Wednesday, November 16, 2011

October 1964: The Sinister Six!

Daredevil #4

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There's a new bad guy in town with purple-colored skin named Killgrave, or as he will later go down in comic book history, The Purple Man! The Purple creep walks into a bank and calmly asks the teller to fill his briefcase with $100 bills. The teller happily obliges. It isn't until the Purple con man leaves that the teller comes to his senses, realizing what he has done. The teller alerts a flatfoot, who quickly apprehends the Purple dude outside, strolling down the street without a care in the world. Oozing confidence, Purple boy tells the judge in court he doesn't need a lawyer. The judge disagrees and I think we can all guess who gets assigned as his public defender. Matt 'Daredevil' Murdock, along with secretary Karen head over to the holding cells to visit the Purple prisoner. The Purple jailbird flexes his powers while dismissing Daredevil, having his guards let him loose and telling Karen she will be his new personal secretary. Our jealous hero doesn't like that too much, but there is little he can do about it because once outside, the Purple persuader orders the nearby pedestrians to attack Daredevil while he makes his escape with Karen. Daredevil leaps into the trees for safety. It should be important here to note that Daredevil has superhuman willpower which allows him to resist the Purple Man's voice commands. Also, not sure if this makes it a 'landmark issue,' but Daredevil comes to the realization that the hood on his costume is more of a liability than anything. The hood will no longer be seen on the hero's apparel. Preparing for the ultimate battle against such a powerful opponent, Daredevil arms himself with a hidden recorder along with stuffing some kind of chemical tarp into his cane. Meanwhile, Purple creep, with Karen in tow, heads over to a local gym where he uses his powers to recruit several boxers and bodybuilders into his fold. Next, Purple pimp and his army of mostly speedo wearing muscle men march down the streets of New York to the Ritz Carlton hotel where he further uses his magic to take over the top floor, booting out the rich inhabitants. It's battle royal time when Daredevil shows up at the Ritz as he brawls and defeats the man hunks. The Purple punk uses Karen as a hostage. Since he's a lawyer, Daredevil knows that the Purple guy didn't break any laws since all he did was ask people to do things for him, so double D asks him just what his story is? Purple dumbass gladly obliges relating how he worked for a foreign country (commie spy?) and snuck into an army ordnance depot. Following a brief shootout with an army guard, Agent Purple was doused with purple nerve gas, hence rendering him with a new colored skin, plus super powers! Daredevil has heard enough, revealing to Purple schmuck his hidden recorder and that he's got him on treason. A brief skirmish ensues until Daredevil throws his tarp over the Purple loser, causing him to lose his powers briefly, which is enough time to subdue him for the cops. 

PE: I find it hard to believe that, even in a "vast, sprawling metropolis" such as New York, no one batted an eye when a purple man walked into the bank. Seems a mite far-fetched. Well, the old ladies notice him as he leaves. Maybe The Purple Man's power only affects the young?

UTW: Believe it or not dear readers, as stupid as this story sounded, it was a lot of fun to read. If Ben Affleck ever does a movie sequel, they need to film a scene with the Purple Man walking down Times Square with his crew of barely clothed bodyguards with 'Shake Your Booty' playing in the background by K.C. and the Sunshine Band. A precursor to modern day rap stars and their entourages, the Purple Man was a villain ahead of his time. I won't let the loopholes in logic pertaining to his super powers of motivational speaking sour me on this enjoyable comic book experience.

PE: Extra senses are one thing, but Matt feeling "an aura of evil" emanating from Killgrave across the room? That's a bit of a stretch. I'm not sure Frank Miller will reference that particular power when he takes over the run. I'd also call "foul" on Matt's ability to read normal magazines from the "impressions of the ink on the page." Yeah, I know I'm swallowing whole that a blind man is swinging happily by a cane through New York City, but my believability factor has its limitations!

JS: The Purple Man's power is certainly an interesting one, and could lead to many interesting stories in the future (because we all know as soon as they take off that plastic sheet he'll be able to sweet talk his way out of everything again). What ruined it for me was making him purple. And calling him the purple man. Particularly when he was blue half the time. Is this the point where Stan has officially run out of creative steam when it comes to character creation?

PE: Joe Orlando's art can be confounding. His version of Daredevil is fine (although I'm still finding it hard to concentrate when I see that yellow costume) but his depictions of "average, everyday people" are very average. The art is the highlight though, compared to the story. The dialogue is atrocious (in one scene, while DD is watching Purple Man's henchmen unloading cameras from a van, he likens it to the "Jack Ruby case in Dallas." I'm sure that's just Stan being the hipster, referencing current events but it's a bizarre analogy). And why does Karen Page, a simple yet attractive secretary, become such a focal point in Purple Man's plans? He's going to make Karen his biographer? Really? Has he seen her resume? "8 months of typing for a blind lawyer." Sounds like a biographer. Although the girl might be a frustrated decorator moonlighting as a steno girl. When she walks into Cell Block 14, she finds the place "depressing." Imagine a flower pot here, a Renoir over there.

PE: Again, Stan must have had post-it notes (even before they were invented) all over his office to remind him that Matt and Happy are fighting over Pepper. No, wait, make that Tony and Karen are fighting over Foggy! No, wait... This gets so confusing. At least there are no triangles in Thor or Spider-Man yet.

JS: Why would he need post-it notes? By having the story be the same in each and every comic, he wouldn't need to remember specific details.

The Avengers #9

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Tired of drifting between the sixth and seventh dimension, Baron Zemo demands that his fellow drifters, The Enchantress and The Executioner do something about their predicament. Luckily, The Enchantress has a little spell up her sleeve and, just like that, the trio find themselves back at Chateau Zemo in the The Amazon. Feeling as though they need a new angle with which to combat their chief nemeses, The Avengers, the two immortals pick up Simon Williams, a disgraced inventor accused of embezzling Tony Stark and awaiting trial. They rocket Williams to Baron Zemo's lab, where the ex-Nazi scientist transforms him into Wonder-Man, bearing most of the powers of The Avengers in one human being (but, sadly, lacking the Wasp's sting). Through a charade, Zemo sets Wonder-Man up within The Avengers, using the strongman as a ticking time bomb. When The Wasp is kidnapped and taken to the lab in The Amazon, The Avengers head down to rescue her. During the battle royale, the truth comes out about Wonder-Man's loyalty but, just before he dies, the villain becomes hero and helps The Avengers evade doom. Zemo and his two partners escape to fight another day.

PE: So there's the ship bearing The Executioner, The Enchantress, and Baron Zemo wandering aimlessly between the sixth and seventh dimensions. Zemo throws a fit, screaming "Damn it, guys, we gotta get back home." Enchantress remembers that she has some nifty spells and five minutes later, they're "traversing the vast distances between dimensions," leaving Zemo scratching his hood and murmuring "why didn't I complain when we first got into this jam?"

JS: It's hard to say if that's a new power, since we've spent so little time with The Enchantress up to this point. I'm sure it will be clearer in the future, Maybe Stan is just making it up as he goes. ;)

Jack: I liked this issue better than you did, Professor Peter. I am intrigued by the emotionally disturbed Captain America, who is seeing phantom Baron Zemos on the blank walls of his room.

PE: If Baron Zemo has the technology to turn a man into superman, why do The Executioner and The Enchantress fly all the way to New York (from South America) to pick up a down-on-his-luck shyster about to be sent up the river for heisting Stark Industries greenbacks? Aren't there any men left in South America? There's no real connection here other than the guy hates Tony Stark. If the baddies thought that would be the driving force they'd need to create a "Wonder-Man," why create a serum that will kill its host in a week?

PE: Does Marvel really need another generic superhero like Wonder-Man? I guess the more specific question is: does Marvel really need another Giant-Man? His only gimmick, it seems is that, unless he gets his serum every week, he'll die. It doesn't take much to become an Avenger, we learn. Join up with the team for one battle and, voila, you're an Avenger. Are the Fantastic Four honorary Avengers?

UTW: I hear you on Wonder Man. He's like a villain from Strange Tales that accidentally wandered into the wrong magazine. Probably the first big failed Super Hero creation from this era. He's been given a push over the years time and again, with no success.

PE: On loan from the pages of Iron Man, Don Heck begins his long run on The Avengers on a down note. Not a very good art job here. Well, Iron Man looks okay but his Cap and Thor look like teenage surfer boys. His panel of Baron Zemo fleeing from The Avengers in the climax looks like it was pulled from a Laurel and Hardy comic strip. On a more positive note, "lame" Doc Blake confers with Nurse Jane Foster about Wonder Man's X-Rays (of blood cells?) and Jane manages to finish a sentence without thinking "My, he has handsome blood cells!"

Jack: I really liked Heck's art. The Enchantress is hot stuff and overall the faces look good. I'll grant you that he doesn't share Kirby's flare for action.

PE: How could Stan and Don leave an important event such as The Wasp being kidnapped (bet she put up one hellacious fight!) "off-screen." One minute Wonder-Man's speaking with Iron Man, the next he's calling a bogus Avengers alert, claiming he and The Wasp were captured by Baron Zemo and taken to South America. I was hoping we'd see the individual head-shot panels of the remaining Avengers, with word balloons filled with "We'll save him," "Avengers Assemble," and "Zemo won't stand a chance." Only Giant-Man would be wondering just what the heck Jan (The Wasp) was doing with Wonder Dude in the first place!

PE: Ol' Don Blake can't be that lame if he was able to climb out of that pit to grab his hammer. Maybe he's playing possum to gain the affection of Nurse Jane Foster?

Never mind Pepper Potts. Iron Man finds true love?
PE: On the "Tell It to The Avengers" letters page: There was some mention in an earlier Fantastic Four Fans Page about no-prizes, but this is the first instance I've seen (I'm open to corrections) of the awarding of one such "no-prize." It went to Roger Gilman of Newton Centre, Mass who recognized. as did the staff of Marvel University, that Rick Jones was re-christened Rick Brown in The Avengers #7.

Journey Into Mystery #109

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While Thor witnesses his a series of super hero sculptures of which his is one, a submarine lies hidden off the coast of New York. It’s occupants: Magneto leader of the evil mutants, and his followers Mastermind, Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Toad.  They seek the X-Men, their good counterparts and foes, whom Magneto sends them off in search of.  Causing all the metal in the city to achieve zero gravity and float in mid-air, Magneto allows the Thunder God to trace him to his submarine. Upon entering, Thor is thought at first to be a potential ally to the evil mutant, but when Thor learns of Magneto’s plan to rule the human race, he quickly becomes an opponent—to be destroyed. Magneto’s not inconsiderable abilities to manipulate magnetic force are offset by the Asgardian’s powers, until Thor makes the mistake of leaving his hammer to one side.  Surprise: transformation! Luckily Magneto is on the other side of a wall, and is interrupted by a call from his cohorts fleeing from the X-Men, and Dr. Blake (lame no more?) manages to find his cane.  Set to battle further, Magneto manages an escape in a one man mini-sub, and hides from the pursuing X-Men long enough to rendezvous with his kin. Thor leaves the mystery for future reference.

Tales Of Asgard this month shows us how even the gods of Asgard can be manipulative, as Odin appears to banish Thor, but really is just setting a trap for the warring mountain giants.

JB: Hey- Thor gets his own letter section this month in JIM!

MB: Never gonna complain about seeing Magneto and the Brotherhood moonlighting outside of the X-Men’s own mag, although they themselves remain largely unseen in their quasi-cameo; maybe that “special arrangement” only extends so far.  Judging by Stone’s inks (“at the peak of his prowess!”) on the top of page 2, you’d think Kirby had never drawn the FF before—for once, I wanted all four of them to be invisible.  

JB: I haven’t been a big fan of the X-Men over the years, but it’s interesting to tie them in with Thor; lots of Marvel tie-ins these days. Some pretty decent half-page panels, but we’re still a little away from the art that set Kirby’s work apart.

MB: Is it me, or was the Toad’s threat to tell Magneto what Wanda said a tad superfluous…when he was standing within earshot at the time?  Now that Pete raised the whole Thor/Blake brain-sharing issue in last month’s Avengers, I can see it’s gonna bug me.  Notice here, for example, how he/they transform during the course of uttering a single sentence.  Then Blake (Lame-o Alert!) compounds the confusion by referring to “the part of me which is the mighty Thor.”  So, was that also a part of him prior to JIM #83? Hope someone can straighten this out.  Where’s Roy Thomas when you need him (Sadly, Roy Thomas told me he's too busy to read our blog-PE)?

PE: It's not a classic, but it's better than the one-offs we've been getting in JIM lately. Still, these come off as so incidental. There's no feeling of advancement, no building on the foundation. Witness, for instance, the continued use of soap opera romance. Or the fact that the structures of these stories changes not one bit. There are no surprises.  It almost feels at times like Stan and Jack had created their chess board and were happy with just moving the same pieces back and forth from title to title.

JB: I’m agreeing with you guys on the overall quality of the Thor mag so far. If it had stopped here, it really wouldn’t have had much to historically recommend it. It’s as if Stan and Jack want us to be amazed that Thor is a god and that should be enough.

JB: Pete: too bad Roy Thomas couldn’t have granted you an interview, or at least been available to comment on our blog. He wrote some of the best post Stan Lee Thor issues in later years, making a serious attempt to resolve many of the mysteries of the Asgardian universe.

Amazing Spider-Man #17

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The Green Goblin hasn't exactly been idle since his first showdown with The Amazing Spider-Man. He's tweaked his weapons, redesigned his Goblin Glider, and added to his hatred of the wall-crawler. Just as Peter Parker hits a new low (and that's saying something) in his personal and wall-crawling life, The Goblin makes his reappearance. Frustrated by public outcries for his head (or public indifference altogether) the teenaged hero begins to seriously question why he's risking his neck in the first place for strangers who'd rather see him behind bars. Ironically, his biggest fan remains Flash Thompson, who's initiated the Spider-Man fan club and taken it upon himself to insist that Spidey will attend the first meeting of said club. Not wanting to disappoint what little fan base he has, the Web-Head attends the meeting, only to be attacked by The Green Goblin. Luckily for the startled Spidey, one of the guests attending is Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch. When the battle begins, Torch jumps in to lend a hand, only to be taken aback when Spider-Man exits the building. Unbeknownst to The Torch, Spidey has overheard a message to Peter Parker that his Aunt May has suffered a heart attack and is in the hospital.

PE: Once again, I have to ask (despite being the biggest Goblin fan in the world) what motivates the hatred of these villains towards Spider-Man. A little explanatory now and then, besides "Spider-Man put me in jail," might help. I'll give this particular character an extra length of rope because I've seen how he turns out. It's fun to go back and try to spot clues but, as of #17, there are no clues to The Goblin's identity for the simple reason that Stan and Steve had no idea who the guy was going to be. They were making it up on the fly.

JS: Green Goblin's second appearance, while definitely more interesting than his first, doesn't leave much of an impression. There's a setup for what could be a great showdown, only to have it interrupted by Spider-Man overhearing a phone call.

PE: Agreed. To me, this is nothing more than a reworking of the first Goblin tale, with MU's favorite superhero, The Human Torch, thrown in for bad measure. At least, The Goblin's speeder has changed form a giant vibrator to his infamous glider. Why the sudden change of heart by Johnny Storm towards Spider-Man. In the years to come, we know that they'll team up/battle several more times (and 86% of those team-ups/battles will be based on the misconception that "Spidey is a bad guy"), but Storm here is still during his hot-head (pun intended) phase when he'd flame on if someone in the grocery took the last box of Corn Flakes out from under him. No way the Johnny Storm we know would be caught dead at a Spider-Man club metting.

MB: Presumably, when Stan gushed that this issue was “certain to be discussed and argued about by Spidey fans throughout the free world for a long time to come,” he was just pushing the button on the hype machine, yet here we are almost fifty years later.  I’m reminded of Richard Matheson (you just knew I’d work him in somehow, and the splash page’s James Bond reference only makes it one-stop shopping) saying that when he and his friends were writing The Twilight Zone at that same time, they never dreamed people would be watching those shows today. I know some were disappointed by Gobby’s debut just three months earlier, and has been often observed, they sure recycled villains a lot faster in those early days, but I found his three-way with Spidey and the Torch, as well as its complex build-up, very satisfying.  Interesting to read (as I just did in the outstanding Marvel history by Les Daniels, whose death on November 5 saddened many of us) that a disagreement over how to handle the revelation of Gobby’s identity would later hasten the break-up of the Lee/Ditko team.  I’m no Archie reader, but I got the distinct impression—especially on page 7—that there might be a bit of a Betty and Veronica vibe between, uh, Betty and Liz.  Flash, on the other hand, reminded me of nothing so much as Linus begging the gang to stay in the pumpkin patch and wait for his hero to appear…

JS: Aunt May is thrown under the bus (literally!) to pull Peter away from the conflict. At least that got her to stop talking about the Watson girl for a while. I was honestly expecting to find the story continued in the next issue of Strange Tales, since The Torch was left to fend off the Goblin, and then I remembered that they don't run interesting stories in Strange Tales.

PE: So, do you think The Torch and Goblin simply stopped fighting and left the building or what? You're right, the story's not carried over to this month's Strange Tales and (SPOILER ALERT) it has no bearing on the next issue of ASM so what are we to make of the battle that never ended?

JS: I didn't buy for a second that Spider-Man, in the middle of a brawl with a super-villain, would concern himself with making an appearance as Peter Parker. Particularly when the only plot point this impacted was the non-relationship between he and Betty.

PE: The non-relationship between he and his girlfriend Betty! Should we count then the relationship he's not having with Liz Allan at the same time? This guy's not makin' it with half the broads in town. Watch out, lame doctors, your nurses are next!

PE: In the letters page, we get letters from future comics scribe Douglas Moench (who wrote tons of Marvels - famously Master of Kung Fu - but never a Spider-Man) and Bill Dubay, who would go on to become an editor-writer-artist at Warren.

Strange Tales #125

The Human Torch and The Thing

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With Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman away, The Thing and Human Torch are up to their old tricks again, brawling in the Baxter Building. The skirmish gets interrupted when they are visited by reporters from Life Magazine. The two can hardly contain their excitement as they argue over who should be interviewed. The reporters inform the duo that they only want to interview Reed and Sue. The Thing and Torch threaten to beat the crap out of them if they don't leave so the reporters take off in a hurry. Just then, our peeved heroes receive notice from the coast guard that the Sub-Mariner has been spotted in the ocean, swimming his way towards the New York harbor! This gives the two geniuses a chance to blow off some steam and also prove that they don't need the other half of their team to take care of business. Afraid that he is leading another attack on Atlantis, the two go off to fight Namor without telling Sue and Reed. Even though it's two on one, Sub-Mariner has the advantage since the battle takes place in the sea. The Torch is pretty much useless in the water and the Thing doesn't fare much better as Namor takes turns beating them up. When Namor sees Mr. Fantastic with the Invisible Girl approaching he runs off, claiming that he has been lied to. Reed informs his two mentally challenged teammates that the Sub-Mariner was invited to a secret meeting with him at the Baxter Building to try to negotiate a peace treaty. Also, the two Life reporters that they chased away were going to interview them all along. They were just saying they weren't because they wanted it to be a surprise. D'oh!

Jack: Once again, the art by Dick Ayers is godawful.

PE: But it's redeemed by its truly dreadful story. How many of these Thing/Torch stories can begin with the two "heros" wrecking their base, throwing childish tantrums? From Panel one to Panel last, nothing happens! We get the cliched "quarreling partners," the obligatory guest star, the three page battle and a climax that sees us right back where we started from, with the sense that no incident will impact future stories. It's no better or worse than the regular FF title.

UTW: Boy, for a second there I almost thought that this was a Fantastic Four comic book. Maybe that's why this issue wasn't as bad as previous stories in the series. Nothing great mind you, just slightly enjoyable.

Jack: Since when is Namor known as "web-head"?

PE: Since when does The Thing have lips?

Doctor Strange

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Three Ninja-types invade Dr. Strange's home but he banishes them with ease, quickly identifying them as having been sent by Baron Mordo. In order to figure out what's going on, Dr. Strange mentally surveys the planet and discovers that danger lurks in Tibet.  He finds that the Ancient One is gone and Mordo turns up to admit that he has captured the master and hidden him.  Dr. Strange and Mordo's ectoplasmic forms do battle, moving quickly overseas from country to country, until Dr. Strange locates Mordo's hidden haven in the Himalayas, where the Ancient one is imprisoned within the Crimson Circle of Cyttorak.  Strange again battles Mordo and his good magic wins out over Mordo's bad magic.  The Ancient one is freed and he remarks that Mordo will not attack again for a long, long time—about five issues, as far as I can tell.

MB:  I may be getting a little ahead of myself, but hear me out, because this will put the rest of my remarks in context.  It’s my contention that Marvel’s split books (e.g., Strange TalesTales of SuspenseTales to Astonish) only truly came into their own when they turned a virtue into a necessity, and offset the constraints of the half-book format by resorting to serialized rather than frustratingly brief stand-alone stories.  Although I have argued that the liberating effects of the broader canvas afforded by Phase II were the key development of the Silver Age, the serialization might be considered Phase I, Part II. While it would be a few months yet before Doc’s adventures became a true serial, and it’s true that this umpteenth Baron Mordo opus is a one-and-done, its proximity to next issue’s two-parter introducing Dormammu (whose fate would soon be closely linked with Mordo’s) does not seem coincidental.  Especially after last month’s Cleopatra silliness, this finally seems like the real Dr. Strange, with the debut of Mordo’s masked wraiths, as well as its globe-trotting scope, splintering mystic shields, and invocations of Oshtur, Agamotto, Cyttorak, Munnoper, the Vishanti, Valtorr, and Raggadorr.

Jack: By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth! What the heck is Professor Matthew talking about?!?

JS: Advanced placement, Professor Jack. Basically it's another tale of, 'what has Mordo done this time—oh, no he didn't—oh, yes he did.' What I had the hardest time getting over was George Bell's heavy hand on the inking of Ditko's pencils.

Fantastic Four #31

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Earthquakes and missing city blocks can mean only one thing: The Mole Man is back in town! This time the underworld kingpin has an extra card in his deck: he's kidnapped Sue Storm and is holding her hostage, forcing the remaining Three to fly to the center of the earth to rescue her. When they arrive, they find The Mole Man, gun trained on Sue, and are ordered back to the surface world to await further instructions. Delivered back up top on a cushion of air, they find a greeting party of The Avengers. The Friendly Five decide they're taking over from here but Reed steps up and protests. The Avengers give the FF 24 hours to get out of Dodge to quash the threat of The Mole Man or they'll do it in their own fashion. With the aid of Tony Stark, Reed builds a contraption designed to hone in on Sue Storm. Johnny uses his "near-nova heat" to burn a hole right down to the center of the earth and, after an intense battle, rescue their partner and return home. Unfortunately, Sue is hit in the head with shrapnel during the fight and lands on the critical list. Fortunately, her father (who has just escaped from jail) is a brilliant surgeon and happens to be near the hospital when Sue is flown in. Unfortunately, he's been in the hole and hasn't practiced medicine in years. Fortunately, Stan and Jack aren't ready to re-title this zine The Thrilling Three.

PE: The Mole Man is causing quakes in New York City... and Red wasn't even pondering at that moment what had happened to their foe. Their is that asinine moment though when Sue asks Reed if he has any idea what caused the quake and Stretch says "Just a hunch! But I'd rather not say till I'm certain!" Why not? These are your partners. Are you afraid of coming off like a dope if you're wrong? What's the big secret? But then Sue gets him back when she stumbles over today's paper and sees "the mystery man in her life" on the front page. Reed asks "What's wrong? Who's picture are you staring at?" Sue curtly responds "Nothing that concerns you!" Again, what's the mystery? If I was Reed, I'd assume Sue was looking at the beauty salon advertisements.

JS: Gosh, Peter, who could it be!!!

PE: I could have written these dialogue balloons:
Johnny: Hmmm... let's see. Earthquake. Whole city block missing. Doctor Doom? 
Reed: Nope.
Ben:The Impossible Man? 
Reed: Gotting colder.
Johnny:The Skrulls? 
Reed: Colder
Ben: The Molecule Man?
Reed: No, boys, none of those are capable of this kind of widespread damage. Keep guessing because we're not going to go out crime fighting until you've correctly named our nemesis
Johnny: Wait a minute, Reed, didn't The Mole Man do this to us once before? 
Reed: Yes, Johnny, for $100 you are correct. 
I thought the whole "keep your partners in the dark" routine worked in Reed's favor.

JS: And it all amounts to basically nothing, expect a setup for the FF and Avengers to square off.

PE: The Avengers fight The Fantastic Four... again. This time it's because Reed doesn't want the rival team to mess up The Mole Man's plans and jeopardize the health of Sue Storm. Who knows what it'll be next time but chances are we won't have to wait very long to find out. 

JS: On the positive side, Kirby's art is starting to match my recollections of his style during the golden age of the FF.

PE: I'm not up to date on all of Reed's inventions but his "complex, highly-sensitive transistorized detector" intrigues me. "But why, Professor Pete, does it intrigue you?" I hear you ask in the front row, little Bobby. Well, this is a new gizmo Reed has just designed but it takes Iron Man to deliver him the parts (in no time flat) for him to pop the thing together. He designed this but has never actually used one? What makes him think it's gonna work? And how is it the thing senses Sue? Did Richards wave a bottle of her hair creme in front of the machine like he would a tracking dog? If Richards was really the smart guy we think he is, he would have just given Daredevil a call. He can smell mud in a field of dirt. And then there's the modified experimental hover-cycle. My gosh, how does this guy find time to fight interstellar criminals when he's constantly modifying weapons?

JS: Be careful what you wish for... you might just get a Giant-Sized issue with pin-ups of all of Reed's inventions.

PE: Sue's not the usual "helpless female" this issue. She.. well, she... and she... well she does warn Johnny that Mole Man's about to use his Zeta Ray beam on him. I'm amazed she remembered that switch was the Zeta Ray Beam. Lots of switches and handles on that machine.

JS: This isn't The Outer Limits, Peter.

PE: Right in the midst of battle:
Sue: Reed, everything seems to be finally going our way! Why do you still look so... troubled?
Reed: I can't forget that man's picture in the paper, Sue... and the way you reacted to it! And... your visit to police headquarters!
What a whiney little brat, bringing up Sue's secret while the world could be ending. And she wants to marry this dope?

JS: Reed has always been a bit of a clueless jerk socially. One wonders what Sue sees in him.

PE: What a dopey surprise ending. Sue is hit with shrapnel in the blazing explosion set off by The Torch's not-quite-but-sorta-Nova-blast. They rush her to the hospital where the resident doc tells Reed it's hopeless. Only one man has ever been successful removing shrapnel from the head of an invisible woman. Guess who? Just then the "mystery newspaper headline man" comes walking through the hospital doors just in time to operate on his daughter, Sue Storm! Johnny wets his pants: "But Sue said you were dead! Oh daddy, daddy, you're home!" How old is The Torch again? This gets my vote for The Doctor Don Blake Award for "Lamest Plot Line."

JS: Look, it's the long lost —SPOILER ALERT— Mr. Storm! Let this be a lesson in how not to present a potentially fascinating plot point. Rather than being interesting, it comes across as an afterthought, which we may or may not see explored in future isues.

Tales of Suspense #58

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On a slow boat out of The States, The Chameleon and Kraven, the Hunter bribe a dishonest ship captain to let them off at the nearest Stark Factory. Coming ashore, Kraven spies Iron Man, who had just happened to be cruising by, and attacks him, with The Chameleon waiting in the shadows. Kraven is dispatched quickly and hauled off to the pen, and The Chameleon gets the bright idea of impersonating Captain America and heading to the Stark Headquarters. There, he convinces Iron Man that a bogus Captain America is stalking the floors of Avengers Mansion. I.M., sparing no time questioning Cap, heads off to The Mansion. When he gets there, he finds the faux Cap (which is actually the real Cap, please keep up with me here) and engages him in a battle to the death. The Chameleon (still dressed as a Captain America but not the Captain America) shows up in time to threaten the heroes with a bulldozer. Only Gi-Ant Man and his essential partner The Wasp (in an uncredited cameo) can save the day by hoisting The Chameleon by his fake stars and stripes. Iron Man and Captain America shake hands and remain good friends and fellow Avengers.

PE: My, how times have changed. Just a few issues ago I.M. was brought to his knees by a bad guy with a water hose. Now he's staying under water for twenty minutes, wrestling killer sharks!

JS: Setting the tone for what was to come.

PE: Bear with me on this because it may go over the heads of those not scientifically-brained like myself. Kraven and Chameleon are escorted onto their boat in Amazing Spider-Man #15 (August 1964). They bribe their captain to let them go in Tales of Suspended Disbelief #58 (October 1964). Given the tides and gulf streams of 1964 (I've studied the charts), I'd hazard a guess that the duo were onboard the boat for two hours. Thus, based on space/time continuum and Alhazred's Pendulum, I would theorize that two hours of "Marvel time" equals two months of our "real time." We'll check this theory out from time to time.

JS: But again, the edges of the Marvel Universe begin to overlap, and that's almost always a good thing.

PE: I do like that Kraven is brought down by I.M. in about three seconds flat. You don't see that too often. Nice twist. You got to hand it to The Chameleon. You wouldn't think he'd be able to get hold of such a realistic Cap outfit and fully functional shield in that short period of time. Cap's not even his designated foe. I can understand him having a Spidey suit or a Drunken Bum outfit, but this is impressive.

JS: I was actually disappointed with how quickly Kraven was dispatched, if only that he's the more interesting of the two. Of course, the Chameleon is an easier match to Cap.

PE: Who says Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan are useless supporting characters? Why, in this episode, Happy manages to fall into a gravel pit and Pepper is buried in a mountain of sand. I doubt Jane Foster would be able to advance the plot any smoother.

JS: Once again, the Wasp proves herself useful by dissing Pepper Potts' hair. Ouch!

PE: Three words describe this story: Done. To. Death. How many times are we going to get the "oops, it's just a misunderstanding" battle? At least Stan is being honest on the cover when he says the only reason we see these two heroes battling is because it sells comics. And then Cap walks away at the end of the story, asking I.M. "No hard feelings?" No hard feelings? I'd be saying to hell with misunderstandings, I'm gonna put a dent in that skull armor so Shellhead will know there are consequences to jumping in the river before knowing how deep it is (or something like that).

JS: Yeah, I guess the only positive is that each of the characters pitted against one another are interesting. What I'm getting tired of is the solo books becoming defacto team books. It kind of defeats the purpose.

PE: The final installment of "Tales of the Watcher" has two unique factors. First, The Watcher is forced to kill two aliens that are hell-bent on destroying him. You don't see that too much, particularly from a being who is supposed to keep his hands to himself. Second, the story welcomes  artist George Tuska back to Marvel for the first time since he drew war comics in 1957. I must admit that I've never enjoyed Tuska's art, probably based solely on his shoddy work on The Man-Wolf strip in Creatures on the Loose and his adaptation of the first film in The Planet of the Apes franchise for the Marvel magazine of the same name in the mid-70s. Tuska drew Iron Man for ten years from 1968-1978.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

Our Story

A crisis of faith has caused The Amazing Spider-Man to lose his powers! Doubting himself and his mission in life to fight crime, the wall-crawler finds himself cursed with a double-edged sword: the powers that make him Spider-Man have mysteriously disappeared at a time when he wishes he could just be a normal everyday teenaged boy. But at the same time, he misses the web-slinging, rooftop-jumping adventure. Meanwhile, our teenaged hero may be about to face the biggest threat of his young career. Doctor Octopus has broken out of jail once again and decides that maybe he can't destroy Spider-Man by himself so he enlists the aid of five of his closest super-villain poker pals and they christen themselves The Sinister Six! In addition to Ock, members on the team include Mysterio, The Sandman, Electro, Kraven, the Hunter and The Vulture, all victims of defeat at the hands of The Amazing Spider-Man! First order of business for The Six is to kidnap Betty Brant since Ock knows she's someone special to Spidey. The goons get a two-for-one deal when they nab Aunt May as well. Faced with fighting powerless or standing by while Betty and Aunt May face peril, Peter Parker suits up and heads out for battle. Once the contest begins, Spidey realizes he's gotten his powers back and defeats his foes one by one.

PE: Well, there goes my Marvel Time Line Theory as Kraven the Hunter shows up here the same time as in Tales of Suspense. Is he here just before the events of TOS? Nope, he's on a boat. Just after? Well, there's no indication that he's just broken out of jail eight minutes after being hauled off by Iron Man. All my semesters in Continuity and Chronology 101 gone right up in smoke.
JS: I've always liked The Sinister Six. I know we're in for a Super Villains Team-Up in Marvel's next decade, it's almost sad that the villains didn't get a headlining shot sooner.

PE: What's with the cameos by every hero in the Marvel Universe, followed by the caption (fer instance): "The Mighty Thor appears each month in his own magazine, as well as in The Avengers!" Have things gotten this bad in the Marvel Universe that not only do they have guest stars each issue but now we'll get traveling billboards akin to Hollywood's product placement? And this issue contains the second reference to The Beverly Hillbillies in a Marvel Comic this month (the other being an exclamation from The Thing in Strange Tales), which was the #1 rated TV show that year.

JS: In all fairness, not everyone back then was reading each and every Marvel comics to hit the stand. We're just, um, fortunate, to know where everyone comes from.

PE: I'm surprised one panel wasn't edited before being handed over for re-printing. The Torch offers Spidey help with The Six but the web-head turns him down, citing personal reasons. The Torch flies off, exclaiming "Okay, guy, if that's how you want it! Rots of ruck!" How could this have gotten by the PC-police at Marvel?

JS: What, for a Scooby-Doo impression?

PE: Steve Ditko's best work for Spider-Man, and possibly his best work for Marvel yet. It's a nicely paced, jam-packed 41-page story highlighted by full-page pin-up style battle poses of Spidey with each one of The Six. The only drawback, of course, is that The Six don't fight as a team so we don't get any grand battle panels. Those Marvel Zombies (like myself) who grew up devouring Spidey in the early 70s remember well the storyline involving Aunt May's engagement to Doc Ock. Well, this is the issue where they first meet and the sparks are already flying. May thinks he's a gentleman despite the problem he has with his arms.

JS: Maybe she should introduce him to the Watson girl...

PE: When Spidey faces off with the mechanical replicas of The X-Men, he finds out that Mysterio is behind it and explains that only Mysterio has the "technical, know-how to design such deadly, deceptive mechanical devices." Actually, I would have guessed Doctor Doom but I imagine he wouldn't be on Spidey's fight card tonight since he's not one of his regular villains. You can't say there's not common courtesy in the Marvel Universe. "Glimpse-of-the-future" for this issue comes when Spidey needs to read the address off a card that's been burned and is down to nothing more than an imprint. He uses his Spidey sense "to detect the message that was written here, before every last trace of it fades away!" This was decades before Will Graham and his lab crew did this kind of thing in Red Dragon!

JS: But who could be the Hannibal Lecter of the Marvel Universe?

PE: Hilarious final panel, where we see all six villains, stripped of their costumes (well, most of their costumes) waiting arraignment in city jail.

JS: Taken out of context, you could be led to believe they were a class of Xavier's new students hanging out in the Danger Room between sessions. What I actually find funniest about the panel is how Spider-Man is like the sun through the window.

PE: To round out this all-new massive package, Stan and Steve have provided us with a gallery of 14 of Spider-Man's famous foes; "The Secrets of Spider-Man," a 9-page look at just that; several background pieces on supporting characters such as JJJ and Peter's classmates; and a 3-page tutorial on "How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko create Spider-Man!" 

Tales to Astonish #60


Our Story

Hank Pym's old friend, Lee Kearns, has been accused of spying behind the (COMMIE ALERT!) Berlin Wall and he's sentenced to be executed this Friday (in Marvel elapsed time) unless Giant-Man can get into East Berlin and rescue him. Bravely choosing to go it alone, without his true fire-power, The Wasp, Henry Pym jets to "the fatherland" where he becomes Ant-Man and sneaks into his friend's prison cell, aided by German ants (who speak the common language of Ant-ese rather than German, Stan is quick to point out). Once there, Pym finds out the true mission Kearns was on: to smash a plot by the Reds to use the "Intelligence Ray" to develop a race of smart monkeys to serve the Commies and conquer the world! Thanks to some quick thinking on the part of Giant-Man, the Ray is destroyed, the monkeys are back to wanting bananas rather than Hemingway, and Lee Kearns is back in The States. Another job only Giant-Man could have pulled off.

PE: Ah, those were the days of the Swingin' Sixties when a man could hop into a super-sonic jet and fly behind The Wall whenever one of his buddies was in need. Our rules sure have changed. These days you'd have to get clearance for that kind of a trip.

UTW: Things worked more on the 'honor system' back then. Of course, all it takes is one screw up for the U.S. government to take notice and tighten the reins. Some goofs like Namor or Rick Jones Teen Brigade probably stormed into a third world country and got caught up in a drug smuggling/prostitution scandal, ruining it for everybody else. At least with a lame-o like Giant-Man, you knew covert missions were going to run smoothly.

MB:  Here I was expecting from that title to see “Ol’ High-Pockets” face off against Hitler and a resurgent Gestapo, but instead it’s just more Commies! Can’t remember if Hank’s identity is supposed to be a secret at this point—I suspect so, given that Kearns didn’t even know Ant-Man and Giant-Man were one and the same—but if it is, Jan kinda blew that by calling him “Hank” right in front of the rapidly dispersing members of his fan club, didn’t she?  

PE: Seems like at least two or three issues since we've had to issue a COMMIE ALERT! Here we have to issue a GORILLA alert as well. I'm not sure Stan had been reading French novels so I'll assume it's a coincidence that Monkey Planet (aka Planet of the Apes) by Pierre Boulle had been published in France the previous year and this story echoes concepts of that novel. Well, communists creating intelligent apes was all Stan, at least. The novel didn't make much of a splash in The States until the film franchise began in 1968. I suspect the only reason Marvel publisher and shrewd businessman Martin Goodman allowed all the red-bashing is because, ostensibly, sales were poor in the U.S.S,R. and Germany. If he'd seen any bucks coming from over the wall or under the curtain, you can bet dollars to doughnuts, the menace in these comics would be purely from Outer Space.

Jack: Professor Peter, I think you're giving Stan too much credit. Any DC fan knows that evil gorillas were never in short supply at Brand Ecch. Stan the Man probably read an issue of The Flash with Gorilla Grodd and voila!

MB: The Ayers/Reinman art remains serviceable at best, except for the Klaus Kinski-lookalikes in the first panels of pages 10 and 12, but the splash page was nice.  At least in this issue, some of the characters are supposed to look like gorillas!  And was that a fair-haired Mark Trail subbing for Hank in the last panel, complete with pipe?

PE: I can only echo what I've been saying about the art of Dick Ayers in the last few posts: it's getting worse. The art on this strip is at a near-amateurish level that defies description. It's like a bad fanzine.

UTW: Yeah, jeez. I think even I could have done a better job. Well, maybe not.

PE: I think an "Intelligence Ray" might have come in handy at the Marvel Offices right about the time this strip was being written. When Gi-Ant Man trains the "Intelligence Ray" on the commie military officers, it devolves them into apes (well, at least they act like apes). Gi-Ant Man beams that he "suspected that the ray would affect humans the same as it affected beasts -- only in reverse!" Why would he assume that? And why wouldn't the ray evolve, rather than devolve the men a la "The Sixth Finger" episode of The Outer Limits? Twaddle, pure twaddle. No Intelligence Ray I've ever run across has this affect.

UTW: I have to agree with you Peter. It's only too bad that Giant-Man couldn't have pointed the Intelligence Ray at his own comic book to reverse it's poor quality. I hate Commies as much as the next loyal American but come on. God forbid the creators would do something exciting like taking our huge goon hero and pitting up against a character like Fin Fang Foom, to see how tough he really is. Have them duke it out with Kendo sticks in Moscow, so they could wreck the city, if we need to slam Russia that badly.

Jack: No one even thought to mention Hank's first wife, whose death supposedly led him to devote his life to fighting evil!

The Hulk

Our Story

Bruce Banner has built a powerful new robot, but before it comes time to suit up and test it out he turns into The Hulk. A spy takes Banner's place inside the robot suit and heads out onto the testing ground, where he defeats a tank. Meanwhile, Hulk is also hanging around the testing area and attacks the robot, thinking it was built by Bruce Banner to defeat him.

The Hulk battles the robot to a standstill; the robot doesn't do very much fighting itself but is apparently indestructible.  Hulk gets so excited that he changes back into Bruce Banner, at which point the robot smacks him around.  General Ross orders a pursuit of the robot and Banner mopes around, unable to return Betty's affection due to his terrible secret.

PE: Here's the story that put forth the theory that Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk when he stresses out. But, as of yet, there are no real parameters. Banner transforms in one sequence after chasing a spy down a corridor. Really not much stress there. One wonders what would happen if Banner were a Red Sox fan and he was watching the Yankees kick Boston's behind on TV. Would The Hulk come out instead of the rally towel? Conversely, Stan, at this early stage, surmises that when The Hulk gets excited, he changes back into Bruce Banner. This flies in the face of the old chestnut that "the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets." Stay tuned for new developments.

Jack:  After the Yankees lost game two of the 2000 World Series to the Mets, I have to admit I had a Hulk moment (I only have this to add, Professor Jack: "Little blooper, base hit, Diamondbacks win! They're the world champions!"-Nostalgic Pete).

Well, we hope it's got a Port-a-Johnny in there somewhere

PE: Moreso than the stories, I was worried about Steve Ditko's art on The Hulk. Yes, those stories in the earlier incarnation of The Hulk were pretty dismal but there was, at least, Jack Kirby's art to gape at. Ditko's Banner is a little too reminiscent of Peter Parker in some panels but otherwise I had no problem with Steve's pencils. The jury's still out, but as long as we don't go back to "Hulk as Circus Clown" or any of those other asinine plot lines, we should be okay. There's nothing we can do about some of the sillier plot points that haunt most strips: Banner is always missing whenever The Hulk is around, and we've debated the brain (or lack thereof) of Betty Ross before, but how can she not put two and two together whenever they find the good Doc sans shirt and wearing The Hulk's pants after the big green guy escapes?

Jack: I think seeing these pages in color really helps. In the black and white Essentials, Ditko's Hulk looks kind of like a mopey pro wrestler.

PE: Interesting climax in that the robot gets away. Banner and Betty walk off into the sunset, both thinking how much they love each other but not able to vocalize it to each other. Stop me if you've heard this before.

Also this month

Millie the Model #123
Modeling with Millie #34
Patsy and Hedy #96
Patsy Walker #117
Rawhide Kid #42
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #11


The Rawhide Kid, on the run again from yet another posse, is given a concussion from an ornery injun. This doesn't bode well for the gunman when he's asked by timid townfolk to participate in a "Gunfight with Yerbey's Yahoos" (The Rawhide Kid #42). Dogged by double vision and fainting spells, The Kid can barely hold his weapon up but, when the time comes, he's able to hold off Yerby and his men because, as he explains, "they talk too much." Call him "The Western Daredevil" as his other senses seem to take over as he loses his sight. Why, he can probably smell Yerby's tabaccy! By this point, Stn and Larry aren't even trying. The story is a cookie cut for the same mold as every issue: The Kid is chased by a posse, he's forced to help that posse, and they let him go, remarking how he must just be misunderstood. Only one facet of this story makes it stand out from the rest: after The Kid gets his noggin conked, he kills the Indian. That's not something you see in too many of these Marvel westerns. What you do see in too many of these westerns is bad Larry Lieber art. A few posts back, I brought up an interview with Lieber wherein he badmouthed George Bell's inks on Lieber's art. This story credits Dick Ayers with "lettering." I'm not sure if Ayers also inked the work but if not, Lieber has only himself to blame. The art is sketchy and unremarkable. None of these characters seem to have any features that distinguish them from another. It's a sorry state of affairs when you remember that some of the "pre-hero" westerns were actually very good.

When Captain Sawyer is drawn away to train another squad, Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandoes face "The Crackdown of Capt. Flint" (#11). Sawyer's replacement is a "by the book" GI who believes in leading his men by example. Unfortunately for the Howlers, this guy's outdated and dangerous. He leads the men into Normandy and then practically invites the enemy to attack the squad by wearing shining bars on his helmet (just as it's written in army manual). When the Captain is knocked unconscious, Fury resumes command is able to complete the mission and get his men safely home. While the art is still not to my liking, at least the dialogue and story are back up to the heights they enjoyed in the title's first seven issues. Well, except for the inane "twist" ending when the Captain decides the Howler way is the way to go and stops shaving, emulating his new hero, Fury. Lame.

Letters pages in 1964 are a real tossed salad. Most are stuffed with "I love Marvel Comics" or "Why can't Sub-Mariner marry Sue Storm and they can become Avengers?" fan letters with not much in the way of substance. On the October 1964 Tell It to Fury letters page, Rosalind Rogoff proves it's not all fluff:


  1. Hah! Thanks for bringing me back down to earth, Jack. In a nutshell, I was just saying that I think the half-book stories were at their best when they were serialized rather than stand-alones, and that although Dr. Strange hadn't quite reached that stage yet, this story felt pleasantly like the multi-part Dormammu/Mordo epic to come in a few months.

    Spidey certainly set the standard for annuals for years, especially with the full-page shots, and the Sinister Six is like a walking rogues' gallery of great foes that (as we have so often observed) popped up like mushrooms in AMAZING.

    For the record, the Giant-Man title I was referring to was "The Beasts of Berlin."

    Peter Falk...?

  2. Good stuff, gents! I love the Spidey Annual comments, and dig that "Aw, shuddup!" from Electro! Excelsior!

  3. The art did seem to be in flux in Daredevil at this point. First Bill Everett, then Joe Orlando, and sneaking a peak to next month, Wally Wood-not to mention some Jack Kirby covers. I like how Joe used DD's shadow when he's swinging across the city. I don't mind the yellow/red/black costume. This issue they get rid of the hood, and next month, he gets the double-D vest, which sharpens it up a bit.

  4. Welcome aboard, mighty Turafish--hope you'll be back often! That annual's always been a big favorite of mine, as you shall see in greater detail in a week or so. Thanks for reading.