Wednesday, August 15, 2012

January 1968: The Origin of Baby Black Bolt!

Daredevil 36
Our Story

Daredevil arrives at the Baxter building just in the nick of time to save Sue Storm from an impending explosion set up by the diabolical Trapster. The bomb is set to go off once it senses someone’s body heat entering the room. Daredevil manages to use his club to take it out of a drawer and knock it way up into the outside air where it explodes. The rest of the Fantastic Four arrive along with the angry Trapster. Double D and the villain renew their fight while the F.F. decide to stay out of it at our hero’s behest. The Trapster gives Daredevil more than a run for his money as they battle it out in the sky, inside fancy buildings, and on the street. Meanwhile, Foggy has had a busy day as he has been asked by the big politicos to run for D.A. He also receives a phone call from a notorious woman from his past. Back in hero fisticuffs land, Daredevil finally appears to win when he tackles the Trapster down a stairwell leading to the subway. Our battle fatigued hero can hear someone taking the Trapster away. He later hears the approaching metal footsteps of none other than Doctor Doom!

Tom: Daredevil doesn’t seem to be faring that well lately against some mediocre super-villains. He got beaten by the Beetle a couple of issues ago; now he was barely able to take down the pathetic Trapster. You would have thought it was the Rhino he had been fighting by the story’s end. I can understand the creators wanting to make it not too easy for Double D, but have him go up against some other baddie like the Lizard, or Dr. Doom…okay, that cliff hanger is one of the best this series has had in a while. The appearance of the evil Doctor almost makes me not feel queasy after reading about Foggy going down a political path again and that floozie from issues 10 and 11 making a strange reappearance.

MB: I know my bare•bones colleagues talk about “cheat” covers, depicting events not found inside, and unless I missed something in this story—or it’s being withheld until next ish—this is a particularly egregious example, giving the impression that the Trapster has delivered DD to the unseen Dr. Doom. After a steady diet of Tartaglione, we welcome back the sorely missed Frank Giacoia, although it looks like we’re kicking off a round-robin of inkers over the next few months, so we should not be complacent. This Trapster two-parter further cements Hornhead’s relationship with the Fantastic Four (which dates back to an earlier DD/FF/Doom imbroglio that I don’t have), and Doom’s last-minute appearance here will shortly result in an actual cross-over.

Jack: Try as I may, I just can't get too worked up over a villain who shoots paste. And didn't Foggy run for D.A. before? Wasn't it a set-up? Wasn't Debbie Harris involved? By the way, now we know what to do when your paste gun runs out of paste. Same thing you do when your revolver runs out of bullets--throw the gun! I did not expect to see Dr. Doom at the end; maybe Daredevil will just fight the Fantastic Four's villains from now on.

Hel-lo Foggy! 

Tales of Suspense 97
Iron Man
Our Story

Iron Man lies helpless after having his circuits fried (if you didn't read the last issue, then shame on you--Pesky Pete) and SHIELD agent Jasper Sitwell doesn't seem to be able to do a thing about it. Small explosives won't work so Sitwell heads off to find Tony Stark, not knowing he's in the armor right in front of him. Meanwhile, Tony Stark's trouble-making cousin, Morgan, has been gambling with the house's money on a floating casino owned by The Maggia. When he's lost everything (and then some) he's brought before The Big M, the mysterious head of the crime organization. Facing sure death at the hands (and whip) of The Maggia's new secret weapon, the villain known as Whiplash, Morgan promises to deliver Iron Man on a silver platter. Traveling to Stark Industries, Morgan convinces police he's there to transport Iron Man to cousin Tony. Unknown to the lousy excuse for a cousin, I.M. has used a backseat lighter jack to recharge a bit of his power and manages to make a scene once he's on the ship. Unfortunately for our red and gold avenger, his power charge doesn't last long and just as his strength is at his lowest ebb, he faces Whiplash!

PE: This is the character made famous by the sleep-walking Mickey Rourke in Iron Man 2. It'll be interesting to see how closely Favreau stuck to the comic character (I'm suspecting not too) but already I like this version better than the cinematic one. In that story, Whiplash was a former associate of Stark's father who believes he was wronged by the senior billionaire munitions genius and goes after the son to collect past dues. This story itself isn't much, just a lot of set-up scenes for the obvious "Next Issue Battle Royale!" How could Tony not have warned his guards years before that this Morgan character is not to be let into a factory filled with big guns? I usually like to let the surprises come to me as they're unfurled but I was puzzled by the fact that "The Big M" is kept in constant shadows and never unveiled. Usually that means it'll be someone we've gotten to know before (The Mandarin, Foggy Nelson, Mary Jane Watson, etc.). I snuck a peek at who the mafia chief is when finally revealed and must say I don't understand the secrecy. Stan was playing mind games (and they worked!).

MB: The Lee/Colan/Giacoia team is really on a roll here, segueing from the Grey Gargoyle to Shellhead’s imminent first fracas with Whiplash, a villain who never made it into the top ranks, but endured in his multiple guises (aka Blacklash) for more than thirty years. The resurgence of Tony Stark’s slimeball cousin, Morgan, never bodes well for Iron Man, and this story is no exception, smoothly transferring our underpowered hero from the frying pan into the fire. But it’s good news for the reader that everyone’s favorite not-very-thinly disguised crime cartel, the Maggia, is back, at least the branch headed by sometime I.M. foe Count Nefaria, and along with it comes the mystery surrounding the identity of Whiplash’s boss, the new Big M.

PE: Poor Gene Colan, saddled with all the lame relative subplots. Maybe Stan should have created a Mike and Morgan title. What senses-shattering fun that would have been. At least, we're semi-certain that Morgan isn't an alter ego of Tony Stark. I hope I haven't given any of those Marvel reboot boys an idea.

Captain America
Our Story

It's still open season on Captain America and the star-spangled avenger faces underworld goons around every corner, this time facing a menace known as The Mauler. Cap makes quick work of the big lug, though, and then sets off to police headquarters to report the attack. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Wakanda, The Black Panther finds himself at the receiving end of a series of attacks. For some reason, he contacts Captain America and tells him that the matter concerns him as well. Cap hops into The Panther's sky craft and heads for Wakanda, never knowing that his true love, SHIELD's Agent 13, may be on the most dangerous mission of her life.

PE: I think Professor Matthew noted that it's a bit strange that the underworld decided that now was a good time to ice Captain America since he had revealed his secret identity to the world. I mean, there was no shortage of Cap appearances on the street pre-unmasking, but maybe this is what has recharged Cap's patriotic and civil responsibility senses. One of the goons must have landed a huge blow to Cap's head (I thought maybe we were going to have another selective amnesia storyline) as he clearly can't remember who attacked him. Cap tells the police chief, as he's looking through the mug books, that he's recognized the goons as members of the syndicate. This despite the fact that he tells "The Mauler" as they're fighting that he's familiar with the man's reputation. The NYPD was such an efficient engine in 1967 that they had a doctor stationed in the precinct!

MB: In the post-Serpico era, it’s fashionable to be cynical about our men in blue, yet I’m idealistic enough to appreciate the pro-police tone of this episode (“If you need help, sing out!”) and the concurrent FF, with its nice teamwork between Reed and the NYPD in the Thinker’s hideout. Cap seems to have picked up his shield again with no more soul-searching, and his fight with the Mauler and friend held up his end of the action quotient for this issue. Not sure why we had to “re-introduce” the Black Panther, seen just two months ago in this year’s FF annual, but he’s a welcome presence in any case, and well matched with his future fellow Avenger, since both are basically consummate athletes, rather than super-powered heroes.

PE: I'm usually the one who ignores the pencil/inks aspect of the strip and just enjoys the flow of the story. I have to say though that I'm beginning to understand the love for Joe Sinnott on Kirby's inks. The art here is dynamic and helps the reader overlook the shortcomings of a story where nothing really happens save a really intriguing set-up. I'm tempted to cheat again and find out exactly how long we have to deal with the annoying "Unnamed Agent 13" nonsense. 

The Mighty Thor 148
Our Story

Furious that Loki, Balder and Sif have defied his orders to keep away from Thor down here on our planet, Odin zaps the trio with a bolt that renders them as powerless as the Thunder God. No longer having any advantage over his brother, Loki flees. The three musketeers hang out in a logical hiding place—the office of Dr. Blake, where a stunned food delivery boy can’t quite believe who his latest customers are. Crime keeps moving in the big city; this time a slippery eel of a costumed robber who calls himself the Wrecker is making the rounds in town. Hiding from the police, he breaks into an apartment, intending to rob its occupant. Said occupant just happens to be a hiding-out guy named Loki, who at that moment was using what magic he had left to call upon his sister in evil the Norn Queen—to borrow a little of her nasty magic. The God of Evil sets out to teach the Wrecker a lesson. Without his powers, he’s not much stronger than the invading mortal, whose trademark weapon, a huge crowbar, knocks Loki out in a skilled throw. Thinking Loki’s helmet to be a stolen treasure of some kind, the Wrecker tries it on. At that moment the Norn Queen appears, answering the summons. From behind, she thinks the Wrecker (whose costume at a glance is quite similar to that of her Asgardian counterpart) is Loki. End result: the wrong bad guy gets some newfound powers, which he tests out by ordering Loki “back where he came from.” Watching some TV with their dinner, the Asgardian warriors get their call to duty when they see the havoc the newly powerful Wrecker is causing. He’s not hard to find, tearing a building apart, and when Thor and his companions arrive, the Wrecker starts by sending Balder and Sif, like Loki, back to Asgard. Once there, the loyal duo appeal to Odin for help, but he dismisses them, as Thor wages a difficult battle. 

We learn the origin of Black Bolt in the Inhumans story this month. His parents were Agon and Rynda, brilliant scientists of Attilan, who altered his genetic pattern to give him the ability to harness power from the electrons around him. They didn’t realize that Black Bolt also gained another power: a voice whose high-pitched sounds, while silent, cause vibrations of great destruction, and which the young Inhuman will have to learn to control.

JB: I’m not really a fan of the Wrecker, but after the Circus Of Crime, he was a welcome improvement. The way he gets his power, in place of Loki instead of from him, is interesting. Still, even the name Wrecker sounds forgettable. The Earthbound antics of our heroes, chowing down and watching TV, are the most fun moments of the story. The art has it’s moments (e.g., a nice cover); Thor’s T seems to be back on his belt for the most part. The oddly placed Inhumans tales in Thor nonetheless give us some welcome background on these enduring characters.

 MB: Marvel Spectacular ended here in November 1975, after only 19 issues; apparently, reprints of Thor’s exploits did not sell as well as those of Spider-Man, the Hulk, or the Fantastic Four, all of which lasted into the ’80s. Luckily, I was able in later years to acquire originals that dated back to next issue, and thus have the last few episodes of the short-lived Inhumans back-up feature. As for the main story, I was totally ready for the Wrecker and his crowbar to follow the template established by the Absorbing Man and his wrecking ball, and be transformed by Loki’s power into his latest proxy weapon against the Thunder God, when Stan pleasantly changed it up by throwing the Norn Queen into the equation, resulting in a formidable and enduring super-foe.

PE: For once, The Marvel Misunderstanding provides a hook for an enjoyable story. How bizarre it is to see Loki without his helmet for, I believe, the first time in 66 issues. The reasoning behind The Wrecker receiving his super powers ("Well, heck, I've always wanted to wear the helmet of a Norse God!") is A-One lame but forgivable since the events that follow are so much fun. Good to see the strip back in the "Can't Wait to Read" pile after the short detour the last few issues. Genuinely funny scene where the three once-immortals try to make sense of television (and that's quite some news team that exclaims that The Wrecker "is reported to possess the enchanted power of Asgard!" How'd they find that out?) and decide that watching Gods glide through the air in Asgard is somehow more magical. I will say though, the "Odin is pissed...Odin loves his son...Odin is pissed" roulette wheel is a device that should be retired as soon as possible.

We get to see the first part of the origin of Black Bolt in the Inhumans back-up this issue. Watching Baby Bolt unleash a wail of pure power that lays waste to the city around him, all the while clutching his favorite rattle, is priceless entertainment. Good show, Jack!

Fantastic Four 70
Our Story

Using knowledge of the Mad Thinker’s last known hideout, Reed, Johnny and the police find they are indeed in the right place—and so are the guarding killer androids. The duo's powers dispatch the lifeless entities and find the man himself, who floods the room with water. Ben, meanwhile, walks the city streets in his flimsy disguise until, frustrated at the taxis passing him by, he reveals himself. The police can’t stop him and he disappears down a manhole, catching a ride on a passing subway train. Its driver unwittingly puts the other members of the F.F. in trouble by asking the Thing why he’s not helping them defeat the Mad Thinker, whose whereabouts the news has been broadcasting. Before Ben can find them, Reed and Johnny manage to capture the Thinker and save the real Santini. It seems their foe’s constant calculations forget to take into account the fighting human spirit. A minute or two is all the rest they get, however, as Ben makes the scene. Reed and Johnny hold him off until they can redirect the battle to the Baxter Building by hitching a ride on a passing police helicopter. The last laugh goes to the Mad Thinker who, although in prison, sends a signal from his seemingly normal watch to his last—and most powerful—android. Just as Sue investigates the noise at the Baxter Building from Ben’s battle with her teammates, she enters the scene to find what appear to be three dead teammates and the twelve-foot tall killer android coming through the wall.

JB: The defeat of the Mad Thinker doesn’t take too long. For a genius, he sure makes a lot of miscalculations. The storyline feels like it could have happened in an issue or less, but wait…we’re not done yet! Actually I’m looking forward to the super-android next issue; he likely has more personality than his creator. Perhaps some of the disappointment with this issue may come from the promise of the cover, when in fact it would work just as well for next time.

MB: As a continuity freak, I’m probably making too much of this, but since we have clear confirmation here that Crystal knows Sue is pregnant, then Fantastic Four Special #5 almost certainly must take place before #68, even though the latter opens with Alicia recovering from the previous issue. Be that as it may, this might be considered an equally strong candidate for next month’s generic cover line, “Sizzling Big Action Issue!,” since it is little more than wall-to-wall mayhem between the Thrilling Three and the forces at the Mad Thinker’s disposal, which at this point still include a brainwashed Ben. Unlike the Thing, I’m a sucker for Reed’s inspiring speeches, especially when he makes one while beating the crap out of the villain, as he does here.

PE: I'm interested to see what The Invisible Girl's pregnancy term will be -- nine issues? Nine Marvel months? Things could get dicey in the Marvel chronology. A bit ludicrous to have us believe that Ben Grimm can hide in a crowd with a green overcoat and white fedora. I was hoping "The King" would have drawn a fake mustache on to complete the charade. The Thinker predicts he will overpower the FF in 2 minutes and 12 seconds. It doesn't happen. He predicts that he'll have hand-to-hand combat with Stretcho and best him. Doesn't happen. When will the general public realize that The Mad Thinker has actually never been right about anything? This issue (and, ostensibly, the next) will be filed in the "weak but not horrible" pile.

Tales to Astonish 99
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The people of Atlantis head out in their underwater ships to go attack the surface world. Namor is against this mainly because he is being left out after mistakenly having been labeled a traitor thanks to the Plunderer’s shenanigans. Prince Namor really gets worked up when he realizes that his military troops are going to use the Hurricane Inducer machine as a weapon. He’s worried that, since the machine has never been properly tested, it can destroy both warring parties. Not having the luxury of being able to take his time and use covert stealth to gain entry inside of the ship that’s carrying the machine, Namor tears his way into it. This leads to him having to take out a few guards before finding the Hurricane Inducer, which has already been turned on. Sub-Mariner frantically batters the machine, causing it to begin to self-destruct. In order to save the troops that are in the surrounding ships trying to rescue it, Namor crashes the machine carrying ship into the side of a mountain, after which he escapes unharmed. Without the machine, the Atlantis troops figure it would probably be safer to go home and plan to attack the surface another day. Namor swims off on his own, determined to win back his subjects' respect. 

Mr. Spock? 

Tom: This story went along how I pretty much expected it would with the whole war of the surface world versus Atlantis being avoided because it was just a tease to begin with to get the readers more interested. That’s fine. What I didn’t like was Namor’s uncharacteristic attitude at the end of the comic. He feels that he needs to prove his loyalty when he did absolutely nothing wrong to be deemed a traitor in the first place. The old Namor that I read at the beginning of this series would have just swum back to Atlantis and punished everybody for their betrayal. Dorma would have been lucky to not be in the dungeons along with the old man.

MB: I believe this is the first Marvel credit for “Artful Archie” Goodwin, their “newest stupefyin’ scriptwriter,” who, according to a Bullpen Bulletin, “had been editor and head writer…for another publishing company until recently when he saw the light and entered the sanctified realm of True Believers.” I didn’t realize he was recruited this early, and I don’t really have a handle on his work in the Bronze Age (he was briefly their Editor-in-Chief, the last before the Shooter Apocalypse), so I will be watching carefully for his byline on subsequent efforts. But I must say that straight out of the gate, Archie seems to have a good feel for Subby’s character, effectively mingling his concern for his people with his ire at the false treason charges.

Jack: Goodwin's name is the best thing about this dull story. For some reason, Sub-Mariner has been relegated to the Hulk spot at the back of the book and Hulk is now up front.

Our Story

The Lords of Lightning have locked Betty away  in the same room as the Hulk. Thunderbolt Ross is furious as the evil organization tries to get him to surrender the military base over the radio so it’s broadcast across the country. When the Hulk awakens, the head Lightning bad guy tells him that Betty is against him. This proves to be a wrong move that gets the Hulk angry enough to attack the villain. The other Lightning troops shoot the Hulk with their electric guns, causing him to turn back into Bruce Banner. Luckily for our heroes, Major Talbot is able to escape and alert the U.S. military about their predicament. Using their own weapons against them, the Major is able to help everyone escape while the head bad guy and a small crew take off back to their base. It is there that they plan to unleash their missiles in an act of war. With no choice left, Thunderbolt orders the Hulk to be reactivated as Banner uses one of the older machines he invented to transform himself back into the monster. Once he does, the Hulk is in a vengeful mood as he goes off and attacks the Lightning’s headquarters. Our story ends with the Hulk destroying their missiles along with the whole base. Military jets arrive but quickly leave, figuring no creature on Earth could have survived such a huge explosion. 

Tom: This was a fitting, nihilistic ending to an organization that shouldn’t have been around long enough to take up three issues. What happened to their flying saucer mascot? Were they Communists? Did the organization have good medical insurance for its employees? So many questions that will hopefully never be answered.

MB: Even Greenskin was presumed killed (yeah, right) by the atomic blast that ends this story—although I don’t have next issue’s Hulk/Namor tussle to see how the aftermath was handled—so it seemed safe to assume that we’d seen the last of the Legion of the Living Lightning. But if you can believe it, in 1990, Roy Thomas of all people co-created Living Lightning, the villain-turned-gay-Avenger whose father, Carlos Santos, was a hitherto unnamed member of the Legion. I’d say that is perhaps the most unnecessary quasi-revival of an obscure character ever; meanwhile, although I’m never above making John Tartaglione a whipping boy, he doesn’t stink up the joint here, and perhaps meshes better with Marie’s style than with others.

Prof. Matthew's comment about a villain-turned-
gay-Avenger sheds new light on this panel.
Jack: Hulk. Banner. Hulk. Banner. Make up your mind already! The art is pretty dreadful and doesn't look like what we've gotten used to from Marie Severin. Why go to all the trouble of putting BB in the gamma ray machine? Why not just get him really mad?

The Amazing Spider-Man 56
Our Story

Still suffering from selective amnesia and under the sway of Doctor Octopus, The Amazing Spider-Man is ordered to steal Isotope 16 from Fort Tyson so that Ock can completely control the Nullifier. Once at the base, Spidey fights his fogginess and manages to come out from under the hold of Octopus. Colonel John Jameson rips the Nullifier from the tentacles of the evil genius and uses it against him to save the day. Spider-Man swings away, still not knowing who he is but at least suspecting he's one of the good guys.

PE: Let's ignore for a moment the ludicrostinations - yes, that is a real word when you're reviewing comic books, now stop asking questions and let me finish!--in this issue, such as why a man with amnesia remembers he has a scientific background, a secret identity, and should follow the orders of a bad guy even though all "his fiber" tells him not to. Seriously, how many thought balloons reading "Am I really a criminal? If so, why do I want to do good?" I've never had amnesia so I could be wrong but it seems to me it would be tantamount to losing your equilibrium 100 feet under the surface of the ocean and not knowing what's up and what's down. How does Spidey remember that web gunk comes out his wrist? That he sticks to walls? He doesn't even question these seriously odd occurrences. This arc has overstayed its welcome by at least two issues and threads from it threaten to hang for at least one more before we get on to more intelligent business. The only novel aspect of this installment is the fact that Spider-Man really had nothing to do with the foiling of Ock at the climax, the hero being John Jameson.

MB: Amnesia isn’t exactly an unusual comic-book plot device, even here in this title, but I like how Stan handles Spidey’s dilemma, tormented by the tension between his reflexive aversion to crime and Doc Ock’s “programming.” On the visual side, this is a splendid example of the Romita/Esposito team doing its thing: the supporting cast—including the newly introduced Captain Stacy, whose fate will be intertwined with Ock’s from his first appearance to his last—look just as I always picture them, while the action scenes are fluid and energetic, even if the climactic battle seemed a bit too short. Interesting that they wrap up the Nullifier storyline but not Spidey’s memory loss, presumably to be resolved in the next issue (which I do not have).

PE: Until re-reading this issue (the first time in over 40 years), I didn't remember that Captain Stacy had come out of retirement to become a captain. And the good captain must have had Gwendy when he was already an old timer. He could easily pass as her gramps. As Professor Matthew hints, this was one of the solidest of The Amazing Spider-Man's supporting cast despite the relative brevity of his stay. Even as a lad who knew no better, I always thought of Captain Stacy as one of the really good guys.

Jack: I have not been reading this series, but I think the last couple of covers have been outstanding!

The X-Men 40
 Our Story

With Factor Three defeated, we can drop right back into the X-formula. Kicking things off just as you'd expect, in the Danger Room, just in time to be interrupted by the newly returned Prof, who got right down to business by locating Frankenstein's Monster. Although it's not the Monster we all know and love, mind you, but an Android. Amazingly enough, Chuck's crackpot theory is dead on, and he determines that Frankie was created by an alien race!

JS: Monster lovers unite! Baron Victor Frankenstein's creation makes his Marvel debut to class up one of their lesser titles. What's that? Not the real monster? Aliens? Were they fans of Mary Shelley's novel?

PE: Well, I've found nothing resembling intelligence or entertainment in the pages of this title in years but, while the intelligence is still nowhere to be found, this issue was mildly amusing and distracting. Adding The Frankenstein Monster to the mix obviously has something to do with that. I'm a sucker for a monster mash and I loved Gary Friedrich's take on the creature when The Monster got its own Marvel title in 1973 (lasting only 18 issues). Unfortunately, Rascally Roy feels the need to make The Monster his own, transforming the classic jigsaw puzzle man into an android created by aliens and left on earth as an ambassador to the stars 150 years earlier. This Monster comes complete with magnetic feet, laser-beam eyes and snappy banter. This classic Monster fan hopes the Mary Shelley version will be restored to its former glory when he makes his next appearance in Silver Surfer #7 (August 1969). Our "Origins of The X-Men" feature this issue gives us insight into the "first evil mutant," Jack Winters, a fella who has a nasty radioactive accident and finds he can teleport short distances and hands of diamond. Lucky the guy wasn't named Fred or Charlie as Jack O' Diamonds has a better ring to it.

JS: I just don't get it. If you're going to pit the X-kiddies against an Android from outer space, why not just do that? What's the point of using Frankenstein if that's only going to upset and/or offend fans of the creature? It's clear that if there were a shark to jump, we vaulted over that some time ago, but I'm particularly disappointed as a monster kid to see one of our A-listers get the B treatment in a C book.

Jack: I guess commenting that an issue of X-Men was pretty bad is kind of pointless. This one was really dumb, though. If there's one artist who can make Heck look like Heck, it's George Tuska, "Mr. Teeth." I do want to point out that the Angel compares some cars to Aurora models, which suggests that Roy Thomas was looking at his Aurora model of Frankenstien when he dreamed up this dud of a story. The Frankenstein model was introduced in 1961 and sold like wildfire. Here's a website with more details.

JS: I can't wait until the next issue, when the X-Men go in search of The Loch Ness Monster. I'm only kidding. Although mark my words, they will eventually run into Sasquatch...

PE: Lots of big announcements in the Bullpen Pages this month. Stan welcomes the great Archie Goodwin to the Marvel staff for the first time. Archie had been doing a bang up job over at Warren (in fact, one can argue that the illustrated Warren collapsed after his departure) and Stan must have been taking notice of that. We're celebrating Archie's tenure on Detective Comics over at barebones. The Man also answers the age-old question: What is that little stamp in the corner of the cover? Our fearless editor explains what the Comics Code does and assures fans that Marvel loves loves loves The CCA and would never do anything to cross them. Stay tuned for more developments!

Jack: I give that loving relationship about 3 1/2 more years.

Strange Tales 164
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Instead of being “volatized” by the Ultimate Annihilator, Fury is whisked to an undisclosed location with the Matter-Warp Machine by Suwan, who is forced to teleport him again immediately to prevent his discovery by Voltzmann. While the Claw tests his new toy by disintegrating a satellite in Earth orbit, Fury recovers from his near-death experience and, although warned on pain of death by the medics to rest, follows up on a tip about an enemy agent’s meeting with the Claw. Rendered invisible by the new Spectre-Suit, Nick penetrates the villain’s lair, only to find himself hovering above New York City in the Sky-Dragon, the Claw’s answer to the Helicarrier; stricken with infirmity, Fury is captured and placed under the weapon.

MB: There’s a nice irony here in that this thoroughly modern “twelve-page happening…art nouveau Marvel-style” is inked by a Golden Age veteran, Bill Everett, obviously using a very light touch, because Steranko’s pencils shine through unimpeded. Perhaps the visual highlight is their vivid depiction of the Yellow Claw, who looks truly evil, every inch the embodiment of the so-called “yellow peril” that he and his apparent inspiration, Fu Manchu, represent. But there’s plenty to choose from, ranging from the throwaway cameo by James Bond in page 3, panel 5 and another of Steranko’s film noir-style stogie-lighting shots to the spectacular interiors of the Claw’s secret sanctum and the S.H.I.E.L.D. med center, topped off by that full-page reveal of the Sky-Dragon.

PE: I should have had confidence in Steranko to explain the use of an invisible car with an all-too-visible driver. His energy suit is a bit of comic book brilliance but I'm still not certain about lane-changing and parallel parking. The Contessa's impersonation of Mary Jane Watson isn't working for me. I have a vague recollection of her being an elderly female spy in the 1970s Captain America and The Falcon strip which works much better for her character, I think (in particular, an arc where Nick is convinced that Steve Rogers and Val are doing the horizontal bop behind his back). Great Bond-esque cliffhanger as well. For the first time, the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip becomes the back-up. From here on out, Doc Strange and Nick Fury will alternate lead roles. This falls in line with the other two anthology titles.

Jack: I thought Bill Everett's inks just weren't right for Steranko's dynamic pencils. The Yellow Claw is yellower than ever and his stringy saliva reminded me of any number of EC characters. As for the cliffhanger, I could almost hear William Dozier's voice echoing: "Same Bat Time! Same Bat Channel!"

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Searching for Victoria Bentley, Dr. Strange finds himself drawn to a mysterious planet, where he fights off a giant slug and a huge bat before seeing the image of Yandroth, Scientist Supreme. Yandroth plans to make Victoria his queen as he rules over many planets--unless our hero can stop him!

Dan Adkins put Surrealistic Pillow on the
turntable and let his mind expand.
MB: In retrospect, the most significant thing about this episode is probably the debut of Yandroth, the “scientist supreme” who’ll be responsible for the formation of the Defenders, just as Loki was for the Avengers. But it is also another visual feast, with Dan Adkins back in full pulp-SF mode, pitting Strange against a giant, shrieking slug and a bat-wing demon amid the alien landscapes of Yandroth’s as-yet-unnamed “nightmare world” (last issue’s tag, of course, made me think Nightmare was going to be our villain). Although she is basically offstage the whole time, as leading ladies in this strip sadly tend to be, Victoria Bentley’s visage can be glimpsed on the stunning splash page that juxtaposes Strange with the visions in his mind.

Jack: I flipped through the first zillion pages of the Essentials volume but could not locate another panel with a giant slug, so perhaps Dan Adkins was adept at drawing creepy crawlies all on his own. Dr. S. actually recalls Clea for a panel or two-he is such a player!

The Avengers 48
Our Story

Magneto has Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch shackled, but Quicksilver manages to send an S.O.S. to the Avengers. Giant-Man Ant-Man Goliath, the Wasp and Hawkeye get the message and respond. Meanwhile, Dane Whitman digs up his uncle's Black Knight tools and suits up as the new Black Knight, determined to make up for his uncle's misdeeds. He tries to recruit the Avengers to rescue Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch but the Avengers think he's a bad guy and a fight breaks out. Once the misunderstanding has been cleared up, the trio gets ready to rescue their comrades.

MB: This time, Tuska not only provides the inks but also pinch-hits for Buscema (who will be back with a, shall we say, vengeance next issue) on pencils, and since he may have been working on short notice, I’d say he does a creditable job. My frustration that the showdown with Magneto has been deferred yet again is compounded by the misunderstanding between the rump Assemblers and the new Black Knight, but I’ll try to accentuate the positive. Those of us in the know about Marvel’s future history were ready for Dane Whitman to armor up and make amends for Uncle Nathan; he’s a likable character who looks stupendous and—along with flying horse Aragorn—will have an impact exceeding his limited appearances, especially on the Defenders.

The Board of Health shut down this casino
the very next day.
Jack: I have never been a big fan of George Tuska's art but it looked pretty good in this issue. If I were the Black Knight, I would have called up the Avengers and said, "Hey! My uncle was a bad guy but I'm not. Want to see my cool flying horse?" Instead, Dane the Dopey flies in and everyone (understandably) thinks he's his uncle. He doesn't help matters when he accidentally starts shooting beams out of his lance!

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #1

Kid Colt Outlaw #138
Marvel Tales #12
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #50
Two-Gun Kid #91

Feeling that one war title wasn't enough, Marvel let loose Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders, a Gary Friedrich-penned rip-off of Marvel's own Sgt. Fury, illustrated by Golden Age artist Syd Shores. Captain Savage lasted a mere 19 issues (until March 1970), with a title change to...and His Battlefield Raiders with the 9th issue. Ostensibly the nine-year olds had no idea what a leatherneck was. The band of merry warriors actually got their first appearance way back in the pages of Sgt. Fury #10.


  1. "I'm usually the one who ignores the pencil/inks aspect of the strip and just enjoys the flow of the story." That's why you have me, Paste-Pot! Welcome aboard the Joltin' Joe Love Train.

    Working ahead as I usually do, I have actually come to the end of Steranko's tenure on the solo S.H.I.E.L.D. book, and now is as good a time as any to get this heretical admission out of the way: I prefer his Fury stories in STRANGE TALES. There, I've said it.

    Speaking of Fury, I'm a little sorry I never read the war comics, if only because I now know that Captain Savage and His Jarhead Raiders will eventually tangle with Baron Strucker and Hydra.

  2. Up until this point in comic book history, original artwork was drawn at twice the size of the printed page, on sheets of paper roughly 20'' by 14''. Over at DC, Murphy Anderson began drawing his pages at one and a half times the printed size, on paper 15'' by 11''. Eventually, it became the industry standard, and at Marvel, the new size began across the board with books carrying a January 1968 cover date, although some books went to the smaller size a little earlier. The Captain America story in TOS #95 a couple of months ago was Kirby's first work at the new size.

    Jack Kirby didn't like the smaller size, nor did Steve Ditko, who will start working for DC in a couple of months time. However, other artists, notably Gene Colan and Neal Adams, preferred the new size. So, why the change?

    According to Mark Evanier, there was money to be saved in the printing process. The finished pages had to be photographed so that the engraver could make the printing plates. Four pages of artwork at the new size could be photographed at the same time on one negative. With the old size, the pages had to be photographed two at a time, and the two negatives composited before going to the engraver.

    Also, back then, paper came in sheets 30'' by 22''. This was called an imperial sheet, and the old comic book pages were drawn on paper slightly smaller than one half of an imperial sheet. The new size, 15'' by 11'' was exactly one quarter of an imperial sheet, so twice as many pages could be cut from the same sheet of paper.

    Artists weren't the only people who needed to adjust. Letterer's had to reduce the size of their lettering by twenty five percent to fit in with the new page size, but sometimes, old habits die hard.

    Later in the year, when we get to Spidey Annual #5 we'll find out just how long it took to produce those annuals. The first 20 pages were penciled on the old sized paper, and therefore must have been completed before the end of 1967. Some time after January 1968, the rest of the story was drawn on the new smaller pages. The forty penciled pages were then sent to Artie Simek, who would have started at page one and trawled his way to the end. However, he forgot to adjust the size of his lettering, because, starting on page 21 of the published book, the lettering suddenly gets noticeably larger.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)