Wednesday, January 23, 2013

November 1969: First Hint of the Marvel Glut?

Silver Surfer 10
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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


  1. This is the reason I look forward to Wednesdays.

    Spider-Man: You're right about Jameson. I like that he's not a bigot, but Stan takes him too far into respectable after years of making him pretty despicable. He goes to bat for Hobie, a kid he never met before, but when Peter takes a header out a window in the future (Hint/spoiler), Jameson dismisses him as "the kid" - a person Jameson has known for years. The civil rights movement in Marvel was tremendously heavy handed, even when Stan wasn't behind the words.

    Sub-Mariner: I was never a fan of Marie Severin's art and she was much better suited to humor magazines. Also, the "include the bullpen" self references would get out of hand in the 70's. They tended to be self indulgent and too frequent to be amusing. These cameos would explode into the 80's when things like "assistant editors month" would make them co-stars in various books like The Hulk and The X-men. I haven't read the issue in questions, I'm just reacting off the splash page you guys put up, but it's enough.

    X-Men: Every time I see Ka-Zar, I feel like Marvel is trying to make me like him. He's a low tier Tarzan and always will be, but we're stuck with him. Thank Zod for Neal Adams. It's a shame his run was so short, but it probably would have been no matter what. The book was heading for the grave, but at least it went out in some sort of style. It's nice to finally see Magneto out of his costume and not quite so insanely evil. This was the introduction of the more reasonable Magnus we'd get to know better in the Claremont run.

    Iron Man: Had Iron Man been a live action TV series at the time, Midas would have been played by Victor Buono. And at that point, I would have enjoyed the character. But otherwise, I'm happy to see him go. Bad design, typical fat guy villain. Fat bad guys always seemed to have chicken legs nearby. Except the Kingpin, but he also took lengths to tell us he wasn't fat, but muscular. Yeah, sure, nobody buys it when I say it either.

    Captain Marvel: Rick Jones really got annoying, didn't he? And what's his hang up about Mordecai P. Boggs, anyway? What up and coming singer who wants a career brushes off someone interested in representing them? And did Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale gets Marty McFly's "nobody calls me chicken" weakness from this issue? The profile pic in the panel before he Ker-Wack's that guy looks a lot like Michael J. Fox. I understand the standard need to give heroes a costume, but does Rick really need to wear the red jacket, yellow shirt and blue pants combo every ish? That is his costume, but as a civilian, you'd think he'd have more to wear.

    The FF: Not that I mind the Untouchables Planet concept, it's fun. But did all these guys look like Edward G. Robinson before they changed their way of life? The look like typical TV gangsters - their faces more than their clothing. I found that to be funny. Everyone looked like Italian or, as in the case of Robinson, Romanian immigrants.

    Captain America: The cover made me laugh: "The Skull Falls!" And he can't get up! I mean, seriously, it looks like the story was going to be about the Skull taking a header. Nice to see the brain swap story finally end. That's one plot that had too much page time in Marvel during this period.

    The Hulk: I have a soft spot fot this issue since it was one of my early purchases as a reprint in a huge treasury book. I like this period in Hulk lore, the art is pure weird Trimpe. Agreed, not much happens, but apparently the Glob was successful enough to warrant a comeback not long afterward.

    Dr Strange: His story is also followed up on in a later Hulk issue dealing with The Night Crawler (not Kurt Wagner). He retires for a time at that point.

    The 70's will soon be upon us!

  2. There seems to have been a genuine connection of some kind between the Bullpen and Country Joe and the Fish. As early as September 1968, Stan's Soapbox reported a visit by the band to the Marvel offices, and they were invoked from time to time in the stories and on the Bullpen page. Apparently the lyrics quoted in Fury's last issue are from their song "Superbird."

    Fantastic Four: Kirby was in fine form with this storyline. Ironically, it's his best artwork since the Prisoner parody eight months earlier. The pages are just bursting with energy and great storytelling. This Star Trek knock-off is more fun than it should be. Come to think of it "A Piece Of The Action" was more fun than it should have been too.

    I count at least three influences ... "A Piece Of The Action" for the gangster planet idea, "The Gamesters Of Triskelion" for the aliens abducting beings and making them fight for the purpose of gambling, and the Lost In Space episode "The Deadly Games Of Gamma 6" where, like Magno-Man, the abilities of a diminutive alien are seriously underestimated, until the fight begins.

    For most of the past 12 years, I was a member of the notorious Kirby-l Yahoo group, until it's moderators, tired of the endless bar room brawls, shut it down. Kirby-l did provide a lot of good information and interesting contributions, however, it was a great example of "Sturgeon's Law."

    On one occasion, a member posted a scan of a Kirby FF page he'd bought in the 1970s, and wanted to know what it was. It showed the Thing battling an alien with a magnet sticking out the sides of his head. The alien was Magno-Man, but the page did not appear in the published story. I managed to figure out that the mystery page belonged between pages 4 and 5 of the story. Here's a pic of the three pages in their original order.

    Why was the page rejected? Stan was probably concerned about the small role the rest of the FF played in this story. In the published version, they appear on pages 6 and 7, and the last panels of page 20. I'm guessing that Stan dumped the original page 5 while still at the pencil stage, and got Jack to draw a new page featuring the FF, probably page 7 of the published story, to bolster their presence. And, check out page 14. Is that Jerry Stiller on the right hand side of the page telling everyone the money is about even on the Thing and Torgo?

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  4. I have to say I always liked The Prowler. Then again, maybe my Spidey obsession is showing....

    Yes, bad FF story, but love the cover! Don't remember ever seeing that one but something about it is really cool. Or maybe I'm sleepy?

    Love that Subby cover, too!, I always hated that guy. Really made you want to root for Tony/Shellhead, even when he didn't deserve to be rooted for. Is that a character flaw that makes Downey, Jr. such a good cinema version of Stark?

    I agree with Prof Matthew (which he can tell you is a rare occasion ho ho ho) on that rotten Warhol-esque splash page...

    Three words for this month's X-Men: Best. Ka-Zar. Ever.
    OK, maybe that's not saying much.

    Glenn, your comments are so interesting, they make me ashamed to put my silly little ideas down in cyberspace. But as Prof Matthew knows too well, that won't stop me!

    One last thing: KER-WANG!

    1. Auuuggggh.. it's KER-WACK!
      Note to the kids out there: don't type comments after midnight......

  5. All this talk about "A Piece of the Action" makes me remind everyone that it starred Our Greatest Living Actor, William Shatner.

    1. And, he co-starred in this 1970 made for TV movie that, over the years has become a much requested cult classic.

      All the best,

      Glenn :)

      P.S. Sorry for getting off topic.

    2. Since you mentioned it, Glenn... I had been looking for a copy of that movie for years, but only recalled the premise. Fortunately for me, Paste-Pot Pete not only knew exactly what I was referring to; he had a copy.

      Just one more reason I've kept him around all these years...

  6. Just when I thought we were over Shatner, Jack drags us back in. Can't you just see The Shat as Reed Richards in a TV-Movie? "The... Negative Zone... is... where... we must go!"

  7. Hey Paste-Pot -

    I searched all the issues this month, and couldn't find anything written by Donald Glut. So much for that first hint you promised...

  8. I will admit I had never heard of Peter the Little Pest before reading this month's lesson. Did Dennis the Menace ever threaten to sue Marvel's little mischief-maker?

    1. Peter The Little Pest is a reprinted version of Atlas' 1950s title "Melvin The Monster." Originally, his hair was blonde but for the reprint the hair was changed to red, along with the new name.

      In November 1969, Marvel also started reprinting Atlas' 1950s Casper clone "Homer The Happy Ghost."

      I have no idea why anyone would think these titles would be successful.

      All the best,

      Glenn :)

    2. Well, I guess the Ketchams have nothing to worry about then. Mr Wilson on the other hand.....Thanks, Glenn!

  9. Now this is a neat phrase I have not seen before... Reed "a woman's place is in the kitchen" Richards! Perhaps Reed knows that Crystal is better able to take care of herself in a tough situation than his dear wife, Susan Storm Richards? Crystal's elemental power is very strong indeed!