Wednesday, March 20, 2013

June 1970: The Stunning (?) Secret (?) of The Schemer!!!

The Avengers 77
Our Story

Wealthy Cornelius Van Lunt has launched a financial power play against Tony Stark, a play that causes Stark to have to call upon all of his financial resources to fight. This includes socking the Avengers for back rent on Avengers Mansion. In order to raise the money quickly, the Mighty Ones hire themselves out to Van Lunt, a man who thinks only of profit, in exchange for his promise to drop the economic attack against Stark. At the same time, T'Challa has taken a teaching position in a ghetto high school. Meanwhile, Kronus, a new masked villain who is stocky like Van Lunt, has put together a crew of low rent "Enforcers" called the Split-Second Squad. They have apparently tangled with the Avengers in the past and with Kronus leading them, they plan to "work them into an early grave." So, the Avengers take on a job to fix a leaky under-construction tunnel. As soon as they are inside, the trap is spring and the tunnel is exploded. Before the gang can enjoy their victory, the Avengers return and mop up, explaining that Quicksilver suspected a trap and had the team's automatic submarine standing by; they weren't even in the tunnel when it was flooded. Kronus is unmasked as Van Lunt's flunky Wilkins, who used to head his own company until Van Lunt bankrupted him. With a padded costume, he planned to frame Van Lunt for Kronus' crimes as revenge.

SM: After a series of high quality adventures, The Avengers delivers an average one-shot that comes and goes from the memory pretty quickly. I always thought that Tony Stark donated his mansion to the Avengers, but apparently that only counted when he was part of the group, since these young guys now have to pay rent. And they're dead beats by the look of it. Not for anything, but these folks don't seem to have other lives, and since the Avengers don't charge for their services, just how are they expected to pay rent? Doesn't Tony Stark own the mansion? Why is he charging them? Isn't he rich enough?

MB: I know something about Cornelius van Lunt that you may not—and the answer is no, I’m not going to include any spoilers—but I also know that I have reservations about both the story and the artwork in this issue.  When you squander that many panels establishing a bunch of forgettable losers like the Split-Second Squad, whom we hope we shall never see again (although apparently somebody did in 2000, but not me), you know you’ve got a problem.  And there’s a certain quality to Palmer’s inks that sometimes lurks below the surface but at other times rises to the fore, as it does here, and has always kept me from embracing him wholeheartedly; it’s very difficult for a layperson like me to define it, but it gives his work a sort of drab, dingy, gray look.

SM: Van Lunt is an over the top tycoon who reminds me of Mr. Gideon from way back in FF #34. He's not only ridiculously wealthy, he speaks like, well, a comic book villain. For all his money, the guy can't afford a haircut? The Split-Second Squad, as I mentioned, comes across like a lower tier Enforcers, with their version of the Ox and a country type guy who brings to mind Montana. The rest of the gang get intros but don't contribute much. And what's with the sailor guys? These bums are nothing to crow about and their flashback encounter with The Avengers seems weird since we've never seen these clowns before. There is a lot of set up with pages of flashbacks, but no real payoff. The last couple of stories used flashbacks to establish the plots, but these were gearing up to be two part stories. This is a one shot that didn't need to look back. Why not just let the story run chronologically?
The revenge plot is like a dozen or so we've read before and while it's fun to see these lower level heroes take on menial jobs, more often than not it feels like these Avengers are played for suckers. And with all the flashbacks, nothing about Wanda's reaction to regaining her powers is made.

PE: From the stale plot right down to the yawn-inducing reveal, this one smells like something Roy lifted out of his laundry basket, perhaps during one of those deadline-pressing weekends when The Rascally One was tapped out. I didn't guess the secret identity of Kronus (I figured it wasn't Van Lunt as that was too obvious and I was pretty sure it wasn't Captain America assuring his teammates that it was all a training exercise) but I thought it would have been a great treat if, when the hood came off, we found out that his real identity was The Hate-Monger. That would be like the double-bagging you get at the swankier liquor stores. Nothing wrong with Big John's art though and I'll assume this was more of a lunch break between epics for Roy Thomas.

SM: The cover, for a change, is more accurate than the last few issues, but Van Lunt looks like a peddler from the 1800's. The interior art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer is simply gorgeous. The splash page is dynamic as hell. It's a shame such beauty is wasted on such a pedestrian story.

Captain Marvel 20
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After a Greenwich Village gig, Rick turns down an invite from Mordecai and sees a vision of Mar-Vell, who questions his lengthy banishment in the Negative Zone; Rick reluctantly switches their atoms to save an old man from a mugger, then theorizes that a solution to their problem might be found by his friend Bruce Banner.  En route to one of Banner’s secret desert labs, Mar-Vell encounters a tornado, and finds a small nearby town victimized by a “Rat Pack” of looters.  Dispensing with them and clearing rubble ahead of the approaching U.S. Army and Red Cross exhausts his three-hour limit on Earth, so he collapses on the doorstep of Banner, whose suspicion turns him into the Hulk...  [Based on reprint in Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1.]

MB: Mar-Vell briefly returns after a five-month hiatus—luckily with the Thomas/Kane/Adkins dream team intact—for this two-parter featuring another of Roy’s current headliners and using Rick, the sometime sidekick to both characters, as natural connective tissue.  To me, that dynamic is more interesting than the “Rat Pack” diversion, which does serve a narrative purpose, ensuring that the good captain is running on empty by the time he arrives chez Bruce.  Nice to get another glimpse of Mordecai, who will become a full-fledged supporting character, and I salute Roy for his tacit acknowledgment of the lacuna in Mar-Vell’s publication schedule (“I’m still trapped within the Negative Zone, Rick—as I have been for months!”); as usual, Kane’s art crackles with energy.

SM: The Rat Pack are "meh" for villains, and the bad guy leader we see looks like a standard cop show criminal. I can't explain it, but he just looks like a character actor. Probably the most realistic picture in the whole book. I never really liked Gil Kane's Marvel work, but loved his seminal Green Lantern art. At Marvel, he seemed obsessed with giving us views up everybody's nose. He is fine with the right inker (his work with John Romita on Spider-Man later will be astoundingly good), but Dan Adkins ain't it. Kane is a poor choice for the Hulk and his four issue Astonish run was four issues too long for me. As for Bruce Banner, don't tell me he's so far gone he actually think Rick would betray him so quickly. Or that the Hulk would suddenly decide to kill him. Whenever Bruce/Hulk is a guest star, he never feels quite "right" as he does in his own book. Still the next issue brings up a situation which will be directly referenced in the Hulk's title, so better pay attention, kids.

Marvel earplugs sold separately
PE: Nice to see that some things don't change despite the long lay-off. Rick's (or should I say Roy's) lyrics are still dreadful:

So you'll cover your head
with your four-poster bed
While the moon's turning red
Yeah, one of these mornings
you're gonna wake up dead.

I know the budget didn't allow the use of "I Am the Walrus" or "The 59th Street Bridge Song" but I'm of the opinion that it's best not to put forth what thou cannotst master. That panel of the girl holding her hands over her ears about sums up the vibe I get from that song (ostensibly titled "One of These Mornings You May Wake Up Dead" or something similarly cheerful). I was disappointed to see that Mar-Vell's oral history of Rick Jones' failures as a superhero did not include his stint with Rick Jones' Ham-Radio Rangers, surely the highlight of his career. Gil Kane's art is always great to look at and, pop singing folk rock god nonsense aside, this is a solid, enjoyable story. Thank heavens we didn't have to spend an entire issue with "The Rat Pack." Jones/Mar-Vell should synchronize lunch with Blake/Thor. I question (whoever writes the answers to the fan letters)'s bold statement that the last three issues of Captain Marvel were "a sales blockbuster." Doubtless we wouldn't be in the midst of a CM drought if that were true. Future Marvel writer/artist Alan Kupperberg applauds the company for bringing back "our favorite Kree captain."

SM: Rick Jones, never my favorite Marvel sidekick, is trying to eke out a career as a rock star, leaving poor Mar-Vell trapped in the Negative Zone for months. Or is it weeks? Even Mar-Vell isn't sure since he says both within seconds of each other. This is mostly an origin/catch-up since the book has been off the shelves for a few months. It does a decent job of getting everyone up to speed other than answering the question why Rick, an aspiring star, is shoving off the one guy who wants to help him succeed. Granted, Mordachai P. Boggs is kind of a douche ("curds and whey???"), but jeez, just make sure the contract won't rape ya, Rick, and get that career in motion. But, apparently, everyone in the Marvel Universe is in crisis and can't decide what to do with themselves.

Captain America 126
Our Story

Cap is in Harlem looking for the Falcon when he discovers his erstwhile partner is being hunted by the police. With Redwing's help, Cap finds the Falcon injured and hiding in a tenement building. He tells Cap of being framed by a gang called The Diamond Heads for the murder of one of their own. They are a "black version of the Klan" urging blacks to hate whites and Falc was getting too close to uncovering their leaders, hence the frame. Cap goes into action, fighting his way through the gang until he makes it to their masked leader - Caucasian Rocky the Linx, who is working for the Maggia. That criminal organization wanted to stir up trouble in Harlem so they could take over.  Cap and the Falcon part for now, with Falc proclaiming that, racial differences be damned, he and Cap are brothers.

SM: I have huge nostalgia for this issue. One night, my dad surprised me by coming home with this issue in the late 70's. He said he found it in a desk at work and thought I'd like it. And like it I did. It's not a bad story, one of the better one-shots in this title to be had in months. No Cap whining, no over the top moralizing, just a straightforward crime drama with Cap sticking up for his friend and future partner. Diamond Head has a great look and while the scheme doesn't make a boatload of sense, it's still a fun issue. The art is, once more, excellent and Stan's dialog is spot on. Not much I can say about this issue as the good one's speak for themselves.

MB: The Falcon makes his welcome return, although official co-star status is still eight issues away, and we get the impression that quite a few untold stories have taken place since he and Cap last met, as Falc appears to have made quite a name for himself in Harlem.  In fact, even though Cap was in Vietnam last month, this story manages to seem even more topical, and it’s nice to see that his friendship with the Falcon is already so solid.  Sadly, the unmasking of the poorly developed Diamond Head—not to be confused with Diamondhead, the much more interesting Nova villain, created by Marv Wolfman and Sal Buscema in 1976—as a white dude fomenting trouble in the black community feels like a warmed-over Sons of the Serpent outing.

PE: Diamond Head's costume looks like one of those abominations cooked up after a long night of drinking. Chicken feathers, woman's boa, warrior headpiece, and big ol' gloves do not a super villain make. There must be an alternate Cap-Universe ongoing in this series as Steve Rogers once more notes that the cops won't recognize him without his costume on. Really? For years, everyone in the world knew Steve Rogers was Captain America but now suddenly we all have amnesia. Those Diamondhead hoods couldn't have been too bright if they thought their leader was a "brother" since even I could see the guy was white. Gentleman Gene didn't even try to hide it. It's not a great story but it's a nice warm-up for the real thing next February.

Daredevil 65
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In New York, Karen acts the part of a buxom blonde being stalked by no-gooder, Brother Brimstone, in soap opera “Strange Secrets.”  Doing a little law breaking, Matt searches through Karen's friend Sally's apartment to find clues of where his runaway may be.  He heads to her workplace to see if he can “spot” her.  Leaving work, Karen witnesses her on-screen stalker assaulting Jerry Jason.  Archer spots Karen and pursues her.  Luckily she has another stalker – Daredevil to the rescue!  After making sure Jason has been admitted to the hospital, Karen ditches Matt, at least temporarily.  Because the makeup man, Lester, has botched an important portion of film, the studio bails Archer out of jail to complete his role of murdering Karen’s character.  DD is watching the whole thing – making sure his ex-girl is safe when Archer disappears!  There is a sound in the rafters – Matt spots someone dressed as Bro. Brimstone holding a limp body with no heartbeat.  Our hero unsuccessfully chases him down after the body is thrown to the floor.  It is none other than Archer/Brother Brimstone – so who is this new terror?????

JB:  This hilarious yarn reads like a soap opera:  big cast, plot twists, and spurned lovers.  Brimstone reminds me a little of Mr. Hyde, and Jason looks quite a bit like Matt Murdock. Colan’s art is always rich with details (klip-klip, klop-klop), though the cover clearly isn’t his.

NC:  Who is the new Brother Brimstone?  A good cliffhanger for sure.  I have my suspicions, but I have to read the next issue to find out.  JB stopped me from reading it, so that I don’t know if my suspicions reflect reality.  I believe it is . . .(SPOILER ALERT!) . . . .. Lester (even though he’s not very beefy)!  What’s with the misleading cover?

MB: Man, Roy must have been either obsessed with Dark Shadows himself or simply mindful of how much the public was, going from conspicuous allusions in #56 to the full-fledged parody here with Strange Secrets, “TV’s top Gothic soap-opera” (a pretty narrow field, I should add).  Speaking of soap operas, that homage strikes me as a much more interesting aspect of this two-parter than either the Karen Page swamp or the fairly routine “disgruntled artistic type seeks revenge on the colleagues he believes have wronged him” scenario.  On the plus side—although I must respectfully disagree with Professor Jack regarding Shores as his inker—if you’re gonna do a riff on Dark Shadows, who could be more appropriate to draw said story than Gene Colan?

SM: Still in LA, we find Karen is now working as an actress and has landed a small part for a two episode stint of a Dark Shadows rip-off. It's an amusing backdrop, especially when another actor, Vince Sterling, asks Karen out on a "Coke Date." Considering the era, the business and Karen's later life, I can't help thinking Vince isn't referring to the soft drink. This story comes across a lot like the classic Batman stories about "Clayface" (actor Basil Karlo, not Matt Hagan), when Bruce Wayne's fiancée had her life threatened by a movie actor playing a monster. This is more of a mystery and while I'm pretty sure who the culprit is (remember, I don't look ahead), it will be interesting to see where this one goes. It's a decent story with a minimum of cheese in the romance. I liked this one a lot, and it's a nice, different direction to take the characters. A change of locale helps a great deal in breathing some life into the proceedings.

Fantastic Four 99
Our Story

Ben’s plan to take Alicia skiing is interrupted when Reed and Sue announce they have to go after Johnny, who has left during the night, intent on getting Crystal back from the Inhumans. By coincidence, where the Torch takes a rest in a Himalayan cave, he is approached by a “snow beast” that turns out to be an Inhuman. Thus when the beast flees, it leads him directly to his goal. En route to intercept him in one of their space-faring vessels, a meteor shower grounds the F.F. in the mountains for some repairs. They catch up to Johnny eventually, but he’s already gone wild, battling the whole Black Bolt family, convinced Crystal ditched him by choice. Sue’s sisterly anger douses him with some sense, and Crystal reveals that it was her elemental powers that were needed to help Black Bolt recover from a radiation experiment. The humbled Torch admits his folly.

JB: Even if this is far from classic F.F. territory, and if I haven’t always loved the Inhumans (thank goodness no Maximus this time), I enjoyed this story. There’s no pretension of greatness, just another day in the lives of super-heroes.  How many craft do the F.F. have? The meteor shower was cool, but what kind of damage could be repaired so quickly? I was a little disappointed the cave “snowman” turned out to be just an inhuman rather than something else. I suppose the F.F. being the flagship title is by virtue of it’s being the first, but more than it’s fair share of average stories (over the whole run of the ‘60’s) has always made this questionable for me.

MB: It’s sad to reflect that as the landmark 100th issue of Marvel’s flagship title approached, Stan and Jack were probably more co-existing than collaborating as Jack—recently relocated to California and simmering with resentment over matters of credit and compensation—had one foot out the door, while weighing an offer from rival DC.  That would, however, help to explain why some feel this book has been on autopilot of late, and their “let’s duke it out because we can’t communicate” bit certainly isn’t new.  Meanwhile, with Kirby’s long-delayed Inhumans strip just two months away in Amazing Adventures, it doesn’t seem surprising to see them pop up here, especially since we needed to resolve the issue of Crystal’s abrupt departure from the team.

PE: Auto-pilot is a great term for this issue. A weak story, anchored by coincidence after coincidence, with a really lame climax. Johnny acts, as Sue calls him, like a spoiled child, ready to burn the Inhumans world (which he stumbled onto, coincidentally) to a cinder after hearing what he perceives to be a "Dear John" speech from Crystal but then calms down after a simple word from Sue ("Okay, sis -- you -- made your point"). Then Gorgon (coincidentally) shows up just after the whole misunderstanding dies down to explain the situation to Hothead. As I've complained in past posts, there's no feeling of consequence here, only a set-up, a fight, and a quick resolution. Next issue, The Four will be back in their Baxter Building and ready to start it all over again with some other one-issue menace, having forgotten what they've just been through. Only three more issues left in the legendary run of Kirby and Lee but, call me heretic, I say it's time for new blood. 

SM: "The Torch Goes WILD!" How many Marvel Comics had this title, substituting the names as appropriate? "Cap Goes Wild!," "DD Goes Wild!," "Spidey Goes Wild!," "Millie the Model Goes Wild!" Jeez, enough. It's worse than having a half dozen villains called The Wrecker.
This is one of those go-nowhere fill-in issues. All that really happens is that the Torch finds the Inhumans, sees Crystal is there, doesn't give anyone a chance to explain, gets mad, fights, pisses Crystal off, they fight and then the rest of the FF breaks it up. Sue yells at him, Ben gets the two kids together, and all is well. Pfft. A time killer, nothing more. Good art, but Jack is back on autopilot.

The Incredible Hulk 128
Our Story

After his last adventure, where he was lured underground by Tyrannus, a lost and confused Hulk burrows his way through tunnels in an attempt to reach the surface.  Unbeknownst to the Green Goliath, he is heading his way to the San Andreas Fault, thereby endangering the lives of many by possibly causing an earthquake.  The military, led by Thunderbolt Ross is aware of the problem so they contact the Avengers for help.  The team, equipped with a giant machine that can not only track the Hulk, but shoot him up with enough radiation to turn him back to Banner, is successful.  They lure the Hulk out above ground before he can accidently cause any catastrophes.  They plan on trying to reason with him in hopes that he may rejoin the old crew.  The Hulk doesn't like the cut of their jib and he fights with each one of them, more or less.  They even shoot him with the machine but it doesn't change him back to Banner right away.  Tired of fighting with them, the Hulk leaps away.  The Avengers congratulate themselves for thwarting a potential disaster and working together as a team.  Little do they know that the machine's effects took some time.  In the end we see the Hulk has transformed back to Banner, with the doctor's lifeless body laying among some trees.
Tom:  I probably liked this issue for reasons that I shouldn't, such as certain parts of it being unintentionally funny.  Any comic that's got Goliath aka Giant-Ham getting punched out is okay with me.  Thunderbolt Ross's tactlessness in his disappointment that the Avengers 'B-Team' was sent to help out was kind of humorous.  I'll have to sort of agree with him as they let the Hulk leap away without giving chase, even though he has the potential for destroying whole cities.  They didn't say it at the end, but I have a feeling that they were all thinking how lucky they were that none of them ended up in the hospital.     

MB: The same month in which Roy has Greenskin begin his guest stint over inCaptain Marvel, he has the Assemblers return the compliment, and as always, shared authorship can allow for exemplary continuity.  Here, for instance, Roy alludes not only to the evolution of Wanda’s powers resulting from last month’s Avengers (on which he is oddly silent in the current issue), but also to the fact that with her and Pietro replacing the Pyms, it’s the very first time this particular quintet has fought as a team.  I’d like to believe that with their strength—most notably Goliath and the Vision—and numbers, they could beat Greenskin, but it is his mag, after all, and that’s probably one of those Thor-vs.-Hulk things on which Marvel wasn’t keen to commit itself.

...that someone comes up with a new plot line!
SM: I love how little respect this lower tier team of Avengers get from everyone who was expecting Thor, Cap and Iron Man to show up. They are a tough bunch to take, with their constant jibber-jabber and clashing egos. There's some talk about "proving we could fight as a team," but it falls flat since they have their own book and have been doing well for months. So why was this particular event a baptism of fire? Amusingly, Wanda's returning hex power is unaddressed in their own book, but is mentioned and resolved in a Hulk guest appearance. At least Roy finally took care of it, but jeez. Another fill-in-time type story, The Avengers show up, spend pages spinning their wheels, they scuffle with the Hulk and the ballet ends with no clear victory for either side. The art is the same cold, mechanical stuff from Trimpe.

The Invincible Iron Man 26
Our Story

Not knowing that he himself is the Freak, Happy cannot understand why Tony is unwilling to trade the Freak for Pepper, kidnapped by the Collector, so Iron Man offers to find a substitute for the Hogans.  The Collector sends him into the Dark Dimension, to obtain the Solar Sword with which Val-Larr protects Luminia from light-averse demons, the Shadow Spawn of Shar-Khan; delighted at first to think that he has found an ally, Val-Larr is furious to learn that Tony, who puts his friends above all else, came to steal his weapon.  In the nick of time, Tony deduces that the greater solar energy in the Collector’s dimension will overload the sword, and secures the release of the Hogans when he agrees to save the Collector by returning the sword.

MB: Craig returns to his regular role as Shellhead’s inker while we welcome back his co-creator and longtime Tales of Suspense and Avengers artist, Don Heck, yet sadly, Craig’s inks don’t appear to be doing Don any favors.  Neither they nor Goodwin’s script are able to breathe a lot of life into this tepid tale, and although I’ve often lauded Archie’s work on Shellhead’s strip, I think he might have passed his sell-by date here.  If the Collector is usually interesting, Val-Larr and his Luminian back story are not, but for me the most damning aspect of the tale was that our hero, unable or unwilling to see that an entire world—whether of our dimension or not—was the greater good, wasn’t willing even to try to find a solution for them before stealing their defense.
"Oh, Val, those fur-lined boots are so 23rd Century, darling!"

PE: Uggh! Nothing like a full bowl of lukewarm Lin Carter stew: badly dressed barbarians (if Val-Larr's such a stud, what's he doing wearing his sister's dress? Seriously, polka dots with cotton trim?), cliched villains (skeletal creatures on flying horses), and dreadful dialogue ("For he who battles the shadow spawn of Shar-Kahn must ever have an ally in Val-Larr, champion of great Luminia!"). Oh, Archie, how could you? Amazingly enough, fan support of Val-Larr and Shar-Kahn proved to be lacking and this was their only appearance.

SM: Is it me, or does the blonde Val-Larr and his world remind anyone of He-Man? He has his Solar Sword, protects his realm Luminia, (which sounds like "Eternia"), and fights Shar-Khan (who looks a lot like Skeletor). All of this is secondary to Iron Man having to steal the sword to get the energy to the Collector, who wants Happy Hogan's alter-ego, The Freak (a subplot I always hated). It's a fairly decent story, if a little by the numbers. Iron Man returns the sword he himself stole just in time to save Luminia, but he doesn't get a grand entrance. I prefer Don Heck to Tuska, but he let us down with this issue. It's middling work all around. Iron Man is never fun in other dimensions.

The Silver Surfer 17
Our Story

Norrin has made a deal with devilish Mephisto: destroy SHIELD to save Shalla Bal. He searches for his gal to avoid taking part in the soul-sucking deal. At SHIELD, Fury grouchily gathers his super heroes. The FF gets involved and Tony Stark is deployed to make a fancy gun.  Mephisto replaces Fury’s secretary with Shalla Bal; she’ll be killed along with SHEILD! Fury suspiciously notices the new gal, but is too busy to investigate. Norrin realizes he must destroy SHIELD, but since he has an aversion to killing, he sends warning blasts to empty buildings. SHIELD blasts him with the Stark-made Z-gas stun gun, enclosing our hero in a cell made of thick granite. Mephisto’s angry because he thinks the Surfer isn't pulling his weight, and the Surfer’s mad because Mephisto lied. The Silver Surfer sees his lady and breaks out of his cell, but Shalla Bal disappears!  SHIELD sees only the Surfer in the ensuing fight between the two enemies, so they think he is unhinged – they blast him with a double dose of the Z-Gas.  Before collapsing, the Surfer summons his board, then passes out and falls to Earth – near the INHUMANS! Mephisto leaves, still craving the Surfer’s soul.

NC:  It seems to me that Mephisto should just accept defeat!  But at least his unwillingness to kill the Silver Surfer leaves the poor fellow to appear in the finale next issue! Did the Surfer really think that Mephisto would let him be with Shalla Bal?  He sure is a gullible type! The art work is not up to the standard I’m used to  -- I love John Buscema, but I’m not sure if he was in a hurry or if it's just that the inking can make that large a difference.  Even the Surfer’s facial expressions seemed less realistic and meaningful.

MB:  It’s fun to recall, as I did when I caught last month’s S.H.I.E.L.D. teaser, that among John Buscema’s first Silver-Age work was the final pre-Steranko issue of Strange Tales, although his Fury, inked once again by the recently returned Chic Stone, looks a little bit uneven here.  That’s an apt metaphor as this book reaches its penultimate issue (the last will follow after three months); God knows, with Big John’s art, it’s never bad, but while sometimes inspired, it’s often less than it might have been.  As I feared, Mephisto’s selection of Nick et al. as the Surfer’s targets is essentially arbitrary, since he obviously could have concealed the enthralled Shalla Bal anywhere, so that just gives the whole thing a cynical, let’s-go-all-out-for-sweeps-month feeling.

SM: The latest in the endless conflict between the Surfer and Mephisto. As such, it again goes unresolved and it's yet another by the numbers, just-like-last-ish story. Mephisto cons the Surfer into doing his bidding, threatens Shalla-Bal, angers Norrin Rad, gets him to fight another group of Marvel heroes, sees though the plot, and after a battle, winds up back on Earth. The only thing going for this book is the art. John Buscema is again churning out amazing illustrations, but the stories are nowhere. This is his last work on the title which won't be back for two or three months, when Jack Kirby does the pencils just before his exit from Marvel.

The Mighty Thor 177
Our Story

Loki has fled from Asgard to Earth; Odin is encapsulated in the Sea of Eternal Night, the rest of the Golden Realm stands against Surtur the Fire Demon. Balder and Sif search for a way to reach Odin, finding it in the form of Loki’s wizardly ally Igron, who agrees to send Balder to said Sea, thinking Balder will never return. On Earth, the effects of the battle are already being felt, as it is summertime hot in the middle of winter. Loki sets to flee still further. Thor leads the attack on Surtur, who is only stalled by wind, water and weapons. Balder has only minutes of life left to get to Odin, and his movement does awaken the All-Father. They return to Asgard, where Odin revives the spark of life left in Balder, and proceeds to bury Surtur deep in the Earth, saving the realm. 

SM: There's no real story, just a lot of fighting and dialog. It's funny how Thor can summon a whole planetoid from afar within seconds, but can't defeat this flaming demon. After seeing Odin take care of the schmuck so quickly, it makes me wonder - how could anyone be powerful enough to take Odin's place in the natural order of things. Does the Odinpower get passed on, like when he gave it to Sedring? 

All in all, a great, fast paced, final Lee/Kirby epic (which is amazing since they reportedly weren't even on speaking terms at this point).I've seen better, but I've also seen a lot worse.

JB: This is an example of recycling a greater storyline (Mangog/Ragnorak), yet somehow keeping it fresh despite the similarities.  As he often does, Balder is the one who really saves the day (he better be in the next Thor film!).  There’s definitely an undercurrent to the Balder/Sif thing that doesn’t go away; perhaps it’s brotherly/sisterly, but I’m not sure. We’ll see more in the future.  On the topic of the departure of Jack Kirby from the Thor title, it’s pleasing that he had such a satisfying final epic as his celestial swan song. It really feels like we’re ready for a change. The upcoming issues penciled by John Buscema have a totally different feel. I wonder how much his ideas shaped the storylines?

SM: So we wrap up the three part arc detailing the fall of Asgard. While Odin's dispatch of Surtur was a little quick for my taste, the ongoing battle, which alternated with the search for Odin, was extremely well done. Epic doesn't begin to describe it. Stan, Jack and Vince crank out a old school tale, Jack's last hurrah before taking off for DC. He has one more issue to go, but we get a fill in next month first.

MB:  Setting aside its somewhat abrupt denouement, and the characteristic scratchiness of the resurgent Colletta’s inks, this is a satisfactory conclusion to the current Surtur saga, although curiously, no mention is made of his recent defeat by Doctor Strange and the Avengers.  Surtur is a little less fearsome-looking than as rendered by Big John Buscema (who, coincidentally, makes his Thor debut next issue)and apparently his horns come and go, which I typically hadn’t even noticedbut generally speaking, Stan and Jack have provided us an ample array of spectacle and heroism here.  Fate continues to throw Sif and Balder together under circumstances that should probably make Thor grateful if Balder is more likely to be dreaming about Karnilla at this point.

PE: Here's a very satisfying wrap-up to a very satisfying arc. It approaches classic Thor status and includes a bit of everything: atcion galore, suspense, and pathos. The scene of Sif holding the aging Balder is enough to give even the hardened Marvel Professor a lump in the throat. Only question I have is: where the heck did Loki disappear to? I know he's taking the coward's way out but I thought for sure we'd get a last panel of Mr. Mischief planning his next takeover ("Eventually this will worketh!").

JT: Hands down the coolest cover of the month! I could swear I read this issue, one of the last Kirby Thors, in some type of reprint but can't remember for certain. I wish I could though! 

The Sub-Mariner 26
Our Story

Namor risks traveling through the hostile streets of New York City so that he can track down Diane Arliss.  After tangling with some cops, he locates her at her apartment.  The reason for Namor seeking Diane out is because of the media reporting a strange, winged man found floating in the ocean inside of a plastic tube.  Diane was part of the team researching the man known to Namor as 'The Red Raven.'  She leads Subby to the Raven's location and we learn that the Raven has a very similar origin to his.  An infant that was the sole survivor of a plane crash that was found by an ancient tribe of flying beings that lived on a faraway mountain.  Once he reached adult age, the Red Raven designed a suit so he could have artificial wings, making him appear similar to his adopted brethren that had real ones.  Unfortunately, this race of people planned on attacking the below surface world which the Raven warned that they were not ready for.  They dismissed him as a traitor so for their own safety, the Raven incapacitated them all and placed them, along with himself, into tubes.  He was found floating in his own tube after being dislodged from the others due to an earthquake.  Once awakened, the Raven is given a proposal by Namor to form an alliance in case the land humans ever attack.  Things go bad once the Raven turns out to be a little more enthusiastic then what Subby was hoping for, wanting to revive his race and to kill all the humans.  When Namor hesitates, the loony Raven attacks him.  Troops show up to capture them both, but the Raven takes Diane hostage as he flies away back to his old headquarters with Subby in pursuit.  When they arrive at Raven's underwater island, the two brawl furiously.  Once he realizes that he is no match for Namor, the Raven opens up all the pods that his dormant people are in, hoping they will attack.  Alas, to his horror, the Raven's people are all dead from the hibernation.  In the end, Namor leaves the mad Raven as fire engulfs his island.

Tom:  This would have been a near perfect issue if it weren't for the fact that the Red Raven looks about as frightening as the Red Baron pizza mascot.  His lame outfit might have looked cool in his first appearance back in 1940, but it just looks cheesy now, and in an era of bas 1970's costumes, that's saying something.  What was cool was the fight that these two had at the end which was pretty ferocious, even for Marvel standards.  It serves the pompous Namor right that this alliance backfired on him when he really had no business getting involved in the first place.  I know that in a few years from now the Red Raven will be resurrected and shown to have been a good guy, fighting alongside Subby and some others during WWII.  I just have a hard time believing that Namor wouldn't have mentioned this to Diane, unless his amnesia was acting up.          

MB:  Somehow, you knew we hadn’t seen the last of Red Raven in X-Men #44, and since he is a fellow Golden-Age figure, it’s especially apt that Roy should bring him back in this particular book.  Unfortunately, the winged one makes Namor look positively cool and deliberate by comparison, and didn’t do too well when entrusted with the fate of his adoptive people; as far as potential allies against the surface world go, well, let’s just say Subby was probably better off with Doc Doom.  Our Pal Sal and “Gaudioso” (Mike Esposito, lest we forget) appear to be flying solo this time out, but while the artwork is a little shaky in spots, it by no means brings dishonor to the House of Buscema, and I’m glad to see the attractive Diane Arliss as a continued presence.

SM: An interesting story and, after two in a row, I feel like I may have missed some fun by avoiding Namor for so long. I'll have to go back and rectify that. Red Raven's story is a tragic one and I wish Roy had milked the pathos a bit more, but then again, I'm glad it wasn't as over the top as it could have been. Namor's reflection on how he could easily be the same as his foe was telling. Not a bad one-shot and better than I expected. Of course, the cover goes for the cheap thrill; yes, Diane is dropped by Red Raven because she slowed him down, but Namor wasn't prevented from saving her, nor were they over the city. Ah well, I guess they really needed people to buy the mags, but the cheap shots couldn't have been appreciated.
The art is okay, credited to Sal Buscema, but page three looks like Tuska. The change in style is so obvious, it pulled me out of the story. Any insight on this, Glenn? You're my go-to guy for this stuff.

The Amazing Spider-Man 85
Our Story

After the disappearance of his wife and The Schemer last issue, The Kingpin is full of rage, while Vanessa appears safe and calm, and The Schemer speeds through snowy streets until he smashes the “Schemer-mobile”. Meanwhile Peter, still annoyed he didn’t pick up the reward, gets a visit from Gwen and her Dad, who start asking more questions about his relationship with Spider-Man. Quick-thinking Parker changes into Spider-Man, who enters the apartment looking for the shutterbug, all to throw the Stacys off the trail. As Kingpin discovers Vanessa let The Schemer escape, via some Parker pics in the Bugle, Spidey discovers the caped villain’s car and tracks him to a warehouse. After the two trade punches and snappy banter, the Schemer tries to flee, but Spidey nabs him and heads out to collect the reward. But he’s duped and soon trapped by The Kingpin, who drops a magnetized cable net on our hero! The angry Kingpin then learns the secret of The Schemer, who turns out to be his presumed-dead son Richard! The surprise of seeing his son alive -- and as his new rival to boot -- puts The Kingpin into a state of shock, which helps Spidey escape.

JT: Ah, Marvel Tales #66  was how I remember this superb Spidey. How I only had the third part of this trilogy I don’t know, but it’s the most solid of the three issues. A fine wrap-up with the usual stunning artwork, and the “secret” behind The Schemer may be kinda obvious after Vanessa’s reaction last ish, but still works as a surprise to certain pre-teens (yes, me at the time). And I distinctly remember Kingpin’s “state of shock” which helped make this one of the best Marvel Tales I owned, and that was a long list…. Love the “web bolo”, a nice companion to my beloved “web dummy”, and I think I tried to reenact this as a kid with some shoelaces, maybe to escape the clutches of homework…How does Spidey not realize something is fishy when the building that’s advertising the reward is not a real police precinct, but a high-rise? Maybe he hit his head during the battle with The Schemer? One of the few moments that doesn’t ring true here.

SM: And so it is revealed, the big "mystery" of The Schemer. Honestly, as more than one of the Profs mentioned before, the secret was telegraphed by Stan a dozen times over. "Who is the Schemer? What is your connection to him? Oh, did I mention my poor dead son?" My suspension of disbelief is always tested when someone wears a rubber facemask so incredibly realistic that nobody can see through the sham. Especially when the guy can send beads of sweat through the mask. The flashback origin is so long and detailed, even a blind guy could guess the ending hours before Stan got there. Yet the Kingpin ain't so quick and needs to be hit over the head with it. The final indignity is seeing him snap. All this and we still don’t know the man's real name.

PE: Even though it was obvious from the first chapter who The Schemer really was, it doesn't weaken the impact of that finale, a true stunner that leaves The Kingpin (temporarily) comatose and The Schemer's career wide open. When this title clicks, it seems to hit on all cylinders. The opposite is true as well. Here we not only get some great action and suspense, we get the continuation of the Captain Stacy sub-plot (does he know or doesn't he?). Spidey's ruse to try to throw the good captain off the scent is brilliant and it also plants the seeds for Gwen's distrust in the wall-crawler. Also brilliant is The Schemer's origin. What must it be like to find out you're the son of a super-villain? We've only really come to know one offspring of a bad guy, Harry Osborn, but he doesn't yet know what his dad does for kicks.

SM: I love how The Schemer can crash The Schemermobile and not worry because he can get parts from a "supply warehouse." WHEW! Too bad Spidey tripped the booby trap (did he give us a Get Smart joke? Stan loved those). I guess that particular alley had very little traffic, which is lucky for anyone without the proportionate strength of a spider. For the first time, Peter came up with an extremely rational reason to explain his connection to Spider-Man: Peter takes the pictures and splits the dough with Spidey. This would fend off a lot of suspicion if he just stuck with that story from this point forward. Every time a crime went down, all he'd have to say is, "Spidey will be on the scene and I have to go take pics. We both need the dough!" That would not only cover the identity switch, but keep people from thinking Peter's a coward. Honestly, it's not that hard to think of this stuff in advance, well before it happens, so he would have ready-made excuses. Instead, Peter comes off panicky and stupid. But this issue, it works great and makes me wish he'd be smarter.
The Kingpin nearly hits on Spidey's identity when he wonders just how the Bugle got pictures of the private fight, even going so far as realizing the Bugle has exclusive, close up pics of nearly every Spidey dust up. He's this close to solving the puzzle when he sees a picture of Vampirella Vanessa, sneaking the Schemer out of a hidden panel. Why Jonah Jameson ran that Spidey-less shot is beyond me, however. 

MB: So, the Schemer trilogy ends the only way it can, with the revelation that he is Richard, the presumed-dead son of the Kingpin and his spouse, Vanessa (interestingly, according to the MCDb, it will be another 11 years before the Kingpin himself gets identified as Wilson Fisk in Daredevil #170).  But if—in hindsight—that “surprise” seems a little predictable, other elements of the storyline’s resolution do not, most notably the fact that it contains no overt victory for Spidey, who is more of a captive audience, or indeed even any climactic battle.  The artwork continues to be a joy; just as Spidey’s adventures seem more down to earth than those in the other Marvel mags, Messrs. Romita, Buscema, and Mooney give them a uniquely gritty look.

SM: An okay wrap up, but the Schemer's identity was so obvious, there was no real suspense. The mask, outfit and Schemermobile were just too much. Some subtlety would have made this a much better yarn. The art, as usually, is top rung. So we say goodbye for now to Richard (we'll be told later) Fisk, who returns in the 80's as The Rose, where they do interesting things with him. The Kingpin will snap out of it, but not necessarily in this title.

Romita! Romita! Romita!
Also this month

Chamber of Darkness #5
Chili #14
Kid Colt Outlaw #147
Mad About Millie #12
Marvel's Greatest Comics #27
Millie the Model #183
Our Love Story #5 ->
Rawhide Kid #77
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #79


  1. "Lukewarm Lin Carter stew" nearly made me blow morning coffee out my nose :)


  2. By the way, regarding Tony Stark's financial woes in this issue of THE AVENGERS and the matter of the Assemblers' rent, I think I can safely say (looking back from my vantage point of March 1971) that they are mentioned once here and then conveniently forgotten; as much as I love Rascally Roy, that's lazy writing.

    Note to self: Where the hell did I ever come up with "lacuna"?! (Probably seeking a synonym for "hiatus" to avoid repetition.)

    Nobody knew it at the time, but, buried at the back of Our Love Story #5 was the last Steranko story published by Marvel. Tired of editorial interference, and the comic book industry, Steranko submitted this seven page story, drawn in a magazine illustration style popular at the time. He then moved on, founding his own company, “Supergraphics.” He'd continue to contribute the occasional cover, but for the most part, his career at Marvel had ended.

    Fortunately, included with a brief chat with Steranko are Jimbo's original color guides for all seven pages of the story, which is a nice bonus for everyone who has never seen it.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  4. I wish I had a lacuna to wipe out all of those Human Torch solo stories I read.

  5. Dean Pete: I have to say, this may be the best week of captions so far! (Of course, the Romita chant always tickles my fancy! Wait, what.....)
    Prof Tom: that Red Baron comment was inspired! I'm still chuckling...
    Prof Matthew: This is the cool Captain Marvel. Even with Rick Jones and his crazy AOR hippie music...
    Prof Glenn: That was a great share on the Steranko pages, thanks!

  6. The Hulk: Until Prof Matthew mentioned it, I didn't think about the returning Pietro and Wanda, plus the departed Pyms, made this team kind of new. This explains their "working as a team for the first time" line. Thanks for that, Matthew, and for the Tony Stark rent thing.