Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February 1970: Janice Cord (SPOILER ALERT!) Bites the Dust!

The Avengers 73
Our Story

Racial tensions are heating up as racist talk show host Dan Dunn and his militant guest Montague Hale  go head to head on civil rights. The Sons of the Serpent use these men, and singer Monica Lynne, to fan the flames of racial discord. The Black Panther returns to America just in time to become involved in this conflict. Because of his personal stake as a Soul Brother, he claims the right to tackle the Sons of the Serpent alone. The Avengers give him twenty four hours before they Assemble and take action. The Panther goes undercover as a Son and is promptly captured. Will he survive?!
SM: This is that period in American history when civil rights conflicts were exploding across the nation. Marvel took up the cause pretty strongly in many of their titles. Sometimes the effort was over the top, other times it worked pretty well. Other times, I can't help but think these were thinly veiled apologies to the black community, considering the staff was made up of white guys. Either way, the intentions were good and the message was solid. Captain America would have to wait for The Falcon to join up to tackle his issues, but The Avengers had the Black Panther and he is utilized well. I always liked T'Challa and his mission to strike for equality was well done. He wants peace and equal rights for everyone, with racial harmony the result. His rage is well founded and excellently depicted.

MB: Interestingly, about once every ten issues (previously in #52 and 62), Roy turns the spotlight over to the Black Panther; could this be affirmative action, Avengers-style?  This is one of the few times when I remember seeing Fearless Frank Giacoia provide pencils instead of his usual inks, and although I wouldn’t say these are either outstanding or especially distinctive, they look quite serviceable under Grainger’s embellishment.  I thought perhaps a little too much space was devoted to recapping the previous Sons of the Serpent wingding for the benefit of the Vision (and any tardy readers), but by way of compensation, we meet singer Monica Lynne, who would go on to become the female lead in T’Challa’s solo series in Jungle Action down the road.

SM: There is a lot of backstory and build up here and I was glad it wasn't quickly wrapped up. This looks to be a good ongoing story that deserves the space.  Still, as usual with Roy Thomas at this time, the dialog is cooked to beyond well done. A lot of people talking to the point where even The Wasp has to tell them to shut up. Dan Dunn looks somewhat like Magneto or Quicksilver, and is perpetually angry. Monica Lynne isn't much, really: all point of view and no real character. She changes on a dime from not caring to militant the second she is assaulted and perceives bigotry on the part of white cops. I don't mind a change of heart, but all this time she never noticed the imbalance? She goes from one extreme to another and since she wasn't hurt, there is less motivation for such a dramatic lifestyle change. But then again, what do I know?

PE: Ofttimes, while writing for this blog, I lose sight of what I'm supposed to be writing about and take it all a bit "too serious." That may be the adult geek in me straining to find something I can point to as "real literature" rather than "funny books." This issue of The Avengers reminds me why I fell in love with Marvel Comics forty-plus years ago and why it remains indelibly stamped in my memory banks: the scope of the stories. You just get the sense that bricks are being laid for future structures at every chance Roy could get. Yeah, there's way too much preachiness at times but, as I say in my comments for this month's Captain America, that comes with the time frame. These stories were written by the New Order of Marvel writers (hand-picked and guided ably by Roy rather than by Stan, I'm assuming), fresh out of college, Six O'Clock News fresh in their minds, and jonesing to change the world somehow without the benefit of an electric guitar. Looking back at it now, as we are, in one big lump, it can get to be too much but the alternative would be the swill the other companies were pumping out at the time. Fat guys who could turn into flying saucers. Puts things into perspective.

SM: Frank Giacoia is guest artist and he does well. Sam Granger again makes some of the illustrations look like Trimpe. All in all, this is a solid, well-mounted issue with something to say. It ends on a good cliffhanger and I'm pretty psyched for the next issue. I'm assuming the rest of the team will factor in as the Panther's 24 hours run out.

PE: But for a few panels, as Professor Matthew points out, this could have been a try-out for a solo Panther title that wouldn't see the light of day for a few more years. Praise be to Roy that he didn't try to squeeze the entire epic into one issue!

The X-Men 65
Our Story

Fresh from their tangle with Starfire, the X-Men return home to hear a crazy tale from Lorna and Alex. It turns out the planet Z'nox is on a collision course with the Earth. They are met with great disbelief until Professor X himself shows up—not dead after all these issues—indicating the story is true. Basically, it will take the combined good will of the entire world to save the day.

MB:  This is the only Marvel comic I’m aware of created by the “Denny O’Neal Adams” team just beginning its celebrated run over at DC, which revolutionized Batman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow.  I generally detest O’Neil as much as I admire Adams, so—not surprisingly—while delighted that Xavier is revealed to be alive, I have nothing favorable to say about the lame explanation, the intra-mutant strife that served no purpose (and could easily have been avoided), or the decision to cram a complex intergalactic epic, however well illustrated, into a single issue. Another future Marvel scribe, 21-year-old Douglas Moench, distinguishes himself in the lettercol with a detailed analysis of #62’s many merits, and why Adams was Steranko’s worthy successor.

PE: Roy probably told Denny (here billed as Denny Neil) "we like to start off each issue with a confrontation," so we get one of those interminable "We could explain this but fighting is much quicker" action sequences. This was easily the weakest of the Neal Adams issues. There's also a letter from 13 year-old Mark Verheiden, future comic and TV writer (Steven Spielberg's Falling Skies).

JS: The Adams art isn't bad - the Z'Nox aliens actually look kinda cool, but I'd agree that of the Adams drawn issues, this is the weakest story-wise.

SM: What the hell was that? This felt like the final issue of a 6-issue saga that I never got around to reading. This final Neal Adams issue is something of a letdown, mostly because the story - while not a bad idea - is too rushed and full of goofy plot contrivances. As mentioned, the "don't explain, just fight" start is ridiculous. Important pages are wasted on this when they easily could have begun with the briefing. The return of Professor X is also cheesy. He didn't need to fake his death, he could have just gone on a sabbatical, but they had to "kill him" previously.  To be fair, they did intend to keep him dead, but I guess with the book winding down, they wanted to restore the status quo for the future.

JT: I love when the faculty points out letters from future Marvel talent. Just goes to show you how influential Marvel was, constantly breeding future Bullpenners. I think I wrote one letter to Marvel in my youth, and never got my No-Prize! Apologies to Prof Matthew, but O'Neil and Adams are simply one of the greatest teams in comics history. But because they mostly did their greatness at the rival university, I'll leave it at that and simply say this certainly wasn't the best X-book ever, but better than a lot that came before it! Well, except for the Z'Nox. Stan must have come up with that name, right?

SM: Of course, the art is great, but the monster is odd. Originally Neal drew a reptilian monster, but Stan insisted the creature look humanoid, so Marie Severin was asked to redraw it (under duress). The result is just creepy. The not-so-awesome cliffhanger is also a strange one: will Xavier die pages after he's returned? I kind of liked this story better when it was used in the final issue of The Kree-Skrull War. Oops, spoilers! Still, props to Iceman for the Star Trek mention.

From Comic Book Artist #3
JS: We won't even discuss the threat of a planet rounding Saturn at a sufficient velocity to intercept the Earth within 24 hours. I think we can all agree that this would have pretty much wiped out our solar system. Thank goodness for all that goodwill that deflected the planet like a pinball. I wonder how long until the galactic catastrophe caused by that little bit of mutant magic will come back to haunt the Marvel Universe...

The Mighty Thor 173
Our Story

Dr. Blake is called to make a house call on…Thor. A circus act Thor that is, the circus being the infamous Circus of Crime led by the Ringmaster, now out on the streets. Slipping in the act, the real Thor pretends to be his namesake to see what they’re up to. In Asgard, Loki has assembled a host of misfits to help him get rid of Thor. Among them is Ulik the mightiest of the rock trolls. The God of Evil sends him to Earth, where Thor has just stolen the show with some magic of his own. The Ringmaster hypnotizes the troll to do his bidding, but only until Thor awakens his arch-foe. A short battle ensues, until some of the magic from Mjolnir hurtles Ulik back from whence he came. The police, alerted to the Circus’s plan to steal the governments computer for national defense (disguised as a strongman’s barbell), rounds up the delinquent act.

JB: It’s tough to say anything good about this issue. I can’t help remembering Ulik’s first appearance in issue #137; his full-page intro is one of the most memorable of Thor’s foes. Here he scarcely rates a couple of pages of action before Mjolnir sends him packing. The Ringmaster and company always seemed out of place in the Thor title to me, and they don’t up the ante here. Princess Python’s new outfit isn’t half bad though.

PE: Where in the world did The Ringmaster latch onto the world's only 5,000 pound barbell? Thor's plan to awaken Ulik from his peaceful hypnosis in a tent full of innocent bystanders so that "the greatest troll of all" would direct his rage at The Thunder God doesn't strike me as good sense. Do the math: The Ringmaster + unhappy Jack = throwaway story. If this was your first issue of The Mighty Thor and had not been witness to the splendor of the previous three years, you'd probably not bother picking up the title in the future.

MB: Man, I want some of whatever Stan was smoking the night he decided that Ulik and the Ringmaster belonged in the same issue of Thor, but at the risk of sounding like the proverbial broken record, he certainly bit off more than he could comfortably chew in a single issue, doing a disservice to a formidable villain (Ulik, not the Ringmaster) in the process.  In fact, despite his prominence on the cover and in the title, poor Ulik is dragged out of left field and into what is, at its heart, a Ringmaster story, totally out of his element and summarily dispensed with in no time at all.  Kirby and Everett obviously bring the only value to a tale in which the circus strongman’s Thor getup is so convincing that his co-worker, Princess Python, mistakes the real thing for him.

SM: Boy, I came on the staff at the wrong time for some of these. A substandard issue in all respects, only the amusing splash page got much of a rise out of me. The Ringmaster was always painted as a loser and this issue is ample explanation why: he keeps blabbing his secret: "no, not unless you look at my magic hat and let me hypnotize you!" Of course, this works with Ulik, who feels like a poor man's Blastarr. I agree totally, Stan was smoking some great weed back then to sell us this bill of goods. If this is Jack Kirby cranky, I look forward to his leaving the company. Okay, that was mean, but this issue is on auto pilot in every way.

Captain America 122
Our Story

Cap is once again crabbing about his worthless life and missing Sharon Carter, while unknown to him, a spy ring is plotting to capture Agent 13 before she can close in on them. They hire The Scorpion to do the job. Coincidentally, Scorpy brushes up on his bad guy skills by trying to mug Steve Rogers. Although the attempt is thwarted, Cap later catches up with the villain and beats him and smashes the spy ring, never knowing his lady love is trussed up behind a nearby wall.  By the time she is rescued by SHIELD agents, Cap is gone.
SM: Oy vey, is it me or is Cap's continuous whining about his not having a life becoming really tiresome? Stan and Gene use up the first 6 pages on Steve's bellyaching, and when we get back to him, he's still moaning. He hates not having his girl, a life for himself and having to live in a cheap hotel. Is it really that tough for Steve Rogers to make friends? I guess nobody like palling around with a whiner.

PE: Steve's long and, at times meandering, speech to himself about patriotism and the lack thereof in today's world (or rather, the world of 1970) may make longtime Cap fans roll their eyes but this, to my mind, is the birth of the "discontented icon" that would come to define this character in the 1970s. Yep, it's Stan's musings and preachings but it fits perfectly with the character we've come to appreciate. Ya gotta love them Marvel Coincidences - not only does The Scorpion (who's completely wasted here) attack an innocent Steve Rogers but then Cap ends up unwittingly saving his sweetheart Sharon Carter in the end. Cap remarks on the fact that the closest he's come to revealing his secret identity is when The Scorpion almost nabs the suitcase holding his stars 'n' stripes. Doesn't this guy read his own back issues? It wasn't all that long ago the world knew his secret identity! Great Colan art but I hate these one-and-dones.

SM: There's far too much padding, a lot of running in place waiting for the plot to kick in. It's all just an excuse for a super powered dust up. The Scorpion is the fill-in-the-blank villain of the month and he narrowly misses taking Steve's costume-filled suitcase during the mugging. Later, Cap says "that's as close as I've ever come to having my identity revealed!" Um, you mean, other than the time you revealed it to the world on your own? Then he nearly "gives himself away" during the battle by mentioning how he met Scorpy before. That Super Soldier serum certainly didn't add any brain power, did it? The spy ring is a gas. A guy who smiles is named "Smiler" and the boss is called "Specs." Why? Because he wears glasses, of course! 

MB: Why they kept such an outstanding bad guy on ice for so long, brought him back in this mag of all places—epitomizing my contention that Colan is misplaced herein—and wasted him on such a hasty, poorly written done-in-one is beyond me.  I don’t usually beef about too little action, but these guys have to learn that if your policy dictates single-issue stories, you’d better pace yours in such a way that the main event isn’t short-changed, rather than having Cap spend a third of it mooning about his situation (however nicely evocative those shots of him reflected in the side of the car were).  His bumping into the Scorpion en route to Sharon, and then leaving that pathetic spy ring’s hideout before hearing her, is one howling coincidence too many.

SM: The art is the issue's saving grace. Gene and Joe Sinnott are a fantastic team. You can see Joe's confident lines in the faces. Sharon never looked more lovely and those big blue eyes are to die for. The action is dynamic and imaginative. Gene rarely lets me down and he makes this issue a pleasure to skim through. Otherwise, it's a thin story with very little impact on anything.

JT: You guys are right--The Scorpion? Against Cap? That's like the Abomination fighting Silver Surfer! Oh, wait....

Daredevil 61
Our Story

Mr. Hyde and the Cobra are squabbling about who is the better villain outside the Guggenheim Museum.  They break through all security measures in order to enter and pocket, as directed by a third mysterious player, only the easily disposable pricey items. Daredevil is getting ready, nervously, for his date with Karen Page . . . where he’s planning to ask her hand in marriage . . . again!  He doesn’t even wear his super suit under his clothes (I wonder what he has planned?!).  At the nightclub, Karen just can’t get in the mood.  They get told about the Guggenheim robbery by a stranger and Matt explains that he has to go fight crime. This does not make Karen happy (that may be a slight understatement).
The next day at the office, a chain smoking Mr. Frye approaches Matt & Karen.  He runs a carnival and rented the whole property to three men.  He took their money, but knew something was up and when he doubled back to check on them, he realized that it was Mr. Hyde, Cobra and the Jester who had procured the rental. On entry into the carnival, Mr. Frye traps D.D. in a parachute, but Cobra makes it clear he is not going to get any prize for helping the 3 villains.  Mr. Hyde notices when Daredevil gets free and unsuccessfully goes to blows with him.  The Jester then takes over the fight, but with wiles instead of brawn, and D.D. gets caught along with Frye in a bobby trapped amusement ride.  Frye doesn’t make it through, but a few acrobatic moves allow D.D. to land in the House of Mirrors.  Using his senses against the scoundrels’ eyes, he manages to round them up.  Karen comes at just the right time with the police squad. Sadly, she is not pleased . . . Matt has forgotten her birthday and their date in his need to be a hero.  Karen walks away angry from a very dejected red-leotard clad man.

JB: Wait a minute; am I back doing Thor instead of Daredevil?  Colan’s art continues to impress me; the faces, the sense of motion. Frye’s face looks like he’s been reading too much H.P. Lovecraft. What’s the real deal with superheroes and their spurned loved ones? In the real world, would you rather have the love of your life, or fight crime all the time (Karen’s not making many friends though, it’s true)? 

NC:  Karen really is a bit of a stick in the mud, however I have had a birthday forgotten – and it does really suck.  Couldn’t he have taken her to the amusement park for her birthday date?  What a great time that would be.

MB:  After the mediocrities that have passed for villains here in recent issues, I should be jumping for joy over teaming the Jester up with the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, but as in the Hulk’s and Cap’s contemporaneous escapades, the current fetish for one-and-dones cripples a promising plot.  On top of that, I have gradually reached the decision that I do not like Karen Page, who has been on the receiving end of Daredevil’s valor too often to demand selfishly that he hang up his billy club.  Like Silas Craig in last month’s Captain America, Lemuel Frye is a total Gene Colan creation, but now, I mean that as a compliment; this guy looks like he was voted Most Likely to Betray in his high-school yearbook, assuming he even graduated, and pays the price accordingly.

JT: I agree, never liked Karen Page. However, pardon the pun Prof Matthew, but even for comic book characters, love is blind.

SM: The usual - great art, iffy story. I don't have a great deal to say on this except to wonder why Karen doesn't ask some very pointed questions about Mike Murdock, since she now knows Matt got his powers when he was a boy. Matt mentions she still remembers her grief when Mike "died" but there's no mention of her pointing out that plot hole. I would think she would be pretty damned peeved that Matt played her and Foggy for idiots.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 22
Our Story

Namor visits his top doctor in Atlantis to undergo a surgery that will hopefully return his abilities to breath underwater and to fly.  While he is put under for the procedure, Namor has visions of demons that once ruled the world, the Undying Ones, along with Dr. Strange messaging him for help.  The operation is a success, but Subby has no time to celebrate as he swims off to Boston with some type of sixth sense guiding him on his journey.  Once in Boston, Namor tangles with shape-shifting demons that can take the form of humans or animals.  He finds an ancient relic underneath a statue commemorating the man that first lit the torch to burn the witches at the Salem Witch trial.  It's this ancient idol that the demons want as it will allow them to leave the dimension they have been banished to.  Luckily, Dr. Strange pops in to help.  The story end with Strange fighting off the demons in their dimension, while sending back Namor to earth, his mission has been accomplished.   

Tom:  This story just didn't mesh well with these two drastically different super-heroes and was an example of what I like to call, "weird on top of weird."  Each hero comes from such a different universe under the Marvel umbrella that mixing them is a tough feat to pull off.  You get Namor, who reminds me a little of an underwater Conan the Barbarian, and then you have Dr. Strange dealing with other dimensions.  To me, it's like putting Tarzan in an outer space adventure.  

MB: Three months after the cancellation of Dr. Strange, Roy finally gets to begin tying up his plotlines; I say “begin” because the next installment appears in yet another of Roy’s titles, Incredible Hulk #126, two months hence.  It’s also worth mentioning that this issue marks a reunion between Doc and Marie Severin, who succeeded Bill Everett on his Strange Tales strip just three years ago in the post-Ditko era.  Johnny Craig once again provides able embellishment (love the close-ups of Namor in page 15, panel 3 and page 20, panel 5), while Doc and Subby are an equally impressive team, earning each other’s respect in their initial encounter—the first seedling that will ultimately flower as the Defenders—and Strange humbles us all with his heroic sacrifice.

JT: Not for nothing, but if I had hair like Stephen Strange, I wouldn't cover it with a wrestling mask. I forgot Doc and Subby teamed up for an ish long before the awesome Defenders book. Good stuff, love the Deadman-esque cover, except for Namor's blatant spinal problems.

The Incredible Hulk 124
Our Story

Bruce Banner is about to marry Betty Ross and the news is all over the front page.  Thunderbolt Ross not only gives them his blessing, but wants the two lovebirds to get married at his house, the same one that Betty grew up in.  The Leader, however, is still seething from when the Hulk stopped him from starting World War 3. With revenge on his mind, the emerald villain wants to use a gamma amplifier ray that he has created to turn Banner back into the Hulk.  Feeling that he needs some backup in case things don't go as planned, the villain sends one of his androids to abduct the Rhino who is still lying in a state of catatonic shock after his previous battle with ol' Greenskin. Meanwhile, at Thunderbolt Ross's house, the ceremony is underway.  Just before the priest can finish their vows, the Leader shoots Banner with his gamma ray machine.  Bruce turns back into the bestial Hulk and the Rhino attacks him before the Leader can blast him again with the ray gun so he doesn't end up becoming a totally mindless monster, leaving Betty safe for now.  As the two monsters brawl, the Leader accidently shoots the Rhino with the gamma ray machine.  Feeling betrayed, the Rhino attacks the Leader.  As the Leader flies into the air in a mini space ship the Rhino latches on, causing it to explode in mid-air.  In the end, the confused Hulk leaps off while Thunderbolt Ross is taken to the hospital after sustaining an injury to the head when the Hulk destroyed his house.
Tom:  If you leave logic out of this one, it's an enjoyable read.  While I'm a big Rhino fan, I must admit that these two have had more entertaining battles then this one.  Since I've never been a big fan of the stories where Banner's mind could control the Hulk's body, it's nice to see the Hulkster already back to his surly, caveman-like demeanor.    

Either the android shrunk from one panel to the other or...

MB:  “A handful of anti-Trimpites…keep bombarding Stan’s desk with letters demanding that we get a new artist to draw ol’ Greenskin,” reports a Bullpen Bulletin, “claiming that even Irving Forbush could do a better job….[yet] the Hulk’s sales have been climbing ever since H.T. got his clutching little claws around his paint brush.”  Coincidentally or not, this issue teams “innovator” Herb with “illustrator” Sal Buscema, who between them owned this book for the entire Bronze Age, and although the results clearly skew toward Sal, I doubt they’d displease any but the most ardent “pro-Trimpite.”  My only complaint is the hasty wrap-up, which is why such an important story, and the return of so good a villain, should not be squeezed into one ish.

PE: You have to wonder at the smarts of a guy whose idea of "cloak 'n' dagger" is a grey overcoat that doesn't cover the three foot horn on his head. This one perfectly illustrates the major flaw in the one-issue story plan Marvel had initiated: the writer spends three-quarters of the story with build-up leaving nothing but a letdown for the climax.

JT: You hit the nail on the furshlugginer head there, Prof. Pete! One-shots are fine, but rushing the end in a comic book is like telling your kid a bedtime story, then you get bored as you see their eyes getting heavy, so you skip to the end quick with no satisfying payoff for either side.

SM: Okay, I will always love this issue. Why? Because it was one of my earliest acquisitions as a kid. I love the art, Sal Buscema is a huge step up from Trimpe. Very clean and lifelike. The story is a fine conclusion to the Banner's Brain/Hulk-at-Will arc. Betty and Banner are nearly married, Ross gains some respect for Bruce and tragedy comes at the conclusion. It's a very nice little issue, with Banner enjoying himself for a change. We'd be back to Trimpe again next month, but for now, I'll just drink in the fine art.

Fantastic Four 95
Our Story

Delegates from around the world have assembled at the United Nations to calm unrest in the Middle East. The Fantastic Four have been given the job of protecting the delegates from danger. Indeed there is some, in the form of a man called the Monocle, who plans to use his neutrak ray (looking like a camera, with him as a press agent) to distract the F.F. then ignite enough controversy at the U.N. to destroy international diplomatic relations. He represents an unnamed few who plan to take over after the resulting carnage. Johnny tries to stop a personal war of his own, as the Inhumans have sent Medusa to take Crystal back to her homeland, on Black Bolt’s orders. Reed figures out (from the analyzed wreckage of their Fantasti-Car, shot down earlier) that neurak rays are the culprit, and he builds a reversal ray. Taking it to the U.N., he foils the Monocle’s plan, and the rest of the team capture their foe.

PE: World's greatest mind or no, I suspect it should take Reed Richards more than ten minutes to not only identify The Monocle's Neutrak Ray but also to create a Reverser Ray as well! Things were getting desperate around The Bullpen when Stan and Jack were foisting monikers based on the silliest of things: The Monocle. What's next: The Suspenders, The Hairpiece, The Pipe?

SM: The Monocle is not the most interesting villain ever and Johnny and Crystal are separated again, but it's almost worth it for the fine one-panel page of Johnny's depressed face. The story is nothing to write a blog about, but the art is still fine. Kirby's work is better here than in the same month's Thor, thanks no doubt to Joe Sinnott. I am suspicious over the Thing being able to hold up a building while people mill about. I also question how having the Monocle caught in Ben's rocky arms is any better than falling to the pavement.

MB: Here, for a change of pace, is a single-issue story deserving of the format, even including the drama of Crystal’s enforced return to the Inhumans; full-page shots are rarely dominated by a single face, as with the Leader in last month’s Hulk, but this one nicely captures Johnny’s devastation.  The Monocle’s plan seems at once familiar, far-fetched, and full of holes, but we don’t really care enough about him, or those unspecified ones he serves, to dwell on any unanswered questions.  Given Marvel’s penchant for unearthing ancient, obscure villains (which on occasion actually justified hype of the “most unexpected villain of all!” variety), he would be back almost ten years later in #207, although probably not in answer to an avalanche of requests.

JB: I agree this is a one-shot deal. An interesting turn of events in Crystal’s returning to her family takes us back to the original team. The Monocle is rather forgettable in my book; again this really shows the changes that the coming of the seventies was bringing on.

The Amazing Spider-Man 81
Our Story

Spidey’s breakneck cross-town web-swinging to pick up Aunt May at Penn Station leads her to think he’s caught a fever and insists on taking him home to rest. Meanwhile, Aussie fugitive The Kangaroo escapes from the lawmen ushering him to deportation right in front of them. The hopping hooligan, who gained his power studying kangaroos and fled the country after hurting a fellow boxer in the ring, is soon on the hunt for quick cash but ends up mistakenly hijacking a vial of deadly bacteria. After Peter hears this on a TV news bulletin, he sets out to find the bouncing brute and hides a “web dummy” in the bed to fool Aunt May. He spots the leaping lummox robbing a high society party and a high-flying battle ensues, with Spidey wary of the vial the whole time. Web-head defeats the Outback Ogre (who hops off into the sunset) and leaves the bacteria in safe hands, with the public skeptical as always. He races back to Aunt May’s house, only to find her passed out from the shock of finding the web dummy in Peter’s bed. It’s chalked up to “an old woman’s foolish imagination” but leaves Peter wondering how much longer his luck at juggling two lives will hold out.

JT: The Kangaroo. Even my daughter looking over my shoulder for three seconds thought he seemed kinda dumb. Stan’s fairly lame origin story doesn’t help, but I actually thought the rooftop battle with Spidey was quite well done. A couple of strange panels by Buscema-Mooney, like the close-up of Spidey’s hand, but generally packed with non-stop excitement and tons of web-swinging action. The real highpoint this month was the web dummy though. Seemed like a good idea to me, but I guess Aunt May proved more over-protective then even Peter thought. And I love the way he just tosses it out the window when he finds her on the bed. Good thing they live in Queens like me, where stray web dummies are a dime a dozen!

MB:  Obviously this is all subjective, but there is a certain caliber of goofy villain who is more endearing than annoying, and having owned the Marvel Tales reprint of this fondly remembered issue (love that JJJ scene!) since childhood, I would put the Kangaroo in that category; of course, he’s Australian, so that helps.  Stan skillfully structures his script so that not too much of the dramatic burden falls on ol’ Kanga himself—notice how he just hops off at the end—and gives us an interesting variation on Aunt May’s infirmity, this time calling her mental rather than her physical fitness into question.  The artwork is safely in the control of the reliable Buscema/Mooney/Romita conglomerate, and I love Spidey’s pose as he’s handing over the vial.

SM: Even though he's not listed, I detect a bit of John Romita in the art, especially the first shot of The Kangaroo after his origin (bottom of page 6). It's a Romita pose if I ever saw one (maybe one was used for reference).  A bit of a time waster issue where, once again, someone (this time JJJ) is aghast that Spidey is swinging around in "broad daylight." I don't remember him ever being a creature of the night. He's out during the day constantly, why does this come up every so often? The villain doesn't do much for me and there's very little interesting personal drama for me to latch onto. Spider-Man shows bad judgment with putting a terrifying web dummy in his place for Aunt May to discover. Jeez, he put it there to cover his absence, he never thought she'd pull back the cover? And isn't his web supposed to dissolve in an hour or something? Yet it's still nice and solid when he finally arrives home. Parker is constantly the victim of his own stupidity.

PE: By this point, I'm assuming Stan is all tapped out. That would account for The Kangaroo being perhaps THE STUPIDEST VILLAIN EVER! with perhaps THE STUPIDEST ORIGIN EVER!
So, by drinking Australian water and eating what the Kangaroos eat, you too can leap tall men in a single bound? At one point, Spidey notes that the best place to find the sixth-tier villain is probably going to be the rooftops. Seriously? This guy can jump up on to the top of a skyscraper? Is that what our Friendly Neighborhood Hero is implying? The same-ol'-same ol' "Spider-Man just saved us but no, wait, maybe he's really in league with the bad guys" act is growing mold. Fuzzy green mold.

JT: As I said, even my 9-year old realized the Kangaroo was dumb, but not sure I'd go so far as stupidest ever (see: Stilt-Man). The origin on the other hand...Man, I'm never drinking the water in Australia! I might grow a pouch on my beer gut! Good thing for Prof. Matthew that the athletic Aussie bounces back in the future. But luckily for Prof. Pete, it's not for a long 40+ issues.

The Invincible Iron Man 22
Our Story

While Tony gets Eddie to a hospital after his waterfront battle with the Crimson Dynamo—vowing never to shirk his responsibility again, despite the risk to his heart—the phone call warning Tony of danger is proven right, as the Titanium Man emerges from a crate knocked off a nearby ship.  Stumbling on Alex repairing his armor, Janice learns that he was a protégé of the first Dynamo, Anton Vanko, whose defection destroyed Alex Nevsky’s career, for which he held Iron Man and Tony responsible.  When the Titanium Man tries to return him to the Soviets, a three-way battle ensues; Janice is killed by a high-voltage beam from the Titanium Man, whose crippled armor sinks into the sea, and the damaged Dynamo flees, vowing revenge on Iron Man.

MB: Sorry, my mistake, Alex Niven/Nevsky is the third, not the second, man to wear the armor of the Crimson Dynamo; he made a few additional appearances, here and in Avengers, and had a bewildering number of successors.  In fact, as this issue demonstrates, the Soviets had a borderline obsession with creating a counterpart to Tony Stark’s invincible armor that dates as far back as the original Dynamo’s debut in Tales of Suspense #46, and also includes our “friend” the Titanium Man.  Archie decisively resolves the Stark/Cord/Niven romantic triangle by killing off Janice, while “Gaudioso” continues to provide solid support for Tuska’s pencils, which seem extra-dynamic this ish (especially the shots of the Titanium Man) as action leaps off every page.

SM: Okay, what is it with these characters who get killed and just before they die, they admit they know the hero's identity? Or aren't shocked to make the connection? Yet every issue leading up to this ending has them flummoxed and upset that their boyfriend or whatever keeps breaking dates and running away? Thankfully, Gwen Stacy will be spared this (but her father won't). I liked Janice and was sorry to see her die, especially so suddenly and in poorly realized fashion. She doesn't look like she's being shocked, she looks like she's dancing. She deserved a panel to herself. Not only that, Iron Man doesn't immediately try to save her. "I'll get you to help, but FIRST..." The Marvel Universe is full of "I'll catch up with him later, I have to save these kids trapped in a bus" endings, but this time, IM decides that catching the villain is more important than getting Janice to a doctor. Fine, she was dead seconds later, but she was alive when Tony jetted after Titanium Man. This completely colors the tale for me and every moment later spent on Tony's grief. Very frustrating and a waste of what could have been an interesting relationship.

PE: This one almost sinks under the weight of its Marvel Misunderstandings. Ol' Shellhead seems almost carefree about secret identities this issue, calling out the identity of his substitute, Eddie Chase, and calling Janice Cord "darling." Granted, Janice was about to shuffle off to the Marvel Graveyard of Secondary Characters, but it still seems out of character. Incredibly enough, Janice never made a return from the dirt she was subsequently buried in.

The Silver Surfer 13
Our Story

The Silver Surfer rides a subway train to get to the United Nations (wearing street clothes) after reading a newspaper article about a new threat that concerns him greatly: The Doomsday Man. At the UN, the Yanks struggle to convince world leaders about the dangers they face.  Enter world renowned scientist Dr. Kronton who describes Doomsday’s robotic perfection and strength . . . much too strong to be destroyed!  A heavy duty booby trapped bunker was built in order to contain this future robotic disaster but the earth is shaking and it seems likely that Doomsday Man is trying to break free. The Silver Surfer, after being denied access to the UN building, breaks in to the meeting causing quite a commotion. Luckily,  Dr. Kronton convinces them that they need the help of our hero.  The Silver Surfer rushes out with the Doc via surfboard to the island. They enter the bunker from underground and, sure enough, it appears as though Doomsday Man is thinking for himself . . . and is awfully angry. Doomsday Man (while discarding of Dr. Kronton and the Silver Surfer) grabs a deadly cobalt bomb and takes it out to sea . . . but S.S. is beginning to smell a fish!  The Dr. has planned it all!  He orchestrated the whole thing and was secretly controlling Doomsday Man in order to control the world!  Luckily the Silver Surfer is a quick thinker and he uses his cosmic power to dig an endless hole under Doomsday and to discard the bomb out past our atmosphere.  Dr. Kronton tries to get to Doomsday and is killed in the process. The crowd that gathers believes that the Silver Surfer has murdered the Dr. and has no idea that they were saved from imminent doom.  

NC:  I understand that the Silver Surfer was wandering around town in civvies to try to fit in and buy a newspaper, etc.  But why, when he got worried, did he stay in street clothes, illegally enter a subway, ask for directions from a hippie to the UN office, and then try to enter the UN office in these regular clothes?  If humanity was looking towards “doomsday” he may have saved a lot of time by shedding his duds and zipping over to the UN office on his surfboard instead of using public transit!  (Although I applaud his decision environmentally – wouldn’t want to overuse that cosmic power!) Aaaah the 70’s and, oh yes, Arnie (in the ad on page 2).  This is the biggest clue to the end of the 60’s that I’ve seen so far. Also, I am just soaking in the art by John Buscema.  Just can’t get enough of it.  So detailed and the expressions are fantastic.

MB: As I’m sure I’ve observed before, this can’t be the easiest strip in the world to write, because the Surfer simply isn’t appropriate for the standard super-hero/super-villain stories found in most Marvel mags.  This tale, though, seems like a quintessential—albeit lesser—Surfer outing, both pitting Norrin Radd against a foe too powerful for the average costumed crusader to tackle (who seems suspiciously similar to the unstoppable Thermal Man that Stan recently put in Thor), and embroiling him in the kind of ethical dilemma that once again leaves him bemused at what fools we mortals be.  Big John Buscema, who seems to have curtailed his super-hero efforts for Marvel other than here and in Amazing Spider-Man, does his usual fine job, inked by Adkins.

Also this month

Chamber of Darkness #3
Chili #10
Kid Colt Outlaw #143
Mad About Millie #8
Marvel's Greatest Comics #25
Millie the Model #179
Our Love Story #3
Rawhide Kid #74
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #75


    Note: It looks like Scott and I homed in on the same aspect of the X-Men book.

    X-Men: When he started work on X-Men #65, Neal Adams knew the book had been cancelled. It didn't come as a great surprise. However, there were a couple of surprises waiting for him a few weeks later, when he visited the Marvel offices.

    Marie Severin raced up to him and apologised. "It wasn't me, Neal. Stan made me do it!" she exclaimed. While roughing out the pages in thumbnail form, Adams felt the story lacked action, so he added an alien "watchdog" to patrol the corridors of the Z'Nox ship. It appeared on page 12, and was the first obstacle Scott, Bobby, and Hank encountered when they entered the spaceship ... but the published beastie was nothing like the original.

    Stan had instructed Marie to change the character. Strangely, the new watchdog was a giant humanoid that should have walked upright, but in the story, had to crawl on its hands and knees to fit through the corridors, which didn't make a lot of sense.

    So, what did Neal's watchdog look like? Fortunately, his thumbnail drawing of page 12 still exists. Here's a scan (from Comic Book Artist #3) placed next to the published page, scaled to the same size.

    Originally, it resembled a four legged Tyrannosaurus. The prehistoric reptiles in issue #62 are a good indication of how the watchdog would have turned out. But, the burning question is ... what was the big problem with Adams' version that prompted Stan to demand changes to two panels in a book that was already dead and buried?

    Neal claims that Stan rejected or altered most of his X-Men covers, and he was pretty angry when he found out about this trivial change. The lacklustre cover was a Marie Severin solo effort. Some sources erroneously credit Neal Adams as the artist, or Adams with alterations by Severin. Usually, Marie had a very good sense of design, which makes me think this cover was a rush job.

    And, why hasn't Marvel ever approached Adams to restore the watchdog to it's original form, create a new cover, and release it as a special edition? They could even throw in rejected X-Men pages, pencils, sketches, and covers, the sole existing 1982 X-Men portfolio plate, and the six pencilled pages of the aborted X-Men graphic novel Adams drew. It would be a licence to print money.

    The other surprise was Denny O'Neil. Before he arrived at Marvel, Adams had never heard of Roy Thomas. He now recalls working with Roy as some of the best memories of his comic book career. He said they were always on the same page, bounced ideas off of each-other and everything went smoothly. Although he had no problems working with Denny, Adams had Roy in mind when he plotted the book, and was disappointed that they didn't get to work together on his final X-Men story.

    Spider-Man: Spare me. At least no-one tried to do the accent. Are you guys telling me this character actually made a second appearance?

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  2. Glenn,

    Thanks for fleshing out that story for me. As a kid, none of this stuff registered, but now I find the weird descisions and infighting fascinating. I assume all of this contributed to Adams leaving the company, which is a shame. But then again, it was his version of the Batman I fell in love with, so thanks Stan for making that possible!

    1. I think Stan was a great editor. There are a couple of exceptions but, most of the time, when he rejected a cover, I thought the second version was better, or, in the case of say, X-Men #56 I could understand his reasoning. Pre 1964, in the changes we're aware of, Stan's editing improved the story. However, by the late 60s early 70s we get a bit more of this minor tinkering that doesn't seem to serve any purpose.

      All the best,

      Glenn :)

  3. Scott: I don't think Adams left Marvel and went to DC--he was at DC all along and did some work for Marvel concurrently. And JT: I'm totally with you on the great O'Neil/Adams team! The early '70s GL/GA and Batman stories are top-notch.

    1. It was a big coup for Stan to lure Adams to Marvel. At DC he had won a couple of Alley awards, and his influence on the look of comic books had already begun. In turn, Adams made a big political statement by working for Marvel and DC at the same time while using his real name, something no-one had done up to that point.

      All the best,

      Glenn :)

  4. I didn't know he played both sides of the industry fence without adopting a pseudonym. Those youngsters inthe 70's were pretty ballsy. Obviously, I'm a little rusty in some of my comic history (especially when it comes to DC). I never considered Adams working at Marvel and DC simultaneously. Again, thanks fellas for giving me the skinny. I should read more.... :-)


  5. I've been pretty surprised that at least as late as the end of 1970, inker Mike Esposito was still using the "Joe Gaudioso" pseudonym on IRON MAN and SUB-MARINER. Yet I notice that Gerry Conway wrote scripts for both companies throughout 1971 and, as far as I know, did not have to rely on a nom de plume. I wonder when these "fronts" officially became unnecessary, or if they just faded away. Glenn, insights?

    1. The pressure came from DC, who insisted on loyalty from their freelancers. They saw themselves as the top comic book company, paid the best page rates, and held the whip hand. Anyone caught moonlighting could find their assignments handed to someone else.

      Stan Lee didn't care about any of that. For example, Steve Ditko did some work for Charlton while working at Marvel. Stan's main problem was finding enough talent to work on his line of books for the page rate Martin Goodman was prepared to pay.

      While at DC, Gene Colan worked for Marvel as "Adam Austin", but once the work dried up at DC he used his real name. John Romita jumped from DC to Marvel and continued to use his real name. While working for DC, Gil Kane penciled one Hulk story under the name "Scott Edward." Later, he jumped ship and penciled issues of the Hulk and Captain America under his own name, but then jumped back to DC.

      I suspect Mike Esposito's reluctance to use his real name was an example of "old school" caution. He'd been in the business since the late 1940s and had seen many ups and downs, including the company he formed with Ross Andru, "Mikeross Publications" go belly up in the mid 1950s. At DC he had steady work on Wonder Woman and Metal Men and didn't want to jeopardize those accounts.

      All the best,

      Glenn :)