Wednesday, November 14, 2012

February 1969: Can Barry Smith Save The Unreadable X-Men?

Daredevil 49
Our Story

With his life in a mess as Foggy and Karen refuse to talk to him, Matt seriously contemplates abandoning his hero career.  Before he can dwell on it for too long, a mysterious humanoid robot appears out of his closet and attacks him.  The android is no pushover as it has super strength and durability.  It knocks out our hero and carries him off into the street.  As luck would have it, Willie Lincoln walks by.  The android gets scared and abandons Matt along the road for Willie to find.  We learn that the robot was created by Starr Saxon.  The evil inventor is paid by gangster Biggie Benson to use his robot to kill Daredevil for revenge for his interference with clearing Willie Lincoln of false charges and throwing Benson in the can.  Matt recovers at Willie’s crib before donning him farewell to go back home.  Knowing the robot can strike him again at any time, Matt dresses up as Daredevil and waits in his gym for the rematch.  The android does indeed show up there, where he gives Double D another beat down.  The story ends with the robot wrapping Double D up in a gym mat and applying a crushing bear hug to murder him.   

Tom:  This issue was great!  Mainly because it took all of five seconds to read, with the two brawls that took up the majority of the story.  Daredevil lost both times, apparently, which brought a smile to my face.  I was also glad to hear that Willie was working as a liaison between the city police and the Soul Brothers!  I think that might have been a gang featured in The Warriors movie, but I’m not sure…

MB: Despite the return of Willie Lincoln, this must be regarded as a step back from the bump in quality we’ve seen over the past five issues (corresponding roughly with a title-logo experiment that last month brought us right back to where we had been since #1, and will remain until #63).  This might be considered noteworthy for introducing a recurring villain, robot-maker Starr Saxon—later the second Mr. Fear and Machinesmith—if you consider Saxon a noteworthy villain, which I do not.  The cover epitomizes the phrase “divided we fall,” while even the great Gentleman Gene Colan can only do so much to make this goofy bucket of bolts look menacing, and I wonder if they’ll ever explain how Saxon happened to get hold of a sample of DD’s scent.


Jack: Another terrific splash page by Colan, who may have discovered The Spirit not long before this period, since he has been paying tribute to Will Eisner’s work here and in Dr. Strange with his creative use of lettering. It’s handy that Daredevil fights a robot in his Matt Murdock identity; since the robot is only programmed to track him by smell, he doesn’t notice that Daredevil is blind or in his jammies. I had to chuckle when Willie Lincoln told Matt that he now works as a “liaison between the cops and the soul brothers.” Ah, 1969. Those were the days! The cover is very cool but, as Professor Peter is so fond of pointing out, it does not represent a scene from the story.



The X-Men 53
Our Story

While testing out Professor X's Mind Machines, Marvel Girl accidentally opens a door into The Negative Zone and lets in the hairy beast known as Blastaar! Nothing less than world domination will do for this well-spoken super-villain but teamwork and a little melted ice put the kibosh on Blastaar's plan.

MB: “Everyone’s talking about Bashful Barry Smith [aka Windsor-Smith], the surprising new staffer we just imported from merrie old England!” boasts a Bullpen Bulletin.  “This young, long-haired, titanically talented Britisher has a style which combines the pulse-pounding power of Jack (King) Kirby with the off-beat improvisations of Jaunty Jim Steranko!  You’ve gotta see it to believe it!”  Inked by “Michael Dee” (aka Mike Esposito), Smith is no better able than said Steranko to offset another abysmal Arnold Dreck script; at first glance, I deem his facial features off-kilter and his figures ill-proportioned, though Blastaar looks good.  A laughable coincidence finds Blasty inadvertently summoned by Jean exactly when he was looking for a ticket to Earth.

JS: Never in a million years would I have guessed this Jack Kirby wannabe might evolve into a good, let alone great artist. I guess that means there's still hope for Rob Liefield.

PE: Smith may very soon be a fanboy's wet dream when he rolls out Conan the Barbarian with Roy Thomas, but here he's just another bad X-Artist. That pin-up page of Marvel Girl is just all wrong. Her face is lopsided, ankles dangerously thin, calves diametrically corpulent, but on the plus side she's got that odd 34right/36left DD rack going for her! As much as this villain talks, wouldn't Blabstaar be more appropriate? How's this for one long, uninterrupted, meandering, endless, long-winded speech when The Angel flaunts his ability to fly in front of The Negative Zone visitor: 


Blastaar: There is a much simpler means of handling you! For, though you are not yet aware of it, Blastaar too can fly! Not with the archaic mutation which gives you your bird powers, but with my own natural ability to propel myself thru space by emitting energy directly from my body! A living rocket -- aimed at your vitals! Where you fly like a bird -- I thunder  through space like a guided missile! And all the power of my rocket energy shall converge in a single shatterin (sic) blow! And the feeble target shall be you! For there is no escape from my rage -- and no recovery from my ultimate might! Here above the sleeping city, you will find your final resting place! And let this serve as notice to all who would resist Blastaar!


That's just one of the blah-blah-blahs Blastaar lays on us. Lots of typos and grammatical errors in this one as well (The Angel: "Can't hold out much longer! This lionhead is no pushover like (sic), he's doing all the pushing! (sic)... and I'm the one's (sic) going over!" Huh?). Blasty isn't the only one who's full of blueberry muffins this issue. Cyclops gets in the act when Marvel Girl cries on his shoulder about letting Blastaar into our world: "Not exactly, honey! Blastaar's basic energy was -- evil! Pure unadulterated hate! And wherever men live with hate in their heart -- Blastaar lives there, too!" Bravo!


JS: Fortunately surviving Blastaar's eloquence means we're that much closer to the golden age of the original X-kids. 



The Avengers 61
Our Story


Dr. Strange’s astral image summons the Avengers to the mausoleum where the Black Knight lies dying. The doctor uses his long-forgotten skills as a surgeon to save his friend, and the Avengers split up to battle the fire and ice gods in Antarctica and Africa. Things look rather bleak for our heroes until Dr. Strange masters the Crystals of Conquest and uses them to make the two rampaging gods vanquish each other.

Jack: I am really enjoying Roy’s increasing use of quotations from great literature, such as this issue’s title, borrowed from Robert Frost’s poem, “Fire and Ice.” The storytelling is solid, as is the art, but I couldn’t help thinking that the two gods reminded me of the Heat Miser and the Snow Miser from The Year Without a Santa Claus. If the Crystals had not worked, Dr. Strange could have summoned Mother Nature to calm her boys. Future comic star Richard Pini contributes a letter to this issue’s letter’s column.


The special porous mask
allows sweat to pass
through.
MB: Because of the vagaries of Marvel’s publication schedule, this story (cover-dated February) is the conclusion of a two-parter that started in Dr. Strange #178 (cover-dated March), although they were apparently on sale simultaneously.  Don’t know if something like that double splash page is the province of the artist or the letterer, but man, is it spectacular; how gratifying it must be for Roy to have his cross-over illustrated by Colan, Palmer, Buscema, and Klein!  While decidedly different, both halves are visual banquets, and in terms of the story, it’s nice to learn a little more about the Vision, to bring the Black Knight back together with the Assemblers, and to set the stage for next issue’s adventures in T’Challa’s homeland, the kingdom of the Wakandas.











Captain Marvel 10

Our Story

Flashbacks explain why, at Ronan’s behest, accused traitor Mar-Vell faces execution in the Everglades, a story that begins as he returns to the Helion and is ordered to learn all he can about the Organization and its leader, Number One, seen by the Kree as possible allies. Number One punishes his underling’s failure to capture or kill Lawson by using the latter’s own invention, the Eon-Ray, to age the man to death, and then sends his agents to use it on “Lawson” himself.  When they attack Mar-Vell and Carol on their way to dinner, the reversible ray turns a bird into a pterodactyl, which Mar-Vell kills as Carol is taken hostage; bluffing his way into their H.Q., he frees her but is exposed to the ray, grabbing it to save himself and destroy Number One.

MBMar-Vell knows his every move is being observed on the Helion, so it seems rather disingenuous of him to profess confusion as to why Una would give him the cold shoulder…but hey, that’s the life of Captain Marvel, Arnold Drake-style.  Dominated by the grotesque figure of Number One, the Heckolletta interiors are, not surprisingly, less satisfying than the unusual Marie Severin/John Verpoorten cover, which—as with #3—makes stylized use of minimal colors.  Yon-Rogg places Mar-Vell in a typical “heads I win, tails you lose” situation whereby, in order to save himself and Carol, he must invoke Ronan’s wrath by killing Number One; to her credit, Una overcomes her jealousy—and the fact that Mar-Vell jeopardized his life on Carol’s behalf—to try to warn him.


Natty villain threads!


PE: This one's got one of the strangest structures I've encountered in a comic book. It begins with the execution a mere minute or so away, leads to a flashback that lasts nineteen pages, and our climax dumps us right back at the moment of execution... to be continued next issue. Ostensibly after a four or five page recap of this issue's events! Number One looks more like an immigrant from Hooterville with his blue suspenders and porky physique. Has it not occurred to Arnold Drake at this late juncture that readers may be wondering just what purpose, aside from cheesecake, Carol Danvers serves? We've never seen her do anything aside from express suspicion in Lawson and get kidnapped every other adventure. The dialogue here is just as dreadful as that over at The X-Men (not coincidentally, also scripted by Arnold Drake) but at least in The X-Men you've got something so genuinely ludicrous it can be played for guffaws. Reading Drake's Captain Marvel scripts, my emotions run from disinterest to narcolepsy. Take for instance, this baffling conversation:


Number One: It is a pity that such courage can not be better rewarded, Captain! I almost regret the fate that I must bestow upon you!

Marvel: Number One! I should not have lost track of you--!

Number One: Quite so! And now you will pay for that oversight -- with the strangest death ever designed by man! The dark genius of Dr. Lawson gave us -- the Eon Ray! And now it shall be -- yours!


Does Number One mean he's going to kill Mar-Vell with the Eon Ray or just hand it over to him? At least Drake didn't open himself up to more scorn by titling his villain Number Two (a more apt moniker, I hasten to add). I'm not sure I buy that a ray that will age a human also speeds up the aging of a building. But then I hardly understand any of this installment and must say I'm not all that bothered.





Doctor Strange 177
Our Story

Exiled into a shadowy dimension, Dr. Strange and Clea are nearly swallowed up by flower-like shapes, but Dr. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to escape. Asmodeus is shocked when the Book of the Vishanti vanishes from his grasp; disguised as Dr. Strange, he tracks it to the home of the Ancient One. Dr. Strange is forced to take on a new appearance to re-enter the Earth dimension, where he manages to defeat Asmodeus in front of the Ancient One. Asmodeus dies, but not before summoning the gods of fire and ice, who had been imprisoned by Odin. As he passes away, Asmodeus is revealed to be Dr. Benton, Dr. Strange’s pesky former colleague.

Jack: Finally we get to the superhero period, which doesn’t last long! I have read that putting Dr. Strange in a mask and tight costume was an attempt to increase sales, but it didn’t work and soon he was canceled. The cover is visually striking and, in my faulty memory, I thought it was the famous black light poster that everyone either had or saw in 1971, but a quick Internet search reveals that it’s not quite so—the poster was of the masked Dr. Strange and Eternity, which explains why I thought I recalled an Eternity poster about 30 issues ago.

MB:  Obviously, I owe the Master of the Mystic Arts a big apology for entertaining the notion that he would show up for the appointed trap set by the Sons of the Satannish without being fully prepped—sorry, Doc.  I encountered this story in Marvel Treasury Edition #6, whose oversized pages just made the Colan/Palmer art look even more spectacular, and I even loved the quiet moment of Strange and Clea resting in their “hostile dimension.”  Also enjoyed the gradual revelations of both the precautions taken by Strange and the scheme set in motion by Asmodeus (who, like Paul Destine in Roy’s Sub-Mariner, doesn’t die without leaving a dangerous legacy); when they dig back into “Tales of Asgard” for the menace du jour, you know it’s gonna be big...



Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 9

Our Story


In New York, Fury is attacked by an assassin who escapes after killing his doctor, and recognizes the insignia of the Hate-Monger on the rescue vehicle.  In their attack craft, Fury, Dugan, Jones, and Woo survive a dogfight with the enemy but must eject over an undisclosed location, where dinosaurs and monsters roam, and Nick’s crew is subjected to the Psychotron (see Avengers #42).  Aided by his “Brain Bank” of former associates, the Hate-Monger schemes to wipe out humanity and replace it with the Master Race, but one minion, Frau Kline, unmasks as Laura Brown, and the other, Dr. Kaupfman, rebels, shoots the Hate-Monger (a Hitler lookalike, as was the one killed in FF #21), and frees the others before destroying his lair.

MB: 
In a sad juxtaposition, several readers leap to Steranko’s defense in the lettercol of an issue that is already swirling down the drain.  At times, writer du jour Gary Friedrich and artist “Barnacle” Frank Springer so shamelessly ape #2 they create a new form, Sterank-faux.  Marginalia:  Why Park Ave. doc, not S.H.I.E.L.D.?  Zoot suit gratuitous.  Why Gabe talk like Nick?  Whither Fury et al. bound?  Why weird ’do on “Kline”?  Kaupfman motives completely inconsistent.  MRB to Kaupfman:  “When you have to shoot, shoot!  Don’t talk.”  Laura never once thought to report in?  A favorite exchange:  “I believe Dr. Kaupfman can explain that better than I…”  “We will blow up the world with nuclear-armed missiles!”  Damn, she could never have explained that.





PE: Did I miss the explanation for the dinosaurs on the island or how Fury's men survived said prehistoric creatures? The attempt to mask the loss of Fury's legendary artist continues here with several Steranko-esque panels but they're presented as if drawn by Steranko with crayons, using his off-hand. That panel (reprinted above) of Fury, Dugan, and Woo reminds me of those lousy old Clutch Cargo cartoons where the "animators" inserted actual human mouths to deliver the dialogue. A train wreck from start to finish.




The Invincible Iron Man 10
Our Story

Out on the town for a good time with Janice Cord, Tony Stark is ambushed by paparazzi armed with photos of Stark posed with a band of STINKIN' COMMIES! The American government has no choice but to dump Stark Industries from their payroll. That's right: no more $2000 toilets. What Tony doesn't know is that his arch-enemy, The Mandarin, is back and has learned there's a connection between the changing room used by both billionaire playboy and famous bodyguard. The Mandarin attempts to lure Iron Man to his girl Mei-Ling's palace but Nick Fury and Jasper Sitwell intervene and attempt to bring Shellhead in for questioning. That doesn't go well and Iron Man escapes, eventually making it back to Mei-Ling's where confronts the ten-ringed evil genius. The Mandarin gets the upper hand though and threatens to unmask the Avenger for all the world to see.


PE: Yes, he's known for such deadly gizmos as The Proto-Ray, The Electro-Viz-Buster, The Automato-Squisher, and The Tranquo-Beam, but who knew that The Mandarin was also the genius who invented Photo-Shop? Speaking of genius, how about the intricate formula Mandy uses to come to the conclusion that Tony Stark is actually Iron Man? When T.S. disappears, I.M. shows up! Why didn't I think of that? Is it just me or did a new actor replace Senator Byrd?





MB: 
Because Tuska’s artwork is so idiosyncratic anyway, I haven’t been bothered too much by the cartoony style of Craig’s inks so far, but one aspect of this issue did trouble me, i.e., the rather marked difference in the Mandarin’s appearance from panel to panel.  I’d forgotten old Mandy actually figured out Shellhead’s secret i.d., although I have sometimes been surprised that he didn’t in the past, and I can’t remember how Tony extricates himself; one suspects that Happy Hogan will be involved.  Overall, this seems to be a pretty good issue, with Archie nicely setting up the confrontation to come, while bringing back Senator Byrd and heating up the Tony/Janice and Mandarin/Mei-Ling relationships, plus it’s nice to have the link with Hulk #108 made overt.




PE: I had been bothered by Tuska's art (just too sketchy for my tastes) but this installment finds the artist in, if not fine then, very good to near fine condition. That may be because of Craig's inks, who knows? My clearest recollection of Tuska, from the Man-Wolf strip in Creatures on the Loose, is that the guy just can't draw. It takes a complete overview of the Marvel Universe to unearth nuggets to the contrary. You're spot on about the metamorphic aspect of The Mandarin this issue, Professor Matthew. In one panel, he looks eerily like a dragon. 



Fantastic Four 83
Our Story


Reed, Ben and Johnny, having followed a kidnapped Crystal back to the Great Refuge, are now prisoners of Maximus the Mad, who has usurped the rule of this fellow Inhumans from his brother Black Bolt. The trio is imprisoned in a room that none of their powers seem able to break free of. While Maximus gloats and prepares for his coronation—after which he plans to unleash his Hypno-gun on the rest of humanity, thus controlling them—the other group who might stop him remain prisoners as well. Black Bolt, Medusa, Gorgon, Triton and Karnak, contained within a transparent unshatterable cell, have tried everything to escape, except for… Desperate times call for great risks, and Black Bolt takes one. Using the utmost self-control, he uses the titanic power of his voice to shatter their prison, without harming those around him. Phase one of the recovery of the kingdom is to deal with a pack of Alpha Primitives. At about the same time, Reed realizes that the room he and his companions are in is just a hypnotic suggestion. With intense focus, they concentrate on this knowledge, until the illusion shatters from lack of belief. They defeat the next obstacle, the android Zorr they previously fought, knowing that his seeming superiority is also a hypnotic suggestion. Maximus is so caught up in his ceremony that he doesn’t notice the escape of Black Bolt and company until they are upon him. Crystal uses her elemental control to shatter the full-size Hypno-gun, and Maximus, seeing his plans go up in smoke, so to speak, makes his escape. The F.F. reach the scene, Johnny and Crystal enjoy being reunited, and Black Bolt calms the crowds. In that moment, Maximus reaches a hidden rocket, and blasts off into space, making for an uneasy victory.

JB: A foregone conclusion here (well, most comic stories are) that the good Inhumans would break free. It’s kind of like their own magazine this month, with the boys of the F.F. showing up for the spoils. Still, the use of hypnotic power as Maximus’ main weapon is interesting, even if you’d think he’d have a backup plan other than escape. I expected Sue to have a huge list of names for baby Fantastic for Reed to peruse, but “he’s so much better at that sort of thing”! It feels like a little while now since we’ve had a really classic issue, but there was a good run of just that, so we can’t have it every month.



MB: Here’s another example of the kind of pedal-to-the-metal, all-action issue (assuming you count Sue tucking in poor little Nameless Richards as action) to which this book has always gravitated.  I noticed a couple of those evil Inhumans who had allied themselves with Maximus in Hulk Special #1 lurking about, so there’s some continuity with his previous palace coup, and to give Marvel an excuse to bring him back in another three months, Stan lets him get away scot-free.  As usual, Kirby and Sinnott deliver up the action in epic style, with lots of large and often wordless panels, plus that great full-page shot of the Inhumans racing into battle; they actually take the spotlight, since the FF spends much of the issue trying to escape their faux-cell.

PE: This was a near-miss for me. Not a bad issue but not all that good either. Maximus is beginning to outwear his welcome, I feel, but I appreciated the homo-erotic Spartacus vibe I got when the evil genius retires to his bath and his manly servants dress him in his new robe. I've never seen so many Hypno-gizmos in one issue: Hypno-recoil, Hypno-gun, Hypno-spell, Hypno-ray, Hypnotic Inducer. Okay, I cheated on that last one but you get the picture. Stan and Jack need a vacation. Better to just have the villain say "Get me my twelve gauge."




Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 10
Our Story


Namor finds himself fighting a giant blue warrior named Karthon the Quester over the dangerous Serpent Crown.  Once he has him at his mercy, Namor demands that Karthon reveals his purpose and what he knows of the crown.  Karthon relates that he is from an ancient tribe of people who are rumored to be related to Namor’s.  After spending so much time in the deep Atlantic Ocean, Karthon’s race became bluer and more amphibious, with scales.  It was back then that this race of sea dwellers was ruled by a tyrant named Naga.  This ruthless dictator had his warriors help capture him an ancient, last surviving fish that had powers of longevity.  Naga made his scientists soak the Serpent Crown in the fish’s juices so that he could become immortal.  Once they had completed this task, Naga rewarded them by using the crown’s powers to command them to kill themselves.  Sick of Naga’s murderous ways, a group snuck into his sleeping chambers, where they stole the crown.  The good thieves took the crown to Antarctica where they hid it, encased in an unknown substance.  The crown laid there dormant until discovered by Destiny.  Out of nowhere, a ship drops a powerful net on Namor and Karthon, capturing them.  Once aboard, they find that they are being held prisoner by Captain Barracuda, who goes on to steal an Atomic Activator from a navy ship.  Captain Barracuda plans on putting it into a torpedo, then using that to strike Florida.  He hopes that the U.S. government will pay him off big time so that he won’t strike again.  The torpedo is launched, but Subby get rejuvenated and frees himself when one of Barracuda’s lackeys splashes him with water.  Karthon also is freed.  He takes the crown and busts a hole through the side of the ship to escape.  The story ends with Namor torn between going after Karthon and the crown, or saving Florida from the nuclear torpedo.           

Tom:  This issue illustrates why I believe that the best Namor tales are the ones that focus on his undersea adventures against barbarian tribes, mystical crowns, and ancient threats.  With the exception of Tiger Shark, this series is at its weakest when regular Marvel Universe bad guys like Plant Man or Captain Barracuda show up.  It’s a testament to the creators who have given us great storytelling and artwork on this title so far that even third rate villains can’t seem to sink this nearly perfect comic book.       


MB: I’m surprised, but certainly not disappointed, to see Gene Colan once again gracing Subby’s adventures (following Marie Severin in what I hope remains a temporary respite for Big John Buscema), with Thomas and Adkins still providing creative continuity.  In addition to meeting Karthon the Quester, it’s nice for us to get some background on Lemuria, Naga, and the Serpent Crown, while Colan’s shadowy style is perfect for these serpentine events unfolding in the depths.  Captain Barracuda—whose introduction in Strange Tales #120 I missed—seems like a more flamboyant version of the Plunderer, but since the latter is a fairly colorless bad guy, and often drags his idiot brother, the jungle boy, into the story, that is quite likely all for the best.


The Incredible Hulk 112
Our Story


On a strange alien planet, the Hulk faces off against the Galaxy Master.  Unfortunately for the Hulk, even his strength appears to be no match for this god-like being.  The Galaxy Master sees combat with the Hulk as an amusement.  Forming different personas, such as a giant creature with huge hammer hands, and multiple worm monsters, the Galaxy Master fights with the Hulk.  Ol’ Greenskin is able to keep the being at bay through ingenuity.  While this is going on, a Princess ruler of the alien race that has been doing the Master’s bidding is hoping he loses so her people can revolt.  She explains how the Galaxy Master was created by other alien creatures similar to itself, and once he gained all the power the Master killed his own people, and has gone on to kill all the alien species he encounters so there will be no threat.  Just before it appears that the Hulkster will be killed, the Princess leads an army of troops equipped with tanks and space ships to attack the Galaxy Master.  The Hulk jumps inside of the Master’s floating body, where he gets engulfed inside of it.  He’s able to find the Galaxy Master’s main central working system.  Once the Hulk pulverizes the main functioning controls, the Galaxy Master is no more.  There is little time to celebrate as the Hulk just wants to get the hell off of the planet.  The Princess sends him off in a ship but once he changes back into Bruce Banner, the cabin pressure may kill him. 

  

Tom:  Once again, weird, creative science fiction makes this Hulk issue an interesting adventure.  Plus, it’s always nice when things get wrapped up in just an issue without it dragging on.  Who knows what craziness the Hulk will encounter next? 


MB: A Bullpen Bulletin announces that Trimpe “will be starting a new strip in a month or two—in addition to [this one].  This talented, terrific newcomer has proven to be one of Marvel’s most talked-about finds…and you’ll never guess which strip he’s gonna do (unless you happen to guess that it features a certain Latverian monarch who can’t exactly be called a good guy!).”  Yet like the promised new Lee/Kirby effort, it was not to be; when Doom makes his solo debut in Marvel Super-Heroes three months hence, Herb will not be in evidence, and it will be more than a year before said series ensues.  Meanwhile, back in the Valley of the Jolly (Ho, ho, ho!) Green Giant, this storyline just barrels along, out of control, like a driverless van.


The Mighty Thor 161
Our Story


Their ship having been destroyed by the forces unleashed in the battle between Galactus and Ego, Thor and the Rigelian Recorder float through space, unconscious. Float that is, until they are rescued by the beings in a ship that had been following them, eager to learn their destination: the ship of the Wanderers, the survivors of the first civilization destroyed by Galactus. The Wanderers introduce themselves to the revived duo, and offer their assistance in aiding the god and the robot. They scarcely have time to discuss their mission when the outfall of the cosmic battle wreaks carnage on the Wanderer’s spacecraft. Taking flight, Thor hurls his Mjolnir at Galactus, with force enough to cause the planet-eater pain. Galactus grabs the Thunder God in his hand and literally hurls him at Ego, the Living Planet. While he does not yet reveal himself, Ego clearly appreciates the help, breaking Thor’s flight gently with a counter-force. Brought to the surface of the bizarre world, Thor (with the Recorder joining him) sees that the Wanderers themselves have been likewise saved. Hastily they build a stand on which to mount Thor’s hammer, and he warns all to stand back, as he harnesses the strength within himself to join with that of his mighty mallet. The result is a surge of Asgardian force that forces Galactus to retreat, first from the battle, then to escape in his immense star craft. Then, as the Wanderers ponder where they can go now without their space ship, the world around them changes into a paradise. From the ground rises a humanoid form, part of Ego that can more easily communicate with them. Grateful, he welcomes the Wanderers to make for themselves a residence upon his surface for as long as they live.

PE: Somewhere between the cover and the splash page, "Shall a God Prevail!" is downgraded from a vow to a question. I've no problem with an abundance of full-page poster-style art if it's warranted. Here, for the most part, it's not. That double-page shot of Thor and The Recorder drifting amidst the detritus found in Mrs. Kirby's kitchen cabinets is a waste of precious story-telling space, I'm afraid. Thank goodness then we have Jack's story-telling prowess and (whoever's) snappy dialog:

Galactus: By a human-form gnat am I beset!

Thor: A gnat mayhap... but with the power of a god!
Galactus: Speak the words you will... it matters not to me! If such as you can be a god then what shall we call the great Galactus? What name must be given him who possesses power absolute!!

As evidenced by the hasty (anti-) climax, this arc really should have had one more chapter. While it doesn't stand with the epics The Mighty Thor has been doling out at a speedy clip, it's still an entertaining read. But let's retire The Recorder, a worthless character if there ever was one.



MB: This has gotta set some sort of record for a regulation-size issue, with no fewer than five full- and double-page shots including the splash.  Well, they went ahead and did it, had Thor defeat Galactus, and as if that weren’t enough, he did it with the use of a hastily assembled “god-machine” whose exact functioning they don’t even attempt to explain.  I’m sorry, I know he’s a Norse deity and all that, but I’ve been schooled for years in just how huge, and hugely powerful, the planet-devouring Big G is, and while I’d probably buy that Big Daddy Odin could beat him, I have a hard time accepting this; luckily, I liked the stuff about how the Wanderers—of whom I’d have liked more—found a home on Ego, and am not gonna carp about the Kirby/Colletta visuals.

JB: The shameless cosmic exploitation continues-- tossing all reality aside in the interest of sci-fi drama. I agree Thor’s defeat of Galactus is unrealistic and wholly convenient. It might have been more acceptable had Ego and Thor somehow combined powers, but this “Asgardian force” reeks of some of the very early issues of Thor; too easy. It was the very hopelessness of the battle with Mangog or the Destroyer that made them so memorable. Still there are many nice touches, the art (giant though it is) being the most notable. Professor Pete I beg to differ! The Recorder is an interesting variation on the “emotionless” robot; I always felt he was a believable go-between for the sci-fi and mythological threads of the Thor mag. The ending brings a warm touch; Ego, once thought incapable of emotion, has learned to be grateful. What a cool place for the Wanderers to make their home.



The Amazing Spider-Man 69
Our Story

To clear the good names of Randy Robertson and his campus demonstrators, The Amazing Spider-Man must track down the uncatchable Kingpin and steal back the mysterious priceless tablet nabbed by the fat man at E.C.U. After a long, grueling battle, The Kingpin is defeated and Spidey acquires the tablet. Unknown to the wall-crawler, the fat man has told the police that his sworn enemy is actually his ally. When Spider-Man approaches the cops to surrender the tablet, they open fire on him. For the 55th time in his career, The Amazing Spider-Man vows to start looking out for Number One from here on out!

PE: "Cook an egg! Cook a goose! Turn the demonstrators loose!" Not one of the better chants I've read, though it's a good analogy if we're talking scrambled eggs. One of Randy Robertson's friends, while admitting that Robbie Robertson is an "okay cat," claims that "whitey" needs a little shaking up. Further, Randy accuses his dad of becoming part of the "white man's establishment." What does this whole mess have to do with race? Clearly, Stan wants to jump on that racial tension bandwagon but can't find the proper situation to air his "liberal views" (funny that those liberal views might come from a comic book writer who once spent every other page bashing those stinkin' commies) just yet. That may come eventually, we'll see. Startling to see a shirtless webhead, by the way, but I appreciate the realism when Spidey attempts to get that shirt back on. It takes him quite a few panels to get it right.

MB:  Per a Bullpen item, “Everyone’s raving about the new, marvelously mysterious mood that Jim Mooney has brought to [Spidey’s book]!  Fandom agrees that teaming Madman Mooney with…Romita’s sensational storyboard layouts is the smartest move we’ve made since Forbush-Man,” and who am I to argue with fandom?  It will certainly help quiet the critics of the Romita/Heck/Esposito regime that presided here for so long.  I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think this is the first mention we’ve seen of the Kingpin’s wife (as-yet-unnamed, like her hubby) who will play such a significant role in Spidey sagas to come.  Loved Gwen lashing out on Peter’s behalf, in spite of her private reservations, but what’s with his self-repairing costume?

PE: Do we really need yet another "I've had enough of playing the bad guy! From here on out, it's Spider-Man vs. everyone in the world except Aunt May!" conclusion? It's downright laughable (and unrealistic) that, despite the many times Spidey has rushed to the aid of the NYPD, these cops are willing to turn on a dime due to the words of... The Kingpin! At least we finally get to see the iron bracelets on the big man's meaty wrists. Not for long, I'm sure.



For the first time in... oh, never mind.



Captain America 110

Our Story

Out one night for a walk, Steve Rogers stumbles into an ambush by the army of The Incredible Hulk. Switching street clothes to work gear, Captain America briefly tangles with the green goliath before the monster tires of the whole affair and leaps off into the night. Rick Jones, who had shown up to try to calm the savage beast, is hurt in the melee and Cap takes him back to his place (this is a Code authorized comic book so stop that snickering-Professor Pete) to nurse him back to health. Lost ion his thoughts, yet again, of his dead partner Bucky, the star-spangled Avenger is unaware of an approaching figure until it is almost upon him. It's Rick, who's found one of Bucky Barnes' old uniforms and tried it on. Thinking that maybe lightning can strike twice and he may be able to put his old partner's death on a shelf for a bit, Cap encourages Rick Jones to accompany him on an adventure. Together they tackle Madame Hydra and her minions of evil.


PE: Captain America smoking a pipe? That's a new one on me. Blink and you'll miss our cover co-star, The Incredible Hulk, who acts as nothing more than a bridge to Rick Jones as Bucky. It was only a matter of time, since Stan channels his obsession with the dead BB through Cap ad infinitum, that we'd see a new partner (more on new partners for Cap in a few months). Nary a month passes without a backwards glance, several heavy sighs, and at least one or two "It was all my fault"s. Perhaps we can get on with a new storyline now. Steranko's art, dynamic though it may be, is just as hot and cold as it was on Fury and The X-Men but the artist's affection for his subject is obvious. Love that final panel with the ominous "Caution Danger Ahead" sign perhaps forecasting the next few Steranko-filled issues.




MB: 
Flitting from title to title like a hummingbird after leaving S.H.I.E.L.D., Steranko drew two issues of X-Men and now begins a brief stint on Cap, teamed up with Stan for the first time since, I think, Strange Tales #152.  A Bullpen Bulletin claims that “the only reason the King has abandoned Cap is to give himself time enough to work with Smiley on a new title—one which promises to become the biggest blockbuster of ’69—and we’ll bet you can guess what it’ll be.”  That’s all we can do, since said mag did not eventuate that annum; Inhumans?  For Cap (whom Jaunty Jim had, of course, drawn before in Strange Tales #159-61) to throw the untrained Mr. Jones into battle—complete with Ghostbusters-style “Get ’em, Rick!”—seems most unwise.


PE: I have to agree completely with that last nugget of wisdom, Professor Matthew. Going from endlessly second-guessing himself about the last deadly mission of Cap and Bucky to egging on the totally green Rick Jones in what seems a heartbeat is completely unimaginable.



The Silver Surfer  4

Our Story


Our story begins in Asgard with Loki brooding.  He really wants to get rid of Thor so he is free to be bad, but Loki realizes his previous failures mean he needs to find someone else to bear the pain of killing Thor.  He conjures up a spell to find someone strong enough to get rid of Thor.  First he eyes the Hulk, with strength, but no finesse.  The Thing is next, but although strong, is only human.  Third is Hercules, but a failure may bring the whole of Olympus down on Asgard, which is something Loki does not want to chance!  Lastly, the Silver Surfer enters Loki’s magical vision:  a different spell is used to find out the Silver Surfer’s powers, origin and weaknesses. Enter Volstagg, Fandral and Hogun – as is usual for them, they are in comedic fight mode with Volstagg attempting to flee the villains.  While this is happening, Loki warns the trio that he’s figured out a sure-fire way to get rid of Thor.  The comedy team runs to tell Thor the news, interrupting a cozy tete-a-tete with Sif, and Thor quickly collects an army to ensure Asgard’s safety from Loki’s evil plans . . . but this was all in Loki’s strategy. At the same time, the Silver Surfer is resting among a large number of the earth’s dangerous animals – the croc, the lion, the hippo, the wildebeest, the rhino, the elephant, all happily sharing the area because they are satiated.  Norrin Radd yet again despairs over the cruelty of humankind while snuggling with a sleepy lion.
Loki appears just as the Silver Surfer is deciding to ignore humanity and live with the animals.  The Silver Surfer’s worthiness to fight Thor is tested by Loki.  Loki belittles the S.S., threatens his life, and threatens to hurt humanity.  This last one catches the Silver Surfer’s attention.  He will again be a champion for humanity and Earth!  Another poor city gets shattered so that Loki can test the Silver Surfer’s powers.  Eventually, Loki goads our hero into using his cosmic power to defend Earth.  Humanity is again ungrateful and suspicious, but Loki realizes that the Surfer is just what he needs to carry out his plan.  Loki’s web of lies is spun – he says that Thor is trying to take over the rule of Asgard and if this happened the Earth will fall alongside Asgard.  Loki further pulls the Silver Surfer over to his side by offering him freedom in exchange for the death of Thor!  The army Thor is amassing for protection is used by Loki to show Norrin Radd that Thor is combative. The Surfer makes his way past Heimdall the Guardian because he has no weapons.  He enters Thor and friends’ dining hall, immediately challenging Thor and implying the Thunder God is a coward if he doesn’t fight.  This gets Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg (sort of) all fired up on their friend’s behalf, but Thor takes over accepting the challenge as long as it is after supper and their sparring entertainment.  The Silver Surfer and Thor both suspect something more than meets the eye is going on.  The gladiator who won the contest received a fancy sword from Thor which he then (with magical encouragement from Loki) threw at the Silver Surfer “in Thor’s name”.  Loki keeps putting negative thoughts into the S.S.’s mind and combines his own godly power with the S.S.’s cosmic power to ensure success against Thor.  The battle becomes a fight between Mjolnir, the Thunder God’s hammer and the spaceboard.  
A message is sent to Odin, the all-father, Asgard’s real leader.  Odin says that the fight should go on because “no harm can come in combat when both hearts be truly pure.”  Then he gets sleepy . . . as usual.  The battle goes on. The Silver Surfer admits he just can’t dislike Thor (partly because of the many people who appear to care deeply for Thor and because of Thor’s fair fighting) but he keeps battling with more power than he has ever felt.  The cosmic field successfully holds the hammer out of Thor’s reach and this is the moment when the Silver Surfer realizes that his power alone could not do this.  He has been used . . . by Loki! Balder and Sif come to join in the battle, but the Silver Surfer says they need to talk about what has happened.  Balder strikes at Norrin Radd and calls the Silver hero a coward – which wasn’t a good idea! Norrin Radd strikes Balder, but Thor blocks him from hurting Sif and that is when the Silver Surfer realizes absolutely and for sure that Thor has been holding back some of his power to stop himself from hurting S.S. too badly and that Thor really was one of the good guys!  Loki was definitely the evil one.
Loki quickly recognizes his failure and sends the Silver Surfer back to his entrapment on Earth.  Thor and companions have come to realize that the Silver Surfer is a valiant man, however this does not help poor Norrin Radd to move towards the freedom he so desires.



NC:  I love the cover art for this issue – the colours are fantastic, the facial expressions are vivid and, man, is Thor ever good at doing a lunge!  I’m a little less pleased with the title page – are Loki and the Silver Surfer holding hands?  Arm wrestling?  Just plain wrestling?  I guess it is a way to signify the struggle of good vs. bad. Nice wedge high heels Volstagg!
Being one of the biggest animal lovers of all time I sure do love the concept of dangerous wild animals hanging out together peacefully and without fear after they have eaten, however, somehow I still think they would not be quite so trusting that the crocodile had eaten enough to stop his tummy from grumbling or the lion would put up with their presence while he was trying to have a nap.

MB:  As much as I may love Joe Sinnott myself, John Buscema preferred to be inked by kid brother Sal (whose first published work appears this month here and in Rawhide Kid), far better known today as a penciler.  Not surprisingly, the results remain impressive, with Loki the most problematic; in one panel—I can’t give you a reliable page number, because I’m working from the Fantasy Masterpieces reprint—his lips are so hilariously curled that he resembles the Grinch.  That said, I found this issue a bit of a letdown:  the Surfer and Asgard didn’t feel like a good match, and while we know he’s so innocent as to be na├»ve, his being taken in that easily by Loki seemed odd, especially when you’d think he’d be twice shy after his run-in with Mephisto.

NC:  The over-all story line isn’t great and I do agree with Professor Matthew that it is unlikely Norrin Radd would be quite that gullible after his recent contact with lying anti-heroes.  However, I do think there are very interesting parallels between humanity seeking evidence for the Silver Surfer’s malevolence by viewing his actions and the Silver Surfer’s willingness to see Thor as wicked with very little proof.  I wonder, will the Silver Surfer learn from this????




Tales of the Watcher
The Terror of Tim Boo Ba

Tim Boo Ba, a scary looking, extremely large, rather mean, all-supreme ruler is cruelly conquering communities.  He cries out “Attack” with his gigantic mouth.  He is an evil dictator of his world.  Until . . . a disastrous flood quickly kills him and ends his reign.  There is always something or someone mightier that comes along . . . In this case it was a teenage boy’s mother who is dripping water on her son’s scale model space set!  Poor Tim Boo Ba, so powerful in his own realm, but he was just a tiny player on a small scale world.  It was small enough that Tim Boo Ba could be destroyed by a lady unknowingly bringing “natural” disaster to his power.

NC:  The Watcher stories are much more fun and thought-provoking than I expected them to be.  Was this all just a figment of a young boy’s imagination (harsh as it may seem)?  Or was Tim Boo Ba the real deal – living out his life on this small planet?  Where does this put us in the whole scheme of things?

PE: Sharp MU-ophiles who have been withe us since the early days will know that this Watcher tale is actually a "revised" version of Lee/Ditko's "The Terror of Tim Boo Ba" from the pages of Amazing Adult Fantasy #9 (February 1962). This version is penciled by Golden Age stalwarts Howard Purcell and inked by Paul Reinman.




Also this month

Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #11
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #19
The Mighty Marvel Western #3
Millie the Model #167
Not Brand Ecch #12
Rawhide Kid #68
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #63


8 comments:

  1. Professor John said:

    "Fortunately surviving Blastaar's eloquence means we're that much closer to the golden age of the original X-kids. "

    Haven;t you been promising me a "Golden Age of X-Men" for months now? What happens if there is no Golden Age and the good stuff really didn't start happening until #94?

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  2. Fair question, to be sure. As I grew up on the Byrne/Claremont X-Men, for many years I didn't recognize anything that preceded Giant Size #1 as truly even being the X-Men.

    But then I received a British annual that featured the Living Monolith/Alex Summers/Sentinels storyline, and I realized that there was quality stories and art before the X-Men were reborn. In time, I found that the quality was short-lived, to be sure, but it left a lasting impression, and I'll be surprised if I'm not celebrating its greatness in a few short weeks...

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  3. Captain America: Cap fights Hydra while Steranko battles the comics code ... again. Throughout this story, Madame Hydra's whip was replaced by a length of rope, because a whip was deemed unacceptable. Apparently Gene Colan didn't have any problems when Whiplash fought Iron Man twelve months ago. The dialog seems to have improved since Jimbo's work on Nick Fury, so Stan probably scripted this story. The ambiguous credits don't tell us who did what.

    Thor: Back in FF #50, Galactus was defeated not by some brilliant device created by Reed, but by The Watcher's meddling, when he showed the foursome where to find The Ultimate Nullifier" a mysterious alien weapon so dangerous even Galactus was afraid of it. In Thor #161, he's inexplicably overpowered by Thor's hammer. I think by this time, Stan and Jack were having trouble keeping track of the Marvel universe. In Thor #160, When Tana tells Thor about the threat of Galactus, he replies "Colonizer, I have heard his name, but ever did I think it a legend." Thor was on Earth when Galactus dropped in for his first visit, and even if he wasn't, I'm pretty sure someone might have mentioned a planet devouring alien to him.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

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  4. My fellow professors, through the miracle of the Professor Matthew Time Paradox (although my "lead" has been somewhat eroded of late), I can assure you that the short-lived glories of the pre-reprint X-MEN are worth the wait. Neal Adams succeeded where Steranko and Smith failed by providing breathtaking artwork, and Thomas makes you forget not only the horrors of Gary Friedrich and Arnold Drake, but also his own earlier foolishness on the book. Brilliance.

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  5. I'm with Profs. Jack and Matthew. Bring on da Adams!
    By the way, does this month seem fairly uneventful as a whole? Even the covers (which always got me to buy) seem mostly pedestrian.

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    Replies
    1. Professor Joe-

      Outside of Steranko's Cap cover, you're right, it's a month of smelly dead fish. The insides ain't that hot neither.

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    2. And just so Jack doesn't get blamed for my inane commentary, Big Jack Seabrook's comments are prefaced with "Jack:", while Journeyman John Scoleri gets the "JS:" treatment.

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    3. Ah, sorry Prof John, wrote that a little too late and a little too fast after extra wine. And again, you are right! Can Dave Cockrum be too far behind? Well, OK maybe a couple of years....

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