Wednesday, January 11, 2012

June 1965: The Origin of The Red Skull!

Daredevil 8

Our story

Daredevil rescues a woman before she is hit by a runaway car with no driver. He jumps into the moving car to try to stop it. The gas pedal is nailed down and the hero’s senses inform him that the car is set to explode with dynamite. DD drives the car off a ledge into the river and jumps out before it explodes. The car was used as a distraction for the police, because at the same time it was careening out of control, a villain named Stiltman was robbing a helicopter using hand grenades. The Stiltman is a criminal who has hydraulic metal legs that allow him to tower up above all others. He also has a bullet proof mask and armor. DD tries to stop him but is knocked away like a harmless insect by one of the Stiltman’s monstrous legs. Back at his law office, Matt is visited by a man named Wilbur Day who wants to sue his boss, Carl Kaxton, for stealing his hydraulic inventions. Matt agrees to take the case and his dealings with Kaxton make him look like a suspicious jerk, to say the least. Meanwhile, the Stiltman continues his one man crime wave. Daredevil keeps trying to stop him but is unable to catch the villain. Wilbur Day convinces Matt to go with him to Kaxton’s home, where he thinks they will find evidence of his thievery. Matt believes that Kaxton could be the Stiltman. On his property, Kaxton pulls a Tommy gun on Matt and Wilbur. Surprisingly, Wilbur springs into action. He karate chops Kaxton, knocking him out, then also knocks out Matt. Murdock fakes his unconsciousness so he can wait and see what Wilbur is up to. In a twist, Wilbur, the seemingly nerdy inventor, is the Stiltman. Once inside his former boss’s home, the Stiltman seizes the one invention that he has long sought, a Molecular Condenser ray gun that can shrink anything into nothingness! Double D attacks the Stiltman and the fight is on. After a long, traveling brawl, DD is able to use the Condenser ray gun on Stiltman, causing him to vanish. The ending has Karen all worked up into a tizzy because Matt refuses to see an eye specialist for possible surgery that could cure his blindness.

Tom: I must say, Daredevil is constantly turning out to be one of the most solid comics coming out of the Marvel factory. Each issue’s quality is consistently good. Even a doofus villain like the Stiltman comes off as a viable threat. I wouldn’t mess with the guy, hand grenades or not.

  Jack: Matt runs his hands over Karen’s face and says that he wants to feast his eyes on her features, but when Foggy walks in Karen tells him “it isn’t what you think!” I have news for Karen. She’s wrong!                                                                 
Tom: Is anybody else starting not to care about where the whole Karen, Foggy, and Matt love triangle is going? Thankfully, this poor comic soap opera is given minimal page time each issue.

Jack: Some cutaway views this issue let Wally Wood do some of his technical drawing.

MB: I’ve always had ambivalent feelings toward Stiltman, who is—strictly speaking—a somewhat goofy and usually easily defeated villain. And yet…because he was one of Daredevil’s first, and recurred with admirable persistence, he has a sort of venerable quality to him, coupled with the fact that he is at least visually interesting. Speaking of visuals, I continue to adore Wood’s art, especially the cinematic touch of Wilbur Day reflected in Matt’s shades on page 6, and to Stan’s credit, he does manage to make Stilty seem formidable on his initial outing.

Daredevil uses his Snooperscope to listen
to conversations all over the city. Snooperscope??? 
Jack: Stiltman is ridiculous—how does he swing his legs over things? Or does he telescope them short and then back to long? 

The Amazing Spider-Man 25

Our Story

Professor Spencer Smythe has created the perfect toy for J. Jonah Jameson: a robot that can seek out and destroy Spider-Man. Realizing that if he's caught by the machine while as Peter Parker, the world will know his secret, our teenaged hero is constantly looking over his shoulder. Finally, the robot arrives at Parker's high school, coinciding with a call-out by Flash Thompson. Though he knows it will make him look chicken, Peter must flee to find shelter so he can change into his outfit. Finally able to make the change, Spider-Man must fight a seemingly unstoppable foe with tentacles of unbreakable steel.

PE: Must be a slow week at The Daily Bugle if Jameson would pay Peter Parker for photos of a bungled car heist. But Parker does a good job coming at JJJ with a new angle: the pics make Spider-Man look bad since the cop got the job done without him.

JS: It's one thing for him to hate Spider-Man, but Jameson has been crossing the line into super-villain territory.

PE: With all this constant hatred JJJ  throws Spider-Man's way, one angle never seems to be brought up: the legal ramifications. How can Jameson constantly send life-threatening danger Spidey's way and not have to answer to the law? Doesn't anyone ever find out about Scorpions and Spider-Slayers? Why doesn't ditzy Marvel girl, Betty Brant, so concerned with Spider-Man, call up a rival publisher and let him know what's going on in her boss's office?

JS: There's a rival publisher in this town? I figured the Daily Bugle was the only game in town, or Parker would be going elsewhere with his photos.

PE: I'm not a fan of the romance triangles that seem to muck up the pages of 1960s Marvels but, in this issue, I like the playful/bitchy exchanges between Liz Allan and Betty Brant. And it culminates in a funny tease from Steve and Stan.

JS: I still don't see what Peter sees in either of these gals.

PE: How could Smythe's robot wheel itself down a New York street without causing a panic or alerting the police? It's also tough to swallow that Peter is able to make a life-like dummy of himself (in uniform) to fake out Smythe and JJJ. Those panels sure make that empty suit look filled to me.

JS: I think with the FF, Daredevil, Spidey and the like in town, a robot walking down the street might not raise eyebrows.

MB: I find it interesting that, on the one hand, this is the first ish I’ve seen crediting “Sturdy Stevey” as plotter while, on the other hand, Steve-as-artist seems hamstrung by its restrictive layouts, as has happened before. A predominant use of eight- and nine-panel pages (slipping in a dozen on page 13) makes the art feel positively claustrophobic, and even the splash page is cluttered with character portraits. Perhaps to compensate, the first of what would later be called Smythe’s Spider-Slayers is a truly dopey-looking thing, even if—as academics—we must note the debut of the scientist who literally or figuratively fathered so many Spider-Man villains, not to mention (although I’d prefer not to) the teasing first “appearance” of a certain Ms. Watson.

JS: I don't get what the motivation was behind hiding MJ. If you want to keep the reveal hidden, don't introduce the character. By covering her face in a few panels, it feels like they're planning to reveal her as someone we've already met.

PE: John Romita's version of Mary Jane Watson, which we won't see until #42 (November 1966), is so iconic I'm glad we never had to witness an MJ with nine inches between her eyes. The bit we see of her towards the end makes her look as if she's got a Vampira-ish waist and the hips of a very big girl. Ditko sure could draw that Spider-Man though!

JS: I guess that's as good a reason as any for obscuring of her face...

PE: Professor Spencer Smythe will end up building several Spider-Slayers before eventually dying of radiation poisoning. His son, Alistair, will take over his father's research.

JS: Those mad geniuses will never learn...

PE: A letter from "Fabulous" Flo Steinberg, Stan Lee's secretary apologizing for the repeating of a fan letter (and Stan's response!) in two successive issues of ASM (#22 and 23). Flo would later go on to work at Captain Company (Warren Publishing's mail-order division) after quitting her job at Marvel, and publish her own underground comic book, Big Apple Comix.

Fantastic Four 39

Our Story

Left unconscious by the nuclear blast last issue, The Fantastic Four are rescued by an investigating Navy submarine. Once they awaken, they discover their powers have disappeared. Knowing that this makes them sitting ducks for all their foes, Reed Richards gets to work on duplicating each power, finding it's tougher than he thought. He summons The Four's lawyer, Matt Murdock to let him know that they've lost their powers and he is granted power of attorney should anything happen. Coincidentally, Doctor Doom has wiped away the hypnotic stupor he's enjoyed since Fantastic Four Annual #2 and decides that the right time to attack The Baxter Building is right this minute. How can the Fantastic Five (Murdock has become his alter ego Daredevil and is chipping in a hand) hope to defeat the dastardly Doctor of Doom when they possess nary a super power amongst them? To be continued!

PE: An interesting concept, the loss of the team's powers (and one that will be revisited again and again as I recall), but the idea of Reed creating gizmos that reproduce the powers is laughable. So, let me paint a picture:
  1. Doctor Doom attacks.
  2. Johnny Storm runs and hides so he can put on his green outfit and then lights himself on fire.
  3. Ben Grimm runs and hides so he can play with the joystick that operates his Thing robot.
  4. Who knows what Reed Richards does since his mechanical arms seem pretty inflexible.
  5. Sue runs and hides and throws her voice. Since she never contributes much to the fight anyway, they don't miss her.
Amazingly, we don't see this picture I've painted. In fact, in this chapter at least, the super duper faux-power armatures are introduced and then discarded. Will they show up to dazzle Doctor Doom next issue? We'll see.

JS: I kept waiting to find out that we were wacthing Doctor Doom in a Reed RIchards outfit building a set of FF-Doom Bots.

PE: Doom has waited years to get his hands on Reed's supersonic air-displacer vortex (or is it a votex) machine! Here's a gizmo that Stretch created "to aid in weather control" which can "generate the force of a dozen hurricanes". Seriously, how many times do you think that's come in handy? Then, later on, we actually see saliva foaming at the madman's mouthhole when he stumbles upon "Richards' force beam projectiles" which zero in on its target's heartbeat.  Did Reed leave a study manual laying around The Baxter Building for all to see? Did he publish the blueprints in Popular Mechanics? How does Doom know what these gizmos are called, their use, and yeah, he's a bright boy, but how does he know how to use them so quickly? There's no hesitation on his part.

JS: I think it's the same logic behind how a Super Villain's name is known by everyone when they make their first appearance.

PE: I still can't figure out why Daredevil is so much quicker than a normal, sighted hero. I get the "blindness elevates the other senses" angle, but that shouldn't make him faster. There are three successive panels in mid-story where The Man Without Fear saves Ben Grimm, Sue Storm, and Red Richards by racing to knock them out of the way of advancing vehicles. I'm not sure why The Four didn't move of their own power but Stan makes it seems as though DD has the speed of Quicksilver. Here's another question: Since he's so dolgarned hyper-sensitive, could he guess the secret identity of any hero he's around? Has that ever been addressed?

JS: You'd think he'd be able to identify someone by their heartbeat, which would allow him to know someone whether they're in costume or their secret identity.

PE: One of Kirby's weakest layouts. We get claustrophobic six-panel pages crammed with five heroes running in different directions. The whole thing seems rushed (there are several typos and, at one point, Matt calls Reed "Mr. Murdock"), tired, and dripping with deja vu. And finally, is it a vortex (as it's labeled in the first half of the story) or a votex? As dopey as the story is (and it's a doozey) I loved the cliffhanger. We're literally left right in the middle of the road, awaiting the FF's fate.

JS: We get another weird Kirby collage this issue. I don't know whether to think of those as lazy, since he has to draw less, or inspired for his creative approach.

The Avengers 17

Our Story

The New Avengers begin their first day as a team utilizing the "play room" and getting to know each other's powers (all the while bickering, of course) all the better to become one fighting unit. Their training is interrupted by a giant robot which tells them the whereabouts of The Incredible Hulk, who they desperately want to join their ranks. Flying to the desert mesa where The Avengers fought The Lava Men months before (in The Avengers #5), the team is unaware that the real menace is hidden below their feet. Turns out The Mole Man is back in town and he's the owner of the giant robot that's brought them out to the desert. When a trapdoor opens in the mesa, the super-team fall far down into the earth's very bowels and come face to face with a monster that Quicksilver describes as "so horrible it can't exist." Indeed, a fifty foot diapered Minotaur was not what the doctor ordered for rest and relaxation. Meanwhile, The Avengers intended target, The Hulk is not far away battling The Leader.

PE: I had to stifle a laugh when Captain America chides a greedy Hawkeye (who wants to take a vote for leader of The New Avengers) that "when you've been an Avenger as long as I have, you'll have the right to speak out that way." Let's do the math: Cap was thawed out in #4 and became a member in #5. That's 12 issues (or about 12 weeks in Marvel time). Not what you'd call a veteran, so hang in there, Hawkeye, your time is comin'. Scarlet Witch seems to have an amazingly flexible waistline. Maybe that should be her power. Speaking of powers, The Mole Man has a new weapon, "The Ultrasonic Vibro-Wave Machine" which, Moley promises, will reduce The Avengers' mighty muscles to mashed potatoes.

JS: So in the sixties, Marvel gals wore corsets underneath their costumes. These days, the corsets are the costumes.

PE: The entire "Let's go find Hulk and offer him a membership" idea is doomed to failure. Amazingly, it was Thor and Iron Man who brought up the idea as they were leaving Cap high and dry to go sunning on the beach. Hulk said "No" to puny Avengers about 13 weeks before. Why would he change his mind?

JS:  The giant robot they fight reminds me a lot of ROM: Spaceknight. More on him in 10 years or so... I know I can't wait!

PE: Don Heck's "staggering," machine-filled training rooms leave little to be desired when compared to the Kirby-illustrated gizmo palaces we're accustomed to. The Avengers' "play room" looks filled with multiple copies of the same machine with a few dials and knobs. Nothing that, as Stan gushes, "staggers the senses."

JS: At least we get some variety to the pages and panels here. 

PE: No good reason is given for the attack on The Avengers by The Mole Man. Isn't he crossing some kind of line visiting a rival super-team of The Fantastic Four? How is it that Cap knows more about Hawkeye's arrows than the archer himself? And I need to see a depth chart for The Scarlet Witch's powers. She makes scrap metal out of Mole Man's incredible Vibro-Wave in a matter of seconds. Seems as though she's the muscle the rest of the group is lacking.

MB: Although I’ve never thought much of Moley as an opponent for the Assemblers, and the constant cross-cutting to next month’s Astonish was a bit bizarre, I enjoyed the Quartet’s baptism of fire a lot. Stan’s script somehow gets to the heart of what it means to be an Avenger, what makes the team unique, with the early itch to supplant Cap quickly giving away to a proper respect for his matchless leadership (“We found our true strength together!”); there’s something stirring even about the way they address one another as “Avenger.” I know Heck’s taken lots of knocks around here—not all of them undeserved—but maintain that he is an admirable Avengersartist, especially for this era, with a real feel for the action as well as the varied cast of characters.

PE: One of the biggest cheat stories I've ever encountered. Cover boy The Hulk is only in a few panels and that's to fight The Leader, a sequence that's being repeated in his regular title (Tales of Suspense #69) as Stan informs us. There's no reason whatsoever for 'ol Greenskin to feature here. And please tell me why The Mole Man would use his fancy contraption at the climax, when he's decided he can't beat The Avengers, to transport them back up to the surface world. Why not transport them to some underground cavern where they'll never find their way out? It's no wonder these super-villains never beat their enemies. They're obviously not smart enough to think these scenarios through. And I'm still wondering why The Mole Man initiated the attack in the first place. What did he stand to gain?

Journey Into Mystery 117

Our Story

Loki has defeated Thor, returning to Asgard ahead of the Thunder God from Skornheim, where they faced the test of the Trial Of The Gods. Thor tells Odin that Loki won by using the magic Norn stones, but not before the evil one sends the stones off to a faraway corner of Earth. Out of fear, Loki tells Thor where he sent them, but not in front of Odin, who grants Thor’s request to find the stones on Earth and prove that Loki cheated. Thor arrives on Earth while the Enchantress and the Executioner are fighting Balder The Brave, who has been on Earth holding off the evil duo from harming Jane Foster and wreaking havoc in general. E and E flee at the prospect of battling the two Asgardians, and Balder returns Jane home (granting her forgetfulness) while Thor continues his mission, for which Odin has only given him twenty-four hours. Mjolnir leads Thor to Vietnam, in the midst of war. Knowing he is close to finding the stones, and avoiding the shells that are firing upon him, Thor lands in the jungle. Stunned by a near-hit, and left for dead by the Communists, Thor is found by a Vietnamese family, who give him shelter. Thor continues his search as Don Blake, to make it easier to move through the jungle. Watching from his magic ball in Asgard, Loki uses the moment to strike, and sends some soldiers his way; they capture Blake before he can change into Thor. Taken for questioning before the leader of the Communist troops, they are joined by the captured family who had helped Thor before. The family son recognizes the Communist leader as his older brother Hu-Sak, who left them years ago to join the Communist movement, unbeknownst to his family. In the conflict Blake makes a run for it, jumping so that his cane, by which he is bound, hits the ground first and turns him back to our hero. The troops are quickly routed by the angry Thunder God, but not before Hu-Sak shoots his mother and brother in a fit of rage. The daughter Kim makes a run for it. Her cries for help are heeded by Thor, who has found the Norn stones atop a huge munitions pile. He flies her to safety, warning Hu-Sak he will be back to finish the battle. The shock of what he’s done to his family, and what he’s become, has given Hu-Sak a change of heart, and after they leave, he fires upon the wall of shells, annihilating himself and his communist hideout.

The trend of continuing tales has spread into Tales Of Asgard. “The Sword In The Scabbard” finds Odin showing Thor and Loki a crack in the huge Oversword of Asgard (called the Odinsword mainly in the comic’s run), which if ever unsheathed, will spell the end of the universe. The mission for Asgard’s finest now is to find and destroy the cause of this menace.

JB: I usually think Of JIM #117 as a kind of letdown after the last few issues, but it’s not a bad tale in it’s own right. Certainly it’s far superior to the “Red Communist” issues back in the early Thor stories. It takes us for a cruise before the epic Destroyer tale coming up next month.

PE: I question the MIghty Thunder God's sensibility in changing to lame Doctor Don Blake simply because he's finding it hard to maneuver through the jungle due to his flowing cape. One well-placed mortar shell or land mine and no more Blake/Thor. We get a little bit of Loki time this issue. That's a good thing. It's more than just the usual "I should be yonder king of Asgard"as Loki is left alone with his thoughts for a time and we see just how screwed up this individual is. Talk about bad childhoods. It's these rare moments, a few panels stolen here and there, that have fleshed out Stan and Jack's characters and made them the classic icons we revere today.

JB: I always liked the Odinsword as a springboard for a conflict; it returns in future issues. We see the Norn queen again commiserating with Loki, until even she’s appalled by his evil ways and departs. They haven’t referred to her as Karnilla at this point, nor given any hints of her love for Balder.

PE: I did find it curious that the Viet Cong didn't know who Thor was. No newspapers down that way? Equally curious (and rather dopey if you ask me) is Doctor Blake's reluctance to identify Thor from a picture the army has taken, even at the threat of torture. What's the big deal? "Umm, that's Thor, the God of Thunder." It's just that easy. The reveal of the Commander's true identity is one that I should've rolled my eyes at but I thought was a nice twist anyway. Not so with the heavy-handed communism sermon at the climax. Stan must have pictured little boys waving their American flags and chanting "Down with communism!" at school rallies.

Tales of Suspense 66

Iron Man 

Our Story

The influential Senator Byrd shows up at Stark Enterprises to see an experimental submarine that Tony Stark has conjured up. Happy Hogan volunteers to test the sub for the politician but Tony, fearing that Happy may be harmed and thus not a good candidate for marriage to Pepper Potts, turns him down rather brusquely. This enrages the chauffeur/coffee brewer/all-around lazy mutt and he quits. Not having the time to run after Happy, Stark must put aside personal problems and get on with the test. He changes into his Iron Man suit and navigates the sub out to sea. There he discovers Sub-Mariner's arch-enemy Attuma, getting ready to blast the surface world with a nifty new bomb designed to make our atmosphere too moist for human intake. Iron Man must fight Attuma’s glorified army and their unique weapons (a “pincer tank” that ejects claws that grab things) before the mad Atlantean can launch his “Nautilium rocket” and conquer earth. Iron Man sacrifices his experimental sub by propelling it straight into the rocket and destroying it. Mankind is safe for the moment.

PE: On the cover, Stan exclaims: “If one picture is worth a thousand words, just imagine what these two pictures are worth.” After reading these stories, I’m still trying to do the math in my head.

JS: Is that the head of the Easter Bunny that Attuma is wearing?

PE: As much of an emotional pounding as Stark gives Happy Hogan, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Stan was actually grooming the glorified chauffeur to be a turncoat or a super villain. At the very least, he should change his name to Melancholy Hogan. Stark comes off as such a wuss this issue. I don’t see Bruce Wayne standing back and taking the tongue lashing from the Senator that Stark takes here. And the politician’s act is layed on way too thick for my tastes. One or two ribbings about being a “irresponsible playboy millionaire” is fine but this guy goes on for panel after panel. We get it. He doesn’t approve of Tony’s lifestyle.

MB: “Mickey Demeo,” who inked both this story and the month’s Hulk yarn in Astonish, was a pen name for the late Mike Esposito (1927-2010), also represented in Avengers #15. Shellhead seems well- or perhaps over-matched by Attuma, especially with the latter’s minions in the mix, plus the fact that I.M. is literally out of his element. Stan does a good job of conveying the fact that even though the Golden Avenger triumphs (if at the cost of Stark’s credibility with Senator Byrd regarding the mini-sub test), he won’t have an easy time of it at all.

PE: I’ve been napping at inopportune times again. I still vividly recall the issue when a villain (whose name I do not recall) got the drop on ‘ol Shellhead by hosing him down and rusting him. Obviously, there have been some modifications to the Iron Man armor between issues as not only is our hero submerged and doing just fine, but he’s swimming! That armor can’t be the easiest second skin to do the breaststroke in. Does Stark have a button on his outfit that he pushes to make the suit watertight? How is it the water doesn’t enter his mouth and eye holes and waterlog the armor? I’m confused.

JS: If he took the time to install roller skates in the outfit, I don't find it hard to believe that he might have implemented features that might actually be of value, too.

PE: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the rare metal that surfaces this issue: Nautilium (or, as its known by its scientific shorthand, Nah!). It’s so rare in fact that Attuma uses all of the known Nautilium in the world to make one rocket bomb. How he knows that there’s no more of the Nah! left is anybody’s guess. When exploded in earth’s atmosphere, Nautilium changes the density of the oxygen we breathe, making it difficult for humans to draw a breath but easier for Atlanteans to survive on a conquered surface world. I’m not sure why Attuma wants to rule the surface world in the first place, other than the usual Marvel clich├ęs: he’s a bad guy and he has to conquer.

JS: I think he's after the money they'll make selling the fishbowl helmets that the human slaves will need to breathe.

PE: When Iron Man blows up the Nautilium rocket, there’s no explanation where Attuma disappears to. Are we to guess he’s been blowed up real good as well? Rather vague. Then when Shellhead gets back up top, he must explain what happened to his sub. Even as the senator is dressing him down with insults about failed weapons and undependable millionaire playboys, The Golden Avenger thinks to himself: “I can’t tell! No one would ever believe!” Excuse me? No one would ever believe? In a world that’s had whole cities destroyed by Fin Fang Foom, nuclear plants sucked into the ground by The Mole Man, and Invisible Girls who frequent beauty salons, no one would believe that a blue Atlantean plotted to blow up a moisture bomb? I believe that Tony Stark digs the martyr role.

JS: One of these days he needs to pull a Robert Downey, Jr. and own up to being Iron Man, once and for all.

Captain America

Our Story

Captain America is a helpless captive of The Red Skull. He can merely sit and listen as his greatest enemy recounts his own origin for Cap. As a “nameless orphan”, The Skull was picked on by other children and led a mousy life until the Nazis invaded his small village and opened his eyes to power. Through a series of events, Adolf Hitler handpicks the young man to become his second in command, a decision der Feuhrer may live to regret as The Skull’s desire for power grows. Cap attempts an escape but The Skull has drugged him. As our Star-Spangled hero slips into a deep sleep, The Skull summons one of his scientists. We discover that Cap has been given a drug that wipes away the memories and the Avenger is now a blank slate for the manipulation of The Red Skull. Cap’s first directive is to kill the President of the United States.

PE: The 10-page format works against a well-written and intriguing series such as Captain America. You can almost feel the ideas bursting at the panels. Jack and Stan revel in the World War II landscape. It’s gotta be easy for them since it’s a retread; they did it all twenty years before. But most readers of 1965 comic books didn’t know that. There weren’t Masterworks collections of 1940s Captain America as there are today so these stories seemed fresh to our young eyes. Truth be told, they still seems fresh to me. Jack and Stan are in their best cinematic form. You can almost see the celluloid unspooling before your eyes in a series of stark, powerful storyboards. I must confess here and now that before I began this journey through Marvel's output in the 1960s, I didn't fully appreciate Jack Kirby's masterful grasp on illustrated action and adventure. My tastes have always been a bit darker (Ingels, Wrightson, Alcala, Neal Adams) due mostly to my love for horror over superheroes, but my eyes are growing wider as we get to each new milestone. 

The power... the drama... the King!
JS: I'm still unimpressed with the original skull face, although glad to hear it's just a mask. I'm thinking that changes at some point, but I could be wrong.

MB: Now we’re cookin’ with gas—not only the real Skull but also his origin, complete with an appearance by Adolf Hitler himself (“I want him to be evil personified!”). Introducing this three-part arc in Bring on the Bad Guys, Stan tells us that while he wrote many a Cap/Skull battle in the Golden Age, he was not in on the very earliest, although Kirby (who created Cap with the late Joe Simon, and here is well served by Chic Stone) was. In this episode, the arch-enemies are in top form, especially the Skull’s “Can it be that my little tale has bored you?” and Cap’s brave “I’m an American—and my breed just doesn’t scare easily!”

JS: Stop interrupting my narrative!I had to laugh each time Skully threw that in Cap's face. I think it's safe to assume Cap wasn't impressed by the Skull's origin.

PE: As I've said, the only drawback to me is the brevity of the strip and the idea that 12 pages are wasted on mindless pap like the opener. I wanted to see a more detailed origin of The Skull, not a Cliff Notes version. Doubtless, I’ll get that more detailed story somewhere down the road (and it’ll be fleshed out even further by each new generation of comic writer) so I’ll enjoy what little doses of WWII Cap that Stan injects into my viens. I’ve not read these stories in decades but, if my poor memory serves, fairly soon Stan and Jack will branch off into heretofore uncharted Skull mythology. Can’t happen soon enough!

Strange Tales 133

The Torch and the Thing

Our story

Johnny, Ben, Dorrie and Alicia are shopping in a large department store when Alicia touches the face of a strangely life-like mannequin. A store employee pulls her hand away roughly, earning Ben’s wrath. To apologize for his rudeness, the clerk invites the foursome to visit his sculpture exhibit and studio. Descending to the building’s sub-basement, he reveals that he is the Puppet Master, having undergone plastic surgery. When the Torch and the Thing arrive at his studio, he traps Ben with a giant clamp and uses a mannequin to shoot freezing blasts at Johnny, extinguishing his flame. Our heroes use their wits and physical attributes to escape, and the villain is turned into a mannequin by his own strange ray!

PE: Aside from a startling, Ditko-esque splash page of The Torch, this art is just as good as anything Bob Powell has done for Marvel so far. His homely Alicia Masters makes one wonder if it's not The Thing that is blind. In today's comics, a character would never get away with the line "I can tell by the way you fingered my mannequin that you are interested in sculpture..."

The only noteworthy moment in an otherwise dive to the bottom

Jack: Terrible story, terrible art. The Puppet Master looks like a cross between Lex Luthor and Uncle Fester! He speaks in abnormally low tones to escape notice by his own step-daughter, which makes very little sense. Maybe Mike Esposito used the Mickey Demeo pseudonym because his inking was so bad!

With a mouth like that, surely The Ice Queen must be a very popular gal

PE: But can't you appreciate the master plan of a genuine genius villain, Professor Jack?! The Puppet Master goes to the trouble of undergoing plastic surgery just so The Thing and Torch won't recognize him! He then sets himself up in a department store for... I don't know, how long?... and sits and waits and hopes that the two will shop in this particular store with their girlfriends (perhaps he sent 50% off coupons only to Alicia and Dorrie?). Meanwhile, in the basement, he builds not only a "ten-ton nuclear- powered automatic clamp, which is capable of exerting over 100,000 pounds of concentrated pressure," and a mechanical ice queen that is "constructed to shoot high-powered jets of super-cooled air... air frozen to a temperature of 240 degrees below freezing" but also whips up a new formula that turns flesh and blood into stone (Attention: Grey Gargoyle, your lawyer is on line one), all without drawing the attention of the othr inhabiants of the building! He's also been eating a lot of pasta in order to gain about fifty pounds to throw the Deadly Dull Duo off his scent. This is a masterpiece of dopiness and wins my "Alternate Classic of 1965" award.

Tom:  This series is at the point now where I have to throw in the towel.  I can only go so long with pointing out the all around terrible quality these Torch tales have produced month after month.  Bad art work, bad story telling, inking etc.  Using the Puppet Master once again, lame disguise or not, just epitomizes the laziness of the creators.  Don't worry Professors, hopefully it will all be over soon.

PE: Hang in one more month, Professor Tom. Then all will be right with the world (well, except for the Gi-Ant Man series!).

How about a wig?

Dr. Strange

Our story

Rather than having been defeated by Mordo and Dormammu, Dr. Strange transported himself to another dimension, one where he can’t be found. Mordo is crestfallen, Dormammu plans to await Dr. Strange’s reappearance, and Clea pines away for our hero, who awakens in an unknown dimension where danger lurks. He finds himself smack in the middle of a power struggle between two witches. He rests in order to recover his power, determines the source of the evil witch’s strength, and destroys it. Using the power he gains from shattering the witch’s mystic globe, Dr. Strange embarks on another journey across dimensions.

Does Dr. Strange just do a header
onto the globe to smash it?
JS: I finally figured out how Mordo and Dormammu communicate. They're using Skype!

Jack: The headpieces on the witches are just silly! Their whole story is a little bit too much like a fairy-tale for me. As Glenn pointed out in the comments, Ditko’s art on the Dr. Strange strip is consistently better than his art on Spider-Man. Once again, this is an example of the serialized story format working very well for Marvel.

JS: I was a little disappointed in this, particularly after the last few issues. I hope this was just filler and things pick back up next issue.

MB: This is a pleasant interlude allowing both the reader and Doc to decompress after the high drama of last issue; we know that under normal circumstances Doc would wipe the floor with this chick, and it’s just a question of seeing how fast he recovers from his escape to another dimension. Can we agree that, in name and mystic m.o. if not appearance, Shazana probably owes something to DC’s Zatanna, introduced in Hawkman only eight months earlier? Love the little lizard-guy whose mind Strange probes with his amulet, but isn’t it rather odd that having “created” Shazana, they leave her half-sister, the rightful queen, quite unnamed?

Tales to Astonish 68


Our story

Giant-Man still has not regained his shrinking power after having been blasted with an alien’s ray gun from last issue. He practices out in the wilderness. While at maximum height, a plane appears to crash into him purposely. Not only does big Hank avoid the plane from doing any damage to him, but he also catches the pilot who bails out, so that he doesn’t fall to his death on the ground. Giant-Man accidentally falls and knocks himself out when his head hits a tree. The pilot of the plane is revealed to be Hank’s old foe, The Human Top! Angry that his life was saved by his most hated rival, the Top leaves the scene after realizing he couldn’t bash Hank’s skull in with a mere rock while he’s in his giant form. Hank wakes up and goes back to the lab to tell Jane about his interesting day. He works on his helmet so it automatically makes him 35 feet tall, which is when he is at his tallest without weakening. He also has a construction crew build a 35 foot high door in his lab for him to enter and leave. Meanwhile, in another part of town, the Top is working on his own costume, adding wings that allow him to fly along by spinning. The villain then dons a disguise, impersonating a news reporter, to gain entry into Hank’s lab. When his true identity is discovered, a brief skirmish ensues, with the Top kidnapping and taking off with the Wasp as his captive. An enraged Giant-Man promises to give the villain an ass-whooping of epic proportions once he catches up with him next issue.

MB: How apt that this series should go out with a whimper in a two-parter featuring the Human Top, a low-rent recurring villain who has epitomized the strip’s general lameness. The stress of all that size-changing is, quite naturally, starting to tell on poor Hank’s body, but perhaps on poor science-challenged Stan as well, who here restricts him to his normal and allegedly optimal 35-foot sizes. I can’t remember how they work around that in later years, but with this strip ending next month, and Hank and Jan having taken a leave of absence in last month’s Avengers, Marvel had some time to regroup and decide what to do with our heroes.

Tom: If big Hank doesn’t totally punch the living hell out of the Top next issue, I’m going to be very disappointed.

Jack: Vince Colletta does his best, but Bob Powell’s art sometimes slips hopelessly into a 1940s style, such as in the panel where the Human Top gets ready to take off. All that’s missing is “and away we go!”

Tom: Call me diabolical, but it seems to me that the Top just wasn’t vicious enough to take full advantage of a passed out Giant-Ham. He could have gouged out one of his eyes with a stick, or set fire to the plane or surrounding trees and turned Hank into a Giant barbecue. I’m sure he had a lighter on him since all super-villains probably used to smoke back then.


Our story

Bruce Banner and Glen Talbot are falling off a cliff after being pursued by Mongolian mercenaries from last issue. Banner turns into the Hulk in time to save himself and the unconscious Talbot. Leaving Talbot behind, the Hulk leaps away, continuing on a long journey that instinctively brings him back home, to a military base in America. The Hulk finds a bed at the compound and goes to sleep. When the Hulk transforms back into his human form, Banner wakes up to see himself surrounded by military troops, including Thunderbolt Ross. He is taken into custody, where Rick Jones pays him a visit. Talbot is rescued by the Air Force and brought back to the states. Even though they are pretty sure that he might have defected over to the commies, Bruce is taken from his cell to go to Astra Island, because he is the only one that can work his Absorbatron weapon that renders the H-bomb useless. The evil Leader has been observing what has been transpiring. He shrinks hundreds of his pink humanoids down to microscopic powder, and then sprinkles them all over the isle. Talbot and Banner are dropped off at the isle and then the Leader sets his humanoids to grow back to their normal size and attack. Talbot puts forth a valiant effort but is easily subdued. Once Banner is attacked by the pink creatures, he turns into the Hulk. Two of the humanoids grab the Hulk and release a knockout gas that stops the Green Goliath cold. The ending shows that the Leader is heading towards the isle in his spaceship, joyous to not only have captured the Absorbatron, but also the Hulk as well.

Tom: Things are moving at a pretty exciting pace so far. Next issue should prove to be interesting.

Jack: Mickey Demeo (Mike Esposito)’s inks look terrible over Kirby’s pencils. This was not a good month for Mickey/Mike, whose work on the Torch strip was also sub-par.

Tom: It’s too bad that the creators thought it was necessary to bring back slick Rick Jones in for a cameo. The Avengers must have gotten tired of him loafing around their headquarters, mooching food and running up 1-800 sex lines on the phone bill.

MB: This feels like an interim episode, as many of these serial chapters presumably will; the fact that the pencils have shifted from Ditko to Kirby adds to that unsettled feeling. Taking ol’ Greenskin out of the frying pan, with his Mongolian death-dive, it lands him and Major Talbot once again squarely in the fire, inundated by the Leader’s humanoids on Astra Isle before beginning the Absorbatron test. I know some consider the Leader to be Greenskin’s arch-enemy, partly because both were created by gamma rays, but I’ve always found him rather dull, and would tentatively nominate the more formidable Abomination for the selfsame reason.

Jack: Hulk/Banner/Hulk/Banner—the changes are coming too fast to keep up with the supply of purple pants!

Who would ever think he was a Red spy?

Also this month

Modeling with Millie #39
Patsy and Hedy #100
Patsy Walker #121
Rawhide Kid #46
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #19

June 1965 was the month that Marvel began printing the names of the M.M.M.S. (Merry Marvel Marching Society) members. Each title carried 25 different names. Astounding that last bit of info. Digest it. Each comic title carried the same ad yet it featured different member names. Only a few of the June titles actually carried the "name-calling" ad but it would become a regular feature of every Marvel title beginning in July. Which means at least 225 fans per month got their fifteen minutes of fandom fame.


  1. I think (mercifully) obscuring M.J.'s face was just an extension of the existing tease, in which we--and Peter--were always threatened with the appearance of what everybody expected would be some frumpy thing. You know, the kind that would wear a scarf over her hair? Maybe, as some have theorized with the Green Goblin's identity, they hadn't decided WHAT they wanted.

  2. Some cool covers from the Bullpen this month though, especially the FF ish. Did the faculty also experience the same thing as me upon first buying comics as a youngster, depending on the cool covers to be the actual purchases?

  3. I own quite a few comics that I originally purchased, and still haven't gotten rid of, due solely to the cover. I got on a Gold Key kick a few years ago, buying several titles to collect the wonderful painted covers, and ended up enjoying the contents as well.

    Even today, at $3-4 a pop, I'm sure that a lot of comics are still bought based solely on the covers. That's why guys like Frank Cho, Adam Hughes and Paul Renaud all continue to get work.

    The credits for Amazing Spider-Man 25 list Stan Lee as Scripter, and Steve Ditko as Artist. There is also a blurb that reads “Sturdy Stevey Ditko dreamed up the plot of this tantalizing tale, and it's full of unexpected surprises! So, turn the page and see if you can guess what's coming next …!”

    The truth is, Steve Ditko has been plotting Spider-Man for some time, with minimal input from Stan Lee. He finally demanded credit, and got it. Despite the light-hearted facade, tensions have been brewing behind the scenes, and at this point in time, Lee and Ditko are no longer speaking to each-other. For the rest of Ditko's tenure at Marvel, Any directives from Lee to Ditko will be done through a third party.

    Besides the creative side of the issue of crediting people, there's the economic side. Ditko is plotting the stories, drawing and inking them, while Stan comes up with the dialog to match Steve's story.

    On pay day, Ditko receives payment for 20 penciled and inked pages, while Lee picks up a check for writing a 20 page story. See the problem. Ditko is just the first of many creators who will find themselves uncredited, and unrewarded for characters they created, and stories they wrote.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  5. The story goes that when Kirby drew FF 39, he either didn't know or had forgotten that DD's costume was now red. Wally Wood re-pencilled the DD character in the book, replacing the old yellow and black costume design with the new red one.

    Compare the stiffness of the DD character with Kirby's pencils.