Wednesday, November 7, 2012

January 1969: (Blink and You'll Miss) The Guardians of the Galaxy!

Doctor Strange 176
Our Story

Searching for Clea, Dr. Strange discovers the Sons of Satannish lurking in an alley. They imprison him in a cube of nothingness but he breaks free. He creates an invisible, floating sphere to search for them without being seen, but they surround it with a weighty crust. Back at his Sanctum, Dr. Strange is surprised when Clea appears; less so, when she tries to kill him. He follows her in her hypnotic state as she takes the Book of the Vishanti back to the Sons, who overpower our hero and banish him and Clea to a savage world.

Jack: It’s amazing how this series has gone from being a snoozer to being a nail-biter; I think it’s the combined efforts of Thomas, Colan and Palmer that are responsible. Colan’s layouts are impressive and the main characters never looked better. This has become almost a comic noir, with shadowy events signaling impending doom around every corner.  The spooky new cover logo is cool, as well!

MB: The hyperbole of the Bullpen Bulletin that calls the Colan/Palmer run on this book “the most psychedelic saga of all time” is at least a little bit more justified than some of its contemporaneous items.  Roy continues to develop the saga of the Sons of Satannish at a nicely unhurried pace, just as he keeps the pot boiling at the fringes of our attention regarding Strange’s “persistent ex-colleague,” Dr. Benton, and my only reservation is that if Doc allowed Clea (who looks far better than Ditko could ever have imagined) to bring the actual Book of the Vishanti to the trap set by the Sons, well, that seems terribly unwise.  Meanwhile, Gene’s evocative images and imaginative layouts continue to provide the perfect visual complement to the spooky script.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 9
Our Story

It’s never a slow day in the life of Sub-Mariner as he has plenty to do once he arrives at the newly-built Atlantis.  Seeking a cure for Tiger Shark, he is told he must venture to the Abyss of Doom.  Feeling sorry for Lord Seth, he invites him along to help watch his back.  It doesn’t take long once they are in the Abyss before they are attacked by a giant, tentacle-waving sea monster.  Seth gets knocked out rather easily while Namor is able to break one of the monster’s tentacles.  A strange spray emits from the beast as it swims away, causing Namor to temporarily lose his memory.  He swims off and, once Seth awakens, heads back home to Atlantis.  During this time, Destiny’s helmet has cracked open to reveal a hideous crown of snakes.  Dorma ends up putting it on and she (along with all the other subjects) becomes brainwashed under some entity known only as Naga.  Needless to say, Namor is in for quite a surprise when he gets home and is about to be sacrificed.  He escapes death, but with his people brainwashed and Tiger Shark now on the loose, he takes off with the crown of serpents to regroup.  Out of curiosity, he himself dons the crown.  In doing so, he is treated to ancient flashbacks regarding his people.  Unable to take the stress, Subby throws the helmet from his head.  When he reaches down to retrieve it, a mysterious arm stretches out, claiming the crown for itself.

"Now I remember! I'm Aquaman!"
Tom:  I know how I keep gushing about how great Namor’s title is compared to others, but really, the proof is in the pudding (whatever that means).  Not only do you have one single issue with the main hero going off on an adventure with a sidekick who needs to prove his redemption, but you also have his people come against him as brainwashed slaves, along with a villain looking for a rematch.  Let’s put it this way, the creators took Destiny’s lame crown and transformed it into something even more horrific than before!  Great stuff that I hope keeps on going the same way from here on.  

MB:  A Bullpen Bulletin thanks “Marvelous Marie Severin for pinch-hitting…while Big John took a long-delayed vacation.  John Severin’s little sis is probably the most versatile illustrator we know.  She can hold her own with any action-artist in the biz, and also does the best gag cartoons this side of Peanuts!”  Marie makes especially effective use of full-page shots, and although her style is totally in evidence, inker Dan Adkins provides a continuity that keeps the transition from being too jarring, especially on that sumptuous splash page.  This marks the introduction of the Serpent Crown, which will figure in several sagas to come, and it’s nifty to see that through this manifestation of the Helmet of Power, Destiny’s villainy has outlived him.

Daredevil 48
Our Story

It doesn’t take long while he is stalking the urban jungle of New York before Daredevil picks up on his radar the nefarious plans of some no good mobsters who are plotting Foggy’s demise.  After briefly brawling with the toughs, Daredevil finds out that they are going to ambush Foggy at the same law office that they share by hiring the super-villain, Stilt-Man, to take care of Foggy.  Matt has a brief, passionate kiss with Karen before he tells everyone to scram, because he needs the office.  Though hated by everyone, Double D waits patiently until Stilt-Man strikes.  An exciting fight ensues with Daredevil eventually getting the upper hand.  Our story ends with Daredevil a hero but Foggy still apprehensive about making peace with his former comrade. 
Tom:  A light, brisk story is always welcome in the Daredevil cannon.  It never ceases to amaze me how the bullpen can make a putz of a villain like Stilt-Man into a credible, exciting threat that translates well when it comes to a battle inside of a small law office.  I just don’t understand why Foggy is still upset at the story’s ending?  I mean, once he reads the newspapers from the next day, doesn’t he realize his old pal Double D has saved him once again from another failed kidnapping/murder attempt?     

MB: Stan and Gene are really on a roll if they can follow “Brother, Take My Hand!” with a good Stilt-Man story, and I liked this one right from the atmospheric cover, probably due to that color scheme (see my comments re: Fantastic Four #78).  The challenge for any creative team, but especially for the writer, is to make this too-easily-mocked yet strangely endearing foe seem formidable, and Stan gives him a nice build-up, even if the soap-opera crapola with Karen may engender all manner of gnashed teeth.  Naturally, he has the best possible ally in Gentleman Gene, who—aided and abetted here by George Klein—is always able to keep Stilt-Man visually interesting, and I love the close-ups of DD’s face on page 6 as the hoods’ car bears down on him.

Jack: Daredevil is so good right now that they can even make Stilt-Man bearable! I still don’t quite get what his powers are, though—he can get tall and then go back to normal size, he can extend his leg horizontally & pull it back in, but that’s about it. He’s more visually interesting than practical. What really made me laugh was the reporter at the end who was demanding to know if Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson were “Pffftt”—because “the public deserves an explanation.” Imagine anyone caring if a law firm was splitting up!

The Invincible Iron Man 9
Our Story

A mysterious robed and hooded figure has gained control of the Hulk and seems bent on having his new toy destroy Iron Man. To that end, he sends the green goliath after Janice Cord, scheduled to be in a meeting with Tony Stark, who is buying out her father's business. Sure enough, The Hulk finds and kidnaps Janice. Tony makes a quick change and heads out after the monster as Iron Man. When Shellhead tracks The Hulk to an abandoned warehouse and a big battle ensues, the red and gold Avenger knows he's no match for the bulky green brute so brain must overcome brawn. Iron Man senses something is amiss when The Hulk puts him through a wall, then lays a trail of gunpowder and lights it. When the behemoth falls into a whirling generator and loses a bit of skin, it's revealed that this Hulk is actually a robot. Back at in his lair, we discover that the hooded figure we met in our intro is actually The Mandarin, who has discovered, thanks to his Hulk-ish ruse, that Iron Man and Tony Stark are one and the same

PE: Wow! Gotta say I was floored when our final panels revealed the mystery man was The Mandarin. The cute Oriental moll should have tipped me off, I know. Why in the world, except for our benefit (and, ostensibly, The Mandarin doesn't know we're out here) would Mandy hood up? And how would those gloves hide his rings? Ain't buyin' it for one second. Nor will I buy that weapons/machinery/ computer/robot expert Tony Stark couldn't tell a real Hulk from a nuts and bolts one.  More of that endless romantic "If only he'd say something but maybe he's not interested in me/If only she'd show some interest in me but alas..." tripe that I thought had died in the pages of Daredevil months ago. An interesting panel layout on each and every page, resembling at turns shattered glass or a spider's web. It doesn't always work for the flow of the story but it sure breaks up the monotony.

MB: Still teamed with artists Tuska and Craig (whose cartoony rendition of Sandhurst looks like he wandered in out of another comic entirely), Goodwin provides creative continuity for this strip, while a Bullpen Bulletin trumpets that Archie and Arnold Drake “have turned into a couple of Bullpen Bombshells…bolstering the greatest lineup of comic magazine writing talent ever assembled under one roof!”  I may beg to differ on Drake, but Goodwin has done some very good issues of this title, and I like how Shellhead sensed that “Greenskin” wasn’t right.  Readers of the Hulk’s own mag know that the Mandarin recently tried to recruit Jade-Jaws as a potential “ally,” and when that failed, he apparently decided that a robot version would do at least as well.

The Avengers 60
Our Story

Yellowjacket and the Wasp arrive at Avengers Mansion for their wedding, accompanied by most of the Marvel heroes in New York City at the time. The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime pals sneak in disguised as caterers and wreak havoc. The reception is marred by a battle, but the Avengers prevail, aided by Goliath, who turns out to be the same person as Yellowjacket. It seems Hank Pym had a chemically-induced bout of schizophrenia that led to his assuming a new identity and finally popping the question to the delightful Ms. Van Dyne!

Jack: To enjoy this fun story it’s best to ignore the gaping holes in the plot; for example, what happens to all of the other super-heroes once the fight with the Circus of Crime starts? The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Daredevil, etc., all must have headed to the bathroom for a few minutes because they had too much non-alcoholic punch. Buscema’s art continues to be gorgeous—he is probably the most under-rated artist of the 1960s Marvel books.

MB:  I’m sure this issue is Exhibit A for those who defend Jim Shooter’s base betrayal of Henry Pym (“Hey, the guy was already a schizo nutjob—Roy Thomas did it!”), but for at least a decade to follow, that nutjob routinely risked his life on behalf of Jan, their fellow Assemblers, These Here United States and/or the world, so they can just shut the frack up.  Subbing for Klein, Esposito does a fine job inking Buscema’s mighty pencils, and while I would not normally know whether to laugh or cry over an Avengers/Ringmaster match-up, in retrospect, I think it’s perfect for this unique context.  You don’t want a challenge big enough to detract from the wedding that is the object of the exercise, plus his teammates still don’t know at the start if YJ is friend or foe.

The Amazing Spider-Man 68
Our Story

The Kingpin's set his sights on an ancient tablet that supposedly has mystic powers. The tablet is on a whirlwind tour of state universities and at the moment it just happens to be at E.S.U., the school that Peter Parker attends. Meanwhile, there's much unrest on campus as students protest the loss of low-rent housing to alumni dorms. The Kingpin uses the riot as a diversion to steal the tablet by setting off an explosion on the campus. The Amazing Spider-Man attempts to keep the fat man form achieving his goal but when Robbie Robertson's son, Randy, attempts to lend a hand he only makes things worse. The Kingpin destroys a wall and Spidey must shield the boy from the falling debris. The Kingpin nabs the tablet and, in a scenario repeated a few times in the past, gets away. Police arrest the protestors for the loss of the tablet and university building damage but Spider-Man swears to bring out the truth.

PE: A good action story but one that I find lacking in other departments. Was Randy Robertson introduced only to inject some hipness into, let's face it, a pretty square title? Uncannily, Randy seems to have affected the way everyone in the Spidey-Universe (with the exception of Aunt May) speaks. You've got Peter Parker, seemingly in a matter of mere days in Marvel-time, going from a normal English-speaking teen to a "Go daddy, I'm hip to your vibe-O" campus cat and an African-American protester calling Peter Parker "whitey," If Roy Thomas was scripting, we'd have Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young lyrics with musical notes drifting through the panels. These issues from the late 1960s involving issues from the late 1960s don't date very well. I can appreciate what Stan was trying to do, exploit the days' headlines, but perhaps that task should have been laid at the feet of a younger man like The Rascally One. Here it comes off as nothing more than a mediocre movie-of-the-week rather than deep perspective.

MB: The clay tablet that we learn about on the splash page of this issue is the raison d’ĂȘtre for a ten-issue arc, and even though I didn’t come on board as a boy until later in the storyline, just seeing it gives me a Spider-Sense-style tingle.  The Kingpin is an interesting enough character in his own right that I for one don’t mind delaying Spidey’s entrance for a few pages to follow his machinations, pages that remind us of his incredible prowess, and of the fact that there still has never been a decisive victory in any of their conflicts to date.  Having Peter’s life touched by campus unrest was wise in keeping the book timely (as it were), yet it’s probably also wise that neither he nor Stan seems to have taken a firm stand on either side of the issue yet.

The Kingpin goes to the trouble of setting off the explosion, hoping the campus police will pin it on the rioting students, and then makes a big entrance in front of everyone. Not a good way to keep a low profile. Anyway, why would he care if anyone saw him? He's a bad guy and everyone knows it. Nice cliffhanger climax.

X-Men 52
Our Story

The plan of Erik the Red, a newly arrived super-villain, becomes crystal clear when he approaches Lorna Dane with a proposition: he wants to partner with her father, Magneto to be the most powerful mutant force in the world. Magneto, weakened by his fight with The X-Kids (last issue) agrees half-heartedly but tells his daughter they need to keep their eyes on this new kid. Seems magnetism isn't the only gift the super villain possesses since we soon learn that Erik the Red is actually Scott Summers, Cyclops, in a new uniform. He soon alerts his fellow X-Men to his ruse but, inadvertently, also tips off Magneto's prime henchman, Mesmero. A huge, snarling, dazzling, violent battle ensues. In the midst of all this, Bobby Iceman shows up to tell Lorna he's done some P.I. work and discovered that Magneto has been lying about all those Father's Day cards Lorna should have sent. Miffed by the deception, Lorna vows to bring the evil genius down.

JS: These days, it takes years for them to come up with a storyline that surprises the characters about who their parents really were. One has to wonder if this was planned all along, or if someone got bored and decided Magneto had too many Mutant offspring. Speaking of which, have they ever dealt with who birthed all of Magneto's mutant offspring?

MB: In a good month here at MU, I sometimes feel like I’m running out of superlatives, but when it comes to the current run on this book, I have the opposite problem; let’s just say that the title of this issue, “Twilight of the Mutants,” could be expanded to include its predecessors as well.  Since Steranko’s contribution did not, in my opinion, noticeably alter the title’s downward trajectory, I can’t even say I’m that disappointed at being back with the Heck/Roth/Tartag troika, and my attitude could best be described as grim resignation.  At the risk of beating a dead horse, I find Drake’s storytelling unforgivably haphazard, as one event follows another with seemingly no causal relationships, and too much is consistently elided for us to feel anything but off-kilter.

PE: Haphazard? I'd say damn near nonexistent. The story makes no sense whatsoever (not that Drake's scripts have ever made sense). Why bother with the elaborate "Erik the Red" ruse when it's disposed of two pages later almost offhandedly? Did Cyke rig his eye-blasters up to run through his fingertips in that outfit? Don't ask me. In fact, don't ask Arnold Drake as, evidently, he can't or won't tell you. Where'd he find the elaborate costume? Was it one that Professor X had in the closet in case a mutant should come calling without appropriate dinner wear? Did Bobby Iceman really have the time between last issue's climax and this issue's battle (probably a few hours in Marvel-time but a lifetime for a reader) to track down Lorna's home town friends, relatives, gym teacher, various boyfriends, and plumber and have them sign affidavits to the effect that Magneto is not Lorna's dad? Why would The Angel call his fellow teammates "lollipops"? Has the Coffee A-Go-Go been taken over by new management and renamed The Friskoteque? A few times I've referred to the peaks and valleys of quality these comic book titles go through. This title has pins and valleys. 

Next issue: Back to the Friskoteque!
JS: I think you hit on a more interesting storyline, Professor Pete. Maybe Cyke did stumble across the Prof's dungeon and that's where he came across the Erik the Red S&M outfit.

PE: This month's Bullpen Bulletins (which might actually be next month's in some titles) mentions that Jim Steranko (who elevated my hopes for a readable X-Men last issue and then dashed those hopes against the rocks) has taken over penciling chores from Jack Kirby on Captain America so that The King can concentrate on a new title and, in the words of the Bullpen writer "we'll bet you can guess what that'll be!" I'd guess (based on the claim it'll be "the biggest blockbuster of '69") it's got to be the ill-fated Inhumans strip which won't see light of day (and truncated at that) until Amazing Adventures #1 in August of '70. There's also a mention of the similarly long-postponed Doctor Doom strip drawn by Herb Trimpe, also relegated to half-strip status in Astonishing Tales #1 (August 1970).

JS: Can I say it? Dare I say it? Only four more issues until we get Neal Adams to breathe life into the X-Men! Hang in there guys!

Captain America 109
Our Story

Captain America, in what seems to be a very long night, relates his origin to Nick Fury. A 98-pound weakling who couldn't get drafted no matter how hard he tried, Steve Rogers is selected for his bravery and patriotism to take part in a dangerous experiment by the genius, Dr. Reinstein. The doctor has been working on a "Super Soldier" serum designed to create an army of strong Americans fit to defeat Hitler's Wehrmacht and Steve will be the guinea pig. The experiment is a resounding success but one of Hitler's undercover rats infiltrates the laboratory and shoots Reinstein dead. Since the formula was known only to the dead professor, the Super Soldiers begin and end with Steve Rogers. The government gives Rogers a costume, a shield, and the title of Captain America. The newly buff Rogers enlists in the army and moonlights as Cap when the need arises. One night, the camp mascot, Bucky Barnes, walks in as Steve is changing into his Cap outfit and a sidekick is born. As Steve finishes his story, Fury sighs and suggests that the star-spangled Avenger try to forget the past and live a little. Cap ponders the suggestion and thinks, "Maybe that's my problem... I've just forgotten how!"

JS: An absolutely striking cover. How could a kid see it on the newsstand and not pick up this issue?

PE: One of the greatest comic book origins of all time, never dulled by previous or subsequent retellings. It's all here: the super patriotic stringbean who just wants to help rather than stay at home; the brilliant scientist murdered after his greatest triumph; the backdrop of World War II; and, tragically, the sidekick whose days, we witnesses know, are numbered. Is it any wonder Stan Lee found it hard to decide where to place his Sentinel of Liberty? Cap belongs in the World War II milieu but the late 1960s kids obviously weren't buying those adventures. Conversely, Stan has such a great hook on which to hang his "fish out of water" tales but seems, in 1969, to have forgotten that facet of the character. This Captain America lives only to battle The Red Skull (and fourth-tier villains like Batroc the Leaper) and pine for a love he knows he can't have. I know, sitting in my "forty years later" easy chair, that the character will eventually be fleshed out and dissected by Steve Englehart so I can bide my time until then.

MB: Alone among “The Split-Book Sextet,” Cap has not had his origin retold since his solo title debuted (just his Frosty the Snowman routine and recovery by the Avengers). So, with a satisfying circularity, King Kirby essentially ends his long reign on the strip—save for a coda in #112—with a version that, as I recall, is quite close in some ways to the recent film, of which I was a big fan.  It’s unfortunate that Syd Shores’s inks seem much more obtrusive in this issue than usual, the most conspicuous casualty being Nick Fury, who looks more like he’s been drawn by Frank Springer in the abomination that lately passes for S.H.I.E.L.D. than by the King, who co-created both characters, and even Cap seems strangely inconsistent from panel to panel.

JS: I stumbled upon a beautiful copy of Cap 109 about a month before Marvel U. opened its doors, and it was one of the first vintage Cap stories I read (other than the Englehart dual Cap/Falcon stories I had to read if I wanted to be Pete's friend). I loved it, and couldn't wait to get my hands on more of Kirby's Cap stories.

PE: I don't want to take anything away from this classic but did the army really promote "teenage mascots" in World War II? I know a lot of under-aged teens tried to sign up but was Bucky sent out with these soldiers on the battlefield to lead hymns? Fetch water? Carry out various sundry assignments? They'll take a 12-year old kid but not a scrawny Steve Rogers?

Captain Marvel 9
Our Story

Mar-Vell skirmishes with an Aakon scouting party that seeks to avenge the death of their leader, then returns to his hotel to find that the robot, Cyberex, has captured Carol while she was searching his room, and is holding her as bait at Lawson’s house.  As he races to her rescue, Yon-Rogg deliberately enables the Aakons to trace him by beaming radio signals to his wrist monitor, leaving Mar-Vell in danger of waging a two-front war against both opponents. Believing that Cyberex is his minion, the Aakon attack the robot, which allows Mar-Vell time to trick them into thinking that Lawson’s address book is the Kree imperial war code (knowing his scent would attract Cyberex), and once the robot has defeated the Aakon, Mar-Vell destroys him.

MB: One of several current bewildering Bullpen Bulletins tells us that “the comic world is still agog about Marvel latching onto Awesome Arnold Drake!”  I’m frequently agog after reading one of his efforts, but perhaps not for the same reason, and although I was not privy to his “sensational scripting in Not Brand Echh,” I can’t imagine that the tin ear for dialogue he has been displaying here was much of an asset in his career as a fringe filmmaker.  Mar-Vell, in particular, has begun spouting bizarre metaphors that seem both out of character and inappropriate for an alien species, while the rote repetition of certain tropes within each issue (e.g., Yon-Rogg tormenting Una with evidence of Carol’s attentions) is becoming stifling, and Drake’s closing homilies grow tiresome.

PE: The dialogue here is about as bad as you get in a comic book (or any "literature," for that matter) be it robots spouting "Die, my brutish foes! At the hands of... Cyberex!" or helpless blondes exclaiming "No, Captain Marvel! If you die here... I must, too!" and "Be... be careful, Captain Marvel! For... me!" Within just the last few issues, Carol Danvers has moved up the list of Top Ten Worthless Female Marvel Characters to #2 with a bullet (with Jane Foster on hiatus, it's only a matter of time before the nurse's long reign tumbles). I do have to say though that Danvers' play-by-play analysis (on Captain Marble's dynamic fight with the Acorns) has more depth and focus than the two bozos who called The World Series this year. The climactic twist, that Mar-Vell somehow predicted that the Aakons would find his phone book on his person after he was knocked out so he printed "Code Z-19" in Kree on the cover, is an absolute howler. Perhaps even funnier is that old man Lawson would have a book full of his girlfriend's phone numbers!

Colonel Peeping Tom gets to see just how an earth girl thanks her hero.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 8
Our Story

An autumn heat wave brings a global outbreak of violence and killings of intelligence czars, including a laser-beam attack on an image of Fury by four top assassins (who, after being painstakingly identified, are never heard from again).  Supremus, the mastermind behind them, announces his plan to enslave humanity with genetic manipulation, but Fury locates his base in the Caves of Hercules, outside Tangiers, where his machines steal men’s thinking power and affect the weather.  A captured Fury is freed by the mysterious Fatima, who warns of hypnotic gas hidden around the U.S., and after Nick laser-blasts Supremus, exposed as a large robot, Fatima reveals that her brilliant yet deformed half-brother operated it from inside.

MBPer the credits, “When Adorable Archie Goodwin got snowed under with work, Smiley’s ol’ pal Ernie Hart pitched in with this sizzlin’ script all the way from sunny Florida!  And, when…Frank Springer needed a helping hand on the penciling and inking chores, Happy Herbie Trimpe and Jocular John Tartaglione were only too glad to oblige!”  The good news is that in spite of the tag-team method, the artists have managed to create a consistent style that looks pretty much like all Springer; the bad news is that it looks pretty much like all Springer.  As for Hart’s script, well, if you’ve ever wondered what happens when even the second string—and that’s being kind—needs a reliever, this disjointed, redundant, clichĂ©-filled mess could serve as your disappointing answer.

PE: Enough with the LMDs already! How does a hologram catch fire and die? It rambles quite a bit and it's text-heavy but it's certainly not an embarrassment. The art's not bad though it would be refreshing if Springer or Trimpe (or whoever fills in these days) would develop their own style rather than opening the fridge and popping the top on the Steranko Tupperware. That cover's a stunner though (even if the alien's foot is a bit... shall we say,,, disproportionate). 

Fantastic Four 82
Our Story

 Having joined the Fantastic Four as Sue’s replacement, Crystal decides she must return to the Great Refuge to see her family, and get their official permission. It doesn’t take long for her wish to come true, but not exactly the way she expects. Her loyal dog Lockjaw appears via his dimension-traversing abilities, followed by a crowd of alpha primates, the Inhuman’s drone race, who are intent at keeping the F.F. at bay while they grab Crystal. Not wanting to hurt Lockjaw with her elemental powers, she doesn’t resist, and disappears through the dimensional doorway that closes behind them. Of course, that doesn’t stop the boys from physically following in one of Reed’s rockets. Crystal, arriving in her homeland, finds the answer to her abduction. Maximus, brother of Black Bolt and known as the Mad, has taken control of the Great Refuge. Utilizing his scientific abilities, he has sapped their wills with his hypno-potions, and then trapped them in ways they couldn’t fight (coating Medusa’s hair with a chemical rendering it useless, and imprisoning Black Bolt, Triton, Gorgon and Karnak behind a shatterproof barrier).  When the Fantastic Four arrive, they are quickly spotted, and met by a giant android named Zorr, designed to bring about their destruction. Crystal sees on a monitor screen the seeming defeat of her new teammates, and Maximus shows her his ultimate weapon: a gigantic hypno-gun, powerful enough to reach anywhere on Earth. His place: no less than world conquest.

JB: It’s nice to return the Great Refuge again, but I find Maximus, despite his interesting scientific inventions, to be somewhat…tiresome. The action does keep things moving along at a rapid pace, although the cover would lead us to believe that Black Bolt and company have broken free.

PE: After two sub-par issues, it's nice to see a title that boasts "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" on its cover at least keeping itself in the game. I'll have to go back through my extensive notes on the first thousand or so Marvels I've read so far but I'm fairly sure we've seen a Hypno-Gun before. Do the super-villains trademark their weapons too? Must be a coincidence that Crystal decides to go ask her brother for permission to be SueTwo just as Jawbone makes an appearance at the Baxter Building. Stretcho mentions that Crystal is a minor which begs the question: Is Johnny Storm chasing jailbait?

MB:  Maximus is revolting.  Again.  Gee, we haven’t seen that since, oh, Hulk Special #1.  I guess the Great Refuge is not so Great to live in, what with the palace rebellions every three months, and Black Bolt periodically laying waste to half the city, and those uppity Alpha Primitives.  Lucky thing Crystal picked exactly that time to check in with her peeps (they never write, they never call…) and ask if she can come out to play with the Baxter kids.  Well, it just goes to show you how completely spoiled “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” has made me that I’m kvetching over any story featuring the FF and the Inhumans, as rendered by King Kirby and Joltin’ Joe Sinnott.  Love how Max’s outfit perfectly literalizes his “big head.”

Marvel Super-Heroes 18
Our Story

In 3007, militia man Charlie-27 returns from patrolling the solar rim to learn that his native Jupiter has fallen to the alien Badoon (see Silver Surfer #2),  and fleeing them, the last free Jovian meets his crystalline counterpart on Pluto, Martinex.  Both descended from Earthmen, they teleport to the mother planet, where a captive Major Vance Astro is forced by Drang, supreme commander of the Eastern Sector of the Badoon Empire, to tell his story.  In 1988, he made a thousand-year voyage, preserved in a copper-foil stasis suit, but was greeted by fellow humans who beat him to Centauri IV with newer Harkovian physics; he and a Centaurian, Yondu, now escape and join the other two rebels.  [Based on reprint in Astonishing Tales #29.]

MBArnold Drake’s tenure at Marvel lasted for only about a year, but he made a lasting contribution when he co-created the Guardians with (non-contemporaneous) fellow Captain Marvel vet Gene Colan in this story.  In my opinion, among the most exciting developments of the ’70s was when deliciously offbeat writer Steve Gerber plucked the Guardians from one-shot obscurity and wove a compelling new storyline that spanned Marvel Two-in-One #4-5, Giant-Size Defenders #5, and Defenders #26-29, which is where I first encountered them.  Their original solo series was short-lived (Marvel Presents #3-12), but the team—augmented with Starhawk and Nikki—made guest appearances throughout the Bronze Age (most notably the Korvac saga from Avengers #167-77).

Jack: If there’s one thing I’ve learned here at Marvel University, it’s that great covers don’t always indicate great stories inside. This cover is terrific, and when I saw it I was excited to read the story and see if it lived up to my memories of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Problem number one was evident right away: Arnold Drake is the writer, and his dialogue is average at best. Problem number two was more surprising: the art by Colan and Demeo is sketchy and not very memorable, certainly not up to what we see on the cover. Was Colan doing too many pages per month? It seems like he was working faster than Kirby and turning out multiple pages a day. An inker like Tom Palmer could turn Colan’s pages into gold, but Mickey Demeo just lets them sit there looking flat. The story is creative and original but it seems very thin. I really liked the Guardians of the mid-70s and I recall this 25 cent book fondly, but I think this story is one I would have been better off not revisiting.

PE: Arnold Drake was a very polarizing scripter: you either didn't like his work or you hated it. With this very entertaining one-shot, I'd say this is the best I've seen him yet. What I really appreciated here was that I felt like I was dropped into the middle of some grand space opera that had been seeing print for years. There's the one character origin but, for the most part, the action isn't stopped dead for cliched flashbacks. A mightily entertaining science fiction adventure. This is not the incarnation of the group that's the basis of the film to be released in the summer of 2014. The reprints this issue include a 3-page Sub-Mariner yarn from 1954 and the remainder of the Future Man story from All-Winners Squad #21 (Winter 1946/47).

Jack: “Courage” is another charming Sub-Mariner story from 1954 in which Bill Everett shows us what happened when ten-year-old Namor met up with some wild dogs on the frozen ice. The adult Sub-Mariner starts off part two of the All-Winners Squad story as he defeats Future Man’s attempt to destroy Asia. Miss America battles ancient mummies that Future Man has brought back to life in the next chapter—is she the first super-heroine to wear glasses? The Torch and Toro prevent North America from being destroyed by atomic fire, which is a little frightening since it burns everything in its path! Finally, the All-Winners Squad defeat Future Man once and for all by sending his ship hurtling endlessly into the past. These two stories with the All-Winners Squad are among my very favorite Timely Comics, and it’s too bad there weren’t more of them!

MBAs often as I may lambaste Drake’s work on Captain Marvel, I welcome this ish with open arms, because the ambitious concept offers such promise for cosmic adventures…a promise not always fulfilled in Mar-Vell’s own book.  In fact, the lettercol there has been buzzing of late with people begging for the strip to become less Earthbound, and while it may be a coincidence, it feels as if the Guardians are a tacit response.  Visually, this is a far cry from the somewhat revamped, more conventional team drawn by Sal Buscema in the ’70s, as Colan’s customary stylized efforts give way to a sort of hyperstylization (here inked by Mike Esposito) that appears to have been viewed through a fever dream, all distortion and swirling color; not sure I love it, but man, is it different.

The Incredible Hulk 111
Our Story

This time, it’s the Hulk who is in for a surprise when a renegade ship of alien warriors kidnaps him from Ka-Zar’s living area in the hopes that his cadaver will spare them from the wrath of their ruler, the Galaxy Master.  You see, since they failed to ensure the earth’s untimely demise with their reverse rotation axis, the aliens are afraid that their boss will take it upon them.  They have been spending their living lifetime helping the Galaxy Master destroy all forms of life just so the omnipotent being doesn’t kill them himself.  They resuscitate the lifeless Banner but the Galaxy Master has no use for the weak human, so he is relegated to being destroyed.  The aliens put Banner in the Decompression Chamber to kill him, which naturally causes him to turn into the Hulk, and boy do the aliens get what's coming to them.  The Hulkster makes a general pest of himself, fighting the extraterrestrial troops before he causes the ship to crash on an alien planet.  The story ends with the Galaxy Master about to confront the Hulk in a final showdown.  

Tom:  While in this modern age of advanced comic book writing, one has to remember that, back in the late 1960’s, this story line must have been cutting edge for its time.  I, for one, get a great deal of entertainment from the Hulk’s simple sci-fi adventures that take different twists and turns every issue.  Good job to the bullpen for keeping things interesting with such a one-dimensional character.  

MB: According to a Bullpen Bulletin, “Suddenly, everyone’s talking about ol’ Green-skin again!  Could it be because Smilin’ Stan himself is writing the yarns once more—or because of the pulsating power of Happy Herby [sic] Trimpe’s pulse-pounding penciling?  We’re not sure, but we’ll tell you this—The Incredible Hulk has never been greater, and judging by the fan mail, we’re selling more copies than we’re printing!”  I wish I could detect more evidence of this alleged greatness, but the story, admittedly lively though it may be, is of the “just one damn thing after another” variety that rarely impresses me.  And as much as I admire the inking of Dan Adkins, the art still doesn’t feel like Trimpe, even if I have no specific quarrel with it otherwise.

The Mighty Thor 160
Our Story

From a city rooftop Thor spots an alien craft landing on another building. Investigating, he finds it to be familiar indeed; it is the Rigelian craft of Tana Nile. Once seeking to conquer our world, this time she comes to plead for the help of the Thunder God. He agrees, and as they travel, she relates the danger ahead. The powerful Galactus is threatening worlds near her own, and Tana Nile feels it is unlikely that Rigel can stay hidden for long. As they travel to her home world, a lone spacefarer attacks the ship, smashing it’s way inside. It is a being from the planet Taurus, one of the worlds ravaged by Galactus, and the creature attacks in a mad fury. Despite the Taurian’s great strength (due to the immense gravity of his world) Thor overcomes him, and the being apologizes for the madness that came over him. In Asgard, Sif and the Rigelian Recorder enjoy an audience with Odin, until the Recorder is summoned to Rigel to chronicle the danger about to take place. He departs, but Thor’s love is denied permission to fight at her beloved’s side. As Thor and Tana Nile approach Rigel, they witness a sea of ships; a graveyard of the victims Galactus has claimed. The High Commissioner of Rigel, Tana’s husband, has prepared a small spacecraft for Thor (and the just returned Recorder) to travel to where Galactus is known to currently be. Where he is, is in the presence of the long hidden living world Ego, who is not willing to be another victim of the planet-killer. Ego strikes Galactus with bolts of force, and the devourer of worlds responds in turn. As the craft with Thor and the Recorder travels ever closer, it is followed by one of the surviving races of Galactus’ wrath, beings who call themselves the Wanderers, so named because they were his first victims. The carnage of a shattered planetoid breaks apart the small craft, and Thor and the Recorder are left floating through space. 

Found inside George Lucas' comic book box.

MB: Given the results obtained last time, I’m delighted that Stan, Jack, and Vince—still one of the most consistent creative teams of the Silver Age—have returned Thor to his Rigel/Ego SF mode; they’ve clearly pulled out all the stops with the full-page shots, but while that device suffers from misuse or overuse, it suits this issue’s cosmic content.  Galactus is always welcome, yet without remembering how this turns out, I’d say they should beware of giving our hero too easy a win.  By virtue of being a god, Thor may be innately stronger than just about any Marvel character, but let’s remember that the entire FF was hopelessly outclassed by Galactus, so if he and Goldilocks meet on any kind of equal footing, that basically throws off the whole equation.

JB: The Thor issues of the 160’s shamelessly proclaim themselves to be epic, or cosmic, or any number of such words. The first issue starts off with a bang, bringing back the mighty living planet Ego, and introducing Thor to the menace of Galactus. As you say Professor Matthew, the full-page artwork is really made use of here (no less than five pages if you count the title page) but it’s so much fun, you can’t help but enjoy it. The cover is nice too, with the same feel of say, Fantastic Four # 74. The Taurians and the Wanderers are “sci-fi-ish” name drops that add to the space-pop fun, and the graveyard of ships give an impressive sense of the scope of destruction Galactus has wrought, even if only for his own survival. The Thor title has changed a fair bit since the Rigelians appeared back in issues #131-33, but it ties some of Thor’s past with the present nicely.

PE: I've mentioned before that when we were kids back in the 60s, this was not one of the titles we read (at least in my neighborhood). Gods that looked like chicks maybe, I don't know. As a so-called adult though, my mind swims and swirls at most issues of the late 1960s Thor. Since we're moving into the twilight of Jack's Marvel days (let's not even discuss his return in the mid-70s until we have to), I'm hoping that whoever he hands the baton to (I'm not peeking) can continue the sheer cosmic awesomeness we're becoming accustomed to. Lots of mind-blowing stuff on display here: the introduction of The Wanderers, the first victims of Galactus' planet devouring (do they follow the big guy around waiting for their chance at retribution?); the incredible full-page shot of the detritus-filled atmosphere surrounding Galactus' latest meal (burp!); and, most of all, the climactic stand-off between Ego and the big man. The latter is so pulse-pounding that the reader would be excused for forgetting the title of the comic is The Mighty Thor.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #10
Marvel Tales #18
Millie the Model #166
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #62


  1. SOLD!
    With comic books cover dated January 1969, Marvel had a new owner, the Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation. At 61 years of age, Martin Goodman was keen to sell his publishing empire to anyone prepared to meet his terms, namely, agreeing to his price, keeping him on as Publisher for another four years, and the promise to install his son Chip in the top job when he retires. This explains the, by Goodman's standards, reckless expansion of the comic book line ... he was building it up for a quick sale.

    After obtaining the Captain Marvel name, Marvel launched a new character boasting that name. The characters sharing the split books gained their own titles, and Captain Savage was created to cash in on the popularity of Sgt. Fury. With the Spider-Man cartoon show still screening, and Spidey then Marvel's top seller, Goodman published the 35 cent Spectacular Spider-Man magazine, followed by a 25 cent Silver Surfer comic book, and Not Brand Echh! went to 25 cents. I'm not all that familiar with Goodman's paperback and magazine interests, but it's reasonable to assume he launched new magazine titles and increased his paperback output at the same time.

    Goodman was able to use Marvel's expansion to convince potential buyers that the comic book industry was booming (it wasn't) and that 25 cent comic books were very profitable (they weren't) and possibly that NBE was a serious rival for Mad (it wasn't). The 35 cent Spider-Man magazine created the illusion that Marvel was expanding into the more lucrative magazine market, and at the time of the sale, appeared to be a successful mag that has just gone to full color. However, immediately after the sale to Perfect Film, the title was cancelled. As we now know, Goodman sold Marvel at exactly the right time.

    The people at Perfect Film sought more than a publishing company, they wanted ownership of the Marvel characters. They probably knew about Jerry Siegel's attempts to wrest ownership of Superman from DC, and wanted to be sure that the characters belonged to Marvel. There are conflicting stories about how they were persuaded, but the upshot was that Perfect Film's management believed Stan Lee single handedly created all the characters, and that the characters belonged to the company.

    The next big change was a change in attitude. Here's a quote from Stan's 1963 interview in The Comic Reader #16:

    “Well, we have a new character in the works for Strange Tales, just a 5-page filler named Dr. Strange. Steve Ditko is gonna draw him. It has sort of a black magic theme. The first story is nothing great, but perhaps we can make something of him. Twas Steve’s idea; I figured we’d give it a chance, although again, we had to rush the first one too much.”

    Here, Stan credits Ditko with originating Dr. Strange, which, for his first appearance was just another throwaway mystery story in Strange Tales. And, we have this famous quote from early 1968:

    "Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean I'll just say to Jack, 'Let's make the next villain be Dr. Doom'... or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it. He's good at plots. I'm sure he's a thousand times better than I. He just about makes up the plots for these stories. All I do is a little editing ... I may tell him he's gone too far in one direction or another. Of course, occasionally I'll give him a plot, but we're practically both the writers on the things. "

    After the change of ownership, when recounting the origin of Dr. Strange, Stan would recall that he was inspired by the old Chandu the Magician radio show, and for Spidey, he'd tell the story about a spider walking past his typewriter when he was trying to come up with a new type of hero. There were similar anecdotes about most of the rest of the characters, but none of them mentioned Ditko or Kirby. With new owners comes new responsibility.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    1. Ah, I hadn't previously realized that this specific event prompted Stan's convenient memory lapses regarding the genuine origins of how Marvel's characters were created. I have long since read enough to know that the creation stories Stan related in Origins of Marvel Comics, including that bit about "Chanduuuuu the Magician" were mostly fiction. Admittedly, as a kid in the '70s, I idolized Stan Lee, but, as with his most famous co-creations, he had feet of clay and did some underhanded things for the bottom line of his company and his career. I rather wish he had been more honest, more heroic, but seems no one in human history has ever been entirely pure. Except in rather boring fantasies.

  2. I just figured Perfect Film and Chemical was another shell company like the others that had been appearing in the Marvel indicia for years!

  3. The almost 3-D cover of FF #82 is one of my all-time faves. And as for rewriting Marvel history, I recently noticed that when this ish was reprinted in Marvel's Greatest Comics, they had John B (I think) sub in a new version of the Thing. A minor point, I know, to carp about a reprint mag, but editing King Kirby off an FF cover was just stupid.

  4. Was it Arnold Drake's birthday this month? He seems to be everywhere. Unfortunately.

    1. Joe-

      Just wait until March when Arno's awesomeness descends upon us like ten thousand bolts of lightning strikes!!!!

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