Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October 1968: Ragnarok! O Sweet Ragnarok!

The Mighty Thor 157
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Having risen from the waters caused by the torrential rainfall Thor created, Mangog easily turns aside a direct blow from the Thunder God’s Mjolnir. In the mountain-shattering cataclysm that follows, Mangog escapes—that is, he tunnels beneath the ground as easily as air to more quickly reach Asgard. Another of the realms eager defenders, Balder, still holds his own against the soldiers of the Legion Of The Lost in Karnilla’s kingdom. Though Balder admits to being attracted to the Norn Queen, he vows to never love an enemy of Asgard. Suddenly the soldiers cease their fight, having been freed from Karnilla’s spell by Balder’s bravery. In sadness and disgust, she sends them all back to Asgard, alone once more. As Balder and company arrive in Asgard and prepare to join the fight; Thor flies from his place of battle to join them. But quicker still is Mangog, as he bursts from beneath the ground in the heart of the golden city, setting buildings afire by spilling the Column of Eternal Flame.  A new battalion of warriors led by Balder is tossed aside like flies. Fortunately, at that moment Thor arrives, landing upon Mangog’s back. The foe tosses the Thunder God aside, while Balder and Guntharr distract Mangog long enough for Thor to gain a moment to recover. Pressing their small advantage, the Asgardians fire the cosmic cannon, but the results are the same as always: naught. Thor and Balder head to the Royal Chamber where the Odinsword is sheathed, knowing that that is where the last stand can be made. Watching from the throne room, Loki realizes his cause is lost, and flees to save himself. Thor arrives at the Royal Chamber, greeting his beloved Sif and the Rigelian Recorder. A moment later the castle walls fall, and Mangog appears, his goal in sight. A single blow fells all but Thor, whom Mangog holds aside with his tail. The monstrous beast begins the evil task he set out to do; but Thor sees one last chance. He uses his power of the storm to awaken Odin from his sleep, the only known safe way to do so. His gamble pays off. Odin arrives in the nick of time, and with a bolt of force, breaks the spell he had put Mangog’s race under. The beast fades from existence; the billion, billion beings of which he was the sum now live again as individuals. Their penance done, Odin sends them to live in peace on a new world. Asgard, and the universe, shall live to see another day.

JB: Did Stan and Jack plan this ending ahead of time, or were they lying awake thinking, “Now what the hell do we do?!” Either way, it seems everyone agrees that it was immensely satisfying. It was pleasing to see that the story never wavered from Mangog’s invincibility. At no time did the Asgardians have a chance, and if not for Odin stepping in to save the day, Ragnarok would indeed have come. A number of panels express his power very well: turning back Mjolner, burrowing effortlessly underground, jumping in front of a legion of soldiers, drawing the Odinsword. Balder finally gets his chance, ironically after confessing that he finds Karnilla attractive, he gains his freedom. Loki meanwhile, true to form, flees, and in an interesting moment, sees Thor in passing.  There’s an eerie moment of silence, as Thor, Sif and the Recorder await their fate guarding the Odinsword before Mangog arrives. I know Mangog returns in the future; it will be interesting to see how that comes about, after having been returned to the race of which he was the total. One of the best Thor epics yet.

NC:  I’m just glad that my Dad didn’t fall asleep every time I needed him!  Conjuring up a storm wouldn’t have woken him up or been heard over his snoring.

PE: Stan and Jack will find it tough going to top this 4-part epic, one that had everything but wasted space. Most of these "epic" arcs tend to end with a whimper rather than a bang (and leave lots of questions unanswered) but not so here. Odin's awakening comes off as organic rather than the cliched "saved by the bell." Easily one of the top five arcs of the 1960s. That cover delivers a wallop as well.

MB: I find myself running out of superlatives this month, and intoxicated though I might admittedly be over Buscema’s ascendance at Marvel, I am by no means prepared to write off the glory and the grandeur that is The Stan and Jack Show, represented here by what is probably my favorite Thor arc to date.  The epic approach of Mangog offers unsurpassed drama, causing this card-carrying Maudlin Man to mist up when Sif says, “Whate’er befalls, my heart is calm…and ever thine!,” a line unlikely to have sprung from the lips of Jane Foster.  I especially enjoyed the resolution:  Mangog may be the most fearsome foe Asgard has ever faced, yet there was a certain poignancy in his bid to avenge his race, for which the undoing of Odin’s spell negates the need.

Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 6
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The monstrous Tiger Shark forces Dorma to take him to her people of Atlantis so that he can rule them.  With the Sub-Mariner apparently defeated as he lies underneath the wreckage of a ship, she complies in the hopes that she can talk the Shark out of it.  The villain’s sister, Diane, dives underwater to see if she can help out.  Mistaken for her brother, she is knocked out by Subby when he accidentally lashes out at her.  Namor quickly takes Diane to Dr. Dorcas since he is so close by.  After the hero threatens him into treating her, Dorcas reveals that she is merely in shock and will be back to normal shortly.   With that, Subby takes off to have a rematch with the Tiger Shark.  Dorma and her newfound companion have been having some adventures of their own.  When a giant sea serpent attacks Dorma, the Tiger Shark is able to knock it away--not as a heroic gesture, but because he wanted to show off his strength.  After attacking some guards and proclaiming himself the new ruler of the Atlanteans, Tiger Shark is challenged by Warlord Seth in combat.  While his heart is in the right place, Seth is no match and is easily defeated.  Just as Tiger Shark is settling down into his new role as a tyrant, Namor makes his big comeback to take him on.  In another test of battle, the Shark’s luck runs out.  While his strength may just about be equal with Sub-Mariner’s power, the prince of the sea proves to be the better fighter as he wins after a hard fought brawl.  The story ends with Namor back in his rightful place as ruler of Atlantis.     

Tom:  Another well told tale that got wrapped up nicely without having to take up another issue, which is where I thought this one was heading.  We even got to briefly catch up with the mysterious Destiny as he is apparently setting up shop in the city, waiting to rule a nation. 

MB: By now, even with the inks shifting from Giacoia to the eminently acceptable Adkins, I am completely besotted and spoiled by the sustained excellence of this new book, and as much as I admired Colan’s rendition of Subby, I consider Buscema’s definitive, as with most things to which Big John turned his mighty pencil.  I’m glad to see that the courageous and noble Lord Seth has gotten the thumbs-up, for his supporting character has steadily grown in stature to become a Balder to Namor and Dorma’s Thor and Sif.  And speaking of characterization, Roy’s handling of Dorcas and the Arliss siblings, along with his plotting and dialogue, prove worthy of such stunning artwork; between this, Avengers, and Dr. Strange, he has truly come into his own.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 5
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Fury has engaged “slightly unlawful” locksmith Pickman on a search for someone from their past, and while investigating a trouble spot identified by the ESP Division, Nick is nearly killed by a mysterious figure bearing a Zodiac Key, who turns out to be Scorpio.  As he impersonates Fury, Pickman uncovers evidence of a breach in S.H.I.E.L.D. security and, knowing Nick to be in danger, races to warn him at the LMD test he is scheduled to attend.  Fury recovers to find he has replaced the LMD, battling a maze of death traps before he confronts the impostor; Pickman stumbles into the path of a bullet fired by Val to stop the “rogue LMD,” and Nick recognizes an unmasked Scorpio, who plunges into the river in a hail of bullets.

MB: Steranko’s swan song finally brings us back to familiar S.H.I.E.L.D. territory, though this return engagement by Fury’s arch-enemy and the untimely death of Pickman raise more questions than they answer.  John “Tartag,” of whom I am not a huge fan, gives a fairly good account of himself and again inks Jaunty Jim next month on their first of two X-Men yarns, for which Steranko even redesigned the cover logo.  Jim clearly goes out on a high note with Sydney Greenstreet-homage Pickman, a black-and-white full-page photo montage, psychedelic effects galore, plot twists that would take years to pay off, and a two-page spread of Nick’s shocked awakening as “LMD #13,” but he will be sorely missed, and as I recall, the drop-off in quality from here on in is staggering.

PE: A whacky way to end your tenure, leaving us all hanging as to the true identity of Scorpio. Nick gets a look at Scorp's face just before the leap into the harbor but I wonder if Steranko ever mapped out a solution. Roy Thomas will unmask the character for us in The Avengers #72 (January 1970). The story is a little too trippy for my tastes and hard to follow at some junctures (the aforementioned threads left dangling when Pickman takes one for Fury). In his one page ramble, Steranko mentions a hallucinigenitor and that page makes me think Steranko may have been dipping into the hallucinogens right about this time.

The Amazing Spider-Man 65
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Knocked unconscious during his battle with The Vulture (last issue). The Amazing Spider-Man is taken to a prison infirmary to recover and then, possibly, to be brought up on charges. While recuperating, a handful of cons decide to break out through the hospital wing and take Captain Stacy hostage. Still weak from his injuries, Spidey uses a bit of strategy on the not-too-bright cons: he convinces them he wants to join their breakout. After a quick call home to Aunt May to let her know he's okay, the wall-crawler kills the lights and begins taking the cons out of commission one by one.

PE: Look up filler in the Marvel Dictionary and there's a pic for the cover of this issue. Nothing really happens. Peter Parker's personal life (the meat of this title, I tell's ya) is ignored, other than a random "I must find Peter under that rubble" exclamation from Gwen. How the cons got to the infirmary in the first place is never really explained (but then this is a Marvel prison, after all). Just as Don Heck was getting the swing of things, he's out of here and assigned to the lesser titles such as Captains Marvel and Savage. Before the end of 1969, he'll jump ship and head to DC.

MB:  Jim Mooney, a Timely/Atlas vet known for his work on Supergirl at DC, apparently started his decades-long Marvel tenure with the short-lived Spectacular Spider-Man magazine, and here begins a rarely broken two-year stint inking Romita and/or Buscema onAmazing.  This includes some of the first issues I ever read, so it will be interesting to see if his work lives up to my fond memories; in this case, it looks a little muddy, but for all I know, that could be a Marvel Tales printing problem.  Stan’s story is a nice change of pace, and it’s good to see Spidey repaying Captain Stacy’s faith in him by getting him out of a jam, although he took a big chance by pretending to throw in with the convicts, which might have had dire consequences.

PE: Let's see, a few issues ago brainwashed by The Kingpin and now taken hostage by convicts. Captain Stacy is either cursed or a repeat victim of the Marvel coincidence. Evidently the new mop wasn't enough of a change for Mary Jane; now she's dressing like a hooker. Of course, the howler of the issue (and maybe of any comic of 1968) is when Spidey picks up the phone to call Aunt May in the process of breaking the cons out of prison. Seriously? Captain Stacy's life is in jeopardy but "hey, there's a phone and I ain't called Aunt May in days! This is a perfect time!" Of course the dope only gets the lady all riled up instead of allaying her fears.

Hulk King-Size Special 1
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Hulk is a-wandering in Europe, unaware that he is near the Hidden Refuge of the Inhumans, where a group of rebels are on trial for High Treason. They are found guilty and banished, courtesy of Lockjaw, who next appears where the Hulk is roaming. In his zeal to guard the Inhumans’ home, Lockjaw battles the Hulk and ends up transporting him to join the rebels. The Hulk’s tremendous strength allows him to pierce the unbreakable barrier that surrounds the place where the traitors have been sent, and they all return to the Great Refuge with some help from Maximus, who sees this as his latest chance to depose Black Bolt. Maximus befriends the Hulk and uses him to retrieve a fearful weapon that he thinks will give him the power he craves. Black Bolt comes to the rescue and ends the threat with a whisper. The Hulk departs, unable to trust anyone.

MB: At 51 pages—the equivalent of two and a half standard yarns—this is almost certainly the longest single-issue story I have seen thus far, making it no surprise that it required the services of “Syd Shores and almost the whole blamed Bullpen” to ink Marie Severin’s work. What is surprising is that, first, the art manages to maintain a pretty consistent look and, second, even at this length, there isn’t a lot of fat on Friedrich’s script.  An alliance of some sort between the Hulk and Maximus seems apt, as they apparently frequent the same hairstylist, although said alliances change faster than on an episode of Survivor; unfortunately, I don’t find this new sextet of traitorous Inhumans too interesting or feel they did justice to the Hulk/Black Belt smackdown.

Jack: I noticed that September Marvel mags had a house ad with this comic featuring a September cover date, but the one that was eventually issued had an October cover date. The Steranko cover is one of the classics of 1960s Marvel comics, with Hulk breaking his own logo. Steranko is drawing more covers now as he ends his tenure on Nick Fury. Nebulo appears only as an uncast shadow, which surely makes him easier to draw and makes me recall Carl Dreyer’s 1932 Vampyr. Severin’s art still bugs me but I agree with Prof. Matthew that the art is consistent throughout this issue. I have always wondered just what word Black Bolt says when he whispers. Maybe Foom? This is a pretty good story overall despite the uneven art, and it’s certainly more coherent than the Avengers King Size Special last month.

JS: One of my favorite Steranko covers, and one that has been swiped more times than I can count in the intervening years. 

The Incredible Hulk 108
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The Hulk is trapped in a quicksand pit! As he sinks lower and lower, he discovers that the sides of the pit are metal and busts his way out before he suffocates.  The Mandarin shows little concern as he bombards the Hulk with nerve gas to incapacitate him.  Believing that the Hulk is too powerful to simply kill, the Mandarin puts a mind control device on the back of the monster’s neck that will react to remote control.  He sends the green brute out to attack key areas in China in the hopes that it will set off a world war.  His plan works at the beginning, as China’s leader blames the U.S. for the damage being done as the Hulk trashes their military.  It’s up to Nick Fury, along with his soviet counterpart, Yuri Brevlov, to come to the rescue.  Acting on a tip from Tony Stark, they attack the Mandarin’s compound.  During a kung-fu battle against the Russkie, the villain loses his gadget that controls the Hulk.  Once the mind controlling device on the back of the Hulkster’s neck falls off, he leaps back to the villain’s hangout for some big time payback.  Fury and Brevlov having a thrilling face-off with the Mandarin that ends when the green goliath makes his way back.  The villain escapes, and everyone is on their own as the Hulk lays waste to the entire compound.  Our story ends with the green monster reducing the Mandarin’s headquarters to a pile of rubble.       

Tom:  Nick Fury is always welcome as a guest star, even if his appearance sort of puts the star attraction, the Hulk, on the back burner in his own title.  The ending was good, if somewhat predictable.  After seeing his new costume, I’m glad that Yuri never got his own title.    

Jack: It may be as simple as the switch in inkers from Syd Shores to John Severin, but Herb Trimpe’s art makes a great leap forward in quality from last issue to this one. Stan the Man returns as writer for the first time in awhile and, of course, that means Commies are everywhere! After all of our complaints about Stan Lee in the early years of the 1960s Marvel journey, I’m beginning to think he’s the best writer of the decade, at least at Marvel, in comparison to the others we’ve seen.

MB: Stan herewith reclaims the typewriter, and while the credits tell us that he “misses his green-skinned gargoyle,” I couldn’t help wondering if this isn’t an implied rebuke to Friedrich’s underwhelming efforts in recent months; then again, for all I know, Stan may simply have been freeing Gary up to work on the Hulk’s concurrent first annual.  There’s an interesting symmetry to the art chores here:  just as Trimpe formerly inked Marie Severin’s pencils on this strip, her big brother John now does the same for Herbie, whose style is still waiting patiently to break through.  Indeed, it is all too appropriate that Nick Fury is guest-starring, since the results so strongly resemble the elder Severin’s work on those early S.H.I.E.L.D. sagas in Strange Tales.

Captain America 106
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Captain America attempts to scotch a raid on SHIELD headquarters by a band of "costumed invaders" but the thugs have help and a helicopter manages to escape with a metal box. Inside is SHIELD's LMD (Life Model Decoy) file and all the secrets that go with it. Cap overhears one of the henchmen talking about "Operation Replica" just as one of Nick Fury's agents shows up to take Cap to a briefing. The agent shows Cap what seems to be a documentary shot during World War II with footage of he and Bucky but this featurette is definitely not on the up and up. It shows Captain America shooting a prisoner in cold blood. Outraged by the faux flick, our star-spangled avenger promises the agent he'll get to the bottom of the mystery. Not surprisingly, the project is being undertaken by the (COMMIE ALERT) stinkin' reds led by an unnamed "Chairman" (but we all know who he is). They've used the LMD information to craft a perfect double (right down to the green boxers) of Captain America. The goal is to slay Cap and steal his uniform. Tied in to all this bad business is Infinity Productions, the Hollywood studio that made the fake Cap video. Our hero heads to Infinity, unaware that his double is waiting for him. In the end though, the LMD fails as SHIELD had anticipated the robbery and provided faulty specs.

PE: I wonder what Stan/Jack meant with the caption: "...our suspenseful saga does not concern itself with personages like Raquel Welch, or Stella Stevens! It's even unlikely we'll run into Sandy Dennis or Faye Dunaway!" A little editorializing on good looking actresses versus not so?

MB: My initial reaction to Cap’s initial reaction to meeting his doppelgänger was, “Dude, you know what an LMD is, why are you acting so surprised?”  But upon reflection, I suppose that even if you were expecting it, coming face to face with “yourself” would be a bit of a shock, so I’m willing to give him, and Stan, the benefit of the doubt.  This issue (far-fetched, as Marvel stories concerning movie studios seem to be) was enough of a change of pace to serve as an entertaining divertissement—replete with “Oriental commandos,” anonymous S.H.I.E.L.D. “fairy godmother,” full-page Kirby mad lab, and moral lesson.  I’ll always welcome the return of Giacoia, but who’d ever believe a guy named Lucas making “a big-budget sci-fix epic,” anyway?

PE: It also comes with a message: some Hollywood types (especially them stinkin' commies) will do anything for a buck and present their defense as "We're only making a movie." An analogy that may have smarted Jack and Stan at the time would be "The comic book publishers said something along those lines in the 1950s."I also thought it odd that Cap couldn't put two and two together when his double attacked. The nameless SHIELD agent explained what the metal box held. Not sure how the commies think this duplicate is just like Cap since he talks... like... a... robot. Was that also part of SHIELD's plan? On the letters page, future Comics Journal managing editor Dwight Decker argues philosophy and the Cosmic Cube.

Rule #1: Commies do not make good partners

Doctor Strange 173
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Dormammu attacks Dr. Strange with mystic powers but Dr. Strange manages to send Victoria and Clea to safety in his Greenwich Village mansion. The women influence Umar to aid Dr. Strange, who draws Dormammu through the mystic portal into the Earth-Dimension. Dr. Strange begins to battle the dreaded one, but Dormammu’s old vow not to attack Earth comes back to haunt him and he vanishes through a hole in the sky.

Jack: Thomas, Colan and Palmer maintain the high quality and excitement from last issue with this satisfying showdown. I like how the story is just long enough without dragging it out over too many issues, something Dr. Strange was guilty of not too long ago. If you haven’t been reading this strip, now is the time to start!

MB: Per the letter column, when “Dapper Dan Adkins decided he wanted to stick to inking for a while…we asked Gentleman Gene to try his hand at drawing the mystic master’s exploits.  We think that…with the unique inking style of newcomer Tom, the current Dr. Strange is certainly one of the artistic high points of panel-graphic literature!”  Doc is a little more ready for his close-ups this time, and Gene’s cosmic landscapes, while utterly dissimilar from those of Ditko and Adkins, are eminently satisfying in their own right.  Best of all, it appears to be ladies’ night at the Sanctum, with Clea, Victoria, and Umar not only appearing as, ahem, fully rounded characters, but also playing a pivotal role in saving Strange’s bacon for a change.  You go, girls!

With Clea and Victoria both in
love with him, he should
not be feeling lonely!

The Avengers 57
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Alone in her apartment one rainy evening, Jan is accosted by a mysterious costumed attacker who can pass through walls. He suddenly collapses and the Avengers try to figure out who he is. When he awakens, he reveals that he was programmed by Ultron-5 to kill them. He takes them to Ultron-5’s lair, where the robot nearly finishes off the team of heroes. The creature, who takes the name the Vision, destroys Ultron-5 and saves the day.

Jack: A landmark issue both for The Avengers and for Marvel in general. The Vision is a startling new character whose confusion about his origin and purpose lends an air of mystery that will continue well beyond this issue. Knowing how important this character will become makes this issue fascinating, and Buscema’s art is as muscular and beautiful as I’ve ever seen it. The epilogue, in which Roy quotes Shelley’s "Ozymandias" over pictures of a black boy finding and discarding the head of Ultron-5 in a vacant lot, not only foreshadows where the Black Panther storyline will lead, but also looks forward to the sort of social commentary strips O’Neil and Adams will be doing at DC in about a year. Avengers 57 makes my top 20 for the decade.

And so another Marvel
character gets his name.

MB: One can rarely pinpoint a single issue as a game-changer, yet the Vision’s debut surely is; among the coolest characters ever to grace a comic book, the first Avenger who sprang full-blown from this title—subsequent retconned origin aside—became perhaps the most iconic. Klein’s inks look better than ever, and the Vision’s appearance is a masterpiece of design, Roy’s superb script (“…because it does not touch him…!”) perfectly blending with the art to capture his varying moods:  savage one moment, and brooding the next.  His only partially explored powers and provenance are dramatic and different, and we old-timers know he will provide any number of fascinating plotlines, so the net result is that his advent kicks the entire book up a major notch.

PE: I guess I'm in the minority here as I thought it was just okay. Roy Thomas comes off to some as learned and well-read with his use of "Ozymandias" but I find it pretentious. Yeah, The Vision is a great character and his appearance, I feel, signals the start of the Golden Age of The Avengers, but this is just an average comic book. We've mentioned before the silly ways some of these characters get their monikers but this one takes the first place award. When The Vision makes an appearance in Janet's apartment, the millionaire proves she's out of the hero loop by cowering in a corner and screeching "No! No! It's some sort of unearthly inhuman vision!" How about "Oh my god, he's walking through walls (The Wall-Walker!) or "He's got a red face! (Scarlet Face!) or "He looks like a Yellowjacket! (oh, Hank will use that one some day). If I had very little respect for Hank Pym before, I have none now. Janet does everything but pour the guy a whiskey and lay naked in the doorway and the dope decides that bacteria might be more fun than a chance to show Janet why he's called Giant-Man now rather than Ant-Man. 

JS: I imagine it's still a ways off, but I'm anxious to learn how the Vision and Scarlet Witch hook up.

The original
Jack: The first character named the Vision appeared in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (November 1940) but was not memorable. I believe that at least one of his stories was reprinted in the mid-to late-‘60s in one of the 25 cent reprint books (Yep, "The Book of Sorcery" from MMC #25 was reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 [March 1968]-Paste Pot) and that’s probably what led Stan and co. to revive him as a new character, one which also had a lot in common with TV’s Mr. Spock.

PE: The original Vision may be mostly forgotten these days (especially since the emergence of the contemporary Vision) but he did have a good run in the early 40s. The character appeared in 36 consecutive issues of Marvel Mystery Comics before his swan song in Kid Komics #3 (Fall 1943). 

Fantastic Four 79
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Ben Grimm formerly known as the Thing, heads over to see his girlfriend Alicia, unsure how she’ll feel about his transformation. Johnny and Crystal go out to have some fun in his new Corvette Stingray. Reed finally gets to spend some time with Sue at the hospital, but he can’t bring himself to tell her about the questions her blood work has raised about the baby. As the police clean up the recently discovered hideout of the Mad Thinker, it turns out that the jailed super villain had one last android in his lair. The warm air brings it to life, but the android is confused about his purpose, waiting for a signal from the Thinker that now isn’t coming. As fate would have it, the creature finds it’s “signal” in something completely different. As Ben and Alicia have dinner out, feeling a little uncomfortable with each other, the “signal” it interprets is the Wonder Gloves (recently of the Wizard) that Ben brought along to show Alicia. The android thinks that his mission is to kill Alicia, and it smashes through the restaurant window to accomplish its task. The only thing standing between his blind girlfriend and certain death is… Ben. Unfortunately, despite his battle skill, and desire to save her, without the strength of the Thing, he is merely creating a short delay. Realizing it was a shock that turned him human again; Ben reasons a shock will be the only thing to turn him back into a monster. He gambles the Wonder Gloves may do the trick, and they do. Now as the Thing, Ben makes short work of the android. Johnny, having heard the news has sped to the scene, alas too late, as Ben is now a monster again, forever.

JB: I’m not terribly thrilled with the rather light treatment Stan (and Jack?) gave to this storyline. The Thing has wanted to be Ben Grimm since day one, and in the last two issues, we’re rushed through the whole process. First, Reed finds a cure; how does he know it’s a one-time deal? And although in all likelihood Ben would have reverted to the Thing eventually (even if only to keep the Fantastic Four intact), to make it happen so fast seems like a cheat. Alicia seems out of character too; she loses her hots for the human Ben pretty fast. The rather unmemorable android that forces Ben to make his decision is one of the F.F.’s most forgettable foes; heck the human Ben holds him off for a while! And how is it that a jolt of power is all that’s needed to do the trick?  On the other hand, it’s fun to see Johnny and Crystal having some fun. The interplay with Reed and Sue is interesting. Give them any super-villain to fight and no problem; but faced with a human dilemma out of their control (the possible effects the cosmic radiation will have on their child) and they seem awkward and helpless. 

NC:  What is it with this dishonesty to “protect” poor innocent females?  Holy moly she is a superhero, isn’t she?  But I do so love her nightgown – it looks very cozy and practical.  Also, I’m a bit disenchanted with Alicia and her inability to stay interested in Ben in human form.  Her quick fainting spell seems a bit off too.  I think Ben needs a new chick. On a more positive note:  I, unlike Professor Jim, like the fact that they got Ben to turn back into the Thing quickly.  It just emphasizes how important he is as a part of the FF.  They wouldn’t go far without him!

MB: With “Grimm” inevitability, we await the segue from the opening soap-opera stuff (which I quite enjoyed, especially the suitable-for-framing shot of Reed and Sue) to raw action, and Ben’s allegedly permanent transformation back into the Thing.  It remains only to be seen what circumstances will bring about the latter, and a threat to Alicia was clearly the most likely scenario.  As if we needed further proof that he is a chronic malcontent, Ben doesn’t seem too happy being human again anyway, so while we never want to lose the tragedy of his plight completely, it might be refreshing to see him come to terms a little with being “the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed idol o’ millions.”  Special award to New York’s Dumbest for not reading signs.

PE: Even though the action's cut in half... Even though the storyline is as old as "In This Issue! Robin Dies!"... Even though the villain is essentially an afterthought... Even though... all that, I still enjoyed the entire issue. Johnny and Crystal's almost Not Brand Echh-ian ride down the elevator; Ben Grimm (in human form) going down swinging to The Android (Man); and Reed's struggle to tell his wife that she may be carrying an Atari computer to full term. There's a lot of stuff going on here. Good stuff.

The Silver Surfer 2
Our Story

In the first scene of this very sad comic, the Silver Surfer is sorrowfully and forlornly lying on his “skyboard” above the earth when suddenly a meteor shower hits him! He is shaken off his board only to be picked up by it again. Norrin Radd decides that he has to try again to make Earth his home, since he’s stuck there.  When he arrives in a village – he is shunned, feared and exiled by all but one.  He again mourns his lonely status on Earth and reiterates that man is the only being able to fight just for the sake of fighting.  However, no judgment is passed. Another attempt is made to be part of a community, but this time in a city.  The Silver Surfer hopes that they are more open-minded and worldly, however, when they find out he has no money with which to buy clothing, they deem him a vagrant and kick him out. Poor Silver Surfer – he just plain gives in to despair. Back in Zenn-La, Shalla Bal mourns the loss (rather selfishly) of her lover.  She feels betrayed because love was not enough to keep him with her (appearing to forget that his departure was the only reason she is still alive). Norrin Radd thinks sadly of Shalla Bal and believes she must have found another, but shuns self-pity and vows to help protect mankind.  Alas, the Silver Surfer sees an alien ship approaching the largest city of his new world.  Although the aliens realize they have been spotted by SS, nobody else in the city notices the space ship . . . therefore the vessel MUST be invisible . . . and therefore it must be hostile. The Silver Surfer tries to warn the crowd, but they just, as usual, think he is being aggressive and may be a bit crazy.  The mob attacks him until a cop breaks it up and takes Norrin Radd into the local lock-up to protect him.  The “skyboard” is summoned and it breaks right through the thick concrete of the jail freeing the Surfer  Our noble hero heads back out to investigate what the aliens are up to. The aliens allow him to enter their ship and explain that they are the “Brotherhood of Badoon”, come to explore, to learn, and to help.  Their invisibility is used in order to protect themselves.  They even give the Silver Surfer a grand tour of their power source and introduce him to their ruler “Brother Royal”. SS is not convinced – he has heard the name Badoon and what he heard wasn’t good!  However, he is willing to trust them until he discovers a captive girl that the Badoonians have been pumping for information.  The Brotherhood uses a weapon on the girl to shut her up and what does the Silver Surfer do?  He covers her in a “special energy field” and leaves her floating in space! This means war between the Brotherhood of Badoon and Norrin Radd.  The scoundrelly aliens vow to silence the SS – slowly. Brother Royal decides he’d like to walk among humankind so his underlings “make it so” and they head down the invisibility tube.  One of the aliens, in order to assert superiority, shoots a human with “the basic weapon.”  Sure enough, the surrounding people think the poor guy has had a heart attack.  

When the Badoon gang head back to their ship their focus turns to the Silver Surfer.  They launch a rocket at him – which he averts without hurting a single soul. The Brother Royal orders the
“Weapon of Weapons” to be released . . . this just happens to be the android “Monster of Badoon.”  He is a fearful looking being – but is invisible to humankind.  This means, that while the Silver Surfer is duking it out with the Monster of Badoon in the skies, humanity again thinks Norrin Radd is a bit off his rocker and is trying to destroy their city.  After a valiant battle, the Brotherhood of Badoon  dematerializes their weapon because they don’t want it destroyed!
Unfortunately the public still believes the Silver Surfer has gone berserk and the government sets up a full scale attack upon him.  While aiming at the Silver Surfer, they hit the invisible Badoon ship’s shield and the Badoonians flee.  Norrin Radd devises a plan to be freed from the earthly field of force by trailing the Badoon ship.  He sadly loses his chance of freedom when he remembers the girl he has left in the skies.  When saving her it is assumed that he himself has injured her.
The Brotherhood of Badoon vows to come back to create havoc and the Silver Surfer sadly departs from the scene.

Tales of the Watcher
"The Coming of the Krills"

The Watcher is observing an unnatural storm develop in northern Canada created by Krills to hide their plans to invade a radar outpost. There are two employees at this facility.  One is a loyal hard-worker and the other is angry and insolent.  The Krills confront these fellows with much weaponry, explaining to them that there is an approaching full-fledged invasion of their kind.  The aliens have come with the purpose of stopping this particular radar device so they can invade undetected, since they need to have the element of surprise in order to succeed.  
The Watcher watches . . .

The radar employees have a distinct difference of opinion regarding the Krills.  One is sure that they are powerless since they are trying to negotiate and the other is right ready to accept a bribe in order to save his own sweet hide.  The lazy discontented scientist, Lou, quickly accepts the Krills’ offer of hot chicks (the most beautiful in the universe), money and power.  Sadly he is willing to betray everyone for his own desires.  There is a scuffle between the good and the bad human employees and it ends with the heroic man being shot by a temporary Krill paralysis ray. Lou, being a savvy businessman, wants proof that the Krill will deliver on their promise, so they send down the bride that he’s been waiting for.  She’s a hottie alright – a KRILL hottie!!!!!  Poor Lou screams in terror, realizing that the Krills have kept their word.  Luckily the frozen fallen fellow regains his ability to move and manages to pull the radar alarm button and Krills quickly depart.
The Watcher sees all.

NC: I love the humour in The Surfer strip.  For example, the comment made when SS is taken into jail – that he doesn’t need protection, he needs a tailor!  Some laughs are desperately needed since the SS’s life is ever so depressing. I certainly feel sad for the poor Monster of Badoon.  With a get-up like that, everybody will be unable to trust him!  It kind of reminds me of some of the muzzles I see on misunderstood pups.  (Pitbulls and Monsters of Badoon just need some good old fashioned nurturing and loving).

NC: As for The Watcher segment this issue, I wonder which employee I would be, under the circumstances?  I really do care about the world and humankind, but some hot Krillian guys and some cash may be just what I’m looking for! The fact that in most older sci-fi stuff aliens are able to breathe the air of foreign worlds definitely tickles my fancy.

MB:  Back in 1980, I refrained from buying the Fantasy Masterpieces reprint of this issue, because I already had the earlier one in Marvel Presents #8…little dreaming that the latter was even more savagely mutilated.  Here, then, is the historic debut of the reptilian Brotherhood of Badoon, the future—in every sense of the word—antagonists of the original Guardians of the Galaxy (hence the procrustean cramming of this story into the Guardians’ short-lived first book), and one of the more durable alien races to populate the Marvel Universe.  Even in such vestigial remnants, this is a visual feast, with the fork-tongued Badoon rapturously rendered by Buscema and Sinnott, and their intergalactic evil nicely contrasted by Stan with the Surfer’s naïve purity.

The X-Men 49
Our Story

Working for Magneto, Mesmero is leading a mutant uprising. One mutant who answers the subliminal call is the green-haired Lorna Dane, who finds herself in the company of Hank and Bobby, and ultimately the whole X-Team. But just who is this green haired goddess? You'll have to wait until the next issue to find out.

PE: Hilarity follows hilarity in this issue. The Beast forgets to pull his parachute cord so Iceman does what comes natural: he crafts a giant set of salad tongs (complete with the screw to hold the tongs together!) and catches him before he splats; Jean Grey reveals that she can run a "conference call" of all The X-Kids in her head; and new recruit Lorna Doone Dane has some power that has to do with green hair. Since I've never read any of these issues before, I'll leave it to my fellow professors to fill in the blanks on Lorna. She sure has what it takes to be a mutant though. When approached by Mesmero, she squeaks "Stay away from me! Please! Don't touch me! I couldn't stand it! Eeeeeeya!" I couldn't make up dialogue like that if I tried. Last issue we had Computo, this issue we get Cerebro detecting Mesmero, protege of Magneto. This is all so lame-O. Not Brand Echh time continues with our co-feature, "A Beast is Born," wherein we get to learn how Hank McCoy got his big... limbs. LOL-moment of the month (and I have to believe that writer Arnold Drake was having us on just this one time) comes when Hank delivers a devastating right uppercut to his pediatrician from his crib, all while balancing his bottle with his feet.

MB: The unusual Steranko cover offers a tantalizing taste of things to come (Warren and Jean look like they’re grooving to some tune we can’t hear), albeit reflecting badly on interior art that marks Tartaglione’s return.  Whatever else you want to say about Arnold Drake—and I seem to be finding plenty—he did introduce some characters who outlasted his brief stint at Marvel, in this case Mesmero, a villain with a tad more staying power than last issue’s laughable Computo, and, of far greater importance, Lorna Dane, whose history with the X-Men will be a lengthy and complex one.  And if the emerald-tressed mistress of magnetism must be short-changed, at least it’s for the beginning of the Beast’s origin, a saga later cannibalized in Amazing Adventures #17.

JS: Lorma will go on to have quite a career with the X-Men, but her first appearance doesn't do much to raise the rather low bar that the X-Men continues to hover at.

Jack: I think I used to have a copy of this with the cover signed by Steranko. If the person who bought it from me around 1988 at a comic book show in NJ would kindly mail it back, I'll be glad to refund your money.

JS: The cover is by no means Steranko's best work, but at least we're back to calling the book The X-Men. And next issue, we at least get treated to his artwork on the interior as well. But will the story improve?

The Invincible Iron Man 6
Our Story

The Crusher (buried way back in Tales of Suspense #91-Paste Pot) pops out of the ground in Florida, none too happy at Iron Man. He forces the men who brought him to America (TOS #91 again) to take him to Stark Industries and, along the way, relates how he survived his burial. The Centrifugal Force Ray that Shellhead used on The Crusher made him so heavy that the earth couldn't withstand his weight so he plunged ot the center of the earth. Once there, the effects of the ray wore out and he discovered the hideaway and laboratory of Tyrannus (see X-Men #35-PP), where he threw together a cocktail fit to make him The Crusher again. This time, adding a bit of vermouth and sarsaparilla to counteract the Centrifugal Force Ray that Iron Man is sure to use. The extra kick also gives him more power and he digs his way to through all the crusts and back into our story. Meanwhile, Whitney Frost (aka Big M, leader of the underworld gang, The Maggia) continues to bewitch Jasper Sitwell in her attempt to gain access to Tony Stark's secret weapon cache. The two plotlines collide as The Crusher and Frost reach Stark's factory at the same time, but with different motives. With a full evacuation in force, Whitney decides she'll never have a better chance to grab some of Tony's goodies and hoofs it to the secret vault just as The Crusher breaks through the wall, battling Iron Man. Crush holds Whitney hostage in exchange for the Centrifugal Force Ray, intending to use it on Shellhead as a means of revenge. Our hero pulls a fast one though, knowing The Crusher's hands are too big to deactivate the safety switch. Iron Man takes advantage of the big man's bewilderment and flies him out to sea.

PE: Just as Orientals pepper their perfect English with "Ah so" in Marvel Comics, here we learn that Hispanics can speak our language fluently until they get to a word that starts with a 'W' such as wish (which becomes "weesh") and with ("weeth"). So why can he say "centrifugal force ray" with perfect diction? I may be pushing it a bit her but while we're praising Stan and The Boys for their championing of a black superhero, doesn't this sort of pandering make it a case of one step up and two steps back?  The only real Hispanic used here are exclamations like Caramba! and Ai, Chihuahua! In the positive department, we get some behind-the-scenes with Whitney Frost aka Big M. Whitney has a tough time selling her devotion to the underworld; some of her underlings are getting itchy trigger fingers. Ms. Frost shows them who's boss though.

The Marvel Guide to Selective Fluency

MB:  I wouldn’t exactly have put the Crusher atop my list of villains I was hoping to see again, and his apparent demise in Suspense #91 seemed a bit more conclusive than most, but here he is, with the Goodwin/Tuska/Craig team making its sophomore appearance, as well.  If you can believe it, Wikipedia says a second Crusher was seen for the first and last time in Daredevil #119 in ’75—can’t wait.  Enjoyed Archie’s narration (“Like a living earthquake, the massive monster thunders across the landscape”), although that faux-Spanish “accent” in his dialogue annoys me just as much as when Stan did it, and tying Tyrannus in with the Crusher’s subterranean odyssey is a logical step; again, my only complaint is that he’s too much like the recently resurgent Freak.

PE: As many times as the Stark Labs have been destroyed, Tony must keep a clean-up and mend crew round the clock. Thank goodness Tyrannus thought to import enough of whatever the heck ingredients go into The Crusher's formula way down into the center of the earth. LOL-moment of the issue is when Crush calls Shellhead a "galvanized gringo!" 

Captain Marvel 6
Our Story

During the “monthly combat-refresher trial,” conducted via radio-induced hallucination, Yon-Rogg insists that Una turn the intensity factor to killer-level, which Mar-Vell barely survives.  Returning to Earth, he encounters Carol just as the Helion must land for repairs, briefly rendering the ship visible, and must cover by mocking her claim to have seen a spaceship. Observing as Dr. Norman Lundquist prepares to test his solar amplification (Solam) process—in which a giant orbiting reflector transmits solar light to an energy gun that will fire a beam toward Saturn—“Lawson” warns him of the danger, but cannot reveal that his concern is based on Kree experience; sure enough, Solam manifests itself as a “photo-kinetic being” defeated by Mar-Vell.

MB: A Bullpen Bulletin describes new scriptwriter Arnold Drake as a “loveable king-size leprechaun who combines his own unique dramatic quality with a fabulous flair for biting satire and crafty characterization!  Arnie is certain to make his mark [here]—if we can keep him away from those endless movies he so dearly loves to write,” such as the cult classics The Flesh Eaters (1964) andWho Killed Teddy Bear (1965).  I wish I could be as enthusiastic about his work here, which just seems to pile implausibility on top of implausibility and a very forgettable villain.  Yet the letters page (where Tony Isabella joins the chorus calling for less Earthbound adventures) says Drake is “working hand in hand with” not only Thomas, but also Lee and Colan, on Mar-Vell’s direction.

PE: I find that last bit of information hard to swallow as, when Thomas, Lee and Colan were truly involved, this strip was stellar. Not any more. Right now we're in wheel-spinning territory. Nothing new is happening. Mar-Vell keeps saving the earth he's pledged to destroy, Colonel Yon-Rogg continues to push the Cap to the brink of death, and Carol Danvers, the hot base security chief gets more and more suspicious of our hero's earthly body, Dr. Lawson. Does anyone else doubt that Danvers will be Lawson/Mar-Vell's squeeze some day?

Daredevil 45

Our Story

The Jester has seemingly defeated Daredevil as he hands him over to the police to arrest.  Using his speed and reflexes, Daredevil is able to leap away before being captured.  Like a hunted animal, he roams the streets of New York as the police stalk him at every turn.  Still believing that he is a murderer, the police even shoot at Daredevil; unbeknownst to them, he was set up by the Jester.  Daredevil just can’t seem to catch a break.  He harmlessly incapacitates a man wearing a trench coat while waiting for the subway.  Double D uses the coat as a disguise but forgets that his red boots are showing.  Coincidentally, the Jester is riding the same train and attacks the hero once he recognizes him.  Even though Daredevil escapes, the Jester follows him to Liberty Island, where they continue their fight on top of the Statue of Liberty.  A police helicopter gets involved and Double D saves one of the officers from falling. That same officer shows his gratitude by injecting the hero with some type of knockout serum.  The story ends with Daredevil shackled to a bed, while a nosy prison trustee is about to look under his mask.    
Tom:  Though it’s not saying much, this story arc has proven to be one of the better ones in Daredevil’s series of misfires.  It was pretty laughable how the prison trustee was relating that the police couldn’t take off the hero’s mask until they had some kind of writ.  You have to love those kooky Marvel Universe laws. 

Jack: Colletta’s inks are not as spectacular as Palmer’s on Dr. Strange, but Colan’s layouts are exciting nonetheless. There is not a single page in this issue with rectangular panels—everything is angular and unusual. I have to wonder if the cover came before the story, because they manage to get Daredevil up on top of Lady Liberty awfully fast. At the top of page 15 he’s in a subway station. Four panels later, he’s on the ferry to Liberty Island. On page 16, he starts up the stairs, and on page 17 he’s in the crown. I’ve climbed those stairs and, believe me--only a superhero would not be panting.

MB: Once in a while, Stan writes an issue (not necessarily of DD, but that’s where I seem to notice it) in which he and the artist are in such firm command of the material that even if very little is happening in the way of plot, the story seems absorbing and not padded.  Here, for instance, at least half of the issue could be summarized as “DD evades capture,” yet we watch in fascination as every move unfolds in an almost cinéma vérité style, excruciatingly aware of how, if he could just change to Murdock, Hornhead would effectively cease to exist.  DD clearly needs at least one more issue to nail it, but he is now tantalizingly close to figuring out the riddle of the Jester, a villain praised as “great” by seemingly ubiquitous lettercol correspondent Tony Isabella.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #7
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #17
Mighty Marvel Western #1
Millie the Model #163
Not Brand Echh #10
Rawhide Kid #66
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #59
Tales of Asgard #1


    With Hulk Annual #1 we get the first of Steranko's classic covers. From now on, as Jimbo's page count drops, the quality of his covers will dramatically increase. I guess what we didn't realize at the time was that Steranko had already seen that a full time comic book career was not for him, and he's honing his cover design talents. The Hulk cover was altered by Marie Severin. She redrew the head, and there seem to be minor touch ups on the Hulk's arm. Here are both versions for comparison.

    By this time, Steranko the writer had gone stale. We're on our fourth Galaxy Island/Blofeld's hideout inspired underground complex, and Fury can only escape from so many inescapable traps, but the artwork still looks great, even under John Tartaglione's inks.

    There's a crazy guy selling comic books from a baby stroller on the Streets of San Francisco. Nobody knows it yet, but he's going to change the comic book industry. His name is Robert Crumb, and he's selling copies of Zap #1, a self published "underground" comic book.

    Rock and roll existed before Elvis, but it needed an Elvis to reach a wider audience. Zap wasn't the first underground comic book, but Crumb became the poster boy for the underground with his 1940s inspired cartooning style, his "Keep On Truckin'" catchphrase, and his obvious talent. Once he'd sold the first print run, possibly as few as 1500 copies (accounts vary) his friend Don Donahue, of Apex Novelties, bought a printing press and cranked off a second run.

    With no desire to distribute Zap through the news stands, and zero prospect of getting Zap past the comics code, Donahue set up a loose distribution network of record stores, head shops, alternative book shops, etc. Apex was already dealing with, and that he knew could sell the comix to their customers. The success of Zap led to a Cambrian explosion of underground titles, and other publishers popped up, all following the same basic idea ... bypassing the news stands and selling their comix directly to the retailer. It would take quite a while for the big boys to catch on, but ultimately, the direct market, that probably saved the main steam comic book companies from decimation, started with a baby stroller full of comix.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  2. I will admit that Thor arc is awesome, but any mention of Ragnarok, without actually having Ragnarok, possibly the greatest mythological tale ever told this side of Homer's Iliad or Odyssey, is kind of a big tease. Give me Ragnarok or give Beta Ray Bill?
    Always liked Scorpio, one of the first comics I ever owned was an Avengers with a Scorpio appearance.
    LOVE that King-Size Hulk cover, remember it fondly! Never knew that was Steranko though until now!
    The Vision! Yes! One of the best Marvel characters! (until that super mediocre Vision & Scarlet Witch mini at least...)
    No Not Brand Echh? The public demands Forbush Man! Or at the very least Ka-Zar!

  3. Funnily enough, Kirby wanted to bring on Ragnarok, kill Thor, and cancel the title. Knowing Stan would never cancel a successful book, he kept his idea to himself, which involved replacing the old Gods with a bunch of "New Gods."

    All the best,

    Glenn :)