Wednesday, November 30, 2011

December 1964: It's Attuma!

Fantastic Four #33

Our Story

Reed Richards is examining the carcass of a huge deep-sea fish which has come to the surface for some reason. Sensing something is wrong, he sends Johnny Storm on a reconnaissance mission up along the coast to search for any weird happenings. Coincidentally, Prince Namor's girlfriend, Lady Dorma is surfacing in New York's harbor, where she's picked up by Johnny and taken to the Baxter Building for questioning. There, she tells the story of a deadly civil war being fought on the bottom of the sea between Namor and a new menace named Attuma. Dorma convinces The Four to accompany her back to Atlantis to aid their sworn enemy, The Sub-Mariner. Since the "Sovereign of the Seven Seas" is too proud to accept help from a surface world dweller, the trick is to aid Subby without his knowledge.

PE: Wouldn't it be great if one of those Discovery Channel shows would run an episode on "The Science of The Fantastic Four, in Particular Issue 33." I'd like to see Bill Nye, the Science Guy test the theory of deep-sea catapults, boulders being thrown at great speeds, flaming on at the bottom of the ocean, and a spray that can oxygenate the sprayee's body so that he may breathe underwater (never mind handle the pressure). That's  not even mentioning the clear conversations the team is having down deep. Did the spray initiate that as well?

JS: Even if willing to buy that special 'spray', even Reed would be aware that any spare oxygen around Johnny would be gone in a flash as soon as he flamed on.

PE: Attuma seems to keep some mighty cool weapons at hand, including: The Deadly Globules of Darkness, which essentially does the same job as the Exxon Valdez; the Nutro-Nuclear Dissolvo-Bomb; and his twin Disintegrator Rays, cloaked behind his headgear's antennae.

 JS: I think we're turning a corner with Kirby's art in this issue. The thicker inking is in line with what I've grown accustomed to from his golden age. Despite Sue looking different from panel to panel, the rest of the FF and their foes are starting to look consistently good. He does dip back into the well of odd photo montages (first seen last issue), which I never quite understood (and remember most vividly from the upcoming issues with Galactus and the Silver Surfer). I'd love to see what the original photo-stats looked like, as I imagine the newsprint reproductions don't do them justice.

PE: Not Brand Ecch panel of the issue: to avoid Attuma's men, Reed shapes himself into a giant devil-ray and hides the crew in his kangaroo-like pocket.

JS: Reed eventually ditches this sort of Plastic-Man routine, doesn't he? It's a weak spot in an otherwise strong story.

PE: Despite the misleading cover, the FF don't fight side-by-side with The Sub-Mariner, but that's all right. This is, by far, the best Subby-FF adventure yet, in part because of the novelty of the FF going in and not making a big splash (pun intended). They're relatively quiet and get the job done without Namor the wiser. We may have just turned the corner.

JS: I agree that made for a more interesting story (as opposed to another retread of what we've read so many times before).

PE: On the FF Fan Pages, Stan Lee beams about Jack Kirby's new invention, a melding of photos and art, as seen on this issue's cover. 

JS: I love these covers with photo backgrounds that appeared on a number of Marvel comics through the sixties. It's a very effective technique and works well on the cover stock. 

PE: We also get a letter from future Marvel Comics writer Don McGregor who, in the early 1970s, would become a fan favorite for his work on The War of the Worlds sequel, Killraven (Amazing Adventures #21-39, Nov 1973-Nov 1976) and for his reboot of The Black Panther (Jungle Action #6-24, Sept 1973-Nov 1976).

The Amazing Spider-Man #19

Our Story

The Sandman has joined up with The Enforcers and their primary mission is to put the kibosh on The Amazing Spider-Man. Their plan kicks off with the capture of Johnny Storm, The Human Torch. Word on the street reaches Spidey and he heads to the super-villains' secret lair. Once The Torch is released, the duo battle the quartet of baddies until the cops come to haul them off to prison.

PE: Not much in the way of story this time out. Just a lot of battle scenes to make up for the change of pace we got last issue. It's puzzling, looking back nearly fifty years later, that Stan never thought to team Spider-Man, rather than The Thing, with The Torch in Strange Tales. It seems a natural and the two would later meet up and fight each other and bad guys dozens of times. In fact, the teaming was so natural that it kicked off the first three issues of Marvel Team-Up in 1972 (they would team a further five times during the initial run of the title).

MB: I’m tempted to yell, “Yeah, baby!” and leave it at that, but I’ll mention a few points of interest, like the always-welcome visual device of having the darker part of Spidey’s costume disappear in the shadows at the top of page 14.  And, although these are essentially stand-alone stories, we get a nice retroactive feeling of continuity from the fact that JJJ’s frustration over Spidey’s comeback, especially on page 12, will undoubtedly influence his role in (Lame Commie—uh, Spoiler Alert!) the creation of the Scorpion next issue.  But what strikes me the most about this one, again retroactively, is that eleven years later, Bill Mantlo and “Our Pal Sal” Buscema did a wonderfully nostalgic Marvel Team-Up two-parter (#39-40) that featured the exact same line-up of Spidey, the Torch—who, presciently, admits in this issue, “I hate to say it, but we make a pretty good team!”—the Enforcers, and the Sandman.  I can’t imagine that was a coincidence, although for good measure they added vintage villains the Big Man and the Crime-Master and newbie heroes the Sons of the Tiger, while subtracting the Ox by default, since he’d died in Daredevil #86 back in ’72.  But I digress.

PE: Ah, Ned Leeds! A fascinating character introduced here for the first time (though seen from afar last issue). (SPOILER ALERT) In the war for the affection of Betty Brant, Ned Leeds would prove the victor over Peter Parker but, in the end, life wasn't a bed of roses for Ned. In the end, he was murdered and revealed to be The Hobgoblin, a Green Goblin knock-off in the mid-80s that started out mysterious and intriguing but devolved (as these things usually do) into silly exposition. To be technical, it was revealed later that Leeds was framed that the Hobgoblin was actually billionaire Roderick Kingsley. The issue of The Amazing Spider-Man (#289) was highly-anticipated and hyped and couldn't be anything but a let down. It was. It also sold a ton of copies. If nothing else, the addition of Ned Leeds to the supporting cast gave Stan an excuse to drop the abysmal "Does he love me or not" plot line (although, witnessed by the next-to-last page mind meanderings by Betty Brant, not dropped in this issue) and move on to more important developments like the mystery man in our climax. Who could he be?

JS: With the shape of his head, I think they're trying to get folks thinking it's JJJ.

PE: As a follow-up to my aside last week about the lack of advertising for Monsters to Laugh With inside the Marvel comics titles, Stan answers just that question, on the Spidey letters page, from Steven Hall of Bloomington, Indiana with "...the reason we didn't mention our humorous new monster mag is that it really isn't a comic book." Obviously, Stan feels the usual Marvel Zombie won't be interested or doesn't have the spare two bits to drop at the newsstand on something that doesn't feature costumed crime fighters. Oh, how the times would change in a few years! Another letter, from Kathy Lucas (ulp! a girl in our midst!)  of Birmingham, Alabama, brings up a point I'd been meaning to raise. In the friendlier, more naive climate that the Marvel Universe resided in (besides "real-life" potholes like assassinations and serial killers), Stan (or whoever ran the letters pages) would print the entire address of their correspondents! So, Kathy mentions that some guy got her address out of a comic book and wrote her, wishing to be "penpals." Her story ends on a high note (she becomes a Marvel fan) and, ostensibly, she and Comic Fan X married and raised five little Marvel zombies of their own. Imagine, though, if her "penpal" wasn't so friendly.

Daredevil #5

Our Story

A new villain has taken the streets of New York by storm.  Known only as The Matador, because he is dressed like a traditional bullfighter, the bad guy pulls off heists with grace and arrogance.  Daredevil first encounters this rogue as he does his bullfighter shtick with his cape on an armored car.  The armored car swerves to avoid hitting the Matador instead of running him over, causing it to crash into a pole.  Daredevil tries to subdue him, but instead has to rescue a painter who has fallen off his scaffold.  Later, while attending a costume party with Karen, Daredevil witnesses the bad guy trying to open up a safe.  Talking really loud so the party goers can hear him, DD points out what the crook is up to.  The drunken revelers try to catch the Matador but he is too quick with his cape trick.  All they do is jump at him and miss.  This distraction allows Matt to change into his costume unnoticed so he can serve a heaping bowl of justice.  Unfortunately for double D, the Matador hands him his ass not once, but twice.  Humiliated in front of the crowd of party goers, Daredevil has hit an all time low.  The press has a field day reporting about the hero getting his butt kicked.  Children in the neighborhood now idolize the Matador and mimic him.  To top it all off, Foggy tells Matt that he's going to propose to Karen.   Daredevil looks through back issues of Sports International and finds out the Matador's secret identity.  It turns out that a few years earlier, a man named Manuel Eloganto, a world famous bull-fighter, had disappeared.    Even though he was one of the best in the sport, Manuel was hated by the crowds for his cruelty in killing the animals.  In his last contest he turned away from a charging bull to address the jeering crowd.  That mistake cost him a trip the hospital from which he never returned.  Daredevil concocts a scheme where he tells all the major news offices that the Matador is in fact Daredevil.  The reporters reluctantly roll with it and the theory makes front page news.  This works out for Matt's plan perfectly as the enraged Matador seeks out DD for a final one-on-one.  In a fiercely contested battle, Daredevil prevails with a final head butt to in the stomach.  All is right in Matt's world as Foggy chickens out on his proposal to Karen, and the city's children throw their Matador costumes in the toilet.  

UTW:  This issue was a hard one to like, and a hard one to disdain.  On one hand, you have new artist Wallace Wood, and he does a pretty decent job.  The writing was good (sort of), but on the other hand, the Matador has got to be one of the stupider creations I've seen in a while.  It doesn't matter that he beat up Daredevil or could pull off big heists, at the end of the day he is still a cheese ball villain.  You could have the Philly Phanatic punch out Iron Man a couple of times but he would still look like a joke.

Jack: Wally Wood! Wally Wood! Wally Wood!

PE: On the splash page, Stan Lee thanks Joe Orlando, Bill Everett, and Vince Coletta for filling in on Daredevil while a "permanent artist of sufficient stature was found." The artist assigned was Wally Wood, but it would be far from permanent. Wood only penciled four issues (and inked over Bob Powell a further three) but he designed the signature red costume (debuting in just a couple issues). For saving us from this hideous yellow and black eyesore, we are eternally grateful.

Jack: Through its first five issues, Daredevil is easily the best drawn Marvel comic.

PE: I've never been one to argue with my fellow professors (they're a lot smarter than I am), but here's where I'd pick a nit. Wally Wood contributed some of the most stunning art for Weird Fantasy and Weird Science, helping to make those two titles the finest science fiction/fantasy comic books ever published (and you can quote me on that), but his work for Daredevil is uninspiring and pedestrian. He's saddled with a fifth-tier villain who'd feel very much at home over at Tales to Astonish or Strange Tales, but more than that, his panels (save those chronicling The Matador's origin) lack the excitement and visual flair that exploded from his work in the 1950s. Stan notes (again, on the splash page which is awash with captions) that Wally came in and wanted to make changes to DD and they thought it only right to let him do so. I haven't read enough about Wood yet to know why he left DD after only a few issues but I'd offer a guess that he wanted to do something that allowed him to stretch his creative wings and that project was not Daredevil (it may have been T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which he helped create shortly after leaving DD). I love Wood's work enough to hang around and wait to see if it gets better but endless panels of Matt and Foggy talking don't float my boat. Nah, the best drawn (and written) comic this month  doesn't feature a superhero.

Jack: With Wally Wood in charge, Karen Page automatically becomes about ten times hotter.

PE: I won't argue that point with you, Professor! Wood always knew how to draw lovely ladies (especially the ones that forgot to put a stitch on). 

Jack: As of 1964, DC still had the best artists, but having Wally Wood join the Marvel bullpen is a big step forward for Stan’s gang.

PE: I like the masked party scene when Matt suddenly gets wind of The Matador's heartbeat and hears a wall safe being opened. Trying to think of a subtle way of alerting the people around him to the theft (but not tip them off to the fact that he's actually a blind superhero), he suddenly yells out to his date, "Hey Karen, wouldn't this be a great time for The Masked Matador to rob a wall safe?" Brilliant! I found it ironic that a man who fights crime has no problem breaking into a library after hours. He's there to research The Matador so does that make it right? Nope. This issue, we get another one of those annoying "stops in play" that Stan feeds us now and then to remind us of or fill us in on a power that our hero possesses. Here we're told, right in the middle of the action, why a lot of noise in a room can throw off DD's sonar.

The Avengers #11

Our Story

With Iron Man off doing solo duty (see Tales of Suspense #60 for details-Perky Pete), Kang the Conqueror decides it might be a good time to defeat The Avengers. The nutty future warrior concocts a (very hip) robot Spider-Man and sends him back in time to battle Kang's enemies. The faux Spider-Man helps Captain America subdue a gang of baddies and then asks the Star-Spangled hero if he can join up with The Avengers. Cap tells him it's not up to him but they journey to Avengers Mansion, where the other Avengers hear "Spider-Man"'s proposal. He wants to join and he'll tell them where the missing Iron Man is. Jumping at the chance to find Shellhead, the team agrees and is soon on the way to a temple in Mexico where, the android tells them, they'll find their partner. It's all a big trick though and the temple is actually a trap designed by Kang. The Avengers are defeated one by one by the robot and doom seems imminent until, just in the nick of time, the team is saved... by the real Spider-Man!

PE: Iron Man is off "investigating the murder of Tony Stark" and cannot be an Avenger for a bit so Captain America raises the idea that perhaps "out of respect for Stark," The Avengers disband for 24 hours. Huh? Does he think all the super villains in the universe will have a moratorium on evil for a day because Tony Stark may be dead? What a dumb idea. Thankfully, the other Avengers shoot this idea down or else we wouldn't have an Issue #11 to review. Speaking of dumb ideas! Having the real Spider-Man trail the team to Mexico just to see what's up is a lulu of a Deus ex Machina. I guess Stan forgot that Peter Parker won't go to the bathroom if it's not within earshot of his eternally dying Aunt May. And then the cherry on top: Spider-Man and his look-alike web up some wings and fight in the skies. Gee, wouldn't this have been a good idea when Spidey was fighting The Vulture? This is just a badly written and badly drawn filler story front to back. When do we get the inevitable Kang-Zemo team-up?

JS: Time out Green Bay! What's this referencing the goings on from a January comic in a December comic! Not a big deal if the reference was regarding the death of Tony Stark!!!

The Great C.A.?
PE: I've got a few more nifty super-villain weapons to add to the Hall of Fame of Silly-Sounding Gizmos: Kang contributes The Atomo-Duplicator and the Iso-Nuclear Duplicator, which can completely duplicate its target in just minutes. We thank Kang for these donations.

JS: Did he not have enough robot stuffing? Why just make a single robot to take on a super-group. Why not stick with his original plan and create robots of all the major super villains (and a few also-rans, IMHO).

PE: Yet another story of a "super-villain" too chicken to face his adversary. Kang's so brilliant he sends an android to fight really strong super-heroes but puts the robot's shut-down button right on his utility belt! If Batman's butler, Alfred, had designed this, he'd have put a "shut down circuits" sign with an arrow pointing to the button.

JS: Again, it's tiresome when super-villains are given a great gizmo to write a story about without any thought to the implications of that, and in classic Scooby Doo fashion, it always ends with, "Drat! Foiled again..."

PE: Am I the only one tired of The Wasp's suspicions of the Wall-Crawler because wasps and spiders don't get along? Get over it already, Jan (Stan)!

JS: I have to admit, I was glad that the real Spider-Man actually made an appearance. I'm not a big fan of the false advertising of a character appearance on the cover that turns out to be a bait and switch.

PE: It seems a stretch that an android sent from the future would know the phrase "Goody-Gumdrops," or know to call Thor a "wing-doozy" (whatever that is), but until that event happens in real life, I'll have to trust Stan. And suddenly Gi-Ant Man has "cybernetic sense," akin to webhead's "spider-sense" that alerts him when danger is near. The late addition of powers continues. Stealing a page from The X-Men's book, Ant-Man commands The Wasp to "execute maneuver 4-A on the double." Being this was The wasp, I assumed 4-A would be application of lip gloss but it turns out it means "sting Spidey with your stinger." Wouldn't it be easier to just tell her that? Seriously, how many maneuvers could The Wasp have?! I do find it intriguing that Stan opted to leave Iron Man out of the action this issue, citing his "disappearance" over in TOS. A little thing like continuity in the Marvel Universe never stopped Stan before so I wonder why he held up the red flag this time? We could argue that Spidey is in America fighting The Enforcers with The Torch at the very same time he's cruising Mexico on the trail of The Avengers!

JS: That boy gets around! But I'm still anxious for not having read next month's Iron Man tale... could Tony Stark really be dead???? ;)

PE: In the "announcements" column, Stan fesses up that the ending of this story wasn't the way it was drawn up originally. The creators felt as though showing Spider-Man on the cover and then only producing a counterfeit Spidey would rile up the Zombies. The climax was re-written (and drawn) at the eleventh hour to fix that little problem. The masochist in me wants to know just how bad the original ending was. Funnily enough, there appears to be a giant shadow in one panel and I naturally thought it would end up being The Watcher meddling without really meddling.

JS: How about that. 

Journey Into Mystery #111

Our Story

Preparing to renew his battle with the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, Thor has frozen time to

 keep Jane Foster on this side of death, by surrounding the “house of traps” with a wind vortex. He finds a room where he can safely leave Jane, and put full attention to his foes. In Asgard, Odin watches the battle with interest. Feeling for his son, Odin sends Loki on a mission to find Hardol the Healer, and deliver an order for a cure that will save Jane from otherwise certain death. Knowing that the God of Mischief would never follow through, Balder the Brave has his fellow warriors watch Loki while he himself decides to venture on the mission. Thor, meanwhile, has his hands full; Cobra and Hyde now possessing increased power courtesy of Loki. Biff, bang, pow later, Thor turns the electrical powers of the house against his opponents, defeating them. Balder having encountered menaces of his own, finds Hardol the Healer, who complies with Odin’s order, giving Balder a magic cure, which the brave one delivers via his magic sword in time for Thor to give Jane the life-saving potion.

Tales Of Asgard finds a young Thor, Loki and Balder taking a shortcut through the forest ruled by a warrior named Sigurd, who is known to have a mysterious source of power. Thor takes up the challenge for battle, and just when Sigurd seems to be becoming too powerful even for the Thunder God to defeat, Balder remembers Sigurds secret: as long as he touches the Earth, he draws unending strength. Thor hurls him to a distant asteroid, forever more to rule in solitude of his new domain.

JB: Luckily we have Balder around to deliver the message Odin entrusts to Loki. But who is the goddess Balder refers to in Odin’s past, that the all-father could never allow himself to stay with, although he loved her dearly? Not Frigga, we’ve seen her briefly in the series run so far. Actually, it’s rather odd Thor never asks about his mother in the comics of this time.

MB: Don’t you hate when they spoil a beautiful cover with a caption that says, “We decided that this cover is too beautiful to spoil with captions”?  Yeah, me too.  Can’t remember how often in ensuing years they fell back on Thor’s “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” routine, but it seems like something that could be potentially even more troublesome than Hank Pym’s memory-loss serum if used too often…or maybe ever.  I’ll leave it to Professors Pete and John to lambaste the soap-opera stuff, but was Odin really dumb enough to believe that Loki would dutifully discharge his mission to Hardol?  Yeah, probably.  The thing that strikes me most about the “Tales of Asgard” segment is that the backgrounds, or lack thereof, remind me of the “black limbo sets” so often invoked over at To the Batpoles!

PE: Aye, yonder Professor doth toucheth verily upon the stupidity of aged Odin. Despite that lapse in good judgement, I found the drama that took place in Asgard to be infinitely more interesting than the fisticuffs happening down in "The Land That Time Forgot" between The Mighty Thor and the Dopey Duo, Hyde and The Cobra. Although I think the big battle between Balder the Brave and "The Phantom Whose Touch Means Death" could have been a bit more... epic... had it lasted longer than two panels.

JB: Balder may be the highlight of this issue; not only can he sing Odin songs of love past, he can hold his own in battle against foes worthy of Thor. I dig the phantom “whose touch means death.” These are the type of quests Thor will get more of in the coming months. Tales Of Asgard offers another interesting character in Sigurd, another grumpy ogre who wants everyone out of his swamp.

PE: Thor notes that even the knowledge of Doctor Donald Blake can't save his true love, nurse Jane Foster. I guess the timing was bad for the death of Johnny Storm's surgeon father last month. He was the greatest doctor in the world and he'd have been able to save Jane. Pity we'll never again be able to hear her croon those immortal words: "Oh, if only my lame boss loved me. I really love him but I can't tell him. Am I really in love if I won't admit it? But Thor is so dreamy..."

PE: (SPOILER ALERT!) Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but an era ends with this issue. That's right, after 28 consecutive appearances, the word "lame" does not enter the text or dialogue at any point in this issue! I was tempted to bestow a "Landmark Shield" award.

Tales to Astonish #62


Our Story

The world's greatest and smartest hero, Giant-Man, is busy working on a contraption that can speed up the growth of plant life, as well as humans.  Things get a little out of hand and the plant that Giant-Man is experimenting on grows to massive proportions.  The growing plant bursts from the lab into the city streets, knocking into other buildings and destroying things due to its massive size.  The nutty professor works on an antidote to fix the problem but mixes it wrong, causing an explosion that blasts him through the building, into a metal pole that he hits his head on, and then he lands unconscious in the streets below.  A thief named Second-Story Sam, who has been spying on Giant-Man, witnesses the catastrophic events.  Sammy even discovers a business card, next to the big lummox, that reveals his identity as Henry Pym, Bio-Chemist.  Sam takes the hero back to the lab and stuffs him in a closet.  Donning one of Giant Man's costumes, Sam learns how to control the awesome power of Gi-Ant man.  He goes on to break into a jewelry store.  The cops show up, but can't find anyone since Sam has shrunk down to ant size.  The Wasp comes along and once she realizes that it's not the love of her life, but an impostor, the two battle.  Once again, the Wasp proves her worthlessness by being defeated at the hands of an amateur villain, when he locks her in a jewelry container.  Meanwhile, big Hank wakes up and swiftly moves into action.  He orders a flying ant to pick up Sammy.  The ant does so and drops him off at the lab.  Giant-Man punches out the poser then orders all ants to assemble to take care of the huge plant before it wrecks the whole city.  He destroys the main root of the plant, effectively ending its reign of terror.  Now regarded as a hero by the reporters from the Daily Bugle, and using some sort of brain washing antidote that causes Sam to forget his identity and reform, what started out as a bad day for Henry Pym ends pretty good after all.                 

UTW:  If there was any doubt that a comic book story couldn't both suck and blow at the same time, this should remove it.  Seriously, the first two pages were like something out of a bad comedy with our bumbling hero exploding himself into a metal pole.  I liked how at the end he sure wasn't going to come forward and tell the press that it was all his fault, for screwing around with mother nature, that caused millions of dollars of damages to the city.  Giant-Man should get new business cards made up that read, Henry Pym, Professional Dipshit.   

MB: When your villain is upstaged by a rogue plant and isn’t Plantman, despite the coincidence of also being named Sam, you’ve got a problem; interestingly, this predated the killer-vine segment of the seminal Amicus anthology film Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors by just a few months.  Doing nothing to ameliorate the problem are the pencils of “Carlos” Burgos (no, pairing a crummy story with equally crummy art does NOT help), at least as inked by unindicted co-conspirator “Dickie” Ayers.  But the pièce de résistance was solving the other problem, i.e., Sam learning Gi-Ant-Man’s secret identity—which is perhaps not so very secret, as we saw two issues ago—with the “memory-loss serum” Hank just happens to have on hand, y’know, being a scientist and all.  Doubtless Dr. Pym was developing it for the Deus ex Machina Pharmaceutical Company, although somehow I suspect that it will conveniently be, dare I say it, forgotten after this issue.  If the story were not so intrinsically forgettable, I’d advocate throwing in a free dose for anybody who bought this.

PE: I'd offer that this falls under the "so bad it's good" banner with its visual argument that Hank Pym is actually Moe, Larry, and Curly all wrapped up in a nice red package. First he creates a serum that makes plants grow to gargantuan proportions in order to solve the planet's food shortage but neglects to program them to stop at forty feet tall. Then, just as "Second-Floor Sammy" happens to peek through "the partially-opened door" of a biochemist (!), "Helpless" Henry Pym nearly blows himself up by mixing together a potent cocktail! "Second-Floor Sammy" steals Gi-Ant Man's suit (but is nice enough to dress Henry Pym rather than leave him lying in his boxers) and heads out to rob jewelry stores but can't control his size shifts. Meanwhile, Henry Pym's super-vine isn't dead after all. It's taking over the city, "breaking through the pavement itself, overturning parked cars, and generally spreading confusion..."  Henry gets his clown suit back and Giant-Man and The Wonderfully Worthless Wasp share a laugh after they erase "Second-Floor Sammy"s brain and release him, despite the fact that he's a criminal. What's not to like in this refugee from Startlingly Stupid Pulp Tales?

Jack: I guess now would not be the time to say that I kind of like The Wasp's new helmet?

PE: I'm surprised that Stan didn't write us an epilogue where Henry and Jan fight over her bill at the hair salon. Over in Avengers #11, Stan confessed he felt awful about the fake Spider-Man on the cover and re-wrote the adventure to include the Real McCoy. Well, this issue's story title promises "Giant-Man Versus The Wonderful Wasp," so I feel somehow cheated that we didn't actually see that particular scenario.

The Hulk

Our Story

While The Hulk is in chains, the mysterious Leader radios The Chameleon, ordering him to find out what happened to the spy at General Ross’s base. At the same time, Rick Jones hears of The Hulk’s capture and tells Captain America that he must go to the brute’s aid. Disguising himself as Ross, The Chameleon attempts to destroy The Hulk, but rage causes another transformation and Bruce Banner slips free of the chains. Rick Jones arrives and helps Banner hide. The Chameleon impersonates Banner and finds a grenade-type Gamma Bomb in his lab. Banner again becomes Hulk, chasing down The Chameleon and smothering the Gamma Bomb when it explodes. Ross still distrusts the Hulk, and The Leader plans his next attack.

Jack: This is a fast-moving story but Ditko’s art is uninspired.

PE: Yeah, Ditko's art here is awful. In fact, his Hulk at times resembles Dr. Seuss' The Grinch.

Jack: The last panel calls this “Marvel’s new adult fantasy soap opera.”

PE: There's a department store somewhere near the base that has an infinite number of purple pants for sale. I wonder if Banner goes there, between issues, and buys dozens of pairs. The Chameleon obviously shops there as well. And why always purple?  Black might look good on a green goliath. Of course, it doesn't really matter. No one around The Hulk seems to be able to add two plus two anyway.

PE: A cool opportunity was missed here. With The Chameleon impersonating Bruce Banner, it was an ideal time for The Hulk to run amok and set up an alibi for the real Banner. He can't be The Hulk and Banner at the same time. But then there is those purple pants to explain away. The Hulk shops at that store as well?

Jack: Two neat things in this issue of TTA: in the letters column, a reader complains that The Hulk has been looking too nice lately, and Stan responds by agreeing and pointing out that this issue The Hulk looks mean again (or at least he went heavy on the eyeliner). Also, Stan announces the Merry Marvel Marching Society!

Strange Tales #127

The Human Torch and The Thing

Our Story

Mr. Fantastic, The Human Torch and The Thing engage in an airborne drag race. Johnny tries too hard and ends up losing, leading to another display of frustration and immaturity as he complains about Reed being the team’s leader. Johnny and Ben receive an invitation to participate in a charity race on the salt flats and fly off to Utah for some fun. However, their race cars take off as if controlled by someone else, leading them into a cave where they confront a mysterious opponent. The enemy fights them to a standstill with little effort, finally revealing himself as Mr. Fantastic. The lesson over, the three return to New York, with Johnny and Ben accepting Reed as their leader.

Jack: Reed is willing to put his teammates in danger to show that he’s better than they are? Some leader!

Willie Lumpkin sighting?

PE: Was anyone as surprised as I was that "The Mystery
Reed tells it like it is
 Villain" turned out to be Reed Richards, Mr. Stretcho from The Fantastic Four? It's amazing the lengths Mr. Fantastic will go to only to prove he should be BMOC. Let's see, he had to have gotten a permit to use that stretch of desert. Then there's the race track itself and the mountain that turns into a tunnel and then all the gadgets down in that hole. Sounds like a lot of bucks right down the toilet to show Johnny and Ben who's boss.

Dr. Strange

Our Story

Dormammu gives Dr. Strange more time to reflect before their final battle. The mysterious girl tells him that she is doomed regardless of who wins, showing him The Mindless Ones, violent, primitive creatures who will invade Dormammu’s realm if he is defeated. Dr. Strange battles the Dreaded One, whose powers seem limitless. Focusing on the fight causes Dormammu to let his guard down and The Mindless Ones begin to attack. He must turn his attention to them in order to protect his realm; their onslaught threatens to overwhelm his efforts until Dr. Strange joins him and helps to re-establish the protective barrier. Dormammu is angry at having needed his enemy’s help, yet he honors Dr. Strange by freeing the girl and promising not to invade Earth. Back in Tibet, the Ancient One rewards Dr. Strange for his victory with a new cape and amulet.

This splash page was too cool to leave out!
Really great Ditko art
MB:  The password is “solid” as we continue to lay the foundations of the epic Lee-Ditko Dr. Strange grandeur, now only a couple of one-offs away.  We sow the seeds of romance between Doc and the as-yet-unnamed Clea; meet the visually striking and dramatically important Mindless Ones; see Strange go head to flaming head with Dormammu for the first time; savor the ingenious solution of Doc “defeating” his more powerful foe by putting the Big D in his debt; witness Dormy’s pledge not to attack our dimension, which he begins scheming to get out of the moment he has made it; power up the Ancient One by getting rid of an evil spell we didn’t even know existed; and introduce Strange’s crimson cloak of levitation, making him more eye-catching than before.  Brilliant—and they’re just warming up.

Jack: This is where the Dr. Strange series really takes off. Ditko’s art is crisp, we meet the Dread Dormammu and Clea (though not named yet), and we are promised more adventures requiring greater power.

JS: Once again, Ditko goes wild with the imagery here. I thought the good Doctor might have landed a girlfriend in the process, but it was not meant to be. The only question that remains is how long until Dormammu breaks his pledge not to attack our dimension...

Tales of Suspense #60

Iron Man

Our Story

Iron Man finds himself in an interesting dilemma: he can't remove his armor for fear that his heart will give out but suspicion falls on him when (his alter ego) Tony Stark turns up missing. Happy and Pepper don't help things by calling the police (just as Shell-head is dipping into some cash in his wall safe!) and events escalate from there. Meanwhile, The Black Widow and Hawkeye take advantage of Stark's absence. The future-Avenger breaks into Tony's office and takes the always reliable Pepper Potts hostage. At that same moment, Black Widow is being kidnapped by (COMMIE ALERT!!) her old bosses, the Soviet swine who wish to steal all of Tony Stark's weapon plans so that they can win the cold war and bring communism down on America. Iron Man arrives at the plant to save Pepper but Hawkeye makes a getaway. Our final panels show Black Widow on a plane to Russia against her free will (hey, she's Russian too, so it serves her right!) and Iron Man laboring constantly to find a solution for his weakened heart.

PE: Once again, suspicion is cast on a superhero and his fellow heroes turn on him. Thor asks Iron Man if he's betrayed Tony Stark. This is a guy you've fought beside for at least a couple of weeks (Marvel time). You should know he's a stand-up guy.

JS: It certainly seems like the big reveal is just around the corner. He can't try and hide his identity from Pepper and Happy forever, can he?

PE: The once-beautiful Black Widow seems to have aged about forty years since the last time we saw her (or it may just be Dick Ayers' inks).

JS: I know I keep asking this, but how much longer until she dons the catsuit?

PE: Even in a world where a guy can plug a chord into the wall and recharge his heart, it's a little much to believe that Hawkeye could have an arrow (with a suction cup tip) that can be shot at a low-flying jet and afford the perfect escape. The line carries him out over the river where he safely slides off! Oh, and the jet? Unbeknownst to Hawkeye it's the plane carrying the kidnapped Black Widow back to Russia. How... um...  ironic.

JS: Bad enough he can do that, notice how he's just hanging straight down from it, as if the plane were just hovering. Not Heck's finest hour. And again, having not been well versed in Hawkeye's origin, I'm still having a hard time accepting him as a villain. Looking forward to the storyline where he turns the corner.

Captain America

Our Story

Captain America agrees to give an exhibition of good training principles in physical education at a charity event, unaware that the men assigned to spar with him have been gassed and replaced by the henchmen of Baron Zemo! Those assembled to watch the rippling muscles and physical prowess of the World War II jackhammer don't go away bored. Cap plows his way through the entire band of assassins and then makes a televised call out to Zemo, accusing the hooded villain of being a chicken and reminding him that someday, somewhere, they're going to clash mano a mano.

PE: Strictly a filler story, adding nothing to the mythos nor advancing a bigger story line. Like Professors Jack and Matthew, I'm depending on an increase in quality in these "double-shot" books, particularly Cap's adventures.

MB:  Nice to graduate to a super-villain in the form of Baron Zemo (making what oddly appears to be his only TOS appearance amid numerous stints in The Avengers), although as usual, instead of going mano a mano with Cap, he sends a gang of ruffians, or in this case an “army of assassins,” against the shield-slinger.  The funny thing about Zemo is that given the angst Cap suffered forever after over Bucky’s death at his hands, you’d think the baron and Cap truly would be “arch-foes,” as they are described here, yet Zemo was so quickly and completely eclipsed by the Red Skull as to make that claim laughable.  Favorite line: “I enjoy making people aware of the importance of physical fitness.”

PE: It might not be a great (nor even really good) story, but we're getting primo Kirby art (here inked by Chic Stone, who's fast becoming Kirby's "Bucky"). As I noted last week, Cap seems to bring out the best in The King and we get a double shot of proof this month (here and in Sgt. Fury).

Also this month

Millie the Model #125
Modeling with Millie #36
Patsy and Hedy #97
Patsy Walker #118
Rawhide Kid #43
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #13


Jack Kirby returns to the title that has seen his best work and brought along an old friend. Sgt.Fury and His Howling Commandos are requested personally by "Captain America and Bucky" (#13) to back them up in a dangerous mission behind enemy lines. Turns out the Germans are digging a tunnel into Britain. Nick Fury jumps at the chance to show up the man in star-spangled underwear, thinking the superhero a glory hog and not the kind of fighting patriot that makes a Howler. Once there though, Fury is swiftly shown the error of his ways as Cap jumps into danger time and again, astonishing the usually unflappable Sergeant. Wow! This is what comic book reading is all about. Tight, well-told story with Stan's typically enjoyable, overlapping dialogue and King Kirby's action-packed panels. At times there might be too much going on in these panels (the visual equivalent of Stan's word balloons) but I'll take that over the pap I've been reading in the hero titles. The dynamic between Fury and Cap in this, their first meeting, isn't really explored yet as, for most of the adventure, they fight separately. Fury's dislike of Cap is understandable. The sergeant perceives the Captain as a stage clown rather than a fighting soldier. This element of Cap's time in World War II is explored in the film version released last summer. Having never read any of the "contemporary" Nick Fury of SHIELD stories arriving in Strange Tales in nine months, I can't wait to see the relationship between these two in modern times.

1964-The Year in Review

As the year began, Marvel was publishing six superhero comics on a monthly basis—Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. January also saw two bi-monthly hero comics: The Avengers and X-Men. Rounding out the 14 comics issued in January were bi-monthly westerns (Kid Colt: Outlaw and Two-Gun Kid), a bi-monthly war comic (Sgt. Fury), a bi-monthly humor comic (Millie), and two annuals (Marvel Tales and Millie), presumably on sale in time for Christmas 1963. At this point, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish still had a hero story in front and science fiction or monster tales in back. This last vestige of pre-hero Marvel would disappear by year’s end.

The final issue of humor comic Kathy was published in February, a month where only six of 11 comics featured superheroes. March saw Captain America return in Avengers 4, and April saw the debut of the bi-monthly Daredevil, taking the place of Kathy.

The increasing importance of superheroes to the Marvel line was apparent in June, as the covers of Journey into Mystery and Tales of Suspense now featured the titles in smaller type, with “Thor” and “The Power of Iron Man” displayed more prominently. Both Thor and Iron Man also began presenting serialized adventures with cliffhanger endings, a trend that would later be adopted in many of Marvel’s hero comics.

The Avengers, Sgt. Fury and Millie the Model were promoted from bi-monthly status to monthly in July, following the pattern set in 1963 by The Amazing Spider-Man. September and October saw Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man annuals (for sale in the summer), and October also featured the return of The Hulk to his own series (sharing Tales to Astonish with Giant Man) as well as an attempt to spice up The Human Torch series in Strange Tales by making The Thing a regular co-star.

November found Captain America returning to his own series, sharing Tales of Suspense with Iron Man and bringing to an end the era of science fiction and monster tales in the back of some of Marvel’s long-running titles.

As 1964 ended, Marvel’s monthly output was more weighted toward superhero comics than it had been at the start of the year. There were seven monthly superhero comics in December, and none of them included any non-superhero stories. X-Men and Daredevil were published in alternating months. Rounding out the list were two monthly Millie comics, two bi-monthly Patsy comics, a monthly war comic, a monster/humor magazine, and three bi-monthly westerns.

Perhaps most important to fans, the letters pages had become widespread by the end of 1964. An official fan club and a TV series were not far off.