Wednesday, March 28, 2012

May 1966: The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer!

Strange Tales 144

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

The Druid presides over a witches’ sabbath at which “mystic rites combined with modern, sinister science” are literally launched at Fury in the form of their flying Egg of Satan (no, I’m not making this up). The object of the exercise almost saves them the trouble, but shuts down the reactor in the wreckage of the atomic aircraft downed by another egg at the end of last issue, just in the—dare I say it—nick of time. Fury and Dugan are pursued from the crash site by the ominous ovoid, which remains operational despite the borer bomb that drills through its shell, yet the Druid, maneuvering the egg from his subterranean observatory, is doomed to disappointment as the boys “make an omelet,” per Dugan, with their grenade guns.

MB: The Kirby/Purcell/Esposito artistic troika remains unchanged from last issue, but in the Creative Credits Department, Kirby is listed as “Designer” this time around. Sadly also unchanged is the “we’re far too macho to show our true affection and respect for each other” antagonistic dialogue between Fury and Dugan which, while presumably SOP in the Howlers' strip, wears a bit thin for this reader. The jury’s still out on current villain the Druid, about whom we know too little (e.g., the motivation for his hatred of Fury) as of yet, but more important, we make the acquaintance of newly minted Agent Jasper Sitwell (“S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy, class of ’66”), who will eventually mature into a much more interesting, multi-faceted character than the mere comic foil he is here.

PE: The hilarious thing is that Nick spends the whole story telling everyone in ear shot to shut up (even the quiet ones) and get to work but when Dum Dum tries the sarcasm angle on Sitwell, Nick says "Easy, Dum Dum! The kid's on our side, ain't he?" In other words, there will be no dressing down unless it's done by Colonel Fury. At times, this installment reads like it was meant for Not Brand Ecch (if Ecch had been dreamed up yet, that is), what with all the shouting and flying eggs of Satan. And that is a genuinely funny closing sequence. The Druid seems more like a villain designed for Doctor Strange rather than Nick Fury. He didn't have much of a shelf life, only appearing a handful of times over the ensuing 45 years. After this two-issue stint, he'll disappear until Captain America and The Falcon #187 (July 1975).

Jack: I have to admit that I thought this story would be a clunker when we got to the Egg of Satan on page two, but it turned out to be exciting and funny at the same time. There is enough Kirby in the layouts here to overcome the weak contributions by Howard Purcell, and I found Dum-Dum’s loyalty impressive. The introduction of new recruit Jasper Sitwell at the SHIELD barber shop in the last few pages almost reminded me of a Mad Magazine parody—I liked it!

Doctor Strange
Our Story

The Ancient One’s spirit form searches dimensions for the banished girl, but to no avail. Dormammu sends Asti, a floating, talking mask, to prepare a trap for Dr. Strange, who flies off to the outer edge of infinity to investigate a powerful spell that must have been cast by Dormammu. The Dreaded One has warned Tazza, ruler of the kingdom where Dr. Strange is headed, that the Master of the Mystic Arts comes to destroy him. Dr. Strange arrives in the weird dimension and battles many spells, eventually confronting Tazza and defeating him. With no sign of the girl, Dr. Strange heads home.

Jack: Asti, the All-Seeing looks more like Asti, the time-saver for Steve Ditko! This is a pretty good story, though, and Ditko’s work has grown noticeably more polished over the course of this series.

MB: Rascally Roy’s maiden two-issue stint scripting Dr. Strange ends here, but it’s clear that he’s already mastered the character’s personality and speech patterns; presumably, working with co-creator/artist/plotter Ditko didn’t hurt. This story is reminiscent of those little change-of-pace sideshows that used to take Doc off the beaten path (and into another dimension) during his quest for Eternity, a one-and-done that basically ends in a stalemate. Not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing—after all, dramatically, we don’t want Strange going directly against Dormammu or even Baron Mordo every issue, although it’s nice to see the Big D pulling the strings, and I think we get more of his little eye in the sky, Asti the All-Seeing, in the future.

Tales of Suspense 77  

Iron Man
Our Story

Trapped in the castle of The Mandarin, Tony Stark listens to the evil villain's fantastic tale of building a giant android he's named Ultimo! To keep the monster hidden from sight, The Mandarin has hidden it in a nearby volcano, but the creature is building power so quickly it threatens even its own master. Our hero's attache case lies at the bottom of the moat surrounding the castle and an exit is getting harder to find. Luckily, The Mandarin grows tired of toying with Tony Stark and gives him a full Power Blast to the chest, conveniently knocking the billionaire through the doors to the moat. As Stark is searching for his armor case, Ultimo has left his domicile and begins his destructive path towards The Mandarin's castle. Can even Iron Man put an end to a 100-foot android with atomizing laser beam eyes?

PE: Though not much really happens in this middle chapter, I found myself glued to the panels in anticipation of the big guy's arrival. Could it have been the crisp dialogue that always ended with something along the lines of " . . . nothing can stop the power of ULTIMO!"? I loved how Gene Colan played with the panel shapes and sizes. Just compare them to the by-the-numbers layout of the co-feature this issue. I always thought it was Steranko who began fiddling with the conventions of a Marvel Comic, but here's evidence that other pioneers were in the building at the time.

MB: Ultimo is one of those literal heavies who is so powerful that he would be diminished by overexposure; of course, his being the creation and minion of Iron Man’s arch-enemy, the Mandarin, helps. I first encountered him in the oft-cited
Avengers Special #1, which is still a year or so down the pike, but his introduction here is handled masterfully, with a big build-up enhanced by Colan’s off-kilter panel layouts and rife with, yes, suspense. Gene the Dean and Abel seem to be meshing a bit better by now, and it’s pretty ballsy of the creative team to devote fewer than two pages to Tony Stark’s armored alter ego, with our hero facing gigantic hurdles in both of his identities, from the depredations of the jingoistic Senator Byrd to Ultimo.

PE: The name Gort was already taken so Stan had to go with the flashier Ultimo, but I'm not fooled. Our robot here is just a larger version of the one that made the earth stand still back in 1951. And can I add how refreshing it is to make it through an entire issue without having to work out in my head if Stark's secretary is yo-yoing between her boss and the other guy (Happy? Foggy? Sneezy?) or an independent working woman just trying to get by on her brain cells alone? A very satisfying tale.

Captain America
Our Story

As the beautiful S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (from last issue) still burns in his mind, Steve Rogers thinks back to the only woman he ever loved, a freedom fighter he met and ultimately lost in World War II. Coincidentally, she's a dead ringer for his new muse.

PE: Nicely done WWII flashback story whose holes will no doubt be filled and small details elaborated on very soon. John Romita's just about nailed Cap by this time, making the character his own. Aside from a few nits I could pick . . . well, alright you asked. Was there really enough time back during the war for Cap's sweetheart to have a picture taken and framed for him? At least the pic wasn't signed like that dreadful Bucky portrait ("To Cap, all my love, Bucky") but I still wonder where he kept all this WWII stuff. Did he make one last trip to his locker before the fateful day he was blown off a rocket and took a 20-year nap or did he have the framed pics on him when he was thawed out? And seriously, Stan, how many times this year are you going to use the selective amnesia plot device? This time, it's our sweet sexy freedom fighter (whose name, we'll soon learn, is Peggy Carter) who loses the memories of her love for Cap due to a jarring mortar blast. Amnesia is the easy answer to being backed into a corner.

MB: Like Daredevil, this is another character I’m rejoining after an enforced hiatus of several issues, and another Giacoia-inked early Silver Age effort from Romita (over Kirby layouts). Having missed the entire Sleepers saga, I don’t know if Cap’s little amnesia-stricken partisan playmate is a carryover from previous stories or a new addition, but in light of the French setting, fromage is an apt term for the corny coincidence that finds her around the corner, unseen, as the guilt-ridden Cap grieves for her absence. Romita, who would return for a brief stint on Cap’s solo title in 1971, does his usual fine job, although at this stage of the game he seems to capture the essence of the shield-slinger better in frontal shots than he does in profile.

PE: Fromage is a splendid description of a lot of the dialogue here as well. "That lightning and thunder . . .  it's like the angry roar of the past... trying to capture me again" sighs Steve Rogers from his balcony. Most of the soap opera expletives are reserved for Peggy, whose breathy sigh must have reduced Cap's knees to melting plastic: "Will we never be able to lead normal lives? How can we speak of love... when the world is in flames... when I don't even know your name!" Sheesh!

Fantastic Four 50
Our Story

Convinced by Alicia Masters that the human race is not insignificant in the cosmic scheme of things, the Silver Surfer tries to convince Galactus to abandon his plans to drain our world of it’s energy, and all human life. But the master is unmoved by his herald’s plea, and the Surfer attacks, encasing Galactus in a cocoon of ethereal energy. It is of short advantage however; Galactus easily frees himself, and reluctantly takes up the battle. The Watcher remains unmoving atop the Baxter Building with the Fantastic Four, still mentally guiding Johnny Storm back through time and space to our world. The Torch is in a mild state of shock at the wonders beyond comprehension he has experienced, but he has brought with him the one weapon that can defeat Galactus: the Ultimate Nullifier, which can destroy a universe. The mighty planet-eater agrees to leave the Earth, surprised but not vengeful, and Reed gives him the Nullifier. As the Surfer will no longer serve him, Galactus strips him of his space-faring powers. He vanishes, warning humanity to take care how they light their spark of greatness, which will save or destroy them one day. The surfer takes flight to ponder his new destiny. What do the Fantastic Four, and we humans, do after having been an instant away from oblivion, but to carry on with our normal lives. Alicia arrives, thankful to the Surfer for his heroic act. Ben interprets her gratitude for something more, and wanders off in a pool of self-pity. Johnny is off to Metro College where he meets future roommate Wyatt Wingfoot, a Native American Indian from Tulsa. Other petty seeds are being sown: football star Whitney Mullins scoffs at Metro College coach Thorne that the team is nothing without him; another scheming, yet unnamed man plots on the sidelines… for the destruction of the Fantastic Four.

PE: Marvel's first numbered landmark issue has a fairly good wrap-up of the Galactus saga, though I'd prefer it was a "full-length thriller" if, for nothing else, to explain how Alicia got to the top of the roof by herself, why no one seemed concerned about her running around and, most important, why The Forgetful Four left the poor defenseless girl to fend for herself up there! I also feel the need to gripe about that title: "The Startling Saga of the Silver Surfer." It really wasn't about The Surfer. Oh sure, he was a part of it but that title almost begs an origin story. But then again...

MB: Okay, we’re fifty issues, or just over four years, into the inaugural title of the Marvel Universe, and I think any reasonable observer would have to admit at least the possibility that it has begun living up to its cover hype as “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!” Joltin’ Joe continues to make the art look as good as it ever has to date, and after this conclusion to the original Galactus trilogy, nothing else in Marvel’s current output (still virtually all written, or at least scripted, by Stan—think about it) can equal, let alone surpass, the magic that Lee and Kirby are creating. My only reservation is that, although I welcome continued stories, I still have trouble with those that end in the middle of an issue, which seems to disrupt their natural rhythm: “See the spectacular showdown with Galactus! Oh, and then Johnny goes to college.”

JB: To the point of these mid-issue plot wrap-ups, this one is quite abrupt. I don’t mind when upcoming events are mixed in with the main story, as long as the central events are the main focus. After the buildup with Galactus and the Surfer, it did seem to reach a conclusion too early. Still, anything after Galactus would seem mighty mundane, so it adds some realism to the characters. This remains, I’d say, on most Marvel fans Top Ten lists for best Golden Age sagas.

PE: I think my comments on the curtailed story lines put me squarely in your camp, Professor Matthew, but this issue's a bit different. I was set to be right pissed at Galactus catching an inter-dimensional train halfway through the issue but then Stan and Jack begin bombarding us with fascinating little subplots. What's up with the egotistical football quarterback and his washed-up coach? Why the heck is Johnny driving around in ex-girlfriend Dorrie's sports car? Doesn't he have zippy autos of his own? Does Dorrie know she's been dumped for an Inhuman who's not even around? Who's the Clark Kent lookalike named Wyatt Wingfoot and what impact will he have on Johnny Storm's new life? I was enthralled by these new loose ends and can't wait to get to #51. 

JS: Frankly, if all issues were as good as the first half of this one, I can live with a half-issue of filler. My favorite bit is when Galactus professes his admiration for the Surfer right before he sets out to kill him. I honestly didn't remember that, and it gave the big G a whole new dimension to appreciate. Of course I'm not  totally clear why, while in the possession of the ultimate nullifier, Reed didn't just use it to chase Galactus off. Are you really going to hand over the greatest weapon to the creature who was within moments of destroying life on Earth as we know it? If this Galactus character ever shows up again, I think 'ol Reed Richards may come to regret that decision...

PE: On the letters page, we witness greatness. Well, he was only 13 years old at the time but he'd grow up to write for such Marvel titles as Daredevil, Hulk, Iron Man, and most famously his stretch on The Amazing Spider-Man. Yep, the man who would someday kill Gwen Stacy and The Green Goblin, little Gerard Conway, once thought that FF #47 was "the greatest story printed in this century!"

JB: I saw that letter from Gerard Conway, and wondered if he was the famous Gerry Conway! In addition to the titles already mentioned he had a pretty long stint on Thor as well, taking over in issue #193, going all the way up to #238. I was disappointed when Kirby left the Thor art chores, but I felt that Stan was getting a bit tired, and I welcomed Gerry’s crazy cosmic style.

The Amazing Spider-Man 36
Our Story

Scientist Norman G. Fester only wants to prove that meteors have living organisms within them but he can't seem to catch a break. No college wants to fund his research and bank presidents laugh in his face so he begins his research at home (not the most ideal situation). Fester manages to crack open a meteor sample he's found and is exposed to its interior gases, which instantly grant him super strength and agility. The super-smart, super-strong Fester realizes that research money is now within his reach. He does what any Marvel super brain would do: buy a generic costume, dub himself The Looter and begin looting. Meanwhile, the hero of our strip is having college problems. Having spent too much time fighting bad guys, Peter Parker finds himself without any friends (or social skills, it seems) on campus. To drown his sorrows, Spider-Man takes to the air looking for the new menace about town but is unable to locate him. Coincidentally, they bump into each other the next day at a science display. Parker's there with his class and Fester's there to steal a meteorite to shore up his waning power. The Looter's plan is thwarted when Parker changes his clothes but the bad guy gets away. Knowing that The Looter was there for something special, Spider-Man stakes out the museum and his patience is rewarded when Fester makes a return appearance. This time Spider-Man is ready for him.

PE: I'm willing to give Stan and Steve some points for going with the more generic villain name "The Looter" rather than the more obvious "Meteor Man" but then, years later, Fester will adopt the more obvious choice when no one seems to pay attention to him. Well, anyone can be a Looter, but it takes a special someone to be a Meteor Man. Fester has no unique powers per se. He's just a strong guy who can jump high and use a "dazzle gun" to blind his enemies. The suit's a bit too generic as well. He's just another super-intelligent Marvel scientist who ultimately made a bad career choice.

MB: As we count down to Ditko’s departure, he and Stan have given us a solid if unspectacular issue that features a minor but not uninteresting villain, who will later and more aptly be known as the Meteor Man, and whose back story makes for diverting reading. If at times I grow impatient with Peter’s soap-opera social problems, that is mostly because he has, in such large measure, brought them upon himself, first by failing to provide a perfectly reasonable explanation (i.e., Aunt May’s life-threatening illness) for his earlier preoccupation, and now by his indefensible snubbing of Gwen’s friend Sally. But they admittedly also have the side-effect of making me long to see Peter and Romita’s gorgeous Gwen enjoying their temporary happiness.

PE: Gwen Stacy is unlike any other girl in the world. She thinks Peter Parker is stuffy and elitist and yet gives him chance after chance to prove her wrong. Poor Parker always seems to have an "I got to change into Spidey" moment just as Cupid is aiming his bow at the teenager. This nasty, acerbic Gwen Stacy in no way resembles the sweet, loving Gwen we'll see soon when she's free of Ditko's none-too-soft embrace. Her jab at Peter, that the thought of him as a football player is the "funniest thing I've heard all day," surprises even Flash Thompson in its pettiness. It doesn't help that Parker is surrounded by the most unattractive women in comics. Man, that Ditko could draw guys in long underwear but he was no Frazetta when it came to chicks. Gwen's friend Sally looks as though her eyes are sliding down her face in two consecutive panels.

Call me insensitive but these could
very well be the ugliest girls in comics!

JS: I tell you I just can't take the continued menace of the Ditko-head any more. Someone wake me when we've got a new artist.

PE: This is a decent read, with just enough balance between action and pathos, but I can't help thinking I'd sure like to get these one-shot issues out of the way and get to the Main Event three issues from now.

X-Men 20
Our Story

The X-Men robbing a bank! Or is it just imposters in off-the-rack X-jumpsuits? Turns out it's the latter, including The Blog and Unus working for Lucifer. Xavier takes the time to tell of a prior Tibetan encounter with Lucifer, as if he were a young James Bond. Until he gets a big rock dropped on his legs. Oops. Turns out the X-Men were formed (in part) to someday face Lucifer. And Dominus, but not until our next fateful issue!

JS: Am I alone thinking that Lucifer's costume looked a little too much like Magneto's? Let's be clear. Lucifer is NO Magneto.

 PE: I'm not certain I fully understand Lucifer's plan involving the smear of The X-Men's good name. What will it accomplish? To gain the mistrust of the public? That fear was already there. In keeping with "Leave the Loose Threads" Month at Marvel, Unus and The Blob disappear halfway through the story, ostensibly to return next issue, but if Lucifer's so almighty powerful, what does he need with a couple of third-tier bad guys? In any event, all the action serves as garnishing to the Professor X semi-origin story wherein we learn how Xavier lost the use of his legs. Nothing groundbreaking. The more interesting question is, since I don't like to peek, will I get to see yet another Kirby/Lee giant monster knock-off next month in the form of Dominus? This is Roy Thomas's first issue in a long stint on X-Men.

JS: What would compel someone, on their first outing writing the X-Men, to do a Xavier-centered story? Perhaps the Big X has his fans, but I think if you line up all the X-Men throughout history, I'm thinking he still falls below Dazzler.

PE: In the
Bullpen Bulletins, Stan relates the visit to the Marvel offices by director Federico Fellini. On the letters page, 17-year old future Doctor Strange artist Frank Brunner bemoans the poor printing in Marvel Comics and wishes the artist musical chair games would stop. I know a lot of Doc Strange fans would immediately point to Ditko as the premier Doc artist but I'd have to choose Brunner's work on the Strange strip as definitive. Brunner's art screams otherworldly and Lovecraftian.

The Avengers 28
Our Story

Henry Pym contacts the Avengers for help in rescuing the Wasp, who has been kidnapped by the Collector, a villain who wants to add the Avengers to his hoard. Pym reveals himself to be Giant-Man and, with a new costume provided by The Scarlet Witch, rechristens himself Goliath. The super team tracks down the Collector and battles both him and the Beetle, who is part of his collection. Just as the Avengers seem to have prevailed, the Collector and the Beetle disappear by means of a time machine. Goliath tries to shrink back to normal size but gets stuck at ten feet tall and passes out.

PE: How many more times do we have to be subjected to Hawkeye flying off the handle when Cap tells him to do something? How many times after that do we have to get the follow-up panel where Hawkeye questions himself about why he feels the urge to needle the Star-Spangled Avenger? Captain America's doubt about Henry Pym being Gi-ant Man makes no sense whatsoever. How would Pym know the Wasp had gone missing if he wasn't High Pockets? And if he was going to waste his time impersonating an Avenger, Cap should know he'd at least pick a real hero like Thor or Iron Man. Who in their right mind would want to be Gi-Ant Man? But my largest groan was registered when we find out that Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, has been sewing a new uniform for Gi-Ant Man, in her spare time, just in case he decided to come back to the group! Has she done the same for Thor, The Wasp, Iron Man and The Hulk?

Jack: It’s a good thing Captain America told Henry Pym that he was a “real Goliath”! Imagine if he had said “You’re a real dork”! Then we’d have Dork-Man on the Avengers. This reminds me of a scene with a certain dog in Steve Martin’s The Jerk.

With quite a bit of alarm, Henry Pym discovers
his new uniform has caused his right
shoulder to grow abnormally large! 

MB: I haven’t said a lot about covers, but this one always elevates my pulse: Goliath is one of my favorite iterations of one of my favorite characters, and I love that blue-and-yellow uniform towering so spectacularly over his fellow Assemblers. Also enjoyed the quintessentially Heckian (?) shot on the bottom of page 10, where that forced perspective makes Hank look even bigger, while his climactic dilemma of being stuck at ten feet tall opens up a new and interesting chapter in his career, in which his dismay over his freakish appearance recalls that of the Thing. And we learn that the Beetle is doing the bidding of the Collector, a villain who is fun almost by definition, because you never know what—or who—will materialize from his eclectic collection.

Jack: The Collector has some pretty cool stuff! A flying carpet from Persia, beans from Jack and the Beanstalk—he could have a reality show on cable TV! Note: Frankie Ray’s real name (Giacoia) is revealed in this issue’s credits.

PE: It's good to see that, despite a new moniker, Gi-ant, err, Goliath is still the Avenger who gets the worst lines. When he and Cap inadvertently step into a chamber where the walls begin to close around them, he exclaims that the Collector is "as dangerous as any foe we've ever faced." Seriously? The walls close in and he's as dangerous as the Hulk, Loki, Sub-Mariner, Kang, or even (let's scrape the bottom here) Count Nefaria? The most dangerous weapon he can muster is magic beans.

Jack: Apparently, Captain America got the message that the alphabet had been used up, because he calls for Maneuver Nine.

The Mighty Thor 128
Our Story

 Exhausted from having battled Seidring the Merciless, Thor sleeps to recover his strength. Odin pronounces the sentence for said traitor who had been one of his trusted council: banishment to rule the rock trolls on a distant world. Back in Stardust Studios on Earth, Hercules meets Hyppolita and Pluto, not realizing who they really are. He signs the Olympian contract binding him to rule the Netherworld, thinking it merely the plot of the film. Alas, too late! Pluto and the Amazon queen reveal themselves, to the dawning realization for Hercules, that this is no joke. The floor opens to reveal a stairway to the dreaded depths below, and two titan warriors appear to enforce the Olympian’s fate. In Asgard, Thor continues his recovery. A hunting adventure on a royal ice skimmer finds the Thunder God not quite up to the task of shooting an armored beast-fish, and Balder has to fight it off to make their escape. A little later though, Thor bests voluminous Volstagg in a jousting match, and Odin declares him fully recovered, his original power restored. Thor requests his father's permission to return to Earth, and restore his honour in a rematch with Hercules. Upon reaching his rival, Thor is stunned to see the son of Zeus battling endless numbers of warriors from the depths below—and leaps to aid his plight. Pluto and Hyppolita, in light of Hercules’ newfound aid, vanish, taking the case to the one who can enforce the Olympian contract without question: Zeus. When he learns of the contract, Thor departs; knowing Hercules has a far more serious fate to face.
In Tales Of Asgard, we hear the tale of what happens in the “Aftermath” of Ragnorak, when the Midgard Serpent and Surter the Fire Demon lead the forces of evil to the destruction of Asgard. Odin’s finest are speechless, pondering the future, until Odin points out it is Loki who will be the cause of it!

JB: I hadn’t been aware of Tales To Astonish #79 before; but it sounds like Herc’s battle with the Hulk is a little disappointing, similar to Thor’s in Journey Into Mystery #112. Still, it explains his absence last issue. When did his mace turn blue? And what’s Jane Foster up to this month; what do you mean, who cares?!

MB: Marvel’s interpretation of Hercules has never been the sharpest tool in the shed, but in this instance he seems particularly dull-witted as he falls for the scheme of the—let’s face it—not terribly well-disguised Pluto and Hyppolita, who are cleverly calling themselves “Pluto” and “Hyppolita.” Better to focus on the Asgardian side of things, where we spend some quality time with the loyal Balder, while Big Daddy Odin is finally starting to show his only (real) son some of the respect he has earned, and Thor puts honor ahead of his planned grudge match with Herc. The Special Marvel Edition reprints I’ve been reading of the past few issues don’t include “Tales of Asgard,” so it was a treat to see this famous installment, depicting Ragnarok and its aftermath.

JB: It is a memorable installment of Tales Of Asgard Matthew. We’ve managed to come from the birth of the gods to their death in a couple of years. It’s not often these guys are all speechless!

PE: I had a bed just like Thor's when I was about eight years old. How a "Thunder God" could not lose his street cred while lounging in a big dragon boat is beyond me. Nice in-joke when Herc's agent threatens to replace him in the film with Steve Reeves. The pacing this issue is a bit frenetic, a bit too much packed within its 16 pages, but it's still a very readable story and, now that I think about it, too much story in 16 pages beats no story in 10 (the Hulk, anyone?) any day. 

JB:I wish I’d had a bed like Thor’s, Peter; no nightmares could get you in that thing! It looks a little like Thor doing the Odinsleep. His recover gives us some examples of Asgardian recreation. I’m not sure if the rock trolls that Seidring is sent to rule are any relation to the trolls that appear in the upcoming issues #137-9? I don’t think so, as Seidring doesn’t seem to be around then.  

Tales to Astonish 79

Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Prince Namor is surrounded by military troops after he robbed a bank while under the control of the Puppet Master. Though wounded by gunfire, he is able to escape and jump into a river. Back in Atlantis, the monstrous Behemoth has been unleashed. The Behemoth starts to wreck the city. Lady Dorma finds Sub-Mariner and lets him know of the attack. Namor fills her in on how he was put under the Puppet Master’s control. Using his strong, mental, kinetic energy, Namor is able to break the Puppet Master’s spell. Krang has been monitoring the proceedings in his castle, admitting to himself that he is partially responsible for unleashing the Behemoth. Though he knows the monster is stronger than Namor, he also realizes that Namor could win by out-thinking the stupid beast. Krang goes to the Puppet Master’s hideout and orders him to create a puppet of the Behemoth so that he can control it. The story ends with the Sub-Mariner about to do battle with the Behemoth, which is now under Krang’s control.

Tom: This one has gotten interesting again. While I griped about the appearance and use of the Puppet-Master as the main villain last issue, it’s all starting to come together creatively. Next issue’s battle looks pretty exciting.

PE: The tomfoolery involving the Puppet Master is wrapped up unsatisfactorily two pages shy of the strip's climax. I'll have to admit here and now that I can't, for the life of me, remember why the Puppy Master wanted to control Subby in the first place. We're certainly not reminded in this installment. With the appearance of Behemoth here and Ultimo over in the Iron Man strip, a reader could almost believe he'd fallen into some kind of space/time vortex and arrived in 1961 where Kirby and Lee ruled the stands with Fin Fang Foom, Gorgilla, and Rommbu!

MB: Reunited with his beloved creation, Everett unsurprisingly surpasses Colletta’s variable efforts inking Colan on this strip (either staying out of the way of or bringing out the best in Gene’s pencils, I’m not sure which). The tale itself is a curious mélange; although his presence overshadows the entire proceedings, we don’t actually see too much of the Puppet Master, which considering his ridiculous ensemble is just as well, and I’m also a little dubious about this Behemoth critter. Collaboration of any sort between Krang and the P.M. seems highly unlikely, but I enjoyed the Army scenes and Namor’s destruction of his puppet by sheer will, and especially the brave, resourceful depiction of Dorma, who is a fitting mate for the Avenging Son.

PE: I'll give you that it's a different look having Everett over Colan but I'm not sure I'd agree that it's necessarily better. Gene's art seems to lose quite a bit of its noirishness sans Colletta. Don't get me wrong, though--Colan's genius still shines through. That Super-Villain Team-Up between Krang and Puppet Master that closes out the issue has to be the quickest hook-up ever recorded. Three panels between the light bulb going off over Krang's head and his confrontation with the nattily-dressed Weeble. 

Jack: This continues to be a standout series. It’s neat that Bill Everett returned to Sub-Mariner after so many years, if only to ink Colan’s pencils. I respect Everett’s place in comics history, but his inks do not enhance the pencils as much as inkers in prior issues. Still, the art is terrific, with two great splash pages, and the depiction of the Behemoth is wonderful. It seems a little far-fetched that Krang would seek out the Puppet Master for help, but I’m willing to go along with it since the storytelling and art are so good.


Our Story

Hulk makes quick work of Dr. Zaxon as Hercules travels cross-country by train toward Hollywood. The two meet by coincidence and engage in an epic battle. Hercules appears to be winning but, when the army starts to attack, the Hulk decides he is outnumbered and bounces off to a hiding place.

MB: It bespeaks Bill Everett’s versatility that although he provides the artwork or “delineation” for both strips in this month’s Astonish, the two halves look nothing like each other, befitting their respective Kirby layouts and Colan pencils. If Zaxon were any kind of a viable villain, I’d be miffed that he’s disposed of—permanently, yet—in two pages, but he isn’t, so I’m happy to proceed to the quasi-crossover with Thor, as Hercules heads for his appointment with the lord of the underworld in Hollywood (hmmm...). Sadly, the suspicions raised in me last issue about the Kirby/Everett match-up were well-founded, and to put it politely, the results don’t do justice to the momentous meeting between Hulk and Herc en route that they have attempted to portray.

Tom: You've got to give someone credit at Marvel for quickly deciding it would be better to knock off Z-list villain, Dr. Zaxon, rather than have his lame charade of power conquest drag out for a couple of issues. Farewell Doc, we hardly knew ya. A pretty good action story with the Hulk and Hercules being very evenly matched. Unlike other good guy versus good guy over a misunderstanding scenarios, neither of these two comes off as a prince. They are both basically a couple of hot headed jerks who just like to fight and blow off steam.

PE: It's almost as though, sometime during early 1966, Stan Lee started getting impatient with his own writing. How else to explain the recent rash of stories (in various Marvel titles) that are given one issue and three pages of the next to resolve? Was Stan becoming such a keen writer that he knew instinctively that he was on the wrong track and should get on to the next adventure? Since we're then only given 8 pages to digest a second story line involving Hercules, there's really not much more than a fragment here. It's a fun little romp though and I love how it fills in a bit of time between the events of Thor #127 and #128, almost like a deleted scene on a DVD. Hercules is shaping up to be a very entertaining fella.

Jack: Bill Everett’s Hulk still looks funky, and once again a cliffhanger is wrapped up too quickly, but Hercules is such a good character that this story is entertaining. I like the way these comics are starting to intertwine, with this issue finding Hercules on the train for Hollywood, putting it somewhere in between a couple of issues of Thor. The only problem here is that Hercules is so much more interesting than the Hulk; it makes me wish that this series were about the son of Zeus rather than the green monster!

Daredevil 16
Our Story

A mysterious villain, known only as the Masked Marauder, has come up with a brilliant strategy to not only help him steal valuable materials, but also eliminate two heroes in the process. The Masked Marauder orders his numerous henchmen to dress up as Daredevil. Then, his disguised cronies are to attack Spider-Man so that it causes a rift between the two crime fighters. They do as commanded and Spidey is not very happy with Daredevil, unaware of the whole scheme. The two fight it out on top of a building and it enraptures the whole city. With the cops busy securing the hero fight, the Marauder and company go to the General Motors building and steal the plans for a new secret engine, called the XB-390. Double D is able to secure Spider-Man before taking off. The next day, J. Jonah Jameson starts running stories in the Daily Bugle, making the heroes look bad for fighting each other while the crime was going on. Both heroes now wonder if the other was in league with the Marauder. While patrolling the streets, Spider-Man’s senses go wild and lead him to the law office of Foggy and Matt. Convinced that Foggy is Daredevil, he crashes into their office. The story ends on a cliffhanger as Spidey is about to pound on Foggy.

Tom: As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a real big fan of the whole super-hero throw-down-because-of-a-misunderstanding plot lines, something that the folks at Marvel had no problem producing with regular frequency over the years. At least the action was pretty decent, though. Spider-Man doesn’t come off as very bright in this issue. His Spider-Sense couldn’t have told him that he was being attacked by imposters?

PE: I'll go out on a limb and say that when Roy Thomas read this issue of Daredevil as a youth, he thought "I could make a monthly title out of simple misunderstandings" and in March 1972 he did, with the first issue of Marvel Team-Up. The premise is immensely dopey. There are, what, thirty phony DDs working for the Masked Marauder and they all have the same build? They'd have to have in order to fool a professional like Spider-Man. That goes for the billy clubs with the built-in lines. Where does the Marauder get his intel?

Jack: If we ignore the usual trite setup that pits two super-heroes against each other due to a misunderstanding that should have been apparent to both in a few moments, we can thoroughly enjoy John Romita’s tryout to replace Steve Ditko on the Spider-Man strip! 

PE: The World Motors Center, which houses the grand prize XB-390 the Marauder is seeking, will no doubt be taking applications for new security guards pretty soon. Two of them approach the back of the Marauder's truck and calmly ask him to move his vehicle as it's in a restricted zone. It's only after they realize he's costumed do they become alarmed. Never mind the 100 foot air hose leading from the van to the top of the building they're supposed to be guarding.

Jack: Interesting that Matt Murdock notices that Spider-Man’s exploits are so often photographed and concludes that the web-slinger must set up an automatic camera to take the pictures himself.

"Check this out! My feet never touch the ground!"

PE: I'm on page 11 right now (in real time) and for the second time, the Mediocre Marauder has used his Blindy Flashy Ray twice already. I'll bet ten mint copies of Dazzler #1 this guy tries to use it on DD by the end of this two-parter next issue. Wanna bet? In the meantime, someone needs to explain to me how DD manages the flying trick he executes on page 15 to wrap Spidey around a pole. No one without the power of flight (or, at least, levitation) is going to be able to pull this one off.

Jack: I’m sure Professor Peter noticed the Marauder’s use of Plan W—we are getting near the end of the alphabet, so Marvel characters will need to come up with new names for their plans!

 MB: Here’s a segue, reportedly not a coincidence: Romita starts penciling Daredevil; Spider-Man guest-stars in Daredevil; Romita starts penciling Spider-Man. There’s an enjoyable irony in the Masked Marauder temporarily blinding one of his faux Hornheads (not to mention a nice symmetry in DD meeting Spidey in #16 of each mag), but it’s offset by the dopiness of the real DD, who knows he’s being impersonated, yet doesn’t make the first words out of his mouth “It wasn’t me!” when he encounters Spidey. That said, if you’re gonna do the venerable heroes-get-tricked-into-squaring-off-and-then-team-up-against-the-true-foe routine, it’s unlikely to look any better than this, with that shot of the pinned Spidey on the bottom of page 15 a real standout.

Jack: Romita had his work cut out for him with the faux Daredevils—it’s not easy to make them look different when all you have to work with is a squiggle for a nose and a line for a mouth!

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw
Millie the Model
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos
Two-Gun Kid

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

April 1966: The Menace of Galactus!

Tales to Astonish 78

The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Namor confronts Dr. Henry Pym and the Wasp aboard a military station that has been drilling into the ocean floor. This has been causing Namor’s kingdom to suffer heavy earthquakes, along with possibly waking up an ancient beast. A nervous army trooper lets off a round from his rifle at the angry Namor. Dr. Pym tries to shove the trooper’s rifle so the shot misses, but unfortunately the stray bullet hits an oxygen tank that engulfs the station in a fiery blaze. While everyone tries to run around and prevent the fire from destroying them all, the Puppet Master has been monitoring them and is delighted that the Sub-Mariner has returned to the surface world. He quickly makes up one of his puppets in the form of Namor and uses it to control him and have him leave the station to come to his mansion. Hank Pym can tell something is not right with Namor, so he has the Wasp follow him. She ends up having her own adventure in The Avengers comic book. Since he is low on funds, the Puppet Master orders Subby to go rob the nearest bank. Much to the villain’s disappointment, though, Subby only steals bonds, and the Puppet Master needs cash. He sends Subby back to rob the same bank, where a huge group of military and law enforcement personnel are waiting. The Puppet Master orders Namor to avoid capture so the authorities will not know where his hideout is. The story ends with Namor being commanded to kill whomever he has to in order to escape.

Tom: This series is going downhill real fast. It’s bad enough that we have Hank and Jan hanging out with their usual lame, on again, off again, secret, non-secret identities and retirement, but now the Puppet Master is playing the main heavy villain? This guy is probably one of the most overused and ineffective bad guys that Marvel has produced in the whole 1960s decade. This issue felt like it was infected by a virus from the Human Torch’s Strange Tales-fiasco of a series. OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad . . . 

Unless Gene Colan has an amazing ability to mimic
Jack Kirby's style, I think this picture of the FF
is a cut and paste job!
Jack: Okay, let me get this straight. We just used up two issues of Tales to Astonish and two issues of The Avengers so that the Puppet Master could hypnotize Sub-Mariner and get him to rob a bank? That’s alright, though, because the Puppet Master has never looked so good as in Gene Colan’s hands, though I wonder what the little picture on the front of his new super villain suit could be. I am so enamored of Colan’s art on this strip that Sub-Mariner could do just about anything and I’d like it.

I'd make the "flammable" a priority.
PE: This issue illustrates perfectly why Stan scuttled the original classic line-up of The Avengers or at least the reason he gave for scuttling it. The Wasp flits back and forth between titles and seems to repeat herself and her actions. She's back on the boat with her boss/beau Henry Pym here, but we clearly saw her attacked by Attuma in The Avengers last month. The fortunate aspect about all this is that I tune out when I hear the words Janet Van Dyne anyway. The Puppet Master's funds may have been wiped out, which is why he needs Subby to rob banks for him, but at least he had enough dough to stop at the Super-Villain's Men's Wearhouse to get fitted for that natty Puppet Master vest and Chinos. A No-No prize to the first reader who can tell me what that design on his vest actually is. And keep it clean. This adventure continues the high quality we've seen in this title since Gene Colan took the reins despite the presence of a never-more-than-fourth-tier bad guy.

Jack: After careful study, I think the picture on his vest is . . . a puppet.

MB:  In a typical Marvel time-paradox, the return of Subby’s TTA predecessors, Hank and Jan, actually leads into last month’s Avengers.  I don’t know if I’m getting more tolerant or if Colletta is finally getting the hang of inking Colan’s pencils, but either way, Namor remains a commanding figure, of which Gentleman Gene’s layouts make good use. Also don’t know at what branch of the Super-Villain Boutique the Puppet Master picked up his current uniform, yet a less imposing set of duds can scarcely be imagined; interesting that even under his control, Namor—never known as a “deep” thinker—comes up with the sprinkler gag, which, to be blunt, displays more ingenuity than the bulk of the script or P.M.’s haphazard plan.

PE: We all know that Stan "The Man" Lee was a practitioner in the fine art of hyperbole, and in each month's Bullpen Bulletins you can witness first hand how Lee honed that art. His latest howler comes in an item about an article about comic books in The National Enquirer (back in an innocent time when you would brag about being in The Enquirer), where Stan claims that Fantastic Four sells "33,000,000 copies a year." There's absolutely no way that statement is true. The biggest selling title in 1965 was DC's Superman, which sold 823,829 copies per month (or close to 9.9 million per year). That year, Marvel only released sales figures for seven of their titles, but even if I were to triple the highest cited title's sales for the sake of argument (the best-selling cited was Journey Into Mystery, with an average monthly sale of 232,644 copies), that still only gets you 700,000 copies a month (really not impossible) or 8.4 million copies per year. It's more likely that Stan may have been "misquoted" and the 33 million figure actually should be attributed to total Marvel sales in 1965.

Our Story

The Hulk is back from his time-traveling adventure and is surlier than ever. Back at the military base, the drama is running high as people, especially Betty Ross, are having a hard time believing the fact that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are one and the same. Even though they believe he might be dead, the military, led by Major Talbot, is taking no chances and has set up a trap in case Jade Jaws returns. Sure enough, the Hulk leaps toward the base, but falls into a series of holes that have been dug up and camouflaged to capture him. Once inside the underground holes, powerful gas toxins are released upon the Hulk, rendering him weak and unable to escape. A new scientist named Dr. Zaxon has been brought in to replace Banner. The good Doctor has schemes of his own, though, involving a machine that he has built to siphon off the Hulk’s powers, giving Dr. Zaxon the ability to control weather, set off volcanoes, and conjure up scary apparitions to control mankind. At night, Dr. Zaxon puts on a metal suit and carries a gun that will kill the Hulk and take away his powers.

Tom: The Hulk series continues to prove that it was probably the most inconsistent title of its day. While it must have been hard to follow last issue's great Executioner versus Hulk smackdown, this issue felt like it took two steps back. I don’t ever seem to recall the Dr. Zaxon villain from before, and so far I’m not impressed. His outfit looks like he bought one of Tony Stark’s old test armor suits off of EBay.

Jack: Good Lord, what will the Hulk look like next? Bill Everett is back and, while he draws nice humans, his Hulk looks like he should be starring in a toothpaste commercial! And what of Dr. Zaxon? He looks like he inherited Iron Man’s old suit of armor.

PE: If you asked me to name a "dream project" for Bill Everett to be handed, my first choice likely wouldn't be The Hulk, but then my likeliest choice is right now in the able hands of Gene Colan in this here same title. Everett has a beautiful style but it looks like he wasn't given any kind of tips by the powers-that-be at Marvel. His Hulk sometimes looks like a monkey. His Betty Ross sometimes looks as old as Betsy Ross (grey hair and all). But those are small complaints and dusted under the Spider-Man rug when you consider the dire straits this strip was in a few months ago, art-wise. Speaking of Web-Head (I was), I wonder if Everett was ever considered for that title (or Doctor Strange, for that matter) when Ditko took his walk a few months later. Story-wise, I'm kept at seat's edge by the fall-out from blabbermouth Rick Jones's confession ("Well, now that he's dead I guess I can tell you and you and you and you and you . . .") and his nonchalance when he realizes Banner's still alive but, thanks to Ricky, now a wanted man for more than just treason. Extra points for Dr. Zaxon's retro-Iron Man suit.

Still some of that 'ol magic left in the pen
MB: With only sporadic issues prior to #85, I’m at a disadvantage here, although I gather from the senior faculty that I haven’t missed much; we are also joined this time by Bill Everett—who created Greenskin’s aquatic co-star in ’39—but I’m not certain I’d call him and Jack a dream team. I’m so used to the Hulk’s civilian i.d. being common knowledge that its revelation by a Rick Jones who believes him dead seemed long overdue, however slow Banner’s would-be inamorata, Betty Ross, is to accept the truth about Bruce. Speaking of things overdue, those will also include the exit of our mercifully short-lived (in every sense) villain, the nebbishy and forgettable Dr. Konrad Zaxon, master of “organic energy” . . . whatever the hell that might be.

Tales of Suspense 76

Iron Man
Our Story

Just as it seems all hope is lost, Tony Stark's Enervation Intensifier works its magic and transforms The Freak back into Stark's lap boy Happy Hogan. The biggest worry now for the trillionaire playboy is the fact that Happy has guessed that Stark's alter ego is the red and gold Avenger. How will he keep Happy from taking that secret to the press? Fate shines its lovely light on Tony Stark, however, as a slight case of amnesia has struck Happy Hogan and he finds it hard to remember who he is, let alone who his boss really is. Just then, the door is broken down and Senator Byrd appears, subpoena in hand, demanding that Tony (now back in his civvies) accompany him to Washington on the double. On the way, however, fate shines that light on the patrol car carrying Byrd and Stark. Tony is whisked away to the Orient, where The Mandarin has yet another world-beating scheme up his long sleeve: he plans to awaken the menace known only as Ultimo!

"I'm your what?"
PE: The 12-page format really bites the boys on the bottom this issue. There is perhaps too much story (and too many coincidences) here for a regular-sized comic, let alone the truncated variety. Tony Stark's Enervation Intensifier (another one of those gizmos where Stan opened up the dictionary, closed his eyes, and pointed?) is one hell of a machine. It not only transformed Happy Hogan from a huge, powerful Goliath back into a paunchy, manic-depressive errand boy, it gave him back his full head of hair! Never mind the weapons, Stark Industries could make billions off follicly-challenged males like me. I experienced another one of those uneasy moments where I questioned whether Pepper Potts is really a genius or not. It's the panel where she wonders aloud where the strange guy dressed in the white sheet went to while standing right next to Happy, dressed in a white sheet.

Jack: Do you have Tony Stark's phone number? The other day, my daughter very seriously suggested I try Rogaine.

Complete with boxers?
PE: The mysterious Ultimo gets the star treatment this issue without even showing up. I suspect that's due, once again, to the brevity of the strip. In quick succession we get the Freak-to-Happy change, the Senator Byrd threat (who breaks in just as Tony has finished changing), the disappearing Tony trick, the return of the Mandarin, and one lone panel of the backside of Ultimo rising from a volcano like some old Kirby/Lee monster. And let's all give a great big hand to the granddaddy of all dei ex machina, the selective amnesia. At some point in the next forty years, I believe every single character in the MU will suffer from it (some more than once). The story's still so intriguing, I'm interested enough not to skip the next installment!

Jack: Way to show off with the Latin plural, Prof. Peter!

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America finds himself in an uneasy alliance with the French fifth-tier villain named Batroc, the Leaper. Cap and The Leaper are trying to capture the unnamed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who's carrying a damaged cylinder of Inferno 42, an explosive cocktail so volatile it can destroy the city. The duo finally catches up with the agent just as she's collapsing from radiation sickness. The truce comes to an end at this point when Batroc bests the star-spangled Avenger and makes off with the Inferno 42, delivering it to his shady bosses. Cap turns up at the hideout, revealing that he'd been playing possum to get to the higher-ups. A fight ensues between Batroc and Cap and the mysterious characters disappear, ostensibly with the Inferno 42. Knowing that he's been cheated of his pay, Batroc opts out of his fight with Cap, telling our hero he's getting out of the city before it goes KABOOOM! Luckily, we learn, the packages had been switched yet again and the Inferno 42 is safe in the hands of S.H.I.E.L.D., but the ruse has taken its toll on their female agent, who seems achingly familiar to Captain America.

PE: We didn't know it yet but we'd gotten our first dose of future Steve Rogers squeeze, Sharon Carter, aka Agent 13. It will be interesting to see how they reverse the effects the Inferno 42 has had on Sharon since our last word on the blond is that she's one dead cutie pie. But, as Bruce Banner (or one of those really smart guys) once said, "What don't kill Hulk make Hulk strong in the Marvel Universe!" The twist has added an interesting wrinkle to the strip, which had been getting musty and boring. As I recall, things get even more twistier when we find out exactly why Sharon Carter looks just like the girl Steve Rogers fell in love with back in World War II.

Jack: I always dug Batroc. I can't explain why.

Strange Tales 143

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Shielded from the ESP division by scramble helmets, Mentallo and the Fixer (hereinafter MentaFix) remove Fury’s mind-control headgear after clamping him to a miniature H-bomb. Ignoring the strain on his heart, Tony Stark assumes command, while Fury mentally signals two snipers to fire a napalm-like substance that forces Mentafix to remove their helmets. Already shaky, the solidarity between them crumbles completely under the ESP attack, so with MentaFix—particularly the hypersensitive Mentallo, whose powers are wiped out by the assault—thus distracted, Stark is able to use his Neutralizer to disintegrate the bomb, and Dugan, et al. rescue Fury, who is revealed to have been equipped with a miniaturized mental transmitter.

MB: As with several recent Avengers two-parters, the set-up is better than the pay-off, and this rushed wrap-up confirms that MentaFix’s attack on S.H.I.E.L.D. deserved at least one more installment; e.g., if they wanted to hook Nick up to the bomb, why not just bop him over the head, instead of squandering all the possibilities of a brainwashed Fury? The unevenness of the art is presumably due to Kirby penciling it “with an assist by Howard Purcell,” while Dugan—his hair miscolored white in one panel of my reprint from NFAOS #18—is a dead ringer for Thunderbolt Ross. The WTF Dialogue Award goes to the two snipers (“Be sure your safety latch is switched off, pal!” “Mister, this gun doesn’t even have a safety!”), who are obviously wielding identical weapons.

Undeniably Kirby!
PE: Dugan's not the only one with hair issues. Our female volunteer extra-sensory perceptive seems to have gone out to the beauty parlor between issues, despite a national crisis, as last issue she was a blonde and now she's a redhead! The story's a bit rushed but still readable. The art's another story. There are heaping helpings of The King on display but far too much Purcell, especially in characters' faces, which look rushed. Purcell (1918-1981) was pretty much at the end of his career (though he would have sporadic work into the early 1970s) after working in the comics since 1940. He co-created "The Gay Ghost" for DC's Sensation Comics. Despite what the big brains at S.H.I.E.L.D. tell us, Mentallo will be back some day (though, unless I've missed an appearance somewhere, he won't be back until Daredevil #123 in July 1975).

Doesn't this remind you of a panel that
reminded you of Minority Report?

Jack: Howard Purcell got his start drawing comics in 1940, but his work in this issue is substandard. Seeing someone other than Kirby draw Nick Fury makes it obvious that Kirby was the creative force behind this strip. This episode is just plain dull. It really looks like Kirby ran out of time after page three, since the difference in art starting on age four is so pronounced. The Statement of Circulation in this issue is very interesting. As of Oct. 1, 1965, Strange Tales was printing 455,625 copies and selling 299,485. That’s an awful lot of copies to print and it’s amazing that over 150,000 did not get sold! Do we have any readers in the magazine business? What do you make of these figures?

Doctor Strange
Our Story

His face and hands encased in enchanted, metallic bonds, Dr. Strange must use his spirit form to try to save himself. He locates his cloak of levitation and manages to use it to capture one of Mordo’s disciples. His trickery is discovered by the female sorceress, however, and she traps him with a spell, insisting that he reveal to her the secret of his mystic amulet. Dr. Strange uses his mind to control the amulet and cloak in order to battle the sorceress and The Demon, a sorcerer. He defeats them, is freed, and reunites spirit form with physical form, vowing to aid the young woman who has been banished by Dormammu.

MB: Still plotted by Ditko, this was the first Dr. Strange script by newbie Roy Thomas, who would write the character on and off for 3½ years, including all of his first solo book. As in the previous installment, these are the kind of low-rent villains whom Doc would easily polish off under normal circumstances, if it were not for their exquisitely elaborate precautions, and it’s fun to see how systematically Strange has to offset the covering of his face and hands, and the theft of his spear and magic—uh, cloak and amulet. After the recent cosmic spectacle on display, such conventional settings as the Greenwich Village rooftop and brilliantly chosen (albeit ultimately unsuccessful) water tower make for a satisfying change of pace as well.

Jack: I don’t see much of a change from Stan Lee’s writing style, other than perhaps a bit less reliance on mystical phrases such as “By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth” every few panels. Ditko’s art seems particularly polished.

JS: Professor Jack is overlooking one big 'Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth' this issue, as Strange decides to hid his physical body in a water tower. One that he points out is below(!?) freezing. Was that the best his astral-self could do?

Fantastic Four 49
Our Story

Galactus has landed on Earth. His equipment has determined that Earth will indeed provide a source of energy for him. Unfortunately, when he’s done draining our planet, there won’t be any planet left for the rest of us. This is the realization that is sinking in for the Fantastic Four, as they witness Galactus berating the Watcher for trying to keep Earth hidden from his view. After Ben and Johnny’s best attempts do nothing but annoy Galactus, the Watcher bids them return to their rooms inside and wait for him. The Silver Surfer, meanwhile, having been struck last issue by the Thing, has landed on the rooftop of Alicia Masters, the blind sculptress who is Ben’s girlfriend. Stunned but not really hurt, he slips through the skylight into her apartment, and Alicia immediately senses his nobility, despite learning he is not from our world. Her sincerity and lack of fear awake in him concepts he had not felt before: an understanding of beauty and the emotion of pity. As Galactus assembles his world-draining equipment atop the Baxter Building, and cameras broadcast the drama around the world, the Watcher reveals a plan to the Fantastic Four. As he is forbidden to “actively” interfere in cosmic events, the Watcher sends Johnny (the one best suited for the journey) through a space/time distortion, mentally accompanying him, to the home world of Galactus, to retrieve a device that can defeat the world-eater. The rest of the team sets out to delay Galactus by wreaking general havoc; smashing the equipment he has set up and striking a few blows. He in turn sets loose on them a half-android, half-alive alien creature named the Punisher, a silent, dwarflike servant of his who is far more powerful than he first appears. The Watcher ponders a new development--Alicia’s urgent humanity has touched the Silver Surfer, who contemplates the unthinkable: defending the worthy human race against his master.

JB: If the cover last month asked us what the F.F. and everyone else were looking at, this time around we see, and we run away! The hopelessness of the situation for Reed and company is imparted very well. This is a good example of how the middle installment of a trilogy can be the most effective; we already know the danger, we don’t know how (or if we can) to get out of it yet, so the characters have to really face their fears and deal.
PE: This issue, like the last, is dynamite. It's so good I'll forego the usual sarcasm I'd muster for the fact that, of all the skylights in all of New York, The Silver Surfer just happens to fall onto Alicia Masters's. What are the odds of that? If he hadn't come across our favorite blind artist (well, aside from Stevie Wonder, that is), mankind would be doomed. Nope, I ain't mentioning it. (Thanks for not mentioning it. - Professor John.) I will say that Reed Richards, unshaven, is the spittin' image of Nick fury sans the eyepatch.

JS: Speaking of 5-o'clock-shadow-Richards, I have to side with Johnny Storm. Who in the hell, when threatened with a potential cataclysmic event, is going to be thinking first about personal hygiene? Wouldn't it have been easier to just have him clean-shaven throughout, if that was the concern (although I prefer the rugged looking Reed just to mix things up a bit).

MB: There are many who would nominate this trilogy—which I’m not sure I’ve read before—as one of Marvel’s greatest accomplishments, Silver Age or otherwise, and I doubt I could make a decent rebuttal, even if I were inclined to. Both the cover and the interior artwork are, if you’ll pardon the pun, stellar, and I practically get a woody when I read dialogue like that between Oatu and Galactus (“The Watcher stands beside them in this fateful hour!”). I liked the mundane touch of Reed shaving while Ben tries to wash off the “cosmic insect repellant,” and I give Johnny credit for not mooning over Crystal, although it does seem odd that Ben displays no concern for Alicia—who isn’t stuck under an impenetrable dome inside the Great Refuge—or at least a desire to have her by his side during what may be Earth’s final hours, but that’s quibbling.

JB: The exchanges between Alicia and the Surfer are very memorable, as he begins to develop the philosophical slant that becomes his trademark. So too are the scenes of Johnny traversing his impossible journey (un-life barriers!). I don’t know where the Watcher draws his line of non-interference though—lucky for us!

JS: I've mentioned in the past my perfect representation of The Thing. This issue has some of my favorite renditions of the Flame-on version of The Human Torch. 

PE: I didn't know that there was a Punisher before the Punisher. Blink and you'll miss him.

The X-Men 19
Our Story

The X-Men have recovered from their bout with The Sentinels and Magneto, only to run head first into Mimic, who absorbs the powers of those around him. Yes, kids, as the cover implies he gets The Beasts feet and agility, Angel's wings, Cyclop's optic blast (and cool shades - I guess they sell those red lenses at Wal-Mart), Iceman's... icing, and the brain power of Jean and Professor X. While you might think, "how can the X-Men beat all of their powers rolled into one," you'll be surprised that not only are they able to do so, they do so in a single issue!

PE: Ah! It feels just like the "old days" again! Several pages of The X-Kids working out in their danger room, bickering. Cyclops gets to say "Knock it off, guys, this is serious. No horse play!" at least five times in a five-panel sequence. Dr. X uses the immortal line: "This is the most dangerous adversary we've ever faced and likely will ever face!" for the 19th time in 19 issues. And we get another villain named for his power, in this case mimicry. In the whole Marvel Universe, there must be two villains (or heroes) who have the exact same power. I wonder if there's any kind of registry for a name as there is with blog sites. Is there a waiting period during which the villain has to be referred to by his given name or a generic name? Maybe Iron man gets a newsletter telling him that the six-week wait is over and, yes, he can refer to Sigmund Mandaroski as The Mandarin. In any event, I think The Mimic skipped that waiting window (for shame!) as he's already got his "M" logo tights and a really big "M" machine back at home.

JS: Never a big Mimic fan, although I did like how the gen X-ers were able to defeat him. That said,  Professor lets him walk away, explaining in an offhand remark that he basically erased his memory! Um, I'm sorry Prof, but there's a bit of an ethical issue there. Acts like that justify some of the anti-mutant sentiment that's out there... and growing...

The Mighty Thor 127
Our Story

Having been defeated by Hercules, the Mighty Thor faces his internal dilemma: of what use is a Thunder God if he has not the power to fulfill his destiny as a protector of mankind? While his shame is in reality unwarranted, for Thor it is real, and not even words of truest love from Jane Foster can reach him now. He flies off to ponder his destiny . . .  alone. Hercules, meanwhile, high from his recent victory, has agreed to star in a film about guess who? Himself! But the eccentric new producer at Stardust Studios, who calls himself Pluto, as he sets about redesigning the studio to his own grandiose taste, is not exactly what he seems. He is Pluto, as in Lord of the Netherworld, destined to rule that domain of evil for all eternity, unless he can find another to agree to rule in his place. The carrot of fame and fortune for Hercules is but a sham, a trick. A twofold trick; first the film “contract” is an Olympian contract which, if Hercules signs, he will have agreed to become master of the Netherworld in Pluto’s place; second, the brash warrior’s pretty co-star is actually the Queen of the Amazons, spurned by Hercules in the past, and whom he will now be forced to marry should said contract be signed. Our heroic Thor returns to Asgard, having decided to face Odin’s punishment (for revealing his true identity to Jane) no matter what the cost. He instead finds Heimdall, guardian of Bifrost, imprisoned in a block of ethereal force, and the other warriors of the deathly silent realm either trapped by energy bands or immobilized, urging him to turn back. Seidring, to whom Odin granted the Odin-power to strip Thor of half his strength, has turned on his master. Drunk with power, Seidring has struck the All-Father down, diffused the threat of Asgard’s finest (unless they swear allegiance to him), and declared his rule of the throne. Thor refuses to surrender. With only half his power, Thor faces energy bolts, planetoids-turned-missiles, and a vortex of liquid wolf bane. Realizing that, sooner or later, Seidring will be victorious, Thor blinds him momentarily with a lightning flash, long enough for him to reach the Odin Sword. Rather than face the rule of such an evil tyrant, Thor vows to draw the sword, which would mean the end of life for all—including Seidring. The villain hesitates, but he realizes that Thor doesn’t bluff, and in a cowardly panic, returns the Odin-power to its rightful owner, and then flees. Odin feels regret for his dealing so harshly with his son, and lifts the unconscious Thor in his arms. 

In Tales Of Asgard, “The Meaning Of Ragnarok” is revealed to the warriors of Odin by Volla the Prophetess. They have returned to Asgard at Odin’s bidding from their mission aboard the Odinship.

JB: One might say it would be hard to top last issue, featuring Thor’s epic battle with Hercules. So Stan and Jack don’t try to, they switch focus instead; I would humbly say that this issue is even better. Having been utterly defeated, Thor has to face the question of his purpose. It’s ironic that after having gone through so much to reveal his true identity to Jane Foster, even with her in his arms, it is soul-searching and responsibility that take precedence for him. Odin likewise feels deep remorse for hurting his son (I wish I could say he wouldn’t strip Thor of his power again, but alas, it ain’t so!)--it’s quite a grown-up issue.

MB: Even setting aside Thor’s “rash defiance of his will,” Odin seems to have a passel of Asgardians turning on him—first Loki’s open rebellion, with the Absorbing Man as his enforcer, and now Seidring the Merciless, to whom he unwisely turned over his power. Clearly, the Big O is not the greatest judge of character, but the upside of this is that it makes Thor look better in his fickle father’s eyes, and he proves himself worthy by using Dad’s own weapon, the Odin Sword, to up the ante to the limit, threatening to bring on Ragnarok and daring Seidring to call his bluff. In the meantime, the cross-pollination of the Norse and Greco-Roman pantheons continues as we watch and wait with interest while “Mr. Pluto” plots and plans against Hercules in Tinseltown…

JB: It’s been refreshing to have a break from Loki. The Thor title at this point really feels like it knows where it wants to go. What would Loki have done if Seidring became ruler of Asgard? He wasn’t even behind the scenes this time. Hercules gets his share of attention without even being in a single panel; his ego must be swelling! And Pluto (mainly called Hades in Greek mythology, sometimes “Plouton,” which the Romans changed to Pluto) is a great villain, destined for some great future tales.

PE: I continue to snicker verily at Odin's see-saw act. One issue, he's ready to throw lightning bolts at his eldest, the next he's wondering why the heck he got so mad at the kid in the first place. That aside, I'm enjoying the heck out of this strip which, with this issue, commences a wonky Tales of Suspense-ish format with two stories running concurrently within the same strip. I'm sure eventually those two plotlines will meet (perhaps as soon as next issue), but for now Thor knowest not what Herc is up to and vice versa. Refreshingly, the son of Odin doesn't stop amidst hammer hurl and wonder aloud about the son of Zeus. Perhaps due to a scheduling conflict, Hercules doesn't even appear in his own story this issue!

Daredevil 15 
Our Story

Daredevil is high on life as he is happy to be back in New York once again. Unfortunately, Foggy has been having health problems related to the powerful blow that was struck by the Ox a few issues back. Speaking of the Ox, the brutish villain has formed an alliance, while in prison, with a creepy little man named Dr. Karl Stragg. The Dr. and the Ox escape from prison after shooting it out with the guards. The Ox takes Dr. Stragg to Mr. Fear’s hidden laboratory under the pretense that the Dr. has promised to make the Ox intelligent using his knowledge of science. The dumb Ox is duped, however, after the Dr. performs an experiment that switches each of their minds into the other’s body. No longer needing the stupid Ox, the Dr. smacks him aside to go on a crime spree, now possessing the ultimate combination of brains and brawn. Daredevil has been on the lookout for the two since he heard about their escape in the news. It’s not hard for him to find the Ox, as he is on a mindless rampage tearing up the city, drunk with his new strength. The two fight it out with Double D coming out on the losing end. Karen also happens by during the skirmish and the Ox takes her as a hostage after she blurts out that she recognizes him. The new, smarter Ox also takes an extra pair of his standard clothes that he happens to be carrying and dresses the unconscious Daredevil in them. When the cops arrive, they believe that our hero has turned to crime and has been the Ox all along. Back at Mr. Fear’s old pad, the original Ox, in the weak scientist’s body, is still hanging around, unsure of where to go or what to do. Still not a coward, he strikes the Dr. Ox from behind with some heavy machinery so that both he and Karen can escape. The enraged Dr. Ox goes on a rampage once again. This causes the police to release Daredevil and it’s time for round two. After a fierce battle on top of a building, the Dr. Ox seemingly plummets to his death. The wimpy scientist Ox, now feeling smarter than before, walks off into the night, determined to make the most of his newfound intelligence and turn himself back in to the authorities.

PE: I assumed Foggy was not feeling well in our intro because of after effects from becoming The Freak last issue . . . oh, sorry, wrong useless supporting character in love with the hero's secretary. Seriously though, once again we find out that no word balloon goes wasted in the Marvel Universe. The Ox hasn't been seen for months (or issue #6), but the second Foggy feels a little beat "because of that blow--months ago--from The Ox," coincidentally (or ironically, as Stan sees it), up pops guess who. I was slightly disappointed that The Ox didn't ask Stagg to "tell him again about the rabbits and the farm they're gonna have some day." What's the deal with Ox anyway? I know he's stronger than most men but rip-a-car-in-two-strong? Isn't that reserved for Thunder Gods, aliens, and guys who get bit by radioactive spiders?

Tom: I think this story might have been written by the Ox, and not the smarter one either. While I’m a fan of the whole Igor and Frankenstein style of brain swapping, this one was just too out there for me. Also, it seems like every time we see the Ox, he gets stronger. He’s gone from a super tough mob enforcer into an Incredible Hulk powered monster. Daredevil was the really lucky one as the cops didn’t seem to feel like taking any initiative and maybe actually removing his mask to find out his real identity. Ah, where is Mr. Fear when you need him?

PE: Oh goodness, not the ol' brain exchange plot again. I've never heard it described as exchanging mentalities though. New angle, I guess, but I liked it better when it happened to Dudley Moore and Kirk Cameron. That was cool. This isn't.

Jack: This story is only slightly less crazy than the three-part Ka-Zar arc that just ended last issue. When will mad scientists learn that mind transfers don’t work out very well? I guess they didn’t show Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in prison.

PE: So, the dim-witted cops ("Look, it's The Ox dressed like Daredevil! Well, sure he's about two feet shorter than usual but it's gotta be him. He's got a yellow shirt and green Chinos!") take DareOx to jail but leave him masked!! I don't mean to be presumptuous but wouldn't it be so much easier to unmask him and check his face against the book of mug shots? Don't give me the hooey about rights. This is just d-u-m . . . dum. How far this strip has fallen since the first few issues.

MB: Because my collection is spotty on Daredevil’s earlier adventures, this is the first issue I’ve seen featuring Romita’s work, and any experience drawing guys swinging around New York on thin strands will obviously serve him in good stead in the future. Romita seems to share Hornhead’s exuberance on that splash page of DD cutting loose, but I have the same reservations over “Ray’s” inks here as with Abel’s in Suspense; the hero looks terrific, yet the faces of the Ox and Stragg leave something to be desired. Having forgotten the Fellowship of Fear wingding, I remember the Ox from his Enforcers gigs against Spider-Man, so this was a decided variation for everybody’s favorite bovine villain, who spends the next six years working out his identity crisis.

PE: For those still drying your eyes at the tear-jerking finale, let me assure you that this incarnation of The Ox is really dead. However, interesting things will happen with "The New Ox" (aka Dr. Stagg) but we won't spill the beans until we get to Daredevil #86 (April 1972).

The Avengers 27
Our Story

No sooner does Hawkeye recall the password to unlock the Avengers’ message recall machine but he is attacked by The Beetle, who has managed to get inside the Avengers’ stronghold. The archer makes quick work of his mysterious new foe. Meanwhile, under the sea, Captain America, Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch battle Attuma. Things are not going so well for our heroes until Hawkeye arrives with an Aero-Sub he borrowed from the Fantastic Four. He catches up with Quicksilver and they soon locate Attuma’s command center. Attuma and his minions are no match for the full Avengers team, as Captain America sabotages the flood inducer and they all escape and return to Avengers Mansion. An urgent message concerning the Wasp portends a new crisis in the next installment.

Jack: Hawkeye is such a dope! He needed the Subliminal-Recall-Inducer to remember that the password was 1313. Doesn’t he know that’s the address for The Munsters?

The MU faculty all have to admit that panels
such as this are more than welcome!
PE: Unlike DaredevilThe Avengers has yet to show me quality (well, outside of that landmark issue #4) so I can't be disappointed by the continuing mediocrity. Why would The Beetle be breaking into Avengers Mansion? I assume we'll find out next issue if he got what he came for but then that's a big assumption, I suppose. That's a very bizarre series of panels at the climax. Attuma's craft goes haywire, he screams "It's sabotage! Someone has tampered with the control! It can only mean--" Boom! goes the craft and Stan notes we'll never know "what it can only mean--" Then we find out, in the very next panel, that Cap mucked up the controls. I think I'd appreciated it more if it remained a mystery. At least for more than one panel, that is.

Jack: It seems like Stan the Man liked to come up with goofy cliffhangers that he resolved in record time in the following issue. The Recall-Inducer jogs Hawkeye’s memory in a “single split second.” 

MB: For some reason, I often seem to like the first halves of these two-parters better, although I have no major complaints about this conclusion, certainly not over the resurgence of Giacoia to make the best of Don Heck’s pencils in the post-Wood era. The interlude between the Beetle and Hawkeye was somewhat bizarre (don’t think I’d leave even a sedated super-villain in Avengers Mansion if I had no idea when I’d be back), but I guess we’re going to get some sort of explanation next issue . . . like he heard they were short of insect-themed personnel. That situation might be rectified once we learn what’s happened to the Wasp, of whom we see neither hide nor hairdo here; in the meantime, I’ll award brownie points to any story that features a monster squid.


Jack: This group of Avengers is so dull that I am actually looking forward to the return of the Wasp and Giant-Man!

PE: You make a good point, Professor Matthew. Either The Once-Mighty Avengers are scouting again or maybe the application that was sent to The Beetle, and every other arch-criminal in the MU those long months ago, was delayed by the U.S. Postal Service. As for the point made by Professor Jack in re: Giant-Man and The Wasp, you, sir, need a vacation.

The Amazing Spider-Man 35
Our Story

Being the model prisoner has its advantages for The Molten Man, who finds himself released by a lenient judge. Not one to rest, MM immediately rejoins the underbelly of society by attempting to rob a jewelry store while disguised as a rich businessman. The hold-up is scotched by the arrival of The Amazing Spider-Man but, after a surprise right from MM, Spidey is dazed and allows the hoodlum to escape. Through a wild grasping of straws, Peter Parker becomes convinced that the bad guy is actually The Molten Man disguised as a rich businessman and he begins following the parolee around the city.

PE: "Boy! He sure packed a punch like iron! Iron! Iron's a metal! And his punch felt like metal! It's a long shot--but it could be--The Molten Man! I'd bet on it!" Surely, this is the most outlandish train of thought ever portrayed in Marvel Comics? What would make Peter Parker even think of the Molten Man? Why couldn't it have been The Green Goblin disguised? Sandman? Any one of the twenty or so evil super bad guys he's fought to this point? These kind of silly moments stop all the action and story for me. Speaking of silly, The Marvel Universe Penitentiary continues to make a mockery of the judicial system. Suspended sentence for a villain who terrorized a city and turned all kinds of items molten? Doesn't seem right to me but that judge will learn his lesson some day, I'm sure. And I'm still trying to figure out exactly what The Molten Man regrets.

MB: As a child, on a pretty steady diet of Kane and Romita reprints and Andru originals, I was exposed to relatively little Ditko, but this story was included in one of the oversized treasury editions (wouldja believe there’s at least one whole website devoted to them?) in 1975, so I have a soft spot for it. As an adult, I found the Batman-esque sequence where they “let [letterer Artie Simek] go wild with sound effects for a page or two” silly and self-indulgent, and I’m clearly not the only one, since that reprint omitted an entire superfluous page! Overall, the now-craftier Molten Man’s speedy return seemed a little less satisfying than his debut seven months ago, yet it was nice seeing him dressed to the nines, and that simple shot of him with the cigarette always resonated strongly with me, like a still from some ’40s film noir; come to think of it, except for J.J. and his stogies, we’re seeing precious little smoking in the Marvel Universe.

Yet another groan is elicited from one of our professors.
PE: I love, as we go along, the new rules and powers that are introduced for these characters. For instance, this issue we find out that, since The Molten Man's skin is metallic, his hands are "sensitive to the sound of the other metals in the lock tumblers." In other words, he can pick any safe because he's Molten! That two pages of "sound effects," as Professor Matthew noted, is pretty lame. It wouldn't be so bad if the "sounds" actually sounded like something. "Puh-Twee" is the sound I'd associate with Molty spitting on Spidey rather than a left uppercut. I've never been a fan of the snappy repartee between antagonists. I know you have to put something in the word balloons but this issue features such strained one-liners as "Don't kid yourself, there's always Irving Forbush" and "Sure! And you probably have 23% fewer cavities! So what?" These and more literally elicited my groans.

JS: Does anyone else wonder why Molten Man wears an outfit the same metallic color as his skin? I wonder if that was the idea of a lazy colorist. I prefer the odd looking villains in street clothes - kinda like Molten Man when in disguise, but after he's removed his mask.

PE: No personal life to speak of this issue. Very bizarre. We get no JJJ, no Aunt May, only a hint of Betty Brant's fate. A "tweener" issue to be sure, a weak one amidst quite a few strong ones. It happens now and then. I'll be patient.

Also this month
Fantasy Masterpieces #2
Marvel Collector's Item Classics #2
Millie the Model #136
Modeling with Millie #46
Patsy and Hedy #106
Rawhide Kid #51
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #29


Our reprint titles this month feature some ups and downs from the early days of the Silver Age and the waning days of the Golden Age. Was this the first use of the phrase "Golden Age" or had the comic fanzines already declared "The Golden Age" over? Let me go off on a tangent for a moment if you don't mind.  Looking back on it now, it's easy (though eternally debatable) where the "Golden Age" of comics ended and the "Silver" began. Most comic connoisseurs agree the Silver Age, in general, began with the first appearance of the rebooted Flash in Showcase #4 (October 1956) but, since Marvel's "universe" and "Silver Age" didn't begin until November 1961, does that imply that the"Golden" and "Silver" are segmented? I'm just rambling now but it's fascinating that, though Tales of Suspense #12 (featuring Gor-Kill, The Living Demon!) appeared in November 1959, it's a "Golden Age" book. Do the other publishers that managed to survive the 1950s into the 60s have "G and S ages?" Archie? Charlton? If not, do we use Marvel's or DC's ages when we refer to certain issues from those publishers? Fascinating!

Anyway, we were talking about the contents of the two reprint titles this month. Fantasy Masterpieces doles out the first appearance of future superstar "Fin Fang Foom" (from Strange Tales #89) with art by Kirby and Ayers; Don Heck's  "Orogo! The Nightmare from Space" (Journey Into Mystery #57); and Steve Ditko's "Those Who Lurk Below" (from the aforementioned Tales of Suspense #12).

Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #2 features the reprinting of Fantastic Four #3, the Ant-Man portion of Tales to Astonish #37, and Amazing Spider-Man #4. Complete, Unabridged and Thrilling!

Jack: Thrilling, indeed! I remember as a young collector being very excited about these titles, since this was the only affordable way to read early stories.