Wednesday, February 29, 2012

January 1966: Thor Reveals His Secret Identity to Jane Foster!

The X-Men 16
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The X-Men have been captured, with only Xavier not trapped by Master Mold. Trapped inside a globe, our teen mutants take advantage of an opportunity to escape when the Sentinels open it to deposit the Beast, who was the object of their experimentation (as seen last issue). Xavier stumbles across a means of disabling the Sentinels, which he and the authorities deliver just in time, as his students are about to be destroyed once and for all. Meanwhile, Trask, who had agreed to create a Sentinel army for Master Mold, has a change of heart and destroys the complex. Once again, the X-Men make it out just in time. Despite what the penultimate panel implies, we haven't seen the last of Trask or his Sentinels.

MB: Seeing the fortress containing both the Sentinels (including Master Mold) and their creator, the misguided but ultimately repentant Bolivar Trask, blown to smithereens at the end of the trilogy doesn’t bode well for the Sentinels as recurring villains, but Marvel obviously worked around that one somehow. The Kirby/“Gavin”/Ayers artistic troika seems to have cleaned up its act a little, with some better facial close-ups, and Stan is in good form with his characterizations, as the X-Men display some nice teamwork, although I don’t get why Xavier can’t come up with some sort of way to prevent people thinking he’s just zoning out when he uses his powers. Like this month’s Avengers, the story concludes with another unidentified villain waiting in the wings.
JS: Just based on this story arc, I can't imagine why a reader would be particularly enamored with the Sentinels. The weakness exploited by Xavier was uninspired, and yet without it, we might have seen our X-Men defeated once and for all this time out. Fortunately, as far as Trask and The Sentinels are concerned, the best is yet to come. 

The Five Stooges

PE: I keep hearing that but do I have to wait until 1974 to see the best of what's to come? There's not much else here that compels me to keep reading the title. The last panel hints at some mystery. That's intriguing but usually it's Doctor Doom's shadow on a wall. Hope we're dealing with some other menace here. 

Daredevil 12
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Matt Murdock has left Foggy and Karen behind so he can let them grow financially without him since the law office hasn’t had good business lately. He decides to see the world and takes a luxury liner cruise. Things don’t go peacefully for him as the ship is attacked and hijacked by a legendary pirate named the Plunderer. Daredevil is able to outfight the Plunderer’s pirate crew until the evil doer threatens to start throwing the ship’s hostages overboard into the sea. Daredevil has to reluctantly become the pirate’s prisoner. Meanwhile, in a savage land lost in time (Skull Island), Ka-Zar is busy fighting off nomadic barbarians, aka Swamp Men, who want to kick him off of his turf. The Plunderer isn’t too happy that the Swamp Men have already attacked the island that he wants to plunder, but he doesn’t have much time to go after them as Ka-Zar attacks him and his crew. As the savage Ka-Zar quickly defeats the pirates with his giant, pet saber-toothed tiger named Zabu, Double D tries to approach him to form an alliance. There is no reasoning with the Tarzan rip-off, who attacks Daredevil. In a brief battle, Ka-Zar wins after knocking DD out. All that’s left is the Plunderer. He too is no match for the savage’s fury. However, he shoots his machine gun wildly so that one of the bullets hits all of his crates carrying explosives. Once they go off, it’s a smoke-clouded melee. As Daredevil regains consciousness, he realizes to his horror that Ka-Zar’s super knockout blow has caused him to lose his powers, making him just a blind man once again. Ka-Zar notices a resemblance between Daredevil’s costume and that of his recent pals, the X-Men, and he wonders if he’s come to the wrong conclusion about the man without fear. He picks up and rescues Daredevil, depositing him in a cave. Going back out to continue fighting, Ka-Zar is attacked by a giant monster plant. The story ends with an ape-man creature hovering over an unconscious Daredevil.

Tom: I’ll make it no secret that I have never been a fan of the blond Ka-Zar. He always seemed to be a generic, boring super-hero, with terrible dialogue spewing out of his mouth like a human Incredible Hulk. (I’ll apologize in advance if this offends any of my colleagues.) That being said, I surprisingly kind of liked this story. The Plunderer might be lame, and the jungle setting unsuitable for an urban knight such as Daredevil, but it all kind of worked out well for an entertaining yarn.

PE: I half expected the dialogue from Ka-Zar would rhyme. "Stronger than mastodon! Stronger than wild boar! Mighty is Ka-Zar! Let's hit the liquor store!" Somewhere in California, Edgar Rice Burroughs was rolling in his grave.

Jack: I’m happy to see John Romita join Marvel, but this is far from his best work. The Plunderer is yet another example of a dopey name for a villain—a pirate who plunders? Let’s call him the Plunderer (Now, Professor Jack, let's be fair. He was born Lord Parcival Plunder so it would be natural to call him The Plunderer, wouldn't it?!-Professor Pete)! Ka-Zar’s speech is also hard to take. Stan tells us that the Swamp Men’s dialog is corny because he had to translate it from the “guttural swamp dialect, a tongue which very few of us majored in at college.” Ka-Zar lives on Skull Island, which means King Kong must be around there somewhere. The killer plant looks like a leftover from a Roger Corman film.

PE: Ka-Zar's dialogue is hard to take? How about DD's: "I sense vegetation... such as earth has never known for millions of years! As though I've been transported to the dawn of time!" This, while he's still miles from the shore of said vegetation. This sort of nonsense backs my assertion that Stan never had a clear definition of what Daredevil's powers should be. It's one thing to tell us that, because of radiation and supreme training skills, this masked man can smell perfume from three blocks and take on a set of heavily armed henchmen but quite another to tell us he can jump out of a window and land, legs askew, on the bumpers of two different cars without killing himself.

Strange Tales 140
Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD
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Disabling the Hunter, Fury hides inside a ventilation duct with the Supreme—er, Imperial—Hydra’s daughter (felled by its ultra-sonic stunner) to avoid sniffing coma gas.  Meanwhile, Agents Jones and Dugan use the Electro-Jab to fight the Tiger squad, and Tony Stark blasts off from the Helicarrier in his Braino-saur to disarm the orbital betatron bomb. As the reunited S.H.I.E.L.D. forces defeat the Tigers and occupy Hydra H.Q., Stark removes the firing device, and the Hydra honcho is revealed as…no, not Leslie Farrington, the powerful head of Imperial Industries International, but his humble secretary, Arnold Brown, who now prepares to push the destruct button that will annihilate both Fury and the daughter for whom he did it all.

MB: It’s always fun trying to parse the credits of some of these mid-’60s issues; this one attributes the “presentation,” “drawing,” and “delineation” (which I presume is roughly equivalent to the usual layouts, pencils, and inks) to Kirby, Heck, and Sinnott, respectively. Perhaps over-optimistically entitled “The End of Hydra,” this action-packed issue throws Heck into the artistic mix, although frankly there’s very little evidence of his style on display, and it promises “a world-wide roundup of all the known Hydra agents.” But really, with Fury having been put in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. specifically for the purpose of smashing Hydra, we as readers wouldn’t want him to be deprived of the foe that provides his raison d’ĂȘtre, which would leave him like a Drax without his Thanos.

Jack: Skate board units A and B? Thank goodness for Tony Stark! If all of the Hydra agents can be rounded up so easily, why didn’t they do it before?

PE: Imagine being the one who has to hail the "Amazing Jet-Powered Porsche 904 Land-Air Personnel Transport" (or AJPP904LAPT for short). What would possess Stan to pump up his vehicle name just this once? Usually it would be the Sky-Port or the Helo-Blimp. I smell a ghost writer here! If anything, the cliffhanger climax of this somewhat exciting yarn promises that Hydra will continue to strike in the future. And why is Dum-Dum Dugan suddenly speaking like a Dum-Dum? "He gotta answer! He gotta be alive!" On the letters page, we get correspondence from future horror film journalist Bruce Hallenbeck (The Hammer Vampire).

PE: Once unmasked, it is revealed that Hydra Supreme is, in actuality, schoolteacher and sometime Meth cooker Walter White.

Doctor Strange
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Dormammu has had enough! He puts the Mindless Ones to sleep so he can let down the protective barrier and conserve power. He sends Dr. Strange, Baron Mordo, and the Ancient One to a dimension at the edge of infinity. Dormammu summons an audience of alien despots and challenges Dr. Strange to engage in combat. They agree only to use their minds and enchanted Pincers of Power. The battle is waged and Dr. Strange uses his wits and a little Judo to bring Dormammu near defeat. Only a last-minute intervention by Baron Mordo keeps Dr. Strange from emerging victorious.

Jack: While this is a good fight, I couldn’t help thinking it was a lot like professional wrestling, even down to Mordo’s cheating from the sidelines. Was Dormammu always so ripped?

JS: I'm sorry, the "Pincers of Power"? Not quite what I had in mind for an epic showdown. 

MB: Finally, after months of fending off the artificially enhanced attacks of Baron Mordo, Dr. Strange goes mano a mano (or perhaps I should say pincer a pincer) with the Dread Dormammu for the first time since ST #127. It’s great to have the DD brought to center stage, and I enjoyed seeing his preparations for the bout, e.g., sedating the Mindless Ones, but with Mordo having made Dormy unwittingly win by treachery, those of us who have read the aforementioned ST #127 can guess which way this is likely to go. The one who gets short shrift is Clea, still nameless and relegated to a few token panels per issue, if that; in retrospect, it seems surprising that that they should take so long to flesh out Stephen’s future inamorata and disciple.

JS: After longing for something other than a wrestling match on the astral plane, I should have been more excited by this issue's tussle.

The Amazing Spider-Man 32

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To no one’s surprise, The Master Planer turns out to be old Otto Octavius, aka Doctor Octopus. Ock’s new plans necessitate a large quantity of ISO-36, a serum that just happens to be arriving in New York to aid a special patient suffering from blood poisoning. That unique patient happens to be Aunt May and our hero opines that May’s blood was contaminated during a blood transfusion with nephew Peter. When Octopus hijacks the shipment of ISO-36, Spider-Man goes temporarily insane and tears apart the city’s underworld looking for information on The Master Planner. Meanwhile, back at the hospital, doctors fear May is slipping into a coma. The wall-crawler’s path of destruction is not for naught though as he finally stumbles onto The Planner’s henchmen in a basement attached to the villain’s undersea lair. Octopus shows himself to his arch-enemy and a battle ensues. During the fight, a main support beam is damaged, Octopus escapes, and heavy equipment falls on Spider-Man, pinning him. The melee had not only loosened machinery but caused structural damage as well and the roof begins to leak. Unable to move, Spider-Man faces drowning but paramount on his mind is his failure to save his Aunt May.

PE: The Marvel Age of Wacky Coincidence continues as we see Ock needing ISO-36 just as badly as Aunt May. Who’da thunk? I’m still not sure why the big secret about The Master Planner’s secret identity. It’s not like the alias would allow Ock to walk the streets unmolested or something. And then, rather than keeping the mystery going, Stan and Steve do the reveal on the second page! Huh?

JS: What next, Spider-Man dons a costume so he can be another crime fighter?

PE: More of that dopey “I have to make her hate me so she won’t love me” goop from The House of Ideas as Peter Parker is deliberately mean to Betty and her beau, Ned. None of this nonsense rings true. All Parker has to say to Brant is “Look, Betty, I care for you but it won’t work out. I hope you and Ned will be happy together” rather than make a transparent horse’s ass of himself in front of not only the unhappy couple but JJJ as well.

JS: Where's Gwen Stacey when we need her?

MB: Since it’s revealed on page 2 of this issue, I can now state that after reading the last one, I did indeed correctly remember not only the identity of the Master Planner (I can see why that name didn’t stick with me, since he doesn’t exist, except as an alias for Doc Ock), but also why the trilogy would be considered famous. The notorious cliffhanger leads into one of the most celebrated issues of Amazing, and knowing that it came so close to the departure of Ditko—now once again credited as plotter—makes it all the more intriguing. So well handled in the second Spider-Man movie, Ock is one of my favorite villains, and seeing Spidey driven to desperation over his need for the ISO-36 to revive Aunt May drastically ups the drama quotient.

PE: Stan, messing with the Marvel Timeline (and my brain) has Spidey tell Foswell that he had fought him “years ago when you were a gang boss.” That’s impossible as, according to my incredibly elaborate Marvel Time/Space continuum theorum, Foswell (as The Big Man) was arrested after the events of Amazing Spider-Man #10, or roughly 22 weeks before the events of this issue. Yes, I realize he had an extremely short stint in the stir but the Marvel judicial system has long been known for its motto of “Rehabilitation over Punishment.” Sheesh, I’m glad I got that off my chest. Is anyone out there listening to me?

JS: This issue ends with what stands out as a standout cliffhanger. While it's no mystery that Spider-Man will survive, it's a great build-up to the next issue.

PE: Our climax sets up one of the most iconic Spidey sequences of all time next issue. Should be a good one.

The Avengers 24
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Kang’s forces attack the kingdom, which is protected by a plasto-shield. Once it has been breached, the Avengers battle the enemy forces but soon surrender. Kang claims Princess Ravonna as his prize, but his generals insist that he honor his past practice of killing all conquered monarchs. Kang breaks with his generals and joins forces with the Avengers in order to save Ravonna. The generals cannot prevail without a strong leader and are soon bested. Kang honors his promise to send the Avengers home. After they depart, one of the defeated generals tries to shoot Kang, but Ravonna is killed as she leaps in front of him.

MB: Well, it was too good to last: the inks having devolved from Wood and Romita back to Ayers, who’s obviously stopped eating whatever he had for breakfast the day he penned S.H.I.E.L.D.’s debut in Strange Tales #135, the art has taken a noticeable hit. The story, too, has the frenetic feel of one of the later, more formulaic Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with all of these factions running around in a strange land (or, in this case, era), with the net result that the Quartet almost gets lost in the shuffle. But we get enough of the Lee-Heck moxie to make it merely an average issue, and the unusual Ravonna cliffhanger helps; on page 14, ol’ Sneaky Stan uses Hawkeye’s “Next thing y’know we’ll be swearin’ in Dr. Doom!” from #20 almost verbatim.

Cap does the Twist?
PE: Good point there, Professor Matthew. I thought more along the lines of the Keystone Kops but Tarzan will do. Incredibly, since you know my feelings about Dick Ayers, the art didn't make me want to throw up my arms in surrender. It wasn't great but, other than the panels where we see things like Captain America running in place when he's supposed to be standing and talking to another character (almost like a photoshop feel), I could deal with it. It's the story, as usual, where I find the most fault. Kang loses his army so the first thing he thinks is "I'll turn to The Avengers for help," goes to Cap with his story and, don't you know, immediately has the team on his side. I'm with Hawkeye on this one: "Have you lost your marbles, Mr. Stars and Stripes?" The trust comes just a little too quick. When compared to the "Good Old Days" of Thor, Cap, Iron Man, Giant Man, and The Wasp, Cap's yell of "Avengers Assemble" when both his teammates are standing right in front of him seems pretty pitiful. Of course, as Billy Joel once said "The good old days weren't always good..."

"Easy old man. We're right in front of you!"

Jack: When I saw Don Heck and Dick Ayers’s names as the artists for this issue, I was prepared not to like it—but I did! Kang is already developing into an interesting villain. Has anyone ever investigated Stan Lee’s use of Biblical quotations and themes? I know he was Jewish, and the tradition of killing the conquered monarchs goes all the way back to the ancient Israelites. I am sure that there was an Old Testament story about a king who failed to kill a conquered opponent and was punished for it, but I can’t remember who it was.

PE: I found this issue to be laden with text, too much text, much too much text, way way too much text! A comic book should take x amount of minutes to read, not xxx (unless it's an EC Comic, of course). I found the (SPOILER ALERT) death of Ravonna to be a very effective climax (if she's dead, that is). As for our "mystery villain" who's keeping tabs on our not-so-super team (I still want to know where these guys have all their cameras mounted), I'll just conjure the image of a certain Latverian whose name was raised in this issue. Marvel is the home of the coincidence.

Jack: What’s the point of a secret identity when Hawkeye calls Cap “Steverino” in front of a crowd?

Journey Into Mystery 124
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After hearing about the Demon’s exploits in a newspaper, Thor decides that he will investigate further, but not before checking in at the hospital to see how Jane Foster is doing. He changes to Dr. Blake, and finds that Jane isn’t recovering as expected (from minor smoke inhalation). Instead she’s in a state of depression, tired of Don Blake’s comings and goings for long periods of time with no explanation. She tells him to get lost—for good. This, and the guilt of what her love for him has cost her, is the impetus Thor needs to tell Jane the truth, that he and Don Blake are one and the same. Her heart renewed by this newfound knowledge, Thor feels safe leave long enough to stop the menace of the Demon. This former witch doctor, with the power of the Norn stone that literally fell into his grasp, continues to conquer villages across Asia and add them to his army. While Odin rages in Asgard that his son has dared to reveal his secret identity to the mortal girl, different things are happening in distant Olympus. Zeus decrees it time to send his restless, willful son Hercules to visit Earth, not visited by any of the Olympian gods for centuries. As the Demon prepares to demolish yet another fortress, he gets more than he bargained for: a Thunder God on the path of justice.

In Tales Of Asgard, the flying trolls of Ula, queen of the Stone Hive of Thryheim, approach the Odinship. The crew is recovering from the recent victory over the Utgard Dragon; destroyed by the mighty sounds of the horn Balder the Brave blew.

JB: This coming year, 1966, would, I humbly judge, be the best in the Thor run; preceding and following years were still great, but not so consistently so as this. The frustration that the Thor/Jane relationship has caused them both (and us readers) finally gets blown out of the water when he comes clean with his secret identity. We see Jane show some backbone, telling him to hit the road before she sees the whole picture. The coming year provides some amazing adventures for Jane and Thor.

PE: The roller coaster that is the father/son relationship of Odin and Thor seems to be in a dip right now (it is an even-numbered issue, after all, so give it 'til next issue to find itself back up) since pop is outraged about his son coming out of the closet in front of Jane Foster. I thought for sure Kirby's "camera" would pull back after Odin's meltdown and we'd see Loki, right over his shoulder, whispering "I told you, sire, this one's no good." The big guy would reply "That you did, son, I should have listened to you. I've never been fair with you!" Doesn't pop get tired of dreaming up new punishments for The God of Thunder? How many times can he banish him from Asgard or strip him of his Mighty powers? Let's see something new.

MB: Thor’s interactions with New York’s finest, and especially with the ordinary Gothamites, make a nice prelude to the story proper, in which the panels devoted to the poorly named Demon (about whom there is nothing intrinsically demonic) are wisely minimized. It’s interesting that Thor and Spider-Man, each told that the torch his lady carries for his civilian i.d. is endangered by the secret she senses he is carrying, react in opposite ways. Blake does the Full Monty for Jane, while Peter cedes Betty Brant to Ned Leeds, but having dodged a bullet for bringing Hobbs home, Thor clearly won’t escape Odin’s wrath for revealing his identity to Jane.

PE: The cover's a bit of a cheat. Hercules doesn't show up until near the end and it's just to nod and look strong. The Demon seems to be an afterthought pushed to the side by Thor's relationship dramas. Speaking of which, would I be a cynic to think that Odin has some kind of potion to render Jane Foster an amnesiac or does she actually push on with the knowledge that one half of the man she loves is a lame doctor? This issue isn't really bad, it's just what I would call a "tweener," the section of the arc that's very clearly setting up events in the future. Like a Lost episode that spends forty three minutes explaining to us why a gruff killer like Sawyer spends all his idle time reading Steinbeck when all we want is to get to the Kate episode where it's shown why she prefers to swim nude.

JB: The first of seven issues in one of the definitive Lee/Kirby Thor epics. As you say Peter, the story sets up the quicker pace to come. I think we’re all glad to see Hercules come back, and to get another glimpse of Olympus (much more of which we see over the next months). I fondly remember reading Marvel Treasury Edition #3, from 1974. It reprinted JIM/Thor issues #125-130. They skipped #124, but the story still made sense. In Roy Thomas’s book, Stan Lee’s Amazing Marvel Universe, the man (SL that is) counts this saga as one of fifty memorable moments in Marvel’s history (a great book, even if intended for a general audience).

Fantastic Four 46
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Frightened that their “hideout” has been discovered by the Fantastic Four, the Inhumans, (Karnak, Gorgon -holding Medusa to keep her from escaping- Crystal, Triton, and Black Bolt) attack the F.F. Black Bolt, their leader, has it out with the Thing. Ben is a little stronger, but lacks the Inhuman’s speed and skill. Triton dampens Johnny’s flame, and then renders the Torch unconscious. Reed surmises that Black Bolt gets his power through an antenna device on his head that converts the electrons around him into energy. He then rips Triton’s hooded, sleeveless cloak off, realizing it contains water, which the Inhuman needs to breathe. While Triton makes a dash to jump off the nearby pier into the water, Sue uses her force field to protect Reed and her from Gorgon and Karnak. It becomes apparent from listening to the Inhumans during the struggle that they are fleeing from someone called the Seeker, and have remained hidden from him for years. The Inhumans feel that the F.F. are a threat to their being discovered, and they are really just defending themselves. The Seeker is closer than they think, and he captures Triton under the water. A neatly bearded man in a red uniform, the Seeker’s mission is to capture the Inhumans and return them to a place called the Great Refuge; where they had escaped from years before, seeking freedom. Thinking that Dragon Man, now tranquilized in the Baxter Building, is an Inhuman also, the Seeker and his men take the reptilian android to their place of hiding, to run some tests on him. Black Bolt, meanwhile, has temporarily exhausted his antenna’s electron charge in his battle with Ben, but first manages to stun the Thing with a “master blow.” Crystal’s dog Lockjaw appears, and uses a steel girder to hold Ben at bay while the Inhumans retreat. Realizing that the Seeker must have captured Triton, the Inhumans disappear through a dimensional vortex, created by Lockjaw. Johnny and Crystal, already with strong feelings, call out to one another, but too late. Vowing to find them again, our heroes return to the Baxter Building to find Dragon Man gone. Not to be foiled, Reed not only has the Seeker and his men on camera (from their earlier visit), but also follows their particle trail to the craft where he is hiding, with a captured Triton in a water-filled bubble. The F.F. are caught on arrival, and the Seeker relates to them his story. The Inhumans are a race that developed concurrently with humanity, and were highly advanced when we were still cavemen. Genetics was one of their strongest fields of interest, and they carefully bred many of their kind with different unique powers. They eventually hid from humanity, who attacked them for their differences. The Inhumans as the F.F. know them today, are from one such ancient family. Realizing that Dragon man is not one of them, the Seeker is prepared to release him to our team, but it is too late. The mighty creature awakens, and angry at his capture, breaks his bonds. In the confusion that follows, Triton’s water bubble is shattered and Dragon Man escapes.

PE: Sue Storm asks Reed Richards a good question that I'd like to ask as well (I just don't know who to ask): what's the difference between an Inhuman and a Mutant? I won't bother asking Reed, as he tells Sue "because they say they're Inhumans!" Reed's brain constantly amazes me. It takes one look at the silverware attached to Black Bolt's skullcap and knows it "absorbs energy from the electrons around him and converts it to speed and strength." All that from just a few glances! Fantastic! He'll later amend his statement with the following: "His antenna creates some sort of Mental Dimension Displacer Force!" Hands up from those of you who think he's baffling us with...

JB: A fast moving, action-filled issue. We learn a lot in a short time about who the Inhumans are and where they are from. I find it unlikely that they would be so frightened by the Seeker. He seems more like a misguided, arrogant scientist, maybe with the technology of a Reed Richards or a little more. With all the powers the Inhumans have at their disposal, he doesn’t seem like much of a threat. As “honorary professor” Glenn said, the issues from #44-67 were the F.F. at their peak, and I suspect in rereading them here, I’ll find that to be true.

MB: Artwise, no complaints here—far from it, as Sinnott polishes to perfection the uncut diamonds of Kirby’s pencils, and the FF themselves, in particular, have never looked better to date. If I’m a little impatient at times for the plot to get moving, it’s only in hindsight, since I know so much about the Inhumans already, although it’s clear that later we’ll learn a lot more about their origin than we’ve been told, and the story doesn’t seem to jibe with Black Bolt heading their royal family. If there’s a weak link here, it’s probably that outlandishly garbed and annoyingly arrogant runt of a Seeker, who’s apparently an Inhuman himself, but I can’t make out what the deal is with those henchmen of his; they look too, shall we say, uniform to be members of his race, yet with all of his security concerns, it’s inconceivable that he would rely on humans.

PE: Since The Seeker's moniker is based on "a life dedicated to tracking down Inhumans," shouldn't he be Inhuman Seeker? What will he seek once he catches them? If he's got nothing else to seek, would he be The Ignorer? The Idler? Addition to Reed Richards' fabulous museum of "One and Done" gizmos: his Hidden TV Recorder, which tracks "heat particle trails."

JB: A note on Roy Thomas: I see in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletin this month, that Stan officially welcomes Roy aboard their ranks. I wonder who had Roy as a schoolteacher in St.Louis?

Tales of Suspense 73
Iron Man
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Iron Man shows up at the hospital Happy Hogan is being kept only to find his chauffeur is missing. The only clue is a hoof print on the window sill. Quickly deducing it's his old arch-enemy, The Black Knight, escaped from prison, Shellhead tracks the Knight to an old, dark, gloomy castle just outside Washington. When Iron Man enters, he's greeted by several holograms of The Black Knight. Not knowing which one is the real one, he lashes out and drains his own power in no time. Sensing his enemy is helpless, The Knight lifts him aboard his steed and flies high into the sky, dropping Iron Man at a height that would kill most armored superheroes. This good guy still has his wits about him though and grabs hold of The Knight as he's falling. Both tumble into the forest below, Iron Man hitting a lake and The Knight mysteriously disappearing. Down to his last drop of energy, Shellhead is able to make it back to the castle and call police to notify them of Happy's whereabouts. Meanwhile, Senator Byrd is prepared to swear out a warrant for Tony Stark's arrest unless he produces Iron Man's secret identity. Our final panels show that our red and gold hero is in bad shape, collapsed on the floor of the castle.

PE: I've said it already about the Sub-Mariner strip, but Gene Colan's artwork makes enjoyable any strip he works on. Immediately there's more of a "realistic look" to Shellhead and his supporting cast. As for the story, it's a fairly enjoyable tale though it doesn't really go anywhere and we're left with the mystery of The Black Knight's fate. We won't find out what happened to him or his trusty steed until Avengers #47 (December 1967). I know what happens but you'll have to wait about six months to find out from me. I like how Colan messes with the size and shape of the panels. I know that kind of thing will be commonplace in a couple of years when a young turk named Steranko rents a room at the House of Ideas, but we've been subjected to pretty much a standard format for the last four years and it's a nice change.

JS: This was definitely one of the more visually entertaining issues, and despite it being a straightforward confrontation between Iron Man and the Black Knight, giving it such an interesting setting was a step in the right direction. Do you suppose Dracula was lurking in the shadows somewhere?

PE: Roy Thomas's first superhero script for Marvel. Roy's first Marvel script ("Whom Can I Turn To") appeared in last month's Modeling with Millie #44. In Alter Ego #50, Roy recalls: "Stan Lee, who'd plotted the tale with Gene, rewrote so much of Roy's script on this... roughly 50%, by Roy's estimates... that he made it one of the very rare Marvel stories with no itemized credits." Roy Thomas' arrival at the House of Ideas marks the next phase of the Silver Age of Marvel Comics (if not immediately). It's no secret that, in my mind, Stan laid the foundation but Roy built the mansion.

MB: During the second phase of Shellhead’s stint in Suspense, co-creator Don Heck was succeeded by Gene Colan—under his “Adam Austin,” uh, pencil name—here with average inks by “Gary Michaels,” aka Jack Abel; apparently, some of the artists had to conceal from DC the fact that they were moonlighting for Marvel. This inaugural effort (written by another pivotal newcomer, future Bullpen mainstay and EIC “Rascally Roy” Thomas), largely set within the shadowy confines of the Black Knight’s castle, is perfectly suited to Colan’s style. If I recall correctly, he handled the strip through the one-shot Iron Man & Sub-Mariner, plus the premiere issue of Shellhead’s solo book, and must therefore be considered a key Iron Man artist.

Captain America

Our Story

Desperately trying to stop the awakened "Sleeper," Captain America is learning that the mechanical giant is a lot sturdier than any foe he's ever faced. Triggering an avalanche of boulders only proves to bury the monster for a bit of time. At that very moment several miles away in Telbeck, Frau Wolfmann and her henchmen unleash the second sleeper, a soaring craft, which quickly searches out its brother and joins with it as one huge flying machine. Cap manages to get atop the machine and notices a mechanical "cradle" that will be the final home of the third Sleeper when it awakens. Meanwhile, Agent Three begins that process.

PE: I like the story, which is one part War of the Worlds, one part The Mysterians, with a heaping helping of espionage thrown in. The Sleepers do present an awe-inspiring menace, especially when meeting up and joining. Well, except for those dopey boots., of course. What I don't like about the strip is the cop-out "violence." A couple of times we are led to believe (for a millisecond) that this is the devilishly bloodthirsty Third Reich we're talking about here and they take no prisoners. So when Frau Wolfmann and her boys use a shovel to cause the explosion that wakens the second Sleeper, I thought "Wow, this woman gave her life for the Reich!" That is, until the next panel which tells you that the explosion happened miles away. Again, Agent Three enters the pawn shop to get his little box and shoots the pawn shop owner, I got a chill. then he tells the man it's only gas and he'll awaken. Why the punch-pulling? These are the worst scum on earth and they're not going to go to lengths to make sure anyone in their way is politely admonished or gently put to sleep. They're going to kill everyone around them. Or should. It's what they do for kicks. I'm still looking forward to the continuation of the story and the eventual return of The Red Skull. I just hope George Tuska's gone by then. Thank goodness there aren't too many female characters in this strip. George doesn't draw very good looking women. Granted, Nazi women aren't supposed to look hot.

JS: I'm sorry. Did you say awe-inspiring menace? Did you mean to say yawn-inducing menace? Sleepers indeed. I did get a laugh out of Frau Wolfmann. I hope we'll meet up with Herr Wolfmann soon enough. I'm also growing tired of stories never ending. I like a good cliffhanger as much as the next guy, but have they given up on a) stand-alone stories, or b) ever wrapping stories up?

PE: In the letters section, we get our first contribution from future science fiction novelist Alfred (A. A.) Attanasio and another from Don McGregor (still several years away from being a member of the Marvel Bulpen).

Tales to Astonish #75
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner holds a dying Dorma in his arms while the hordes of the Faceless Ones move in for the kill. Suddenly, the battle is interrupted by the grand visage of the mighty Neptune. He orders the Faceless Ones to cease, as he would like to ask Namor some questions. Namor doesn’t deny that he strayed from his quest to help out the love of his life. He expects to perish and pleads for mercy for Lady Dorma. Neptune is proud that Namor showed compassion and love for Dorma, so he banishes the Faceless Ones while rewarding our hero with the magnificent Trident. Unfortunately, Subby has little time to celebrate as Dorma will soon be dead unless he can quickly get her to the palace and use a rejuvenator ray on her to restore her life. Giving the ancient old man that has been following him the Trident, Namor and his old lady swim back to his palace. After defeating some guards, he next has to face the dreaded Robo-Tank that squashed the citizen uprising from last issue. Subby takes the tank’s best shots, then picks it up and smashes it to a pulp. Dorma’s life is saved and the ancient old dude arrives in the nick of time to give Subby the Trident. The story concludes with Namor using it to subdue Krang and end his reign of terror.

Tom: Meh. The quest kind of ended in a dud. It was an enjoyable climax, but it seemed a little rushed. Tough guy Krang sure goes out without much of a fight unless he puts up some resistance next issue, which I’m looking forward to. The bullpen promises that Krang will receive a nice, big, heaping bowl of justice, Namor style!

"First thing I do when I become ruler is find my left elbow"

MB: As I’d predicted, Subby’s devotion to Dorma proves itself the clincher, rather than the undoing, of his quest for Neptune’s Trident, which turned out to be a little less epic than I expected. Colletta’s inks (which, sadly, continue to make the close-ups a bit sketchy) are not the only thing this strip and Thor’s have in common, since each features a prince of the realm who bears a selfless love. Yet this resolution seems to be almost a rebuttal to Thor’s romantic woes, as Neptune extols Namor’s honesty—demonstrated by Stan’s particularly stirring dialogue—and spirit of self-sacrifice; also loved the recurrence of Namor’s old and loyal subject.

PE: Well, Neptune sure is a lot hipper than that old stuffed shirt, Odin, respecting and ewarding the younger generation rather than punishing them. Yeah, I agree with my colleagues that the story ended with a whimper rather than a Krang, but there's that gorgeous Gene Colan art to soak in at least. Even if 90% of the panels show Subby cradling Dorma and not much else. Except for a few lapses (see panels  above and below), Colan's art alone continues to elevate this above the cartoons of Iron Man, The Avengers or Subby's title-mate. Speaking of which...

The Hulk
Our Story

The Hulk picks up the Ultimate Machine after it has killed the Leader. Needing to distance himself in order to think about his next move, he leaps away into the mountains. Back in America, General Ross has had his military scientists put together the last machine that Bruce Banner has ever created, using left over blueprints. They aren’t even sure what the weapon, dubbed T-Gun, will do. Rick Jones is still imprisoned for associating with the Hulk. He pleads to some military guards to let him call the White House, which they laugh off. The Hulkster reasons that his exterior is tougher than the Leader’s, so he tries on the Ultimate Machine, putting it over his head just like the villain did last issue. Even the mighty Hulk is unable to sustain the powerful pain of knowledge that the Watcher’s technology gives him. He rips it off his head before it kills him. Still, the machine allowed him to hear Rick’s pleas to the guards to call the White House. Since Rick was his friend, and it would give him something to do, the Hulk leaps toward the White House. The Watcher retrieves his technology so that no others will have it. General Ross and the troops spot the Green Goliath as he ends up by the White House. Taking a foolish gamble, they shoot him with the T-Gun, which Jade Jaws instantly recognizes since he still sort of has Banner’s brain. The T-Gun ends up being a device to test time travel, and he story ends with the Hulk somewhere in the far future, facing off against some strange, mutant-looking creatures.

Tom: If Professor Jack thought that last issue’s story was boring, then this tale might have put him in a coma. I understand it’s just a transitional tale to further along the Hulk’s adventures into a deadly future scenario, but I can always do without Rick Jones, whining Betty, and tool Talbot. General Ross is slightly amusing, just because of his overall ignorance about what’s occurring around him.

Jack: Hulk sure gets around! He hops from one continent to another, he was on the Watcher’s planet recently, and now he’s in the future. Bonus points to Stan Lee for not having him fight Thunderbolt Ross every issue.

PE: And for our finale... Hulk Beyond Thunderdome! Is it my imagination or does Esposito's art get worse with each passing issue? The "Hulk-talk" is annoying as well. It's not the way Banner talks nor is it the way the big green guy talks so is it some middle ground? And is that middle ground a New York dock worker? At least that endless Leader arc is over. Or is it?

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #126
Millie the Model #134
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #26
Two-Gun Kid #79

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

December 1965: Among Us Hid The Inhumans!

Journey Into Mystery 123

Our Story

The Mighty Thor has agreed to take the reporter Harris Hobbs to see Asgard. The Absorbing Man has ignobly attacked Odin, with Loki planning to take over rule of the golden realm after his cats paw has done his work for him. And that’s just the beginning! Arriving on the rainbow bridge with Hobbs, Thor sees that Heimdall is absent from his post as guardian. Knowing something is amiss, he hurries with Hobbs into the city to find the battle raging between the Absorbing Man and Odin. The All-Father slowly realizes that cosmic bolts and molecular cyclones are as easy for Crusher Creel to absorb as rock or metal.  On Earth, another type of storm brews, as the lost Norn Stone is found in an Asian jungle by the witch doctor of a tribe threatened with Communist takeover. The stone having fallen from the sky, it is seen by the witch doctor as a sign from the gods that he is meant not only to turn back the communists, but to rule the world as well.  Thor (with Hobbs holding himself together enough to take it all in), eager to join in the fray, is asked by Odin to hold his hammer for a moment. Seeing that any further battle will destroy his kingdom, Odin surrenders his scepter to “Loki the cunning”, who glows with greed, proclaiming the rule of a new age. The Absorbing Man feels the scepter should be his, and a mighty tug-of-war begins. All this has played out, as Odin knew it would; the two evildoers can’t let go of the scepter. Odin, his real power coming from within, hurls the pair, eternally bound to each other, to fly through endless space for an indefinite time. Thor returns to Earth with Harris Hobbs, whose memory even now fades; he questions if Thor even took him to Asgard. The witch doctor meanwhile, has adopted the name the Demon from some of the villagers he has sworn to his side, as he builds his army to conquer the world.

In the Tales Of Asgard, the approach of Ragnarok, the end of the world, seems imminent, as Odin watches dark writhing clouds from atop the highest mountain in Asgard. The crew of the Odinship, led by Thor, enters “The Jaws Of the Dragon”. As it’s rock head rises from the stormy sea, it is the efforts of Balder the Brave that save them, when he blows so hard on his mighty horn that the dragon is shattered into countless pieces.

JB: Nicely interwoven story here, hard to believe that the Absorbing Man has been with us for four issues. We get a clear picture of Odin’s real power source—himself, as he must finally see Loki for the villain he really is.

PE: Yep, a satisfying conclusion to The Absorbing Man storyline. Without peeking, I wonder just how long Stan can keep Loki exiled in space. It only took him a few issues to find Doctor Doom a way back. My money's on a short flight. One thing's for sure: Odin has got to have his eyes wide open by this time. Calling his son "god of evil" is just not said around the dinner table of a functioning family. The new sub-plot involving the witch-doctor turned Demon looks interesting. This strip is still flying just above-average for me. 

JB: The Demon is an interesting character visually; mainly he ties us over as we approach the longest continued storyline that Lee/Kirby would do in the Thor run.  Speaking of visuals, the cover is a sort of symbolic one. I love the panel of Thor and Harris Hobbs when they first arrive on Bifrost. I wonder just how far the distance to Asgard is from there, as Thor tells the reporter to walk with “slow and measured tread.” 

MB: Although Stan leaves a few newer plot threads dangling with that cockamamie Norn-stone-enhanced witch doctor (aka The Demon), he ties up many more with Loki’s rebellion and Hobbs’s attempt to blackmail Thor.  It’s fitting that Loki and his creation, the Absorbing Man, are banished together—although not permanently, I’m sure—as we learn the not-so-shocking news that Odin is far mightier than both of them.  And Thor is lucky that he got only a mild reprimand for bringing Hobbs to Asgard; even after helping to save his dad’s bacon, I could see Thor getting one of those “Begone, churl!  Thou dost presume too much!” speeches.

JB: If nothing else, the Tales Of Asgard segments flesh out the great supporting characters surrounding Thor, this time highlighting Balder (the one significant missing Asgardian in the Thor movie).

Fantastic Four 45

Our Story

As the building beneath them shatters (from the mighty foot stomp of Gorgon last issue), Johnny, Ben and Reed use their powers to save themselves from the fall. Johnny takes flight to find out where Dragon Man has gone when he took flight with Sue moments before. He catches them quickly enough, and creates a blinding light to temporarily blind Dragon Man, grounding him.  Reed rushes to get his airjet-cycle ready to go in pursuit, but Sue, Johnny and Dragon Man return peacefully. Sue’s convinced the laboratory created creature that they mean him no harm. Leaving the others to figure out what to do next, Torch decides to take a walk when he calls Dorrie Evans to find she has another date. He wanders into a run-down neighborhood, and finds a vision to burn any thoughts of Dorrie out of his head: a lovely young girl with orange hair. She panics when he sees her, and a momentary storm appears, apparently created by her, and she disappears. The next day, Johnny isn’t much help to the team as they clean up shop at the Baxter Building, so he cuts out for a walk to guess where-- the sight of the beautiful sight from yesterday. Sure enough, he finds the girl again. She flees, but when she sees Johnny flame on, she relaxes, introducing herself as Crystal, and calling him “one of us.” He plays along to find out more about her, and she leads him (along with her mysterious,  giant “dog” named Lockjaw, who appears out of nowhere) through a secret entrance into her world. She reveals that an absent leader named Blackbolt built their home for her kind. Johnny meets some of the others. First up is Karnak, able to find the weakest spot in any object and shatter it with a karate-style chop.  Another is Triton, a green-skinned partly cloaked figure who seems to control powers of water. Next to appear are none other than Madame Medusa and Gorgon. As the Torch tries to piece together the mystery of this race he later coins “Inhumans”, Triton tries to capture him with fireproof walls that spring up out of nowhere, forming a cage that fills with water. The ceiling isn’t fireproof though, and Johnny burns his way to the surface to form the emergency “4” flare in the sky. Despite the delay of a scuffle between Dragon Man (solved by a tranquilizer shot) and the Thing, Reed’s latest gizmo, the airjet-cycle is ready to go, and they head to the scene of Johnny’s signal. As the Torch leads them to the scene of the entrance, a wall of rubble, courtesy of Karnak and Gorgon, tumbles down on them. Ben shatters it in time, as a heretofore-unseen Inhuman appears, smashing through a wall: Blackbolt!

JB: Despite the conceptual similarity between the Inhumans and the X-Men, these new characters, not really villains, can hold their own identities as worthy opponents.  I always preferred these guys. It’s a nice entrance for Crystal, Johnny’s soon-to-be girlfriend of long standing. Dragon Man and the brief appearance of Sandman and the Trapster in jail, keep this issue a busy one.

PE: That Reed Richards is just as sweet talkin' a husband as he was a boyfriend. When Sue cautions him about getting too close to the battling Thing and Dragon-Man, he puts her in her place yet again: "Stop sounding like a wife and find me that gun, lady!" Lots of big-time intros this issue. The landmarks will start to come fast and furious, I suspect. Johnny is on the skids with his long-time girlfriend Dorrie just in time to meet up with Crystal , who will fall into the gf slot for several years to come. We also get our first looks at the other Inhumans (we've already met Gorgon and Medusa): Black Bolt, Karnak, Triton, and their mascot, Lockjaw. Reed unveils his Airjet-Cycle. Take a breath as it's going to get very busy around here for the next five to ten issues.

JS: It's been quite a long time since I read this issue, but I had forgotten we only get the tease of Black Bolt this issue. Fortunately, good times are on the horizon!

JB: Is there no end to Reed’s inventions? What a blast to ride in that airjet-cycle! It makes a great full pager, but it’s the cover that is the masterpiece of this issue; a mix of beauty and  mystery.

MB: The slow reveal of the Inhumans continues, appropriately beginning as the Torch meets—and is immediately taken with—his soon-to-be flame (ha ha), Crystal, through the introductions of Lockjaw, Karnak, and the hooded Triton to a glimpse of Black Bolt at the finish. Unfortunately, Sinnott’s inks notwithstanding, Gorgon still looks like a bizarre caricature of his future self, some sort of cross between Castro and a farm animal.  They’re taking their time with everybody’s favorite genetic offshoots, who will become such a significant cornerstone of the expanding Marvel Universe, although it’s a darned shame that neither of their ’70s solo series, in Amazing Adventures or their short-lived eponymous book, could make a go of it; what a waste.

PE: So, it's Johnny Storm who coins the phrase "Inhumans." That must have gone over well with his "inhuman" girlfriend, Crystal.

Daredevil 11

Our Story

Daredevil is caught eavesdropping on the villains at their headquarters by Bird Man. A brief fight ensues, ending with Daredevil’s seeming demise. The hero is okay, though, and he starts to put a plan in motion to find out the secret identity of the Organizer. He has it narrowed down to three prominent politicians in the Reform Party. As Matt Murdoch, he asks a skeptical Foggy for his help, and Foggy reluctantly complies, thinking that Matt is just jealous of him. In front of the three suspects at a gathering, Matt and Foggy bluff out loud that they have evidence in their office that reveals who the Organizer is. Sure enough, later that night, their law office is broken into. Daredevil uncovers a plot to kill the mayor when he overhears Deborah, Foggy’s old school crush and undercover villain, talking to the Organizer through one of his monitors. She agrees to work with Double D and the authorities since she didn’t want to go along with the murder plot and was marked for death by the Organizer. Deborah lures Frog Man into a trap and he is beaten by Daredevil. Daredevil switches costumes with him and goes on to meet the Organizer with Bird Man and Ape Man. Daredevil attacks them in his frog disguise, while secretly recording the rambling villain’s plans for city conquest. It’s broadcasted all over the television and radio waves so the police have the evidence. Daredevil retreats to recoup, donning his usual hero attire. Abner Jonas, the party candidate for Mayor, turns out to be the nefarious Organizer. He tries to set up another candidate with no luck. In the end, Daredevil defeats Ape Man and Bird Man, bringing the Organizer to justice. All is not rosy for our hero, as he leaves the law firm because of the poor business they have been having, rationalizing that Foggy by himself with Karen will be able to prosper more without him.

Now that's a Wally Wood panel!
Jack: First, the good news: Daredevil is now monthly! Now, the bad news: This is Wally Wood’s last issue. Even though he was only inking “Bobby” Powell’s pencils, the trademark Wood greatness made itself evident. Witness the va va voom shot of Debbie on page seven if you doubt Wood’s ability to impose his will on a penciller. As to the story, Stan’s wrap-up of Wood’s plot from last issue is standard fare, ending with a much too heaping helping of sappy romance. Next month, the Daredevil artist merry go round continues as John Romita takes over!

PE: If you were Wally Wood and you had to put up with Stan Lee's ego, you head for the door before too long as well. Stan explains in his intro the issue that he allowed Wally to script the first part "just for a lark... but now it's up to sly ol' Stan to put all the pieces together and make it come out okay in the end." Obviously, this guy could be a genius but he could be an ass as well.

Tom: I’m sure my fellow professors will probably disagree with me on this one, but this finale kind of sucked. Too much going on with secret villains, goofs dressed as animals, corrupt politicians, and the love triangle is getting depressing along with being boring. Last issue I kind of liked, but this conclusion started to drag. According to the bullpen, Stan the man took over writing duties. Could this have had something to do with it? The Organizer guy and his whole shtick grew tiresome, making me long for Mr. Fear to come back.

Gosh! Could that ring be a clue?
PE: This professor won't disagree, Professor Tom. This is one big stinky mess. First we get Matt Murdock, standing in a room with Foggy, thinking that two of the three candidates have "unusually fast" pulse rates. Then three panels later, as he and Happy Hogan Foggy Nelson are walking Karen Page back to the office, he thinks to himself, "Karen's heartbeat is unusually rapid. If only I could tell whether it's Foggy or me who is responsible." Why didn't he think the same of the three candidates? Maybe the politicians thought one of the partners was hot. And, while we're on the subject of super-sense, why is it that, with all his heightened senses, DD can't figure out who The Organizer is just by listening to his voice? Stan throws in a really lame explanation that Daredevil can somehow sense that the ring on the bad guy's finger is the same as the one on Jonas'. Heightened senses, my foot. And what kind of a dope is The Organizer if he can't tell someone else is in the Frog Man's suit? 

Jack: Apparently, in Marvel Comics New York City, “Agent of Shield” is a TV show!

PE: How long before Stan explains that Daredevil, with his heightened senses, can actually read the thought balloons in the room? That last page is awash in dopiness.

Tales to Astonish 74

The Sub-Mariner

Our Story

As Dorma is encased in a plastic cage, Sub-Mariner battles for their lives against the hordes of Faceless Ones. While individually no match for Prince Namor, they try to overwhelm him with their seemingly endless numbers. Krang has been having troubles of his own with the citizens’ uprising. He’s got it under control, though, when he unleashes his Robo-Tank! It’s basically a big underwater tank piloted by a little robot guy that shoots down the citizens with electric bolts. Krang boasts to himself that once they regain consciousness, the rabble rousers will no longer have the determination to overthrow his regime. The ancient old dude that Namor met a couple of issues ago is trying to find him. Using his telepathic mind, he tracks him down to the Faceless Ones’ lair. The story ends with Dorma being held in Subby’s arms, while he promises the Faceless mob that they may win, but it will cost them dearly as he prepares for final battle.

Tom: So far so good, as Subby’s series continues to swim toward excellence. First chink in the armor though may be Krang’s moronic looking Robo-Tank weapon. It looked like it was being piloted by a distant cousin of that robot that was in the old Fantastic Four cartoons. Krang is starting to grow on me as villain. Before, all I remember him for was getting his ass handed to him by Dr. Doom in a sword fight in Marvel SVTU. He’s kind of like an underwater Fu-Manchu.

MB: Not so very long after Namor was barking at Lady Dorma to “unhand” him, he puts her well-being above his quest for the trident that could help him regain his throne, although I somehow suspect that this will turn out to be the final test. These Faceless Ones don’t appear to be as interesting as the Mindless Ones over in Strange Tales, and yet surely we don’t want to leave Dorma at their mercy in her giant Ziploc® bag; as in Night of the Living Dead et alia, their greatest strength lies in their numbers. The citizens of Atlantis, fickle though they may be, prove they are not beyond redemption by risking their lives to rebel against Krang.

PE: That hometown rebellion was the highlight of the issue for me (well, other than the usual wonderful Colan artwork). I thought it was more subtly handled than the usual Stan Lee action scene. For reasons that will become apparent as you read through this month's comics, I love that Krang orders his Robo-Tank to "perform function 'G'. This month, Marvel Comics was brought to you by the letter 'G'.


Our Story

The Hulk has been sent to the Watcher’s dwelling by the Leader to claim the Ultimate Machine. However, another powerful alien brute has been sent by his home planet to obtain the same prize. The Hulk does battle with a big, red, amphibious monster that causes the Watcher to transport them to an abandoned planet to finish their extreme combat. Even though he is not permitted to interfere, the Watcher justifies his move by rationalizing that the two monsters could do too much damage to his scientific equipment, and put his own life in danger. The battle goes back and forth, on land and in the sea. Finally, the Hulk wins when he rips up the stone ground from underneath his opponent, and hurls him with all his might into the air. The Watcher has seen enough to declare ol’ Greenskin the winner, since the red beast would have been soaring in the air for days before landing. He transports the loser red monster back to his home planet and the Hulk gets to take the Ultimate machine back to Earth. Once he is back inside the Leader’s hangout, the Leader snatches the golden orb away from him and lets it form around his big head. At first the Leader is deliriously happy as he can feel the Ultimate Machine fill him with enough power to make all of mankind his slaves. His happiness is cut short as he soon begins to realize that something is wrong. He panics briefly, before seemingly dying as the Hulk looks on in bewilderment.

Bad art or bowel movement?
Jack: The pages used to reproduce this story for the Essentials volume must have been in bad shape, because the art looks terrible, even for the Grade Z team of Bob Powell and Mickey Demeo. Though it was supposedly “designed” by Jack Kirby, I’m hard pressed to see evidence of it. I found this story boring until the last page, where it suddenly gets interesting. The Leader is dead? Not so fast. 

Tom: Great Marvel fisticuffs action. This story seems to be the precursor to when the Hulk series started turning into a regular smackdown each issue, with Jade Jaws always going up against some villainous opponent who would try to knock his block off. The big, red, fish critter that got defeated in this story is sort of a lost classic villain of the Hulk. He would come back again every once in awhile to engage the Hulk in further tests of fighting, but he never received the popularity of other Hulk antagonists like the Abomination, Rhino, Leader, or Absorbing Man.

Don't you mean BARRROOOOOM!?

Jack: I would mention that this story reminds me of Fredric Brown’s “Arena” and the Outer Limits episode “Fun and Games,” but that would just get me in more trouble.

PE: Don't worry Jack, Schow doesn't read this blog.

Avengers 23

Our Story

Having quit the Avengers, Steve Rogers takes a job as a sparring partner for a champion boxer, though he races back to Avengers mansion as soon as he hears that the Avengers have disappeared. They have been kidnapped by Kang the Conqueror and brought to his future world, where he wants to display his prowess so that Princess Ravonna will agree to marry him. The Avengers fight hard and are soon joined by Captain America, whose challenge to Kang led to his also being brought to the future. The battle is not going well and, when Ravonna spurns Kang’s advances, he sets his army toward destroying her kingdom, with only the Avengers poised to stop him.

Jack: Kang was always one of my favorite Marvel villains, and his appearance, which had varied from story to story up to this point, is really beginning to take shape under the guiding artistic hands of Don Heck and John Romita. Romita’s inks really dominate Heck’s pencils (as did Wally Wood’s last issue), making this a feast for the eyes, at least for this long-time Romita fan. It also seems like Captain America is starting to look the way I remember him looking from the early 70s. Last of all, I want to praise Kirby’s terrific cover!

PE: Kang says his century fears him but that's a hollow triumph when coupled with the major defeats he's suffered at the hands of The Avengers. He then decides that taking them on now that they lack any super power whatsoever would be great fun. Talk about a hollow victory! And none of the remaining Avengers (Scarlet Witch, Hawkeye, Quicksilver) were even involved in the past quarrels, so how is that revenge? He is brilliant though, flying into town in a UFO that resembles the top of Avengers Mansion. The "Mighty" Avengers walk right into his trap, then look at each other quizzically and ask each other if there really was a 12th floor to Avengers Mansion. Heck's art gets completely lost in John Romita's inks. That's a good thing. The pleasure of "Jazzy" Johnny's presence will be felt only for only this issue, unfortunately, before we're subjected to the underwhelming duo of Heck and Ayers on art chores. As Ronnie Van Zant once elegantly put it: "Somebody show me the back door."

MB: Stan really puts the new Avengers to the test, pitting Cap’s Kooky Quartet Minus Cap against one of the Assemblers’ toughest foes, Kang. I’ve always found his relationship with Princess Ravonna interesting because, as her father points out, he really does love her, in his own weird way, and even she admits she might reciprocate if he weren’t such a, well, conqueror. We get an early Silver Age credit for legend-in-waiting John Romita, whose inking—like Wood’s—complements but does not overshadow Heck’s pencils (oddly, those training-camp scenes almost smacked, if you’ll pardon the pun, of Frank Robbins), while Stan’s obviously having a whale of a time writing Kang’s dialogue: “Silence! Your punishment will be swift and severe! Now go!”

PE: On the letters page, Stan admits that the "Marvel Pop Art Productions" logo that ran on the covers of all the Marvel Comics from August through November 1965 was a mistake. Ostensibly, it was used to try to draw in older fans looking for advanced reading fare.

Strange Tales 139

Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD

Our Story

Hydra’s “most potent hypnotic devices” are unable to wrest the secret of the Braino-saur from Fury’s subconscious, so their leader plans to wait and execute him after the world has surrendered.  Stark reveals the Braino-saur’s purpose—to disarm the betatron bomb in orbit—and supervises its blast-off, while Jones and Dugan spearhead a last-ditch effort to locate and rescue Fury.  Analyzing the guidance system of the captured Hydra-Ram reveals its point of origin, and the boys fire it up to look for Fury, who uses both his explosive shirt and an offer of assistance from the Hydra leader’s right-thinking daughter, Agent G, to escape his cell, so they shoot it out with human goons and battle the mechanical Hunter as S.H.I.E.L.D. arrives.

MB: After an enjoyably metafictional cover that depicts Dr. Strange reading Nick Fury’s adventures in Strange Tales, we’re mixing it up here at S.H.I.E.L.D. today:  the cartoony Severin style has given way to Joltin’ Joe Sinnott’s finished art over Kirby’s pencils, while Hydra’s head honcho is referred to variously as Imperial Hydra and by his better-known name, Supreme.  Somehow, that suits the ups and downs of this uneven strip, which seems to have overcome its sophomore slump with a combination of breakneck action, incredible gadgets, and trademark Furyisms (“We ain’t even got time to bake a cake!”).  We learn all about food “reduced by energy compression,” and Howlers fans will be glad to see the climactic attack accompanied by a lusty “Wah-hoooo!”

JS: At least Hydra has their priorities right—the food service for their prisoners is top notch. Thanks Stan for the explanation how a pile of sand turned into a steak. If he hadn't explained how a pile of dust turned into a cooked slice of meat and then a sandwich, well, I might have been taken out of the story.

PE: Ironically, the problem I had with this issue is the art. I know. I know. Just two issues ago I was complaining about Severin's art and here I am complaining about a replacement. Sinnott's art is way too cartoony for me. It's not bad (Ayers on SHIELD would be bad), don't get me wrong, it's just not right for this strip. But for the science fiction trappings, this could be an issue of Sgt. Fury (complete with five o'clock shadow). I thought it hilarious when Imperial Hydra discovers that his own daughter has released Fury and moans "Where have I failed as a father?" Stan promises next issue will see "the long-awaited end of Hydra" but I think he's pulling our collective leg.

Jack: After getting used to John Severin, we get Kirby and Sinnott, which is not a bad trade off. I would like to know more about energy compression and its uses in food service. What was with the Hydra agent in the last panel holding a red, white and blue shield that read “Priority A-1”? Or was it floating in front of him?

Doctor Strange

Our Story

It’s a tag-team throwdown between Dr. Strange and Mordo, with the Ancient One out of his coma and able to give a wee power boost along with advice to the good doctor. Mordo’s power is supplemented by that of Dormammu, as Clea watches helplessly by the Dreaded One’s side. Dr. Strange uses his wits to make the Baron look bad, but as the story ends it looks like Dormammu has had enough of sitting on the sidelines.

Jack: This was an unusually exciting episode, even though it is basically just Dr. Strange and Mordo casting spells at each other. When will we learn Clea’s name? Ditko’s pencils and inks are very strong, producing some of his best art.

MB: As with the concurrent issue of Spider-Man, this story’s plot is no longer attributed to Ditko; he and Stan are simply credited with “art” and “script,” as they will be next month, but after that, things start to get interesting. Regardless of its pedigree, this excellent episode ratchets up the tension even further and, like the cinematic serials that form its structural model, begins with an exact rerun of the prior chapter’s ending. We haven’t seen this much interplay between Strange and the (conscious) Ancient One for a long time, and although the arc has yet to reach its climax with next issue’s Doc/Dormammu rematch, we can already see how the wisdom Eternity spoke of enables Strange to outfight Mordo in spite of his extra power.

JS: While I'm looking forward to the Dormammu showdown, I have to admit I'm a little disappointed that Mordo isn't living up to the arch-enemy I thought he would be when he was introduced.

Tales of Suspense 72

Iron Man

Our Story

The world has become Iron Man-crazy thanks to his defeat of The Titanium Man last issue. Well, most of the world loves Shellhead, that is. Not Countess, who still harbors a grudge against Tony for standing her up months before. To get even, she hires The Mad Thinker and his Android to find out Iron Man's real identity. To that end, The Thinker has his android kidnap Tony Stark to get to the truth. Stark isn't about to give up his moonlighting job however and a melee ensues. The Thinker once again is shown up for the fraud he really is when Iron Man blows up the villain's lair and his Android to boot.  All is not peaches and cream though as, once he returns to his factory, Tony Strak is told that Happy Hogan has taken a turn for the worse.

PE: Pepper Potts has her character expanded this issue. She becomes more of a complex girl: usually she can't figure out who she loves more, Pepper or Tony (the scales usually tip in favor of the hunk in trouble that issue). Now, however, she's discarded her hatred for Iron Man and transferred it to Tony Stark. She now, in the words of Stark, has "a new hero worship for Iron Man." This could get complicated if she ever finds out who I.M. really is. It'll be an ever-revolving love/hate relationship.

JS: The android is a kooky creature to be sure, but when he gets Iron Manned, it's just plain silly looking.

PE: Why are newsrooms "thruout the nation" clamoring for Iron Man's real identity? Do they pay this much attention to the aliases of Giant Man, Captain America or Spider-Man? Why, for that matter, does everyone in this comic suddenly have the desire to have I.M. unmasked? Is this some sort of evil plot of The Mandarin's?  No mention this issue of The Thinker's new look? He looks younger, more buff and that thing on his head's gotta be a rug. He's also got a bit more of the hepcat in his dialogue balloons (at one point, he tells Tony Stark that it's "deadly dangerous to defy the Thinker!") And here we go again. If The Mad Thinker is so smart and can figure anything out, why does he have to kidnap Tony Stark to find out Iron Man's true identity? Couldn't any villain perform that task? 

JS: He must have been the Super Villain who was on call that day.

PE: The new, classic exclamations are piling up around here. My landlord asked why my TV was so loud and I answered "What in the name of a thousand transistors are you talking about?"

Captain America 

Our Story

Captain America has just finished telling another bedtime story to Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Pietro. Melancholy from thoughts of fallen comrade Bucky Barnes, Cap retires for the evening, but can't seem to get the past out of his mind. In his dreams he sees The Red Skull, during their last battle of World War II, laying defeated amidst the rubble. When Cap approaches him, The Skull explains that his beloved Third Reich will live on through his three "sleepers" who will awake in 1965. Cap discovers the secret of the "sleepers" when the first awakes in Bavaria. Our Man of Stars and Stripes engages the giant robot in battle but soon realizes that the contraption has no interest in little battles as it stomps off to rendezvous with his two slumbering brothers.

PE: As I surmised last issue, Stan was becoming weary of the WWII Cap dramas and transports him back to the present day for his solo adventures. Well, sorta... The major cliffhanger last issue: would Pvt. Steve Rogers be courtmartialed for desertion is explained away offhandedly by Cap in a couple of word balloons. I didn't buy Stan's explanation that the higher-ups in the Army knew that Rogers and Cap were one in the same so he could never really be in trouble. If that were so, why would Steve be nervous about his desertion? And did the higher-ups know who Bucky was as well? Anyway, it turns out that the stories told in the last few issues were actually camp fire tales told by Cap to his Avengers partners (including a too-friendly and over-admiring Hawkeye). 

JS: What a disappointment! I was thinking we were in for a longer run of WWII tales.

PE: I thought the sequence where The Skull lies defeated and confesses to Cap that his dream ain't over just yet was very effective. Not knowing what the "Sleepers" were (I hadn't read this arc before), my mind wandered to The Boys From Brazil and its similar scenario. I do have a major continuity question though: after his Skull dream, Steve Rogers rises from bed and opens the metal box he took from the Red Skull before a cave-in prevented him from interrogating his nemesis further. Our hero comments that he's kept the box "all these years... waiting for this moment." Where did he keep that box? Did he have a locker somewhere that survived the twenty years he was in hibernation? What else was kept in that locker besides that cute pic of Bucky he keeps framed next to his bed.

JS: The idea of the sleepers is far better than the execution. THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! THOOM! indeed.

PE: I like the first part of this arc well enough. There's the mystery of the sleepers and the enormity of the first weapon when it's woken, the anticipation of an appearance by The Red Skull (you know it's going to happen eventually), and the ease in which Stan slides back and forth between the 1940s and 60s. I just can't stand this art. Tuska's Nazi burgomeister could have stepped out of a Mad parody and the Sleeper (which should be awe-inspiring) resembles a coffee pot with boots. We should be happy it doesn't have trunks, right? What Kirby could have done with this strip! Art aside though, I'm still looking forward to future installments.

The X-Men 15

Our Story

Iceman and The Beast are captured by The Sentinels and taken into their underground fortress. There The Beast is bombarded with a Mental Psycho-Probe and forced to relate how he became The Beast and an X-Man. His partners manage to release Iceman from a glass prison but, on the way to rescue Hank, are rendered immobile by The Sentinels. The head Sentinel, Master Mold, delivers an ultimatum to his creator, Bolivar Trask: create enough Sentinels to rule Earth or die.

PE: A good enough second chapter to this story line but The Sentinels still look like little play robots to me, no sense of danger at all. We get a few more high-falutin' gizmos: The weapons mounted inside the Sentinels' bunker are labeled "Nature Activator Rays" by Xavier. Later, Hank McCoy falls victim to the Mental Psycho-Probe. I always wonder if Stan ever did any homework with these contraptions or if he'd just throw two cool-sounding words together and fly by the seat of his pants.

Sentinels by Mattel?
JS: Once again, I'm able to appreciate the Sentinels knowing how they will be used in the years ahead. Sure, they're probably the most impractical means of dealing with Mutants (and not very effective at this stage in their development), but there's something about them that remains interesting. I'll be curious to see if the next generation of Sentinels will be described as being of the Master Mold size.

MB: Now monthly for the first time, as Daredevil will be starting with his next issue, our merry mutants take the battle inside Master Mold’s fortress in the second  segment of the original Sentinels trilogy.  I’ve now learned that penciler “Jay Gavin” was a pseudonym for Werner Roth; this time out, the King and Dick Ayers are the Moe and Curly to his Larry, and—to give a single example—the anguished shot of Trask in page 7, panel 4 looks like he wandered in from a totally different mag.  Just as we learned about Xavier’s hateful upbringing with Cain Marko while the Juggernaut battered at the gates, this battle is intercut with the biography of the bouncing Beast.

PE: And a lazy origin it is, Professor Matthew. There's nothing that smacks or originality to it. It's cut and pasted from other heroes. Exposed to radiation. Picked on as a kid. Misunderstood. Interchangeable with a half dozen other super guys.

JS: It did come across as a 'filler' origin story. But I was never a big Beast fan until he got the blue fur...

The Amazing Spider-Man 31

Our Story

Spider-Man busts up a robbery by the henchmen of The Master Planner (a villain who's crossed paths with the web-slinger under a different guise) but the bad guys still manage to cart off the expensive scientific equipment to their undersea lair. Meanwhile, Peter Parker has his first day at ESU, a whirlwind of activity that nearly succeeds in knocking the teen flat. That finally occurs when he gets home and his Aunt May collapses and must be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. Distraught, the teen spends his days sleepwalking through his classes and seeking out crime at night in order to pay bills with his photography. Parker is so muddle-headed at school that he doesn't notice the new students around him, including future girlfriend Gwen Stacy and future best friend Harry Osborn. Believing Peter to be egotistical (rather than sleepy) the fellow classmates chirp about his bad manners. When Spidey breaks up another robbery of equipment, The Master Planner vows it will be the last time Webhead meddles in a bad guy's business.

PE: Gosh, it's confusing keeping all the Master Planner verbiage straight this issue. Why, in one sequence, Plan "G" is carried out and Task Force "R" is sent to recover the spoils of said plan. It's no wonder these henchmen bumble as much as the superheroes. Can you just imagine all these teams on the battlefield. Captain America yells out "All right, Hawkeye, execute Plan "G" now!" and both sides execute their own Plan "G" at the same time? It could get ugly! What's even more confusing is that Professor X has Iceman execute a "Plan G" in this month's X-Men. I wonder if Marvel superheroes have some kind of protocol for this if they're working together on a case. "Now, look," says Professor X, "under no circumstances are we to execute Plan Z while we're helping out Iron Man. I've studied his paperwork and his Plan Z is the opposite of ours."

JS: Do you think Stan was being lazy, or was he cribbing the alphabet soup planning from some other source?

PE: I'm not sure how this story went over with 1965 readers -- too much talking heads, not enough action? -- but to this Marvel maniac, one who knows what happens years in the future to the newly introduced Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn, this is pure eye candy. In one issue we're introduced to the girl who finally won Peter Parker's heart (for the first time) and then took a tragic header off a bridge and the man who would become Peter's dearest friend, a junkie, a schizophrenic and, finally, the apple that didn't fall far from the tree. Ditko's version of Gwen hypes the bombshell aspect whereas, with time and other artists, we come to know her as a "nice girl." I remember being an eleven year old kid when "that event" happened in The Amazing Spider-Man #121 and actually shedding a few tears. Nothing that I'd read in a comic book had ever had such an effect on me and nothing has since. If pushed, I'd offer that run of #121 through #149 as my Golden Age of Spider-Man (yep, Spider-Clone included!). Now, what were we discussing?

MB: This is certainly a “major life changes” issue for Peter, featuring not only the oft-ailing Aunt May’s biggest health challenge to date, but also the start of his career at ESU and the debuts of Harry Osborn [insert Dragnet sting], Gwen Stacy, and Professor Warren. It bespeaks Stan’s maturing scripting, and Spidey’s impressive array of characters and subplots, that we’re quite happy to have the business with the Master Planner—whose identity I believe I remembered while reading this story—take a decided back seat.  For the girl who became Peter’s tragic love interest, Gwendy seems awfully shallow here, yet what’s really disorienting is to see her and Harry, so firmly associated with John Romita, rendered by Ditko, who is now no longer credited as plotter [Dragnet sting optional] and reverts to the panel-heavy format to cram it all in.

JS: Unfortunately knowing that Aunt May still has quite a few decades left in her makes her 'episodes' far less dramatic.

Aunt May is going to die. Take three.
PE: A fabulous issue, one of the best Spideys thus far. I'm not quite sure why The Master Planner wants his real identity hidden from the world he's about to conquer but I'll chalk it up to a good mystery. This is one of those issues that makes you want to skip ahead and read the next one right now!

JS: Despite her occasionally exhibiting the early warning signs of Ditko-head, Gwen Stacy is a unique looking babe in the Marvel Universe.  Now, how much longer before we get normal looking characters in Spider-Man?

1965 Year-End Review

At the end of 1964, Marvel was publishing seven monthly superhero comics, two bi-monthly superhero comics, a monthly war comic, three bi-monthly westerns, and four humor comics, two of which were monthly. From a distribution standpoint, things did not change very much in 1965. By the end of the year, the two bi-monthly superhero comics had just gone monthly (Daredevil and X-Men), and one of the bi-monthly humor comics was about to end its run (Patsy Walker).

More important to us, though, were the changes in the contents of the superhero books. New artists like Wally Wood and John Severin were changing what the comics looked like—no longer was Marvel a three-person company made up of Lee, Kirby and Ditko, with occasional contributions by other creators. This trend would pick up steam in 1966, as Stan Lee’s (alleged) attempt to write all of the comics singlehandedly would slow down.

As for the contents, new heroes and villains were introduced, many of whom would last a long time in the Marvel Universe: Ka-Zar, Medusa, the Absorbing Man, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, the Juggernaut, and Hercules were all either introduced or featured more prominently in this year’s issues. Reed Richards and Sue Storm tied the knot, and the Sleepers awoke.

And the MU professors are eternally grateful for two events that occurred in comics with an August 1965 cover date: Sub-Mariner replaced Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish, and Nick Fury replaced the Human Torch in Strange Tales. Those two series changes alone led to a significant improvement in the content of the monthly books (and a more than significant improvement in our mental health-Prof. P).

By the end of 1965, the Merry Marvel Marching Society was in full swing, Marvel merchandise was being sold in house ads, the Bullpen Bulletins were beginning to take shape, and the Marvel revolution was about to begin. In 1966, things would explode, as a TV series would bring Marvel characters into millions of homes.

Also this month

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #1
Millie the Model #133
Modeling with Millie #44
Patsy and Hedy #103
Patsy Walker #124 (final issue)
Rawhide Kid #49
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #25


Marvel Collectors' Item Classics was created for much the same reason as Marvel Tales: to make money off comics that had already been published. Not that that was a bad thing since the collectors' market at the time was microcosmic and finding those elusive first few issues of your favorite Marvel title was nigh impossible. Back then, not many readers cared about 9.2 grading and mylar bags so reprints in a big jumbo package was the proverbial "present under the Christmas tree." The first issue reprints (in their entirety, says Stan "The Man"): Fantastic Four #2, The Ant-Man story from Tales to Astonish #36, Tales of Asgard from Journey Into Mystery #97, and The Amazing Spider-Man #3. The title would continue to reprint, chronologically, Fantastic Four and a variety of other strips (with a retitling of Marvel's Greatest Comics with its 23rd issue) until it was reduced in size with #34 when it focused exclusively on FF reprints. It lasted 96 issues.