Wednesday, October 10, 2012

September 1968: The Return of Bucky?

Daredevil 44
Our Story

The Jester has been making the rounds as a trouble-making criminal with the police unable to stop him.  He realizes that it is only a matter of time before his identity is found out, so he comes up with a scheme to use Daredevil as a patsy to fake his own death.  Using his real name of Jonathan Powers, he alerts the local police department that he will reveal Daredevil’s identity on top of the George Washington Bridge.  The media is all over this one and Double D falls for the bluff.  Before the police and news crews get to the bridge, the Jester, without his disguise, pretends that he is going to fall.  When the hero tries to help him, the Jester attacks him briefly, but lets Double D use him as a punching bag so that everyone arriving believes that Double D is merely beating him up to prevent Powers from revealing his identity.  With his own underwater ship waiting below the harbor, the Jester falls from the bridge, causing everyone to believe that he has drowned.  With public opinion turned against him, our hero isn’t very popular all of a sudden.  Now, donning his super-villain disguise, the Jester goes on live television to boast that he will capture the murderous Daredevil.  Lured by a receiver that the bad guy placed on him earlier during the bridge confrontation, Daredevil faces off against the Jester.  The fight doesn’t last long, as the Jester uses exploding popcorn with knockout gas which lays Double D out.  The story ends with the victorious villain willing and ready to hand Daredevil over to the cops.    

Tom:  A dumb plot that leaves me wondering what is going to happen next.  So, I guess the bullpen did a good job….sort of.  The Jester is proving to be a fun villain with all of his kooky inventions and toy weapons.  Now that Matt Murdock appears to be down for the count, this looks like a job for Mike Murdock------wait, never mind.   

Jack: From the Colan/Steranko cover (the original art sold at auction for $18,400, according to the internet), through the great opening sequence, to the atmospheric scenes on the George Washington Bridge, this is a top-notch issue of Daredevil. I’m glad the Jester is back so soon after a one-issue hiatus, since he seems to make a great adversary for old Hornhead. Not surprisingly, the citizens at the bridge jump to the usual idiotic conclusion when they see Daredevil fighting Powers—they assume DD is attacking an innocent civilian. This issue also marks the first time I’ve seen a protest march—Debbie shows up on TV holding a sign and it infuriates conservative Foggy, who’s running for office. This issue was released on May 14, 1968, so it was on the newsstands right as that wild summer got underway; the riots in Paris had begun just the week before.

No wonder Karen left.
MB:  Since I read each month’s comics alphabetically, I’ve lately been thinking of DD mostly as a speed bump between Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange, but I am obliged to say that it was wise of Stan to bring back the Jester, even after only two issues (however ill-advised he was to pen the line, “How can you expect her to be sensible?  She’s a female!”).  He’s obviously fun to write, and his off-kilter sensibilities seem to inspire Colan—once again inked by Colletta—to new heights of unusual “camera angles” and page layouts; in fact, there’s barely a conventionally laid-out page in this entire issue.  The Jester’s scheme to kill two birds with one stone by framing DD is inspired, and it will be fascinating to see how Hornhead extricates himself from the frame.

The Mighty Thor 156
Our Story

Mighty Thor, at the outer reaches of the realm of Asgard, has found Mangog, who pins him against a rock, in preparation for death. His mightiest blow from Mjolnir frees him from Mangog’s grasp, but no more, as an avalanche of rocks buries the Thunder God. The Warriors Three, imprisoned behind huge slabs of rock, draw the attention of their foe with a few mocking words. Result: Mangog frees them with a swipe of his mighty tail, though they might have better kept quiet, as he toys with them for amusement. On the throne of Asgard, while the All-Father is deep in the Odinsleep, Loki plots against all advice to wait until Thor has perished before he lends any aid to the battle against Mangog. He plans at that point to enlist the aid of Karnilla to use their magic to win the day, though the appearance of his Elite Guard in tatters gives the God of Evil a chill of fear for the first time. Thor, having survived the fall of rocks upon him, now unleashes upon Mangog the forces of nature at his command like never before, drawing the beast’s attention away from Fandrall, Hogun and Volstagg. First, a cyclone of cosmic intensity, then fiery bolts of lightning does Thor subject Mangog to, and it creates such heat that a volcanic explosion results. Thor flies away with friends in tow, to escape the ensuing disaster. Balder is still unable to come to his brethrens aid, as he continues to fight the bewitched Legion Of The Lost that Karnilla has unleashed upon him. Guarding the Rainbow Bridge from all invaders to Asgard, Heimdall faces the arrival of the Rigelian Recorder, who seeks his friend Thor, beside whom he plans to record the last event of all: Ragnorak, the end of all things as we know it. Upon being welcomed into Asgard, the almost human robot informs Sif that it is not the All-Father that Mangog seeks, but to draw the Odinsword, which will release forces that will render our universe asunder. Meanwhile Thor and company view from afar what they feared most of all—Mangog still lives. He tosses a white-hot ball of flame at them, and Thor uses another power of the storm to turn the tide. A torrential downpour that creates a flood of water, serves alas, only to delay the inevitable, as from beneath the waves emerges Mangog, leaving the Thunder God in the same place as he started earlier.

PE: Another stellar installment. Tops is the fact that Loki, smug bastard that he is, plays out his hand too long and discovers his fat is in the fire as well. As good as this story is, at times I feel there's just too much going on for one comic arc. But that's a complaint I don't mind filing.

This month’s title, “The Hammer and the Holocaust!,” sounded awfully familiar, so I checked back and found that, sure enough, the very same creative team used it on #127, but it’s a great title, and since that’s probably the worst thing I can say about this issue, I’m not going to make a federal case out of it.  Amazingly, Stan and Jack have maintained the outstanding level of quality they established last time out and, if anything, increased the drama and suspense to fever pitch as Mangog relentlessly approaches the sleeping Odin’s sword, planning to draw it and thus bring about Ragnarok.  I’m a sucker for certain kinds of heightened dialogue, as when Galactus seemed poised to consume the Earth the first time, and Stan dishes it up in Hungry-Man portions.

JB: Although this issue doesn’t cover quite as much ground as last month, it is another great chapter in this quartet. The artwork is one very notable element, starting with the symbolic cover (sans any words) of Asgard’s best defending the Odinsword (an event that hasn’t happened yet). And yes, the title (“The Hammer And The Holocaust!”) is, curiously, the same of the classic Thor # 127; both suit it equally well. The full page of the Recorder landing on the Rainbow Bridge is a beauty. Watching Thor unleash his powers of the storm like we’ve never seen them is a pure delight; no new magic tricks with Mjolnir here, just pure power. We don’t actually get to know the name of the race from which Mangog sprang, but we do hear of the dark nature of their ways. Nice too, to see Loki realize he has reason to be afraid, as his own greed may prove his own undoing. I can’t wait for the conclusion next month.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 4
Our Story

This recap of how Fury assumed command begins as three Hydra agents each report having killed him, but the victims were actually LMDs, and after a last attempt fails to prevent the CIA colonel from being brought via flying Porsche to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s inner council, the Hydra section leader responsible is punished by death.  Fury recalls his WW II exploits, meets Tony Stark, learns of Hydra’s world-conquering ambitions, spots the booby trap concealed in his chair, and throws it through the porthole of what is revealed to be the Helicarrier (complete with Stan’s original caption).  Taking over, Fury identifies and subdues the agent who wired the bomb and—observed by the Supreme Hydra—accepts the job as leader of S.H.I.E.L.D.

MB: Premature though it may seem, I’ve long considered this the initial domino in the contraction that inevitably followed Marvel’s expansion.  Steranko’s reported deadline difficulties led first to this fill-in, then to his departure after next issue (save for a brace of covers), then to a sharp decline in quality, then to reprints, then to cancellation, hard on the heels of Dr. Strange.  Roy Thomas and newcomer Frank Springer, concurrently a Dell Comics mainstay, fill the gap by retelling the first S.H.I.E.L.D. yarn, yet the cover’s promise of a “S.H.I.E.L.D.  Origin Issue” is a misnomer, as the story reveals no more than did Strange Tales #135 of how it actually came to be.  I presume that lettercol correspondents “Donald F. McGregor” and Steven Grant are both future Marvel writers.

PE: This issue gives you a good insight as to how things were done in the 1960s bullpen as opposed to 1970s. Stan has Frank Springer effectively redraw Strange Tales #135 while Steranko is off sharpening pencils. In the 1970s, when the deadline doom loomed, someone (say Rich Buckler or Herb Trimpe) would whip up three or four pages of new art as bookends to a "classic reprint." I seem to remember that happening more than a few times in the mid-70s. Despite the cobwebs, I enjoyed this trip down memory lane and, truth be told, save for a few hiccups, I thought Frank Springer did a decent job. Them's big shoes to fill.

Jack: On the letters page, it says that Frank Springer replaced Jim Steranko for this issue because Steranko was hard at work on a “brand-new Marvel literary and artistic trail-blazer.” In other words, he missed the deadline. He’ll do one more issue of Nick Fury, then a couple of X-Men issues, etc. Frank Springer’s art is pretty good and, were it not following Steranko’s legendary run, it would be above-average for Marvel. The story is just an origin recap and nothing special.

The Amazing Spider-Man 64
Our Story

Despite the fact that he's down to one arm, The Amazing Spider-Man does an adequate job of fighting off The Vulture. The old bald bird seems to have an assistant on the sidelines in J. Jonah Jameson, who does everything he can to help defeat his hated nemesis, Spider-Man. That makes getting the job done all that harder. In a last ditch effort, Spidey falls to the ground below and plays possum. When The Vulture lands, our wall-crawler damages the power pack that enables the old bird to fly. With just a bit of power left, The Vulture flies off. Spider-Man swears he'll hunt him down just as he passes out. That leaves our hero at the mercy of another villain: a crowd hungry to know just who Spider-man is under that mask!

PE: Well, Mary Jane might think her new hairdo is "ginchy," but I think it's hideous. I've got a feeling fandom felt the same way as it won't stick around for long. It'll be interesting to see how "Marvel Time" factors in to MJ growing her hair back. May Parker seems to spend most of her waking hours moaning and groaning about how Peter never calls her. Here she says "it isn't like the dear boy!" Say what? Didn't we just have an arc recently where the old bat slipped into a coma when Peter didn't call her one night? Add dementia to May's endless list of maladies. It's convenient that Captain Stacy's memory has a full recovery (maybe he could loan a bit of it to Aunt May) but what kind of girlfriend is Gwen Stacy? She won't listen to Peter's explanations despite her dad having a "Property of The Kingpin" bumper sticker on his back but the second pop gives himself a clean bill of health, she chortles "Then Peter didn't betray us!" This is the comic babe I wanted to spend the rest of my life with?

MB: This issue seems made to order to challenge my prejudices, as I am usually wary not only of the Vulture, but also of cover-to-cover action stories that can sacrifice plot and characterization, a satisfying amount of which Stan manages to interpolate between the “Thwipps!” and “Thops!”  Even M.J.’s ghastly new ’do is offset by my relief that Captain Stacy has set Gwen straight regarding Peter, and mentioning him leads me (as every Monday-morning Marvel quarterback will understand) to Robbie, who grows in stature by being sharp enough to pick up on Spidey’s calling him and Jonah by name.  This is a super-hero gaffe that I’ve seen far too often, especially in this strip, and it’s high time Spidey and Stan were called to account for it.

PE: It took several years but I think we've found the title Don Heck should have been on all this time. I know his contributions to The Amazing Spider-Man are asterisked since they're done with the aid of Jazzy Johnny but what's important is that it's good work. I could do with a run of issues though where our characters aren't plagued with amnesia, bad limbs, arrhythmia, gout, or bad hairdos.

Dr. Strange 172
Our Story

Dormammu imprisons Dr. Strange alongside Clea and Victoria and tells the story of how, after battling Eternity, he was banished to the Realm Unknown where, coincidentally, he found Clea, who had been banished there by the Ancient One. Using Clea as bait, he tricked Dr. Strange, and now he leaves the Master of the Mystic Arts under the watch of a grisly guardian with a mace for a hand. Dr. Strange defeats the beast and saves the ladies. Meanwhile, Dormammu summons his sister Umar to accompany him to attack Earth, but Dr. Strange appears in his path and challenges him to a fight.

Jack: WOW. This strip has been so mediocre for so long that this issue really hit me like a ton of bricks. The Colan-Palmer team is perfect for Dr. Strange, just as they would be later for Tomb of Dracula. Dormammu is a great nemesis and we even get the bonus of Umar’s return. Compare this cover to this month’s Daredevil—“I, Dormammu” and “I, Murderer.”

MB:  A Bullpen Bulletin advises, “Keep your eyes peeled for the tremendous new team of Genial Gene Colan and Tender Tom Palmer as they join forces to illustrate Dr. Strange. If ever a penciler and inker were born for each other—!  They’re dynamite!”  I’ve always opined that Colan’s style is not right for every strip, yet this joins Daredevil’s and Namor’s among those for which it is eminently suitable—even if, for whatever reason, my one visual complaint in their freshman effort is with some of the close-ups of Doc himself.  Rascally Roy, meanwhile, is in his glory as he luxuriates in bringing back Strange’s nemesis and reuniting him with sis Umar; looks like the handwriting is on the wall for poor Victoria, but now, Clea gets to be an actual character!

Captain America 105
Our Story

Watching old footage of he and Bucky Barnes in action for an upcoming film on his life, Captain America decides it isn't fair to ask Sharon Carter to risk her life to be with him. He stumbles off, swearing he needs a really good mission to take his mind off women. A solid assignment is what he finds when top army brass come to Cap to tell him somewhere in the city is the deadly Seismo-Bomb, a gizmo that sets off seismic shocks that can destroy the entire city. Meanwhile, three "super villains" (The Swordsman, The Living Laser, and Batroc zee Leaper) team up to nab the bomb first. As Batroc explains, "Zare are zertain countrees zat weel pay zee beeg bux for zee bum!" The team of traitors and Cap arrive at the building where the bomb is hidden at the same time and a melee ensues, during which the countdown to the detonation of the Seismo-Bomb commences (three small quakes to be followed by Armageddon). Captain America defeats the trio and manages to defuse the bomb just before the big one hits.

PE: Cap sighs that he and Sharon Carter have been discussing marriage so there's evidently quite a bit going on between issues these days. One wonders if he popped the question before or after he knew her name. Simple arithmetic tells us that three third-tier villains don't add up to one exciting menace. Batroc, Laser, and Swordy are all losers that should have been retired years ago.

Do you haff a rim?
MB: Super-villain teams are so often less than the sum of their parts; I have little use for Batroc, with his French-fried faux accent, yet his two partners gave the Avengers a hard time, both singly and together while working for the Mandarin.  So they seem a little easily disposed of here, with very little discussion [insert standard disclaimer re: cut reprints] of their shared history with Cap, or how they got together with the Leaper.  It’s unclear just how much they knew about this bomb before setting out to steal it, but their whole scheme seems kind of sketchy whatever way you slice it, and the wildly uneven Kirby/Adkins art is no help—separate panels of, say, the Swordsman look like they were drawn by two totally different artistic teams.

PE: This issue, along with this month's Avengers and an upcoming issue of Cap, prove that Stan (and Roy, in the case of The Avengers) just couldn't leave Bucky alone. The kid was just too iconic not to revisit time and time again. Was that the boys jonesing for the Golden Age or just running out of story lines? We all know that the ghost of Bucky (and the robot and the clone and the brother and,,,) would rear its patriotic head several more times in the future. I've raved and raved about Steve Englehart's "The Other Cap and Bucky" arc (in Captain America and the Falcon #151-154) but there's a more contemporary twist on the legend in "Winter Soldier"that bears mentioning. I'm not a fan of modern comic revisionism, nor modern comics for that matter,  but this particular story line (written by Ed Brubaker) touched all the important bases for me (respect for the source and nothing really stupid) and I enjoyed the heck out of it. Since the second solo Captain America film will be subtitled Winter Soldier, it'll be very interesting to see what path it takes, especially in light of the variant Bucky Barnes found in the first film.

The Avengers 56
Our Story

The Avengers meet Captain America at Dr. Doom’s old castle, where all but the Wasp travel back to World War Two to watch Baron Zemo kill Bucky. Unable to intervene, the Avengers return to the present and Captain America realizes that there is no doubt that his old friend is dead.

Jack: What’s with the Little Orphan Annie eyes on the cover? I did not really see the point of this story. Captain America spends enough time beating himself up over Bucky’s death; I don’t think it was the brightest idea for him to go back and relive it. Maybe this will help him get beyond it at last. We are just killing time till the Vision arrives next issue!

MB:  This month’s heaping helping of Assemblers kicks off with quintessential Roy, demonstrating a fondness for his boyhood World War II setting, for almost-forgotten elements of Marvel lore (Dr. Doom’s old time machine), and for planting mysterious seeds (Jan’s sleepiness) that will flower down the road.  Klein’s inks seem a little—for lack of a better term—softer than Joltin’ Joe’s, but he is almost certainly the best Sinnott-substitute Buscema’s likely to get at this point, and I’m already lamenting the enforced brevity of his Marvel stint.  Unless a reference has been cut from my Marvel Super Action reprint, an all-too-plausible scenario, the Panther appears to have shifted to his full-face mask, which I’ve always preferred, with absolutely no comment.

PE: Much like this month's SHIELD (also, not coincidentally, scripted by Rascally Roy), this is regurgitated Marvel history. Yeah, it's told from a slightly different angle and there are some word balloons Roy actually had to think up (unlike his SHIELD yield), but it's "The Death of Bucky" told yet again. It always seems to end up the same way, don't it? Well, at least through the 1960s, it does. There is one big guffaw this issue: after pledging she'll push that revivo-ray-turbo-whatsit every thirty-five seconds (J.J. Abrams was an Avengers Fan), Janet falls asleep at the wheel! Obviously, inheriting all that money has cut into her nap time. Perhaps Tony Stark could give The Wasp a few pointers on how a superhero responsibly spends her millions? Minus two stars for the pretentious title.

Fantastic Four 78
Our Story

Reed, Ben and Johnny return from Sub-Atomica to find that the Silver Surfer reached Galactus in time to save Earth from destruction. Since Crystal is busy comforting Sue in the hospital, the Torch and Thing set about doing some repairs in the Baxter Building. Unbeknownst to them, their old foe the Wizard has been released from jail and has plans for revenge. Reed soon calls his two male teammates with some news—he’s finally found a cure to turn the Thing back into Ben Grimm, to be human again. Shock of shocks it works! Ben is human again, leaving his shorts a little too big for him. They scarcely get to enjoy the moment when the Wizard attacks, having entered the still unrepaired Baxter Building from a hole in the roof. What’s different now is his new weapon, a pair of Wonder Gloves full of lots of nasty powers. While this transpires, the doctors in the hospital tell Crystal that they are stumped at Sue’s bloodwork. The cosmic rays that gave her the power of invisibility show strange flashes of radiation when the data is enlarged into a visible photo. The boys however, have no time to ponder this right now; they’re busy saving lives—their own. Ben forgets he isn’t the Thing, and gets tossed around like a ball. Reed cushions Ben before he strikes a metal wall, but the effort knocks him out. This leaves Johnny to save the day, having recovered from having his flame snuffed out earlier. The lad shows Mr. Fantastic-like ability in tricking the Wizard, who falls into Reed’s chem-tank, where he’s spun around until hopelessly dizzy. By the time Reed and Ben rush to help, Johnny stands over the Wizard holding his gloves in triumph. Not completely beaten, the villain takes off, escaping to fight another day. The near fatal battle leaves Ben feeling guilty about leaving his pals in the lurch, and asks Reed to give him something that will enable him to become the Thing when needed. The problem is, Reed could only make it a one-time transformation. If Ben Grimm becomes the Thing again, he will remain so…forever.

JB: Although I’m a lukewarm Wizard fan, his presence here is clearly a tool to set Ben up for the question ultimato: to be or not to be. I find myself thinking…Ben, please don’t!! Although his guilt feelings over what he feels is letting down his fellows is understandable, I find it hard to believe that he’ll be able to give up his dream of becoming human again too easily. I don’t think that I could do it. Of course no one suspects the Wizard is up to anything after he tells the media he “vows vengeance on Fantastic Four.” It was fun to see Ben and Johnny chumming around doing repairs on the Baxter Building, and I’m curious what’s going to happen with Reed and Sue’s baby.

PE: This is a milestone issue of sorts in that we get our first inkling of the manner of child Red and Sue Richards are about to give birth to. The doctors agree there's something a little odd about the unborn child (soon to be christened Franklin Richards) but can't agree exactly what form that oddity will take. We'll have to be patient but the pay-off (if I recall correctly) is a mother and will temporarily split the team up. Aside from that revelation, this is a sub-par issue (complete with sub-par villain) plopped right in the middle of a large number of very satisfying story lines. 

MBDidn’t we just do the let’s-cure-Ben routine?  And wasn’t it messed up by a villain I mistakenly thought was the Wizard?  Ah, well, never mind...  I must say, I have always adored this cover, although interestingly, I think it is less the layout per se than the color scheme they used for the Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint; they replaced the black background with an orange hue in the middle and a blue backdrop for the white-and-yellow masthead, which—along with the yellow-on-red “Marvel Comics Group” 1970s banner—somehow made a big difference.  I’m not sure if Ben just never thought it through, which would be weird considering how long he has brooded over it, but what effect did he think his cure would have on the FF’s fighting ability?

PE: There's quite a bit of unmanly whining this issue. Reed gets back from the Negative Zone, all aflutter, screaming "Sue, Sue, I've got to see Sue! Where's my Sue?!"; The Thing's back to feeling sorry for himself (and doesn't it always follow, after a bout of self-pity, that he retains his human form again?);  upon hearing the news that Crystal is in the maternity ward caring for the about-to-pop Sue, Johnny whines "And I thought she was cryin' her eyes out 'cause I was gone! Man, wait'll I see that chick!", and, perhaps worse of all, after getting his manhood back, Ben complains that he can't aid his pals because he's not The Thing anymore!  How about a new title for this zine, The Moaning Marvels? The Wizard might have gotten his "multi-powered Wonder Gloves" off an infomercial on late night TV as much good they did him. I hope he got the free set of Ginsu steak knives with them.

The X-Men 48
Our Story

Computo dispatches several robots to steal radio equipment. Unfortunately the equipment is located at the radio station where retired X-boy Scott Summers is working. Jean takes a break from her bikini modeling career long enough to join Scott in an assault on Computo's lair. Lest you think this issue's true villain is the forgettable Computo, rest assured it's actually the work of also-ran Quasimodo, who to no one's surprise, manages to escape incarceration.

PE: Another Heck-Drake-Roth messterpiece. The mystery of the three dangerous robots is solved in a three-panel cameo by fourth-tier villain Quasimodo. Surely this is, simultaneously, the biggest anti-climax of 1968 and a big fresh breath of "Thank God we don't have a full story starring Quasimodo!" At least we get the "satanic images" of electronic hibernation, z-alerts, and reviva-rays, not to mention some honest-to-gosh cheesecake. Aren't we comic guys sad?

He went on to have a long
career as a masseur.
Jack: I have to hand it to Don Heck, he can sure draw a lovely lady when he sets his mind to it. Other than that splash page, though, this issue of Cyclops and Marvel Girl has little to recommend it. I was surprised that one of the bikini-clad models compared Scott to Lee Marvin. Was Lee Marvin ever seen as the tall, dark and handsome type? Arnold Drake continues to demonstrate why Marvel writers were hopelessly corny when they tried to be topical, as he has Jean admire a new record by the “pop” group, The Chocolate Covered Ashcan. That’s where this issue should have been tossed!

JS: This issue isn't worthy of a chocolate covered ashcan, Jack.

MB: At the risk of stating the obvious, no issue that opens with Jean Grey threatening to burst out of her bikini can be all bad (in Carlo’s own words, “Zam!”), even at the hands of Heck, Roth, and new inker “Jumbo John” Verpoorten.  But as Jean and Scott take the spotlight, Arnold Drake’s first solo script on this title gives us a taste of the abysmal dialogue and lame villains he will soon inflict on Captain Marvel.  It says volumes about Computo that I was pleased to see a third-tier yet familiar foe such as Quasimodo taking over, and in the unlikely event that you were disappointed by his brief appearance here, Drake and Heck drag him out again two months from now in—you guessed it—Captain Marvel; Don absents himself from the disposable Beast story.

For one brief moment,
The X-Men gets interesting.
JS: What's with Jean's ass hanging out on the splash page? Not that there's anything wrong with that—she certainly is, as the bystander says, "a tasty package of goodies,"—but I pulled out my handy-dandy Masterworks hardcover, and confirmed that her bikini bottom is drawn all the way up to her waist. Once again, I eagerly await Glenn's commentary to get to the bottom of this (pun intended).

Jack: The “deadly” robot looks like Jabba the Hutt to me. I was glad to see the return of Quasimodo, however brief, but this issue reads too much like a Marvel comic circa 1963, what with all of the tortured longings going unspoken. The Beast backup story is the kind of filler usually found in the rear of an annual. Letter writer Tony Isabella sums it up when he complains that the feature stories have been “extremely poor.”

PE: It's the kind of filler found in the rear, alright!

JS: Let the countdown to decent issues (and cancellation) begin!

The Incredible Hulk 107
Our Story

The Hulk saves the young boy he found on a farm from the weaponry used by Yuri Brevlov aboard his ship.  Before the Russian spy can inflict any further damage, Nick Fury intercepts him and takes him prisoner just before the Hulk is about to bash him.  The local villagers attack the Hulk at first, as they are concerned for the boy.  Once they realize he isn’t out to hurt them or the child they leave him be.  The arch-villain known as the Mandarin has been viewing the Hulk’s latest escapades from his secret citadel.  Using his advanced scientific technology, the would-be world ruler transports the Hulk to his headquarters.  There, the green brute is run through the wringer as the Mandarin uses his rings in various attempts to stop the Hulk.  He even sends a giant monster android, which the green goliath also defeats.  After destroying a robot version of the Mandarin, the real bad guy reveals that these were all tests to see if the Hulk is worthy, and he asks him to form an alliance.  The Hulk naturally refuses, so the Mandarin sends his troops to stop him.  The Hulk easily dispatches them but is duped into falling into a pit of quicksand, where he sinks away out of sight.       

Tom:  Even though his mental state has been this way for the last couple of issues, I guess now would be a good time for me to point out that the Hulk’s brain capacity has settled down into full idiot caveman mode.  Unfortunately, he will remain this way for a good decade.  I’m already getting tired of him referring to himself in the third person.  For kid readers, who I suspect at that time were more interested in seeing monsters like the Hulk fighting similar huge beasts, instead of reading fancy dialogue exchanges, this was suitable.

Jack: I am so glad that we’re done with Marie Severin on this book and on to the Herb Trimpe period. Trimpe’s art is primitive but powerful, and I think he may have done a swipe of Don Heck on one of the panels featuring the Mandarin. No matter—this issue features Commies galore, from the Russkies to the Red Chinese! I have always liked the Mandarin and he seems to be a good foe for the Jolly Green Giant.

MB:  A heavy who can defeat the Hulk with his wits and/or weapons is often as good a foe as a bruiser like the Rhino, who will match him blow for blow, so the Mandarin was a potentially inspired choice, but Friedrich erodes credibility by depicting the otherwise au courant “mad scientific genius” as apparently ignorant of Greenskin’s personality.  He continues to have characters describe what we can see for ourselves, and clutter the pages with a surfeit of dialogue and captions, although the mysteriously Severinesque artwork being obscured is no great loss; it still does not bear Trimpe’s signature style, evidently suppressed by inker Syd Shores.  Fave line: “Hulk surrounded…by concrete!  Can’t move…or breathe!”  But, of course, he can still talk

Tom: I thought the Mandarin was supposed to be a cut above the rest of most villains in intelligence.  How or why he thought that the Hulk could be an ally was a huge miscalculation on his part.  Maybe the guy was hitting the opium pipe too hard while spying on ol’ Greenskin.   

Captain Marvel 5
Our Story

At an interstellar trial, Ronan sits in far-off judgment as Yon-Rogg accuses Mar-Vell of “the ultimate crime of being—Un-Kree” for letting Namor defeat him, yet Ronan decides to let future actions be his judge.  Mar-Vell’s next mission is to use the mind-eraser to be certain Logan can pose no threat if and when he awakens from his coma, but no sooner has “Lawson” reached the hospital and applied the device than he is attacked by the Metazoid, an accused traitor transformed by the Soviets into a constantly changing monster, who is promised the return of his humanity if he captures Lawson.  Donning his uniform, Mar-Vell is barely able to stop and apparently kill the reluctant mutate just in time to retrieve his device before the authorities arrive.

MB: I’m going to try to give the new guys the benefit of the doubt, but it’s tough not to conclude that this much-ballyhooed book has been abruptly—and inexplicably—thrown under the bus when its entire creative team is replaced by what could charitably be called the second string.  Ex-DC and current X-Men scripter Arnold Drake, an unknown quantity at best, breaks new ground with Mar-Vell’s trial and the unusual creation of the Metazoid…although an alert reader will notice that on the letters page, if not in the credits, this is referred to as “a book [Roy] plotted.”  An admittedly problematic penciler, Don Heck does an interesting job of mimicking the visual style established by Colan (with inker John Tartaglione supplanting Colletta), so that transition isn’t too shocking.

PE: Oh dear! What, to me, was one of the top three Marvel comics of 1968 takes a big fat tumble down the mountain here. The art's dreadful (The Metazoid looks like a blue yeti and Cap Mar looks about forty years older) and the story's invisible. The only saving graces here are The Metazoid itself (how did Heck miss out on a chance to hammer home the COMMIE ALERT! and paint this poor creature a pretty scarlet?) and the wee bits of humor (caught in Logan's hospital room, Mar-Vell exclaims "I was merely checking this man's Blue Cross coverage, doctor!") tossed in here and there. It's got a long ways to go before this title is as bad as The X-Men (coincidentally, I'm sure, scripted by Arnold Drake) but Captain Marvel is hereby on probation.

Marvel Super-Heroes 16
Phantom Eagle
Our Story

It’s March 1917 and, while the U.S. has yet to enter the Great War, the Phantom Eagle patrols the skies off the East Coast, where he finds a German dirigible poised to attack by means of Fokker biplanes kept hidden inside. Phantom Eagle (secret identity Karl Kaufman) alerts the military and a pitched air battle ensues, in which Phantom Eagle blows up the dirigible but loses his best friend. Kaufman pledges to patrol the skies until the Kaiser’s threat is ended.

Jack: What a breath of fresh air after the barrage of super-hero comics! This was my favorite Marvel story of September 1968. The art is excellent, and I was surprised to see the credits at the end of the story attribute it to Herb Trimpe, whose work on this month’s Hulk is so much weaker. Perhaps the difference comes from him inking his own pencils here. In any case, I really liked Phantom Eagle and would like to read more. Unfortunately, he would not appear again in a complete story. Trimpe was later quoted as recalling that this was his first work for Marvel.

PE: Fabulous story, fabulous art. I couldn't agree more, Professor Jack. The Phantom Eagle was obviously writer Gary Friedrich's answer to DC's popular Enemy Ace series (appearing in Our Army at War beginning in 1965). It's a shame that this was pretty much the only appearance for The Phantom Eagle (outside cameos in Ghost Rider, The Invaders and The Incredible Hulk) but Garth Ennis and Howard Chaykin rebooted the character in 2008 for a mini-series called War is Hell: The First Flight of The Phantom Eagle. No way you'd be able to pick Herb Trimpe out of a lineup for this strip's artwork (and that's coming from a big Trimpe fan). This looks nothing like the work we'll come to see from Herb in the "future." Big props to Friedrich for that downer of a climax as well.

Phantom Eagle meets the Fokkers
Jack: The reprints include a previously unpublished Human Torch and Toro story from the 1950s that is harmless fun, as well as a dreadful Captain America story from 1954 that shows how far John Romita’s art progressed from the '50s to the '60s. Another Black Knight tale from 1955 features Joe Maneely’s expert draftsmanship, followed by a horrendous story about the Patriot from 1942, demonstrating just how bad Golden Age Marvel stories could be. Saving the best for last: a brilliant Sub-Mariner story from 1954 by Bill Everett. Just about every panel in this nutty piece of work deserves reproduction. Subby fights a knockoff of the Creature from the Black Lagoon (released a few months before this comic) that was created by a mad scientist who looks like a Robert Crumb character. Subby even calls a woman “sugar” and “baby”! Priceless!

The Sub-Mariner 5
Our Story

A seaside explosion causes the Sub-Mariner to lose his bearings.  As he staggers ashore, out of nowhere, a giant mechanical robot begins to attack him.  Namor batters it to pieces but the ensuing explosion from the destroyed robot leaves him unconscious and at the mercy of some henchmen who capture him.  Subby awakens to find himself the prisoner of Dr. Dorcas, accompanied by Todd Arliss and his sister Diane.  It is revealed that Dorcas’s men were using the robot to capture sharks for his experiments, with Subby being an unexpected bonus.  While alone with Diane, she reveals to our hero that her brother Todd was once an Olympic gold medalist who was destined for fortune until he hurt his back saving a drowning man.  After seeking out various quack doctors, Todd encountered Dorcas, who promised to cure him.  Namor tries to escape before they can use him for the experiment, but an electronic vest put on him after his capture leaves him too weakened.  Eventually, Dorcas uses the machine he created and Todd Arliss is transformed.  Sporting a new costume, he proclaims himself Tiger Shark!  His sister Diana points out that now his teeth are sharpened and he has gills along his face.  Tiger Shark is mentally transformed also and attacks Dorcas along with destroying his machinery.  While all this has been going on, Lady Dorma has gone off in her own ship to find Namor.  She even manages to avoid a giant squid on her journey.  Tiger Shark realizes that he has the weakness of a shark, in that he needs water to breathe.  Crashing through Dorcas’s lab, he falls into the sea where he coincidentally falls on top of Dorma’s passing ship.  He attacks her, then Subby comes to the rescue.  A brief and brutal fight ensues, with Tiger Shark seemingly getting the best of the conflict.  Our story ends with Namor down for the count after Tiger Shark smashes him with the wreckage of Dorma’s ship.
In other words:
no pain, no gain.
Tom:  This Sub-Mariner series is on fire!  I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of gushing about the story lines or the fantastic artwork.  This issue introduces the classic Tiger Shark along with the minor classic villain, Dr. Dorcas.  Speaking of Dorcas, even though he has a really, really, bad name, along with not even having much of a costume, something about him makes him more formidable as a bad guy than Plant Man.  I’ll let you readers be the judge.  Tiger Shark’s origin wasn’t one of the best origin stories I’ve read, but it got the job done as the character still endures to this day.
Jack: We are getting spoiled by the consistent excellence of this series! Tiger Shark’s origin is cool, but I had to wonder if he was a malingerer when he was still Todd—he picked up Sub-Mariner pretty easily for someone with a career-ending back injury. It’s funny that Subby tells Dr. Dorcas that he says his name “as though it were enshrined in letters of undying flame,” since I thought all Marvel characters referred to themselves that way.

MB:  First Attuma, and now the introduction of Tiger Shark (not to mention creator Dr. Lemuel Dorcas, who would later earn himself a unique but short-lived spot on Namor’s hate list), lovingly rendered by Big John and Fearless Frank?  Man, this book is sticking real close to the top of the heap.  I’m so used to seeing Tiger Shark with his customary lethal personality that I forget he was once a fairly decent guy, albeit a bit arrogant and self-serving, and his sister is the latest in a long line of gorgeous Buscema women.  One of Marvel’s more formidable villains, the erstwhile Todd Arliss will not be the last deadly experiment to emerge from Dorcas’s lab, and of course the fact that some of his power came from Namor himself makes their battles noteworthy.

JS: This was one of the first 12¢ comics I ever owned. I love the Tiger Shark cover, and while the story isn't one of the best, I will say it still holds up for me thanks to the nostalgia factor. And the fact that it's nothing like reading the X-Men.


The Avengers King-Size Special 2
Our Story

Having returned from their trip to the past, the Avengers discover the original lineup of their team having a meeting in Avengers Mansion. A fight breaks out between the old group and the new group, but the new group quickly realizes they are outmatched and they flee. The old Avengers summon the Scarlet Centurion and ask him what’s going on. The new Avengers use a super computer called the Herodotron to figure things out. Captain America learns that the Avengers had asked the Scarlet Centurion (right after the Space Phantom adventure in Avengers 2) how to rid the world of evil, and he had replied that they had to get rid of the excessive number of superheroes running around. They then went around beating up every superhero they could find, and a lot of super-villains, too. All that remained was to defeat the new Avengers. Another battle ensues, as the old Avengers try to beat up the new Avengers. The new Avengers prevail and then find and reassemble Dr. Doom’s time machine. The Scarlet Centurion appears and takes on the new Avengers, but Goliath manages to rig up the time machine to send the Scarlet Centurion packing. As the new Avengers fade out of the wrong time, the Watcher appears and explains that the Scarlet Centurion is yet another version of Kang the Conqueror, but no one will remember any of what has transpired.
The backup story, “Avenjerks Assemble,” illustrates the confusion that reigns at Marvel when Roy Thomas, Don Heck and John Buscema try to keep up with their busy schedules.

Jack: Somewhere in this 44-page mess is the germ of an interesting story. However, the humorous backup feature gets it right when it suggests that everyone was working so fast that they couldn’t keep everything straight. It all does make a kind of sense when you think about it, but this story is padded with too many Marvel Misunderstandings and pages of heroes fighting other heroes. Kang has always been one of my favorite Marvel villains, and I’m glad to see another incarnation of him, but I think Roy was overtaxed by having to churn out this particular annual. He does get bonus points for juggling so many characters in such a long story without resorting to the formula of having a hero per chapter.

MB:  Once again, Don Heck returns to pencil the annual, but since he’s teamed with X-Men punchline Werner Roth and inked by Colletta, the artwork is pretty functional; sadly, even setting aside my reflexive aversion to time-paradox stories, that’s the nicest thing I can say about this clambake.  I’m often unable to switch off my brain and enjoy the ride when facing the illogical or inexplicable, like how the Scarlet Centurion cons the original Avengers without one scrap of evidence, or how Roy stacks the deck so that they win every battle (polishing off the FF in a single panel!), except the fight against their vastly less powerful modern counterparts.  And that payoff:  so Immortus, Kang, Rama-Tut, the Centurion, and maybe Doom are all one guy…?

The Invincible Iron Man 5
Our Story

Tony Stark is kidnapped by a rebel gang from the future who are trying to rewrite the past. Evidently, in our future and their past (raise your hand if you're lost), Tony Stark will grow old and develop a super-computer tagged Cerebrus (not to be confused with Cerebro), a massive bank of computers that will learn how to think for itself and enslave the human race. To remedy the situation, the gang intend to execute Stark so that he cannot invent the gizmo in the first place. Before Tony can be strung up though, he's saved by the "tracking coils" of his very own gizmo, Cerebrus and makes good his escape through a long series of underground tunnels. There he is befriended by the beautiful Krylla, an historian who believes that Stark is innocent of any crimes he is accused of and intends to prevent her own people from making a huge mistake. Krylla takes Tony to the rubble of a museum where he finds one of his Iron Man suits on display. Donning the armor, Stark heads right down the gullet of his super-computer in an attempt to find a weak spot. The Achilles heel becomes apparent when Cerebrus threatens to kill Iron Man, Shellhead doffs his helmet and explains to the gizmo that if it kills him, it kills itself. That fries Cerebrus' artificial brain and Stark is able to deprogram it and, later, return to his own time zone, pondering life and love in the 24th Century.

PE: I know I'm in danger of asking a silly question here but why would Tony Stark build a special detonator (to be operated at the "explosive test") that could kill everyone around it? Does that make sense? And if these bozos are really from the future, they'd know that Stark is also Iron Man and vice versa. It's tough reading these "futuristic" stories knowing what I know will happen but hasn't happened up to this time just yet... or something along those lines. I do like the climax though where Iron Man so gums up the Cerebrus' thinking with various time/space paradoxes the computer can't function and shuts down.

MB:  A landmark issue of sorts, this is the first penciled by George Tuska, and whether you love him or hate him, you can’t dispute the fact that his decade-long run on this book would link him as inextricably with Shellhead as Herb Trimpe was with the Hulk.  Prior to this, Tuska worked in various capacities on AvengersIncredible HulkX-Men, and sundry other mags; inker Johnny Craig, who had been handling the art chores solo, and writer Archie Goodwin remain on board for the nonce.  Artful Archie’s story is a flagrant but entertaining lift from D.F. Jones’s SF classic Colossus with a time-travel twist, while Gorgeous George’s art—idiosyncratic though his unitoothed faces may be—gives good action, as ever, with Shellhead and Stark both in fine form.

PE: Along with a Colossus vibe, I get the distinct odor of "Soldier". I've a feeling that James Cameron might not have been the only writer to borrow a riff or two from Harlan Ellison. Decade-long tenure notwithstanding, Tuska has to be my least favorite Marvel artist (at least until Frank Robbins shows up). You can see why Roy Thomas would plop George down in front of Planet of the Apes in the mid-1970s since most of his characters look like orangutans. Worse was his stint on Man-Wolf in Creatures on the Loose. But here, in his premiere issue, Tuska seems to be doing alright, so I'll keep an open mind as far as the Iron Man run goes. I promise.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #6
Marvel Tales #16
Millie the Model #162
Millie the Model Annual #7
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #58

1 comment:

  1. Regarding the S.H.I.E.L.D. fill-in, I too was just thinking how different things were from the '70s in that department. Somebody can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe next April's DR. STRANGE #179 will mark the first time the hole caused by a missed deadline--reportedly due to Gene Colan's illness--was plugged with a reprint (from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #2, of all places), in that case without even the fig leaf of any new framing material. Things changed yet again when, sometime in the mid-'70s, they hit upon the idea of keeping an inventory of new fill-in issues that could be drafted into service in just such an occasion.

    Interesting to note that within the space of a few months, Roy wound up retelling the origins (so-called) of both erstwhile stars of STRANGE TALES, here and in the first issue of Doc's solo mag. In each case, he had to fill a whole issue rather than half of a split book, and a close comparison of the multiple versions will reveal a few new elements in each retelling. In DR. STRANGE #169, they include introducing Doc's erstwhile medical colleague, Dr. Benton, which will pay off big time down the road; no idea if Roy was thinking that far ahead yet.

    Paste-Pot, sad to say that in the short run, Gwen's loyalty to Peter will not improve any.

    Next month: "I, Dormammurderer!"

    Jack, I think the point of this month's issue of AVENGERS is to set up the annual as much as anything else. I agree it's rather superfluous.