Wednesday, February 13, 2013

January 1970: Don't Look Now, But Here Come the Sensational Seventies!

The Avengers 72
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Rick Jones is intercepted by Captain America on the roof of Avengers Mansion the very night Cap called an emergency session. Apparently the villain Scorpio killed Nick Fury, has the Zodiac Key and has gotten back into the good graces of The Zodiac Gang. Rick, the other half of the Rick Jones/Mar-Vell combo, was at Nick's house to apply for "ex-sidekick membership" in S.H.I.E.L.D. However, he walks in on Scorpio and is roughed up as the villain escapes. Scorpio set all this in motion to capture the Avengers and present them to the gang, who arrive in short order. Yellowjacket and the Wasp get some ants to sneak in and short out the control panels keeping the Avengers bound in a force field and during the battle, Scorpio is revealed to be the thought-dead Fury (another LMD decoy - yawn). The gang escapes and Cap seems to want Rick back as his partner. Rick, however, is secretly bound to Captain Marvel, and skulks off to brood. 

SM:  A needlessly complicated tale with a huge build-up that only leads to the standard super team dust up. Roy Thomas is more verbose than Stan and overwrites every single character to the point of parody. It's not a bad story, it's simply awful dialog. Roy seems to want to make sure every character in a given panel has something to day, which leads to an off-kilter round robin way of getting to the point. Everyone is a title; "you said it, avenger." "Hold it, android!" It's like being in a room of friends, trying to have a discussion, but everyone keeps chiming in with wisecracks. I missed a bunch of issues and didn't see the Clint Barton turning point where he went from hating Cap to being "the biggest Cap-booster going." I love the brand new "we have to mention them special Tony Stark created" chairs for everyone. The usual "Stripling" gets hauled out when someone wants to insult a teenager. Too bad Roy didn't write a dog into the story, so someone could say, "I would have gotten away with it, too, if not for that witless stripling and his mangy cur!" Yet, for all of this, The Avengers run is still imaginative and epic. I'm of two minds here: It's easy to fire broadsides, but I find these issues to be a lot of fun. I just never thought I'd see someone out-Stan Stan in the overbaked dialog department.  It's funny that someone yells "Avengers Assemble" when everyone is already together. Plus Rick walks away from Cap regarding partnership because of his secret relationship with Mar-Vell, yet applying for S.H.I.E.L.D. membership is okay. Crazy mixed-up kids.

MB: I consider this an almost perfect issue, straight from the suitably Sterankoesque splash page by a Buscema/Grainger art team that is firing on all cylinders.  Roy gives us a brisk rapprochement between Cap and Rick; the debut of a major crime cartel, unveiled in a stunning two-page spread; and guest shots by two of my favorites, Nick Fury and Captain Marvel, whose mags are on hiatus.  Per the lettercol in #77, Roy and Sal “designed [this] half tongue-in-cheek as their comment on the one-ish-per-story controversy, by throwing in just about everything but the fabled kitchen sink.”  Sadly, that precluded some clarification regarding Fury (inexplicably hale, hearty, and not under a cloud of suspicion when he jerked Captain America around last month).


PE: I just found the whole Fury episode laughable. When in doubt, when your hero is backed to the wall, bring in the ol' LMD alibi. Nothing from here on in is sacred. I'm surprised  (spoiler alert!) Gwen Stacy managed to stay dead for a couple years. I remain confused by the fact that this super-team doesn't have trust enough to reveal to each other their secret identities. I mean, wouldn't that info come in handy some day? Of course, I'm also confused why these super-powered individuals (and Jan) would open their doors to Rick ("I'm nothin' but a sidekick") Jones and let the kid fight beside them in dangerous situations. All he's been able to prove through seven years of Marvel-life is that he can threaten with the best of them but then is dispatched with one good right every time! Now he's got super powers and he can't tell the one guy on earth he has something to prove to. Oh, the juicy irony! Scorpio joins the list of Dumb Marvel Assassins who carry around a list of his targets (on his personalized stationery yet!). Shouldn't Henry Pym get around to learning how to summon yellowjackets for aid rather than ants? But, all barbs aside, I'm with Prof. Matthew on this one: it's truncated but it's a nice slice of action and we get the intro of a group that would play into a really cool arc a couple years down the road (#120-123), one that's very dear to this Marvel Zombie's heart. On the "Avengers Assemble!" letters page, future Marvel artist Keith Pollard (Thor, FF, Spidey) allows that The Black Panther is one of his favorite characters but he lacks depth (The Panther, not Keith). 


SM: The art is good, but Sam Granger is not Sal's best inker. Rick looks weirdly middle-aged (again) in some panels and a few illos look sort of Trimpe-ish, which makes sense since Granger will be a main Trimpe inker on the Hulk strip. However, that Buscema touch is well evident and everyone is dynamic and powerful. My only real issue is Nick Fury, who looks more like one of the Maggia types than Nick himself. No 5 o'clock shadow? His face it far too thin and without the word balloons to tell me, I'd have never guessed it was him - save for the eyepatch. Dum-Dum Dugan should have gone into acting, since he manages to squeeze out a tear when he was in on the plot to fake Fury's demise. I wonder, though, as good as the art is, Rick isn't a super hero. He doesn't have a costume. Yet he wears that same jacket/shirt/pants combo in every appearance. With loafers, no less. When did kids start wearing sneakers in the Marvel Universe?



Captain America 121
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Dr. Silas X. Cragg, a foe Cap apparently defeated in World War II, seeks revenge by recreating Dr. Erskine's super soldier serum. In The Bowery, Cragg finds a powerful, un-named ex-con who lost his family for doing time. Since the bum is many times stronger and larger than frail Steve Rogers was, he becomes the super-powerful Man-Brute and is sent to destroy Captain America. Cragg sets up a bogus benefit show for Cap at a local orphanage where Man-Brute gets the drop on him in front of the kids. Cap is outclassed in the strength department and is taking a pounding when one of the orphans, Robert, leaps out to defend Cap. The Man-Brute takes a look at the kid and all the fight goes out of him. He returns to the lab and throws Cragg against a high voltage machine, killing him, but not before revealing that the little kid with moxie was the Man-Brute's son. Cap wanders through The Bowery, brooding over his crummy life and his adversary as the disguised Man-Brute walks past, into the night. 

SM: Cap begins the 70's with a nostalgic trip to the 40's. Sort of. While I don't believe Cragg ever appeared in any of the Timely Comics, he looks very much like the kind of villain Cap tackled back then. The story kicks off with an amusing in-joke by Stan; just after Cragg says Cap's origin was retold endlessly over the years, we're treated to yet another version. Cragg, by scanning newspaper articles over the decades, is able to do Erskine's formula one better. It's glossed over how Cragg actually came up with the serum that neither the government nor S.H.I.E.L.D. had been able to replicate. The story is really standard Stan Lee fare: villain creates menace, lures hero, brawl ensues. The ending is also from the Stan Lee playbook: Cap would either beat these guys while giving a rousing speech, or something would make them walk off, leaving Cap to ponder the imponderables.  Man-Brute's son Robert, part of the index files of Marvel Coincidences, is as good a reason as any. Man-Brute mentioned he lost his family because he did time, but apparently his son was the only family he had. Or they all died in the interim. Cap doesn't chase after Man-Brute because the boy is calling out to him and Cap "can't run out on him now!" I figured the kid must be trapped or hurt or something. Then the next panel shows Cap and Robert posing for pictures! At S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, Cap consults the files to identify Cragg and runs into a picture of Sharon Carter and Rick Jones. It took me a minute to realize it wasn't Bucky and he's only identified by the name tag at the top of his photo. Was Colan really drawing Rick or Bucky? Did Stan make that change?

MB:  This is funny:  the very month when Stan is starting to backpedal in his Soapbox about the no-continued-stories policy, he gives us the kind of turkey that makes us pray with gratitude that it ended within the confines of a single issue.  I’m sure that as the years go by, we’ll see any number of scientists, mad or otherwise, who endeavor to recreate the Super-Soldier formula, some more successfully than others, but we can hope that none of them is as forgettable (in Cap’s case, literally) or as goofy-looking as Professor Silas X. Cragg—a Gene Colan creation if ever there was one.  The generic Man-Brute is no less forgettable, which means this issue’s most memorable aspect is, alas, probably the implausible coincidence of his encountering his own son.


SM: Earlier, Steve Rogers is thrilled to "hear from the Avengers" because he was sitting around bored. Now I get that Rogers is a man out of time and isn't sure of his place in the world, but he can't find a job? Get a hobby? Go to the movies? I'm sure Yellowjacket wouldn't mind playing cards with Steve at Avengers Mansion. Out of the myriad of Marvel Whiners, Steve Rogers is surely the whiniest (I was going to nominate the Surfer, but I don't want to get fired on my first day).



PE: That Super Soldier serum is so easy to whip up! A Gene Colan creation indeed, Dr. Cragg looks like he should have a frog costume on. Colan's art is fabulous, in particular the battle scene which details a Cap clearly overpowered, covering up in one panel, just trying to stay out of reach of the bigger man. Yeah, we've read this story before (and it would have been a stronger climax had Robert not been our nameless antagonist's son) and it's supported by a mountain of cliches but I liked it anyway. No doubt in my mind that Sylvester Stallone reread this issue while writing Rocky IV.

SM: The art is, as usual, superb. Gene Colan is the perfect fit for Cap. Cap, Daredevil and, later, Dracula are the three top Colan books. The splash page is cool, with multiple Caps imagined by the delusional Cragg (who gets over it by "brushing the images from" his mind). The pre-Brute bum is sufficiently downtrodden. Colan gets regular people just right and he is ably supported by Joltin' Joe Sinnott. So the 70's are here, kicked off by another origin. Not the worst issue, but not a stand out either.



Daredevil 60
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Finding a couple of Crime-Wave’s thugs loading loot onto a speedboat, Daredevil takes care of them, and dons the duds of one who bears a resemblance to Matt Murdock. DD heads out to the gambling ship Lady Luck, where Crime-Wave is hiding out. A quick flashback reveals Crime-Wave’s previous dealings with Daredevil via the Stunt Master and the Torpedo.  However, with Foggy’s broken engagement to Debbie Harris causing such drama, Matt finds the crime fighting a bit of a relief. Back at the boat, Daredevil is accepted as Shades and starts to work at a fixed roulette table.  DA Foggy Nelson’s ex-fiancé Debbie Harris shows up, to Matt’s surprise. Crime-Wave wants her to help make it look like Nelson is taking bribes from him. When she racks up a big bill with the house, Crime-Wave sends for the debt bound Debbie, but she has her own agenda, wanting to see if she could learn who he was. During the flurry of activity where Daredevil (now in costume) gets the upper hand in a struggle, she does; it’s none other than Foggy’s assistant Hollis! Daredevil had previously adjusted the ship’s course for American waters so that Foggy and the police, who had been watching from afar, could do their thing.  Crime-Wave is grazed by a bullet from a police office and Daredevil ensures his friend Foggy gets all the credit. Foggy and Debbie make up, but Matt is left longing for Karen Page.


Meet Howard the Duck's daughter, Debbie

NC:  Man oh man does Daredevil ever talk to himself an awful lot.  After following the silent Silver Surfer, there seems to be a lot of noise, but maybe that is fitting for someone without the sense of sight.

MB:  Third time’s the harm as Roy ends the Crime-Wave non-epic with a whimper—at this point, I’m wondering if even dousing it with kerosene would help this book catch fire.  Of course, the excitement with which we’re obviously expected to receive the unmasking of Crime-Wave, so prominently touted on the cover, presupposes that said unmasking dramatically reveals somebody about whom we actually give a crap, rather than a nonentity we’ve seen in maybe two panels; it sounds like one of those Batman “mysteries” that Pete and Jack are always kvetching about over at bare*bones. True to form, Gentleman Gene Colan compensates for such a lack of imagination by kicking his into overdrive, with some lovely montage effects for the flashbacks.

JB: Following the work of Jack Seabrook and Tom McMillion is no easy task, so maybe the two of us can come close to the quality of their Daredevil derring-do. Coming from Thor and the F.F., the first thing I notice is the vastly different style of Gene Colan’s artwork from that of Kirby. As well as the montage effects that Professor Matthew points out, Colan offers more detail, varied expressions, and different panel sizes to keep things moving. The story does wrap up rather conveniently; Hollis doesn’t look like he could threaten a fly, let alone Daredevil. Luckily this isn’t a definitive example of what we’ve come to expect (and will find) from this unique comic.

NC:  I thought the artwork was a bit muddy and crowded feeling, making it hard to focus on the important details.  My preference is for the clean lines of John Buscema.

SM: The only thing notable in this issue, other than the amazing Colan art (as usual) is that Daredevil carries chemical to dye his hair. Strange, even with brown hair, he still looks like Matt Murdock. A bit of a flop.



Fantastic Four 94
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Reed and Sue finally come up with a name for their baby: Franklin Benjamin Richards, after Sue’s dad, and, well you know... They have coaxed a special lady out of retirement to look after Franklin while they figure how best to protect him from their dangerous lifestyle. In the meantime, their old foes from the Frightful Four have reunited. The Wizard has revived the Sandman, whose limbs had become glass, and the Trapster has found Medusa, who is eager to join. It turns out that the lady to give childcare is a mysterious elderly woman named Agatha Harkness, who lives in a house any ghost would be proud to haunt. As they get ready to spend the night, the other F.F. strike, suspending Ben with an anti-gravity disc, dousing the Torch’s flame, and gluing Sue and Reed in their room, courtesy of the Trapster. Medusa however, has only joined the team to help protect the good F.F. and turns against them, gaining a brief upper hand before the Trapster’s glue stops her. Enter the helpless old lady Agatha Harkness, whose cat then grows into giant form. The Wizard flees, the Sandman turns to stone, and the Trapster passes out under the crushing embrace of the cat-creature. Could it be our friendly nanny is… a witch? The thought sends Ben and the others back to their rooms, thankful but a little scared.


JB: This issue takes us on a fun ride in a way we would never have expected, a little taste of witchcraft, almost like something out of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. To me the Frightful Four seem better as individual villains than all together, but their appearance here is almost incidental. After they rather simply put our heroes out of commission, they are effortlessly humbled by Agatha Harkness. The turnaround of Medusa may be a surprise for her partners, but it’s a delight for us, and Ben’s musing about Agatha being a witch is comical.

MB:  “Many longtime fans have been writing to say that The Fantastic Four is getting better each issue—with the stories reading more like the memorable masterworks of the FF’s early years,” says a Bullpen Bulletin.  Since some faculty members—myself included—feel that the mag took a while to get up to speed, it’s a little tough to know how to respond to that, but in any case, I’ll never turn down a good FF/FF bout, even if the Sandman does look subhuman in page 8, panel 5.  Also in this issue, which I’m seeing for the first time, Reed and Sue’s baby gets a name (after a mere 14 months our time!); we meet a major new character in the form of Agatha Harkness, his governess, who immediately demonstrates her worth; and Aurora is name-checked.

SM: What a great intro to Agatha Harkness. Somehow, Kirby manages to make this issue very spooky and nobody - and I mean nobody - could draw a terrifying "monster in the shadows" like The King. Agatha was never really utilized to great advantage, but she did become a regular in the immediate post-Kirby issues. I'm surprised The Wizard was stupid enough to believe Medusa was still a villain, but then again, if he were truly smart, he would just patent his inventions and make millions instead of palling around with schmucks like Sandman and Piss Pot Pete. Franklin being named after Ben (his middle name, anyway) is touching and really hammers home the family element.

PE: A real puzzler: the Comics Code Authority would slap a "no way" on anything resembling a vampire or a zombie in 1970 but would give a pass to a character (in this case, The Sandman) smoking a cigarette. I know that Nick Fury was never illustrated without his big fat stogie, but there's almost a comical sense to that. Otherwise, this was a fabulous story with so many elements that the seams threaten to burst, chief among them the fascinating Agatha Harkness. Is she a villain in the making or just a guardian angel sent down from above? Agatha could have been one of the DC mystery mascots in another life. I can see the sun again!



The Mighty Thor 172
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Returning to his office, Don Blake has a visitor in the form of fellow doctor Jim North, the one whom Jane Foster had gone to work for after leaving his employ. Jim and Jane have since fallen in love, and she has been kidnapped and held for ransom by billionaire Kronin Krask, who demands that North perform an experiment for him in exchange for Jane’s safe return. Blake instructs North to follow Krask’s instructions, while he will “attempt to contact Thor.” Kronin Krask had surmised that Thor would become involved, and this fits his plan perfectly: to do mind transference with Thor (who has feigned unconsciousness from a hallucinogenic blast). North, to save Jane, agrees to go ahead, and a battle of minds commences between Thor and Krask. The latter’s spirit proves no match for Thor, and he dies in the battle of egos. Thor departs, leaving Jane and North safely reunited.


Jane Fonda visits her favorite OB/GYN
JB: Back when I was reviewing Thor #136, Jane Foster had her chance at becoming immortal; I said she returned in issue #231 under the pen of Gerry Conway. She does, but I’d totally forgotten completely about her “return” in this issue. From that point of view it’s a bit of a non-event; as Jane’s no more than a tool to move the action along, and doesn’t mean anything more to Thor than any other chick in a mini-skirt. I suppose this is a reminder we’re in the 70’s now. The mind-transference with Kronin Krask is mildly interesting, but I can’t help but feel the Thor title has lost its vision after a long run of greatness. I remember when I first read these issues, that it was a welcome change when Kirby, and then Lee finally left the chores on Thor, something that I would never have said even six months ago.

MB: As the lettercol asserts, “Valiant Vinnie, who is currently inking romance stories (his specialty) for another company, is welcome to come back to work for mighty Marvel anytime...” Meanwhile, Wild Bill helps Stan and Jack find yet another direction for a mag that has veered—with varying degrees of success—among Earthbound super-hero antics, myth-inspired Asgardian fantasy, and epic cosmic grandeur.  Suddenly, we’re in a ’50s sci-fi movie, with a villain looking like the love child of Odin and Volstagg, a Nurse Foster looking hotter than I remembered, and a Dr. Jim North looking less like Blake than I remembered.  Speaking of the allegedly all-knowing Odin, since when does he need all of that gimcrackery to tune in on his only begotten son, Thor?


Introducing Thor's long-lost sister, Brunhilda
PE: I kept waiting for the big reveal that Thor was hiding out, dressed as Brunhilda (complete with lederhosen). Props to Jack and Stan for not bowing to the mountains of hate mail, crying for the return of Nurse Jane Foster. She's been gone a full three years and further props for not plopping her down into a three-sided triangle (with Thor and Sif). Let's hope she's happy with Doc North and stays away from this strip for a while (we all know, as Monday morning quarterbacks, that she'll be back some day). He may be calling himself Kronin Krask but, save a toga and drumstick, I'd spot Midas from a mile away. Not only do we get the return of Jane but also the word "lame." I assume the PC police have deemed that word a no-no and it wouldn't find its way into a 2013 ThorThis issue lacks enthusiasm from both brush and writing quill and I find it hard to muster any myself. Thor hasn't been this lackluster since the days he was fighting commies.

SM: Nice to see Jane back, even if her hair is red and she looks nothing like Jane Foster ever did. What's with that outfit? Not to mention the name of the doctor she left Blake for was originally Dr. Kincaid, not North. Also, Kincaid looked just like Don Blake; this guy looks like Gale Gordon. It makes me wonder if Jack even intended this to be a Jane/Don reunion issue. These could be different people and without the names, I'd never have guessed who they were. Considering Jane spends no time with Don and acts like she barely knows Thor, seriously, what was the point? She was a major character for years, if you bring her back, you should use her correctly. Kronin Krask is a sight to behold, way over the top and colorful and his plan is straight out of Ghost of Frankenstein. My question is, can a Thunder God be operated on? Could a mere mortal doctor actually remove his brain? In that case, why can't someone just shoot Thor? An odd issue.



Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 21
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As Namor continues to run through the streets of New York, hunted by the military and the police, his love Dorma organizes the troops of Atlantis for possible war.  Tired of hearing the news that Namor is being chased like a common criminal, Dorma gets the elders' permission to rescue him.  They give the opposing military troops an ultimatum to turn Subby back over to them or risk bloodshed.  Warlord Seth has returned back into the fold and has brought along the 'Horn of Proteus.'  Namor orders his people to let him confront the U.S. Navy troops on his own, so as to limit any fatalities.  A battleship cannon blasts Dorma's ship to pieces after mistaking a warning shot as an attack.  An enraged Seth blows the Proteus horn which summons three titanic sea creatures from the ocean's depths.  Namor tries his best to fight off the giant beasts as they destroy the city and anything else in their path.  Once Dorma is found to be alive and well, Seth blows the horn again so that the sea monsters return back into the ocean.  The story ends with Namor returning to his people as he observes the destruction left around him.

Tom:  Not much to complain about here.  I'm just glad that it appears the whole "hunted Namor in New York" angle is done with.  Unless he's chilling out with his homeboy Dr. Doom, I prefer my Sub-Mariner stories to be underwater based.    

MB: EC alumni Severin and Craig continue to make beautiful music together, and Roy gives us a change-of-pace story in which Namor is, for once, trying to prevent rather than to foment a war between Atlantis and the surface world.  This strip continues to deliver the goods in the feminine-pulchritude department, not only the obvious Lady Dorma, whose resourcefulness and courage equal her beauty, but also Diane Arliss, who remains a striking figure in spite of her shifting loyalties.  I don’t remember if Lord Seth is really dead, but I was certainly sorry to see a noble and promising character apparently wasted that way, and even less pleased to see Bashful Benjamin J. Grimm reduced to no more than a bad-tempered, badly drawn, one-panel punchline.


SM: Not bad, better than I expected since I'm not generally a fan of Marie Severin, but she does good work here (Craig's inks help a lot). I need to do some catching up on Subby's adventures, but I was pleased with the wrap up of this particular story. A shame we didn't get to see Namor and the FF working together, but seeing Ben doing his impression of an answering machine was pretty funny. Was he even listening?





Silver Surfer 12
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Near Stonehenge at midnight, a group of witchy sorts have gathered, briefly summoning The Wraith.  As they rejoice in their accomplishment their leader, Sir Nigel Carruthers, speaks of his desire to show the world their evil mastery of the ancient rites.
The love-torn Surfer, vows to return to Zenn-La to ensure Shalla-Bal’s safety.  He speeds towards the invisible barrier.  This is a dismal failure; unconscious and caught in a meteor storm he hurtles towards Earth.  You guessed it – right near Nigel and gang! The evil warlock takes the oblivious Surfer to Stonehenge with plans of destruction. Nigel believes that conjuring up a spirit to crush the Silver Surfer will demonstrate his power over others.
The Abomination, altered from human state by the same Gamma Rays that made Dr. Banner the Hulk, appears . Now that this heavy-set green fellow is back on Earth, the Ab-man plans to take control, but Nigel gets grouchy about this because world domination was his goal!  The Abomination quickly takes Nigel down a notch or two.  Almost dead, he is saved by a groggy Silver Surfer. The exhausted Silver Surfer heads back to the skies to recover but sees a city in ruin, lain waste by The Abomination. The Surfer clobbers the Abomination and is saddened by the fact that he relishes this action and seems to be gaining some negative human traits. He takes the limp Abomination back to the “witches” and strongly advises them to send the green guy back to the Stranger.


NC:  Yet again our Silver Surfer is proven right about humanity.  It is so sad that at the end of his fight he starts to see himself as bloodthirsty and cruel . . . and human!  Are we really that bad?????? I’m not so sure that the S.S. could really beat the Abomination – I mean, he is stronger than the HULK! I love the Surfer, but is he really that strong?

MB: The odometer merely ticking over a new decade did not kick off our beloved Bronze Age, which arguably begins with Kirby’s departure (c. September), and even then, many of the developments this writer reveres will be at least a year away.  Much of 1970 continues the contraction that leaves X-Men in reprints, Captain Marvel on hiatus—twice—and this book dead, so let’s enjoy it while we can, and with this sumptuous Buscema/Adkins artwork, that’s not hard to do.  I would never have picked the Abomination as an opponent for the Surfer, and the reasons for his manifestation here seem pretty far-fetched, but he’s always been a big favorite of mine, so I won’t complain about even an unlikely appearance, especially since he’s a viable heavyweight.


SM: Gorgeous art makes up for Stan's overbaked prose and his dumbing down of the Surfer; "perhaps after all these months the barrier has weakened!" Right, Galactus would put a time limit on the force field and it would be a short one. As a kid, I only followed certain titles, and I never knew villains banished in the Hulk were restored in another mag, like Abomination here. I would just fill in the blanks later. I was an undemanding kid.







The Invincible Iron Man 21
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Bad news for prizefighter Eddie "Iron Man" March is delivered in the hours after his greatest victory: that blood clot on his brain is getting bigger and if he fights again... it will be his last. In the audience at Eddie's last fight is the ubiquitous trillionaire playboy weapons dealer Tony Stark and the alter ego of Iron Man arrives back stage just in time to hear Eddie March tell reporters he's hanging up his gloves (though Stark doesn't hear the actual reason why). Later, on the way home from the arena, Tony stops by The Cord Factory and notices the light on. Stopping to have a peek, he is shocked to hear a screech emanating from within the walls. Donning his armor, our favorite hero busts into the factory just as his former girlfriend is being attacked by a new incarnation of The Crimson Dynamo. The (COMMIE) bad guy exchanges a few blows with Iron Man and then, puzzlingly, hightails it without finishing the job. Once out of eyeshot, The Dynamo ducks into one of the labs and doffs his suit to reveal underneath... Janice's new squeeze, Alex Niven! Meanwhile, the minor squabble with The dynamo has Tony breathing hard, just the straw to break the camel's back, and he decides to offer his night job to Eddie March. Despite his doctor's warnings that anything resembling another fight will kill him as dead as any other deceased character in the Marvel Universe, Eddie gleefully accepts the position and begins his training. It's not long before Eddie is tested when he runs into Alex/Dynamo at a dock robbery and the Red Russkie gives him all he can take. Determined not to besmirch the good name of Iron Man, Eddie March vows to go down swingin'.


PE: I loved The Dynamo's line to the faux-Shellhead when he hears "the buzz of a radio" in Eddie's helmet and delivers a crushing blow: "If you're in contact with your creator... transmit this message!" Great story all around.

MB:  Archie lays a few more stones in the foundation of Shellhead’s mythology, one being the introduction of a character who might be seen as this strip’s answer to Willie Lincoln over in Daredevil, since I think the parallels go beyond mere skin color.  Interestingly, Eddie not only follows in Happy Hogan’s footsteps by periodically donning the Iron Man armor to help out Tony, but also will become Happy’s successor as the second Freak a few years hence.  Of course, the main event this time around is finally starting to bring the long-simmering Janice Cord/Alex Niven ( Nevsky) plotline to a boil with another addition to our little troupe, that of the second Crimson Dynamo, one more Goodwin creation who would far outlive Archie’s stint on the title.

SM: A good story with some nice drama and twists. But, damn it, I just can't take the cartoony faces. They all seem Hanna Barbera to me which really keeps me from getting into the series. Tuska is great at bodies and has some dynamic layouts, though. I really ought to just get used to it.


PE: Archie mines the great irony that Tony Stark's retiring his Red and Gold to avoid The Grim Reaper but is handing the reins over to someone who's in just as bad a shape. Though the "Normal Joe who becomes his hero" story has been done to death, Goodwin avoids most of the cliches. Chief among them would be "the good wife at home who only wants the best for her man's health and arrives in the last panel to talk some sense into him." No such trope on display here. Doctor's prognoses back in the sixties were so much more promising, even when you're faced with death: "Well, Eddie, my stethoscope tells me you've got a blood clot on your brain but you'll be fine! I can tell just by looking at you. X-Rays? X-Rays? We don't need no stinkin' X-Rays!" Unfortunately, Archie doesn't let us in on the contract signing and discussion about health insurance and annual leave. The only problem I'd have with the entire concept is the idea that kindly Tony Stark would have no problem with a novice facing one of his super-powered foes.



The Incredible Hulk 123
Our Story

A subdued Hulk is hooked up to machinery by Reed Richards inside the Baxter Building.  Reed is finally able to revert the Hulk back into Bruce Banner after refiguring his molecule structure.  Once human again, Banner shows The Fantastic Four that he can turn into the Hulk, while maintaining Banner's mind, and control the change.  The Four wish Bruce well as he goes to meet up with Betty.  The two lovebirds make up for their lost time together.  Unfortunately, Thunderbolt Ross has been put in charge of a new military invention and he wants Banner to guard it while it is shipped away.  It's called the Tripodal Observation Module, T.O.M. for short, and the notorious Leader desperately wants it.  While transporting T.O.M. by truck, Banner and military troops are attacked by the Leader and he takes over the contraption.  Banner turns into the Hulk to save himself and a soldier after they fall from a cliff.  In the ensuing battle the Hulk becomes more savage after the Leader uses gas bombs on him.  Once he tackles the Tripod, the Hulk is able to pull the Leader out of it.  Before he can deliver a righteous beat down to the villain, the Hulk lets him go as he is trying to maintain Banner's mental control over the green goliath's body.  The story ends with Banner struggling with himself to not revert back to the bestial Hulk.   


Tom:  This was kind of a mixed issue.  It was nice to see Betty reunited with Bruce so they could go to the beach and take in a baseball game.  This was necessary in a way to further strengthen the relationship plotline.  Otherwise, Betty might have decided to move on since she seems to only get to see Bruce a total of a couple of minutes per month.  The Tripodal Module wasn't very impressive at all.  It looked like the type of contraption that Dr. Doom would have hundreds of, stashed away in his basement.

MB:  Obviously, one should expect that any attempt to eliminate or Bannerize the Hulk will be short-lived—especially since nobody is going to buy a mag called The Credible Dr. Banner—and this is no exception, but we must give Roy credit for mixing things up a bit in this issue.  I’m strangely taken with that weird full-page close-up of the Leader inside his plane, which seems somewhat to resemble an AWACS aircraft, and liked the characterization of Ben as empathetic to Banner’s plight (not for the last time) despite his frequent clashes with the Hulk.  I do, however, question the wisdom of Bruce’s getting all dressed up, right down to the neckwear, then shredding his outfit by willfully transforming into the Hulk, and then starting all over again.

SM:  I love this storyline, it finally feels like they're doing something coherent. There are, however, some time eating pages, full page panels padding a story that didn't really need to go another issue. When Banner and Betty finally meet at the airport, that's the prettiest she's been by drawn by Trimpe in, like, ever. I agree, Banner getting all dressed up and then, seconds later, rending his clothes just to make a point, seems silly. Richards was right there, couldn't he give Bruce an outfit made of unstable molecules? Like Marie Severin, Trimpe cannot draw The Thing.



The Amazing Spider-Man 80
Our Story

Peter’s working on his Spidey equipment to try and forget about Gwen dating Flash, when Flash shows up at the door with Harry. Peter flips, but luckily the misunderstanding is cleared up fast. He calls “Gwendy” and the two lovebirds set up a date at the Midtown Museum, where Captain Stacy is heading up security for a big art exhibit. Donning some slick new threads, Pete is thrilled to see Gwen—until his Spider-Sense starts tingling as Gwen’s Dad walks into a private room and some paintings vanish. It appears The Chameleon has resurfaced, cleverly disguising himself as the head policeman, a fact our hero quickly figures out. Spider-Man then asks Joe Robertson to plant a story in the Daily Bugle about a secret bond meeting, in order to lure the greedy villain out of hiding. Spidey breaks into the meeting causing chaos, and after a couple of false accusations, snuffs out The Chameleon once and for all when he spots him masquerading as “the one person I knew you couldn’t be”…Peter Parker!

JT: If my memory serves me correct, this was one of the first Spidey issues I owned. Of course, it may have been missing the first couple of pages, which is why I don’t remember Peter ever using “Gwendy” or “Honey”. Yeesh… He looks and sounds a bit too much like a moony (no pun intended for our inker) 15-year old for the first half of this book. It’s nice to see The Chameleon resurface to rustle up some trouble after 78 issues. Not that he hasn’t been around for every issue since #2. I mean, who would know? Isn’t he usually in disguise? And there’s not much mystery regarding the museum caper for the readers with The Chameleon featured on the cover and the title prominently. Doesn’t matter much though, as he’s dispatched a bit too quickly.

SM:  I first read this issue years ago in one of those Fireside collections and always enjoyed it. The art is top class and although it's credited to Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney, I suspect John Romita did the art for Gwen, at least her face. She always looked best under his pencils. I agree, Spidey almost goes out of his way to expose his identity in this issues, first by tossing Flash against the wall and then loudly proclaiming Parker "is the one person it couldn't be!" Luckily, everyone around him is too stupid to make the connection. While I found Pete's sudden outburst toward Flash satisfying, I would have liked it more had he done it a few years ago when Flash was less a rival and more his mortal enemy. Always good to see The Chameleon, but it's true, he could have been around every issue since #2! I can't wait until Harry finally shaves off that damned 'stache.


MB: I’ve never been a huge fan of the Chameleon, but I suppose if he’s used in moderation (and to be fair, he’s been benched—at least here in his home title—for quite some time), I don’t mind him all that much.  Stan’s having him impersonate Peter was actually inspired, especially given the irony that the Chameleon doesn’t even realize he is posing as his arch-enemy’s alter ego, but that just makes it all the more disappointing when Stan then abruptly lower’s Spider-Man’s I.Q. to the ambient temperature of the room when it comes to the matter of his “secret” identity.  I mean, really, why not just put up a big, brightly lit billboard that says, “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this guy is not Peter Parker, because I am Parker myself!”


PE: It's virtually inconceivable that Stan could put a villain in the drawer for 79 issues! It's been so long, in fact, that Stan mistakenly mentions that The Chameleon made his debut in #2 rather than the premiere issue. What a dull TV network they have in New York City -- preempting the regularly scheduled program (probably Green Acres) to report that The Daily Bugle has reported that there's to be a big bond exchange wingding. Could you imagine the uproar if they did that today while Real Housewives of Queens was on? J. Jonah Jameson must have gotten his "Honorary Police Man" badge as he leads the police raid on the bond exchange. Wouldn't Flash comment on Peter's sudden ability to lift him off the floor with one hand? The action is cliched, the "romance" and "personal turmoil" are groan-inducing. Most of this issue is disposable but, hey, next issue we get the debut of The Kangaroo so things are looking up.



The X-Men 64
Our Story

We are introduced to Sunfire, a Japanese mutant who lost his mother and gained his powers as a result of the Hiroshima blast. Doing the bidding of his evil Uncle, he attacks the US, going against his father, and ultimately tangling with the X-Men. Only when it's too late does he realize that he's on the wrong side.

MB:  Last month a Bullpen Bulletin inquired, “Have you ever seen a strip that didn’t look great when inked by the way-out wizardry of Terrific Tommy Palmer?  (We haven’t!)”  Palmer certainly does his best to maintain visual continuity with Don Heck, as the credits tell us, “pinch-hitting this month for Nefarious Neal Adams…who’ll be back with our merry mutants next ish,”sans Roy; both the panel layouts and the figures have a distinctly Adams-esque look about them. Introduced here, Sunfire has been a recurring character in this and various other books since, but although he’s one I’ve never, as it were, warmed up to, his personality seems to warrant that, not to mention the fact that he has been so thoroughly steeped in anti-Americanism by his evil uncle.

SM:  It took me a second glance to see it was Heck doing the pencils here. Great work by him, some of his best (the inking helped a lot). They tried to keep the Neal Adams look and they succeeded. If Heck always drew like this, he might have been more popular. Sunfire is obnoxious and will remain so for the next few years. A decent filler issue.

JS: I'll go so far as to say it's an excellent filler issue. In fact, I'd take this filler issue over just about anything leading up to the Thomas/Adams run. And how impressive is it that sandwiched between Neal Adams issues, the art does not disappoint? I credit Tom Palmer (who I became enamored with during his stint on Marvel's Star Wars comic years later), since we know what Heck was capable of on his own. All in all a great issue, introducing a great new character who we'll be seeing again on the other end of the upcoming reprint tunnel.

PE: Well, no Neal this time out and that's a shame but Heck (with a huge heaping helping hand from Palmer, I'd guess) comes through just fine. I'd pick this as the best Heck work we've ever seen, as a matter of fact. Rascally Roy hits another one out of the park even without his artistic muse. Sunfire is a brilliant villain, one born of the same vengeance that drives The Red Skull, but with a tortured and confused soul manipulated by a really bad uncle. The Skull launched his career of evil during WW2 and we get the sense he won't rest until The Reich rise again and conquer the world. This kid just wants  someone to answer for his mother's death. Shiro had nothing to do with the atrocities committed by the Japanese during the war (nor did his mother) so he's an innocent bystander. Tough to argue with his venom. That's a whopper of a climax as well. No doubt in my mind that Tom Clancy reread this issue while writing Debt of Honor.



Also this month



Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #18
Chili #9
Homer the Happy Ghost #2
Kid Colt Outlaw #142
Mad About Millie #7
Marvel Super Heroes #24
Marvel Tales #24
Mighty Marvel Western #7
Millie the Model #178
My Love #3
Peter the Little Pest #2
The Ringo Kid #1
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #74
Tower of Shadows #2
Where Monsters Dwell #1 ->



Though it might not seem like a big deal forty-plus years later, the first issue of Where Monsters Dwell ushered in the Marvel Age of Monster Reprints. At last, Stan could reap the rewards of the years he spent working in the trenches of the science fiction/giant monster genre. Together with titans Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Stan pumped out hundreds of cookie-cutter tales of men who "met the Thing on Midnight Island" or got "trapped in Nightmare Valley!" While Ditko concentrated on the deeper topics such as isolation and black magic, Lee and Kirby let loose with a rain of giant monsters whose names may well have been used as expletives in other countries. Just in the first three issues of WMD, you'll:

Gasp at the horror of Grottu, King of the Insects!
Scream in fear at Gorgolla, the Living Gargoyle!
Be the first to know the secret of Gor-Kill, the Living Demon!
And laugh your ass off at Sporr, the Living Spore that Could Not Die!


Marvel had nothing to lose pumping out these reprint titles. Since none of the artists involved reaped the benefits, the books were more profitable than the superhero titles. Well, they would be if they sold as well.  A book-length study of Lee and Kirby's wonderful oddities would be a very welcome addition to this Marvel Zombie's reference shelf. Elsewhere, the mining of Marvel's early western days continues in the first issue of The Ringo Kid (reprints from the 1950s) and The Mighty Marvel Western #7 (featuring Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, and The Rawhide Kid). Both western titles lasted until 1976, outlasting all the monster titles. By January 1970, Marvel's western line was paltry: The Two-Gun Kid had been cancelled (it would return, as a reprint title in July 1970) and Kid Colt, Outlaw had been banished to the realm of reprints-only. Only The Rawhide Kid offered up new fare (written and drawn by superhero comics reject Larry Leiber) but, soon, even that would become a reprint title. Kids just didn't eat up oaters like they used to.



11 comments:

  1. "It's like being in a room of friends, trying to have a discussion, but everyone keeps chiming in with wisecracks." Current or future Professors Tura, Flynn, Colon, and Blake, take note...

    "A Gene Colan creation indeed, Dr. Cragg looks like he should have a frog costume on." Spot on, Dean Enfantino. And thanks for fleshing out the Marvel mosaic regarding those reprints.

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  2. With great power comes great responsibility — like me taking over summarizing the best (in my silly opinion) comic book ever. Proud and humbled to be a part of the faculty, especially with so much pithy commentary included here for the start of the 70s (also the greatest decade of cinema and TV ever...but I digress).

    These single issue mandates do make the stories seems rushed, especially in Avengers and Amazing Spidey. But that’ll all change soon, not to worry.

    Jane Foster deserves a Star Magazine-esque “In this issue” burst on the front cover? Really? I would think more Thor-ites would be sounding the Gjallarhorn for the return of Loki to be honest. Unless Stan is trying to get the Minnie the Model fans to pick up more than one book a month?

    I love when Namor is angry, makes his character that much more fun. (Omen for Matthew's beloved Super-Villain Team-Up!) But is it necessary to take three panels to explain that you have shoes on? Couldn't he just kick them off quick and utter a simple “Bah! Off with you, stifling loafers!”?

    Any Frightful Four ish is cause for celebration in my book. Agatha Harkness—best character intro of the year so far! Hard to top the “regular” supporting cast of FF, second only to (of course) Spidey.

    Always liked Sunfire, probably part of my lifelong Godzilla obsession. Second best character intro of the year so far!

    I’m with Prof. Scott on the sub-par Thing depictions. Then again, I could never draw him right either as a kid. But I did do a heck of a Charlie Brown and Snoopy!

    Best cover language of the month? "Ringo! His name makes Badmen Tremble!" Not with that super tight shirt, it don't...

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  3. X-Men: (Memo to Tom Palmer --- Make this look like Neal Adams --- Thanks --- Stan) I'd really like to see some of the uninked pages to this book, to get a look at what was underneath Tom Palmer's slick embellishing.

    Neal Adams' working methods involved roughing out the page design for the whole book in thumbnail form on small sheets of note paper, then, when satisfied with the flow of the story, he transferred the layouts to full sized art boards, and completed the job (next week, one of Adams' surviving thumbnails solves a big mystery).

    The cover and splash look like they're designed by Heck, but pages two to six look like Adams layouts, while the rest of the book seems to be Heck imitating Adams panel arrangement. It's possible Adams started on this book but only got to the thumbnail stage for a handful of pages, and that Heck used these as guides. I really don't know for sure. The story itself is pretty decent, giving Sunfire strong motivation for his frustration and his reckless actions, all neatly wrapped up neatly in twenty pages.

    Fantastic Four: Kirby bypassed Martin Goodman and went directly to the top brass at Perfect Film, hoping to get a new contract. They turned him down. Over at DC, Carmine Infantino was aware of Jack's plight, and invited him to lunch. Kirby showed him the New Gods concept he'd created a few years earlier, and they discussed the possibility of Jack jumping ship. Ironically, two years earlier, Stan had tried to lure Infantino away from DC.

    Apparently, Kirby had something else planned for FF #94, but, fuming about the lack of a contract, decided to keep it to himself. Instead, he hatched this story introducing Agatha Harkness, who looks like a refugee from an old issue of Black Magic, and dragged the Frightful Four out of retirement for the epic battle between science and the supernatural. Since it's a comic book, science loses. :)

    Reprints: My memory must be playing tricks on me. I remembered 1972 as the year you had to machete your way through the reprints to get to the new Marvel books on the rack, but, just checking the titles dated January 1968, January 1969, and January 1970, an interesting story emerges (statistics alert).

    In January 1968, Marvel published 308 pages of material, of which 48 were reprints (15%). For January 1969, the numbers were 396 pages total, including 96 pages of reprints (24%). The numbers for January 1970 were 604 pages of comic book material comprising 244 pages of reprints. That's a whopping 40% and given the low cost of production, probably half the companies profits came from reprinted material.

    Although the number of Superhero titles had risen and fallen within those three dates, the upshot is that overall, the number of Superhero titles comprising new material had remained virtually static in that time ... nine in January 1968, twelve in January 1969, and eleven in January 1970. However, in that same time period, Martin Goodman had doubled the number of Marvel titles on the newsstands. In January 1970 Marvel published more reprinted pages than new Superhero material.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

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  4. Excellent feedback, Professor Joe--although I thought you were going to say that your "great responsibility" was to interrupt me on Movie Nights! As much love as I have for other mags (and I'm not just talking about SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP here), I would accept it as a working hypothesis that AMAZING SPIDER-MAN is the best comic book ever; I've already put my money where my mouth is by naming it as the best Marvel mag of the 1960s in our recent wrap-up.

    Glenn, having absolutely loathed every page of Infantino that I saw at Marvel in the '70s (NOVA springs to mind), I cringe at the thought of him having come on board any sooner than he did. Fascinating about the faux-Adams X-MEN issue and the reprints. Keep 'em coming, good sir!

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  5. Re: "sub-par Thing depictions" -- to be fair, he's one of the all-time hardest-to-draw comics characters. Everything about his design is counter-intuitive, none of it conforms to any of the standard rules of draftsmanship. His proportions, his "anatomy", the seemingly random rocky patterns with their even-more random spot-black "shadow" placements, the shape of his head and the facial features -- it's a nightmare!

    The list of excellent artists who couldn't draw a decent Thing is miles long (I won't name names). Not surprisingly, the most successful attempts were by those who stuck really closely to the Kirby template -- John Byrne's Thing looked good in his run of F.F., Barry Smith did a rather Kirby-ish Thing in an issue of MARVEL FANFARE, and Rich Buckler came pretty close on HIS run of F.F. (though I'm sure his notorious Kirby Swipe File helped a lot). My absolute least favorite Things are by those who try to apply real human musculature to him, and then cover him with rocky skin (again, I won't name names). Worth trying something different, I guess, but it always looks hideously wrong to my eyes

    B.T.

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  7. I had a real fondness for the late Mike Wieringo's take on The Thing. He really captured his personality and could easily switch from sympathetic to scary. Paul Ryan captured him well, too. Byrne got him perfect except in long shots when he didn't want to draw the rock lines (shades of Steve Ditko not drawing Spider-Man's webs in long shots).

    Kirby's Thing took a long time to get "right" and I thank Joe Sinnott for that. Once Joe came on board, Ben started looking consistent.

    A lot of what I don't like about some of the other artist's depictions of the character was the roundness of the skull. Sometimes he looked like a rocky orange bowling ball stuck on a rocky orange body.

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    1. Stan requested changes to panels 4 and 7 of page 3 of FF #15. Fortunately, the original artwork still exists. The owner peeled off the paste-ups to reveal the original uninked artwork underneath. We can see that Kirby was already drawing the "chiseled rock" Thing back then, but when inked, Dick Ayers softened the look, making him "lumpy."

      http://gmemail.customer.netspace.net.au/MU/ff15.jpg

      All the best,

      Glenn :)

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    2. That's an amazing article, and what an eye opener, seeing Jack's untouched pencils on the Thing. Thanks for posting it, it was a great read.

      Scott

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  8. It's great to see the enthusiasm of the new professors! Great work, guys and gals! Face front!

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  9. I am big fan of Marvel comics and movies. I love to watch Thor in Marvel movies. He is one of my favorite superhero. I watch him in Marvel Superhero movies. I enjoy his movies. The film is Full of adventure and action pack story. As I am big fan of Marvel movies. I am so excited to Watch Ant man and the Wasp 2018 Online videos. The film is assured for hit as Marvel is behind the movie.

    ReplyDelete