Wednesday, January 30, 2013

December 1969: Putting the Sixties in the Rear View

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 20
Our Story

Trapped like a rat with nowhere to go, Namor is being pursued by army troops when he runs down a dead end alleyway. Metal bars that even his immense strength cannot bend prevent him from escaping. Before he is caught, though, he hears the familiar voice of someone welcoming him inside as the gates open up. The army troops have no choice but to let him continue on as the building that Namor enters is part of the Latverian embassy. Once he enters the lavishly decorated mansion, Namor is attacked by a small robot that shoots lasers at him. After quickly deposing the pesky droid, Subby is welcomed in person by his new host, Dr. Doom himself! The robot was just a test to see if Namor still had his fighting prowess. The two former allies stroll briefly down memory lane as Namor reminds Doom that it was he who betrayed the Prince of the seas back when they took on the Fantastic Four. Doom brushes this off as ancient history and tries to get Namor to form an alliance with him once again, mainly because Doom wants Subby's powerful army at his disposal. Namor angrily declines. Since he is weakened by lack of water, he asks Doom to get him some. Doom complies, but secretly orders his staff of mercenaries to get rid of any water inside the whole dwelling. Once this is accomplished, Doom shows his true colors by demanding that Namor throw in with him or perish. Even though he may very well die, Namor decides to go out swinging as he battles not only Dr. Doom, but also his henchman and the deadly contraptions set about the mansion. Metal tendrils are deployed that shoot heat rays at the hero. Namor uses this to his advantage by wrecking the tendrils so that they catch the whole mansion on fire. When the fire department shows up, Subby takes advantage of their water hoses to get a power soak, which gives him enough strength to leap away as Doom curses him.

Tom: Big John Buscema fills in while Marie Severin is on vacation and it couldn't have worked out any better. An awesome cover gives way to a greatly drawn issue with a pretty damn good storyline. I'm always a big fan whenever these two egotists get together. Thank God it was Dr. Doom that found Subby instead of the Plant-Man, the Thinker, Puppet Master, or any of other inferior super-villains that couldn't hold a candle to the greatness that is Doom!

MB: No sooner had Johnny Craig been reunited with Marie Severin last issue than he finds himself paired up with none other than the returning Big John Buscema, “filling in while Mirthful Marie’s vacationing in the beautiful Bahamas!” The reader is clearly the big winner as this book’s founding creative duo reassembles, and Roy forges a new link in the chain of his long and fascinating relationship with Dr. Doom, planting a seed that would one day flower in Super-Villain Team-Up with the possibility of an alliance between these old foes brought up once more. The cover and interior art are superb, Roy’s story crackles with tension, and seeing Namor—who usually prevails with brawn rather than brain—outmaneuver Doom is satisfying, to say the least.

Buscema paying tribute
to Gil Kane?

The Amazing Spider-Man 79
Our Story

Stuck in J. Jonah Jameson's office with The Prowler and no way to change into his nightclothes, Peter Parker hurls himself through a window and hopes for the best. Luckily, he's half-spider and the fall is slowed by his super powers. The Prowler escapes but, convinced he's murdered the teen, decides the only way to clear his name is to capture The Amazing Spider-Man and deliver him on a platter to the local authorities. The two have a major tussle but Spider-Man proves to be too agile for the poor, pitiful Prowler. When Our Friendly Neighborhood Wall-Crawler unmasks Hobie and hears the young man tell his tale of sorrow and disrespect, Spidey lets the lad go, free of charge.

MB: “This tale was originally planned as a 3-part epic,” the credits tell us, “but since we promised to eliminate our continued stories, we’ve labored heroically to conclude it in this issue!” I’m going to try to keep an open mind, but I strongly suspect that arbitrary rule (imposed to satisfy just half of Marvel’s readership, not even a majority) is going to be bad news. Well, if we have to lose an issue, the Prowler’s not a bad place to start, although it’s difficult to see how they could have stretched this out a lot further, since it seems as though nothing much happens here. At any rate, it gives Spidey a chance to show what an innately decent guy he is and, if I recall correctly, secures him an on-again, off-again ally of sorts for future adventures.

Collectively, we're about to vomit

PE: Let me get my head around this: Hobie Brown, aka The Prowler, thinks if he catches Spider-Man and delivers him to the police, they may forgive him for murdering Peter Parker? And to draw Spidey out, The Prowler goes on a crime spree. Yeah, this should have the cops eating out of your hand. That gas filter that our favorite wall-crawler puts on under his mask looks a little cumbersome and yet we don't see a trace of it in the succeeding panels. Does he pop it in his mouth? How would he rattle off his one-liners with a muzzle on? And, hey, someone get me a pair of those "ultra-padded" boots that enable Prowly to jump off ten-story buildings without splatting. The "She loves Flash, woe is me" subplot is dragging on as well, giving Mr. Parker plenty of panels to feel sorry for himself. This we don't need. Not a particularly strong two-parter in which to end the swingin' sixties. Hobie'll be back before you know it.

Captain America 120
Our Story

With a little bit of subconscious prodding from Nick Fury (and his sleep-inducing Hypno-Rocking Chair), Steve Rogers applies for a Phys Ed teaching job at Manning University, where the student body seems comprised of Easy Rider fans. On his first day, Rogers comes to the rescue of Atomic Equations whiz Paul Fosgrave, who's being bullied by a band of neanderthals. The two become quick friends. Later, at his interview with the Dean, Steve (who's craftily taken on the alias of Roger Stevens so no one will be wise to him) discovers that the campus's brightest student, Mart Baker, has been riling up his comrades and leading protests daily--protests that have become increasingly more violent. Before long, Captain America must get involved before someone gets hurt and, during one of the protests, two goons take Professor Fosgrave hostage. Recognizing their weapons as A.I.M. firearms, Cap realizes that this is no ordinary campus rally gone wrong. The real motivation is Fosgrave (only we, the fourth wall, know that it's MODOK manning the controls). The AIM henchmen prove no match for the skills of Captain America and very quickly he puts the kibosh on their plan. The professor is safe and life becomes a bowl of cherries on Manning's campus.

PE: I didn't go to college in the sixties, so I'm no expert, but none of these rallying dopes look like college students to me. The art's really sharp this issue and that's a big plus because the story (or lack thereof) is a big minus. The "Cacaphony on the Campus" story line has already been done to death and I fear we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. Also done to death is the scene where Cap barges in on Fury to demand... well, he's gonna demand something that has to do with poor, frail super-agent Sharon Carter and the fact that Steve Rogers goes home to a cold dinner and bed every night. Did Emma Peel have to justify her job to her beaus? Steve uses the alias Roger Stevens on the campus. Quick thinking!

MB: “Cap and the Falcon! How about that combo?” Just you wait… It will be another 14 issues before this title formally becomes Captain America and the Falcon, but one wonders if Stan had a permanent partnership already in the back of his mind when he introduced the character. The reveal of MODOK on page 13 is stunning, because it’s a real surprise (A.I.M. is the last thing we’d expect to be behind the “Crack-Up on Campus!”), and because Gene Colan and Joe Sinnott depict him so very effectively. This is, of course, not the first time that a Marvel villain used unwitting student radicals—an obviously timely plot element—for his own nefarious purposes, as the Kingpin did to steal a certain tablet in Amazing Spider-Man a few months back.

PE: More awkward African-American references designed to make the Bullpen look hip and with it:

Onlooker #1: Hey man --- Cap and The Falcon! How about that combo?

Onlooker #2: All they need is Jimi Hendrix --- and they got it made!

It says Stan Lee on the splash page but I got a feeling this one at least had a going-over by The Rascally One. I had never noticed it before (because maybe they've never been so obvious) but how could the forces of evil miss the barber shop with the suddenly-frosting windows? Not too obvious.

Captain Marvel 19
Our Story

With Carol hospitalized and Yon-Rogg presumed dead, Mar-Vell returns Rick to Manhattan, where his problem finding an apartment and a job is solved by a Daily Buglead promising both at Minos Towers, the Lower-East-Side housing project owned by a celebrated sociologist, Cornelius Webb. Webb is vague about the job, and we soon learn the reason: he is manipulating the tenants—including Rick’s new friend, Auschwitz survivor Jacob Weiss—with hallucinations, and Mar-Vell’s attempts to help bring him under suspicion. Webb’s high-tech rat maze reduces a cross-section of humanity “to the status of cowering animals,” but as controlled atomic blasts are just about to trigger Mar-Vell’s change, Weiss sacrifices himself to stop Webb.

MB: After this, Mar-Vell’s publication schedule becomes increasingly irregular, comprising just two issues in 1970 and then a two-year suspension (although the results will be well worth the wait). At least now I can enjoy him while he’s here, and as gushy as it sounds, just seeing Kane’s work on this title gives me a tingle; rarely have artist and character been so well matched, in my view, while inker Dan Adkins gives Gil solid support. If I wasn’t wild about the story itself—which to me seemed a little far-fetched, even by comic-book standards, although I freely admit finding the character of Weiss and his heroic self-sacrifice very moving—it’s worth noting that according to the lettercol, #17 was plotted by Roy, #18 by Roy and Gil together, and this issue by Gil himself.

PE: I'm hoping eventually, when we resume after the hiatus, that this title will become more than just a series of "Rick changes into Marvel, Marvel changes into Rick" with the two alternating faces in the sky. The story this issue is pedestrian, saved only by the sacrifice of Mr. Weiss at the climax. A dated tugger, but a tugger nonetheless. Gil Kane's art is right where we need it. Now let's get some good writing to go with it.

The Silver Surfer 11
Our Story

A continuation from the last issue: The mighty Surfer has whisked Donna Maria, the human hostage, away while Yarro’s spaceship enters Earth’s atmosphere. The hostage-taking conquerors believed that they had chased Norrin away and decided it would be a good idea to shoot the ship from outer space. A single weapon was still intact and available to make an extremely lucky shot – hitting Yarro’s ship. Yarro Gort and Shalla Bal eject from the ship and are taken to El Capitan!

The ship continues to careen right towards Donna Maria’s town, but, while holding the Latin American babe on his surfboard, Norrin Radd puts out the damaged ship’s flames and saves the day (again). Upon closer inspection the homesick hero realizes that this ship originated from Zenn-La! El Capitan quickly decides that the two “captive” space people must be enemies and decides to put them to death (even though Shalla’s hot). Yarro is a quick thinker and makes a deal with the bad guys – space-aged weapons in exchange for the death of the Silver Surfer. Shalla Bal is appalled. El Capitan runs this by his nasty leader, the General. The Surfer takes Donna Maria back to her home and her friends, the freedom fighters, only to find out about the plot planned against him by Yarro and the General. They are ambushed, but the S.S. has created a shield and none perish. When the bad guys are left to go free, the people the S.S. had thought were friends became angry that their foes had not been crushed. The Silver Surfer was very angry that even the good people had this core of visceral cruelty.

The General plans to kill Yarro after the weapons are produced . . . Yarro plans to murder the S.S. even though Shalla Bal promises her hand in marriage to stop him. The underground rebels attack and Yarro uses his new weapon to cut them down to size. The Surfer makes his appearance and the weapon is used against him, but Yarro forgets that his foe is now much more than he once was. Yarro goes to get an even bigger weapon with which to slay his enemy but Shalla Bal tries to stop him and gets shot by the General for her efforts. Norrin Radd witnesses the whole thing and shoots a cosmic blast at the weapon – killing Yarro and the General. Sadly, Norrin Radd realizes the only way to save his lover is by sending her home back to Zenn-La’s advanced medicine. He fixes the space craft and sends her home as his heart breaks again...

NC: I seem to remember in S.S. # 2 not so long ago that the Silver Surfer used his cosmic rays to save an unsaveable girl (and was scorned for doing it). Also, if he could repair that huge hole in the space ship making it okay, why not a little hole in a pretty little girl?????

MB: I suppose this story had to end the way it did, with the Silver Surfer yet again forced to give up Shalla-Bal, in this case to save her rather than Zenn-La; it might have been nice if they’d had a romantic reunion first, but that would perhaps have made the parting even harder. Ably inked by Adkins, Big John Buscema continues to prove himself resolutely the right man for the job, for as impressive as Kirby’s spectacles are, I doubt he could capture Shalla-Bal’s beauty or Norrin Radd’s anguish as well. As with the prior Ghost issues, Stan tells a tale equal in length to the bimonthly format, but somehow the pacing works better with the two-parters, even if I did get confused as to who was doing what to whom among Yarro Gort, the rebels, and the invaders.

The Mighty Thor 171
Our Story

From atop a roof, Thor hears about the shooting of civil rights hero Pedro Luis Lopez, and is off as Don Blake to save his life. In top security confinement at another hospital, the Wrecker breaks loose. His aim is to avenge his prior defeat by Thor. The Wrecker draws Thor out by causing enough damage to simulate an earthquake, Blake having left Lopez in a stable spot. The Wrecker is more powerful than ever, but Thor has desperation on his side and finds an answer. As the battle takes them down to the subway, Thor tosses the Wrecker on the tracks, and, combining the force in his Uru hammer with the enormous electrical current of the tracks, he drains his foe’s Asgardian energy. The unconscious Wrecker is now a common criminal and Thor returns as Don Blake to save the life of Lopez.

MB: I can’t quantify how he does it, but although the artwork is quintessential Kirby, Bill Everett’s inks somehow give it an extra sparkle here, from the nobility of Thor/Blake in page 2, panel 2, and page 3, panel 7, to the ferocity of the Wrecker in page 6, panel 4, and page 9, panel 3, while that shot of the Wrecker’s crowbar ripping the engine out of the truck in page 8, panel 5, is a stunner. As a certified Wrecker-fan, I welcome his return—especially since I felt he was dealt with a little summarily by the Destroyer in #150; not surprisingly, he will be back, in spite of his apparent return to normalcy. I’m not sure what has led him to conclude that he’s “smarter than the last time we fought,” but I like how they debate their worldviews while they’re duking it out.

PE: This was the first Marvel comic book I ever owned and read. I was blown away then... not so much now. It's not bad but, considering that a half dozen issues ago this was the best written comic book on the 1969 landscape, it's a bit worrying. Since when did Dr. Don Blake go from mild-mannered OB/GYN to one of the most revered medical minds on the planet? He's the only one in New York who can operate on rights leader Pedro Luis Lopez (Stan/Jack's obvious nod to Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King)? And when did our favorite 98-pound lame doc start working out at the gym? I do like The Wrecker's dialogue, in particular: "The only truth is power! The only justice is what the strongest one decides!" It's nice to see that Doc Blake (with a little help from the God of Thunder) can defeat The Wrecker in "under fifteen minutes" and get back to close up Lopez in a matter of (again) minutes!

JB: Professor Pete, this wasn’t the first comic I owned, but it’s one of the early ones I clearly remember seeing on the wall at my local comic store. I always thought it was a funny looking cover; it looks better to me now than then. Professor Matthew, I’m with you on Bill Everett’s inks for this one; they’re much better and more consistent than last issue. Back at issue #148 I didn’t care for the Wrecker; to my surprise I quite liked this tale. One issue seems the right length for him. Some of the panels during the battle seem, if not copied, very reminiscent of Thor’s fight with Hercules back in the 120s. The ending seemed a plausible way to defeat the Wrecker.

The Invincible Iron Man 20
Our Story

Stark Industry security guard Charlie Gray has a heaping helping of jealousy and it's eating him up inside big time. Charlie just can't stand the fact that Tony Stark has it all: chicks, cars, and money. One day, after berating the wife and beating his kids, Charlie storms off to get a beer but since this is a CC-approved comic book, he's met on the way by fifth-tier super-villain Lucifer, who needs Tony Stark to build him a Neuro-Dimensional Quadrangle to free him from the purgatory he's been trapped in since X-Men #21. To help him achieve those ends, Lucifer makes Charlie a Lucifer II and sends him off to Stark Industries to nab the boss man. Meanwhile, Charlie's wife Wilma (seriously!) is worried about Charlie and, hearing the reports of a madman loose on the very streets her husband walks, she heads out to find him. Unfortunately, she does find him, in his new get-up, and realizes she must get to Tony Stark before Charlie/Lucifer does. Knowing the guards will stop her, Wilma rams the gate and gets the attention of Tony Stark. Iron Man and Wilma tag-team to talk Charlie out of his life of crime and Lucifer fades back into his purgatory, leaving Iron Man to question whether he'll ever have a life out of the armor.

PE: Between this issue and The Amazing Spider-Man #79, Marvel's writers are cornering the market on misunderstood villains this month. And like The Prowler, we're saddled with a Grade-Z villain and no story to speak of. At least with Spidey, we had decent art but no such luck here. I'm not sure what's worse: finishing a story abruptly or not having an involving plot to begin with. Should we applaud the powers-that-be at Marvel for deciding stories will be started and finished in one issue from "here on out" or bemoan the days when we were treated to bloated bores. In this case, I'm glad Lucifer wasn't granted a three-issue arc but knowing that the door begins closing on page 18 sucks dry what little suspense Archie can muster to that point. This is just an awful comic book all around.

MB: “For those of you who’ve been wondering why Artful Archie Goodwin hasn’t been doing more stories of late [as I coincidentally was last week/month], the answer is simple,” as a Bullpen Bulletin informs us. “Arch has a gruelling schedule to maintain due to a couple of newspaper strips which he’s been writing for years,” including Al Williamson’s Secret Agent X-9. Meanwhile, Tuska’s longtime inker on this book, Johnny Craig, has jumped ship temporarily to rejoin his erstwhile EC colleague, Marie Severin, on Sub-Mariner, and traded places with his Atlantean counterpart, “Joe Gaudioso” (Mike Esposito). I missed Lucifer’s appearance in X-Men #20-21, which explained how he had crippled Professor X; judging by this, he’s nothing special.

PE: Perhaps the only saving graces this issue are watching Charlie lose his cool and nearly whomp his brats and the fact that the day is saved by an overbearing wife reminding her super villain husband who the boss is. I pictured Fred Flintstone when Charlie cries "Willllllma!" By the way, it's not my imagination that Charlie emerges from his affair not only serving no jail time (like poor little Hobie Brown) but looking a heck of a lot more rugged and handsome for his troubles.

Daredevil 59
Our Story

It's the same song and dance as Daredevil keeps apprehending crooks who work for the villain Crime Wave, only later to have the victims too afraid to testify to put the bad guys in jail. Luckily, Foggy has an ace up his sleeve in the form of Willie Lincoln. Willie had gone to a bar where he had first heard about the name Crime Wave. While snooping around the seedy tavern, he accidentally went through a secret trap chute that led him to an underground lair that the Crime Wave himself was working under. Figuring he was just a helpless blind man, the hoods gave him a few bucks and sent him on his way. Once it makes the newspapers, everyone figures it's only a matter of time before an attempt is made on Willie's life, so they stash him in a seedy hotel room. So he can't testify against him, Crime Wave sends out for the East Coast hit man known as Torpedo to kill Willie. The Torpedo is no run of the mill mook as he is equipped with weapons and a hat that can slice and dice. Of course, Double D springs into action once the Torpedo attacks Willie. A thrilling fight ensues as Daredevil appears to have met his equal. It looks hopeless for our hero as the Torpedo knocks him out of a window. As Double D holds on while the villain stomps at his hands, here comes Willie to the rescue as he hurls his body into the Torpedo and knocks him over the edge to his death.

Tom: I'd make a joke about the blind leading the blind in this issue but that would seem tasteless. The main thing I liked about the Torpedo was that he was named after old Noir mobspeak for a hired assassin. Plus, he had the courtesy of getting killed before he wore out his welcome.

MB: For the second month in a row, Roy has introduced a villain who is belated, ill-defined, perfunctory, forgettable and, in this case, totally unmourned when apparently killed by Willie Lincoln, while as usual, poor Gene is left to do all the heavy lifting, ably assisted by Syd Shores. This Torpedo seems like a hodgepodge of visual or conceptual bits from other and better characters, including the Shadow, Daredevil himself and—as they acknowledge—Oddjob, but in 1975, Marv Wolfman and Bob Brown created an unrelated and more interesting Torpedo during their tenure on the book. I can (aptly) remember nothing about the garishly garbed Crime-Wave, but if his hirelings are any indication, Hornhead should be able to dispense with him in no time...

Jack: Willie Lincoln is an intriguing character and I'm happy that he seems to be turning into a regular. However, an average Marvel comic of this era consists of scenes that are used to string fistfights together, and from that perspective, Roy Thomas doesn't write Daredevil as well as Stan Lee did. It seems like he's just going through the motions.

The Incredible Hulk 122
Our Story

Traveling along the trains like some common hobo, Bruce Banner is on a mission to get to the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building headquarters after he reads a front page newspaper caption placed by Reed Richards. This is all part of Mister Fantastic's plan, as he alerts all the local authorities that there is a good chance Banner will be coming by for help. The head honcho of the superhero team has come up with part of an antidote that he feels certain will cure Banner. Bruce has the other half of the antidote equation, which he writes down and ties to his waist in case he turns into the Hulk. After scaring off some homeless muggers along with demolishing a train, the Hulk makes his way to the Baxter Building. Entering calmly at first as Banner, it doesn't take much for the nervous doctor to get excited and change into ol' Greenskin. The confused Hulk briefly tackles with the F.F. before going one on one with the Thing. During the battle, the note Banner had tied around his waist earlier falls off and Richards gets a hold of it. The Hulk's main goal isn't victory, per se, but escape. Once he hits the outside of the building, Reed shoots him with the special gun contraption that will turn the monster back into Banner. The story ends with the knocked out Hulk laying in the street, about to be taken into custody as everyone waits to see if the change will work.

Tom: I can honestly say that I've read probably 90% of the comics where the Hulk and the Thing have fought each other. This was one of the few that I had never seen before and it turns out that I wasn't missing much. Granted, this story might have played out much better when it was released years ago, as there was the slim possibility back then that the antidote might have worked. Obviously, we all know now that this wasn't the case. I complained last issue about the Hulk and Glob fight being too short. That short brawl looked epic compared to the Hulk and Thing slap fight that just took place.

MB: My biggest gripe with this issue was the inevitability of the fact that the one security guard missing the briefing, and thus being unable to brief his relief properly, led to an unnecessary clash between the Hulk and the FF; Roy could surely have found a less contrived way to make that happen. But otherwise, if we’re going to have yet another Thing vs. Hulk tale, or yet another “Can we cure the Hulk?” (or, for that matter, the Thing) tale, or in this case both, you could do a lot worse than the opening salvo fired by Thomas and Trimpe here. Herb does a creditable job on the Fantastic Five—since Sue and Crystal are both in evidence—especially as the Thing is not the easiest character to draw, and I expanded my vocabulary with “bindlestiff.”

Fantastic Four 93
Our Story

Using the craft they captured from the Skrulls on the aliens first visit to Earth, Reed, Johnny and Crystal set out to find Ben’s whereabouts by following the radioactive trail of the Slaver’s ship. The Games have begun on the planet Kral; Ben and Torgo watch other aliens battle in the arena from their cell. When their turn arrives, Ben appeals to Torgo to team up and battle their slave masters instead, but the threat of the sonic disruptor (which can knock any planet out of orbit) makes rebellion unlikely. As the Thing and the robot battle, the other members of the F.F. have captured the Slaver’s ship, and with his “help” (as well as that of one of Barker’s henchman), form the newest gangsters on the scene: the Reed Richards mob! Ben and Torgo are perhaps equally powerful, but neither can bring himself to finish the other off. They won’t have to, as Miss “Bonnie” Crystal destroys the Sonic Disruptor with her elemental power. The threat to their home worlds now abolished, the slaves turn on the Skrulls and Krals alike. The F.F. give the planet the slip, as Ben wonders at what fate will have in store for Torgo.

JB: If Crystal could destroy the Sonic Disruptor so easily, and if the Games have been going on for some time, wouldn’t a slave at some point have been desperate enough to find a way to do the same--maybe with one of the Skrulls weapons? Oh well, it gives us an ending Star Trek would have been happy with! I like the Reed Richards car flying through town. Torgo is an interesting character; even when he acted like a foe I felt he was more of a friend. I’m looking forward to his later appearance(s?), which I’ve never read.

MB: What would have been Joe Sinnott’s fiftieth consecutive issue of the FF is instead inked by Frank Giacoia, who as always is well partnered with King Kirby, but Joltin’ Joe will miss precious few of the next 130+ issues, so I suppose we can cut the guy some slack. As a card-carrying Maudlin Man, I got choked up along with the FF when Ben said, “Ya—found me! Ya came all the way—from home—across the galaxies—just fer me!” This storyline was fun, and Torgo is a character with potential (at least some of which was explored in later years, as I recall), but I don’t think I’d have wanted the saga to go on any longer than it did. Enjoyed the reference to “Reed Richards’ mob—we’re from out of town,” and Torgo’s instruction of Ben.

PE: A nice climax to this maxi-saga and, as Professor Matthew mentions, Torgo is a fascinating character despite a complete lack of background. Is he a friend or foe? Seems as though there's room for him to grow into either. It'll be seven years before we find out what became of Ben Grimm's mechanical opponent (Fantastic Four #176, August 1976). Is there an explanation for why Johnny can zoom around an outer space that, ostensibly, has no fuel for his fire (not to mention, air to breathe)? Perhaps I was napping again when Reed devised an invisible Neuro-Flame-Concentrator for The Torch to don when he's searching the galaxy for stray Skrulls. And has Stretcho fitted the youngster with an asbestos microphone? How else does could keep in contact with his teammate?

The X-Men 63
Our Story

Angel inadvertently leads a new team of mutants to his friends, where they proceed to attack the X-Men and Ka-Zar. Once he determines that his new allies aren't exactly friendly, he returns to his savior, only to find that he was doing Magneto's bidding all along. The X-Men go head to head with Magneto and his latest creation, Lorelei, but no sooner do they say, "I thought you were dead," than they once again leave the Master of Magnetism for dead.

MB: How strange, and how sad, to think that this is already the last Thomas/Adams issue of X-Men (a fitting end to the ’60s), of which there are only eight; one or the other, but not both, would work on each of the three remaining pre-reprint issues before our mutants began their long wandering in the wilderness à la Dr. Strange. If I have my Marvel lore correct, it was this white-haired depiction of the unmasked Magneto that led later creators to retcon him rather than Robert Frank, the Golden-Age Whizzer, as the father of Wanda and Pietro. Sadly, despite his presence, this is my least favorite of the three storylines the legendary team initiated, with the involvement of that prize pill, Ka-Zar, a major debit, and even the artwork seeming to me a little less inspired.

PE: The story, indeed, is lacking, especially when you consider it revolves around the return of Magneto but there's still the pretty pitchers to look at, thank goodness! Magneto's fold-up-the-tent-and-die scene contradicts everything we've ever learned about this great super-villain. I'll assume it was a case of playing possum and, in his next appearance, he'll say as much. A silly technical question: if Magneto fell into the ocean and burrowed a hole through the bottom, wouldn't the sea leak into the Forbidden Land? And how long can he hold his breath? Female beauty mutie Lorelei will return for a guest appearance in The Avengers #105 (November 1972) and go on to a minor career as a sixth-tier villain but, to me, it seems her greatest achievement was as inspiration for Storm. Lorelei's baffling line, "Lorelei feels so strange! Like she'll soon be coming out of a deep sleep!" had me chuckling. Does anyone realize when they're coming out of "a deep sleep?"

JS: Yes, this issue was a bit of a let down in the story department. It felt rushed, and I'm wondering if it was originally meant to run longer. I wonder if they decided to cut things short when they knew the creative team was on the way out. It was almost a throwback to issues of old where they'd let the villains walk away after the climactic battle. Surely they wouldn't count on their arch nemesis Magneto being vanquished without confirming it, would they? I guess we know the answer to that question, all too well. Downward spiral, here we come.

Jack: Let's face it, nobody likes Ka-Zar. Once again, this issue reads as if Neal Adams's pictures were too complex and creative for Roy Thomas to keep up with. Brainchild looks about 50 years old and what's with the frog-person anyway? I won't be sorry to lose Thomas next issue.

The Avengers 71
Our Story

As the Black Knight tries to figure out how to right the wrong he unwittingly created, the Vision, Black Panther and Yellowjacket find themselves in 1941 Paris, battling Captain America, Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. The Vision's powers allow the Avengers to emerge victorious and, as a result, Kang wins the bet. As a reward for winning, the Grandmaster offers him the power over life or the power over death. Kang chooses death and nearly kills the Avengers, but the Black Knight suddenly appears and defeats the would-be conqueror. The Avengers welcome the Black Knight as a new member.

MB: Roy peppers this exciting and beautifully illustrated story with details that give it retroactive resonance, such as the Grandmaster’s choice of All-Winners Squad members Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch, whose exploits Roy went on to write in The Invaders (and whose battle cry I believe he coined here). The Black Knight—an Avenger at last in that final shot—alludes to Conan and John Carter, who became licensed properties for Marvel, with Roy originally scripting not only Conan the Barbarian but also their second Edgar Rice Burroughs title, Tarzan. And pitting the Vision against this Torch, whose android body we later learn was the basis for his own, means that the Vision is essentially fighting against himself.

PE: There's only one other writer who pens retro-comic stories as well as Roy Thomas and that's Kurt Busiek (who falls outside of our comfort zone, unfortunately). I get the same feeling of a lost era when I read either gentleman's work and you can tell that both grew up reading funny books 24/7. All we're missing here is a Joe Maneely art job, but Sal Buscema's certainly nothing to complain about. That's a lot of Avengers Assembling on our final page, missing only charter member The Hulk unless I'm mistaken. It should be mentioned that Roy plays with Golden Age Marvel continuity (and I don't mind one bit) by having The All-Winners Squad appearing as a team in 1941. The trio of Subby, Torch, and Cap (along with the sidekicks Toro and Bucky) would guest-star in each other's mags (and occasionally team up) but the team's first appearance was actually in All-Winners Comics #19 (Fall 1946). Incredibly enough, the All-Winners Squad only made two appearances in the Golden Age. Roy mined the Golden Age in the mid-70s for the aforementioned The Invaders and also for the less successful Liberty Legion.

Jack: Captain America is shown using his triangular shield, which must place this story around New Year's Day 1941. Why? Captain America #1 was published in December 1940 with a cover date of March 1941. By Captain America 2, cover-dated April 1941 and thus likely published in January 1941, Cap had his round shield. Stan's footnote in this issue states that Cap got his shield later in 1941, after this story took place. Hence, it must have been the very beginning of January that the Avengers showed up. In other news, how bad a boyfriend is Kang? He could have revived Ravonna, but no--he decides to kill the Avengers. Loser! He should have picked Ravonna. Big talker!

Also this month

Chamber of Darkness #2
Chili #8
Kid Colt Outlaw #141
Mad About Millie #6
Marvel's Greatest Comics #24
Millie the Model #177
Our Love Story #2
Rawhide Kid #73
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #73

1969: The Year In Review

If Marvel in 1968 had been all about expansion of the superhero line, 1969 went in a different--and unexpected--direction, as the superhero line stagnated and began to shrink while overall output grew. The biggest story of all was the price hike to 15 cents for comics cover-dated July 1969; Marvel had built its fortune on all of those combinations of a dime and two pennies coughed up by boys across America since February 1962.

Of course, the stalwarts of the line remained the standard-sized superhero books, issued every month without fail and mostly featuring all-new material: The Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner, Thor and X-Men followed this pattern. Monthly output for the line went from a low of 18 books (three months) to an all-time (for Marvel in the 1960s) high of 26 books (November). Monthly output in 1968 had peaked at 22. Interestingly, the number of superhero comics with new material never went below 12 or above 14 this year.

Westerns continued to appear: Rawhide Kid was a bi-monthly, Kid Colt, Outlaw returned as a monthly starting in November, and The Mighty Marvel Western saw four issues published with reprints of stories featuring Kid Colt, Outlaw, Rawhide Kid, and Two-Gun Kid, all for 25 cents a copy. While the regular-sized comics went from 12 to 15 cents in July 1969, the large-sized comics remained at 25 cents; however, as of July none would include any more new material.

Annuals or King-Size Specials (or Queen-Size, in the case of Millie the Model) continued to be issued for the more popular titles in the higher-selling months, yet for the first time they were all reprints. The 1969 annuals included The Avengers, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Millie the Model, Sgt. Fury and Spider-Man. The three 25 cent bi-monthly reprint books continued to appear regularly; Marvel Super-Heroes featured a mix of new and reprint stories until July, when it became all-reprint; Marvel Tales stayed all-reprint; and Marvel's Collector's Item Classics changed its name to Marvel's Greatest Comics with the October issue but never wavered from its all-reprint format.

War comics soldiered on: Sgt. Fury kept marching into battle every month while Captain Savage was honorably discharged to bi-monthly status with the July issue.

Four superhero books were stripped of their powers along the way. Dr. Strange began the year as a monthly, became bi-monthly in July, and was canceled after the November issue. Captain Marvel was a monthly that for some strange reason missed the July issue (what is it about that month?). Nick Fury followed the same pattern as Dr. Strange (continuing the symbiotic relationship the two titles had enjoyed since the days of Strange Tales) but only went on a year-long hiatus with the November issue rather than being flat-out canceled. Strangest of all was Silver Surfer, which began the year as a 25 cent bi-monthly with a mix of new and reprint (sort of) stories, then switched to a 15 cent monthly with the November issue.

Stan Lee and Roy Thomas continued to write most of the superhero books, but as Lee waned Thomas waxed. Art chores were handled by the usual stalwarts, with John Buscema all but disappearing from view and his little brother Sal galloping in to replace him. Highlights of the year in art were Barry Smith's brief runs on a few titles, Jim Steranko's brief run on X-Men, and Neal Adams's game-changing work on the same title.

The expansion of the line all came in the latter months of the year, as humor, love, and chills began to fill spots where heroes once had trod. Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness began as alternating bi-monthly titles in the fall, beginning a horror comics trend that would gain traction in the 1970s. Not Brand Ecch limped into the sunset after two 25 cent issues early in the year. Millie the Model continued her blonde dominance of the Marvel humor market: her regular comic continued as a monthly, she had an annual, and she even was featured in a new title called Mad About Millie that began as a 25 cent bi-monthly but switched to a 15 cent monthly in October. For those who like redheads, Millie's friend (or rival) Chili began to sashay through her own monthly book, starting in May.

For the first time in the Marvel Age, the House of Ideas began to put out romance comics with My Love and Our Love Story, bi-monthly 15 cent titles that alternated months beginning in September. And lest we forget Marvel's origins as a shameless copier of that which sells, November saw the debuts of Homer, the Happy Ghost (think Casper) and Peter, the Little Pest (think Dennis the Menace), 15 cent bi-monthlies aimed at younger readers.

The stage was set for the dawn of the 1970s!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

November 1969: First Hint of the Marvel Glut?

Silver Surfer 10
Our Story

The beautiful Shalla Bal makes use of Yarro Gort – a distasteful, adventurous scientist from her home planet – to take her to Earth on a search for the Silver Surfer.  Yarro Gort is only taking the faithful lady to Earth, however, to show her that the S.S. is either dead or not interested in her any more.  If this is true, Shalla Bal has promised to be Yarro’s girl. On Earth . . . an attempt at a suicidal leap from a bridge is thwarted by the Surfer.  Although he saved both a policeman and a jumper, Norrin Radd is still distrusted.
Our misunderstood hero dons some human clothing and decides to investigate man’s psyche.  To do this he chooses to live in a South American war-torn town.  For some reason he feels he’ll discover the mystery of humanity if he picks a place in the midst of battle.  While being stopped by the occupying army and flicking them away like bugs, the S.S. gets helped by local women Donna Maria Perez and her mother.  With them he finds kindness and understanding – they hide him to ensure his safety.  In retaliation for hiding the Silver Surfer, the evil foes kidnap Donna Maria.  The Silver Surfer goes to her rescue, walking through the occupiers’ bullets.  Norrin Radd destroys the invaders’ arms storage and Donna Maria gives him a big smooch of gratitude. HOWEVER, this is precisely the moment that Yarro’s “psyche sensors” hone in on the Silver Surfer and Shalla Bal witnesses the kiss. . . and jumps to the conclusion that her lover has forsaken her!
. . . until next issue . . .

NC:  Even though the story line and the premise of this issue are a bit lame, there are a couple of gems in this one.  When the Silver Surfer points out that having women (especially motherly types) running the world would make the Earth a better place, my heart sing.  Our feminist Norrin Radd!  I do feel, however, that Shalla Bal’s tactics are a bit self-serving and distasteful.  She calls Yarro Gort cold and calculating while she only worked for him and led him on so that he would take her to Earth to see her true love.  A bit of the pot calling the kettle black???  Lastly, although I may not fully agree with this quote, I sure love the line:  “They think peace denotes weakness and savagery strength and none but their very young . . . or very old . . . know the true meaning of . . . LOVE.”

MB:  This issue rehashes the Namor/Dorma/Krang triangle that already felt quaint way back in Tales to Astonish: “I loathe you, but I’ll marry you if the man I love turns out to be a faithless louse.”  Worse, the climactic “surprise” that one could see coming from as far away as Zenn-La, in which Shalla-Bal and Yarro Gort (“Klaatu barada nikto”?) just happen to arrive at the precise moment when the grateful señorita locks lips with Norrin, is more groan- than gasp-inducing.  On the plus side, “Donna” Maria—whom I suspect should be Doña—is fetching and brave, and it’s nice to see the Surfer duded up in his trench coat, fedora, and shades, especially on his board, as well as to know that Al Harper’s horrific self-sacrifice has not been forgotten.

The Amazing Spider-Man 78
Our Story

Dumped by his gal and receiving no respect from his boss, young Hobie Brown quits his window cleaning job and uses the high-tech gear he designed to become The Prowler. Convinced the only way people will pay attention to him, Hobie decides the life of a super-villain is the way to go. His choice for his first stick-up, though frankly short-sighted, turns out to be The Daily Bugle, as the office will be full of reporters and Hobie's sure to get his masked face on the front page of the next morning's edition. This, he assures himself, will make him a top dog in the city and cash and respect will come running to him. Since the title of the comic is The Amazing Spider-Man, we know eventually our hero will try to halt the progress of the fledgling bad guy. Unfortunately, Spidey just happens to be at The Bugle to ask J. Jonah Jameson for an advance when The Prowler makes his move. Without changing into his Spider-gear, how will Peter Parker defeat this new villain without tipping off his curmudgeonly boss to his super-powers?

PE: Gwen and Flash sure aren't the sharpest knives in the silverware drawer, are they?

Gwen: I don't know, Flash, there's some mysterious secret Peter is hiding from me. Do you know what it could be?
Flash: Gee, Gwen, I don't know, it seems like ever since Spider-Man came around, Parker disappears when there's trouble. Nope, I can't think of a good reason!

Don't we seem to be on the same carousel over and over lately with the romance angle? Let's get this (and Harry's lame Mandarin-stache) out of the way and settled. Just how long is Flash Thompson's shore leave anyway?

MB:  So, if a guy like the Sub-Mariner is an anti-hero (except when he’s being wrongly classified as a super-villain), does that make the Prowler an anti-villain?  Hobie Brown is a well-drawn character in every respect, and doubtless reflective of many a frustrated young man regardless of race—although I’m not sure how plausible that window-cleaning gear he dreamed up might be in practice—but somehow, paradoxically, the fact that he isn’t a dyed-in-the-wool bad guy has always made him less interesting to me.  The 13-year-old John Romita, Jr., whose father’s name is absent from this issue, I presume gets his first credit for “suggesting” the Prowler, and J. Jonah Jameson proves once again that while he may be a jerk, he’s no racist.

PE: But, to me, that scene is so out of character for Jameson. I get that he's not a bigot but he'd never give a stranger an even break, no matter the skin color. Hobie's reasoning behind becoming a super-villain, because making a name for yourself as a hero takes too long, is pretty lame if you ask me. The whole set-up, as envisioned by Stan, is for us to think of Hobie as the black Peter Parker. Then to top it off, Hobie figures the best place to pull a robbery would be a newspaper office! Not my first choice but then he's a newbie. I think "Super-Washer" or "The Dark Squeegee" would have been much more catchier than the frankly generic "The Prowler." This is one of the low points for the Romita-era Amazing in my book.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 19
Our Story

Due to a fracas with some outer space extraterrestrials, Namor is left without his power of flight or the ability to breathe underwater.  After waking up on the beach, he tries to escape into the sea, only to be captured by Dr. Newell, who is now the mighty Sting Ray.  Newell got his new costume equipped with underwater speed and strength thanks to the government.  The catch is that he now works for them and they would like nothing better than to keep Namor imprisoned for the times he's mixed it up with the U.S. troops.  Subby doesn't stay a prisoner for long as he escapes into the sewers.  Sting Ray catches up with him and, during the ensuing fight, they cause damage to a pillar that is holding up a towering bridge above.  Namor could escape, but instead he risks his life to help Sting Ray fix the damage and save people from drowning if the bridge collapsed.  To repay the hero for his good deed, Sting Ray leaves an unconscious Namor on the streets, vowing never to hunt him again.

Much of the Marvel Bullpen appears
in this picture! Note Kirby at bottom right.
Tom:  Sting Ray is a character I'm not too familiar with though I have a vague recollection of him from other future comic book appearances.  I know his whole getup is kind of lame looking, but for some reason I like the guy.  It's interesting that, while not a villain, Sting Ray acts somewhat selfishly to capture Namor even though he likes him.  He just wants the government to keep giving him money.  Part of my enjoyment with this issue may also have to do with Marie Severin's artwork, which I enjoyed immensely in all its simplicity.  Big LOL moment at the beginning when some no-good hippies accost Subby at the beach.        

MB:  A Bullpen Bulletin notes, “Many of today’s Marvel madmen had done a stint years ago at the still-remembered EC Comics Group.  Among them were Jumpin’ Johnny Craig, whose illustrations had been faithfully colored by a most talented youngster who just happened to be the kid sister of Long John Severin….Mr. Craig, who’s been busily inking up a storm for us lately, is reunited once more with Merry Marie Severin—as both of them are now boosting the bludgeoning Sub-Mariner to still-greater heights of glory!”  Subby is spot-on in many panels, and I would welcome more from this team.  Walt finally dons his Sting-Ray outfit (oddly, white on the cover and yellow inside), here as a frenemy, but known to longtime readers as a good guy.

The X-Men 62
Our Story

Angel is rescued by a strange figure in the Savage Land while the rest of the X-Men fend off dinosaurs and bump into their old pal Kazar, who after having been introduced to the team more than 50 issues ago, isn't exactly thrilled to see them. But as they will soon find, Kazar isn't the only familiar face hanging around in the Savage Land.

MB: Well, if we have to put up with the mercurial Bomba the Jungle Boy, at least we get compensated with an incognito Magneto (hmm, nice ring)—or, since he’s only unrecognized by virtue of being out of uniform, does that make him, I don’t know, “excognito”?  There’s also the considerable contribution of the Adams/Palmer artwork, and while I like it a little less than in the recent Sentinels trilogy, I think these recolored X-Men Classics reprints may have lots to do with that; they’re not as bad as the swill being sold today, but they’re much more painterly than actual comics from that era and, as a result, just look wrong to my vintage eye.  Yet these are relatively minor quibbles, when I think Roy and the artists are doing uniformly fine work…while they can.

JS: I have to admit that I was surprised there wasn't an earlier hint that this 'stranger in a savage land' was in fact the dreaded master of magnetism.

PE: It feels like there are a few pages missing between the climax of last issue and the onset of this one. Events roll by without much explanation and, when dealing with a small brain such as mine, a reader can get lost pronto. The art remains the best on MarvelLand but Roy's writing remains maddeningly hit-or-miss. Too long has passed since we had a good old-fashioned duke-out between heroes in this title. No one does rude better than an X-Kid. It looks to me as though Ka-Zar has been to a hair stylist since last we crossed paths with him. Ka-Zar The Suave maybe?

JS: I had to re-read a few pages after the dinosaurs showed up, as I was sure that the X-kids would have been surprised to find themselves face-to-face with the long extinct thunder lizards. But I guess hanging around with mutants all day you get used to seeing just about anything.

A perfect example of how to tell a story without words!
Jack: Perhaps his move from the Savage Land under Antarctica to wherever this issue is set allowed him to avail himself of a new shampoo and conditioner. It seems to me that Mr. Adams likes to draw dinosaurs (a lot!) because he sure draws enough of them. Fortunately, they look spectacular, as does everything else in this issue. I was completely taken by surprise to see that the guy with the white hair is Magneto!

JS: While perhaps a step down from the classic Sentinels tale, this is still head and shoulders above the majority of the issues that preceeded in this decade.

Our first look at Magneto without helmet.

The Invincible Iron Man 19
Our Story

Having suffered the heart attack to end all heart attacks, Tony Stark lies at death's door when it seems, at last, that the Ultra-Rejuvenator and Dr. Santini's experimental synthetic heart tissue will be the perfect combination to save the billionaire bomb-builder extraordinaire. The military (and Janice Cord) can, at last, exhale! Back to work in a jiffy, Tony Stark is debating whether to pop on his armor and dismiss all the warnings delivered to hi by Santini, when an alarm warns him that someone is in his private office. He races there to find Madame Masque, who swiftly gasses Stark and kidnaps him. Before he can say "extra crispy" he's lying at the feet of his fat foe, Midas. Seems he just left this scenario, doesn't it? Giving Stark an ultimatum (sign over his vast fortune or die), Midas chains our hero up in a dungeon until he can make up his mind. Tony receives a visit from the smitten Masque, who explains to Stark there could be no future for them since she's horribly scarred. To prove this, she unmasques and the munitions master is shocked to find out that, not only is she disfigured, Madame Masque is, in reality, Jasper Sitwell's old girlfriend, Whitney Frost! Together the two attempt a bust out but the suspicious Midas is ready for them. Tony must risk permanent heart damage (again) by donning his armor only hours after major surgery but the gamble pays off and the duo escape the island, moments before Midas' explosives laden palace goes sky-high.

PE: Archie Goodwin was a great writer. Here he's a very good one. That intro, with Death and Iron man locked in a ballet-like battle is a strong one but up and down the quality-mountain the story goes afterwards. Archie falls victim to the same lazy plot device that Stan used ad nauseum: heart trouble. I'll repeat one more time: Midas is a one-note joke spread thin over several issues. Isn't there another symbol for gluttony besides a drumstick? And how many Marvel Zombies were offended by the finale, where The Golden Glutton loses his chair and can't stand up because of his extra cargo? How many took stock, threw out their Mama Celeste frozen pizzas, and went to the gym the next day? Methinks Archie was trying to make a point here. I was floored by the Madame Masque reveal. Never saw that coming! That poor girl must have had to change the monogram on her hankies every month. According to her bio: Born: Giuletta Nefaria, adopted name: Whitney Frost, aka: The Big M, Madame Masque, later known as: Krissy Longfellow and Masque! Great cover, by the way.

MB:  Unlike the dreaded Drake and Friedrich, Goodwin is the only decent writer to have followed Thomas into the Bullpen, so with Stan and Roy splitting all the other surviving super-hero books between them, it’s a shame Archie couldn’t do more than one.  There’s a lot going on in this issue, most notably the revelation of Madame Masque’s true identity and the deepening of her relationship with Tony, but Artful Archie orchestrates it masterfully.  Midas is a fascinating figure, and one who—in addition to his legendary namesake—is equal parts Sydney Greenstreet, with his Maltese Falcon-style speech patterns; Nero Wolfe, indulging his appetite after years of deprivation; and MODOK, his grotesque bulk supported by an armed flying chair.

PE: A chair luckily armed with a Detecto-Antenna, a device used to "ferret out false images," a trick Iron Man coincidentally attempts on Midas. Much as I appreciate the new lowdown on Tony Stark's armor and how it works (making it all the easier to see why the iron adheres so smoothly to Stark's skin), might I suggest that maybe it's not the heart the doctors should be worried about but his brain. The trillionaire playboy spends fourteen panels explaining all this gadgetry out loud to no one but himself! In fact, now that I bring it up, why is there so much out-loud expository? Do you ever walk around your domicile and explain over and over to yourself exactly why you bought that broom and dustpan and how best to use it? Yeah, I know, it's a comic book, but a few more "bubbly cloud balloons" (rather than "out loud talk balloons") and I wouldn't even be thinking about it. One kiss from sexy Tony Stark and Madame Masque goes straight. How about that? I hope Jasper never finds out that Tony was making moves on his girl, Doctor Doom face or no. By the way, George Tuska = Don Heck.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 15
Our Story

Fury’s current Hydra nemesis—now identified as #2—hires Bull-Eye (no relation to the Daredevil villain) to shoot Nick at a Country Joe and the Fish concert he’ll be attending with Laura in Central Park, planning both to betray the assassin and to launch a simultaneous attack on S.H.I.E.L.D.  As the concert progresses, with Joe invoking the Fantastic Four and Dr. Strange in his lyrics, Bulls-Eye readies his computerized rifle, which has been programmed with a recording of Fury’s heartbeat, obtained we know not where, and fires, apparently killing Nick.  At the last minute, the head of Hydra suddenly cancels the attack he had planned, confident that Bulls-Eye cannot escape the S.H.I.E.L.D. task force that guns him down.

MB: Outright cancellation (which at this point must be regarded as a mercy killing) succeeded a year-long hiatus and three issues of Strange Tales reprints, but this marks the end for Fury’s solo strip; unlike Dr. Strange’s, it would have no Bronze-Age revival, save for Marvel Spotlight #31, a ’76 one-shot.  This issue’s spectacular awfulness leaves us nothing but memories to mourn, adding faculty piñata Dick Ayers to the Trimpe/Grainger Inappropriate Artists mix as a parting shot.  I cringe at Friedrich’s coup de grâce to a great character (whose “assassination” will be explained two months hence in Avengers #72), as he again exiles Val, flaunts Nick’s May-December fling with Laura, and bores us with endless exposition as Bulls-Eye is betrayed by Hydra’s #2…or 72.

PE: If I was a macho master marksman, I wouldn't be caught dead in that uniform: purple hot pants and orange nylons? Puh-lease! I'm probably not the only Zombie who thought this was the same Bullseye who would plague Daredevil, most famously in Frank Miller's run in the early 80s. This guy's a different animal altogether. Once again, a Marvel writer tries to impress us dopes with how with-it hip he is (but forty years later only convinces us that there were some recreational breaks happening while Stan wasn't in the office). Is the Central Park concert headlined by The Stones? The Who? Hendrix? Pshaw! It's protest band Country Joe and The Fish. I guess The Mothers were out of town that weekend. There was one panel that made me smile: the "cut-away diagram of Hydra's Underground Strike Force Headquarters," a call back to the old days when Jack and Stan would run schematics of just about every secret hideout in the MU.

Captain Marvel 18
Our Story

Knowing that if Rick is killed, Mar-Vell will stay trapped in the Negative Zone, Yon-Rogg directs a car toward the teen, but Mar-Vell stops it and rescues the unconscious driver.  At a café in a nearby city, Rick sits in for a singer, yet after decking a heckler, he brushes off the praise of show-biz promoter Mordecai P. Boggs, whereupon Mar-Vell heads back for the Kree outpost.  There, Yon-Rogg has uncovered the outlawed Psyche-Magnitron, which allows its user to conjure up anything devised by Kree science—in this case a robotic Mandroid—but Mar-Vell tricks the “metal monster” into blasting the Psyche-Magnitron; the captive Carol is hit by a stray shot, and having defeated Yon-Rogg, Mar-Vell flies her to safety as the machine explodes.

MB: “For personal reasons,” the lettercol informs us, “Gil was unable to finish the entire story, though he’s already hard at work on next month’s Mar-Vell masterwork.  So we just gave a whistle—and ol’ [John Buscema] dashed off the last part of the story over a long weekend.”  They ask the reader to try to identify where he took over; it’s pretty obvious that page 12 was the last finished by Kane, and singularly apt that years later, Carol’s first appearance as Ms. Marvel, whose origin ties in with this very issue, was penciled by none other than Big John.  Interestingly, Medic Una is repeatedly invoked, yet Yon-Rogg’s alleged ability to restore her to life is not, one of the few dangling Drake/Friedrich plot threads that Archie and Roy chose to ignore, perhaps just as well.

PE: I'm going to need a rule book now for this title as well as The Mighty Thor. I've already established I don't understand the whole "swapping places" idea but here's another question for Mar-Vell experts (I believe that's you by default, Professor Matthew): do they have to yell at the sky to talk to each other when one is on earth and the other in the Negative Zone? Why don't they just read each other's thoughts? Why is stopping a speeding car such a chore for someone with super duper powers? What kind of godforsaken town did Rick Jones land in where he can step up to a microphone with an acoustic guitar and a gorgeous girl will claim he has "soul"? How about some of those "soulful" lyrics:

You say the wind blows free
But it's just cold to me
I'm alone.
And there's a road out there
But it don't lead nowhere
I'm alone.
There must be somewhere I can make a stand
Somewhere to go
Some over-rainbow land
And if you'll stay by me
Why then, we both can be
All alone.

Nope, I looked it up. David Gates and Bread never recorded this winner.

Fantastic Four 92
Our Story

The reality of his situation starts to sink in for Ben; he’s a prisoner on the planet Kral in the Skrull galaxy, to fight in an arena setting against other alien prisoners. Various methods control him and the others from rebelling, nerve guns, hypno-glow rays, and brain-blast guns to name a few. The ultimate threat is that the Kral’s have a sonic disruptor ray that they can use to move any home planet out of orbit should a slave disobey. While Ben is forced to fight various aliens as training for his arena match with the robot Torgo, back on Earth Reed and Johnny, modifying the Skrull saucer they captured way back when (F.F. # 2), set sail to help their partner. Sue holds down the fort at home. The Games get set to start; Ben, Torgo, and the other aliens are put in stalls to wait their turns, and the mob bosses gather for some entertainment.

JB: I guess Stan and Jack just decided if you’re going to “borrow” from another source for your storyline (as we’ve all mentioned, Star Trek in this case), you might as well make it obvious! Actually, all the various aliens remind me a little of the evolved super-beings of Wundagore in Thor #’s 134-5. The sonic disruptor looks menacing, but hardly like it could knock a planet out of orbit. Not only is Sue ordered to stay at home, on Kral it looks like all their women get to do is answer phones and look pretty. If we want to carry the Star Trek thing still further, using the slave fights to decide which boss controls what territories could be likened to the episode “A Taste Of Armageddon,” where a computer war decides who the casualties are without any actual bloodshed.

MB:  Marvel being the pop-culture melting pot that it is, coupled with a reference from the current Sub-Mariner lettercol to “a spaceman named Spock (whom we dug!),” I have to wonder whether this issue isn’t Stan’s answer to the previous year’s “A Piece of the Action,” the Star Trek episode in which the Enterprise visits a planet where, you guessed it, everybody talks and dresses like vintage American gangsters.  Curiously, there’s a character named “Napoleon G. Robberson” while, at the same time, Kirby and Sinnott have made another one, Boss Barker, the lookalike of Robberson’s obvious inspiration, Edward G. Robinson.  At least this time around, my Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint acknowledges that the Fantastic Four has other members!

PE: Not content with ripping off one episode of Star Drek, the boys now throw in elements of "Arena" as well! Two Drek episodes for the price of one comic. What a deal! Hear that? It's the sound of Stan and Jack streeeeeetching a two-issue story into four. This chapter lacks anything resembling excitement or intrigue but does see the return of Reed "A woman's place is in the kitchen" Richards. We're at the bottom of one of those canyons right now and I can't see the sun.

Jack: "Arena"? Did someone mention "Arena"?

PE: Easy, boy, easy. Schow doesn't read this blog.

The Mighty Thor 170
Our Story

Thor returns to Earth, and is filled in by Balder and the Warriors Three about the danger at hand. The Thermal Man, an artificial being created in China to help conquer the western world, is running amok in an evacuated New York, destroying anything in his way. Enter the Asgardians into the fray, and things heat up. Thermie’s creators in the Orient have decided he’s getting too powerful, and fearing for their own future, send a special imploding missile over to help defeat him. It appears to work, felling the Thermal Man. Thor switches to the role of Don Blake to save a felled soldier, and Karnilla, witnessing from afar, whisks the other Asgardians to her Norn kingdom, not wishing to see her beloved Balder hurt.  The Thunder God returns, and creates a tidal wave to wash the revived Thermal Man into the waters of the frozen north, gone but not forgotten.

JB: As we approach the end of 1969, and enter into the 170’s, the Thor title returns to single-issue stories for a bit. The Thermal Man tale exemplifies how this trend, for the most part, brought about a far more mundane comic than we’ve been used to for some time.  The Thermal Man does look kind of cool, with his giant suction cup fingers, but his defeat might have had a little more bite if they’d just left him as destroyed by the “Commies” own missile rather than have Thor pull out a rabbit trick. I can almost picture this one as a 1969 version of an early Journey Into Mystery back in say the 90’s (except for Blake getting the soldier out of the rubble and carrying him to safety!), but it isn’t as convincing here. Loki being enraged at Karnilla for saving Balder and the Warriors Three might have some significance later on.

MB: Worst.  Splash.  Page.  Ever.  Thor looks like some sort of demented skull-monster, but luckily Bill Everett, having pinch-hit so successfully for Colletta back in #143, does a much better job with the rest of the issue, succeeding the late George Klein (whose obituary appears on this month’s Bullpen Bulletins page) as Jack’s inker. As usual, this is a very eventful tale, which fortunately helps distract us from the fact that the Thermal Man, although big and powerful, isn’t very interesting, to say nothing of being way too easily defeated by Thor at the fadeout.  I guess we now know how the U.S. Army was aware of the Thermal Man’s name last month, since those wacky Red Chinese—in a uniquely comic-book-style détente—offered to help us try to stop him.

PE: It's amazing that the stinkin' commies sent a bomb over and it wasn't a trick. If I'd been the Army, knowing how sly those debbil dogs were, I wouldn't have had the nerve to use the bomb. How do you like that? Commies to the rescue! As if to add an exclamation point to the affair, Stan wonders aloud (through one of his airmen) why we can't all just get along. The biggest problem with a foe like The Thermal Man is, once you proclaim that his strength only increases, how you defeat him in a logical and entertaining way. The obvious answer, if you're Thor, is to destroy half of New York along with The Thermal Man! A case of the baby with the bath water, I guess.

Captain America 119
Our Story

Tired of playing Captain America, The Red Skull wills himself back into his old guise and then transports himself to his castle in Berchtesgaden, where he and der fuehrer once "conspired to rule all mankind." To make his playset complete, he has Captain America (still in his Red Skull/muddy face guise) and The Falcon beamed aboard. Having too much fun to kill them outright, The Red Skull throws all manner of torturous obstacles at the heroic pair, little knowing that his spectacle is being watched by another pair of eyes. Ready to activate his own like-powered Catholite Block, Modok destroys the Cosmic Cube and, ostensibly, The Red Skull along with it. Cap and The Falcon shrug and laugh at their good luck, never knowing the aid came from one of Captain America's most dangerous foes.

PE: You almost feel sorry for The Skull since he comes up with a foolproof plan but always seems to be fool enough to blow it, even with the "most powerful weapon in the universe!" This climax is way too quick as though Stan was writing the pages for Gene as he was penciling them, got to page 19 and realized he had one page to wrap it up in. It's a nice irony (or shall I be snarky and say it's just another Marvel Coincidence?) that Cap is saved by Modok, a creature craving revenge against the star-spangled Avenger. He'll have to wait 'til next issue to get his pound of flesh. Colan and Sinnott are starting to click on this title, though The Skull still looks as though he's made of modeling clay (his ever-changing brow reminds me of Ygor's "Hump? What hump?" retort in Young Frankenstein) and Stan proves to me again that this was his favorite character in the MU ("Pshaw," I says to those who say it was The Surfer) with an exciting script filled with crackling action scenes.

MB: Once again, Stan & Co. grapple with the persistent question of “How do we defeat a villain armed with the Cosmic Cube?,” a device that almost seems better suited to the more, uh, cosmic use to which Jim Starlin would put it in his first Thanos War.  The Red Skull, it must be said, blows it every time, and really has no excuse while wielding a weapon that can turn wishes into reality, although at least here, Stan uses the deus ex machina of MODOK and A.I.M. to restore the status quo, rather than falling back on the Skull’s outsized ego yet again.  Random observations regarding the Colan/Sinnott artwork:  Gene’s layouts display a kind of exuberance, well suited to winding up so significant an arc, and Berchtesgaden makes an atmospheric setting.

PE: Part of the magic of revisiting these old comic books is reading the letters pages (now long gone in comic books, given way to more ads or more computer-generated art, interchangeable if you ask me) and realizing just how into this stuff we were when we were kids and just how much this silly kids stuff meant to us. 14 year-old Alan Brennert sets forth his theory on the "other Cap," that guy who fought in the 1950s comics, an obvious forgery since the real Cap was on ice since WW II. Alan speculates that "the other guy" was in reality, Steve Rogers' brother, Alan, who put on the outfit after his brother disappeared and fought throughout the 50s. This Cap's Bucky was, in reality, Alan's son. Sometime near the end of the 1950s, the pair were found out and forced into retirement. Not a bad scenario considering this letter writer's age. Of course, a decade later he was writing for TV and another decade later he was writing scripts for The New Twilight Zone. Some of us Zombies made a living off this fanciful stuff!

The Incredible Hulk 121
Our Story

The Hulk is out exploring in the everglade swamps of Florida when he stumbles upon an old military shack.  Inside the shack he finds nothing but drums that contain radioactive waste.  Throwing a tantrum because he has no friends, the Hulk knocks the drums into the swamps before he leaves.  Once he's gone, a strange, monstrous humanoid emerges from the swamp depths and lumbers off.  Alerted to the Hulk's presence in Florida, Thunderbolt Ross arrives with military troops and attacks the green goliath.  Of course, they are no match for the Hulk and he escapes.  Betty is kept in a hotel with Talbot as her babysitter so she doesn't run off to try and protect Bruce from her daddy.  The mysterious beast that had just arisen from the swamps sees her.  Through a flashback, it is learned that the creature is made up partly of an escaped convict who had a dying significant other that Betty reminds him of.  The convict drowned in the swamps some time ago when the police and bloodhounds were chasing him.  Now newly resurrected as a swamp monster called the Glob, it breaks into Betty's room.  Talbot tries to stop it but is easily knocked out.  While carrying Betty through the swamp, the creature comes across the Hulk.  While the two monsters fight over Betty, Ross has his men load the swamp waters with a new radioactive serum that will destroy anything made up of radiation.  The Hulk senses this when the Glob tries to take Betty with him into the swamp.  As it melts him away, the Glob holds Betty up in the air for the Hulk to rescue.  He does so, with the Glob apparently destroyed.  The Hulk leaves Betty so her father can retrieve her while feeling sorry that the Glob and he couldn't have been friends.

Never a good sign.
Tom:  This issue was close to being great, except it ended a little too quickly.  The Hulk and the Glob should have had a longer monster mash fight than a couple of pages.  Reading this again was nice as this was the oldest Hulk comic I had ever owned in my collection.  The Glob's origin was pretty awesome and I can easily see it being used in some type of horror movie where the Glob goes off to kill teenagers like Jason from Friday the 13th.      

MB:  Roy Thomas had contributed to the occasional Hulk tale in the past, but this solo effort marked the start of his only sustained run on the series, lasting for just over two years.  Of course, he can’t be expected to turn things around in a single issue, but the debut of the Glob seems like a lurch in the right direction, and if his origin seems overly familiar when read today, it is no doubt due to the near-simultaneous advent in 1971 of Marvel’s own Man-Thing (whom Roy co-created, and who later fought the Glob himself) and DC’s Swamp Thing, all of them presumably descended from the Golden Age character the Heap.  Even less original is the remainder of the issue as Betty, Thunderbolt, Glen, and the Army go through the usual motions.

PE: This issue tells me that one-issue stories as a rule are going to be a drag. The Glob shows up, kidnaps Betty, and then dissolves in the swamp, just like that. Absolutely nothing happens here. We even get a minimal panel origin. It's not a bad story but it's not a story. It's a fragment. At least it looks good.

Daredevil 58
Our Story

Back at home in New York and back to business, Matt Murdock has returned from the dead as he prosecutes a mob flunky of Crime Wave.  It's explained to the press that Matt faked his death to help trap Mr. Fear.  Now that he has revealed to Karen the secret behind his powers and identity, Matt proposes marriage.  Karen is worried about his safety when he fights crime as Daredevil, so Matt promises that, after he's done assisting in the United Fund parade, he will retire as Daredevil.  It's during the parade that our hero is attacked by a villain calling himself the Stunt-Master.  Using a tricked out, super-speed motorcycle, this new bad guy battles it out with Daredevil for a brief time before he accidentally kills himself when his own motorcycle lands on top of him.  It is later revealed that the Stunt-Master was an aging Hollywood stuntman who was paid to get rid of Double D by Crime Wave.  Even though the plan was for Daredevil to announce his retirement after the parade, he declines to do so as the cheers of the crowd and the people looking up to him would be too hard for him to let go.  This of course crushes poor Karen. 

Tom:  While it's never really revealed if the Stunt-Master dies or not, I'm hoping this is the end of him.  A cheesy villain for another cheesy issue of the man with no fear...or brains.  Daredevil said it himself the best when he mentioned his own lack of common sense.  Decent artwork at least for this story if not much else.  I can't wait to read more about the Matt and Karen love drama.

MB: I’m not going to beat around the bush:  I am sick to death of all the hearts-and-flowers and secret-identity nonsense in this book, even now that the primary offender, fictional Mike Murdock, has been removed from the picture.  In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and offer my unvarnished opinion that this exact aspect has dragged the strip down through the entire decade, making it chronically unable to hit its stride for more than a few issues at a time, despite the usual excellent Gene Colan artwork, in this case inked once again by Syd Shores.  Here, thePeyton Place routine leaves virtually no room for a villain, and what we do get is the forgettable Stunt-Master (who, inexplicably, would return, albeit in the more suitable venue of Ghost Rider).

Jack: Despite what it says on the cover, the Stunt-Master fizzles rather than spins) out. This is one of those issues where the relationships between the main characters and the overall story arc take precedence over the hero versus villain action. The rumors of Matt Murdock's death were exaggerated and he does some nice courtroom work for the first time in many issues. Seeing Shores ink Colan is not a pretty sight right after reading Dr. Strange, where Palmer's inks bring out the best in Colan's pencils.

Dr. Strange 183
Our Story

Dr. Strange confirms that Eternity has wiped out his previous identity as Stephen Strange and replaced it with a new one as Stephen Sanders as a reward for trying to help the being escape from Nightmare's prison. In response to a telegram, he travels to the home of old friend Kenneth Ward, only to find the man wheelchair-bound and seemingly without recollection of why he sent the summons. Dr. Strange discovers that Ward brought home a mysterious idol that he found in the Himalayas and is now menaced by three gargoyles masquerading as caretakers. Defeating the evil ones does not prevent Ward's death and Dr. Strange vows to find the missing idol and discover why it was so sought after.

Jack: The final issue of Dr. Strange's original run features beautiful art by Colan and Palmer, as well as an above-average story by Thomas. The good doctor will return in a few months in Sub-Mariner 22, still sporting his blue mask. It's too bad this series was canceled; it's of higher quality than several other Marvel titles that survived, but that never seemed to matter much.

MB: This book’s tragic cancellation was obviously abrupt, hinted at in neither the lettercol—where 15-year-old [J.] Marc DeMatteis, who would later script Doc’s adventures in The Defenders, writes in from Brooklyn with praise—nor the last page’s “Next: The Searchers!” For those of you keeping score at home, this would be the last time for years that Marvel hit its current peak of 14 new super-hero mags in a month.  The issue itself is excellent, displaying the Colan/Palmer artwork at its best and the start of Roy’s far-reaching storyline concerning the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired Undying Ones (which, ironically, planted the seeds for The Defenders), but readers would have to wait three months to see it continued in, of all places, Sub-Mariner #22.

The Avengers 70
Our Story

The great chess match between Kang's team (the Avengers) and the Grandmaster's team (the Squadron Sinister) gets underway as Iron Man arrives to complete the foursome. Captain America defeats Nighthawk as he tries to steal the Statute of Liberty. Iron Man beats Dr. Spectrum at the Taj Mahal. Thor bests Hyperion by the Sphinx.  Goliath defeats the Whizzer by Big Ben. The Black Knight tries to help Goliath so the Grandmaster cries foul and announces that there will be a second round.

MB:  Presumably, others will have already commented on the similarities between the Squadron Sinister and their JLA counterparts (Hyperion/Superman, Dr. Spectrum/Green Lantern, Whizzer/Flash, Nighthawk/Batman), so I’ll just add that Nighthawk later reforms and becomes a mainstay of the Defenders, mercifully in another uniform.  The confusion between the Squadrons Sinister and Supreme, which apparently bedeviled Marvel’s production department, is a tale best left for another day.  I’m still loving this artwork:  Sal’s pencils maintain a family resemblance to those of big brother John, yet don’t look quite like either those or Sal’s subsequent work, and I’m not sure whether to attribute that primarily to Sam Grainger’s inks, Sal’s fledgling status, or both.

Paging Signor Fellini!
PE: Rascally Roy seems to be at his best when he doesn't have to deal with teens or nightclubs and both are blissfully absent from this script. It's a good first chapter to this epic but the first three battles are pretty easily won so thank the comic gods that The Black Knight arrived to scotch things. I'm a little confused as to why the death of a future Earth would mean Earth in the present time would cease to exist. Wouldn't it be true of the reverse?

Jack: Peter, you just don't understand time paradox! It all makes perfect sense in the Marvel Universe. What I like about this issue (or arc, if we may call it that) is Roy's tribute to his beloved Justice Society and the Marvel version, the All-Winners Squad. This issue's story is structured like a classic Justice Society tale, where each hero zips off to a different World Heritage site to battle and defeat a villain. The bit with Nighthawk carting off the Statute of Liberty by helicopter looked like a direct reference to the opening scene of Fellini's 8 1/2, while Hyperion is clearly Roy's nod to the John Keats poem. The Whizzer even goes so far as to remark that he is named after an old comic book character (not coincidentally a member of the All-Winners Squad). The Grandmaster looks like a refugee from the Guardians of the Universe over in DC's Green Lantern, which also suggests that Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy were copied from that source . . . oh, never mind.

Also this month

Perhaps Marvel's greatest title?
The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special #6 (all-reprint)
Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #17
Chili #7
Fantastic Four King-Size Special #7 (all-reprint)
Homer, the Happy Ghost #1
Kid Colt Outlaw #140
Mad About Millie #5
Marvel Super-Heroes #23
Marvel Tales #23
The Mighty Marvel Western #6
Millie the Model #176
My Love #2
Peter, the Little Pest #1
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #72
Tower of Shadows #2