Wednesday, April 24, 2013

November 1970: A Particularly Devastating Blow to Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man

Amazing Adventures 3
Black Widow
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In the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson excoriates Tasha for being “solidly on the side of the militant Young Warriors,” after they invaded the offices of congressional candidate Scarola (now mysteriously named Mario); at the rival New York Press, Paul pledges to remind the public of the loyalty to her adopted country shown by her work with the Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. Returning home, the Widow is chloroformed by the hirelings of a masked man called the Don, who plans to hold her there until the militants are arrested and the public is convinced that she is a Communist insurgent.  The Widow briefly bests her kidnappers, but before she can unmask the Don, she is subdued again as the Warriors vow to stand and fight.

MB: “As if Genial Gene Colan isn’t satisfied with knockin’ ’em dead with his awesome artistry on Captain America and Daredevil, plus a rollickin’ romance or two, our perennial favorite will soon start penciling the Black Widow…on a regular basis,” reported a recent Bullpen Bulletin.  “We figured that was that until he phoned the other day to ask what else he could do for us in his spare time!”  As Colan and Wild Bill Everett supplant the Buscema/Verpoorten team, Friedrich provides continuity, but brings little new to the Young Warriors plotline with this entry than that corny handkerchief-masked “godfather.”  The John/Gene shift isn’t as jarring as it was on The Avengers, which coincidentally also featured the Widow, whom Colan later drew in Daredevil.

SM: Gene Colan again excels at what he does, and takes the reins to give us a Natasha that's even hotter than the previous two issues. Page 3 (above) is a nice, nearly wordless scene where Natasha is captured. Very clear, easy to follow and without needless verbiage. Also awesome is a similar sequence a couple of pages later (below) when she beats down her captors; no wise crack, just fast action. This is the most successful depiction of her yet.

Well, she looked good in most of her scenes!
JT: Colan's JJJ and Parker leave a lot to be desired I'm sorry to say, but Gene's action scenes are cool as usual, if a little rough around the edges in certain panels. Some very talky pages too, especially the last one, as if Friedrich tried to get a whole issue's worth of script into his half. Not bad overall though. My favorite moment was "Eyes front, Ivan!"

SM: Mario Puzo's book, The Godfather, was impressing readers before the 1972 film debuted, which probably accounts for the obvious references to the book and the use of real organized crime rather than the Maggia. Meanwhile, separating all the luscious action is scenes of the militants meeting and getting worked up. "Power to the People" isn't the most original phrase and I'm weary of these civil unrest stories. The sequence with Parker and JJJ is pretty damn funny though.

The Inhumans
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The Mandarin watches on his scanner as the Inhumans rout a digging party he had sent to find the Eye of Yin, and arrives via helicopter as Karnak detects a strange structure below the site.  Medusa is knocked out by a gas grenade, and the Mandarin subdues Gorgon, Karnak, and Triton with the power of his rings before Black Bolt neutralizes them and causes him to sink into the ground.  Black Bolt is curious about what lies beneath the diggings, but while he blasts through the earth to reach it, we learn that the Mandarin merely sent one of his robotic testers to gain knowledge of their abilities, arousing their curiosity so that they will finish up the job and uncover the Eye of Yin, providing the Mandarin with unlimited power.

MB: If only because of their geographical proximity, a Mandarin/Inhumans dustup seems like a no-brainer, and it’s a quintessential Mandy move to manipulate the Inhumans into doing his work for him, but ironically, despite the drubbing Jack’s writing has taken on this strip, I think I prefer it to the artwork this time around.  Of course, that may be partly due to inker Chic Stone, and between his current embellishment of Don Heck’s pencils on Iron Man and his contribution to this issue, I can’t say he has been giving a very good account of himself lately.  The Mandarin, in particular, looks wildly uneven; one need only compare the somber villain depicted on the splash page (right) with the bug-eyed buffoon in page 9, panel 4 (left) to see precisely what I mean.  “Aiee!,” indeed.

JT: I never would have given much thought to The Mandarin battling the Inhumans to be honest, but it not only makes sense but also makes for a fun and action-packed half-issue. My only question would be how did Mandy get his hand on "robotic testers"? Does he shop from the same super-villain catalog as robot-obsessed Dr. Doom?

SM: Jack Kirby's writing was cornier than Stan's, which is saying a hell of a lot. And, like Stan, he feels the need to fill every panel with dialog no matter how unnecessary. Ah, robot duplicates used to fool the enemy. The Mandarin and Dr. Doom must get their villain supplies from the same wholesale outlet. Karnak demonstrates some sort of awesome mind probe power I never knew existed previously. I just thought he could find any weak spot. And the Inhumans find the Eye of Yin. Yay. A weak tale, very by the numbers. Jack always wanted to write the stories he wrote, but this is what we get? Stan was 100%  right in keeping Jack doing what he did best. Too bad The King never saw that. I am trying to read the Mandarin's dialog in Ben Kingsley's voice, with the extra "R's", but I just keep laughing.

The Avengers 82
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The Zodiac Gang has invaded Manhattan, using a force field to cut off other heroes who just happened to be out of town at the moment (the FF were at Whisper Hill and Peter Parker was visiting Aunt May in Forest Hills). Only the Black Panther remains free of Zodiac's traps and he teams with Daredevil to free them and defeat the gang. Once the Avengers are reunited, they realize all of the their separate cases were tied together: Van Lunt financed Zodiac and trained the men on his own large ranch, which is why he wanted to drive away the Indians (Red Wolf). The destruction of the dam made Zodiac strike sooner, which as Cap speculates, possibly gave the Avengers an edge. Daredevil gives them all a parting thought about working more closely as a team instead of getting caught up in their own business.

SM: This is a very straightforward story, as the synopsis shows. The cover is godawful. Every character in a stock pose, each saying something banal. It's worse than the "fake scene" covers from prior issues and really does nothing to tell or sell the story. Total crap, other than everyone looks great.

Powerful but not lethal.... for the terrorist with a conscience
MB: Having gone into action with the “African Avenger” in his own mag last month, Daredevil returns the compliment by guest-starring with the Assemblers here in another of Roy’s beloved self-crossovers.  Despite his recent Alley Award as Best Inking Artist (apparently part of a major Marvel sweep), Tom Palmer is no Joe Sinnott, and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s disheartening to see John Buscema’s work so hamstrung, with some of the facial expressions looking like flat-out caricatures.  My gut reaction is that a single issue is too small a canvas on which to do justice to Manhattan Island being held hostage, but I’m obliged to admit that Roy squeezes it all in fairly satisfactorily, albeit with the expected quotient of implausibility.

PE: I wonder if it was the CCA that necessitated such disclaimers as "non-lethal gas" and "unconscious but unharmed soldiers" every time danger rears its head. Doesn't help stoke the fires of suspense to know that the most these terrorists can do is put their multiple victims to sleep. Glad to see that Zodiac (whose famous motto is "Dangerous But Gentle") even has a net that scoops up all the "unharmed but unconscious soldiers." If I was Tricky Dicky, as a matter of fact, I'd hold fast before paying a billion dollars to these clowns. They can't really hurt anyone! Very cool that Aries had the wherewithal to insist his tailor sew Ram's eyes on his hood (unless those are really his bug-eyed peepers). To put a cherry on this full-of-bananas nonsense, the excuses for keeping various superheroes out of New York is a riot. Peter Parker can't change into his Spidey outfit for fear  Aunt May will turn on the TV and slip into a coma when she finds out what's going on. The Fantastic Four, in their supersonic hovercraft vehicle (which has been known to travel across the globe in a millisecond over in their title), have just dropped Sue off at Whisper Hill (wherever that is) and can't seem to make it back in time. That explanatory epilogue seems right out of an episode of Magnum P.I.  Seems Roy was stretching more than Reed Richards here. 

SM: The art is lovely, as usual. I don't have the same issue with Tom Palmer's inks as Prof Matthew,
but I do agree that the facial expressions are off a bit, more over the top. All the grimacing in this book must be giving the characters severe muscle cramps. And like Dean Peter, I had to chuckle at how gentle Zodiac was to their enemies. That Comics Code must have been a real pain in the ass to work with. All the trouble Roy goes through to show us why Spider-Man and the FF can't show up to assist does nothing to explain how Captain America can be here and riding his cycle cross-country at the same time. Although, considering the quality of the stories over in Cap's mag, I can see why Roy would want to ignore it. This is so little more than an action tale, it is neither good nor bad. It just is. So, I guess, I'll have to classify it as a disappointment. Also, one star removed for referencing Mike Murdock. I never wanted to remember him again. Ever. Damn you, Roy Thomas. Damn you to hell!

Captain America 131
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While Cap is still wandering the country (except for when he's in The Avengers), the masked villain (The Hood - ooooooo!) plots his death by searching local gyms for someone who looks like an older version of Bucky.  What luck for him, he finds just such a man. Not only that, he has amnesia! Even The Hood knows this is too good to be true - what if this man really is Bucky? Steve Rogers hits San Francisco and stops at a diner for a cup of their amazing "diner coffee" when he hears a new bulletin on the radio: Bucky is alive and well! Steve bolts to head to where Buck is being helped by The Hood. Cap arrives at the mansion and is confronted by the man behind the mask: Baron Strucker! Cap is forced to battle the man who may be Bucky, who was brainwashed into repeating "I am Bucky Barnes!" Strucker ties Cap to a giant clock to be electrocuted when Bucky jumps Strucker and helps Cap win.

Yes, I know I've fallen for this countless times but I've got a hunch...
SM: This one started off terribly. Bad art, painful dialog ("time for me to tie on the feed bag!"), and
some really crazy coincidences, but after the midpoint, it gets interesting. Sort of. Of course, there's no way this is really Bucky, but Baron Strucker is a good villain and seeing him return was really a nice reveal, even if he didn't seem to be keeping his identity a secret to anyone but himself. Or us. The action is good and Cap's hopes that he might finally escape his guilt go a long way in repairing the mis-steps at the start of the issue. Of course, this ain't Bucky and it's hard to give a crap about whom or what he really is. But even if I thought it might be Bucky, Stan ruins it by plastering the title of the next issue at the end. "The Hoax and the Horror!" Nice, Stan. Never heard of SPOILERS?

MB:  Okay, let me get this straight: Baron Strucker (whose apparently conclusive demise at the hands of his arch-enemy, Nick Fury, in Strange Tales #158 isn’t even invoked, let alone explained away) constructed that whole giant killer-clock mechanism in his house just on the off chance that he’d acquire Cap or a comparable victim on whom to use it?  I’m not familiar with Strucker’s appearances in the Sgt. Fury or Capt. Savage war mags, so I don’t know if he’s used that master-of-weapons shtick before, but it’s certainly new to me.  Of course, going back to the Bucky well usually induces a heavy sigh at this point, but in fairness, we’ll have to wait and see what Stan has in mind to conclude this so far underwhelming effort…

SM: Strucker has, apparently, seen far too many episodes of Batman. When he sat down to formulate his dastardly scheme, what traps did he discard before settling on the giant clock? Would he turn Cap into a giant Frosty Freezy? Or perhaps he could stamp him into a huge piano roll! Tune in tomorrow, Same Cap Time, Same Cap Channel! As the comics creep slowly into the 70's, Stan's plotting seems more and more dated.

PE: (Memo to Professor Scott -- you owe me one computer monitor, damaged by spat coffee - Paste Pot)  So the reveal of Baron Strucker begs the question: why the hell would the egotistical Strucker hide under a hood in the first place? And what was Stan's aim here? Was it all a ruse to... hell, I don't know. Space/Time continuum confusion time: According to The Hood, months have passed since the events of the previous issue. Does this throw off my long-held belief that each issue represents a matter of a week or two in Marvel time? Are we to believe that Steve Rogers has been riding his Harley, event free, through town after town for that amount of time? I think not. Why, so much time has passed that The Hood has changed fashion styles, from last issue's Hefner sleepwear to this issue's Dobey Gillis sweater and slacks. The sheer amount of Buckey Barnes appearances over the last few years can only weaken the impact of the legendary "Other Cap" arc we're going to be enjoying in a couple years. Even as a nine-year old MZ, I'd have groaned "Enough Bucky Already!" Captain America's a star-spangled dipstick to believe this kid may be Bucky even after Strucker's reveal! A silly, disjointed plotline ends in yet another silly finale: Cap admitting that this green lad, a kid he knows nothing about, may just be a worthy successor to his fish-food partner. How many times will he make that mistake?

SM: Totally agree, Peter, Cap is a total numb nuts in this book. He is infinitely smarter in The Avengers. This guy is a clod, a total ass clown, and if I were reading this stuff back then, Cap would be off my Mighty Marvel Checklist by now.

Daredevil 70
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Movie star Buck Ralston is also an obsessive patriot, and while his street speech attracts a lot of attention, it doesn’t impress Karen Page; despite the fact starring beside him in his next film could be a big break for her.  An ocean away, Daredevil swings by as crowds get ready for the Vice President’s speech at the New York Hilton, just missing a huge explosion.  He talks to Karen on the phone, encouraging her to take the movie part opposite Rolston if she gets it, despite his politics. Foggy calls next, asking Matt to get down to the Hilton fast, as the mob is getting ugly. Daredevil gets there first, in time to stop three crooks from making an attempt on the Vice-President’s life, but they escape when a small bomb blast stuns DD. Not being quite recovered Matt can’t vouch for three kids who have been blamed for the first explosion. Buck Rolston is even crazier than he seems, having a self-proclaimed “superhero” identity known as the Tribune, a masked, mad zealot of American patriotism. He takes it upon himself to sentence anyone even remotely anti-American to something called the Living Death.  Furthermore he’s set to be the judge of the boys (the New York Three) accused of the Hilton bombing, whom Foggy and Matt have to prosecute, despite believing in their innocence.

In an effort to curry favor with "The Man", Garry Friedrich evokes the 'C' word

SM: Timing is everything and it's spooky to read this issue considering the events in Boston last week. It makes it impossible to be objective on that part of the story, but it does hit home, 40+ years after the fact. I'm interested in seeing how the story in California impacts the story in New York. Good art, a decent script and weird topicality make this an easy to absorb time passer. Gary Friedrich does a fine job and the Colan/Shores team is doing good work here. The cover is freaky in that DD looks a lot bigger than he should considering the angle and where he is in reference to the others. Neither villain lights my fire, so to speak, but at least they're not Leap Frog or Stilt Man.

JB: How interesting, these tales of how far people will go to uphold “truth, justice and the American way!” The scary thing is you can picture this happening any day in real life. We’re playing this as a comic of course, so it’s not that serious. I’m curious what the Tribune’s death ray is, although perhaps the most interesting thing will be to see how Matt and Foggy handle a case prosecuting three kids they know darn well to be innocent. And hey, kudos to Karen for not falling for Ralston’s nonsense.
MB: Gary Friedrich (now the co-author, as a recent Bullpen Bulletin tells us, of The Pocket Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll 1950-1963) fills in for Roy, who will write just one more issue before passing the torch to Gerry Conway.  Unfortunately, he makes DD sound like a shill for Madison Avenue with verbal product placements for Winston, Right Guard, and Doxsee, the last amusingly misspelled; he also throws in topical references to Agnew’s notorious blunders in golf and tennis.  The Tribune—a last-minute change from the Eliminator, per the lettercol—is a pretty piss-poor villain, ditto his cardboard alter ego, Buck Ralston, but Colan and Shores make up for some of the deficit with their masterful depiction of the confrontation outside the Hilton.

Amusing Agnew link:

Fantastic Four 104
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Lady Dorma and Sue Richards are the captives of Magneto--the hands of the Sub-Mariner and the Fantastic Four are thus tied to stop the mutant from invading NewYork. To buy some time, Reed convinces Namor to pretend to re-ally himself with Magneto. Back at the Baxter Building, the F.F. try to convince President Nixon that the mutant (not the Atlanteans) is the enemy. Magneto sends some of his troops to bring the super team to bow in his presence, and Reed orders the others to keep them busy until he can get his plan in place. Magneto lands his hijacked craft (Namor’s really) in Central Park, and while Earth’s weapons are effectively neutralized by his magnetic power, the military can’t do too much without hurting the surrounding humans anyway. The F.F. arrive, and Reed draws Magneto’s attention with what appears to be an ordinary weapon, but is in fact an electronic converter that reflects the mutant’s power back at him, encasing him in a magnetic cone.

JB: I remember reading somewhere that magnetic power, if it could be properly harnessed, would be a perfect power choice for interstellar flight, and that a sphere would likewise be the ideal shape. Be that as it may, in comic-land it’s an amphibious craft, and world domination is the goal. While the conclusion (Reed’s perfect anti-weapon, again!) wasn’t the most original, there are some memorable moments. Nixon provides some comic relief (“Amahrika,” “despite what Tricia said”), and the setting of Namor’s huge ship landing in Central Park against the backdrop of Manhattan is rather effective.

SM: The inking kills Romita's pencils in this issue. Magneto still looks like a Jay Ward cartoon
character with his evil sneer. Namor is more volatile here than in his own book. Here he says humans will never be friends with him, yet he has human pals in his own magazine. Nixon returns and he's a caricature (maybe he was in real life); he - again - suggests to the FF that they all "lower our voices" and can't make a decision without consulting someone from his rogue's gallery. This time, it's his wife, but usually it was Spiro Agnew. Oh ha ha.

PE: From the gawdawful art to the preachy finale and throw in the umpteenth appearance of Tricky Dicky (it's a shame that Stan won't be writing when Nixon waves bye-bye to the public -- I'd like to see what paint he'd put on that house)  this month, this is one huge smelly fish. All characters look anorexic (the gaunt figures of Crystal and Sue, in particular, make me think campus rallies protesting eating-disorder prejudices may be one or two issues away) and facial features look way off from the classic Kirby renderings we've become accustomed to. I'm sure Reed will crate up his De-Molecular Magnetizing Ray Gun after pulverizing Magneto and ship it to Professor X for future use.

Weight Watchers Presents Crystal!
MB: Marvel’s flagship book, which has just received the Alley Award for Best Adventure Title, remains briefly in the post-Kirby hands of Romita and “Marvel’s newest inking great—Jumbo Johnny Verpoorten…all six foot six of him!,” a Bullpen Bulletin trumpets. To be frank, I feel the art is merely pretty good (Magneto and particularly Namor look consistently off-model), but I’m not very familiar with Verpoorten’s work, so without longtime FF inker Sinnott to serve as a benchmark, it’s difficult to pinpoint the problem.  Stan certainly gives the boys a lot to work with:  an Atlantean army—commanded by Magneto, yet—invading New York, Nixon in high dudgeon, and test-tube babes both blue and white, reinforcing Romita’s eye for pulchritude.

SM: This was an odd period for the mag. Even though Jack was sleepwalking through the last half dozen or more issues, it was still his and Stan's title. Now without Jack, it's in a slump. I remember when this happened in the 80's when John Byrne left the book after doing the first part of a three part saga. The title was lost for a while, but at least the writer is still here at this point. Byrne took the writing and pretty pictures with him. So now, since Stan didn't pen these ahead of time, Romita is figuring out where to take this and it's just lame. A lower tier tale, probably stretched farther than Jack Kirby intended when he began the story two issues earlier. Not that good, but the series will rebound quickly enough. By the way, did Stan really call John Verpoorten "Jumbo" because he was tall? The guy was also really, really fat.

The Incredible Hulk 133
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The Hulk wanders the countryside with an injured Jim Wilson in his arms.  Thunderbolt Ross confronts them by himself and is able to talk the Hulk into letting a helicopter transport Jim to a hospital.  Just when Ross seems like he is able to talk the Hulk into some type of truce, his attack planes fire upon the monster.  The Hulk leaps away.  With no one to see him, he stows away on a crate being transported by a barge.  Little does Jade Jaws suspect is that he is being taken to a far off country called Morvania.  The ships contains weapons that the Dictator of that country has requested.  Named 'Draxon,' he is a ruthless tyrant that dreams of world conquest.  Needless to say he is surprised when the Hulk awakens and busts out of the crate.  Draxon tries to lure the Hulk into joining his regime.  When that doesn't work his troops fire upon the beast.  As the Hulk makes quick work of Draxon's troops, the town's citizens are in a panic over the battle.  A seemingly normal villager turns out to be a leader of the underground revolution against Draxon.  He bids farewell to his wife and daughter before running off to take action.  The Hulk disarms and defeats Draxon, but decides to let him live.  Liking the peacefulness of this country, the Hulk boasts out loud that he is going to stay for awhile.  The story ends with the Hulk coming upon the head revolutionary's daughter, as she plays by a pond.

Tom:  This story had all the elements I don't care for: wimpy, uninteresting villain; the Hulk beating up on military troops; a storyline that's been done before; Jim Wilson etc.  Yet..... for whatever reason, I didn't mind it so much.  Whether is was the good artwork or the fast pace of the plot, I'm not sure.  Either way, I found it to be an enjoyable read.  Who couldn't help think of Frankenstein after viewing the last page?  Next issue should be interesting.

MB:  I could have sworn we’d seen this Draxon clown before, but I guess he’s just Tinpot Dictator #87, interchangeable with so many before or since; luckily, next issue marks the finish of his justifiably brief career.  In such cases, we often look to the artwork to relieve the monotony, and although I’m not backing off of my position that Severin’s inks obscure Trimpe’s style, there are some interesting visual things herein.  That wordless montage of the Hulk hiding in the crate (above) is nicely atmospheric, while its counterpart, the Conrad’s voyage, has plenty of words, seeming to evoke the doomed Demeter in  Dracula, and even the full-page shot of Draxon (below) is eye-catching.

SM:. Some really good moments as General Ross tries to reach the Hulk through reason and offers of help. He is able to get Jim Wilson to a hospital, but of course, Ross' "trigger happy fools" ruin whatever progress he made. That sequence was the best part of the whole book. The rest is given over to struggles with the power mad dictator Draxon. Boring! I have no attachment to the little quaint villagers and sadly, we'll see them all next issue. John Severin's art can be good when he has room to do the details, but when he has to squeeze into small spaces, it looks like 6th grader sketch work. This issue is better than most, though, and, like Matthew, I also like the full page Draxon shot. Overall, a dull villain who would have been more at home in a shorter Tales to Astonish story.

The Invincible Iron Man 31
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 On the Pacific island of Lakani, retired Major Hubert Ffoulkes speaks out against the “mechanicide” threatened by S.I.’s factory, but when Tony tries to make his case, a group of rampaging radicals, the Smashers, disrupts the peaceful protest.  Stark employee Kevin O’Brian helps Iron Man disperse them with a stun-ray he developed, yet his boss, Bowers, refuses to have them issued to the guards, and his inamorata, Kathy Ffoulkes, misreads his intentions, especially after Tony offers him a job in New York.  Chief Smasher Bullwhip Grogan plants a bomb on the factory’s experimental atomic reactor while Tony addresses another demonstration, deactivating it when Iron Man holds him at the site, and his hooded boss is exposed as Bowers, an embezzler.

MB: Iron Man’s detractors—yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Professor Flynn—will certainly find very little to change their minds here, even if the Don Heck/Chic Stone team seems to have it together a bit more this time…faint praise indeed.  Also in the Credit-Where-It’s-Due Department, short-timer Allyn Brodsky introduces a significant supporting character with Kevin O’Brian (later O’Brien), whose “Faith and begorrah, ’tis the little people!” speech patterns are, I believe, brought down to earth in the future.  But his script seems like a beyond-stale rehash of several recent issues, and instead of actually addressing such topical subjects as environmentalism or peaceful vs. violent protest, he merely uses them in the most superficial, “Can’t we all just get along?” type of way.

JS: Since I wasn't quite a year old when this issue was published, perhaps one of my elders can explain if the presence of a beret was a surefire sign of a radical?

SM:  Kevin O'Brian is introduced, and he feels like something of a successor to Happy Hogan as Tony Stark's future confidant. He's a fun enough fellow, reminds me of Sean Cassidy (Banshee) when John Byrne and Chris Claremont get ahold of him in the early 80's. The story is otherwise a Scooby-Doo mystery right down to the reveal ("Mr. Bowers?!"). The art is "meh" but still better than George Tuska. This title is stuck in the mud and needs a boost to keep the energy up. Someone plug Tony's suit into an outlet.

JS: I could almost forgive the Scooby-Doo reveal if the story was as entertaining as the average Scooby-Doo mystery. I guess Marvel should be happy that despite this less than thrilling run of issues, I'm still looking forward to Iron Man 3 next month.

The Mighty Thor 182
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From a rooftop, Thor spots a protest in the streets below. He investigates, first as Dr. Blake, then as Mighty Thor when things start to get rough. The young woman who appears to have led the protest was hurt, and Thor takes her to Blake’s medical office for treatment. Afterward she tells her story. As a child, she (Cosette) and her father, Frenchman professor Lafarge, were kidnapped and taken to Latveria as prisoners of Dr. Doom. The Doctor promised not to harm Lafarge or his daughter; essentially using her as collateral for Lafarge’s scientific knowledge to construct missile silos. Some years later, she managed to escape, coming to America to raise awareness of the situation. It may be illegal to attack Latveria, but Blake comes up with a plan to draw out the iron ruler. He contacts his old pal, reporter Harris Hobbs, and has him run a baiting story:  that Don Blake can restore any disfigured face to normal, no matter how extreme it is. Doom indeed takes the bait, waiting outside Blake’s office, then when the doctor emerges, zapping him with a molecule displacer ray that transports him into Doom’s limousine. In a remote forest location, Dr. Doom has a hidden aircraft waiting that takes him back to Latveria, where he tells Blake why he has been “invited” to be the good doctor’s “guest.”  Dimming the lights, he removes his mask, revealing to Don Blake—whose medical curiosity has been piqued—the extent of his facial deformity. Blake is stunned at disfigurement worse than he could have imagined, and is tossed in the dungeon. He can reaches his cane, and transforms to Thor, breaking free. A missile quickly follows the Thunder God, who has to find a way of destroying it without hurting the villagers below.

JB: The sequence of events was a minor quibble; Doom just happened to be in the Latverian Embassy in New York (minutes from Don Blake’s office) when he read about Blake’s claim to be able to cure any deformity? Overall, I found this tale a refreshing one, as are most with Dr. Doom, the favourite house villain of the Fantastic Four. Having the Thunder God on his turf should make a fascinating bit of fun. The removal of Doom’s mask, hidden in shadow, was a memorable scene. John Buscema’s stint on Thor is a welcome one, taking up here where he left off in issue #178. The brief sequence where Odin summons Thor back to Asgard, then (uncharacteristically) lets his son return to Earth to finish his business, hints of the highly memorable World Beyond saga that begins in a couple of months. Say, did any of my fellow professors have those 3-D “statues” they advertised after page six? I used to have all six (all different coloured solid plastic); I’m not sure where they ended up.

MB: “Big John Buscema takes over as regular artist on Thor this month—the mag he was born to illustrate,” opines a Bullpen Bulletin; you won’t get any argument out of me, particularly with Joe Sinnott carried over from pinch-hitter Neal Adams.  Having warmed up with #178, John is clearly ready for his historic run, which encompasses most of the next hundred-odd issues, and comes out swinging with no lesser foe than Dr. Doom.  Despite his delusions of grandeur, Doom ought to be as overmatched by Thor as the latter should have been by Galactus (ahem!), but Stan certainly sets up next issue’s expected smackdown with great care and suspense, and if there was ever a human villain who could give the thunder god a run for his money, it’s likely to be Doom. 

PE: Unless I'm off on my addition (and I ran out of fingers and toes very quickly so please be forgiving) this is the one hundredth issue of Thor and, to celebrate, Stan and Big John deliver one big smelly fish. Latverian protests seem a bit random in the pages of The Mighty Thor but then so does the repulsion on lame Doc Blake's face upon the sight of the unmasked Victor Von Doom. Surely the doc has seen his share of burn victims without exclaiming "Oh holy Jesus!" in their faces. And if his eyes see through the mighty Thor's (don't get me started on the whole time and space paradox again) then he's seen ugly trolls and frost giants. A little scarring shouldn't cause Don to soil himself. Another "tweenie" (definition for the newbies: a very average arc between classics) but I trust the teased "World Beyond" thread yet to come will be a corker.

How did this guy pass Med school?

SM: It's pretty obvious that Joe Sinnott was one of the main reasons the FF was such a gorgeous book to look at during the last half of Kirby's run. You can see the backgrounds are what I would have attributed to Jack, but it's now revealed to be pure Joe Sinnott. Thor's book looks amazing and even the story isn't bad as the Thunder God infiltrates Latveria via trickery. The only thing lacking is Don Blake: he's barely a character and he has no supporting cast (the reporter Dobbs doesn't count). Easily the weakest of the secret identities and at this point, he isn't necessary. John Buscema takes over for a long run and his work is so effing beautiful, I know this will become a favorite title. I've never read this period of Thor - actually I've never read past the first four years of his existence, so I'm approaching these with fresh eyes. So far, so good.

JT: Best cover of the month!

Sub-Mariner 31
Our Story

Once he finds out that Ikthon, Atlantis's chief scientist, has been kidnapped, Namor swims off in a hurry to find him.  Meanwhile, up on the surface world, Triton of the Inhumans watches in horror as a news broadcast shows what appears to be Namor's troops overtaking a cruise ship.  After taking the hostages they blow up the luxury vessel.  One of the kidnapped is Diane Arliss, Subby's 'friend.'  This causes her work colleague/super-hero buddy, the Sting Ray to get involved.  All three heroes, Namor, Sting Ray, and Triton, meet up underwater where the cruise ship had sunk. Namor seems more belligerent than usual as he goads the other two into a fight.  As the three take turns punching each other in the face, a huge net falls and captures them.  They are brought to a secret headquarters hidden inside of an underwater mountain where the barbarian Attuma and his legion of savages are in control.  Attuma has turned the cruise hostages into slaves, making them labor away as he gloats.  Ikthon is also being held captive, forced to design a giant drill that he planned only to construct in case of war with the surface world.  The powerful drill can bore its way up into the land areas, causing total destruction if activated.  At the suggestion of his assclown jester, the mighty Attuma puts the three heroes into an arena surrounded by a force field and orders them to fight to the death.  Following Namor's lead, the heroes work together by swimming in a circle so quickly that it causes the shield to explode.  The heroes then proceed to beat the bad guys to a pulp with relative ease.  Subby reveals that he started a fight with his friends because he knew they were being watched and planned everything out all along.  Attuma sets off the giant drill but Ikthon had built it to self-destruct so it ends up blowing Attuma away.  The story ends with Diane Arliss and the Sting Ray taking the hostages back home, while Triton and Namor part ways.

Tom:  While Namor's excuse for starting a fight with his two water buddies as part of a plan to capture the bad guys is a bit of a stretch, at least he wasn't being mind controlled again or suffering from another head injury.  Good story that makes fun use out of secondary characters like Triton and Sting Ray.  It would have been neat to have had these three end up forming an underwater team, as they play well off each other.  Champions of the Ocean or Seaside Avengers would have been acceptable names for their series.  Also, I have never seen an episode of Laugh-In but since the Thing seemed to enjoy it so much, during his brief cameo this issue, maybe I'll give it a shot.

SM:  Wow, the splash page is a classic Kirby "FF at home" layout if ever I saw one. Reference material? Nothing dates a story faster than pop culture references and while I remember Laugh-In (I remember it wasn't funny), Gladys and Tyrone are lost on me (if I'm still interested in five minutes, I'll hit Wikipedia). So, wait, Diane Arliss goes on a vacation to forget Namor…and she picks an ocean cruise? Then she wonders why it's not working. Hel-lo!!!! The damned boat is surrounded by the sea, how would this….? Ugh, never mind. Of course, as usual, all the strife and fighting was part of Namor's plan to get Triton and Sting-Ray captured together, but he doesn't explain it in two sentences. He has to fight and get them pissed. Really tired of this kind of plotting. Ikthon looks like Warlord Krang.

JT: One of the best Subby issues ever for me, if only for the fact it was the oldest one I owned, of
course with a big chunk of the cover ripped off, for whatever reason. And maybe where my love for Sal B began, come to think of it.

MB: Although Sal still has a little trouble mastering the Thing—a problem he will obviously solve by the time of his contributions to Marvel Two-in-One—I think this is the finest job he and “Gaudioso” have turned in yet.  Speaking of Ben, Roy goes out of his way to establish continuity amidst the FF’s recent brawls with both the Inhumans and Namor, which is another of the many reasons why I give this entry top marks.  Something about that splash page really grabs me, and Sal’s handling of Subby is ever more assured, while Roy’s story is jam-packed without feeling overstuffed, mixing one of my favorite bad guys (Attuma), two welcome co-stars (Triton and Sting-Ray), and a satisfyingly ironic endgame, all within the confines of, yes, a single issue.

SM: Agreed, it's nice to have some solid continuity with the other books, something lost in The Avengers.

The Amazing Spider-Man 90
Our Story

Plummeting from the rooftop after the end of last issue, a quick-thinking Spider-Man grabs one of Doc Ock’s tentacles and crashes through a window. He holes up in an air vent and the prying limbs recede, but Spidey throws a handy Spider Tracer on one. Heading home for some rest, an exhausted Peter collapses in the presence of Capt. Stacy. Waking up to Gwen’s face, Peter bounces back quick, with an ever-suspecting Capt. Stacy marveling at his recuperative powers. Back at his apartment, Peter concocts a new web fluid to surprise Ock, and then follows his Spider Tracer to find him. But the sneaky scientist was waiting for Spidey and attacks him. Spidey is able to break free and uses his new special web fluid on the tentacles, which jams Ock’s brain impulses to his extra arms. The out-of-control appendages end up toppling a nearby chimney towards the street and a panic-stricken toddler. Capt. Stacy is there to push the boy out of the way, but is trapped under the rubble! Spidey races to his side and tries to get him to a doctor, until Stacy begs him to stop. He asks Peter to look after Gwen and “be good to her”, revealing he’s known about Peter’s secret identity, then dies in the distraught Spider-Man’s arms.

JT: A simply great issue, for so many reasons. There’s a terrific script from Stan, paired with knockout art by Kane/Romita. Incredible battle scenes, stupendous angles and boffo backgrounds abound, with page 10 and its giant Spidey symbol encircled with some athletic web-swinging giving us another example of how Kane’s layouts are bringing a completely new style to Amazing Spider-Man. But the real story here is the death of Capt. George Stacy. One of the more admirable members of Spidey’s supporting cast, it was easy to not want to like Stacy since it always seemed he was overly suspicious and you wouldn’t want anyone to find out our hero’s secret. But it turns out he was really just doing his job, as well as being a loving father. Stacy deservedly gets a heroic send-off, saving a toddler and getting Peter to vow to look after Gwen. It all happens so fast that for regular Spidey readers of the 70s, this issue must have been a real shock. I myself had the Marvel Tales of this one, but even reading it many years later it’s just as powerful and poignant.

SM: Alas poor George Stacy, I knew him little. A decent enough chap, who either knew Peter's secret or he didn't. At his end here, yup, he did, even though in his own thoughts he was fooled by Peter's recent cover-up attempts. His death is pure corn: "Let me not be……too late!" and "I'm done for, son!" Better parting words would have been nice, but the fact that he gave his life to save the little boy is effective. Of course, the public, and Gwen, will blame Spider-Man. This turn of events also changes the dynamics in the Peter/Gwen relationship for a while as we hit the final phase of her part in Peter's life. When Stacy dies, Spidey calls him the "second best friend" he ever had after Uncle Ben. Since when? He was his girlfriend's father, but that's pretty much it. What about Harry and the gang?

PE: Gil Kane must have been having kittens since Spidey has no visible nose in which the master could work his shadow magic! One of Marvel's greatest moments has to be the reveal from a dying Captain Stacy that he knew who The Amazing Spider-Man was under that costume. It's a heartbreaking moment that even an old curmudgeon like myself must admit brought a lump to the throat (with a quick follow-up lump when you remember what happens 31 issues later). Knowing that Gwen will naturally blame her boyfriend's alter ego adds additional melancholy to the mix and sets up a run of incredible stories soon to come. Poor Peter just can't win.

MB: “All of comicdom is goin’ wild over Gil Kane’s terrific team-up with Johnny Romita on the newest and possibly greatest Spider-Man sagas of all,” raves a Bullpen Bulletin, and this landmark issue could serve as Exhibit A.  Of course, it’s the one-two punch of the ending—Captain Stacy’s characteristically heroic death and the revelation of his knowing Peter was Spider-Man—that people remember, yet Smiley, Sugar-Lips, and Ring-a-Ding provide solid storytelling right down the line. Stan’s script is well-structured, with two nail-biting battles bookending the quieter stuff in between; Peter’s misdirected feeling of impending doom provides nice foreshadowing; and the action scenes for which Kane is so justly celebrated are electrifying.

SM: Romita's inks overpower Gil Kane's pencils, but the inks have no depth, no real shadowing. The art is okay, but it needs more dimension. Overall, though, a top issue with lots going on and a good death for George.

PE: Amidst all the other mistakes last summer's big-screen The Amazing Spider-Man made, the largest and most egregious (aside from a completely miscast batch of actors) was changing the intent of that final scene between Captain Stacy and Peter Parker. In the film, Stacy (played somnambulantly by Denis Leary) makes Peter pledge just the opposite: to stay away from Gwen. Obviously the filmmakers wanted to give the re-booted series the same tone as the Dark Knight series. 

Also this month

Fear #1 ->
Mad About Millie #16
Mighty Marvel Western #11
My Love #8
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #16 (all-reprint)
Rawhide Kid #81
Ringo Kid #6
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #81
Tower of Shadows #8
Two-Gun Kid #95
Where Creatures Roam #3
Where Monsters Dwell #6

Ah yes, the weird reprint plundering continues in its most decadent package since Fantasy Masterpieces: Fear #1. Not content with flooding the stands with Where Creatures Roam, Where Monsters Dwell, and the reprint-reduced Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness, Marvel packs nine pre-hero sf tales by Kirby, Heck and Ditko (the majority of which are torn from the pages of Tales to Astonish) into a 68-pager and slaps a quarter price tag on it. As we all know, more are on the way. Fear will continue with its giant size chills for six issues, slim down to a regular 36-page package for two more issues and then... well, that's another story we'll discuss in a "couple years." FYI: a rare, original story written by Mimi Gold and pencilled by Bill Everett appears in the ninth issue. Remind us and we'll mention that as well when it comes time.