Wednesday, January 25, 2012

August 1965: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD!

Journey Into Mystery 119

Our Story

Continuing from the battle last month, Thor is held by a floor hardened to Asgardian diamond around him, as the Destroyer approaches with his blasts of elemental force. The Thunder God’s form mysteriously becomes unsolid, and he is able to pass through the floor beneath him and gain some time. The unlikely benefactor who saved him? Loki—who, though imprisoned in Asgard, sent forth his mental energy to save his brother (and himself from Odin’s wrath). The Destroyer catches up with Thor, who decides to stand and fight. He counters his foe's river of lava by crashing millions of tons of rock down on him. While the Destroyer isn’t even scratched, it does allow Thor time to reach the body of the hunter whose spirit inhabits its form. Loki, exhausted, has one final plan. He sends his thought form to his sometime ally, the Norn Queen, who agrees to help by using her mystic powers to safely wake Odin from the Odin sleep. Before Odin can save his son, Thor asks his father for a moment more to resume the battle. The hunter, not wanting to destroy his own body with the Destroyer’s blast, returns to his mortal form, and then tries to dash back to the unmoving shell when Thor turns his back. Thor is too fast for him, and grabs the hunter, taking him to safety while a hammer blow shatters the Temple Of Darkness around them, to bury the Destroyer’s form from prying human interference. Thor lets the hunter go free, while Odin sentences Loki to work for his royal warlock, Ularic.

“Gather Warriors”, has our Tales Of Asgard doing just that, as the crew is assembled for the mission at hand, to find the unseen enemy who has cracked the Odinsword. Odin shows his advisors a frightening warning etched upon the palace wall: Ragnarok is coming!

Nobody does it better
JB: A worthy conclusion to the Destroyer battle. Apparently, there’s no limit to his force beams; changing matter into other elements, disintegration, magnetism, even altering the density of his blasts to match Thor’s unsolid form to name what we’ve seen so far. I’m still wondering where the slice of Thor’s hammer, cut off last month, got to. None of the panels I can see show him picking it up, yet he talks about forging it back together.

PE: Exciting conclusion to the Destroyer showdown. Kirby's work here and in the Fantastic Four continues to be jaw-dropping. Odin seems, at last, to have gotten a handle on the fact that Loki is one little treacherous kid, banishing him yet again, this time to become a menial laborer for a third-rate warlock. Since this is insulting to Loki, and Thor has no other major villains, my money's on a prison break sometime soon. We'll see how many issues this banishment lasts. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the heck out of this strip now that Stan and Jack have come to the conclusion that Thor battling the Communist Chinese Army does not make for "Senses-shattering adventure." Gods should battle Gods, I've always said.

JB: Ditto Pete, on the artwork here. Nice full page of the Temple Of Darkness collapsing, and we get to see more of Odin’s pajamas. The Tales Of Asgard entry is a lot of fun. We see a few more Asgardian warriors, especially some fun antics from ever-cheery Volstagg, who apparently has a nagging wife and fifteen kids!

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2

Our Story

Sorcerer Xandu seeks the powerful Wand of Watoomb, hidden away in the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange. To achieve his goal, the evil magician hypnotizes two barroom brawlers and makes them impervious to pain. The thugs defeat Doctor Strange and make off with the Wand, catching the attention of our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man along the way. Sensing something's up with these two burly characters and jonesing for some action, Spidey tackles the duo but soon finds he's no match and is beaten badly. Not one to give up on a fight, he attaches a Spider-tracer to one of the bullies and tracks them to Xandu's lair. Once there, Spidey is transported to another dimension but, before he can be teleported, he grabs the Wand and soon finds himself fighting the two buffoons again, this time in a nightmarish dream-world of doors that lead to other dimensions and odd angles. Saved in the nick of time by the Master of the Mystic Arts, Spider-Man makes it back to Xandu's hideaway and, together, the two superheroes reaquire the Wand of Watoomb and all is right in the Mystic Underworld.

PE: I'm not sure I fully grasp a hypnotic power that makes two thugs invincible. Granted, Xandu's spell makes the guys a little more impervious to pain, but an uppercut from Spider-Man will draw a bit of blood, no? At least a broken nose. Spidey notes that popping these guys in the kisser is like hitting a brick wall. And his webbing is useless against them? If it's this easy, why not hypnotize an army of thugs?

Jack: I was even more bothered by the fact that two mindless lugs could walk into Dr. Strange's sanctum and knock him out so easily. Good thing Baron Mordo did not know these guys!

PE: Web-head seems pretty calm when he's transported to another dimension, one complete with a Saturn sinking in a pool of water. I'd be at least a little nervous if I found myself in a place that had no rules and lots of Twilight Zone-esque doorways, even if I was a super-powered teenager. I have lots of questions about these alternate worlds: Is the pool of water bottomless? If Spidey falls off the little pathway of bowling balls he's balancing on, does he fall forever?

Jack: And did Xandu have anything to do with a certain 1980 film?

MB: Despite the wildly divergent styles of their strips and personae, it must have seemed like a no-brainer to bring together the two heroes plotted and drawn by Ditko, even though they don’t really interact much in this fun but lightweight story, and where the hell Doc found time to trifle with Xandu in the middle of his Eternity quest, I have no idea. As a contemporary reader pointed out, it feels more like a Dr. Strange story with Spidey dropped in than the subject of a Spidey annual; perhaps their being so prominently featured here accounts for the conspicuous brevity of their appearances in the concurrent FF annual. I would have called Xandu a totally forgettable villain, making it ironic that Strange frets about what a powerful weapon the Wand of Watoomb is, but Len Wein obviously didn’t forget, because he reunited them for a rematch almost a decade later in Marvel Team-Up #21 (which, in its own weird way, sums up what I love about MTU).

PE: I've never been a fan of Doctor Strange nor his Lovecraft-influenced dimension-hopping. I'm alone in that regard here among my professors, I know. So, it's not all that surprising to learn that I didn't get off on this adventure. I think an "annual" should showcase a special story (or, at the very least, a longer story), which is what the earlier Marvel annuals did. There's not much of interest here, just the same kind of story you'd find in Strange's regular monthly strip and, as Professor Matthew notes above, Spidey is more of an afterthought in the entire saga. It could just as easily have been a Dr. Strange Annual #1. The 3 "earliest, greatest, most-requested full-length epics" are: "Spider-Man" from the premiere issue (which may be reprinted every time it's requested!); issue #2's "The Uncanny Threat of The Terrible Tinkerer"; and "Marked for Destruction by Doctor Doom" (from #5). To fill out the colossal 72-page package, there's also a handy 5-page "Gallery of Spider-Man's most famous foes."

Jack: I thought it was cool to see Spider-Man in one of Ditko's crazy Dr. Strange dimensions, but I agree with Prof. Matthew that this story ignores the heavy continuity going on in the good doctor's own strip. And by the way--why doesn't Dr. Strange use some other people's bodies to do his bidding? Every evil magician seems to do it!

Journey Into Mystery Annual 1

Our Story

Seeking adventure, Thor and Loki enter the deadly land of Jotunheim, where the storm giants dwell. They encounter two giants who have found what they believe to be the long lost passage to Olympus, which they are seeking to dig out. Jumping into the fray to prevent them from causing further mischief, Loki quickly makes himself scarce. Thor has no problem dispatching his foes, but in so doing, shatters the ground beneath him, falling into a dimensional vortex. He eventually lands in a chamber that emerges into a land of great beauty and mirth. Thor realizes he is indeed in the fabled land of legend, Olympus, where other immortals dwell. Wanting to return to his homeland, Thor seeks direction from an impressive stranger crossing a bridge. Both Thor and the other god want to cross the narrow bridge first. The Olympian god makes it known that he is Hercules, whose brashness and aloofness anger Thor, after Thor has been tossed in the river when Hercules uproots the bridge. Neither being willing to back down, a battle begins. Both are of almost identical power, and neither seems able to gain much of an advantage. Suddenly, both are knocked to the ground by the arrival of Zeus, ruler of Olympus and father of Hercules. He has witnessed the battle and finds both worthy of victory. Hercules and Thor shake hands as friends, and Zeus returns Thor to Jotunheim. Thor decides not to tell Loki about his adventure. Zeus, to prevent any further access from outside, seals the entrance of the passage to Olympus.

PE: An interesting tale in that Loki rides side by side with Thor into the "Forbidden Land". Where does that put this story in the JIM/Thor chronology since, in the current monthly title, Thor and Loki are sworn enemies (in fact, Loki has kidnapped the beautiful and ultra-intelligent Jane Foster at least 22 times in the last 36 issues) and, though Thor is notoriously absent-minded, I'm sure the Thunder God might remember that and be a bit cautious. Thor seems to be his young, arrogant self in that he challenges Hercules, in the Olympian's homeland, over who will be the first to cross a bridge! The other fascinating aspect is that the duo venture into Jotunheim, home of the Storm Giants, which plays a very important part in the summer film directed by Kenneth Branagh. As a big fan of that film (and one who's coming fresh to most of these Thor adventures), I get a big smile on my face when I see some of the obvious inspirations of the writers.

JB: Hercules is a great rival and friend of Thor’s who will have lots of impact over the years in the series. Thor suggests that the existence of Olympus is known to the outside, but only as a legend; I wish we got to see a little more of it. The battle is almost a panel by panel oneupmanship, but lots of fun, with some great art. It must be a painful life as a warrior god (or a Marvel hero in general), taking such a pounding all the time! The Thor comic has sure come a long way, as we can compare with four reprints of earlier JIM issues included in the annual: #’s 85 (Loki), 93 (Radioactive Man), 95 (Demon Duplicators), and 97 (Lava Man).

PE: Thor notes that Olympus is a land "hinted at by our ancient legends." Another big smile rises on my face as I realize that this is a legend within a legend. When Stan and Jack were on their game with minor details, no one could touch them for comic storytelling (at least until Gerber, Englehart and Thomas, et al., show up, that is). I assume Herc has his initial all over his uniform in case he has to step into a steam room with other muscle men? The only thing that slows down this exciting battle between two really big guys is the endless "You absorb my mightiest punch and pop right back on your feet? What manner of man are you?" dialogue that clutters four full pages of panels. Also included this issue are two depictions of "a simple, ordinary, typical Asgard street scene," including the directions to the Shopping Center.

Strange Tales 135

Nick Fury

Our Story

Now a “spy guy” with G-2 (military intelligence), sporting an eyepatch gained since his Howler days, Col. Fury is summoned to the Pentagon and finds himself serving as the template for several Life Model Decoys (LMDs). Told that his safety is of vital concern to the White House, Fury watches as his android doubles are gunned down and a fighter jet attacks the Porsche he is riding in, which disposes of the plane with a missile and then takes flight itself. We learn that Fury has been targeted by the would-be world-conquerors of Hydra, who dress in distinctive green-and-yellow robes and hoods, serving a master who punishes failure with death.
Reaching his destination, Fury meets Tony Stark, the head of special weaponry for S.H.I.E.L.D. (Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division), and sees a passel of world leaders. He is stunned when Stark asks him to be the “human weapon” that will smash Hydra, and he sees that S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters is the gigantic Helicarrier, patrolled by military jets thousands of feet above the earth. Fury proves his worth by detecting and disposing of a booby trap and, despite feeling unqualified, accepts the vital assignment to run S.H.I.E.L.D.

Not the Helicarrier, but still pretty neat!
MB: In his S.H.I.E.L.D. incarnation, Fury is perhaps my favorite Marvel character (I’m less familiar with his Howlers era), and since I regard his tragically short-lived strip as a pinnacle, even pre-Steranko, I’m disinclined to challenge Stan when he labels this “The crowning achievement of Marvel’s magnificent renaissance of comics!”  Our stogie-chomping three-striper may seem like an odd fit for the ’60s Bond-mania milieu, but somehow it works.  Even perennial MU whipping-boy inker Dick Ayers rises to the occasion—check out that reveal of the Helicarrier on page 11.

PE: As enthusiastic as you are about this series, let me just add that, after reading 350 or 400 Marvel comics in the last year, my enthusiasm for comic books has waned a bit. Something like this issue reminds me why I love comic books in the first place. Easily the best Marvel Comics story I've read (replacing, ironically, a Sgt. Fury tale as my #1), this is so chock-full of fresh ideas and, yep, future iconic characters and events. Who would imagine that the new Hydra honcho would be a woman? Granted, there are a lot of ideas "borrowed" from Bond and TV's Man From U.N.C.L.E. (which was just about to begin its second season), but Fury has a charisma Sean Connery and Robert Vaughn could only hint at. I expected the bomb on the helicarrier was planted by Stark and co. to prove to the muckety-mucks that Fury was their guy. I've heard this series only got better when Steranko climbed aboard. The mind boggles. Here's the comic book to put in the hands of someone who doesn't like comics. If you've followed our stroll down Marvel Memory Lane, you'll know we hardly ever award a comic book both shields. 

JS: It gets off to a weird start, with a bunch of Fury clones set loose to be canon-fodder, but fortunately, the real Nick Fury, just like we readers, doesn't know what the hell is going on. I don't know if I would shower it with the highest accolades, but I do agree it's one of the more entertaining stories we've come across in a while.

MB: Admittedly, the episodes immediately following this one won’t quite live up to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s dramatic debut, which throws a lot at us.  Right out of the gate, we get such staples as the LMD and the Hydra oath:  “Hail Hydra!  Immortal Hydra!  We shall never be destroyed!  Cut off a limb, and two more shall take its place!  We serve none but the master—as the world shall soon serve us!  Hail Hydra!”  After all of Captain America’s Avengers allusions to Fury’s intelligence work, it’s very appropriate that “Moneybags” Stark forms a connecting link between the groups.

Jack: This great new series comes out of nowhere and starts with a bang—Sgt. Fury has to remain motionless in a mold, yet he still clenches a cigar between his teeth! Sure, the series is a James Bond knockoff, but what a great idea to use the rough-edged Fury in the lead role! Kirby at his best!

PE: You have to admire Stan for having the audacity to steal Blofeld and his "kitty" for the Master.

Dr. Strange:

Our Story

Dr. Strange travels to England in his search for the meaning of Eternity, the word the Ancient One keeps repeating. He visits Sir Baskerville, unaware that the old Brit remains loyal to Mordo. The Baron sends a minion to attack Strange, but the plan backfires, allowing the doctor to read the minion’s mind and learn that Dormammu is the power behind Mordo. Meanwhile, Dormammu discovers that Clea betrayed him and plots revenge.

Jack: A nice, atmospheric chapter, where Dr. Strange travels to an English moor and Steve Ditko gets to draw some foggy scenes. Sometimes I think I like Dr. Strange best in civilian clothes!

MB: This issue not only puts odd-couple strips Strange and Fury side by side, making Strange Tales my ├╝ber-mag of the era, but also, as with Amazing Spider-Man, begins crediting Ditko as both plotter and artist. Yet scripter Stan the Man is still in there punching with lines like, “the mists close over the fog-shrouded seacoast, and the words of the evil one are lost in the murmuring of the midnight breeze…” Take that, Millie the Model! As ever, Steve gives us more than our money’s worth in words and atmosphere-drenched pictures.

JS: Definitely an upswing after the last few segments, as the astral bodies were kept in check for a change. I would suggest that Baskerville was a tad too excited to help Strange, so I wasn't too surprised by his plot. But the lasting image that creeped me out—that big third eye.

Tales to Astonish 70 


Our Story

Namor swims back home to Atlantis in the hopes that the traitorous Krang has not taken over the city as ruler. He is greeted upon his arrival by Dorma, a woman who loves him even though he doesn’t reciprocate. She gives Subby the bad news that Krang is now in charge and loved by the people. She offers her help, but Subby spurns her, believing he needs no one to take care of the situation except himself. Angry, Dorma unleashes guards, who fight briefly with Namor before they knock him out with a Hydro gun. The hero is then brought before Krang, who has him banished to prison. While he sits there angry, Subby is visited by Dorma, sorry for her prior actions. She tells Subby that all is lost because even if he were to escape, he would have to fight all of Atlantis to regain his throne because Krang is so well liked. The cool Sub-Mariner already has a plan and explains to her that the great former king Neptune had hidden away a secret trident before he resigned from power, in case an imposter ever took hold of the throne. The trident’s whereabouts are a mystery; the only clue given was to search in The Cave of Shadows. Dorma helps Subby escape but, unbeknownst to them, Krang has been monitoring them, and has given instructions to his guards to seal the cave once he enters. Namor goes into the cave and is attacked by a giant squid. He defends himself by giving the monster a sock to the eye, then quickly grabs a sea shell that is the next clue. As he tries to escape he finds out that the wall is sealed, as the giant squid torpedoes towards him.

PE: Lady Dorma sure has a strange way of showing a man (or a fish-man) she loves him. She calls his own guards to seize him "for only then may I hope to win his heart." Yet another wacky Marvel damsel. But then she's only reacting to the biggest chauvinist tuna in the sea. Powerful scene when the men who once served Namor are marching him off to his cage. They ask him to forgive them as they're only obeying orders. If you can spit underwater, the Prince does so. "Then you shall stay till you rot! Farewell, Prince of nothingness!" exclaims the soldier as he tosses The Sub-Mariner into his cell. This Namor comes off as nothing but an arrogant prick. He's not fighting for the betterment of his people (they don't look like they're suffering to me) but because he feels he's the rightful monarch of Atlantis. Kudos to Stan for writing an unlikeable character. Let's see how long it takes before Namor is kissing babies and freeing trapped dolphins.

Tom: Now this is more like it. While maybe not regarded as a classic in the history of comics, Sub-Mariner’s first solo outing was a welcome relief from the horrid Giant-Man fables. This series has already proven to be leaps and bounds better then Big Hank’s in just about every aspect. Good artwork, exciting storyline, and best of all, no Wasp!

Jack: I liked this, too. Subby seems to work better underwater. While it seems like he appeared just about every month in one book or another, it’s nice to see him get his own series, and I love the Gene Colan art. 

This is the kind of shadowy Gene
Colan panel we'll see a lot more
of in Tomb of Dracula.
MB: Boy, it’s a big month for Marvel: a Silver Age star gets a second strip catapulting him into a new era, and a revived Golden Age hero gets one turning him from a persistent Silver Age bad guy into the anti-hero we know and love. The late “Gentleman Gene” Colan (aka Adam Austin), a Timely veteran who became a Marvel mainstay, kicks it off in his distinctive style, and we even get a little continuity from Subby’s appearance in Daredevil #7. While the Namor/Dorma affair is off to a rocky start, the quest for Neptune’s Trident is not.

PE: I like this new series, a sort of Thor underwater (with Neptune standing in for Odin), and that's a nice surprise. I didn't like Sub-Mariner when I was a kid (except, for some reason, the Bill Everett issues in the early 1970s) and all that I'd read so far (those annoying guest spots in Fantastic Four) did nothing to prove me wrong. I'm hoping I missed something special when I was a kid and that I can discover its wonders now.

Tom: The Sub-Mariner character has always been a conflict for me as a comics fan. When he would go up against the Fantastic Four and other heroes, he came off as such a stroke that you always wanted to see him get knocked out. Unfortunately, Subby would always prevail, or at least escape in a draw. However, I liked it when he would engage with other bad guys because you always knew, by his tough guy pride, that he would have no problem doing whatever was necessary to come out on top. 

The Hulk
So far, nobody draws the Hulk well!

Our Story

Last issue left off with Bruce Banner being shot and killed. As General Ross and the troops investigate the Leader’s lab, they soon realize that Banner’s corpse is missing. While they weren’t paying attention, Rick Jones was able to whisk the body away. He takes Banner to one of their old hidden hangouts. Hoping that a transformation into the Hulk will revive Banner, he places him onto a machine that is able to turn him into his green alter-ego. The transformation is successful with a twist: the Hulk now has Banner’s mind. Bruce realizes that, with the bullet lodged in his skull, if he reverts back to human form he will most certainly die. The Leader is not out of the picture yet, as he has a conference with some foreign leaders to whom he promised the Absorbatron before the Hulk destroyed it. He offers to give them an even more powerful weapon if they give him a billion dollars, while he secretly plans to use the money to attack them as well as the Americans. The Leader then releases a 500 foot high pink humanoid on a military base. The huge monster easily crushes everything in its path. The Hulk takes on the humanoid and they are pretty evenly matched. When the military shoots the pink giant with several missiles, it staggers, allowing the Hulk to gain the upper hand. Figuring the two monsters are in cahoots, Ross orders the troops to release a super missile at them both to destroy them permanently. Rick hears about this and rushes off into the desert battle to warn the Hulk before it’s too late.   

Tom: I’m always happy to read a comic story with a good monster mash. The Hulk having Banner’s mind is something I’m not a big fan of, but that’s a small quibble. Issues like this one show how the Hulk series is a distant relative of Stan Lee’s old monster stories. 

Jack: You’re right, Professor Tom! Too bad we finally get rid of Giant-Man and the very next issue the Hulk fights a 500 foot tall Humanoid!

Tom: It will be interesting to see if the foreign bad guys are gullible enough to give the Leader a billion dollars without ever seeing his supposed ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

Jack: One billion dollars? Paging Dr. Evil! By the way, the Kirby art on the Hulk series continues to be sub-par. And where did the potion to keep Banner as Hulk for 48 hours come from? Did he just whip that up?

Who else but Kirby would draw this . . .
and label it "Sunday Punch missile"?

Daredevil 9

Our Story

Daredevil mixes it up with some mooks who have hijacked a fancy cruise boat. He starts showing off, which gives one of the thugs the chance to shoot Matt in the arm. The hero jumps overboard, but his delay causes the coast guard to capture the bad guys. The next day at the law office, Karen tells Matt that the special eye surgeon she’s been asking him to see has left America to go live in the country of Lichtenbad. Coincidentally, an old foreign exchange student named Klaus Kruger, who was in Matt and Foggy’s law class in college, is now the Duke of that country, and is in New York visiting. As a surprise, Karen had contacted the Duke, and he shows up to the office to reunite with his former college mates. This is a surprise to Matt, because he didn’t remember the guy being that friendly back in the day. The Duke offers to take Matt with him to his country so that the eye specialist can see if he can help him out. Matt agrees to go, not because he wants his eyesight back, but because he smells a rat. Once they arrive, it’s fairly obvious to Matt that the folks in that little country hate and fear Duke Kruger. While investigating the castle at night dressed in his hero costume, Daredevil observes mechanical robots, dressed as medieval knights, taking away and locking up protesters in a dungeon. He gets caught himself, but is able to escape before the Duke learns his identity. Soon, a huge uprising by the townspeople occurs. DD assists them in fighting the robots. He then takes on the Duke in a brawl that he is easily winning. Sensing that his defeat is eminent, Duke Kruger releases a radioactive cobalt cloud to wipe out everybody. The eye specialist runs over to turn the switches off to deactivate the nuclear cloud. Unfortunately, the radiation from the controls kills him. The Duke just won’t let up until Daredevil flips him over the castle wall where he dies. Meanwhile, back at home, Foggy has begun to show signs of psychosis now that he is pretty sure that Karen lusts for Matt instead of him.

Tom: Surprising twist with DD actually killing (whether it was intended or not) this issue’s villain. This works out great since I hope this weird medieval putz is never seen again in Marvel comics’ continuity. Glad Matt didn’t seem too worked up about the Duke’s demise--no displays of soul searching. Spider-Man probably would have cried if he did this.

Jack: A mediocre Daredevil issue is still better than any number of Marvel comics at this point. It looks like Wally Wood is about ready to check out, since Bob Powell’s inks are pretty heavy and don’t add much.

This panel could be from an EC science fiction comic!

The Avengers 19

Our Story

A character by the name of The Swordsman is asking to be let into The Avengers Clubhouse. He goes about it the same way as Hawkeye did once, storming the Mansion and taking on the members that happen to be there. It turns out that it's appropriate since The Swordsman and Hawkeye once shared a tent together as partners in a circus act. A little embezzlement on the part of The Swordsman broke up the act, however, and Hawkeye was left for dead. He's never forgotten his old mentor, the only man "he ever used to fear." Meanwhile, Captain America is still pacing the floor, waiting for some word from Nick Fury over an employment application Cap sent to S.H.I.E.L.D. Unknown to our man of stars and stripes, that letter has been sitting on Fury's desk as Nick has been away on business. The letter falls into the wrong hands and eventually winds up with The Swordsman (yep, small world!), who decides to use the note to his advantage. In another incredible coincidence, Hawkeye busts up a robbery perpetrated by the goon who sold the Cap letter to The Swordsman. The dope reveals all to the archer. Captain America shows up at a deserted warehouse, expecting to meet with Nick Fury but, instead, he's attacked and defeated by The Swordsman. The remaining Avengers track Cap to the warehouse and arrive just in time to see Cap walking the plank several stories above the street. Swordsman gives The Avengers three seconds to agree to make him the new leader or he'll send Cap to an early grave. Before his teammates can answer, Cap jumps.

PE: The Swordsman is a little too close in both powers and looks to Hawkeye for my taste. He'll remain a super-villain for several more years but, in the grand tradition of Quicksilver, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch and, very soon, the Black Widow, he'll get his membership papers approved in #112, at which point The Avengers will be made up of nothing but ex-cons, I imagine.

MB: I’ll definitely stand up and cheer over the advent of the Swordsman, who has the distinction of being both a worthy villain (especially when teamed with the original Power Man) and a future Assembler himself. His history with Hawkeye only adds to his appeal; funny that he tries the same apply-for-membership-by-breaking-in gambit, albeit with less success. Ayers’s inks are a bit uneven—contrast the great close-up of Cap (above) with the Ditkoesque page 12, panel 2 (below) —but the story is solid, and I love the subplot of Cap’s S.H.I.E.L.D. aspirations. Speaking of shields, there’s something nifty about the low-tech weaponry pervading this issue, from the Swordsman’s planned sword/bow team, like a bifurcated Robin Hood, to the utterly apt sword/shield match-up of Cap’s mano a mano with the Swordsman…and what better display of Cap’s seminal Avengers leadership than the no-surrender suicide dive of this issue’s cliffhanger?

PE: It's so out of character for Captain America to be pouting in The Avengers Mansion workout room, whining about Nick Fury and his conceived brush-off.

Jack: This month marks the first appearance on the covers of the logo, “Marvel Pop Art Productions,” though it doesn’t appear on every book with an August 1965 cover date. Future Marvel scribe Tony Isabella is on the list of M.M.M.S members. The classic T-shirts are now on sale! I enjoyed this story, even with Captain America acting like a kid. The Heck/Ayers team seems to work together well.

Cap does his Sally Field at the Oscars impression.
PE: It's a fab finale when The Swordsman gets the upper hand but Cap gets the final word. We all know he'll survive the fall somehow (The Watcher? Amazing rope untying skills? It's all a dream?) but the point he makes that The Avengers are bigger than one man hits home when he drops off that plank. Powerful moment and the capper (pardon the pun) to one of the better Avengers issues so far.

This issue of the Avengers is
brought to you by Crest toothpaste.

The Amazing Spider-Man 27

Our Story

The big showdown between The Green Goblin and The Crime-Master (two individuals who really don't care for one another) comes to a halt as police raid the hideout and break up the mobster meeting. This is good news for the Amazing Spider-Man, as he's laden with chains and a really bad spare uniform. Able to break the chains (and keep his pants up), he helps the police round up the mob bosses. Alas, both the Goblin and the Master escape. Convinced that Frederick Foswell is one of the villains, Spidey heads for J. Jonah Jameson's office, just in time to witness Foswell's arrival. The wall-crawler confronts Foswell and accuses him , just as a shot rings out. The Crime-Master is shooting it out with police on a nearby rooftop and the cops emerge victorious. The Crime-Master is dead and revealed to be Nick "Lucky" Lewis, just another racket boss. Meanwhile, the crazed Green Goblin vows to bring down his greatest foe but allows that he should probably take a vacation first.

PE: This one starts out nicely with the chain-breaking scene, lets me down with the big reveal, but then regains its composure towards the climax. How could Stan and Steve think that unmasking the Crime-Master, touted as an enthralling mystery ("you'll never believe who this guy is once you find out"--true words, those), as just another crime boss, one who hadn't even made an appearance (that I'm aware of) in the title, would be satisfying? It's such a letdown that my immediate thought was: Hold on, this is Stan The Man, he's got an ace up his sleeve. It'll turn out that "Lucky" Lewis was just an unlucky patsy, the real Crime-Master is.... but nope, it was him. After a quick glance at his entry in Wikipedia, I've read what became of the character and suddenly think that maybe Marvel of the 1970s wasn't perfect after all. In Marvel Team-Up #39 (November 1975), Lewis' son, Nicholas, will don his old man's mask and join forces with a new Big Man, played by, you guessed it, Frederick Foswell's daughter, Janice! Oh heavens! Somebody transport the MU time capsule to 1975. This I have to read.

MB: So, the original Crime-Master’s career is over after a big two issues, which I think is a shame, because even without superpowers he seemed to give Spidey a run for his money, and I like that he turned out to be nobody we knew under that mask (although Steve and Stan seem to have forgotten that he had left the Goblin’s i.d. in the proverbial envelope to be opened after his death). It’s an unusual story, too: often we get several pages of plotting and/or characterization as a warm-up to the big battle or cliff-hanger, yet this time the action is up front, and the rest follows. Interestingly, when future Jungle Action scribe “Dauntless Don” McGregor later wrote in on it—courtesy of the “Post Office of the Past” feature in Marvel Tales—he hit on some points that struck me, like the welcome police action and Ditko’s cool chain-breaking shot.

PE: Yeah, the chain-breaking shot is nice and predicts the iconic "big heavy machine lifting" that comes in a few months. While I was let down by the reveal, I thought all the teasing afterwards was a kick. We see Foswell uncover a bundled costume under his desk. Hold on! Is Foswell the Goblin? No, he's just the snitch. Stan would do almost the same thing with the reveal for the identity of the Goblin as he did for the Crime-Master. Norman Osborn wouldn't be introduced to readers until #37, only two issues before his unmasking.

Fantastic Four 41

Our Story

After Reed transformed him back from Ben Grimm last issue, the Thing decides he's had enough and quits the group. He jumps into the bed of a pick-up truck to New Jersey and falls fast asleep. Along the way, the truck hits a bump and Ben is thrown into the road. His sleep is so deep, however, that he doesn't awaken. He lies in the middle of the road for a few hours but is transported by a mysterious beam to a deserted house. Held up inside are The Frightful Four, who bicker about what to do with the Thing. Meanwhile, the Thrilling Three, as they should be known from here on out, are doing everything they can to find their partner and convince him he's an important part of the group. The Wizard brainwashes Bashful Ben and turns him against his former partners (well, even more than he already was turned).

PE: The Frightful Four make a return appearance. You may not have noticed that they left. Sue notes: "It's like a terrible nightmare! We're being menaced by The Frightful Four again!" This super-villain group fights almost as much as the team this comic is named for, so it's a touch of brilliance on the part of Stan to have the Thing switch sides. Who would notice? Another option would be to have all eight join together (for good or evil) and call them The Angsty Eight.

JS: Things we learn this issue. A sprinkler system can render The Human Torch useless. Medusa plays cards with her hair. And Reed can lift tons of weight. Another day with the FF (either group).

PE: If the Four do indeed call it quits, they could go into the tracking business. With absolutely no leads (in fact, Reed says there are "thousands of homes in the area"), they still manage to find Ben in the isolated mansion. They didn't even know he'd gotten off the truck! He could have been in Florida. Best of all, when they get to the porch of the house, Reed notes that there is a light on inside and the door is unlocked, so they decide to walk in!

MB: I’m sure the senior faculty will provide the requisite quotient of razzing for lines like, “This is no time to go feminine and romantic on me,” so I won’t bother to pile on, but while we’re on the subject of femininity, Medusa shows that Kirby can do va-va-voom as well as burly men ’n’ action (and also proves that she can fight her inner femininity when she needs to!--PE). Alas, he is still suffering from drooping-eye syndrome (e.g., the Sandman on page 17, panel 2). To a longtime reader, this just feels like another in a series of “disgruntled Ben” stories, with that extra mind-control fillip changing the math to the Fantastic Three and the Frightful Five; ironic that the Wizard snaps, “The Frightful Four must not fight amongst ourselves,” when they always do. Weird Science #387: electrical current can pass through hair.

PE: I'm going to continue my broken record analysis of "great art, no story." Stan (or Jack) still seems to be groping in the dark for that door marked Fabulous Fantasy. It's just out of reach. Kirby's art, however, is reaching that peak of magnificence we know he hit somewhere around this time. Just look at that panel reproduced above. It screams "Power!"

JS: I'm beginning to wonder if the stories that are just around the corner, the ones that I recall as being great, are going to arrive and surprise me for not being much better than the rest of what we've been reading. Tell me that can't be possible...

PE: Future lawyer/journalist Keith McWalter commends the cover of FF #37, in the letters page, as "perhaps the most striking and eye-appealing yet produced for the magazine."

Tales of Suspense 68

Iron Man 

Our Story

Tony Stark's misfit cousin, Morgan, has gotten into some monetary difficulties concerning gambling. Unfortunately, it's not just an Atlantic City or Monte Carlo casino that comes to call, it's the nefarious Count Nefaria. Smelling more than just a big payday from this dope, Nefaria cons Morgan into turning on his cousin, Tony, of whom he's always been jealous. Morgan begins a reign of terror using Nefaria's nefarious Visio-Projector, which emits very realistic holograms. Tony Stark sees martians and rocket ships where there none. Slowly but surely the billionaire playboy begins doubting his own sanity. But the joke's on the human race when, in the middle of another hologramic hallucination, a real invasion from space occurs.

PE: Astute Tony Stark (you know, the billionaire playboy so smart he makes his own weapons?) is on his way to a date with a blonde model when he happens upon a rocket off to the side of the road and notes "there's something fishy about that bird!" You mean besides the fact that it's a rocket and it's in the middle of nowhere and you don't generally make discoveries like that? Yeah, a bit fishy, I'll grant.

MB: Okay, I know we’ve got second-stringer Al Hartley at the typewriter, yet am I alone in thinking it odd that Count Nefaria returns not only unhurt after last issue’s explosion, but also with no mention of his mercifully brief stint as the Dream-Master? Mi(c)ke(y) Dem-E-sposit-o, seemingly Marvel’s utility player du jour, does well with Heck’s pencils, and we get our first look at Tony’s well-fed black-sheep cousin, Morgan. If Hartley (who mistakes “censor” for “censure”) sees fit to name his moon-men Edam and Gouda, is it then fair game to call this far-fetched yarn—a big disappointment in an otherwise stellar August—cheesy?

PE: I'll grant also that Count Nefaria's Visio-Projector may just be the sharpest picture this side of HD but the really miraculous stunt Nefaria and his underling, Morgan Stark, pull off is getting Tony to see these visions without anyone else in the world seeing them. That must take incredible luck, as well as timing. After four or five events, the whole thing starts reading like an episode of I Love Lucy. Morgan Stark doesn't come across as particularly bright and yet he seems to have a grasp on Nefaria's technological wonders. He also seems to constantly be in the right place at the right time just as his cuz shows up.

JS: If it were as entertaining as I Love Lucy, it would have been an improvement. Has anyone else noticed that when they did away with the really bad solo stories (Gi-Ant Man and Human Torch), some of the ones that seemed okay by comparison really aren't that much better?

PE: The return of the nasty, but ultimately harmless, Senator Harrington Byrd. This is a supporting character who will pop in and out of the Iron Man story for many years to come. Incredibly, he's just a guy. He's not eventually revealed to be a Sentinel, a Skrull, or even Green Goblin IV.

JS: You realize they're still publishing Iron Man, right? Don't give them any ideas.

PE: Just when you thought this story was dopey enough, along come moon men Edam and Gouda, doubtlessly named for the exotic cheese writer Al Hartley was eating that day at the Marvel offices. Easily the most WTF? Marvel story since Fantastic Four #9, we even get a warning one page before the invasion that we had better get a grip on ourselves before we turn the page. Indeed! Moon people talk slang just like we do. The Gouda squad spit out exclamations like "He moves with the speed of shooting stars!" and "His fists strike like plunging meteors!" Perhaps all the rumors were true about the moon being made of cheese. If so, they're eating pretty well on the moon as these guys are all morbidly obese. I think Gouda and Edam might vacation in San Diego right around the end of July.

JS: Shouldn't the Cheesy-Twins be over in their cousin's book? They sure have that Hulk family resemblance.

PE: This is some reeeeeal bad art here we're subjected to. There's not much left of Don Heck's art under Mike Esposito's inking. But, the story's such a crock of s**t, it's as my grandpappy used to say: put a dress on a pig, it's still a pig. Why waste a good art job on this swill?

JS: I'm wondering now if they had gotten rid of Iron Man, would Captain America have seemed worse? Hmmm...

PE: If you were to take the several hours it would take to research... if you had the drive... if this was important enough to you... if you didn't take my word for it... if you were to search the Marvel database of titles, you'd find that more Marvel stories begin with the word "If" than any other word in the English language. Go ahead and check if you don't believe me!

Captain America

Our Story

Cap snaps out of the hypnotic trance placed on him by The Red Skull just before he's to assassinate the great high exalted commander of things we shouldn't know about. Unshaken by defeat, The Skull then focuses on the extrication of the British Army's new super-secret weapon, a ray-gun that vaporizes anything in its path. Working with an agent placed within a POW camp, The Skull puts his plan into action, not knowing that Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes just happen to be the soldiers assigned to keep an eye on The Skull's secret agent.

PE: It's almost as though Stan (and/or Jack) got tired of the "hypnotized Cap the assassin" plotline and dumped it in a couple of intro panels. Boredom, or maybe they decided they'd painted themselves into a corner not easily turpentined. A huge amount of disbelief suspension must be adopted to enjoy this series as Cap and Bucky always seem to be around the action that previously was being enjoyed by Steve and Bucky. As Professor Matthew alluded to, we're not talking about Cap and Bill here. And how in the world can anyone buy that Steve Rogers can spend his day walking around with a shield strapped to his back? Never mind that the guy's a strong cat. Someone would have to notice (maybe as they're marching behind him) that the guy's got really weirdly shaped shoulders. This particular installment is a filler story. Nothing really happens. Nice art though.

MB: By this point in the arc, the Red Skull is reduced to a three-panel cameo, yet his nefarious influence pervades the story in a satisfying way. I must say that Bucky, masquerading as a Nazi when this episode starts (Mask? What mask?), was fortunate not to have taken a bullet after the general ordered his security forces to “Come in shooting!” The Kirby/Ray art is, frankly, better than ever, from the electrifying splash page—as Cap simultaneously holds off no fewer than four Nazi goons—to that characteristically Kirbyesque mofo vanishing-ray machine.

PE: You mean that ultra-super secret weapon, Project Vanish? The one everyone involved in World War II seems to know about? In the letters page, Stan answers a fan who asks how a Marvel script is typically written: "It's kinda difficult to describe what a mixed-up Marvel script looks like. "Actually, it's mostly a series of hastily scribbled notes, because the stories are usually created by batting them around in the bullpen, and then, after the artist has gone wild with the drawings, Stan swoops down and polishes the dialogue."

JS: You know, the first thing I think when I misplace something is, have I stumbled across Project Vanish?  Unlike Cap, I may never know. Tricky how he uses the old reverse psychology on the Nazi to get him to basically blow himself up. With all the "shoot em in the hand" and "shoot em in the leg" we see, I thought for sure he'd roll his shield over him to incapacitate him. I guess that's what happens when you're mad as hell, and just aren't going to take it any more.

Also this month

Modeling with Millie #40
Patsy and Hedy #101
Patsy Walker #122
Rawhide Kid #47
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #21

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

July 1965: Gi-Ant Man's Last Stand?

Strange Tales 134 

The Torch and The Thing  

Our story

The Watcher visits the Fantastic Four, but since Reed and Sue are out apartment-hunting, he settles for Johnny and Ben. It seems that Kang the Conqueror is at it again. This time, he appears to Merlin the magician in the days of King Arthur. Kang locks Merlin away and then takes over all of Arthur’s knights, planning to change history so that his future foes never exist. The Watcher sends the Torch and the Thing back in time, where they foil Kang’s evil plan and save the world of the future.

Jack: So ends the wretched Torch series not with a whimper, but with a Kang. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) The sustained mediocrity of this series made it one of the first two in the Marvel Age of Comics to be canceled, along with Giant-Man. Bob Powell’s Watcher looks like the New Year’s Baby! Look for the Human Torch Essentials at the next Mercer County, NJ library book sale, because my copy is going in the donation pile!

Wouldn't it have been faster to fly?
Happy New Year!
PE: As viciously odiferous as this series was, I actually thought the last story was not bad. I said "not bad," not "good." Sure, it's a rip-off re-imagining of that really rotten Fantastic Four story of old, the one where Ben Grimm becomes a pirate and wants to stay back in the past, but it seemed as though Bob Powell might have actually studied Jack Kirby's handling of The Thing one lazy summer day and thought "Hold on, he's not supposed to be an orange gorilla?" I'm probably overreacting with my delight at mere mediocrity rather than bottom of the barrel fish entrails but usually halfway through a Torch/Thing story I vow never to read a comic book again and that "plateau" was only in view this issue. Of course, I may just be excited that I never have to read a solo Torch/Thing story again!

Dr. Strange: 

Our story:

Dr. Strange returns to Earth and parks his body in a comfy chair in a “sidestreet hotel” as he flies off ectoplasmically to give the Ancient One a checkup. In Tibet, he bathes A.O. in a strengthening beam from his amulet (Vitamin B-12?). While trying to solve the mystery of Eternity, he is located by one of Mordo’s spirit minions, and the chase is on again. Meanwhile, over in the Dark Dimension, Clea lends a hand by weakening the barrier that keeps the Mindless Ones at bay. Dormammu is suitably distracted, Mordo is weakened, and Dr. Strange lives to fight another day.

MB: Back on Earth, the game is again afoot, and with only half the book at his disposal, Ditko relies on a high panel-per-page average to cram it all in. The story is chock-full of incident: in the space of a mere ten pages, we get the start of Strange’s search for Eternity, his cosmic game of chicken with Mordo at the heart of the solar system, and the as-yet-unidentified Clea’s brave, selfless betrayal of Dormammu. It is entirely appropriate that she uses the Mindless Ones to distract him, since it was their threat that obliged him to accept Strange’s help in the first place, and besides, those guys just look freakin’ cool, like a cross between Cyclops and a Golem.

JS: I'm growing a bit tired of the unlimited astral reach these guys all seem to have. Do they travel at the speed of light? One moment they're underwater with sharks, and a few panels later they're at the sun?

Jack: Where have I read this story before? Oh, right—two issues ago. Ancient One in a coma? Check! Clea worried about Dr. S? Check! Mordo’s spirit minions giving chase? Check! Dormammu has to sign off Skype to deal with Mindless Ones? Check! While I like this story arc, they had better move it along pretty soon!

Tales to Astonish 69 

Giant-Man  Our story

The battle of the century continues from last month as the evil scumbag, The Human Top, has kidnapped Jan and holds her captive at his secret headquarters. Big Hank is distraught. He sets out to find his loving partner with no luck as the trail has gone cold. Back at the Top’s crib, he reveals to the Wasp his master plan. Around his lair, he has built an artificial little town that is life size. Underneath the fake town, however, is a giant pit that he hopes big Hank will stumble into. Jan is able to secretly communicate with one of her wasps, who goes and finds Giant-Man, revealing her location to him. Giant-Man characteristically falls for the bad guy’s trap, falling through the fake village ground into a metal prison hole. Jan can’t bear to be apart from her boyfriend and she joins him. The Top, who apparently thought he had a shot with Jan as his partner once Hank was given a dirt nap, is enraged. From his control lab, he freezes the heroes into solid ice. After this is done, he has a crane scoop up the Giant-Man ice statue back onto ground level. Just then, Hank and Wasp break out of the giant ice statue’s hand, with Hank back to normal size. The Top tries to escape, but Hank takes him down, using the same freezing method the bad guy had used on them. Giant-Man relates to the police that he and Jan just hid in the hand cavity of the giant ice statue, once Hank shrunk down to normal size after letting the ice form around his huge frame. The ending has our hero contemplating retiring from the super hero game. 

Tom: It’s a sad day, as one of the greatest heroes of all time ends up not having the heart to go on fighting anymore. R.I.P. big Hank. I’ll pour out a little malt liquor in your honor.

Jack: Stan refers to Tales to Astonish #68 as “now famous” and a “sellout” issue. If it was so famous and successful, why cancel Giant-Man? Could Stan the Man be pulling our leg?

Tom: The bullpen points out that the Top will surely have no supporters after he cold cocks Jan for interfering with his plans. I’m not sure if I was still a fan of his after he pulled that stunt, but I still wasn’t completely rooting for Giant-Spam either. More like 50/50 at that point. I really didn’t care who was victorious, just as long as the crappy story ended.

Jack: Poor Human Top—he plops the Wasp on a big, yellow water bed but gets nowhere. Knowing Jan’s past, he must be one of the few men alive who fails to turn her on. 

MB: We really get a sense of the rats leaving the sinking ship as editor Stan shunts scripting chores over to Al Hartley, while the thankless job of inking Powell’s pencils one last time devolves onto John Giunta (who he?). Maybe I missed something, but I’m confused about the Top: this is a guy who later has a resurgence as Whirlwind, during which he works as Jan’s chauffeur, yet here he’s spouting sub-Shakespearean dialogue in his scenes with her. And where does he get the funds for the extensive and elaborate construction with which he traps Hank; can he really have that many ill-gotten gains after his various defeats by Giant-Man?

What Jan really wanted all along.


Our story

We continue from last issue, where the Hulk has been captured by the Leader, along with the super intelligent bad guy gaining possession of the Absorbatron, a device that renders the H-bomb useless. The Leader transports both to his secret hideout in the desert before the Navy Task Force captures him. Thunderbolt Ross and Talbot discuss Banner’s apparent treachery, blaming him for the Absorbatron disappearing and planning on killing him if necessary. Rick Jones happens to hear this outside their office window as he walks by. Meanwhile, the Leader has the Hulk strapped to a gurney, trying to perform tests on him. When he walks away, the sleeping gas he is using to subdue the monster does the opposite, changing the Hulk back to Bruce Banner. Banner sneaks off and, using the Leader’s own technology, sends an urgent message out to be rescued. Lucky for him, Rick has gone to one of their old hangouts and receives the message as to where Bruce is located. He tells Ross, who mobilizes the military to capture back the Absorbatron. When the Leader finds out that the Hulk is no longer in captivity, he releases more sleeping gas to flush him out. This causes Banner to revert back to being the Hulk before the Leader can see who the alter-ego is. The Hulk goes on a tear, destroying the Leader’s lab and trying to destroy the Leader. The villain shoots the Hulk with a special high-powered gun that almost stops him, but not before the monster destroys the precious Absorbatron. The bad guy takes off in his ship just before the troops arrive, furious and more determined than ever to defeat the Hulk. Our story ends with the apparent death of Bruce Banner from the gun blast. He changes back into human form just as Ross, Rick, Talbot, and the army troops show up.   

Tom: I must say that I’m impressed. A good story with decent art work. I couldn’t ask for much more. Well, maybe get rid of Rick, who seems to have replaced the almost as equally annoying Betty, but that’s a small quibble.

Jack: Rick Jones sure can run! Even the army can’t keep him away from Bruce Banner. Captain America is going to be SO JEALOUS! And the poor humanoids get no respect. The Leader vaporizes them and they return to nothingness! If only we could do that with about 35 issues of Human Torch tales. We can now add the Leader’s gas to the ever-growing list of things that cause Hulk to change back to Banner and vice versa. 

Oh no! Can it be true?

Journey Into Mystery 118

Our Story

After the defeat of the Communist troops, Thor returns the Vietnamese girl Kim to the safety of the U.S. troops. Gathering the bag of Norn stones to return to Asgard (to prove that Loki cheated in the recent Trial of the Gods), Thor is struck by with an anesthetic shell from an evil-hearted game hunter who spots him flying by. None other than Loki is guiding the hunter’s actions, for if Thor returns the stones to Odin, the God of Evil’s guilt will be established. Loki’s plan gets still darker; he guides the hunter to a barren plateau that explodes to reveal the Temple of Darkness, built by Odin in ages past. Driven by Loki inside the temple, the hunter finds: the Destroyer. Built by Odin (to remain hidden until such a time as needed to save the Earth from a great menace) as a lifeless shell that only becomes mobile when occupied by someone’s spirit, the willing hunter is the one who is in the right place at the wrong time. Thor catches up with him, aided by the directions of the hunter’s native guides. The Destroyer is designed to kill the first thing he sees, presumed to be an enemy of Asgard, but in this case, Thor himself. Realizing that he has unleashed too powerful a foe, and that should Thor die, his own fate will be sealed, Loki goes to tell Odin, and save Thor. Odin however, is sleeping the sleep of life (otherwise known as the Odinsleep) that he must do one day a year to retain his immortality, and from which he cannot be awakened. The guards toss Loki into the Dungeon of No Escape, not believing that for once, his words are true. Even knowing that Odin made the Destroyer indestructible, Thor nonetheless wages a brave but doomed battle. A bolt of limitless force slices Thor’s slices a piece of Thor’s Mjolnir clean off, so the battle becomes hand-to-hand. Designed to have access all the powers in the universe, the Destroyer melts the ground beneath Thor’s feet, and then as the Thunder God sinks, solidifies it to the strength of Asgardian diamond, trapping him. Another destructive bolt of elemental destruction gets ever closer to, the end?

As the quest to find the enemy who has put a crack in the Odinsword prepares to embark in Tales Of Asgard, a special “weapon” is given to Thor by a wise aid of Odin’s named Morduk, to aid in the mission. “The Crimson Hand,” when shaken by another, forces only the truth to be spoken by both parties.  Loki appears with a recruit named Bragg. Upon greeting him with a handshake, Thor discovers that Bragg has intent of slaying the Thunder God from behind once the quest has departed. A moment is all it takes to dispatch Bragg, as Loki feigns surprise, and quickly departs.

JB: If JIM#114 wasn’t already, this issue is easily the most epic Thor tale yet.  There’s fine attention to detail in the artwork, some nice angles and great full pager of Daddy-O(din) sawing logs. 

PE: I love how Loki comes to rue the decision he's made to release Destroyer and sic him on his half-brother. Of course, his regret is only because he knows Odin will unleash a nasty punishment on him once he gets word of his favorite son's untimely demise. I'm not sure I understand how the temple was revealed to the big-game hunter. It's said several times that Destroyer is Odin's secret weapon for armageddon. A last resort when all else fails. How is it that Loki's able to crumble the mountainside and open the temple? This issue must have been a favorite of the script writers of the Thor film, as there are a couple of inspirations, the obvious being the villain but also Odin's sleep. In the film, Odin sleeps a real big Odin-sleep after having a traumatic experience while here it's just an all-day nap he must endure once a year. Destroyer was much bigger in the movie and I think the upgrade suits him. 

JB: The Destroyer looks pretty intimidating. In the Thor movie they kept nicely visually to the original concept shown here; although he’s far less powerful in the film than here. Actually he’s quite a simple villain, not really evil unto himself, but virtually unstoppable. 

PE: This is a dynamite issue and I'm looking forward to the conclusion.

MB: I have ambivalent feelings about this issue, despite its introducing the Destroyer, one of the all-time great Thor villains, who made such a positive contribution to the recent film. Yet the sight of Thor being felled by a sub-Hemingway reject didn’t go down so easily, nor did the somewhat clumsy introduction of said Destroyer. Why would the ruler of the Scandinavian-based Norse gods have concealed him in the jungles of Indochina, of all places? And, if that temple “built by Odin, untold ages ago” had been “hidden beneath the concealing plateau—since time immemorial,” it seems unlikely that modern man would have heard legends of it. But boy, he sure can mix it up.

JB: Odin’s tired this month; he’s sleeping in the main tale and the TOA. The Crimson Hand is a cool tool; I don’t think it appears again? Not even a mention of Marvel romance this time either. It’s nice to see Loki trap himself with his own evil ways.

The X-Men 12

Our Story

A new and deadly menace is threatening Professor X and his X-Men at X-Mansion: the Professor's estranged step-brother, Cain Marko aka The Juggernaut, who will stop at nothing to put his little brother in a box. Years before, while fighting side by side in the Korean War, Xavier could only stand by helplessly and watch as Cain found the statue of Cyttorak and was infused with incredible power. Marko becomes, in X's words "a gigantic, inexorable force that moves onward irresistibly, crushing anything it finds in its path!"Marko tromps through each new barrier the X-Men throw at him until he tears down the steel wall and smashes into the mansion to face the mutants. To be continued.

PE: For the 12th time in 12 issues, Professor X proclaims that this latest menace will be the deadliest they've ever faced. The menace turns out to be his big bully step-brother. In one of those long drawn-out origins, X tells his X-kids all about the vicious. Are you like me and wonder exactly how the characters tell these stories we see in vivid detail? "And so then my step-brother puts his hand up in my face and says 'Hey, wanna see somethin'? Nyuk-nyuk' and then he slaps me in the face! Can you beat that?" Then, as his brother is knocking the building down around him, Cyclops sensibly says "Shouldn't we go out and fight the guy?" and X says "No, we've got time for me to tell you the rest of this origin story"! Why not say "That's my brother, he's mean, he's a Juggernaut!"

JS: Cerebro will prove to be a very powerful tool in the search for mutants.  We'll have to wait for the next issue to see if there's a story worthy of so much buildup.

PE: The whole story is a build up to a reveal. The longest origin story in the history of Marvel runs concurrently with a big shadowy figure destroying barriers around X-Mansion. What could he look like? How big is he?

JS: And why does he wear that silly headgear?

PE: Professor X as star quarterback??? This sounds like the kind of b.s. the revisionists would be up to years later. This is one line I ain't buying. He was also a track star, we're told. Because he has ESP, he's able to tell when the other runners are tiring and therefore run faster. When I ran track in high school, I could tell the tired ones as well. They were lying in heaps on the grass. How can ESP make a man run faster? How does X use his mental powers to help his brother jump out of a crashing car? We're getting into Daredevil's "let's make up the rules as we go" territory. The first 11 issues of this title ranged from Outstanding to middling. None of them that I can recall would be on a par with The Human Torch or Gi-Ant Man for ludicrosity. Congratulations, Stan.

JS: I don't know if measuring against the bottom of the scale is going to win over any readers...

PE: One of the X-Men's oldest and sturdiest villains, The Juggernaut is not served well with his first outing. The art stinks and I like Alex Toth. There's very little Toth on display here and I have to think that's because of Vince Colletta's inks. Many of the characters look like elementary stick figures in some panels and several times we endure the curse of no backgrounds. Says here that Kirby provided the layouts. I see no evidence nor influence of Kirby and I'm squinting real hard.

MB: Never mind that the Kirby/Toth/Colletta artwork is a bit of a mishmosh; herein true greatness lies, a Landmark Issue if ever there was one, including not only the origin of Professor X but also the introduction and origin of one of Marvel’s greatest villains, Juggernaut. His name rich with Biblical associations, Cain Marko is another of those characters best used sparingly, so as not to diminish his impact, and I love the fact that in such a generally science-based book, his powers come from a mystic force right out of Dr. Strange! Did ever a villain get a better build-up, with his tale told in tense tones by his intended victim while he batters, unseen, at the gates?

PE: Er... Um...

The Avengers 18

Our Story

Captain America is having doubts about his leadership and questions what his life is all about. Quicksilver enjoys a circus act of acrobats, Hawkeye perfects a new, amazing ultra-sonic vibration arrow, so strong it can move a one-ton safe. Meanwhile, (COMMUNIST ALERT!!!!) in the "communist-ruled puppet state of Sin-Cong," the Commissar, another impossibly large Asian ruler is bleeding his people dry. In an effort to gain notoriety, the big guy sends out a faux SOS to The Avengers in order to lure them to his compound. There, he hopes to defeat them and spread his legend throughout Asia. Cap takes the bait and The Avengers head to Sin-Cong. Once there, they realize they've been duped as they're attacked from all sides by The Commissar and his men.

PE: Knowing that it ain't a Marvel team of superheroes without the discord, Stan throws in a bit of discussion about what The Avengers stand for, Cap and Hawkeye on one side, Quicksilver and The Witch on the other. The wedge is removed after only a few panels and the World's Weakest Super-Group is reunited as one. I will say that it's an interesting experiment Stan is conducting here, a super-group void of any super power. I would suspect the letter column will get interesting as well.

JS: Will somebody please slap Cap. I'm tired of his brooding. Hey Steve - they thawed you out already!
PE: We're finally getting a peak at The Avengers playbook. Here we witness Captain America call for Plan Seven, which translates to "Quicksilver runs real fast and knocks out the bad guys." I'm still wondering if each Avenger has his own set of Plans (say, The Witch has Plan One through Six, Silver has Seven through Twelve, etc.). If that were the case, what would happen if Cap called out for The Witch to execute Plan Seven and she didn't have one? Obviously, Cap has planned for everything. He tells his partners, as they're passing out from breathing some form of noxious gas, that if they hold their breath as they're going under, their unconscious state won't last too long. Say what? I'm no doctor but don't you breathe even when you're asleep? I think i read that in a high school textbook once.

JS: Is everyone else tired of evil giants that turn out to be robots? I honestly can't recall if we've seen this exact storyline, but it certainly feels as if we have.

PE: The Commissar comes with no explanation as to why he's so big and powerful until the final panels. The expository reveals that the big Asian was actually a very life-like robot controlled by a "Wizard of Oz" behind a curtain. I find it hard to believe that a band of intelligent heroes couldn't discern a robot from a human being. After 18 issues, with but one exception (issue #4), I still find that The Avengers is a waste of precious reading time.

MB: Don’t turn around—the Commissar’s in town! Hardly among the more enduring villains in the Marvel stable, yet since one of those is coming in the next issue, I can afford to be patient. Also not so keen on newly minted Avenger the Scarlet Witch being thrust so soon (or at all, really) into the helpless-female mode, but that’s the damned Reds for you, and of course she ends up saving the day, so there. Heck’s art seems generally solid, despite the disappearance of Hawkeye’s mask on page 11, although I’m not sure that Ayers is exactly doing Don any favors.

The Amazing Spider-Man 26

Our Story

The Crime-Master has been delivering ultimatums to all the big mob bosses in town: work for me or you're through. He's also delivered that message to The Green Goblin, who's not exactly happy about the situation. Meanwhile, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is up to his ears in problems. As naive, intelligent Peter Parker, he's managed to lose both of his Spidey suits (as seen in issue #25-Pesky Pete) and landed himself in the principal's office after taking on Flash and his crew single-handedly. His love life is a sham: Betty's convinced that Peter sold Spidey down the river last issue and Liz Allan is tired of breaking up Peter/Flash dust-ups. Just when it seems that there are nothing but problems ahead for our teenaged hero, he manages to come up with a spare suit from a Halloween costume store. Not the ideal situation but it'll do in a pinch. Donning his new gear, he heads for battle. The fight is on the docks where The Green Goblin and The Crime-Master are headed for a showdown. The winner will be crowned King of the Underworld. Hindered by the low-budget costume, Spidey is beaten by The Goblin, who plans to use the wall-crawler as a pawn in his scheme for power.

PE: It's nice to see Stan finally moving past the usual Peter/Flash mix-ups. I was getting extremely tired of Flash goading Parker into doing something very un-Parker like but the event stopping before fruition. Usually, as happened this issue, that something would be Liz Allan getting between the two, with the "Jeez, I almost blew my Spidey identity" thought balloon over Peter's head. Yep, that happens this issue but the drama continues when Peter gets called into the principal's office and takes full responsibility. Flash, overhearing the conversation, owns up to his part in the melee. I know, further down the road in this series, the two teens actually become friends but I'm not sure how close we are just yet. Maybe this was the first step.

JS: That part didn't ring true to me. Flash has given Peter so much grief for so long, I find it hard to believe that he's a good guy at heart.  But it's a plot device that's been used again and again in teen movies, so obviously somebody thinks it works.

MB: Webhead’s ongoing costume woes are classic Marvel, and Ditko’s art doesn’t seem so cramped this time; shots like Betty confronting Peter against that shocking pink background on the bottom of page 5 are a little melodramatic, but make things more interesting from a visual standpoint. I like that Flash once again shows himself not to be a total heel, while his simultaneous contempt for Peter and hero-worship of Spidey is always a fun plot device. Crime-Master is a formidable villain, and Steve’s plot provides a nice set-up for the cliff-hanger ending.

JS: So we go to great lengths to establish that the costume is an ill-fitting Halloween costume, and yet the Green Goblin can't seem to get the mask off? Come on, Gobby!

PE: Perhaps two ultra-secret super-villains was one too many? Honestly, I can't remember who The Crime-Master is (and I'm writing this having only gotten up to page 10 so far) and the mystery is killing me, but knowing Stan's track record for ultra-secret reveals, I'm sure I'll be disappointed when I find out who the Big Man is (and I'm not going to cheat by looking him up on Wikipedia or reading ahead). Knowing now that The Goblin turned out to be a character not even introduced yet makes me suspect a similar reveal in the works. He can't really be Foswell, can he? Stay tuned.

JS: Are super villains so dumb that they'd divulge their secret identities to one another?

PE: If The Crime-Master's get-up looks familiar, it's because Steve Ditko later remolded him as The Question in 1967 when he was working for Charlton (and Alan Moore later "borrowed" him for Watchmen's Rorschach). I couldn't get into The Question until Denny O'Neil re-booted the character for DC (who had bought the rights to the Charlton characters) in 1987. It only lasted 36 glorious issues but it's one of my favorite comics series.

JS: He reminded me of Rorschach from The Watchmen.

PE: Is now a good time to talk about spider-sense? I've never understood the rules of Spider-Man's warning system. In this issue, it warns Spidey that The Crime-Master is going to shoot him behind a set of closed blinds from a position across the street. I can understand the tingle going off if the danger is in the general proximity of Spidey's body but this almost seems like ESP. It warns him of a danger that may happen in the future. How far in the future can this power sense the event? If Doctor Doom was going to fire a nuclear missile directly at Spider-Man, at what point would his Spider-sense begin tingling? Pick up your pencils. You have exactly one minute.

JS: He'd feel it shortly before impact... but too late.

PE: Call me nuts but, from start to cliffhanger finish, this is the best Spider-Man issue yet. Never saw this one comin'! The art's fabulous. The plot is intriguing. The sub-plots don't meander and disappear in a puff of meaningless thought balloons. The Goblin's starting to get that wacky, crazy edge. I'm still enthralled by the mystery of The Crime-Master.

JS: I didn't have my hopes up from the cover, but it was more entertaining than I had expected. Let's hope  the next chapter is even better.

PE: On the letters page, Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber makes his case for Spider-Man guesting in Millie the Model.

Tales of Suspense 67

Iron Man

Our Story

After receiving a tongue-lashing from Pepper Potts, Iron Man sulks in his little charger room, unaware that he's about to be attacked by an old enemy. Count Nefaria has dropped his old moniker and adopted the startling new title The Master of Dreams (or, as one panel addresses him, The Master! of Dreams-PE). His first target, since this is Iron Man's strip, is The Golden Avenger. Nodding off while still awake, he's attacked in his dreams by The Unicorn and The Crimson Dynamo. Fighting them off is almost too easy for Iron Man but we learn that it was just a test dream for The Master! of Dreams! Later, when Iron Man flies to Ireland to try to talk a pouting Happy Hogan into returning to the states, our hero is thrust into another dream-state where he battles more fourth and fifth-tier villains, Jack Frost, The Black Knight, The Melter, and Gargantus. One by one, he defeats the bogus criminals and, upon waking from his dream, decides he needs to take more vitamins, never knowing who his real foe was.

PE: I dug issues like this when I was a kid. It's a veritable who's who of Iron Man villains. Of course, it's all a dream but, no matter, we still get to see all these great villains! Only disappointment: no Paste Pot Pete.

JS: I always felt cheated by this kind of story. They'd do anything to sell a comic.

PE: It's seems at some point every issue Iron Man has to leave to recharge his batteries. Usually it comes just before or during a big battle. This issue it comes just as he's receiving a scolding from Pepper Potts. His constant wearing down reminds me of that wonderful Japanese TV series of the 1960s, Ultraman. The giant silver karate expert had a light on his chest and when his power would wear down it would blink red. We were constantly reminded that if the red light stopped blinking, Ultraman would be no more. I wonder if the producers of that show drew any inspiration from the Iron Man comic.

JS:  I wouldn't think so, but stranger things have happened.  I think I've made my opinion clear when it comes to 'we interrupt today's adventure to plug Iron Man into the wall.'

PE: Why would a super-villain (granted, a fifth tier villain) change his name from the ultra-cool Count Nefaria to the Village People-esque The Master of Dreams? For that matter, why would Stan change it? That's quite the gizmo Dreamy has, a "world-wide electro-scanner" which, it seems, can see anywhere he wants it to. Its first vision is Iron Man charging up. Could he follow I.M. around until he took his armor off and discover his true identity?

JS: Do you think he was just trying to spice things up? It seems like it would just add to the logistical nightmare of juggling all the continuity, not that I think that job landed on Stan's plate (outside what he kept track of by writing damn near every Marvel comic.

MB: It was wise of the Dream-Master—who (shocker) survives that climactic blast—to go back to his old handle of Count Nefaria, under which he would still bedevil various Marvel heroes for years to come. And, although this incarnation of the former Maggia chief is pretty goofy, these rogues’-gallery stories can be fun, even if we just had one in The Amazing Spider-Man two months ago. But please, spare me the laid-on-with-a-trowel brogue! At least my wife, whose favorite words are “Made in the U.S.A.,” enjoyed Tony’s little speech.

PE: One of the most clumsily written comics I've read during this run. It's not even clear if the first attack of The Master! of Dreams! is the villain telling us what he's got planned or a dream attack already under way. The reader doesn't know until the "action" is over. And further, do the villains in the dreams speak with The Master!'s voice or are the bad guys in a dream state as well? Well, no, that can't be right as The Crimson Dynamo is dead. As Shellhead questions: "Would a character in a dream tell someone that he too is in a dream?" Good question, Mr. Stark. I got another one for you: Do the Irish really say things like "Begorra, me boy" and "Faith an' Bejabbers" but otherwise speak perfect English?

This just in: Kelsey Grammer to play Gargantus in Iron Man 3

Captain America

Our Story

Under the influence of The Red Skull, Captain America begins his training to murder the allies' top military leader. Meanwhile, Bucky is lined up on a wall with other prisoners to be executed by his Nazi captors.

MB: I don’t know how long they will last, but this strip is clearly in its glory days now, the artwork having stabilized into the Kirby grandeur we know and love, despite another Stone/Ray switcheroo. The faux German accents are a little distracting, yet the wartime action is solid, and although drugged by the Skull, Cap looks every inch the mighty Sentinel of Liberty. Bucky, for his part, shows himself to be far more than the teen-in-jeopardy sidekick, giving a good account of himself in the battle, and even gunning down a Nazi or two.

PE: You're not kidding about those German "accents," Professor Matthew. Stan should have either gone with straight German word balloons with *translations below (unmanageable, to be fair) or just have the Germans speak in English with a - *translated from German-Snazzy Stan - at the beginning of the story. As it's presented here, it's a distraction comparable to a tea break every ten seconds in a rip-roaring action scene. It stops the flow. Otherwise it's another ace chapter in this Captain America retro-saga.

JS: I was also put off by the overdone German dialogue, but I'll accept that as a product of its time. If they didn't talk the way they do, it would probably have been harder for kids to follow that they were the bad guys. Gotta love Hitler cowering at the sight of Cap.

The Fantastic Four 40

Our Story
The Baxter Building is still under the control of Doctor Doom but, if The Fantastic Four and guest-star Daredevil, The Man Without Fear, have anything to say about the situation, it won't be his for long. DD heads on up to the top of the building to run interference while The Four sneak in via an elevator to get hold of one of Reed's gadgets that will restore their powers. Doom finally realizes that The Four are powerless and he uses that to his advantage until Stretcho is able to sneak away and get hold of The Stimulator. Once blasted with Stimulato-rays, our super team is back on the map. Doctor Doom is defeated but allowed to go free in the end. Ben Grimm has had enough of the superhero life and announces he's quitting.

PE: I'm not sure which bit of Stan Lee hype on the splash page I'm supposed to swallow: that "The Battle of the Baxter Building" is "destined to take its place beside the battles of Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Dunkirk." or that it's "possibly the greatest action-drama you will read this year." How could Stan use the word "possibly" after the comparisons in the first quote?

JS: Are you suggesting that Stan was susceptible to hyperbole?

PE: The concept of The Fantastic Four's armory being used against them is an intriguing one but some of the gizmos Dr. Doom unearths in Reed's lab are almost laughable. Why would Richards install an under-floor refrigeration unit? Of course, Doom has some nifty gadgets up his sleeve )literally) as well, like his "instant hypnotism impulser, which can upset your total sense of balance in one split-second."

JS: Do you get the sense that Stan had some sort of bible where he was keeping track of all this? I'm thinking he was making it up as he went, damn the consequences later!

PE: Holy Deus ex Machina! At least Ben Grimm questions Reed Richards about why they've been running around powerless all this time when there's a machine (The Stimulator) that can recharge The Four's powers. I wasn't going to mention this convenient way out for Stan as I assumed the big reveal about The Stimulator had happened while I'd fallen asleep. Stan must have realized he'd painted himself into quite a corner and his readers were paying their hard earned twelve cents for a comic called The Fantastic Four not The Questionable Quartet. Even in 1965 at the age of 4 years old, I would have howled out loud at this dopey plot twist.

JS: I keep searching for signs of the classic FF that I know is right around the corner, and the shot of Ben Grimm, back in rock form, is just what the doctor ordered. Kirby at his best in this particular issue.

The Thing... as he was meant to be!
PE: And how does this epic end? Doctor Doom attempts to murder Ben Grimm but when the tables are finally turned and Ben gets the upper hand, Reed steps in and reminds The thing that Doom has diplomatic immunity and they have to let him go. Doom walks right out the door with Reed cooing to his teammates that they've stripped the Doctor of his machismo and he'll probably never bother them again. That's the final straw for Ben Grimm. He's tired of being an ugly lumpy orange fella and he quits the group for the fifth time in two months (Marvel time). Stan's about to bring out Marvel Cliche #6 again (stay tuned for our special spotlight on the ten Marvel cliches beat into the ground like dead horses).

Also this month
Kid Colt Outlaw #123
Millie the Model #129
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #20
Two-Gun Kid #76