Wednesday, June 27, 2012

June 1967: John Buscema Joins The Avengers!

The X-Men 33

Our Story

The Juggernaut, having just kicked X-butt in the last issue, breezes past the comic equivalent of two green army men on his way to join Factor Three.

Meanwhile, Xavier remains in a coma. Jean taps into his brainwaves to see a flashback showing how the monster Xorak was imprisoned in the crimson gem of Cyttorak by Doc Strange's old buddy the Ancient One (looking confusingly like Xavier himself). When they try to get T.A.O. on the horn, astral Doc Strange shows up to provide the necessary plot points before taking off.

Long story short—Jean and Scott venture into the crystal, where the Outcast (Xorak) tries to wrap them with Twizzlers (aka Scarlet Circles of Doom). I won't ruin the ridiculous manner in which they vanquish the Outcast, but with gem in hand, they're able to take care of Juggs, only to arrive back at X-headquarters to find that Professor X has been kidnapped!

PE: I love it when Cyclops is asked who his partner will be on the dangerous journey and he says "Eenie... meenie... miney... Jeanie!" fooling absolutely nobody and proving the guy will put romance before safety. He'll probably find plenty of excuses to keep Jean Grey's shapely rear end constantly in front of him.

Jack: What I liked about that sequence was how the other X-Men referred to themselves in the third person, as in "I hope you choose The Angel!" or "How about The Iceman!" Why not just say "pick me! pick me!" like on Let's Make a Deal? They already have the costumes.

JS: The least they could have done was referred to their real names.  "I hope you choose Warren!" or "How about Bobby!"

PE: Though I won't go so far as to say there's a marked improvement in this story over the mindless dreck we've been saddled with for time immemorial, I did like the mind-reading sequence with a cameo by both The Ancient One and Dr. Strange, but then I dig it when writers tie in previous events. That one page, however, doesn't salvage the rest of this incomprehensible mess. Just as bad, if not worse, is the continued decline in the art of Werner Roth. One sequence is supposed to show the effect that Juggernaut's fists have on the landscape when he pounds them on the ground. To me, it looks as though someone has quickly erected eight tepees. To be fair, Roth may have had some instruction from Stan or Roy to make The Outcast a dead ringer for The Abomination, so I won't lay the blame at his feet. I've re-read Jean's and Scott's battle with The Outcast and I'm still not sure exactly what happened. Maybe that's for the best? In the climax (which I also found indecipherable), Scott says "I was afraid this would happen" and I thought that was a perfect epitaph for this title.

JS: When I saw Strange-O show up, my hopes went up that we might get a unique and interesting team up, but alas, he was gone faster than The Ancient One can say, "What happened to my hat!"

Jack: I thought this issue was much better than last issue. We had no visit to the soda shoppe, no beat poetry, and no motorcycle gang. The use of the ticking watch to defeat the guy in the other dimension was kind of funny, though--I expected it to be called The Ticking Timex of Terror!

JS: Yes Jack. The trajectory is certainly up from last issue's antics, but let's not get too excited by the limited angle of incidence...

PE: And why should we be happy that the beat poetry is gone?

The Amazing Spider-Man 49
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Left for dead on a snowy rooftop, The Amazing Spider-Man must limp back home and jump into bed with a really bad cold. Aunt May arrives and demands a doctor see her poor little Peter. Meanwhile, The Vulture continues his crazed crime spree by pulling off a daring mid-air hijacking of a helicopter, Nearby, watching the theft is Kraven, The Hunter, who's a little jealous that The Vulture has stolen some of his spotlight as New York's Most Dangerous Criminal and sets out to pluck some feathers. The ensuing battle brings the attention of the media and, feeling much better, Peter suits up and heads out to join in the fun.

PE: A fun "nothing really happens" issue. Peter's private life is put on hold (May, Gwen, MJ, and the gang all make cameos) while Marvel tries out the pilot issue of Super-Villain Team-Up. Spider-Man himself takes a back seat in his own zine. Romita has really slid into that art seat. His Kraven runs circles around Ditko's. This guy looks like a mean dude. I liked that the two baddies never really team-up as Kraven seems to want no part of that. Boy, have things changed. It was only back in the wild, wooly days of 1967 that a surgeon would interrupt his heavy day of operations to make a house call on a kid with a head cold. Though Professor Matthew confesses to harboring no love for either baddy, I gotta say that it's only a matter of time before they end up on the silver screen, probably both in the same film.

MB:  It ain’t necessarily so that combining two villains I’m not crazy about will make me like a story more than one, but it certainly turned out to be true in this case, as Stan neatly wraps up the events of the last few issues in one fell swoop.  We are pleased,  if not overly surprised, to see Spidey survive his snowy fall, and some enjoyable comedy is provided by Peter having to feign further illness to conceal his spider-spawned powers of recuperation (even if both Harry [page 3, panel 6] and Aunt May [page 6, panel 4] seem to be suffering from a serious case of banana-chin).  The climactic battle was satisfyingly choreographed, providing an example of the time-honored principle that dual villains sometimes beat each other faster than the hero does.

The Avengers 41
Our Story

Hawkeye and Hercules get into a minor fight while working out at Avengers Mansion, but Hawkeye is just grumpy because he misses the Black Widow. She arrives in an unidentified Far Eastern country (Vietnam) and is shown the Psychotron; the Reds quickly realize she's a spy and test out their new device on her. Back in New York, Goliath receives the android Dragon Man in order to study it, but Diablo shows up and reactivates the big stone creature, which battles high pockets until the rest of the Avengers arrive. They are no match for Diablo and Dragon Man, and the story ends as Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye watch groggily as Dragon Man carries Diablo, Goliath and the Wasp away toward Diablo's hideout across the sea.

PE: Big laugh, for me, this issue was the Psychotron build-up and reveal. In a lot of Steven Spielberg's films, his characters turn corners, reach the top of a hill, or open a door to some amazing wonder that we can't see. When we do get to see the spectacle, it's usually a hum-drum sight. Our (COMMIE ALERT!) foreign bad guy takes Black Widow to see The Psychotron for the first time and they utter a collective gasp at the astonishing sight of a... giant Ker Plunk!

The PsyKer-Plunk
MB:  Let’s get this out of the way right up front:  as diligently as I defend Don Heck’s work on this strip (given a proper inker), I consider John Buscema the finest penciler Marvel ever had, so putting him on my long-term favorite book is automatically cause for celebration.  Yet it is not, as it were, instant gratification, for while Bell’s inks do offer some continuity from the last few issues, they only allow Big John’s highly recognizable style to shine through intermittently here (e.g, Pietro’s profile in page 3, panel 2).  The Widow’s plight seems to be pretty dire, with a magnificently hallucinogenic shot signaling her cliffhanger, and although I’ve always considered Diablo a lightweight, Dragon Man is anything but, so I await with pleasure his tackling Hercules.

PE: When Steve Ditko left The Amazing Spider-Man, his replacement (the vastly superior) John Romita remarked that he consciously aped Ditko's style for the first few issues. Is Big John Buscema a victim of the same malady here? If I didn't have the credits right in front of me, I'd swear this was another Heck job (and I stand beside Professor Matthew in his admiration of Buscema's work). Will Roy Thomas outgrow the need to show off his college diploma soon? I sure hope so as the dialogue at times can be mighty flowery ("For, whom the Gods would destroy -- they first make mad!"). I'm glad to see Hawkeye has a new verbal sparring partner in Hercules as I'd hate to see this title lapse into something novel -- a strip about a team that gets along.

Jack: I, too was disappointed by Buscema's work in this issue. As usual, when we see something we don't think lives up to the usual level of an artist's work, we blame the inker--or else, if something looks better than usual, we credit the inker. Maybe it just took Big John awhile to get into his groove. That is one fantastic cover, though!

Daredevil 29
Our Story

With the Masked Marauder dead and gone, his henchmen are having a hard time readjusting. Thankfully, he left a special note behind, in case of his demise, instructing his minions that Foggy and Karen know Daredevil’s true identity, and it would be in their best interest to kidnap them and to find out just who he is. Unfortunately for them, a traitor runs and snitches to the local mob head honcho, known as the Boss, about their whereabouts. The Boss and his crew basically beat up the Marauder gang and force them to join his outfit. Once he figures out their plans, they kidnap Karen but leave Foggy behind, tied up and gagged. Matt finds the pathetic Foggy and a note leads him to the Boss's hideout. In the end, Daredevil comes out on top after a very big brawl and saves Karen, learning at the end that he could never seriously be with her when she would be in so much danger from his enemies.

Tom: Daredevil’s downward spiral of mediocrity continues with another tale bogged down by a torturous unrequited love story. At the beginning, Matt is working himself up the courage to ask Karen to marry him, even though the Masked Marauder’s bookies would probably be laying down heavy odds that he never even made it to first base with her yet. The fact that he wonders whether or not to ask her as himself or as his fake alter-ego twin makes me wonder if Double D was starting to border on psychosis at this point.

PE: One of the perks of this job is re-discovering ancient classics and gems I hadn't read when I was a kid. And then there's reading The X-Men and Daredevil. Every issue, it seems, Stan lets out of the bag some new revelation about Matt Murdock. This issue we find out that not only does our sightless lawyer wear dark shades while he's working out (in his DD uniform) but he keeps said shades on under his mask! Matt Murdock wakes up one morning and decides he's running out of time and just has to propose to secretary Karen Page asap. Now, the only conundrum is: in which personality of his schizo life should he propose? As Matt, Mike, Daredevil, or possibly Foggy? Matt is smart enough to have graduated law school and yet sees no flaws in see-sawing between proposing to future lady of the night Karen Page as Matt or Mike. How long would it take, after the wedding, for Karen to realize that her new hubby, Mike Murdock, is wearing dark glasses to bed? It's all a moot point, of course, since we all knew that when marriage popped into his head, we'd get a conclusion where he decided the danger to Karen would be too great and she should marry Foggy instead. I know because I read it several months ago in Iron Man.

Jack: Isn't this all just an ongoing swipe of Superman's age-old reason for not marrying Lois Lane?

MB:  Once again, Genial Gene’s art (inked by John Tartaglione, who’s no Giacoia, but does not embarrass himself) goes a long way toward salvaging a silly story of Stan’s.  How often Matt Murdock can suit up as Hornhead while pretending that he’s only posing as DD, rather than actually being DD—are you following this?—I don’t know, but the whole Matt/Mike/DD shtick seems poised to collapse under its own weight any minute, with the icing on the cake being Matt wearing his dark glasses under his cowl, despite the fact that they do not distort the shape of said cowl in the slightest.  Oddly enough, I found the sight of DD sporting a pistol really cool, even if it also seems unlikely that he just happened to have a gun and matching red holster right on hand.

PE: Wouldn't anyone in New York notice a man on a ledge changing out of his superhero outfit? Scintillating dialogue when Matt unties his captured partner. He feels the need to describe every action and move he makes to disguise that he's got super senses. I'm sure every blind guy talks like that: "A noise on the floor, sounding muffled! I shall bend over to investigate! Foggy, is that you? Of course, I'm blind so I don't know if it's really you or not but since you're usually the one who gets captured, I'm taking a wild guess. Let me untie your soft white cotton gag, made in Korea according to the ink..."

Jack: You are so picky! Matt was just showing off his acting skill, something he does routinely when he slips into his Mike Murdock identity.

PE: The Boss! Now there's a moniker that probably took Stan all of thirty seconds to whip up. With all the mob bosses in New York, I'm sure this name has been appropriated several times. Even a guitar-playing kid in Jersey stole it. Such an exciting finale, wrapped up in two panels with a trick right out of The Three Stooges and The Boss surrendering without a fight. Meh!

Strange Tales 157
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Fury deploys his sixty-second invisibility pill to escape from the Alphatron platform, while Sitwell leads a search for the Death Spore time bomb aboard the crippled Helicarrier, steering a course for Antarctica in the hope of destroying the bacteria just in case.  Nick takes out countless Hydra hoods in armed and hand-to-hand combat, and by using the Hallucination Cube, before facing Baron Strucker “eyepatch to monocle.”  Finally brought down by Strucker’s electrically charged Satan Claw, he reminds his nemesis that having penetrated the defenses of Hydra Island on his own, triumphed over a vastly superior force, and fought Strucker unarmed, he must be considered the victor even if Strucker kills him, as he is now poised to do…

MB: Okay, I was mistaken about the current plotline being wrapped up in this issue, which is just as well, since Fury’s final showdown with Strucker requires sufficient space; I got to around page 10 and said to myself, “They can’t possibly do justice to resolving this in two more pages.”  As bad as things looked for Nick at the end of our last installment, they don’t appear much better here, but he gets some glorious licks in along the way, giving Steranko an excuse for another artistic tour-de-force, including those full-page “tournament of death” and Hallucination Cube shots and the Plan K-11 judo-fest.  Fury’s bravado in the face of almost certain death is always an inspiration, and Jasper has proven to be a very capable agent, justifying Nick’s faith in him.

PE: Not that I'd tell him to his face, but I find it a bit alarming that Nick Fury shaves his chest. Where's all that masculine fur he proudly put on display in World War II? The nine-panel page of Fury taking out Hydra goons one-by-one probably would have been more effective sans dialogue. As it is, it's a nice display of power marred only by a succession of progressively worse one-liners like "Who writes your material, Soupy Sales" and "You musta learned to grapple by runnin' the bubble machine on the Lawrence Welk show." Hey Steranko! Who writes your material, Stan Lee? More visual with no distraction, please.

Jack: Once again, great art, so so plot, lousy dialogue. If only all of those word balloons didn't get in the way of some of these pages, they'd be suitable for framing. New word I learned this month: coruscating. And what is Hydra if not a precursor to Al Qaeda--a terrorist organization operating outside state sponsorship?

Doctor Strange
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The Ancient One seems to give his life to help Dr. Strange defeat Zom, who finally gives in when Dr. Strange yanks out his long, flowing forelock of hair. This rash act unleashes a sense of evil among the world's mystics and the menace of Zom is replaced by that of The Living Tribunal, who announces that the entire planet must now be destroyed.

Jack: Herb Trimpe inks Marie Severin's pencils this time around, and it helps considerably. This is the first Marvel credit I've seen for the future star artist on Hulk. I think we all know that the Ancient One is about as dead as Clea was a couple of issues ago. The fight with Zom is pretty good, and the appearance of The Living Tribunal whets my appetite for next issue.

MB:  In the same Bullpen Bulletin that welcomes Dan Adkins, they “say hello to Herb Trimpe (pronounced Trimp-y), another fabulous fledgling”; the soon-to-be Hulk mainstay becomes this strip’s first dedicated inker since the Lee/Severin team took over in #153.  The repetitious plot has gotten a little ridiculous:  “Whew—we’re finally rid of [Umar/Zom], but now we face an even bigger menace in the form of [Zom/the Living Tribunal]!”  But it’s worth it just to get rid of Zom, who I hope never returns, with or without his idiotic-looking forelock, and there’s something poignant and inspiring about the Ancient One’s sacrificing himself on what we hope is a temporary basis (in Stonehenge, of all places) to give Doc a boost with his own power.

The Mighty Thor 141
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Notorious mob boss Slugger Sykes shows how he got his nickname by handing out a beating to the guy that’s causing him problems:  The Mighty Thor.  Actually, “Thor” is a robot, or rather a “replica” created by a scientist named Chuda, who has entered into a plan to aid Sykes to their mutual benefit.  Chuda has created his ultimate replica, simply called Replicus, as the ultimate weapon in crime.  His invention wastes no time in proving its capabilities, effortlessly carrying out various robberies.  Dr. Don Blake, meanwhile, makes a house call on a new patient, an older lady who calls herself Granny Gardenia because she’s a street corner flower vendor.  During his visit, two of Slugger Sykes men pop in; apparently the mob boss buys a fresh gardenia from her everyday, even when she’s in hospital.  Later, in his office, Blake reads enough about Replicus (the creature was heard to be calling itself) to know it’s a job for his alter ego, Thor.  His Uru hammer leading him to its mark, the Thunder God sets out to give Replicus his comeuppance.  The lesson proves no easy task, as Replicus seems to match Thor in speed and power, eventually snaring the Asgardian in his cobalt cable fingers.  Watching the struggle on a TV screen, Chuda lets slip his real intentions:  world conquest.  He is from another planet and Sykes is but one pawn that Chuda intends on using to  plant his replicas throughout the world as tools for his peoples conquest of Earth.  Chuda’s words make the mob boss realize, perhaps for the first time in his life, the evil of his own ways.  He tackles Chuda, and in the ensuing struggle, the machinery explodes, killing them both.  Replicus, without a remote source of guidance, falls to the ground lifeless.  Later, Dr. Blake pays a call to Granny Gardenia, who is a little sad.  Her son just died, one certain mob-boss-turned hero.

Tales of Asgard:  Thor and the Warriors Three find Mogul, whose newest plan is to transform a common thief into a powerful warrior, to lead Satan’s forty horsemen against the Asgardians.

JB:  This story reminds me of a 1967 version of a much earlier Thor issue, a Journey Into Mystery within issues 83 to 99.  If Lee/Kirby were taking a break while they conceived some more epic adventures for Thor, this story at least is neat and tidy, and wraps up with a satisfactory, albeit corny conclusion.  I don’t have much sympathy for Slugger Sykes though.

PE: Another weak science fiction-based entry. I thought it a tad too tidy that the conscience-free Slugger Sykes discovers patriotism ("I may be a murderer what sells women into slavery, cheats on my taxes, and molests children, but I ain't no durn commie!") at the moment of truth and stops the alien's mad plan of destruction. Can we please go back to Asgard now?

JB:  Replicus is interesting, even though his appearance isn’t especially striking.  The opening is eye-catching, seeing an ordinary Joe send Thor a-flying.  The cover is curious too, although it’s merely blowups of some of the interior panels (the inks look less scratchy than some of Colletta’s; someone else maybe?).

Fantastic Four 63
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Scarcely having a chance to recover from Reed’s rescue from the negative zone, the F.F., (except for Johnny, who’s out with Crystal) find the ceiling above them “melting” from some unknown force. Reed surmises correctly that something may have followed him back from the negative zone, and stretches up to take a look. A brief glimpse and he gets confirmation, from one of Blastaar’s finger blasts. Triton, the Inhuman who rescued Reed last issue, is next to take a look, and being forewarned, he wastes no time in tackling the alien, as Sandman awaits his turn. A blast of sand it is, causing Triton temporary blindness, and a punch from Blastaar (who has just now learned hand-to-hand combat) renders the water-breather unconscious. The Sandman, having entered in a shaky alliance with the negative zone menace, feels it important to show he’s equally powerful, as he picks up Blastaar and walks with him down the side of the Baxter Building to the street below (thanks to one of Sandy’s new chemical goodies that turn his sand adhesive).  The police arrive with a new weapon: a cement gun that instantly hardens around the Sandman as it dries. If Blastaar hadn’t been handy to blast him lose, Sandy may have been headed back to the slammer. Johnny and Crystal, enjoying some time on the town, see this unfold, and Johnny enters the fray. Ben arrives a moment later, and between them, they learn of the alien’s powers--and he theirs. Reed has come up with a plan. First he has put Triton in a water tank with some healing balm added. Next he has what he thinks will be a positive on the negative-zoner: a helmut that if affixed to Blastaar’s head, will effectively cut off his ability to build up the energy in his own body (which is how he creates his finger blasts). The Sandman has taken Ben for a magic carpet ride, that is, wrapped up in a sand carpet and rolled down the street. Sandy’s goal is to get Ben to the dock, where, unconscious from the centrifugal force, the Thing will sink like a stone to the ocean bottom. It works to that point, but the cold water revives Ben, and he swims upward again. The Sandman’s gloating lasts long enough for Ben to shatter the dock beneath him; his sand scatters throughout the water, carried in different directions by the tide. With the help of Sue and Johnny, Reed finally gets the helmut on Blastaar, and without being able to harness the energy in his body, the alien is vulnerable to Mr. Fantastic’s best punch. Rejoined by Ben, they carry Blastaar to the Baxter Building, to send him back to the negative zone.

PE: Finally the NYPD caught on to the fact that super-baddies aren't slowed by service revolvers. These guys show up to the Blastaar/Sandman shindig equipped with a giant cement cannon! It works momentarily against The Sandman, until Blastaar busts him free, so I'm thinking that any future bouts with Spidey or the FF should be short-lived if they bring along cement. I'm sure Blastaar won't be the only baddie that creeps in the door to the Negative Zone when it's ajar.

Reed Richards, steroid abuser
MB: Blastaar isn’t the most nuanced villain the FF ever fought, but he’s for sure a heavyweight, as shown in that great full-page shot, and as expected, his alliance with Sandman is pretty shaky.  Strange that Sandy expects a dip in the drink to finish Ben, or that the NYPD has an off-the-shelf weapon to use on him, and Johnny’s ability to convert Blastaar’s power into raw heat seems out of left field, unless I’m being forgetful.  But there’s almost too much good stuff to list:  more Triton heroism; choice dialogue (“Can someone so grotesque be an Earthling, too?,” “Boom-Boom,” “Another county heard from!”); Crystal unleashed; Blasty believing that almost all Earth beings possess super-powers; and Stretcho’s Frammistat Cupboard and final haymaker.

"There's my football!"
JB: It’s ironic that it’s Reed’s haymaker that puts Blastaar in his place, after everything else he fought off! In that aforementioned full--page panel, they really emphasize Blastaar’s power by having the Sandman looking tiny in the background. The shaky alliance between the two, as they point out frequently, would make their eventual defeat likely. Instead of that approach, the storyline instead offers one of Reed’s inventions to save the day.  I kind of enjoyed Ben’s swim in the ocean, although having the tide scatter the Sandman everywhere isn’t too sure a way to keep him away. Nice to see Triton and Crystal use their powers too. We need to see our pal Wyatt Wingfoot join in!

PE: To that dialogue list, Professor Matthew, I add Blastaar's exclamation: "For that you will perish as none have ever perished before!" and Susie's well-timed "Forgive me... for... suddenly turning... feminine...!" King Kirby hits a bull's eye on the laugh-o-meter with that panel of Reed searching through his cupboard for one of his important gizmos, tossing doohickeys over his shoulder like a three year-old rummaging in his toy box. According to Blasty, he's used to the heat because of extreme weather conditions in sub-space. Is there weather in sub-space? It seems all we needed was this title to turn that corner and we've been getting classic or near-classic stories ever since. It wasn't all that long ago we were moaning about Space Apes, The Impossible Man, and that dreadful Puppet Master.

Tales of Suspense 90
Iron Man
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Held captive by The Malignant Melter, Tony Stark has no choice but to bow to the evil baddy's wish: a brand new ultra-powerful melting gun. Stark crafts the weapon but pops in a booby-trap that eventually makes the gun too hot to hold. Not able to get to his red and gold armor, Tony Stark must don his previous golden suit to witness The Melter's meltdown.

PE: I wonder why the police squad didn't bring their new cement cannon (see FF 63) to try out on The Melter. I was a bit confused at the beginning of our adventure when Melty continually referred to the golden armor suit as belonging to Tony. I had a memory meltdown, trying to remember if The Melter had learned Tony Stark's secret identity in one of those vintage Iron Man stories I fell asleep during.

MB: This was a very satisfying meat-and-potatoes Shellhead yarn, with a good script by Stan that makes use of a minor yet time-honored villain, and enjoyable art by the reliable GiaColan team.  Of course, it’s a little odd that ol’ Melty thought Stark wouldn’t know his new gun could be set to “flesh” when Tony had just finished assembling it for him, but hey, it’s only a comic book, right?  It’s nice that it was due more to his brains than to Shellhead’s brawn that Tony was able to defeat the Melter, although the latter came in mighty handy when he needed to save the cops assembled outside his factory from the girders brought down on them by the Melter, and I love iconic moments like IM going into battle clad in his original golden armor.

PE: I like the fact that the new-fangled ray gun has an adjustable wheel on its barrel that reads "flesh," "metal," "stone," and "wood." I don't know what's more impressive, that Melty took the time to etch the labels or that he found a way to melt wood. I'm not sure about how bright the guy is though. Didn't he notice that Tony didn't melt when he was blasted? As Professor Matthew noted, the Golden Armor sequence is very cool though I'd question Stark's reasoning behind wearing the suit. He claims it would have been too dangerous to go to his office to get his regular suit. Won't The Melter, dumb as he is, put two and two together and come up with "secret identity" when Iron Man shows up in his old costume? And, puzzlingly, the authorities think there are actually two different Iron Mans (Men?). Why would that be?

Captain America
Our Story

The Red Skull uses his plastic bubble to raise a good portion of Manhattan into the sky. Only Captain America can defeat The Red Skull and put all that prime real estate back where it belongs. But can Cap defeat mechanical watch-dogs and The Skull's sheer strength before his greatest enemy drops Manhattan into the Atlantic? To save millions of lives, Cap must give his word to The Skull that he'll do anything he wants for 24 hours.

PE: A bit short-sighted on The Skull's part to ask for 24 hours. As quickly as Cap said yes, the nasty Nazi could have asked for a week, a month, or maybe even a year. I'll lay odds he regrets his foolishness.

MB: Having a penciler ink himself can sometimes turn out better than that long stretch of pure Heck before Buscema ascended to The Avengers, yet I often prefer that even a more successful self-inker (e.g., Romita’s Spidey or Kane’s Cap) be paired up with a dedicated inker to bring out the best in his work.  Sinnott takes on Cap here, and while his strong hand partially obscures Kane’s unique style—for which Joltin’ Joe has been criticized—I won’t complain when the results look so good, but it points up what a useful baseline an artist’s unfiltered work is against which to assess other inkers’ contributions.  Feast your eyes, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy the ride as the Skull scoops up a square mile of Manhattan in a bubble!

PE: We've discussed before the scientific questions that arise when dealing with the disappearance of a city block. Does the bubble dig deep enough to transport all sewer systems as well? I doubt it, so that bubble is not going to smell very good. There's bound to be flooding and electrical fires, not to mention the fact that most of those skyscrapers have foundations that go hundreds of feet into the ground for the purpose of keeping them from tipping over. Barbara Carey, on the "Mails of Suspense" page, asks the name of the blonde agent Captain America was supposed to have dinner with back in #86. Good question that, and speaking of Sharon Carter, when are we going to delve a bit deeper into her story? I realize this is the same Professor Pete who moans and groans about Pepper, Jane, Betty, Betsy, and Karen (did I leave out any other empty-headed Marvel babe?), but Sharon Carter is... well, she's Sharon Carter. She's like a cool Black Widow. Anyway, Stan's a bit coy with his answer since he doesn't name the blonde but he does mention that "she is the younger sister of another brave female whom Cap had once loved and lost during World War II" so the blueprint is already there.

Tales to Astonish 92
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

The Sub-Mariner and his lady Dorma are out for a sea stroll when they notice a submarine doing a dump and run. Upon further inspection, it appears the surface men have left behind a barrel of toxic waste. Namor is furious and throws the drum into the forbidden cavern of darkness. As he and Dorma leave, we see that the drum leaks slightly, which causes a strange, monstrous humanoid to rise up from the muck. The creature goes on a spree of destruction. It first happens upon a Navy radar warning station. The humanoid destroys the station, but not before everyone is able to escape before getting killed. Meanwhile, Subby is still pissed about the surface men dumping garbage in his realm. He orders a small platoon to form up that will accompany him to the surface world for a little chat. As the squad is getting together and swimming their way through the underwater catacombs, the monster humanoid comes across them. The creature attacks the crew. They are no match for him as he easily dispatches them with his superior strength. One of the troops escapes to go and squeal to Namor about the attack. Convinced that it is the surface dwellers, Namor is about to explode with anger. He finds and attacks the monster just as a submarine finds them and is about to attack with its own missiles.

Tom: A fun yarn that gives a shout out to the older monster comics from the opening page with Namor’s antagonist this issue being labeled simply as “IT!” I’m still not sure if the IT monster was created by toxic waste or if it just awoke him from his catnap? The new artwork isn’t sensational by any means, but it gets the job done. 

PE: Who is this strange being so quickly formed from radioactive waste (or has he been awakened by the toxic sludge) to present a problem for both Atlanteans and the surface world? I'm interested to see who'll be the first to name him:

Lady Dorma: My Prince! What is It?
Namor: I'm not sure, my lady, but you've called it the perfect thing.
Lady Dorma: The Thing! That's what It is!
Namor: No, Dorma, The Thing is already taken! It's It!
Lady Dorma: My Prince, It's an Abomination!
Namor: (sigh)

Namor declares war on mankind four or five times this issue and each time he's talked off the ledge by the sensible, gorgeous, and very blue Dorma. Adkins' art doesn't suck, which was a big surprise for me since, when I heard he'd be relieving Wild Bill Everett for a two-issue stint, I reacted violently. I can settle down now and begin my search for a new coffee table.

Good lord---"choke"
Jack: I really liked Adkins's art this issue. The sections of the story on the submarine reminded me of something from an EC comic.

MB: Epitomizing Marvel’s publication-date paradox, the May Daredevil features several June titles in its house ad and checklist, and cites this story in an item welcoming Adkins.  “If his style reminds you of another former Marvel-man [Wally Wood], it’s because Dan has worked with him, sometimes anonymously, for quite a while,” we are told.  He handles both pencils and inks this time, and although Subby looks a little squinty in spots, I have no complaints about the artwork, especially the impressive full-page shot of Atlantis and the way he obscures the features of “It,” who (which?) is very atmospherically rendered; the story is also fun, despite the overworked device of Misunderstanding Between Namor and the Humans #187.

PE: To add to our general confusion re: house ads, the June FF features a "on sale now" pic of the Fantasy Masterpieces from April! More general confusion can be had in the Bullpen Bulletins page (including Stan's Soapbox) which changes depending on the title. I'm sure there's a way, if I had a slide ruler, reams of paper, and lots of time and beer, to decipher which titles were published when during the month. I'll leave that to Honorary Professor Glenn.

Jack: I have a funny feeling that our process of going by cover dates bears only a slight resemblance to the actual order in which these comics came out, that is, in the way one title related to another.

Our Story

After last issue’s titanic battle, everyone seems to take a breather as they wonder where the Hulk has gone to. Betty is her usual hysterical self while General Ross and Major Talbot try to get things back in order. Bruce Banner hides out in a flop house where he tries to experiment on himself to rid his body of the Hulk with typical results as he transforms back into the monster. Our story ends with the Hulk getting smacked down by the Silver Surfer when he leaps into the space guy's path for salvation.

Tom: Even though it was just a slight cameo, the brief appearance of Rick Jones Teen Brigade was almost enough to get me to climb atop a water tower with a sniper rifle and to start shooting anybody wearing a purple colored t-shirt. Other than that, I got no complaints. While I’ve never been a big fan of the Silver Surfer, I can’t recall these two ever having that much interaction and look forward to seeing what happens next issue.

MB: Not sure what element of the story makes this a “Turning Point!” in the life of Greenskin, unless his abortive gamma-ray frammistat (gammistat?) leaves him more or less permanently in his Hulk identity.  As much as I lament the loss of Kane, I’m not upset at Marie Severin adding another erstwhile Everett character alongside Dr. Strange in her portfolio, especially with inks by “Fearless Frank” Giacoia, and I thought the renditions of the Hulk both on the splash page and in the penultimate panel were as good as any I’ve seen in this strip so far. Note to Dr. Banner:  When you are incognito and trying to avoid an intensive nationwide search for your emerald alter-ego, it might be best to forego your trademark purple pants for a change.

Bruce Banner does his impression of
Sub-Mariner from Fantastic Four #4
PE: My LOL-scene of the issue: the TV newscaster who gestures to a "scale model replica" of The Hulk and beseeches the public to study it carefully and contact law officials, the FBI, the PTA, PETA, and anyone else in ear shot if you see this man. Do the residents of New York really need a scale model of an eight foot (?) green behemoth who flies and wears only ripped purple chinos? Hot on the heels of that LOL is the fact that Rick Jones has reorganized the Teen Brigade to search for The Hulk as well. How these lazy, jobless "teens" can see anything from their mom's basement (where they've set up all their toys) is beyond me. "Operation Find the Hulk" indeed. Ironically, I kept kept turning the pages, waiting for that advertised "Turning Point" to show up but, alas, it seemed like the same old ten pages of misunderstood Hulk screaming at the sky that puny man just won't leave him be. Is "The Turning Point" meant to be Marie Severin's mediocre art?

Jack: Bruce Banner is truly the world's most brilliant scientist if he can just tell that his body's chemical makeup has not changed after a Gamma ray bath. I can't say why, but I enjoyed this story. Frank Giacoia's inks help polish Marie Severin's pencils, the bit with Banner hiding out incognito in New York, the Hulk's giant leaps--it all worked for me, and I was completely taken by surprise when the Silver Surfer showed up!

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #9
Ghost Rider #3
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #9
Millie the Model #150
Modeling with Millie #54 (final issue)
Rawhide Kid #58
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #43


PE: I have a soft spot in my collector's heart for Fantasy Masterpieces #9 as that was my very first exposure to Golden Age Marvel Comics. This issue reprinted the origin of the Human Torch (from the legendary Marvel Comics #1), stories featuring Namor and Cap, and three sf tales from the pre-hero anthology titles. It was that Torch story though that led me to read my copy to tatters. Magic!

Jack: I completely agree. Just seeing that cover brings me back to the early to mid-70s and going to the Seuling Cons in New York every summer. That's where I bought this issue, as well as issues of Marvel Collector's Item Classics, Marvel Tales, etc., in order to collect Golden Age stories. It's weird to think that the comics were only 30 years old at that time, while the 1960s Marvels we're rereading now are 45 years old!

MB:  I know I've touched on this before, but the Marvel reprints--at least of the Silver Age stories, which were canonical with what was then being published--were an absolutely essential part of my comics upbringing.  Even after I became aware that they were older stories, I never thought of those mags as any lesser than the first-run ones; to me, they were all just comics.  They very definitely colored my feelings to this day about who the "definitive" artists were for given books, and often shed valuable light on the events underlying those in the contemporary stories, although it was sometimes a little confusing, epecially for a younger reader, to be simultaneously in the middle of two parallel streams of continuity in the same strip!

PE: Since Professor Jack will get angry if I don't read a few words over the corpse of Modeling with Millie, I'm requesting we all have a moment of silence while I feign interest. Her place in the schedule will be filled by Marvel's first four-colored humor zine, a good-natured (and every once in a while funny) poke at itself called Not Brand Ecch!


Jack: In other words, Marvel's swipe of Mad Magazine. I always liked Not Brand Ecch! but I remember it more from the 70s revival.

JS: So much for a moment of silence.

PE: In Stan's Soapbox this month, the spotlight is on a letter received from future author and comics-writer Mark Evanier. Mark claims the MMMS is too disorganized and needs officers. He recommends that fans become:

RFO - Real Frantic One (bestowed on a fan who has just bought his first Marvel comic)
QNS- Quite 'Nuff Sayer (after fan's first published letter)
TB- True Believer (after first No-Prize win)
with each additional No-Prize, a fan becomes:
JHC- Junior Howling Commando
RH- Resident Hulk
AAT- Associate Assistant Thing
MM- Marvelite Maximus (the highest honor bestowed upon a fan)

Stan comments that he thinks it's a great idea.

Jack: Stan also mentions that the Spider-Man and Fantastic Four TV cartoon shows will debut in the fall of '67. I don't think I remember the FF show but now that Spider-Man song is stuck in my head for the rest of the week. At least it will replace "You Only Live Twice," which had been stuck there since the last episode of Mad Men a couple of weeks ago.

MB:  Oldsters like us will remember that Stan did indeed eventually adopt some, but fortunately not all, of Evanier's ranks (e.g., RFO, QNS), to which others were later added.  I'm in the same boat as Jack when it comes to the TV shows, in that Spidey's, and especially the music, is indeliby imprinted on my brain, and yet I have no recollection of the FF's whatsoever.  Funny you should mentionYou Only Live Twice, as I was just struck (while reading a few weeks/months ahead, as usual) by its similarity to Factor Three's master plan in X-Men...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

May 1967: Return of the Vulture!

Daredevil 28
Our Story

Matt goes off to New York to lecture about law to the students at a college campus.  At the same time, another professor who works there is convinced aliens are about to invade, though he is written off as a crackpot.  Sure enough, Daredevil has to stop a swarm of giant, ugly alien invaders from taking over the planet.  After fighting with them, he causes the aliens to destroy their own weapon that causes blindness and mind control.  Saying that it would take too long to repair the damage to their weapon, the aliens admit defeat and take back off into the skies.

Tom:  I’m guessing that Stan was a big Outer Limits fan after reading this stinker.   Maybe this story wasn’t all that bad.  Just kind of disposable as it definitely seemed out of place in Daredevil’s usual cannon of adventures.  

Could this character be based on Gene Colan's alien?
MB: Surprisingly, this issue was inked by Dick Ayers instead of Giacoia, yet Gene’s pencils seem strong enough to withstand any damage, and I’m obliged to admit that the close-up of Karen in page 5, panel 3 is a real knockout.  Much as I dislike the Mike Murdock persona, he certainly seems to bring out the best in Colan, who uses devices like the juggling on the first two pages to visualize his freewheeling nature.  The amount of weird science on display here is quite impressive, especially regarding DD’s almost magical hyper-senses, but considering the number of aliens to have paraded through various Marvel mags already, it seems odd that they’ve put so much emphasis on the “inexpressibly incredulous instant” of this supposed first-contact scenario.

You be the judge.
PE: I was about to mention that, Professor Matthew. Why, in a world where New York is being constantly threatened by Mole Men and Galacti, would anyone scoff at some extraterrestrials? I've given up on the notion that this series will provide me anything but a few loud laughs each issue. No, the Mike Murdock sub-plot isn't funny anymore but the "New Issue, New Power" revelation certainly is. This time out we find that DD can tell if something is native to an area or not because of the "disruption of air molecules" around him. What fabulous BS this is. I can just see Colan and Lee in the office, Stan chuckling, "Wait 'til you hear this one, Gentleman Gene!" Colan's first reveal of the alien, a really big green foot, is chilling. Too bad that's followed up by showing its face, decidedly unchilling.

Jack: Love it or hate it, Daredevil is rarely boring, but this issue was an exception. Who thought it was a good idea to have DD fight aliens? The idea of the aliens having a ray that makes everyone on Earth blind might have seemed like it would put Daredevil at an advantage, but it’s wasted here, and the menace is gone so quickly that it never seems to make much of a difference. Mike Murdock’s appearance is the highlight of the issue!

PE: As far as Foggy and Karen stumbling into the aliens' "Sight-Stealing Ray," I firmly believe if the pair were in New York and there was a hurricane in Kansas, they'd find a way to be imperiled. After vanquishing the aliens, Daredevil sighs "It's over... at last!" At last? The whole threat lasted about ten minutes in Marvel time. The blindness plague was so brief, Foggy and Karen might just as well have blinked!

Stan just can't help unloading another barb at those stinkin' Commies!
The Mighty Thor 140
Our Story

All hail to Asgard! The troll war hath been won! Thor, with his dad’s permission, returns to Midgard to pick up the pieces of his life as Don Blake, M.D. Not far away, a museum expedition has unearthed a still but apparently alive creature, orange skinned with purple armor, and warm to the touch. A scientific expert has been called in to take a look. The mystery is, the creature, doll-sized when found has slowly grown to the size of a full-grown man. Suddenly he awakens, and apparently intelligent, pushes the men aside as he exhibits great strength; impervious to bullets, he smashes though the wall spouting mouthing’s about “the master”, whom he seeks for guidance. Each contact of any force he encounters makes him grow larger. A group of policemen arm themselves and soon pursue the growing man to where he was last seen: a city park, now a graveyard of uprooted trees. They find him alright, but are powerless to stop him. Then a beam of light strikes the giant, and he shrinks to doll-size again.  The master has been found in the form of Kang The Conqueror. The creature, having been rendered small by Kang’s de-energizer beam, is his master’s secret weapon, created to help him defeat his own enemies in the future, and buried here in hiding, where he was accidentally unearthed. By this time, the police have brought a confused Dr. Blake to the scene (because he’s been able to contact Thor at times). Blake is forgotten once they arrive, as Kang releases the growing man again to keep the police at bay. Presto, Thor is indeed summoned, and enters the fray. Thor has more than enough strength to fight the growing man; the problem is the blows of battle cause the growing man to increase his size at an alarming rate.  Kang appears again, and stops Thor long enough with the cobalt power of his glove to make an escape (with a re-shrunk growing man) into his time machine, disguised as a huge boulder, and protected by a cosmic force field. Thor’s answer: a universal infinity vortex, which his hammer places Kang’s ship in, and which will send the conqueror to a timeless, spaceless dimension.

In Tales Of Asgard, the search for Mogul continues, as Thor and the Warriors Three meet the challenge of Mogul’s giant slave: the Jinni Devil.

JB: Welcome back Kang the Conqueror, first seen in The Avengers # 8. While an interesting idea, his growing man, a “stimuloid” isn’t the best foe. The best things about this issue are some small ones. Thor misses his life on Earth (and acknowledging that Odin must have had something to do with the ease of losing Jane Foster), and returns despite having to leave a proud Sif back in Asgard. The convenient notion that Dr. Blake might be able to reach Thor without any thought to his secret identity is quite funny, as is Odin taking a bath in his gigantic “pool of peace.”

PE: Somewhat of a comedown after the fabulous epic we've just experienced in the last few Thors. The Growing Man (first draft monikers reportedly included The Enlarging Man, The Erecting Man and Captain Grow but, admittedly, hearing a female Marvel bystander scream "That man is enlarging" might not have passed the CCAA) is an infinitely forgettable villain who doesn't really do anything but grow, tear out some trees, and menace a handful of cops. The real surprise here is the appearance of Kang, who seems set to depart on a big conquering trip but is nipped in the bud by Thor's "Universal Infinity Vortex," another one of those new powers that heroes seem to come up with when most needed. Problem with these last-minute super-powers is that we, as readers, will wonder why Thor never uses it again. Our climax suffers from Abruptus Maximus, a condition that "The Man" and "The King" suffered from now and then, I suppose, due mostly to boredom from their own characters. At this point, I'm surprised that the Dynamic Duo (Jack and Stan, that is) don't abandon altogether the "lame Doc Blake" alter ego as any appearance of said Doc seems to be a contrivance.

"That man seems to be growing! Like a Growing Man!"
MB:  I dimly remember the Growing Man from a 1970s Iron Man appearance, possibly in or around the Midas saga, and I know the Avengers tackled him at some point, but as always, it’s interesting to revisit his debut.  I will bludgeon a deceased equine, though, by opining that those “Tales of Asgard” pages might have been better devoted to a less pell-mell ending, which for me started to go south when Thor, displaying knowledge of a decidedly non-Asgardian technology, declared that the Growing Man was a “stimuloid”; well, sure, every little storm giant knows that, right?  What exactly it means to put something “within a universal infinity vortex,” I haven’t the faintest idea—nor, I would hazard a guess, did Stan when he penned that pearl of techno-babble.

JB: Take note of Odin’s response when Thor requests that he needs to return to Earth, which he has sworn to love and protect: “Thy words have the ring of truth my son!”  Five issues from now, the All-Father will go berserk again over this matter, but his response here seems much more reasonable considering the hard-fought victory just won against the trolls (maybe Thor forgot Fathers Day).

Fantastic Four 62
Our Story

Sucked in by the irresistible force of the Negative Zone, Reed Richards floats therein, being drawn ever closer to the explosive area near the negative Earth. Although they cannot save him, Ben realizes that they can talk to him via the trans-barrier phone, but a few static-filled words don’t help. At that moment, Johnny’s ultimate wish comes true, as his lost love, the Inhuman Crystal, arrives with her dog Lockjaw, who has brought them here with his dimension travelling powers. Timing is everything, and it takes a moment for Crystal to see that the Torch’s cool reaction to her arrival is because of Reed’s predicament. She suggests that her fellow Inhumans (who are busy routing some foreign soldiers from occupying the island the Inhumans have chosen as their refuge) may be able to help, and disappears as fast as she came. Help they can, and do, as Black Bolt, when he hears the situation, selects Triton as the one with the best chances of success, due to his ability to navigate through the endless ocean. Once reunited with the F.F. the aquatic Inhuman enters the Negative Zone safely through a series of chambers. Using a hand held rocket gun to maneuver himself, he finds Reed in the nick of time. While these events transpired on our side of things, Reed observes that intelligent life exists within the Negative Zone, as a passerby craft fails to notice him. What Reed fails to notice is that the purpose of the craft was to exile a powerful alien criminal, who, as fate would have it, is marooned on the other side of the very rock Reed has grasped hold of. When Triton rockets Mr. Fantastic to safety, they are so close to the explosive area that the alien, who had been sedated and put in a space suit, is revived.  Unable to return to whatever pillaging life he had in the Negative Zone, the alien who calls himself Blastaar has observed the retreating duo, and follows them back through the distortion area to our world. Emerging after them, the cautious alien remains hidden from our joyous team. Quickly he views our world as a new place of conquest, and as he looks outside a window he is spotted by the Sandman, who had escaped to the safety of the Baxter Building roof last issue. The two are of a type, and form a hasty alliance; all the while plotting to themselves the uses he can put the other to. At least for a moment, Sue/Reed, and Johnny/Crystal experience the joy of reunion.

JB: I was wondering reading this one why Lockjaw wouldn’t have had the power to transport himself
 into the Negative Zone? Couldn’t he have understood from Crystal what needed to be done? I have to say, I enjoyed Mr. Fantastic’s musings about the meaning of life on the cosmic full-pager #8. On the other hand, I don’t really buy the unidentified “Eastern invaders” with their nuclear sub and ray cannon (except it gives the Inhumans a chance to show off their powers).  If this were the Thor title, maybe this would be the material cut for a Tales Of Asgard (Baxter Building Blues?) equivalent. Full marks to Crystal for quick thinking in coming to the aid of our team, especially when she really wanted to heat it up with the Torch. I’m not sure about Blastaar; he looks cool, but sounds like so many other villains at this point. We’ll see next ish.

PE: Readers picking up Fantastic Four for the first time with #62 would have thought that Crystal (or "Crys" as her longtime beau fondly calls her) and Johnny ("my dearest") are an old married couple, rather than two people who barely know each other. In fact, I was surprised The Torch recognized Crystal's voice. Reed and Sue's marriage might be working out better if they gave this kind of a romance a shot! With the growing importance and visibility (and panel time) of The Inhumans, Fantastic Four is almost like one of the anthology books now. There's so much magic and wonder captured between these pages. Every element (except maybe Blastaar who comes off as a Ulik clone) screams "Give me a bigger role in this universe" and a lot of these plot threads, we now know, do become important milestones. One plot ends (Reed in The Negative Zone), one just begins (Blastaar), while one continues (The Inhumans). With The Black Panther, The Surfer, and The Inhumans all eventually getting their own titles and another major character on the horizon, Fantastic Four has become the comic book equivalent of All in the Family with all its spin-offs. Just one question: Was Sandman patiently standing on the roof of The Baxter Building through the entire issue?

MB:  Today’s Moron Award goes to whoever reprinted this issue’s double-page spread of Reed flying through the Negative Zone back to back in Marvel’s Greatest Comics #45. There might be those who—also reading this with 20/20 hindsight, and knowing he’d be okay—felt that too much was made of his allegedly impending demise, but this Maudlin Man was quite moved by the others’ grief (ditto Reed’s brave “final” soliloquy), and having Johnny and Crystal reunited just then was an ironic masterstroke.  Top marks, too, for a Kirby fully unleashed on this spectacular story, a Sinnott whose consistently eye-ravishing inks have left us all totally spoiled, the featured role for Triton, and the impending odd-couple villainy of the Sandman and Blastaar.

The Amazing Spider-Man 48
Our Story

The Vulture lies dying in a hospital bed after a prison mishap. Before going to that aerie in the sky, he wants to make sure he's passing the feathered baton to someone who'll finish a job he never finished. His cellmate "Blackie" Drago promises to tidy up lose ends by defeating The Amazing Spider-Man but, just before he leaves the dying man's bedside, he admits (with a smile) that he set up the accident in prison so that he could inherit The Vulture's wings. Getting free from the prison gates and nabbing the wings, he takes to the air and begins a crime spree rivaled only by The Porcupine. Suffering from a bad head cold, our hero is, at first, reluctant to step out and hunt down the new feathered fiend but eventually the mounting spree becomes too hard to ignore. Meeting up with the flying felon atop the George Washington Bridge, Spidey finds his flu is much harder to tackle than the bad guy and he passes out. Only the snow on a rooftop saves him but The Vulture is convinced he's put the kibosh on The Amazing Spider-Man.

PE: Blackie seems pretty confident it won't take him long to find those wings but if I was working off the directions "500 yards from north gun tower near broken pines" I think I'd be a little cautious about raising a ruckus on my way out the gate. And it's snowing! What was Stan's plan re: Harry, Petey, Gwen and MJ? Mate-swapping? MJ comes on to Harry. Peter's got his eye on Gwen. Methinks "The Man" had one of his eyes on General Hospital for new angles.

JS: But remember—Peter is enamored with Gwen's new hairstyle because it matches MJ's, as good old Harry-O is quick to point out. Just wait until Harry gives up the corn-rows for long flowing locks—Oops! Spoiler alert!

PE: We get another rare glimpse of Peter's lab professor, Dr. Warren who, years later will play a very important part in the controversial Gwen Stacy Clone saga. He'll also be revealed as super-villain... whoops, you'll have to be patient. That particular discussion won't occur for about another 100 issues. Stay tuned (and don't peek at Wiki!). As of 2012, there have been six Vultures in the Marvel Universe and "Blackie" will maintain his lofty position for a very short time, showing he couldn't quite cut the super-villain life in the end. I do have to say that I like the skull cap he inaugurates this issue. Certainly makes him look more menacing than his predecessor, who could have been portrayed in a film version by Walter Brennan. Spidey's fighting with a really bad head cold but he's lucky he's not in the hands of today's comic writers or it would probably be the clap.

MB: Ah, here it is, the famous “Spidey goes into battle with a head cold” two-parter, so frequently cited as an example of the mundane problems that set Marvel’s super-heroes apart from those of its Distinguished Competition.  Since I always grouse (ha ha) about what a nothing villain the Vulture is—although he gets points for seniority, in more ways than one, having been around since issue #2—I appreciate such attempts to liven up this story, most notably the prison stuff and the introduction of a new Vulture, albeit a short-lived one, as I recall. If I were not already mindful of the advantage of flight, I certainly would be after having Drago hammer it home relentlessly…but how does a pair of wings mysteriously confer super-strength?

PE: Very good point, Professor Matthew. I had a similar problem with Stilt-man over in Daredevil a couple issues ago. Sure, The Vulture can fly away once he's committed a dastardly act but he still has to break in to the jewelry store or Fort Knox or wherever and his wings aren't going to get him in any easier. If anything, they'd be a burden. And how is it he can lift a man with one hand while he's flying? Prison barbells, I'd wager.

Tales to Astonish 91
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

It’s a dark day as Atlantis has a new leader in Byrrah.  Namor is taking his loss in his own typically foul manner.  To make matters worse, his old enemies Attuma and Krang have joined up with Byrrah to rule the sea kingdom together.  As punishment, Byrrah has Namor banished to the Inferno Isle.  It is on this island of volcanoes that he must face a giant monster made of lava.  While Namor realizes he cannot fight the creature mano-a-mano, he figures out that if the monster touches water, it turns to mud.  Using his maneuvering skills, Namor is able to knock the monster into the water so it destroys itself.  Meanwhile, loyal Dorma has located a machine that projects a beam that can brainwash anyone that it touches.  It turns out Byrrah wasn’t as smooth as a talker as he would have people believe.  Dorma figures out how to use the machine to reverse the citizen’s original good thoughts and support of Byrrah, making them all realize they have been duped.  When they start revolting, Attuma and Krang turn on him and reject him as a fraud, with Attuma even punching Byrrah in the face.  Namor arrives back just in time to save his kingdom from one of Attuma’s high-powered cannons.  In the end, Namor is once again leader of Atlantis, while Byrrah is banished to the farthest reaches of the deep, with no friends and seemingly very few prospects.

Tom:  This finale was a little disappointing because it seemed rushed.  While previously we had a storyline involving Krang kidnapping Dorma that seemed to drag on for eons, poor Byrrah is just a little too easily dispatched of considering it was only last issue that he defeated Namor.  They should have at least had a rematch this time around.  Oh, and that lava monster looked pretty damn cheesy.   

MB: This story was inked by newcomer “Dandy Danny” (later Dapper Dan) Adkins, an artist who worked on many Marvel characters in various capacities, but was most closely associated with Dr. Strange.  It seems I owe the Atlanteans an apology because, like Namor, I did not know their betrayal was caused by Byrrah’s hypno-ray, yet luckily for him, the Byrrah/Krang/Attuma “Axis of Evil” was short-lived.  I can’t help wondering if they kept all of that hardware on hand merely to exile people to Inferno Isle; unfortunately, it appears that my Marvel Super-Heroes reprint was cut (as, I am increasingly learning, was all too common) to the extent that the climax of this story is almost incoherent, but at least the denouement is enjoyable.

Jack: After having read a couple of comics this month scripted by Roy Thomas, it was a relief to read a Stan Lee script! Things move pretty fast in this story but the battle with the lava monster is cool and Bill Everett is really the best artist to draw Namor. 

PE: Nice to see the budget this issue included Krang and Attuma but their contracts must have stipulated cameo roles. If you blink, you'll miss 'em. As with the previous Bill Everett entries, the story is more of the same (Namor must fight off advances to usurp his princeliness), but who the heck cares when you've got Bill's art to ogle? The monster of Inferno Isle conjures up the great BEMs of the 1950s-60s pre-hero Tales to Astonish.

Our Story

Realizing that only the strength of the Hulk or the intelligence of Dr. Banner can defeat the Abomination, Thunderbolt Ross orders his men to bring the Hulk to a lab in hopes of resuscitating him after the terrific beating he took from the Abomination.  Once recovered, the Hulk starts to go off on another one of his rampages.  It isn’t until Rick Jones pleads with him that he reverts back to Bruce Banner and then comes up with a plan to lure the Abomination out of hiding.  Using his Infinite gamma ray creation as a magnet, Banner gets the Abomination to leap back to the base with Betty.  Bruce turns back into the Hulk and the fight is on.  It’s a different battle this time as the Hulk quickly gains the upper hand.  While all this has been transpiring, the Stranger has been observing from above.  After witnessing the Hulk act in a valiant manner, he decides that he was wrong about needing to destroy mankind.  The Stranger does feel that someone as evil as the Abomination might be of some use to him, so he transports him away into the sky, thus eliminating him as a threat to everyone else.

Tom:  This ending was a little light on the action for my tastes.  Now I’m actually more interested in what kind of mischief the Stranger is going to use the Abomination for.     

PE: This issue we witness the supreme irony of Thundercloud Ross wishing continued good health to The Hulk. In our continuing coverage of dopey comebacks, I submit:

Soldier #1: It's Rick Jones, The Hulk's only friend!
Soldier #2: I don't care if it's Gunga Din!

MB:  We are promised a “new chapter” in the next issue, and will have a new artist to illustrate it, but the Kane Kwartet has ended with a bang, and by gum, Smiley and Sugar-Lips have pulled the strip out of its lengthy doldrums, at least in the short term.  This story is so full of tension and human drama that I practically turned into the Hulk myself from reading it, while the defeat of the Abomination—for which both Bruce Banner and his emerald alter ego can take equal shares in the credit—was satisfyingly handled.  It was nice of the almost-forgotten Stranger to appear and tie up the loose ends, especially by whisking the Abomination into space with him, but don’t worry:  like Schwarzenegger (who could have portrayed him), he’ll be back.

Jack: I love Gil Kane, but he’s wrong for the Hulk. How many times do we have to see Thunderbolt Ross looking all sweaty and shocked in close-up? The Stranger comes out of nowhere at the end and whisks the Abomination away into space right in the middle of a pretty good fight with the Hulk. I still don’t see much of a difference between the Hulk before the Stranger got him all worked up and the Hulk after that. He’s still green and angry.

PE: Rick Jones holding on to The Hulk's giant green leg should have come off supremely schmaltzy (especially with Jones looking to Heaven and asking for a little assistance) and yet, I'll be damned if it isn't a stirring, effective sequence capped by Greenskin's transformation back into Banner and Rick's final whisper, "Thanks for listening to me. Thanks!" Is that directed at Banner or a higher power? The climax certainly bodes a brighter future for our emerald goliath but forty years of Monday Morning Quarterbacking tells me differently!

Jack: The cover is great, with Hulk and Abomination facing off. The coloring is really impressive!

The X-Men 32
Our Story

We find that Professor X has a secret dungeon in the X-Mansion, in which he's been keeping his step-brother imprisoned for months (all for the good of mankind, to be sure). In an attempt to drain the Juggernaut of his power, the Professor fails, big time. The X-ies get home in time to go a few rounds with the big guy, who takes off when he gets a telepathic invite from Factor Three. We're left with Xavier clinging to life, unaware if he'll survive one more issue!

PE: Cain Marko (aka The Juggernaut) has been chained in Professor X's basement dungeon for months. Does the Prof feed him intravenously or can mutants fast for months at a time? Plan F-1 calls for The Beast and Iceman to flank their opponent. Looks like it's back to the gym for the boys!

Jack: This is so bad as to be almost beyond belief. We start with three pages at the Coffee A Go Go, including a poetry reading, and it just goes downhill from there! The Satan’s Saints motorcycle gang crashes the party! Professor X screws up again, proving for the zillionth time that it’s never a good idea to sit in one of those electrical gizmos where the good guy puts a thing over his head and the bad guy does the same. When has this ever worked in the good guy’s favor? I remember the Juggernaut as a pretty cool villain and The X-Men as a good comic, but it sure as heck wasn’t on the basis of issues like this. All I can say in a positive vein is that I like the yellow and blue costumes and I’m glad Iceman doesn’t look like a walking snowball anymore.

JS: Oh, sure, Professor Jack. Pop in now. Where have you been as we've suffered through the past thirty-some odd issues?

PE: At least Daredevil has the gorgeous art of Gentleman Gene Colan to distract you from its utterly insane story concepts. The X-Men has nothing to recommend it and should have been canceled years before the axe eventually fell. Considering how proud Stan was of his line, he should have been embarrassed by how far into the cow pies this series fell. Roy's dialogue gets worse each succeeding issue if that's possible. I swear the Beatnik craze was long over by 1967, but here we've got passionate poets and their grating dialect. The X-Kids talk far out as well:

Bobby: Tell me where that juke-joint is -- and I'll move in!
Zelda (Bobby's gal pal): Like fun you will, Romeo!

Did readers even understand this double talk back in the day?

JS: Scott gets inches closer to expressing his love for Jean... and doesn't. Of course, she's not much of a mind reader.

PE: The motorcycle rumble sequence is like something out of a bad sitcom. How about this for pithy dialogue:

Juggernaut: Soon you shall all be united -- in death!
Beast: Death? You can't mean --

What else would he mean, you dolt?

Strange Tales 156
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

With Fury confined to quarters for his supposed incompetence, “Bronson” is ordered to take Laura from the crippled Helicarrier to terra firma in the Dyna-Saur, Tony Stark’s modification of the Hydra saucer ship, for emergency care.  Presumed dead after a bomb destroys his cabin, Fury has actually been suspicious of Bronson for some time, and stows away as they travel to his true destination:  Hydra Island, a synthetic Pacific atoll enclosed in an impenetrable dome.  There, the Supreme Hydra threatens the world with a plague known as the Death Spore; reveals his true identity to Fury—who has been captured in combat—as his WWII nemesis, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker; and sentences him to death via alpha particle exposure.

MB: This entry took me a bit by surprise, because although I remembered the identity of the Supreme Hydra—Strucker being an inspired choice that tied Fury’s two titles together—I didn’t recall that they wrapped up this storyline, which I see happens next issue, so early in Jaunty Jim’s tenure on the strip.  None of which takes anything away from the quality of the story, which is of the, shall we say, highest caliber, with Steranko’s imagination and talent operating at full throttle to come up with new gadgets for Fury and new stylistic flourishes.  The visual treats this time out include a series of panels that show most of the Marvel super-heroes reacting to Strucker’s ultimatum, a spectacular double-page spread, and our first glimpse of Nick’s now-iconic skin-tight black suit.

PE: A visual feast indeed! The SHIELD strip now resembles an EC science fiction comic (Weird Fantasy, Weird Science, Incredible Science Fiction) more than a Marvel. After seeing what this has come to, one wonders what Steranko might have done with Fantastic Four in an alternate reality. Baron Strucker is an old friend from Sgt. Fury but I was taken by surprise as well by the reveal. Strucker's comment that it had been 24 years since the two had seen each other brings up that ol' debbil Marvel timeline again. The writers would constantly shoot themselves in the collective foot while trying to explain events like this and Peter Parker's extended school terms. For this to be possible, Nick must be at least 50 (he didn't look 26 in Sgt. Fury but we'll give Steranko the benefit of the doubt) here in Strange Tales #156. How long until we get the explanation for his Cap-esque fountain of youth? A hell of a cover by Marie Severin, by the way, one that I'd love to hang on my wall.

Nope, Steranko can't draw the Hulk either.
Jack: I try to read these stories but I can’t seem to follow them. Honestly, I don’t have any idea what’s going on. There seem to be too many word balloons interfering with the pretty pictures. I think Steranko would have been better off just telling the story with his art and leaving out the dialogue. The art is spectacular, especially the full page of Fury and the concluding two-page spread. At this point, Steranko’s art is among the best in comics.

Doctor Strange
Our Story

After Umar appears on a New York street and wipes out a crowd of onlookers, the Ancient One summons Dr. Strange back from banishment to face her. As Umar continues her rampage, attacking the Ancient One from the other side of the world, Dr. Strange unleashes Zom, a legendary monster whose power dwarfs that of Umar. Umar and the Ancient One engage in a battle at Stonehenge until Zom appears, causing Umar to flee back to her own Dark Dimension.

Jack: Well, that banishment didn’t last long! These Dr. Strange stories all seem to run together. The last panel is hilarious, as the evil, uncontrollable Zom stands around jawing with Dr. Strange and the Ancient One about how he’s going to kill them.

MB: Seeing Umar unleashed in our dimension reminded me quite strongly of The Magician’s Nephew, the Narnia novel by C.S. Lewis in which the future White Witch, Jadis, wreaks havoc in London.  Despite the fact that her ancient enemy, Zom, has one of the least imaginative names and goofiest appearances in Marvel villainy, I found this installment a decided upswing from the last one (with a concomitant improvement in Umar’s looks).  I loved the high stakes represented by the whole “the uncontrollable cure may prove more deadly than the malady itself” routine, per the Ancient One, and although Zom himself leaves something to be desired, the fact that it took both Dormammu and Eternity to imprison him gives one pause.

PE: On the Bullpen Bulletins page, we get the first Stan's Soapbox, wherein Stan tells us what's on his mind, where he's lecturing, what movie star he had dinner with, etc. No wonder Kirby got pissed off. Seriously though, Stan's Soapbox became a must-read for all us little (and not so little) Zombies and the whole lot of them were collected in the appropriately-titled Stan's Soapbox: The Collection (Hero Initiative, 2008). I'd have preferred to see them reprinted as they were originally run (in their little yellow boxes) rather than re-formatted but it's nice to have them all in one package.

Tales of Suspense 89
Iron Man
Our Story

When an accident at the new Stark Factory sends Pepper Potts into Happy Hogan's arms, Tony Stark at last realizes his secretary is not in love with her millionaire boss but with his chauffeur. This sends Tony into a spiral of depression, relieved only by an unending supply of gorgeous girls. Meanwhile, back at Ryker's Island, Iron Man's arch-enemy The Melter (last see in Avengers #6) has magically reassembled his Melting Gun and uses it to bust out of the stir. Next stop: Stark Factory where he intends to make the trillionaire playboy craft him a new improved melting ray. That is, if The Melter can find Tony under the pile of naked women in his water bed. When the showdown finally gets underway, Iron Man realizes that The Melter's powers are too great for him and, deciding to play another angle, he switches to Tony Stark to try to figure out what the bad guy wants.

PE: I thought for sure after the last super villain assembled a nuclear bomb in auto shop, these wardens would have learned their lesson but it's obvious that even super villains are allowed "fun time" in the pokey. Iron Man notes that The Melter is "the one foe I'm powerless against." Really? Seems like a bit of unfounded hyperbole from a man who's defeated The Mandarin, The Crimson Dynamo, and The Scarecrow. Dopey pop reference of the issue:

The Melter: Iron Man!
Iron Man: Who'd you expect -- The Lovin' Spoonful?

Not much thought went into these comeback lines.

MB: Stan was probably correct in anticipating that some readers would feel this story was a little heavy on the hearts-and-flowers stuff, although the “montage” on page 4 (subsequently deleted in Marvel Double Feature) was kinda cool.  But it’s nice to see that Pepper appears to have made her choice between Tony and Happy, at least subconsciously, and to have a reminder of the loyalty Stark inspires among his other employees, not to mention a resolution of the Senator Boyd [sic] subplot.  As for the Melter, I’d never rank him as a first-tier villain, yet he is inarguably the most natural foe imaginable for an armored super-hero, and I like the ironic twist that Shellhead felt he’d stand a better chance with him as Tony than as Iron Man.

PE: "Hearts and Flowers"? Looked more like Gin 'n' Trojans to me. All it takes is seeing Pep hug Hap and Tony Stark is bedding everything save the country cows (and they may be next). Yeesh! 

Captain America
Our Story

Our opening panel reveals that the mastermind behind the attack on Cap by Power Man and The Swordsman was none other than The Red Skull, risen from his watery grave (back in TOS #81). The Skull reveals to Cap his plan to entrap whole cities in huge bubbles and make the grovel before him. He then reveals his biggest surprise for Cap: Bucky Barnes! Of course, it's not the real Bucky Barnes, just a really life-like robot that Cap makes quick scrap metal of. Annoyed, The Skull informs the star-spangled Avenger he's had enough fun and it's time to die. The walls begin to close in on Captain America.

PE: The Skull explains how he survived his descent to the bottom of the ocean wearing a full suit of armor. The Cube, though not in his possession nor anywhere around him, still gave him oxygen enough to breathe underwater. What total rubbish! Better not to explain how the guy makes it back to civilization than make up such tall tales. I prefer my fantasy believable! The Red Dope has Cap defenseless in his bubble and tells him that his death must be slow and savored. Hasn't this guy learned anything in the last twenty years? You've got the guy helpless, kill him now. If only I was a super-villain.

MB: The revelation that the Red Skull was the mastermind behind don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-’em goons Power Man and Swordsman hardly floored me, but you won’t hear me kvetch.  Similarly, although the idealist in me thinks he could use a dedicated inker to give his lines a little more definition, Kane’s work is fluid and dynamic, and he excels at action and strong emotion, two qualities in abundance in this lively tale.  You don’t want to play the Bucky card too often, yet Stan does so adroitly here, and even though we know intellectually that it can’t really be young—or not—Mr. Barnes confronting Cap, Smiley and Sugar-Lips make us feel the shield-slinger’s pain as his nemesis rips the scab from his never-healing wound.

PE: For the umpteenth time, one of our Marvel heroes is fooled by a robot. These mad villains must be light years ahead of our scientists because a robot's a robot no matter how life-like its features. How is the Buckybot programmed to duck Cap's blows or deliver a left to the head? Is The Skull standing off to the side with a remote like some mad Wii player? I'll say this though, despite its flaws, this is the closest I've seen so far to the kind of fun "Marvel History Lessons" stories that I ate up like Nacho Cheese Doritos in the early 1970s. A similar story line will pop up during Steve Englehart's stellar run on Cap in the mid-70s where we find out that Cap's partner, The Falcon, may be a creation of The Skull. 

The Avengers 40
Our Story

While the Sub-Mariner intercepts a torpedo and fights with a submarine, Captain America contacts the Avengers with a request to find the Cosmic Cube. They cross paths with Subby and Hercules asks him if he is also hunting for the Cube. Figuring it must be something powerful, Namor quickly locates the Cube on the ocean floor and realizes its powers. He uses the Cube to help him in a battle with the Avengers, but it falls in a crevice created by an earthquake and Subby goes back to his undersea kingdom. Underground, the Mole Man picks up the Cube but discards it, not realizing its significance.

PE: Shades of Daredevil, the Sub-Mariner's been back in the Marvel Universe for over five years but we're only now learning that he can hear radio messages underwater and trace them back to the sources through his "Hybrid Senses." The big guffaw this issue goes to Captain America, when he informs his teammates they need to find the Cosmic Cube. When quizzed, Cap explains "Can't stop to explain! But whoever possesses it... has the power to conquer the universe!" In the end, The Avengers (minus Cap but plus Herc) do a good job tracking down The Cube, find it and then lose it. The kicker is that they don't seem all that bothered by their colossal mistake. A power that can destroy the universe but they're more interested in getting back to Avengers HQ to see what Jarvis has whipped up for lunch. Well, except for Hawkeye, who has only sex on his mind. Stan's been so worried about continuity (his asterisk boxes are all over this story) and yet he drops the big ball when it comes to our "surprise reveal" at the climax: The Mole Man and his mindless minions were blowed up real good at the climax of last month's Iron Man strip. While I don't expect Moley to stay dead, I do wonder why we didn't see a (* The Mole Man and his one million little blind guys made it out the back door in the three seconds they had before their underground cave went ka-blooey) from Stan or Roy.

Jack: The House of Ideas must have been out of ideas this month, because Rascally Roy went back to the old standby plot of having Sub-Mariner guest star when nothing else was going on. Hercules is a great addition to the team, and the bit at the end with the Mole Man is cute, but the best thing about this issue is the announcement that John Buscema will replace Don Heck next time around!

The Cosmic Sugar Cube?
PE: It's a Small World Department: The crew have to head to the tiny Carribean island of Puerto Nuevo (which, Wikipedia tells me, is actually a small borough of Baja, California) to find The Cube at the same time the prince of Atlantis is heading there to sink some subs.

MB: And so, after 32 admittedly variable issues, we bid farewell to Don Heck, who reportedly ceded the pencils to Buscema on the monthly book to work on the upcoming annual, and didn’t return for years, but even more than original artist Kirby, I think he can fairly be said to have established the look of the team.  Under Bell’s inks, he gives a decent account of himself, but it’s a shame that Roy—who took a while to hit his stride—has given him such a chaotic plot, worsened by once again witnessing events that won’t be explained until next month’s Suspense. You’d think a story combining the Assemblers, Namor, and the Cosmic Cube couldn’t miss, but the coincidences are howlers, while the botched use of the Cube constitutes criminal misconduct.

PE: If I haven't grown to love Heck's pencils I've, for the most part, gotten used to them. However, his Namor is the worst I've ever seen. What is it about the Sub-Mariner's chest that seems to have dumbfounded Don? At turns, Namor looks bloated, thin, or equipped with breasts in his throat. While the story's a drag, at least Roy is working in some plot elements, like The Cube, that get the iconography cogs turning rather than simply the same format we've been slogging through the past, god knows how many, issues: some unknown force breaks its way into Avengers HQ and we find out it's The Porcupine and The Scarecrow or some other malevolent-but-ultimately-a-joke menace that keeps the team occupied and squabbling for 20 pages of badly-drawn panels. If it sounds like I'm at the end of my tether with this series, you're right. I have very fond memories of this title and so far, they're unjustified.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #134
Marvel Tales #8
Millie the Model #148
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #42
Two-Gun Kid #87