Wednesday, November 21, 2012

March 1969: Captain America! Steranko! Heaven?

Captain Marvel 11
Our Story

Mar-Vell’s execution squad is wiped out by the Aakon, so Yon-Rogg—whose arrogance led to their vendetta—is obliged to avenge the massacre, thus saving the life of his rival.  But Una is felled by a stray shot, and although Mar-Vell steals a moon rocket from the Cape to effect their escape, he is unable to revive her, carving a memorial for his lost love on an asteroid near Mars before Yon-Rogg uses a magnetic ray to propel the missile into space for 112 days.  Mar-Vell enters the gravitational field of a small planet, where he is brought before Zo, an omniscient obelisk that has been controlling his fate, gives him a new uniform and powers (e.g., teleportation, projecting illusions), and offers revenge on Yon-Rogg in exchange for his services.

MB: A Bullpen Bulletin recounts, “Darlin’ Dick Ayers was getting battle fatigue from an endless diet of Sgt. Fury and Captain Savage, so we decided to give Old Faithful a break.  We switched strips between him and Dazzlin’ Donnie Heck—which means Don will be ramroddin’ Cap Savage for a spell while Dick sinks his teeth into [Marv-Vell]…and we think all you frantic ones are gonna flip over the unexpected results!”  Inked by Colletta, they look like some kid scribbled them in between bites of his PB&J, but as outlandish as the Zo stuff is, at least Drake has mixed things up a little bit.  I should feel upset over Una’s death, yet because her relationship with Mar-Vell has been kept so stagnant over the past dozen issues, and her demise was so perfunctory, I can’t.

Captain Marble in "Case of the Missing Schnozz"
PE: Even taking into account those accursed Human Torch and Ant-Man stories blessedly far in the past, Marvel Comics doesn't (and I hope never will) get any worse than this. Ayers' art resembles the kind of sketchy background-free art that inhabited the comics world in its primitive days of the 1930s while Arnold Drake drops dialogue dripping with mediocrity into every panel: "A shrouded, misty atmosphere that hides a surface only as thick as frozen dreams." What the hell does that even mean? So who or what is ZO? Is he connected with the Skrulls? How does Mar-Vell know, within an instant, that with his new suit (which looks pretty much like the old one) he has the power to cast illusions? Most important of all though, why does Captain Marvel's nose seem to disappear whenever he puts on his helmet?

Marvel Super-Heroes 19
Our Story

Ka-Zar breaks up a fox hunt arranged by his brother, who reminds the Jungle Lord that their father was a power-crazed evildoer who tried to harness dangerous anti-metal that he discovered in the Savage Land. Ka-Zar realizes that his brother wants to same thing and heads back to his jungle habitat, where the noble Golden People have been driven from their home by the Reptile Men. The scaly folk are enamored by a space alien who recently crash landed in their midst and who draws strength from the supply of anti-metal in the jungle. Ka-Zar defeats the alien just as his brother arrives to try to steal the precious material; poor Ka-Zar never learns the truth about his father who was, in reality, a peaceful man.

PE: There's so much going on in this story, it's hard to keep track. The art (by George Tuska and Sid Greene) and script (by MU dartboard target Arnold Drake and newcomer Steve Parkhouse) are predictably mediocre but then so's the character. That's why the strip (ostensibly a "banked" story that was destined to run in the aborted Ka-Zar solo title) ended up in MSH. Why Ka-Zar would accept an invitation to come stay with his hated brother (aka The Plunderer) is anyone's guess. Parkhouse was a British writer who co-wrote this script and one more for Marvel (the upcoming Nick Fury #12) and then returned to England, where he found success as an artist on 2000AD, Warrior and Doctor Who.

Jack: Just dreadful! Why are we reading this stuff again? I had to laugh when Vanessa, a woman who is hanging out with the Plunderer, is rescued by a nearly naked Ka-Zar and remarks on his "strange clothes." What she really meant to say was "loin cloth," but she was too busy drooling. This story reminded me yet again why I don't read comics with art by George Tuska. Life is too short.

PE: Elsewhere in this issue, The Human Torch fights the laughably uniformed The Vulture in a reprint from Young Men #26 (March 1954); Bill Everett's Marvel Boy tackles Pasha, the evil magician, in a story reprinted from Astonishing #6 (1951); the untouchable Joe Maneely descends from Heaven to grace us with another gorgeous Black Knight yarn (who reads these things?) from Black Knight #3 (September 1955); and Namor is captured by armored aliens who want the people of Earth to give up their atomic and hydrogen bomb testing...or else (also from Young Men #26). Those aliens, by the way, are revealed in the climax to'll never believe it...commies!

Jack: The Human Torch story ends with the bad guy escaping and an atomic bomb going off, which I'd say was not a very successful outing for our boy in red. Marvel Boy divides his time between Earth and Uranus, no pun intended. I gave up reading the reprints halfway through the Marvel Boy story and just flipped through the last two stories to admire the art by Maneely and Everett.

The Amazing Spider-Man 70
Our Story

With The Kingpin in jail, The Amazing Spider-Man has one more problem on his hands (or his back): how to get rid of a supernaturally gifted ancient tablet when the cops are ready for you on every corner? Our favorite wall-crawler doesn't have time to stew though as The Kingpin breaks out of prison and comes looking for him. A battle ensues and, yet again, the fat man escapes, this time courtesy of his mysterious wife. After the big man's flight, Spider-Man has a heated confrontation with J. Jonah Jameson, who collapses, ostensibly from a heart attack.

MB: This is one of those issues full of sound and fury, signifying…well, I won’t say “nothing,” but it does seem to me that Stan is treading water here to some degree.  We get the latest in a whole series of tropes:  Spidey in dutch with the police (why doesn’t he simply call them and say, “I am neither in league with the Kingpin nor trying to steal this nutty tablet; I left it in the dumpster behind Rexall”?); Spidey saying, “Screw you, world—I’m out for myself now!,” which will presumably cease as soon as he remembers that with great power et cetera; an inconclusive encounter with the Kingpin; Jonah thinking he’s nailed Spidey at last.  I’m thrilled that Randy et al. have been cleared, but I’m annoyed that Gwen has it in for Peter again so soon.

PE: Don't forget strong (and strangely very mature) black characters that spout dialogue such as "You're okay even if you work for the whitey!" and dress in green turtleneck sweaters with gold chains. I'm not sure where Stan/Jazzy got their model for Randy Robertson's anarchistic buddy but no self-respecting black man (nor whitey, for that matter) I ever saw dressed like that. Spidey's actions this issue can be mighty scalp-scratching. He spends the first half of the story swearing he'll never do another good deed as long as he lives (even contemplating the pros and cons of a life of crime) and, out of the blue, vows to nab The Kingpin. I'm assuming it was Gwen's cliched "Why am I in love with a coward?" speech that motivated him. Only nice touch was Spidey's eyeball-to-eyeball with JJJ. Pity Stan couldn't just leave it with a confession from Jonah about why the wall-crawler is so hated in the Jameson household. Nope, Stan has to ratchet up the phony suspense and draw this snoozer out at least one more chapter. This is a bad arc and the sooner we get it done with the better. 

The Incredible Hulk 113
Our Story

The Hulk crash lands back on Earth after having a close call with the cabin pressure nearly killing Bruce Banner.  The Sandman has been plotting vengeance against the Fantastic Four since his last defeat at their hands.  He reads in the daily newspaper that a special ship that can travel across dimensions has just been built at a U.S. Air force base.  The villain wants to use the ship so he can travel to the Negative Zone to bring back his old partner in crime, Blastaar.  The Sandman finds the Hulk sleeping near the base and tries to order him around.  After a brief skirmish, Sandman is able to trick the Hulk into attacking the military base for him.  As the Hulk readies to wreck the station, he realizes that Betty may be staying there.  It’s too late, though, as army troops have already spied the green monster and attack.  Betty, along with Thunderbolt Ross and Talbot, are all at the base to witness this.  The Sandman takes advantage of the confusion to drive off in a truck that is hauling the ship.  He is about to crash into a car with Betty inside of it before the Hulk intervenes.  The two powerhouses battle it out pretty evenly until the Hulk creates a tornado by swinging shattered ship pieces around.  This causes the Sandman to be literally blown away.  In the end, the Hulk leaps away a hero, while the Sandman regroups and promises to get his revenge. 

Tom:  You have to give points to the Sandman for being a loyal ally.  Maybe too loyal?  If he and Blastaar had their own thing going on then there is nothing wrong with that.  If anything, it made for another Hulk story that was exciting to bear witness to.   

Is this the end of the Sandman? Nah...
MB: A good match for the Hulk, the Sandman (clearly unaware of Blastaar’s alleged demise in last month’s X-Men) is also a welcome relief from a monster who looks like a misconceived ad for Jerry Lewis in The Big Mouth, or an alien who looks like the love child of the Leader and a catfish.  Hell, at this point, even the Leader himself would be.  If their meeting was more contrived than usual, and the whole trapped-in-a-runaway-rocket thing was a holdover from Tales to Astonish, those bothered me less than the dramatic change in speech patterns for a heavy who used to sound more like the Thing, new duds and powers notwithstanding.  Shades of #107 Dept.:  “Can’t see!!  Can’t even breathe!  No air in lungs!!”  But still no trouble talking

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 10
Our Story

Christmas Eve, 1968:  Fury puts paid to a trio of muggers and returns to his apartment, unexpectedly welcomed by Laura rather than the MIA Val, yet their romantic interlude is interrupted by a transmission from the Hate-Monger.  Sitwell tells Nick that at midnight, the Hate-Monger plans to wipe out New York with a germ bomb, so Fury rockets to his orbiting complex, where he is caught and placed inside the missile intended to start WW III, leaving Earth to be repopulated by—you guessed it—the Master Race.  But a “UFO” causes the pilot of one of the tracking craft following Nick to collide with the bomb, harmlessly dispersing its deadly cargo, and as Fury bails out and returns to Laura, he wonders if there is a Santa Claus.

PE: I thought the first bit of this snoozer was actually quite entertaining. I wouldn't have minded a complete issue of Nick and Laura lounging, enjoying each other's company and a little Sinatra.  

MB: Reports of the Hate-Monger’s death remain greatly exaggerated—he’s certainly livelier than the horse I’m going to beat at Friedrich’s expense.  (And if you think I’m ignoring the art…well, I’m trying to, although Johnny Craig’s inks help a little; Springer’s sock-fetish briefly returns in page 4, panel 1.)  Since the possibility of multiple Hitlers/Mongers has been broached, this could just be another, but even if he didn’t do it in a month, how did he get his orbital H.Q. up with NASA or S.H.I.E.L.D. unaware?  Would he really jeopardize his plan—warmed over from last issue—to attempt revenge on Fury?  Would S.H.I.E.L.D. really send one guy to foil a plot jeopardizing New York?  Is that because a small ship could sneak up on an orbiting space station undetected?

Marvel art hits rock bottom

PE: I'm not sure The Hate Monger has all that great of a plan: kill everyone in New York with a germ bomb, wait for the rest of the world to destroy themselves in a nuclear holocaust and then land when the fallout has cleared to rebuild and be rulers of the world. Seems like a lot of trouble and expense. Why not kill everyone on earth with this wonderful germ bomb and then you still have all the buildings, amusement parks, peepshows, and Republican party headquarters facilities in which to build your new Eden? Sheesh, that Monger can talk! Here's one speech, broken up only by panels, as Nick Fury is delivered to him on a silver platter:

I am pleased! Once more the superiority of my people has been proven! And now Fury will be the instrument of my greatest proof to all mankind... that, only in the destruction of all inferior races, can the salvation of earth be realized! Prepare Fury for his final mission... while I savor the great moment of glory... the moment which will make me the true savior of all mankind! For, by eliminating all the world's inferior peoples, black, yellow, and white... I will preserve a world of peaceful superiority for the master race! The obliteration of New York's populace will set all the nations of the world against each other... and the resulting nuclear holocaust will purge earth of all living human beings -- save those of my new colony who safely orbit the earth in my satellite! Then when the fallout has cleared, we will return to our planet -- and establish a new population... which will lead earth to the great destiny for which it was intended! And now, as the clock reaches midnight, I will pull the lever and send Fury on his way... aboard the craft which will  explode just above New York City -- and spell the beginning of the end for the madness which is earth, under the control of the inferior. Now, Fury, one your way... and Merry Christmas!

Was Marvel paying their writers by the word in 1969?

More low-budget Steranko wanna-bes

Doctor Strange 178
Our Story

Dr. Strange figures that he needs to find other Sons of Satannish to reverse Asmodeus’s spell calling forth the fire and ice gods, so he sends his astral body to England seeking help from Victoria Bentley. Ms. Bentley is hosting a party and one of her guests happens to be her new neighbor, the Black Knight! Dr. Strange enlists his aid and they journey to the 6th dimension, where Tiboro guards the banished Sons of Satannish. Dr. Strange and the Black Knight battle Tiboro and emerge victorious, taking the Sons of Satannish back to Earth to meet the challenge of the waiting demons of fire and ice.

Victoria Bentley,
super-hero groupie.
Jack: After five pages spent recapping the end of last issue, this seems like an abbreviated tale. Dr. Strange decides it’s too dangerous to traipse around without a mask, so we’re stuck with blue face for the time being. Tiboro is in the 6th dimension because the 5th Dimension was busy in the recording studio cutting “Age of Aquarius.” Colan is really taking advantage of his page count here—in addition to two full page illos there is a two-page spread partway through the story for no particular reason.

MB: The day is, alas, not far off when Strange will survive solely through guest-shots in other mags, yet for the nonce, an Avengers cross-over still seems surprising, in spite of the fact that Roy is writing both books, which have decidedly different tones.  It’s curious that he chose to spend so much time recapping the end of last issue, but now that they’ve been properly introduced, Strange and the Black Knight—a natural ally, due to his enchanted blade—can begin the friendship that will have such serious ramifications for the Defenders down the road.  Also an odd choice is that of Tiboro, whose sole previous appearance in Strange Tales #129 bespeaks his minor status, as the obstacle that must be overcome in order to combat Asmodeus’s deadly spell.

The X-Men 54
Our Story

Alexander Summers, brother of Scott "Cyclops" Summers, has latent mutant powers but he doesn't know just yet and his brother has been staying mum on the subject until Alex is old enough to handle the news. Now, Scott's hand is forced when Alex is kidnapped by The Living Pharaoh, who is convinced that Alex Summers is the only obstacle to world domination. After a battle ensues between Cyclops and The Pharaoh (with Alex a witness), Scott is knocked unconscious and awakes to find his brother gone, The Pharaoh dead, and cops accusing him of the murder. Cyclops must escape to prove his innocence.

JS: So after an opening splash with Cyclops caught dead to rights by museum security, he offers the most ridiculous transition to the flashback with the line, "It started on a lovely spring day..."

PE: I've never seen Jean Grey use her mental powers to smell out "mind patterns of the last people in the room" to track down kidnapping victims. New power time? The Pharaoh's line, "like ten thousand bolts of lightning strikes" might sound familiar as it was used in the Ka-Zar strip this month over in Marvel Super-Heroes #19, also written by Dra-no, who never let a really good tagline (or a bad one, obviously) die on the vine. The Loving Pharaoh's "loyal warriors" are about as hammy as Victor Buono's henchmen on Batman.

JS: It's worth noting that this issue clearly breaks from the standard panel format, with only a handful of panel borders parallel with the page borders. While the artwork within the panels pales in comparison, the panel style already has me thinking about the forthcoming arrival of Neal Adams!

MB: Once again, I must grudgingly give credit to lame-duck scripter Arnold Drake (lame being the operative word), who in his X-Men swan song introduces not only the Living Pharaoh, a recurring villain, but also mutant sibling Alex Summers, both of whom have some surprises in store.  Barry Windsor—as he was then known—has relinquished the interiors to Heckolletta, but kept his hand in with Vinnie and Romita on the cover, which frankly isn’t half-bad.  The fact that Drake created the characters does not, alas, mean he knows how to handle them any better than a number of biological fathers, who are little more than sperm donors, know how to parent a child, and he leaves the threads of the plot strewn haphazardly about the landscape for others to tie up.

JS: Does anyone else find it odd that TLP would know Alex Summers was a mutant of extraordinary power, and Scott would not? Where's Charles when we need him! Oh, that's right, he's dead. 

PE: Marvel historians have had a heck of a time keeping the biographies of Pharaoh Rama-Tut and The Living Pharaoh straight. One is a power-mad pharaoh transported into our time who will soon metamorphose into another villain and the other one is...  The only good news I have about this issue is that starting next issue we should have something interesting to talk about thanks to the return of a decidedly more mature Roy Thomas. I certainly hope the classic stuff that the fans are always crowing about (which I have never read) is better than the last 50-odd issues of this mostly forgettable series.

JS: Honestly, could the upcoming issues be any worse than the last 50?

Daredevil 50
Our Story

Daredevil is in the middle of a heated battle against an android programmed to kill him.  Even when it seems like he gets the upper hand, the robot monster keeps on fighting.  It even grows to the size of a giant as it batters the hero helplessly about.  Thinking fast, Daredevil times it so the android crashes into a fuse box while chasing him.  This causes it to malfunction and head back to its creator to be reprogrammed.  Double D follows his adversary to Starr Saxon’s lab.  In the ensuing conflict, Saxon escapes, but not before he accidentally loads his robot with a photo of gangster Biggie Benson, causing his android to be programmed to kill the crook who originally hired him.  Double D heads off to the penitentiary to warn the gangster.  As the android busts through the prison walls, Biggie, believing that Daredevil is somehow trying to trick him, knocks the hero out.  The story ends with Double D trying to remain conscious as the android closes in on Benson.     

Tom:  Sorry, but one such as myself has to chuckle.  Being a hero is one thing, but being a total sap is something else.  While I can applaud Daredvil’s heroics with trying to save Biggie Benson, I still can’t help wonder how he didn’t just decide to take a break and let things work out for themselves.  

Mighty big shoes to fill!
MB: Ah, now this is more like it:  underwhelmed by Barry Smith’s ballyhooed bow on X-Men last month, I was totally surprised not only to see him pop up here, but also to dig his pencils so much more.  Johnny Craig was a surprisingly good choice to ink him (evidently better than Esposito), and although I could see some of the influences—the aforementioned Kirby and Steranko plus, I thought, a touch of Wood on Hornhead himself—I didn’t mind them a bit.  The artwork was bold and dynamic, propelling the story along at impressive speed, and served either to bring Stan’s game up, or simply to make me more tolerant of Starr Saxon and his Erector-Set minion, even if I remain highly dubious about the logistics of those handy little “aromagraphs.”

Jack: Barry Smith (any relation to Barry Windsor Smith?) is a poor substitute for Gene Colan. His Kirby impression looks like Steranko without the imaginative layouts. Thankfully, it will last only three issues.

Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 11
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner makes one of the hardest decisions in his life when he chooses to protect Florida from a nuclear missile instead of going after the Serpent Crown.  The bomb hits Namor, but it wasn’t the real nuclear missile that Captain Barracuda has in his possession.  Namor attacks a U.S. submarine that started firing against him when it saw him swimming about the harbor earlier.  He just wants to reach the commanders of the ship to explain to them what is going on.  Meanwhile, Captain Barracuda takes advantage of the melee to steal a control device that will let him control the direction of any torpedo.  Unfortunately for him, he activates it so a recently launched missile ends up bombing his crew.  With the battle seemingly over, Namor swims off undersea to find the Serpent Crown.     

Tom:  This is probably the worst issue to come out of the Sub-Mariner series.  One wonders what the sales were like and if the changes from focusing on Namor, while he was in his own kingdom, to following his adventures near the surface world were part of shifting marketing strategies?

"Spang" was a sound effect
often found in Little Golden Books.

MB: Well, this one really took the concept of the Marvel Misunderstanding to its ne plus ultra, involving not just two evenly matched super-heroes, who could slug it out safely, but a ship full of innocent sailors, who could have found a watery grave if things had gotten any more out of hand than they did.  Yeah, I know Namor’s a hothead, yet his commendable concern for the poor swabs sure melted away fast when a little communication might have saved the day. Since Captain Barracuda apparently expected Subby to go after Karthon instead, his having such a diversion to steal the Sonic Magno-Directoid was somewhat serendipitous, but the ending was too low-comedy for me; I was waiting for the dopey little “womp-womp-womp” musical stinger.

The Mighty Thor 162
Our Story

Having aided Ego the Living Planet in defeating Galactus, the grateful world has sent Thor and the Recorder back to Rigel, express-style. They are greeted by the High Commissioner and his wife, Tana Nile. The plan is to disconnect the Recorder permanently, after absorbing the information from his memory banks. The Thunder God intervenes, citing the noble characteristics his companion has shown; clearly he has a soul. It is agreed by all: the Recorder shall live on! Thor returns home to Asgard, where he is greeted first by Heimdall, then the dashing Warriors Three. They make haste to the royal throne room, where All-Father Odin, with the assistance of the realms cosmic counselor Torger, shows them a vision of times past. It is the past of Galactus, or rather remnants of it. In the distant past an unnamed world has created an orbiting Incuba-Cell, designed to create a new life form. The people below, who made it, let the cell open, as they are threatened by the space fleet of a conquering race. The being within vaporizes the fleet and absorbs it energy; then does the same to the planet beneath him, unwittingly destroying the very ones who created him. Thus was born Galactus. With the audience ended and the menace of Galactus staved off for a future date, Thor turns his attention to other matters. Namely, to determine the whereabouts of his friend Balder, and his lady love Sif, the latter of whom had been sent to Earth to investigate a mystery… and has not been heard from since.

Is that Asgardian for Tiger?
PE: As is my wont to point out, the cover's a bit of a cheat since, aside from a sketchy and rushed three-page "origin" (which begs to be filled in and, I suspect, probably has been over the years), there's no world-gulping menace in attendance this issue. That's not to say there aren't quite a few subplot kick-offs to whet my appetite. What has become of Sif, who was sent to earth on some mystery mission and hasn't been heard from since? Why can't Balder the Brave get Queen Karnilla out of his mind? Is it of her doing or does Balder maybe have an itch he won't admit needs scratching? If Odin's so doggone worried about the threat of Galactus, why doesn't he go after him? He practically pshaws his son when Thor dares question whether his father's power matches up with the planet-drainer. I've said it before and, doubtless, I'll continue to say it: this series just keeps getting better. Name another Marvel title you can say that about in 1969.

MB:  Despite its epic grandeur—which was admittedly plentiful and excellent, as ever—this story left me somewhat cold, a literally transitional issue that devoted way too much time to Thor’s Rigellian leave-taking and Asgardian homecoming, i.e., a lot of running around. And if familiarity breeds contempt, perhaps that’s why yet another two-page Jack Kirby photo-montage seemed simply to take up space, as it were, although in all fairness, I’ve never been a big fan of such mismatched styles (photorealistic vs. drawn, B&W vs. color).  There were things I did like along the way, such as Thor rescuing his pal the Recorder from deactivation, but by the time the preliminaries were finally ended, and they got to Galactus’s origin, it felt rushed and confusing.

JB: I found the casual nature of this issue to be kind of fun, after the pseudo-epic goings-on the last two months (fun too). It seemed to be time to name supporting characters, as we find out that the High Commissioner also goes by the name Emeritus, and for once, one of Odin’s many aids is identified, this time as “cosmic counselor” Torger. I too liked the tear-jerk moment of the Recorder’s survival Professor Matthew, thanks to Thor of course. Balder’s falling for Karnilla is a nice and nasty touch; the poor guy just wasn’t expecting his heart to betray him—boom! We’ve really been getting a dose of sci-fi lately, Asgardian-style; next month we get a rather interesting twist on this space/mythic mix.

The Invincible Iron Man 11

Our Story

The Mandarin has deduced that Iron Man is, in reality, billionaire weapons manufacturer Tony Stark and intends to use this information to bankrupt Stark. But Tony didn't become a rich playboy on looks alone. Through an extremely elaborate (some would argue impossibly elaborate) ruse, Tony Stark throws The Mandarin off his scent. First, he disguises himself under his armor as a blonde beach boy so when Mandy unmasks him, the evil ring fetishist now believes that Iron Man is one of The Beach Boys. Next, Stark programs one of his LMDs (Life Model Decoys) to fool a batch of journalists at a remote cabin while Mandy views it on a television. Enraged, The Mandarin flies to the cabin to take Stark prisoner. Able to rid himself of the incredibly life-like plastic mask and then escape from his prison, Iron Man flies to the cabin to head off The Mandarin before he realizes that the Stark he saw on television is not the real McCoy. After a ferocious battle, The Mandarin takes Janice Cord hostage aboard his turbo jet craft (piloted by Mei-Ling) but I.M. is able to rescue the girl. Mei-Ling is zapped inadvertently by one of the villain's rings while delivering a touching speech on move and matrimony and the pair go out in style in a fiery explosion when the jet hits a mountain. Tony and Janice arrive back at the cabin just as the LMD is being driven away in an ambulance. Uh-oh!

If we didn't know better, we'd swear that's the real Stark!
PE: Stark's deception is about as far-fetched as these things get. So evil genius The Mandarin can't tell when he's talking to someone who has a mask and a blonde wig on? Newspapermen can't tell a robot when it's standing in front of them? I swear I put a ban on these ridiculous LMDs last issue. From here on in, no more! Janice Cord manages to make it to the cabin before any police or army? Tony Stark is one of the United States' most important assets and there are no guns on site at the cabin to make sure he makes it out okay? The Mandarin threatens the world with destruction every three minutes and yet it takes an off-handed comment (something about love and devotion being stupid) by her evil genius squeeze to make May Pang realize that marriage to this guy probably won't include two kids, a dog, and a white picket fence! I like Iron Man. I like The Mandarin. This is meh!

Evil genius, my ass.
MB:  Okay, I’ll admit Shellhead had me just as fooled as he did the Mandarin with this whole unmasking business—I’m sitting here wondering who this decidedly non-Hoganesque guy is inside the armor!  I liked Archie’s nuance that as much of a whiz-kid as Tony is, he has trouble programming the LMD; when we still don’t have a viable android almost 50 years later, it’s nice to know it isn’t that easy.  The steadfast Tuska/Craig art team seems to have a little better handle on Mandy this time, and I love how Shellhead just insouciantly bashes his way through buildings and aircraft, which gives us some idea of both the power of his boot-jets and the toughness of his armor, plus I enjoyed how Tony and Janice indirectly caused Mei-Ling’s conversion by example.

PE: On the letters page, future author Bill Warren lets rip on Stan, Archie, and George, claiming that "it is absolutely impossible for (Iron Man) to carry around this much equipment for the things he does. I hope you don't think I'm knocking Iron Man, but with some of the scientific mistakes you make, every superhero in a comic mag is scientifically impossible." Amen, Bill. Ironically, this 26-year old who took time out of his busy schedule to educate Archie Goodwin about integrated circuits would be writing really bad horror stories for Creepy and Eerie the following year under the editorship of, you guessed it, Archie Goodwin! Years later, Warren would more than redeem himself by writing the best book on 1950s science fiction films ever written, Keep Watching the Skies!

The Mighty Avengers 62
Our Story

The Black Panther’s remote-controlled plane picks up the Avengers and flies them to Wakanda, where they are met by armed guards following orders from T’Challa’s second in command, M’Baku. Having grown too big for his britches in his leader’s absence, M’Baku now craves power and tries to get it by drugging the Avengers and dressing up as the Man Ape, a giant white gorilla. After a long battle with the Black Panther, the Man Ape appears to triumph, but when he tries to push the prince’s big panther statute over onto T’Challa it crumbles and kills M’Baku instead.

Jack: The Avengers is now The Mighty Avengers, at least on the cover. This issue seems like a tryout for a Black Panther comic. Oddly enough, the Black Panther suddenly reminds me of Batman, with his robot plane and his utility belt that hides miniature devices in its buckle. Who knew the Back Panther wore a belt? Holy Wakanda! As for the story, it seems that Wakanda is similar to Namor’s Atlantis, where the lead warriors can never be trusted in the prince’s absence. Sales figures are published this issue and show average sales as of October 1968 at 275,421.

MB:  As in #52, Roy and John let T’Challa cut loose with a virtual solo story that was aptly reprinted in Jungle Action #5, as a prelude to the Panther’s first series.  If anybody but me cares, the version there not only contains two pages missing from the one in Marvel Super Action #23, but also reproduces the drool-worthy art by Buscema and “Georgie (Porgie) Klein,…one of America’s top watercolor artists,” much better, with a zingy new cover by Jazzy Johnny Romita. This time we’re on T’Challa’s home turf, where we first meet his loyal second-in-command and security chief, W’Kabi (a Jungle Action regular), and a recurring villain, M’Baku the Man-Ape, and get a glimpse at some of the problems of an absentee monarch that will recur in later years.

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The training of Rick Jones to become the new Bucky Barnes becomes a daunting task for both Captain America and Rick himself. Neither believes the big boots of the long-dead Bucky can be filled overnight but frustration is getting the best of the duo. Meanwhile, Hydra begins striking at Steve Rogers, using an amusement park as its backdrop. In an effort to capture Captain America, the evil group net Rick Jones instead and use the boy to draw Cap out into the open. At the amusement park, the star-spangled Avenger is attacked by the Hydra robot known as Man-Killer but manages to destroy the machine with its own mini-missiles. Escaping from his captors, Rick Jones attempts to come to the aid of Captain America but arrives in time only to witness the shooting and apparent drowning of his new partner. The police fish a uniform and a strange Steve Rogers life-mask out of the bay. Was it the real Cap who drowned or could it be that Steve Rogers was, in fact, never Captain America?

MB:  After what I consider a disappointing X-Men outing, it’s nice to see Jim Steranko back in top form, with artwork and layouts that fairly pop off the page, and could stand alongside his best efforts on the S.H.I.E.L.D. strip; needless to say, I regard Joltin’ Joe Sinnott’s inks as an invaluable contribution. For his part, Stan handles the Bucky vs. Rick dilemma rather well, and Madame Hydra (later known as the Viper), introduced last issue, is an enduring villain, complete with acid-green lipstick. If the ending seems a tad out of left field, it’s obviously meant to surprise both the reader and the supporting cast, and it’s good to have some acknowledgement that the current secret-identity situation is unsustainable, though I can’t recall how it’s resolved.

PE: The "Let's confuse the public" climax is a tad out of left field since it supposes that Cap knew all that would go down. He'd need to fabricate a life mask and carry it around with him during all the action. I'm assuming he hatched the plan right after he made that "It sure is a drag that the public knows my real identity" comment halfway through the story. Good golly, Jim Steranko has grown leaps and bounds since his hot 'n' cold days over at Nick Fury. His human beings look... well, human and his patented full-page and double-page spreads are stunning, in particular that iconic "Rick Jones into rotting corpse" transformation on page 10 (reprinted below). It's a shame the Steranko reign on Captain America is pert near over before it's started. He's a natural to pencil this character. 


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Returning home from the Great Refuge in a gyro-plane gifted to them by the Inhumans, it doesn’t take long for the F.F. to be flagged down by a fleet of fighter jets, or rather the man in the lead plane: Nick Fury of Shield. He has a mystery on his hands: a robot hand, literally. It takes on a life of its own, attacking, until Johnny zaps it with his flame; not much left for Tony Stark to analyze.  Fury is convinced it’s a weapon representing a deadly danger. And guess who he wants to investigate? That Richards kid back at home will have to wait a little while longer to get named. Not far away, as the crow flies, a bearded man desperately flees through a system of underground tunnels to make his escape from what he feels is a place of deadly danger that the rest of the world needs to know about. As he reaches the cave exit to the open ocean, his plan is thwarted. Flanked by protective robots stands none other than Victor Von Doom, the ruler of Latveria, and a gun blast later, the poor fellow learns the folly of trying to escape. Back with the F.F., Fury relates that one of his agents has disappeared, and he believes a small but deadly army in Europe may be the cause. Reed pieces together that it must be his old pal Dr. Doom (who else is the master of making robots?) who is behind it all. Posing as civilians on a mission, they drive into Latveria, knowing that Doom must know they are coming, and capture them. He does. Starting with a magnetic road that tears the car apart, then a hostile robot greeting designed to have a counter for each of their powers. The end result being unconsciousness, only to awake to an entirely different tune: a town’s people who greet them with a delicious breakfast and a holiday (Fantastic Four Fiesta Day) in their honour.  They know it’s a sham, as is displayed when Reed forces the issue by making a dash for the town border. A force bolt stops him in his tracks, as a robotic screen rises from the ground with the face and words of Dr. Doom: stay, be happy, or die. Little does the F.F. know that their arch enemy has hypnotically planted the belief in their brains that they are powerless, as they will find out when they try to use their power.

JB: The thing that struck me about this issue is how much it reminded me of the classic TV series “The Prisoner.” The old man, sure he has made a clean escape only to be captured again, the façade of happiness everywhere, even awakening to the sounds and sights of a glorious morning; all your wants will be granted… unless you try to escape, or stir up discontent. I liked seeing them hiding in plains clothes, driving into Latveria against all good advice. This one really “feels” like a classic story breaking; somehow the Inhumans tale just past didn’t have this. Like the cover of F.F. # 39, having the larger-than-life vision of Doom watching over them makes an impressive first vision for this issue, a fitting return of perhaps their most classic foe

MB:  Lee.  Kirby.  Sinnott.  Doom.  Shake well.  There’s a recipe for a successful FF!  The doctor is in…fine form, as shown by his supremely megalomaniacal behavior, plus that kickass full-page shot with his robot army; ditto Fury, who—as rendered by his creators—puts to shame that mockery on display in his monthly mag.  Fun to see Reed go into action in his green suit and tie (the height of 1969 fashion?), with the glove that mysteriously appears in mid-battle, and especially to see Ben out of his self-pitying mode, with lines like “my yummy orange skin” and “a half-ton Sleepin’ Beauty.”  Perhaps the birth of Nameless Richards has given him a fresh perspective, but why don’t they just call the kid Agent Thirteen Richards and have done with it?

PE: I love how Nick Fury has to twist Reed's arm to get him to take this assignment rather than head home to meet the kid he's supposed to have had with The Invisible Girl (now that opens up all kinds of questions!). Well hell, Reed must think, the kid'll be there forever but how long can world-threatening danger be a man's hobby? Anyway, by the time he gets home, the yet-to-be-named Franklin will be in Kindergarten and Stretch won't have to worry about the real dangers in life: pureed carrots and dirty Pampers. We're finally easing into the dangerous (rather than buffoonish) Doctor Doom here. I have no doubts this particular incarnation of Victor will mow down any man, woman, or child who gets in the way of his goal. The first of a three part arc sets things up nicely and leaves us, yep, intrigued!

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #12

Marvel Tales #19
Millie the Model #168
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #64


  1. Regarding the "Rick Jones into rotting corpse," I think that's actually Bucky. The hair is the giveaway. In the old days, Bucky was never drawn the same way twice, but Rick is pretty solidly consistent (aside from when Don Heck was making him look 50 years old in The Avengers).

    The Marvel Boy / Pasha panel: wasn't anyone else totally shocked at how graphic the mobster deaths were? I know 50's comics were rife with that stuff, but this was reprinted at the end of the 60's, when things were a lot softer. This was death by vivisection and even without the blood, it was pretty crazy. I remember when The Beyonder took Doom apart (literally) in Secret Wars - the devil was in the descriptions and that was no less shocking, and only a little more graphic. I donno, it just seemed really weird and the coda, with Marvel Boy shrugging off the murders (to the detective, "what do YOU care?"), was pretty cold. I'm surprised that kind of pre-code stuff got reprinted at that stage.

  2. Professor Jack, I guess you didn't read the comments on last month's X-MEN, which include the following: “'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."

    Paste-Pot, I don't know how long it took Bill Warren to write KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES!, but the results certainly put my 13-year Matheson magnum opus to shame. What an incredible piece of scholarship, yet so damn fun to read.

    Professor Jim, good for you. Even though I'm a slobbering PRISONER fan, that connection went right over my head. Yet a Bullpen Bulletin contemporaneous with #91 notes, "everyone flipped over the way we playfully parodied the theme of TV's THE PRISONER some months back..." D'oh!

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of our faculty and readers! (There's a difference?)

  3. "JS: It's worth noting that this issue clearly breaks from the standard panel format, with only a handful of panel borders parallel with the page borders. While the artwork within the panels pales in comparison, the panel style already has me thinking about the forthcoming arrival of Neal Adams!"

    I've been watching this for the past few months John. Adams must've created a sensation with his unorthodox panel layouts, because a lot of Marvel artists have been picking up on it.

    Frank Springer has been flipping from Steranko inspired vertical panel layouts, to Adams angles, and back for six months, more for effect rather than advancing the story. He gets the skewed panel layout right on page 9 of Nick Fury #10, where the tilted square panel and circular close-up of Fury's face emphasize the disorientation and tension as Fury tries to enter the space station. George Tuska and Don Heck gave angled panels a try on their books, and failed dismally.

    Gene Colan's angled panels pre-date Adams by years, but with Dr. Strange, he's cranked it up to "11." Most of the recent issues feature entire books with distorted panels. Fortunately, "Doc" is the perfect book for this type of layout, and Colan knows how to pull it off. I've never been able to get the definitive answer to who originated the angled panel layout. It probably goes back to Will Eisner or Reed Crandall's work for "Quality Comics" in the 1940s, but I'm not sure.

    And, here's something for Steranko completists. In the early 80s, Grandreams published hardcover collections of Marvel books, including X-Men 56-59, and Captain America 110,111,113. Here's page 10 of Cap #111 with the psychedelic color overlay that was missing from the original comic book.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  4. Scott-

    I was in a bit of a hurry and neglected to paste in the caption on that Marvel Boy panel. It was a crack about Michael Fleischer's dad having written comics in the 40s. Now that I think about it, I may have been afraid of lawsuits.