Wednesday, December 12, 2012

June 1969: Fire and Water: The Rematch!

The Avengers 65
Our story

Egghead recruits the Swordsman to destroy his old foe Giant-Man, not realizing that the Swordsman’s personal target, Hawkeye, has taken on the role of old high-pockets. Slipping into Avengers Mansion with ease, the Swordsman challenges Goliath and succeeds in defeating him long enough to cart his unconscious form back to Egghead’s lair. Egghead is not satisfied, since the Swordsman did not return with Henry Pym, and he and the Swordsman fight. It is up to Goliath to use a little bit of his archery skill to save his old teacher and foe from falling to his death.

Jack: Leave it to Colan to make an interesting villain out of Egghead! The flashback to when the Swordsman and Hawkeye first met is nice; with Daredevil, this is the month for recaps. Thomas’s writing relies overly much on literary quotes; this time, Egghead can barely utter two words without quoting (or paraphrasing) Shakespeare. Rascally Roy’s own writing leans toward lines such as: “Swordy’s a Rat-Fink . . . but I gotta help ‘im!”

MB:  I don’t have time to dig out my reprint of #19, but I’m pretty sure the Swordsman knew then, rather than merely suspected, that Hawkeye was his ex-apprentice, Clint Barton—and where the hell did Egghead get all this information?  Just further proof that, in my opinion, Roy’s bitten off a little more than he can chew with this ungainly epic, plus the fact that for our villains to be seeking revenge on the same two guys who, unbeknownst to them, have just switched their identities is a little too convenient.  It seems apt that Colan’s current stint lasts only as long as the three-egg(head) omelet, and although I would stress once again that I consider him to be merely unsuited for the strip, rather than actually doing a bad job, new inker Sam Grainger isn’t helping.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 14
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Namor is attacked by The Human Torch. Mistakenly assuming this is The Human Torch of The Fantastic Four, the Sub-Mariner soon learns that it is, in fact, his "uneasy ally" from two decades before, the android Torch, controlled by The Mad Thinker. A thunderous battle between fire and water ensues and  Namor is able to break The Thinker's spell over The Torch. Just in time it seems, as the three fourth-tier villains who have joined forces, The Mad Thinker, Egghead, and The Puppet Master, have cut off all communications across a wide arc of the United States. The Sub-Mariner and The Torch join forces for the first time in (who knows how long?)... years to defeat The Thinker but the battle causes The Torch to lose his flame. Once extinguished, the pair learn that The Thinker had manipulated The Torch's young partner, Toro, into believing he was his old fiery partner. Enraged, Toro propels himself into the plane of The Thinker and sacrifices himself for mankind.

PE: This may be the worst case of Marvel Time Distortion (MTD) I've ever seen. Whereas, in most cases, we're to believe that Marvel Time can be minutes or weeks between issues and a year can be twelve issues or forty, depending on the title, here Namor exclaims that The Torch is "my uneasy ally... of twenty years ago." That would put us at 1949 (assuming that this issue takes place in 1969) and The Torch actually shared some adventures with Namor in the 1950s. An alternate version of MTD? I'm so confused. Flashbacks within flashbacks are always so confusing. Here we get The Torch explaining to Namor how The Mad Thinker explained to him how he was reborn. The writing is so slipshod though, you can't tell which flashback The Torch is relating from panel to panel. The real hoot this issue is the full-page look at the reactions of the rest of the Marvel Universe heroes, all evidently enjoying some time off from fighting baddies despite hectic schedules in their respective titles, to the communication breakdown. Reactions range from The Vision's uncharacteristic exclamation, "It's too horrible to conceive!" to The X-Men pontificating on man's inhumanity to man. The topper is Tony Stark, flying away from the events of Iron Man #14, grasping at his chest and nailing it right on the head: " if we just skirted near some sort of... force field!"

MB:  Tales to Astonish finally seems to have reprinted a Namor yarn uncut…just as the book is cancelled; way to go, guys.  With Roy’s typically backward-looking double twist—one Torch turns out to be another, and then to be his own sidekick—this story might almost work better on its own than as part of the sprawling saga unfolding across three books (which resumes in Captain Marvel #14), because the Thinker’s predilection for messing with Golden-Age super-heroes appears only tangentially related to the scheme he is hatching with the Puppet Master and Egghead.  Sadly, Esposito’s inks are a far less felicitous pairing with Severin’s pencils than were Sinnott’s last issue, and some characters, notably the villains, simply don’t look like themselves.

Spoiler alert!
PE: For example, Zippy the Pinhead sitting in for Egghead this issue? I loved The All-Winners Squad from the 1940s and 50s and Roy Thomas got me to pont up my quarter every month when he got around to doing The Invaders in the mid-70s, but this is not a good use of "The Torch" and Subby. It's too condensed (which might or might not be Roy's fault depending on whether, by this time, The Rascally One was pulling strings already in the editorial office) and details are sketchy to say the least (a very important part of the plot, Toro's introduction into The Thinker's plan, is explained away in a mere three panels). As Professor Matthew notes above, this installment really doesn't need to be connected to the other pieces in this "arc." It should be a stand alone story spread out over two issues.

The Silver Surfer 6
Our Story

While stopping by to pay his last respects to his friend Al B. Harper, the Surfer is struck by an idea: perhaps in the distant future the barrier that traps him on Earth will cease to exist. He circles the Earth at a speed exceeding that of light, and indeed finds himself in the future. The barrier is gone! Alas, so is humanity; our planet reduced to nothing but lifeless rubble.  As he searches through space, the Surfer finds it is the same everywhere, including his home planet of Zenn-La. Finally he finds a world still supporting life, but he learns to his great sadness, it is this world that brought death to all others. It is ruled by a merciless giant called the Overlord, sporting cosmic power greater than his own, and to whom all others are merely slaves. Infuriated at all the needless death, the Surfer sets to avenge the worthy; the Overlord proves stronger. Mistaken for dead, the Surfer is ordered disintegrated, but the man to whom the job falls is the last survivor of Zenn-La, and he recalls the legend of the gleaming board rider. Secretly he revives the Surfer, and relates the origin of the Overlord. The evil giant was the son of a scientist whose body had been altered by an atomic accident, thus when his wife had a child it grew to be a soulless marauding monster, that grew in power ‘till he lay waste to his world, and set about to do the same to all others. The Overlord has overheard them, and slays Zenn-La’s last survivor, but it has given the Surfer the answer he seeks. Again he speeds faster than light, back in time to when the fateful accident occurred, and he prevents the incident from ever happening, thus saving the future of us all.

Tales Of The Watcher

“The Unsuspecting!”

A race of aliens invisible to us studies us from space to plot how to best sap our will and conquer Earth. While humans below relax in the best 1960’s fashion, the shape-shifting aliens take a form no one would suspect: that of our beloved boob tube!

NC: I like how the Surfer always proves to be a defender of humanity; no matter how badly we treat him. It’s one of the things about his own mag that’s most enjoyable, getting to really feel up close and personal with his inner struggles. And of course on far off Zenn-La, Shalla Bal is desired by all and interested in none; would we be as strong if we were never to feel hope of seeing our loved one again? The sort of three-fold introduction of the Overlord (savages,
emissaries, then master) is interesting. But where are all the Odins and Galacti of the future to put up a fight? The time travel concept is of course one that we sometimes really wonder about, if only we could approach the speed of light! And now I’m going to go watch some TV… or should I?

MB:  A Bullpen Bulletin praises “Sal Buscema, who’s been inimitably inking his big brother John Buscema’s artwork [on this series]…Not only is he a whiz of an inker, but we just saw some sample pages of his original illustrations—and as soon as he rents himself a pencil or two, it looks as though Big John is gonna have more competition than he bargained for!..[D]idja know that the Silver Surfer is unquestionably the hit of the year?  Starting with the very first ish, it’s hit the top of the best-seller lists and it looks like it’s there to stay.”  Yet after the next issue, it will morph from a double-length bimonthly into a standard-sized monthly, which is interesting, because this is the first time I’ve really felt as though Stan was stretching it out to fit the format.

Captain Marvel 14
Our Story

Mar-Vell argues that saving Carol (and the Cape) proves he is not a traitor, yet she tries to persuade him to give himself up; meanwhile, the Puppet Master uses a radioactive replica to take control of Iron Man, who makes a hasty exit from Tony Stark’s flight to Miami to attack Mar-Vell.  From his Caribbean base, the villain seeks to destroy the Cape, to safeguard his ally Egghead’s space station, but cannot foresee the heart attack that downs Stark.  The frustrated Puppet Master throws the figurine into some machinery that explodes, apparently killing him, as Tony recovers and the Kree teleports aimlessly away, whereupon Zo accuses him of squandering his new powers and commands him to return to his home planet and fulfill his end of the bargain.

MB: This issue tries to do too many things:  it ends the Man-Slayer storyline from last issue; directly follows #14 of Shellhead’s own mag; continues the loose trilogy that began in Sub-Mariner #14 and ends in Avengers #64 (which, to make matters worse, some of us had to read already for last month’s curriculum); and revives the Zo plot.  Of course, the Three Stooges (Friedrich, Springer, and Colletta) leave it to us to connect the dots and deduce that it was indeed the PM who sent the Man-Slayer and took the Widow as bait back in #12, then brought her to his partners in crime on Coney Island in Avengers #63.  Egghead seems to be losing allies hand over fist…not that I truly believed the PM to be any more dead here than I did the Thinker at the wind-up of Subby’s book.

PE: Professor Matthew notes that this issue tries to juggle too many plot points without success. I completely agree with that assessment but other Marvel titles this month are doing exactly the same thing, and getting away with it, so it can be done. This is, hands down, the most confusing crossover I've had the misfortune to read in many years. The blurb at the climax of Iron Man #14 tells you to advance to Captain Marvel #14 but doesn't tell you that to get the full power and intensity you have to shell out 12 pennies for Sub-Mariner #14 as well. Let's not even discuss a climax to the four-parter that takes place in the previous month's Avengers. All that's missing is the obvious stopover in Fantastic Four. My head hurts just working it out. Imagine how I feel after actually reading the whole mess. The Puppet Master's string of rotten stories remains unbroken. The only thing I liked this issue was the final three panels/pages highlighted by a unique, ballsy full-page Star Wars-esque crawl message from Zo (reprinted above), something I'd never seen in a Marvel Comic to this point. Mar-Vell seems to be singing "Torn Between Two Lovers" in his head while Tony Stark's playing grab-ass with a stewardess while "madly in love with Janice Cord." There are some real monogamy issues going on with these two. There is no way, by the way, for Tony Stark to concoct a story to explain his disappearance aboard the jet plane. 

Guy's got more alibis than Repulso-rays!

Fantastic Four 87
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Thanks to Sue’s invisible force field, the Fantastic Five (Crystal and Sue) have survived the explosion that has destroyed much of Latveria. Dr. Doom and his castle are still intact, and our team makes their way there. Doom sees to it that they arrive, offering minimal resistance, where he plans to offer them a banquet complete with entertainment (a beautiful art collection and his own piano compositions). Sue and Crystal arrive first, having fallen down a booby trap that eventually leads them to the throne room. Doom’s plan is to deliver his concerto via “hyper-sound”, sonic waves strong enough to kill. His overeager aide Hauptmann gets too big for his britches, ands sets out to kill the artist who had been commissioned to paint Doom’s portrait (and who turns out to be Nick Fury’s spy). Seeing that Hauptmann has chosen a flame gun for his weapon, and it will destroy his art collection, Doom chooses to unleash his hyper-sound on his evil servant, killing him. In an uncharacteristically humble moment, he lets the girls go to join Reed, Ben and Johnny, willing to let them all go free. Until we meet again…

JB: As the cover promises…we get a rather unexpected ending. Perhaps Dr. Doom thinks that he’s lost the battle, or maybe the near-destruction of his art collection touches what little empathy he has left, but his choice to let the F.F. go free seems believable if out of character. Evil Hauptmann is much more one-dimensional than Doom, and may be what gave Victor a glimpse of his own inhumanity. The two full-page panels (other than the splash) are, of course, of our villain, and are effective in their contrast. His mask seems to show more expression than it should. The brief scene of the teens investigating the F.F.’s soon-to-be home reminds me a little of the brilliant H.P. Lovecraft story (The Shadow Out Of Time) about a bizarre underground world. Sorry, delete, thinking out loud …

MB:  Between this arc and Marvel Super-Heroes, we’re certainly getting a good look at Doom and his Latverian lifestyle lately, and the Kirby/Sinnott art is full of flourishes like the Wellesian “deep-focus” shot when we first see Vic in this issue.  With his taste for fine food, art, and music, which he even composes himself, he is like one of those consummately cultured James Bond villains, although his slaying of former Red Skull minion Gustav Hauptmann (you just can’t get good ex-Nazi help these days) at the climax will have serious repercussions down the road.  This may or may not be “the most off-beat ending of the year”—it’s only June, after all—but their stalemate seems both consistent with, and adding a nice nuance to, his character.

PE:  Not the soul-stirring climax I'd hope for to a four-part epic. The bulk of the story is Ben or Johnny acting rashly after being warned by their leader and the ensuing scolding. Doom has his "arch-foe" right where he wants him, Sue and Crystal as hostages, and instead decides to let them go and leave it to another day. These super-villains. I tell you, I'll never understand them. The best bit in the whole story has to be the teaser for next issue. When I was a kid, I loved these "previews of things to come" and would spend the next thirty days trying to guess who the secret menace was. Sometimes I was right. Well, at least we've got The King's remarkable pencils to gape at. I've never really thought about it until now but it must have been a bitch designing these complex characters with their intricate outfits... and then having to draw them panel after panel. All the buttons and doodads are in the right place. For that alone, Kirby should have been given the Kennedy Center Honor. Hell, they gave one to Tina Turner.

The Mighty Thor 165
Our Story

Thor, Balder and Sif cautiously enter the Atomic Research Centre to discover who the being is that is awakening within. Breaking out of a full-size cocoon turns out to be “Him”, the man-made super-being who had left Earth after destroying his evil creators a couple of years ago. Unknown even to H(h)im, he had been returned to Earth by the Watcher, when He had encased himself in a cocoon to protect himself from a meteor shower in space. Thor introduces his party, but Him isn’t especially interested in conversing; he wants only to leave Earth again, this time (as he is lonely for company) he decides to take Sif with him. He disappears, not expecting that Thor and Balder can use the power of Mjolnir to follow him to the distant world he chose. Thor gives Him fair warning, but when it comes to Sif, he isn’t going to play nice, so it’s god vs. super-being! Karnilla and Hag the sorceress, who has conjured a spell by which she can snatch Balder through time and space with her giant hand, watch these events from afar, choosing to wait before proceeding. Him gains the advantage long enough to escape again to another world, leaving Balder to witness a berserk, vengeful Thunder God.

JB: There’s something about any story with the being later named Adam Warlock, heretofore known simply as…Him, that holds great promise. The cover supports this expectation, with Him snatching a lovely looking Sif, and Thor understandably irate. For the most part, I felt satisfied with how the issue played out. The Watcher (poor guy, he’d be in so much trouble by now if his race knew how many times he gently helped out) has a nice cameo. Him (he) is rather unreasonable considering that he knew the evil of his human creators, being unwilling even to listen to Thor, and taking an unwilling Sif . I’m not sure how he became so powerful, considering it was humans who made him, but I guess even they can stumble into powers they can’t handle. The business of the Warrior Madness is interesting, and there’s nothing like love to bring it on, but why hasn’t it taken hold of Thor in previous situations?

PE: The Watcher's announcement (ostensibly to himself) that he is "The Watcher and therefore does not meddle in the affairs of other species" usually coincides with a bit of meddling. Is it about time for Jack and Stan to re-moniker him "The Casual Meddler?" I thought Him was some kind of synthetic organism and therefore needed no mate. Has he only got a jones for Sif? The dazzling Asgardian almost looks appreciative when Him declares his intentions. Probably not getting enough attention from a certain God of Thunder, too busy saving worlds to take this girl to dinner. Naming a character with a pronoun can lead to some strange sentences: "The preceding was just to show you that we know how Him got back to earth..." and "While Him lies dormant in airless space..."  It can also lead to misunderstandings, as when Haag snatches up Balder and Thor commands, "Unhand him, deadly crone!" Thank goodness that, after this arc, the character will be renamed.

MB:  Just in the nick of time, Professor Pete has provided me with some remedial reading in the form of FF #67, containing the debut of the character currently known only as “Him,” who (almost three years from now, in Marvel Premiere #1) will become Adam Warlock.  Having read that, I now feel a little foolish for several reasons, one of which is that by the time he finally gets out of his cocoon, his first “appearance” is barely worth the name, so I wasn’t missing too much. More to the point, in this story—where we have to get Him into (via flashbacks) and then out of a second cocoon and briefly back to Earth—he’s such a petulant putz that unless things improve next issue, I’ll assume that having created Him, Stan and Jack didn’t know what to do with Him.

PE: As in several other titles this month (see my comments for Fantastic Four and The Amazing Spider-Man), we see the groundwork being laid for the multiple crossover storylines. Yeah, it's happened before, but it seems a bit more prevalent this month for some reason. Here we see Odin still obsessed with finding the home world of Galactus, this despite the big world-muncher not appearing in this title in a few months. I smell a return visit around the corner.

The Invincible Iron Man 14
Our story

A voodoo legend by the name of The Night Phantom seems to have enough reality to him to be destroying Stark facilities on a Caribbean island. Not all the natives are adverse to the wreckage and ruin left behind. Author Travis Hoyt, left paralyzed by a plane crash, lets his feelings be known to Tony Stark when the two meet up in the streets. His view is that Stark Industries is ruining the island paradise and that the trillionaire playboy has only dollar signs on his mind. Stark and his police escort have a run-in with The Phantom and when Stark awakens, he finds his true love, Janice Cord, standing over him. His elation is short-lived when he finds that Janice is staying with Hoyt, a longtime family friend, and that Hoyt seems to have memorized his tirade and proceeds to repeat it. Disgusted, Stark leaves and minutes later, Hoyt reveals a few secrets to Janice: he's in love with her, he'll do anything to have her, he can still dance, and he's got a night job. It seems that below Hoyt's mansion is a pool of regenerating water and he'd like to dip the lovely lass in to see what happens. Luckily, Tony Stark's bodyguard, Iron Man, comes to the rescue just as Janice is about to take the big plunge. Into the deep goes The Night Phantom but the pool has developed a crack in its bottom and the radioactive villain is sucked into the fissure and disappears. All involved are left to wonder if it was the environment-destroying Tony Stark who is to blame or if the spirits have called one of their own home.

MB:  With Tuska on vacation (or giving his detractors a vacation, depending how you look at it), inker Craig reverts to providing pencils as well, and whether by design or not, the EC veteran’s style is eminently suitable to this horror-tinged tale, which opens with the equivalent of an atmospheric Hollywood montage.  Likewise, Goodwin’s story taps into his Warren roots, with its voodoo drums, faceless man, sinister cavern, and weird science, although the villain’s identity couldn’t have been more obvious, and it’s a little convenient that all of it just happens to tie Tony in with the Cord family once again.  While scarcely original in the super-hero milieu, his concern for Janice’s well-being is certainly justified, considering the events of the past year (in our time).

This panel was responsible for at least ten acts of random juvenile violence 

Classic Craig!
PE: There's absolutely no doubt from the first panel in which he's introduced that Hoyt is The Night Phantom. At least we only had to endure half an issue of the charade. The unmasking of Hoyt (obviously influenced by the classic scene of Phyllis Kirk smashing Vincent Price's faux-face in House of Wax) is handled beautifully by Craig. How that breast shot got past the Comics Code, I'll never know. Our climax is a little goofy. The pool has been weakened by Stark's industry, I've got that, but the final straw is delivered by amplified drumbeats? And where did The Night Phantom go when he sucked into the hole? Is it bottomless? Four feet deep? Had to go somewhere, right? Though I don't usually like one-shot stories (not enough room to tell a proper story) this one had enough fun stuff to give it a thumbs-up. Even though Johnny Craig worked under editor Archie Goodwin for Warren, he only illustrated one script by Archie ("Evil Spirits" in Eerie #16, July 1968), preferring to write his own stories. A collection of Craig's contributions to EC's Crime SuspenStories titled Fall Guy for Murder and Other Stories will be published by Fantagraphics in April 2013. Johnny Craig also served as editor of Vault of Horror in 1954, the last year it was published.

Daredevil 53
Our story

On a cold, somber night, Daredevil reflects on his life and the events that shaped him.  He looks back on how an accident with a truck carrying mysterious chemicals left him blind, but also with extra heightened senses and abilities.  Before that happened, he had been raised by his father, Battling Jack Murdock.  A world-class prizefighter, Daredevil's dad wanted his son to make something of himself, a promise he made to their mother before she passed away.  Young Matt wasn't allowed to participate in sports.  His loving father constantly made sure that his son studied for school non-stop so he could eventually go to college.  Even as a young boy, Matt was given the sarcastic nickname of Daredevil by classmates making fun of his athletic prowess.  When his father wasn't around, Matt would practice on his boxing equipment and get himself in shape.  Matt's poor father started to lose his boxing skills.  With no other choice left, Battling Murdock signed a contract with a mobster named the Fixer.  Battling Murdock would go on to win several rigged fights.  When it came time for him to take a dive, with his son in the audience, Battling Jack refused and knocked out his opponent.  This caused him to be shot and killed in an alley by one of the Fixer's goons named Slade.  Once Matt started up his crime stopping persona of Daredevil, he tracked down several of the Fixer's gang and beat them up.  In the end, he got Slade to confess to the police while the Fixer had a heart attack while fleeing Double D.  The origin story ends with Daredevil deciding to give up his persona of Matt Murdock to become a full time hero.

The revised Karen Page hairdo
Tom:  This is the expanded origin tale that gave Daredevil more of a hard edge, with his stories eventually heading to be a little more grounded in the inner-city noir world.  Even with no outrageous super-villains, exotic locations, or wall-to-wall action, this has got to be my favorite Daredevil comic book so far in the series.  

MB:  Clearly, Hornhead grew envious that the other Marvel super-heroes were having their origins retold but not him, so he gets the full treatment here, with Stan credited as the writer and “new dialogue by Roy Thomas.”  Part of the fun of these retellings (if indeed there is any to be had) lies in seeing a new art team tackle the old familiar story, and although Gentleman Gene Colan—reunited with his recent Avengers collaborator, George Klein—has worked on this book almost continuously for several years, I don’t believe he’s ever had a crack at DD’s old red-and-yellow duds before.  The bizarre postscript is that having already “killed” Mike Murdock, Matt concludes that he must no longer exist, the same solution Stan just devised for Captain America.

The original Karen Page hairdo
Jack: While the Thomas/Colan revision of Daredevil #1 is a great issue in its own right, it is fascinating to go back and do a comparison with the Lee/Everett original. The plot is a classic Marvel superhero origin story, but the art styles are very different. Colan did not just do a panel by panel copy of Everett’s story—the layouts are quite different, keeping with the style that Colan had developed. It’s neat to see how both artists interpret Daredevil’s costume; Everett’s version had an endearing bagginess to it that actually looked like something Matt Murdock sewed from a bunch of old shirts. Colan drops a few pages from the end of the story and wraps up the hunt for the Fixer in a panel or two, whereas Everett and Lee had Daredevil looking for him and catching up with him on top of a subway train. Both versions are great and I’m glad we have them to enjoy.

X-Men 57
Our story  

The Sentinels are back, and grabbing up mutants right and left across the globe, starting with Lorna and, following his destructive outburst in the desert, Alex Summers. The rest of the X-ies have a brief tussel with, as Cyclops so politically incorrectly states, 'camel jockeys', after which the X-Men split up to find their missing cohorts. Meanwhile, Larry Trask, son of Sentinel maker Boliver Trask, is stirring up the anti-mutant sentiment in the press as he announces (for those of us not following along too closely) that the Sentinels have returned.

JS: I'm enjoying these issues so much, I'm not even troubled by the fact that somehow an 18-foot tall Sentinel was outside the door of her apartment gently knocking...

MB:  Okay, important new characters introduced?  Check.  Brand-new creative team in place?  Check.  So, what do you do to let the world know you’ve truly arrived?  Bring back the Sentinels, of course!  It will work for Claremont and Cockrum in #98, but it also works here for Thomas and Adams (and yes, knowing that I’ll have to learn to love Palmer in this context, I am working on it), and it’s interesting that Roy is already achieving the same kind of complexity in his plots and casts that later distinguished Claremont’s run.  He also shifts into high gear with the anti-mutant hysteria that becomes such a huge part of this book; thank goodness this issue marks the end of the “Origins” back-up feature—I don’t want to give up a single Thomas/Adams page!

JS: I'm willing to accept the mocking in advance, however I grew to be a major Tom Palmer fan when he was working on Marvel's Star Wars comic, first as inker, then as artist. He did some amazing stuff over there, and not just considering the long run angle-face Carmine Infantino had on the book.

PE: Not having followed either incarnation of The X-Kids in my youth (not cool enough!), I don't have the orgasmic memories that my colleagues may have (nor do I share the obvious headgear - blinders - that most "scholars" seem to have donned when claiming the original run is "classic") but one thing I do know: Neal Adams makes better anything he works on. Be it Batman, DC horror, Teen Titans, or Goodyear ads. His pencils make Roy Thomas' writing (which is starting to mature here) appear better than it actually is. There are flashes here of Roy's comic book genius (Alex Summers' tangible torment, along with the reintroduction of The Sentinels and the McCarthy-esque televised mutant hatred) but, equally, some of the bad habits linger (Iceman's hissy fits over Lorna's disappearance is punctuated not once but twice with "Lorna's apartment is a shambles and where is Lorna?! I want to know where she is! And I want to know now!"). I know this is a treasured run of issues, and it sure beats the hell out of the unending mire of The Blob, Maha Yogi, and Frankenstein, so I'm settling down and opening up a big bottle of optimism. Can Neal's run dispel the odor of the cow manure this title has been foisting on us the last five years? Stay tuned, true believers!

JS:  Out of context, it's easy to see how someone would laugh at a character like Galactus, or the Sentinels. They're oversized, and frankly somewhat silly looking. And yet somehow, in the right hands, they manage to project menace. In my book, the Byrne Claremont Sentinels are where it's at, but as I mentioned last issue, the seed was planted here. And can I add how nice it is to anticipate the next issue of the book for a change?

Jack: Did any latter-day comic writer ever tackle the Summers parents? What must their genes have been like to spawn two such powerful sons? The writing by Roy Thomas is still shaky and certainly doesn’t live up to Adams’s brilliant art. What a great idea to bring back the Sentinels with an artist who can make them look like they can do more than lumber along! For those keeping track, Adams also drew Brave and Bold 84 (with Batman and Sergeant Rock) as well as Teen Titans 21 (with another of my young crushes, Wonder Girl), which would have been on the newsstands at about the same time as this issue of X-Men. Of course, he was also doing covers for DC and promo ads.

Captain America 114
Our story

Believing her true love is dead, Sharon Carter, Agent of SHIELD, wades into a battle she cannot win against the forces of A.I.M. Luckily for her, Captain America happens to be passing by SHIELD headquarters just as Nick Fury receives Sharon's S.O.S. Faster than you can say "Helpless female," the star-spangled Avenger, along with Rick Jones aka Bucky, swings in to her rescue. A.I.M. unleashes the monstrous robot known as The Walking Stiletto (its arms are massive blades) but the giant is no match for the skill and experience of Captain America. Once the battle has ended, Cap lays down the law to Sharon Carter: resign from SHIELD or start dating Bucky. Dejected by her answer (a middle finger), Cap walks the streets, a man with no name and no home. Finally finding shelter in a run-down hotel, the Avenger no sooner takes his coat off than he's startled by the sudden appearance of The Red Skull. Clutched in his hands: the deadly Cosmic Cube!

PE: If she's been captured on 45 of her 46 assignments, Can Sharon Carter really be held up as an ace agent? Seriously, we have yet to have an installment in their love affair where Cap isn't unbinding the girl (or vice versa) before kissing her. In some relationships, you do the binding then you do the kissing. And Fury could probably recite the mantra in his head by now: "You sent the woman I love into a deathtrap? Where is the fortress? I'm heading there now!" Knowing how goofy Stan can get with his villains, when the AIM goon shouts "Unleash the Walking Stiletto," I almost expected a huge woman's pump but the ensuing robot with two dagger-like appendages will do. Other than initiating "Operation Upset," a maneuver I assume they worked out in their free time, Rick Jones is just about useless and it's not hard to see why he'd be fazed out of this book after a short while. The sooner we get past this ludicrous "Steve Rogers is no more" thread, the better. Stan wastes too much time explaining how Cap is getting around the alias dilemma by showing our hero coloring his hair and wearing an ascot, denying his real identity to anyone, including The Avengers. It makes no sense. Still, it's a decent action yarn punctuated by a wonderful climax that sees Captain America, with a very 1940s sexist attitude, demanding that Agent 13 resign from SHIELD because he's tired of worrying about her, just before witnessing the return of his greatest enemy.

MB:  Despite the fact that two of the greatest artists in Marvel’s history have recently left this book, I’m not gonna complain as it’s taken over by a third, especially when old Ring-a-Ding’s work is inked by Our Pal Sal Buscema, whose history with Cap will be, to say the least, long and distinguished.  Both Cap and the supporting players look great, especially Sharon (once again under the misapprehension that Cap is dead, poor thing), and I think this is the most formidable physical combat in which we have yet seen her engaged.  Given the mockery his own book has become, it’s nice to see Fury prominently featured and properly portrayed, and if Stan’s Walking Stiletto isn’t the most stimulating of heavies, the Red Skull and Cosmic Cube are back!

PE: As far as Cap artists go, there really was only Kirby and Steranko... until now. I liked some of what Steranko did and a lot of what Kirby did but Romita shines here even moreso than on his signature title,  the one with the radiated teen spider. I've never understood what Cap could see in a dowdy, unremarkable tomboy like Sharon until Ring-a-Ding applied a little make-up and gave her a nice set of headlights. 

The Incredible Hulk 116
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The Hulk has been imprisoned by the evil genius the Leader inside of an unbreakable wall.  His good work in capturing the beast allows the Leader to have permission, from Thunderbolt Ross, to hang around the military base.  Betty later overhears the villain talking to himself about how he will use the base's missiles to start World War III.  She runs and tells Talbot but her father doesn't believe her.  He thinks it's all a lie Betty made up because she loves Banner.  Talbot orders all the troops to apprehend the Leader.  However, it won't be easy now that the bad guy has his own bodyguard, a giant android called the Super-Humanoid, to protect him from harm.  They fight off the troops easily as the Leader uses his mind control beams to get Ross under his command.  Betty frees the Hulk so that he can help.  The green goliath battles briefly with the Super-Humanoid until the Leader shoots him with some type of gun that imprisons him again inside of a rubber-like cocoon.  With everyone helpless, the Leader starts shooting off missiles at other countries to begin doomsday.

Tom:  No complaints here.  This issue provides the type of action that fans of the Hulk long for.  With the Hulk fighting the Leader and his giant android inside a military base, it reminds me of an Outer Limits episode on steroids.  This is another example of why the Hulk series is much better given a full issue, as opposed to the shorter halves that featured our hero battling the lollipop-headed villain back in the old Tales to Astonish days.     

MB:  Although Adkins is finally letting Trimpe be Trimpe, I get the sense that we still haven’t found the ideal inker for Herb’s Hulk, yet after all these years, I can’t remember who that might be.  I didn’t get around to bringing it up last issue, but while we have often seen Ross and/or Talbot put too much stock in that venerable proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” I think this time they have taken it way too far by virtually handing the keys to the entire base over to the Leader, even without knowing of his ambitions to ignite World War III.  Mighty thoughtful of him to declaim said plans within earshot of Betty; also, is it another side-effect of being altered by exposure to gamma rays that you are compelled to dress exclusively in purple?

Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back . . .

The Amazing Spider-Man 73
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Captain Stacy drops a tip into the lap of The Amazing Spider-Man: The Shocker, who stole the ancient, mysterious tablet, had a girlfriend, an "exotic dancer," who may or may not know about the whereabouts of the creepy stone. Spidey manages to track down the girl and happens upon her as she's about to get the once-over from a seven foot tall goon who calls himself Man-Mountain Marko. A heated battle ensues and Marko makes an escape with the tablet. Meanwhile, across town, The Kingpin's "biggest brain" Wilson is bailed out of jail by a shady character named Caesar Cicero (nickname: The Big C), who's trying to muscle out The Maggia's current bigwig, Silvermane (dubbed such because of his... never mind) by learning the secrets of the tablet from Wilson. Our adventure climaxes as we find out that Dr. Curt Connors (aka The Lizard) has been kidnapped form his Florida Evergaldes home and transported to New York to help crack the code of the ancient, mysterious tablet. Will Connors unlock the magic? Will the good doctor be able to fight the urge to turn reptilian? Will we find out why Man-Mountain Marko is so strong? Will Peter and Gwen ever be on the same page? Tune in next month, true believers!

PE: Strange for a guy to be monikered "Man-Mountain Marko" but even stranger that he calls himself that. Doesn't exactly roll off the lips in those pressure situations, does it? I can see the poor guy doing a "Sally sold seashells at the seashore" while trying to blurt out his name excitedly. Marko would suffice, I'd say. And I'm assuming at some point we'll find out why Marko can rip safes out of the wall. I know he's a big guy but I doubt Schwarzenegger could have done that at his prime.  Holy coincidence! Peter Parker gets this sudden itch to call Dr. Connors, not knowing he's been nabbed by The Maggia to help unlock the secrets of the rock. The guy's in the same city! Whattya think might happen next? Having said that... I love how Stan would juggle storylines and give us hints of what's to come (much as he did in this month's Fantastic Four) despite how obvious it seems at times.

MB:  Perusing these credits, I’m not too sure I know what “innovated by,” “coordinated by,” and “illustrated by” mean; to me, the results look so good that I’m not going to worry about it, although I know from our indefatigable friend Glenn (c. #66) that my admiration for the post-Ditko Spidey is not universally shared.  I’ve a soft spot for Man-Mountain Marko—more on that next week/month—and am glad to see Silvermane and the unfortunately nicknamed “Big C” added to our little Maggia subplot/supporting cast, as well.  It could even be argued that the villain of this piece is not 3M, but the Maggia itself (multiple branches of which will bedevil our Wall-Crawler), while Stan shrewdly reminds us that the shadow of the Lizard hangs over all.

PE: I'll have to buy a "Guide to the Language of the 1960s" one of these days but in the meantime can someone please translate Robby's dialogue delivered to his son: "I've always given you your head, son..." What in the world does that mean? And enough already with the "Whitey" stuff. We get it. Unfortunately, as I recall, we'll get that in droves when The Falcon joins forces with Captain America in a couple years. Having said that... Robbie's speech about intolerance and bigotry, which segues into Jonah's rant about The Bugle making Spidey a hero, is the best thing about this issue. In fact, it's a highlight of the year. Future comic book writer (John) Marc DeMatteis pines for the old villains like The Scorpion, Molten Man and (seriously) The Looter. Stan (or whoever writes the replies) gives a literal laugh out loud and expresses shock that DeMatteis would include The Looter among the Rogues Gallery. DeMatteis would later go on to pen adventures for several Marvel characters including Webhead himself. Among those yarns were the well-received "Kraven's Last Hunt" arc but he also worked on the much-maligned "Clone Saga" in the 1990s.

Also this month

Chili #2
Mad About Millie #2
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #21
The Mighty Marvel Western #5
Millie the Model #171
Rawhide Kid #70
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #67


  1. While we're on the subject of the Swordsman recap, again, I'm going from memory, but I believe Roy may have used some of Stan's actual dialogue from #19 verbatim. As for Grainger, I'll eat my omelet--er, words--when I see him teamed with Sal Buscema three months from now.

    Paste-Pot, if your question about Robbie's idiom is serious, the term derives from horsemanship. "Giving a horse its head" apparently means "To let it go where, and as quickly as, it chooses."

  2. Egghead? Seriously? Don't even know what else to say. He's named Egghead for Pete's sake! (Not Prof Pete.....)

    Any time the original Human Torch showed up post-1962 it messed things up. Still does.

    Worst. Silver Surfer cover. Ever. Blechhhhhh.

    I think my Daughter drew that Captain Marvel cover. Yeesh.
    Prof Pete: You would never survive the endless cross-over/tie-in-happy days of today's Marvel books. Like kids have all this money to throw around!

    Does my Bose system get Hyper-Sound? Sigh...I wish!

    Neal Adams + Sentinels = Gimme, gimme!

    Sal Buscema is always welcome. One of my faves!

    Worst. Hulk cover. Ever. Well, maybe not, but pretty darn close....

    Two words: Man-Mountain. Marko. Wait, is that three words? One word? Is that punctuation even correct? Is he man, mountain, or merely marko? What is a Marko? Either way, what Spidey fan could ever forget that moniker?

  3. SILVER SURFER #6 was the first John Buscema comic I ever laid eyes on, and baby, it was love at first sight. Looked thru it again just now and it's still pretty damn magical. These days I find the Surfer solo strip a bit too emo for my tastes overall -- Stan's dialogue is so overripe it's positively fruity, and Big John's body language and facial expressions are wildly melodramatic and over the top -- but I sure have a soft spot for this issue. And I still think John never looked better than when inked by his little brother Sal. In fact, though I'm not a huge fan of Sal as a penciller, I think he was one of the best inkers in comics, ever.

    MB: Speaking of inkers -- best inker for Trimpe? I'd nominate Herb himself -- check out HULK 173 and 186. I'm also partial to Jack Abel, John Severin and Sal Trapani.

    And as for those wacky art credits on this month's SPIDEY, I'm guessing "innovator" means layouts / breakdowns, "co-ordinator" means overall art supervisor (Jazzy Johnny probably verbally worked out the plot with Big John and did minor art alterations at the pencilling and / or inking stage) and "illustrator" means finished pencilling and inking. In any case, I'm in complete agreement with you -- whoever did what, it's a slick-looking job.


    Apparently, ASM #73 was plotted by John Buscema and John Romita. The book was laid out by Buscema, which means he did most of the ploting, and finished by Jim Mooney, aping John Romita's style. "Authored by Stan Lee" really means "Scripted by Stan Lee". The main objective seems to be to get John Romita's name on the front page.

    Over at the X-Men, Neal Adams is plotting the stories, with Roy Thomas scripting. Adams gets a penciling credit, but is not credited for the plot. For some strange reason, at Marvel when a penciler plots a story there is a reluctance to credit them.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)