Wednesday, January 16, 2013

October 1969: One Heart Attack Too Many for Tony Stark?

The Amazing Spider-Man 77
Our Story

The Torch and The Amazing Spider-Man battle each other to decide who will battle The Lizard. In the end, Spidey is able to trick The Torch into flying off and leaving him to tussle with his reptilian foe mano a mano. A handy barrel of dehydrating powder reverses The Lizard's transformation and in his place stands a very relieved Dr. Curt Connors.

MB:  Man, they love slingin’ those crazy credits at us; this time, Romita is listed as “consultant emeritus in residence,” whatever the hell that means.  Much as I hate to be critical of any artwork bearing the byline of a Buscema or Romita, let alone both, I still find this preponderance of basically uniform four-panel pages (13 this time) repetitious, but luckily that’s the worst I can say about the end of this ten-part arc, about which I hope Professor Pete came, or comes, to think better thoughts.  For me, the most fun was how much the bulk of this story felt as if somebody had taken an early issue of Marvel Team-Up—which initially starred Spidey and the Human Torch exclusively—put it in a time machine, and sent it back about two and a half years.

PE: Does Spidey have a separate cartridge for his asbestos webbing that automatically discharges when The Torch is around? Otherwise, the dispensing of aforementioned webbing is a tad ridiculous even in the context of a story about a guy who crawls up walls and another who can catch on fire without getting burnt. Funny that Spider-Man doesn't want The Torch to suspect the true identity of The Lizard but Johnny Storm is too dumb to question a six-foot tall lizard with a lab coat and purple cords. The conclusion  (just as with the first part) feels like nothing more than microwaved leftovers. How many times have we seen the same misunderstanding lead to a battle between these two hothead teens? The Lizard almost becomes a bystander in this adventure and that would be a nice novelty if it hadn't been done a half dozen times in the past. Hopefully, the wall-crawler held on to a couple of those drums of dehydrating powder for the next time he fights The Lizard. On the letters page, Dirck Van Sickle lays down his argument for an Aunt May change. Dirck doesn't advocate a mercy killing but, rather, transforming May into the first of a line of geriatric super beings. A decade later, Van Sickle would use his wild imagination to create the classic horror novel, Montana Gothic.

The Incredible Hulk 120
Our Story

With the U.S. military troops invading Maximus's compound, the Hulk decides to fight them as they have hounded him in the past.  It doesn't take long for him to subdue the army, with Ross, Talbot, and a stowaway Betty soon captured.  When Maximus wants them killed, the Hulk steps in to defend them.  Maximus activates the giant robot that had previously sat motionless in the middle of the city.  The Hulk defeats it after a harrowing fight and Maximus and his minions escape.  As Ross and the troops threaten to close in, the Hulk leaps away. 

Tom:  I'm a big fan of this series, but this issue just plain sucked.  I really don't need to see the Hulk fighting the military anymore considering, outside of maybe using gas bombs, I know they have zero chance of winning.  Maximus and his fellow clowns get to escape to maybe fight the Hulk another day.  It's hard to get excited about that.

MB:  Man, they can’t get a good run going on this strip (in the opinion of Your Humble Correspondent), despite the occasional good issue or two here and there.  The unfiltered Trimpe artwork still leaves me wondering if it might not be better off with a dedicated inker, and this entry feels like a retread of both the aforementioned annual and the more conspicuous errors of the Tales to Astonish era.  Speaking of which, I haven’t had to kvetch about this little whopper for quite a while, but the picking-an-entire-building/fortress/whatever-up-by-one-corner business really is too ridiculous for words.  Presumably, there’s only so much Roy can do while scripting Stan’s plot; perhaps he’ll have better luck when he takes over as sole writer, effective next issue.

Now that's just silly!

Captain Marvel 17
Our Story

Warning that being accidentally hurled into the Negative Zone is the price Mar-Vell paid for seeking vengeance upon Yon-Rogg, the Supreme Intelligence shows him Rick Jones being rejected by “Captain America” (actually the Red Skull), leaving Avengers Mansion, and hitting the road.  Mar-Vell uses an image of Cap to lead Rick to a long-lost Kree outpost in a cave, where he finds and is impelled to don a pair of glowing Nega-Bands, which when slammed together exchanges their atoms.  Detecting Mar-Vell’s influence, Yon-Rogg follows the teen and attacks, only to be driven off by Mar-Vell’s new powers, and escapes but fails to kill him with a bomb concealed in a simulacrum of Carol.  [Based on reprint in Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1.]

MBIn a recent epiphany, I realized that both of the less-successful characters whom Jim Starlin later transmuted into ’70s cosmic gold (Warlock being the other) had first been totally revamped from their original conceptions by the same troika:  Roy Thomas, the just-returned Gil Kane, and Dan Adkins.  A staunch Kane booster, I feel he is perfectly suited to Mar-Vell, and this issue—which I vividly recall from childhood—even gives us a nice reminder of his Tales of Suspense stint on Captain America, while Marv virtually explodes off the page when finally freed of the Negative Zone.  Roy wipes the slate almost completely clean from previous plotlines, and between them, art and story somehow make Mar-Vell, ostensibly only re-costumed, seem like a new character.

PE: What must the remaining dozen or so staunch Captain Marble fans have thought upon picking up the latest issue of their favorite title in mid-1969, only to find it gutted? Combining elements from the original Captain Marvel (SHA-ZAM!) and The Mighty Thor (that whole hazy idea of two people occupying the "same body" at the same time and just where do they go when they're not on earth), Roy manages at least to make a decent stab at getting this corvette off the blocks. I'm not going to be able to contain my heavy sighs of discontent at Rick Jones' lame-o hippy-dippy lingo but I'm ready for a new start. Stan must have had a real big Jones for Rick as this is, by my count, the fourth title to feature the teen brigade "sensation" in a co-starring role. If memory serves, this time he at least serves a purpose.

Fantastic Four 91
Our Story

Controlled by a nerve-beam that can render him unconscious, Ben goes for a ride—in space! The Skrull master slaver who has kidnapped him gives the Thing a hint of “things” to come. Thirty something years prior, a Skrull slaver doing some research on Earth, captured an escaped mobster dubbed Machine Gun Martin who stumbles across his ship. This first slave from Earth, taken to a planet named Kral, was so interesting to the inhabitants of said planet that they fashioned their whole society after the mobster scene of our 1920’s. Back to the present, where our Skrull Slaver is delivering Ben to Kral, where it’s boss leaders bet huge sums of money on battles between aliens from all over; kind of as a way of seeing who has the most clout when it comes to ruling the roost. Ben has been “sold” to a boss named Barker, just as his scheduled opponent, a robot named Torgo, is likewise the pawn for rival boss Louie.  Ben gets to know Torgo, with whom he shares a cell. Back on Earth, a taxi drivers tip to Reed that Ben had last been seen with “him” leads the F.F.’s leader to the correct conclusion: their partner has been mugged by a Skrull.

MB: I didn’t recall that there were issues of the FF featuring only one member of the group…and I’ve just learned from the MCDb that this isn’t one of them, either.  You see, my Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint, in whittling this entry down to its arbitrary length, deleted all of the scenes in which the remaining members try to figure out what’s happened to the M.I.A. Ben. Admittedly, the story reads perfectly smoothly without them, so we’re spared those often-jarring edits, and Ben’s escapades on the slave-planet Kral are quite entertaining enough to stand on their own merits.  Lee, Kirby, and Sinnott—all born between 1917 and 1926—obviously had fun setting this variation on Spartacus in the milieu of the ’30s gangster movies they grew up on.

PE: If it looks like a Thing solo story and walks like a Thing solo story... Save a handful of expository panels, that's exactly what this is. And it turns out to be a lot more fun than the last few issues featuring the whole gang. The only drawback to the solo gig, it turns out, is that Ben's one-liners are flowing fast and furious. Not a good thing when the lines aren't funny. I've got a feeling Stan and Jack got the idea for this installment after watching a Star Trek episode called "A Piece of the Action," wherein Kirk, Spock and Bones beam down to a prohibition-era Earth and dress like gangsters.

JB: As you say Professor Pete, clearly Star Trek’s “A Piece Of The Action” was  the inspiration for this turn of events. It’s so shamelessly copied (rival mob bosses, a society fashioned by a bit of Earth history) that I’m not sure why I still find it so much fun. The Games are a promise of much action, though the aliens fighting in the arena concept could be likened to another Star Trek, “The Gamesters Of Triskelion.” Maybe the melting pot of aliens is the secret ingredient?  I like the pictures of Reed (who of course figures it out) and Johnny, labeled not available, on Boss Barker’s desk: future slaves?

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 18
Our Story

Namor awakens as a prisoner aboard an alien ship that is controlled by the Stalker and his tribe of alien people.  They are experimenting on Namor because he has both gills and lungs.  Triton, the Inhuman, is also captured aboard the ship.  It is revealed that the Stalker found and subdued him on one of his trips to Earth.  Namor is able to free himself along with Triton.  Together, the two fight the hostile aliens until they come across a contraption that they are using to siphon off the Earth's water supply.  Namor is able to reverse it, which causes the machine to take water from the alien's planet.  Having enough of his murderous ways, the Stalker's own people kill him before letting Namor and Triton go in peace.  All is not well when the heroes return home as Namor realizes that he was operated on and his gills were removed.  The story ends with Triton leaving Namor on the beach, never to swim the ocean depths again.

"Honky Tonk Women" was atop the Billboard charts
in August 1969 when this comic came out--coincidence?
Tom:  This one was just 'okay.'  I was glad that they wrapped it up after this issue because the outer space opera was getting old.  Usually these types of adventures are in the Hulk comic books.  This issue also probably has the worst Namor comic book cover so far with the Beach Boy dropout on it. 

MB: Oddly enough, the big last-page “surprise” was revealed on the cover of not one but two of Roy’s books this month (Daredevil being the other), although how much control he would have had over that, if any, I have no idea.  It’s always nice to see Namor team up with his natural ally, Triton, whose “betrayal” I was confident would turn out to be in name only, and the plotline is unusual—albeit far-fetched even by comic-book standards—with some interesting twists.  The Gaudioseverin team continues to provide solid, if unspectacular, artwork; I liked the expository device of having the historical apparatus’s images and “mental narrative” play out in the background while Subby and Triton were mopping the floor with Dynorr’s hapless minions.

Gotta love an alien with reading glasses!

Captain America 118
Our Story

In an effort to rally the native troops against the stinkin' commies known as The Exiles, Captain America (still trapped in the body of The Red Skull) begins an arduous training session with Sam Wilson, now known as The Falcon. Meanwhile, back in civilization, The Red Skull (who has stolen the body of Captain America) is doing everything he can to discredit the reputation of his most hated enemy. The evil genius refuses autographs, is rude to busboys, and jaywalks quite a bit. On the other side of town, A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) is working its darndest to devise a weapon to counteract the Cosmic Cube, which was stolen from them by the nefarious Red Skull. Our story wraps up with an all-out battle between Cap-as-Skull-as-Mudface and The Falcon vs. The Exiles. Watching it all and none too pleased is The Red Skull, who finally decides to put an end to all this superhero stuff.

PE: I love Gene Colan's art on most everything but his Red Skull is a bit too horror film for me and his Skull-as-Cap looks as though he's jettisoned the workouts and picked up the ice cream scooper. Ditto the boy wonder, Rick Jones, who has a bit of a receding hairline all of a sudden, strange in that only fourteen years old. I'm glad Stan brings up the confusion issue. I must admit to being lost when it comes to AIM whipping up a "catholite block" to overpower The Cube. Is the "block" made of the same material as The Cube? I'm sure we'll find out next issue, in the finale of this five-parter, and I can't wait. Good installment this time out.

Little young for a receding hairline?

MB: What I liked best about this issue is the unforced camaraderie of “Steve” and Sam Wilson, a true partnership (and, at the height of the Civil Rights era, an interracial one) between adults, of a kind that the understandably gun-shy Cap could never have with Rick, who is whisked off to a more momentous fate in Captain Marvel #17 anyway.  Amusingly, although Gene Colan’s work shines through largely unimpeded, there are random touches of pure Sinnott, e.g., page 8, panel 4.  Again epitomizing the first generation of Marvel fans who became Marvel creators, Roy’s fellow Missourian and future scribe, 21-year-old Steve Gerber—a correspondent since FF #19 in 1963—weighs in on the “patriotism controversy” then raging in Cap’s lettercol.

PE: The Falcon couldn't have come at a better time. Obviously, Stan knew he'd painted himself in the corner with Rick Jones, aka Bucky Two, and needed a way out (though I will say that Jones' questioning of his own worth would be poignant if I weren't so sick to death of the cry-baby). Whether he planned to have The Falcon take a permanent place alongside the star-spangled Avenger is anyone's guess. I'm sure Stan "The Man" (who never dodged a credit in his life) will now say he wanted to strike a blow for civil rights by teaming a black man with a whitey. Whatever the case, I applaud him for it. Sam Wilson was always one of my favorite supporting characters in the 1970s and, seeing him here already, it's got me excited that we'll be putting the sixties in the rearview. The "hotbed of controversy" (as reader Garrett Everett proclaims it) aka the "Let's Rap with Cap" letters column that Matthew notes above has been indeed quite an interesting read this last few issues. The question of Cap's patriotism and what the icon stands for will be examined more in-depth in the mid to late 1970s within the stories themselves by oft-canonized (by me, at least) writer Steve Englehart. In the meantime, it's fascinating to see the letter hacks and Stan (or whoever is answering these LOCs) debate peace vs. patriotism. Neither side convinces the other to change its stance but the arguments are well-thought out and reasonably presented.

The Invincible Iron Man 18
Our Story

Tony Stark's LMD has grown to enjoy his new life as the "real" Tony Stark/Iron Man (including fighting beside Captain America and Nick Fury against the agents of HYDRA) so much that he deems it necessary to eliminate his only competition. Meanwhile, in a twist of coincidental Marvel fate, the "real" Tony Stark has been kidnapped by the morbidly obese chicken-drumstick devouring Midas, who thinks Tony an impostor, and is being trained by the mysterious Madame Masque to infiltrate and steal Stark Industries. Realizing this is his best way to get back in and scotch the plan of his LMD, Tony agrees to the plan. Once inside the factory, Shellhead and the Madame are attacked by the LMD in full Iron Man armor. Not one to be outdone, the "real" Tony ducks into a storeroom and re-emerges clad in the second edition gold Iron Man armor! Their fierce battle ends when the LMD falls into a smelting pot but the strain takes its toll on Tony and his weak heart gives out yet again. The Avengers show up and take Tony to Avengers Mansion, where they home to revive him with the Ultra-Rejuvenator. Will the super-gizmo work or is the career of Tony Stark/Iron Man finished (hint: see the review for Avengers #69 below for the answer-Paste-Pot)?

PE: This was an enjoyable enough romp but I thought Archie took the easy way out when he made the LMD evil. Much more interesting (and original) would have been to have the LMD simply enjoying the life around him and wanting to maintain that life at all costs. Instead, halfway through the story, he becomes a murderous madman (or at least a madman with murderous intent) and what empathy I felt (particularly after teaming with Cap and Fury in the opening battle) goes out the window. Still, I really liked the story and, for once, didn't mind the Tuska art. One question though: where does Midas get the unending supply of drumsticks? Are they delivered? Could Marvel have made a bit of quick cash by placing a KFC bucket next to Midas' throne?

MB: From Tuska’s take on the beloved “floating heads” cover border to Archie’s use of the Tony-dons-his-old-golden-armor device (fondly remembered from Tales of Suspense #90), this is a fun and eventful issue, although George should never be allowed to draw Nick Fury; he looks like he’s about to burst into “The Age of Aquarius.”  Speaking of whom, I liked the whole S.H.I.E.L.D./007 feel to the infiltration of S.I., even if it was surprisingly easy for Stark to thaw Madame Masque’s cold heart.  Also a little tough to believe that neither she nor the two security guards overheard enough to piece together the fact that Tony was Shellhead, but the dueling Iron Men bit had a satisfying message:  “what always counts most in the long run…is who’s inside!”

PE: "Losing one's identity" was a very popular plot line in 1969 for Marvel as the then-current issues of Captain America, Daredevil, and Iron Man would prove. I enjoyed the irony of Midas hiring the real Tony Stark to infiltrate Stark Industries and replace the LMD. This Marvel Zombie wonders whether that Captain America the faux-Iron Man was fighting alongside in the opening was actually The Red Skull (see review above). Since Stan was a stickler for cross-over continuity, it must have been! Since I never read Iron Man as a kid could someone clue me in as to whether we're really going to have to endure heart attack after heart attack until December 1979 or does the multi-gazillionaire playboy ever get a transplant?

The Mighty Thor 169
Our Story

Having allowed Thor to find him, Galactus proposes to tell the tale of his origin rather than do battle. In a long distant past lived an essentially benevolent world of a technology who’s like has perhaps never been equaled, a world called… Taa. Even this wondrous civilization was not immune to disaster, and so it was a plague travelled through space to their world, one even their advanced civilization could not halt. In an effort to beat the plague from overtaking them, a handful of its residents blasted off towards Taa’s sun—to die in a way of their own choice. One of the occupants did not die however, and in some bizarre way, was gifted with enormous power by the mighty star. The ship crash-landed elsewhere; this is where the Watcher came in. He witnesses the strange being grow in power, until it left for space in the repaired ship, which it then changed in form to something more suitable for it’s occupant. The Watcher’s vow of non-interference stayed his hand from destroying the being before it became too powerful, even though it was apparent that it had a hunger that would one day cost the universe the destruction of many worlds.  Thus was born the self-named Galactus. Feeling he has learned enough from his son’s quest (and that the threat of Galactus is not imminent), Odin summons Thor back, this time to face a new danger on Earth.

JB: While there are a lot of ups and downs to this issue, it feels satisfactory, and is a fitting end to the space sagas of late, before we go back to (mainly) single-issue stories in the 170’s. The Marvel universe boasted a lot of ultimate civilizations, Taa being an interesting if not entirely different one. Another Marvel trademark, a being gaining enormous powers from forces that would otherwise destroy him (starting with cosmic rays in F.F. #1, the beginning of this age of excellence), is mildly disappointing for Galactus, whose beginnings might have better been portrayed in a way we humans couldn’t fathom. And why does Odin suddenly feel satisfied that he no longer be concerned with the planet-destroyer? Galactus must have felt slighted at being snubbed so suddenly!

MB:  “Next week, on a very special episode of The Thor and Galactus Show…”  So, the universe’s oddest couple continues to bond, and this time, we get what purports to be Galactus’sreal origin, as opposed to whatever the hell it was we got the last time.  On a much more serious note, this was reportedly the swan song for inker George Klein, who according to Wikipedia died of cirrhosis of the liver just six months after he’d been married, and was at most in his mid-fifties (his exact year of birth is apparently unknown).  Not surprisingly, such a tale is filled with visual splendor, portrayed in the majestic Kirby style, and Klein’s effective inking allows him to go out on a high note, barely a year after he left his longtime employer, DC, to work at Marvel full time.

PE: We finally get that Galactus origin we were teased by last issue, a slightly above-average origin but nothing for the record books. It seems odd to me that, with your world dying all around you, a suicide trip to the sun sounds like just the ticket, but then I don't have a rocket ship at my behest so what do I know? Unfortunately, once The Big G tells his tale of woe, Odin deems his menace on the horizon rather than immediate. A case of "why do today what you can tomorrow," I guess. I suspect we'll eventually discover why Thor's pop needed the info The Big G surrendered but the whole magilla smells fishy to me. Now we have to contend with the sleep-inducing terror of Thermal-Man. Whoopie.

Daredevil 57
Our Story

Daredevil is able to free himself after Death's-Head had previously tied him to a horse and sent him heading straight toward the cops.  Karen Page follows the family's butler, Garth, as he makes his way toward the old mill.  Once inside, Karen recognizes that someone has been working on the mill, using it as a secret headquarters.  She tries to attack Garth after he brandishes a gun on her.  Luckily, Daredevil arrives to knock Garth out, just as Death's-Head appears for a final showdown.  The two fight it out as Karen gets in the way.  Death's-Head ends up sacrificing himself to save Karen after he activates a huge vat of molten cobalt to pour on Daredevil.  In the end, it is revealed that the villain was Karen's father and Garth was a secret U.S. agent who had been monitoring him.  As Karen sulks after learning of her father's fate, Daredevil approaches her and asks Karen to remove his mask.  She does so to learn that Double D is really Matt Murdock!

Tom:  A pretty decent conclusion to a somewhat predictable story.  It's nice to see that Karen finally knows that Matt is Daredevil.  This should end any more Daredevil impostor tomfoolery. 

Just another father embarrassing his daughter!
MB: As is often the case, it’s been so long since I’ve perused these early tales (which I acquired after the fact as back issues and probably read only once) that I have no recollection of how they resolve Matt’s climactic confession to Karen, but I will say it’s satisfying to see such a long-awaited plot development finally take place, and the reader is probably as relieved as he is to have that off his chest, regardless of what happens next.  The story that precedes it looks and reads fairly well, with Shores continuing to be a good match for Colan, and obviously knowing that Karen thinks she’s lost both of the men she loved reinforced Matt’s decision.  I didn’t think Death’s Head’s back story hung together very well, but reviewing the issue largely satisfied me.

Jack: I don't like Shores inking Colan but I thought this issue was fun, especially that crazy Death's Head character. I don't know how he managed to get DD wrapped up like a mummy in about three seconds, or exactly how one gives a horse a serum that makes its flesh transparent, or--for that matter--why Karen thought it was a good idea to grab a piece of wood and try to whack Garth over the head with it! But no matter--this is Daredevil and logic takes a back seat. Hey, if you can buy a guy flying around on a surfboard wrapped in aluminum foil, I guess a few dicey motivations should not be a problem.

We begin to suspect there's more to Garth
the butler than meets the eye.

The X-Men 61
Our Story

Angel looks into the eyes of Sauron and is hypnotized, thinking he's being attacked by strange creatures. He quickly realizes it's all in his head and gets away. After a brief return to human form, Lykos sucks the energy from Lorna and re-dinosaurizes.  He heads off to Tierra del Fuego, where he appears to fall to his death... for now.

MB: This being a comic book, not too many people will probably be astounded to learn that (spoiler alert) Karl Lykos isn’t actually deceased, which would be a waste of a great villain anyway, but that takes nothing away from his noble sacrifice on Tanya’s behalf, and the location of his icy non-tomb will, of course, allow the X-Men to segue smoothly into the next part of this arc.  With his fearsome appearance, formidable powers, and eerie backstory, Sauron is truly a foe to be reckoned with, the story and art combining to give him a really sinister air.  Yet the whole “What have I become/Stop me before I kill the thing I love” angle recalls various classic human monsters, and makes Lykos so much more interesting and multi-faceted than a thing of pure evil.

JS: Adams gets to do some bizarre creatures when Sauron hypnotizes his prey. And fortunately not your classic Kirby monsters. These are Neal Adams all the way. It will come as no surprise that Adams continues to excel during this excellent run on the book. Looking forward to the stopover in The Savage Land.

PE: Adams art is driving this strip obviously but, aside from the obvious Man-Bat comparisons that I'll avoid this time out, I'm digging the story as well. I could do without the "Lorna's my chick so don't even look at her" nonsense that Roy's doling out for Iceman and, oh boy, I'll bet Neal hatedhatedhated penciling blue jeans on Lykos/Sauron. I assume the CCA demanded the giant birdman be wearing britches or it was a no-go. Also, if The Angel was told by Lykos, under hypnosis, that he'd remember nothing then why the reaction to his name?

Jack: I thought #58 was great but #61 may be the best yet! The link with Man-Bat is really strong. Adams's art looks so darn good here that even Rascally Roy can't screw it up. He draws some gorgeous women and the couple of two page spreads are dynamic and superb. I can't say too much about how great this issue is! 

The Silver Surfer 9
Our Story

In the second part of this saga, law enforcement unsuccessfully attempts to gun down the Flying Dutchman’s ghost ship.  The unfriendly spectre demands the presence of the Silver Surfer and he is rewarded very swiftly.  This is because the Silver Surfer sniffs out the Earthly danger, but he is certainly surprised to find out it’s the legendary Flying Dutchman aided by Mephisto causing all of these problems.  The Surfer tries to devise a plan to fight the ghoul without harming any humans – he plays injured to lure the ghost and he tries to summon his board to flee the area, but he is unable to trick Mephisto’s pawn.  Speaking of the devilish head honcho, Mephisto decides it is time he had a part in the Silver Surfer’s downfall.  He materializes on Earth and erases his human witnesses’ memories because he feels they don’t deserve to observe his exalted self.   In a shield of invisibility, he strikes the S.S. down and encourages the Flying Dutchman to finish the job.  Almost getting hit by a subway train Norin Radd is involved in surely an unbeatable battle vs. the Dutchman and Mephisto.  A human hostage is taken, but S.S. summons all of his cosmic energy to hit the ghost but miss the hostage.  The Flying Dutchman is so impressed that he forfeits his deal with Mephisto.  The Silver Surfer empathizes with the lost soul and sheds a tear of sorrow for the Dutchman.  This is the key to unlocking the shackles around the Flying Dutchman!  Mephisto is enraged and vows to come back again . . .

MB: Dapper Dan Adkins having reportedly decided a year or so ago that “he wanted to stick to inking for a while,” I hope we can now get past the obsession with his borrowings and focus on his embellishment, especially since I believe Big John Buscema cited him as one of his favored inkers on this book.  Even with the presumably primitive reproduction of the artwork in my Fantasy Masterpieces reprint, he has done a fine job, with no diminution that I can detect of the robust Buscema style.  No complaints from this quarter either about the script with which ol’ Smiley winds up this two-parter, and given the many Pyrrhic victories the Surfer has endured in the past, it’s nice to see him enjoy a clear win, with Mephisto defeated and the Ghost laid to rest.

NC: I absolutely loved the ending - maybe because I love justice and I think that the ending was a fitting one for The Dutchman. The Surfer's kindness succeeds again. I also loved the panel of the woman (whose memory is promptly erased by Mephisto) commenting on the smell of "fire and brimstone." Personally, I don;t have much experience in the way of brimstone - that woman must have led a much more interesting life than mine!

The Avengers 69
Our Story

When the Avengers visit a dying Tony Stark in the hospital, they are surprised by the Growing Man, who rapidly shoots up from doll size to family size and carries off the weakened hero. The Avengers give chase and are transported the the future, where Kang the Conqueror awaits. Kang's wish for the power to revive his beloved Ravonna was answered by the Grandmaster, who challenges him to a game of cosmic chess. If he loses, the Earth will be destroyed. The Avengers will be his chess pieces, facing off against a fearsome foursome called the Squadron Sinister!

MB: This issue picks up right where Iron Man #18 left off, yet even the drama of an Avenger lying near death is only part of Roy’s action-packed story; happily, the same can also be said of the Assemblers’ battle with the Growing Man, whom I have never found very interesting. The big news is, of course, the return of Kang—Sal and Sam really go all out with that two-page spread of his throne room—and the advent of both the Grandmaster and the Squadron Sinister, of whom we will see much more next month.  Sal continues to evoke Big John’s work in a pleasing way, and everybody seems to be having fun, from the tiny Growing Man’s concomitant lettering to the clear reference to the Beatles’ Bungalow Bill (“I zapped ’im—right between the eyes!”).

Hooray for Kang!
PE: I'm always up for a good Kang adventure and this one fits that description. The Growing Man was The Boring Man back when he was introduced in The Mighty Thor #140 (May 1967) and nothing has changed in that time to jazz him up at all. That last panel, the intro of the Squadron Sinister, is a hoot and a good preview of the Golden Age mentality Roy Thomas would bring to The Avengers. Nope, they're not a Golden Age band of villains but they sure look like it, don't they? Unless I miss my guess (and it's happened before), this is the first instance of the letters page being placed in the middle of the book rather than after the story's climax. This practice will catch on in several of the titles in the 1970s.

Pretty cool!
Jack: Has anyone else noticed that when someone yells "Avengers assemble" they're usually already there? This is a very good issue, from the pedestrian mis-hearing "Kang" for "Kong" and thinking a remake of King Kong is in the works to the welcome return of Kang. Can anyone explain to me why Goliath was giant-sized when he visited the hospital? Was he stuck that way? Or did Sal just like drawing him as a big guy?

Inspiration for this issue?

Where passes the Whizzer, brown patches of grass appear!

Also this month

Chamber of Darkness #1
Chili #6
The Incredible Hulk King-Size Special #2 (all-reprint)
Mad About Millie #4
Marvel's Greatest Comics #23
(formerly Marvel Collectors' Item Classics)
Millie the Model #175
Our Love Story #1
Rawhide Kid #72
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #71

Romita comes through!
The premiere issue of Chamber of Darkness picks up where Tower of Shadows #1 left off: three anemic horror stories, bereft of surprise or originality. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you're hampered by the big brother known as The Comics Code. No vampires, werewolves, walking dead. No blood or murder. What does that leave? Haunted houses, magicians and time travelers all courtesy of Don Heck, Tom Sutton, John Romita, Stan Lee and Denny O'Neil. I'm not saying that, if the CCA censures were lifted, we'd see the second coming of EC but you have only to look over at Warren (and wait a few years until Marvel starts spitting out the monster magazines not governed by the CCA) to see that there might have been a good chance we'd see something unique. All we're left with in this first issue is some nice Romita art in the junior magician tale that opens the book.

Brilliant marketing strategy? (From Bullpen Bulletins Checklist)


  1. At the risk of stating the obvious, when I made the comparison between this arc and "A Piece of the Action" in my comments regarding a later issue, it was written long before today's post.

    Speaking of the "Beach Boy dropout" scene shown on both the cover and the last page of this month's SUB-MARINER, the corresponding splash (ha ha) page in the next issue is populated with caricatures of the entire Bullpen, as enumerated in a subsequent lettercol.

    Since you asked, Paste-Pot, Tony Stark will soon get an artificial heart transplanted into his long-abused chest. But neither he nor you will be out of the woods, because the doctor warns him that any undue stress--y'know, like fighting super-villains as Shellhead--may bring on...a synthetic-heart attack! Or tissue rejection! Or something like that (I forget).

    Curiously, the lettercols will revert to two pages at the back of the book shortly, although this was clearly the wave of the future. And Professor Jack, there seems to be very little logic during this period as to what size Clint was at any given time.

  2. Valid comments about this ish of Spidey, but hey, it's Amazing Spider-Man. It's great no matter what.

    Is it me or is that one of the best Thor covers ever? Then again, hard to miss with the Big G.

    Oh, Neal Adams. You are da man.

    The Growing Man--what power does he have? Sigh....

    Don't remember the Tuska Shellhead looking so lame. I must be tired...

    Finally, the cool Captain Marvel threads!

    I forgot Rick Jones was "Bucky" for a while! I wish I wouldn't have remembered!

    Prof Matthew: interesting note about the missing panels/pages in your MGC reprint of FF. That should go in our future article for sure! And yeah, I would have never noticed the difference either. Man, I loved those reprints for better or worse! And back then, who cared?

    Another great month, faculty!

    Way back in FF #49, it was clear that Galactus and the Watcher knew each-other. Jack had already figured out an origin for the big "G" but it didn't find its way into that story. He finally got his chance in the pages of Thor. Mark Evanier recalls that Kirby told him about a sequence he penciled involving The Watcher intended for the FF, but that the pages eventually found their way into Thor. How is that possible, and what does it have to do with Galactus?

    The following information is sourced from "Avenger Re-assembled" by John Morrow and Shane Foley (The Jack Kirby Collector #52), and the recollections of Mark Evanier.

    The published Thor storyline in #168 and #169 was truncated and altered, and the finale intended for the following issue was dumped. Morrow and Foley unearthed a number of pages of unused artwork excised from the storyline, and attempted to reassemble them to figure out how the story might have unfolded. Here's what they found.

    A scientist returns to the planet Taa, informing his people of a major disturbance in their sun, and that a space plague is spreading across the galaxy. He tells them that they are doomed. Initially they laugh at him ... until the plague arrives. In the published version, the scientist is unnamed. Kirby's handwritten notes identify him as "Nirak."

    Here's page 9 of Thor #169.

    In panel one the people clearly shun Nirak, as he tries to show them the effects of the plague on other worlds. Stan's words don't match Jack's image. The man is mocking Nirak, not "preparing for the inevitable." Stan's notes on a photocopy of the previous page show that he requested artwork changes, removing smiles from the people. Originally, they laughed at Nirak ... in the published version they were terrified by what he told them.

    Nirak and his crew return to space, and, blasted by a solar radiation burst, crash their ship. All are killed except for Nirak, who is saved by The Watcher, who takes him back to his ship and revives him. Clearly, these events take place before the Watcher's people adopted the policy of non interference. Now, take a look at the last panel on page 14.

    In the published version, The Watcher simply observes Nirak as he recovers. In the original story, the Watcher uses his technology to revive Nirak and therefore, inadvertently creates Galactus. That's what he appears to be doing in that last panel. If he was forbidden from interfering, why would he take Nirak back to his ship and place him in what looks like an incubator? Again, Stan's words and Jack's image don't mesh.

    The Watcher, realizing he has unleashed a major threat to the entire universe, vows never to interfere in the lives of others. This explains why the Watcher disobeyed the directive back in FF #49-50. He was trying to make up for his past mistake. It also explains why Galactus was so enraged when he learned it was the Watcher who provided the means to save the Earth.

    End of Part One

  4. Part Two

    Morrow and Foley suspect this sequence was the discarded Watcher storyline Kirby mentioned to Evanier. The first part of the origin, shown in Thor #168 seems to be told from The Watcher's point of view, as is the final part in #169, where the being formerly known as Nirak propels himself into space.

    This flashback is the origin of the Watcher and Galactus in one story, possibly intended for the FF Surfer/Sub-Atomica storyline. When it finally saw print in Thor, they think the Watcher was redrawn as Galactus in a few panels, including changing the Watcher's face into Galactus on the upper left of the panels where he recounts the origin.

    Many of the jettisoned pages involve the Warriors 3/Karnilla/Loki subplot, but the original page 20 of Thor #169 reveals that Galactus was going to help Thor take on the Thermal Man, and possibly wreak vengeance on Red China in a story titled "Thunder Over The Orient." Here's the original version of page 20.

    There were quite a few problems with Jack's story, and Stan spotted them immediately.

    The story of Nirak and the people of Taa, as originally conceived, is uncomfortably similar to Jor-El and the people of Krypton.

    Although Jack's origin of the Watcher and Galactus is intriguing and well plotted, the Watcher part of the story is inconsistent with Marvel continuity. Kirby seems to have forgotten that an origin already existed. In Tales Of Suspense #52 we learned that the Watcher and his people pledged non interference after giving atomic power to the Procilicans, who misused their gift and almost annihilated themselves. Jack's version, with its double origin, is a vastly superior story.

    Throughout this saga, Galactus is seriously out of character. Maybe the idea that a godlike being would be more civil when talking to a real God appealed to Jack, but it doesn't work. And, how would a battle between Galactus and the Thermal Man play out? "Thermie" wouldn't be more than a milliseconds worth of inconvenience to Galactus, and, what does "wreak vengeance on Red China" mean? Would Galactus turn China and its people into energy and absorb them? Would Galactus then want to absorb the rest of us? We all know what happens two hours after eating Chinese food. (sorry).

    It's easy to see why Stan changed some of the storyline, and ditched the Galactus/Thor/Thermal Man ending. I just wish he had left the part about the Watcher creating Galactus intact.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)