Wednesday, February 5, 2014

June 1973 Part One: The Most Controversial Marvel Comic Book of All Time

We didn't know it would be called the Bronze Age, but we knew it was the age that we were in.  There were a whole bunch of us who were trying to do cool and unusual stuff.  If enough people do that, in comics it's called an Age.  I never bought into the idea that comics were basically trash or that comics could only be so good.  I followed Stan's train of thought, which was that they were great and were only going to get better.  When I came into the field, I thought I was part of the guys who were supposed to make it better.  There was no limit that said we could only go so far, so we tried to go far.

-Steve Englehart, Alter Ego interview.

The Amazing Spider-Man 121
"The Night Gwen Stacy Died"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro

Back from Canada, Spider-Man spies roomie Harry in bad shape from taking LSD and being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Changing to civvies, he’s warned by a super-stressed Norman Osborn to stay away from his son, which again has Peter thinking of The Green Goblin. After Norman throws Peter, Gwen and Mary Jane out, he learns his finances are suffering almost as much as his son. Peter, feeling the effects of a cold thanks to his trip up North, heads to the Bugle to get money for his Hulk/Spidey pics, and is in no mood for Robbie Robertson’s friendly banter or Jameson’s trademark crankiness. Back at Chez Osborn, Norman’s stress level increases to the point where he sees a vision of Spider-Man, who’s wrecked his life…and he finally snaps! Off he goes, almost robotically, to a lost Goblin warehouse, promising to kill our hero, but first we see the maniac sneaking up on his flyer toward Gwen at Harry & Peter’s apartment. A woozy Spidey gets to the room soon after and is shocked to see Gwen’s handbag, with a Goblin lantern on top of it. His trusty spider-sense takes our hero to the George Washington Bridge, where he confronts his arch-enemy… and seemingly on the ropes, puts everything into one WHA-KOW punch that sends Gobby reeling! Trying to hustle back to the top of the bridge, Spidey spies Gwen is in a state of shock, but just before he can reach her, the recovering Goblin smashes into her with his flyer and sends her soaring off the bridge! In a last ditch effort, Spidey somehow snags Gwen with webbing before she hits the water…but there’s a small snap….Thinking he’s saved the woman he loves, Spidey quickly realizes she’s dead. As the Goblin hovers to gloat that Gwen was gone before she hit the water, and threatens to kill the webslinger, a depressed but utterly defiant Spider-Man vows his enemy will pay with his life! --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Geez, what a hard book to relive. But I’ll try….I forgot how wordy the cover was. And it’s really not necessary. Interesting that three people on the cover don’t appear inside at all. I also forgot they didn’t reveal the title until the last page. Which of course, makes sense, however unorthodox. Is that where Coppola stole the idea for Apocalypse Now? Oh, I doubt it…I also don’t remember why I only had the Marvel Tales of this one. Was I not allowed to buy a comic where someone dies? Did I not like the cover? Did I just miss it? Well, this 6-year old wasn’t a fanatic collector at the time, nor a humongous Gwen fan, maybe that explains it. But honestly, why do this to the blonde beauty at all? Hadn’t she been through enough with her father’s tragic death? Well, Sean Howe’s book sheds some light, as it seems Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway had discussed shaking up ASM and wanted to kill off Aunt May (there’s an original idea…), but John Romita (of all people!) suggested Gwen Stacy instead, which Conway thought was a “stroke of genius” since she “brought nothing to the mix”, obviously preferring Mary Jane’s character. Roy apparently cleared it with Stan, and one of the most incredible comics in Marvel history was hatched. Conway got backlash from the press and fans at conventions, not to mention no support from Stan, but “the readership started hyperventilating as soon as the issue hit stands.” Damn…

Matthew Bradley: No other issue epitomizes the Bronze Age like this one, although since our spotty collection at the time jumped from #118 to 125, I was denied the impact of reading it in context rather than in Marvel Tales #98 (December 1978).  Two things particularly strike me while revisiting it:  first, now that it’s decisively over, the Peter/Gwen relationship was never all that happy, with no closure whatsoever, and second, especially in retrospect, Spidey seems insufficiently alarmed at the danger to Gwen.  Oh, sure, he’s concerned, but come on—he knows the Goblin is a dangerously unstable psycho, and as a result should be positively frantic, yet Spidey’s attitude feels more like, “Okay, I’ll rescue Gwendy, and then we’ll go grab a malt.”

Mark Barsotti: "The Night Gwen Stacy Died" underscores just how death-haunted Spidey has always been, right from Uncle Ben's murder in Amazing Fantasy #15. Betty Brant's brother, offed by mobsters. The Crime-Master gunned down by the cops (a more slab-certain departure than Doc Doom's 14th tumble from space). Gwen's own police captain pop, crushed by falling rubble. Unlike most of the fresh-faced facility, I did read this upon publication and had the apropos "holy shit!" reaction, even with the town-crier cover: "Someone close to me is about to die!" If that doesn't send up a flare, a text box pimps: "Not a trick! Not an imaginary tale...unbelievable death!"

How'd they miss a little row of headstones?

Peter Enfantino: I think the cockiness and one-liners (even while Spidey is confronted with the possibility of great harm to Gwen) may have been a ploy on Gerry Conway's part (and an effective one) to lull the reader into a false sense of security. Sure, he had posted warning signs up all through the issue (just before Spidey makes it to the bridge, one of those warning signs reads: Now it begins: what will soon become the most tormented quest of this young man's adventurous life and a turning point in a certain costumed hero's tempestuous career!), but how many times had we been lured into an adventure by just such a promise? We really should have seen it coming but, seriously, who kills off the girlfriend? Stan later disavowed it, claiming he was never told it was in the works, but how could the most powerful man in Marvel not be advised that the most significant event in the Universe he created was about to happen? Even if Roy had to contact Stan on the golf course (where, I'm sure, he was playing with Francois Truffaut or Ingmar Bergman), he knew it was coming. 

Joe: Nice Kane/Romita art that looks very Jazzy when we get the patented Osborn sweat, but features Kane’s nifty “I don’t feel so good” stars around our hero’s head thanks to some Canadian cold germs. Spidey losing his balance on page 17 looks odd, until you realize it’s on purpose, and fits in perfectly with the general magnificence of this issue. Robbie Robertson is the only one who looks a little off, like he’s clenching his pipe as hard as JJJ chews his stogie. The eerie foreboding by Conway in the beginning seems more depressing than 40 years ago when it’s all over, but overall he does a bang-up job on what must have been a difficult book to write. The Osborn meltdown is especially well-scripted (page 14), but I’m surprised the change back into Gobby didn’t merit a splashier panel. Then again, that last panel on page 15 is one of the most evil to ever appear in a Marvel comic and more than makes up for it. The one scene that always made me want to stand up and cheer is Spidey’s pulverization of the Goblin on page 22—I think I acted that one out with my Mego action figures once or twice. I sure think the wacked-out Osborn deserves all that and more. Damn…

Scott McIntyre: A million and one Marvel Comics stories have been titled "Turning Point." While this phrase graces the cover and not the story itself, rarely has an issue truly merited the name. Actually, it could be applied to the Marvel Universe in general, and has. This event had such an impact on Peter's life that it is still mentioned and used as a plot point to this day. Gwen's death rattled the fanbase to the point even Stan ran for cover. It's an extremely well written story, with no humor to speak of, unless you count the usual ravings by Jameson. Gerry Conway picks his words carefully, but the phrase "like a man ridden by some demon hag" on page 14 made me smile. Is that where Joe Straczynski came up with the Osborn/Gwen offspring idea?

Joe: Most Important Sound Effect in the History of Amazing Spider-Man and Maybe in All of Comics History: “SNAP!”  Written fairly small, in white letters, and hard to notice at first, it’s truly more the sound of Peter Parker’s heart breaking then Gwen Stacy’s neck. According to the aforementioned Mr. Howe, “in a perverse twist, someone added a ‘snap!’ to the panel in which Spider-Man’s web catches Gwen, implying that it was not the fall but whiplash from the catch that caused her neck to snap, that Spider-Man was implicated in the death.” Damn…

Scott: The tension begins almost immediately and builds slowly as Harry goes nuts and his father starts to unravel. Because of this and the next issue, The Green Goblin was propelled into the stratosphere of Spider-Man's villain ranking. Considering the propensity of comic book characters returning from the dead, it's amazing Normal stayed dead as long as he did (and that Gwen still is). Of course, Spidey has to be socked with a cold to weaken enough to be unable to polish off the Goblin when he's finally enraged enough to do it. And Gwen... Poor, beautiful, tragic Gwen. Knocked off the bridge (misnamed the GWB as a crack, but drawn as the Brooklyn), she had a chance. Regardless of what the Goblin is forced to say, that fall wasn't nearly long enough to kill her before impact. No, as the sound effect and a later letter's page confirmed, Spider-Man killed her. The sudden stop prompted the sickening SNAP! Her head lolled limply to the side... The evidence was all there. Spidey was never granted the knowledge of his responsibility and apparently Gerry or someone didn't want it spelled out in the stories themselves. Perhaps that would be too much for Peter to bear.

Joe: As the resident #1 Spidey fan of the faculty, with posters and trinkets of all things Spider-Man packing my tiny office near the cafeteria, I would be remiss if I didn’t answer the student in the back’s question: “How did re-reading this issue make you feel?” Well, seeing as how this syllabus is coming at the same time as a short medical leave for major knee reconstruction surgery, and the aid of some potent pain medication, it depresses the hell out of me. But it’s a borderline masterpiece of storytelling, certainly Conway’s best so far on ASM, and the Kane/Romita team is at its best, so that’s optimistic. But I’m digressing aren’t I…Yes, this issue affected me this time around. Never being a huge Gwen fan, which might also explain why I didn’t go bananas to ever buy the original comic, I wasn’t super torn up when I was an 11 or 12 year old reading this. But as a middle-aged fanboy reading it this weekend, it bothered me. The tension got to me as Spidey raced to the GWB. The exultation I felt when he smashed that rotten Goblin was there again. And the overall slumped-shoulders feeling I had when Gwen flew off the bridge made me want to reach for a drink. We’ll skip the usual quizzes this week, but your homework is to answer that same question yourself. If you don’t remember ASM #121, try to get a digital copy, or scour the web for some pages. It’s more than worth your time to pick up some extra credit. Dismissed….

Scott: Looking back, as others have, I agree, the Peter/Gwen relationship was rarely a happy one. They were usually on the outs. She was a little on the naggy side and somewhat easy to anger. She never could truly understand Pater and he wasn't very quick when it came to explanations. Sadly. he couldn't choose her over being Spider-Man and that eventually lead to her death. Now, finally, the promise "his life will never be the same again," will actually be fulfilled. Peter's life will sink lower than ever; friends will drift apart, some relationships will snap, and anger will always be close by. It will take a while, but Peter will move on. I know the reasons for Gerry killing her, but I usually think steps to improve a character should be taken over simply killing him or her off. However, it was a brilliant move; sad but necessary. It's extremely well drawn. There's a lot of John Romita's hand at work here, as he inks over Gil Kane's pencils with Tony Mortellaro. The effort is incredible, everyone is at their best here. Gwen leaves us in body but not in spirit as she will forever be a presence in Peter Parker's mind and soul. At the time, I doubt they could have suspected how long she would linger and how this one issue would become a Turning Point not simply for Spider-Man, but for Marvel itself. Innocence lost, forever mourned.

Peter: Without doubt, the single most controversial, most polarizing sequence in any Marvel (perhaps any comic book, period) ever. Fans, at the time, were not happy one bit and flooded Marvel and Gerry with hate mail. Conway says, in Marvel Comics The Untold Story by Sean Howe, that "...instead of acting like he was in charge, (Stan) said 'Oh, they must have done it while I was out of town...'" and  continued "He basically threw me to the wolves." Like Professor Matthew, I missed out on this when it initially appeared (my first Spidey off the stands was #123) and I refused to pay the ungodly price Bob Sidebottom (of Comic Collector Shop) was charging, so I didn't read the saga until the late 70s when I had a job and was able to pay the (even ungodlier) price at a comic convention. Having read the entire run through for this blog and looking at it with "adult eyes," I can see why Gerry wanted to shake things up. Gwen had become a liability and there was no alternative other than marriage. He was faced with a similar challenge with The Green Goblin. The greatest Marvel villain had become Wash. Rinse. Repeat. But, more on that next issue, of course. Take away the murder, this is still a solid story, with the foundation for a crazed Harry being laid down as well. We've even hauled the nearly-forgotten landmark shield out of mothballs and dusted it off. You'll see it again very soon.

Mark: It's almost pointless to critique the nuts & bolts mechanics (they're well-oiled) leading up to the most-significant sound effect in comic history, an almost-innocent little "snap!" – too quiet, really, to warrant an exclamation point – the sound of Gwen's neck breaking.

Sean Howe's (aforementioned) excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story reports Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway were considering offing Aunt May but "...when John Romita got wind of the plans, he suggested a different victim: Peter Parker's girlfriend, the lovely Gwen Stacy." To his eternal credit "Conway thought it was a stroke of genius." I've whipped G.C. like a rented mule when required, mostly for Brand Echh hog-slop served up with frightening regularity on Daredevil, but if ASM #121-122 had been the only story Conway ever wrote for Marvel, he'd have earned his spurs. Sure, Gwen's in peril, but that's the template of great Spidey sagas – the most dastardly villain and highest personal stakes - stretching back to Steve Ditko's Master Planner/ Doc Ock epic. Conway and Romita deliver a riveting page-turner, but there's no reason to think (save the screaming spoiler-alert cover), Pete won't come through in the end.

"I saved you, honey...I saved you."

Except he didn't.

Holy shit.

Astonishing Tales 18
Ka-Zar in
"Gog Cometh!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Dan Adkins and Frank Chiaramonte

The Savage land standoff continues as Lord Plunder holds the vial of super-solder serum stolen by Gemini, with Gog as his bodyguard and Ka-Zar on the good guys’ side. Gemini tries to take out KZ, but the ferocious jungle lord is too much even for someone with the power of two men! Gog attacks, and almost crushes KZ’s ribs, then his brother boasts how he “chanced” on Spider-Man’s ploy to trap Gog in quicksand, and he rescued the alien, leading to the two forming a mental link and Gog obeying the evil Plunder brother. Cut to an AIM facility and crusty old Professor Conrad, who literally shouts “Eureka” upon discovering the original super-soldier formula, but a nameless SHIELD agent tracks him down and destroys the entire complex! On the helicarrier, Bobbi Morse (with Zabu) is ordered by Nick Fury to help KZ get the serum back. On the ground, Zabu knocks out the boastful Gemini, Gog takes out Zabu, then Bobbi tries to buy off Plunder, who rejects her offer and has Gog transport them to England—but they end up in New York! A more gigantic and much more out of control Gog breaks off the Statue of Liberty’s arm and teleports away as Bobbi nabs the serum. After a scrum, Plunder and Gemini conveniently take off and Gog ends up atop the World Trade Center, where he transports once again—home! But we end on Prof Conrad, newly super-sized since he took the serum as the bomb went off! —Joe Tura

Joe: The credits claim “Enjoyed by: You People!” Um, sure about that? Talk about wishful thinking! Well, it’s not the worst, but it’s about on par with past Ka-Zars. Take that as you wish…Adkins draws everyone as if they hit the gym for ten hours first, including Zabu. And Bobbi Morse is single handedly bringing the bullet bra back this month. Lots of odd angles—not really in the panels, those I don’t mind, but on people’s bodies. Like half-broken Mego action figures. And I don’t remember a Ka-Zar figure! As for the story…The Super-Soldier Serum is still around and drives the whole story, but still seems like a subplot. If only we knew what the regular plot was exactly. Why is the evil Plunder there, and why the heck did he really follow the Daily Bugle guys to the Savage Land just in the nick of time to save little Gog…in costume, yet! Gog has teleportation powers? I don’t remember that from Spidey #103, do you? Why does Gemini switch into Brooklynese all of a sudden on page 25? Oh, wait, he’s two guys, that ‘splains it. Sure…And our beloved Gog, after wrecking the Statue of Liberty and scaring the bejeezus out of poor Zabu, disappears in a second with little to no explanation other than he was “tired of this alien planet.” Oh, ok. There’s just so much thrown into the mix here that it’s almost hard to follow. I mean, some decent action scenes, and lots of villainous posturing, but it’s just…well, average. And the end? Sheesh.

Doc Savage 5
"The Monsters"
Story by Steve Englehart and Gardner Fox
Art by Ross Andru and Tom Palmer

In a Michigan cabin, a trapper is torn to shreds by a mysterious monster, his dying words, “Doc Savage...avenge me!”  His friend McBride sets out to hire “Detective...Doc Savage,” but Jean Morris, a Michigan woman sitting next to him on the plane, informs him that Doc is no mere detective – he is a “troubleshooter on a global scale” sure to take the “case” since “monsters are up his alley!”  In New York, a submachine-gun-wielding assassin cuts McBride down in a hail of lead right on Doc’s doorstep.  

Monk and Ham follow the killer to a high wall, scaled by Doc with a grappling iron.  Behind it is a house protected by an electrified grid, which Doc navigates, his aides in tow.  They manage to escape electrocution, only to dodge bullets from a window-shooter – it is Jean.  Doc disarms and interrogates her – she turns out to be an animal trainer who came there after answering Michigan railroad-owner Griswold Rock’s help-wanted ad.  “...Far too many references to Michigan to be mere coincidences,” Doc surmises.  Just then, a monstrous head, almost the size of the room, crashes through the floorboards.  “Scaled and fanged...alien...evil,” it rises through the ceiling and runs outside into a waiting red truck.  
Jean disappears in the shuffle, but Doc, Monk, and Ham tail the truck, driven by “the same torpedo” who killed McBride.  Doc marks it with ultraviolet chemical pellets to spot it from the air with special lenses.  Imprisoned in the basement is Rock, who says an employee stole all his stocks, bonds, and savings for a secret project.  Doc gets Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny to scout for the truck with planes.  Renny is shot down, captured, and left tied to a time bomb planted to dispose of the truck, along with the “monster in the back.”  The Bronze Rescuer tracks Renny through the electronic signaller and saves him in the nick of time, but surmises the monster is “gone for good” when the truck goes “KA-VROOOM!”  Doc deduces where the culprit’s plane is headed and tells Renny “that’s just where we’re going -- now!” -Gilbert Colon 
Gilbert Colon: The first Doc Savage outing was an exotic adventure, the second a detective tale.  This is a horror mystery, or a monster movie is more like it, with a Frankenstein Creature bigger than a house on one page, then able to fit into a truck cargo hold on the next.  (Obviously a spatial-relations impossibility, unless this is something resolved in next month’s “Fearful Finale!”)  Artists Ross Andru and Tom Palmer deliver a suitably monstrous giant in close-up, and writers Steve Englehart and Gardner F. Fox stick true to Lester Dent’s 1934 novel The Monsters.  
Gilbert: Continuing with Doc’s detective credentials, Jean says “Interpol has turned to him in its hour of need” as well as “Scotland Yard and the Surete!”  Lester Dent went on record saying he “took Sherlock Holmes with his deducting ability” to add yet another talent to Clark Savage, Jr.’s array of superhuman attributes.  Besides his elementary ratiocination, the clear-thinking Doc relies on his expansive arsenal rather than superpowers.  In keeping with the first issue’s “FIRST Superhero of ’em All” cover proclamation, the Bronze Man’s use of super-scientific gadgetry – all funded through wealth inherited from his murdered father – seems to many a likely inspiration for Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s “World’s Greatest Detective,” Batman, six years later.  An interesting corollary is that The Monsters is generally acknowledged to have inspired “The Giants of Dr. Hugo Strange” in Batman #1. 

Conan the Barbarian 27
“The Blood of Bel-Hissar”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

Crossing the sweltering desert region of the Hyrkanian plains, Conan comes across a lissome beauty named Suwaan, who is being menaced by the mute, Mongol-like Turgohl. Conan attacks the hulking brute but out-riders from the army of Prince Yezdigerd of Turan interrupt their battle. Fleeing, the trio comes across an ancient castle: the front gates open and they quickly ride into the crumbling keep while their Turian pursuers fearfully retreat. Inside, the Cimmerian discovers that Bab-El-Shaithan, the Gate of the Devil, is entirely populated by men, rogues and renegades broken into two fractions, one led by the sullen Kai Shaah, the other by the motley Kadra Mahmed. Soon, Skol Abdhur, the supreme ruler of Bab-El-Shaithan, appears. The corpulent thief-king boasts that he maintains the delicate balance of power with a cursed ruby, the Blood of Bel-Hissar. When Conan and Suwaan retreat to their chamber for the night, the Cimmerian is overcome, apparently drugged by his host’s wine. After he comes to, Conan stumbles across the dead body of Skol Abdhur. When Kai Shaah and Kadra Mahmed arrive on the scene, Suwaan, deviously plotting to gain control of the powerful jewel, betrays the Cimmerian and accuses him of killing Skol Abdhur and stealing the blood ruby. Outnumbered by the combined forces of the vengeful gangs, Conan is saved by Turgohl, who pulls him through a hidden door. The warriors leap over the castle wall to their waiting horses below. After Conan and Turgohl escape, the furious followers of Kai Shaah and Kadra Mahmed turn on each other, and Suwaan is killed in the bloody carnage. Before riding off, Turgohl wordlessly reveals that he now holds the Blood of Bel-Hissar and that Suwaan was his wife.
-Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: After the lengthy arc of the Makkalet siege, we catch our breaths with a self-contained issue. It’s based on Robert E. Howard’s “The Blood of Belshazzar,” a Cormac Fitzgeoffrey story originally published in Oriental Stories during 1931. Howard only wrote two tales about this half-Norman, half-Gael hero, both taking place during the Third Crusade. I guess the Howard estate was not very litigious, since Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars also feature a character pitting two gangs of thieves against each other. Well, Hammett’s novel also debuted in 1931, so perhaps Howard ripped him off. While Suwaan’s role in the scheme to steal the blood jewel is clear, I’m confused about Turgohl’s participation. Was he involved from the get go? If so, was the plan to wait around in the desert heat, pretend to attack his wife when someone suitable muscular came along and hope that the Turians would show up so that they could all seek refuge in the castle? Seems pretty thin to me. And why did he save Conan at the end? Perhaps I missed something. Big John and Ernie Chan are really meshing: the art is wonderfully savage. And Roy, as usual, lays thick the purple prose, making this an entertaining if not outstanding installment.

Mark: Call it the curse of the high bar: there's nothing wrong with "The Blood of Bel-Hissar," a perfectly serviceable S&S adventure, but nothing particularly memorable either, not compared to the dozen or so classics Roy Thomas and Barry Smith produced in just over two years. Here the sexy femme fatale Suwaan's betrayal of Conan seems by-rote predictable, her comeuppance death prompts only a "so-what" shrug. Her mute, Mongol husband and unexplained bunko partner is more of a mystery, but not one intriguing enough to ponder ten seconds after finishing the story. The autonomous castle full of cutthroat outlaws is a great setting, put to meager use. John Buscema's art is excellent as expected but there's no "Wow!" factor that the departed Barry produced with regularly.

So the curse: a book that's often been great seems a disappointment when "merely" very good. It's a burden one wishes more Marvel titles had to shoulder.

Gilbert: The Continental Op is on the case!  If Robert E. Howard is responsible for the first ever "sword-and-sorcery" story ("The Shadow Kingdom"), and with it anticipated The Thing, etc., it is tempting to see his “The Blood of Bel-Hissar” (1931) as a first as well.  But the "playing-two-sides-off-each-other" plot, as Professor Flynn points out, probably dates to Dashiell Hammett.  The trope can be found at least as far back as one or both of a pair of Hammett novels that predate REH, Red Harvest and The Glass Key (probably more so in the former).  The Glass Key is Hammett's 1931 novel first serialized a year earlier in Black Mask, and the earlier Red Harvest originally ran as a Black Mask serial starting late in 1927 and ending early 1928.  These two novels are often cited as influences on everything from A Fistful of Dollars to Miller's Crossing.  Whether or not Howard read these "playing both sides against the middle" Hammett stories is hard to know -- perhaps his voluminous collected letters offer a clue? -- but on the one hand, REH was not a fan of the hard-boiled detective genre, even though he wrote a few himself.  On the other hand REH, always on the lookout for a sale, studied the pulps and knew the markets well.

The Avengers 112
"The Lion God Lives!
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Don Heck and Frank Bolle

The Lion God has been awakened in Africa and commands followers to go to America and bring the Black Panther back to his homeland. Meanwhile, the Black Widwow is getting settled in the mansion as she begins her membership of the group. The mansion is attacked and the Panther is taken away by the Lion God. While the Avengers debate on what to do next, the Lion God appears and there's the obligatory battle. Who wins? Three guesses. In the end, Natasha decides to return to California and Daredevil, while the Black Panther remains an Avenger. And the Lion God, who watches from wherever, laughs.... -Scott McIntyre

Scott: That wasn't any better than the previous issue. Natasha decides to leave and T'Challa is fairly douchey about it. He practically calls her an interloper with "we only recruited you to help us with Magneto and since that stuff's done, we don't need you, so off you go." The art is the same train wreck as last time and once again I wonder why I chose to cover this title. At least we get to meet, briefly, Mantis. Thanks for that, at least, Don Heck.

Matthew: In Defenders #4, Steve Englehart permanently altered the Marvel landscape by introducing (at least in her current incarnation) a major female character, Valkyrie, and here he does so again by creating Mantis, the object of the exercise in his legendary Celestial Madonna saga.  How much of that he had in mind right out of the gate, I don’t know, but it’s fascinating to contrast their success with the failure of the three overtly feminist books that were folding simultaneously.  Of course, she inhabits only three panels of an issue whose story, and especially its Heck/Bolle artwork, are otherwise unmemorable, although it is historically noteworthy in one other, minor respect: establishing the Black Widow’s membership among the shortest on record.

Peter: What on earth were these guys thinking, making The Widow a member of the Assemblers while keeping her on the masthead of Daredevil and... ? Well, obviously cooler heads prevailed and The Widow was only a member of the gang long enough to see where she would sleep that night. Nice to finally see the intro of The Mantis, a character I associate with my Golden Age of The Avengers. I love how intricately Stainless weaves little clues and teasers, as if he actually knows what he's planning next month. Sharp contrast to Thor, which reads like the writer doesn't even know what he planned last month.

The Cat 4
Story by Linda Fite
Art by Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, and Frank McLaughlin

Greer and a high-school friend, Sally, are sightseeing at the Union Stockyards when their lunch is rudely interrupted by the unwelcome attentions of Bull Taurus, whom Greer flips onto the floor and douses with beer.  Enraged, he takes the serum that turns him into the Man-Bullwhich he stole from its creator after escaping the ropes that dragged him toward a watery grave in Daredevil #96—and wrecks the tavern while Greer sends Sally away to change into the Cat.  Man-Bull offers his definition of women’s lib (“Dumb dames get smashed just like dumb guys”), but despite his mental command over the steers that escape when he knocks a hole in the wall of the cattle pens, Man-Bull is beaten by Greer and trampled by the cattle on their way back. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Marvel’s first major expansion, in 1968, was followed by an inevitable contraction the following year, yet while the fallout from the explosion that began in earnest in 1972 was less clear-cut (within a few years they would be launching books as fast as they canceled them), there were some casualties.  Demonstrating the time-honored last-in-first-out principle, these included all three of the experimental female-focused titles; the first to fall was Night Nurse, who gave up her practice in May—but would, incredibly, be back—quickly followed by The Cat this month and Shanna, the She-Devil in August.  Greer’s litterbox would not remain shuttered forever, as both she and her costume went on to considerably longer lives as Tigra and Hellcat, respectively.

Matthew: It is not surprising that the lettercol gives no indication of this being the end of the road, because recent FF guest artist Ramona Fradon discussed an unpublished follow-up in a Back Issue article (quoted on Wikipedia):  “First of all, I was really rusty.  And I was totally confounded by not drawing from a script.  They gave me this one paragraph and said go draw this 17-page [sic] story.  I don’t think I did my best work by any means.”  Here, working with pencilers Starlin and Alan Weiss and inker Frank McLaughlin, Fite pits Greer against a Daredevil villain, as she had in #2.  Despite being truncated by a deadline-decreed reprint of Fite’s Marvel Girl back-up story from X-Men #57, this is a solid effort that left me wanting more, genuinely sorry to see Greer go.

Captain America and the Falcon 162
"This Way Lies Madness!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and John  Verpoorten

Cap, Falcon and Sharon are fighting in some nightmarish recreation of World War II, which is all set up by Dr. Faustus, who stands overhead with a veiled woman. A woman kidnapped by Faustus, the world's greatest psychologist, through which he planned to discover Cap's weaknesses. Meanwhile, he puts Cap, Falc and Sharon through various mental battles until they finally break free and defeat Faustus. The woman in the veil is revealed to be Peggy Carter, Cap's World War II romance and (much) older sister of Sharon. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A decent actioner tying up an older loose end that, frankly, never really demanded a follow up. Did I need to know about the Girl from Cap's Past from way back in the Tales of Suspense days? Now we get this matronly old lady who looks more like Aunt May than an older version of the girl John Romita drew back in the 60's. Peggy now joins the ranks of Cap's supporting cast. Of course, she'll be part of an annoying love triangle. Ewww, wrinkly old people sex. Good art, a fast pace and lots of cool Faustus action. Not bad at all, really.

Matthew: Having decisively dealt with one of the mysteries from Cap’s past (i.e., the presence of the ’50s Cap and Bucky), Stainless now tackles another, namely the fate of his hitherto-unnamed wartime inamorata and her connection with Sharon.  It’s a far less memorable tale, and the fact that Cap’s relationships with the Carter sisters were separated by two decades suggests a pretty honking big gap between siblings, but this is a certainly a loose end that needed tying up, and Roy has clearly passed the torch to Steve in that department.  As repeatedly stated, I consider Faustus a lightweight—at least metaphorically, if not literally—so defeating him isn’t that much of an achievement, and I suspect this story wouldn’t stand up to any rigorous analysis, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Mark: It's Super Bowl week, so hut! hut! Last month's opening Doc Faust drive marched deep into the Red Zone, but "This Way Lays Madness" goes all butter-fingers at the goal line - another of a depressingly high percentage of current Marvel mags that amp-up the foreplay thrills, but got no fourth quarter money shot. It doesn't help that normally rock-solid Sal pulls a hammy, too. The art stinks like Hoboken, with Sharon looking particularly grotesque: check her giant evil clown mouth on the last panel of P. 6. But, hey, the shout-out to silent film he-man Doug Fairbanks proves Stainless knew how to turn on Woodstock nation.

Peter: I liked this one a lot. Like his classic Faux Cap saga, Stainless takes elements from the Captain's past and gives them the "Stranger in a Strange Land" treatment. Hey, at least we didn't find out that Peggy had slipped on the ice and fallen into suspended animation while reciting poetry over Cap's fallen body and woken up a pretty young girl. Like Matthew, I wonder about the age difference but chalk it up to a long night of drinking. Years later, some young Marvel writer obviously thought the whole thing a bit mad and rebooted Peggy as Sharon's aunt. Mercifully, I missed that one. The Peggy Carter subplot will continue and be milked for plenty of drama. That tag team match between Cap and Peggy and Faustus and Wolfgang is a hoot (the highlight of which is Peggy's final chop to the face of Herr Docktor). A good arc in the valley between two classic story lines.

Mark: The return of now-matronly Peggy Carter is nicely executed (though it begs the question of S & P's folks spawning once every fifteen years) and shows why Stan drafted this Englehart kid. But the plot premise can't sustain a block.

Old Walrus-'stache orchestrates Bad Nazi Playhouse, complete with costume changes – "Enough of the G.I. uniform, dress the Falcon as Barney Fife!" - to discover the shield-slinger's weakness, but why? To destroy him, dummy! Yet he's had Steve unconscious, what, six times since last ish, could have dirt-napped Cap at whim except...he wants to break the mind before killing the body! Such irrational tropes keep super-villains (and comic companies) in biz, and we accept that except when the heavy punts away his own premise, like Faustus: "My primal drive is to destroy your mind, Captain, but...I would have settled...for having my men destroy your body." And I will, I swear it, one of the next three or four times you're helpless before me!

The kick is wide.

Daredevil and the Black Widow 100
"Mind Storm!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and John Tartaglione

Heading back to San Francisco from his one-shot mission with the Avengers, Daredevil wonders what’s next for him and Natasha, who’s remained with the Avengers for now. DD witnesses a robbery below, and jumps at the chance for some action (setting the Avengers Quinjet he was piloting to “auto”, and bailing out). A brief hallucination almost makes his fall a fatal one, but he recovers in time to save himself. He handles the trio of punks; it turns out what they were stealing were some files from Rolling Stone magazine, whose editor Jann Wenner asks DD for an interview back at his office. Matt agrees, although the questions bring up painful memories for him. Another hallucinatory moment that both of them experience has them facing a rogue gallery of DD’ past foes—then it’s over as fast as the earlier one. It turns out many such visions have been had by people all over the city, shortly after which they remember few details. A more real danger (along with another illusion) cuts the interview short, as a muscular young man striding down the street calls himself Angar the Screamer, and bids DD welcome. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I’m not sure if there’s ever been a great 100th issue, and Daredevil’s is no exception. I haven’t read Avengers #110, but I don’t know that I’m buying the Black Widow’s departure from Matt and San Francisco, where she was so desperate to be before. The “reality inclusion” of Rolling Stone magazine is interesting enough, and the hallucinations make for some decent visuals, but there’s not enough here to make it a very memorable outing. Angar the Screamer doesn’t look that promising either, but we’ll see.

Mark: By far Marvel's quirkiest - and thus best thus far - #100th issue celebration finds Dean Gene Colan back on pencils for the party, which Steve Gerber throws at the original San Francisco offices of Rolling Stone! Editor Jann Wenner –a then mop-topped brunette, inexplicably depicted with a blonde Thor wig – appears not in a cameo but as full-on co-star (take that, Bill Buckley, with your two lousy panels in Sad Sack!), attempting to interview DD ("Who are you under those horn?) between shared freak-out psychedelic experiences that only Matt remembers. Gerber uses the interview-bad trip device to work in the origin recap and catwalk villain parade in smoother-than-most fashion. And this ain't Stan gravy-training the Beatles back in Strange Tales, Gerber obviously gets Wenner, blond-wig notwithstanding, and amid the long underwear action lurks the most sympathetic and genuine take on "youth culture" yet from a bullpen given more to Rick Jones' fake hipster-jive, copped from The Partridge Family. That ain't a bad little legacy for one of these normally stagy, big-cast centennial bloviations. But where's the Hunter Thompson walk-on, Steve?

Scott: Daredevil does a Rolling Stone interview, recapping his origin and not making for the most
exciting issue ever. At least it's acknowledged how ridiculous the whole Mike Murdock thing was. And it's nice to see it brought back just enough to bite him on the backside during some questioning. There are some nice moments here, with some touches of weird horror, but all in all, it feels like more stalling to get to the fight with this guy Angar. Next issue, of course.

Matthew: I have to laugh at the cover-hype guarantee:  “You’ve never read a story quite like…Mindstorm!”  Although the introduction of Angar the Screamer, a typically bizarre Gerber villain, might barely justify that statement, it is accompanied by not one but two of the well-worn anniversary-issue chestnuts, the warmed-over origin retelling and the parade of a not-really-there rogues’ gallery.  Of perhaps greater historical interest are the guest-shot by Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, and the fact that after this “epoch-making 100th issue,” the byline of Gene Colan (here capably if not brilliantly inked by John Tartaglione) will be seen on this title far more sporadically than it has over almost all of the previous eighty, an impressive run by any standard.

The Defenders 6
"The Dreams of Death!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

Having had enough of brooding and reclusion, the Silver Surfer decides it is once again time to rejoin humanity. His first goal is to find and apologize to Dr. Strange for blaming him earlier (for the failed attempt to shatter the barrier that entraps the Surfer on Earth, and to return to Zenn-La). Arriving at Strange’s Greenwich flat, he finds it surrounded by an energy cube that takes a full flight attack to penetrate. Once inside, he finds that Stephen’s home is under attack from a previous foe of the magician, now seeking vengeance: Cyrus Black, the (self-proclaimed) Devil Incarnate. Black has spent time studying the black arts and now sees himself as a match for Dr. Strange, but he has overestimated his strengths, and is soon defeated by Strange, his houseguests Namor and the Valkyrie, and the arriving Surfer. Black does manage to vanish before he can be brought to justice. The barrier now gone, the Surfer and Namor offer to take the Valkyrie in flight on a journey of education about the ways of the Earth and humanity. In the meantime, Black, who lives nearby, lies down to rest with his rat Nebuchadnezzar, under the protection cast by some Jamaican incense. He has a frightful dream where his rat grows to giant size and attacks him. Jolting awake, he realizes the incense has given him a power previously unknown, to have his dreams affect reality, thus granting him a new force to plot with. Once the Defenders are reunited at Strange’s home after their flight, they are attacked, first by a pair of demons, then by a somewhat more powerful version of Cyrus Black. It appears all their powers united are still insufficient to stop him, until Namor notices something. Having been out of water for some time, he should be feeling weaker, but he isn’t. He realizes Black’s power must be something of an illusion. He draws Cyrus’s attention to this, shattering the magician’s belief in himself, thus pulling the plug on his power. A defeated Black vanishes, brooding on his future plans, if any. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Some super-teams (Avengers) can’t keep their members together at all; The Defenders don’t want to be a team, and members to die for (no joke intended) keep turning up! The “minor” nature of Cyrus Black (not Sirius Black!), as Professor Matthew points out, is relatively unimportant, as a vessel to bind the members together. However, he is more interesting than many villains; his rat Neb…(don’t think I can pronounce it) is a charming little fellow. Actually, his resignation to his future (“but then—maybe I won’t” mount another attack) shows more maturity than most other villains. Great to see the Surfer bounce back emotionally, as well as he and Namor be willing to teach the Valkyrie what they’ve learned of humanity. Really enjoying this title…

Matthew:  Something about the various shades of blue on Sal’s cover always grabbed me, and although Cyrus Black’s outfit doesn’t match that of his idealized self in Sal’s McLaughlin-inked interior art, it’s a definite improvement.  He’s about as minor a villain as you can get, yet I think it’s fair to say that once again, the focus of Steve’s story is more on integrating Val into our non-team.  Apparently Black’s earlier set-to with Doc was never chronicled; I could have sworn it was, but I was probably confused by the fact that the Sub-Mariner reprint in Astonishing Tales Vol. 2 #13 (December 1980) was paired with a back-up story pitting future Defender Nighthawk against Black, who also made a tardy Bronze-Age reappearance in Dr. Strange #34 (April 1979).

Fantastic Four 135
"The Eternity Machine"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Chasing the flying machine that shot at them, Johnny is led to the hideout of Gregory Gideon. He also finds an unconscious Dragon Man, who awakens and attacks him. Taken inside, the Torch is put in an open cell with force beams to prevent him from escaping. So, too are Ben and Medusa, while an unconscious Reed, Sue and Franklin are attached to a machine that will drain their power into Gideon’s body—the same fate he plans for the rest of them. Medusa cleverly goads Gregory into boasting about his plans; when he is off ordering his men about, she uses her hair to reach and deactivate the controls for their force chambers. Free, she, the Torch and Ben press their advantage and attack. It is Dragon Man who ultimately saves the day, after Medusa removes the sonic controller from his android brain. He attacks Gideon, and the two of them die in an explosion of machinery. Sue takes Franklin and leaves, feeling it is still not time for her and Reed to reconcile. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The defeat of Gideon was coming, we knew that; too bad Dragon Man had to go down with him. Nice to see Medusa keeps her cool and is the one to save the day, indirectly. A few tidbits to keep us guessing: who’s the dude in the trench coat that a watchful Willie Lumpkin spots going into the elevator? What does Alicia mean that she may never hear Ben’s voice again “after tomorrow”? A dose of reality leaves us with the reality that Reed and Sue’s problems are far from over. I wonder what’s to become of Gideon’s son?

Matthew:  Despite the customarily solid Buscema/Sinnott artwork, this is a surprisingly sloppy issue, e.g., the misspelling of Inhumans patriarch Agon as “Agron” (later the name of a Kirby-created villain in Captain America #204), for which I’m not sure whether to blame author Gerry, editor Roy, letterer Artie Simek, or all of the above.  More glaring are the gaffes by colorist Petra Goldberg, who not only depicts Johnny in his anachronistic new costume in the flashback in page 10, panel 1, but also consistently misrepresents him with matching gloves, despite the fact that the “gloves” in page 17, panel 2 clearly have fingernails!  Fortunately, the Dragon Man isn’t really dead, although I think Gregory Gideon is; no great loss.

"Dang, I forgot the blue uni for the flashback!"
Mark: After last month's breakneck, pedal-down action, things get goofy when Gerry Conway has to slow down and explain stuff. Like Gideon's private plane "blundering into...the path of an exploding Atomic bomb!" Ger can ignore that the 1963 Test Ban Treaty nixed atmospheric testing a decade ago, but what billionaire hires a pilot whose pre-flight checklist doesn't include, oh, I don't know - checking for A-Bomb tests! And maybe the FF's cosmic ray-altered genes can somehow save Gideon & son from radiation poisoning, but Medusa's impromptu brain surgery on Dragon-Man brain? Man, that's hairy.

Scott: Gregory Gideon and Dragon Man. What a combo. Not exactly “two great tastes who taste great together.” Under the Buscema pencil, the man is not merely hysterical, but obviously in need of serious meds. This is, to my knowledge, the last gasp of Greg Gideon, for which I let out a quiet prayer of thanks. We’re not quite done with son Thomas yet, however. Sue is a bit of a tease, helping out but not rejoining the team, leaving before Reed wakes up. So uncool. This whole Reed/Sue thing will drag on for far too long, well into the Rich Buckler issues. Oy.

Mark: The top-notch Buscema & Sinnott art ameliorates most WFT moments. Rinse & repeat, as needed. The Alicia sub-plot teaser worked and I dug the Willie Lumpkin walk-on, but how does Gideon harnessing Reed and Sue's powers - last I checked, that's stretchiness and invisibility - make him strong enough to knuckle-dust with the Thing? And Conway's so intent on a "poignant" Sue-walks-out ending, that he has Reed remain unconscious through the big, Gideon-killing (one hopes) explosion that blasted her free, even though Sue was right beside her still-snoozing hubby.
     "Don't tell him we were here," she says...and no reminding Reed he flew here to rescue me last ish. Real sloppy, Ger, but I guess you were too busy committing mayhem over on Spidey to pay close attention.

Adventure Into Fear 14
Man-Thing in
"The Demon Plague"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Chic Stone

Fellow swamp creatures attack the Man-Thing. All around the world, normally peaceful people are suddenly, inexplicably filled with hate, and likewise attack their fellow men--only to then return to normal. In the town near the swamp of the Man-Thing, Jason Kale, and his grandchildren Andy and Jennifer, see the report of the madness on TV. Knowledgeable in the ways of magic, he knows it is an invasion of Netherworld demons that is affecting people. The only way to stop it: gather the fellows of his cult, go to the swamp and utter the proper incantation right at the spot in the swamp where “the daemonic forces are at their nexus.” The fact that their Sacred Tome is missing doesn’t help, however their incantation did have an effect they didn’t expect—mists that engulf Jennifer. A watching Man-Thing, who has a psychic link with Jennifer, rushes to her rescue, and they both disappear. They reappear in a world called Sandt, and are greeted by a wizard named Dakimh. The mists have brought them here to search for the missing Tome, but this world has other plans for them: death. The Tome of Zhered-Na would protect Earth from the invading demons, and the Man-Thing and Jennifer (with her psychic gift) are seen as enemies of the evil forces. They are taken to an arena where the Man-Thing has to fight their champion Mongu for their freedom. Mongu seems to be winning easily, until his axe strikes the Man-Thing and finds only slime. Mongu knows fear, and burns. Having won, the Man-Thing has earned freedom for himself and Jennifer, and they are returned to the swamp to rejoin their people. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The tale seems a little offbeat for Man-Thing, with the otherworldly travelling, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Great to see Manny’s powers hold true there too, and Jennifer’s courage under the circumstances speaks to her developing character. Jason Kale’s cult is interesting, and it leaves us wondering what their purpose is, other than fighting off demon invaders! Next step: find the Tome.

Matthew: This is a case where I really lament the pages squandered on the obligatory reprint—Paul Reinman’s “Listen, You Fool” from Mystery Tales #14 (August 1953)—because Gerber’s story seems underdeveloped.  More space might have allowed him to clarify why Mongu, supposedly unrelated to the eponymous Soviet exoskeleton from Incredible Hulk #4 way back in 1962, nonetheless has a similar appearance and weapon; Len Wein dredged this one up four years later in Hulk #210-11.  Although this episode seems to serve little purpose, Dakimh will reappear throughout Manny’s career, so his introduction is historically significant, and while Mayerik’s humans are a bit sketchy, he sure draws a mean muck-monster (inked by Chic Stone).


Now and then we may open the curtain and allow a visit behind the scenes at the University. Professor Matthew, the dais is yours!

This was graciously snapped by Mrs. Professor Gilbert (aka Carolyn) during last weekend’s Annual Retroactive Christmas Visit by the Colons.  Thought it might be fun to have her document some of the things I often allude to, like The Stacks, seen here, or my infamous charts.  The latter were, alas, a fiasco, with insufficient resolution to make them legible, though Carolyn’s heroic efforts with The Stacks are deserving of Honorary Professor status.

What you see here are the 20 titles I am currently reading and reviewing for MU (alphabetized front to back by original rather than reprint title, which is why Marvel Tales is under A for Amazing Spider-Man, rather than M), with—broadly speaking—April 1974, or whatever the next issues may be, on deck.  A few are misleading:  Captain Marvel and Dr. Strange are both represented by omnibus special-edition reprints (although in the case of Mar-Vell, I also have the originals), while the upcoming issues of both Defenders and Marvel Team-Up are contained in treasury editions that don’t fit on The Stacks.  In the case of MTU, that simply means you see the cover of a subsequent issue, but as it happens, the Defenders two-part reprint (#13-14) coincides with the end of the current batch that I had pulled from the storage boxes, upon a double-decker row of which The Stacks are actually deployed, with poor Carolyn tottering on a stepladder, supported by Your Humble Correspondent, in order to achieve the proper angle.  So, because each issue goes to the bottom of its respective stack as I work my way down, Defenders has come full circle, and thus the cover of #1 is now visible…

-Matthew Bradley

Coming this Sunday! More on Marvel's Most Controversial Comic!


  1. My fellow faculty: you've all outdone yourselves! Amazing coverage of poor Gwendy's death. Kudos all around!

  2. At the ripe old age of 10, I purchased that landmark issue of Amazing Spider-Man for 21 cents, along the FF, Avengers, Defenders and Cap mags. I also had the mag with the Goblin's previous appearance, in a then already well worn copy of ish #98, which ends with Peter happily reuniting with Gwen after her departure in the wake of her father's death. I really can't remember my immediate reaction upon finishing the story for the first time. Certainly a shocker for its time, but I had no doubt that Gwen was definitely dead and that nothing Spidey could do would bring her back. Death has since become pretty meaningless in mainstream comics, but for the most part up through the early Bronze Age if a character was shown as dead, as opposed to appearing to be killed in massive explosion, a fall from a great height or sinking in the ocean while wearing a heavy golden suit, well then that meant the character was going to be treated as genuinely dead and only appear, if at all, in flashbacks from then on. Conway's really pouring on the drama this month with the murder of Spidey's girlfriend of the previous 5 years (in real world time if not Marveltime) and the ongoing seperation of Reed & Sue. Stan wouldn't have gone so far during the height of the Silver Age but the darkness had been gathering over Spidey since the demise of the elder Stacy just two and a half years before. As far as tone goes, I'd say that's a moment when the Silver Age began to give way and with the end of #121, we are entirely in the Bronze Age. That being said, I entirely missed the Man of Bronze's Marvel adventures. Oh, and I thoroughly enjoyed Cyrus Black's ratty tale in the Defenders, and the intro of Mantis was the most intiguing part of this month's Avengers story. Yeah, the Lion God was rather blah as a villain and even a much better artist than Heck might've had trouble making him compelling. As for this month's Cap, I really wanted to see more of Agent Axis! Compelling and creepy and he was only a mask and drug-induced hallucination. In 1973, btw, it wasn't stretching credibility too far to have us believe that 20-something Sharon had a sister old enough to have been an adult during World War II and Cap's first romantic interest. Of course, circa 2003, it no longer made sense that a still 20-something Sharon had such a sister. And Cap's once 20 years encased in ice keeps adding on the decades.

  3. Enjoyed your write-up of Spider-Man. Today it is hard to imagine how important this tale was, especially as this tool has been so devalued in the last decade or so, but back then death was an earnest topic. And even a civilian. And for a code book a quite nasty scene too. Also interesting is how good Thomas and Conway choose who to kill. Hard to imagine the death of Karen Page or Pepper Potts or maybe Jane Foster would have had the same impact.

    Rarely Marvel writers had that much freedom than in these years. It sure made better comics.

  4. Of course, by 1973 Karen, Pepper and Jane had all been long written out of the comics of which they were once prominent supporting cast members, although they would all also eventually return. And just within the previous year or so both the Sub-Mariner's fiance, Lady Dorma, and his father were killed off, but while Subby had been around in comics longer than any other prominent Marvel character and had even been part of their earliest foray into animation, he just wasn't in the same rank popularity wise as Spider-Man. It was akin to DC's killing off the original Doom Patrol -- a bit of a big deal but not enough to get fandom worked up in a lather. Killing Gwen Stacy did the trick. Seems to me that Stan had to have known ahead of time and approved it on the basis that it would provide great drama and give the title a big boost of attention. But when he saw how much negative backlash there was he denied any responsibility for it (I suspect despite the backlash, it helped boost Marvel sales by more fans being intrigued at the thought that anything can happen in these mags than fans so put off that they quit collecting altogether).