Wednesday, May 1, 2013

December 1970: SPOILER ALERT! Big Surprise! It Ain't Bucky!

Astonishing Tales 3
Doctor Doom
Our Story

Conflicted by orders from both Dr. Doom and The Faceless One, the Doomsman android decides that makes him free. But fast-thinking Doom uses mind fusion to regain control and attack The Faceless One, until his head pops off and escapes on spindly legs—as an alien life form! The human replica blows up, allowing TFO to enter the castle’s master control room, where he turns Doom’s own weapons on him as he engages the rebel forces. The “sinister sovereign” [love that, thanks Gerry Conway!] seemingly vanishes, leaving Rudolfo as the victor—until tremors start, and the castle is destroyed by an earthquake started by Doom! The tin-garbed tyrant calls the Doomsman to his subterranean lair and tests his loyalty, but the android attacks, until a weary Doom banishes him to another dimension and stands ever defiant!

JT: Larry Lieber, aka Stan’s brother, aka the guy who wrote the nifty Spider-Man newspaper strip for as long as I can remember, takes over for Roy, with Wally Wood still on art. The result is a half ish that flies forward at a breathless pace, maybe a little too fast to be honest, but all in all not too bad. And Doom has an answer for everything, which is kinda hilarious. Android showing signs of free will? Use mind fusion! Faceless alien and rebels taking over your country? Start up the underground vibration machine! Android acting up again as you’re trying to catch some shut-eye? Ship his robot butt off to another dimension!

SM: I love the retro feel of the cover of this split book. It really brings back some warm and fuzzy memories of the Tales to Astonish covers with Hulk and Giant-Man. The story itself is both cool and wacky. The whole android bit is right out of Star Trek, with the conflicting commands giving it sentience, followed by Dr. Doom's "mind fusion." Strange how the Doomsman says he possesses the "power cosmic." Conflicting commands made him The Silver Surfer? The reveal of The Faceless One was actually startling, which is always a good thing. Another startling panel contains Doom's visage projected over his kingdom and brining an end to the coup by destroying his own realm. Love it!

 MB: First Brother Larry Lieber, who co-wrote Doom’s solo story back in Marvel Super-Heroes #20 with Roy, now succeeds him while the artwork remains in the welcome hands of Wally Wood.  The Woodman’s hallowed history with Galaxy Science Fiction (a Matheson venue), and as a driving force behind EC’s Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, is evoked by the Buck Rogers rocket-packs, the overtly Frankensteinian aspects of the Doomsman, and the Faceless One’s spherical ship, all of which already created an SF vibe.  But the crowning moment, so to speak, was when No-Face’s head got up off its body and walked away on spidery legs, a scene right from one of my favorite Edgar Rice Burroughs books, The Chessmen of Mars.

JT: I love letter writer Mike W. Barr, future DC comic book scribe/editor, known for his Batman & the Outsiders, Camelot 3000, and the absolutely fantastic indie Maze Agency (trust me on this one, it’s a terrific yarn that ended way too soon). Barr praises the debut issue to no end, and asks if there will be a Doom/Ka-Zar team up in issue #100. Issue #100? Ye gods, man, are you mental? 100 issues of this? Let’s not get carried away, OK?

SM: The art is gorgeous, although the original issue gives Rudolfo and his people red skin in a few panels. The coloring is pretty bad, with reds leaking outside the lines a few times. There's a pleasant 60's vibe to the proceedings that I've only just begun to appreciate. 

Our Story

The Petrified Man tells his story to Ka-Zar just as Queen priestess Zaladane, back in the Savage Land, tells her followers Garokk the Sun God will walk among them again soon! Turns out PM was an English sailor who survived a shipwreck only to end up in the Savage Land, where he drank some water that gave him immortality. But eventually he began to take on the features of the Sun God. PM and Ka-Zar travel back to the Savage Land, where they’re jumped by Tongah, who claims his tribe was slaughtered by the old one. Just as KZ vows to help Tongah, a platoon of sky-beasts led by Zaladane approaches, heading north to wage war with the Lizard-Men—in the name of Garokk!

JT: The Petrified Man, aka Garokk, aka Sun God, aka Sun King (not the Beatles song) is an interesting character, but one can’t help but wonder what exactly he does besides look, um, stoned. Hopefully the impending war with angry Zaladane, which promises to be possibly exciting (we hope) will make his story a little more, um, rocky. New writer and teen titan Gerry Conway (in his Marvel debut, much to the glee of Prof Matthew) and new artist Barry Smith make this a decent half issue, with lots of story and hints of savagery going on. (Love that Tongah!) Still not sure about those Sam Grainger inks, though.

MB: A sure sign that we’ve struck Bronze is the advent of “Merry Gerry” Conway, who appears to be the closest thing to an actual successor Roy ever got (I gather there were early hopes for Gary Friedrich that did not pan out), and similarly wound up scripting virtually every major Marvel character, often following Roy, whose uncredited plot he scripts here.  Filling Kirby’s big shoes is newly minted Conan artist Barry Smith, with inker Grainger as the only continuity from the prior teams.  Together they overcame my customary aversion to Ka-Zar so successfully that I am now genuinely sorry I never acquired the next two issues—where Frank Giacoia replaces Grainger in #5—because I already had reprints of their Dr. Doom stories.

SM: Barry Smith's art is the first thing that jumps out at me and it's already an improvement on the substandard Kirby pencils of the previous issues. I hate to continually speak ill of the King, but with his departure, the last of the truly cartoony art leaves Marvel (for now). Everyone else was doing more realistic work, but Jack was caught in a different time. Even though I still don't like Ka-Zar, the strip looks great.

The Avengers 83
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Janet Van Dyne arrives at Avengers mansion to find the team has been mostly replaced by women: Medusa, the Black Widow, the Scarlet Witch and the Valkyrie and they call themselves The Liberators. Valkyrie recounts her origin as a force for Women's Lib and is out to convince the assembled women that The Avengers, being mostly men, are their enemies. She apparently succeeds and they launch to attack the team as they march in a parade in their honor in Rutland, Vermont.  Meanwhile, the Masters of Evil are also there to kidnap a Dr. Erwin, who was contemptuous of the Valkyrie in her prior identity. After the women team up with the men to defeat the villans, the ladies turn on the Avengers and capture them. Then it is revealed that the Valkyrie is really the Enchantress and she cast spells on the women to win them to her cause (thankfully that throwaway made them just a tad less ridiculous). The gals rise up and defeat her and all is right with the world.

SM: I don't have a lot to say about this one, other than it just kind of sucked. Val's so-called origin is one of the most threadbare of them all. Yet nobody in attendance even comments or asks a few important questions like "what was in the vial? What chemicals were they? Do you have cancer?" All Medusa simply says is "well told!" WTF? The art is still awesome, though. Jan never looked so lovely as she does on the first page. The parade was cute, with the Avengers meeting some fans, but I'm not a fan of in-jokes and dragging real staffers into the stories, like Roy Thomas this issue. Tom Fagan is a real person and the parade an actual event, in case anyone was wondering. I initially thought it was a convention and they all went to sign pictures and stuff. I could have done without the Master of Evil distraction. It just crowded up a short tale packed with characters. And as much as I agree it's a great hook to start the issue mid-plot, these flashbacks are so well past their freshness date.

If we'd been Roy Thomas, this depiction would have ended up on the cutting room floor!

MB: This issue represents a reunion between John Buscema and the Black Widow, whose solo strip he recently inaugurated in Amazing Adventures, plus Roy’s sort-of introduction of a major new character, the Valkyrie.  I say “sort of” because the manifestations of this future Defenders mainstay, here just a suspiciously persuasive persona adopted by the Enchantress, are complex, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  While we’re speaking of milestones, this is also Marvel’s very first story to feature Tom Fagan and the annual Halloween Parade in Rutland, Vermont, with his guests Roy and Jeanie Thomas (who were, amusingly, honeymooning in the Caribbean when he wrote the wedding of Hank and the now just-visiting Janet Pym back in #60).

PE: Oh, I get it! Chicks can fight just as good as Injuns and black guys, right? I don't mind Roy edjacatin' us to the better ways we can treat each other but I wouldn't mind him writing an entertaining story to go along with all that preaching. I find it hilarious how quickly the gals fall in behind the Valkyrie when she pitches her idea for an all-chick fighting squad. The Wasp, millionaire Janet Pym, who used to punctuate every sentence with the words "clothes shopping," can't make it through a battle without ending up a hostage yet she's tired of being dissed? Scarlet Witch seems perturbed her brother gets all the headlines and yet she bows to every decision he makes. Sound like a woman who wants to be liberated? Best of all though, is The Black Widow, who grumbles when Valkyrie brings up the fact that her admission to The Avengers was turned down several times. Could that have been because she was a Russian spy? Yeah, I noticed the quick throw-in about Enchantress' spell but I ain't buyin' it: these dames are just too gullible. The only interesting aspect, to me, of this time-waster was the whole Enchantress/Valkyrie paradox. It's only interesting because I'm a Monday morning quarterback and I know a "real" Valkyrie will pop up in good time. Had I read this in 1970 I'd have cried "tweener"and then told my mother to get back in the kitchen and make me some dinner. At least the charade excuses the piss-poor origin Valkyrie gives her babe crew. "I was working on a top secret experiment, got zapped, and woke up with super powers!" That finale has to be the quickest solution to a world-endangering scheme I've yet read. But let's all send The Rascally One a collective "Thanks, Roy" for making this a one-issue disaster rather than a multi-parter. When does Neal come to the rescue?

SM: Now we've shifted from Civil Rights to Woman's Lib. Must every issue have some sort of message or social relevance? At least it was only a single-part issue. It surprised me that Valkyrie wound up being the Enchantress since, as the others also commented, Val does become a legit character in the near future.

Captain America 132
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Cap and Bucky are a team again! So say the enthusiastic newsmen who snap pictures of the pair as they turn in Baron Strucker. After this we learn Modok from A.I.M. is behind the whole Bucky ruse, having maneuvered Cap into place after having Doctor Doom create a perfect replica of Bucky. Now, riding across the country, Modok has Bucky turn on Cap and battle him to the death. Robucky gets the upper hand because Cap can't bring himself to fight the thing he still thinks is Bucky. Yet, Robucky can't kill Cap either. Doom built him too well and so Modok blows him up.

SM: An okay resolution to last month's cheese fest. At least the press boys appreciate Cap and don't think he's a has-been (and apparently the whole fickle world now feels this way). The art was just a little better than previously, but really, Dick Ayers has gotta go. I really liked the shot of Cap's panicked face as Buck's fist sailed in from off panel. Many pages are devoted to Modok's retroactive involvement in everything leading up to this. Frankly, I skimmed over it since in the long run, after this, it doesn't matter.

MB: A curious issue in several respects, e.g., the stylistic difference between Colan and Ayers has never been more obvious, with each artist’s “look” struggling to prevail in any given panel.  More than a third is taken up by a flashback in which MODOK both relates and puts a new construction on recent events (you’ll note that Whirlwind is back in his usual duds in this month’s Avengers, having re-upped with the Masters of Evil in the interim), and we learn to our surprise that none other than Dr. Doom is responsible for RoboBucky.  The ending is clever, with Doom’s skill rebounding on the villains to save Cap, but as purple as Stan’s prose may be, surely a highlight is the two-page sequence in which we are reintroduced to MODOK and A.I.M.

PE: No highlights for me, alas. Just a continuation of the downward spiral this title's been in for the past several months. As evil geniuses go, we all know Dr. Doom has no peer and the man can create one heck of an android. One would say these androids are nigh impossible to pick out of a line-up. However... I question how Vic was able to put memories into Bucky's artificial brain that only Bucky and Cap could have lived through. How does an android, programmed to kill, suddenly reprogram itself? Have we entered into Philip K. Dick territory? At any rate, all the silly events in this issue (including the extended reimagined flashback) are put to the side by the sudden stupidity of Captain America. When we exited at the end of last issue, Cap was wondering if this new kid could fill the boots of his long-dead partner. Here we find our hero convinced this is the real McCoy. He's not the only one fooled. Nick and Sharon take it for granted the kid's just popped up after twenty years. And these people are in charge of the safety of the world? Next issue: we find out that Modok, who was merely pulling the strings of Baron Strucker, is actually a pawn of The Red Skull!

SM: We get a quick reintroduction to The Falcon, who joins us again next ish, I believe. The book will begin to become a bit less dull in a few more issues, but we'll be trading in Stan's cheese for a lot of Civil Rights action, so be prepared for Leila's "I hate whitey" rhetoric. Who's Leila? Wait for it.

Daredevil 71
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DD spots two argumentative guys, but it’s a trap to give him a summons as a defense witness for the New York Three (see last issue).  Now he has to fill two roles (DD & Matt Murdock) especially since Foggy’s sick.  Using delay tactics work, and when it’s court day, Matt complains of a bad headache in order to be excused when DD needs to be present. Buck Ralston (aka the Tribune) and crew arrive in town, spouting off about the “pinkos and commies.” He gets into costume and infiltrates the law court, using his gavel to take care of the real judge. The “policemen” are really his lackeys with fabulous costumes underneath. Daredevil watches, biding his time, while Foggy is gassed unconscious for contempt of court! It’s chaos when the Tribune announces the death sentence for the three young accused men.  When Daredevil is on the stand he hears the Tribune’s belt humming – a light-bulb moment – and disarms it with the chord from his billy club. The Tribune attempts an escape, foiled when DD throws Tribune’s humming statue (an explosive) at his helicopter. Foggy and Matt are happy to have lost their court case but in the background Buck Ralston is on TV spouting his negativity.

NC:  I really enjoyed this issue – and only partly because of the ‘bad guys’ outfits. The intolerance is
definitely portrayed respectfully, but the villain and his gavel are quite entertaining.  DD always impresses me with his quick thinking and snappy comebacks!

JB: I quite like the cover; the Tribune looks a little like Dr. Doom. Quite the mansion Buck Ralston lives in. I wonder who gets it now. It was nice of Foggy to get sick at the wrong time.

MB: Here’s another nice mess into which Gary Friedrich has gotten lame-duck writer Roy Thomas (two words:  Captain Marvel) for his final issue, leaving it to him and inadvertently uncredited co-scripter Len Wein to tie up this quasi-topical New York Three plotline, an obvious nod to the Chicago Seven.  It’s neat that the angle from which Colan portrays the bailiff in page 15, panel 3 makes him appear to be giving the “Sieg heil!” salute, and we’ll luckily be spared any more tirades from the Tribune about “radical, subversive, commie pawns.”  Nearing the end of his own 21-issue run on this book, Syd Shores may not be Gene’s greatest inker, but at least he doesn’t seem to be battling Gene for supremacy, the way Dick Ayers does in Captain America.

SM: It wouldn't be Daredevil if we didn't have some kind of courtroom drama. This was a fun issue, with good action and a decent resolution. I'm intrigued by Matt's relationship with this guy Nick Dillman at the Daily Bugle. I'm sure we'll never see him again, but he and Matt apparently have history with Matt jokingly calling him his "Cellmate" Did Matt work at the Bugle? I must have missed an issue.

Fantastic Four 105
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While Reed works on a cure for Ben in his lab, said Thing, Johnny and Crystal are enjoying a hot dog (or three) about town. When a seeming earthquake causes a building to start crumbling. Crystal faints, and while Ben holds up the building, Johnny takes her back to the Baxter Building for Reed to help her. The “earthquake” moves on, actually a mass of energy, and it encounters Sue, out shopping. It inadvertently creates shock waves wherever it goes, and Sue protects the people around her with her force field. An old colleague of Reed’s, Zolten Rambow appears, having been following the force. He tells Sue that he’s convinced there’s a living creature inside it, and upon close examination, a form CAN be seen within it. Rambow and Sue try to protect any bystanders, while not harming the “creature.” Reed meanwhile finds a connection between Crystal’s bloodwork, that may help Ben. The Inhuman, it seems, must return to her homeland; she’s lived in a protected environment so long that she has insufficient resistance to our diseases. Johnny and she share a tearful departure, and Reed proceeds to conduct the experiment on Ben that may save him. When an emotional Torch takes off and finds Sue, he finds his flame ineffective against the “creature.” Sue begs him to get Reed, thinking only he can help her (as her force field is weakening). When Johnny tells Reed, the leader is faced with a horrible dilemma: help Ben in the time-sensitive experiment, or help his wife!

Oh, grow a pair already you whiny teen brat!

JB: An interesting story that provides less answers than it does questions. Why does the “creature,” if that’s what it is, cause havoc by its very presence? What is this magical experiment that can return Ben to normal, but only in a very short time frame (of course!)? Couldn’t Sue just let the force go until Ben was normal again, regain her strength, and then they could all take up the challenge of controlling it? Will it be remembered in future issues that Crystal, and maybe the other Inhumans, can’t live among us unless a vaccine is created to immunize them?

PE: Why is it that, when he has too much time on his hands, Reed Richards is always looking for a cure for The Thing? Hasn't he thought this dilemma through before? And, correct me if I'm wrong, but the last time this came up, didn't Ben insist he be transformed back into The Thing because he was paranoid Alicia wouldn't love him as a normal human being? So why are these two oafs so excited a new cure has popped up? Did Stretch burn the formula for the last cure? The juvenile delinquent in me envisioned another scenario when Reed was looking at Alicia's blood through the microscope and exclaimed "Oh my goodness! This can't be! Alicia is --" I turned the page hoping to see "Expecting!" but got the more bland "having problems with our polluted air." I know he's got a huge brain but it amazes me that Reed took one look at the blood sample and deduced that, not only was Alicia sick but that there was also a cure for Ben here. I have a hard time reading without moving my lips. The story's a step up from the Namor-Magneto disaster we've just endured but it's no great shakes. Time to bring back that old banner "Possibly The World's Most Average Comic Magazine!"

On the bright side, those Anorexia classes are helping Sue a bit. 

SM: And we say goodbye to Crystal as a member of the team. The splash page is weird; Ben wears sandals and Johnny warms up Crys' hot dog they bought from a vendor not 6 feet away. Was it cold when they got it? She does mention she may have eaten too many of them, so if that's her fifth, then sure, I guess it could have gotten less hot. Just seems odd. We also meet Dr. Zolten Rambow (whose first name will change next issue) who knows Reed even though we've never met the guy before. Johnny is in such a panic about Crystal, he still takes the time to change from his street clothes to his uniform - and does the same for Crystal. Did he think this might be the last chance to see her nekkid? The plotting in this sequence is pretty annoying, with Reed switching from Crystal's problem to Ben's and back to Crystal again merely to prolong the suspense (or to show Reed has Attention Deficit). Then, Crystal takes her leave and Johnny freaks out. Why he just doesn't go with her, I don't know. Except that he isn't going to be written out of the book. But the average Joe in this much love would follow her back to the Great Refuge and live with her there. Meanwhile the monster in the streets that Rambow knows something about is occupying Sue while Reed once more tries to cure Ben.

MB:  A Bullpen Bulletin reports that after this issue, due to production chief Sol Brodsky’s departure, “Jumbo Johnny” Verpoorten “will be forsaking his inking chores…as well as his cataclysmic coloring of our capricious covers in order to concentrate on our back-breaking production schedule,” and Joe Sinnott returns to his role as “permanent embellisher and resident kibitzer!”  This is an average issue all around, which is forgivable after three months of Magneto and Namor, but while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it, little things niggled:  the low comedy with Ben and the hot dogs; Johnny’s too-perfect hair while holding Crystal; the unlikely moniker of Zolten Rambow (who at first appears to be auditioning for the role of Hammerhead).

SM: Probably the best issue since Jack left, but the art is still pretty poor. Stan apparently couldn't get rid of Crystal fast enough and shaking her off is like scraping away the last vestige of Jack's FF. I liked her a lot and always wished she'd remain, but at this stage of the game, love interests were never long for the Marvel Universe if they're not an original member of the team. Stan leaves us on a hell of a good cliffhanger and the story picks up steam next issue.

The Invincible Iron Man 32
Our Story

As Tony tests his armor, Belinda Thompkins drives off in a huff after quarreling with her boyfriend, Luke; mechanoid scout MK-5 investigates Earth as a possible trading colony; and escaped cons Baldy Kolak and Rasko steal a car.  Drawn aboard the interstellar cruiser, Iron Man is immobilized, yet breaks free while MK-5 begins his study, disguising himself as a human and thumbing a ride with Belinda.  Having wrecked their car in a police pursuit, the cons carjack Belinda’s, to which Iron Man is drawn when he tunes his “electronic hearing to pick up unusual mechanical noise” emanating from MK-5, but as “Mike” protects Belinda in the ensuing melee, he is riddled with bullets and blows up, leaving her to mourn the “machine who learned to love.”

SM: George Tuska is back and this time he doesn't bother me as much (his work is a lot less cartoony this issue). Maybe Don Heck is worse, but the last panel on page two is confusing. It looked as if Belinda was going to run over this guy, but since there's no mention of it after that, I guess he was just running out of the way. This being a Marvel Comic, the distraught lady meets a kind hearted guy and falls for him almost immediately. She doesn't know he's a simulacrum from another star, but whatever.

JS: Oddly enough, the escaped criminals as drawn by Tuska look less human than MK-5. Of course, it's probably a good thing for society that criminals are disfigured so they can easily be spotted and avoided. Except for our hapless victims in this issue.

MB: Despite Heck being Iron Man’s co-creator, and my regard for his work on The Avengers with the proper inker, his recent run on this book (under Chic Stone’s embellishment) has been nothing to write home about, so while I hear the Tuskaphobes groaning, I’ll give a qualified welcome to the return of the Tuska/Gaudioso combo.  I normally favor stories in which seemingly unrelated plot threads come together, but I doubt that Allyn Brodsky, who’s managed to hold onto his scripting chores, is winning over any new converts either with this haphazard bag of tricks, full of clich├ęs and poorly developed characters both human and mechanized.  By far the lamest aspect is asking us to believe that Belinda and this alien android fall head over heels in love in, what, 20 minutes?

SM: Two crooks come out of nowhere and have a crash so violent they both should have been pulped. It was like watching the A-Team. No matter how rough the crash, the guys in the car always dusted themselves off and walked away. It's funny how the Mechanoid realizes Earthlings are intolerant of different beings when he can't get a ride, so he turns himself into a black guy - during the volatile Civil Rights movement. If Belinda Thompkins wasn't black herself, he might have discovered even more intolerance. That, actually, would have been a much more realistic and less over the top racial message to send rather than the usual "power to the people" rabble rousing. The funny thing is, Belinda isn't "drawn black" so I wonder if she was supposed to be white or, more likely, Hispanic originally. Actually, until the last page, the original coloring has her kind of Purple… The crooks are a bit much to take, but whatever, they are needed to kill "Mike" and give us a downbeat ending. Iron Man is becoming a depressing book.

JS: It's probably not a good sign when you can remove Iron Man from the story and it doesn't suffer as a result.

The Incredible Hulk 134
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There's a whole heap of trouble brewing: the Hulk has decided to stay in the country he has stumbled upon in his latest adventure.  He has even befriended a young girl, the daughter of a revolutionary.  As time passes, the revolution members are able to coerce the Hulk into joining them against Draxon.  They fear the villain has his own Golem to squash them even though all he has is a necklace charm he uses to fool them.  In the end, the Hulk kills Draxon inadvertently, while fighting him in a machine.  The Hulk destroys the amulet before moping away to find the Golem that was supposed to help the bad guys.

Tom:  While I applaud the Hulk destroying the amulet to represent how many wars are started over stupid reasons, this story just plain sucked!  It could have been ended last issue.  The story was lame without any real good protagonist.  Good artwork can only go so far.  Sorry, I would type more but I'm grabbing a beer to help me get past this lousy comic tale.

MB: We’ve seen Trimpe’s Hulk inked by his successor, Sal Buscema, before, although these results skew less in Our Pal Sal’s direction than in #124; I certainly prefer them to John Severin’s inks, and probably to Trimpe’s own.  In the legendary test footage of Bela Lugosi as Frankenstein’s Monster—before he and director Robert Florey were replaced by Boris Karloff and James Whale, respectively—the makeup was said by co-star Edward Van Sloan to resemble that of Paul Wegener in The Golem.  The association between the two characters continues here, as Greenskin encounters Rachel at the water’s edge, and now that the primary focus is no longer on Draxon, Roy makes the conclusion of this two-parter more interesting with the Golem legend.

SM: Draxon returns (YAWN) and the art gets kind of weird again as Sal Buscema takes over the inking. The payouts are pure Trimpe, with lots of full-on close ups with blank stares substituting for emotion. A rather dull issue although, as a kid, I always was intrigued with this issue mainly because I had a trading card with the cover of this issue printed on it. After reading it years later, I was, alas, disappointed. Hulk defeats the tin tyrant and another quaint little village with requisite cute little girl is freed. Yay.

The Mighty Thor 183
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In order to save a pursuing missile from striking the Latverian villagers (or him) below, Thor uses his Mjolnir to create a force of enough suction to pull it skyward, where it harmlessly detonates. By this time however, sixty seconds have elapsed and Thor changes back into Don Blake. The hammer has fallen somewhere in the streets below. While Blake hides until he can find it, Dr. Doom gets there first, trying in vain to lift it. Frustrated at his inability, he puts a force barrier around it. The doctor finds the hammer, and frantically begins to try and dig it out. Some of Doom’s guards inadvertently aid him (he spots them first) when they find his coat by the hole and they blast it, thinking Blake to be inside it. When they leave, he climbs in the hole, desperately clawing at the dirt beneath, where luckily the force field isn’t present. Presto, Thor returns! He finds Doom, who threatens to fire his missile silos if Thor won’t hand over his hammer. The Thunder God does, and of course Doom can’t lift it, whereupon Thor smashes the controls to the missile silos. A battle ensues, and Thor gains the upper hand, destroying the missiles themselves. He finds that Professor Lafarge, whom he had come to rescue, has lost his sanity from years of captivity, and fires a gun at Thor, getting killed himself in the process. Thor leaves, as Odin is eager for his return to Asgard to face the World Beyond mystery. First he returns to New York to tell young Cosette that her father died fighting for what he believed in, feeling she need not know what really happened.

MB: Now that Big John Buscema is being simultaneously inked by Joe Sinnott here and Tom Palmer in The Avengers, we can truly compare apples to apples, with the expected outcome that Sinnott wins, hands down, at least in my eyes.  That said, I wish Stan’s script lived up to the artwork or to part one of this story; as noted, I was skeptical from the outset over the Thor/Doom match-up, and it seems unlikely that a genius like Vic wouldn’t tumble to Blake’s secret i.d., but that wasn’t even the aspect that bothered me the most.  I’ve read a lot of Thor comics in my day, and as far as I know, every time he is separated from his hammer long enough to turn into Blake, as we saw here, Mjolnir likewise turns back into Don’s cane…as we did not see here.  Howcum?

PE: And why would an evil genius like Doom slap a super indestructible protecto-dome over Mjolnir that you can dig under?! Top it off with Odin's boisterous "My son has proved his worth!" after witnessing said excavation. Yep, he's a pretty smart kid alright. Not smart enough, though, to avoid Doom tripping him up. A guy who can fly through multiple universes and avoid meteor showers is tripped up with a metal rod ("I trip! I fall!")? Sadly, the pie in the face panel was cut before the issue was released. What's with the 180 degree turn in the attitude of Professor LaFarge at the climax? Far-fetched to say the least considering he was exhibiting "caring father" syndrome last issue. This time out we get not one, but two countdowns to "Sixty Seconds Without Mjolnir"with the second time highlighted by the weary Mighty Thunder God sighing "It -- must not -- end this way -- again!" My sentiments exactly. Bring on The World Beyond so's I can forget this mess.

JB: Once more we find oddities about the Blake/Thor mystery. Why didn’t Thor’s hammer turn into a walking stick when it fell from the sky after destroying the missile? And of course the force field Doom put around it didn’t exist on the ground below! We’re left to wonder if Professor Lafarge really did just want to make the missiles for Dr. Doom (and get rich), or if he had just gone mad. For the sake of his daughter Cosette, we prefer to assume the latter. Next up: the World Beyond!

SM: Would that we could be sitting in a bullpen together hashing through these issues rather than doing them separately. Not to pull back the curtain too much, but I don't read the contributions of the other professors until after I've written my own. Only then do I get to see if others hit the same points I have and invariably it does happen. Having said that, I fully bow to Prof Matthew's quicker reflexes and turnaround time. He pointed this out first; I enjoyed Doom's frustration at not being able to lift the hammer, but why didn't it become a walking stick when Thor became Don Blake? And why didn't the hammer return in the first place? It was sadly refreshing to see Professor Le Farge not have a sudden change of heart about his daughter, although I did completely forget he was a "concerned dad" the issue before. Still, I thought the final resolution with Thor left to deliver a heartbreaking bit of news to the girl as sadly touching. Not the greatest possible issue, really, and more proof to me that Doom works best strictly as a FF menace. His connection to them is too personal and he seems like a petty dictator in other comics.

Sub-Mariner 32
Our Story

Namor swims off to the city of Lemuria where he last had an adventure and was saved by a barbarian named Karthon.  Subby hopes to form an alliance with Karthon and his people in case he has to battle the surface world.  Much to his surprise, Namor learns that Karthon is imprisoned while the new leader of Lemuria is an evil-looking sea woman named Llyra.  She asks Namor to join her but when he refuses she has him subdued by giant eels.  As Llyra's prisoner, Subby is subjected to her rants as she tells the story of her origin.  Llyra's mother was an ocean explorer whose crew caught an underwater man, similar in color to Namor's people.  They fell in love.  Unfortunately, he was eaten by a shark.  Llyra's mother gave birth to her and her twin sister Laura.  Namor is taken to a sub-base off Hawaii where he is imprisoned in a water cell that has chemicals which prevent him from using his strength.  Subby gets a visit from Laura the twin and she tries to console him.  Eventually someone mysteriously cut off the chemicals, allowing Namor to break free.  llyra sends all types of aquatic critters in to attack our hero.  Subby fights them all off and, after battling a whale, an avalanche ends up killing her.  In the end, Llyra's mother shows herself and admits to cutting off the chemicals.  In a twist, Llyra turns back into a human form, revealing that she and Laura were one in the same with split personalities and she did not know the difference.

Tom:  An issue that wasn't my cup of tea, but I can't deny its merits.  Pretty creative story telling even though Namor fighting off various sea creatures has gotten old by now.  I'm curious though about what happed to Karthon?  Was Namor that bummed out about Llyra's death that he forgot to go back and set him free from his chains?

MB:  Jim Mooney, who shared inking credit with Joe Gaudioso on #25, supplants him as the latter shuttles back to Shellhead, and I for one am delighted, since Mooney’s steadier hand serves Buscema’s pencils even better, displaying the steady craftsman who has so much to offer in the decades to come.  In fact, this seems as good a time as any to point out that my vague recollections of the title taking a nosedive—as it were—following the departure of Our Pal Sal’s big brother John were, to say the least, premature.  For his part, writer Roy Thomas introduces in Llyra a villain who will have a gigantic impact on Namor’s future; the denouement of her debut here reminds me of Richard Matheson’s then-recent “Therese,” later filmed in Trilogy of Terror.

SM:  "Gallopin' Guppies!" and that's where they lost me. Llyra is an interesting character, summarily killed at the end of the tale. Hopefully, she'll be back at come point (apparently she will be, judging by the comments of my fellow academician), since only Gwen Stacy has remained truly dead at this juncture in the Marvel Universe. It's not stated that Namor got anywhere after restoring the rule of Lumaria. Are they going to help each other or not?

The Amazing Spider-Man 91
Our Story

At the funeral of George Stacy, Gwen blames Spider-Man for her father’s death, JJJ vows to “make that cold-blooded wall-crawler the most hated human being on Earth” and sleazy politician Sam Bullit decides to use the policeman’s death to his advantage. Peter tries to comfort Gwen, but she’s more interested in ridding the city of Spider-Man, by volunteering to help Bullit’s campaign. The boisterous bureaucrat manages to not only convince Gwen he’s on the side of law and order, but makes a deal with the all-too-eager JJJ to deliver Spidey, much to the chagrin of level-headed Robbie Robertson. Appearing on TV, Bullit shoots even louder, saying he will crush Spider-Man for good and accuses him of being responsible for Stacy’s death. Walking the streets as Peter the next day, the web-swinger’s personal photographer is accosted by Bullit and his thugs. After a quick argument, Peter plays possum and lets the thugs think they’ve beaten him. A speedy change into costume and Spider-Man torments one of the henchmen, partly to “feel better” and also to send a message to Bullit. But when Spidey swings back into the window of his apartment, Bullit and Gwen are waiting there!

JT: Sorry for the long summary of ASM #91, but there’s a lot going on here, with enough dialogue for three issues. Fittingly, the conversations at the funeral of George Stacy have mostly periods, not exclamation points, as does a lot of this month’s issue. Fittingly and thankfully. It’s just so much more realistic to me. Sure, it’s a comic book, so constant yelling and making loud points and posturizing should be ok, but sue me if I like good grammar, I was an English major.

MB: Boy, Stan loves these law-and-order pols who are really as crooked as corkscrews; we saw that with Richard Raleigh in Amazing’s short-lived sister magazine, and he will recycle the same story here in a few years.  While that’s a somewhat slender reed from which to hang this entry, which has no super-villain and basically sets up next issue’s fireworks, it is perhaps not a bad thing to let everybody catch their breath a bit after Stacy’s death, although as one who is frequently outraged by injustice, I found my blood boiling due to Spidey’s being blamed.  Such a story also allows Kane’s kinetic energy a little less opportunity to shine through Romita’s inks, but he handles what action there is quite nicely and provides some cool montages.

PE: I'm not a fan of the "Gwen on a Rampage" or "Spider-Man No More" plotlines that come up every few months with this title. They were done well once but that's about it. Having said that, this is one fantastic issue. Oh, it doesn't start out well, I'll give you that but, page after page, it gets better and better. Gwen seems more vengeful than mournful and she's a bit too naive and just plain stupid when it comes to hitching up to Bullit's band wagon. Bullit's an interesting character, one part Kingpin, one part Richard Nixon. Professor Matthew's right about Stan's fondness for crooked pols and that presents an interesting dilemma: all the "years" we've been reading Stan's scripts, I'd have sworn he was a Republican (and we're talking Ronald Reagan Republican). Did he soften his political stance or did he just know what the readers were eating up? Good to see that, even though we're already heading into the second year of the new decade, the "c" word still gets bandied about. Gil Kane. Gil Kane. Gil Kane.

JT: Some odd panels this issue, especially page 5 which I hate to say looks really poorly drawn. Looks nothing like either Kane or Romita to be honest. Did Don Heck do that page? Or am I distracted by the UFC fights and a giant glass of wine? Then again, page 9’s “Crush Spider-Man!” panel and page 17’s Spidey vs. Green Suit Thug are Kane layout specials and more than make up for one rotten page. On a personal note, a mention of Kenneth (Ken) Koch in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletin thrills me, as he is my favorite poet! Thanks, Stan!

SM: Following the death of George Stacy, we get a two issue throwaway with some dude named Sam Bullitt and his "Law and Order" campaign. I call it a throwaway because after the second part, Bullitt is gone forever and we pick up as if it never happened. This guy is so nasty and smarmy it's hard to believe anyone would vote for the guy based on his single, and simple, minded campaign. Why Gwen would even actually seek this guy out is weird to me. She never seemed like the type to go to her local politician, her father's political enemy, with a problem, even if it was Spider-Man. I also don't get the whole "great at karate" sequence since we never see him fight after this. Just to show he's a tough guy? He's a caricature and this issue is a real comedown after the last few.

A bystander watching a summer storm breaking over... huh?

Conan the Barbarian 2
Our Story

After defeating a yeti-like creature, Conan encounters a scantily clad woman in the snowy Aesgaard forest. When she flees, the young warrior gives chase — but it turns out to be a trap and he is captured by apish Brutheim slavers. Taken to a huge subterranean city, Conan is locked in a slave pen. When the barbarian proves to be too unruly as a worker, he is sentenced to become a participant in The Games with other rebellious captives. Using an obsidian blade slipped to him by the leader of the slaves, Conan slays a dreaded snow-lion. Since weapons are banned in The Games, three Brutheim footsoldiers enter the arena and subdue Conan. But before the deathblow can be delivered, the slaves revolt and overthrow their former masters.

TF: I know that the MU faculty runs hot and cold for Roy Thomas, but he seems well inspired by Conan. Sure the plots have been fairly basic so far, but Thomas writes in a style that is somehow both florid and crude. It’s almost like reading a foreign language you don’t know how to speak. And then there’s Barry Smith, who, in my opinion, would become one of the premiere comic artists of his generation. As with his former Marvel work, The Artist Soon to Be Known as Windsor is still in his “Kirby” period, with many of his action poses and facial expressions mirroring the King’s. But Smith would hit his stride in a handful of issues when the artwork becomes much more detailed and assured. Dan Adkins handled the inking chores on #1, but this time it’s Sal Buscema, and he helps to give Smith’s art a more refined look. On The Hyborian Page, Harlan Ellison and Glenn Lord, the executor of the Robert E. Howard estate, weigh in with high praise for Conan’s first issue.

PE:  Barry Smith's pencils this issue are aided immensely by the inks of Sal Buscema (whose brother John will take over art chores once Smith's run is over). By the time the letters page for Conan #2 was being readied, no letters had come in for the first issue but Roy Thomas had sent out black and white xeroxes to some of his famous friends and fans. Praise arrives from Harlan Ellison (who would feud with The Rascally One later on in the 70s over really important stuff like comic books), Robert E. Howard estate executor Glenn Lord, and fanzine editors Maggie and Don Thompson (who would later go on to edit The Comics Buyer's Guide). All four comment that they're especially anxious to see how Roy adapts Howard's stories rather than whipping up adventures of his own. They won't have to wait very long.

SM: Not a bad second issue but something of a drop from the first. This feels like a dozen stories of slave revolt I've read and watched a number of times before. Not quite living up to the grand potential demonstrated last time, but the art continues to improve as Barry Smith gets going. He will prove to be a very fast learner and this will eventually become the loveliest book in the Marvel run for a while.
Another promising character is killed while assisting Conan, I hope this doesn't become a habit. The implications of these hot human women sexing simian man-beasts is a little disconcerting, but I guess it's all in the spirit of the source material. Right?

Also this month

The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special #7 (all-reprint)
Chamber of Darkness #8
Conan the Barbarian #2
Fantastic Four King-Size Annual #8 (all-reprint)
Harvey #2
Ka-Zar #2 ->
Kid Colt Outlaw #151
Marvel's Greatest Comics #29
Millie the Model #187
Our Love #8
Outlaw Kid #3
Rawhide Kid #82
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #82
Western Gunfighters #3
The X-Men #67 (reprint)
The X-Men King-Size Special #1 (all-reprint)

What's a dazzler rat?
In his second jumbo-sized issue, the Lord of the Jungle gets... more reprints. And not very good reprints at that. The two-part "epic" from Daredevil #12-13 bookends a wild and weird Angel solo story called "From the Sky, Winged Wrath," written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and drawn by the towering triumphs known as George Tuska and Dick Ayers. Now, before you assume I'm going to savage a story that probably should be savaged, I'll point out a few good aspects. I'm not sure at what point in Marvel history this story was birthed but the vibe is mid-sixties. Warren Worthington, Jr, father of The Angel, is murdered by The Dazzler and his cronies, touching off an almost homicidal reaction from the X-Kid. When Warren hears news of his father's killing over a radio while canoodling his girlfriend in his sports car, he seems to lose all sane thoughts. The girl asks if there's anything she can do for him and Warren dismisses her with a clipped "just get out of my life" and swears he'll kill the thugs responsible. Pretty heady stuff for a funny book otherwise aimed at pre-teens. Just to bring us back to earth, Tuska and Ayers deliver a cliched stick-figure art job devoid of anything resembling energy. I've not seen penciling like this since the bad ol' days of The Human Torch and Ant-Man. Still, for its plot surprises alone, it's much better than most of the stories that filled the pages of The X-Men in the 60s.

1970: The Year In Review
by Semi-Retired Professor Jack Seabrook

Looking back, 1970 must have been a difficult year for a collector to keep up with the output of Marvel comics. While the number of superhero comics featuring new material remained stable (from a low of 9 in July to a high of 12 in August), the total number of Marvel comics published each month varied from a low of 19 in April to a high of 26 in January and August. Making the fan's ability to keep track even more arduous was the constant shifting of the roster from month to month.

Comprising the backbone of the comics that we all remember, and that are spotlighted in MU, were the titles that appeared monthly: The Avengers, Captain America, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Sub-Mariner and  Thor. All contained new material and cost 15 cents.

Not so fortunate were the Silver Surfer and X-Men books. Silver Surfer appeared 6 months in a row, X-Men was worse: three monthly issues in a row to start the year, then a hiatus, then a 25 cent reprint issue in December.
then one more issue appeared later in the year and that was the last.

Replacing these canceled books were two new superhero comics that went back to the old Marvel format of split books: Amazing Adventures, featuring the Black Widow and The Inhumans, and Astonishing Tales, featuring Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom. Each appeared 3 times toward the end of the year. Finally, Captain Marvel saw 2 issues of new material published in the summer.

Marvel's reprint books were everywhere in 1970. The 25 cent books containing old superhero stories included bi-monthlies Marvel's Greatest Comics, Marvel Super-Heroes and Marvel Tales. 25 cent annuals containing reprints featuring Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man and X-Men were published. Nick Fury saw one 25 cent issue show up late in the year; it was all-reprint. Ka-Zar had his own 25-cent reprint book that came out twice, even as he was appearing in new stories in Astonishing Tales.

Kid Colt, Outlaw, Mighty Marvel Western, Outlaw Kid, Rawhide Kid, Ringo Kid, Two-Gun Kid and Western Gunfighters all saw multiple issues this year. Most were reprints and some were 25 cent giant-size books.
A significant amount of Marvel's 1970 output was in non-superhero books. Westerns galloped back in a big way, as

War books were on the wane: Captain Savage was canceled after 2 issues, while Sgt. Fury saw only 9 new issues and a 25 cent reprint annual come out this year.

Kids books were all-reprint as well: Homer, the Happy Ghost and Peter, the Little Pest disappeared after 3 issues each. Li'l Kids managed to publish 2 issues.

Marvel tried to compete with Archie comics with its line of comics featuring the exploits of attractive teens. Millie the Model appeared in 10 issues of her own title, 10 issues of Mad About Millie (which was then canceled) and a 25 cent annual. Millie's redheaded rival, Chili, was featured in 9 issues of her own book before going on hiatus. Harvey showed up for two issues late in the year.

Love comics were another area in which Marvel continued to experiment. There were 6 issues of My Love and 6 of Our Love Story.

Monster comics were big business for Marvel in 1970. Tower of Shadows came out 6 times, as did Chamber of Darkness and Where Monsters Dwell. Where Creatures Roam came out 3 times and Fear once.

There is no category for the single issue of Spoof that was published, unless one sees it as a descendant of Not Brand Ecch.

Perhaps the most exciting new development was the debut of Conan the Barbarian, which saw its first 2 issues at the end of 1970.

As confusing as 1970 was to keep track of in the Marvel Universe, it would only get worse!

Only a handful of the Marvel comics published circulation figures. Here's what we could unearth (along with 1969 numbers for comparison).

The Amazing Spider-Man   322,195 (372,352)
Fantastic Four                      285,639 (340,363)
The Mighty Thor                 232,058 (266,368)
Captain America                  225,651 (243,798)
The Incredible Hulk            222,619 (262,472)
The Avengers                     217,394 (239,986)

As you can see, all the titles took a hit (with Spider-Man  and FF losing 50,000 and 55,000 copies in sales, respectively) but this was the beginning of the downward spiral in comic sales. Things would only get worse.

This Sunday, don't miss a special Spotlight on Gerry Conway by Professor Matthew Bradley!


  1. The Year In Review: Nice review Jack: At that point, while watching sales slide, Goodman must've had flashbacks to 1949 and the previous decline of the Superhereo genre. In 1970, he must have felt that he'd sold Marvel at exactly the right time. Obsessed with sales figures, both his and the competition, it's no wonder he started flooding the market with romance, horror, teen and humor books, but that's still no excuse for Peter The Little Pest.

    Dr. Doom: Speaking of flashbacks, I flashed back to this story in 1982 while watching John Carpenter's "The Thing" in the scene where the head of a dead technician sprouted spider legs and walked out of the room. Of course, Carpenter's version wouldn't have got past the comics code.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  2. My apologies to the faculty for crediting Gerry Conway when I meant Larry Lieber in my Doom Astonishing Tales summary. Although Prof. Matthew would be ok with letting Gerry have credit any time!

    Prof. Jack: Thanks for a great wrap up of 1970. Loved those reprint books as a young lad!

    Prof. Scott: You're right on about the karate thing. So much for Bullit getting his hands dirty!

    Prof. Tom: That was one of my fave commentary paragraphs ever

    Prof. Flynn: You're right about Smith (of course you are), he seemed to get better every year!

    PS Nobody squeals on the Dazzler Rat!

  3. I'm coming to this one almost a year late, but I missed it before. When I finally read Conan # 2, I was surprised to see Conan already breaking a sort of action story taboo - even in VERY violent ones - by having him kill a (villainous) woman. Albeit a little indirectly, by making that theatre box come crashing down, but ONLY a little. About the only thing that would make it feel more ruthless would be a "healthy" scream from Moira to go with that surprised look. So in a way it anticipates Conan # 12 and the way he handles Fatima.

    Also, when it comes to the beginning of the story, I almost expected a little interval between Moira luring him into being captured and his actually BEING captured, so that she could complete her "femme fatale" role by "thanking" him for rescuing her (in a non-nude or even off-screen way, of course). But that's something that evidently DID have to wait until # 12.