Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 1964: Marvel Double Features!

The Amazing Spider-Man #18

Our Story

Mistaken for a coward because he had to flee a fight with Green Goblin (because, as we saw in ASM #17, his Aunt May was taken to a hospital-Continuity Pete), Spider-Man is the laughing stock of New York. J. Jonah Jameson basks in the glow of victory, as all of his vitriolic editorials now seem to be true to the common folk. Peter Parker himself seems on the verge of a breakdown due to stress over medical bills and Aunt May's health. When he tries to earn extra money by selling his likeness to a greeting card company, he's told his name is MUD. A very public incident with The Sandman only furthers the public's antagonism towards the wall-crawler. It takes a speech from his frail Aunt May to get Parker on the right track and back to his web-slinging ways.

PE: Not much sense in Peter Parker suiting up as Spider-Man and then not engaging in some street-action because he might hurt himself and leave Aunt May out in the cold. I mean we're talking about a gang of young hoodlums here. How much of a hurt would they put on The Amazing Spider-Man?

JS: What's the deal with Aunt May's finances? Does she have insurance? Is she totally dependent on Peter Parker to survive?

PE: Betty Brant hangs up on Peter and then harrumphs to JJJ about the nerve Parker has, calling her as though nothing is wrong (Peter had to bow out of a date with Betty last issue). When JJJ asks where Peter's been keeping himself, Betty tells her he's been watching over his ill Aunt May, who just had a major operation. What a wonderful "girlfriend" this dame is! So understanding, so supportive. Since this is the Age of Alliterative Marvel Universe, allow me to add a middle name to Betty Brant that begins with a B!

JS: So what's the explanation for Mary Jane Watson?

PE: Stan can't keep Aunt May's buddy's name straight. One issue, it's lovely Mrs. Watson with the beautiful niece. This issue it's kindly Mrs. Watkins with the gorgeous niece. And did I miss the issue when JJJ became a news anchor? He's there on the Evening News spouting exclamations about how much of a coward Spidey is. Spidey's spider-sense has gotten so keen he can sense that Flash Thompson is around a corner losing a fight!

MB:  Once again, Stan needs a good editor with the “Mrs. Watkins” thing, but at least Liz has good taste if she’s a Peter Sellers fan.  He had three films released in 1964, although I’m hoping Dr. Strangelove was the one she wanted to see with Peter (either that or A Shot in the Dark).  Stan certainly made hay out of JJJ’s disgusting delight over Spidey’s alleged cowardice; when he talked about watching that news clip in slow-motion on page 14, all I could think was, “My God, it’s Spider-Porn!”  

PE: Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man! Again! Well, for two pages he does. He makes a great show of bundling his costume in a paper bag and tossing it in the waste, swearing to the sky that he's through being an adventurer, that he'll take care of Aunt May from now. Then May gets better and tells Peter that Parkers never quit. That's all it takes for the teenager to forego a normal life, yet again, and retrieve his slightly wrinkled uniform. Despite a few drawbacks, this is a top-notch story and a strange one. As Stan exaggerates in the last panel: "It's the first time in history that an adventure hero had no actual fight  with any foe." I'm not crazy enough to read every single comic book published before November 1964, and I've a feeling that Stan couldn't have backed that statement up with proof, but it's a unique concept. Of course, it would have been an even better story without the Betty Brant melodrama.

MB: Now—to Jack’s relief—I’m not gonna claim this issue is a famous first or anything, but I will say it’s the epitome of what made Marvel so great back in the day.  I can’t see Superman or Batman dealing with all of Peter’s mundane problems, and I presume that Stan’s hype about this non-battle issue being unique for the time is at least partly true.  This is the real deal!

PE: On the letters page is an appearance from future Marvel artist Frank Brunner, best known for his work on  horror comics such as Man-Thing, Unknown Worlds, and The Tomb of Dracula, as well as art jobs for Warren. My favorite Brunners were his adaptations of Robert E. Howard's "The Horror from the Mound" (here retitled "The Monster from the Mound") and "The Thing on the Roof" also by Howard. Both can be found in the first two issues of Marvel's 1972 horror title, The Chamber of Chills. On a personal note, William Rose of radio station KTAR in Phoenix writes in acknowledging "a debt of gratitude... for your return to the super-hero era of comics." 47 years later, KTAR is the Number One AM News station in Arizona.

Journey into Mystery #110

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As ever seeking the defeat of Thor, Loki masquerades as a human long enough to free Mr. Hyde and the Cobra from prison—at $500,000 bail! Convincing the evil duo of his powers, Loki doubles their powers as long as they swear allegiance to him in defeating their mutual enemy Thor.  Step One: kidnap Jane Foster. Loki leaves the demonic duo to do his dirty work, and wastes no time in telling Odin that his favored son Thor is backing down from his duties on Earth. Caring not that Thor’s hesitation was to save Jane Foster, the All-Father banishes Thor from Asgard. Thor surmises that Loki is running things from behind the scenes, and returns to Asgard to find him. The best efforts of Heimdall and the other warriors of the realm can’t stop the Thunder God from doing just that. Odin stops the ball here, agreeing to hold judgment on Thor until his mission on Earth is complete, sending him directly to the hideout of Jeckyl and Hyde (oops, Cobra and Hyde). The considerable powers of his foes slow Thor down long enough that a gas explosion convinces Mr. Hyde his opponent is dead, and he runs off to gloat to the Cobra.  A merely stunned Thor finds an unconscious Jane Foster in critical condition, and envelops the house in a time-stopping vortex to keep her from dying while he prepares to renew the battle.

Tales Of Asgard this month tells the tale of “The Defeat Of Odin” and his warriors as they retreat from the legions of Rivaak, a sworn enemy of Asgard. Odin’s real motivation is to show to man and god alike, that heroes will inspire as much in defeat as victory, if courage is present.

PE: Back to the romance crap for a second. Am I the only one scratching my head, not from lice but from bafflement. We go from one issue of "I love her so much, but I can't tell her" to the  lame Doc calling the lame nurse "dear." "Stan Lee! This is Office Express calling. Your new post-it notes are ready."

JS: If I didn't know better, I'd say he should keep his schedule clear in case Mary Jane Watson is free for a date. If she's good enough for Parker, chances are the Lame Doc would be worthy.

PE: It was my impression that superheroes keep secret identities so that the ones they love won't be kidnapped and terrorized, right? So, why does Thor bother with an alias when Jane is whisked off pert near every issue. Wouldn't it be easier to say "Hey Jane, I'm Thor, you best keep guard because every one of my enemies seems to know there's a connection between me and you and you'll be the first they exploit." Peter Parker could do with explaining that to Aunt May and Betty Brant as well.

JB: A nice pin-up of Thor in this issue.  Although I frequently sing the praises of the Jack Kirby/ Vince Colletta  team, it’s meant as no detriment to Chic Stone, whose work reminds me a little of the look of the inks in Kirby’s 1970’s titles (Mike Royer inking in those titles?).

MB: Usually, when we refer to “the best of both worlds,” we’re talking metaphorically, but here, it’s literal:  this issue offers a satisfying mix of Thor’s adventures on Earth and in Asgard—where, you'll notice, the number of panels per page decreases!  It’s always fun to see the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, even if their primary battle is being deferred until next issue, and having their powers beefed up by Loki makes then more plausible as antagonists for the thunder god.  Stan keeps the pot boiling regarding Big Daddy Odin’s ongoing wrath over Thor’s love for a mortal (which, for a nice change, seems to have gotten past the “s/he loves me, s/he loves me not” phase), and Kirby and Stone are in fine form.

JB: The Cobra and Mr. Hyde (no more Calvin Zabo?) must rival Loki now for number of appearances. Professor Mathew—the balance of Asgard and Earth is nice this time around, but I have to agree with Peter; we’re getting a little tired of the dullness, if you will, of these villains.

PE: But it's a pot filled with old, rancid stew, Professor Bradley. Just as I'm fed up with superhero romances that may not be, I'm equally perplexed by the lapsed memory of either Stan or Odin. Thor's pop seems to forget how much bad advice his other son has given and how it always ends up the same way: Odin tells Thor he's proud of him but wishes he'd find a hometown girl to hammer and Loki ends up in his room (or a forest of bramble bushes or something along those lines) for an issue, sent there by a very angry father. Thor then takes a page out of The Enchantress' book by stopping time so that Jane Foster won't die.

JB: The theme in Tales Of Asgard is interesting; although a defeat “rigged” as this one is, rings a little hollow. I love the concept that some villains are simply more powerful than our heroes, and can’t be defeated by sheer force (Galactus in the Fantastic Four, the Sub-Mariner to Daredevil in the upcoming D.D. # 7, or the Destroyer and Mangog for the Thunder God).

PE: I foresee a future issue that proclaims on its cover "Not featuring the menace of Loki! or Mister Hyde! or The Cobra!" Where the heck was Zarrko this month?

The X-Men #8

Our Story

When The Beast and Iceman come to the aid of a little boy trapped on a water tower, they risk giving away their secret identities. Only filled with concern for the boy's safety, The Beast climbs the building and rescues the kid, but the mutant-hating mob sees it only as a ruse to gain the trust of the public and they attack the two X-Men. Disgusted and disenchanted with the human race, The Beast quits the team and becomes a pro wrestler. A very good one, indeed. That is, until he faces Unus, The Untouchable!, a wrestler who literally cannot be touched. Turns out that, yep, he's a mutant and Magneto's talent scout, Mastermind, just happens to be in the audience that night for the big show. The evil mutie goes back stage to present Magneto's offer: if Unus can defeat one or more of The X-Men, then he's welcome to join the ranks of The Evil Mutants. Unaware that he just beat an X-Men, Unus goes x-shopping. The untouchability of Unus proves too much for the X-ers until the returning Hank McCoy has the bright idea of zapping Unus with a just-developed machine that increases power. The zap actually causes objects to repel away from Unus as he's reaching for them. The thought of no more chocolate cake is enough to send the Untouchable to his knees to beg for mercy.

PE: Pro wrestling fans were just as dumb as nurses and secretaries back in 1964. A new wrestler named The Beast, a really big guy who jumps around the ring athletically, using his feet quite a bit. Hmmm. Who could that be? You'd think he'd at least try a new monicker. And how dopey is Mastermind not to recognize the powers of Hank McCoy? Some talent scout this guy is.

JS: There's a reason why Unus is the least remembered villain from the X-Men's first ten issues.

PE: It shore is lucky Hank's Increas-O Ray works on Unus as he didn't have time to test it. It amazes me that these big brains (like Hank and Reed Richards) have so much time to devote to crafting a machine that will work for only one purpose. When else will the team need a weapon that keeps a super-villain from smoking a cigarette? Where do they get the materials for these things?

JS: The Marvel Acme warehouse, obviously.

PE: I'm anxious to learn all of the X-Men secret battle plans. We learn that G-5 means "Marvel Girl will  execute a telekinetic catch" and F-12 is "quick freeze intensity." Scott Summers has to have a good memory. Lord knows you don't want to order Marvel Girl to execute a M-78 ("Kick Magneto with your big feet"). I'll fill in the blanks as we go along.

JS: If they continue to spend half of each issue in the Danger Room, you're sure to get your wish.

How silken her hair?
PE: Lots of Marvel melodrama and misunderstandings this issue. First, Hank McCoy quits the group in disgust. Then he comes back, only to seemingly betray his old friends. "What could Hank be thinking," Cyclops must be thinking. "I don't know but let's attack him! Don't give our friend a chance to explain!" Then when the truth comes out, Hank has no problem with how quickly his "buddies" turned on him.  I've seen this plot line before but can't remember where. Musta been over at DC. This couldn't have come from The House of Ideas.

JS: Well, considering mutants are pretty much either X-Men or members of Magneto's brotherhood... his, "if you're not with me, then you're my enemy," approach that worked so well for Anakin Skywalker may be the only way to go.

PE: It's not just the inter-squad squabbling that's recycled, it's the Barbara Cartland-esque romance as well. Add Scott Summers and Jean Grey to the list of "I love him/her but he/she doesn't know I exist" relationships that plague every other Marvel title (save Sgt Fury and the westerns). Enough!

JS: I want to know when you find the time to read Barbara Cartland. I can barely get through the crap that makes up the Marvel Universe each month...

PE: Unus swears at the climax that he's gone straight but we know better. He'll be back soon.

The Avengers #10

Our Story

Still stinging from the beating they took at the hands of The Avengers (last issue), Zemo and His "Masters of Evil" decide maybe a fourth member is needed on the squad. Coincidentally, a being from another time period named Immortus is looking to make a splash in our world and wants to prove himself to Zemo. He kidnaps Rick Jones and convinces Captain America that his fellow Avengers have betrayed him. If Cap will bring his partners to him, Immortus will release Rick. Cap tears up Avengers Mansion until the remaining superheroes agree to see Immortus (all he really had to do was ask nicely but you know these hothead heroes). Once there, the villain has devised a nefarious plot involving fighting matches between historical characters and each of The Avengers. Goliath (of David and... fame) takes on Gi-Ant Man, Merlin baffles Iron Man, and Thor is saddled with Hercules (a different Herc than the muscle-man who would become a Marvel hero who would debut a few months later in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1). Each Avenger defeats his foe and, Immortus, sensing a big time loss in the cards, whisks Cap away to another time. This leaves the remaining Avengers ripe for an attack from The Masters of Evil. When defeat seems likely for them as well, The Enchantress evokes a seldom-used spell that sets everything back three days. Thus, The Avengers don't even know they fought such an awesome battle!

PE: The epic it took 10 issues to get to. The plot line every single Marvel team-title will run into the ground by the mid-1970s. Get it while it's still fresh! Well, fresh ain't the word for this rotting carcass. The ink wasn't even dry over at Tales of Suspense #59, where essentially the flip side of this story happens. Here, Cap is fed a line of baloney about The Avengers and betrayal. He immediately flies off the handle and attacks his teammates. This is supposed to be a battle-tested super soldier or so Stan keeps telling us. And the title "The Avengers Break Up" is a cheat anyway as it holds a completely different meaning as the story unfolds.

PE: Why would Captain America want, as his partner, a kid stupid enough to answer an advertisement in a comic book promising super hero powers? Further, what a coincidence that Immortus placed the ad in the comic book to lure Rick Jones to him! Has the villain been staking out Rick Jones' newsstand, noting which titles he reads? I wonder if he advertised in Marvel and DC.

Jack: Speaking of DC, isn't Rick Jones just a warmed over Snapper Carr? And The Avengers are the JLA? Just sayin...

PE: Gotta love that dopey ending. The Enchantress says "Hey, I'm not usually a quitter but it's time to skate. I've got this nifty spell I can cast that'll make everything as it was three days ago. Whatcha say?" Zemo and The Executioner make it unanimous and the Masters of Evil become The Masters of Escape once again. I've a feeling the writers of Dallas' "Bobby Ewing ain't really dead" storyline grew up on The Avengers. The Masters of Evil will be back to excite us and, I'm sure, escape yet again in The Avengers #15. I can't wait.

Jack: I think The Enchantress has cast a spell on me. I like when she feels a strange sensation in her brain, like thinking. She turns back time at the end, kind of like Cher.

PE: On the letters page, 13 year-old Gene Day raves about Marvel Tales #1. Gene would grow up to be inker and artist on Master of Kung Fu for six years (from 1976-1982) before tragically dying of heart failure in 1982 at the age of 31. We also get our very first Marvel Comics Checklist telling us all about the Mighty Marvel Comics we could be enjoying that month (reprinted at the bottom of this page).

Fantastic Four #32

Our Story

An alien being from the fifth quadrant of the andromeda galaxy, a place so far away that it takes a speed "faster than a trillion laser beams" to get to, has come to earth to kidnap and assume the identity of Dr. Franklin Storm, father of The Invisible Girl and The Human Torch. Once he does this, he passes himself off to the FF as Storm but busts out of jail using the strengths of all four Fantastics. The fact that this is a Storm leads to much in-team squabbling as Sue and Johnny, oblivious to the true identity of I.M., want no part of hurting their father and manage to quash any attempts by Reed. It's not long before Reed Richards deduces that the alien is actually a super-skrull and The Four easily defeat the alien and send him packing. Dr. Storm is sent back to earth but he's booby-trapped with a deadly blaster. He sacrifices his life before the Four can be exposed to the blast.

JS: We get treated to our first paste-up space panels this issue. I always assumed those were introduced alongside Galactus... speaking of which, he's coming!

PE: Either Franklin was arrested and charged for manslaughter for accidentally killing an off-panel innocent bystander or we're witness to the second "magic bullet" in history.

JS: Based on the exclamation (Ohhh!), let's assume that he got him on a ricochet

PE: I did one of my rare LOLs when The Invincible Man exclaims that "If I'm to call myself the Invincible Man... then I must look like an Invincible Man" and then turns himself into a giant Kosher Dill with a purple hood. The Purple Man was already taken but how about Pickle Man?

JS: Yeah, Stan only knows what he was thinking when he came up with that whole outfit.

PE: I don't blame Sue and Johnny for quitting the FF for the 17th time (this time the resignation lasts all of one panel). Reed seems to have become an uncouth grouch in this issue. His exclamations of "Shut up, Ben," "Stow It" and "You two have done enough thinking" would send me packing as well.

JS: I guess he just mellows in his old age.

PE: The true identity of The Impossible Man would be no big surprise to anyone the second he reveals that he has the power of all four team members. Why Stan made such a big secret of it is anyone's guess. The entire sub-plot of Franklin Storm was dreary and should have been dropped like a month-old open can of Chicken of the Sea. Thankfully, Stan must have realized that and killed off the character this issue. I'll not be surprised if, in thirty issues, we find out Storm's actually still on the Skrull planet and an impostor was killed to throw the Four off track. I was able to figure out the "big secret mystery" immediately because Stan seems to re-use old villains every nine months or so but how Reed figured it out is anyone's guess. Oh, he's smart. I'm not questioning that but where in this story did he find time to gather all his data, check the volcano where the skrull was supposed to be trapped, shoot electron photos of I.M while they battled, and work on his space-displacer all while fighting the menace and thinking of snappy put-downs?

JS: Um... yeah. What he said.

PE: The countdown to good stories in this title continues. T-minus...? Anyone help me here?

JS: I seem to recall enjoying the Gargoyle story that's just around the corner... and pretty soon after that we get the Inhumans, the Black Panther... and then Silver Surfer and the Big G! Can't wait.

PE: These days he's a New York Times best-selling author, but in 1964 he was just little Georgie R. R. Martin, reader of lots of Marvel Comics books, demanding to know how The Red Ghost got off the moon back in #13 to menace the FF again in #29. Bright kid, this Martin.

Tales of Suspense #59

Iron Man

Our Story

The Black Knight has broken out of jail with an assist from his flying steed. Only one thing obsesses the criminal: the destruction of The Avengers. Just as he attacks Stark Industries in an attempt to draw out Iron Man, Tony Stark has an energy drain and must hide himself away in order to recharge. Once powered up, he makes quick work of The Black Knight but faces even more challenging obstacles: Happy and Pepper, who have grown suspicious of the sudden, frequent disappearances of their boss. Iron Man must think of something fast as the evidence mounts that he and Tony Stark are more than employer and employee.

PE: For all his pomp, super gizmos, and flying horse, The Black Knight sure is dispatched quickly. Serves him right since he busted out of the joint and his only goal in life is to put the hurt on The Avengers. Don't these guys rob jewelry stores anymore? The recipe for a Stan Lee villain at this point seems to be: 1/ introduce the villain; 2/ hero defeats villain; 3/ villain will come back soon, swearing revenge. Tony Stark looks like an aged Clark Gable in this issue.

JS: I also find the Black Knight intriguing, but yes, he's dispatched a little too effortlessly. 

PE: Wouldn't things be a lot easier if Tony Stark let Pepper and Happy in on his little secret? The continued hiding of both his secret identity and his heart condition from his two employees is ridiculous. I didn't read Iron Man as a kid so I don't know where we're going from here as far as that plot thread goes. I'll be very interested to see if it's resolved as quickly as the in film.

JS: I've also had enough of the (non-grounded) plug that constantly needs to be plugged in to the wall. I admit Iron Man was never one of my regular reads, but I've got to believe he eventually gets off the umbilical. 

Captain America

Our Story

It's Captain America's turn to stand watch at The Avengers Mansion. Expecting a nice quiet evening, Cap sits for a spell to revisit some of his old scrapbooks. Meanwhile, a thug named Bull and his equally thuggish gang of rabble-rousers have decided that Avengers Mansion would be a great place to rob. Kidnapping butler Jarvis, they find out Cap in on duty and head for headquarters. Working as a team, they momentarily put Captain America down but it would take more than a gang of Karate masters to keep Cap out for the count.

PE: Our intro story to what would become a long-running strip (still running, as a matter of fact) is not much in the way of brain food. There's a big squabble and Cap shows off his "battle-trained" skills, but it's a filler story and one that's probably not remembered too well today in light of what would soon be happening in these pages.

MB: Right from that socko splash page (it is one of the most impressive that we've seen. - JS), Kirby’s enthusiasm for being reunited with his Golden Age co-creation is obvious and infectious, with Chic Stone’s pen making his art more appealingly smooth than when he apparently inked his own pencils on Cap’s Silver Age debut in Avengers #4.  It’s interesting to note, though, that after only ten issues, Kirby would go from providing pencils—under inks alternating between Stone and Frank Ray—to mere layouts, leaving the finished art to the likes of Dick Ayers, George Tuska (whom I hadn’t realized was also a Golden Age artist) and/or Joe Sinnott. 

PE: Jack Kirby was born to draw Captain America more than any other strip. His art is dynamic and exciting and urges you to turn the next page.

MB:  I was initially disappointed that Cap’s solo series didn’t start with a good super-villain right off the bat, rather than a generic mob headed by the forgettable “Bull,” but on second thought, I feel it was a wise choice.  This allowed Cap to strut his stuff without being overshadowed by the baddie, and Stan even makes the shield-slinger’s lack of actual super powers a plot point, thus enhancing his victory.  All this plus a Millie the Model name check…what’s not to like?

Tales to Astonish #61

The Hulk

Our Story

We're off with a bang as this issue starts off with round two of the Hulk taking on the indestructible robot, piloted by an unknown spy, from last issue.  The Hulk loses again as the robot knocks him off the ledge of a mountain.  Too clumsy to pursue him, the robot wanders off into the desert where he stumbles upon one of Bruce Banner's secret caves.  Meanwhile, the Hulk has transformed back to Banner and he's working swiftly on a device to track the robot, back at the military base.  Major Talbot arrives as the new chief of security.  He's been brought in by Ross to stalk Banner and find out what he's been up to.  Taking Betty with him, Talbot takes a helicopter out to the desert to search for Banner.  The robot sees them when they land from up above in the cave.  Being that he's a real creep, the robot spy throws a boulder down at the couple.  Luckily, Bruce is nearby to witness the attack.  Getting excited, he turns into the Hulk and leaps into the boulder’s path, causing it to break into harmless pieces.  Talbot shoulders Betty from the debris and she seems to have the hots for him.  Round three is underway as the Hulk again smacks the robot around to no avail.  Finally, the Hulk wins when he punches the bucket of bolts into a bottomless pit.  The robot left a present before his seeming demise in the form of one of Banner's missiles, left over from the cave.  The robot rigged it to go off and strike the military base.  The Hulk jumps in the air to stop it, which he does; however, the missile's explosive effects knock him out.  Finding him laying in the desert, and of course blaming the Hulk for the boulder that was thrown earlier, Talbot informs Ross that he has found the Hulk.  Ross looks like he's about to have an orgasm as he sends his troops over to subdue the Hulk armed with powerful chains made by Stark Enterprises.  The story ends with the Hulk unable to break free and Betty starting to wonder if she should stand by a loser who unexpectedly disappears like Bruce Banner.   

UTW:  Well, I for one will be happy once it's revealed to all the characters in the Marvel Universe that Bruce Banner is the Hulk.  The constant quotes and thoughts of Thunderbolt Ross pertaining to him knowing that Banner and the Hulk are connected, but he's just not sure how, are getting a little annoying.  Boy, I bet he'll feel like a jackass when he learns the truth.

PE: Ah, the introduction of one of the long-running supporting characters, Major Glenn Talbot, who would soon try to woo away the affections of Betty Ross and become The Hulk's main non-super adversary. Ditko and Bell somehow manage to make Betty Ross look like a middle-aged fish. That new hair color has got to go, sweetheart!

Jack: I did not know that everyone eventually found out. All I remember is that Hulk and Banner were constantly changing the rules about how much Hulk remembered of his human side.

UTW:  I'm not sure about anybody else, but in my humble opinion, the Hulk's second shot at series redemption is much better than his first poorly written adventures.  So far they haven't dressed him up as a mime or the Loch Ness Monster, and best of all, no Rick Jones Teen Brigade!!!!!!

Jack:  Rick Jones is too busy fawning over Captain America over in The Avengers. I agree with you that the new Hulk series is much better than the earlier one—I think the cliffhanger endings really work.

Giant Man

Our Story

Busy entertaining kids at a hospital, Giant Man and Wasp ignore a police siren, unaware that Egghead has escaped and plans to avenge himself against our hero. Egghead steals a dummy from a clothing store, coats it with a special clay compound, and builds a powerful android. Meanwhile, Jan talks Hank into accepting a proposal from a TV producer to star in a Giant Man TV series. They journey by Converti-Car (built by Stark Industries) to a dark warehouse, where they are trapped by Egghead, who uses his Beta Ray Mental Energy Transistor to control his new android. Giant Man hurts his hand when he punches the creature, which can become light as a feather or heavy as lead at a moment's notice. Giant Man defeats the android by spinning him around for awhile and making Egghead dizzy. The android walks off a pier into the river and Egghead waits for another trip to prison.

Note the Ditko stars and faces

MB:  I made the mistake of trying to read this in bed while Mrs. Professor Matthew was in the shower, and although the cringe-inducing art can be forgiven (an Editor’s Note explains that it had to be inked “seconds before deadline time” by George Bell, who rendered guest penciler Steve Ditko’s work essentially unrecognizable), Stan’s story was literally a snoozer.  I first knew Egghead in the ’70s as a Defenders villain, and in the ’80s as a part of Jim Shooter’s ruination of Henry Pym, but here he is just a persistent loser, like a low-rent Mad Thinker with a crappy plan, and this issue is a prime example of the mediocrity that makes Professors Pete and John hate this strip so much.  However, I will ask readers to note the fun and romantic relationship between the Pyms, so at odds with Shooter’s (mis)conception, and I love Hank’s line, “I’m a bio-chemist by trade—an adventurer by accident—and an Avenger by choice!”

PE: You have to hand it to Egghead though. He invents more gizmos than Reed Richards and Tony Stark combined. The impressive thing about it is that he's able to assign a name to each contraption: the Beta-Ray Mental Energy Transmitter; The Ultra-Beta beam; and The Living Cell beam all join the ranks of "Blink and You'll Miss Them Marvel Inventions."

Jack: An editor's note says that Dick Ayers was on vacation and the new artist wasn't available, so Steve Ditko stepped in to pencil this tale. He did a pretty nice job of it, turning another weak Giant Man script into a half decent story. I see a lot of George Bell in the art, though, so Ditko must have provided rough layouts.

PE: I agree, Professor Jack. The story's just as bad as ever but the art's a step above Dick Ayers' stick figures. It has the look of Marvel's 1940s comic books about it.

UTW:  Okay, I'm just going to have to say it.  This Giant-Man story wasn't that bad.  I liked the goofy android.  It was kind of evil and sinister looking like a Universal monster.  Pretty decent action as well.  At least things don't seem as drawn out when two characters share one comic with two separate stories.  They want Giant-Man to star in a television show?  I think he deserves it.  Better him then the Torch.

Egghead and his Golem

 Strange Tales #126

The Human Torch

Our Story

The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master decide to give it another go at defeating the Fantastic Four.  It's going to be different this time though, as the Thinker's plan is going to be foolproof this time.  They decide to attack the weakest member of the team--naturally Johnny Storm.  The Thinker orders Puppet Master to sculpt one of his radioactive clay figures into the Thing.  The villains monitor the Torch and Thing on one of their big screen televisions.  They observe Johnny and Ben cruising in the Fantasti-Car, on their way to pick up their dates for the usual Saturday night make-out session.  With the Thinker's guidance, Puppet Master uses his clay Thing figure to control the real hero and to start attacking his friend Johnny.  The Torch ends up falling off the flying car and bumping his head, causing him to be knocked out as he plummets to the ground below from way up in the air.  Seeing his little buddy spiraling towards certain doom causes the Thing to transform back into his human form of Ben Grimm.  He is now no longer under the Puppet Master's control since the puppet was created in Ben's monstrous form.  The two pompous villains laugh with glee, thinking that the Torch is finally dead.  They turn off their monitor without witnessing the actual splatter.  Unbeknownst to them, the Thing is able to use his old army pilot skills to quickly scoop up Johnny Storm before he hits the pavement.  Being smart enough to know that they are too dumb to figure out this strange occurrence of events by themselves, the two heroes cancel their dates and head over to the Baxter Building to consult with Reed Richards.   Reed places his modified thought-projector gizmo on the Thing's head and learns that it was the Puppet Master behind the attack.  Meanwhile, in their secret lair of mystery on an island, the two super-villain life partners celebrate their victory over a bottle of champagne.  When they view from the monitor again that the Torch is alive and well, they quickly go to work on the same attack strategy from before, with Puppet Master furiously carving another Thing puppet.  It's a different story this time as Reed puts one of his new inventions on Ben's head and gives him the power to fight off the mind control and knock out the Puppet Master.  With his compatriot laying wasted out on the floor, the defeated Thinker throws a hissy fit and punches his own machines.  

PE: May I ask my fellow ST professors a question? You guys are the experts.  Seeing as how I usually read this strip in my sleep, I may have missed when The Thing suddenly acquired the "whenever The Thing faces great tension and stress he turns back into Ben Grimm" hook that's been a facet of The Hulk for the last three years. Did I indeed miss that fateful panel or is Stan asleep at the wheel again? 

UTW:  I was kind of rooting for the Thinker and the Puppet Master to accomplish their goal of rubbing out Mr. Storm.  That is until they were stupid enough to turn off the monitor before witnessing his death.  Maybe they were too squeamish?

Jack: I think they had their own Saturday night make-out session to work on.

PE: Why, oh why, do we keep having team-ups between these fifth-tier villains? It makes you pert near desire a Namor/Doctor Doom team-up. And I love how, for the 768th time in the last three years, one hero jumps another and rather than think "Hmmm, this is strange. He's my best friend and he's attacking me. I've got a feeling that, like the other 767 times, The Puppet Master is behind this" the dolt saus something along the lines of "Ok, fine, you wanna fight, I'll give you a fight."

UTW:  Call me crazy, but I think these Strange Tales stories are getting a little better.  Again, like last issue, with the addition of the Thing and Mr. Fantastic, along with a couple of F.F. villains, the folks at Marvel might as well have retitled this series to "The Spectacular Fantastic Four."

PE: Okay, I'll call you crazy if no one else will. This issue best personifies why this title will win my pick for ... Uh uh, you'll have to tune in this Sunday morning for our sixth King Size Special to find out what award this tripe wins.

Jack: They are a bit better with the Thing (and Reed, this time), but they’re still pretty weak. The Dick Ayers art is awful.

Dr. Strange

Our Story

The Ancient One summons Dr. Strange to stop the Dread Dormammu from leaving the Dark Realm to enter the world of men. The Ancient One sends Dr. Strange to the Dark Realm, where he fights various weird and scary creatures as a mysterious and beautiful girl watches without his knowledge. Dr. Strange's noble efforts impress her. Eventually, having defeated all comers, he angers the Dread Dormammu. The girl warns Dr. Strange that he is really in trouble now, but he still issues a challenge to the Dreaded one, setting up a battle for next issue.

Jack: Finally! It's as if Lee and Ditko finally caught on and wrote the best Dr. Strange story yet!

MB: Tales to Astonish #59:  The Hulk battles Giant-Man.  Tales to Astonish #60:  Hulk and Giant-Man features begin running side by side.  Tales of Suspense #58: Captain America battles Iron Man.  Tales of Suspense #59:  Captain America and Iron Man features begin running side by side.  Gee, I can hardly wait for Strange Tales #134, where Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., dukes it out with Dr. Strange before…never mind.  Talk about your famous firsts—this tale introduces not only a prime candidate for Doc’s greatest foe, but also the woman who would become his main squeeze for years, although I’m obliged to say that others drew her sexier than Ditko, whose alien landscapes nonetheless remain state of the (mystic) arts. Even more so than last issue, this cliffhanger is a template for Doc’s soon-to-be serial greatness.

Jack: Ditko's art is amazing and really over the top with the mystic worlds and creatures. This is his best work in months.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #119
Millie the Model #124
Modeling with Millie #35
Monsters To Laugh With #2 (Magazine)
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #12
Two-Gun Kid #72


A dying man's wish sends Kid Colt, Outlaw on the trail of a young man about to go mean in "The Saga of Bassett the Badman" (Kid Colt, Outlaw #119). On the run from yet another posse, The Kid is hidden away by a sickly old man. Just before shuffling off, the man makes Colt promise he'll keep his son on the straight and narrow. Keeping that promise becomes quite a chore as this outlaw wanna-be won't take advice from no varmint. In the end, a good heart finds its way to the service thanks to the love of Maybelle, a wonderful but homely Jack Keller concoction.

Bad hombre Sneed Sawyer is trying to convince the townfolk that Geronimo is set to attack, despite the truce that the great Indian has sworn. Turns out that Sneed just wants the town empty so's he can rob the bank. Artist Dick Ayers, panned by the MU professors for his inept pencils on the hero books almost, dare I say it, shines on "Two Guns Against Geronimo" (Two-Gun Kid #72).

Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos face their deepest fear "When a Howler Turns Traitor" (#12). Actually, that's as misleading as the cover this issue. The Howlers are sent to Germany to find out where the enemy is launching their "Buzz Bombs" from. Once in, Fury decides the only way to accurately pinpoint the spot is if Manelli (an Italian) makes like a deserter. To give the act a little extra oomph, Fury neglects to tell the rest of his men of the charade. When Manelli gets the job done and the bombs are destroyed, he makes his way back to base only to find that Nick Fury has been captured and  placed in a POW camp. Manelli is brought up on charges of desertion and is awaiting execution when Fury marches up to his rescue. Stan Lee's dialogue-filled balloons continue as strongly as ever and Dick Ayers' art (a few of his panels - such as the panel to the right - very much resemble the horror art he did in the 1950s) and George Bell's inks are improving but this title still is miles away from what it was a few months ago. The sequence where Nick Fury digs himself out of the camp with only a spoon in enough time to save Manelli is a groaner. A reaction I've never had reading this strip.

We somehow managed to miss mentioning the Marvel magazine, Monsters to Laugh With, a semi-monthly magazine-sized gallery of monster photos with "funny"and "punny" captions. Strangely, the zines weren't advertised in the regular comic titles. The second issue of MTLW went on sale this month as we were reminded by Stan in the letters column of Sgt. Fury. In the early 1970s, Marvel would resurrect this idea for Monster Madness, which presented the same format for two issues before giving way to a Famous Monsters of Filmland -style format, featuring serious studies of classic and current horror films. Monster Madness was cancelled after its third issue but Marvel came back quickly with the excellent Monsters of the Movies, edited by Roy Thomas and radio historian Jim Harmon. 

Note: Just because we're crazy guys, we decided to compare what a run of November's books would cost you in November 1964 and what they'd cost you in November 2011. If you walked up to Sam's Newsstand on Main Street, you'd have to ask dad for $1.56 to buy all 13 Marvels. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $10.85 in today's money (not too bad, considering that if you were to buy 1 of the cheapest Marvels published today, it would set you back $38.87 based on a $2.99 cover price. Being the completists we are, we decided to find out how much those 13 comics would cost you at, for instance, The San Diego Comic-Con (before you talked the shyster dealer down, of course). Now, remember, the only fair way of doing this is in near mint condition. That's the way you'd find them at Sam's, after all! You'll have to fork over $5,055.00 if you want these classics! We'll take cash, check, or Marvel Charge.


  1. Professor Jack has touched on the point I was trying to make (in my more pedantic way) last week: that the half-book format worked best using the cliffhanger/serial-style stories, rather than unsatisfyingly brief stand-alones.

    Dean Enfantino, shall we start calling you "Pert Near Pete"?

    Re: the checklist, nice that even Stan acknowledges it's Namor's "umpteenth return."

  2. Wow! I just realized I stuck up a little for both Giant-Man and Strange Tales in this post. Dr. Strange must have cast some super spell on me.

    As usual, Dean Peter is right in pointing out how lazy the writing got in Strange Tales with having the Thing be able to resort to human form under extreme stress. Kind of like a reverse Hulk.

    What I'm really liking are the covers for Tales to Astonish. They just have that great retro look to them. Plus, it's like two comic covers squashed into one.

    My new favorite cover is this weeks Amazing Spider-Man #18. It almost makes it look like the Sand Man has his own series. Ah, if only....

  3. Professor Matthew, I completely agree with you about Spider-Man 18. It's a classic issue and exactly what separated Marvel from DC in the mid-60s. It's also interesting to read these month-by-month notes and realize the influence that romance comics had on superhero comics. I'm no expert on Stan Lee, but I'll bet he wrote plenty of romance stories in the 50s and drew on that experience to help fill the huge number of pages he was writing for Marvel in the 60s.

  4. I love that the faculty always notes when there's a "special" letters writer. Georgie R R Martin -- cool! Can't wait til you get to Fred Hembeck! OK, that might be a while, but still.....Another excellent post!

  5. Glad you're diggin' the blog, Turafish. I wish I had access to all the letters pages but, alas, some are missing. I'll mention as many celebs or interesting letters as I can though. This should be an exciting year coming up!

  6. And it's my guess that several faculty members had the odd (perhaps very odd) letter printed, but my one and only isn't until DEFENDERS #114.

    I'd probably have bought THE AMAZING SANDMAN...

  7. Mathew-

    I never wrote any letters which is kind of surprising now that I think of it. The closest I ever came was in the late 80's to the Incredible Hulk's comic. His letter page was entitled 'Gray Matter,' which was his color at the time.

    The Amazing Sandman series would have went something like this: Our villain lives at home where he takes care of his alcoholic Uncle Bart. The Sandman still wrestles with the guilt of framing his Aunt Mabel for a murder that he committed, which caused her to get the electric chair. It seems like every issue the Sandman thinks about quitting the super-villain lifestyle, but by the end, he always goes back to his criminal ways to support his strip club and sports betting habits.

  8. I wrote letters but never had any printed. Closest brush to fame was getting my name printed in the Mystery Photo Dept. in Famous Monsters (twice!).