Wednesday, September 19, 2012

June 1968: By Popular Demand! The Death of Mike Murdock!

The Mighty Thor 153
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Having defeated Ulik (who fell into the bottomless Abyss Of Shadows), Thor’s attention now turns to the grim reality that his evil half-brother Loki has stolen his Uru hammer, which fell during the heat of battle. The Thunder God pleads with Karnilla to send him in pursuit, aware that in sixty seconds Thor will return to the mortal form of Don Blake. Karnilla agrees, knowing that it is a likely death she has sent the Thunder God (and Sif) to.  Loki, having disguised himself as a human back on Earth, is stopped by a policeman who suspects that the wrapped bundle Loki is carrying is stolen merchandise. When he shows the cop that it is a hammer “like the one Thor carries,” the officer attempts to lift it. Of course it plummets to the ground; even Loki can only lift it because he has a portion of the Norn Queen’s power. Sixty seconds having elapsed, the hammer turns into a cane, and the policeman dismisses Loki as a two-bit magician. As Loki sheds his earthly garments, Sif and Don Blake arrive. The goddess bravely takes up the battle, as Loki effortlessly holds her at bay, and then tosses her into Blake’s arms. A blast of Norn energy is absorbed by Sif, who is injured protecting her loved one. Blake jumps at the chance to grab his walking stick, surprising Loki long enough for the good doctor to strike it—presto a Thunder God appears. Thor gains the upper hand, binding Loki with a metal pole. He finds that Sif is more injured than he suspected, and realizes that there’s something a human doctor can do better than an Asgardian. At the city hospital, Don Blake proceeds with the operation of his life: to save Sif. It doesn’t take long for Loki, broken free from his bonds, to find the operating room, and some quick thinking from Blake (a face full of ether) stalls Loki long enough to take up the battle outside, as Thor. Back in the Norn Kingdom, Ulik uses his great strength to break his fall, grabbing a ledge that leads into a cave full of shining rocks. Odin, aware that a great danger awaits Asgard, halts the battle between his two sons with a bolt of force. Loki flees, as Thor is left to ponder what grave peril would cause his father to interfere with their battle. JB: Wait a minute now; am I mistaken or is it not just on Earth that Thor returns to his “mortal form” without his hammer, not in any other realms (i.e. back in the troll war when his Mjolnir was taken from him)? And how did they know Loki went to Earth? Maybe Loki’s magic leaves a trail of negative energy? I love the Marvel-ous sense of time. Loki can hold his own against Thor, yet it takes him quite a while to break free of the pole Thor wraps him in. So long, in fact, that Dr. Blake can perform a life-saving operation on Sif in the meantime! 


PE: A wee bit of Norn sorcery plus Asgardian power allows Loki to take Mjolnir? I cry thee foul! That panel of Sif swiping at Loki with her sword, with the God of Mirth's face partially obscured by the horns of his helmet, is a stunner. Most artists would have had their protagonist's face unobscured but I think, again, this points to Kirby's passion for exploring and expanding a medium he'd only really made his own a half-dozen years before. I'd pay for a poster of that panel. A nice touch that Loki should be felled, not by Thor's hammer but, by a can of ether. Proof that The Mighty Thor has the best dialogue of any Marvel Comic of the time:

Thor: Thinkest thou that strength of limb alone may win the day? Then wouldst the dinosaur still be master of Midgard! Then wouldst the winged Pterodactyl still be monarch of the skies! But there be other forces of which thou knowest not--! There be courage -- and honor -- and a cause for which to die!

Loki: Bah! Empty words! Hollow words! Thou hast a cause to die for-- and surely wilt thou die!


Try finding dialogue like that in any Marvel Comic published in the 21st century.

MB:  Like the veterans of the split books, the Thunder God is finally granted entire issues in which his primary plotline can unfold, and Stan takes full advantage of the situation with more irons in the fire than you can shake your Uru hammer at.  Ulik’s interrupted plunge promises not only a mystery to come but also a future threat for Thor, while Karnilla’s increasing attraction to Balder will grow into a major story point in the years ahead.  That full-page shot of Sif attacking Loki is splendid, although it’s curious that Kirby didn’t alter the angle slightly to prevent Loki’s face from being obscured by the horns on his own helmet, but the ending was a deus ex machina more literal than most, and I wish Stan would remember that Loki is not “flesh of Odin’s flesh.”


PE: I picture Odin in Asgard, flipping a coin to decide whether or not to intrude on his Thunder God son's life or leave him be for a bit. This old guy needs a hobby.

JB: It’s a simple delight to see Loki doing his thing; remember how tired we were of him at times in the early days? And we get some nice background tidbits, as we prepare for one of the greatest Thor epics yet.





The Amazing Spider-Man 61
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The fallout from the incriminating pictures Peter Parker took of Captain Stacy continues with the cold shoulder from Gwen and self doubt about what Peter's done. Captain Stacy's brainwashing isn't the only problem The Amazing Spider-Man must face. The Kingpin has ordered a hit on the wall-crawler, Dr. Winkler continues to expand his mad scientist role in The Kingpin's shadow and, perhaps most dangerously, Norman Osborn seems to be having memory blips of his former life in green and purple. Gwen and Captain Stacy are at the airport, ready to leave the country, when The Kingpin's goons pick them up and deliver them to Winkler's lab at Norman Osborn's research center. Since Spidey is ready for Kingpin's tie-pick gas trick this time, our hero is able to make quick work of the corpulent criminal but the gauntlet is picked up by the mad Dr. Winkler, who threatens to kill Stacy and Gwen. Unknown to all, Norman Osborn has been watching the action and picks this time to act, throwing himself at the nutty professor, accidentally killing him in the process. A vat of bubbling liquid threatens to vaporize the Stacy clan but The Amazing Spider-Man webs his way to the rescue once again. In the confusion, The Kingpin gains access to the roof of the building and steals Osborn's helicopter, eluding justice once again.

PE: Another solid action story made all the better by the title's continued dominance in the "supporting cast" category, a past asset it had been pretty much ignoring lately but is in splendid display here. Stan Lee should be given some kind of medal for persistence in keeping The Goblin out of the limelight for nearly two years (has it been that long?!). Couldn't be easy to mothball one of the Top Five Villains in the Marvel Universe when you're constantly having to prop up your titles with deadbeats like The Shocker and The Spider-Slayer. I can't wait for the return of my favorite bad guy (stay tuned!). Stan adds another goofball gizmo to the Marvel Hall of Fame: Dr. Winkler's generically-titled Electronic Tracer, which scans the airwaves for any person under the influence of brainwashing! I'm assuming Winkler picked up traces of me and my fellow Professors on that doohickey.



MB:  I find it fascinating that after all of the appearances the Kingpin has made in this book—six since #50, I believe—Spider-Man has yet to defeat him; any other villain would have been packed off to the pokey at least once by now.  Spidey’s battle with his hoods at Captain Stacy’s house (I can’t provide reliable page numbers because at this point I consider my Marvel Tales reprint automatically suspect) is a textbook example of the well-oiled Lee/Romita machine.  The panels are spacious, enabling the action to unfold in an uncluttered fashion; said action is depicted with variety, verve, and a splendidly fluid Spider-Man; his banter bespeaks his customary confidence, albeit with an undertone of bitterness born of the frustration he now feels.

PE: I know that Stacy was in the grip of Dr. Winkler's brainwashing machine but isn't it a bit out of character for the former police captain to head for the airport rather than the precinct? He seems to be in and out of the device's hold but when he gets a clear thought, his first impulse is to leave the country? Nah, I don't see it. And why is Gwen leading him around the airport in dark sunglasses and a cane? Is this a stab at a disguise? Howler of the issue though goes to the "Made at Osborn Laboratories" label on the detritus left behind in the Gloom a-Go-Go. Can't you just see the mad doctor telling The Kingpin: "Wait, we can't operate this gizmo until this plaque is screwed on!" On the letters page, reader Lee Hanson rightfully cries foul when it comes to "Don Heck's artwork invading Spider-Man." Stan lets on that "Jazzy Johny has been so busy working on our new 35c Spidey Magazine that he just hasn't had time to finish up the regular mag for the past couple of months!"





The X-Men 45
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The X-Men are prisoners of Magneto. While Angel is off to gather the Avengers, Cyclops breaks free and goes head to head with Quicksilver. The Avengers arrive just in time to continue the story in their book this month.


JS: When I saw the title, "WHEN MUTANTS CLASH," I incorrectly assumed that our X-babies were getting new costumes again. Angel really needs to ditch the clown outfit.

MB: Friedrich is flying solo as the writer now, but the Heck/Roth/Tartaglione art team is unchanged.  As the cover suggests, the centerpiece is Quicksilver’s showdown with Cyclops, and it’s interesting that everyone expects Pietro to wipe the floor with him, apparently due to Scott’s relative youth.  We’re never told what their exact age difference is, yet knowing Cyclops as I do, especially at the forefront of the new team in later years, I’d have predicted the entirely different outcome that resulted.  Unless there’s some mind-control stuff in one of the issues I missed, I’m disturbed at how deeply Quicksilver has drunk Magneto’s Kool-Aid, and ashamed that a former Avenger—as we must now presumably classify him—would betray the race he swore to defend.





Jack: Once again, a character’s name on the cover (this time, Cyclops) is much bigger than the name of the actual comic. This 15 page snoozer is basically an extended fight between Cyke and Quicksilver, with Magneto and the Toad looking on and sniping at each other. The backup is a fight between Cyclops and the Iceman. Tuska’s attempt at drawing the “early” Iceman looks more like plaster-man in some spots.


JS: I don't know about you guys, but I'm beginning to lose faith that the arrival of Steranko in a few issues is going to save us from the pits that have been this run of X-Men. While they can't get here soon enough, I remain confident that the Neal Adams issues I fell in love with as a kid will still impress. Please God, let them impress. 

PE: Mike Friedrich shows that he can script a Marvel Misunderstanding with the best of them. Angel has the nerve to blame his late arrival at Avengers Mansion to his stop at Red Raven's pad last issue when we all know he's just a nosy ninny. This whole X-Men/Avengers crossover is begun by Cyclops' exclamation that "No one tells me to halt!" Did Professor X write on the chalkboard that the number one rule was to be belligerent, even to fellow superheroes?


The Avengers 53
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The Angel reaches the Avengers and leads them to Magneto’s lair, where they get into a fight with the X-Men, who are controlled by a mind altering machine that Magneto wields. The Avengers aren’t as dumb as they look, however, and they turn the tables on Magneto, aided by none other than the Toad, who finally got fed up with being bullied.

Jack: Corny pop culture references? Check! Overblown dialogue? Check! Captions such as “exactly one split-second later . . .”? Check! It’s official—with this sub-par issue of The Avengers, Roy Thomas has officially transformed into a clone of Stan Lee. It’s a shame that dragging the X-Kids into an Avengers story just serves to bring down the quality of the book, but it’s true. This multi-issue Magneto arc ends with a whimper as Magneto falls to his death (unlikely) much like so many Disney villains.

PE: Carrying over from this month's issue of The X-Men, Cyclops refuses to let anyone tell him what to do, not even The Avengers. When will these super-groups grow up? Don't they keep tabs on each other to tell the difference between the white hats and the black?The laugh here is that, two pages after Cyclops shows such offense at being questioned, the dope is convinced The Avengers must be death-rbots sent by Magneto, else why "would they treat me like an enemy?" Um, maybe because you opened your visor on them? The same kind of bozo mentality overcomes Angel when he decides to break into Avengers Mansion via the skylight and is caught by the team, who question his motives. "Always -- everywhere the X-Men go -- the same maddening distrust of mutants!Sometimes I think Quicksilver had the right idea when he signed back up with Magneto!" This issue's just an overall mess. Coincidentally, there seems to be a very big event in Marvel Comics at the moment teaming these two super-groups. I don't follow the new comics but I have to believe the new confrontation is built on a more solid foundation than this one.

MB:  As Marvel’s expansion approaches its peak, creative consistency has settled over most books, one exception being the inks here, which have yet again ping-ponged from Colletta to Tuska.  I suppose this cross-over (from X-Men #45) was a no-brainer due to Roy’s ties to both books, but I was a little disappointed—not that I’m complaining about Buscema.  I was troubled by the pervasiveness of the Marvel Misunderstanding, even if some of it was revealed as a ruse; I mean, Warren flies off to get help from the Assemblers, and suddenly we see, “The Avengers vs. the X-Men!”  Can’t these guys ever simply assist one another without coming to blows first?  It will be almost a year before we see Pietro et al. again in, of all places, Amazing Spider-Man #71.



The Invincible Iron Man 2
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Jealous of Tony Stark's success, rival inventor Drexel Cord creates a massive robot, succinctly named The Demolisher for its demolishing capabilities, a deadly weapon with a tracking device designed to root out Iron Man wherever he may be. The idea is to destroy Tony Stark's greatest creation and show the world that Drexel is the true genius but Iron Man is able to withstand the robot's onslaught and, in the end, destroy him. Drexel is killed in the melee but repents before shuffling off to the robot factory in the sky.

PE: Sure, The Demolisher is different in some ways than his predecessors - The Crimson Dynamo and The Titanium Man - in that he's an honest-to-gosh robot rather than a guy in a suit but what it comes down to is a big suit of armor vs. a big suit of armor. This is the chasm the Iron Man films have fallen into as well. You can only hold the interest of the reader as long as the story stays interesting and the story here is anything but interesting. Drexel Cord is just another jealous genius out to prove the world wrong. He discovers his folly only on his deathbed (just as they all do) but, on the bright side, he leaves Tony and Jasper with a new babe named Janice (according to his thought balloons in the final panel, it seems as though Tony's already facing romantic prospects with this girl he hardly knows). The art, by E.C. legend Johnny Craig is about as wrong as you'd expect. Yeah, his mad scientist looks mad but his heroes look bland and the majority of backgrounds on Craig's panels are a simple white. Before the Craig-Nation starts battering down my castle door, let me say that I have a complete collection of EC reprints and I love Craig's work there (in particular his many classic Vault of Horror covers), it's just that here he's a stranger in a strange land. Craig also did some stellar work for Warren in the mid-60s under the pseudonym Jay Taycee, including the classic "The Mountain"(from Creepy #8). Archie Goodwin was Warren's editor at the time.

MB: This issue introduces not only the penciling skills of Johnny Craig on the strip he had hitherto only inked, but also a significant supporting character in the person of Janice Cord, whose father Drexel is a rival of Tony Stark’s.  Not surprisingly, given Craig’s background, we can see a decidedly EC Comics flavor to the artwork, and especially to Cord’s retro-style robot, the Demolisher; seeing him operate this thing is a bit like watching J. Jonah Jameson send one of his Spider-Slayers out for another go.  I’ll move quickly past my standard question of how Cord happened to have Iron Man’s energy patterns, in order to program the Demolisher, and note that Goodwin, who was previously tying up Stan’s dangling plot threads, stakes out his own turf here.

PE: I'll be the one to ask how Iron man got ESP suddenly when, out of the blue, he arrives at the conclusion that, not only is he being watched by The Demolisher's creator but that this creator will definitely want to watch Shellhead go down in defeat... approximately two panels after Drexel Cord exclaims just that very thought.



Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 2
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In a rage, Prince Namor destroys all the technology that Destiny has used to create the being that he has become.  The Sub-Mariner tries to seek out Destiny, then realizes that he needs the help of someone brilliant like Reed Richards to help him track down the villain.  Far away part in the deep, Plant Man is busy inside an underwater ship studying a corral reef to help him with his dangerous plant creations.  Black Bolt of the Inhumans spies him and sends Triton into the ocean to investigate.  Plant Man is able to pick up Triton on his monitor along with Subby, who just happens to be passing by.  Wanting neither of the heroes to interfere with his plans, Plant Man thinks quickly and decides to play the two against each other.  He uses an underwater speaker to broacast orders to Namor in order to trick Triton into thinking they are partners.  The trick works as the heroes end up fighting in the air and sea.  After they have worn each other out, Plant Man zaps a plant with his vega-ray that causes it to grow monstrously.  Obeying his master’s command, the plant captures Subby and Triton.  The two heroes get stuffed into tubes aboard the ship.  The other Inhumans attempt to rescue their comrade, but Plant Man’s ship is too fast for them and he escapes.  The story ends with the villain and the two captive heroes heading over to jolly old England.     

Tom:  While it’s remarkable that a story featuring Plant Man as the main protagonist didn’t completely suck, it was a bit of a letdown that the revenge on Destiny plot got sidetracked.  Here’s hoping that next issue finishes off the Plant Man tale and gets back to more important business.  I’ll be keeping track of whether each issue of Sub-Mariner is good or bad.  This is just my opinion, of course, but so far I have the series at 2-0.  The awesome artwork helps tremendously.  In comparison, Daredevil is about 6-38.

MB: The Namor/Triton smackdown seems both inspired and inevitable, although to have Plant Man—in a vessel “borrowed” from Count Nefaria after Roy’s Washington wingding in X-Men #22-23—be behind the de rigueur Marvel Misunderstanding kicks it down a notch.  I can’t praise this Buscema/Giacoia artwork highly enough; while taking nothing away from King Kirby’s version of the Inhumans, Big John’s rendition is quite majestic, even if relegating him to “the Viceroy of Vegetables” (really?) is a bit like assigning Michelangelo to Funky Winkerbean. The displaced Atlanteans in general, and the Lady Dorma in particular, are equally impressive, a suitable match for the drama of their plight in the aftermath of Destiny’s dastardly depredations.


Jack: Another beautiful cover, and Buscema’s art is gorgeous throughout the issue, but the Plant Man is such a weak villain that he doesn’t seem to fit the story. I like the way they worked in the Inhumans and I like seeing Triton go up against Subby, even though it seems like the umpteenth Marvel misunderstanding of the last few months. Still, the colors and the art are so impressive that it almost works, despite the “viceroy of vegetables."


Doctor Strange 169
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Alone and bored, Dr. Strange recalls his origin.

Jack: There has been a fair amount of criticism of Steve Ditko here at Marvel University. When I read this issue of Dr. Strange, in which Roy Thomas and Dan Adkins retell the origin story from Strange Tales 115, I went back and compared and I was struck by how exciting Ditko’s artwork could be when he was at his best. The origin of Dr. Strange represents Ditko at his best. In eight pages (seven if you subtract the splash page), he tells an exciting origin story that sets up the future of Dr. Strange. In issue 169, Thomas and Adkins stretch it out to 20 pages but don’t add anything significant to what came before. In fact, despite Adkins’s more polished art and frequent use of swipes, I would have to say that the retelling is a mere shadow of the original.

MB: Solo mag.  Origin recap.  Lather, rinse, repeat…with the fillip that O’Neil has received the highest possible upgrade to Thomas (who will stay with the title for the duration).  I normally find retold origins a bit tiresome, but this one seems to be a nice opportunity for Roy to reconnect with the character as he returns to the strip, and—because he can devote an entire issue to it without having to shoehorn it into an existing storyline—he can take his time and do it right. In this, he is of course immeasurably aided by Adkins, carried over from Strange Tales, and they have stayed pretty faithful to the Lee/Ditko origin story while expanding it considerably; in fact, while reviewing #115, I was surprised to see that they had Mordo invoke Dormammu even then.





Captain America 102
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Despite reports to the contrary, The Red Skull is alive and well and currently being fished out of the ocean by his henchmen. With the aid of his "band of exiles," and the still-active Fourth Sleeper, The Skull aims to drive the human race to its knees. On the positive side, Captain America and his sidekick, the really cute blonde, have a few tricks up their sleeve. The duo clash with The Sleeper and, in the end, love conquers all.

PE: Pretty much wall-to-wall action here with a few pauses for the dopey soap opera dramatics. The unending drone of "No, you must save yourself! You could get hurt!" has gotten under my skin. He's just a comic character, I know, but doesn't The Star-Spangled Dope realize if he doesn't stop The Sleeper, it doesn't matter where ASKSC is, she's gonna go BLOOEY! just like the rest of the human race? "Slap that turf!" is about as intimate as Captain America gets with the love of his life, (SPOILER ALERT!) The Agent Soon to be Known as Sharon Carter (hereafter known as ASKSC)

MB:  It looks like my concerns over Syd’s inking of the Skull and the latter’s early departure were unfounded, but while I won’t go the obvious route and call this installment a “sleeper,” I do find his newest android rather one-note and uninteresting.  I remain dissatisfied with this “unselfish love” between Cap and Whatsername (against which, apparently, the Skull’s evil has no defense, as in some sort of Victorian novel), who as far as I can tell have spent almost no time together—hell, you could argue that they haven’t even been properly introduced.  I know Fury is supposed to be a tough old bird, but it seems unduly callous of Nick to tell Whatsername that Cap is dead; in short, I liked this story less than I wanted to, despite its impeccable pedigree.

PE: The best part about Nick telling ASKSC is that she convinces him to tell her the truth since her "heart knew" that Cap was alive. Is this the same Nick Fury who withstood the tortures of Nazi interrogation? I picture ASKSC with the Colonel in a headlock on the floor, tickling him and giving him noogies until he coughs up the info. Syd Shores continues to add to the magic of Kirby's pencils. That final panel (below), The Skull moping like a big cute red Bassett Hound, is a hoot.



"My girl left me, my truck won't start, and someone ran over my dawg..."




The Incredible Hulk 104
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Bruce Banner is held prisoner at Sing Sing prison after having been caught by the NYPD.  It’s not long before Thunderbolt Ross and Major Talbot, along with military personnel, show up to take the doctor away in a sort of armored ambulance.  General Ross lets Betty accompany them because of her love for Bruce.  As this is going on, the Rhino has just been released from prison.  He hooks up with his former underworld employers in the Organization.  They equip him with a more powerful Rhino suit that is partly made up of gamma radiation.  The Rhino also has some gamma radiation injections so that he is more formidable.  Once his upgrade is complete, the Rhino is ordered by his benefactors to do a smash and grab on the truck carrying Banner.  They want him to kidnap Banner so they can use his knowledge of gamma rays.  They also inform the Rhino that, in case he goes off on his own like the last time he was employed by them, a bomb in his outfit will be detonated if he betrays them.  The horned brute takes to his mission with vigor as he easily demolishes the transport truck and takes Banner away with him.  He even brings along Betty in case they need to use her to coax Banner into doing their bidding.  The Organization members have been following the Rhino in case he needs help or screws up.  They pick the villain up with his two hostages in a helicopter.  Of course, it doesn’t take long before Banner turns into the Hulk.  Even Rick Jones shows up at the right time as he crashes his car into the helicopter so the baddies can’t escape.  While he puts up a valiant fight against the Hulk, the Rhino is no match and gets beaten from pillar to post.  The two behemoths brawl into a gasoline truck that explodes on both of them.  The Rhino seems to have taken the most punishment after that, with his supposedly durable suit in tatters.  As he feels himself dying, he wants to go out a winner (or at least go down swinging) and hurls himself at the Hulkster in one last, vain attack.  The Hulk smacks him down, then triumphantly boasts how he is the strongest one there is.  The story ends with the Hulk grabbing Betty and taking off while General Ross is about to blow another gasket.          

Tom:  This is actually the oldest Hulk comic that I own.  Rereading it again, I was surprised by how good it was.  The Rhino came off as kind of valiant for a bad guy about to die.  Of course, all of us comic buffs know that the big lug didn’t end up croaking like the ending would have you believe.  Nope, for better or for worse, the Rhino would live on to get beaten up by just about every hero on the Marvel roster.  He probably would have been better off dead.   

MB: When the Rhino first reared his, um, horn in Amazing Spider-Man #41, I mentioned that I thought he was repurposed as a Hulk villain pretty early on, but it has happened even sooner than I expected.  Although I consider the Hulk/Rhino match-up a favorable sign, the idea of them literally fighting to the death, however impermanent, seems out of place, while Rick looks more like a grumpy middle-aged dude than a “frantic teenager.”  I still don’t think Groovy Gary has found his voice (or, shall we say, his groove?) on this strip, despite some improvement; more specifically, he certainly has not found Greenskin’s voice, which once again—and Gary is hardly the only guilty party in this regard—is all over the map in terms of syntax and vocabulary. 


Jack: This is the first time I think the Hulk really works well in a full-length story. The Rhino is a great choice for a Hulk adversary and I don’t believe for one second that he’s dead. Giacoia’s inks smooth out some of the cartoonishness in Severin’s art that has been bothering me. Overall, this is an enjoyable issue that promises good things to come.

PE: Though the number on the cover differs, this is actually the 50th issue of The Hulk (6 of the first, failed series and 44 of TTA/The Incredible Hulk) and I really must ask: What the heck does Betty Ross do in her spare time? It seems she's always on the fringe of a crowd when something happens to The Hulk/BB and is in time to push through and wail something along the lines of "Oh daddy, please don't hurt the man I love. I know I've spent the equivalent of three hours with the guy in the seven years since he became a giant green beast, but my heart belongs to no one else!" Does she spend her days knitting Bruce's torn purple trousers? Does she have her own place or a cot in that tank parked just outside the panel? I've been away from The Hulk for several issues but it's good to see that here, unlike over at The Mighty Thor, there's always room for a dumb Marvel dame. As for the story, it's a delight from its frenzied start (Bruce Banner: Morphine Fiend!) to its hysterical finish (The Hulk kidnaps Betsy Ross yet again and all that General Thunderdome can do is slap his forehead with an "Oy Vey!"). Mike Friedrich is really settling in to his role as regular Marvel writer, tackling the Marvel Coincidence over at The X-Men and another Marvel cliche here: the villain who targets a hero just because he wants to show the world he's stronger. Next up: a villain named by a passerby.



"Just doing my job, man"? Letterer Sam Rosen caught napping. Or is it Major Talbot who's napping?



Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 1
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At an undisclosed location, Fury shoots an LMD of himself to prove that live agents are irreplaceable, then learns that someone fired at the same time, killing “Fury” and leaving a card with the sign of Scorpio on it.  In San Francisco, failed nightclub comic Flip Mason owes a massive gambling debt to Mitch Hackett; in Kansas City, Hackett—Mason’s spitting image—prepares to pick up a package of money in Vegas; in Italy, Count Julio Scarlotti, whose wrist bears the Scorpio symbol, wins a race at the Monza Autodrome.  These parallel lines converge in Vegas after Scorpio sabotages a test of the Entrope Phase Barrier Guard System, and a case of mistaken identity causes the violent deaths of Mason, Hackett and, apparently, Scorpio.

MB: With Sinnott as his willing accomplice, Steranko was obviously bursting with too many ideas to pad out this “first S.H.I.E.L.D. novel-length epic” with any warmed-over origin story…although ironically, we’ll get one of those all too soon, and not for a good reason.  Jim’s too-few issues of the solo book constitute stand-alone stories, here highlighted by a wordless (save for the cleverly incorporated title) three-page sequence resembling a cinematic montage, and the two-page spread of Fury bursting through a wall with his jet cycle.  We also meet his first major post-Hydra/Claw villain, who both becomes his arch-enemy—for reasons not all immediately apparent—and, just as significant, represents our earliest encounter with a future member of the Zodiac crime cartel.

PE: This begs the question: "What constitutes a 'Marvel Novel'?" Since there are really only two installments in the "Scorpio Saga" written by Steranko and the rest is just mop-up by Roy Thomas et al. Was there a master plan in place by the Jaunty One before he became bored with Nick and headed for X-Men and later Captain America? In any event, it's a fabulous start to what many believe to be a landmark in the history of Nick Fury. It gets a bit complicated towards its finale but hopefully in a future segment we'll find out not only who Scorpio really is but why Mitch Hackett was set up.


Jack: The cover is killer, the interior art up to the usual Steranko level, but the story is all over the place. I did find the ending effective, though I was moved more by the plight of the victim of mistaken identity than by anything that happened to Nick Fury. I think that the two panels reproduced here show a big Eisner influence.







Captain Marvel 2
Our Story

“In the fifth quadrant of the vast Andromeda Galaxy,” the Skrull king learns that Mar-Vell, their valiant foe “in the war for control of the satellite galaxy NGC 205,” has been sent to Earth and defeated the Sentry.  To learn how this affects their “centuries-old intergalactic rivalry with the Kree,” he recalls the exiled Super Skrull, who—promised “any prize short of the crown”—plans to demand the hand of his daughter, Anelle.  His sensors activated by Mar-Vell’s carry-all cylinder, which the Kree has just discovered missing, the Super Skrull arrives as Logan is trying to report “Walt Lawson”; Mar-Vell intervenes to save the clerk’s life, but he is rendered unconscious (to Yon-Rogg’s delight) as the cylinder’s two-hour timer approaches a nuclear blast.

PE: After a couple of missteps, Roy (with a big assist from Gene and Vince) seems to have righted the Ship Mar-Vell with this installment, an exciting thrill ride from first panel to the finale, a literal cliff-hanger if there ever was one. Colan and Colletta seem to have found some nirvana together that the rest of us are lucky to be in on. Witness that sequence (reprinted below) where The Super Skrull literally knocks Mar-Vell into the next panel (although I question why Marvel's new-found enemy calls him "beloved!"). I'd love to know, with this issue's hints of the bad blood between the Kree and the Skrull, just how much was mapped out from the beginning. Did Roy have some cosmic soap opera piecing itself together in his head or was it all just a fabulous goof, stitched together out of coincidences and looming deadlines?



You always hurt the one you love

MB: To say that this strip remains off to an auspicious start would be a considerable understatement, and pitting our Kree soldier against the Super Skrull (so well used in Thor #142) not only takes full advantage of its cosmic nature, but also provides a foretaste of the coming Kree-Skrull War. It’s fun to get a glimpse of another alien empire, with the byplay involving the king and Anelle, while having Mar-Vell tackle the likes of the Sentry Sinister and Super Skrull emphasizes from the get-go what a heavy hitter he is.  Colan’s commanding figures and bold full-page shots are well suited to the story’s epic feel, as Roy nicely keeps the pot boiling with his various subplots; after all, when it comes to suspense, you could do a lot worse than a ticking atomic time bomb!

PE: At this point you really have to feel sorry for the bumbling Super-Skrull. Coming off defeats at the hands of the Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor and on a last-chance mission ordered by his king, he needs to score a touchdown and the extra point all by himself. All this for a dame - and a green-skinned one at that. It's little wonder he accidentally picks the wrong guy. All he needs is an Abbott to his Costello. The Rascally One has been honing his scripting prowess but there are still quite a few dirt clods in the garden. How about this thought balloon from a motorcycling soldier escorting Logan to see "the old man" (as if a simple grunt is going to risk a few days in the brig by bringing a civilian to the General's office) at the base: "Funny... I can't resist a sudden impulse to speed up... almost as if some nameless foe were looking down on us!" Colan


Daredevil 41
Our Story

Still trapped in a wacky time warp world, Daredevil does his best to try to figure a way out.  In the meantime, Foggy is desperate to find the missing Deborah.  Even though she left the time warp, she is still affected by its constraints as she wanders around New York like a ghost whom no one can see or hear.  It’s not long before Daredevil also finds himself in the same situation.  Foggy comes up with a brilliant scheme to hold a press conference where he will reveal the identity of the Exterminator.  He tells all the major media outlets, figuring that once the villain hears of this, he will reveal himself and come out of hiding.  For once in his life Foggy is right; however, it doesn’t do him much good once the Unholy Trio jumps him on the street.  While he puts up a fight, Foggy gets incapacitated by the powerful animal bad guys.  Luckily, Double D figures out a way to come back from the time dimension by using his heightened senses and his reflexes to snap himself back into real time by hooking his club to a passing truck.  Double D heads home to find Karen snooping around his pad, worried about Matt.  Luck strikes Daredevil again as he hears the same sound across the city that he heard before when the Time Guns were used.  The Exterminator finds out that one of the dials to his machines is slightly off, and that was why people weren’t coming back whole right away when the amount of time was up for them to come back from the time world.  The Exterminator and his animal lackeys are about to blast Foggy into a permanent time zone when Daredevil shows up just in time to save him.  Not messing around, Daredevil soundly defeats the Unholy Trio before turning his sights on the Exterminator.  To end the fight, the hero figures out a way to turn off the time machine mechanism, which causes an explosion.  Foggy finds that all the villains have been knocked unconscious, with Daredevil nowhere in sight.  He tells the police that Double D must have perished from the time explosion.  In the end, it was a ruse used by Daredevil so he could go back to his normal life of just being Matt Murdock,  
       
Tom:  You know, sometimes you really don’t realize how stupid a story is until you write a summary of it.  I’m still scratching my head over the ending of this one.  Still, if it means that we won’t have to read about Mike Murdock again then I guess something was accomplished.  If only Dardevil’s comic could get blasted with a Time Gun to send him back to around the first time he encountered the Owl.  Then maybe we could have skipped over some of these awful adventures he would later have.   Oh, and don’t get me started about Ka-Zar again…

Jack: If this is truly the end of Mike Murdock, I’ll miss the big goofball. The whole time warp scenario in this issue doesn’t make a lot of sense—how does Daredevil slip between the temporal rings to get back to normal time, then hang onto a speeding car to get back in sync? Also, the Exterminator gloats over the problem with his Time Displacer, glad that it will banish its victims forever, yet later on he says he’s fixed it and can now use it on Foggy. None of it works, yet I like Colan’s art so much that I don’t care.

MB:  Having been fooled before by a cover emblazoned, “Mike Murdock Must Die!,” I was ready to burn the joint down if “The Death of Mike Murdock!” turned out to be a similar tease, yet I needn’t have worried.  Has the demise of a “character” who never truly existed, even within the story’s fictional context, ever been so eagerly awaited?  I can’t remember when this strip really starts getting good again—not that Colan’s work has been anything else—but Mike’s elimination is surely a prerequisite.  While we’re on the subject of flimsy romantic foundations, as in Captain America, Foggy’s amour fou for Deborah Harris seems a little abrupt, considering how recently he was mooning over Karen and envious of her affection for Les Frères Murdock.



Fantastic Four 75
Our Story

Reed, Ben and Johnny have isolated themselves on a small island near the city to keep some space between them and the rest of the people should Galactus attack. As a space beam fails to find the Silver Surfer, Galactus zeroes in on the trio, knowing that they have befriended his former herald. The island bulges up all around them, tossing them in the water before carrying them helplessly up to the edge of space…only to find them back on the island as if it never happened. Next up: a soulless trio of lookalikes that march out of the sea to attack them without mercy, until the boys realize the clones can only battle their counterpart. Finally, Galactus sees fit himself to make an appearance, if only an astral one. He demands to know the whereabouts of the Surfer, which they don’t know; except that Ben’s big mouth makes it sound like they do. As Galactus sends a giant planetoid our way, to try and make the trio see things his way, Reed focuses his all his thoughts on trying to regain contact with the space being. His plan works, and Reed promises to find the Silver Surfer for Galactus. Returning to the Baxter Building, they figure out what the Surfer must have done. Seeing the notes on Reed’s desk, he used his powers to enter the micro world—where the F.F. now will try to follow.
JB: Maybe not quite as good as last months title, but a fun story here nonetheless. The brief scene of the Silver Surfer becoming smaller and smaller provides some intriguing speculation about the nature of the world within/without. I can’t wait to see it next month. And who is that Mary Jane twin on page eighteen?

PE: Part 2 (of 4) finds The Thrilling Three facing... The Thrilling Three. How is it the cover doesn't reflect the action inside? Wouldn't two sets of Thrilling Threes sell a zillion copies? An odd bit of holding one's self back but then maybe the cover was done before the actual story. Puzzler of the month- we know Sue is preggers but does she seriously think that because she will give birth at some point in the future all danger and violence will disappear from the face of the earth? This leads to a comic moment when Crystal tries to convince Sue that there's nothing going on outside her window when we can clearly see the impending invasion of the earth. Should be tough to keep a wrap on that, Crys.

MB:  Although there’s action aplenty and artwork sublime, all of which I enjoyed thoroughly, what I found most interesting about this story was the interplay among the characters (be they human, Inhuman, or alien).  Galactus made it clear on his first visit to Earth that the FF was basically beneath his notice, yet now he must not only deal with them, but also avoid killing them, if he is to learn the Surfer’s whereabouts.  Johnny is right on target when he states that the Thing wouldn’t be happy if he had nothing to complain about, and Ben’s chafing at his enforced inactivity is equally in character; the only perplexing note is that as fervently as Reed claimed he wouldn’t “turn in” the Surfer if he knew his location, he seems willing to find him for Galactus.




PE: On the Bullpen Bulletins page, an interesting tidbit. Stan announce forthcoming strips starring    Ka-Zar, Doctor Doom, The Silver Surfer, and "others too startling to announce" (I assume when they complete the latter, they'll be a little less startling and Stan will actually announce them). The Surfer's title will land in two months but the jungle lord and Latverian monarch will have to wait until August 1970 to share the living quarters of Astonishing Tales #1.


Also this month

America's Best TV Comics #1 (one-shot)
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #15
Millie the Model #159
Not Brand Echh #8
Rawhide Kid #64
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #55

Seriously?

6 comments:

  1. Of all the panels on all the pages of Dr. Strange #169, you had to post that one ... which just happens to be swiped from the cover of M.D. #1 (1955). Johnny Craig was working for Marvel at the time. I wonder if he knew about this?

    http://politedissent.com/images/jun04/md_1.jpg

    Meanwhile, on page 3, Adkins pays tribute to Virgil Finlay by swiping this illustration from the interior of Wonder Story Annual #3 (1952).

    http://farm1.staticflickr.com/48/171223575_fcf5a5b526_o.jpg

    With Nick Fury #1, Steranko had his first run in with Marvel. When Sol Brodsky saw the finished pages, he advised Stan to pay Steranko for 18 pages instead of 20, on the grounds that pages 2 and 3 did not have any word balloons, and therefore there were only 18 pages of writing. It gives you a great insight into the myopic, philistine mentality that creative people face when dealing with unimaginative bean counters. Brodsky should've become a Hollywood Producer. Just think of all the money he could've saved by not paying actors for scenes in which there is action, but no talking.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

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  2. A small correction, Paste-Pot: that's "Groovy Gary," not Mike "No Relation" Friedrich (who joined the Marvel ranks a few years later on) briefly scripting X-MEN, sandwiched in between Roy Thomas and Arnold Drake, and INCREDIBLE HULK. Since Steranko's stint encompasses only artwork, and lasts a mere two issues (plus one cover), I wouldn't get my hopes up, although I will be reading it for the first time myself.

    Professor Jack, you've touched on something I keep forgetting to mention, but which has long bothered me, i.e., this fetish for captions that purport to indicate precise increments of time. I don't know which annoys me more, the fact that some of them are wildly impossible ("less than one microsecond later..."), or that it really makes no friggin' difference whether it was seven seconds, eight seconds, or two and a half minutes. Why not simply say something like, "Soon afterward...," and be done with it? But believe it or not, Roy will be once again knocking our socks off in a few issues.

    Of course the ultimate X-Men/Avengers crossover is Greg Cox's Gamma Quest trilogy of novels, in which we make the acquaintance of Matthew Bradley, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (no, I'm not making this up).

    Regarding Ditko, I am an unswerving champion of his work on Dr. Strange, but that doesn't mean I don't like some other interpretations of the character (e.g., by Adkins, Colan, Brunner).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Matthew, I love Colan and Brunner too. I just was struck by how much better Ditko's origin story seemed. Glenn, how the heck did Adkins find all of those obscure panels to swipe? Doesn't it seem like it would take forever? OK, for my next panel, I need a doctor at an operating table. Let me go through 30 years of obscure comics until I find one I can trace. Now on to panel two. How did that work exactly? Wouldn't it be quicker just to draw something?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Adkins would have had access to Wally Wood's substantial swipe file, which would explain the E.C. stuff and Wood's own pulp illustrations. I have to guess Adkins was a science fiction fan, and probably had his own collection of pulps to draw upon.

    The Adkins saga never ends. Last night, while looking for a decent pic of the Finlay Illustration, I stumbled upon this.

    http://tinyurl.com/cj9pgjy

    Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that Adkins did not draw anything, and that every page he ever produced is just an endless collage of other people's work.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)




    ReplyDelete
  5. Some nice covers this month from the Marvel Men.
    And some fine analysis from the faculty, well done!
    Cool shout out by Prof. Matthew for author Greg Cox, too!
    But wait, no recap of Not Brand Echh?? Dagnabit....

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fish!

    I'm holding out until May 69 (the final issue) for a memorial.

    ReplyDelete