Wednesday, March 13, 2013

May 1970: One Small Step for the Fantastic Four...!

The Avengers 76
Our Story

Eager to get to Arkon's world to save Wanda and the Earth, Cap and the Panther whip up a "D Machine" to get them there. However, a power supply generates too much energy, which hampers their progress. Meanwhile the Black Widow sneaks into the gym where Goliath works out and tells him they can never see each other again. Over in Arkon's world, the barbarian king and his reluctant bride to be, the Scarlet Witch, ride into his kingdom. He uses the "Ultimate Persuader" machine to extract the secret of the atom from the captured scientists and creates the "Atom Sphere," which is capable of destroying the Earth if dropped at the proper spot (which you know isn't going to be Albuquerque), and provide his own planet with light for ages to come. Wanda is kept in the dark and thinks Arkon can save his world without destroying hers. Wanda actually begins to feel something for him when the Avengers, with Iron Man and Thor, break through the barrier thanks to Thor's handy-dandy Uru hammer. A huge battle ensues and Arkon's forces quickly fall to the mighty assemblers. So Arkon takes Wanda and slips back to Earth to drop the sphere from the "decreed site." Everyone except Cap, Iron Man and Thor follow and fight Arkon on top of the Empire State Building (New York is the capital of everything awesome, so why not Earth's destruction), buying Iron Man and Thor the time they need to create an engine which, powered by Thor's hammer, will provide Arkon's world with light. Without the need to fight or destroy Earth, Arkon takes his leave, freeing Wanda and informing her that her mutant hex power was returned by crossing the barrier.

SM: For the third issue in the row, the cover is pretty misleading. Not as bad as the previous two, but still focuses on one event (inaccurately) and not the bigger picture. "The Day the Earth Exploded!" How's that for a cover title which lies right in your face and isn't even actually the title of the story? Not that "The Blaze of Battle…The Flames of Love!" is 100% on the money either (still waiting for those flames). As for the story; it was action packed and dramatic, but ultimately a disappointment. This easily could have been a fantastic three part epic, but again the saga is cut short by a hurried deus ex machina ending. It was great to have Thor and Iron Man involved, their extra strength made it feel more natural. The forces of Arkon were defeated, but when they were beaten so quickly, I began to get suspicious. And in a one-panel sequence, Arkon's world is saved while we are concentrating on the Earth battle. I can't help thinking this could have been extended, milked for suspense and then much more satisfactorily resolved. Instead we get the usual impulsive actions by Quicksilver, the soapbox speeches by the Vision, and the "will you please shut up" gum flapping by Goliath. Seriously, these guys just don't. Stop. Talking.

MB: Here endeth the run of 1980s Marvel Super Action reprints, making this another in the increasing number of titles I have primarily in originals from now on.  Meanwhile, I’m so transported by having John Buscema back on this book—yes, Palmer and all—that I practically swooned just from the shot of Cap on the splash page, and his Wanda might well be deemed “the fairest of the fair.”  I’m sorry, but nobody draws the Assemblers like Big John, who likely faces no sustained competition until the advent of George PĂ©rez some five years down the road, while Roy holds up his end with a savory stew of action, drama, and characterization.  “The life of one person close to you means far more than those abstract millions”—T’Challa, you have no idea!

JT: Prof Matthew, I'm right there with you regarding Big John. Great action artist and characterization. But man, that George Perez was something else on Avengers. Hard to say who was truly better. 

SM: The Vision is appropriately cold toward Pietro regarding "the needs of the many," which would be tested later on as the android develops his own feelings. The quick cameo of The Black Widow serves only to lay the groundwork for the future. She gives no explanation as to why she's leaving Clint or why she's lying about never having loved him. On the subject of affairs of the heart, Wanda's blossoming feelings toward Arkon would have been more convincing if she spent more than 30 minutes with him. Again, this could have been a major subplot if we had another issue for all of this to play out. Instead, it is just a delaying tactic and the pathos at the end is not earned. Finally, Wanda has her powers back for no logical reason other than "crossing the great barrier has doubtless restored your mutant powers." You'd imagine having her powers finally returned after months of desperate searching would elicit some sort of reaction. Or that she would actually feel this change. Nope, it's dropped in at the last few seconds and then, see ya! Very sloppy and a cop out. And, what about The Toad?

PE: Another cracklin' saga, weakened only by a climax that resembles The Road Runner (or Pietro) slammin' on the brakes. After all the build-up we get a one-page eleventh-hour wrap-up that includes Arkon suddenly deciding he doesn't want to destroy our world (after giving testimony to the contrary) nor take Wanda for a bride (ditto). And why is Wanda suddenly smitten with the Barbarian? Speaking of Barbarians: much like Barry Smith's Starr the Slayer (in Chamber of Darkness #4 last month), Big John's Arkon looks, for all the world, like a blueprint for his definitive version of Conan years later. 

SM: The art: great again, but I do notice that John Buscema has everyone grimacing 90% of the time. I'm surprised teeth aren't shattering, with all the clenching going on. All in all, a beautiful looking story, but again, I agree with Professor Pete, it was cut too short to be effective.

Captain America 125
Our Story

We begin with Steve Rogers freaking out over his break up with Karen Page- uh, I mean, Sharon Carter. He needs action to take his mind of the fact that she lied to him last ish and can "never trust her again." He turns on the news to distract himself and what timing! He immediately hears from Walter Cronkite's report of the disappearance of Dr. Hoskins "the peacemaker" in Viet Nam. This galvanizes Steve into action. Rather than go as Captain America, he decides to cut through the red tape as Steve Rogers holding an Avengers ID card.  He makes it to Nam, switches to his costume and is promptly fired upon while both sides battle each other due to their rages over the missing "saintly" Hoskins. Cap purposely springs an enemy trap and is captured by men in strange garb. Men, we then discover, who are servants of…The Mandarin! Mandy captured Hoskins because he wants no peace in Asia, or anyplace else for that matter. Once he survives "the holocaust," the Mandarin will take control. Not on Cap's watch! He fights Mandy, sending him plummeting into a chasm, after finding and rescuing Hoskins. The warring sides will meet to talk peace again and Cap returns to his lonely, bitter life in the States.

SM: I burst out laughing when Cap spotted the tripwire in the jungle and proceeded to walk through it. Come on, these things usually set off mines rather than launching henchmen. Cap has more battle smarts than this. Has he learned nothing from Tony Stark's experience in Nam? This killed the rest of the story for me. Jungle warfare is brutal and savage and everyone knew The Jungle was littered with explosive booby traps. Why would Cap need to trip a wire to have these guys jump him? Wouldn't watching him walk up do the trick? Bad Stan. Bad. All this build up leads us to The Mandarin, who is dispatched in fairly short order. Another one and done which was done too quickly. Not a bad idea for a story and not as bad as the last few issues, but still a let down on so many levels. Aside from the art, of course, although Gene probably came up with the booby trap I hated, so one star off. Sorry Gene.

MB: There are two interesting aspects to this cover:  first, it’s a total cheat, implying that Cap is said captive rather than Dr. Hoskins, and second, unlike the alternate one shown on the MCDb, it gives no hint that Cap is in Vietnam, and I can’t help wondering if they thought that would hurt sales.  Having gotten Cap there, Stan can’t seem to think of anything to do except to suggest that the two sides are interchangeable, which may bring a very interesting reaction in the lettercol; moreover, the story once again suffers from lopsided-one-shot pacing, with a leisurely beginning and very little room left for the “surprise villain.”  But the Mandarin is an old favorite, and it’s nice to see him reunited with former Iron Man artists Colan and Giacoia.

PE: To cut through red tape, Steve Rogers uses his Avengers I.D. card to get to Viet Nam. Why would he do this when his secret identity (you know, the one he almost gave away a couple issues ago?) is so doggone important to him and the names Captain America and Steve Rogers must still be fresh in the public mind. The moral of the story, if we're to believe the last panel, is that whether Cap gets battle action or not, he's just as much of a whiner as Peter Parker. As mentioned by Professor Matthew, our "surprise villain" is nothing more than an afterthought, a cameo, and the sooner we're done with the one-shot rule, the better (he said before contemplating those padded four-part Daredevil "epics" yet to come). 

SM: We kick off with a couple of pages of whining over his "break up" with Sharon. Has she not even tried to talk to him? Steve finally admits that he needs a job, friends and a social life. Not that he'll do anything about it, but you know, he could get an apartment at a singles complex and try to make the best of it. As does Prof Pete, I find it amusing that Captain America, the guy who has gone all over the globe fighting injustice (like the Sumo way back at the start of his ToS run) needs clearance from the State Department. Since when? And let's not worry about that secret identity thing again. I also find it amusing that both sides of the conflict in Nam really care that much about a missing American. This story could never be written today and I'm not sure people overseas felt this way back then. I can't imagine an American would be of any real importance to the people we were fighting, no matter how many overtures of peace came with him.

Daredevil 64
Our Story

Matt Murdock is in L.A. searching for Karen Page.  He flies around listening for her heartbeat and looking for some action.  Previously, in Manhattan, he had found a clue: an address and phone number of Karen’s old friend Sally.  He phones her, but Sally insists she doesn’t know a thing (even though the panel shows otherwise). DD thinks he hears a familiar heartbeat, but it's not Karen's;  it belongs to ex-villain Stuntmaster, who is determined to go legit – however, his new boss has other plans.  Stunty is forced into a heist by his boss and successfully steals a movie reel.  Daredevil appears!  But, the Stuntmaster shakes him -- or so we think!  There are two twists in this story – the fellow whose movie was swiped is the actual culprit and DD has exchanged clothes with the Stuntmaster! The hero and the ex-villain stop the criminal ring together. The Stuntmaster is now on the right side of the law. Meanwhile, Matt is left in the cheap hotel yearning for Karen.

NC:  I know most of you guys are thinking “what a great pose and what a great outfit that younger looking Karen Page is in.” I actually attempted to lie down with a book in this very way (with much more on) and my arm went to sleep in about one minute and my hips and my back hurt.  I really liked this comic – it had enough silliness in it, but I also liked the sentimental side of it.  The fact that the Stuntmaster was really trying to do well, but got caught in the lifestyle he previously had, struck me as honest.  I also love that Daredevil took the trouble to help Stuntmaster succeed with his desire to be on the straight and narrow. They did, however, spend a bit too much time portraying Matt’s search for Karen. I do think the bit about the hippies arguing over the ownership of the dog was just a bit  -- well – strange.

MB: When you create a truly mediocre villain like the Stunt-Master (especially one who worked for a truly mediocre “mastermind” like Crime-Wave), clearly, the first thing you want to do is bring him back six months later.  Having the character effectively acknowledge what a loser he is would seem to be but the frosting on the cake, unless you then take pains to rehabilitate him by the end of the story, enabling him to be repurposed as a kind of half-baked hero years later.  Through it all, stalwart inker Syd Shores—whose unbroken run on this title here begins its final year—joins Gentleman Gene in ignoring the silliness of the Stunt-Master and the Karen Page soap opera, simply continuing to deliver solid artwork month after month.

JT: Is the Stunt-Master related to Stilt-Man?

SM: DD is searching "the city" for Karen but is frustrated at his inability to find her. I was going to say something snarky about her having left town last issue, but 4 pages in, Roy finally tells us we're now in Los Angeles. That's something I would have appreciated knowing on the splash. We're treated, instead, to two guys fighting over a dog and their weird sudden declaration of peace before DD can intervene, which really comes off awkward. At least DD has the smarts Spidey never seemed to have by registering in a hotel under an assumed name instead of his own. Now he can appear as DD without compromising his identity. We get some awesome scenes of DD searching for Karen (not kidding, the art is amazing), and we finally see Matt without his shades for change. On the downside we don't get to see our villain until about page 12. The Stunt Master is nothing to write home about, and unlike Professor Matthew, I didn't remember this guy at all. Even only 6 months later! Still, I enjoyed seeing a criminal going straight and actually succeeding in the end. DD mentions the parole board eating it up, but I hope Stunt Master got permission to leave NYC. All in all, a decent yarn, and only the first chapter in Matt's search for Karen. She looks hot in her little one piece. Gene loves the female form and excels at its depiction.

Fantastic Four 98
Our Story

Reed has picked up on an alien transmission whose symbols match those of the Kree. The best his computer can translate is the word “tranquility,” which doesn’t mean much until Ben’s newspaper headline reminds Reed that it’s the eve of the Apollo moon landing on the Sea Of Tranquility. Translation: the Kree know about our plan to land humans on the Moon, and don’t like it. The next step is to head for the source of the alien transmissions. It just so happens that that there is a Kree Sentry there, and he plans to stop mankind from spreading into space, as per his orders. He causes a small Moon-like isle to rise from the Pacific. Beneath it is a stimulator mechanism to activate something (a “nameless mass”) on the Moon that will destroy any humans that land there. The Fantastic boys have left Sue at home, and land on the isle, the source of the transmissions. They find the Sentry, who tries to stop them from interfering. They’re all weakened by the stimulators transmissions, including the Sentry, which enables them to defeat him. Ben smashes the device before it finishes them—and the Moon landing as well. The day saved, the F.F. return home, the Sentry departing until he receives further instruction.

JB: I’m not sure why the Kree Sentry has to raise an island where the stimulator is hidden, when it could as easily be on the same island he’s on. Or why Alicia suddenly looks like a skinny grandma. No matter, this is an entertaining issue for the time in which it happens. I agree with you Professor Scott that the whole time of the Moon landing must have been pretty amazing to see, and it would be great to see more worldwide importance placed back on our exploration of space.  

SM: After years of Reed going to the moon on his own, we are expected to believe the real moon landing is a big deal. The only way I can reconcile this story is by considering it out of continuity. Obviously Stan and Jack wanted to pay homage to the event and the FF book was the natural choice. They treat it with the proper respect, it was a huge deal and Stan obviously loved detailing it. He also gets the speech right with "one small step for a man…" It's a fine tribute to the bravery of the men who made the journey (and those who risked and lost their lives making each step toward the moon possible) and it really shows the drive and determination of mankind. After this, everything must have seemed possible. I still hate how we've squandered our accomplishments and that the space program is pretty much dead.

MB:  I was initially mystified as to why the splash page was so oddly specific about when this story took place, especially since that would be about seven months before it was published (making it roughly contemporaneous with #91, when the Thing was enslaved on Kral). I soon realized they were tying in with the historic Apollo 11 moon landing, but I didn’t expect them to sweat its continuity with earlier issues or, for that matter, any then-current Kree activity in Captain Marvel, and there’s certainly no sign of that, at least in my Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint.  It’s a kind of wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am entry that, despite featuring a Kree Sentry (if apparently not Sentry #459, also encountered by Mar-Vell), seems to lack epic scope.

"Set it down next to that Arco, Stretch!"

PE: Some things never change: Sue comes into Reed's lab, informing him that dinner's getting cold on the table, and he tells her to toss the meat loaf into the back alley, he's got a world to save. I'd say it's a bit short-sighted of Reed Richards to get The Thrilling Three into a NASA rocket but then forget to fuel it. Only enough gas to get there? And, after Johnny blazes a new landing strip, it's mighty lucky they've got fire-proof tires on that rocket. It might sound like I'm repeating myself... repeating myself... but this installment could have been helped by another 10 pages. Ben Grimm sums it up best on the final page: "But - I still don't get it! What good did we do? What wuz it all about?" These one-and-dones never seem to add to the mythos (they don't have the space to, really), but if we have to endure a quick shot at least Stan and Jack gave us something to enjoy this time 'round.

SM: Joe Sinnott is back inking Jack's pencils and the result is magic, even if  Reed on the splash looks more like the Mad Thinker. The panels explode with life and energy as Jack and Joe put everything into this ish. Jack must have really been into this, it's his best work on the book in months. The Kree connection is well made and the juxtaposition of the FF's fight and the moon landing is well done. Jack adheres to the actual lifelike images of the landing and honestly, this is my favorite issue of his final year on the book. It's great stuff.  I'm not thrilled with the constant benching of Sue because of the baby, but otherwise, the best one-shot of the later run.

The Incredible Hulk 127
Our Story

A down and out Bruce Banner wanders about the city plotting his next move.  Not paying attention, he gets clipped, while walking across the street, by a truck.  The head injury he sustains causes him to transform into the monstrous Hulk.  As the citizens run away in panic, cops line up to shoot the beast.  Strangely, the cops start disappearing into thin air as the Hulk looks on confused.  Deep below the earth's surface, we see that the vanishings have been caused by Tyrannus.  The villain meant to transport the Hulk into his underground fortress but kept missing him.  Instead, Tyrannus sends his most powerful warrior named 'Mogol' to talk the Hulk into forming an alliance.  Once he contacts the Hulk and starts making his spiel, the mere mention of Tyrannus's name causes the Hulk to attack Mogol.  The two monsters take turns hitting each other with buildings before they end up battling in the subway system.  Equally matched, the Hulk finally gives in to Mogol's requests for friendship.  The two transport back into Tyrannus's lair to help him prepare for battle in an attack against the Mole Man!  The hulk and his newfound friend are getting along well with Mogol revealing that he has no prior memory of where he came from or his own background except that Tyrannus told him that he saved him from death.  Once the Mole Man sees Tyrannus and his army marching on his fortress, he gets a little nervous.  However he, along with his army of minions, know Mogol's dirty little secret.  The Hulk and Mogol make an intimidating team as they destroy everything in their path.  One of the Mole Man's troops shoots Mogol with a heat ray, revealing that Mogol is made up of robotic parts.  Angry that his friend is nothing more then an android, the Hulk attacks Mogol and destroys him.  The Hulk then destroys the main door leading into the Mole Man's fort, but not before he goes into Tyrannus's own city and levels the place for his trickery.

Tom:  Okay, this has got to be one of the best Hulk stories I've ever read.  It's hard to believe that the bullpen was able to cram in so much action, villains, and a nice plot twist into just one single issue.  While the villain disguised as a robot plotline is nothing new, we've never really seen it handled in this manner.  Who couldn't help feel a tad bit of remorse for poor Mogol as he begged the Hulk not to destroy him?    

SM: I always found it strange that the Hulk was too prejudiced to accept Mogol as his friend once he found out he was a robot. He mercilessly kills the mechanical man without hesitation, which bothers me. For a being who always bitches about not having friends, you'd think he wouldn't be so picky. At least he realized his error, unfortunately after the fact. Also not sure the Hulk would blindly do Tyrannus' bidding even if his friend told him to. Tyrannus was never a great villain, but I enjoyed his rivalry with the Mole Man whenever it was revisited. I don't remember if there was ever a resolution to this ongoing story, though. As for Tyrannus, they never seemed to do much with the guy other than by the numbers stuff like this. 

MB: I’m already on the record as disliking the seemingly endless saga, running through various Marvel titles over the years, of the war between Tyrannus and the Mole Man for control of the underworld, so any story utilizing that milieu is already at a disadvantage as far as I’m concerned.  This one suffers further from its uneasy intertwining of two familiar plot strands: Hulk is duped by the villain into doing his will, and Hulk meets a fellow misfit who might, under other circumstances, have been a friend.  In his comment on the September 1969 post (which ran the day I’m writing this), Scott made the on-target observation that Trimpe’s art is dependent on his inker; when that’s Herb himself, unfortunately, I don’t think it’s shown to its best advantage.

SM: An interesting story this time around, with Bruce beginning the tale in blue pants in the splash and going to purple the next page. He's subsequently hit by a truck and bye bye Stephen Strange's borrowed clothes. Trimpe's very odd, self-inked pencils actually give this book something interesting to look at (I didn't say "good"). I used to pick up the Marvel Super Heroes reprints every month at this point and I always loved this part of the run as the atmosphere created by the art made it all seem very weird. It's cold and distancing and very stiff.

The Invincible Iron Man 25
Our Story

After his fellow tycoons are unmoved by the film he’d made to warn them about pollution, Tony recounts how Namor—still seething due to the events of Sub-Mariner #25—was further enraged to find a pipeline spewing waste into the sea, which he seals and follows to S.I.’s Meridian Island project.  Tony visits project head Blane Ordway, who has ignored environmental concerns and cut corners to finance an untested solar energy converter, its charging cycle nearing completion when the purification plant backs up.  As toxic fumes spread, Namor arrives to battle Iron Man until the latter learns the truth, and realizes that the converter is exacerbating the effect of the fumes; the uneasy allies destroy it with a tidal wave, but Ordway has died trying to stop it.

MB: As Goodwin nears the end of his long tenure on this strip, the artists continue to mix it up:  Craig is still moonlighting as penciler, now under Sam Grainger’s embellishment, and the fact that Johnny was until recently inking our guest-star provides a pleasant symmetry.  This merely follows Namor’s current issue, rather than being an actual cross-over, but it’s interesting to see how Roy and Archie achieved such thematic continuity (albeit sad how corporate America ignored these forty-year-old warnings).  Archie’s overly wordy tale of safety compromised by cost-cutting feels all too contemporary, yet it was nice to see Shellhead and Subby get past the Marvel Misunderstanding caused by Ordway—who paid the ultimate price—and work together.

PE: Don't get me wrong, I want to see the world cleaned up just like my other colleagues at the University but I sure was glad that the exact contents of the toxic sludge pipe was kept close to the vest. I had awful premonitions of Johnny Craig-illustrated commodes blasting into space. Kudos to Tony Stark for not taking advantage of the situation (for once) by hitting on the newly-widowed June Duncan. Since Stan "inaugurated a new policy of guest-star appearances in (Marvel's) superhero spectaculars," I expected The Mighty Thor to swoop in to save the day by manufacturing a storm but Subby and Shellhead tick the "Easy Option" button by simply ripping out a small mountain jutting out of the sea and dumping it near Meridian Island. That finale, of Tony Stark's warnings of global doom  rebuffed by a room full of Republicans investors is sadly being played out in political forums to this day.

SM: A cool story with a great message that is undone by the uneven pencils of Johnny Craig. I thought he was a fine alternative to Tuska last issue but this time he drops the ball. Maybe it's inker Sam Grainger's fault, but whoever is to blame, Tony Stark never seems to look the same way twice and the story ends on his totally wacky eyebrows. The layouts are the most old fashioned I've seen in a while, some of it is straight out of the 50's. Namor is a fitting adversary for this issue and his honor make shim a damned fine guest character. His solo book is referenced here as having something obliquely to do with this tale, so I'll have to actually read a Subby issue now. All said, a good lesson, but iffy presentation. I wonder if this made a dent in anyone's thinking. (looks out window). Nope.

The Silver Surfer 16
Our Story

Both the Silver Surfer and Nick Fury of SHIELD have a premonition of extreme danger, caused by Mephisto, determined to possess the Silver Surfer’s soul.  He comes up with a devious plan!  Going to Earth, donning a murdered (by him) human’s cloak, starting a storm (to erase the human stench) and making a chasm within which to hold Shalla Bal, is all child’s play for Mephisto.  Next he summons his nemesis, the Silver Surfer. With a ruse that he is attempting to help the Silver Surfer, Mephisto easily erases the Surfer’s source of suffering:  the Barrier.  Norrin Radd heads straight to Zenn-La looking for his love, Shalla Bal.   A Zenn-Landian confirms that Shalla-Bal has been kidnapped by Mephisto.  The Silver Surfer is then hurled back to his prison on Earth where Mephisto tries to offer him Shalla Bal in return for his soul. The contrary Silver Surfer is put through a number of trials until Mephisto decides to show him Shalla Bal – frozen and starving somewhere on Earth.  The Silver Surfer, in desperation, agrees to do a “favour” for Mephisto – to destroy SHIELD – in exchange for Shalla Bal and her safety.  
Will the Surfer be taken in by the evil devil?  We have to wait until next issue to find out . . .

NC:  I was perplexed by the intro of SHIELD into this Mephisto-filled comic as well.  Even if they were just a tool for Mephisto’s corruption of the Silver Surfer, what would the devilish character know or care about that group?  I guess it was just a way to introduce some top sellers to a comic short of fresh ideas. I'd like to meet someone who knows what Brimstone smells like. Anyone?????

MB:   Don’t recall seeing Chic Stone’s byline for quite a while, although he used to ink a lot of Kirby’s stuff; his work here, particularly that terrific splash page, seems brighter than what we’ve had from Adkins, whose shadowy style might ironically have been more appropriate for the Surfer’s latest run-in with Mephisto.  I find the results delectable, especially on Mephisto himself, yet once again, I am more satisfied with the artwork than I am with Stan’s story, which first falls into some well-worn grooves indeed, and then ends with a real out-of-left-field head-scratcher.  I’m sure there will be an explanation, which I may or may not buy, but I’m mystified what connection the dark, mythological Mephisto could have with shiny, high-tech S.H.I.E.L.D.

SM: I hate Mephisto, mainly because he's such a damned drama queen. Every position he's drawn in looks forced and over the top. At the bottom of page three, he looks like he's having air sex. The story is the same old stale saltines: the Surfer is lonely and depressed; Mephisto wants his soul; Shalla-Bal; mix and pour. It's no wonder this book had such a short run, but it still seems endless. The Surfer is an amazing character, but not every great character deserves his own book, or works as well in a solo title. Like Namor, he's a guest star at his best. Soon he would return to that status. Good to see Chic Stone in the credits. I never liked his heavy lines over Kirby's pencils, but here he does fine work. Seeing 'fisto in an overcoat was amusing, but having to kill the bum to get it wasn't worth the gag. I look forward (maybe) to finding out why Satan cares about SHIELD. What does God need with a starship?

The Amazing Spider-Man 84
Our Story

On a snowy winter’s day, Spider-Man decides he’s going after The Schemer and the $5000 reward offered in the Daily Bugle. Off to question some hoods, he first blows a decoy cop’s cover, then gets nowhere with another thug, wasting hours snow-swinging. Checking up on Gwen, Peter tries to let his girlfriend know how he feels, but has to run when both she and Capt. Stacy start asking suspicious questions. The Schemer comes out of hiding with a warning for The Kingpin that he’s going to take over his “reign of crime.” Spidey spots The Schemer’s “special car” but is unable to nab him, and instead tracks him to The Kingpin’s mansion. There the caped crook confronts Kingpin only to be stopped by wife Vanessa. Suddenly, Spidey crashes in, setting off a short but power-packed battle with Kingpin that ends with the gargantuan gangster setting off to find his wife and The Schemer, and our hero pondering another lost opportunity—“No money…no glory…no nothing!”

JT: Yay, a three issue arc! That’s the only way to give this story its due to be honest. And of course, the more Kingpin the better. You have to admit Kingpin is awesome. Nasty and formidable and downright evil. Another example of how Spider-Man has hands-down the best Rogue’s Gallery in comics. Speaking of excitement, I notice the exclamation points are back in force. What happened to “more periods” from a couple of issues ago? Maybe it’s the thrilling story, which is helped by the usual spectacular artwork, especially the snowy scenes. Lots of great touches throughout, from the big Gwen head in the sky to some terrific “sound effects”: THBOOM! (twice!) SPYONNG! ZOK! Lastly, I always liked Capt. Stacy, but did he have to serve the kids hot cocoa with a pipe in his mouth? Guess that’s better than a JJJ stogie or a big hanging cigarette ash…

MB:  John Buscema apparently can’t keep away from the old Web-Head, again collaborating with Romita and Mooney on the artwork, which brings him up to four super-hero books he has a hand in this month; he must be eating his Wheaties.  Once more we get that “middle-third” feeling, as though Stan might be trying to run out the clock with a tale that could perhaps have been polished off in two issues rather than three, but it’s such solid storytelling, and the machinations surrounding the Kingpin so fascinating, that there is really nothing to complain about.  I love how it’s the one-way windows that convince Spidey he’s spotted the Schemer’s car when the thing looks like it came right out of Thunderbirds.  Speaking of which, R.I.P. Gerry Anderson.

SM: Aside from The Schemer's wacky outfit, there's little to find fault here. This is a fine middle chapter in the ongoing saga. We get to see the plan develop and have a little time for Peter to talk to Gwen and Captain Stacy. Of course, the probing is too close, so Peter feigns not feeling well and takes off. But at least Gwen seems a little more reasonable this time out and willing to talk. Next issue is even better, but in the meantime, this is well done fun. Not sign of the other supporting folks, and honestly, I didn’t miss them. MJ and Harry deserve a day off once in a while. The Kingpin's personal life comes into clearer focus and the connection between his presumed dead son, his wife, and the Schemer aren't as mysterious as Stan could have wished, but it's still a good story and a nice chance to learn something about Spidey's arch foe. The art is credited to Romita, John Buscema and Jim Mooney and it looks it. I wonder what made all three guys pitch in. Maybe Glenn will tell me in the comments. Also, I never understood why a 17 - 19 year old Gwen has a 70 year old father.
I thought of the Gerry Anderson connection too, Professor Matthew. He ruled.

PE: What with The Kingpin reminding us how much he misses his son and Vanessa's visible shock when she looks into The Schemer's eyes, I'm not sure there were too many readers out there unaware of "The Schemer's Secret." Seems strange that he would tootle around town in his Schemermobile and talk out loud to himself (with no one around) as if The Fat Man was anyone other than his own father. Yeah, I know, we're the ones he's supposed to be fooling but, you'd think, he'd now and then say something along the lines of "Just wait 'til I show Pop!" As strong as The Kingpin is, the scene where The Big Man tears up the carpeting, furniture and all, with his bare hands, is a bit much to swallow. As is The Schemer's car-that-can-so-anything-you-ask-it. Where is he getting his money? That aside, this is a strong Spidey outing, classic I might say, and it sets up a killer conclusion next issue. I love that overhead shot of Gwen reclining in her easy chair, grilling Peter. It's panels like these that make you appreciate the art form. 

JT:  I kinda liked Kingpin tearing apart the room like a tornado. Wouldn't want him mad at me, that's for sure!

Sub-Mariner 25
Our Story

After the fierce battle that raged on previously, in Atlantis, Namor expects to have his hands full rebuilding.  Unfortunately the lifeless bodies of some of his troops cause him some concern.  The men were killed when government toxic waste from the surface world was dumped into the ocean.  Sick of the chemical contamination, Namor has his troops stopping various ships that sail over his part of the ocean.  Aggravated by the assualts, the Russians send a submarine down to take care of the problem which Namor easily defeats.  Subby then heads with Dorma to New York to give a speech and warning to the United Nations that any further polluting will not be tolerated.  Army troops try to stop Subby, when he leaves, and he has his warriors detonate a missile bomb at the dock.  Once he sees that innocent women and children can be killed, he prevents it.  The trip ends with Namor telling Diane Arliss that her brother, Tiger Shark, is dead.
Tom: While reading the above summary, those who have not read the story would think that very little had happened in this issue.  In a way, they would be right.  However, it was still well told.  A warning against contaminating the ocean that wasn't too preachy.  It's too bad that Namor's comic book series in the 1990's would take this theme overboard.   

MB: According to the Marvel Comics Database, an uncredited Big John Buscema provided layouts and partial pencils for this issue (attributed to brother Sal, with inks by Mooney and Gaudioso), which apparently represented his swan song on the book he and Roy inaugurated.  Well, whichever Buscema did what, the results look pretty damn good to me, and it’s nice to see that even if he is getting into another spat with the surface world, Namor not only refrains from going off half-cocked, but also displays patience and shrewd strategy—not qualities with which one would always have associated this character.  His last-minute firing of that missile seems a bit odd and ill-advised, though, since he’d taken such great pains to avoid bloodshed until then.

SM: I normally don't follow Subby's own book, but with its sideways connection to this month's Iron Man, I thought I'd give it a go. I'm glad I did. With Marie Severin off the book, I can deal with the art easier. The story is quite well done, with Namor out to protect Atlantis while striving to avoid a war. It all goes by at a brisk pace. I find the sequence showing the UN to be made up of useless pricks to be both laid on a little thick and somewhat appropriate. I agree, the launching of the missile at the 11th hour seemed weird, as if Namor has a time limit as to how long he can hold his temper. A well drawn, well written quick tale that made me put Subby on my list until the series ends.

The Mighty Thor 176
Our Story

Obliged to serve Loki’s Usurped rule, Thor and the Warriors Three are sent off to the dungeons. They are set free by Balder, who has sworn no such loyalty. Loki has a trump card: killing the sleeping Odin would seal his own doom, he instead sends the All-Father off to the Sea of Eternal Night, in a capsule that will keep him from harm, but prolong his sleep indefinitely. Checkmate, as without Odin to enforce it, the spell that contained Surtur the Fire Demon weakens, and a new threat to Asgard is loose. Loki flees; the good guys are united once more.

JB: I should be critical of having a Ragnarok tale that is similar in many ways to the epic Mangog saga, but the little differences (banishing the sleeping Odin to the Sea Of Eternal Night, Balder cast in the rebel role) in this run are entertaining enough to distinguish it. Surtur is a worthy foe, recalling the earlier Journey Into Mystery #104, as well as likening the comic to ancient Norse mythology, albeit altered. Seeing The Avengers movie again the other day, I keep seeing Tom Hiddelston’s maniacally evil face for Loki!

SM: Surtur returns as he is freed from Odin's banishment while the all-father sleeps. There is no quick resolution here and the epic goes on at a good clip. Sif proves her mettle and Loki is again a shrinking coward, but that leads us to the rousing final panel and the promise to finish this really good story next issue. It's funny how the continuity-crazy gang at Marvel didn't even slightly mention the events here in this month's Avengers. I don't think Jack was paying much attention to the other books, as this feels very self-contained. I don't mind, this is good, operatic stuff.

MB: Lee and Kirby are reunited with two of their most consistent inkers this month, i.e., Joe Sinnott in Fantastic Four and Vince Colletta here, as the classic combo serves up a bountiful buffet of drama and spectacle.  The Warriors Three are in especially fine form, with an unusually high amount of face time, and as with the Mangog/Ragnarok saga, Asgard on the brink of doom always brings out the best in the gang.  By the way, due to the Professor Matthew Time Paradox, I have yet to see anybody else comment on the “voodoo economics” of Marvel’s shameless cost-cutting; each story still has a nominal 20 pages, but those in the center spread (pages 12-13) now consist of ads on the bottom halves, which results in a net of just 19 story pages per Marvel mag.

SM: Vince Colletta is the perfect inker for Thor and Kirby. Even though Vinny erased more than his share of pencils rather than do the inking, leaving some panels particularly threadbare, his style is still totally right for the title. It feels like the 60's came back for a few panels. I love how, even in this time of Asgardian crisis, there's still room for humor. Over on page three, we see that no warrior's mace is a match for the power of Volstagg's mighty ass! Is it me, or has he gotten a little too comically fat? He's got these tiny, little legs….

PE: Of course, once Marvel got around to reprinting these half-pages in the Marvel Masterworks series they had a problem to face: the Masterworks did not include the original ads. This allowed the production team to run more story in each volume. When this issue popped up in The Mighty Thor Volume 9, the guys running the show simply stacked pages 12 and 13 on top of each other (even keeping the little page numbers in the lower right corners!). With The Mighty Thor pretty much taking the back seat to his three warrior friends this issue, the adventure feels like one of those classic Errol Flynn swashbucklers. Indeed, Fandral even "sounds" (reads?) like Errol during his sword fight with Loki's henchmen. With all the action, and teases for action yet to come, swirling about, this story has the feel of one of the epics we've been pining for the last few months. Sif battling the female troll! The grand battle of The Warriors Three! Loki obviously taking his madness and jealousy to new heights! The new menace of Surtur! This is what made The Mighty Thor the best title of the 1960s and bodes well for the 1970s.

SM: Since you guys brought it up, I have to say that I hated - HATED - the split pages. Not even because it's a cheap stunt to keep the page count to 20, but because it badly breaks up the action and on more than one occasion, I thought the comic panel was actually an advertisement. Strangely enough, the FF this month doesn't have any split pages. Which is great since it's such a crummy practice.

Make sure to tune in this Sunday for Part Four of Digging Deeper: The Pre-Torch Strange Tales!

R.I.P. Petey, we hardly knew ye
Also this month

Chili #13
Homer the Happy Ghost #4
Kid Colt Outlaw #146
Mad About Millie #11
Marvel Super-Heroes #26
Marvel Tales #26
Mighty Marvel Western #8
Millie the Model #182
My Love #5
Petey #4 
(formerly Peter the Little Pest; final issue) ->
Rawhide Kid #76
Ringo Kid #3
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #78
Tower of Shadows #5
Where Monsters Dwell #3


  1. I think that, as Dean Enfantino touched on in his comments regarding this month's CAPTAIN AMERICA, the bottom line is not, "Multi-part stories good; single-issue stories bad." We have seen, and will continue to see, good and bad examples of both, but I think what's most important is to let a story find its natural length, which in many cases these enforced one-and-dones do not seem to have, er, done. It's not too surprising that Stan will espouse much the same theory in his Soapbox a few months hence, when he acknowledges that the single-issue policy was basically a failure.

    Fantastic Four: After the whole world watched the Moon landing on TV, everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon. For example, in Get Smart's season five opener, aired five weeks after the landing, we learned that CONTROL had been conducting their top secret meetings on the Moon for years, but, thanks to Apollo 11, they'd have to hold them somewhere else.

    At the earliest, FF #98 was written in November 1969, making it a late entrant in the Moon landing sweepstakes. The other problem is the events portrayed in the book contradict Marvel history. The FF landed on the Moon in 1963, but in a strange parallel with the Get Smart gag, no-one seems to know about it.

    Spider-Man: Romita plotted and laid out the story, Buscema pencilled the book over Romita's layouts, and Mooney inked the pages. Stan put the words in the balloons.

    The end of an era: In early 1964, while stuck in bed with Tonsillitis, friends dropped in with a box of comic books. My Brother, a cross between Eddie Haskell and Lumpy Rutherford, siphoned off the comics he wanted to read, and gave me the rest, which included X-Men #3. I'd never read anything like it. The heroes were teenagers, born with their powers, and they fought to protect society from others of their kind. Ironically, the society they defended didn't trust them and would have hunted them down if they ever found out who they were. This was very strange stuff.

    The next day, my Brother handed over the rest of the books. One of them was Spider-Man #9. This was like some corrupted version of Superman except Peter Parker was a photographer, and "Perry White" was an unethical cheapskate who hated the hero and used his newspaper to portray him as a criminal. Peter Parker's life was just one problem after another. What on earth were these Marvel Comics? I just had to find more of them.

    But, by mid 1970, I was bored to tears with Marvel. I'd seen the rise and fall of most of the titles, the recycling of plots and villains, and the cancellation of my favorite books. It was time to move on. I didn't read another Marvel title for over two years, when I picked up a copy of Marvel Premiere #3 featuring Dr. Strange. However, in that two year gap, I did read a few comic books.

    By late 1970 I was more interested in music, and visited "underground" record and book stores that imported LPs not available in Australia. I soon learned that they imported underground comic books too, and I was exposed to the work of Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin, Jay Lynch, Greg Irons, etc. for the first time. The receptor in my brain that was fascinated by those strange Marvel comics back in 1964 had just switched itself on again. Comic books were back on my reading list, but they didn't carry the comics code stamp of approval.

    Underground comics were hard to find, so, instead of visiting corner stores and newsstands to get my comic book fix, for the rest of the 1970s I did the rounds, visiting places like "Archie and Jugheads" (Import Record store) "The Third World Bookshop" (bongs, papers, incense, etc.) "Space Age Books" (Science Fiction book store) "The International Bookshop" (Communist book store) "The Technical Bookshop" (school books) and "Gazunder" (a record store specializing in Krautrock). But, there was another surprise waiting for me a bit further down the track.

    In January 1972, on a particularly hot day, I stopped off at a corner store to get a cold drink. Staring at me from the spinner rack next to the cash register was something that couldn't possibly exist ... a DC comic book written and illustrated by Jack Kirby. It was Mr. Miracle #6. What was going on? How did this happen? Why was Kirby working for the "enemy?" Eventually, I found out the what, how and why, and in a repeat of 1964, Kirby got me reading mainstream comic books again.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

    1. Great recollection, Glenn! Mr. Miracle was a vastly underrated book. Lots of bizarre fun!

    2. Glenn,

      That was an amazing trip, I very much enjoyed it. Thanks also for the Spidey art clarification. I knew you wouldn't let me down!

  3. The final issue of Petey??? Say it ain't so!

  4. I actually struggled to get through an issue of "Petey" and for the life of me can't figure out why Marvel even tried to revive this thing. An obvious Dennis the Menace rip-off from the 50's, this kid is drawn with a nasty look on his face in every single panel. Even if he's just causing trouble by meddling, he looks evil. And that is pretty unfunny. Petey, don't let the door smack you in the ass…

    1. It seems a shame that they couldn't find a place for Petey in the Marvel Universe. If Patsy Walker could become a Super-Heroine, why couldn't Petey become the head of the Maggia, or the President of Roxxon Oil ... or something. ;)

      All the best,

      Glenn :)