Wednesday, January 2, 2013

August 1969: The Long-Awaited Return of... The Red Ghost!

The Amazing Spider-Man 75
Our Story

 After taking the potion prescribed on the ancient, mysterious tablet, and cooked up by Curt Connors, Silvermane understandably has a tough time selling his new appearance to his underlings, Cesar Cicero (The Big C) and Man-Mountain Marko (just big!). The duo team up against their newly young boss but Silvermane proves to be too much for the pair and they, at last, admit he may be who he says he is. Eventually finding the whereabouts of the Connors family, The Amazing Spider-Man swings into Silvermane's hideout, unaware that the elderly Maggia don is now just a young whuppersnapper, eager to prove his might. A vicious battle ensues. Meanwhile, Curt Connors, who has been wandering the hallways of his prison looking for his wife and son, finally succumbs to the curse of The Lizard! Unfortunately for Silvermane, he finds that the fountain of youth potion he sought for so long works too well; he degenerates from old man to strapping fighter to teen to spark in his mother's eye by story's end. 

Could this be Peter Parker's real father?

PE: Only thugs in Marvel comics speak as though they're center stage in a Shakespearean drama, as in Silvermane's exclamation to Man-Mountain: "Is my voice not the voice that has ever commanded you?" or, even better, The Big C's "No! It cannot be! It is-- madness!" Speaking of stretches, why would a couple of low-life bookmakers know where The Big C is holding The Connors family? I guess it's just luck that Spidey happened upon these knowledgeable guys right out of the chute. And on the 20th floor of a high-rise yet! I'm still not quite sure why Marko is so strong nor, now that he's a youngster again, why Silvermane seems to be super-powered as well. He makes a comment about working his way up to the top of the Maggia and beating on hulks like Marko but none of it makes sense. Don't look now but, the younger Silvermane gets, the more of a resemblance there is to Peter Parker!

MB: Quite by coincidence, I have been alternating over these past half-a-dozen issues among originals, digital files, and 1970s reprints, and I can now state categorically that the quality of reproduction in those Marvel Tales versions (not to be confused with the lush re-presentation of #72 in Origins of Marvel Comics) does a massive disservice to the artwork by Romita and Mooney. What a pity that Marvel wanted to expose younger readers to some of their past masterpieces, yet were apparently too cheap to do so in an effective way.  Other than taking Silvermane from triumph to tragedy in one easy lesson, this serves as a bit of a transitional issue, shifting the focus from the stolen tablet to the unleashed Lizard, but for me, it’s still prime stuff.

Romita magic!

PE: Yep, there's enough good stuff here for a gold star. Silvermane's transformation is pretty heady stuff for ten year olds ("So where did he go after he was just a kid, mommy?") and that last shot of The Lizard earns "Best Panel of the Month" honors from Professor Pete (though the panel above is a very close second). We've really never seen Lizzy as anything but a cream puff villain (and I'm not promising that the next couple issues offer anything more than that) but, here, Stan's promising that the man is gone and it's pert near all reptile now. That's good news to me. On the letter page, there's a long, well-written missive from Steve Games of Portland, who pines for the days when Peter Parker was a nerd and Spider-Man was a creature of the dark. Without using the "D" word, Games points to those first 38 issues as a benchmark and everything else as a descending slope. Stan (or whoever) predictably naysays Steve's comments (without being rude) but opens the floor to opinions from Spider-fans the world over.

Now we're talkin'!

Captain Marvel 15
Our Story

Seeking assurance that he acts “in the service of a being supreme,” Mar-Vell asks to know more of Zo, who shows him the past and future of Earth; Mar-Vell planting a bomb to destroy his homeworld; a demonstration of Zo’s vast power; and visions of Heaven and Hell.  Zo says Kree-Lar must be destroyed, because its heart powers a magnetic storehouse that could pull every planet out of orbit, but appears to be only an idol of Tam-Bor, pagan god of the frozen wastelands.  In his birth city, Rad-Nam, Mar-Vell is caught by the Accuser Patrol, having been reported for treason by Yon-Rogg, and after taking command of their craft, he renders the senior officer unconscious to ensure that the followers of Tam-Bor swallow it up with a warship.

Trippy sci-fi epic or self-indulgent mess?
MB: Per a Bullpen Bulletin, “You’ve heard how comedians always dream of playing Hamlet?  Well, Trusty Tom Sutton, who’s been one of the humorous mainstays of Not Brand Ecch, has always wanted to tackle penciling a super-hero strip….We urge you to latch on to this month’s Captain Marvel—new artwork—new approach—new thrills…”  Uhm, if you say so, guys.  As Mar-Vell was zipping home on his month off, I availed myself of the chance to bone up on Kree history in FF #64-5, and if nothing else, Friedrich’s swan song brings the character back to his roots.  Gary also provides breakdowns (not content with inducing them in his readers), and the finished art—inked by Dan Adkins—hints at this book’s cosmic future, but the story feels totally improvised.

PE: If I didn't know any better, I'd say there were a lot of mushrooms being passed around the bullpen while this issue was being written. It's one of the weirdest layouts I've ever seen. Lots of panels of Captain Marvel debating philosophy and world destruction with a giant nipple. Not what I'd call standard Marvel fare. Not that I'm praising this mess. Tom Sutton would have to rank in my Top Five All-Time Favorite Artists but it's based on the wild, Lovecraftian horror stories he illustrated (and quite often wrote) for Charlton back in the mid-1970s. Nobody could draw a multi-tentacled space-thing or a moldering old man risen from the grave like Sutton. His stint on Werewolf By Night (which we'll be coming to in a few "years") was also a highlight of his career. Unfortunately, that skill at horror doesn't always transfer to superheroes (Neal Adams would be an exception to the rule) as witness Tom's fumbling attempt here. 

The X-Men 59
Our Story

As our last issue ended, Larry Trask was revealed to be a Mutant, which caused his Sentinels to disobey his orders and turn on him. Hank, Jean and Scott arrive on the scene in attempt to save Alex, Bobby and Lorna. After swapping duds with newly captured mutants Toad, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, they manage to trick and ultimately turn the tables on the Sentinels. When Judge Chalmers is caught in the crossfire, Scott is able to convince the Sentinels, who appear to adhere to Asimov's Three Laws, that they cannot risk staying on Earth, so as a group they head off into the Sun, the cause of all mutations.

MB:  Even shorn of several pages in my Giant-Size X-Men reprint, the conclusion of the Thomas/Adams Sentinels trilogy is a masterpiece (and yes, I have drunk the Kool-Aid of Palmer on this strip, although not giving him a free pass for the rest of his career).  Even the splash page sets my pulse pounding, with its offbeat title—“Do or Die, Baby!”—and psychedelic, off-kilter, green-and-yellow image of the three X-Men I find most interesting:  Scott, Hank, and Jean.  Roy manages the neat trick of giving robots interesting dialogue, while the urgency of his storytelling combines with the impressive detail and realism of the Adams art to make the figures fairly leap off of the page, with the Sentinels’ literal size and global threat giving the story an epic grandeur.

JS: I wonder how the kids of the day felt, seeing the ultra cool Sentinels sent off into the sunset. I'm pleased to know that some of the Sentinels' most memorable adventures are still yet to come, but I'm also pleased that this finale to such a great run of X-Men does not disappoint. After revisiting these classics, I'm happy to report that this particular Masterworks hardcover is going to remain in my collection for years to come. And with more Thomas/Adams goodness to come with Sauron right around the corner, it's not over yet. 

PE: Very impressive indeed. Roy and Neal set out to create the comic book version of epic science fiction and succeed beyond my wildest dreams. How could a title so incredibly dull and inane be transformed so completely and quickly? We've already answered that question but what I want to know is: where is the director's cut of this issue with the extra panels where we see Toad, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver running around in X-Men gear? The only downside to this arc is that, as Monday Morning QBs, we all know it'll end pretty soon.

Jack: Another brilliant issue! Did I miss where Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch came from? Didn't they sort of disappear awhile ago from The Avengers? I found it interesting to note in the Bullpen Bulletins that Neal Adams was also coloring the pages on the X-Men. I guess he turned in the pencils, Palmer did the inks, and then they went back to Adams to color! Weird. Havok must have been a favorite of Mr. Adams, since he made a cameo 16 months later in an issue of Batman, when Batman and Robin end up at the annual Halloween parade in Rutland, Vermont (see the discussion of that issue here).

Batman 237 (December 1971)

The Invincible Iron Man 16
Our Story

Buried beneath tons of rubble, Iron Man and The Unicorn must become temporary partners to break themselves free. Meanwhile, the man who put them under that debris is reaping the benefits of his recent cosmic ray exposure. Able to transform into vapor, The Red Ghost seeps his way into a satellite-tracking station, guarded and manned by SHIELD, in order to use the laboratory to construct his Cosmic Ray Intensifier. Shellhead and Horny fly into the base but the might apes of The Red Ghost are just too much for them. In the end, the apes decide the jungle's a big enough sandbox for them to play in and turn the tables on The Ghost. Unicorn scoops up the fallen villain and, vowing the Ghost will work in his lab until he can find a cure for Hornhead's "death curse," zips away. Iron Man knows he'll have to confront his ex-partner sometime in the future.

PE: What would SHIELD have done against the vaporous Red Ghost had they not developed the Vacuum-Suction Unit? I mean, these guys really think of everything! I'm hip to monkeys Alpha and Beta not digging the whole slave trip but, seriously, they'd been doing it a long time. Why wait 'til the moment of truth (The Red Ghost clinching world domination, that is) to suddenly turn on the guy? Another one of those issues where a lot seems to be happening while nothing is really happening, anchored (around the neck in twenty-foot water and going down fast) by Don Heck-ian art by George Tuska.

MB:  Despite my general satisfaction with the book’s current direction and rock-steady creative team, plus the cover’s intriguing promise (admittedly fulfilled, up to a point) of an Iron Man/Unicorn alliance, I was a little disappointed with this issue.  Some of those pages consumed by the contrived exposition, via Sitwell’s mental scan by Fury and Jones, might better have been devoted to the interesting dynamics between Uni and his present and former uneasy partners.  On the plus side, the umbilical power cord joining him to Shellhead gave the story a pleasant Defiant Ones vibe, the former Comrade Kragoff’s new powers are explored in greater depth, and the Red Ghost’s downfall at the handser, pawsof his own super-evolved apes gives an unusual twist.

PE: On the "Sock it to Shell-Head" page, we hear from future First Comics co-founder and DC editor Michael Gold. Mike doesn't really have a point about Iron Man to make but rather wants to let us all know that "multi-media looks like it will be accepted as a highly successful means of communications."

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 16
Our Story

Once he learns that Tiger Shark has been spotted hanging out on the sea turf of the Mist People, Namor takes Dorma and sets off to find him.  The Mist People are made up of various would-be conquerers who have become trapped in time.  The group is made up of vikings, ancient Egyptians, Nazis, and many others.  Tiger Shark makes an alliance with a Nazi leader who claims his u-boat is still in the area and will lead them to conquest.  Dr. Newell joins Subby to help stop the madmen.  Once they leave the mist area, all the old warriors shrivel up and die because old age finally catches up with them.  Dr. Newell dies when he puts his craft in front of a torpedo.  Even though they fight briefly, Tiger Shark manages to escape with Namor vowing vengeance.

Tom:  This story was like trying to shove ten pounds of shit into a five pound bag.  While I applaud plots that are wrapped up after a single issue, this one definitely could have benefited from being stretched into a couple of issues.  Way too much nonsense going on.

MB: Well, I was aware of Mike Esposito’s “Mickey [or Michael] Dee” and “Mickey Demeo” pseudonyms, but not “Joe Gaudioso”; I guess such a surfeit of sobriquets is appropriate for a trouper who did so much work for Marvel, especially on Amazing Spider-Man with Romita and, later, Andru.  I’m not sure if the occasional cartooniness that mars some panels in this issue is attributable to his inks, Marie’s pencils, or the combination thereof, but in many another panel, Subby in particular looks mighty fine, and I found the overall effect pleasing.  Ditto Roy’s story, whichdespite a little too much jumping around for my tastewas eminently satisfying, even if alert readers saw that final twist with the supposed immortals coming a mile away, as did Namor.

Captain America 116
Our Story

Having switched bodies with Captain America, via the Cosmic Cube, The Red Skull traipses the city enjoying the life of a hero, able to come and go as he pleases, making the real Cap's life a living nightmare. Meanwhile, the aforementioned "real Cap," in the body of The Red Skull, is busy avoiding police barricades in order to make his way to Avengers Mansion. There, he hopes, one of his ex-teammates can find a solution to his predicament. Unfortunately for CapSkull, his pleas fall on deaf ears and The Avengers pound him into submission just before they're called away to SHIELD headquarters. With the heroes out of the way, SkullCap uses the power of The Cube to send Sharon Carter to finish off CapSkull. The evil genius never took into account the power of love though and his delicious plan of revenge bears no fruit. Plan B, sending CapSkull to the island of the Exiles, a band of men he recently betrayed, becomes a consolation prize.

PE: With all the space enemies, skrulls, ghost phantoms, super apes, and Asgardian Gods these dumb heroes have encountered, you'd think they might pause to consider the story of "the Cap stuck in The Skull's body" rather than spout cliches like "it won't work, mister! You don't catch us off guard with a yarn like that!" Seriously though, if I was an Avenger and a first-tier villain came strolling into my exercise room I may think something's up. Among them is a guy who can change his size and an android. What's so crazy about mind-switching?

MB: Kirby, Steranko, Romita, Buscema…uh, well, it was fun while it lasted. Make no mistake, I absolutely include Gene Colan in that pantheon for his renditions of Namor, Iron Man, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Dracula and, yes, Howard the Duck.  And yet there are certain titles, especially this and Avengers, for which I believe a less stylized, more straightforward look is better suited, making it ironic that Gene flirted with the Assemblers before taking over on Cap. Even Joe Sinnott, sometimes accused of heavy-handedness, appears to have done very little here to “mainstream” Colan’s pencils.  Gene will be on the book for almost two solid years, whichputting the best possible spin on itwill give me ample opportunity to get to like his rendition.
Now, that's hard to swallow!

PE: The change-over isn't so jarring to me as Colan, to me, seems to be able to slide into any seat with ease. Let's just thank the Marvel Gods that Jack Sparling wasn't in town when Stan needed a new artist on the title. I've always liked the switched-bodies/minds plotline (I'm a sucker for Dudley Moore in Like Father, Like Son), even ones that can get silly like this one. I can swallow just about any of the impossibilities in this installment but making me believe that The Skull didn't take advantage of his new body with Sharon Carter...

The Incredible Hulk 118
Our Story

Bruce Banner is found floating in the ocean by the Sub-Mariner's main squeeze, Lady Dorma.  The compassionate Dorma takes the doctor back to Atlantis to help him recuperate.  She is spied upon by Mistress Fara, a strumpet who wishes to have Namor to herself.  Fara approaches Namor to tell him that Dorma has brought the surfaceman back to their underwater city to help her overthrow Namor as ruler.  Believing that no one can be bold enough to lie to him, Subby storms off to confront them.  While speaking to Dorma, Banner changes back into the Hulk and it is time for a royal brawl! Believing that she was simply being held captive by the green monster, Namor brushes Dorma aside as he and the Hulk exchange powerful blows.  During the fight, Fara attempts to shoot and kill Dorma, only to be extinguished herself when a wall collapses on her. The battle rages on for a long time, culminating when the two powerhouses collide against  each other and the Hulk flies from the sea, only to land in a deserted jungle area.  Namor looks for him, but after finding only Bruce Banner, he goes back into the ocean depths.

Tom:  Pretty fun stuff, just not quite as good as their last confrontation.  The plot definitely takes a back seat as it is just an excuse to get these two heavyweights into a smackdown.  Sometimes it is better this way, instead of having different genius super-villains pulling the strings from behind the curtain in a more convoluted storyline.

Dangle a worm on a hook in front of Namor and see if he bites!
MB: Having missed the previous Hulk/Subby smackdown in Tales to Astonish#100 (which apparently ended with the exact same gimmick of Subby ignoring his unrecognized foe once the latter reverted to Banner), I’m glad to see this one, and Happy Herbie certainly puts a lot of verve into depicting their epic clash.  But aside from the obvious answer, i.e., an increase in sales, I can’t figure out why Smilin’ Stan chose to give them a rematch in this particular story, which doesn’t have anything in particular to do with the ongoing plotline from either character’s book, and can best be summed up as Marvel Misunderstanding/“Hulk smash!”  Worse, he makes the whole megillah contingent on dragging in a brand-new character, never seen before or since.

PE: I'm glad you mentioned that new character, Professor Matthew. It's been quite a while since I checked in with the Green Goliath (eight regular Marvel titles, four Batmans, and the occasional Strange Tales each week can lead to prolonged madness) and I had no idea who the little underwater pixie was. It sure seems like she's being introduced as a third side to the Namor-Dorma relationship but then she's killed off fairly quickly. Her character arc makes no sense whatsoever, going from selfish cheerleader to self-sacrificing saint in the course of 20 pages. The story's entertaining enough but, as Prof. Matthew mentions, if you've read TTA #100, there's no sense reading this one. Only thing missing is The Puppet Master. Herb Trimpe is slowly but surely molding himself into the artist I associate with The Hulk (early to mid-1970s) but his Namor just isn't right. I'll buy that the capsule Dorma gives Banner helps him to breathe underwater but why would it allow him (once he's turned into the big guy) to speak underwater as well? Yeah, I know, it's a comic book.

Daredevil 55
Our Story

It's not easy for Daredevil as he mopes about the city, feeling sorry for himself because he lost to Mr. Fear.  The lasting effects of the fright that the villain put into him are still being felt as Daredevil seems to have lost his courage.  Even some run of the mill muggers are able to put the boots to Double D when he convulses in panic after trying to apprehend them.  After the police save his hide, he goes over to visit Karen and asks Foggy to contact the prison warden and have him read the files on Zoltan Drago, aka Mr. Fear.  What Daredevil learns turns out to be very useful to him while the villainous Mr. Fear is going on a huge crime wave.  Daredevil interrupts Fear while he is robbing an armored car.  During the ensuing battle it is revealed that Starr Saxon has been masquerading as Mr. Fear after killing Zoltan Drago.  Starr snuck some of the original Mr. Fear's pellets into Daredevil's cane.  They were signaled to  go off by the villain's flying disc during the first battle.  The story ends with Daredevil winning and getting his courage back, while Starr Saxon plummets to his death after losing his balance on the flying disc during their confrontation.

Tom:  The folks at Marvel surprised me with this story, and that's a good thing.  The ending may have been a little rushed, but it was pretty exciting as you had no idea that Saxon was the bad guy in this one.  

MB: Okay, we now know that the “Mr. Fear” seen last month was actually DD’s bête noir, Starr Saxon, whose apparent demise here seems awfully abrupt, conveniently simplifying Hornhead’s life, yet he would return in still another guise; by a curious coincidence, next issue’s villain, Death’s Head, was also impersonated by a fellow heavy in later years.  Syd Shores is an inker whose results vary from penciler to penciler, and even with the same one (e.g., on Kirby’s Captain America), but he has done an excellent job on Gene Colan’s work here.  The shot of Mr. Fear reflected in the puddle in page 9, panel 4 was particularly evocative, although DD deserves whatever happens to him if he’s dumb enough to blab his secrets within earshot of super-villains.

Jack: Not a strong issue, especially with three pages wasted recapping last issue. The full page shot of Mr. Fear is pretty cool, and Colan doesn't let us down, but I think Roy has been drinking from the Stan Lee well too long when he has Horny-Head think: "Mustn't think of Karen . . . her soft lips . . .her hair as soft as spun gold! I haven't the right . . ." I'll admit I was surprised to learn that Mr. Fear was Starr Saxon in disguise; his sudden death at the end was a bit too convenient.

Fantastic Four 89
Our Story

Blinded by the rays of the house wherein they have moved, the F.F. see the source of the problem: their first arch-nemesis the Mole Man. He gloats as they try in vain to fight him, but aided by the power of his staff, he dodges all their attacks with relative ease. His plan is to unleash such rays from hundreds of machines to similarly blind the human race, thus leaving the surface world free to be invaded by his subterraneans, with him as ruler. As this transpires, another danger awaits. A member of the Skrull race called the Slaver has come to Earth seeking a victim to take part in “the Games.” Who, or what the Games are, we’ll have to wait and see. Between them, the F.F. manage to distract the Mole Man long enough to tackle him. When Reed takes the full vibra-charge of Moley’s staff, it appears he may be done for, and a desperate Sue lunges forward to grab his glasses. Now at a disadvantage, the Mole Man is soon overcome, but what of Reed? Enter Ben: who else can tirelessly compress Stretch’s lungs until he regains consciousness? Now, from underground to outer space…

JB: After being mildly disappointed at last issue (memory is always better), this follow up wasn’t bad. We get to see a little more of the house, and the Mole Man proves to be a more worthy foe than expected. It’s kind of fitting that the motivation to overcome him is one of desperation on Reed and Sue’s part. The Slaver looks like a chill alien; it’s stirring memories of what’s next, good ones I think. Some nice art, page sixteen (reproduced below) reminds me of the cover of F.F. #54.

MB: Although the Mole Man made history as the FF’s first villain—indeed, the first villain of Marvel as we know it—he’s never been a big favorite of mine, but his scheme du jour seemed slightly more plausible than the usual “let’s conquer the surface by sucking down a couple of buildings” routine.  In general, I was able to enjoy this yarn significantly more than its predecessor, partly because we were past the more in-your-face idiocy of the preliminaries, and partly because the FF’s blindness made the threat of Moley, whose climactic whining was also a change of pace, somewhat more formidable.  No complaints about Sinnott’s usual superb job on King Kirby’s pencils, and while I don’t recall, my guess is that our slaver-in-waiting is a Skrull.

PE: Why is it when a super-villain threatens some evil deed, our hero feels the need to exclaim "He means it!"? Of course he means it. Wouldn't a Daredevil vs. The Mole Man match-up be a natural? I find very little to like this issue. In fact, the last few issues seem to be foretelling a slip back into the mid-60s doldrums when the sub-title should have been "Maybe Not the World's Greatest Comic Magazine, But..." This could be attributed, as most comics historians have proffered, to Jack's growing unhappiness with Stan and Martin Goodman at this point but I'd also like to offer up the theory that, after 89 consecutive issues, the well done gone dry. You can only do so much with the same four characters and a couple three super-baddies before your muse drifts off. Jack's got exactly one year left in his tenure.

The Silver Surfer 7
Our Story

In a castle above a village, Frankenstein’s  modern day heir, and his slave Borgo, are up to no good. The villagers revolt; Frankenstein decides to implement Experiment X! After discovering the Silver Surfer, Frankenstein uses his wiles to convince S.S. to be a part of this experiment. Though wary, the Silver Surfer agrees to be a part of Experiment X. Out of clay is created a replica, complete with cosmic power, and controlled by Frankenstein! The villagers feel Frankie’s wrath through this doppelganger.  Borgo kills Frankenstein while sacrificing his own life. The real Silver Surfer fights an unwinnable battle with integrity and courage. He is willing to give his life to save humanity; this is what crushes his foe.

Tales of The Watcher
“I The Gargoyle”
Our Story:

Meet Alan Swan, an extremely kind, bright and creative man who loves music above all else. Sadly, his repulsive visage leaves him forever alone. When he hears news of an “atomic mole machine” that needs a driver to head to the Earth’s centre one way, he feels he was made for the mission.  Reaching his desired destination, he finds a race of humans who believe he and his music are beautiful. They see him with only their hearts and souls.  

NC: I like that the Silver Surfer is starting to realize that his often-unreturned kindness is actually one of his greatest powers. I’m sad to think of these Tales Of The Watcher ending; they may be a bit obvious, but they’re sweet.

MB:  This is, I believe, Marvel’s second attempt at tackling the Frankenstein legend without actually featuring Mary Shelley’s eponymous Monster, who was revealed to be an alien-created android in X-Men #40 and would, of course, get his own short-lived series in 1973, in the wake of the CCA’s somewhat relaxed guidelines.  In this, the last of the double-length bimonthly issues, Stan’s script once again feels spread out over too many pages, with the interplay between Count Frankenstein and the amusingly named Borgostrongly reminiscent of the Toadbeing especially repetitive.  But as usual, the art by Les Frères Buscema is superb, particularly the way in which they distinguish between the good and evil Surfers through the facial expressions alone.

The Mighty Thor 167
Our Story

As punishment for the Warrior Madness that possessed him, Thor faces whatever punishment Odin sees fit to bestow. What the All-Father has chosen is to send Thor in a specially designed ship (infused with Odin’s own power) to search the universe for Galactus—and bring him forth for judgment! A screen in the craft called the Odin’s Eye, can, with a thought, find out almost anything. Balder decides to guard Earth in his friend’s absence, but doesn’t get far. Karnilla, the Norn Queen whose love he cannot return, watches his every move. Hag the Sorceress has finished the model of Balder for her, made of enchanted clay; whatever happens to it will happen to him. Loki, commiserating with his Norn ally, snatches the model from Haag, seeing it as a tool for his own plan. He hits the model on the head, rendering the real Balder injured as soon as he arrives on Earth. Thor requests from Odin to have one last chance to visit the world he loves before going on the mission. Upon arrival he sees his fellow injured, Thor transforms into Dr. Blake to save Balder’s life. He performs a successful surgery, but not before Loki appears to snatch the hammer-turned-walking stick from him. Odin puts an end to the fiasco, wanting the mission to take place as planned. Galactus meanwhile, leaves another planet in his wake…

JB: The changes toward the departure of Jack Kirby get a little taste test here, with a Johnny Romita cover. The Galactus storyline is a bit baffling. Does Odin think that he’s going to come willingly forth for judgment? Or that Thor can make him do so? And his dad admits to Thor that mission would have been his anyway! Some interesting tidbits here, like Balder’s little chat with Heimdall, and Karnilla’s continued transformation into a beauty. Maybe the drawn-out nature of this storyline is why the upcoming 170’s reverted more to the single-issue tales.

MB: Now more than ever, I get the feeling that they’re making up this supposed saga as they go along (“I’m going to send you on this perilous mission as your dreadful punishment, but waitI was going to do it anyway!”), and where they’ve developed this sudden obsession with Galactusa guy who, let’s face it, isn’t really a comfortable fit with the Asgardian cosmologyI have no idea.  Jack just keeps throwing those by-now comically overused full-page shots at us, hoping nobody will notice, yet at the risk of calling the emperor naked, some of the illustrations of Loki look downright sloppy and/or ugly, as though the poor guy is misshapen rather than just villainous.  Issues like this demonstrate why Thor has never been one of my long-term favorites.

PE: Definitely the feel of a 'tweener issue -- you can hear the wheels spinnin'. For some reason, Stan and Jack deemed it necessary to strrrrrreeeettttcch this Galactus epic out a few too many issues. Nothing much happens here although I do question the skills of New York surgeons who can't help Balder, a victim of a concussion at worst it seems. And why should Don Blake have more knowledge about the inner workings of a God? This question takes me back to the old "Where does Don Blake go when Thor pops up?" debate. The idea of Loki stealing Mjolnir also has me scratching my head. I thought the idea was that only a being worthy of lifting the hammer may do so.

The Avengers 67
Our Story

As Ultron-6 vanquishes Thor and Goliath, the Vision broods and realizes that he must have been programmed by Ultron-5 to revive the creature. Yellowjacket, Iron Man and the Wasp hold him off until Ultron-6 leaves, intent on another mission. The Vision confront his creator but is not strong enough to stop him. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. enter the fray, trying to recover the stolen adamantium, unaware that it now makes up a key part of Ultron's plan to destroy New York City.

MB: As noted in my comments concerning the concurrent Captain America, this is a book on which I generally prefer a less stylized look, but Smith’s effective work, ably inked by Klein, seems less out of place than Colan’s on Cap, and in any case he only penciled a handful of issues, so I won’t squawk.  (In fairness, this storywhich I first obtained in a 1981 Marvel Super Action reprintmust also compete with 43 years of affection for Our Pal Sal Buscema’s debut next issue.)  Despite all of the sound and fury unleashed herein, we get that Two Towers “middle part of a trilogy” feeling that makes it seem like a warm-up to next month’s main event, yet once again, I am disinclined to complain about Roy pitting the Assemblers against a revamped Ultron.
"Gosh, Thor, that
hammer sure is keen!"

PE: Having abstained from The Avengers for months (a couple of years in Marvel time) I find it tough to just jump back in to the continuity. That's a compliment of sorts to Roy Thomas, who's plotting and scripting the multi-layered and multi-subplot laden monthly exploits of a group of heroes that has no resemblance to the one I left behind. A lot has changed--the annoying Hank Pym, Goliath, is now the equally annoying Hank Pym, Yellowjacket. Ditto the Hawkeye/Goliath situation. Some things never change, though--Janet is still the wondrous, cute, but totally worthless Wasp, right? Then there's Barry Smith's art which I just can't get into--give me Buscema on this title any day of the week. Smith's Henry Pym looks like a lost teenager in some panels. I find the same distraction with Barry's art that I found with Steranko's - the guy can draw the hell out of a hero but keep him away from the civilians! The glue that holds the title together, for me, is The Vision. There's enough fascinating stuff (and potentially fascinating stuff) to keep me tuned in from here on out.

Jack: Ultron-5 is now Ultron-6? Is he like an iPhone? Does he play music?

Barry Smith graduated from
the Kirby school of anatomy

Coming this Sunday: A Marvel Collectors' Item Classic look at the Marvel Monster Reprints of the 1970s. Don't miss it, true believers!

Also this month

Chili #4
Mad About Millie #3
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #22
(final issue; becomes Marvel's Greatest Comics with #23)
Millie the Model #173
Rawhide Kid #71
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #69
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos Annual #5


  1. Hey, quick question about this comment: "Having abstained from The Avengers for months (a couple of years in Marvel time)..."

    Wouldn't that be the other way around? Marvel time is slower than real time. If you abstained from the Avengers for months, that should be days or less in Marvel time. Yes, no, maybe so?

    Your reviews were the usual awesomeness. Happy New Year!

    1. Marvel space-time continuum questions this early in the morning? Ouch! What I meant was that I hadn't read or commented on The Avengers for several MU months which added up to years in Marvel cover date time. I really missed out on a lot so I'm going back and reading those earlier issues I missed now.

    2. Ah, gotcha. Thanks, sorry for the early morning time conundrum. :-)

  2. Thank you for pointing out, as I forgot to do, the "amazing" resemblance between Peter and the young Silvermane; intentional, and if so, why? But I'll have to be a dissenting voice when it comes to the Lizard, whom I've long considered one of Spidey's more formidable villains. Not gonna diss Ditko, but for me, Romita remains the definitive Spider-Man artist.

    Professor Jack, Pietro temporarily broke his quasi-exile when he guest-starred in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #71 four months ago, and as you'll see, he and Wanda are still keeping company with the Toad when the series of events that leads them back to active Assembling begins in AVENGERS #75 in another eight months. For me, this ish is the peak of the Thomas/Adams X-MEN.

    Spoiler Alert! Reports of Dr. Newell's death are greatly exaggerated...

    X-Men: Apparently, everyone at Marvel had a TV set blaring away next to their typewriter or drawing board. In the Star Trek episode "The Chameleon," Captain Kirk outwitted Nomad, a sentient space probe gone mad, by showing it the error of its logic, which compelled it to self destruct. Scott Summers pulls the same stunt with The Sentinels, convincing them that the sun's radiation is the cause of all genetic mutation. The Sentinels conclude that flying into the sun, to their doom, will somehow achieve their end of eliminating the mutant menace. So much for logic.

    Spider-Man: "A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain" was a Twilight Zone episode about an elderly man, who, thanks to an untested serum, regained his youth. However, his joy was short-lived when he continued to regress until he became a baby. With Spidey #75 John and Stan took the process one step further.

    The Lizard had his own unlikely source of inspiration ... the 1959 Z grade movie "Alligator People." A scientist, noting that lizards can regrow their missing tails, created a serum that regenerated missing limbs. The serum, for some reason taken from alligators, worked. Star guinea pig Paul Webster regained a missing arm, but, after a while, the patient became more reptilian in appearance. Stan or Steve probably caught this on late night TV in the early 60s.

    Thor: Another rejected cover. Here's the original.

    Nine times out of ten, I can see why Stan rejected or altered covers, and I can see his reasoning here. Kirby's version is too busy. There's way too much going on. Romita's version focuses on the prime plot point ... Loki succeeding in taking away Thor's hammer (in its walking stick form) by attacking Don Blake. It's most likely the reason Romita, and not Kirby redrew the cover was that the King was in the process of shifting to California, a radical move for someone working in the New York dominated comic book industry.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  4. Ben Grimm is pretty harsh towards Sue Storm at the end of Fantastic Four #89, as he orders her to get away from Reed, telling her that her tears won't do him any good.