Wednesday, October 3, 2012

August 1968: The Surfer Gets His Own Title At Last!

The Amazing Spider-Man 63
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Turns out the original Vulture (Adrian Toomes) didn't die in prison and is back in town. The octogenarian was able to stage a fire in a prison supply room and make a clean break but he's got lots on his mind. First up, breaking his pupil, Blackie Drago (aka The Vulture II) out of the hoosgow so he can beat him to a pulp in front of a live audience. The old man still has quite a bit of pride and considers the job Drago did in the wings a tarnish on his good/bad name. He intends to show the world The Vulture is in the upper echelons of "the hierarchy of crime." Meanwhile, The Amazing Spider-Man/Peter Parker is having another one of those rough weeks that has been plaguing him, it seems, since being bitten by that pesky arachnid. He has a nasty fall in the rain and hurts his shoulder, his school work is suffering, Gwen Stacy still won't give him the time of day and then there's the biggest elephant in the room, Norman Osborn. Peter is walking the streets, contemplating all his bad luck, when he happens upon the two birds fighting high in the sky. Hoping the duo will take care of each other, and still smarting a bit from the fall, Parker goes up to The Daily Bugle instead. There, J. Jonah Jameson is excitedly looking for a photographer to snap shots of the fighting criminals above his office building. Just as the two reach the roof, The Vultures damage a balcony a young boy has been playing on. Knowing he can't let the screaming, annoying, obese little monster fall to his death (even though the readers would love to see it), Parker runs off and changes. Spider-Man is able to save the boy, Vulture I pummels Vulture II into submission, and police arrive to cart Drago away. Unfortunately, saving the little street urchin has completely numbed the wall-crawler's arm just as The Original Vulture moves in for the kill!

PE: Don Heck makes up for all his past Amazing Spider-Man sins with one of his best jobs ever (over Romita's layouts). That splash page is a classic. But, ahem, about that escape from death. So, we were led to believe (back in The Amazing Spider-Man #48-49) that Adrian Toomes, the original Vulture was on his deathbed when he divulged his secret and the whereabouts of his spare wings to cellmate Blackie Drago. When Drago showed his true colors by mocking his mentor and then escaping, Toomes had a miraculous recovery (his "will to live grew stronger than (his) illness!"), killed a guard, set a fire in the prison and slipped out in the guard's uniform. Evidently, no one thought to check on Toomes in his hospital bed and the old-timer was forgotten (so much for bedpans and Ringer's Lactate). I've read some dopey resurrection explanations in my years but this one stretches credulity as far as Reed Richards' right arm.

MB: I’ll say this for Stan—he really tries to mix it up when the Vulture’s involved, substituting a new one last time and having them duke it out this time, although you’ll notice he also takes pains to give Peter a handicap, first a cold and now a sore shoulder.  I’m not a Vulture fan, but I certainly prefer the original to the pretender, especially since Adrian Toomes really looks, if you’ll excuse the expression, like an old buzzard, and his humbling of Drago was a foregone conclusion.  If the schism with Gwen is dragging on a bit, it’s the nature of the beast, and maybe Peter’s sit-down with Captain Stacy will clear it up; meanwhile, I loved how Spidey completely ignored both Vultures to rescue the endangered little boy, and was given due credit.

PE: I had trouble accepting The Vulture's motive behind busting Blackie out of prison until half way through the story when you realize the old geezer just wants the world's respect. I mean, sure, that kind of respect is a little on the deranged side but everyone wants to be taken seriously, right? He's built himself up as a Tier-One Villain (and I'll allow that) and his protege has disgraced the good name. Sometimes it's more than just jewelry store heists to these guys. Lots of good "Peter Parker Private Life" stuff this issue: we find out that Flash Thompson is on his way to Viet Nam; the rift between Petey and Gwen is becoming a chasm; Captain Stacy wants to meet up with Parker for lunch and that has Peter thinking the old man may be on to his costumed alter ego; but most intriguing of all: What to do when the father of your best friend is perhaps one nightmare away from completing that puzzling, dark picture of an unmasked Spider-Man? Stan continues to inch us towards the inevitable and does so with a large portion of good old-fashioned suspense.

Captain Marvel 4
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Mar-Vell reflects upon the fact that although considered a hero, he may one day have to signal Earth’s destruction, and that if Logan recovers from the coma induced by the Super Skrull’s attack, he may expose “Lawson” as an alien.  At the launch of the new Argos III missile, Mar-Vell learns that it contains various deadly bacteria that will be ejected to test their reactions to cosmic rays, but Yon-Rogg brings it down prematurely to poison New York.  On his way to visit Reed Richards, the Sub-Mariner tries to help prevent the release of the germs in the harbor, so Mar-Vell must attack him in compliance with Yon-Rogg’s orders and find a way to let Namor win, while persuading the colonel—watching on his visi-screen—that he did his utmost.

MB: Marvel writers love to engineer cross-overs between their titles, and the pleasure of Roy’s having the Sub-Mariner guest-star here (in between issues 4 and 5 of his own book) is only enhanced by the thrill of seeing Namor reunited with longtime artist Gene Colan.  Kudos to Roy for changing up the Marvel Misunderstanding formula, this time by having Mar-Vell knowingly tackle a well-intentioned Namor only because of Yon-Rogg’s orders, in a fine donnybrook that reminds us yet again how formidable a foe he is, and I love the ingenuity with which he extricates himself from those selfsame orders.  Gene’s deceptively quiet but dramatic splash page visualizes the pensive Kree soldier as, in his own words, “perhaps the most tormented being in two far-flung galaxies!”

PE: That good guy/bad guy back 'n' forth at the climax got a bit complicated but for the most part this is another solid, enjoyable outing. It could very well have been just another excuse for a Marvel Misunderstanding but the action's well-handled, the back story of Mar-Vell's constant peeping toms remains intriguing, and the gorgeous pencils of Gentleman Gene certainly don't hamper.

The Incredible Hulk 106
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As the Missing Link monster barrels down on Banner, Talbot, and Rick Jones, help arrives when Betty Ross drives her car into the radioactive creature.  Though injured, she buys them enough time to escape.  That is, except for Bruce, who gets scooped up by the Missing Link.  The creature’s burning touch once again triggers Bruce’s metamorphosis into the raging Hulk.  The monsters renew their battle while Nick Fury and the troops of S.H.I.E.L.D. are called in by Thunderbolt Ross to assist.  A helicarrier that looks like one used by Fury’s troops hovers down and sucks up the two bestial combatants into the ship with some tele-rays.  Thunderbolt Ross assumes that it was S.H.I.E.L.D. that took the gruesome twosome, but when Fury arrives shortly afterwards it is revealed that the monsters are being held captive by Russian agent Yuri Brevlov.  The commie and his men have imprisoned the Missing Link and the Hulk in separate chamber cells while they plan on taking them back home to experiment and hopefully create more Missing Link-type creatures.  The Hulk doesn’t sit still for long, though, as he breaks out of his prison room and starts to destroy everything.  He busts himself outside the ship but is too far up in the air to jump.  Yuri orders the pilots to fly down lower as he goes outside the ship to recapture the Hulk, equipped with a gas gun and wearing metal gravity boots to prevent himself from falling.  Even though he warns his crew not to interfere, they do so to help their fearless leader.  In the end, Yuri purposely shoots down a farmhouse because he believes it is pointless to continue pursuing the Hulk.  Only after his gang reminds him that it would be treason to let the Hulk go unmolested does he realize that he can kill the Hulkster, but only if he risks also killing a child that the Hulk has saved from the same farm.      

Hulk forget he needed air to breathe
Tom:  The Hulk bullpen throws a nice twist into the game as they advert the typical plotline of the Hulk beating up some similarly grotesque villain, only to go on to do the same thing next month.  The appearance of Yuri could only bring a smile to my face as this is the type of fun stuff that happens in comics to make them great.  It’s nice to be surprised every once in awhile when you think that you know the way things are supposedly heading for a story.    

MB:  Among the army of artistes who created this issue, one name stands out in retrospect:  Herb Trimpe, absent from the strip for many months, who begins gradually making it his own, even though he merely provides pencils in between Severin’s breakdowns and the ubiquitous Tuska’s inks.  This early in his tenure on Iron Man, I'm still getting a handle on Archie Goodwin’s writing, but I won't find one here, since he and Roy divvied up the script.  Marie et al. seem to cancel one another out, leaving many a panel with no identifiable style whatsoever; as for the story, I wish the Missing Link had stayed missing (what’s with these “permanent” changes to Banner/Hulk that are anything but?), and dragging in this Yuri Brevlov joker is no help.

Go, Betty, Go!
Jack: The confusion of credits for this issue means it is a pretty poor effort. Goodwin writes the first half, Thomas writes the second half, Severin does the layouts, Trimpe the pencils, and Tuska the inks. All in all, very disappointing for Herb Trimpe’s first job as penciller of a Hulk comic. The scene where Hulk goes out of the ship in space and is followed by Colonel Brevlov is laughable, since neither one of them seems to notice the lack of air. That sure looks like a 1968 Karmen Ghia that Betty Ross is driving. I don’t think that’s the car I’d want if I were trying to ram a radioactive missing link, but I have to give her big girlfriend points for trying.

One panel sums up what a
mess this issue is

Sub-Mariner 4
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Attuma, the renegade warlord of the sea, has rallied his men as he plans on taking over the remnants of the people of Atlantis.  As he holds court during a meeting, one of his minions named Gorgul objects to his leadership and challenges him to a duel.  Attuma strikes immediately with his powerful hammer.  His attack leaves Gorgul permanently blind.  Instead of killing him, Attuma lets him live to serve as a reminder for anyone who would dare oppose him in the future.  With his troops armed to the teeth, Attuma and his horde attack the Atlanteans.  Even though they put up a valiant struggle, many of them are killed before they are forced into slavery.  Namor is still on his quest to find Reed Richards so that he can help him locate the evil Destiny.  His underwater journey causes him to cross paths with some of Attuma’s men.  After a brief fight, he lets them take him prisoner so that they can lead him directly to Attuma.  At the villain’s headquarters aboard his ship, Namor springs into action, ready to attack.  The hero is shaken up, though, as Attuma boasts that his love Dorma has been killed.  When the villain shows Namor that his captured people are now forced into slavery, it’s almost too much for him to bear.  Because of tradition, Namor fights Attuma one on one, with the warlord wearing a powerful battle suit.  No matter how hard he fights, Attuma keeps besting Subby.  Behind the scenes, the blind Gorgul takes down a few of Attuma’s guards and saves Dorma.  The warlord’s armor controlled by others who help him to keep on winning.  Once he knocks them out, Gorgul dies just in time for Dorma to deactivate Attuma’s armor.  In the end, Namor is victorious, as he continues traveling towards Reed Richards, believing that Dorma is dead.   

Turns out Buscema can
draw pretty girls!
Tom:  Some very cool storytelling that almost makes one forget Attumas’s previous inept attempts at world conquering in Tales to Astonish.  Gorgul was a nice touch to make this story slightly unpredictable.   

MB: Methinks that if the current creative combo of Thomas, Buscema, and Giacoia had been able to remain on board, this book would have enjoyed the enduring success of Subby’s fellow split-book alumni Cap, Greenskin, and Shellhead.  From that splash page of the stunning Lady Dorma to his peerless portrayal of Attuma (one of my favorite Marvel villains), Big John’s pencils are every bit the equal of his work on Avengers or, now, Silver Surfer, while few can do them justice as effectively as Fearless Frank.  This marks the first appearance of Attuma’s court jester, Saru-San, who—without giving away any specifics—meets a macabre end at the hands of everybody’s favorite Latverian during the uneasy Super-Villain Team-Up Doom/Namor alliance.

Jack: This is another solid issue, with great art by Buscema, a fast-moving story, and even a bit of pathos. So far, the Sub-Mariner solo book is a consistent winner!

A boy and his dog

The Silver Surfer 1
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We begin with the poor Silver Surfer saving the life of a soldier and then being pursued forcefully by the unconscious colonel’s army cohorts.  He breaks through top of the line missile defenses all over the world.  Even while being chased by humans, he cherishes the beauty of the earth and is confused by the insanity of humanity.  He is mortified that he is stranded on this planet when he has known the freedom of the universe. Silver Surfer disappears into his memories of his perfect race and a world which greatly dissatisfied him.   He yearned for excitement, meaning and space travel.  Basically he wants to be a player.  Little did he know that his wishes will become truer than he wants!!! Then, back in the present day on Earth – he is attacked by Yetis, yes, Yetis.  His kindness shows through when sympathizing with the savage Yetis and feeling he does not want to use his powers to harm them.
S.S. (Norrin Radd) reviews his failed friendships – he helps the Hulk to escape and gets growled at in return – he meets Dr. Doom who tricks and betrays him.  The remorse that the Silver Surfer feels for leaving his homeland Zenn-La and his lady love Shalla Bal is palpable. More memories follow:  Shalla Bal realizes that she cannot give Norrin the freedom and adventure he needs.  THEN . . . Galactus appears and chaos ensues.  In order to fight the unknown sphere (later exposed as Galactus’ ship) that is bearing down on them, the Zenn—La  let loose the “Weapon Supreme” which uses deadly cobalt energy!  Their world is virtually destroyed with the use of this defense tactic and the survivors are distraught.  This feeling is amplified when they realize that Galactus’ sphere is still on the attack.  Hope is all but lost – until Norrin Radd singly goes up on an ancient ship to converse with Galactus in order to save Zenn-La. Norrin meets with the mighty Galactus – who explains his need to consume planets and how he does not wish to hurt beings, but has no way to find uninhabited planets without a herald.  Saving the da, Norrin Radd and offers himself to be Galactus’ herald in exchange for sparing his planet and his people.  After much magical stuff, VOILA – the Silver Surfer appears.  In his new guise, Norrin says goodbye to his heart-throb and ventures forth to save sentient worlds from Galactus’ hunger.   Tragically, Galactus has gone way past his feeding time when they are passing Earth.  Silver Surfer has had enough, and he teams up with the Fantastic Four in order to put a stop to the destruction of this wonderful planet.  The “ultimate nullifier” is found (see Fantastic Four #50
) and Earth has a way to defend itself!  Unfortunately, although the world was saved, the Silver Surfer has again put his happiness at stake and is punished when Galactus takes his space-time powers away, condemning him to a life on Earth.

The Wonder of the Watcher
Someone is dying in the hospital and there is a sense that the hospital staff is being  watched . . . and so they are!  The Watcher’s disembodied face appears in the background.  He is sad that even with all of his powers he can’t help, but remembers why . .
The Watcher and his father, Ikor, were convinced that their much advanced race needed to help those beings less able.  A High Tribunal member, Emnu, was worried about their self-indulging motive and felt that since they were not gods, they should leave well enough alone.  Alas, Emnu was outvoted.
The powerful group headed to Prosilicus with their cosmic anti-matter isotopes and gave them atomic energy in order to advance their world and give them advantages they couldn’t imagine in medicine, power, etc.  Emnu still resisted but Ikor insisted that helping the Prosilicans was the right thing to do.  Sadly, it just took a few Prosilicans to get the idea to build war weapons from their gift of atomic energy.  They even attacked the next door planet (who quickly attacked back).  Huge nuclear holocaust destroyed both worlds.  When the radiation was low enough, the race of Watchers returned to Prosilicus.  They were blamed and cursed by the survivors for their gift that was given before they were morally ready.
This is why the Watcher is destined to watch and only watch.

NC:  I loved the vivid art work, the pathos, and the personal information (about Norrin Radd) portrayed in this episode.  It would have been an exciting thing to go down to the store when this comic was first released!

MB: Buscema and Sinnott were, respectively, my favorite penciler and inker in Marvel’s first quarter-century, and although that doesn’t guarantee they’d make good partners, they’re also my favorite team.  With all due respect to the King’s unsurpassed talent for action and spectacle, I doubt Jack could have created the expressive, often anguished features of Buscema’s Surfer, while the full-page shots of Galactus, and especially of the Surfer kneeling below his outstretched hand, prove Big John as Kirby’s equal.  Stan matches them panel for panel; even the primary story in the first issue of this book—a super-sized bimonthly, selling for a budget-busting 25¢—is about twice as long as an average comic but never feels padded, and that’s to say nothing of the Watcher origin.

PE: I've read about it in many places but the one I'll cite here is probably the most reliable (and easiest to track down). Mark Evanier, a good friend and assistant to Jack Kirby, details in his biography of The King (Kirby, King of Comics), how The Silver Surfer #1 may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Jack had been working on a major Surfer epic for The Fantastic Four when he got the news that there was a new Surfer title on the horizon. Well, actually more than on the horizon - it was already at the presses. Jack had not even been consulted about a major event concerning his own creation. The biggest insult to Kirby though was that Stan had enlisted Buscema to draw this new blockbuster. Their relationship already growing tenser by the day, things took a nosedive from there and, after he was refused a larger pay scale by Marvel, Kirby left for DC at the beginning of 1970.

Jack: Even though I got a little Superman feeling at times during this story (the origin on another planet that is doomed, the fortress in the snow), I think it’s a classic origin issue. The Buscema/Sinnott art is great, and I think Sinnott’s influence makes Buscema’s pencils veer into Kirby territory in places. At 38 pages, this is an epic story, and I nominate it as one of the top ten Marvel comics of the 1960s. It’s a shame Kirby didn’t get the assignment, though, because it really looks like it should have been his.

MB:  The Second Golden Age of Marvel herewith reaches its zenith, with 14 super-hero series being published.  It’s interesting to note that the very same Bullpen Bulletin heralding (haha) this book promised solo strips for Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom in ’68, yet in spite of next year’s “auditions” in Marvel Super-Heroes, those—and one for the recently orphaned Inhumans—did not eventuate until the split books resurged in 1970.  In Son of Origins, Stan is a little hazy on his history when he claims that Buscema “made his mark on” the FF and Spidey before tackling the Surfer, and if I remember correctly, this origin for the hitherto unnamed Norrin Radd isn’t 100% consistent with the original Galactus trilogy from FF #48-50…but I won’t quibble with a classic.

Jack: The 13 page backup story is another great one, detailing the origin of the Watcher with great art by Colan. Fifty-one pages of great new material in a 25 cent comic book? This is one of the best!

NC:  The motion shown in the Watcher art work is fantastic. Gene Colan, who also worked on other popular titles such as Daredevil and Tales to Astonish, impresses me greatly.  I also love the expressive facial expressions. The fact that the Watcher had (in FF #50) given Johnny the ultimate nullifier reminds me greatly of the Star Trek Prime Directive (which they always seem to ignore).  

PE: Introducing Marvel University's newest professor, Noel Cavanaugh! Thanks for joining our merry band of misfits, Noel.

Captain America 104
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Thinking himself a happy-go-lucky Avenger, Captain America is busy at SHIELD headquarters testing new LMDs (that's Life Model Decoys to the uninitiated- Paste Pot) when a new wave of migraine headaches crashes down around him. The source of the pain becomes clear very soon as The Red Skull announces to the star-spangled Avenger that the nuclear tape he fastened to Cap's neck (last issue) is up and running. If Cap does not return to Skull Island for a bout with the Fiery Fiend, The Skull will activate an H-Bomb in the nation's capital. Cap has no choice but to pack his boxing gloves and head back to the island. There he must face not just The Red Skull but the Evil Exiles: Cadavus, Monarch of the Murder Chair (an old geezer in a laser-blasting wheelchair); Gruning, master of the electrical whip; Jurge "Iron Hand" Hauptman, whose steel-backed right uppercut is a killer; the neanderthal Krushki, deadly Russian wrestler without a shirt; Baldini, who uses a deadly... um, scarf... as his weapon; and, maybe most fearsome of all, General Ching, who just wants to atomize the whole lot of them and get down to the business of conquering earth already! One by one the Exiles take their best shot at Captain America and in order they fall leaving only The Skull standing. Knowing he can't possibly vanquish his longtime enemy, The Skull decides to activate the H-Bomb, only to find that the agents of SHIELD have managed to defuse it in time and are even now invading the beaches of Skull Island. The Seven Sinners of Sadism all hop aboard a sub and hoof it, leaving Cap to raise the American flag on... well, wherever the island is.

PE: The Master of Evil, yes, but sometimes the dialogue that emits from The Skull's mouth is borderline-hilarious. At times, it's almost like Stan is scripting an Addams Family episode. Yep, I know the Nazis were monsters but did they ever say things like "I can't wait until evil and famine rule the world again!" Nope, in their skewed universe, they were cleansing the earth, not bringing it down. But this is still Captain America as presented by The Man and The King and for every silly quotation, I can find three glorious, such as when Cap is goaded by one of the Skull's Ratzi henchmen and answers him back: "Speak your piece and have done with it! Since time immemorial -- even the jackal can taunt the lion... but his foe still remains the lion!" The climax is way too quick (evidently Tony Stark defuses the bomb and Fury's Howling Commandos invade Skull Island all in about one Marvel hour) and I'm still a little vague on why The Skull would equip his bomb with an "electronic contact" so that if it was defused, Cap would be free of his brainwashing abilities.

MB:  The Red Skull is in good hands with Dan Adkins, who steps in for Syd Shores as inker this month, yet despite the fun Jolly Jack appears to have had drawing the Skull’s underlings, the Exiles, I find them rather dull.  In fact, this whole arc has failed to catch fire with me, which is ironic, since I had just observed over in Captain Marvel that a ticking nuclear bomb was a pretty good recipe for suspense.  One problem is that I can’t help remembering how Skully had Cap in a position where he had to obey his every command when last they met, and managed to bollix that as well, but on the bright side, at least we now know definitively why the Nazis lost World War II:  “Because the Fuehrer did not listen to me!”  I’m certainly glad that’s cleared up.

The Mighty Thor 155
Our Story

Thor goes to the hospital where his beloved Sif has recovered, knowing that although Odin has been strangely silent, the shadow of Ragnarok (the end of the world) is clearly encroaching, and it is time they return to Asgard to join in what may be their final battle. Karnilla the Norn Queen unleashes the long frozen Legion of The Lost upon Balder, who has spurned her love, and prevents his return to aid his fellows. Loki takes advantage of the Odinsleep, and in the absence of his liege, takes over the throne, ordering the Warriors Three to go forth and battle Mangog alongside their fellow Asgardians. Thor and Sif arrive home again, and have not the time to oust Loki from the throne. Telling Sif to remain behind and guard Odin as he sleeps, the Thunder God heeds the call of duty. Bad news travels fast, and as far away as the Rigel system, the vibrations of Mangog’s arrival are felt. Knowing that the end of life is close at hand, the Rigelian High Commissioner sends the robotic Recorder to record what may be the last events of history. Mangog gets ever closer to Asgard, and nothing can stop him. Three storm giants are felled with a single blow, and the beast arrives at a distant Asgardian outpost, shaking it into rubble. Odin’s warriors fire their mightiest weapon, a force arrow that shatters a mountain above Mangog. For a moment hope is felt, but Mangog frees himself quickly, tossing the mountain effortlessly back. By the time Thor arrives on the scene, the Warriors Three are trapped behind some fallen rocks, and before he can free them, he meets his deadly nemesis at last, who pins him to a rock.  

JB: From the staggering cover to the last panel where Thor seems to face certain death at the claws of Mangog, this is one sweet story, as my daughter would say (if she liked Thor comics). I can’t help but love this giant yellow fiend for the sheer simplicity of his nature: brute force, ugliness and unreasoning hatred. Not qualities I’d normally like in anyone. A few months back the Destroyer had been animated by the life force of Sif. If he had been brought back to life again here… The Destroyer vs. Mangog; whose titanic powers would win?

PE: Stan and Jack's stuffed blender from last issue threatens to explode this time out. All the various storylines advance and even more elements are added. The monstrous power of Mangog ("The unimaginable might of a billion billion beings!") makes one wonder what The Man and The King could pull out of their magic bag of tricks to topple this seemingly-unbeatable foe. Perhaps a team-up of Thor and The Hulk? Whatever the boys have (had) planned in the next two chapters, know ye this, all thee who read mine words and heed - The Mighty Thor is the best all-around strip of 1968, hands down.

MB: I’ve never been that big a Thor guy, yet every once in a while there’s a story where it all comes together, and I’m so excited about this one that I’ll glide over the question of how Thor suddenly does know what’s going on in Asgard, so abruptly that I thought I had missed an issue. The dramatic possibilities afforded by the threat of Mangog (the “the” now seems to be optional) and Ragnarok are mined to fullest advantage by Stan and Jack and—yes—Vince.  Some favorite elements:  the way everybody senses the looming danger; Sif’s customary courage; the glimpses of Ego and the Recorder; the byplay among the Warriors Three; Thor’s filial love; Loki’s refusal to wake up and smell the coffee, reminiscent of Baron Mordo as the Living Tribunal approached.

JB: The story wastes no time setting the ominous tone of Ragnarok right from page one (“verily there be dark clouds a’ gathering”), yet thought the mood is consistent, we are updated on everyone’s whereabouts in a timely manner, and the restless jousting of the warriors three is a nice moment of comic relief. My heart is always warmed by the appearance of the Rigelian Recorder, whose unlikely friendship with Thor carries on for years to come. Some might feel his sci-fi bent is out of place here, but his appearance underscores the danger the entire universe, not just Asgard is facing. There’s many nice panels here, such as a recovered Sif looking especially stunning (bottom of page three), the cut-to approach of the Mangog as Thor warns Loki that he’s not going to be spared certain death (bottom page ten), and of course the full-pager as Mangog lifts the mountain under which he was buried.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 3
Our Story

Fury comes to Scotland in answer to a summons from army buddy Ken Astor, only to be told that the constable has been found dead on the moor near Castle Ravenlock, and meets three ghost hunters asked by Lord Gavin to investigate the legendary Hell-Hound:  Mycroft, his blind ward, Rachel, and Countess Caution.  Gavin’s stepson Rampson asks caretaker Angus MacGregor to relate the story of Black Hugh Ravenlock, whose vengeful ghost haunts the moors with his accursed hound.   After a séance apparently summons Hugh, Rachel is mysteriously drawn to the moor, where the hound vanishes after shrugging off bullets and Gavin is found dead, but Fury identifies Mycroft, an ex-Nazi U-boat commander, as the human culprit.

MB: To his credit, Steranko (whose work is here delineated with self-effacing professionalism by Dan Adkins) tried to vary the fare in Fury’s solo book from the standard S.H.I.E.L.D. tales, much as I may personally prefer the spy stuff.  This affectionate pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is no exception, even if he does give it an espionage-oriented twist at the end, with Nick’s discovery of the Nazi submarine that Jim playfully proffers as the origin of the Loch Ness legend.  Homages abound—most notably the character of Mycroft (the namesake, natch, of Sherlock’s brother), who bears a suspicious resemblance to famed screen Holmes Basil Rathbone—while Jim plays with color, or lack thereof, and layout in one- and two-page spreads.

Iron Maiden? Excellent!
Jack: This issue is best described as a beautiful mess! The art is gorgeous, the setting outstanding, and the theme a favorite. The influences fly fast and furious, from the obvious (Holmes) to the pretty obvious (The Spirit) to the less obvious (E.C.). The problem with the story is similar to what has plagued this series since Steranko took over—muddled plotting. I was getting toward the end of the issue in my usual fog of not quite understanding what was going on when I reached the page that is about half text. At that point, I just gave up trying to figure it out. I have to wonder if this was originally planned as more than one issue and they had to jam it all in at the last minute. A better plotter would have used the 20 pages more wisely; as it is, there is a splash page and two double-page spreads. Kind of hard to tell a story when you’re so focused on big, splashy art displays.

Did Will Eisner collect royalties?
PE: A crazy quilt of various genres and media, the end result, for me at least, is one big disappointment. The chance of seeing Nick Fury starring as Sherlock Holmes is intriguing but, by the climax, which collapses from its own wordage, I was ready for a return visit by The Yellow Claw. Who told Jaunty Jim that Fury's trip behind the iron maiden was worth 500 words rather than nine panels?

Jack: I think the Marvel folks painted themselves into a corner with Fury’s speech patterns. Having him lapse into the uneducated Sarge-speak from the Big One every so often just makes him seem out of place among more well educated people. I don’t think it would have been too hard for him to learn to speak in the decades since WWII.

JS: I do love this cover. I wonder how many kids picked this issue up expecting to get a DC style mystery book...

The Invincible Iron Man 4
Our Story

In a Stark Factory laboratory, Tony Stark is able to transform The Freak back into a perfectly normal chauffeur named Happy Hogan, much to the glee of his Happy's wife Pepper. Meanwhile, many miles away behind the (COMMIE ALERT!) Iron Curtain, a gaggle of commie scientists are attempting to reactivate the super-villain known as The Unicorn. Unfortunately for the reds, once the baddie has been revived and rejuiced, he trashes the lab, treats the professors with disrespect, and takes his act out on the road. Since the Hyper-Activator (the gizmo that gave The Unicorn his strength) also cuts short the recipient's life span, he has to find someone who can reverse the process. Someone really smart. Someone who's good with electrical stuff. Coincidentally, there's a conference of the biggest brains in the world being held over at The Alpine Lounge, with Tony Stark's name very visible amongst the dignitaries. The Unicorn decides to bust the party, find himself a professor that can help him with his problem, and ransom off the remaining brains. Luckily, Tony has packed his work clothes for the seminar.

PE: When Tony Stark tires of making billions off weapons he can market his Enervation Intensifier as a hair growth aid. Hell, send one my way! How many times do we have to read "This battle has severely strained my circuits!"? Tough to get excited about this one. The story's mediocre, the art's all wrong, and the villain's purely fifth-tier. The Unicorn is resuscitated, causes a bit of violence, has a mild tussle with Shellhead, and disappears. 20 pages of filler.

MB:  For some reason, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Unicorn (even though I didn’t see many of his appearances until years after the fact), so Goodwin gets brownie points from me for bringing him back, and assuming Craig designed his new and improved duds, he can share in the credit.  I do recall that the idea of Uni’s enhanced power being accompanied by this physical deterioration becomes increasingly important in subsequent stories, so Archie is yet again laying significant groundwork here, and his skill with scripting seems to equal his plotting, although he is clearly making Tony a bit more introspective than we have sometimes seen him.  But perhaps the reaffirmation he gains from battling the Unicorn—well illustrated by Craig—will offset that.

Daredevil 43
Our Story

Daredevil is heartbroken after Karen proclaims that she wants to leave the law office where she works with Matt and Foggy.  Once she reveals it’s because of Matt himself, he spurns her, acting like a jerk.  Training by himself, Daredevil picks up on his senses that some mook has stolen radioactive syringes from a nearby hospital.  Double D leaps into action, cornering the thief before he knocks him out.  Unfortunately for him, the radioactivity from the stolen goods causes Daredevil to lose his senses after a brief origin flashback.  While he wants to hunt the Jester, who has been on the loose since the previous issue, Daredevil sets his sights instead on Captain America, who has been fighting/boxing people in matches for charity.  Double D, acting unlike himself, knocks aside the regular combatant, just to face the Captain, and a wild brawl ensues.  The two fight pillar to post.  Eventually, the Captain takes the upper hand.  As he chases Daredevil out of the arena, Captain America realizes that the hero hasn’t been acting like himself.  The story ends with everyone wondering just what is wrong with Daredevil.
Gene Colan's unused cover
Tom:  Fun story even if it has little substance.  Still, it could have been worse.  Not much else going on in this issue except a good ol’ slugfest.   
Jack: In what seems like a one-shot filler issue, we get several pages of Daredevil whining while working out, a quick recap of his origin, a sudden bout of confusion due to some radium, and yet another Marvel Misunderstanding as Hornhead fights Captain America for charity. The Kirby cover is a beaut but I like the unused cover by Colan even better. Has anyone else noticed an increase in the use of Zip-A-Tone by Marvel artists? I wonder if this was a way to increase their page count with the 1968 expansion.

JS: Jack, I want you to take another look at that Kirby cover. I can appreciate the King's style, but this one is chock-full-of perspective issues. Hopefully Glenn can fill us in on the origin of this disaster.

MB:   Colletta seems to be vying with Adkins for Inker of the Month this time, adding DD to his usual duties on Captain Marvel (where he is also paired up with Colan) and Thor.  The Weird Science Award yet again goes to Daredevil, in this case for the mysterious radiation with the unique effect of making the person exposed to it suddenly want to beat up on a national hero, although I suppose in light of all the strange things that radiation (cosmic, gamma, or otherwise) has done to people in Marvel’s history, I shouldn’t be surprised.  If nothing else, it’s an unusual means of accomplishing the Marvel Misunderstanding du jour, even if I would have preferred to have Hornhead stick around long enough to offer Cap an explanation, however lame it sounded.

The X-Men 47
Our Story

Picking up where we left off last issue, with the disbanding of the X-Men, Beast and Iceman are wandering the streets feeling sorry for themselves. They stop in the Cafe-a-Go-Go and get into a tussle with some hipsters. From there, they luck into tickets to the hottest show in town, Maha Yogi. Bobby spoils the fun when he realizes that M.Y. is really The Warlock. Fortunately for readers, the confrontation is wrapped up in this issue.

MB:   This is another of those “it takes a village” issues, with a credit monolith worthy of today’s Hollywood; the Heck/Roth/Tartaglione artistic trio is familiar, but writer Gary Friedrich, who has yet to define himself in my eyes, is joined by a new name, that of longtime DC veteran Arnold Drake.  Although the two issues drawn by Jim Steranko will undoubtedly be a highlight, I believe the remainder of Drake’s run (#48-54) is largely undistinguished, and brought the book closer to cancellation.  We resume the short-lived gimmick of spotlighting individual characters in both the title treatment and the story, in this case Iceman (also the subject of this issue’s page-wasting “X-Family Album” spot) and the Beast, who face a forgettable warlock, the Maha Yogi.

JS: I think I saw Maha Yogi when he opened for George Harrison.

PE: I can't, for the life of me, figure out which dimension we're constantly dropped into for these crappy X-Men "adventures." Take the Cafe-A-Go-Go (please!). These toughs that Bobby and Hank fight, in the swingenest nightclub this side of Riverdale, dress like extras from The Mod Squad, talk like beatniks from the 50s, and carry motorcycle chains as weapons. Why would these caricatures hang out in a poetry lounge? And, good Christ, did anybody ever talk like this, really? I believe, by this point in The X-Men's printing history, the "creative team" behind the worst Marvel published monthly was being told "Just fill the damn pages!"

JS: The disappointing run of the X-Men continues. In a few years (Marvel) time, perhaps we'll look back at these issues and have forgotten everything about them. In the mean time, click your heels and keep repeating, "Wein, Cockrum, Claremont and Byrne." 

Jack: This bids fair to be the worst issue yet of X-Men. Like this month’s Hulk, it took two writers and three artists to create this uninspired 15 pages of junk. I knew we were in trouble when we headed back to the Café A Go Go. The odd practice of featuring individual team members’ names on the cover in letters bigger than the title of the comic book continues; readers could easily mistake this for an issue of The Beast and Ice Man comics. As for the five-page backup story with the Ice-Man, it’s pure corn and a waste of space.

JS: What's important to point out is that the only title less interesting to a comic reader than The Beast & Iceman would have been The X-Men. I'm surprised they didn't call it Hank & Bobby, to distance it even further from the X-Men...

Doctor Strange 171
Our Story

Back at home, Dr. Strange decides to search for Clea, summoning Victoria Bentley to assist him. They journey to an unknown dimension and are pulled into a strange globe, where Dr. Strange battles a skeletal creature before being confronted with Dormammu, who holds both Victoria and Clea captive.

Jack: The Grand Comics Database shows this as Tom Palmer’s first credit, so I’ll give him a break—after all, he will go on to be Gene Colan’s inker on Tomb of Dracula, one of the best Marvel series ever. I don’t know when the Sanctum Sanctorum became such a secret that Dr. Strange has to return in hiding—as I recall, in prior issues, everyone in the Village knew who he was and where he lived. If it’s so easy to find Clea, why did he wait so long? Pity poor Victoria Bentley, another broken-hearted female dragged along to help the doctor find his true love. I am puzzled by Roy’s description of the dimension Dr. Strange travels to: “a place which is truly a time—a time which has no spatial existence.” Perhaps Glenn can explain that to us.

MB: This month, we find the visual half of the creative team in flux:  Tom Palmer wields the pencil before trading it in for the pen next month, while Adkins inks not only his swan song here but also the current Captain America and S.H.I.E.L.D. stories.  I’d forgotten what a joy it is to have a whole book devoted to Doc:  in just three issues, Roy has retold his origin, brought back two major villains, and returned the strip’s focus to not one but two long-neglected female characters.  Palmer’s style is not drastically different from what has gone before, especially with Dapper Dan providing continuity, while Roy’s plot and dialogue are both excellent; you’ll note that “each droplet may contain a cosmos” could just as easily describe the current FF storyline.

The Avengers 55
Our Story

Led by the Crimson Cowl, the New Masters of Evil lock the Avengers in an H-bomb poised to be dropped on Manhattan. Jarvis turns out to have been hypnotized and made to pretend to be the Crimson Cowl. The real villain is revealed to be a robot named Ultron-5. Jarvis manages to escape and enlist the aid of the Black Knight, who rides to the rescue and frees the Avengers. They make short work of the bad guys and forgive Jarvis, who confesses to having betrayed them to earn money to pay his mother’s doctor bills.

Jack: The Avengers has been pretty good lately, but this issue reads like a leftover story from the X-Men. The Masters of Evil end up being treated like the third-tier villains they are and the odd betrayal by Jarvis and immediate forgiveness by the Avengers rings false. Don’t worry, though—two issues till the Vision!

MB:  Inker George Klein, whom Thomas aptly compared to Sinnott, was eased out of DC (along with Jim Mooney, Wayne Boring, and others) during the shakeup that coincided with Marvel’s expansion, and worked on several major books before his death in 1969.  This was one of numerous noteworthy issues during his Avengers tenure, with our first sustained look at über-villain Ultron-5, whose impact on the group cannot be overstated, as will soon become clear.  No complaints about the Buscema/Klein team, and I enjoyed the Black Knight’s heroic intervention; my only real reservation is that I don’t believe Jarvis would betray the Avengers—to whose new roster I’m still adjusting—instead of asking boss Tony Stark for those desperately needed funds.

Fantastic Four 77
Our Story

The Terrific Three of Thing, Torch, and Thinko have stayed in the world of Sub-Atomica to forever make our world safe from the menace of Psycho-man. The Silver Surfer, meanwhile, has returned to our world in hopes of finding a source of energy great enough to sustain Galactus, and spare the Earth from destruction—in time we hope! It doesn’t take long for Psycho-man to find them, via an energy beam that transports them to his home planet, actually smack dab into his labyrinthine laboratory. When Psycho-man appears, Johnny wastes no time in launching an attack, but to no avail. The master of Sub-Atomica wasn’t really present, only a mechanically projected image. Wandering in a vast, technologically complex world, apparently uninhabited by any other beings, Reed points out that it’s difficult to judge what’s real and what’s not; they may be surrounded by other beings without knowing it. The Silver Surfer arrives back in Reed’s laboratory in our world, where he regains normal size and is greeted by Crystal and an anxious Sue Richards, the latter of which he grants the gift of sleep to give her relief from her worries. He ventures into space and is spotted by Galactus, who is just about to convert our world to raw energy. Scant seconds remain for the Surfer to find an alternative. He does—a dead distant planet struck by a monstrous meteor. Earth’s end has been averted, but the Silver Surfer’s request for freedom is denied by Galactus, who wants his former herald to be where he can be found should his services be needed in the future. The battle below continues with more false Psycho-man images, until the real one confirms his appearance. When he underestimates the trio, and is buried in a mass of machinery, Ben saves him at Reed’s call. While Psycho-man knows no gratitude, he can read that Mr. Fantastic’s thoughts are true when he says that should Galactus destroy Earth, the micro-world would vanish with it. He sends them back, but the threat of Sub-Atomica still lingers for the future.

JB: This saga wasn’t bad, but perhaps was a bit of a letdown from the beginning, when the threat of Galactus returned. The battle with Psycho-man was pretty boring, especially when, oh yeah, it’s only another “image” of him. I still feel unsatisfied with Sub-Atomica itself; it just didn’t amount to much.      It always puzzled me how Galactus, on the brink of starvation, doesn’t have the ability to find an alternate energy source to feed on. Yet it only takes the Silver Surfer seconds to do so. Is this weakness in his arsenal ever explained to satisfaction?

PE: If not the senses-shattering conclusion I'd hoped for, this installment gets the job done for the most part (except for another maddeningly abrupt climax). The four-part adventure had started to ramble a bit (Galactus needs to eat, the Surfer goes into hiding, The Boys try to fight Galactus but realize they need the Surfer so they go looking for him, only to find Psycho-Man, who's still smarting from his previous defeat...) but still might have benefited from another issue's worth of story. I thought for sure the Surfer was going to display his midwife skills there for a moment. If I was one of those really crafty contemporary comics writers who loves to mess with history, I'd make something of the silver touch to Sue's forehead. Who's babysitting Alicia while the world's ending, by the way?

MB:  For some reason, issues of FF often seem to me less like individual stories than segments of a continuum, resembling Dark Shadows with super-heroes instead of monsters. Given my lack of enthusiasm for the Psycho Man, I was pleasantly surprised by this installment, now that we see him on his home turf, no longer relying on his dubious human hirelings and that Ten Commandments-style psycho-ray gizmo in favor of mixing it up like a regular super-villain, whether in his own body or not.  Professor Pete has advised me that unlike my Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint, the original contains a plug from Stan for Silver Surfer #1, although it seems odd that as far as I know, the latter contains no reference to this escapade, but I guess that’s showbiz.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #5
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #16
Millie the Model #161
Not Brand Ecch #9
Rawhide Kid #65
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #57
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos Annual #4


  1. Paste-Pot: Sadly, this is the last good issue of CAPTAIN MARVEL that we will see for quite some time, although I agree about the climax.

    Welcome aboard, Noel! Good to have you with us.

    I'll never get over the baffling double irony of X-MEN: first, that a book later marked by consistent excellence can be so consistently crappy here, and second, that once it did become awesome, it couldn't sell well enough to prevent cancellation. Worse, from my current perspective, I can tell you not to get your hopes up for those Steranko or Windsor issues. Drake turns out to be the worst thing that ever happened to this book, and his writing is so bad, it pretty much drags down ANYONE'S artwork.

    For the record, the italicized sentence that currently ends my FF comment was intended to supplant, rather than to supplement, the prior sentence. Sorry if I didn't make that clearer.

    While Jack Kirby plotted and pencilled FF #48 he also dreamed up the origins of The Silver Surfer and Galactus. The Surfer became an instant hit, and quickly returned to the pages of the FF and even met the Hulk in TTA.

    After a successful solo story in FF Annual #5, Stan asked Jack to come up with a Fantastic Four story that featured the Surfer. Jack figured this would be a great time to tell the origin story. Accounts differ about the next part of the saga. The most popular version has Stan telling Jack to hold off on the origin, in case the Surfer got his own book. The Surfer/Sub-Atomica story threw the FF off of the cover of their own book, and put the Surfer firmly in the minds of the fans.

    As we know, The Silver Surfer did get his own book, but, without any input from Kirby. Stan came up with his own origin, one that bore no resemblance to Jack's vision. So, what was Jack's origin story?

    In the Kirby version, the Surfer is the creation of Galactus, who forms him from cosmic energy and breathes life into him, for the purpose of searching through space for the planets Galactus needs to survive. In FF #48, the Surfer doesn't utter a single word, and goes about his task without question, ignoring the FF as if they don't exist. In this respect he anticipates the Borg from Star Trek TNG by a couple of decades. In issue #49 the Surfer learns the concept of right and wrong, and the value of all living beings after his encounter with Alicia. He then questions his creator, turns on him, is cast out of the universe, and imprisoned on Earth.

    Stan's origin took the soap opera option, and went with the "man sacrifices himself to save woman he loves" routine, and mixed it in with elements of Superman's origin.

    I can remember how excited I was when I learned that there would be a Silver Surfer book, and how disappointed I was when I saw it and found out that Jack wasn't the artist. Sorry guys, but for me, this was "Kirby Lite."

    You have to love the comic book business. As far as I know, Carl Barks did not receive one cent for the creation of Scrooge McDuck, Gyro Gearloose, Gladstone Gander, the Beagle Boys, etc, and for Kirby, and Ditko, it was more of the same treatment. For Kirby, it wasn't exactly a first. He brought the Spiderman (no hyphen) concept to Marvel, only to see it given to others.

    Why was Gene Colan's Daredevil #43 cover rejected? The little I've learned about this suggests that Stan wanted Captain America to feature more prominently. My speculation is that in addition to wanting to feature Cap, Stan probably didn't like the action taking place in the original, which shows Daredevil in possession of Cap's shield, and delivering a knockout punch to Cap's jaw. Usually, when we have the Mighty Marvel Misunderstanding, the characters are squaring off on the cover, but not striking each-other.

    As John pointed out, the published cover has a strange, skewed perspective. Somehow, despite being further from the reader, DD's left foot is directly between Cap's feet, and Daredevil's left fist is tucked under Cap's right armpit. Maybe this was a major last minute rush job.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  3. A fine month!
    Super Spidey splash page!
    The Vulture looking like Dr. Evil!
    Iconic Surfer cover!
    Prof. Noel!
    More moody Steranko!
    Maybe the worst X-Men ish ever! (Definitely top 3 worst)
    More Red Skull!
    The incredible adventures of Pete Duncan Dropout!
    And the usual terrific faculty commentary!

  4. Thank you for welcoming me! It has been quite an experience writing about my first comic strip caper while travelling around in a campervan. Reading, writing and travelling always seem like a good mix to me.

  5. This months issue of the X-men was one of my first comics. I also got the DD issue from this month. I thought they both were awesome, the greatest thing ever. Even poorly done comics can be great if they're your first.