Wednesday, September 28, 2011

March 1964: Captain America Lives Again!

The X-Men #4

Our Story

Magneto is back but this time he's not alone. Still upset with the human race, the X-Men's deadliest foe has joined together with four other rowdy mutants: Scarlet Witch, who can move things with her mind; her brother Quicksilver, Marvel's answer to The Flash; The Toad, Marvel's answer to their own The Beast; and Mastermind, an ace at illusion. The Brotherhood decide for their first evil act to invade Santo Marco. Magneto steals a battleship and shells the small country until the population surrenders. Rescue arrives in the form of The X-Men, though in the big battle Professor X is injured and his psychic abilities may be gone.

PE: As soon as we get past the obligatory three pages of "in the gym" workout action, we're treated to a very complex and layered plot line, one that will continue for decades. The "good" mutant vs. the "bad" mutant and what exactly the defining lines are. Even at this early stage, you could see the gears turning in Stan's head. Scarlet Witch and her twin brother Pietro (aka Quicksilver) are introduced in the Marvel Universe as villains but you can tell, even in this appearance, their hearts aren't in it. Before too long (SPOILER ALERT) they'll hand in their Brotherhood membership badges for spots on the Avengers roster. It would be revealed in the Vision/Scarlet Witch mini-series in the early 1980s that Magneto was actually the pair's father and the twins were scurried away to protect them from his influence. Sounds a little too reminiscent of Star Wars to me and, since it was obvious Stan didn't have that in his master plan from the beginning, it'll be interesting to see the dynamic between the three in these early issues.

PE: Good story but I have to wonder what the significance of invading Santo Marco was. I thought it would be revealed that the country was full of mutants ripe for Magneto's picking but the invasion occurs and liberation is not far down the road.

JS: All four members of the BOEM would go on to have healthy careers in the MU in the years ahead. Mastermind gets a nice (and brilliantly justified) upgraded look when he joins up with the Hellfire Club to take part in what would become the X-Men's greatest arc.

PE: Professor X's abilities are damaged at the conclusion but, ostensibly, they'll return soon enough. So will the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

JS: Gotta love how he launches himself out of his wheelchair, head first, into the booby-trapped door. I guess he was tired of the kids having all the fun.

Tales of Suspense #51

Our Story

Tired of earning pennies in his acrobatic stage act, The Uncanny Umberto decides to steal some smart crows and a storefront costume and become The Scarecrow! His first order of business is to rob rich playboy Tony Stark. Even Iron Man can't prevent The Scarecrow from stealing some blueprints for a super-secret technological whatzit from Stark Industry files. Seeing dollar signs, the farm-ready villain sets up a meeting with some of Castro's boys (Commie alert!!) on a gunboat until Iron Man shows up and sinks the little ship, leaving The Scarecrow stranded on a beach in Cuba.

PE: The Scarecrow is yet another in a long line of dopey third stringers who "heard that Iron Man was a bodyguard of Tony Stark's" but isn't smart enough to notice they're never in the same room together. How does a bodyguard protect someone he's never around?

JS: What's with Pepper getting all catty with the boss' date? She needs to learn to put business before pleasure... even if that's not what Stark is known to do.

PE: This is another of those cases where I really have to stop and wonder why this guy needed a costume. The thing must get hot as hell, he can't really be as nimble as he normally is, and it's not as though he's going back to his acrobatics act on his off-hours.

JS: I assume he'll prove to be no relation to The Scarecrow that was part of the Marvel Monster squad of the 70s (nor the truly creepy Batman villain-PE)? The big surprise this issue was the Heckle and Jeckle cameos.

PE: Teaching some crows a few simple tricks is one thing but birds that can drop sacks over a victim's body and cinch the ties? The real winner though is when Scarecrow goes the Ant-Man route, jumping out a high-rise window only to be cushioned by a pillow of crows. I know, I know, this is a comic book about a guy who constantly hooks up AAA batteries to his failing heart.

PE: There are two back-up stories this issue. The first, "The Green Thing" is another of the wild and entertaining Larry Lieber/Matt Fox concoctions that appeared as fillers at about this time. "The Green Thing" is an intelligent plant that a farmer finds in his greenhouse one day. The plant relates that it comes from another planet and is here to conquer earth for its race. The fiendish flower, toying with the rube, promises that if he can destroy the wacky weed, there will be no invasion. Try as he might, the gardener can't nip the rascal in the bud and mankind is doomed, it seems. Until salvation arrives in the jaws of a diving crow (possibly one that got lost from the Iron Man story). The fabulous art, as I'm sure I've noted before, reminds me of the few underground comics I got my hands on when I was a youngster. A collection of Fox's Marvel stories from the 1960s would a welcome addition to any comic lover's bookshelf. Our second story is another yawn-inducing "Tale of the Watcher" called "The Primitive" about life on another planet. More Fox!
Tales to Astonish #53

Our Story

The quilled assassin known as The Porcupine has perfected his costume and wants revenge for his defeat at the hands of The Wasp and Giant-Man (although, Porc is quick to note, he was actually Ant-Man at the time). With the help of the local town's Giant-Man Fan Club (who, when they're not eating at McDonald's, dress as Giant-Man's favorite foes), Porc sneaks into the big hero's private gym and puts his new costume to the test. In a moment of weakness, Gi-Man allows Porc to get too close and the quilled hoodlum steals a handful of his pills. Thinking he's swallowed big boy pills, Porc laughs and taunts his adversary with promises of defeat. Unfortunately for the not-too-bright genius, he's actually downed several reducing pills and quickly shrinks to the size of a microbe, leaving Giant-Man to ponder why most of his foes are idiots.

JS: No offense to the brilliant scientist, but I have to disagree with Pym's assessment that changing from Giant-Man to Ant-Man during his free fall wouldn't make a difference. Drop a man and an ant from a building, and see which has a softer landing.

PE: I'm assuming this is Stan's "letter of love" to early Marvel zombies but it comes off more damnation than praise. The Giant-Man fan club looks to be populated by dwarfs, hunchbacks and slow-wits. Stan must have come in contact with some of those early fans! When Alex Gentry shows up at the door to fan headquarters, these fans cordially invite the old-timer in rather than call the police and report a child molester.

JS: So let me get this straight—would these guys go to a Star Wars fan club meeting dressed as Star Trek characters? It seems like they're more excited by Giant-Man's enemies than the man himself.

PE: The Porcupine notes that, once he's tricked The Wasp to leave Giant-Man's side, he can defeat the huge hero. Has Porc seen some reports on The Wasp I haven't?

JS: Clearly he's not the sharpest tool in the shed.

PE: Amazingly, Giant-Man hypothesizes exactly what happens to Jan (The Wasp) when she's trapped in The Porc's auto. Why didn't Stan just show us the sequence of events?

JS: Maybe he was cutting Ayers some slack.

PE: I am very interested in how Stan will bring back the dope known as The Porcupine.

JS: I'm not ashamed to report that I had already forgotten about Porky since his last appearance. I only hope that I can forget him again before his next one.

Early rendering of Shaq?
PE: In "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale" back-up story, The Wonderful Wasp tells the tale of the giant stone statue, Colossus, who comes to life to stop tyranny on a far-away planet. This Colossus should not be confused with the statue who appeared in two issues of Tales of Suspense ("I Created the Colossus" TOS #14, Feb 1961 and "Colossus Lives Again" TOS #20, Aug 1961) and would be rebooted by Tony Isabella for a short-lived (but highly enjoyable) run in Astonishing Tales (#21-24, Dec 1973-June 1974).

Strange Tales #118

The Human Torch

Our Story

The Wizard escapes from prison disguised as a guard and flies away with a jet pack he just invented, dreaming of the ways he can use it to commit profitable crimes. He tricks the Torch into running out of flame and ties him up, then assumes his identity by using a mask, costume, his jet pack, and a cold-flame unit.

He stops by the Fantastic Four's office to say he and Sue need a vacation, then goes home to gloat and plan some more. Johnny and Sue (who has also been kidnapped by the Wizard) signal Mr. Fantastic and The Thing and are quickly rescued. Johnny confronts the Wizard, who uses his anti-gravity disk to ascend skyward. The story ends with the Wizard zooming up into the stratosphere, unable to stop his own ascent.

Jack: The cover of this issue looks like Kirby's work, complete with the usual elongated Wizard face. Inside, we are treated to the cartoons of Dick Ayers, and the Wizard's face is noticeably less stretched out. I love how he covers his beard with actor's putty made from melted crayons!

JS: No amount of putty is going to make old long-face look like the small headed guard he impersonated.

PE: Prison rehabilitation in the Marvel Universe has reached a new nadir. The wizard is able to build a jetpack out of a toilet seat and sarsaparilla right under the watchful eyes of prison guards.

Jack: Notice that the shape of his entire head changes when he puts on a mask.

PE: Let me get this straight: The Wizard decides that the safest thing to do, while he's perfecting his new anti-gravity gizmo, is to assume the identity of someone else. So far so good. He then picks The Human Torch to impersonate. Wouldn't it be easier to conk Iam Nobody of 333 N. Main Street (with no wife or children) on the head and hide out at his place than try to assume the skin (and fire) of a national idol and part of a famous team? I see land mines ahead. The guy ain't the genius he's trying to sell to us.

Jack: He spends an awful lot of time gloating. And what's with checking in with Reed and Ben to get vacation time? How many weeks a year do FF members get? Do they get health benefits?

PE: Another new Torch-trick. While he and Sue are trapped in a near-airless compartment, Johnny sends a flame ball around the box to search for air. When the flame is triumphant, Johnny concentrates all his power on forcing the fire through the pin-sized hole and then shaping into the 4 signal outside the box. Is the Torch now psychically able to communicate with his flame? I'm not sure about this one.

Jack: The Torch's powers have always changed to match the situation.

PE: Despite the fact that Johnny is trapped and The Wizard has assumed his identity for no more than a couple hours (or five or six panels in Marvel Universe time), the evil genius finishes his weapon in time to use it against The Torch. Seems like a lot of trouble to go to just to use The Torch's pad for half a day. He didn't even get to take advantage of all the chicks that hang 'round Johnny's joint (or fight Spider-Man).

Jack: Did you notice Sue's ability to enclose herself in an invisible force shield that is flame-retardant? Talk about new powers.

PE: The Wizard is finally brought down by The Torch's patented "white hot searing miniature nova flame." But the evil genius has an ace up his sleeve and his anti-grav device sends him hurtling towards space. The Torch muses that if any evil genius can survive a lack of oxygen, it'll be The Wizard. Johnny's right, of course, and we'll see more of The Wizard in 1965.

JS: If I never read another Wizard tale, it will be too soon. How did this guy keep coming up on the pick-a-villain rolodex?

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Creatures from another dimension possess the unsuspecting inhabitants of a small Bavarian village in order to begin their plan for world domination. Dr. Strange catches on and has a mental battle with one of the aliens, defeating him and saving our planet from invasion.

JS: Gotta love how they demand silence of the readers, so as not to disturb the good Doc.

PE: A bit of a long-winded, confusing alien story. I think the Doc should stick to the black arts and not stray too far into Tales to Astonish. The glossary of Doctor Strange terms obviously wasn't created yet, as Stan (or Steve) mention "the mighty Mormammu." Dormammu would become a major force in the Doc Strange universe very soon.

Jack: I beg to differ, Professor Peter! Dr. Strange has already called on the Dread Dormammu (see, for example, ST 116, p. 4, panel 3) and the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth. The vocabulary is there but our favorite fiery-headed creep has yet to show up. I suspect Stan fell victim to the dreaded proofreaders (or a bad memory) once again when Doc called on Mormammu--though it does go well with "mighty"!

JS: I think one of the problems is that the inter-dimensional beings look a little too much like space aliens.

Journey Into Mystery #102

Our Story
Returning to the future of the 23rd century, Zarrko holds the Mighty Thor to his promise of assistance. The Thunder God damages machinery, causes the breakdown of essential services, and wreaks general havoc, though without causing anyone bodily harm. Addressing the World Council who make the laws of the future, Zarrko demands to know the location of the Master Machine that makes the real decisions of the 23rd century. With this information Thor and Zarrko journey to the isolated island where the machine is located. Thor shatters the entrance to the cave to get at the device. A “C-bomb”, a defensive weapon imprisons them with gravitational force, but Thor manages to shatter it. Having kept his word to Zarrko, delivering him mastery of the future Earth, Thor feels free to do battle with the evil scientist. Using the resources of the Master Machine, Zarrko tries to subdue the Thunder God, but Thor manages to transfer enough power through his hammer to give the machine the energy to once again defend itself. The future Earth is spared as Zarrko is captured.

In the Tales Of Asgard, Thor confronts Hela, Goddess of Death, to offer himself up as a sacrifice to save Sif, who had been taken by the storm giants.

JS: The latest trick out of the Thor playbook—swing the hammer at twice the speed of sound and travel through time. If only I could do that to get some of the time spent reading these stories back...

PE: The main feature (the conclusion of the Zarrko storyline) is nothing special but the Tales of Asgard is another strong entry. This time we learn how Thor finally lifted the mighty Mjolnir, get to meet a young Balder (not yet The Brave) and Sif, and witness Thor's first encounter with Hela, Goddess of Death.

JB:Here they state that Sif is Balder’s younger sister; later this seems to be forgotten.

JB: It‘s interesting that a machine is controlling all our destinies in the future

JS: I just want to know when Thor decided to pass on Sif to hook up with lame-Doc-loving Jane Foster?

Fantastic Four #24

Our Story

An alien child is in Times Square, using his incredible power to have a good time, unwittingly causing widespread destruction. The Four must figure a way to stop the rampage without hurting the mischievous imp. Luckily, Reed finds a way of contacting the child's parents (who believe the toddler is in daycare) and they arrive to rescue earth from their "Infant Terrible."

PE: In our opening scene, Life Magazine is at the Baxter Building for a photo session and The Fantastic Four do everything they can to prove they should actually be titled The Full-of-Themselves Four. When Sue Storm does that half-invisible trick, do you think you could see her intestines? No? Well, what do you see when she's half gone and half there?

JS: I think they used that setup purposefully, to hammer home the point of the story. Unfortunately, it all adds up to an issue best forgotten.

PE: Once again, without even facing the foe, Reed Richards exclaims "This may be the most difficult fight we'll ever face!" He is the genius though as he, right out of thin air, decides that if the police make enough noise with their sirens, the marching green men will disappear.

JS: They quickly realize he's an infant because he behaves like a human infant. Good thing they didn't notice that he kinda behaved like Johnny Storm—they might have offered him his own title.

PE: A very unique spacecraft design, wouldn't you say, Professor John?
George Pal 1953
Stan + Jack 1964

JS: The question is, did they do so as a wink to the kids who had seen War of the Worlds, or were they assuming that none of the kids will have seen it...

PE: The alien's not the only strange thing going on in New York. Stan and Jack have two pilots parachute... from a crashing helicopter!

JS: That's a disintegrating helicopter, Peter. Get your ludicrous scenarios right.

PE: Silly, nonsensical, cliched, and derivative. Not the kind of story you want between the covers of "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine." For the umpteenth time, I'll remind readers that the FF will get better, a lot better (it may even earn that "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" hype), but it sure seems like it's taking a long time to get there.

JS: It's not the worst of the monthly titles, by a long shot, but when it's bad, it's "(Infant) Terrible."

PE: On the Letters page, we hear from future comic book writer and low budget film director Don Glut.

The Amazing Spider-Man #10

Our Story

There's a new crime boss in town and he's known as "The Big Man." He rules with an iron fist and three deadly henchmen: the lassoing Montana, the man-mountain known as The Ox, and the martial arts master, Fancy Dan (collectively known as The Enforcers). The Big Man has reined together all the racket bosses for a city-wide crime spree. Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson has been acting strange and taking walks around the city. Coincidentally, most of his walks are in the vicinity of "The Big Man." Could JJJ be leading a double-life of crime? Plus: what is the secret that Betty Brant is withholding from Peter Parker and why does it force her to leave town without saying goodbye?

PE: Last issue Aunt May went under the knife. Now the old gal needs a blood transfusion and her worried nephew happens to be the right blood type. "Shortly after," she's in a car to Florida with friends! I wonder if Stan is hinting that Peter's radioactive blood might be just the ticket for an ailing Aunt May.

JS: Well, she is still alive almost 50 years later...

PE: I was all set to believe that JJJ was "The Big Man" until the evidence started pointing his way and then I figured it was too obvious. I love the mysteries in this strip right now. Who is "the Big Man"? Why does Betty Brant owe money to a loan shark? It has to have something to do with the tidbit she dropped in #9, right?

JS: I didn't buy the JJJ thing—it was too extreme to believe that he'd become a crime boss. I do, however, agree with you that things are getting interesting with Betty.

PE: Not coincidentally, it turns out, we're introduced to disgruntled Daily Bugle columnist Frederick Foswell. I would have preferred that the mystery be dragged out over a few issues (or more) as the upcoming Green Goblin arc did so masterly. When we find out that Foswell is "The Big Man," the effect is not as great since we've just met the guy. The whole thing doesn't add up anyway. Why would Foswell evade escape and head right to work on his next column at The Daily Bugle (other than to drag the suspense out a bit as to whether JJJ was the crime boss)? If he was a great master criminal, what was he doing working at the paper in the first place?

JS: I was underwhelmed by the Big Man and his Enforcers. I felt they were too pedestrian after the line up of super-villains Spidey has faced.

PE: We get our first "Spider-signal," a spotlight to alert police that Spider-Man needs them, very reminiscent of a tool used in a competing comic company's flagship title. I'm surprised said company didn't have lawyers knocking at Marvel's door. From what I've read, that company was a pack of dogs when it came to protecting its share of the market.

JS: Keep in mind that's how he's calling the cops for help, not the other way around. Cross-town Batty's got nothing to worry about.

PE: As the cover blurb teases, we get to find out exactly why J. Jonah Jameson hates Spider-Man:

JS: I frankly didn't buy his 'why I still hate Spider-Man' epilogue.

PE: "The Big Man" and The Enforcers proved popular enough to return several times over the next few decades. In the "too interesting to ignore" department, John Favareau of New York writes in that The Lizard "is the most worthy villain ever to match wits with the Spider-Man." The Jon Favreau wasn't born until 1966 (in New York) but it was close enough for me to mention. In the "special announcements" section, it's disclosed that the readers overwhelmingly voted that letters pages should remain. Another top-notch issue of the best-written and illustrated superhero comic being published by Marvel at the time.

The Avengers #4

Our Story

Continuing the battle royale of last issue, The Sub-Mariner escapes the grasp of The Avengers but then goes on a rampage in the Arctic. Coming upon a group eskimos bowing before a figure frozen in ice, Namor loses his cool and tosses the ice-bound man into the water. Luckily, The Avengers just happen to be cruising by as the figure coasts downwater and they rescue the thawing phantom. Once they get it on board, they're shocked to find that the man in the ice is World War II superhero Captain America. Still alive but dazed from nearly twenty years of suspended animation, he agrees to journey with The Avengers to their headquarters.

Surfacing in New York, the heroes (save Cap) are turned to stone by a mysterious alien. Tracked down by Cap, the outer space visitor relates that he's being blackmailed by The Sub-Mariner. The alien's ship is sunk below the ocean and Subby has promised to release the craft if The Avengers are turned to stone. Cap assures the alien that the team will do everything they can to raise the spaceship if he'll bring back his new friends.

The alien obliges, the heroes raise the ship and then have their first battle side-by-side with Captain America. Once the battle is over, Cap is invited to join the super team. He agrees happily.

PE: One of the greatest events in Marvel Universe history, a brilliant move on the part of Stan and Jack, and the return of one of the most enduring superhero characters of all time.

JS: And all that with what could very well be the least impressive splash page of all time.

PE: I can understand Cap being a little foggy as to who this fish man is but Sub-Mariner should remember the man he fought beside in World War II (alongside Bucky, The original Torch, and Toro) in the All-Winners Squad. The story of how Cap came to be in the ice would be retold and remolded to several different writers' styles through the years (just as every Marvel hero has been toyed with). Some of the sketches will be filled in. For instance, we'll find out in Avengers #6 that the exploding plane that killed Bucky belonged to Baron Zemo.

JS: What a stroke of luck that the Avengers sub just happened to be patrolling the area in which Cap was drifting. By the way, when did they get a sub?

PE: Even classics, we learn, have their lapses of logic now and then. How is it that Giant-Man opens up the "air-tight escape hatch" of the submarine far below the surface of the ocean and grabs Captain America without drowning The Avengers? How does Cap know that he's been frozen in ice all these years, idolized by eskimos?

JS: I'm thinking he read the script. Despite the cool introduction of Cap, I thought some of the sub-plots were pretty weak. The alien visitor that spawned the Medusa legend might have made for a fine backup feature in Strange Tales, but it feels shoehorned into this Avengers installment.

PE: The fascinating aspect of the Cap mythos, to me, is the fact that the 1950s Cap is ignored. The star-spangled avenger relates that he's been frozen for twenty years, since World War II. In fact, Hitler was still in power went Cap went on ice. The last time comic readers had thrilled to an adventure had been September 1954 when Cap and Bucky foiled a plot to bomb the United Nations building in Captain America #78 (with art by John Romita). Costumed heroes, for the most part, were on their way out and kids were plunking down their dimes on horror and crime comics. A couple of issues of Cap's comic were actually titled Captain America's Weird Tales before closing out the run as simply Captain America (with the subtitle of "Commie Smasher"). Aside from a handful of Sub-Mariner Comics, superheroes were dead at Atlas/Marvel until November 1961. As for the mystery of how Cap could fight commies in the 1950s while on ice since the 1940s, that's another wonderful story!

The definition of iconic

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #115
Millie the Model #119
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #6
Two-Gun Kid #68


The Howlers must parachute into North Africa to stop the advance of General Rommel's army in "The Fangs of the Desert Fox" (Sgt Fury #6). A bad chute leads Manelli to a hospital bed and Fury is forced to bring in a substitute. Turns out the new man is a bigot and doesn't want to fight alongside of some of the Howlers. Fury must contend with both The Desert Fox and this new cancer within his mini-army. Another densely written mini-epic. Kirby's art is awe-inspiring and I sure wish he was utilizing this much talent on Fantastic Four (but we know now that he soon will). Fury's commandos don't pull off the fantastical feat of destroying Rommel's army and are, actually, commanded to stand down at the climax. After our bigot is hurt in battle he must undergo a blood transfusion from, you guessed it, a Jewish commando. Only a tacked-on preachy message at our finale weakens the impact of this saga.

Kid Colt finds himself the victim of "The Scorpion's Sting" (Kid Colt, Outlaw #115). The Scorpion terrorizes the Old West with a magical sting every time he points his hand and aims. When Colt runs into him while running from a posse, Scorpion demands The Kid join up with him. Colt refuses and feels the outlaw's fury. Colt finally gets to the bottom of the mystery (The Scorpion is actually Sam Scorpo, inventor of a hidden silenced derringer contraption) and hands Scorpion over to the authorities. Of course, the real Scorpion will be popping up in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man in about ten months.

Two-Gun Kid has his hands full with "The Macabre Mystery of the Purple Phantom" (Two-Gun Kid #68). The Phantom is a cattle rustler who can make himself disappear when he needs to. Most of the time it's when Two-Gun is just about to apprehend the villain. In the end, it's just another bad guy with a little ingenuity and phosphorescent paint.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

February 1964: Electro and The Mandarin!

Strange Tales #117

The Human Torch

Our Story

Johnny Storm sees a TV bulletin announcing that the Eel is at large again. "Flame On!" he cries, and flies to the prison, where he corrals the Eel and forces him back inside, only to learn he is now a free man. The Eel has no intention of going straight, however, and robs a stamp collector shop. Johnny lures him into stealing a large ruby but is defeated when he tries to follow the Eel's tricked-out helicopter. Sue Storm helps the teen moron figure out that the Eel must be at the aquarium, and the Torch rushes there. A pitched battle ensues, with the Torch emerging victorious.

PE: Last issue's scene of Johnny Storm flying in one end of a jet and out the other seems practically realistic compared to this issue's knee slapper of The Torch exiting his house through the fireplace.

JS: Well. Sue did explain the drapes were not fireproof...

PE: Shouldn't The Eel and Electro join forces? They could call themselves Electric Company. The Eel has quite the collection of weapons. The grand prize would have to be his whirlybird, a helicopter that hovers in air without the need for a pilot (I'd love to see how The Eel leaped from that skyscraper into the helicopter without being chopped to bits). It's even equipped with tail-end laughing gas exhausts! The job of Chief Custodian at an aquarium must pay good money!

JS: I'm willing to buy that the helicopter can hover without him at the controls. But I do have a problem with him jumping to it, from above, and not being chopped into Unagi by the spinning blades...

PE: It takes airhead Sue Storm to point out what no one else seems to figure out. The Eel could be hiding out at the aquarium where his alter ego, Leopold Stryke, works while he's in his street clothes. Well, if The Eel isn't smart enough to find a less conspicuous hideout, at least he had the forethought to rub himself down with asbestos grease before tackling The Torch again. Obviously, The Torch's other foes haven't gotten wind of this wonderful concoction yet or his crime-fighting days would be numbered.

JS: Do you think anybody who worked at the aquarium wondered what the huge drums of asbestos grease were for? Or was that used in the snack bar?

Jack: Even Johnny Storm doesn't read Strange Tales!

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Baron Mordo, who really needs to get out more, traps Dr. Strange's mansion in an unknown dimension. Our hero visits Mordo in spirit form, only to be trapped in an "ethereal cylinder." Mordo hotfoots it to Tibet to kill the Ancient One, but Strange beats him there and saves the day.

JS: Oddly enough, Doctor Strange is becoming the one monthly title I'm looking forward to the most. So much so that I broke down and ordered a copy of the color Masterworks TPB to replace my B&W Essential.
PE: The art's as great as always but the script points out why the multi-part arcs that would make Marvel famous are so important. There's not enough room in eight pages of panels to tell a gripping story. It appears that Doctor Strange (and most of the Marvel characters actually) are just hanging around the house waiting to be attacked by some super bad guy. They'll be in peril for five pages but they'll always pull through. There's not much backstory in this series. We know Johnny Storm from the pages of Fantastic Four so some of the spaces between the tiles are already filled in. Not so with Doctor Strange. I'm sure it's just around the corner though. At least we've got pretty pictures to look at. Can't say that's the case with The Torch.

JS: As much fun as I'm having with the Doc's adventures, they're not without their groaner moments as well. Such as when we find that the astral Strange, trapped in the Astral bell jar, wasn't really trapped at all, since the Astral bell jar didn't have an Astral base to keep his Astral self contained. Making Mordo feel like a dumb Astral, to be sure.

Jack: Enough Mordo already! We need some new villains.

Journey Into Mystery

#101“The Return Of Zarrko The Tomorrow Man”

Our Story

Enraged that Odin continues to forbid him to love Jane Foster, Thor storms through the city streets, causing enough thoughtless damage that Iron Man, Giant Man and the Wasp come out to try to calm him down. Observing this, Odin decides to strip the Thunder God of half his power until he agrees to forget about his love. Loki takes advantage of this opportunity to find an enemy to defeat Thor. He finds his pawn in Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, whose memory of his evil desires had been wiped clean when he fought the Thunder God the first time. Zarrko, working as a menial clerk in a scientific facility, wastes no time in using the resources of the 23rd century to travel back in time with an altered mining robot to get his revenge upon Thor. Even fueled by his anger, Thor hasn’t the might to defeat the Tomorrow Man and his robot, and he reluctantly agrees to return to the future with Zarrko to help him rule the 23rd century in exchange for not harming our Earth in the present. In the Tales Of Asgard story this month, “The Invasion Of Asgard” becomes a test for young Thor, as he is set up by Loki to fight many of Asgards’ foes on his own.

PE: The return of our old friend, Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man in a much better story than last time (and Kirby's art on the strip is getting better and better). The interaction between Thor and his estranged father is gripping. Yeah, Loki's being used entirely too much but at least he's being kept in the background. The story also feels fuller because it's a two-parter and thus, Stan and Jack have more space to introduce new angles to the mythology. Big plus is the absence of Plain Jane Foster.

JB: I agree about the art, Pete. An impressive cover. Actually the colours of your frame captures are sometimes better than the originals. Loki's the catalyst in BOTH this month's stories. Doesn't he have anything better to do? What would Thor do without him?

JS: So we've officially ushered in the era of multi-part storylines! Now if they only gave us a story worth telling in one issue, as opposed to two.

JB: Nice tie-in to The Avengers; there haven’t been many yet in the JIMs. I wonder if the peaceful world of the 23rd century contradicts any other versions of our future in Marvel?

PE: Guest-starring The Avengers! I like how Iron Man produces a wad of cash to pay off the driver of the truck Thor demolishes. The truck is totaled but Giant Man tells the owner "no harm done", he'll make it right by "straightening the wheels!" Do you remember back when Henry Pym was Ant-Man and we'd get constant reminders that, though he's a really little superhero, he retains the strength of his bigger size? Maybe when he turns to Giant-Man, he retains the eyesight of his smaller size. Just a thought.

JS: Lots of Avengers make cameos in the first part of the story. More filler to extend the page count?

PE: The Tales of Asgard segments continue to be extremely entertaining. This one tells the story of how Thor fought off the advance of The Evil Ones, a collection of demons and monsters hellbent on invading Asgard. When it came to his half-brother Loki, that Thor sure was a gullible young'un.

JS: I've been enjoying these as well. Much more dependable both in story and art.

JB: Sometimes the third tales in each month of JIM (scripted and drawn by Larry Leiber most of the time) are more fun than the main story—the last ties to the original comic. This one, “The Enemies”, where the peace-loving residents of the planet Iydilica use their intelligence to outwit the evil invading Vulcans, is a good example.

The Amazing Spider-Man #9

Our Story

Desperately needing money to pay for Aunt May's surgery, Peter Parker has been spinning all around town, trying to drum up some business in order to snap some shots for J. Jonah Jameson. Providence arrives in the guise of Electro, a new super-powered villain, whose body has harnessed electricity and can deliver deadly jolts to anyone who dares stand in his way. Spider-Man's finding it hard to find time to fight his new foe however, as he can't leave Aunt May's side. This leaves Electro free to run rampant, releasing jailed convicts to build his crew of henchmen. Aunt May pulls through her surgery just in time for Spider-Man to quash the prison break and wrap Electro up in a nice little package (with an assist from a fire hose). All this and a budding romance with Jonah's secretary, Betty Brant, make for one busy life.

PE: Far be it for me to argue with the science of the Marvel Universe, but something about Electro's origin doesn't sound right to me. Max Dillon's a power lineman, and he's gripping wires when he's struck by lightning. The two electric currents cancel each other out? Presto, his body is full of electricity. That sounds outlandish. Gamma Rays and Cosmic dust clouds I can buy, but this, I'm not sure. You're laughing at me, aren't you?

JS: Yes. Considering the blast Banner survived despite his proximity to it, there's no room to question anyone's ability to survive a catastrophe. For reasons I can't explain, I've always liked Electro. There's something cool about the mask, as silly as it looks.

PE: We're never told exactly what Aunt May is going under the knife for but it must be pretty serious. Peter has to come up with $1000 to pay the top surgeon in the country.

JS: This would be an easy opportunity to take a pot-shot, but I'll cut the old broad some slack.

PE: Peter Parker seems to be getting closer to Betty Brant. I wonder why Stan elected to introduce other romantic interests for Peter when Betty had been around from the start. I'm beating a dead horse, I know, but like the villains in this strip, the characters are substantially more interesting than any of the other hero comics of the period. Betty's the only female character (and that includes Sue Storm) in the Marvel Universe of the 1960s who doesn't seem to be sighing over the title's hero or wishing she were at the hairdresser/nail salon/dress shop. And I just love the little hint of mystery she drops this issue about someone in her past. Now, if Steve could get her eyes a little closer together, she might actually be attractive.

JS: Clearly at this stage in the game, BB was the woman lined up for PP. Thank God she's not another Jane Foster-type.

PE: The Amazing Spider-Man continues to pump out classic villains. The title hasn't yet had to stoop to the tactics that its older sister, Fantastic Four, must do seemingly month in and month out: bring back the same villains over and over. Electro's got a great suit but I gotta believe he's had some near disasters with the lower bolts on his mask. Chafing at the very least. Incidentally, this is not the first super-villain named Electro. Max Dillon's predecessor was the Communist (hiss!) bad guy who fought Captain America in Captain America Comics #78 (September 1954).

JS: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it feels like the majority of the villains introduced in the initial 10 issues of Spider-Man went on to become major players in the book. When you look at the Fantastic Four, by comparison, it seems like the standout villains were fewer and further between.

PE: We award our shield to landmark issues but we don't want to overdo it. I could just as easily plop that shield into just about any of the Spideys of this vintage. They're that good. I can't say that today's comics provide the same sense of wonder and surprise.

JS: While I agree with you, I can't let Electro's first appearance go unnoticed.
Tales of Suspense #50

Our Story

The American Government is concerned about the evil genius known as The Mandarin so they enlist Iron man to take a trip to Red China (Commies!!) and report back with any pertinent info. What Iron Man finds there is a very powerful villain with no agenda to speak of besides total destruction. The Mandarin is aided in his quest for domination by high level karate skills and the rings he wears on each finger, ten different deadly powers. Iron Man is temporarily detained by The Mandarin but, thanks to his mathematical skills and a little electrical know-how, is able to make it back to America for an important dinner date with happy and Pepper.

PE: Thank goodness Don Heck is back. I couldn't take another Steve Ditko Iron Man issue. It looks like Tony Stark has put on a bit of weight since last issue. Happy and Pepper have had a trip to the Fountain of Youth. Heck haters can blahblahblah as much as they want but no one did Iron Man better in the early 60s.

JS: So what exactly is the deal here? Did Marvel not want to pay royalties to Sax Rohmer? I know Fu Manchu eventually turned up in one of my favorite 70s series, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.

PE: Another episode of That's Incredible!: while The Mandarin is swinging a killer karate chop at Iron Man, Tinhead has the time and wherewithal to figure out velocity factors on his "built-in slide rule calculator."

JS: Yeah, can the suit be that technologically advanced if it still has a slide rule?
Ummm...actually, that's eight fingers, two thumbs

PE: Spider-Man has his Green Goblin, The FF have Doctor Doom, The Red Skull will forever plague Captain America. For Iron Man, his yang would have to be The Mandarin. I don't have the stats in front of me but I assume Mandarin has had more appearances than any other foe Iron Man has faced in his pages. Equipped with ten rings, each with a different deadly power. With superduper acknowledgement to Wikipedia, the powers are: Ice Blast, Mento-Intensifier, Electro-Blast, Flame Blast, White Light, Black Light, Disintegration Beam, Vortex Beam, Impact Beam, and Matter Rearranger. Quite an array. Though the Mandarin proves to be a very popular villain, this intro story (sans origin) is not very exciting and, at the time, the character must have seemed to be just another in a line of third-tier bad guys. It's only from 50 years on we know any better.

JS: Does his evil twin, The Cantonese, ever make an appearance?

PE: For the longest time, it was expected that Jon Favreau, director of the first two Iron man films, would utilize The Mandarin just as Hollywood always turns to the iconic villains. Instead they used iron-suited heavies ala Iron Man himself. Looking at The Mandarin's portrayal here, adjustments would have to be made to satisfy PC Hollywood studios. This Oriental has Jerry Lewis-style buck teeth, Spock ears, and impossibly slanted eyes.

JS: I do think the character is certainly more interesting than the majority of throwaway villains that have gone up against the FF.

PE: This issue also features a "Tale of the Watcher." Titled "Journey's End," it's the story of Wilbur Weems, too scrawny and meek for girls, who volunteers for a dangerous space journey that takes him through a cloud of radioactive dust (sound familiar?). Unlike Ben Grimm, Wilbur transforms into a handsome man and takes to living on a planet of beautiful people.

Tales to Astonish #52

Our Story

Brilliant scientist Professor Garrett has decided that the good guys don't pay enough so he's selling top secret secrets to the Red Chinese. Commie Scum! Giant Man's having none of that and he makes quick work of the traitor. Unfortunately, treason must be tantamount to a misdemeanor in 1964 because Garrett is let out on bail and the Chinese help him escape. Idle hands are the devil's workshop and all that, so Garrett decides to genetically splice his own Pegasus, arms himself with top of the line gear, dresses up in chain mail, and flies back to America to rob armored cars. It's not long before Giant Man gets wind of The Black Knight and, while fighting miles above earth, discovers that the nutty knight is actually his old friend Garrett.

PE: Giant-Man busts a crooked scientist (working, of course, for those freakin' commies) and his henchman without the help of the wonderful wee worthless Wasp. How did he manage?

JS: Reed Richards would probably point out that the Wasp is a woman, after all.

PE: Once again, we find a scientist so brilliant he decides that a life of crime is the life that's prime. I like that he sees a statue of a winged horse and decides "I've got to make one of these" and gets started gene splicing eagles and stallions. Lucky for us he didn't run into the Statue of David. But if he's so brilliant, why can't he make a less clunky costume? Seriously, how much does that armor weigh? And why bother crafting a lance with a .45 caliber machine gun in it when you can mount a machine gun on your steed? At least The Black Knight armed himself with some sensible weapons: an acetylene torch (also built into his lance), a paralyzer pistol (in case the machine gun doesn't work?), and the piece de resistance, an itch ray (probably what the stinkin' commies were lookin' for in the first place), which causes The Knight's enemies to break out in embarrassing fits of itching.

JS: Again, if you've got the skills to create a flying horse, methinks you've got what it take to be financially successful. But kudos for putting your mind to something and getting it done in the space of two panels.

PE: New gadget for Ant-Man/Giant-Man: a cybernetic ant-communicator which enables him to download mental impulses from ant brains and read them on a video monitor (Donald Blake might want to borrow this for reading Jane Foster's "brain"). Why are these ants even hanging around anymore? Henry Pym has cast them out of his superhero life like last week's National Enquirer.

JS: He must be keeping them on the payroll somehow. I wonder if radioactive ants would be capable of sending HD signals.

PE: Double belly laugh in our exciting climax. Giant-Man becomes Ant-Man to land on The Black Knight's steed in mid-air. He then takes his growth pill to become Normal-Sized Man but the weight of The Black Knight, his armory, and Normal-Sized Man are too much for the equine mutation and NSM must take a dive. Luckily, according to NSM, 1000 feet in the air is "low enough" and a conveniently placed parachute ride at a carnival cushions his fall. When the Wasp delivers one of her patented stings to the steed, The Knight takes a tumble as well, landing upright in a roller coaster car. Martin and Lewis were never this funny.

JS: You pointed out recently how Giant-Man often appears to be either Middle-Man or Shrimpy-Man. That continues in this issue, where I often spent an extra few seconds trying to decipher whether GM was in the sized based on forced perspective, or he was really supposed to look anywhere from 1 to 3x normal human size (in a few panels, he seems to be taller than the rollercoaster-PE).

PE: Ordinarily, in this space I tell you how lousy this latest Giant-Man story was. I won't this time because I firmly believe this is an outre classic, one that has to be read from start to its 17th and final goofy page to be fully appreciated. If I didn't have to worry about Marvel lawyers, I'd scan the whole thing here. Seek this one out, true believers.

PE: I don't have the space (nor the patience) to reveal the entire story of The Black Knight in all his various incarnations. An earlier version, set in Medieval times, appeared in his own comic for five issues (May-December 1955), with art by the fabulous Joe Maneely. You'll probably notice that we here at the University don't recommend books and magazines very often. The simple fact is there's a heck of a lot of biographical material available out there in print and on the web. We've got vast libraries of the stuff. But here I'll put in a plug for Alter Ego Magazine, edited by Roy Thomas. #28 featured a special spotlight on Joe Maneely and his career. Highly recommended (but then so are the other 100+ issues). You can find ordering info at Two Morrows. The version we meet in this Tale to Astonish would hang around for several years and will make appearances soon in issues of Avengers and Tales of Suspense.

Fantastic Four #23

Our Story

The Fantastic Four are having a hard time getting along when Doctor Doom returns yet again to resume his never-ending scheme of revenge. This time Doom has drafted a trio of convicts and blasts them with super-power juice, giving each one the power to overtake one fourth of the Fantastic Four (leaving Mr. Fantastic for himself). Things go swimmingly for the Doc until the Four put aside their squabbles and realize they are much stronger when they are fighting as a team.

PE: The FF almost disband this issue, fight over who should be the new leader but, in the end, decide Reed is the best man for the job. I'm sure this disturbing trend will continue.

JS: Reed comes across as a bit of a jerk this issue. Are we sure he's not a Skrull imposter?

PE: Some useful new weapons for Johnny Storm. While tussling with Ben Grimm, he doles out lukewarm flame pellets, mild heat explosions, and a cold-flame fly swatter. Next up: The Humid Torch.

JS: Don't forget the 'gentle diffused heat to thaw out Reed. If not for that, Reed might have had a twin brother in the X-Men's Iceman!

PE: Doom seals Reed in a plexi-glass container without letting Reed (or the reader) know how Stretch is supposed to breathe.

JS: If you built a convincing Thing-robot, would you be so quick to disintegrate it?

PE: Make sure your next rental is not in the path of a "solar wave." Evidently, it's fairly common in New York and quite the selling point for evil villains.

JS: Does this issue mark the introduction of The Thing using the phrase 'cloberin' time'? This is the first time I've specifically noticed that.

PE: I may be doomed to repeat myself endlessly but this is the silliest (and most confusing) climax I've yet read in the Marvel Age of Comics (I'll second that emotion. -JS). On the verge of being foiled yet again, Doctor Doom reveals that he bought the warehouse he's entrapped the Four in because his research "discovered it is in the path of a Solar Wave which sweeps the earth every twenty four hours." When a hole in the floor materializes and the Four are looking into deep outer space, Mr. Fantastic exclaims "I should have known! Doom put us directly in the path of a Solar Wave! He must have known it was about to pass this way!" He then relates for the other three/Fourths a history of Solar Waves. Thinking fast on her feet, Sue Storm sends out an invisible field that encloses Doom, thus including him in any apocalypse that comes the Four's way. When the Solar Wave eats up most of the floor, Doom falls into space and eventually becomes topping on a giant space pizza. The Four are saved however because, as Reed Richards enthuses, "ionic dust is expensive" and Doom couldn't afford to sprinkle it in every room. I'm waiting for comic books to be released with audio commentary so Stan can explain this nonsense to me. Five and six year-olds would nod their heads and say "That Stretcho shore is smart. He outwitted Doctor Doom again." Their heads wouldn't hurt like mine does.

JS: Is Doom destined to end every storyline lost in space?

No Anchovies Please

Also this month

Kathy #27 (final issue)
Modeling with Millie #29
Patsy and Hedy #92
Patsy Walker #113
Rawhide Kid #38


The infiltration of costumed villains in the Old West continues with "The Revenge of Red Raven" (Rawhide Kid #38). Red Raven and his bunch of owlhoots are robbing a bank when The Rawhide Kid interrupts and turns them over to the law. Stewing in prison, Red Raven swears vengeance on The Kid and his cellmate, an old Indian medicine man promises to aid Raven in his trek. The Indian hands over a costume, coincidentally that of a bird (Red Raven?), that enables the hombre to fly. And once he's broken out of jail, fly he does... right to Rawhide. The costume is similar to what The Falcon would wear but outside of that novelty this is another dismal western outing. Art by Dick Ayers.