Lee or Thomas and drawn by Kirby, Kane, Sparling or Colan.

Strange Tales
 featured Nick Fury, written by Thomas or Jim Steranko and drawn by Kirby and Steranko or Steranko alone. Dr. Strange was written by Lee, Thomas, Marais or Jim Lawrence and drawn by Everett, Severin, or Adkins.

In short, Marvel issued nine superhero comics per month in 1967. Stan Lee continued to be the busiest writer, though Roy Thomas was writing more and more. The art duties were spread out among many more artists, with Kirby leading the pack at two and a half books per month followed by Colan with one and a half.

There were few new characters introduced who would go down in comic history as major figures; most notable were the Kingpin (in
Spider-Man) and the Abomination (in Hulk). In the December issue of Marvel Super Heroes, Captain Marvel was introduced--he was the only new hero of the year with his own strip.

The cover price for regular-sized comics remained twelve cents; for giant-sized books it was twenty-five cents. Marvel continued to publish four westerns:
Kid Colt Outlaw, Two-Gun Kid, Rawhide Kid, and the new Ghost Rider were all bi-monthly (Ghost Rider actually had seven issues in 1967 before being canceled before year end). Marvel began to pull back from its humor comics, as both Patsy and Hedy and Modeling With Millie were canceled, leaving Millie the Model alone among these books that predated 1967. Millie also had an annual, as did the monthly Sgt. Fury, the only war comic.

Marvel also kept publishing three twenty-five cent, bi-monthly reprint titles:
Marvel Tales, Marvel Collector's Item Classics, and Fantasy Masterpieces. The last issue this year of Fantasy Masterpieces was retitled Marvel Super Heroes; it featured a new lead story with Captain Marvel along with the usual selection of reprints.

Finally, the satirical humor comic
 Brand Ecch (retitled Not Brand Ecch partway through the year) began as a monthly in August.

In 1967 Marvel published a minimum of 14 comics a month (four times) and a maximum of 19 comics in one month. The stability of the line in 1967 gave little warning of the explosion soon to come.


  1. What kind of cruel cosmic joke would conspire to deprive me--the faculty's dedicated Captain Marvel scholar--of not only the seminal FF issues introducing the Kree, but also (thanks to the vagaries of MARVEL SPECTACULAR) the Inhumans segment explaining their origin? Fie!

    Yes, it was awfully considerate of Magneto to wrap that chain around Wanda in a way that emphasized her ample, uh, assets.

    Don't quote me, but I believe Quartermain does finally grow out of the "Man Who Laughs" bit.

    Professor Jack, when you see the talent that initially handles Namor's solo title, you'll be singing "I'm a Believer!"

    Jack, I presume you were largely or wholly responsible for the year-end review (which I always appreciate). You can see why the very regularity you mention--nine super-hero books comprising twelve strips, month in and month out--helped make Captain Marvel's debut such a big deal for me.

  2. Matthew, if you would only start reading these things on disc you'd never miss an issue!

  3. Professor Jack, you are, as usual, correct. But here's my dilemma: with such a relatively small number of holes in my collection (albeit some truly vexing ones, as this example shows), it makes no fiscal sense for me to start acquiring the discs myself, yet I hate to bother the Dean by asking him to burn an issue here and an issue there on my behalf. Oh, to be wealthy or less considerate! :-)

    Quite a dramatic change in your avatar's persona, BTW.

  4. Sorry guys. I've been digging holes in the back yard looking for a blocked drain, and I'm way behind schedule.

    In October, we saw the first Silver Surfer solo story. We'll have to wait almost a year for an ongoing series. With CM, we get the first silver age Marvel character given a solo spot with no creative input from Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby. With Stan at the helm, we get a weak concept, and the patented Stan Lee soap opera romantic triangle. For mine, CM was Marvel's worst strip since the Torch (and Thing) series.

    Steranko: I plan to write a piece about Steranko, but in the meantime, here's the most likely inspiration for Clay Quartermain.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    1. [insert sound of professor matthew slinking away, tail planted firmly between legs]

  5. Glenn-

    I'm hoping this piece on Steranko can appear here on MU. Please let me know. We'll do it up as a Sunday Special if you'd be amenable.

    As far as Cap Marvel goes, I'm somewhere in the middle. I found the story to be intriguing and nowhere near the landfill known as Strange Tales featuring The Human Torch and The Thing. I can see where some may find it unremarkable as well. As has been noted time and again though, that's what makes this blog (and comic books in general) so much fun: the discussion and the dissension. Just as long as no one disagrees with my evaluation of Steve Englehart's Captain America as the greatest written comic book in history, there will be no real arguments though :>

  6. And, as a follow-up on this installment, let me say that Professor Jack is wholly responsible for the Year-End lookback. All reading this blog should give Jolly Jack a standing ovation for his work.

  7. I fear Glenn will find ample opportunity for dissension when he reads my reviews of the next five issues of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES/CAPTAIN MARVEL.

    I always praise Professor Jack's "lookbacks," one of my favorite features.