Wednesday, January 4, 2012

May 1965: The New Avengers Assemble!

Journey Into Mystery 116

Our Story

To determine whether it is Thor or Loki who has deceived him (about bringing Jane Foster to Asgard last month), Odin orders the Trial Of The Gods. The Thunder God is innocent, correct? Sounds simple enough. Not so. The test sends both sons to Skornheim, a land beyond the borders of Asgard, which is full of deadly dangers. They are allowed no weapons during the trial, to be a test of cunning and strength, so Thor has left his hammer, Mjolner, in Asgard. Once there, Loki reveals that he has broken the rules already, by bringing a bag of enchanted Norn stones with him. He shows Thor a vision to weaken his concentration: the Enchantress and the Executioner, sent by guess who, to menace Jane Foster on Earth. The goal of the challenge is to be the first one to pass through all of the horrors of Skornheim and be the first to return through the dimensional barrier to Asgard. And many are the dangers: ground that turns to quicksand in the scorching sun, spiny plants that block their path, and not the least of all, Yagg, a giant gladiator-like warrior, who uses energy bolts to slay any who enter Skornheim. In Asgard, Balder tells Odin of Loki sending E and E to endanger Jane Foster, and the All-Father sends the brave one to Earth to protect her, mainly to guard the outcome of the trial that would be swayed should Thor see harm come to his beloved. Having no advantage of magic, Thor has fallen behind Loki, and although his will to survive and save Jane brings him to the brink of victory, this time Loki gets to the dimensional barrier first, and returns to Asgard the winner.

In "Tales Of Asgard", Thor and Loki are on a mission to King Hymir to establish friendly relations with Asgard. Loki convinces Hymir to cast the honor-bound Thunder God a challenge, which, if Thor fails, he will become Hymir’s slave. The plan backfires on Loki, as Thor wins his challenge within the appointed time, and Hymir sees Loki as an unworthy ally.

MB: As with this month’s FF, we have more of the meat-and-potatoes storytelling one might call “solid silver,” with Colletta inking Kirby’s pencils on the main feature as well as “Tales of Asgard” this time.  The rotating locations of Earth, Asgard, and Skornheim up the drama quotient, while Loki’s underhanded use of the Norn Stones provides another cliff-hanger, preserving his evil credentials.  It’s good to see Balder taking a hand, and I enjoyed the aggressive attempt to establish a degree of continuity with other contemporaneous Marvel mags.

JB: One fine story: we start the classic Thor tales here.  As you say, Matthew, and I’ve mentioned before, Vince Colletta adds a great deal to the Thor series. Having done the Tales Of Asgard for a while now, he gives the whole mag some visual continuity, a kind of “sketchy edginess” when working with Kirby. 

PE: Anyone else out there in MU-land getting tired of The Enchantress and The Executioner? Yagg, the Slayer, the giant armored beast who attacks Loki and Thor, seems to be some kind of man-like creature, a well-designed beastie who combines the look of Hercules with another Thor opponent on the horizon, Destroyer. We learn in this issue that Odin taketh imperial baths (with lots of bubbles but no rubber duck) and wears quite the manly robe and slippers.

Jack: Not as good as last issue, but not bad. The panel that shows Odin in his bathrobe and fuzzy slippers was my favorite of the whole issue.

JB: I still enjoy seeing the Enchantress and the Executioner anytime, although they deserve more challenging roles than menacing Jane Foster. Enter Balder! He sure looks out for his buddy Thor, and is a mighty fine hero himself. The Enchantress and Jane both look great, but check out Princess Rinda, Hymir’s sister. I guess she got the looks in that family! (In TOA, they refer to Thor #63 -no such #- when Loki made an ally of Ghan the storm giant; actually JIM # 115. Even these guys made mistakes…)

PE: Why does Balder make a big deal out of taking "human form" when, two panels later, he's challenging The Executioner and Enchantress to a brawl? 
JB: Thor’s strength and courage are showcased nicely here. Having no hammer to help him, he nonetheless proves up to every challenge, making him seem truly godlike. Still, he loses to Loki this time… 

PE: Piggy-backing on the success of the "Absorbing Man" storyline comes this exciting two-parter. As a kid, Thor was never one of the cool comic books to read (well, truth be told, no comic books were cool for a thirteen year-old in the 1970s to be seen with, but you know what I mean), but at this time in 1965, it was the best drawn and most fascinating strip of the twelve series being published (in my opinion). There's a hugeness to the story and mythos that, as I recall, only gets bigger and better through the 60s. Keeping tabs on what the other heroes are doing while Thor has disappeared is a nice touch as well.

The Amazing Spider-Man 24

Our Story

J. Jonah Jameson has hit on a new angle for his public hatred of Spider-Man: inteviews with normal people on the street skewed to make it look as though the public is afraid of Spidey. The series of editorials becomes the talk of the town when Dr. Ludwig Rinehart, famed European psychiatrist claims that Spider-Man is a sick person, with the desire to become a spider. The Rinehart interview upsets Peter Parker, as he might see some truth in the prognosis. Peter's afraid he'll crack up. On his way to see  JJJ to get Rinehart's address, the wall-crawler hallucinates that he's being attacked by several of his arch-enemies. In the end, Rinehart is in reality Mysterio, attempting to gain the trust of Spider-Man and get him to reveal his secret identity.

PE: This has got to be the most word balloon heavy Spider-Man yet. A lot of the panels look as though the characters are being crowded out by white. It's a well-written yarn with a legitimate twist: I didn't see the Mysterio reveal coming though in hindsight I should have. It also happens to be one of those tales that doesn't hold up to scrutiny once it's finished. For the illusions of The Vulture, Sandman, and Doc Ok to have worked, Mysterio would have had to know exactly where Spidey was, on his way to see JJJ. How did he know that the web-slinger would even approach Jameson? All of my questions, and more, are answered unsatisfactorily in the mother of all expositories at the climax of this thriller.

JS: Well, you wanted an answer. It was amusing that Spider-Man came close to giving up his secret identity, only to be interrupted by JJJ.
PE: I'm still puzzled as to who Foswell really is (Professors, don't ruin it for me!) as I haven't read these first fifty or so issues in about thirty five years. I know he's gonna amount to something but what, I have no idea. It's an interesting mystery that keeps me guessing. I'm wondering if Foswell was originally Stan and Steve's choice to be The Goblin. Seems too obvious a choice as I'm reading these issues now. There's still no trace of either Harry or Norman Osborn. Clock is ticking.

JS: Is it me, or has Aunt May given up on hooking up Pete with the Watson girl?

Alien Liz Alert!
MB:  Despite a promising start, with sad-sack Parker prevented once more from drumming up some much-needed cash by Foswell’s untimely appearance, and such unusual qualities as Mysterio striking sans his fishbowl-headed get-up, this felt perfunctory to me.  Some of the subplots, like the Peter/Betty/Ned/Liz quadrangle and “Is Foswell turning back to crime?” bit, seemed to be on autopilot; ditto J.J.’s all-too-easily turning the public against Spidey again. And while I know it may be silly to belabor the plausibility factor when analyzing comic books, I did find “Rinehart’s” upside-down rooms and other aspects of his plan a bit difficult to swallow.

PE: Decent read with good Ditko art for the most part. His creepy alien-faced teenagers (as evidenced here by the ten inches between  Liz Allan's eyes) return at times but not enough to ruin the proceedings.

Jack: I like this issue and was surprised that the shrink was really Mysterio.

JS: Me too, but only because I prefer my Mysterio in a fishbowl.

The Avengers 16

Our Story

Still in the midst of their battle with The Masters of Evil (as we saw at the climax of Avengers 15), it seems the super-team will have to surrender as the bad guys threaten to harm a crowd of innocent bystanders if they don't get their way. All seems lost until Iron Man reminds Thor that there's always Plan D. Suddenly remembering that remarkable strategy, The God of Thunder swings his hammer in a circle so fast that he transports The Avengers and two of the Masters to another dimension, where the battle lasts approximately three minutes. Meanwhile, Captain America and Rick Jones, useless sidekick, are burying recently deceased Baron Zemo when they're attacked by Zemo's mercenaries, who are attempting to hijack Zemo's plane to fly out of the jungle. The plane is destroyed in the battle and the henchmen escape. Back in New York, Gi-Ant Man, The Wasp and Iron Man have decided to disband The Avengers on a whim. Coincidentally, villain Hawkeye announces he wants to go straight and become an Avenger, to fight for mankind, sacrifice his life for the innocent, and unselfishly give up his jewelry-robbing days. Oddly enough, he tries out for the team by breaking into Avengers headquarters and dazzles the trio into making him a "probationary member." The news travels swiftly around the world to Quicksilver and his sister The Scarlet Witch, who consider this the perfect way of getting out from under the domination of Magneto.

PE: I'd like to see The Avengers practicing Plan D on one of their days off. It's gotta be like basketball practice, right? Everyone has to be in the right spot or it won't work. If Iron Man is just a foot out of the "swirly," would his right side be transported to another dimension and his left side remain here on earth? But, most importantly, what are Plan A-C and is there an E? Can't be, since Gi-Ant Man informs us that Plan D is a last resort. Luckily, Thor managed to find a dimension with oxygen and gravity.

News flash: Rick Jones hiring mutants!
MB: This might be considered a counterpart to the “non-battle” Amazing Spider-Man #18, since the promised donnybrook with the Masters of Evil is obviated by Thor’s latest deus ex machina power, and the whole story is really the change in the line-up. It clearly comes hard on the heels of Hawkeye’s appearance in Suspense #64, where he was a reluctant villain motivated only by love, yet next to Cap himself, I have always considered Clint the quintessential Avenger. I’ve long championed the “Kooky Quartet” era, in which both the writers and characters had to be a bit more inventive to overcome the team’s lack of firepower, and it’s nice that with the three new recruits (all, interestingly, ex-villains), they could focus on heroes without their own books.

PE: Gi-Ant Man, The Wasp and Iron Man disband The Avengers while Cap and Thor are off on solo missions and then, when Hawkeye comes a'callin, go out recruiting new members (among them, Namor). What have these three been smoking? Do they not think that Captain America and The Mighty Thor might consider it... um, peculiar to disband the team and recruit super-villains without a Assembled Avengers vote? I'd like to get a look inside that "heavy bag of membership applications" that arrives via the U.S. mail. As the Marvel Universe didn't have but a dozen or so superheroes at this time (and half of them were already Avengers!), I've a feeling that maybe some of the applicants were trying to defect from the DC Universe. Quick, someone tell me what was going on over at the Justice League in May 1965.

Jack: "Battle Against the Bodiless Uniforms," which does not sound like one of the JLA's milestones.

PE: Jack and Stan lay a couple of eggs trying to establish continuity between titles. There's a meeting scene duplicated here and in Journey Into Mystery #116 that has a few inaccuracies. These guys were doing a lot of writing at the time so it's a minor error. I just like to nitpick.

Journey Into Mystery sans Thor and Jan's memory

Avengers sans Thor and Cap
PE: This is the famous issue that adopted the subtitle: "The Team Who'll Hire Anyone" as the Avengers mansion is opened to villain Hawkeye. Well, opened isn't the right word. He breaks in, ties up Jarvis, and smokes Iron Man, Gi-Ant Man and The Wasp out of the meeting room with a gadgety arrow. He then tells the story of the day he decided to go straight (torn from the exciting pages of Tales of Suspense #64), when his girlfriend, commie spy Natasha Romonov (aka The Black Widow) is mortally wounded. Inexplicably, Hawkeye tells the troop that he watched as The Widow was rushed to the hospital but opted not to find out if she survived at the hospital as he "was afraid to find out." Would Don Blake have ignored Jane Foster's hospital stay? What if Pepper Potts took a tumble into one of Tony Stark's rocket fuel combustion chambers and was incinerated? Would Iron Man shrug and look for another secretary? I think not. Anyway, he tells a story of misunderstood motives and lost love and the super dopes eat it up. "I believe you," drools Shellhead "but --- the other Avengers must also accept you for membership!" Next month-- Doctor Doom joins The Avengers.

Jack: Interesting how Kirby pops up in various comics this month—though he’s credited with layouts here, he clearly drew some of the sections with Captain America.

PE: Useful information learned in this issue: The Avengers have a "By-laws Manual." What do you think the print run on that one was? When we first see Pietro and Wanda on the balcony of their chalet, they're in street clothes. For some reason (did they detect, with their mutant powers, the readers watching them?), they decide to go get their uniforms on to write a letter to The Avengers.

Jack: Can anyone find me a copy of that manual online? I’d like to read that.

JS: Sorry Jack, members only. On the bright side - we're all eligible to become an Avenger. 

PE: Cap makes it all the way to Avengers headquarters without hearing any news about The Avengers rummage sale? How did that happen?  Then he's not even pissed off when Iron Man tells him that the three made up a majority so they didn't even need Cap to be around when they gave the key to the sauna room to the new members. Not the fiery Cap I know. It's interesting that the membership of Thor is left vague at the climax. I'll spoil it for you by revealing that Thor takes a leave of absence but returns intermittently beginning in #51.  Unfortunately, Gi-Ant Man's retirement only lasts for a year (he'll be back in #28).

Fantastic Four 38

Our Story

Still smarting from the lashing they took at the hands of the Fantastic Four two issues ago (or about two days in Marvel time!), The Frightful Four kidnaps Sue Storm and lays in wait for the remaining three on a specially designed atoll in the Pacific. Leader of the band, The Winged Wizard, has stolen a Q bomb and knows how to use it. Luring Stretch, The Thing, and The Torch to the atoll, they fight a grand battle but it seems The Frightful Four get the upper hand this time as they escape the atoll, leaving The Fantastic Four stranded as the bomb goes off. Only Sue's invisible shield keeps them from becoming scattered atoms.
PE: An era ends here in Fantastic Four #38. No longer can we make Pistol Pete Maravich or Piss Pot Pete jokes as Smoke Pot Peat has changed his name to The Trapster! Medusa comments to the newly-monikored but still fifth-tiered villain that the new name and outfit make her hot. Which just goes to show you how boring the life of an Inhuman must be.

JS: The Trapster. Now there's a name at no risk of being ridiculed...

Jack: Another excellent issue! Kirby’s art has really taken a turn from the slapdash pages he was churning out earlier to the powerful stuff we’re starting to see now. And Paste-Pot Pete renames himself The Trapster after coming up with his third costume! It’s a long way from his original outfit with the beret and the paste gun!

PE: It seems like, ever since Reed and Sue got engaged, the focus has become "Sue is in peril. How will Reed react?" Well, we've seen how Reed will react. He goes nuts and he's constantly being restrained and cooed to by the Torch and The Thing. I don't remember a lot of this going on before the engagement and the two were definitely in love (well, they were in "Marvel love" off and on). Reed comments that this is why he avoided love all these years. Good point but the heart cannot be held back when two super-powered individuals are fond of each other. I think it was Steinbeck who first said that.

MB: Now this is more like it—the kind of thing that springs to my mind when I think of good, solid Silver Age storytelling, straight from the get-go with Kirby’s mind-boggling Whatsis on the splash page, while he and Stone seem to be meshing at their best. I always enjoy the Frightful Four, especially their ever-evolving membership roster; the Sandman is one of my favorite villains, and the Trapster i.d. is a marked improvement over Paste-Pot Pete (“It sounded too much like a comic title!”). I liked the contrast between the friendlier, familial banter among the FF—a welcome change from their breaking up every other issue—and the nasty sparring of the Wizard’s crew, plus their purple, color-coordinated outfits are kinda cute (my favorite color).

PE: I've questioned this before so it's a bit of a moot point but why does it always seem as though everything else in the Marvel Universe shuts down during a particular adventure. Reed sees a ship speeding over the Baxter Building and immediately assumes it's The Frightful Four's vehicle. Why would he assume that? Couldn't it be some super-menace on its way to bash Daredevil or The Avengers? What if Reed had jumped out the window and latched himself, tragically, to Loki on his way back to Asgard? I'd still like to see a scene in one of these strips where a hero accidentally bumps into a villain who's fighting another hero at the same time. Does our hero join in the fray or keep looking for his own bad guy?

JS: I think it's a union thing. Super Villains want their headlines, so they schedule their encounters to avoid surprise crossovers.

PE: New Invisible Girl ability alert: it's been a while since we've been able to report on the expanded abilities of Sue Storm. In this issue, she gives us a display of her "invisible shield expanding power" as she wills her force field between her pasty handcuffs. This could come in handy on her wedding night. One thing I ain't buyin' though is our climax when the Four are stuck on the atoll as the Q-bomb detonates. Sue sets her Invisible Force Field on cruise control evidently as all four are knocked unconscious by the blast but the shield remains up, providing a "tent" that keeps the team above water. 

JS: The good news is that with each issue, we get a little closer to some of my favorite classic FF stories.

PE: Does The Thing have teeth?

The X-Men 11

Our Story

Professor X's patented "Mutant Detector" has detected a mutant in the city. A very "strange" mutant who keeps doing "strange" things in a "strange" way like walking on air and passing through solid brick walls. Before long, he's dubbed The Stranger and is recruited by both Professor X and his X-Men and Magneto and his Merry Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. But this Stranger is a loner and no amount of strong arming can make him join either group. In the end, we find out that he's from a far away planet, whose people are interested in mutations. This traveler visits different planets to capture various specimens to study. He cocoons Magneto and Toad and propels them and himself back to his planet, leaving the X-Men to wonder at the incredible powers that await them in the stars.
As only Kirby could do it
PE: Another one of those wild new characters with a generic title. The Stranger? What, The Goofball was taken? How about The Air-Walker or The Wall-Absorber or something with a little more panache? You have to laugh as the story progresses and everyone refers to him as The Stranger (even Professor X at the climax) even though he's not held any press conferences to announce the moniker. It just sticks. The Pedestrian? The Man? The White-Haired Senior Citizen? Somebody get me Stan Lee's phone number quick.

JS: Tell him The Stranger is calling...

PE: What's the story behind Scott Summer's fancy shades? They're not attached to his retinas so how does it work that his eye beams stay in check just because they're on? Do the rays shoot out and bounce back into his eyes or something? And, when he's accosted by police who remove his glasses, he holds his hands over his eyes. Call me a stickler for details but wouldn't his hands be atomized or something?

JS: Maybe it's like those animals that aren't susceptible to the poison they excrete.

MB: The Stranger is an interesting character, one with whom I’m not overly familiar; he was among those entities Marvel wisely used sparingly over the years because of his tremendous power. I was surprised to read early in the story that he was a mutant, and then relieved to learn he was not, after all, which shows that even Xavier’s gizmos are fallible. Kirby and Stone are on their respective games, and once again we get that pleasantly dramatic sense of homo superior as a kind of global balance that must be maintained, with Professor X as the yin to Magneto’s yang, so it will be interesting to see where they go now, with the Brotherhood temporarily out of play…

PE: I stood up from my chair (spilling my Nacho cheese chips and Stella) and clapped when Magneto said to The Stranger, near the climax of the story:  "who are you?? Exactly what power do you possess??" Well spoken, my friend. What exactly is the strange power this strange guy possesses? I can't figure it out. Seems he can alter or change or solidify gravity or space or time or something. Hopefully, we'll learn more about this guy when he returns in X-Men #18. That sequence is a laugher though. Magneto asks The Stranger about his powers and is ignored so he gets a little miffed. "Now, listen!! I am master of my band of mutants! When I ask -- others answer! Even you!! Now -- what is your mutant power?" When The Stranger begins to grow, Magneto recoils and says "Hang on a minute! You're too smart to be Gi-Ant Man! You haven't tripped over anything and where's that annoying buzz that follows you 'round?"

Jack: Cyclops admits that the X-Men have been fighting Magneto nearly every issue—when Magneto is taken away, he asks Professor X if this means they’ll disband the X-Men.

PE: Well, thank goodness Magneto is back. It seems like years since we've seen him face off against The Uncanny X-Men. Readers in May 1965 who picked up The Avengers and devoured every exciting page must have been befuddled to see Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch battling the X-kids after joining The Avengers the same month. I'm still shaking my head that heroes are still so forgiving that they'd let bad guys come into their treehouse. Baron Zemo should have probably gone this route and joined The Fantastic Four. Might have turned out better for him in the end. Luckily Quicksilver explains that they've now paid their debt to Magneto several times over (I guess last time was just shy of several times) and are free agents, vowing never to fight again against no one no how. Ummm... Their retirement lasts exactly fourteen seconds by my Marvel stopwatch. In fact, how did they find time to make it back to their home in central Europe before posting their application to The Avengers? 

Jack: Let me get this straight. Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are in Magneto’s gang, then they decide to quit that gang. Cyclops invites them to join the X-Men, but they are sick of battle and go home to Europe. Meanwhile, over in this month’s Avengers, they are home in Europe and basically see an ad in the paper and rush over to join the Avengers? 

JS: The Avengers clearly offered a better benefits package.

PE: If I was Prof. X, I wouldn't be so quick to take the Magneto and Toad refrigerator magnets out of his Cerebro doohickey. I guess Reed Richards has never told Xavier how many times Doctor Doom has returned from the darkest depths of space without so much as a space ship. And then, as he's editing his menace list, the machine goes whacky and alerts him to something along the lines of "the biggest mutant menace the machine has ever seen, a power so limitless it may wipe out the galaxy as we know it." Isn't that just what they went through with The Stranger? Xavier might want to check the Power Vortex Stimulation Engine. I think it might have blown a rod.

Tales of Suspense 65

Iron Man

Our Story

Petty thief Weasel Wills hits the big time when he manages to sidestep guards at Stark Enterprises in an effort to steal munitions plans. What he finds instead is Tony Stark's briefcase containing his Iron Man armor. Forgetting the weapons blueprints, Weasel dons the suit and walks out of the plant, disguised as 'ol Shellhead. After a few days of mastering the suit, Weasel hits the bank circuit and successfully stockpiles a mountain of cash, all the while smearing Iron Man's good name. Stark's only avenue to stopping Weasel is to don his old yellow armor and head after the new stream-lined version. Can Stark (in yellow) overcome all the modifications he's made over the years to his new red and yellow suit? He's about to find out.

PE: Tony Stark as Iron Man has saved countless thousands of lives, kept the world from blowing up a time or two, and kept America armed to the teeth, but perhaps his greatest act, his most selfless sacrifice, is to talk nasty to Happy Hogan so the dopey chauffeur will stay back at the factory with Pepper Potts so they'll fall in love and get married. Stark just wants a normal life, settle down with Pepper Potts and not worry about assembling Avengers or helping the pentagon nuke North Vietnam. He'd give away all the money, all the fame, but he neglects to mention the multitude of beautiful models he beds nightly. Why would he want to settle down with a typical Marvel airhead like Pepper? Have we ever actually seen her type or take dictation? And why would Stark think a material girl like Pepper would want to wed a $3.25 an hour Jethro like Happy?

JS: With his personality, wouldn't you think Stark would eventually decide to stay home in the mansion, plugged into the wall outlet, surrounded by supermodels? He could have gone the Hugh Hefner route, and started a magazine titled Iron Man!

PE: Hard to believe that Anthony Stark would not only leave his Iron Man suit lying around (in a briefcase labeled "A.S." yet!) his office but that he'd leave it unlocked. That Pepper Potts has got this millionaire playboy so screwed up in the head! What's really hard to believe though is that any criminal with self-respect would adopt the name of "Weasel Wills." It's one thing if your buddies in the yard nickname you Weasel, but another altogether if you call yourself Weasel in your thought balloons! I thought for sure that Stan was setting us up for the villain's moniker when he calls him a "Wily Thief," but that theory was thrown out the window when no innocent bystander seconded the moniker.  Hey, if a master criminal can be named The Stranger, why not The Wily Thief?

JS: I could understand him leaving his suitcase around if a) the suit required some sort of authentication for activation, or b) it wasn't a one-size-fits-all suit. I mean, if it's made of iron, what are the odds it's going to fit on some petty thief?

PE: Weasel puts two and two together and figures out that Iron Man is really Tony Stark (I think the "A.S." on the briefcase might have been his initial clue -- get it, initial clue?) but then when he confronts him and calls him Stark, our millionaire genius doesn't even deny that he created both suits. I'm sure there could have been dozens of stories the weapons lord could have used on the dopey criminal. Thank goodness he was bailed out by Weasel's new-found insanity!

Captain America

Our Story

The Nazis have sent a secret weapon to derail America's participation in the fight against Germany, a deadly spy known as The Red Skull. Armed with memory-erasing fog and a gun that doesn't fire, the Nazi super-villain cuts a swath through the Army's top brass. It's up to Captain America and his partner Bucky to stop the red menace

PE: The Red Skull wants to put a dent in America's opposition to the Nazis so he gases Major Croy with a memory eraser? Why not kill him? The Red Skull, to me, has always been Marvel's second-most dangerous villain, on a par with The Green Goblin in the insanity sweepstakes, but here he's just a bad guy. A common bank-robber to boot. It's a very confusing first silver age appearance of a Golden age mainstay and, if I didn't have the glory of the internet for fact-checking I wouldn't have been able to make heads or tails of it. Was this the real Red Skull? According to the wikipedia entry on The Red Skull, the faux George Maxon turned out to be a Red Skull impersonator sent by the real Red Skull. I suspect that's the big reveal Stan hints at for next issue. We'll see. Other than the first appearance however, it's not much more than a filler story. But it's The Skull and it gives this WWII series a kick in the red, white, and blue bottom.

JS: So what you're basically saying is that Stan played a card out of the Doctor Doom handbook? I'm glad to hear this is not really the Red Skull, because throughout the issue I felt he looked more like the Red Tomato. At this stage, he's not nearly the Nazi menace I expected.

MB: Ah, the Skull…or not, and even though we don’t get the definitive word until next issue (Spoiler Alert!) that this is an unreasonable facsimile, even a faux Skull seems to bring up everybody’s game. Back after a two-issue hiatus, Chic Stone does a commendable job on Kirby’s pencils, especially the close-up of Private Rogers on page 8. It’s interesting that, although Stan claims they wrote the story in the style of the 1940s, I didn’t notice an appreciable difference between this and the other wartime tales featured in Tales of Suspense.

JS: I thought the story was underwhelming, and wondered if that was what Stan was referring to.

PE: Nazis have notoriously bad memories which is why the Faux Skull had to make a kill list... despite the fact that there are only four names on the list!

JS: I picture (not) the Red Skull pacing back and forth in his lair. Dammit! Who was I supposed to kill next? Private Sack? Captain America? Sarge? I can't remember!

Tales to Astonish 67


Our Story

Giant-Man frantically chases a strange car through the streets. In a flashback, it is revealed that the car shot Giant-Man with a green ray gun that almost knocked him out. The driver of the car is named Loko and he is a henchman for The Supreme One, a mysteriously masked villain who is able to absorb the intellect and knowledge of anyone who is hit by the car’s green rays. Giant-Man was too powerful for the beam to absorb his knowledge, though. He catches the car but Loko manages to escape. Giant-Man takes the car back to his lab, where he and the Wasp check it out. Unbeknownst to them, the car has a listening device in it that allows the Supreme One to hear their conversations. The villain learns that Hank has been experimenting with bees, so he sends Loko to shoot a top bee specialist with a green ray to learn all about them. Once he has acquired the knowledge, the Supreme One and Loko head over to the heroes’ lab for an attack. The Supreme One gains Hank's powers of shrinking, but growing to massive heights, Big Hank shows off his toughness by not falling victim to the villain’s crippling ray gun effects. He is able to turn over Loko to the cops, then catch and subdue the Supreme One. In a twist, it is revealed that the villain was an alien who went rogue from his planet, trying to conquer Earth. His fellow aliens track him down, and then use their own green ray to transport him back into the sky above.

Tom: Not too bad a tale as far as Giant-Man’s adventures go. This one kind of had an Outer Limits feel to it. 

And the Oscar goes to . . . Henry Pym!
Jack: This is like an old Marvel sci-fi story, only with Giant-Man thrown in.

MB: I think we’re well past any pretense of logic concerning the ratio of Hank’s strength and size: he retains his full-sized power at ant-size, but loses most of his power when he’s almost 100 feet, and is strongest at 12 feet tall; alrighty then. Once again, Stan is commendably frank when he notes, “This may not be the greatest story you’ve ever read,” and at least Bob Powell’s inker du jour, Chic Stone, doesn’t seem to have caused any major damage, although he also hasn’t rectified the problem of Hank and Jan lacking a consistent inter- or intra-strip look. But when it comes to the plot (“one of the kookiest,” per Stan), I’m short of even left-handed compliments while we run out the clock ’til Gi-Ant-Man relinquishes the floor to Namor.

Tom: I was a little nervous after reading on the front page from the editor that this story might not be the best one you’ve ever read, but is definitely one of the kookiest. Much better than the usual crap dished out in this series. 

Jack: How did Hank and Jan return to normal size after blacking out? Is it automatic—after so many minutes of unconsciousness, they zip back to normal?


Our Story 

The Hulk is still in a dreaded foreign land. He is surrounded by enemy tanks that try to blast him to smithereens. However, he is able to destroy them quickly using his awesome strength. The Hulk jumps away, traveling to Mongolia. He stops to take a rest and then turns into Bruce Banner. Banner wakes up to find himself captured by mercenaries. They think all Americans are rich, so they take him as a hostage. Banner has them contact the U.S. military to pay his ransom. Thunderbolt Ross sends Talbot over to Mongolia to be the bag man. While negotiating with the mercenaries, Banner and Talbot escape while a rival group attacks the horde. The story ends with the two men falling off a cliff to what looks like certain death.

Imagine Hulk in the audience at a performance of Peter Pan

Tom: To me, this is an example of the shorter story format working against the Hulk saga. Not all that much happens, and readers have to wait another month to see what will transpire next.

Jack: When Hulk lifts the pavement toward the tanks I thought, “may the road rise up to meet you” has new meaning!

MB: If I wanted to play Devil’s advocate, I might argue that the battle between Jade-Jaws and a Red tank force—a battle whose conclusion could charitably be called foregone—merits fewer than half of the story’s ten pages. But Ditko’s Hulk bothers me less here than it sometimes has, perhaps due to Frank Ray’s inks, and for those of us weaned on the latter-day “dim” Greenskin, it’s nice to see him settling into that characterization. How Betty Ross fell for a pill like Talbot (who was introduced rather earlier in the strip than I’d remembered) in later years, I’ll never know, but it is nice to see a continuing character besides Banner in this episode.

Tom: I’ve noticed that the Hulk has been progressively getting stupider each issue. He has now become the cave man like brute that will be his character trait for the next twelve years or so.

Jack: Hulk’s “incredible, distance-swallowing leaps” remind me of Tigger. The best thing about this story is the announcement at the end that Jack Kirby will take over Hulk next month.

Strange Tales 132

The Torch and The Thing

Our story

A NASA scientist enlists the aid of the Torch to man a space capsule that will carry new magnets into space. Professor Jack, one of the project designers, has just been classified as a security risk. Johnny goes undercover on the project. The Thing arrives on the scene just in time to prevent Johnny from being crushed by a falling water tower. Johnny is launched into space as Professor Jack captures the Thing in a giant magnet. The Torch barely escapes death when the sabotaged capsule breaks up on re-entry; the Thing escapes from the giant magnet and both heroes quickly capture Professor Jack. The story ends with Johnny being reunited with Dorrie once again.

The ultimate honor!
Jack: I never would have guessed that I would be given the ultimate reward for reading and summarizing all of these horrible Human Torch stories—a villain named Professor Jack! I do not recall seeing any of the other professors at Marvel U recognized in this way (oh, how long Prof. Jack has been waiting for his day in the sun-PE).

PE: But, Professor Jack! Is this really the guy you want to point to as a compliment? The whole Professor Jack thing was a bit odd. Not sure why, but I kept thinking this was something out of Captain Kangaroo. Is Jack his first name (in which case, it's really odd that they're calling him Professor Jack)? And Sue doesn't even stand up for woman's rights when Mr. Pearson of N.A.S.A. (yes, Johnny, that means rockets and stuff!) says "No dames on my rocket, nosiree Bob!"

Tom: Nothing great story-wise for this issue, but that's sadly become expected from this series. The artwork looks a lot better compared to the previous others. I'm just glad I didn't waste my money on these Strange Tales comics when I was a kid, because my favorite hero the Thing co-starred in them. Definitely a very far cry from his own solo series and Marvel Two-In-One.

PE: It looked to me as though Bob Powell was being paid per character this issue. He does his darndest to cram as many figures into each one of his teensy panels as he can.

Jack: According to Dorrie, Johnny has stood her up 113 times, yet she keeps coming back for more. Oh, Crystal, when will you and the other Inhumans finally arrive so we can dump Dorrie?

PE: If there was anything remotely funny about this strip, I'd swear Larry Ivie was scripting a comedy. The story goes from inanity to inanity, never stopping to take a breath. Its characters are stupid and say and do stupid things. I've run out of adjectives to describe how truly bad this comic book was. Is it a coincidence that "Bouncin'" Bobby Powell draws the two worst Marvel strips anymore than it was a coincidence that Dick Ayers drew them previously? How in the world Frank Robbins didn't end up drawing these two series is beyond me.

Jack: Stan uses the Torch for some shameless cross-promotion—Johnny tells the Thing that he should have been reading the latest issue of Millie the Model and later tells Dorrie she has to wear her M.M.M.S. membership pin on their date! Sheesh!

PE: As pointed out by a sharp reader of MU in one of our comments sections, inker M. (Mickey) Demeo was actually Mike Esposito.

Jack: On the letters page, Stan admits he doesn’t know what was going on in this story.

PE: I think he misworded that. Stan actually didn't "want to know what was going on in this story." What I'd like to know is: if N.A.S.A. suspected Professor Jack (!) was a bad guy, why leave him on the project? And how can you make a steel wall look exactly like it did before you melted it? Nick Fury can't get here fast enough, true believers!

Dr. Strange

Our story

Dr. Strange returns to Greenwich Village, only to find his home guarded by one of Mordo’s minions. Kept out by magic, he sneaks in using a disguise, but is quickly confronted by Mordo, who battles him with more power than usual. Dormammu takes over Mordo’s body, and Dr. Strange guesses the identity of his true foe but is cast into a void.

Jack: A welcome return for Clea (still not given a name), who will eventually become Dr. Strange’s main squeeze.

MB: When I was six, in 1969, this story was reprinted in Marvel’s Greatest Comics #23, which I still own as a coverless, falling-apart hand-me-down. Don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but that last page—with Doc on the defensive, crying, “Of course!! Of course!! I should have guessed! I should have known!” before seemingly being zapped out of existence—is burned into my brain, and it was many years before I found out what happened next. Of course, there’s plenty more to love, from the fabulous splash page and Doc’s humorous but effective disguise to the initial mention of Eternity, a major player in the Marvel cosmology.

JS: The showdown between Mordo and Strange is one of the best yet. After several meetings on the astral plane, it was nice to see them engage in a face to face battle.

Jack: While this is turning into a great serial, I am a bit troubled by the stupidity of yet another master magician. He can sense Dr. Strange’s spirit form and send out the crimson bands of Cyttorak, but he can’t see through a dime store Halloween costume?

JS: Right with you Jack. Kinda puts a tarnish on the supreme powers of Mordo.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #122
Millie the Model #128
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #18
Two-Gun Kid #75


A very odd issue of Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos (#18), in which Fury’s girlfriend dies off-screen after he battles against the odds to save his own life and the diamond engagement ring he plans to give her. Kirby drew pages 1 and 20, with lackluster Dick Ayers art on pages 2-19. The Kirby pages are great!


  1. Something has finally worked its way through my thick skull. We all know that the cover dates on these mags mean nothing--the May issues probably came out around February. But I have noticed that the house ads don't always feature mags from the same month. I realize (shocking!) that all issues with the same cover date did not arrive on the newsstand at the same time. They probably came out a few each week. Why does this matter? Because it might explain some of the continuity problems that the faculty have been noticing, where one story thread seems to happen before another from the month before. Perhaps Stan the Man was more focused on his mags' release dates than we realize--week by week rather than month by month.

    And Peter, Professor Jack in the Human Torch story may not be a classic villain, but until I see one named Professor Peter in Captain America I will hold on to this as a proud moment.

    1. Marvel had two cover months for each newsstand month until the comics went 20¢ in 1971. Probably some obscure Martin Goodman ploy to induce newsstand owners to keep books on display longer (i.e., two different months for current books might trick some displayers to leave even older books on the the newsstand).

      Books covered dated May 1965 were released in either February or March 1965.

      In February 1965, these books were contemporaries and on the newsstand, some cover dated April and some May:

      Amazing Spider-Man 24; Avengers 15; Daredevil 7;Fantastic Four 38;
      Journey into Mystery 115; Kid Colt Outlaw 122; Millie the Model 128;
      Modeling with Millie 38; Patsy Walker 120; Sgt. Fury 17; Strange Tales 132;
      Tales of Suspense 65; Tales to Astonish 67; Two-Gun Kid 75

      In March 1965, these books were contemporaries and on the newsstand, some cover dated May and some June:

      Amazing Spider-Man 25; Avengers 16; Fantastic Four 39;
      Journey into Mystery 116; Patsy & Hedy 100; Rawhide Kid 46; Sgt. Fury 18;
      Strange Tales 133; Tales of Suspense 66; Tales to Astonish 68; X-Men 11


    2. Anon, I've wondered for years if there was a specific reason why Marvel synched up their cover dates for their comics on sale in August 1971, which is when they had the larger , 25 cent comics on sale (for the one month, before reducing the price to 20 cents and page count the next month, shafting DC). So for ex., Avengers #92 was dated Sept. 1971, but the very next month Av. #93 was dated Nov. 1971--there's no Oct. 1971 Avengers (cover date).
      Someone mentioned to me the synching up in Aug. 1971 may have been at the bequest of the publisher (Curtis, at the time)--perhaps they noticed some Marvels were only dated 2 months ahead and they wanted as many comics as possible to have a "3 month ahead" shelf life...this is just conjecture.


    3. Ah, sorry,Rodan57--Curtis would have been the distributor (not the publisher).


  2. Professor Jack, are you saying Peter's namesake, good ol' Paste Pot himself, does not count?

  3. This is not the first time Professor Jack and I have been on the exact same wavelength. Now that I'm using some of the actual original issues for reference, I'm noticing the same thing, not only in the house ads (a group of comics trumpeted as "Now on sale!" may be a mix of two different publication months), but also on the Bullpen Bulletin Page checklists. So I think his theory about Stan the Man is dead on.

  4. I doubt Odin will ever win a “Father of the Year” award. He has two sons, let's call them Wally Cleaver and Eddie Haskell. Incredibly, this dimwitted Dad just can't ever figure out which one is the troublemaker. If I was in Thor's situation, I would've run away from home years ago and joined a Circus.

    It turns out Mysterio is a big fan of Warner Brothers cartoons. He lifts the plot from “Mouse Wreckers” and proceeds to drive Spidey over the edge utilizing the same methods Hubie and Bertie used to bamboozle Claude the Cat. Actually, despite my kidding, this is a pretty decent story. The reader doesn't know what's going on until the final reveal. The only vague clue (really an in-joke) is the prominent fish bowl in Rinehart's office. Ditko's pacing and storytelling are second to none here, and we have the classic irony that the plan falls apart thanks to JJJ's intervention, and not Spidey figuring out he's being manipulated. Stan Lee is credited with the script, and Steve Ditko with the art, but there's no credit for the plot. More about the Spider-Man credits when we get to the next issue.

    Adhesive expert Paste-Pot Pete, frustrated and embarrassed that someone else came along and invented Super-Glue and made millions of dollars, changes his name to the Trapster. There's something amiss with FF 38. This book is just a 20 page excuse to take the FF's powers away. On top of that, Chic Stone's inking appears sloppy and rushed. It looks like the workload is getting the better of him. Admittedly, it can't be easy inking 40 pages of Jack Kirby a month.

    What is the worst form of storytelling? One example: The Western hero is outnumbered in a hopeless situation with no means of escape, and little chance of survival. Instead of a clever resolution, which we're anticipating, the Cavalry unexpectedly rides in, and disposes of the problem. Well, that what's we've got with X-Men 11. The previously never heard of Stranger is the Cavalry, and he rides in to save the X-Men, dispose of Mastermind, Magneto, and Toad, thereby freeing up Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch so they can join The Avengers. Sadly, over the next couple of years, many great Marvel sagas will conclude with variations of “the Cavalry.” Again, Chic Stone's inking looks rushed.

    Looking at these books for the first time in years, I've been pleasantly surprised at how consistently great Steve Ditko's work is on Dr. Strange. Don't get me wrong. Ditko's DS was always a favorite, but there are fewer drawing errors, skewed perspectives, and other quirks that crop up regularly in Spider-Man. Ditko must've really enjoyed this strip, because you can see how much work he put into it. Dr. Strange's New York looks like the RKO or Columbia back lot from the late 1940s, while the alternate dimensions are pure Ditko, and never equaled, or bettered, by any subsequent artist. Just a one of a kind strip, that in retrospect, was unjustly hidden at the back of a book more keen to promote one of the weakest strips in Marvel history.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)