Wednesday, December 5, 2012

May 1969: Neal Adams! 'Nuff Said!

The Avengers 64
Our Story

Egghead uses a death ray shot from an orbiting satellite to destroy a small western city. He then threatens to wipe out larger cities if his terms are not met. Jarvis the butler brings in mobster Barney Barton to provide details about the space station, since Egghead met with mob bosses in an attempt to raise money. The Avengers blast off for the space station, where they fight Egghead’s killer robots before he stops them with a paralysis ray. Barton saves the day by blowing up Egghead’s death ray but forfeits his life in the process. Goliath/Hawkeye mourns Barton, revealing the mobster to have been his brother.

MB:  This question might be answered next issue, but since it’s still dangling from last issue (unless explanations were cut from my Marvel Super Action reprints), I’ll ask it.  If the bad guys sent the Assemblers on a wild-goose chase by fabricating Fury’s message about the Widow, who turns up in their clutches on Coney Island, then why is the substance of “his” message—i.e., that she was working for S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Caribbean—shown to be true in that month’s issue of Captain Marvel?  This conundrum, and Colan’s continued presence (Klein notwithstanding), are my chief concerns, yet we do get the first and last appearance of black sheep du jour Barney Barton, who is set up as Hawkeye/Goliath’s answer to Morgan Stark, and yet dies a hero’s death.

Jack: Colan seems to dash off his issues of The Avengers; they don't seem as lovingly crafted as Dr. Strange. Maybe we can blame the inker. Nothing much seems to happen in this issue. The death ray and space station come out of nowhere and the resolution to the menace provided by Egghead is too pat. This is not one of the better issues of The Avengers of late.

Fantastic Four 86
Our Story

Without their powers to aid them, the Fantastic Four await the coming of Dr. Doom’s killer robots, encouraging the villagers to return to their homes and find anything they can to use as a weapon. Doom has given the robots a weakness only he knows about. As the enemy arrives, Ben, Johnny and Reed discover that their powers are slowly returning. As the first two try to delay the onslaught, Reed finds a hidden control unit that enables him to fight off the robots, although the many things the unit does are something he will have to learn quickly. The villagers have found a stash of weapons, but it isn’t enough to save them for long. Reed masters the device, finding the robots weakness: they are too heavy to be able to swim, and he drops them into the bottomless lake. Doom has a final trick, however, as he detonates two gigantic cylinders of nitroglycerine beneath the village. Something saves a portion of the village from destruction with a protective bubble, and she appears to join them: the Invisible Girl!

JB: Dr. Doom seems to get more than his share of covers lording over everyone! But no one looks better doing it. We get treated to some glimpses of village architecture, if only to see it destroyed, and nice to see the villagers get angry and take up their own defense. With a benevolent leader, Latveria might have been a nice place to live. It’s kind of convenient how Reed finds the control unit, let alone figuring it out pretty fast, but I would think Doom must have had another one; I can’t imagine he planned to go down into the fray to get it. And having Sue rejoin the team was a satisfying way to conclude this chapter of the tale.

Joe Sinnott’s inks are never anything but good, yet there are certain issues (like this one) where he really seems to shine, no doubt inspired by the awesome artistry of Stan and Jack as they offer their frankly fabulous continuation to the latest Dr. Doom plotline; no idea where his concurrent Marvel Super-Heroes appearance fits in with the good doctor’s continuity, if at all.  Of course, all along, while watching the FF mix it up with his robot-army surrogates, I kept on thinking, “Doom’s gonna have to get his hands dirty at some point,” which would appear to be next issue.  Too bad that otherwise effective cover, only slightly revamped for the Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint, spoiled the big “surprise” on the last page regarding Sue’s involvement.

PE: From this issue on, Reed Richards can't be accused of being the neglective parent. Sue drops the kid off with Alicia? Who in their right mind leaves a new-born with a blind girl? Marvel Coincidence of the month (possibly the year) belongs to the scene where Stretch finds Doom's Achilles' Heel nesting in a rooftop. 

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 12
Our Story

Pursued by his own men, Fury reviews the events set in motion when an intelligence agent named Rickard suggested that S.H.I.E.L.D. needed a younger leader.  Fury stormed out and spent a few days alone with Val, only to be detained on his return for allegedly associating with enemy agents in London, while Val inexplicably refused to support his alibi.  Rickard is an undercover agent of Hydra, and after evading their assassination attempt, Fury confronts Val and Rickard, but learns nothing; foiling efforts by Gabe and Jimmy to capture him, Nick penetrates S.H.I.E.L.D. security, forcing Rickard to admit framing him, yet before he can summon a witness, Fury is obliged to kill Rickard in self-defense and arrested by Dum-Dum.

MB: “Never let it be said that your blushin’ Bullpen doesn’t go all-out when we move!” says a recent item; they “latched onto a buddy of Barry [Smith]’s, none other than Stupifyin’ Steve Parkhouse, who’s destined to be a Marvel staffer—and writes as smashing a bit of superhero skullduggery as you could wanna read!  Steve’s youthful, toothful, and a heckuva writer,” yet this story (penciled by Smith himself, who inked with Sid Greene) and the Ka-Zar yarn in Marvel Super-Heroes #19 are his only Silver-Age Marvel credits.  The plot isn’t overly original if you read Count Royale’s efforts to discredit Fury, and having Val return as abruptly as she vanished is maddening, but the script pulls us briefly from the Friedrich abyss, and the art lives up to Smith’s stint on Daredevil.

PE: This is far better than the crap we've had to put up with since Steranko's exodus but I wouldn't mind if the strip went off down a different path, art-wise. There may be a great artist hiding in Barry Smith (and we'll probably see more hints of that soon) but in this issue he's stifled by the ghost of Steranko (just as previous artists were) and his Jazzy Jones art-deco stylings. I thought the story was engaging, with the battle between Nick and buddy Gabe the obvious highlight, but these SHIELD guys really must be dumb to let these spies in so frequently. Good cliffhanger at the climax makes me interested in seeing how this plays out. Haven't said that about an issue of Fury in quite some time.

The Amazing Spider-Man 72
Our Story

Word has leaked out that Captain Stacy has the mysterious ancient tablet in his home wall safe and The Shocker has decided it's going to make him a very rich man. The vibro-shocking villain plans to auction the tablet off to the highest bidder but gets a rude surprise when he learns that no one wants to get anywhere near the object since The Kingpin declared it off limits. Meanwhile, Peter Parker's love life takes another hit when Flash Thompson hits town during one of his army leaves and renews his fondness for Gwen Stacy in front of the bewildered teen. The resulting argument sends Gwen away, angered. Needing an outlet for his frustration, Parker changes into his night clothes and does battle with The Shocker again after the baddie robs an armored truck. New powers can't overcome spider-power and soon The Shocker is in a web, awaiting police custody. The tablet is nowhere to be found.

PE: The confrontation between Peter and Flash is a really weird, confusing scene. Peter becomes rightfully jealous when Flash hits on Gwen but she scolds Parker for reading Thompson wrong. Flash then tells Peter that only a numbskull would avoid picking up on Gwen. Parker eventually apologizes to the pair. For what, I have no idea. Peter mentions that the last time he ran into Flash, on leave from duty in Viet Nam, the two were becoming friends. I'm just guessing but perhaps Stan missed the pathos of that antagonism?

MB:  My affection for the Shocker dates back to this tale, which—like last month’s X-Men—was among the first back issues I ever obtained, perhaps from the same source (it may have been my brother’s ex-girlfriend, but I digress).  Any issue that adds “Innovator” Big John Buscema to the Romita/Mooney mix is gonna look great, and I absolutely adore the Romita cover, with the ballsiness of having Spidey not actually appear on the front of his own mag.  Stan is keeping the complex storyline surrounding the stolen tablet consistently interesting, and even a simple panel like the one on page 5 of Peter overhearing the news report tingles with tension; it’s a nice piece of foreshadowing to mention Connors, while Jonah’s hospital scene is just priceless.

PE: Why would Captain Stacy let the media know he's got the tablet in his wall safe? Equally puzzling is why he's surprised some super baddy would come calling. I had to laugh when Stan noted that the scene of May leaving on the train is for "the benefit of Aunt May's countless fans" and depicts "one of the few scenes which doesn't show her at death's door..." Kudos to Stan for not writing a Shocker-induced train wreck into the script (I certainly thought it was coming). I like the tablet sub-plot but not sure it was handled right her. The Shocker realizes quickly he can't get rid of the thing so then returns to simple heists? Or was there another reason why he knocked over the armored car? The tablet was almost forgotten by the end of the tale. I suspect I'll be forgetting this issue before long.

Captain Marvel 13
Our Story

Unaware of the role played by the Black Widow (whose fate is ignored) in his “victory” over the Man-Slayer, Mar-Vell begins a rematch when the robot, confused without its master’s commands, is revived by a reserve power supply.  The Kree “traitor” is fired upon by the Army, so he flees his two-front war to board the Helion and confront Yon-Rogg, who, after a brief skirmish, reveals that he has the means to revive Una, and shows Mar-Vell that the robot is about to kill Carol.  Managing to injure Yon-Rogg, Mar-Vell defers his death to race to Carol’s aid with a “lasonic disintegrater [sic],” but after he snaps the Man-Slayer’s energy supply cable, Carol—despite her gratitude to Mar-Vell for saving her life—is supposed to have him arrested.

MB: Effective this issue, and replacing the unlamented Arnold Drake, Gary Friedrich—not content to pound those last nails into Nick Fury’s coffin—grabs his hammer and takes a swing at Mar-Vell, who fortunately proves a tad more resilient.  Also relieved of his duties on this month’s issue of Fury’s book, Frank Springer (who spoofed Steranko’s S.H.I.E.L.D. #3 with Drake in Not Brand Echh #11) follows his partner in crime here, inked by Colletta, yet the art on this title is already so debased that we can but numbly resign ourselves to it.  Having picked up the baton, Friedrich promptly…does nothing with it, leaving the poor Widow completely hanging fire, and by the end of this headless chicken of an entry, we are almost exactly where we were when the thing started.

PE: Such dialogue:

Soldier #1: Zero in on 'im! We gotta bring the crumb down!
Soldier #2: Yeah, man! No matter what, Captain Marvel's gotta be stopped!

It's a tribute to just how far this strip has fallen that the first two pages of this issue, a rundown of the events of the last couple issues, would confuse, rather than bring up to date, any reader unlucky to have plunked down their hard-earned twelve cents. 

Such dialogue:

Captain Marvel: There (the Man-Slayer) is... just below me... but something is different... not the same as when we last met! A few hours ago he seemed so sure... so determined! Now, he seems confused... uncertain as to what he should do!

Man-Slayer: I must destroy the rocket... but... why should I? I am now operating on my reserve power supply... no longer answerable to my master's commands! So why should I destroy the missile? What good will it do me? I am alone... with no one ot tell me what I should do next! Someone... help me! Please... help me!

The soldier's comment that "'s like somethin' outta them Doctor Strange comics you're readin' all the time... except that stuff like that can't happen... can it?" makes no sense whatsoever since, ostensibly, Mar-Vell's exploits occur within the Marvel Universe. How could this soldier doubt a man can disappear in a world populated by The Invisible Girl? A cutesy-pie nod to the reader that shows little to know thought on the part of Gary Friedrich. Mar-Vell's comment "I do not know why, I feel I must save Carol Danvers... or die in the attempt" seems a bit vacant as well. All the blah-blah-blah Mar-Vell vents about getting his dish of cold revenge and how it's "only been hours but seems like thousands of years" and then he's got Yon-Rogg in his sights and decides it'll have to wait 'til later. Serves him right  if Yogg-Sothoth and the soon-to-be-resurrected Una fly off and buy a time share in Miami Beach.

The Invincible Iron Man 13
Our Story

After besting Iron Man in a raging battle and leaving the red and gold Avenger to sleep with the fish, The Controller takes his mind-sapping Absorbatron on the road to New York. Hijacking a train and making its crew and passengers his mindless slaves, the evil genius plans to ride his Absorba-Train right through the heart of Manhattan (deliberately avoiding Jersey), leeching millions of brain cells for his nefarious plans. Unluckily for The Controller, Iron Man seems to have survived his watery grave and boarded the doomed train. While Shellhead and The Controller battle to the death, Jasper Sitwell sneaks aboard and uncouples the cars carrying the Absorbatron and its slaves. Since he must have his invention close by to reap its benefits, The Controller's power soon fades to nothing and he's quickly dispatched by Iron Man. In a reflective mood after his mighty battle, Tony Stark wonders if he can have a normal life when all the chicks he digs end up being taken hostage by crazy guys in silly outfits.

PE: That coda, with Stark suddenly being struck by the responsibility inherent in being a superhero, would have come off more powerful if it hadn't been played out several times already over the last eight years in various titles. The guy's been Iron Man for several (Marvel) years and the thought that anyone around him may be in danger has just occurred to him? And I'm with Professor Matthew, who thought the twist ending (Jasper on the train) was brilliant. Sometimes it doesn't take Orgasmotron Rockets to defeat a villain. Just common sense. I'd expect nothing less from Archie Goodwin.

Check out those bulging abs!

MB: As if the presence of the Controller, plus that super-cool red-and-yellow cover, didn’t make me sufficiently biased in favor of this issue, I love stories set within the confines of moving trains (e.g., The Narrow MarginHorror Express).  I’m sure we’ll be having some lively debates about Tuska’s tenure on this book, but for now, with inker Craig joining Goodwin in the very consistent creative team, I have to say that Shellhead really looks like somebody who could do some damage; check out that shot of him smashing the gears in page 6, panel 5—“invincible,” indeed!  Great to see Jasper back in action after the self-doubt he suffered due to his relationship with Whitney, while the solution of uncoupling the Absorbatron cars is both brilliant and simple.

PE: Cool cover all right but, as usual, a small detail this issue bugs me. It's actually something that's probably been around for years but I lack the time and enthusiasm to research just when it popped up. Iron Man has abs and bulging biceps. There are a few problems with my noticing this startling development: first, Tony Stark's a handsome, well-kept guy but Stallone he ain't. We don't see bulging chest muscles when the guy doesn't have his armor on so how could we see them with it on? Also, straining muscles equal skin-tight costumes. Obviously, armor can't be skin-tight or muscle-adapting, can it? It's not the design of the armor as Tuska's pencils clearly show changing, rippling muscles that look different from panel to panel. Did I miss the issue where this was explained? Should a middle aged man angst over something like this?

Doctor Strange 180
Our Story

In a dream, Dr. Strange calls out to Eternity but is answered by Nightmare. Awakening to find it is a snowy New Year’s Eve, he picks up Clea and they head for Times Square. As the clock tolls midnight, the crowd is assailed by prehistoric monsters and Vikings from distant times and places. Dr. Strange battles the creatures and soon Nightmare is revealed as their cause. Seeing a vision of Eternity in chains, Dr. Strange accepts Nightmare’s challenge to fight a battle to the death.

Jack: This is a fantastic issue from start to finish, beginning with the outstanding cover and including page two, the source of the black light poster I’ve been waiting for for so long. I wonder if any readers of this blog know if Colan ever discussed the obvious Eisner influence on his work at this point in his Marvel tenure—once again, we have a striking example on page three, where we see Dr. Strange’s point of view looking through the eyeholes of his mask. It would not be hard to find the source for this page in The Spirit. I was happy to see that Clea finally got some new clothes, though it took a magic spell to make them appear. Dr. Strange also meets his pal Tom Wolfe (the writer) and the last panel of this classic tale makes me wonder if the Code restrictions were starting to ease; the monsters are pretty frightening!

MB: Per the lettercol, “Rascally Roy and Gentleman Gene finally yielded to the temptation to set a Doc Strange saga in a particular time and place—namely Times Square, on New Year’s Eve!  And wouldn’t ya know…at the last second, due to Gene’s short-lived bout with the flu, a masterwork of yesteryear had to be substituted instead!”  This explains its belated appearance closer to Groundhog Day, and last issue’s reprint from Amazing Spider-Man Annual#2, but with the return of both Eternity and Nightmare, plus a cameo by Tom Wolfe (author of The Right Stuff), it’s well worth the wait.  The opening dream sequence is a visual tour de force in itself, yet that’s only a prelude to the phantasmagoric action when the clock strikes midnight…

The Incredible Hulk 115
Our Story

General Ross has a problem: he has captured the Hulk, but how can he keep him without killing him? Along comes the Leader, who explains that he created a humanoid to bring him back to life. The Leader offers to help Ross. The Hulk escapes and creates mayhem, but the Army blasts him with a neutralizer ray and knocks him out again. The Leader imprisons the Hulk in a living cage made of Plastithene, a cage from which the Hulk finds himself unable to break free.

MB:  This is not a game-changer, such as Avengers #57, but rather an issue that left me feeling as though this strip’s various elements had finally, and gradually, coalesced into a pleasing form; we’ll see how long that lasts.  Ironically, I say that despite the fact that the Leader (whom I invoked two issues ago purely by chance) is not a big favorite of mine, yet he does have a certain nostalgia value, and in general, Stan’s script successfully recombines familiar elements, plus a few innovations like the “unbreakable” living cage, to provide a kind of old-wine-in-new-bottles feeling.  Finally coming to the fore, with Adkins again on inks, Trimpe’s hyper-dramatic style makes even an image like the Leader standing and disclaiming appear to jump off the page.
The MU professors' lament.
Jack: Is this the first time we've seen the Avengers' cleaning lady? She's so ugly that I thought she would turn out to be a super-villain. The Plastithene cage looks like a bouncy castle to me--I think the Hulk could have some fun in there if he'd just learn to relax a little bit. The Leader was always one of my favorite Hulk villains, so I'm glad to see him return, and Trimpe draws him better than anyone else.

Are you really scholarly if you can't spell?

The X-Men 56
Our Story

The Living Pharaoh uses the power of Alex Summers to become The Living Monolith. But before he can do much damage in his XXL-state, the power reverts to the young, would-be X-Man.

MB:  A Bullpen Bulletin boasts of adding “another new liltin’ luminary to our rollickin’ roster of stars!  In other words, say hello to Nefarious Neal Adams, who has one foot tentatively planted in our Marvel doorway.  We’re guessing that your ecstatic comments, when you see the way he illustrated our latest X-Men bombshell, will transform him into a Marvel madman from head to toe.”  Within two issues, we’ve replaced this book’s entire creative team, clearly for the better, although in my view, inker Tom Palmer is far more suited to Colan’s Dr. Strange than to Adams.  But since that’s my biggest quibble, I can chafe at the continued presence of the space-eating “Origins” feature, and laud Roy for keeping the mystery of the Living Monolith brewing.

Jack: FINALLY! After dozens of issues of mediocrity we get Neal Adams who, in 15 pages, shows the rest of the Marvel artists how to do it! Other than Gene Colan, whose work has been a continuing source of pleasure for me, I think Adams is hands down, no question, the best artist to draw a Marvel comic to date. Any arguments? For me, Will Eisner and Carl Barks are the best of all time, with Adams close behind only because he did not also write what he drew. He had been doing brilliant work at DC by this time and now comes along to give a temporary reprieve to one of the worst comics at Marvel. The writing is still not great but boy, the art sure is!

JS: A spoonful of Neal Adams goes a long way towards making any story more palatable. But it's a particular treat considering how long it's been that readers have put up with mediocrity! My one unfulfilled wish was that the Living Monolith had the opportunity to go mano-a-mano against Sentinels...  Can I also say this is one of the best X-Men covers we've seen to date? I even prefer it to the original version that had the X-kids crucified across the letters in the title (I'm sure Professor Glenn can dig up a link to that artifact for us!).

PE: Professor Jack and I have already detailed (in our "Batman in the 1970s" feature over at bare*bones) how important Neal Adams was to The Dark Knight. I wouldn't be going out on a limb to suggest that Neal created The Dark Knight (at least the darker knight we know and love today). He'd be better served with the writer Roy Thomas would soon become rather than the Roy seemingly happy to grind out meandering plotlines and dopey one-liners. I'm still not sure if I'm supposed to refer to the villain as The Living Pharaoh, The Power, or The Living Monolith since, within a span of three pages, he uses all three monikers. At one point he refers to himself as The Power but then at the climax, confusingly, Alex makes the comment that The Pharaoh referred to him as The Power. The snappy dialog contains such pithy exchanges as "Here's where The Iceman makes you holler Ankhle!" and "It's Warren-- streaking out of the holiest of holies!" (given new meaning since Pulp Fiction). But, hey, was anyone reading this title anyway? Just look at the pitchers. Neal's is the definitive Cyclops.

JS: So after months of promises, the X-kids are looking better than they ever have, and the storyline is finally starting to dig a little deeper. We've still got some great stories ahead before the book slips into its reprint cycle.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 13
Our Story

Though Namor is furious after Dorma’s seeming death, he still is powerless to defeat Naga as long as the power-mad ruler wears the serpent crown. Naga kills his strongest supporters but allows Namor to fight to the death in front of him; Namor defeats all comers and finally challenges Naga himself. The old ruler accepts, only to be slain from behind by Karthon after it is revealed that the woman who appeared to be Dorma had actually been Karthon’s sister. An earthquake on the ocean floor claims the body of Naga and the serpent crown, Karthon agrees to lead his people, and Namor heads home toward Atlantis.

MB:  It’s finally penetrated my thick skull that John Buscema’s absence here and in Avengers isn’t temporary, at least in the short term; he’s on a year-long hiatus from the latter and will only pencil two more issues of this title, but he and Roy—who mercifully stays the course—couldn’t have gotten it off to a better start.  This time, Marie Severin’s work is inked by the great Joe Sinnott, and although I wouldn’t have thought to pair those two, the results are actually quite acceptable as Roy brings the current Serpent Crown saga to a satisfying finish, with Dorma alive and Karthon a friend.  If anyone cares, the Naomi Basher/Alan Kupperberg back-up in this Tales to Astonish reprint is a rematch between Nighthawk and Cyrus Black, badly inked by Bill Wray.

Jack: I had a funny feeling that Dorma wasn't dead--just call it Marvel intuition. Naga was a very cool fiend and I really like the way Marie Severin drew him. Matthew's observation about Sinnott's inks helping her pencils is rght on target; with his help, her work looks less like it belongs in Not Brand Ecch.

Captain America 113
Our Story

Since the world believes Captain America is dead, the tributes continue to roll in. A strange item found near his torn and frayed costume has tongues wagging: an equally torn and frayed Steve Rigers mask. Could it be that the alter ego of Captain America was nothing but a ruse, a way to keep the public from guessing Cap's true secret identity? The Avengers and Nick Fury hold a private ceremony for their fallen comrade but are felled by the noxious gases of Hydra (hidden in Cap's coffin), who take advantage of the heroes' grief to mount a surprise attack on the team. Boxing the superheroes into coffins, the evil group is about to bury their enemies alive when they are bushwhacked by the very-much-alive Captain America! Believing she has failed in her mission, Madame Hydra attempts to commit suicide while taking out Cap and his teammates with a Hydra-missile, but the poor girl can't even get that right, ending only her own life in a fiery climax. Cap explains to Rick Jones how and why he faked his own death. Tired of risking the lives of those around him, Cap "killed" Steve Rogers to regain a secret identity. Confident he's accomplished this task, he walks away from the carnage a free man once again.

PE: What kind of amazing comic world would we have had if Steranko had stayed with Marvel into the 1970s? A shame, since this issue proves there would have been nothing but improvement in his superhero penciling (outside that awkwardly posed shot of The Avengers at the bottom of page 5). Well, I could also question Sharon Carter's choice of funeral attire. A bit too chic for the occasion, I'd say. The scene revolving around Madame Hydra's reflection on her own past though is a highlight of Steranko's brief Marvel career. 1970 could have been the year of Steranko, Adams, and Windsor-Smith.

Modeling day at Avengers Mansion

MB: This issue not only concludes Steranko’s Kirby-interrupted Cap trilogy but also, I believe, ended his Silver-Age penciling career at Marvel.  Interestingly, next month’s Bullpen Bulletins state, “Slim Jim is working on a brand-new feature which will shortly be spot-lighted in Marvel Super-Heroes.  And, talk about a secret—he hasn’t even told us what it is,” but since that book was thenceforth all-reprint, it obviously did not eventuate, at least not there.  The inks are by Tom Palmer, seemingly ubiquitous this month, yet although Stan’s solution to Cap’s secret-identity dilemma doesn’t seem very workable (what happens when Steve Rogers turns up alive later on?), at least he’s tried to provide one, and the Sterankostravaganza makes it all okay.

Just... perfect

PE: Who'd have thunk that The Avengers and Hydra had, essentially, the same rite when a hero falls? Last issue we saw Iron Man roll vintage scenes of Cap in action in preparation for shutting down his "Captain America: Avenger" video file and here we have Madame Hydra (admittedly taking the low budget approach) burning their own file on the star-spangled icon. Never mind the dopey set-up in the first place (Cap takes the time to inflate a rubber version of himself and pretends he dies in a hail of bullets so that he can rescue his teammates from a early grave they wouldn't be facing if he hadn't taken the time to inflate a rubber version of himself and pretended he'd died in a hail of bullets... all so he can convince the world he's not Steve Rogers?), I'm not sure I follow the logic behind revealing to the world that Steve Rogers really isn't Cap after all. Forget for a moment our Monday Morning Quarterback lounge chair in which we see a future where, again, it's public knowledge that the two are one. Why would Cap bother inventing a bogus alter ego in the first place? No other hero feels the need to double-fool the public. I'll be interested to see how it's explained that Steve is actually alive and, oh yeah, he's actually really Cap for reals. Why would The World's Mightiest Heroes hold a viewing at a public funeral home? How would Hydra get that information? Did Cap leak it to them? Why does The Vision succumb to Hydra's gas?

The Mighty Thor 164
Our Story

Thor and Sif face off with Pluto, Lord of the Netherworld and his army, the Mutates (humans deformed by the radiation of a future nuclear war), in the distant future of Earth. Before leading his army into the present time to conquer our world, Pluto wants to destroy the mysterious, cocooned being in the Atomic Research Centre, the building he abducted from the 20th Century. In the battle to prevent this, Thor uses the power of his Mjolnir to return them to the 20th century. By this time, Balder the Brave, haunted by thoughts of Karnilla the Norn Queen, whom he loves, but dares not be with, has been sent by Odin to join the battle on Earth. As humans, gods and mutates battle head to head, it comes to the attention of Zeus, in far-off Olympus, that Pluto has left the domain of the Netherworld. While the battle on Earth seems evenly matched, the Lord of Olympus steps in, returning Pluto and his army to the Netherworld, where it is ordained that the evil one must rule. At that moment, in the Atomic Research Centre, a hand breaks through the cocoon to reveal…what?

 I’m so accustomed to seeing Pluto tooling around in Thor’s mag that it wasn’t until Zeus (whom I mistook for Ego on the cover, especially since his fiery red hair and beard—along with everything else—had turned mysteriously green) popped up that I realized we were mixing pantheons again.  Once more, Kirby and Colletta move Stan’s already fast-paced plot along with a quartet of full-page shots, including the splash, and lots of big panels, justified by the spectacle on display as Pluto throws everything two centuries have to offer at his Asgardian opponents.  I know what (or more properly who) is coming next issue, so perhaps I’m impatient to cut to the chase, but I’ll admit that this story, frenetic though it may be, has a lot of good  stuff going for it.

PE: Well, I'm happy to report that I have no idea who (or what) is coming next issue and I can not wait to discover the secret behind the mysterious figure in the Atomic Research Center. As with most of the issues of Thor from this time period, we get wall-to-wall action without sacrificing great storytelling and  tantalizing new plot threads. Lots of highlights this issue: Zeus scolds Pluto for daring to attack earth (and doesn't it sound like "Hey, if anyone's going to attack earth, it'll be me!"?); Odin sends Balder to earth (Odin speaks of Balder's love but is that love the curse Karnilla placed on Balder or the Brave One's unrequited passion for Sif?); and of course, the new menace hinted at in our final panels. As happened sometimes over at Fantastic Four, you get the sense with the rushed wrap-up of Pluto that Stan and Jack (emphasis on Jack after reading Marvel: The Untold Story) were busting at the seams with new ideas and characters and couldn't wait to introduce them.

JB: Professor Matthew: I recall when I first saw this issue years back; I mistook Zeus for Ego as well! It makes for a great cover, with Thor and Pluto looking to be fighting solo. The Olympian/Asgardian mix was great back in Journey Into Mystery in the 120’s, and is welcome back these two issues. It seems a curious move for Thor to have moved the battle back to present day Earth when it would put humanity at risk, but the resulting human vs. mutate vs. god makes for an interesting scenario.  Sif seems to be missing her cape a couple of times. Balder seems doomed to lose out in the love department; no sooner does he get over Sif than he loses his heart to Karnilla (who seems to be getting prettier all the time), both unavailable to him for different reasons. And the business of the cocoon—I wonder how many reading this issue back then suspected what, or who, he is?

Marvel Super-Heroes 20
Our Story

Dr. Doom is reviewing his battles with the Fantastic Four when the images on his 3-D playback tapes attack at the behest of Diablo, who wants to ally his alchemy with Doom’s scientific genius.  Doom refuses until he learns that Diablo holds hostage Valeria, the gypsy girl he loved as a boy, and they meet at Doom’s American castle, where the alchemist proposes using his time machine to appear during the Civil War and take over the young nation. His attempt to betray Doom by luring him onto the chrono-square backfires, because Doom has altered the controls to send Diablo into the post-apocalyptic future instead, but the victory rings hollow when Valeria rejects Doom.  [Based on reprint in Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1.]

Larry Lieber is in full auteur mode here, collaborating on both the script and penciling with Roy and Giacoia, respectively; the artwork, inked by Colletta, is serviceable if not spectacular.  Larry would succeed the rascally one on Doom’s upcoming Astonishing Tales strip, yet clearly Roy—who also wrote the other reprint in GSSVTU (the Doom/Namor alliance from Sub-Mariner #20) and the ten-page framing story setting up that book—was the standard-bearer for making Vic a protagonist.  I’ve never considered Diablo a serious threat, so it’s satisfying to see Doom brush him aside without too much trouble, and to augment his origin from Fantastic Four Annual #2 by introducing Valeria, although I can’t recall how pivotal she was in her few later appearances.

Young Victor Von Doom, being subtle.
Jack: I was pleasantly surprised by this story! Dr. Doom is clearly an emotional mess, spending his free time watching videos of himself being beaten by the Fantastic Four, but when Diablo shows up and makes like the Ghost of Christmas Past by showing Doom his own Belle, the story gets pretty interesting and we get a welcome glimpse at Doom's origin. Nicely done.

PE: Could this be the first comic book featuring a super-villain as its central character? This title has seen its share of both highs (Captain Marvel, The Phantom Eagle) and lows (Ka-Zar, Medusa) but it's a shame that this was the last to feature new or Golden Age material. As of #21, the title would become home to Silver Age reprints of such strips as Hulk, Iron Man, Daredevil, and X-Men. In 1972, MSH would have its page count slashed and run reprints of Sub-Mariner and Hulk from Tales to Astonish before finally settling down to reruns of The Incredible Hulk. MSH would see its final issue (#105) published in January 1982.

Daredevil 52
Our Story

The police ask Black Panther for help finding the ailing Daredevil, who knocks the Panther out before he knows who he is. Starr Saxon holds Karen Page captive at Matt Murdock’s apartment, where both the revived Panther and Daredevil make short work of him. A doctor determines that a cut on his hand saved Daredevil by allowing some of the toxins in his blood to seep out; Karen notices the coincidence that Matt Murdock cut his hand on a glass on their recent date. Daredevil allows Starr Saxon to escape in order to protect his own secret identity.

Jack: I admit I am not a big fan of the Black Panther, but this issue is the first time I recall hearing of his ability to see in the dark. The art by Barry Smith is still pretty raw and I’ll be glad to welcome Colan back next issue. Starr Saxon is quite the old movie buff, referring to Lon Chaney, Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks at various points in the story.

Starr Saxon? Or David Bowie?
MB: Talk about secret-identity problems:  Daredevil’s is now known to friend (Black Panther) as well as foe (Starr Saxon), and obviously suspected by his lady love (Karen Page).  As in several issues of Avengers, sophomore scribe Roy Thomas makes this one T’Challa’s show to a great extent—ably pointing out several of their similarities—and writes the character with such consummate skill that it’s a shame he was never able to take a crack at a solo Panther series.  The only discordant note is Saxon himself, who with his pointed fingers and wispy face looks like he fluttered in from some animated synthesis of John Hubley and Saul Steinberg; it’s an interesting effect, to be sure, but doesn’t seem quite consistent with the otherwise excellent Smith/Craig art.

Smithers? What has
Simpson done this time?

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #14
Chili #1
Marvel Tales #20
Millie the Model #170
Not Brand Echh #13 (final issue)
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #66

BRAND Recognition

It would, perhaps, be a shame, if not criminal, if we ignored Not Brand Echh's rotting corpse. The Marvel University is proud to present Professor Joe Tura, a name you will be seeing quite a bit of when the 1970s roll around, and his heart-felt eulogy to a comic book that may have been before its time or maybe just another rip-off or...whatever. Here's Professor Joe:

Where would the comic book universe be without Forbush-Man? Without Charlie America or The Bulk? Without Knock Furious, Agent of S.H.E.E.S.H.? Or the mis-adventures of Superbman and The Fantastical Four?

Well, there’s a good chance we’d all be better off. NOT BRAND ECCH was not exactly the greatest comic book Marvel ever created. Heck, it’s probably never going to crack the top 100 no matter how many ROM: Spaceknights or Devil Dinosaurs or Marvel Zombies come after it. But you know what, to a certain Spider-Man obsessed pre-teen to teenager, it was hilarious.

I only owned a couple of poor to average condition NBE issues when I sold off my collection back in the early 90s, as well as a bunch of the mid-70s CRAZYs that reprinted some NBEs, but I always wished I had all of them. Seriously. I mean, all the top talents of the Bullpen were on board to poke fun at their livelihood, from Lee and Thomas to Kirby and Severin to Friedrich and Sutton (OK, maybe "top" isn't fitting for the last two...).

My favorite NBE? Amazingly (no pun intended), it’s not the classic Spidey-Man shenanigans of “Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman & Rotten” or the rollicking romance of “With This Ring, I Thee Web.” It’s the maniacally mirthful “Best Side Story”, a take on my all-time fave movie musical West Side Story from NBE #6 (or CRAZY #3), aka the “Big Batty Love and Hisses Issue.” It featured Dr. Deranged and the Marbles (Jets) vs. Green Lampburn and the Ecchs (Sharks), with Wotta Woman caught in the middle as the “Maria” of the story. With right-on silly song parodies, cameos by the dozens and non-stop frolic and fun, it’s seven pages of over-the-top nonsense that I honestly didn’t fully understand until adulthood but still love to this day. With ideas like that how could you go wrong?

Well, the fact that it only lasted 13 issues tells the story. But you know, to me this is one comic book that, even though it gets a well-deserved bad rap at MU, will never be “Brand Ecch” to me. Heck, there’s even a “Marvel Masterworks” out there of this comic! Make Mine Marble!

We've got a Marvel Collectors' Item Classic lined up for you this Sunday. Tune in Sunday morning for the long-delayed third chapter of our ten-part look at The Pre-Torch Strange Tales!


  1. Another cool round of comics as Marvel continues to transition from the wild and wacy 60's into the more relevant, younger blooded 70's.

    FF 86: that cover was incorrectly used in the Fireside Fantastic Four paperback collection in the late 70's, which reprinted the next issue's contents. Either way, I always liked this Latvarian saga. Doom was at his height of arrogance and class, the last time we'd see Doom of this quality until John Byrne took him back to greatness (the 70's had Doom pretty whacko and dripping with evil). Actually, wait, the Overmind Saga had some great Doom. You'll see…

    ASM 72: Ah, the tale made famous to be by being in Origins of Marvel Comics. A great one, but as a kid, I always wondered where they were going with that tablet. It was one of Spidey's better sagas of the period. I also didn't get the confusion between the Peter-Gwen-Flash triangle. What a difference in these guys since the Ditko era: everyone is so pretty.

    IM 13 - I say this often: I can't get past the art. And I'm stuck with it for ten years work of Iron Man comics. Tuska's cartoony style does nothing for this book. Actually, I'd probably be okay with it if he didn't have those Hannah-Barbera mouths on the men. Iron Man himself looks great and the women are sufficiently pretty, but everyone else looks like Herculoids.

    IH 115: What memories! I remember reading all of this era during the "ride my bike to 7-11 to buy comics and a Big Gulp" years as a kid, grabbing up Marvel Super-Heroes, Spider-Man and FF comics with my piddling weekly allowance. Of course, the MSH reprints were missing one or two pages to make room for ads, the comic book equivalent of watching Star Trek syndicated reruns. Trimpe's art is wonderfully odd and clean. The leader is great, although he gets the army to work with him too often and too easily during this period (it won't be long before he does it again). Great stuff!

    XM 56: Did John Byrne steal this cover layout for #135? A definite upswing in quality, too bad it was too late to do the book much good. I love Neal Adams, but it seems strange to see him doing this and not Batman.

    CA 113: Madame Hydra reminds me of Madame Masque. Unshown scarred face, in charge of ruthless criminal organization. No geek love though; she has no Jasper Sitwell of her own. Steranko's unique take on the characters comes to an end. Sometimes his art made stories hard to follow, as he'd go from a multiple panel page set up to a two page spread of one scene / mid-action, leaving the writer to put in a huge amount of text to explain how they got from point at to point w. But everyone looked great and yes, it looks like everyone on the Avenger is posing away: the Black Panther looks a little…fey. Not to mention fond of his own ass. Steve's elaborate ruse makes NO sense and is typical of Stan's frantic backpedaling after he reveals an identity and decides it was a bad idea or unworkable as an ongoing plot (see Spider-Man and Iron Man stories around this time and later) - it's like everyone had an inflatable dummy or a latex mask ready to go. Cap couldn't just go to Fury for an LMD?

    DD 52: Barry Smith was still stuck on his "Kirby wannabe" stage. He must have been a fan of bodiless heads or just forgot to draw bodies below the neck. Look at the two pictures you posted. OY!

    1. Black Panther's rear looks like a swell set of breasts to me.

  2. The heartiest of welcomes to Professor Joe from the guy who recruited him to the faculty! I look forward to your regular comments starting in 1970 and know you'll make me proud.

    "Any arguments?" asks Professor Jack. Well, a little, yes: I might rank Adams WITH, but not ABOVE, John Buscema and Jim Steranko when they were at their best. I also enjoyed Roy's writing on the Living Pharaoh/Monolith stoyline (which, to be fair, was initiated by the dreaded Drake) more than the rest of you, but suspect we'll have no arguments about his work on the Sentinels trilogy that I consider the high point of the Thomas/Adams issues.

    1. Thanks! I can only hope to bring half your enthusiasm and detail to this space, mighty Prof. Bradley!

    2. Amen, Professor Matthew!

      Professor Joe couldn't have come at a better time, what with long-tenured Professor Jack tendering his resignation effective january 1, 1970. Professor Joe will have mighty big shoes to fill but his ode to Echh shows he can handle the job.

  3. The Sentinels were defined for me in the Days of Future Past storyline, which unfortunately won't get covered in our blog (unless Professor Pete loses his marbles and asks us to expand to yet another decade). When I later went back to revisit their earliest appearances, I was able to appreciate where Byrne and Claremeont were drawing from after I stumbled across a British annual featuring the Adams/Thomas arc. While I'm considering releasing my Masterworks of the X-Men leading up to this point, this volume will remain a keeper!

    P.S. Don't forget to check out Professor Joe's bio in the faculty and staff link at the top right of the page.

    1. Thanks, Prof John for the snazzy pic of Nicholas Hammond's aviator goggles Spidey!

  4. We've already established that Hypgnosis (the people responsible for many of Pink Floyd's album covers) were Marvel fans. Dr. Strange found his way onto the cover of "Saucerful Of Secrets" PF's second album, but it wasn't the only time.

    In late 1973, hoping to capitalize on the phenomenal success of "Dark Side Of The Moon," Pink Floyd's record company re-released their first two LPs in a double set called "A Nice Pair." With a new name comes new cover artwork, and the people at Hypgnosis designed a double fold cover composed of a total of 36 small pictures. Many were illustrated puns, such as a picture of a fork in the road, and a kettle of fish. One of these small pictures located on the back, is of interest to us.

    It features a Hippie indulging in an alternative to tobacco, while reading his favorite literature. I dug out my copy and threw it onto the scanner and blew the pic up to a decent size. In real life, you need a magnifying glass to see this, but, here he is reading a stack of Marvel Comics. Doctor Strange #180 is easy to spot, sitting on the top of his pile of comics, and we can see other DS covers and a few issues of The Silver Surfer. Here's a pic.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    1. Hypgnosis! Wow! They also did the sleeve design and photos for my all-time fave "concept album", Genesis' essential "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway"

    2. The most astounding thing about this Pink Floyd pic is that it resembles yours truly last Monday night trying to cram all eight of his titles into a few hours of reading. Only Professor Matthew dare attempt more!

  5. Proud and humbled to be a part of this space and look forward to the Swingin' 70s! A nice birthday present for me also, thanks much to the faculty!

    I love that Prof. Matthew always mentions the reprint mags that helped kids like me and him fill holes in the collection and get a look at books we could never get our hands on. I smell a collaborative Sunday Special?

    Love The Shocker! Although every since seeing a recent "Marvel Mash-Up" on the Sunday cartoon Ultimate Spider-Man (taking old cartoons and inserting new Not Brand Ecch-esque dialogue) where he asked "Does this outfit make me look like a pineapple?" I find him a little less threatening...

    Admit it, you guys all really loved Not Brand Ecch. I just know you'll all be fighting to cover Crazy during the 70s posts!

    X-Men: I wasn't familiar with the name Neal Adams, but once I read X-Men #56 I realized he was the "Deadman" artist. I had a couple of issues of Strange Adventures, #207 and #210, and neither had any credits. And, what a treat is was, reading and re-reading this return to greatness for the X-Men. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

    X-Men #3 was the first Marvel book I ever read, so I've always had a soft spot for the Merry Marvel Mutants, but, by 1969, it had been a long time since even a half decent issue had hit the stands. Tom Palmer was great on Gene Colan's pencils, but his clean lines were incredible over Adams. Of course, a little later on, Adams would lift Green Lantern out of the doldrums, and revive Batman, but, that was still in the future. Actually, I think I'll go and get X-Men #56 it out of the box and read it again. :)

    Captain America: The ending to this story makes about as much sense as the ending to the Yellow Claw saga in ST #167. Steranko can start a story, but he doesn't know how to finish them. Steranko and Palmer make a great team in, which if memory serves, was the only time they worked together.

    Madame Hydra was inspired by two characters. In 1967, Jim Lawrence introduced "Madame Spectra" into the James Bond newspaper strip. She was a S.P.E.C.T.R.E. agent who kept her real face disguised behind a realistic "Mission Impossible" type mask. In 1965 Barbara Steele starred in "Nightmare Castle" in which she played a woman who covered the disfigured right side of her face with her hair.

    Behind the scenes, Stan Lee and Jimbo have been having problems. Steranko has had a number of run-ins with Stan, for all the usual reasons, creative differences, credit, etc. For some time, Steranko has finished his work on time, but delivered it to the Marvel office at the last possible second, to limit the amount of time Stan has to look through the pages and make changes. The missed deadline for what would have been CA #112 may have been due to Stan rejecting the original cover to this story. Ironically, the second cover is one of my all time favorites.

    When Steranko handed in the finished Captain America book, he is alleged to have had an explosive argument with Stan before walking out, seemingly for good. Stan waited a month before phoning him, giving Jimbo time to cool off, and managed to smooth things over to some extent. However, for all intents, Steranko's comic book career was over. For Marvel, he would contribute a horror tale, a romance story (yes, a romance story), and a variety of covers, but that that was it.

    Click on the pic to see ... the rejected Captain America cover, Madame Spectra, Barbara Steele in "Nightmare Castle" and and John mentioned, Neal Adams rejected cover for X-Men #56.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    P.S. I thought "Best Side Story" was the best thing to appear in NBE too.

  7. Turafish: Thanks for the kind words. Will be fun to get your perspective; I doubt we have had any allusions to WEST SIDE STORY until now.

    Am all a-tingle at the idea of a Sunday Special collaboration. Always on the lookout for subjects (am working on one even now), and feel the reprints are a largely untapped vein for our unique brand of scholarship. We can discuss at our face-to-face next Friday, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise.

    Paste-Pot: My disappointment that you have (so far) been unable to effect a last-minute change of heart on the part of Professor Jack is, in a large measure, offset by my admiration for the quality and quantity of scholarship with which he has blessed us both here and on bare*bones. The guy's sure earned a break if he wants it.

    As for my own productivity, having reached the last month of 1969, I'm hoping I can pick up the pace a bit now that the great contraction has begun, and the number of Marvel's new super-hero titles will drop from 14 per month to as low as 9 before stablizing at 10 by Dec. '70. (And no, I am not volunteering to take over the year-end wrap-ups Professor Jack did so well...)

    Glenn: Fascinating info, as always. I loved NIGHTMARE CASTLE as a kid (still do), and that was the first thing I thought of when I read the Madame Hydra stuff in reprints years later.

  8. Arguments about Adams? Sure. Neil was great, no doubt, (and still is, witness his current X-Men mini-series), but Steranko, Ditko,Colan, and King Kirby rank with the best to ever dip pen in ink (and John B is no slacker either). Barry Smith, when we get to Conan: amazing. It all comes down to personal taste. They're all giants in the field, which is why we still love, read and comment on 50 year old fun books.
    Great comments, all.
    Look forward to a new MU every Wednesday.
    Face front, baby...

  9. Seriously? I just realized I spelt ECHH wrong!