Wednesday, July 25, 2012

October 1967: The Coming of MODOK!

The Avengers 45
Our Story

The citizens of New York honor the Avengers with an Avengers Day in Central Park. In attendance is the Super-Adaptoid, who uses the powers of all of the Avengers to launch a dangerous attack--until he short circuits and keels over!

MB:  Looks like reports of Heck’s exit from this book were exaggerated, although we get Colletta carried over as inker, and since Roy’s script for “Blitzkrieg in Central Park!” doesn’t quite hit one out of the, uh, park either, that makes this issue pretty average all around.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’ve always liked the Super-Adaptoid, who I don’t think is used to best advantage here, especially with so many panels devoted to who will show up when for Avengers Day…and what they’re wearing.  The fact that so much of the drama derives from the possibility that several of our characters may be stepped on at any moment, while the rest of the cast stands around and waits, also helps make this less than the “blitzkrieg” I was hoping for.

PE: Pure misery. Roy wastes seven pages with "Where's Cap? He should be here now! I can't wait around! I've got things to do!" and Stan has a hell of a time trying to keep track of that almighty chronology, so important in some titles but disregarded in others (Professor Matthew can attest to that after last month's Tales of Suspense/Strange Tales crossover/debacle), with little notes here and there that the action depicted takes place before Tales of Suspense #95, during The Mighty Thor 145, and after The Avengers King-Size Special #1. I'll just take his word for itJanet Van Dyne shows up to the shindig in her brand new sports car, with a brand new outfit raided from Penny Robinson's foot locker, and no one on her team calls her out for snobbery? Five million clams and she's not donating it to starving children in Latveria? What kind of superheroine could she be deep down? Next she'll be dating that other multi-millionaire philanthropist Tony Stark, the guy who makes his dough selling bombs. Not sure what's worse this issue: the crazy hip with-it lingo ("That far-out flivver is Endsville!") or the sudden rash of thees and thous that have brokeneth out amongst all our characters. I'll forgive The Super-Adaptoid as he's siphoning off the others and can't help himself (although he should be talking hipster jive as well) but the fact that four of The Avengers now talketh liketh thith is distracting beyond belief. Don Heck, whom I've defended in the past (albeit the distant past), reminds us all why we're so happy to have Big John Buscema as the new regular penciler on The Avengers. Study closely the panel above right. Is Thor bald on the top of his head? Is the helmet too small? Skewed a bit? Is the wing attached to his golden mane? And just what is going on in the panel reprinted above left? Is Goliath punching 'Dapt while in the air even though the panel preceding and following show his feet on the ground?

Jack The best scene in this issue was when Janet shows up in her snazzy new suit and the photographer's comments make high-pockets jealous.

PE: LOL- scene of the zine: The Wasp and Goliath/Ant-Man fight to the death with 'Dapt while shrunk down to the size of insects while their partners stand around and direct traffic: "Please ma'am, our partners are waging a battle for the earth, so don't step on them!"

Hercules: Is there nothing we can do?
Hawkeye: Not as long as they remain ant-size!
The Readers: Step on him, you dolts!

Tales to Astonish 96
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Namor is more bloodthirsty than usual as he plans to attack the surface world.  Cooler heads prevail and he settles for attacking the Plunderer before declaring all-out war.  While his mission is dangerous, Namor finds time in between fighting off monstrous snakes and a sea monster to visit his mom’s grave before battling the Plunderer at his home base.  Dorma follows her man, only to be struck along with him by the Plunderer’s weaponry.  Namor briefly fights and knocks out the villain, only to be caught after he tries to find out Dorma’s condition.  Our story ends with his capture as the villain is about to lead his horde on to further pillaging. 

Even as a lad, Namor had amazing powers of perception.

MB: Colletta’s portfolio seems to be expanding like kudzu, to ensnare not only the Avengers but also Namor (as it did when Gene Colan launched this strip in #70); fortunately, Everett’s pencils largely withstand the assault.  By the time this issue of TTA was reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes, Subby’s own book had been cancelled for almost a year and the Hulk was clearly in the ascendant, so it’s a bit of a shame the cover was redone to feature him instead.  I’m no big fan of the Plunderer—or, for that matter, his idiot brother—yet that shot of Subby rising from the sea to confront him on Skull Island is pretty atmospheric, and although Kev looks suitably dopey, most of the interior art is solid, with a nice sea monster and penguins.

Jack: I am not sure I agree with Lord Vashti that the Plunderer is a "menace to all who dwell on this planet." Seems to me like he never gets very far with his schemes. And by the way, Namor's mom looks like a blue Jane Russell.

Tom:  This would have been a nice story with a good finale if only it had ended after Subby punched out the Plunderer.  In the span of a two-part story, it would have ended an exciting adventure that Daredevil would have taken three whole comics to fulfill.  As it stands now, it’s getting closer and closer to an appearance by Ka-Zar and that is making me nervous!  It’s hard to take this match-up seriously when, according to the Marvel Universe handbook, Namor can lift around 85 tons.   The Plunderer looks like he would be lucky if he could pick up a garden gnome.  

Our Story

Things are getting pretty chaotic as the High Evolutionary’s animal humanoid creatures, the New Men, barge into his lab just before he can experiment on Bruce Banner.  The Evolutionary is unhappy that Banner can’t just automatically change into his green alter-ego to aid him in his defense.  Armed with a sword and shield, the villain fights valiantly against his creations until Banner does finally change into the Hulk.  Mortally wounded during the fight, the Evolutionary has no choice but to use his own machine on himself to forward his own evolution into a cosmic being of the universe.  He ends up changing the New Men back into their original forms and then drops the Hulk back off on planet Earth.

Wait--didn't we see this on Star Trek?
MB:  I’m sorry to see this promising storyline, with its clear echoes of H.G. Wells’s Dr. Moreau, end so quickly, especially considering the super-lame villain who will dominate the next few interminable installments.  The New-Man’s puzzlement over Dr. Banner’s transformation was amusing, and it was quite a switch to see the High Evolutionary, who usually seems to feel above mere physical conflict, grab his mace and wade into the fray.  Circumstances clearly compelled him to alter his plans frequently during this sequence, and it’s only fitting that he winds up becoming the subject of his greatest experiment, but in spite of his attaining oneness with the universe, and that deus ex machina ending, we’ll be seeing more of H.E. down the road.

Tom:  The High Evolutionary outperformed the Hulk in his own title as the story seemed to shift into spotlighting his dramatic change of bodily forms.  I really liked this ending.  It’s kind of hard to call the High Evolutionary a villain when in the end he came off as more of a misunderstood weirdo.  I was a little surprised to see that he was a normal looking human underneath his strange outfit.       

Jack: Not much to say about this story other than that it was pretty cool! I am getting a little bit tired of these cliffhangers that are resolved in two seconds in the next story, and I'd like to have seen Hulk have to figure out a way to get home from the distant planet rather than having the High Evolutionary snap his virtual fingers and transport him back to Earth, but that's just minor stuff. I'm enjoying the Severin/Trimpe art and I am very glad that the Hulk has learned to speak more eloquently.

The Amazing Spider-Man 53
Our Story

Always in the right place at the right time. Peter Parker is attending a science exposition of a new missile nullifier with Professor Warren and Gwen Stacy (please hold your "ahas" for 95 issues) when the device is stolen by Doctor Octopus. Peter makes a mad exit and is able to change into his Spider-Man costume just in time to stop Doc Ock from escaping. During a battle atop a high building, Ock drops the Nullifier onto a crowd of onlookers. Spidey is able to hurl a tracer onto Ock and then catch the gizmo before it does any harm. Unfortunately for Spidey, Ock finds the tracer and attempts to turn the tables on the wall-crawler by planting a bomb on a fake Doc Ock. Fortunately for Spidey, he listens to his spider-sense and sniffs out the booby trap just in time. Unfortunately for Doc Ock, his headquarters is destroyed. Fortunately for Doc Ock, there's a nice little widowed matron who has a room for rent. Any guesses on that matron's identity?

PE: Monday morning quarterbacks know that this is the beginning of a relationship between Otto Octavius and May Parker, a weird bond that will escalate in the 1970s to the horror of her nephew. There's also the strained relationship between Peter and Harry to keep an eye on while Mary Jane just seems to be spinning her wheels right now. You'd never know from the last handful of issues that she'd become a major player in this title.

MB: Despite being behind it all, Dr. Octopus wasn’t too much in evidence during the Master Planner Trilogy, so I was doubly excited to see Ring-a-Ding get his first crack at one of my favorite villains, although Ock’s current taste in eyewear leaves much to be desired. I don’t remember Otto sporting these goofy goggles when last seen, and interestingly, when this cover was completely redrawn for the Marvel Tales reprint, they were swapped for his traditional specs.  The stuff with the science expo was nifty for several reasons:  it recalls the circumstances of Spidey’s creation; it puts Peter and Gwen more on the proper romantic track; and, for those of us reading with 20/20 hindsight, it nicely foreshadows future events involving Professor Warren.

PE: The Monday morning quarterbacks can also read into Professor Warren's longing gaze at Gwen Stacy and his "You're bringing Miss Stacy? I certainly admire your choice, Parker!" can be viewed two ways: he's a love-starved old professor hot for one of his cute students or he admires Parker for surrounding himself with intelligent friends. I'll opt for the latter since there's no way the seed of what was to come a decade later was being planted as far back as 1967. I doubt Gerry Conway caught the spark much earlier than the reveal but I give him lots and lots of credit for reaching back and using an existing character in such an inventive way and it's fun to imagine and read into what is there. The Professor Warren saga of the mid-Seventies has been both praised and pissed on through the years. I stand firmly on the former side and can't wait to get to that era. 

Fantastic Four 67
Our Story

 In a desperate attempt to find the trail that will lead them to Alicia, Reed has studied the images he captured with his heat-image tracer of her going “through the wall” to…where? The key is in duplicating the pattern on the wristband worn by the man named Hamilton who led her. Ben helps for a time, but really all he, Sue, Johnny and Crystal can do is wait for the calculations to be complete. Finally, after two days, and some special equipment from Tony Stark, Reed comes up with the answer. Alicia meanwhile, accompanied by Hamilton, wanders through the labyrinth of Lock 41, where the being that Hamilton and his scientific peers have created lurks. The intention is still for Alicia to find Him and do a sculpture. As the as yet unseen being gives them a couple of warning blasts to keep them away, Hamilton gradually makes Alicia aware that the plan of the he and his fellows had was not so well-intentioned, and that they planned to use the being they created, and others that they planned to duplicate, as the tools for the scientists to rule over mankind. Though extremely powerful the being still feels vulnerable. He senses the good within Alicia and allows her to approach, while some tentacles emerge from the rocky ground to hold Hamilton back. Alicia follows his voice, and indeed finds Him. He is encased in a full-size cocoon, almost ready to be released in his final form. The sensitive and brave blind girl can likewise tell he is not a thing of evil, but has been protecting himself from the heartless men who created him. By this time, Reed, Ben and Johnny, leaving the girls behind, emerge into the so-called Citadel of Science that is the site of all this activity. They are greeted by guards, whom they quickly subdue, and who they force to tell them where to find Alicia and Hamilton. By the time the terrific trio catches up to Alicia in Lock 41, the being has emerged from his cocoon. Being able to read the minds of others, he knows what his creators had really intended, and sets about an energy buildup that will destroy the Citadel of Science and the evil within. He protects Alicia, who he knows to be inherently good, from immediate harm, and she escapes, carried by her love Ben, with Reed and Johnny, back through the transfer grid to the Baxter Building. Finally, he emerges; a handsome, orange-skinned humanoid—the last site the scientists will ever see, and takes his leave from humanity for the present time, as the destruction is complete around Him.

PE: How in the world did Reed Richards get all the detailed schematics on his blackboard from just the one picture of the bracelet? I know he's the smartest guy on the planet but, after all, this is the guy who can't figure out that Sue would be a much better partner if she went to the mall and hairdresser after they face Doctor Doom or The Mole Man. She'd want to get the damn altercation over that much faster, right?

JB: I found this a very satisfying story, as the suspense builds until we finally see Him. I’m not yet familiar with all of his future encounters, but I’m having a hard time not spilling the beans about his appearance in Thor in the not-too-distant future. The chances of a bunch of evil men creating a complex as the Citadel of Science, or of Reed duplicating the wristband from just a few images, seem unimportant next to the epic nature of this fascinating origin. Funny too, that the ladies agreed so easily to stay behind and mind the store, when they have as much power to help effect a rescue as the boys do. I love the full-size illustration of page 10, with Alicia, perhaps the real hero of the story, finding kinship with another misunderstood soul (like the Silver Surfer).

PE: Another in a long line of classic stories, the origin of Him/Warlock almost gets lost in the more famous tales from this era. An obvious variation on Shelley's Frankenstein, the story evokes the same pathos: Sympathy for a creature who may be very dangerous but never asked to brought into the world and Anger for the scientists who created Him out for their own selfish reasons. Amazing that this is the same title we were slagging only a few months ago as unworthy of the "World's Greatest Comic Magazine" banner that's flown on each cover since its fourth issue. Now there doesn't seem enough superlatives to lay at the feet of a book that treats its readers as if they have a bit of intelligence and patience. That last virtue comes in handy here even for this 50-year old reader who doesn't want to wait until (who knows when?) to find out what happened to Him. Jack and Stan seem to be so ripe with ideas for this strip that they introduce one concept and then lay it to the side to explore new territory. "Just wait and you'll be rewarded!" I can hear The King say from his drawing board, pipe in hand. "All in good time!"

Strange Tales 161
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Fury continues his flashback, relating how he and Cap (whose gravity-nullifying harness failed) were saved from fatal plunges by, respectively, Lady Liberty’s crown and the FF.  Nick tries desperately to stay alive, evade the invaders, and stall them as Mr. Fantastic equips Cap with an Electro-Amplifier Rifle, but his attempt to place a bomb on the Id-Paralyzer fails, because its effects are too strong.  Restrained and thrown into the harbor, Fury is rescued and freed by Cap, whose use of the rifle buys Nick enough time to blow up the machine, while causing the Blackout of ’65; Jimmy Woo identifies the mastermind as his old nemesis, the Yellow Claw, now revealed to be watching their every move as he hatches his next sinister plan.

MB: Once again, we see precious little of Jimmy during the sequence framing Fury’s story, but we do learn the identity of his mystery villain—in fact, it’s plastered all over this spectacular cover, so it’s a little ironic that Steranko drew it himself, since it wrecks the “big surprise” in the two-page reveal that ends the episode.  Steranko resurrected Jimmy, the Claw, and his niece, Suwan (who loves Woo), from a short-lived series published by Marvel’s ’50s predecessor, Atlas Comics, and drawn by Kirby and John Severin, among others.  He’s clearly a knock-off of Fu Manchu, and in fact Fu’s creator, Sax Rohmer, wrote a novel called The Yellow Claw, but he’s a grand, grandiose villain, and as usual the battle with his minions affords the opportunity for some splendid visuals.

PE: That two-pager is a humdinger indeed, reminding me of The Golden Age that spawned The Yellow Claw (almost Everett-ish). I'd have preferred a little bit more Claw this issue though as the flashback is just another ho-hum "Fury saves the world in the Nick of time" story. Some of the pages looked a little to busy for me this issue (especially page 3) and Steranko is still having problems drawing the faces of some of the characters (Cap's okay as he's behind a mask). The coloring almost caused my brain to melt in a few spots, resembling  a water color paint-by-numbers board in some panels. I'm very much looking forward to next issue though.

Jack: This is another suitable for framing art issue, with no less than four full page panels in a twelve-page story--and one of them is a two-page spread! I love a good Asian (Oriental is no longer P.C.) menace and this fits right in with the June 1967 release of You Only Live Twice, as Prof. Matthew well knows!

Doctor Strange 
Our Story

Baron Mordo banishes Dr. Strange to the World of The Million Perils, where the good doctor sees some freaky sights and battles escapees from 1950s Marvel comics before rescuing Victoria Bentley, a woman he saved from Mordo once before.

MB: In this episode, once again written by “Ramond” (sic) Marais, we welcome aboard new artist Dan Adkins, who, to my eyes, seems much more assured with his maiden effort than Marie Severin did after eight months.  There’s a crisp clarity to his work that I find quite bracing, making Doc especially look really sharp, and although none can equal Ditko’s cosmic landscapes, Dapper Dan’s have their own epic quality, which looks more like pulp sci-fi than hallucinogenic wizardry.  While I lament the ongoing marginalization of Clea, surprising in retrospect for a character who later became so pivotal, I welcome the return of old chum Victoria Bentley, who—if I recall correctly—becomes a significant supporting character in her own right.

Jack: Now that we know Dan Adkins was a big swiper, I see it everywhere, from the Ditkoesque vistas to the Wally Wood face on Ms. Bentley. Perhaps Honorary Prof. Glenn can illuminate the source of some of these nice-looking panels?

Tales of Suspense 94
Iron Man
Our Story

Thinking Iron Man down for the count, Half-Face and Titanium Man leave their nest to find a helpless village to destroy. The plan is kill as many innocents as time allows and blame it on the American jet fighters that are heading their way. Unbeknownst to the deadly duo, ol' Shellhead has a few volts left in him and, after splicing into a nearby generator, is soon hot on the heels of his adversaries. He finds them just in time as Titanium Man is about to mow down several villagers. As Iron Man desperately battles T.M. to the death, Half-Face spots his long-missing wife and son and has second thoughts of turning this little 'burb into ashes.

MB: This month, Dan Adkins not only kicks off his tenure on Dr. Strange, but also supplants Giacoia as Shellhead’s inker and proves himself resolutely capable in that capacity as well, complementing but never obscuring Gentleman Gene’s signature style.  I’ll set aside my previously expressed perplexity over the Titanium Man’s newly enhanced stature to savor the solid artwork, Iron Man’s customary ingenuity in finding a way to vanquish his larger and stronger opponent, and the ongoing mystery of the interloper at Stark Industries.  All of this plus a happy ending for Half-Face and his family (I’m assuming I.M. and those villagers weren’t really speaking the same language when he rescued that father and son)—so, what’s not to like?

PE: I thought the Half-Face family revelation a bit pat but otherwise this was a snappy entry. Though there was never any doubt the village was going to be saved, having Half-Face suddenly stumble over Mrs. Face and Little Half was a little silly even for the Marvel Coincidental Universe. Add to that the fact that Shellhead will let Metal Mouth wander off scott free, trusting that the guy who minutes earlier was going to murder an entire village has seen the light and will now work at the Village Rec Center twice a week, makes this one a tough one to swallow. I get the feeling Titanium Man is playin' possum. 

Captain America
Our Story

The Agents of A.I.M. decide the only way they have to defeat MODOK, a weapon of their own making, is to unleash Captain America upon him. Since MODOK is holding (Sharon Carter) hostage, Cap is only to happy to set aside his ill will towards the men of A.I.M. until his girl is safe. Beamed right to its doorstep, Cap at last faces the monstrous MODOK, half man-half machine-all mean, with a huge, deadly cranium that issues blast rays but seems no match for a few guns as A.I.M. agents finally take out their new master. Not being the grateful types, the yellow-costumed baddies then turn their sights on Cap and (Sharon) but these two super athletes prove they're a winning team.

PE: I loved loved loved the second panel (reproduced above) showing the AIM agent being told he can't kill Captain America. Flipping up his weapon, with an almost audible sigh he whines "MODOK! MODOK!! We never get any fun with that guy around!!" I didn't love love love that MODOK's debut lasts only a couple of pages before a fairly anti-climactic climax. We all know MODOK will be back fairly soon but he proves to be something of a pushover this time around. I wonder if the anonymity of (Sharon Carter) was deliberate on Jack and Stan's part. Was it to build mystery and get the fans talking or was it just an oversight? How could Cap fall so madly in love with a woman he knows only as "Hey You!" Well, Johnny Storm did it but at least he knew Crystal's name.

MB: I felt an excitement while reading this episode that is difficult to quantify, but seemed due to more than merely seeing Lee and Kirby reunited on Cap, as though the strip had truly come into its Silver Age own, rather than feeling like warmed-over Golden Age stuff.  Certainly the debut of MODOK (whose name, for those of you not averse to peeking ahead, is an acronym for “Mobile Organism Designed Only for Killing”), a durable and uniquely Kirbyesque villain, has a lot to do with it, and I’ll never turn down another helping of a reborn A.I.M.  I liked the idea of A.I.M. using Cap as a stalking horse to rebel against MODOK, but I still find it hilarious that Agent 13 expends so much energy NOT telling Cap her real name.

Golden Age MODOK
PE: The inspiration for MODOK obviously comes from an 8-page pre-code horror story Kirby drew, with Joe Simon, for Black Magic #30 (May-June 1954) and reprinted by DC in Black Magic #1 (November 1973). Prize Comics was another of the lesser companies that found itself in financial straits when the Comics Code boom was lowered. The company is perhaps best known for publishing Dick Briefer's Frankenstein series and the Mad rip-off, Sick. Black Magic in the 1970s was resurrected by DC for two reasons: to cash in on their exclusive contract with "The King" who had flown the Marvel coop a couple years prior and, no doubt, to cash in on Marvel's successful horror/sf reprint titles. The first incarnation lasted 50 issues while the reprint series a mere nine.

The Mighty Thor 145
Our Story

Having been defeated by Thor, Balder and Sif, the Enchanters Brona and Magnir surrender to the local authorities and are locked away in prison. In Asgard, Odin has returned triumphant; the third Enchanter Forsung having lost their battle of powers that blazed across the heavens. The victory has left Odin in a bad mood, and the fellows of Asgard can do much more than tremble in silence as the All-Father rants on. His first act is to banish the two remaining Enchanters to limbo; leaving a confused police precinct looking at an empty cell. Next, he calls upon Thor and his fellows to return to Asgard. Balder and Sif oblige, but Thor tells his father he wants to remain on Earth, more conscious than ever of the good he can do there, both as Thor and Dr. Blake. The Thunder God gets denied both: his father indeed lets him stay on Earth, but stripped of his Asgardian power and unable to transform into his human alter ego. Feeling like not much more than a man with some extra heft, Thor decides to find a job like anyone else. As fate would have it, the job he applies for (as a circus strong man) is not what it seems. The circus is the infamous Circus of Crime, and the role Thor is applying for is really just a cover, as the circus needs someone powerful to help carry out their master plan. Thor is attacked first by a huge python, and uses his strength to contain it. The rest of the group appears: a gorgeous lady named Princess Python (for obvious reasons), a human cannonball, a clown, two gambinos, and the leader, the Ringmaster. Seeing that Thor (who he thinks is just some muscleman who’s chosen to play that role) may be of use to his Circus of Crime, the Ringmaster hypnotizes Thor. He then gets Thor to lift a huge rock bull and carry it a given distance; a mock task that mimics the crime the circus plans to commit: stealing a bull of the same size that’s made of solid gold. Waking Thor from his trance, the Ringmaster hires the Thunder God, who remembers nothing of the test he just performed.

This is the last Tales of Asgard installment. Having vanquished the forty horsemen of Satan  (thanks to Volstagg) the Asgardians have only to find and defeat Mogul, who plans to unleash the deadly Spotted Plague on his people. Alibar, the surf-made-warrior who became our hero’s ally, has learned from observing Mogul how to use some of his spells. His knowledge, plus a secret spell from Hogun, destroys Mogul, freeing Hogun’s people. They return to Asgard leaving Alibar as the new, improved king.

JB: It seemed a little out of place that Brona and Magnir just hand themselves over to the police without any objection, a far cry from the colourful trio we met two issues back. The big gripe has to be Odin though. Thor seemed to expect that Odin was going to object to his staying on Earth, and does he ever. You can hear Thor thinking, “What did I do this time?” when Odin flips out. Maybe it’s boring being omnipotent and Odin secretly wishes he could be free of his kingly duties. The scenario made for a fine cover however. The finale of Tales Of Asgard is overdue, although the mini-strip offered some fine moments. Curiously, rather than yet give Thor a full twenty pages, the title is replaced by another mini-title next time around.

PE: His battle with Forsung seems to have left Odin in one of those "Hey, it's been four months since I last cast Thor from Asgard! Time for a change!" moods. I'm not sure why he's so adamant about having the Thunder God in Asgard anyway. It's been a long time since I read the initial issues (about a year in MU time) but wasn't it Odin's idea to have Thor on earth in the first place? Well, it's obvious he's not going to ask questions as he's Odin and what he says, goes. Looking at the unfortunate selection of villains this issue, my feelings are best summed up by the thoughts of Thor in panel 6 of page 13: "To think...Might Thor, immortal of Asgard... would so soon descend... to this!" Considering all the classic stories Jack and Stan have been filling this title with lately, I can certainly excuse a stinker now and then. Just as long as we're not in the beginning of a long arc involving The Ringmaster and his Circus full of seventh-tiers.

JB: You’re quite right professor Pete, even the best titles have some off days, and Thor is entitled to one here. I always felt like the Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime were possibly the dullest of all Thor villains, so if they’re meant to emphasize the sad state of his situation, they do indeed. Princess Python is pretty nice to look at; couldn’t she do better than get messed up in this lot?

The X-Men 37

Our Story

The head of Factor Three has managed to capture the X-Men in a trap. They are brought before a jury of their enemies. In classic villain fashion, the X-Men will be used to trigger World War III... or will they?

JS: I know that the X-Men I know and love are a few scant years away, but with each subsequent issue I appreciate why the title was initially mothballed.

MB: I can only imagine how bewildered my ten-year-old self must have been with this story, reprinted in #85, at a time when I knew nothing about three of the four evil mutants on the “jury”:  the Blob, Unus, and the Vanisher.  The opening freefall sequence strongly anticipates the classic X-Men #95, and helps bring the Factor Three storyline—an ambitious undertaking, yet so firmly relegated to the back burner in the recent issues I’ve since acquired (#34 and 36)—into the forefront again.  Andru is back, this time inked by another Avengers mainstay, Don Heck, and if the results are a bit sketchy, the overall storytelling is more sophisticated than the Roth-penciled nonsense of a year or so earlier, and feels more like the X-Men I would come to know and love.

PE: I've got a hunch that if you're on a plane going down, most superheroes wouldn't opt to open the cabin door and jump out. I think Roy was exaggerating just a tad when he described as "heart-stopping" the sight of the four seventh-tier villains that are sitting on the jury. If I'd been one of the X-Kids, I'd have sighed with relief. "Well, it could have been Magneto!" Which reminds me, where has that guy been? Without peeking, I'd say he's about due. My favorite "ridiculously titled weapon" of the month: The Oblivio-Ray. That joins past nominees Neutro-Ray, Inducto-Ray, Vita-Ray, and The Ray-Ray. I love The Changeling's head gear. That TV remote could come in handy some day.

JS: Yeah, when you get an all-star cast of villains assembled, you assume that the puppet master will be (well, not the Puppet Master) an A-lister.

Jack: I see way more of Don Heck than Ross Andru in this issue's art, though Andru's trademark wide eyes pop out here and there. The overall theme of mutants condemning the X-Men for siding with humans is a good one and would essentially recur for the next several decades as the X-Men became the most popular Marvel property. I don't know why everyone is so down on this series--I think it's pretty good!

JS: Hey Mastermind—why the long face? (Sorry, I couldn't resist...)

Daredevil 33
Our Story

Daredevil stumbles upon the villainous Beetle attacking an armored truck.  He tries to stop him but, after a short brawl, the Beetle knocks him out after throwing the hero into a brick wall.  Daredevil wakes up after the Beetle escapes and goes back to the law office.  It’s there that he talks Karen and Foggy into joining him on a vacation to Canada while he’s disguised as his alter-ego’s fake brother, Mike Murdock.  The train that the trio takes to Canada happens to be transporting the most precious necklace in the world.  The Beetle snatches it away from some guards.  Daredevil gives pursuit and the Beetle leads him on a long chase all over the rocky hills.  Once he reaches an old town, Double D is ambushed and subdued by some thugs working for the Beetle.  The story ends with the bad guy trying to decide our hero’s fate.

Tom:  I think the Beetle might be my new hero after wasting Daredevil like he did in the beginning of this issue.  Seriously, though, I found the Beetle to be a much more credible  threat than I did back in his Strange Tales appearance.  The chase between him and Double D through the rocky terrain was some pretty exciting action.    

MB:  Okay, forget what I said about Daredevil Special #1 preceding this, since we’re told it takes place only hours after last issue to account for DD’s exhaustion, though I think Stan may have been similarly sleep-deprived when he wrote it.  Other than changing up the bad guys (and the Beetle seems like a good match for Hornhead, if a little full of himself for a guy whose track record is frankly not that great), everything else has stayed static, from the creative team to the silliness quotient, and I won’t even enumerate all of the reasons why the Mike Murdock tape-recorder scene is so far-fetched.  I see we’re promised the Beetle’s origin next ish; hope they also disclose where he’s been since he was doing the heavy lifting for the Collector in Avengers #28.

PE: I won't belabor the idiocy of the tape-phone conversation either other than to note that it's not possible for Froggy to call Matt's line and get the tape recording if Matt's phone is off the hook. What I will belabor is the stupidity of Madam-in-Waiting Karen Page and the lawyer who never actually does anything Foggy Nelson. "Mike" Murdock has been around several issues now and these two dopes have never questioned why the twins are never in the same room together. Matt might as well have told the duo that he has a Siamese twin! At least Stan notes how ludicrous it is that DD is beaten by The Beetle because he hasn't slept in two days yet The Man Without Sleep goes home, throws out the idea of the Expo on a whim, hops on a train and then decides to battle The Big Metal Bug even more sleep-deprived. Someone a little more in tune with 1967 beatnik chatter (I'm looking at you, Professor Jack) will have to clue me in as to what the following exchange actually means:

The Beetle: Something wrong, Daredevil? You're not afraid of a little water, are you?
Daredevil: Not afraid, exactly! I just hate to waste it when it's not even a Saturday night!

Jack: As any Bugs Bunny fan knows, Saturday night is the night for one's weekly bath. Personally, I can't get enough of Mike Murdock, though the Beetle has never been much of a villain. I think I would enjoy anything Gene Colan drew at this point--I read this issue wishing I could read a Colan-illustrated EC story!

Also this month

Fantasy Masterpieces #11 (Final issue; becomes Marvel Super-Heroes with #12)
Ghost Rider #6
Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #11
Millie the Model #154
Brand Echh #3
Rawhide Kid #60
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #47

Raise your hand if you remember . . .

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

September 1967: Him Lurks Behind the Beehive!

Daredevil 32
Our Story

Daredevil has been captured by the Cobra and his partner in crime, Mr. Hyde. To make matters worse, he still is unable to see. The villains take Daredevil to their secret hideout in New England, inside a lighthouse, off the coast. The two bad guys start arguing big time, which gives Double D the chance to find the power generator to shut off the lights. Once it is all dark, Hyde blurts out that they can’t let Daredevil reach the antidote he created for his blindness. The two hoodlums basically lead the hero to the antidote. After much brawling back and forth, Daredevil is able to cure himself and bring the villains to justice.

Jack: Oh yes, the old bit where the villains are so busy arguing with each other that they don’t notice the hero sneaking off to safety. The Cobra and Mr. Hyde are not very bright. What is that antidote bottle made of, anyway? Futuristic, unbreakable 1967 plastic? The darn thing bounces all over the place on a concrete floor but remains intact until DD can gulp it down. Tartaglione’s inks are a little shaky but for my money Colan is now number two in line of the artists defining Marvel at this point in the ‘60s—behind the King, of course.

MB: Tartaglione continues to prove he’s no Giacoia—there’s a particularly egregious shot of Foggy, who looks like his face has been rearranged by a truck, on page 4, panel 2—while Colan yet again demonstrates that he is the MVP on this book, rising to whatever inane occasion Stan conceives. Thank God we’re finally done with this “now I’m really blind” storyline, and I guess that nine-page fight in the darkened lighthouse (is that supposed to be ironic?) is intended to be a tour de force, but to me it just seemed like the colorist got off easy that day. I will award points for the nicely atmospheric full-page shot of DD and his foes on the storm-swept isle, and however silly the story, I always enjoy seeing the Cobra and Hyde, especially against Hornhead.

PE: Actually, I thought Foggy looked like James Cagney as Lon Chaney as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame in The Man of a Thousand Faces. A porky Cagney to be sure. Stan spreads so many more seeds in his Garden of Inanity this issue that I may have to sigh and admit that Professor Jack's theory, that this title is meant to be a parody, has some credence. How else to explain a strip that continues to dig such a huge hole it can't possibly get out of? I know it does eventually but, since I didn't read Daredevil when I was a kid, maybe that rescue doesn't come until Frank Miller turns it into the best comic book on the planet over a decade later. In any event, we get a few more Howlers this issue: Mr. Hyde, blinded by the darkness in the lighthouse (no, Professor Matthew, I don't believe irony could be found with a map and a flood lamp in this issue), exclaims "I've gotta find that antidote before Daredevil stumbles across it!" So, has he got the beaker sitting on a pedestal with "antidote" written in braille? Wouldn't it have been smarter for Hyde to grab the cyanide in the next bottle over and then yell "Okay, I've got the potion in my right hand. Don't try to get it, DD!"? Mister Hyde and The Cobra do so much bickering, one could be fooled into thinking they were trying out for The Avengers.

Tom: I’m betting Hyde was wishing he had just listened to the Cobra and killed Daredevil off instead of taking the time to drag him to a lab for a special punishment. This issue was for the action fans and it certainly delivered on that. Almost enough to make us readers forget about how horribly the last two issues dragged on. Almost…

Daredevil King-Size Special 1
Our Story

Out looking for trouble, Daredevil finds Electro and The Matador, both planning to eliminate him. They knock him out and then run off because they don’t want to have their revenge on him so easily. The Gladiator returns from Europe after having been summoned by Electro. Daredevil runs into The Matador again and another fight ensues; later, he happens upon Stilt Man and bests him in battle. Next comes Leap Frog, who is also unable to beat Daredevil on his own. Daredevil finally tracks down Electro and fights him, The Matador, The Gladiator, Stilt Man and Leap Frog, soon lassoing them all in a nice bunch for the police to collect. He heads back to work as Matt Murdock, knowing he can never profess his love for Karen Page.

Extras include a look at Daredevil’s powers, an explanation of who Mike Murdock is, a series of full-page pinups of Daredevil’s friends and foes, a billy club blueprint, and a tongue in cheek story conference between Stan Lee and Gene Colan.

MB: This could fit comfortably into DD’s chronology after the just-concluded Cobra/Hyde trilogy, and by preserving the Lee/Colan/Tartaglione team currently on view in the monthly book, it also provides continuity on the creative end. Unfortunately, it’s a feeble knock-off of the first Spider-Man annual that shows how superior his rogues’ gallery is, with Electro’s Emissaries of Evil fielding one less villain than the Sinister Six, and one in common in the form of Electro himself, who I don’t recall being either a scientific whiz or an exemplary leader. Nor do I remember these guys being much in the way of team players, and when your gang includes losers like the Matador and the Leap Frog, you’re in trouble…as is this endlessly padded story.

Jack: This is one of the all-time great Daredevil issues. The five villains are a lot of fun, as are the battles that populate the 39-page story. The art is outstanding, which is surprising since Tartaglione did not do as good a job on this month’s regular-sized Daredevil. The bonus features are corny but cool and the story conference between Stan and Gene is hilarious.

The Amazing Spider-Man 52
Our story

Defeated by The Kingpin (as seen in the last exciting issue!), Spider-Man is shackled alongside J. Jonah Jameson while water quickly fills their basement prison. The shackles prove to be no match for The Amazing Spider-Man and with a whole lot of webbing he creates an air bubble for the duo to survive. Once out, Spidey heads straight for the big man, barging in on him just as the mobster is about to rid himself of Freddie Foswell. The two trade blows but The Kingpin manages to escape. Meanwhile, the suddenly angelic Fred Foswell takes a bullet, from one of Kingpin's henchman, meant for Jameson and makes the obituary page. Jameson swears Foswell died a hero and Spider-Man is a bigger menace than ever. Great cover, by the way.

PE: Do you think JJJ hired Robbie Robertson for his keen perception? Robbie, Ned Leeds and, Betty ("Do I really love Peter even if I'm marrying Ned?") Brant are standing in Jameson's ruined office, detritus everywhere, door hanging off its hinges, windows shattered, and Robbie says: "There must be something wrong! Jameson would never take off without telling us!" A fairly weak story propped up by the usual exemplary Romita pencils. Foswell's character is one of those enigmas that never quite gets an explanation (but then, I guess, it wouldn't be an enigma). Why he ping-ponged between the right and wrong side of the law was never explained satisfactorily. In this arc, he went from reporter to erstwhile mobster to Saint Freddie the Martyr. Obviously Stan was as tired of the character as the rest of us. Flash Thompson makes a cameo, on leave from the Army, which is great because the relationships in this title weren't complicated enough. I haven't read this issue (nor any of the numbers surrounding it) in decades so I could be way off base but I sense something brewing with Flash in the near future. He's always been an egotist but there's a fishy smell about all his military boasts this time around. Amazingly enough (or not, considering Marvel's post-1970s track record), in 2012, Flash became the new Venom! I know way too much about these things now.

MB: There may be those who were disappointed that the first Kingpin arc essentially ended in a draw, yet I consider it a strength of this trilogy rather than a weakness, one that adds to his mystique because Spidey did not predictably finish him off right away. I think I am starting to get the benefit of Esposito’s inking a bit better, especially the close-up of Flash in page 12, panel 5; the only character who looks a little sketchy to me is Foswell, but his evidently permanent demise in this issue renders that point decidedly moot. In all the excitement, it seems I missed Joe “Robbie” Robertson’s debut last issue, but here he’s already a welcome presence as one of Marvel’s first exemplary black characters (a far cry from his ungrateful wretch of a boss).

The Avengers King-Size Special 1
Our Story

The Living Laser escapes from prison and joins the Mandarin, who has also gathered Power Man, the Swordsman, the Executioner and the Enchantress to help him in his plan for world domination. Thor and Iron Man rejoin the Avengers, who split up into teams of two to defeat the Mandarin's plans around the world and in outer space.

Extras include autobiographies of Roy Thomas and Don Heck, a diagram of Avengers Mansion, and pinups, including one of the Avengers ladies that is stunning.

PE: A whole boatload of coincidences meet to form a very enjoyable story, a throwback to these eyes but in reality a precursor to the great team team-ups that were to come. How about those coincidences, though: Tony Stark shows up at Living Laser's prison to drop off a new anti-escape ray (which doesn't seem to be used when he escapes) just as he's planning an exit stage left; Iron Man recognizes the ol' shimmering light routine as one of The Mandarin's tricks; Thor shows up to let his fellow ex-Avengers know that The Enchantress and The Executioner are back in town (so why wouldn't he just take care of them himself rather than bothering his buds?); Cap just blurts out "Oh, by the way, I should note that I've lost track of The Swordsman and Power Man since I last defeated them" for no apparent reason; and then Nick Fury calls to warn the team that there's something fishy going on in several parts of the globe. All this happens within approximately twenty seconds' elapsed Marvel time.

MB: If this did indeed indirectly end Heck’s tenure on the monthly title, it does so on a high note in a reportedly unprecedented 49-page epic—again inked by Roussos—with 16 major characters, which serves as a summation of the pre-Buscema Avengers. This may even be the first Marvel Comic I ever read (my battered original is missing the cover and first two pages, but I found the reprint in Giant-Size Avengers #5), and that kind of nostalgia makes it virtually critic-proof for me. I love the chapter/sub-team format, which I gather was a DC staple, and although Ultimo looks more fearsome as rendered by Gene Colan, he’s still a wonderful wild card for the Mandarin to play; this is also the most assured handling of the team I have seen from Roy so far.

PE: At least Hercules' attack on Iron Man (merely a misunderstanding) only lasts a merciful few panels. As for each chapter headed with a note torn straight "from the files of The Mandarin," I find it hard to picture the oriental madman sitting down at his desk, really big file cabinet to his right, reading glasses perched atop his crimson mask, typing his thoughts on what his subordinates should be doing in each of their regions. The Rascally One should be congratulated for pumping out a 49-page monster without making it feel like it overstayed its welcome. I didn't even mind the Heck artwork (maybe because I know I'll be returning to Buscema soon). For the first time I can remember (and I'm here only to be corrected) we get a massive biography page telling us all we need to know about Heck and Thomas, written by the boys themselves! Interestingly enough, Roy mentions a fondness as a boy for Namor but no mention of his well-publicized love for DC's All-Star Comics. I assume that was a helpful hint from Stan.

Jack: I think this may be the best single Marvel comic book so far in the 60s! The cover is terrific, the 49-page story is consistently interesting (at least until the unnecessary scene near the end where the Avengers suddenly start fighting each other), and Don Heck's art is as good as I've ever seen it. This is clearly Roy's tribute to the Justice Society/Justice League long stories, with the heroes splitting up to fight menaces all over the globe and reuniting at the end. A truly great comic, all for 25 cents!

The Avengers 44
Our Story

With Hercules battling the imaginary Hydra in the Psychotron and Hawkeye and Black Widow trapped in Plexiglas tubes, the rest of the Avengers arrive behind the Iron Curtain and fight their way past an army. Black Widow passes a lie detector test and convinces her captors that she is loyal to them. The Red Guardian finally gets his wish and battles one on one with Captain America. Black Widow manages to disable the Psychotron as her teammates dispatch the Commies and return to the US of A.

MB: My heart sank when I saw that the inks had devolved from “Bell” (who may have been busy polishing off Avengers Special #1) to Vince “Scratchy” Colletta, and indeed, the shots of the bedridden Black Widow on the last page look like all Colletta and no Buscema; to make matters worse, a printing error rendered four pages of my Marvel Triple Action reprint in green and magenta. But a train wreck this is not, despite its dull and overly busy cover, and it’s quite heartening to see our hitherto reflexive Commie-bashers allow the Red Guardian a noble death, suitably eulogized by his role model, Cap (“when the chips were down…he died a man!”). That conveniently ends any perceived romantic threat for Hawkeye, who best survives Colletta’s inks.

Jack: Another great cover introduces a terrific issue of The Avengers! It seems like John Buscema has really hit his stride and the team that seemed so mixed up and patched together not long ago has coalesced into an interesting and entertaining fighting unit. The battle between Cap and the Red Guardian was worth the wait!

PE: Roy Thomas seems to have inherited that annoying habit of having his characters speak of themselves in the third person: "This is a job for Hawkeye" sez Hawkeye. The Black Widow gets an origin of sorts in the climax. I assume that at a later date it will be fleshed out a bit since she gets a whopping two panels to cover her back story. According to my reliable sources, The Red Guardian is not dead and returns four decades later in Daredevil Vol. 2 #64 (November 2004), where he obviously comes down with a bad case of amnesia and kidnaps his wife to bring her back to stand trial for being a traitor.

The first appearance of the Roomba

Strange Tales 160
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Our Story

Still seeking answers to Project Blackout, a cold case on which they worked in 1965, Fury is introduced by Cap to F.B.I. Agent Jimmy Woo, who reveals that a long-thought-dead enemy of his may have been behind it, and urges Nick to tell his story. Fury’s summons brings Cap to Bedloe Island, where the ESP Division had warned of danger just before being wiped out, and the old friends see a group of strangely clad invaders penetrating the Statue of Liberty. After Cap is felled in battle by an electrical blast, Fury knocks out several opponents with a sleep pellet, leaves a note telling Cap to seek aid at the Baxter Building when he awakens, and is thrown from Lady Liberty’s torch while disrupting assembly of the invaders’ Id-Paralyzer.

MB: The fact that I know the name of the island on which the Statue of Liberty stands is due entirely to this story. Steranko is more on his game this month—especially pictorially—if you ignore the howling (ha ha) continuity error: “Hydra Island was a pushover next ta this job!,” opines Nick, more than a year before that synthetic atoll’s existence was known to him. The flashback format ensures that last issue’s newcomers, Val and the Gaff, are inevitably sidelined, but instead we get to meet the redoubtable Jimmy Woo, who brings with him the promise of a major villain, and it’s always great to see Nick and Cap together (the Sentinel of Liberty fighting inside Lady Liberty is a nice touch), particularly with the cool visuals of the “army of super-invaders” they’re battling.

PE: The as-yet-unseen Yellow Claw was the star of his own short-lived Atlas comic (4 issues, October 1956-April 1957) of the same name. A villain garnering his own title was mighty rare back then (as it is today) as it's tough for the kids to root for the bad guys (or so the parents think). His adversary then was the very same Jimmy Woo, who seems to have dipped into that same fountain as Cap and Fury. Guy looks to be in his early thirties. Professor John will now pipe up that this Jimmy Woo would later go on to star in the Herb Trimpe-pencilled Godzilla series in the late Seventies. When The Yellow Claw was cancelled, the character was put into mothballs until Jim Steranko resurrected him. Steranko's dazzling images (as in the Fury P.O.V. that opens page 2) become more and more cinematic every issue. It's almost as though he's story boarding his own SHIELD film and sharing the pre-production with us. Lots of evidence of Kirby and Eisner influence here. Fabulous opening chapter of this epic arc.

Jack: This flashback to a ’65 team-up with Captain America is an exciting, action-packed story with the usual eye-popping visuals. Go Go Go Steranko!

Doctor Strange
Our Story

Baron Mordo attacks Dr. Strange unsuccessfully, unaware that Dr. Strange now possesses the power of the Ancient One. Dr. Strange shows the unwilling Mordo the danger that Earth is in and together they suck all of the evil magic out of Mordo's army of wizards and deposit it in Mordo. Baron Mordo grows mad with power and attacks Dr. Strange again, not caring that time is running out for our planet.

Jack: So much for my thought that Baron Mordo did not pose much of a threat! It's a neat idea to have all of the evil powers dumped into Mordo, but I have to question Dr. Strange's wisdom at giving it all to the guy who hates him. The writer of this story, Raymond Marais, came out of nowhere and I can find nothing useful about him online.

MB: Demonstrating the frequent overlap between the creators of this strip and the Sub-Mariner’s, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-him writer Raymond Marais debuts on both this month, supplanting Roy Thomas here with a tale that does relatively little to advance the Living Tribunal plotline, and makes Strange’s actions appear ill-advised, to say the least. At the opposite end of the spectrum is Marie Severin, winding up her tenure on Strange; next issue, she will be replaced by another recent Namor alumnus, Dapper Dan Adkins, whose year-long stint bridges this title and Doc’s short-lived solo book. Frankly, I found her work here uneven at best, both between and within issues, and I feel that she and Trimpe are better suited to the Hulk.

The Mighty Thor 144
Our Story

Balder and Sif have come to Earth to warn Thor (whom they’ve just discovered is one and the same as Don Blake), that the Enchanters Brona and Magnir are coming for his scalp, while Forsung has similar plans for Odin (a Stan-style update) in Asgard. When the spirit of the Living Talisman appears to mock them, Thor’s hammer dissolves it quickly, but the real danger, the two Enchanters themselves, waits in the street below. The Asgardians arrive a moment later, and are quickly separated by a sample of the Enchanters' wizardry, as a chunk of ground rises high in the air, pitting Thor alone against them. In Asgard, the Living Talisman heralds its master’s arrival, as Forsung appears to brazenly challenge Odin. The prize: the all-powerful Odinsword which, if unsheathed, would mean the end of our universe. Odin accepts the challenge. Thor, meanwhile, has his hands full against some fearsome samples of his foes' magic. Brona turns his body into a mass of energy, gripping Mjolnir like a vise, and Magnir slams Thor with a blow from behind. Thor grabs the side of their floating rock and tosses Brona off when he tries to finish the Thunder God with his mace. The Enchanters can, of course, levitate. Magnir allows Thor to climb back up, and grabs the end of Thor’s hammer. Reversing its Uru power, Mjolnir becomes alive with heat greater than many suns, and Magnir throws it back at Thor. Since his weapon must always return to him, Thor has to think of a way to return it to normal before the unimaginable heat may kill him. A fierce blow to Magnir breaks the spell in the nick of time. Brona then turns himself into a cloud of thick black smoke, smothering the Asgardian. Odin and Forsung agree to withdraw all power from their fellows. For Odin, this means holding one end of his scepter, while Forsung grabs the other. The meeting of two such powers is titanic; it catapults the titans through space. Will Forsung be the new lord of Asgard? This does provide a turn in the tide for Thor; with his foes' enchantment gone, the battle slab falls back to Earth. Asgardians and Enchanters alike now have only their strength and courage to rely on, and Balder and Sif join the battle. It doesn’t take long for the good guys to win this battle, but in Asgard, who will win the war? Without their powers, Thor, Balder and Sif must helplessly await the outcome.

Nearing the end of the run of Tales Of Asgard, it is the delightfully underestimated Volstagg who turns the tide of battle against Satan’s forty horsemen, vaporizing them with the powerful canon he seized from Mogul’s arsenal.

JB: A fine conclusion to this enchanting tale, if perhaps it doesn’t quite live up to the lofty aspirations of last month. The battle above the city is a nice touch and would have been more difficult for Thor had not Forsung withdrawn his cohort’s powers, which were impressive. In this case, the question mark of the conclusion actually adds to the effect. Thor says his father is “past his prime.” It makes one wonder what Asgard would be like without Odin. In the future, Marvel will be more inclined to make drastic changes with major characters, but not here. Balder and Sif continue to be great supporting characters, and the “triangle,” which it really isn’t, is developing at least in Balder’s mind, towards Sif. It adds a human element to “gods” that makes them more appealing.

PE: Over at Daredevil I'm running out of synonyms for inane, stupid, and juvenile. Here, I've probably used the words breathtaking, excellent, and classic a few too many times. On one hand I apologize, on the other I surrender to those words once more. This is yet another multi-layered tale, filled with wonder and excitement, and it blows me away that Stan and Jack bothered investing the time and imagination they did to a funny book aimed at six year-olds. If there's one nit to pick, it's that the boys may have gone back to the well a little too soon for an "Asgard in Peril" saga. The really nice bit here is when the Thunder God and the Enchanters all lose their super powers at once during battle and realize they'll have to fight on. The light bulb goes on over one's head that they're all still fighting at the same level so there's really no problem. It's the small details like that which continue to make this the best Marvel comic of 1967.

MB: Colletta not only inks The Avengers this month but also returns to his longtime berth here, although it’s a shame he didn’t come home to a better story. Maybe it’s me, but in spite of the big build-up given to these Enchanters in the previous installment, I found them unspeakably dull, with their powers as poorly defined as their individual characters, if any, are differentiated, not to mention the fact that pitting two Enchanters against Thor et alia (with no fewer than three “For Asgaaards!”) and just one against his presumably far more powerful father seems counter-intuitive. I’m a little unclear on the whole living-talisman business, and as far as I’m concerned, you might just as well name them Moe, Larry, and Curly instead of Magnir, Brona, and Forsung.

JB: To do a direct comparison with the art from last month shows the contrast of styles between Vince Colletta and Bill Everett; though different, the look doesn’t suffer. A few panels look a little sparser than others, but most are finely detailed. The cover is interesting by the very lack of what we see. We’re nearing the end of the Tales Of Asgard segment, and it feels overdue at that, but the main stories overall don’t seem to have suffered from being shortchanged a few pages.

Fantastic Four 66
Our Story

 Reed and Sue accompany Ben to explain to Alicia why Ben broke his date with her the previous day. They find her door unlocked, and her gone. Ben gets a flare-up of jealousy and storms off, knocking Reed down (who Ben often blames for his predicament) with a tap of his hand. Alicia has disappeared—literally, walking through the wall of her home with a mysterious but friendly stranger. She emerges elsewhere; her transport has been via a scientific device called a space-warper that can traverse great distances effortlessly. Her escort, a man named Hamilton, introduces her to his peers: scientists named Morlak, Zota and Shinski; all whom she has heard of, and all presumed dead in different accidents. They have chosen to reside here, in a self-supporting beehive-like scientific structure, high on a remote mountain plateau, to conduct various experiments, and have created a plethora of ingenious inventions. Their main purpose is to create a new living being, to be the first of a new race of super-humans. Although they claim their motives are for the betterment of humanity, it is unclear if this is true. They have succeeded in creating just such a being, first as a living embryo, now it has grown almost to completion. However, uncertain of the powers the being they have created has attained, the scientists have contained it within a life-cell tank, itself within a specially contained chamber. They tell Alicia what has led up to their decision to bring her to their scientific hideout. One night, the alarm in the chamber had gone off, and the men had their guards enter to see what had happened. The “being” had broken out of the life-tank, and wrought havoc on the chamber. The scientists arrived to find the being was still within the chamber, but hidden. It radiated a blinding light from its power, so they never did get to see their creation. Knowing of Alicia’s talents as a sculptress, they chose her as the perfect one to enter the chamber, find the “creature,” and sculpt it so they know what it looks like (as she would be unaffected by it’s brightness). Back in New York, Ben takes a walk in the park, and encounters a number of people including a police officer and a teacher with a group of kids. To his surprise, none of them are afraid of him, and feel not pity but admiration for his bravery. Realizing he did Reed a disfavor, Ben heads back to apologize. He finds Reed using a device called a heat-image tracer that can track the activities of any living being in a room over the last number of hours. From this he creates a “film” image, which shows them how Alicia and her companion Hamilton departed. They head back to the Baxter Building, where Reed locks himself in his lab to analyze the film and try to find an answer. Eventually he does, deducing that the wristband worn by Hamilton is the space-warp that made Alicia’s disappearance possible. Johnny and Crystal join them to be updated, as Reed figures he can duplicate the device. Alicia, meanwhile, accompanied by Hamilton, enter the chamber where “he” is contained. He approaches, as the light becomes ever brighter.

JB: Laying the foundation for Him, or Adam Warlock (a very cool name) was perhaps a little tricky to do with any justice, given the powers he ending up possessing. The story reminds me (not so much because of Alicia/Jane Foster as you say Pete, but the scientific basis) of the High Evolutionary doing his experiments. Him, if I recall, seems to develop a sense of perception and purpose independent of his creators more than the New-Men did. Using Alicia to sculpt their creation seems rather foolish. How do they think the being’s going to let her get close enough to sit down and pose for a sculpture? This is enough to bring their motives in question, although Hamilton seems to have some genuine concern for the blind girl’s safety. I enjoyed the story though, despite Ben being out of line, and a rather “human” bit of Inhuman behavior on the part of Crystal; I guess she’s a teenager at heart.

PE: Obviously, Stan was rushed for time this issue as he forgets to slap the hidden creature with a proper moniker. Not like Stan at all. In the meantime we're introduced to Him (a biblical reference if there ever was one) which could lead to problems:

Woman (running down the street screaming): Him's coming! Him's huge! Him will destroy the world! Him looks like an ordinary man but Him's not!

Him could just as easily have been named He, That, or It (though that's been taken recently). When Hamilton is told he shouldn't accompany Alicia in to find Him, he exclaims "I was a man before I became a scientist!"

MB: Maddeningly, the three issues surrounding this one—which introduced the very foundations of the one-day cosmic classics Captain Marvel and Warlock—are absent from my collection. So there may admittedly be a bit of sour grapes on my part, but I find this issue a poor substitute, since for all the suspense Stan, Jack, and Joe seek to drum up around the eventual unveiling of Him (later known as Adam Warlock), not a whole lot really happens. Sure, it’s nice to see Ben get some positive feedback for a change, even though within a few pages he’s back to his old suspicions and accusations, and we get the expected pretty pictures, including the unusual close-up two-shot of Reed and Sue in page 10, panel 2, but the rest seems like so much foreplay.

PE: What really startled me was the flower commercial that interrupted the story. Ben Grimm takes a walk through Central Park and beautiful women are bussing him, cops tell him he's the greatest guy in the world, kids want his autograph, birds lay wreaths on his head. Are we supposed to feel sorry for this guy after laying Stretch out with a hard left? I think I might have bought the "kidnapping of Alicia" subplot had it to do with Ben in some way--if she was being held against her will by guys who wanted to get to The Thing, rather than because, unbeknownst to the rest of us, Alicia Masters is the most recognized blind sculptress on the planet. I see why the three wise men - Zota, Morlak and Shinski (a great name for a lawyer's firm if there ever was one) - needed Alicia and maybe I'm just having a knee jerk reaction to so many frickin' coincidences in the Marvel Universe so it's not a big deal. What is a big deal is, like Professor Matthew notes, that there's a whole lot of nothin' goin' on. The section with Alicia at the beehive reminded me very much of that really lame Thor story where Jane Foster becomes teacher on The Island of Lost Souls. Now if this is all set up for a fabulous pay-off, I'll retroactively pull my gripe.

Tales to Astonish 95
Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

After last issue’s trip to the surface world, Namor and Dorma are swimming their way home when they encounter a small city inside a plastic dome. Prince Namor easily dispatches of two men who were working on the dome after they attack him. He meets with a man named Dr. Newell, inside his personal ship, and the doctor explains that the city is under his leadership. It is populated by earthlings who are working on living in the sea as the surface world is beginning to lose its vast resources. Namor could care less as he warns Dr. Newell to pack up and leave. Before Namor can make the city dwellers evacuate, the Plunderer attacks with his crew in a big underwater battle ship. His ship breaks open the dome, causing it to flood and ruining the whole city. Namor merely observes until he witnesses the Plunderer’s ship shooting down vessels that are just trying to escape back to the surface. Namor can’t stand such cruelty so he boards the vessel to teach the villain some manners. Their confrontation pretty much ends in a stalemate as Namor has to go off to rescue lady Dorma. The Plunderer and his men loot whatever supplies they need from the city before leaving. In the end, Dr. Newell and his tribe are rescued from drowning, and Namor vows to track down the Plunderer for revenge.

Tom: Since this story looks like it’s going to continue next issue, I’ll reserve any harsh judgment, though I’ll say I have read better. Still, I’ll give credit to the bullpen for not making Namor into some super nice guy over the course of this series' several issues. Could Namor be the first example in the Marvel Universe of an Anti-Hero?

Dig the mini-dress and go go boots!
Jack: Raymond Marais wrote this month’s Dr. Strange and this month’s Sub-Mariner! Who is this mystery man?

MB: Thomas and Marais (see Strange Tales) are both credited on this episode, but their specific responsibilities are not delineated, so we have to speculate who did what; my guess is that Marais scripted Roy’s story. Also debuting here is Walter Newell, the good-natured oceanographer who two years down the road will adopt the super-heroic identity of frequent Marvel guest-star Stingray. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to assess the story in my Marvel Super-Heroes incarnation, where it appears to have been shorn of several pages (as important a part of my comics upbringing as these mid-1970s reprints were, ignorance was truly bliss, like watching The 4:30 Movie before we realized how butchered it was), and thus is choppy at best.

Jack: This is a kooky story—a guy builds an undersea city, the Plunderer wrecks it, Subby gets mad—I sense an appearance by Ka-Zar in the near future.

Our Story

The Hulk observes the ship that hijacked him last issue. From a communication device, he can hear the warning from the High Evolutionary that the ship is heading straight towards a cosmic ray shower. Unable to communicate back with the villain because he can’t figure out the controls, the Hulk has enough sense to wake the pilot of the ship he knocked out previously. Even though the pilot is able to steer the space ship from heading straight into the cosmic shower, some rays still strike and go through the ship, killing the pilot. The Hulk is upset since he thought that the pilot could have been his friend. This, along with the possibility of the rays affecting him, causes the Hulk to turn back into Bruce Banner. Once he sees the dead animal man pilot, Bruce comes to the conclusion that the Hulk must have killed him. The High Evolutionary is desperate to have the Hulk as his pawn because all the creatures he created have rebelled against him. Bruce practically goes insane trying to remember how he got on the ship. At the High Evolutionary’s headquarters, the villain shoots Banner, incapacitating him. Our story ends with Bruce Banner in one of the High Evolutionary’s machines, about to be experimented on.

Tom: I must say, even when this series slows down a bit, it still leaves the reader interested enough to want to come back for more to find out what happens next. The artwork is looking outstanding also.

Jack: For someone smart enough to turn a warthog into a knight, the High Evolutionary sure seems like a dope. First of all, why would he fixate upon the Hulk as the only creature with the power to save him from his creations? So what if Hulk dies in the cosmic storm! Call Thor! Or the Thing! Or how about looking over at DC? Are you telling me Superman couldn't handle this? And why does the sight of Bruce Banner suddenly make H.E. think he's dangerous? Wasn't the Hulk a little bit dangerous? For a minute or two during this story, I hoped it was going to turn into a Marvel version of the movie Airplane!, where the Hulk has to land the spaceship after the pilot is incapacitated. But no, no such luck. Despite all of the mockery, I really enjoyed this story and am looking forward to more.

MB: I concur with the Cryptic Critic (whose blog Herb Trimpe’s Hulk will become de rigueur) that “only…Severin could claim to have genuinely put her stamp on the strip” before 1968, but I disagree “how bad [Herb’s] inks looked over [her pencils]” at this stage. The somewhat rough-hewn look of the Severin/Trimpe team befits our Jolly Green Giant, and I loved the Hulk’s reactions to and interactions with Sir Ram, from his initial suspicion to his rare admiration to his poignant loss, all in just a few pages. The High Evolutionary, whom I’m used to thinking of as basically a good guy, isn’t winning any friends here, and it’s ironic that the one whose whole life has been devoted to evolutionary improvement treats his fellow man so poorly.

Jack: I love the “Go Go Go Hulk!” on the cover!

X-Men 36
Our Story

The X-Men decide it's about time to go after kidnapped Professor X. Unfortunately, the X-Jet is down to fumes, and they don't have the cash for tickets. The more exciting part of this installment is their attempt to earn an honest buck. As a distraction, they briefly tangle with another also-ran part-time villain, Mekano.

MB: I believe this is the earliest Marvel credit for Ross “The Boss” Andru (here inked by Avengers vet George Bell, aka Roussos), which is ironic, since he is best known for his five-year Bronze-Age tenure on last issue’s guest-star, Spider-Man, but at this point still working primarily for DC. It’s a pity that Roy couldn’t come up with better material for him to illustrate on his first time out, with far too many pages—plus that way-too-convenient ending—devoted to the searing suspense of…the X-Men trying to round up plane fare to Europe. I can’t believe we’re dicking around with an intensely forgettable heavy like Mekano, whose first appearance had better be his last, when poor Professor X has been languishing in captivity for I don’t know how many issues.

JS: So would the X-babies normally taxi down to the local shell station to gas up the jet with Chuck's credit card? Once again, we have a not very well thought out, forgettable filler issue. We learn how disconnedted the Gen Xers are as they try to get cash by working in construction, only to have their hopes dashed because they don't have time to join a union. Did they think they were going to get paid cash at the end of their first day of work?

PE: How best to critique a comic book that gives new meaning to the phrase "jumping the shark" each and every issue? I thought the last issue was the worst ever but I'm learning that I'll have to reserve such "praise" until the end of the initial run of X-Men. Only in the Marvel Universe would a hardened criminal exclaim "It's one of the X-Men! I better make like a banana and split!" The X-Kids spend the day driving around town looking for easily earned money. 2012 Marvel writers would have The Beast and Cyclops stand guard in front of the work shed, taking twenties from the construction crew, while Marvel Girl did some of the heavy lifting for a change. And how about The X-Kids thumbing a ride with a future seventh-tier villain? All together now, "What a coincidence!" Let's all join hands and thank whoever we have to that when Ross Andru got around to his celebrated (by me, at least) run on The Amazing Spider-Man, he had John Romita to ink him and not George Bell! That's the only defense I can offer when studying Andru's sophomore outing (Andru penciled a Torch/Namor parody in last month's Brand Echh #1), filled with simians and roughly drawn backgrounds (when there are backgrounds, that is). Andru was working for DC at the time (on Wonder Woman and later The Flash) and I've never read or seen the titles he worked on so have nothing to compare this to but I have to believe that Bell's substandard inking had a lot to do with the chicken scratches on display. You gotta love the deep meaning behind Roy Thomas' climax: Never ignore your children when they're young, even if you're building a library for the enjoyment of others, as the little shit may grow up to be a one-off super-villain.

Jack: NYU’s Bobst Library, built across from New York’s Washington Square Park, is featured in this month’s PBS special, where the X-Men engage in a pledge drive to raise money for a trip to Europe. This is the heartwarming tale of a young man who resorts to super-villainy to attract the attention of his wealthy but distracted father. A letter from Paul Gillis complains about the portrayal of motorcycle enthusiasts back in issue #32.

JS: Read too many issues of the X-Men and you too can look like this bug eyed kid.

Tales of Suspense 93
Iron Man
Our Story

Iron Man discovers that his new foe, Half-Face, has resurrected one of his most dangerous adversaries, The Titanium Man. Now giant-sized and extra deadly, T.M. proves to be too much for I.M. and the Golden Avenger is swiftly defeated. Titanium Man is given his new directive from Half-Face: destroy a peaceful Viet Nam village just ahead of an American bomber attack so that the U.S. will be blamed. Meanwhile, a mysterious figure approaches Stark Factory gates looking for Tony.

PE: Since the shadowy figure last issue promised something along the lines of The Frankenstein Monster, I'm pretty disappointed we're stuck with The Titanium Man, yet another guy in a suit of armor (a rut that the big screen adventures of Shellhead have fallen into). Why does Half-Face have a Saturn's ring around his head? Does the little yellow bulb attached to the ring actually do anything?

MB: Okay, I know I’ve missed an issue here and there, including the last one, but I’m confused about the Titanium Man. As I recall from the Heck Era, he was a guy with a suit of armor, more or less like Iron Man—a big guy, to be sure, but a normal human, not some Commie Hank Pym knock-off. Now, all of a sudden, or so it seems to me, he’s so big, he can hold Shellhead in one hand like some sort of Mego action figure. What gives? And while we’re at it, why is Half-Face called Half-Face? He appears to have a whole face sitting on top of that dopey metal collar. Has the collar replaced his neck? Should he really be called No-Neck? Was his head blown off his body and reattached? Are we supposed to believe he survived that?

PE: This is one of those "tweener" chapter where nothing but set-up actually happens. We get an okay battle scene, a quickie origin for Half-Face, and the beginning of a new sub-plot. Who is the stranger at Stark Industries? God, I hope it's not Tony's long-forgotten junkie-beatnik half-brother Steadman here to collect half of pop's inheritance. In the letters page, future Marvel artist Walt Simonson admits to a fondness for The Titanium Man and wishes he'd come back but not too quickly.

Captain America
Our Story

Determined to save the nameless girl he loves, Captain America uses S.H.I.E.L.D.'s mini-cruiser underwater device to find the submarine she's being kept on. Captured and taken on board, Cap learns that A.I.M. is now being commanded by MODOK, a machine created by A.I.M. to help them rule the world but has now turned the tables. The star-spangled Avenger finds his sweetheart but loses her again when she is sucked into the MODOK machine.

PE: LOL-panel of the month: The top-secret hidden submarine has A.I.M. boldly emblazoned on its fin. Is that in case any of the returning A.I.M. scuba guys get lost? Maybe (Sharon Carter) should have been called Her this issue. I was hoping that when (Sharon) told Cap she was wearing special "anti-polar coveralls" she'd say "take them off me and throw them, they're explosive!" If you were the gizmo guy at S.H.I.E.L.D., wouldn't you have a little extra fun designing weapons for your female agents?

MB: While the cover blurb on my Marvel Double Feature reprint (“Revealed at last! The startling secret of Cap’s shield!”) might be an exaggeration, Stan does dole out the tidbit that “It is undoubtedly some sort of alien, extra-terrestrial metal!”…even if we don’t know how Cap came to wield said substance. We also learn that the members of the reborn A.I.M. have been enslaved by their own creation, someone or something called MODOK, whose revelation is promised for next issue. And although his love interest, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent 13, makes it a point to remind Cap that he doesn’t even know her name, she conspicuously fails to volunteer that information, even after he has risked his life to penetrate A.I.M. and rescue her.

PE: I'm not that versed in Cap's original 1940s lore but I wonder if Stan and Jack were dropping some hints of a future story line when an A.I.M. scientist exclaims that Cap's shield is made of material from another world. I thought that was a very intriguing path to walk down and hope it won't be forgotten. MODOK will become a major villain in the future but here he's nothing more than an acronym. Stan and Jack may have been influenced in their creation of MODOK by D. F. Jones' novel, Colossus, which had been published the year before and similarly told the story of a computer which gets too big for its britches.

Also this month

Ghost Rider #5
Kid Colt Outlaw #136
Marvel Tales #10
Millie the Model #153
Millie the Model Annual #6
Brand Echh #2
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #46
Two-Gun Kid #89