Wednesday, January 9, 2013

September 1969: The Coming of The Falcon

The Amazing Spider-Man 76
Our Story

Having stashed Mrs. Connors and her son safely away, The Amazing Spider-Man ventures out into the city to try to find The Lizard. When he does stumble onto Lizzy, Spider-Man is hampered by the fact that the giant reptile man is, in fact, Dr. Curt Connors, a man who has done a lot for Peter Parker. A vicious battle ensues but Spidey has a plan: play dead and attack when Lizzy least suspects it. Into this perfect scenario a monkey wrench, in the form of the good-intentioned Human Torch, is heaved. The Torch saves the dazed wall-crawler and turns to the giant gecko in the flashy lab coat but Spidey knows that his old rival won't be pulling any flammable punches.

PE: What we get here is Spider-Man's Greatest Hits: a little fisticuffs with a bad guy, some tedious melodrama with Gwen, and an appearance by an old rival. There's not a bit of originality this time out; we've read this all before. Parker is itching to tell Gwen his big secret while she's suspicious about his sudden disappearances; every bit of the action is accompanied by some sort of expository: "He's lashing his tail at me! He's about to hit me in the head!" That sort of thing is essential in a prose novel but ridiculous in a comic book. A big disappointment for me in that The Lizard is one of my favorite villains and he's completely wasted here.

MB:  I’m curious about the artwork in this issue, credited to John Buscema and Jim Mooney, yet to my eyes it looks like John Romita all the way; presumably the continuity provided by Mooney’s inks has a lot to do with that.  I am frequently not a fan of prolonged fight scenes that can detract from the actual story, while in this case, the number of uniform four-panel pages (14 in my Marvel Tales reprint) provides significantly less visual variety than Ring-a-Ding does in his usual action sequences.  But when Spidey takes on a heavyweight like the Lizard, it’s a bad idea to have him prevail too quickly, and the totally unexpected appearance of the Torch at the end of this story, however much it fouls up Spidey’s plans, promises an interesting follow-up.

The X-Men 60
Our Story

Having escaped the clutches of Larry Trask's Sentinels last issue, Scott and Jean take Alex to an old colleague of Professor Xavier, Dr. Lykos. What they don't realize, is while the rest of the team is clowning around in the Danger Room, Lykos is sucking the energy from Alex, causing him to turn into a  Pteranodon-man, who chose to go by the name of Tolkien's villain Sauron.

MB: Here’s a half-loaf for you:  a recent Bullpen Bulletin informed us that “Nefarious Neal Adams…colors his own pages,” as did Steranko, yet while the mid-’80s X-Men Classics reprints of these issues are apparently uncut—unlike Giant-Size X-Men #2—they are recolored by Daina Graziunas.  I guess you pays your money and you takes your choice.  I don’t believe anything could top that Sentinels trilogy, but while I don’t think this arc does so, it still has a lot going for it, first and foremost in this issue being the introduction of one of the X-Men’s toughest villains, Sauron (and I love that Roy makes the Tolkien reference explicit).  His appearance and his atmospheric origin are both extremely effective, and I know that there’s tons of cool stuff ahead.

JS: Sauron is another of my favorite X-villains, in large part thanks to his cool debut here under the capable hands of Thomas and Adams. In classic Marvel fashion, despite changing into a completely different creature, his pants remain intact. I'm sure the Comics Code Authority appreciated that.

PE: Thank goodness for Neal Adams's breathtaking artwork this issue as Roy Thomas's script is one of those that sinks under the weight of its own verbiage. It's one Werner Roth artjob away from being as bad as those pre-Neal days. I'm lost as to why Lykos transforms into a Pterano-Man (bitten by a pterodactyl?) but hopefully we'll be let in on that secret next issue. At least we find out where Frank Robbins got his idea for Man-Bat (who would pop up in Detective Comics #400 about nine months later)
Gil Kane influence?
Jack: Yes, the Man-Bat influence is definitely there! This issue takes awhile to get going, what with the dreaded detour to the Danger Room, but once we hit the flashback we're in pure Adams territory, and the last page is a stunner.

JS: In all fairness, is it really that much of a stretch in the MU to have lacerations from a Pteranodon turn you into a were-Pteranodon?

Oops--Lorna's hair went
from green to orange!


The Avengers 68
Our Story

Ultron pulls the switch to destroy New York but nothing happens. It turns out the Vision snuck into the machine and wrecked it! The Avengers enlist the aid of Dr. MacLain of SHIELD and, with a hunk of Vibranium from Black Panther's friends in Wakanda, they manage to prevent Ultron from gaining ultimate power. The final straw comes when Hank masquerades as MacLain, allowing Ultron into his mind and freaking him out by thinking "Thou Shalt Not Kill."

MB: “Let’s welcome Slammin’ Sammy Grainger to the hallowed halls of Marvel,” a Bullpen Bulletin exhorts.  “[H]e’s lending his talents to the power-packed pencilling of Our Pal Sal Buscema to carry the mighty Avengers to even greater pinnacles of glory!”  Adds the editor in this month’s lettercol, “[I]f there’s anybody else in the world who draws more like our former Avengers artist [than his brother], we’d like to know who it is so that we can hire him, too.”  Sal eventually found his own look, but here, he and Grainger have indeed recreated Big John’s style to an uncanny degree.  This is another of those issues that’s been in the family since I was six, so don’t even bother trying to tell me there’s anything wrong with the artwork or Roy’s socko story.

Jan being Jan
PE: Well then, avert thine eyes, Brother Professor! I didn't have problems with plot or art but I'm still not warming to The Rascally One's pop reference-laden and groan-inducing dialogue. How about this from a black man witnessing a spaceship landing outside the U.N.: "Holy jumpin' cats! Either that's an Avengers crate -- or I've been hittin' the soul food too hard!"? What does that even mean? As if to add an exclamation point to my assessment of Janet Pym as the most worthless "hero" in this title, Roy gives her character-defining dialogue like (when asked, by hubby Hank, if she's worried on the eve of the world's destruction) "Yes -- but not for the reason you think! I just realized -- I haven't a thing to wear!" It was nice of Hercules to loan Jan a toga.

Jack: We are really on the cusp of '70s Marvel with this issue, which reads like a representative issue from the upcoming decade. Sal Buscema's art is still a little rough but it definitely shows hints of what will become one of the most common styles in years to come.

Matthew to Peter! Matthew to Peter!
Meet me at the playground after school!

Captain America 117
Our Story

Sent to the isle of The Exiles by The Red Skull and his Cosmic Cube, Captain America (trapped in the body of The Skull) must fight for his life against The Exiles, now thirsty for The Skull's blood. Cap gets some much needed help from a charitable bird of prey and, between the two of them, they manage to fend off the band of assassins. Knowing he can't wander around with a big crimson head on his shoulders and attain any innocuousness, Cap/Skull molds a perfectly handsome face from mud, some twigs and a handy can of hair dye. Just as the transformation is complete, he is confronted by the owner of the falcon who aided him, a trippin' brother by the name of Sam Wilson. Sam tells Cap/Skull that he was raised in Harlem, took a fancy to birds and was unfortunate enough to answer an ad in the paper to come work for The Exiles. Learning quickly he'd become nothing more than a slave, he escaped to the jungle and has been rallying the natives to rise up and take control of the island. With a little prodding from a certain defrocked superhero and the sweat of a good seamstress, Sam Wilson makes his debut as The Falcon!

PE: It's refreshing that Stan didn't resort to the usual "Yo, whitey, like what's hangin'?" dialogue and treats Sam Wilson as though he's a superhero-in-the-making rather than an African American superhero-in-the-making. Had it been up to one of the newer whuppersnapers around the Bullpen, I fear we'd see whips and hoods on The Exiles just to let us know they know what's what. Of course, Sam will become a huge part of this title, a partner for an even greater amount of time than that kid who supposedly blew up in Dubya Dubya Two. The Falcon won't see the footlights though for another 17 issues (and will keep that status until #222 in June 1978). Why it would take that long we'll have to discover together. Thank goodness that pukey suit won't last very long and Sam will adopt the red and white outfit we've all become accustomed to over the years.

Lon Chaney was nuthin!

MB: I’ll say one thing for having Colan on the strip just now:  he draws black characters (e.g., Daredevil’s Willie Lincoln) extremely well, but whether introducing the Falcon at this point was a coincidence, I have no idea.  Said introduction, like the simultaneous debut of Captain Marvel’s new uniform, actually occurs at the end of the issue, so its ramifications won’t be fully felt until next month, although we do get to spend some time with the hitherto-unnamed Sam Wilson, and learn that MODOK still lives.  I like the fact that we’re never shown the Skull’s actual face, yet as Doug pointed out on Bronze Age Babies, having Cap make a mask out of clay that will be believable and stand up to the elements plays havoc with my suspension of disbelief.

PE: I have to admit to being a total dope when it comes to The Red Skull. I always thought what you saw was what you got, not realizing he was wearing a mask the whole time. Yep, Cap is one dumb summagun for not having thought of shedding the face long before.

The Invincible Iron Man 17
Our Story

While zooming home to Stark Industries after battling The Red Ghost and The Unicorn (last issue), The Invincible Iron Man is struck not once, but twice, by lightning. Or so he thinks it's lightning. The deadly bolts are actually aimed at Shellhead by the henchmen of a morbidly obese trillionaire so obsessed with the legend of Midas that he's taken on the moniker. Midas employs the assets of the deadly Madame Masque to get what he wants and operates from a jet propelled throne. Another of the fat man's employees is revealed to be Tony Stark's no-good cousin, Morgan, who has promised all of Tony's secrets to Midas in exchange for a cut. Meanwhile, Tony has his hands full when he finally gets back to the factory to find out it had been damaged by the same bolt that nearly took him out shortly before. Everyone at the building is surprised to see him and the gazillionaire playboy soon finds out why: the attack on his factory awoke his LMD (first revealed in issue #11) and the robot has taken over all his duties. Neither Stark wants to hand over reins to the world's biggest weapon manufacturer so a heated battle ensues. The LMD gains the upper hand and then convinces the local authorities that the new guy is a crackpot and has him tossed. With his credit cards cancelled, finger prints switched, and even Avengers access denied, Tony is left to wander the streets until he's kidnapped by Madame Masque!

PE: There's a lot of stuff going on here this issue, most of it farfetched, but then this is a comic book so you should be used to that. The idea that Tony Stark's LMD can program itself to take over Tony's life is pretty creepy despite the obvious "yeah, right"s to the situation. I remain unconvinced, for example, that any robot (particularly one built in 1969) would fool the average person. Having said that, this is one wild, fun ride from first panel to last. Too bad I have to sound the cliched heart attack alert!

MB:  With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, I can see that in this issue, Goodwin (who continues to rise steadily in my estimation) has again added several significant tiles to the mosaic of Shellhead’s mythos with the introductions of Madame Masque and Midas.  The former’s auric faceware is a little more Les Yeux sans Visage than I remember it even from Tuska’s later issues, but it’s possible that subsequent stories incorporated a design change I’ve forgotten.  Archie also planted the seeds six months ago for the entertaining plot mechanism of Stark being replaced by his own LMD, who looks suitably sinister while rising from the rubble at Stark Industries’ Long Island plant, and simultaneously nurtures a few more in the Janice Cord/Alex Niven relationship.

PE: I assume, without knowing, that, like Doc Doom, we'll never see Madame's face under the Masque. With all the build-up (the fainting by the admittedly wimpy Morgan Stark), nothing could be all that horrible once it's in the open. I'm not taken by Tuska's art (never have been and never will be) and his giant yellow glob known as Midas reminds me of the characters in those really bad pre-code horror stories (like the morbidly fat guy who'd eat anything and then realizes he's eaten his wife at the end of the story when her ring pops up in his soup), mainly due to the silly panel where we see the baddie with a half-eaten drumstick the size of his head. The toga doesn't help either. Having said that, I was taken by his obvious homage to Will Eisner in the final pages of this issue. Sure doesn't look like Tuska.

Eisner via Tuska

Captain Marvel 16
Our Story

Mar-Vell penetrates the idol and blows up the generators with his helmet’s self-destruct mechanism, but is caught by Ronan; on Earth, Carol flees the hospital and is picked up by Yon-Rogg.  Freeing Mar-Vell, the Super-Sentry brings him to the Hall of Judgment on the Kree headquarters planet, Hala, where the Supreme Intelligence reveals that Zo was the Imperial Minister, Zarek, and Mar-Vell only a pawn in his plot.  Not knowing that the hall is safe from the negatron sphere the traitors leave behind, Mar-Vell shields the Supreme Intelligence, who honors him with a new uniform yet says his sympathies for Earth will keep him a captain forever, and as Mar-Vell teleports to Earth in search of Yon-Rogg, he is suddenly thrust into the Negative Zone.

MBAfter six excellent issues and twelve mostly crappy ones, the stage is set for Captain Marvel as I knew him in ’73, yet the new uniform introduced here (with unflattering art by Heck and Shores) is only part of the process, most of which occurs next month.  One prerequisite is extricating the character from the Drake/Friedrich mire, and Iron Man mainstay Archie Goodwin does a superb job—inevitably awash with exposition—of not only weaving together their dangling plot threads but also putting an entirely new spin on Mar-Vell’s career since Day One.  It’s a bold move, and followed by another:  rather than wrapping it all up with a neat bow, Archie throws us an out-of-the-blue, game-changing cliffhanger on the final page before he turns the reins back over to Roy.

PE: Metallo-plates. Ion-Blasts. Negatron Spheres. Hyper-Space Bolts. Unconfirmed rumors have it that just before he sat down in his Bullpen chair to script this issue of Captain Marble, someone whispered in Archie's ear that Marvel was about to change their mode of payment and that now writers would be paid for word count. How else to explain this endless exercise in tedium? Never before have so many words added up to something so unreadable. The worst sin a comic book can commit is boring its reader.

Fantastic Four 90
Our Story

Having taken the Mole Man’s staff and glasses, and tied him up to wait for justice, the F.F. take a moment to recover. Ben feels better trashing every one of Moley’s gizmo he can find, and finally unties him at Sue’s request. Bad idea, as their foe still knows every inch of his house by heart, and dashes to escape down a chute to Subterrania. Ben cuts out to go see Alicia. Not long after, the whole house begins to vibrate violently, and everyone makes a run for it. The Mole Man withdraws his house into the ground, and explodes the remains, putting a rush on the house-hunting plans for Reed and Sue. The Skrull known as the Slaver has landed, and assumes the shape of a nearby man, hitching a ride into town where his devices help him locate the Thing. When he spots Ben, he assumes the shape of Reed, telling him that an alien invasion is imminent, and to follow him.  Once in the forest, the Slaver reveals his true identity, and zaps Ben with a nerve-ray that renders him immobile. A rock being the disguised form of his spacecraft, the plan is to set sail for Skrull space, where Ben will be a slave in an unknown game.

JB: I do have to question the judgment of leaving a bound Mole Man unattended, or Sue’s (albeit kind) in suggesting freeing him. Of course it gives the villain the chance to escape, although Reed makes an interesting point: you can’t hold a man for wanting to conquer the world! On page four panel four, isn’t that supposed to be Johnny and Crystal looking like Reed and Sue?  The Slaver's subsequent capture of Ben is a more interesting turn of events, and even if this issue could have been condensed a bit, it marks the start of a favourite story arc of mine. I like the cover, undercover of night with a Skrull spectre…for some reason it reminds of Hardy Boys #16: A Figure In Hiding, if my fading memory serves!

MB: In next month’s Soapbox, Stan tells us, “Starting as soon as possible, we’re abandoning our policy of continued stories!”  Luckily, that won’t be enforced over the long haul, or no Kree-Skrull War, etc., but it’s tough to see how it would work even in the short term on the flagship title, which frequently flouts the traditional one issue, one story format.  This is a case in point, for despite its cover, it’s as much concerned with resolving the current Mole Man arc as it is with Ben’s enslavement by the Skrull.  The bulk of the overt action consists of Moley escaping and destroying his cockamamie house as the FF beat it in the nick of time; gravy includes Ben’s autograph-hungry admirers and Moley’s tell-tale noises (“Psanng!  Sptonng!  Ptinng!  Fzanng!”).

PE: It's time to play "Spin the Same Old Story Wheel." Where will it land this time? Alicia kidnapped by The Puppet Master? No. Johnny Storm quits the group in a fit of childishness? Not this time. Ben Grimm feels sorry for himself and heads off to contemplate his part in life? Bingo! I will say that the wrap-up to the Mole Man story, wherein Sue feels pity for Moley, is the best bit in this snoozer. Did couples in the 1960s really call each other "husband mine" and "wife lady?" Though I'm beating a dead horse and, judging by the letters page, 1969 comic readers never noticed, I continue to be amazed at Alicia's Daredevil-ish ability to take care of a baby without the gift of sight. Hell, I had use of both my eyes and changing a diaper was like trying to create one of Tony Stark's Gaseotromic Astro-Blasters with my hands tied behind my back.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 14
Our Story

Dr. Kraus has been scrutinizing Fury’s subconscious with the Psycho-Probe, and orders him taken home, unconscious and unaware that he has been under Kraus’s control for two weeks.  Nick is subjected to a series of unsuccessful booby traps planted in his shower, his clothes, and his electric razor by Agent 72 of the Keystone Kops—er, Hydra—and must ditch his anti-grav car before parachuting (?!) onto the Helicarrier, where he receives a new motorcycle from the Gaff and tells his hitherto-unseen secretary, Agent Huff, he’ll be asleep in his office.  Kraus (suddenly called Sammartino) is revealed to have met secretly with Rickard, now identified as a Hydra agent; he escapes after his attempt to slay Fury is interrupted by Huff.

MB: “Perhaps you belong on Laugh-In, Colonel…instead of being director of our nation’s most vital security force!”  Friedrich has, via the Gaff, identified one of the factors that make this the worst issue to date of Fury’s criminally mishandled mag—a tall order indeed.  Besides such ill-advised, pervasive attempts at humor, everybody acts out of character; the plot is inane to the Nth degree, even flaunting its own inadequacy in the last panel; and the art, again by Trimpe and Grainger, is grotesquely inappropriate.  Poor Val continues to come and go at random, with no explanation of the state of their union, the unspecified “trouble” she was alleged to be in back around #7, or her apparent betrayal of Nick in #12.  This is like watching one of those driver’s-ed car-wreck films.

PE: Nick's "bad day" reminded me of the Pink Panther movies, with Fury as Clouseau, dodging one deathtrap after another in sillier fashion. You have to wonder (well, I do at least) if Hydra had a multitude of deathtraps waiting around town that Nick never got to. After all, they didn't really know he'd shower or shave, right? What possible poison was waiting for him in the eggs and bacon Val was about to serve? Maybe there was an exploding eggplant waiting for Fury down at Mama Leone's neighborhood produce stand. How about that urinal at Grand Central Station? He had to drive past the terminal on his way to work after all. I love Trimpe, don't get me wrong, but this is not good Trimpe. I had to reread the three panels over again a few times before I realized that was a blade coming down in his closet. Hopefully, Herb practices on the team a whole lot before he has to draw them monthly in Godzilla a decade later. And, yes, poor Val! Why would any hot chick like her put up with the kind of abuse Nick doles out? Mike Friedrich seems more intent on stuffing his story full of pop references than actually coming up with a story. How long did Dum-Dum know that Kraus/Sammartino (who Nick calls Colonel at one point for some reason) was a bad guy before he decided to unmask him publicly? And, as Prof. Matthew alluded, that last panel is one of the laziest ways to write yourself out of a corner I've ever read. At least the "next issue teaser" offers something innovative: "The Assassination of Nick Fury!"

The Mighty Thor 168
Our Story

Thor is on his way in the Odinship. His mission: to find Galactus and make him answer for his “misdeeds.” While he is away, a recovering Balder on Earth reads a note Dr. Blake left for him, essentially putting him in charge of Earth’s stewardship until (if?) the Thunder God returns. Soon the brave one is joined by the Warriors Three, and they wander about to get familiar with their new duties, so to speak. It finds them shortly in the form of a giant known as the Thermal Man, an invention from the Orient who harnesses just that power to fulfill his duty: bring the western world to it’s knees! Thor’s quest meanwhile, reaches it’s destination abruptly, but only because Galactus desires it. The powerhouse entity makes it clear battle is not his desire; instead he admits he is weary of pursuit and wishes to relate the story of his origin.

JB: It occurs to me that we don’t get any full page panels (other than the splash) this time around, although fewer and larger panels are getting more common in Marvel as time goes on. Thor does seem to think he’s the equal of the big guy here, but Galactus controls him pretty easily. Funny that Stan chose to make the Thor title the vessel for the origin of Galactus, but it’ll be great to see the conclusion of what we’ve seen hints of since issue 160. The highlight for me this time around is Balder and friends in New York. Volstagg breaks Don Blake’s furniture, and tries to bum a free newspaper! Almost forgot about the Thermal Man…

PE: Having pretty much left the poor stinkin' commies alone for a while, Stan and Jack feel the need to remind us pre-teens who the bad guys are. "Galactus Found" could be easily sub-titled "A Tale of Two Tales," in that the absorbing drama of Thor's quest to find the Big G clashes with the hum-drum drama of The Thermal Man (Jack missed the boat by not having his Man dressed in Thermals). I'd liken it to sauntering down to the local multi-plex to take in the new Scorcese only to find it includes a middle section directed by Michael Bay. That plague ship tempts me to do something I've never done in my tenure at MU: skip ahead to #169!

MB:  Supplanting Vince Colletta for the first time in, I believe, two years, George Klein had his last assignment on this and the following issue, which is singularly appropriate, as he is now widely considered Kirby’s uncredited inker on FF #1-2.  Kirby being Kirby, the artwork is not drastically different from the norm, but Klein does his usual superb job, and while willing to tolerate Colletta’s work on this strip, I am unlikely to miss him when he’s not around.  Although they do not come to blows in this issue, Goldilocks and Galactus are portrayed more as equals than ever, which certainly doesn’t please me (especially when Odin has already referred to the Big G as one “whose power doth challenge my own” when sending Thor on his penance/quest).

Dr. Strange 182
Our Story

Nightmare reveals to Dr. Strange his evil plan to turn the Earth into a world of terror when suddenly the Juggernaut appears, exiled to the Crimson Cosmos and determined to make his way back to Earth. The Juggernaut sees in Dr. Strange a way home, while Dr. Strange sees in the Juggernaut an ally against Nightmare. The Juggernaut attacks Nightmare and Dr. Strange seems to escape during their battle. The two villains blast him with powerful spells but inadvertently free Eternity, who explains that he was never really held captive and then banishes Nightmare and the Juggernaut to oblivion before sending Dr. Strange home. It seems that Eternity has provided our hero with a new identity as Dr. Stephen Sanders.

MB: Much as I love the Juggernaut (last seen, I believe, bopping abruptly back and forth between the Crimson Cosmos and Earth in X-Men #46), I was skeptical of him as a foe for Doc.  I say this in spite of the fact that Cain Marko’s transmutation by Cyttorak clearly gives him a mystic origin, and it should also be noted that I have yet to read Strange’s prior encounter with Juggy in X-Men #33.  After seeing Gene’s cover, I was concerned about the Colan/Palmer team’s rendition of Juggy as well, and although I think this issue mostly succeeds, his appearance is, to say the least, uneven; he seems awe-inspiring in the full-page reveal on page 8, but once the fur starts to fly, he is revealed to be so skinny as to belie his name, and those bare legs look idiotic.

Jack: The Juggernaut seems out of place in this issue but he does serve to get Dr. Strange back home. I don't know if Gene Colan was getting overloaded with work, but this story is full of full-page and two-page spreads that make for quick reading. The pop culture references continue to multiply; here, we are treated to mentions of Mia Farrow and Rosemary's Baby. Dr. Strange lives at 177A Bleecker Street in New York's Greenwich Village; a picture from Google Maps shows that this is now the location of a tattoo parlor.

The Incredible Hulk 119
Our Story

Bruce Banner awakens in the city of Salvador where things are definitely amiss as everyone walks about in a state of being brain washed.  Thanks to a lackey who is the only one not affected, Banner learns that a humongous statue that shoots beams out of its head is what is controlling everybody.  Before he can fall under the statue's spell, Banner turns into the Hulk.  The lackey runs off to a nearby castle to tell Maximus, the evil brother of Black Bolt the Inhuman, about what is transpiring.  Not believing him, Maximus rewards his snitch with death.  The rest of the evil Inhumans are part of Maximus's crew.  The Hulk attacks them but the fight ends up in a stalemate.  Meanwhile, because of a pact with Salvador, General Ross is ordered to get the troops ready to go fly in and investigate why all communication has been lost with the city.  The story ends with Maximus trying to trick the Hulk into joining him and fighting off the military troops.  The Hulk is torn about what to do since both sides are his enemies.

The Falcon makes his thrilling debut this month.
Tom:  Good story so far with an entertaining cliffhanger.  I missed out on the Hulk annual that first introduced this group of motley villains.  I'm going to have to go back and read it as they seem like a pretty interesting crew.   

MB:  Okay, my estimate was slightly conservative when I said that Maximus’s escape in Fantastic Four #83 would allow Stan to bring him back in another three months; it has actually been seven, but still too soon for me, since despite my fondness for the Inhumans, I have always found Max rather tiresome.  Ditto those forgettable evil Inhumans seen for the first—but sadly not the last—time in Hulk Special #1, and in fact this whole episode seems like an anorexic rehash of that mammoth opus…although the arrival of a U.S. invasion force on the last page will presumably alter that dynamic.  Interestingly, even after all these months, Marvel still can’t seem to decide whether Trimpe spells his first name “Herby” or the more common (I think) “Herbie.”

Look out behind you!

The Silver Surfer 8
Our Story

Mephisto, the “Monarch of Evil,” still yearns for the Silver Surfer’s eternal soul.  The Silver Surfer feels Mephisto’s ire – he is subjected to an almost unbearable pain in his head which is followed by the tell-tale scent of brimstone and fire.  In order to fulfill his insatiable need to own the Silver Surfer, Mephisto finds a random evil spell weaver and uses him as a bridge to summon . . . the Flying Dutchman.  After an interlude into the history of Joost Van Straaten (aka the Flying Dutchman), the treasure seeking sea captain who heartlessly ignored his crews’ safety  while influenced by Mephisto, we find out that Joost is being offered his freedom from limbo if he, in return, crushes the Silver Surfer.  With a little power boost and a ship to fly, the Flying Dutchman is ready to go. Meanwhile, realizing that a battle is approaching, Norin Radd has a very vivid connection with his love, Shalla Bal.  She also, in her dreams, has the same image.  This painfully short psychic reunion only strengthens their feelings for one another. The Flying Dutchman offs the mortal who brought him to Mephisto, then gets into his ship and rides down to Earth.  This creates quite a fervor among the humans, who initially believe it is a publicity stunt.  However, when the ship starts blasting the city to pieces in order to attract the Silver Surfer, they realize this is no joke!  TO BE CONTINUED . . .

NC:  I’m not sure I really see the need for the mortal to aid Mephisto in bringing forth the limbo-dwelling Flying Dutchman.  However, this may just be because I’m not an all-powerful evil guy --  guess it’s more difficult than I realized to summon ghosts.

MB:  I’d call the new regulation-length monthly format a success, to the degree that I didn’t even mind the postponement of any direct confrontation between the Surfer and either our returning villain, Mephisto, or his latest catspaw, Joost van Straaten, the Flying Dutchman.  Even though this two-parter will ultimately occupy as many pages as one of the longer issues, Stan has paced part one in such a way that it stands up as its own entity, replete with drama and suspense. The reveal of the Ghost—who looked much spookier there than after Mephisto rigged him up with gewgaws—proves that Big John Buscema (inked by Dan Adkins, now that baby brother Sal has taken over John’s old berth penciling Avengers) still knows how to make a full-page shot count.

NC:  I must say that I felt the split in this story line was very disruptive and I felt that we were left hanging without really getting excited about the next issue.  I guess I just miss the old format.  P.S.  With all of the ads in this mag. it was probably  just as thick as the larger sized issues!

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 17
Our Story

Namor has to watch out for treachery from Kormok, a priest who has been plotting to overthrow him.  As part of a plan to set up Namor for doom, Kormok reminds him that, by the laws of Atlantis, Namor must take the sacred trident and have it dipped into the everlasting flames that are at old Atlantis.  Sub-Mariner travels to the ruins of his old homeland only to be attacked by a tough alien called the Stalker.  It is revealed that the Stalker is part of an alien race that travels the universe in search of planets that have water.  They basically suck the planets dry, leaving them desolate.  Luckily for the aliens, they were able to contact Kormok who readily offered to give them Namor as a specimen, in return for them helping him become ruler of Atlantis. Because of their presence, the ocean waves are in turmoil.  Kormok takes advantage of the Atlantis peoples' panic and the council declares him the new leader.  Namor believes that he has killed the Stalker in battle.  Only wounded, the Stalker again fights Namor.  The story ends with the aliens sucking up Namor in a beam towards their ship.

Tom:  This issue reminded me a little bit of the Hulk series with the outer space aliens getting involved in Namor's underwater adventures.  That's a good thing, though.  It's a nice combination of villains plotting to take over with the extraterrestrials and Subby's ever growing rogue's gallery of Atlantis.  The Stalker could have looked a little bit more menacing instead of resembling a catfish.    

Though Namor's special hold underwater hairspray began to
fail him, his widow's peak was back to perfection two panels later.
MB:  It always annoys me when a character we’ve never seen before is presented as a long-simmering danger, such as Kormok here or Dorma’s short-lived would-be rival, Mistress Fara, in Incredible Hulk #118.  This is especially vexing when we have heard little or nothing of “the realm’s most ancient, most sacred mysteries,” which Kormok claims to represent, although Roy does earn compensatory points for having Namor visit the grave of his mother, the Princess Fen.  Mystery man “Jay Hawk” is credited with Marie on this issue’s pencils, yet his name does not appear in the Marvel Comics Database (MCDb); I notice only slight variations in style over the course of the story, but presumably the inks by “Gaudioso” would help to smooth those out.

Jack: Jay Hawk is a pseudonym for Jack Katz, who did The First Kingdom.

Daredevil 56
Our Story

As he sings while leaping about New York, Daredevil is off to visit Karen Page so he can reveal to her that Matt Murdock is not dead.  As usual, things don't work out the way he plans when Foggy relates that Karen has gone missing.  Stricken with grief and haunted by nightmares, Karen has gone to visit her parents in the small town where she grew up.  Karen's father, a mysterious man, has vanished.  At one time, he was in hot water with the government over a Cobalt bomb he created.  Daredevil tracks her down and Karen's mother shows him the threatening letter she received from a villain called Death's-Head.  The letter tells her to leave her house and never speak of her husband's disappearance.  It doesn't take long for Death's-Head to show up on the property and mix it up with Double D.  The villain ends up defeating Daredevil, knocking him unconscious.  He dresses the hero up in a costume that is the same as the one he is wearing.  As the police arrive, he ties Daredevil to a horse and sets the animal to go stampeding straight at the lawmen as they shoot at the helpless hero.   

Not looking so good . . .
Tom:  I've said it before and I'll say it again, this series was meant as a comedy.  How else to explain Daredevil supposedly being able to see a person by simply feeling their image in a photograph?  I'll bet a billion dollars that the poor man's Headless Horseman, Death's Head, turns out to be Karen's dad.  Just a hunch. 

MB: There are two things going on in this issue that interest me in particular.  One is the heavy Gothic atmosphere, which includes not only the spectral villainy of Death’s Head but also the New England setting and the references—some subtle, some not so much—to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, Dark Shadows, and Tom Fagan, whose Rutland (Vermont) Halloween Parade would begin appearing in Marvel Comics the following year in Roy’s Avengers #83.  The other is how completely the theme of secret identities permeates the storyline (spoiler alert):  Dr. Page doesn’t just turn out to be Death’s Head, which probably isn’t the world’s biggest shock, but also claims he has kidnapped himself, and then forces DD, who’s twice faked his own death, to pose as him.

I would stay away from that house!

Jack: Maybe we should rename this series Mistaken Identity Comics! Has any other Marvel Comic been so filled with people pretending to be other people, faking their own deaths, etc.? Here, the story ends on a cliffhanger as Death's Head makes it look like Daredevil is Death's Head in order to incite the cops to shoot at him. Roy Thomas is giving Stan Lee a run for his money with cheesy references to pop culture--DD sings "Good Day Sunshine" and someone else refers to Barnabas Collins. The hippie-speak is also tough to take: Daredevil has "groovy threads" and someone else says "don't get uptight, man." The reference to Tom Fagan is pretty subtle and I think it has escaped chroniclers of appearances of Rutland, VT, since here it is just a throwaway sign at the railroad station in Karen's hometown, which is noted to be "Fagan Corners, VT." There is no direct mention of Tom, Rutland, or the Halloween Parade. Another passing reference: the clerk at the bus depot is Pop Arkham, a nod to Arkham House, Lovecraft's publisher. Roy dates himself when he has the narrator tell Karen that she doesn't need a "woman's cigarette." I like Death's Head and wonder if this, along with the debut this month of Tower of Shadows, signals the start of more ghostly characters at Marvel.

Also this month

The Avengers King-Size Special #3 (all-reprint)
Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #16
Chili #5
Marvel Super-Heroes #22
Marvel Tales #22
Millie the Model #174
Millie the Model Annual #8
My Love #1
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #70
Tower of Shadows #1

It's just a jump to the left...
Pssst.. Hey little boy
PE: Though few may acknowledge it as such, I personally think this month sees one more landmark other than the debut of Sam Wilson; that of Tower of Shadows #1. Though Marvel had been mining the rich ground of horror back before superheroes laid waste to all genres around them, the 1960s had seen no horror comics published by the company. Of course, 99% of the blame can be laid at the feet of the ridiculously restrictive CCA (no comic can feature the words "Horror" or "Terror," puhleeeease!) and perhaps tending to the growing popularity of its capes and spandex characters was a job in itself, but it took the big gamble of Joe Orlando to make Stan Lee sit up and take notice. That is, if Stan was really in charge at this point. Orlando, editor over at DC, experimented with a couple of titles that were probably ready to be put out to pasture, House of Mystery and House of Secrets, stocking his cupboards with artists like Neal Adams, George Roussos, Jack Sparling, Berni Wrightson, and Joe himself. The experiment was a success probably due to the resurgence of monster movies in the mid-60s and the compelling, chilling cover art by Adams (usually depicting a child in some kind of danger) and it was only a matter of time before Marvel would introduce their own Houses. The first issue is a bit unfocused. For one thing, it seems as though, unlike Warren with their Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie,  there was no initial design for Tower's "mascot," The Digger other than "tall guy, skinny like Uncle Creepy, with a shovel." Jim Steranko's Digger resembles a thin Frankenstein's Monster with a rock star belt buckle (I'm not sure what it's supposed to stand for but I think it's a backward "B" on the buckle), very Wrightson-esque whereas Johnny Craig's Digger could pass for the guy who stands out in front of elementary schools and flashes kids (sans belt buckle). As for the stories themselves, Steranko's "At the Stroke of Midnight" has long been hailed as a horror classic. Perhaps because it's the artist's final work for Marvel, who knows? It's a nicely illustrated Haunted House story but there's not much to it and the "surprise" climax begs more questions than it answers. A similar fate befalls the other two stories in the first issue: nice artwork (by Johnny Craig and John Buscema) saddled with stories brimming with cliches, but that's the nature of the beast.


  1. It wasn't until reading these reviews and kind of following along with my own Omnibus and other reprints that I discovered two things:

    1) Gwen Stacy was a pain in the ass and she and Peter fought most of the time she was alive. Her legend seems to be based mostly on her sudden death and after the fact "sweetness building."

    2) the period where The Marvel Ages of Comics was actually "good" was a short one, indeed. Stan stretched himself too thin and his replacement writers were too busy aping him to make their own marks at first.


    The Civil Rights movement has started in Marvel and it's pretty awkward for the most part. White guys writing black characters didn't work well half the time back then ,and the dilalog was not only heavy handed, but obnoxious (the soul food comment was just the tip of the iceberg). Introducing The Falcon is a turning point and when the character comes back as a regular, we'll be smacked in the face with Black Pride and White Apologies for months. Maybe it's being so far from that period, but it can really suck the fun out of a comic book when The Falcon refuses to help Cap because "I gotta help MY people." Nice to see we have so many non-white heroes today and equality is demonstrated instead of preached.

    Cap not removing the Skull mask, combined with Stan's obsession to never show us his true face, lead to a pretty damned ridiculous scenario with the clay. Then again, Cap was never a "good" book once Tales of Suspense changed its title. He seemed better suited to The Avengers and split books.

    Over in Iron Man we meet Midas and he sucks. The Tuska art is again awful. Midas looks like a villain out of the 1960's Popeye cartoons. Soon Don Heck with take over for a spell and I'm looking forward to it. Yes, Tuska is that bad.

    This month's FF is a transitional issue. Jack had a habit of closing out stories in the first half of a book and starting a new one in the latter (like when Galactus left and Johnny was heading to college for a week). This one is good and bad. I liked the overall wrap up of the Mole Man saga, but what does he do exactly when he makes his "greatest escape" to free himself? Everyone, even BEN, is tossed aside in shock. After that Reed and the gang just sit around the house thinking they have all the time in the world to vacate. It was created by an arch villain, you'd think they'd expect him to destroy the place, even if it's only a half-assed attempt to kill them.

    "Husband mine / wife lady" was indeed awful. And look at how INSANE they all look! Thankfully, that portion of the page was edited out of my initial reprint in Marvel's Greatest. I also love how Alicia never - ever - looks the same from one issue to the next. Hair long, hair short. Pretty? Not pretty. Looks just like Sue, nothing like Sue. Otherwise, this is Kirby/Sinnott art to die for. Ben is whisked away to Star Trek's "A Piece of the Action" whoops, spoilers.

    Over at SHIELD, we get to see Nick Fury drying his ass Trimpe style. I can never un-see that.

    Speaking of Trimpe, I got the Marvel Super Heroes reprint of this Hulk issue back in the day as a kid and I loved it. The art is so odd and spooky it makes up for another slender story. Unlike other Marvel artists, Trimpe's art is solely dependant o his inkers. His pencils will look completely different throughout the Hulk book thanks to Granger, Severin, Abel and others. Not like Kirby's was different, where it was always recognizably Jack, but almost as if the inkers were the artists. Strange.

    The Silver Surfer was the whiniest hero in the Marvel stable - and THAT is saying something!

    Thanks again for another post of goodness!

  2. Scott!

    Lots of good points here, thanks, but don't you dare speak ill about my Gwendy! :>

    I think the new wave of Marvel writers (all, what, two or three of them) did want to ape Stan at first but when Stan turned his back out came the 'shrooms and Country Joe Fish albums. I'm picturing something along the lines of the Bullpen break room resembling that classic Barney Miller episode with the brownies. "Mooshy, mooshy"

    Contact me at if you want to join the staff as we seem to have a vacancy come January 1970.

    1. Hey, I love Gewndy as much as the next guy. I was devastated over her death years after the fact. But, wow, they really needed longer periods of lovin' and fewer intrruptions where Pete is caught beating up her dad or seemingly running from danger. And don't get me started on what JMS did to her good name during his run.... Thankfully, not something to be covered here.

      I will absolutely send you an email, thank you!

    2. Also, since I keep forgetting to sign in under my gmail account, you probably couldn't link my name to my own blog I had going. I haven't done much for almost a year now because, well, there was almost no feedback and I like to know people are reading. Anyway, check it out if you're of the mind.

  3. A Barney Miller reference to one of the most famous quotes of the series? Worth the price of admission, Prof Pete!

    Jim Steranko's "secret project," hinted at in a bullpen bulletin a few months earlier, finally hit the stands. He had already created new X-Men and Captain America logos, and now he was going to design a new horror book from scratch, featuring a striking logo and bold graphics to make it stand out on the comic book rack. He also created a horror host named "Digger" who would introduce each story. However, the published book cover featured a standard comic book horror scenario with a mundane 1950s style logo, and Steranko's version of "Digger" was supplanted by Johnny Craig's rendition. So, what went wrong?

    Steranko's "Shadows" logo featured the sort of typography that might have appeared on a late 1960s movie poster. The proposed cover art was a vivid, movie/pulp inspired shot of a terrified couple looking out at the reader, colored in bold strokes of orange, yellow and black. Steranko also prepared elaborate color guides, with detailed instructions for the engraver. Here's a link to the original artwork, a mockup of the cover as it might have appeared, and an early color guide rough.

    I had to reduce the size of the pic, but at the top left of the original artwork are the words "The Haunted Room" with a line through it and the word "NO" circled at the end. Above that are the words "The Lurking Fear At Shadow House." This is what Jimbo named the story when he submitted it, and the cover art, to Stan.

    Lee rejected the cover outright, and got John Romita to come up with something more conventional. As for the story itself, Stan didn't like the panel layout, the dialog, or the title, (Lee didn't get the Lovecraft homage) which, inexplicably, he wanted to change to "Let Them Eat Cake." Eventually, after a "discussion" with Steranko, but still without his approval, the title became "At The Stroke Of Midnight." Lee then altered some of the dialog.

    The aftermath: The story went on to win the 1969 Alley award for best feature story. Presumably the original idea was to have Steranko illustrate the cover, and opening story in each issue of Tower Of Shadows, in much the same way that Kirby had done ten years earlier with the various monster books. After this debacle, Steranko pretty much pulled the pin. His final Marvel story appeared, shoved at the back of "Our Love Story #5," nine months later.

    Although completed, "Dante's Inferno" Steranko's story intended for TOS #2, has never seen print.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  5. Another amazing contribution, Glenn! Love that alternate Steranko cover, which was so un-Marvel like I can't imagine what Stan thought of it, as cool as it was (is).