Wednesday, May 8, 2013

January 1971: The Completely Totally Absolutely Final Stand of The King (well, until...)

Amazing Adventures 4
The Black Widow
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With Natasha held at gunpoint in her home, the police prepare to retake Scarola’s building from the Young Warriors, leaving Paul wondering why she is not there to intercede, but after she subdues her captors, Paul’s arrival is immediately followed by that of the Don and the rest of his crew.  Carlos maintains his faith in the Widow as the police set a fifteen-minute deadline to force their way in, during which the Don tells Tasha that once the radicals have been locked up, the public will back the status quo that supports him.  Natasha gets the whip hand yet again, racing uptown to defuse the situation without taking time to unmask the Don (revealed to the reader as Scarola), and talks the boys out by offering to provide a building. -MB.

SM: It's amusing to see such social upheaval in New York and nobody but the Black Widow is expected to deal with it. In a city teeming with heroes of all levels, this sounds like a job for Spider-Man or Daredevil. Yet, there's no sign of them. In the 80's, West Coast Avengers helped this out a little, but honestly, at this stage, Marvel would have been smart to share the love with other cities in the country. It would make things like this a non-issue.

MB: For better or worse, Gary Friedrich was unable to bring the Young Warriors plotline to fruition; with this concluding segment, the Colan/Everett art team stays in place while we shift writers to blink-and-you'll miss-'em Mimi Gold, the colorist whose other super-hero effort in that capacity was the underwhelming Iron Man #29.  The turning of tables between the Don (whose revelation as Scarola is the world’s smallest surprise) and the Widow happens a little too often, and the bit with Natasha using the smoke from Paul’s pipe as a diversion is pretty hokey.  But ten pages that merely wrap up another writer’s relatively simple story don’t allow Gold enough room to do a lot of damage, and it virtually goes without saying that the artwork by two Marvel veterans is solid.

SM: Gene Colan and Bill Everett still make an effective team, but Natasha doesn't quite seem so hot this time around. The story is brought to a decent, if predictable, conclusion; was anyone really surprised at the masked guy being Scarola? And, again, why does the bad guy sit by himself and watch TV with his mask on? Interesting how a newspaperman has a pipe that blows as much smoke as needed. Writer Mimi Gold bends over backward to make the police sympathetic to the plight of the oppressed. I guess, in those social climes, this was something they really wanted to put across, that the police aren’t there to be your enemy. Or something. Anyway, another victory for the inner city kids. Marvel, Champion of the downtrodden!

The Inhumans
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As the Mandarin intended, the Inhumans uncover a ruined temple and the Cyclopean idol of Yin, whose eye crackles with energy and flies off after Black Bolt removes it, following the Mandarin’s magnetic beam.  While the Inhumans split up to seek the sphere, still believing the Mandarin dead, his rings dissolve its shell and absorb its “ultimate power,” a form of cosmic energy with which he “rewards” the aged scholar who had deciphered the ancient scrolls by banishing him to another dimension.  Karnak stumbles upon and falls prey to the Mandarin, rescued by Medusa, but they and Triton are trapped in an “atomic cage” until Black Bolt arrives with Gorgon, frees them, hypnotizes their foe, and seals the rings in the ruins.-MB.

SM: Wow, that was…crushingly average. More Jack Kirby inventory which again shows he was no writer. Or to be more accurate, a writer way past his era. His dialog is strictly 1940's ("you fiend!"), something that will dog him when he returns to Marvel in 1976. Once more, every panel is filled to bursting with inane chatter. The plotting is limp, with the Inhumans making a big deal about splitting up, only to meet again a few panels later with nothing to show for their journey. The Mandarin is dispatched too quickly and the Inhumans inexplicably leave his rings bunched up in a corner to be buried. A group this strong couldn't just destroy them? Gorgon could probably pulverize them with his tantrum power.

Fin Fang Foom with a mask?
MB: As far as I know, this is the last work for Marvel that Jack Kirby left behind him on his way out the door to DC, so perhaps we should observe a moment of silence: the King is gone; long live, uh, Big John. Once again, either writer/penciler Kirby, inker Chic Stone, or both appear to have been heavily medicated at the time, judging in particular by page 8, panel 2, in which the Mandarin has, as it were, been shot with an anamorphic lens that stretched him vertically like some evil Oriental Gumby.  Mandy’s features in general are all over the place, although the Inhumans themselves fare far better, and I still think Jolly Jack’s writing here has gotten a bit of a bad rap, since I for one would have enjoyed seeing some more of this rather promising plotline.

SM: The art is pure Jack "door smacking him in the ass" Kirby, partnered with Chic Stone, one of my least favorite inkers. Again, it all points out how cartoonish Jack's art felt in comparison to Neal Adams and John Buscema. The 60's were over and seeing this stuff does nothing but emphasize that fact.

The Amazing Spider-Man 92
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Entering his apartment with Gwen and Bullit waiting, Spidey acts fast and takes off out the window with Gwen in his arms. As he swings overhead, Bobby Drake, aka Iceman of the X-Men, sees the struggle from the street and takes off on an ice bridge in hot, I mean cool, pursuit to try and save the seemingly in distress Gwen. After a short skirmish, Spidey takes off, with fast-talking Bullit taking the credit in the press. The putrid politician is then dis-supported by comes-to-his-senses editor J. Jonah Jameson, due to Bullit’s treatment of Parker (from last ish) and his bigotry. Bullit’s thugs abscond with Robbie Robertson, but Spidey is on the prowl after them—until Iceman reappears and attacks! Chipping away and slipping away, Spidey is soon back on the chase, tailing the thugs to an old warehouse, where Iceman skates in and learns the truth about Bullit. The two heroes team up to save Robbie, defeat the thugs and show up at a fundraising banquet to put Bullit’s political ambitions on ice.-JT.

JT: I have to say, this is just an OK issue. Probably has to do with the annoying Sam Bullit, who thankfully gets his just desserts, but not until enjoying lots of good ol’ NYC publicity. He’s just a power-hungry rabble-rouser, Archie Bunker wanna-be who likes to throw his weight around without actually throwing any weight around. No karate this time around. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Iceman shows up on the pages of a Marvel mag for the first time since X-Men #66 (per the MCDB) and while he misunderstands our hero as much as most of the five boroughs, Gil & John do a fine job drawing the ice bridges and what not, with some fast-paced battles and snappy banter, although from the beginning there’s a snowball’s chance that things won’t end up the way they do. And how did I only remember, after reading it five minutes ago, that Gil Kane’s real name was Eli Katz?

MB:  At least in my Marvel Tales reprint, no mention is made of Spider-Man’s encounter with Iceman et al. in X-Men #35, after which Bobby might have been inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt; these Marvel Misunderstandings annoy in direct proportion to the number of times the participants have already met and parted on good terms (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, MTU #4).  Stan again spotlights Jonah’s commendable rejection of racism, with dire hints at what plans Sam Bullit had for our African-American friends.  It’s interesting how well Kane and Romita mesh as penciler and inker, since their respective penciling styles are so different, but the proof of the pudding is in the reading with their fluid action and dramatic faces.

PE: This one completes what Professor Scott deemed "a throwaway two issue filler." That perception turns out to be right on the nose. Again, I'll excuse a few stinkers in between epics because I know what's right around the corner and I can't wait but, really, we can assume anything co-starring The Indistinct Iceman is gonna be a dog. The issue also features the dreaded "I've got to make her hate Spidey so she doesn't suspect he's really me" conundrum we've faced time and again (and will continue to face throughout "the future." Save the cliched gangster bits, this could have been a typical issue of Spidey Super Stories.

SM: The cover depiction of Gwen barely looks like her. Luckily the interior art is spot on. It seems just a tad odd that Gwen can be that close to Spider-Man and not even have the slightest inkling that he's her boyfriend. The mask muffled his voice that much, or does he talk like Christian Bale?

PE: On the bullpen page, Stan (or whoever) bids a "fond farewell" to Jolly Solly Brodsky and "wish this loyal and talented guy all the best - from sorrowful Stan and the whole batty bullpen." Sol Brodsky, who'd worked at Atlas/Marvel on and off since the early 1950s, was a veritable journeyman: he'd been an editor at Cracked; created those goofy Bob's Big Boy comics we all read while eating our burger; started up his own comics company (which didn't last very long) in the 50s; and, most importantly, had been Marvel's production manager since '64. In mid-1970, Sol turned in his resignation and paired up with I.W. Comics publisher Israel Waldman to co-found Skywald. Notorious now for its terrifically tasteless art and stream of consciousness writing, Skywald pumped horror magazines such as Nightmare, Scream, and Psycho but succumbed in 1974 to distributor problems. Soon after, Sol was welcomed back into the fold. A fabulous history of Skywald, written by editor Alan Hewetson (and published posthumously), is unfortunately out of print but highly recommended.

SM: Bobby Drake is the least distinctive character in the MU. He almost never looks the same twice and unless someone says his name, I'd never know who he is. Thankfully, you can't mistake Iceman. Sadly, we get another Marvel Misunderstanding and the complete refusal to let someone explain the situation, which brings more forced conflict. Does the press really believe Sam Bullitt hired Iceman when just seconds before he loudly introduces himself to him? Did I mention last time how much I hate this Bullitt story? The guy is so over the top and raving ("Law and Order! Law and Order! On NBC!"), nobody sees through this guy except Robertson because he's a racist? At least Jameson isn't totally blinded by his hatred of Spider-Man. He's grown over the years and it's nice to see he has some scruples. Bullitt is a real dope and in true idiot fashion admits his crimes in front of dozens of supporters. Whatever, at least this story is finally over. Next issue, it'll be like it never happened. Seriously.

Captain America 133
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Modok, pissed at seeing his Bucky Barnes android fail, assassinates two of his men to pay for the failure. Instead of killing Cap so easily, Modok decides it's better to make him suffer for being so tall and handsome while Modok is a Weeble, thanks to the experiments of AIM. He finds Captain America now in Harlem hanging with the Falcon. Modok then creates a monster "out of lifeless clay" and with the power of his mind, gives it life and calls it The Living Bulldozer(!). Lackeys take a jet (emblazoned with the A.I.M. logo on the wings) to NYC and dump the Bulldozer out to find and kill Cap. Meanwhile, 12 pages into the story, we finally catch up with Cap and Falc, as Steve reveals his identity to his friend to get him to trust him. At that moment, the Bulldozer attacks and Cap instantly deduces it is a Modok-created android, which is spouting "power to the people" rhetoric. This immediately puts the inner city kids on the android's side, which is Modok's nefarious scheme - to get the people to hate Captain America! Cap calls Tony Stark to whip up a portable detector to "analyze the robot's energy source."  With this, Cap discovers the 'Dozer is powered by Modok's own brain. Cap jams his mental signals, confusing the robot which then destroys the church Modok is hiding in(!), burying the mad mutant. We close as Cap declares the Falcon his partner.-SM.

SM: Cap is back in Harlem with no real discussion as to why he's stopped roaming the country. I guess he really wants a partner and is tired of being harassed by cops with a hard-on for bikers, but I wonder how far Cap really got? Upstate New York? Somewhere between last issue and this, Modok totally forgot Dr. Doom created the Bucky android and that the failure is Doom's not those two pointless stooges. Some big brain he is. It takes fully half the issue to get to the title character of the book, the first half is devoted to Modok, his ravings and his origin. And what a bland origin it is. There's a small attempt to inject some pathos into the character by making him jealous of Cap's manliness, but it falls flat. Modok whips up an android out of "lifeless clay." Does the Puppet Master know someone's horning in on his act? I should point out that Modok calls him the Human Bulldozer but Stan calls him the Bulldozer Man in the splash - they both suck. Also, regarding Modok's brilliant scheme to create an android to attack Cap: um, didn't he just do this? The difference now is that this android will be spewing support of the inner city folks, so when Cap is fighting this thing, they will believe he's trying to push the White Man's Agenda. Actually, that's not that bad of an idea to discredit Cap, but since most mod types consider Cap a has-been, how far is he really going to fall? Or was that attitude "so two issues ago?"

MB:  I don’t get why these slum-dwellers are so glad to have their “hovels”—and possessions, mind you—destroyed by Bulldozer (a potential new low in villainy; what’s with the arcane symbols all over his apparently de rigueur pointy-headed body?) with no immediate prospect of alternative housing.  So, they’ll be better off homeless?  I know they’re supposed to be naïve and easily manipulated, which seems racist in itself, but they come across as blithering idiots.  On the plus side, we have the return of the Falcon, largely to set up next issue’s formal partnership, and more on the inside doings of A.I.M., including MODOK’s origin.  I love how their aircraft is marked, “A.I.M.”; it’s like a hood handing you a business card that says, “Mafia.”

PE: Is it The Bulldozer Man (as on the splash) or just Bulldozer (as in the rest of the issue)? One full grade point deducted for cutting the scene at the pawn shop where Cap tries to get market value for his Moped (with a full-pager of Cap, Kelly Blue Book hanging lifelessly at his side). How in the world does Cap figure Bulldozer (Man) is created by MODOK simply from the robotic tone in his voice? I love these wild assumptions that, suhprise suhprise suhprise, end up being right on the money. And why weren't we clued in to why Bulldozer (Man) rocketed up in height? He's certainly not "Three stories high" while he's on the plane (and on the final page, Cap comes up to his waist). As Professor Matthew pointed out, the thought process behind "Better leveled than a slum" is a bit skewed. Even more skewed is Stan trying to align The Falcon with that kind of thinking ("Can't blame the brothers! Anything's better than those hovels they have to live in!") while fighting side by side with Whitey in a star-spangled uniform. How about that Captain Honky allowing the Bulldozer (Man) to go on with his destruction while he plays the Tony Stark card? Couldn't there be some kids in those buildings? Though Stan seems a bit confused, he manages to plant some seeds that a better writer (initials S.E.) will run with and explore deeper. And what's with the goofy design of The Bulldozer (Man)? Usually there's a reasoning behind things like hieroglyphics etched on the android but we get no explanation here. Despite all these failings (and a rushed finale) this is light years better than the swill we've been spooned the last few months.

SM: Again, as in the Black Widow, the title character is the only hero in the city to tackle this huge, destructive android. We see Tony Stark lounging around, telling Cap he heard about the trouble on the radio and he doesn't even offer Iron Man's services. Some friend. AIM's super jet reminds me of the old Gerry Anderson series U.F.O., where the super secret organization S.H.A.D.O. had their logo painted in huge letters on their land vehicles. These secrets are about as secure as Cap's identity. Next issue: "A New Team Is Born!" I only hope it's a new pencil/inking team, because Colan and Ayers keep puking all over the pages.

Daredevil 72
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In the darkness of night, a costumed figure steals a priceless Rembrandt painting from a museum, escaping before the alarms alert police. He flees, bounding from rooftop to rooftop.  Daredevil, nearby and alerted by the alarm, can’t catch him! But the words of the policeman (“he moved like a blasted cat”) trigger DD’s memory … walking in Times Square, a scream is followed by the appearance of a feline-costumed character named Tagak, and his leopard Opar. While nobody actually gets hurt, the big cat jumps a policeman and then Daredevil when he steps in. Tagak calls him off and escapes. After getting the museum’s lowdown, DD follows his senses and ends up in a warehouse district -- drawn to a large framed outdoor mirror. Suddenly Tagak appears, berating DD for interfering with his mission. Hornhead gets the upper hand, and the real story from his feline foe. The mirror is a dimension-travelling device (of course).  Tagak was pursuing Quothar, the real thief, who had stolen a sacred religious statue from the leopard-man’s world.  Quothar then hid in our dimension. The two team up to track him down, and do, sadly after a bullet from a hiding museum guard kills Opar. Later, Tagak, as blind as Matt Murdock, invites DD to go to his feline world. Duty calls, and the two part as friends.-NC+JB.

JB: Welcome Gerry Conway, whom I know much more for his upcoming work over at Thor. Tagak isn’t a brilliant “villain,” but he is intriguing in that more questions are raised about his world than are answered. He doesn’t seem possessed of any real super powers other than having the crysto-mirror, and the ability to mind-link with his giant leopard (whose death is kind of ignored) in order to see. Seeing himself as a misfit makes him another world counterpart for DD, even if just in his own perception. Quothar is kept nicely in the shadows; maybe this opening, plus the crypto-mirror, is why this issue could be an (only average) second season Outer Limits episode.

NC:  I am too sad about the killing of Opar to comment

SM: Gerry Conway's first script for DD and the splash page alone tells me this is going to be a long issue: "Lo! The Lord of the Leopards!" Taking a page from the Roy Thomas storytelling playbook, we meet our adversary in an action sequence and then catch up on his backstory via flashback. See my comments on The Avengers to read my thoughts on this style of writing. And, oh the pop culture references! "It sure ain't Credence [sic] Clearwater!" Kill me. In this one sequence, DD goes from happily observing a hippie offering to help a blind man to condemning society for being "non-involvement." Matt later melodramatically smashes his mirror, which does point up the ridiculousness of him having one. Even with his super senses, he surely wouldn't have use for a mirror. Of course, it was probably on the wall when he rented the joint, which makes his own observation pointless. When the Tagak explains his motivation, we get - another - flashback. None of this is all that interesting.

MB:  Gotta love that cover:  “Look out, blind man!”  Um…  I’m more impressed with Gerry Conway’s getting a monthly gig so quickly than I am with his overwritten inaugural script, whose many, albeit non-fatal, flaws can be summed up as “trying too hard.”  Here are the purple-prose opening narration, romantic breast-beating, misspelled pop-culture reference (“Credence”), endlessly hammered-home theme (appearance vs. reality), meta-caption (“as they say in the old movies”), hyperbolic statement (“never really felt like a blind man before”), and ironic metaphor (a blind man with a mirror).  Did DD instantly repair that leopard-shredded costume, or just have a spare on hand?  Meanwhile, Colan tries to spin straw into gold on this endlessly variable book.

SM: What does seem weird is Daredevil's sudden shift in personality. He's less "happy go lucky" and more dark, grim and bitter. This would be fine, but there's no build toward it. He hasn't earned the grimness yet. Tagak calls him a misfit in our world, which, while interesting, doesn't fit. Will Gerry expand on this? We'll see. Great work again by Colan, assisted by Shores. A nice match that continues to deliver the goods.

Fantastic Four 106
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Reed has to leave his experiment to turn Ben human again, so he assigns Johnny the task of freezing the entire top part of the Baxter Building (to keep Ben from going into shock) until he can return to finish it. Johnny succeeds by absorbing all the heat in the room into his body, then flying to a great altitude to release it. Reed then heads to the streets below, where Sue, along with Stretch’s old pal scientist Professor Rambow, have been trying to stop the bizarre creature who’s been blasting the New York streets to bits. Reed realizes that Rambow knows more than he telling, and demands he come clean. The “monster” is Rambow’s son Larry, who was helping his father test an anti-war weapon, when the experiment went wrong, endowing the boy with his uncontrollable power.  Reed prompts Rambow into remembering that he did have a fail-safe device to counteract the effect that the experiment had on Larry. The Torch grabs him to take flight and get the neutralizer; Reed tries to hold off any more damage by engulfing the creature in a ball, and rolling it into a cement armory. He buys enough time for Johnny and Rambow to return and reverse the effects of the experiment. Larry is ok, and the team returns to the Baxter Building to tend to their teammate.-JB.

JB: Stan sure tries to pile on the pressure by a whole lot of  “he’s never failed me before” and “I know we can reason with the monster,” but while the pace keeps moving along, it doesn’t seem much more than average in the end. How does Johnny know how to save Ben, when Reed barely offers an explanation? And really, Rambow “forgets” that he had a neutralizing device that would save his son? What is this experiment on Ben doing? Not bad, but let’s hope we’ll have an epic FF saga soon!

MB: In the immediate post-Kirby era, Romita outlasts John Verpoorten by only a single issue, yet it’s often been noted that returning inker Joe Sinnott’s presence gave this book a welcome continuity through numerous pencilers over the years.  I continue to feel that although there is nothing wrong with Ring-a-Ding’s FF, his style is somehow better suited to his signature character, and since next month he will resume penciling as well as inking Spider-Man, the Jazzy one appears to agree.  Professor Rambow still resembles future Spidey villain Hammerhead, but now he has also joined the roster of mysterious name-changers, shifting from the exotic “Zolten” to the much more prosaic “Phillip” (you really have to wonder about Stan-as-editor sometimes).

PE: I'm no scientist but why would Johnny's absorption of the heat in the FF laboratory turn the outside of the building into a giant snow cone? The crown of Rambow's head is so abrupt I thought he might be wearing a huge red sombrero but, alas, it was merely the background. Has Sue Storm ever been so whiney and "woe-is-me"? Extra credit for the scene where Reed reminds Rambow that, as scientists, they'd always create a "Get Out of Jail Free" card before monkeying with forces beyond their ken. Professor Flathead slaps his brow and exclaims "Of course, why didn't I think of that. Get me to the lab quick!" Of course, if Thor were around, he'd merely spin his hammer backwards and land us five minutes before the experiment went awry. Damn Avengers are never around when you need 'em. While I have your attention, there's one thing that always nags me about these superheroes who fly: whenever they're giving someone a ride (much like Johnny does for Rambow this issue), the "passenger" is horizontal just like the flyer. Would that work? And could you hold on to just an arm (without being affixed to said superhero) without being stolen away by the wind and gravity? I know I ask a lot of scientific questions but if Stan won't explain it to me, who will?

SM: We pick up with Reed having Johnny absorb all the heat in the room to put Ben in to a suspended state while Reed deals with the monster in the streets. This is a good, tense sequence lasting five pages. It's awesome epic drama that the FF did best. With Joe Sinnott assisting John Romita in his last issue, the art takes a big step back up. It's a very exciting sequence. A good touch shows us a Sue who is never in uniform here, only in her civvies. Very nice change. Johnny, who has been falling from the sky for three pages, is finally caught by Reed. There was no step back in time a few minutes, it was all happening simultaneously, so Johnny must be pretty light. Considering the stupid crap he does on a regular basis, his head is probably filled with helium (rim shot). All around, a good, action-filled issue. The whole thing is resolved here, except for Ben's situation, which will go on for a good batch of issues. Some really great stuff is coming and you can feel the build up here. The book is starting to recover from Jack's sudden exodus and some of my all time favorite issues of the era are coming up shortly.

The Incredible Hulk 135
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Kang, the futuristic conqueror, plots his next move of world domination when he plans on figuring out a way to rid the world of the Avengers.  In order to make it possible for the Avengers to never have existed, Kang needs to prevent the Phantom Ace from destroying a German cannon during a battle from WWI.  He tries to go back in time to that period but his craft is unable to sustain the pressure from the time travel.  He transports the Hulk to his villain hang-out to go in his place since the monster can withstand the trip.  He tells the Hulk that if he destroys the Phantom Ace, then Banner will no longer exist.  Of course, Kang fails to mention to the Hulk that this will also cause him to no longer be around.  The Hulk agrees to do the deed and before he knows it, he is transported right into the middle of the battle field.  After destroying some German tanks for a tune-up, the Hulkster leaps after the Phantom Ace.  As the Ace narrowly avoids the monster's clutches, German troops accidently fire upon the Hulk.  Being distracted from his mission, the Hulk attacks the Germans which inadvertently causes him to destroy the cannon in the mountain, instead of the Phantom Ace.  A furious Kang relates how this saves a distant relative of Bruce Banner and doesn't halt the formation of the Avengers.  Before Kang can get his revenge, the time hold loses its grasp, sending the Hulk back home to his time where he changes back into Banner.-TM.

Tom:  Wow!  Not an issue that you can simply skim through without missing some key points.  I'll admit that I had to reread a couple of parts to get some things straight.  This Hulk tale was a strange one.  It's not too often that a hero's comic book gets narrated by the villain Kang.  That alone gives it a thumbs up from me as this read more like a long lost Super-Villain Team-Up story.      

MB: The minor editorial gaffe for which I called out Stan in the current FF is nothing compared to this howler:  Kang says that if successful, his plan will make sure no “noble heroes band together to fight the Hulk—and form the accursed group known as the Avengers.”  Unless he’s been perusing an alternate-universe copy of Avengers #1 (or an explanation was cut from my Marvel Super-Heroes reprint), the Hulk was one of  the original Avengers, who banded together to fight Loki, although he did quit and battle the group all too soon.  For once, the “most unexpected guest-star” hype is justified, since I doubt anyone foresaw the return of the character Herbie introduced in a 1968 one-shot, although I presume the Banner connection was Roy’s idea.

SM: Kang sucks. The cover is misleading; I was waiting for a new villain called The Time Storm. Instead we get Kang and some poorly drawn dude called The Phantom Eagle. Have we met Ravonna before, or is this some motivation Roy whipped up out of nowhere? As a nice change, the original issue has the Hulk in blue pants rather than purple. He's finally wearing some real jeans. I like it. Unfortunately, they seem to be loose on him. How is this possible, since Bruce Banner (remember him?) is a thin as this plot. He finally makes an appearance at the end. This is an extremely uninvolving story filled with characters I can't get behind. The art is pretty poor and time travel schemes never work. And Kang sucks.

The Invincible Iron Man 33
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The Spymaster and his Espionage Elite plan to destroy Stark Industries. Nick Fury contacts Tony to discuss a possible threat to his company, and they schedule a meeting. That day in the office, Stark yells at one of his employees, both as himself and while in his Iron Man getup. The similarity is not lost on the employee. After Stark leaves for his meeting with Fury, Spymaster's team starts blowing up Stark Industries. The browbeaten employee tries to stop them but is captured. Stark meets with Fury and the next thing you know, he's shot by him! Turns out it wasn't Fury it all - it was one of the Espionage Elite! -JS.

SM: Don Heck is back. The splash page is weird; this group immediately made me think I was looking at some sneering, rogue SHIELD squad. Each enemy agent is given a name that just screams stereotype: the Russian, the black dude, the Englishman, the German, etc. Tony Stark spends his first few pages brooding and riding down memory lane. He mentions Janice Cord for the first time in months (should have at least tried to save her, I say for the thousandth time) and the illustrations show us Don Heck cannot draw the Hulk and forgot how to draw the original IM armor. Kevin O'Brien barges in on Tony while the latter is talking to "Mr. Rockerfeller." Kevin is right, Tony never used to be such a "procedures" guy. Remember when he yelled at Happy for beating on some wise ass employee for speaking out of turn? Good times.  Tony's "make Jasper feel good about himself" Iron Man tape is the usual "why would you have this ready" sort of thing. This story is okay. We'll see where it goes next time.

JS: Maybe Professor Glenn can clue us in. Were they short on pages? Was that why they decided to  give us the filler recap?

"Hey Stark! Bah Fongu!"
MB:  If anybody doubts that Brodsky’s yarn shamelessly copies Mission: Impossible, consider this:  as rendered by Heck (yes, he’s back) and Gaudioso, “Farley London—magician, gambler, and master of disguises” is a dead ringer for Leonard Nimoy, who played “The Great Paris,” ex-magician and make-up expert, on the show from 1969 to 1971. As tiresome a pastiche as the “Espionage Elite” may be, we have to give Brodsky credit for co-creating the Spymaster, a character with sufficient durability to have recurred with numerous identities over four decades.  However, he miscalculates when he has Tony stroll down Memory Lane with a recap of the past five issues, which only serves to remind us how mediocre the book has been since Goodwin left.

JS: I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one wondering what the heck Leonard Nimoy was doing in Iron Man. 

Sub-Mariner 33
Our Story

While Namor is on his way home to Atlantis, a nuclear bomb goes off just outside the city.  The citizens are in a state of panic.  Lady Dorma and Vashti try to calm them down but have little effect.  Everyone wants to know why Namor, their fearless leader, isn't around to help them?  Then, accompanied by his henchmen, arrives Byrrah.  The former conspirator for the throne gives a speech to the people where he sells himself as the next ruler of Atlantis.  As the peasants lap up his words, Namor appears and accuses Byrrah of being the one responsible for setting off the blast and not the surface dwellers as everyone suspects.  Byrrah, along with the citizens, asks him to prove this.  Namor accepts Byrrah's challenge of finding proof before the sands of an hour glass runs out.  Namor swims to a French Isle to confront the United Nations.  They have been expecting him since they know about the nuclear blast.  They show Subby where the blast originated from on a map.  Namor knows the location exactly as it was the headquarters of Krang and Dr. Dorcas from a previous battle.  After he defeats a robotic sea monster, Subby captures both villains.  He brings them back to Atlantis where they confess and ruin Byrrah's scheme.  In the end, with all three villains captured, Namor proposes to Lady Dorma to make her his queen.-TM.

Tom:  A fast, fun, simple adventure story that wraps up just in time at the finish.  While it might have seemed a little too easy for Subby to simply capture two of his arch foes without much of a struggle, at least it didn't drag on, making this a two part saga.  Byrrah is one of my favorite Namor rogues.  He definetly seems to have a way with speaking to the public.  Speaking of which, the people of Atlantis sure are fickle.  They're lucky Namor doesn't just abandon them for their ungratefulness.  

SM: This issue feels very much like a clearing house issue, tying up some loose ends before going onto the next phase. Or, as the Muppets once sang: "Somebody's getting married!" A solid action issue with the return of some old favorites. I was wondering what Krang was up to, but he deserved a larger piece of the story. Decent art, but the colors are a bit too bright in my copy of the issue. Without heavier shadows, it lacks realism, which seems odd to say about a story with blue skinned people living under the sea.

MB:  I already felt I was seeing steady improvement in Sal Buscema’s work since he took over this book, but now, with the switch in inkers from Esposito to Mooney, he’s really cooking with gas; since Esposito has a long and distinguished resume, I won’t suggest that he is empirically inferior to Mooney, merely that the latter may mesh better with Sal.  In any case, the results speak for themselves in this gorgeously rendered issue, with its satisfying denouement.  I don’t know which annoys me more, the eternal fickleness of the Atlanteans or the ludicrous idea that Namor was somehow to blame for the nuclear blast:  could he possibly have anticipated it, in order to be present when it took place?  If he had, could he somehow have mitigated its effects?

The Mighty Thor 184
Our Story

Thor returns to Asgard at Odin’s summons, seeing fear on every face. A brooding Odin, with the Viziers help, uses the Cosmic Coals to transport their spirits amidst an approaching danger like none seen before. At the edge of the universe, a giant hand-shaped force slowly engulfs all life in its path, leaving only blackness. Odin knows only that it comes from a place called… the World Beyond. Neither Galactus, Loki, nor the once mighty Mangog are behind it, yet its power is beyond anything Odin has ever seen. The Warriors Three, sent to investigate, have never returned. The Odinsword, as if possessed by an unknown force, threatens daily to unsheathe itself—and we all know what that means! A strange being, that may hold the answer to this mystery, stands motionless, called by Odin: the Silent One. The All-Father leaves Thor in charge of Asgard, and ventures forth to investigate the World Beyond. Before Thor can stop him, the Silent One follows. Loki, whose exile on a distant world is conditional to Odin’s being in the Golden Realm, witnesses the blaze of Odin’s flight. Freed to wreak havoc once more, Loki seeks the aid of Storm Giants and Trolls to invade Asgard. The good guys gain the upper hand in time to see Odin’s ethereal form appear, warning them to remember a word that had haunted him earlier, the word Infinity. Thor vows to follow his father’s path, to explore the World Beyond.-JB.

PE: More than anything, this story smells like Stan trying to prove he could write an epic without The
King. If that's so, the verdict is... well, kinda yes, kinda no. I can feel for "The Man" though as he must have felt lost without the guy who helped him build the empire. He looks around and, aside from his brother, he's surrounded by the same young whippersnappers who used to crowd him at the cons and go through his garbage cans looking for clues to the identity of The Green Goblin. This issue, there are all sorts of elements stolen from past classic arcs (Loki Unleashed; the great big nameless something on its way to Asgard; etc.) and stitched together to convince us something wondrous is on the way. Loki hightailed it but I suspect he'll be back soon (yeah, that's an obvious observation, isn't it?). I haven't read any of the issues from this era so maybe something wondrous is on the way. We'll just have to see. Did Odin give "The Silent One" his name or did he come with a badge? Sound Effect of the Month Award goes to page 16, panel 4 - "BTYOINNG!" Try that one without hurting yourself. Interesting choice for cover art, by the way, since this action takes up a total of two panels in the story itself.

JB: With the beginning of this lengthy epic we’re back where we belong, on cosmic ground where Thor is at his best. While the mystery is rather deliberate, it is compelling from the first, with Asgard in a grip of fear. The ambivalent Silent One is fascinating; we’re not sure whose side he’s on. It’s nice to see Odin take responsibility for a menace that could be mightier than himself, leaving Thor in charge. The invasion by Loki is really unnecessary, detracting from the main story. John Buscema’s excellent art fits the subject matter like a glove, with a plethora of stunning visuals, although at times (Sif, for example) some panels look like another artist. Agreed on the odd cover, next issue’s is a stunner.

MB:  Per the heaviest hype on the current Bullpen page, “once in a great while a magazine comes along which is so special, so unusually exciting, that we just have to tell you about it….It introduces a whole new concept in far-out fantasy, and brings you such mysterious characters as The Silent One, and—Infinity!”  Comparing this issue to the advent of the Inhumans, they note, “The artwork by Big John Buscema is just not to be believed—and Stan the Man’s script—well, it’s somethin’ else!”  Since we’re just starting down this road, and I can’t recall where it leads, I won’t comment on the script, other than to lament the regularity with which Loki capitalizes on threats to Asgard.  But with Sinnott providing the inks, the artwork is indeed something special.

SM: Ah Stan, you had me from the first page. This was really quite good…until we stopped to visit Loki who was musing about being able to return to Asgard only if Odin were to go on a road trip. And, then - what a co-inky-dink - Odin picks that moment to leave and fly right past Loki, who spots him. Then Loki convinces the Storm Giants to attack Asgard with ridiculous ease. Granted, they're not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but come on. They should at least ask for proof. Sif, without her headgear, looks like a totally different character. Thor keeps yapping while snogging; can nothing still this immortal's tongue? Not a bad start to what promises to be another epic tale, but Stan's narrative shortcuts are apparent. The art remains top rung. 

The Avengers 84
Our Story

The Black Knight has found The Well at the Center of Time where he intends to discard his Ebony Blade, the influence of which has been making him more violent and bloodthirsty. He is attacked by Arkon, who isn't interested in hearing any explanations (who in the Marvel Universe is?). This scenario is revealed to be a nightmare of Wanda's and the Avengers suspect this isn't normal. How right they are. The Enchantress was hurled from our dimension last issue and plopped right into Arkon's world where she has allied herself with the barbarian warrior. Through her machinations, Wanda received the dream and lured the Avengers to Arkon's realm, where she cast a spell to make them complacent enough to be captured. Thor and the Black Panther finally show up, brake the spell and win the day. Arkon realizes he was tricked and moves to make amends, but Thor tells him to take a hike.  "Smell ya later," says the Thunder God.-SM.

SM: This is a fairly packed issue, filled with action, characters galore, flashbacks (as usual) and even a quick message about the futility of war. It's really not too bad and a very nice change from the usual civil unrest plots or mad schemes concocted by men in derbys and handlebar mustaches. Page 10 gives us a cameo by the Crypt Keeper, apparently, in a very spooky flashback sequence. Unlike a couple of my fellow professors, I like Tom Palmer's inks with John Buscema's pencils. There's a grittiness and dimension I don't see in other books (cough - The Inhumans - cough) and it's the wave of the future.
The story is a little too packed, though, and this could have been a two parter, but then again, part one would have been all-backstory. I guess I should just take this story and be happy it's pretty solid, since Roy's usual storytelling format has been getting tiresome. Even here he just can't do a straight chronological piece - everything needs a damned flashback. I was wondering if the readers were getting tired of this and a scan of the letters' page has future writer Mike W. Barr kissing ass pretty thoroughly.

MB: Other than the presence of ink-staining wretch Tom Palmer (Death to Zip-A-Tone!), it was tough
to put my finger on just what bugged me about this generally good issue.  Certainly not the cover, with its marvelous color scheme—always a major selling point with me, for some reason—and dramatic composition; nor the return of Arkon and the Black Knight; nor Wanda’s stirring declaration that “While I live—and until I die—I am an Avenger!”  No, I think it was its abrupt quality, encompassing both the out-of-left-field reappearance of the Enchantress in Arkon’s world and the hasty feel of its conclusion, despite the fact that in his Soapbox from last month, Stan acknowledged the enforced-single-issue rule as a failure.  Oh, yeah, and Palmer.

Yet another MARMIS ends in a happy solution
PE: Unfortunately, Big John's stellar art (which is slowly but surely becoming that iconic Buscema magic we all loved in the 70s) cannot save this mess of a story. I thought, maybe, since The Enchantress makes a second appearance in as many issues, she might explain why she decided to create The All-Girl Squad last issue (since she forgot to tell us herself) but, alas, she's moved on. And so have I. There's way too many sub-plots crammed into this story and it seems as though Roy realized, right about page 19, that this would be a stand-alone rather than a multi-parter. I'm not sure abrupt would be the proper adjective to describe the climax but there are definitely some skid marks on that final page. Once again, The Enchantress makes her exit in a -poof!- and we're left to wonder just what that was all about. Perhaps The Rascally One has another ace up his sleeve?

SM: I did find it interesting that Thor chose to warn Wanda that "I shall be Thor no more!" That one bit of dialog, while mostly meant to add suspense and give Wanda something to ponder, really points up his honor. He knew the team was about to lose a significant point of strength and he needed to warn her, secrets be damned. I appreciated that, since Thor is the identity we see most of the time anyway. Don Blake is pretty useless as a character at this point.

Also This Month

The Avengers King-Size Special #4 (all-reprint)
Captain America King-Size Special #1 (all-reprint)
Fear #2 (all-reprint)
The Incredible Hulk King-Size Special #3 (all-reprint)
Marvel Super-Heroes #29 (all-reprint)
Marvel Tales #29 (all-reprint)
Mighty Marvel Western #12 (all-reprint)
My Love #9 (66% reprints)
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #17 (all-reprint)
Rawhide Kid #83
The Ringo Kid #7 (all-reprint)
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #83
Special Marvel Edition #1 (all-reprint)
Sub-Mariner King-Size Special #1 (all-reprint)
The Mighty Thor King-Size Special #3 (all-reprint)
Tower of Shadows #9 (75% reprint; final issue/becomes Creatures on the Loose with #10)
Two-Gun Kid #96 (all-reprint)
Where Creatures Roam #4 (all-reprint)
Where Monsters Dwell #7 (all-reprint)

In January 1971, a lot of the comic books Marvel was shoveling out their back door had a whopping cover price of twenty-five cents. That was approximately one-fourth of what Mr. Wilcox would pay you to mow his lawn and, if you were lucky, a little less than that off your weekly allowance. Point is, if you were a Marvel Zombie in 1971 (and who wasn't?), and you scooped up every title on the stands, it would cost you a total of $5.45. Look at that "Also This Month" list again: 17 of the 19 titles were all or mostly reprint titles and most of those carried the quarter price tag.
A handy-dandy inflation adviser on the net informs me that twenty-five cents in 1971 had the buying power of $1.44 today. Of course, we know that comic books haven't followed the path of inflation very well (what would a 68-page comic book cost you today? Ten Bucks?) but still, for a pre-teen kid just looking to get a four-color fix, times were tough and money was tight.


  1. Prof Matthew: regarding the Avengers, Loki framed" the Hulk by making him wreck the train trestle. Then Thor, IM and the gang teamed up to fight him. They didn't become a formal team with the Hulk until the final panels.

    Iron Man: I'm happy to say that I also noticed Farley London was a take on Paris the Great (Paris...London...get it?), but my observation got lost in transition. At least I now know we all watched the same TV.

    I have to say that it's a lot of fun doing this and seeing where we match up and/or differ. Your observations point out stuff I miss and I sometimes go back for a re-read. Sometimes.

  2. Once again, the Professor Matthew Time Paradox produces an interesting juxtaposition: on the very day our post including CAPTAIN AMERICA #133 runs, I have just reviewed #143, which in several ways uses the EXACT SAME PLOTLINE.

    And here begins my public chagrin regarding Gerry Conway, whose rapid rise to prominence I chronicled in my Sunday Special. The thing is, in order to avoid going out of sequence, I wrote that before re-reading the issues in question, starting with this month's DAREDEVIL. So now I am discovering, in what will become a constant theme over the next few weeks, just how steep his learning curve was!

    Professor Scott: Thanks for the clarification regarding the origin of the Avengers; obviously it's been a while. Ravonna has appeared in several prior Kang stories, most recently the terrific Squadron Sinister arc from #69-71.

    Thanks to whoever covered for me on the synopsis for IRON MAN; my copy turned out to be missing several pages.

  3. Kang sucks? Tom Palmer is an ink-staining wretch? Meet me at the playground after school, folks, 'cause them's fightin' words!

  4. Amazing Adventures: Hoo boy, Black Widow was one of the wordiest half issues ever. Even when there were three panels with no words, the others on the page more than made up for it!
    Loved the splash page of Inhumans (and the goofy fun title), but why the heck would the Inhumans just leave the rings there? Man, heroes are dumber than villains sometimes!

    Captain America: My daughter loves MODOK! Well, the Super Hero Squad MODOK, who's a raving goofball....

    Thor: BTYOINNG!! I simply MUST figure out how to pronounce that one!

  5. Hey, forgive the semi-off topic comment, but i've been poking around on this site since Professor Bradley left a comment on mine, and i just wanted to say that you've got a lot of cool content here and i'll definitely be sticking around. Love the commentary. Thanks and good luck!

  6. I suppose we could be generous and give Sue Storm a pass for being so whiny, as she did almost get killed at the start of issue #106. However, this seems to be a constant pattern with the blond girl. Truthfully, one wonders why Marvel sent Crystal packing in FF #105? Crystal is just as powerful as Sue Storm, just as beautiful and much more confident. The Fantastic Four would have been far better served if Crystal had become the permanent female member of the team, leaving the weak-willed Susan Storm to stay at home and be a full-time mother to Franklin.

    I love your reviews by the way and hope you continue doing them at least through the Bronze Age, aka the 1970's, if not even longer. This is a website is a tremendous resource for all loyal Marvel fans.