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!


  1. Professor Pete, your excellent observation re: the frosted windows of the S.H.I.E.L.D. barber shop reminds me of a similar head-scratcher, the gizmo Tony Stark uses to "bend light" and keep people from seeing inside his car so that he can don his armor. If people saw Stark get in the car and then Shellhead get out a minute later, wouldn't they suspect something even if they couldn't see what actually went on inside?

    But Paste-Pot, you're so hard on poor Mar-Vell!

    I always liked the Liberty Legion (as well as the Invaders, natch), and wish more had been done with them than a handful of appearances.

    Meanwhile, is this the end for Professor Jack? If so, you went out on a high note with what I presume was your excellent summation, and you carry with you the thanks and admiration of more than one colleague. Don't be a stranger!

  2. Thanks, Matthew! I've enjoyed participating.

  3. A few years ago, I worked for a family business, whose owner, then in his early sixties, sold out to a large company. The new owners then signed him on as general manager for the next two years. As manager, his income was fixed at a percentage of the profits, which was a great incentive for him to keep the business as profitable as possible. I suspect Martin Goodman was in the same position in 1969.

    In 1968 Goodman, looking to sell his publishing interests, expanded the Marvel line with new titles and formats, building up the company to increase its value. However, in 1969, he returned to his normal MO. Profitability was uppermost in his mind, and he didn't have any emotional attachment to Superheroes.

    In 1949, Goodman had seen the Timely heroes wither and die, and would have noticed the decline in Superhero sales as the 1960s drew to a close. Superman, for example, had sold 800,000 copies per month in 1960 ... in 1969 that figure was down to 500,000. Tower Comics, Mighty Comics, Charlton's Action Heroes, and Harvey's Thriller line had all disappeared from the newsstands by 1969, and sales of some of his own books were slipping. Goodman may have been having flashbacks to the final days of the Golden Age.

    He cancelled The Spectacular Spider-Man magazine, Not Brand Echh, Dr. Strange and Nick Fury, and scaled back other titles. He then cut costs by increasing the use of reprinted material, and expanded the line with horror, romance, teen humor and kids titles. None of these new directions paid off, and soon, they too became reprint titles before being cancelled. Clearly, the reprint strategy proved to be very successful. Goodman continued to expand the line with recycled material, and by mid 1972, for better or worse, a third of Marvel's output consisted of reprints.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    P.S. Thanks Jack, for your considerable contribution to the success of Marvel University.