The Red Skull's henchmen kidnap the newly-christened Sharon Carter (at last, no more SPOILER WARNINGs!) at a posh dinner date, hoping to lure her beau Captain America out of hiding. Unfortunately for The Skull, he hired these goons for their brawn and not their brain as Sharon was dancing with Steve Rogers at the time of the abduction! Their boss is none too happy but he realizes that it won't be too long before he gets another shot at his hated adversary. Sure enough, a dozen panels or so later, Cap has thumbed a ride on a jet and is dumped into the sea just outside the Skull's island fortress. Quickly making his way through The Skull's naval assault, Cap makes it into the fortress compound, only to be taken prisoner by The Skull. The evil Nazi genius has concocted yet another way to control the Star-Spangled Avenger: with a strip of nuclear tape attached to the back of Cap's neck, an explosive device that can be detonated near or far. As Captain America and Sharon Carter win their freedom and escape in one of the Skull's jets, the Scarlet Scourge gloats that everything has gone according to plan. He pulls the detonator from his pocket and looks skyward, vowing that today is gonna be a real good day.
|The Red Skull comes to the realization that hiring Nazi swine doesn't always work in his favor|
PE: You gotta love that opening with the Skull dressing down his Nazi boobs for not recognizing Captain America in his civvies: "That's the one thing wrong with demanding complete obedience! My men become human robots... they had a chance to dispose of my accursed enemy -- and fumbled it!" This issue's Fabulous Firearm addition to the Marvel Armory Hall of Fame goes to Sharon ("Call me Agent 13 or call me a taxi!") Carter and her obviously Mandarin-inspired fingernail arsenal. Stan was accommodating enough in the old days to run a chart of Mandy's tricked-out rings so I'm hoping to see what, oh say, Sharon's other middle finger can do. It's jarring to hear Cap call his sweetheart by her first name rather than "Lady," "Woman," or "Toots." Puzzling though is the exchange between the pair when Cap tells her that he has to get her to safety before butting heads with the Skull. Sharon replies: "But you promised you'd never let me stand in the way!" The hero replies "That was before I knew how much you mean to me." I might be exaggerating a wee bit but I'd say that Cap told Agent 13 (and us, the readers) just how he felt about her in the same panel he met her!
|Captain America, Mummy... Unwrapped!|
The evil Plant Man sends his monstrous plant creatures to destroy England as Namor and Triton watch helplessly as captives. A giant plant creature made out of coral demolishes everything in its path. When the super-villain commands Namor to be his mouthpiece in negotiating his demands to rule the country, he refuses, along with Triton. For their insolence, they are sent to a chamber to die as plants suck away their oxygen. Namor finds a cactus, which he breaks open to get water from it. Newly rejuvenated by the water, he and Triton break out of the ship to stop the giant plant beasts. It’s not easy, but eventually the heroes use fire to defeat the Plant Man’s creations. In the end, the heroes part ways as Dorma finds out that her love, Sub-Mariner, is still alive.
Tom: Not much to say except that this issue was lackluster all around. Even the dependable artwork looked pretty rushed and shoddy.
The Amazing Spider-Man 62
Medusa has come to New York on a mission from her people, The Inhumans, to find out if they can at last walk the streets unmolested. On the way, she manages to accidentally cut The Amazing Spider-Man's line as he's swinging from rooftop to rooftop. The two exchange pleasantries and then go their separate ways. Medusa sets down on a busy street and causes a bit of a commotion, drawing the attention of Montgomery Bliss, president and CEO of Heavenly Hair Spray. He offers her a job, representing and posing for the company. After a few shots, the titanically-tressed tart grows bored and, when Bliss raises a fuss, trashes several hundred dollars worth of equipment. Seeking revenge, Bliss convinces Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man that Medusa has vowed to wreck the city. Proving once again that, yes, you can fool all the people all the time, Spidey goes off in search of Medusa with all best intentions.
PE: The very definition of a filler, this issue brings me back to the bad old days of The Torch and Ant-Man strips. Nothing is handled right here. Medusa's goal is to find out why the humans don't trust the Inhumans. Could it be their fiery tempers? As when she trashes the office of Heavenly Hair Spray because the boss asks her to pose for more pictures. Gwen Stacy is still so angry at Peter Parker she won't speak to him despite the fact that she knows her father was under the influence of The Kingpin. How shallow is that? Not typical of the Gwen character we've grown to be fond of. Spider-Man stumbles into Marvel Cliche #1: The Misunderstanding, it seems, more than any other hero (well, okay, aside from The X-Men) and here he does it with a dunce cap on. Montgomery Bliss tells Spidey that Medusa has wrecked his office and is intent on destroying New York next. The wall-crawler scratches his head and mutters "Hmmm, it doesn't make sense to me" and then swings off to find her, with a thought balloon above his head: "If she is dangerous, I've got to stop her first and ask questions later!" I think this is Line #1 in The Marvel Book of Plotting. The only moment of entertainment for me here was Bliss's exclamation after Spider-Man heads off to corral the Inhuman: "Call our entire publicity department! I want every cameraman we can get up on the rooftops! History will record this as hair spray's finest hour!" Within a minute the building's rooftop is filled with paparazzi!
PE: Most of the "civilian life" stuff we get this issue is throwaway: the aforementioned Gwen hissy-fit, the uncharacteristic "oh well" type answer Captain Stacy gives to Gwen when she tells her pop that she and Peter on the outs, and Harry Osborn's terrifying battle with homework. The only ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds of mundanity is the impending return of the guy with the glider, whose amnesiac alter ego is seeing late night shows about a past unmasking in his head. This bodes well for the future.
Doctor Strange 170
The Ancient One calls out to Dr. Strange yet seems deep in sleep. Dr. Strange enters the old teacher’s mind, only to be trapped there by Nightmare! Dr. Strange struggles to free himself from the evil one’s spells and eventually prevails, only to learn that the whole episode was a test permitted by the Ancient One.
Jack: Dan Adkins must have broken out the extra large tracing paper for this issue, because there are a lot of big panels, including the splash page and a two-page spread. For a series that never seems to go anywhere, these last two issues have seemed particularly lacking in new events. The teaser for next issue says “Clea Lives!” so hopefully she and Victoria Bentley will have a good old-fashioned catfight.
|How about splashing some water in his face?|
The Mighty Thor 154
A bolt of force from Asgard has interrupted the battle on Earth between Thor and Loki, yet Odin gives no further word to enlighten the Thunder God as to the reason why. Thor returns to the hospital to find that Sif is recovering nicely from her wounds in the battle against Loki. Hela, Goddess of Death appears, eager, it seems, to add the Thunder God to her conquests. She gives him until he is mortally wounded in battle before he has to join her in Valhalla, and while sorely tempted by the sight of unending glorious battles, Thor tells the cheering warriors of times past to—begone! Elsewhere, Ulik, having saved himself from a bottomless fall down the Abyss of Shadows, explores the cave where he finds himself. It is lit by enchanti-stones that Odin has put there, and they lead to a metal door sealed in the rock. The door has an inscription from the All-Father not to disturb what lies within, so of course Ulik does precisely that, tossing the rocks aside. What was contained, and is no longer, is a fearsome being called Mangog, a muscled, armoured grotesque monster perhaps the size of a small ice-giant. He immediately makes Ulik aware that the intentions of the Mangog are to destroy all that lives, and to bring about Ragnarok, the end of the world. Keeping the mighty troll alive only to be of use to him. Mangog climbs his way out of the Abyss of Shadows. Ulik, once lifted out, flees, knowing that even he is no match for this enemy of Asgard. Back on Earth, Thor sets out to find Loki, who has made himself invisible. The God of Evil uses his power to return to Asgard, where he finds that his (step) father is asleep—Odinsleep that is. Loki wastes no time is seating himself on the throne, which he is loath to give up. Balder is still a captive of the Norn Queen, who makes known her love for him, and that if he rejects her, he will end up like the Legion of the Lost, a group of warriors missing for ages, now frozen like statues. Business on Earth keeps Thor busy for a time, rescuing a man from a group of thugs who all themselves Muggers Incorporated, and trading philosophies with a trio of hippies, still awaiting the word of Odin to call him back to the city of the gods.
JB: The mundanity of Thor’s dealings on Earth contrast nicely with the introduction of Mangog, one of those wonderful foes who are simply too powerful to be defeated, and delightfully visual. I remember first reading this four-part epic in Marvel Treasury Edition #10 back in 1976, and for the longest time I could never find an original of the upcoming issue #156. This tale could be a candidate for a Thor movie adaptation.
PE: There's a gargantuan amount of intrigue, suspense, and excitement packed tight in these pages but, amazingly, very little honest-to-gosh action or fight sequences (about the most violent act committed is Mangog's initial attack on Ulik). We get Sif bedridden, Balder courted, Loki triumphant, Odin picking the wrong time to catch forty winks, and the danger of Ulik suddenly dwarfed by the newly-released Mangog! I can't wait for the next installment. Obviously some bits of this issue inspired Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne, screenwriters of Kenneth Branagh's Thor. The sequence where Loki seizes the throne of Asgard while Odin slumbers could have come panel for panel out of this story. By the way, is this the first mention of the "life-renewing" Odinsleep or did I miss a mention in Tales of Asgard at some point? Stan and Jack show what cool cats these Marvel characters continue to be. Picking up girls at the malt shop, twistin' the night away to the funky rhythm of Dylan and, now, enlightening some Summer of Love freaks. Thor's pep talk to the hippies: "Tis not by dropping out -- but by plunging in -- into the maelstrom of life itself -- that thou shalt find thy wisdom." Sounds like vintage Thomas to me!
Marvel Super-Heroes 15
In love with Black Bolt and sad that he cannot speak, Medusa sets out to find a machine to fix his problem. She gets dragged back into the Frightful Four when the Wizard promises to help her with Black Bolt’s speech impediment; secretly, he wants her to help him steal a key ingredient for his new doohickey to cause mayhem. The beautiful redhead succeeds in stealing the key item but eventually figures out she’s been duped and heads home with Mr. Strong, Silent type.
Jack: What a gorgeous cover, with those great colors on a yellow background! I don’t know about anyone else, but I get very nostalgic for these late ‘60s, 25 cent, perfect-bound Marvels. The Medusa story is a whopping 25 pages long, and it makes me wonder if the great Gene Colan is starting to spread himself a little thin. Medusa is certainly a male fantasy figure come to life, and Colan takes Kirby’s Amazonian female proportions and smooths them out to make her a real knockout.
PE: The art, as usual, is fabulous. Gene's good girl art really does lift the strip high above what it would have been had, say, Heck or even Buscema drawn it. The script won't win any Alleys though. It's a mishmash of flashbacks, cliches, and awkward fight scenes. Nothing says all-out action like a fight between four people in a small enclosed pod. I wouldn't necessarily cry out for a solo Medusa strip but as a 25-page one-off in a remainder title, it's not all that bad. But the rest of the package, the vintage material, makes that two-bits you dumped at the Rexall counter a little easier to live without. The Black Knight strip (from 1955) always seems to be the same story but who cares when you've got those exquisite panels drawn lovingly by Joe Maneely? No beheadings, dragons, or incest. A different kind of medieval eye candy. There's also a charming three-page Namor childhood story co-starring his future adversary Byrrah (from 1954); the origin of the short-lived character, The Black Marvel (from 1940), with barely passable art by Al Gabriele (ironically, this caucasian "Black Marvel" would be rebooted in the late 1990s, for the Spider-Man off-shoot Slingers, as an African-American); and a nicely illustrated Captain America and Bucky story from the "last gasp" era of Marvel's big three (Cap, Namor, and The Torch). The Cap entry, unfortunately, is hampered by one of the two or three variations of "Captain America Turns Traitor" used to this day.
PE: The letters page offers up a very deep and insightful missive from one Bob Schoenfeld (who, at the time, was editing the respected fanzine Gosh Wow!), who takes Stan Lee to task for a 1950s Captain America story that was reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes #12. In the story, a young pacifist tells Cap and Bucky that he "can't stand any kind of fighting!" Cap swear that "if I have to die, it will be worth it if I can make this boy see the light!" Schoenfeld rips Stan a new one for the story's obvious anti-pacifist, pro-STINKIN' COMMIES message. I give "The Man" a ton of credit for letting the letter see the light of day in the first place but his answer ("We are not now, nor have we ever been, warmongers! However we are now, as we have ever been, Patriots!") leaves a lot to be desired.
|I've got my eye on you!|
Avengers Mansion has been rigged up with a new security system but when Jarvis the butler turns bad, watch out! He gives the secret plans to the New Masters of Evil, who use them to get inside and pick off the Avengers one by one. Led by a mysterious figure known as the Crimson Cowl, can these New Masters succeed where the original Masters failed? In the final panel, the Crimson Cowl is revealed to be none other than Jarvis!
Jack: The constantly rotating membership of the Avengers is really working for me—this is an unusual series that never features the same cast for long but continues to remain interesting. The one on one battles between the Masters of Evil and the Avengers are handled well. My only complaint is that Buscema doesn’t seem to have a knack for drawing sexy women—even though heads turn when she walks down the street, Janet is nowhere near as hot as she has been in the hands of other artists.
|Not working for at least|
one MU professor
The Invincible Iron Man 3
After saving a construction team at Stark Industries from a falling rocket, Iron Man discovers that his life-giving armor isn't what it used to be and he needs to make some modifications or there won't be any Iron Man. Tony Stark draws the curtains and becomes a nomad while working on the new gadgetry. This leads to speculation on the part of many. Newlyweds Happy and Pepper Hogan decide that they're the only ones that can help the boss (and Happy, being the only other man on earth to know his chief's secret, is convinced of that fact) and head for Stark's factory, cutting short their honeymoon. Since Stark finds he doesn't have the strength to lift his little finger, it turns out Happy was right as, once there, Tony talks his chauffeur/butler/ gardener/toadie into building his new armor for him. Unfortuately for our favorite schlemiel, he's exposed to a dangerous level of cobalt from the bombarder and becomes The Freak again.
PE: I must have blinked while doughboy Happy Hogan (who had so much trouble getting into a size 62 Iron Man suit not long ago) became Rock Hudson. But what really pushes the believability factor on this strip into the red zone is Jasper Sitwell showing Whitney Frost around the top-secret Stark Industries. He's just met this babe. SHIELD's finest, my flamethrowing ball point pen! By the way, with this issue Tony Stark edges May Parker 67-66 in the Deathbed Tournament but, as we all know, this will be a hard-fought match throughout the next several decades. We'll keep you updated.
|Here's something you don't see everyday.|
The X-Men 46
Is this it? Have we finally reached the end of The X-Men? Well, we're certainly one step closer as The Juggernaut is zapped from the Crimson Cosmos to Xavier's lab. He works his way through our X-Men in search of Professor X, only to find out the Prof's already dead. He's no sooner mysteriously zapped back to the Crimson Cosmos, and the X-kids decide to close up shop.
|Har? Hot eyes?|
Betty Ross has been kidnapped by the Hulk because the misguided brute thinks that he is keeping her safe. She is able to talk him into taking her back to her apartment so she can call her father. A couple of crooks accost Betty and, as the Hulk comes to her aid, one of them shoots him in the leg as he is transforming back into Bruce Banner. As this is all transpiring, two mercenaries aboard a freighter shoot a missile capsule towards the New York harbor. One of the men tells the other that the capsule contains quite a horrific beast. The creature was formed when the U.S. government tested one of their atomic bombs, which awakened a caveman type of creature that had been in suspended animation for countless years. Scientists of an enemy foreign country tried to study the creature, but it morphed from the radiation exposure into a monster with great strength and power. After it was subdued by a large amount of sleeping gas, it was put into the capsule and sent to the U.S. to destroy it by the evil foreign powers. Once the creature gets out of the capsule, it wanders the city, destroying things. Eventually, the Hulk comes across it and, like two natural enemies, they go at it. The pink monster is no cream puff, as even the Hulk’s mightiest blows only cause it to crystallize in the places where the Hulk hits it. Strength-wise, the two seem about equal, except that the new pink monster’s skin is so radioactive that it burns the Hulk when he touches it. The pink menace also has the power to absorb radiation, even being able to temporarily turn the Hulk back into Banner after putting him in a bear hug. Across town, Major Talbot and Rick Jones are finishing up their visit with Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards. Richards has put together a device that will turn the Hulk back into Bruce Banner after following instructions that Banner wrote down in case of an emergency. He reluctantly gives the device to Talbot since it could very well kill Banner. They go to where the monsters were recently battling and he uses the device on the Hulk. It works, and the Hulkster reverts back to Banner. The story ends with Bruce, Rick, and Talbot about to be attacked by the remaining pink beast.
|At this point, we don't know|
who the heck he is...
Tom: While this story was good in parts, and definitely exciting, it was just too weird with too much going on. Between robbers trying to kidnap Betty, strange nuclear monsters, Reed Richards, and communist ruler Mao making an appearance, it’s all just a little too much to digest. I don’t see why the Hulk would have trouble walking just because Banner was shot in the leg or legs. The villain in this story would later go on to be called the Missing Link, last seen in an issue of Rom--current whereabouts unknown; presumed to be living in a trailer park and working as a Domino’s pizza delivery driver.
Jack: I have had just about all I can stand of Marie Severin’s goofy art on this strip. This issue probably sets the record for transformations back and forth from Hulk to Banner. The origin of the Beast-Man is a throwback to about five years before, when Stan the Man loved two things more than any other: atomic bomb explosions and Commies. This issue is such a mess that things can only go up from here.
Captain Marvel 3
With Daredevil presumed dead, a new villain called the Jester takes the streets of New York hostage, committing crimes all over the city using weird toy weapons. As he looks through one of his personal scrapbooks it is revealed that the bad guy was a former play actor. To better himself at his craft, the Jester would learn sword fighting, combat techniques, and would exercise himself into peak condition. Unfortunately, the one area he did not improve himself in was his acting skills, which subsequently got him booed off stage and out of work. For revenge, he turned into a law breaker. Richard Raleigh is a corrupt man running for Mayor. He rationalizes that if he wins the election, he will need a District Attorney who he can control. Realizing that Foggy Nelson would give him a headache if he were elected D.A., he comes up with the plan of hiring the Jester to get Foggy out of the running. As Matt Murdock, Foggy, Karen, and Deborah take a stroll in the park, the Jester attacks. Matt can’t turn into Daredevil in front of his friends, so he lets the criminal kidnap him. At the Jester’s hideout, a locked away Matt changes back into the only hero with the guts to put a stop to things---Daredevil! A wild melee ensues when the two brawl it out. Daredevil is actually knocked out while the Jester runs off to Raleigh’s office to complain about his plan. Double D awakens and follows his trail. Once they reach his office, Raleigh is found murdered by some unknown assailant. The story ends with the Jester escaping and Matt realizing that the world will always need heroes like Daredevil.
|We're gonna miss the big galoot.|
Tom: I wouldn’t laugh at the Jester. Is he a cheap D.C. comics Joker rip-off? Yes. Is he a boring villain with zero charisma? No. The bullpen sure gave him quite a premier with an attempt to make him seem threatening by fighting Daredevil to a standstill. In future appearances he would seem to be regulated to being a less credible foe, easily dispatched of, and is largely forgotten today by casual fans. He did have a successor after the original Jester was left catatonic from being possessed by a demon. The successor was shot to death by the Punisher a couple of years ago. What a loser.
Jack: One thing I love about Daredevil is the colors, and the Jester has a great color scheme. Sure, he’s a knock off of the Joker, but his origin story is silly but lovable. There are a couple of shameless plugs for the new Spider-Man comic. I was surprised that this was a one-issue story since it seemed like they were setting things up for more with the Jester.
Fantastic Four 76
In order to save the Earth from certain death at the hands of a starving Galactus, Reed has promised the mighty planet-eater that the F.F. will find the Silver Surfer for him. The magic boarder, with the aid of Reed Richards genius, has fled to a place where even his former master cannot find him: the micro-world. Reed, Ben and Johnny however, do hope to find him, following in the Reducta-craft that Reed had designed to explore worlds within worlds.
The trio gets shrunk down small enough to enter the drop of liquid on the microscope slide, seeing molecules become gigantic all around them. Meanwhile a visit from the doctor informs Sue all is well with her pregnancy, but an offhand remark, as well as Crystal’s non-response to her inquiry, tell Sue that the boys are in trouble of some sort. It doesn’t take long for the Reducta-craft to find the Surfer, having followed the same path, seeing him in bliss at his newfound freedom. The Surfer does land, followed by the F.F., but a quick attack by the Torch and Thing doesn’t help matters, and the space-farer responds in turn, and then takes flight again. Soon he is spotted by a probe vessel from this world, which sends a signal back to its master, the most powerful scientist from Sub-Atomica, the merciless Psycho-man. His way of dealing with the situation is to send forth an android called simply an Indestructible. The android encounters the Fantastic Four first, and mistakes them for his quarry. He grabs the craft in mid-flight until Ben jettisons from his seat and kicks him off. The battle picks up on the surface of a planetoid, where the creature seems stronger than Ben (due, perhaps to the stronger gravity here) and immune to Johnny’s flame, being able to allow the bolts to pass harmlessly through him. Just as it seems that the battle is hopeless, the Indestructible fades away. The Silver Surfer has overheard the discussion of the three men, and understands the purpose for which they have come. Duty calls more loudly even than freedom, as he vows to return to offer himself up to Galactus and save Earth from destruction. Reed and crew stay behind, as he explains to Ben and Johnny that the purpose of his building the Reducta-craft was to end the threat of Sub-Atomica, lest they should decide to invade our world once again.
JB: I for one kind of liked Psycho-man in the most recent Fantastic Four Annual, and was looking forward to his return here. It would seem to make more sense if we saw a little more about the inhabitants here though; it seems like he’s more of a solo villain. Maybe next issue will fill out some details. Wasn’t the robot creature in Thor #132 also called an Indestructible? He served kind of the same purpose. I appreciate the Surfer’s joy at the freedom he feels, and saddened yet enamored by his devotion to what he feels is his duty.
That’s an interesting point Professor Matthew, about cutting pages in the issue reprints. Ironically, although I hate this (like the editing of classic shows in syndication), it didn’t stop some sagas from becoming my favourites (like the Mangog storyline, or the Hercules/Pluto one, for instance, over in Thor) when I first read them as a kid. The up side would be the fun of reading these edited scenes (or watching, in the case of TV) when I first got my hands on the originals.
|Unaware they have an audience, the boys catch a quick bath.|
Also this month
Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #4
Marvel Tales #15
Millie the Model #160
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #56