Wednesday, August 29, 2012

March 1968: Hela, Goddess of Death!

Tales of Suspense 99
Iron Man
Our Story

The Maggia (with the aid of Whiplash) has captured Iron Man and taken him to a stronghold aboard a floating casino. Lucky for Shellhead, Nick Fury's nerdiest agent, Jasper Sitwell, is hot in pursuit. Just as he boards the boat however, The Maggia is attacked by the forces of A.I.M. The boat is damaged and begins to sink, leaving Iron Man magnetized to a lab table.

PE: This issue reminds me of the days when there were three or four different shady organizations running around the pages of Strange Tales, all at once. I can tell the difference between A.I.M. (big yellow hats) and The Maggia (mob goons in wrinkled three piece suits) right now though so those old problems shouldn't rear their heads. Why do all these terrorist organizations have the same gizmos but different names for them. Case in point: A.I.M.'s Ultrawave Transviewer, another one of those doohickeys that manages to see into little corners it shouldn't be able to access. Why not call it a Secret Camera? This issue features a little too much Junior-SHIELD for my tastes. I know Professor Matthew really likes Archie Sitwell but the schtick is grating if it's used too much. The most interesting aspect of this final issue of TOS, of course, is the arrival of Archie Goodwin, once the lifeblood of Warren Publications, for a 30-issue run on Shellhead's various titles.

MB: Whether in connection with their imminent expansion or not, I don’t know, but Mighty Marvel is really mixing it up with the creative teams this month.  Case in point: fledgling Sub-Mariner scripter Archie Goodwin here supplants Stan on Shellhead, with holdover Colan’s efforts now inked by EC legend Johnny Craig, who had worked with Goodwin at Warren Publishing, but was reportedly ill-suited to super-hero strips.  No complaints from this quarter so far on Craig’s style, which is a little cartoonier than Giacoia’s, but doesn’t obscure the essence of Gene the Dean’s pencils, and it’s promising for the reader, if not for Iron Man—aided and abetted by “Super-Sitwell”—that he got stuck in the middle between the Maggia and A.I.M.

Captain America
Our Story

Captain America discovers his most hated foe - Baron Zemo - managed to survive the deadly landslide that buried him years before (in Avengers #15 - Pesky Pot Pete) and the man who hasn't washed his hair in decades remains steadfast in his desire to rule the world. Using his Hypno-Light Missile, he weakens Cap and The Black Panther (whose Wakanda is being terrorized by the henchmen of Zemo) and reveals his plan to rule the world with a Death Ray satellite. Meanwhile, Agent 13 (the nameless woman who shall be known as Sharon Carter some day) has been working undercover in Wakanda as   Irma Kruhl, winning the trust of Baron Zemo. In our shocking finale, Zemo orders Kruhl to assassinate The Panther and Captain America (the man she loves!) as proof of her loyalty! Looking down at the unconscious form of her beau, the Agent somberly realizes that her mission comes first and she'll be looking for a new squeeze very soon. The good news is that the "Name the Agent" game ends in just two issues. 

MB: The transition in inkers from Sinnott to Shores is now complete, and although Syd’s style is demonstrably different, it’s no surprise that he and Golden Age colleague Kirby are a good match. Cap and the Panther continue to be an equally satisfying team (e.g., T’Challa’s singularly apt, “Better to die as men—than to live—as slaves!”), even if it does seem awfully convenient that Cap travels all the way to another continent and still manages to bump into Agent 13/Sharon Carter/Irma Kruhl/Whoever; I guess it really is a small world after all.  We will learn next issue (Spoiler Alert!) just how perceptive Cap is when he asks his hooded foe, “What’s changed you, Zemo?  You seem colder—even more diabolical than ever before!”

PE: I thought to myself, "How could this guy be colder? He's the rat who iced your little partner!" I'm glad there's something to that prescient, if a bit dopey, statement. Though I like The Black Panther, I think he's wasted here in yet another of those "Death Ray Over the World" storylines. How do these bad guys get these gizmos up in the sky without NASA finding out? Do they build them in their backyards and then slingshot them into space? SHIELD obviously knew about the satellite long enough ahead of time to set (Sharon Carter) up with a phony identity. On the letters page, future super comic dealer Bud Plant pines for the days when Marvel heroes would have hand-to-hand combat with their foes rather than armed with Zap-Rays.

The Amazing Spider-Man 58
Our Story

Rescued by Ka-Zar after a near-drowning, the very soggy Amazing Spider-Man finds that his memory has miraculously returned (it's the New York water, I'm sure) but he's got a new problem: J. Jonah Jameson has been contacted by Dr. Smythe, who's created a new Spider-Slayer and has revenge on his mind. This Spider-Slayer can not only track Spider-Man anywhere in the city but also has super powers. Only his super-scientific brain helps Spidey evade death by luring the Slayer to Smythe's laboratory (stocked full of spiders) and gumming up the robot's senses with "too many spider-impulses."

PE: I'm relieved that the Spidey-Amnesia anvil has been lifted from around the title's neck but the way in which it's resolved has to be one of the silliest expositions ever in comic history (yes, even Marvel Comic history): Spidey is rescued from his watery grave by the suddenly friendly Ka-Zar and realizes the cold water must have erased his amnesia! I'll be studying Dr. Philip Marquand's Case Studies of Real Life Amnesia Victims and Their Incredible Stories in Words and Pictures (Slipped Memory Press, 1967), the same volume Stan had by his nightstand while writing this issue, to see how it is that amnesia victims know they had amnesia when they come out of their haze or how they magically remember the events during their trauma. Spidey sits down with Ka-Zar and Sabu and tells him all about his evil partnership with Doc Ock. I was waiting to hear that harbor water can also infuse its victims with ESP. To add to the dopiness, New York's Finest stands aside as Sabu destroys a city block, one cop exclaiming "Ah, don't worry about it. I hear Ka-Zar is loaded. He can pay for it!"

MB:  I missed last issue’s return of the Romita/Heck/Demeo artistic troika from Spider-Man Special #3 (not that I lament a Ka-Zar appearance), and I’m not certain if Heck would take it as a compliment or an insult that I see almost no evidence of his work, sandwiched between Romita’s breakdowns and Demeo’s inks.  I’ve just acquired this issue, and am intrigued at the idea of a pro-Spidey alliance between the son of his biggest non-super-villain detractor and the father of Peter’s nascent girlfriend.  Actually, J.J. blurs the super-villain line in this yarn as he teams up once again with Spencer Smythe, whose first official Spider Slayer (that name was not used in #25) not only looks less goofy than the prototype, but even owes a little to the Destroyer.

PE: Previously, I had niggles with Steve Ditko's art and thought Romita took a couple issues to rev up the engine. The art here is the worst I've seen on this title, with Heck and Demeo (Esposito) doing dastardly deeds to Jazzy John's layouts. In an interview published in Alter Ego #9 (July 2001), Romita explained that the addition of Heck and Esposito (as well as the newly-recruited Jim Mooney a little further down the line) was supposed to speed Romita's monthly output. That didn't exactly work out, according to the artist, since his editor would have him "fix anything that (Stan) didn't like!" But it's not only the art that sinks this tugboat. The story smells like laundry left in the washer overnight, from the amnesia erasure to Smythe's sudden madness and the lazy action scenes, all leading up to Spider-Man's head-scratching cure for the Spider-Slayer (which makes no sense since the Slayer was in that lab with all those spiders at the beginning of our adventure). The nadir of this title.

Daredevil 38
Our Story

Daredevil has his mind trapped inside the body of the evil tyrant Dr. Doom. Meanwhile, the villain has his own mind in our hero’s body. With Double D stuck inside a dungeon-like cage, Dr. Doom is off to snuff out the Fantastic Four. Using his noodle, Daredevil yells for Doom’s lackeys to release him, reasoning that the arrogant Doom would not have told them about his brain-swapping plan. Once they let him out, Daredevil/Doom orders them to track down and give a beating to Doom/Daredevil or be punished. The goons do just what they were ordered to, with the villain using the hero’s body to fight them off before using his mind control ring to command the henchmen to go back and attack the Doom body with the mind of Daredevil. They go back and it’s Daredevil/Doom’s turn to brawl as our hero at first has a hard time using the villain’s armor but eventually gets used to it before some cops come and break up the fight. Daredevil starts to play hardball as he uses Doom’s radio to order his military troops in Latveria to declare war on the four nearest surrounding countries. Realizing that maybe his scheme wasn’t as brilliant as he thought it was, Doom hightails it back to his embassy, where he throws in the towel and uses his technology to reverse his and Daredevil’s minds back to their normal bodies. Acting like he has no hard feelings, the villain bids farewell to Double D, but behind his back, he imitates the hero’s voice via radio to let the Fantastic Four know that Daredevil still has the mind of Dr. Doom, which they believe. Foggy starts dating jailbird Debbie.

 Tom: It looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue before writing the summary for this tale of insanity. As my fellow professors implied not too long ago, maybe this series was meant to be taken as a comedy. Just imagine the theme from Benny Hill playing as the Doom henchmen run off to attack him then scurry back to the embassy to fight with Daredevil/Doom…or is it Doom/Daredevil?

MB: I was all set to hammer Stan on the illogic of The Big Switcheroo: Wouldn’t Dr. Doom notice DD was blind? How would DD, even if sighted in Doom’s body, cope with losing all of his other enhanced senses? Why wouldn’t DD use all the weaponry in Doom’s armor? Etnitpicking cetera. But damned if he didn’t pull it off better than I expected—he anticipated and addressed each of my objections in turn, and even though his answers were largely hogwash, he got credit for giving it the old college try. I found it especially entertaining that DD did so well mimicking Doom’s speech patterns, yet the arrogant Doom didn’t even bother trying to do so in turn; the work of Colan and tag-team inker du jour Frank Giacoia helped considerably, naturlich.

Jack: I miss Mike Murdock! This is an odd story. Other than a brief fight with Dr. Doom's minions, there's no fighting in this issue, and no showdown between Daredevil and Dr. Doom. Daredevil outwits Dr. Doom by being clever and Doom steals a page from the Joker's handbook, telling Daredevil that he is amused by his defeat and thus won't fight. It's odd that Daredevil just walks away, since he usually goes right after villains who are "many times more powerful" than himself. It's also interesting that this issue has a March cover date but the story is continued in the April issue of Fantastic Four, "on sale now."

That's right, we bad!

Strange Tales 166
Doctor Strange
Our Story

Dr. Strange battles Voltorg, the Giant Tin Can, while Yandroth borrows the teleportation tubes from the Enterprise and zips off to who knows where with Victoria Bentley. Dr. Strange hops in a teleportation tube himself and tries to follow, ending up at Stonehenge, where he sees a vision of the Ancient One.

MB: Dapper Dan displays some versatility by trading the penciling chores (turned over to George Tuska) for a plotting credit, in addition to his duties as an inker. If unlikely to threaten the primacy of stablemate Steranko in the auteur department, he gives Doc a persistent foe in the form of our not-so-little drummer boy Voltorg (nĂ© Voltorr), whose relentless attack reminds one of an outsized Energizer Bunny, and it’s nice that the Ancient One apparently returns next issue. Adkins and scripter Lawrence at least give Victoria Bentley a little more face time this month, and speaking of faces, Gorgeous George’s distinctive style is often obscured by Dan’s strong inks in that department, but action was ever Tuska’s specialty, and is well supplied.

Jack: If I understand the Marvel Method correctly, it's usually the penciller who plots the story, not the inker. I wonder how Adkins managed to plot and ink this one, which doesn't have much in the way of the trademark Tuska style (read: teeth).

It's just a jump to the left . . . 

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

Fury uses the High Altitude Wing Kite (H.A.W.K.) Harness to pursue the Claw’s escape craft, holding on until it reaches his hideout in the middle of New York Harbor. As Nick effects his entrance with a pyro-band and works his way through a labyrinth of traps, Jimmy Woo is captured by the Claw’s men and teleported to the subsurface citadel, where he is confined in the Thermo-Frigid Intensi-Ray Machine to undergo a fatal “polarization.” Fury then appears, attacking the Claw while the latter’s niece, Suwan, races to release Jimmy, her true love, but although Nick and the Claw try to save her, their struggle prevents them from doing so and she is apparently frozen to death, leading the grieving Jimmy to swear revenge on them both.

MB: I’m strenuously avoiding metaphors of tumescence to describe the sensation of seeing Steranko inked by Sinnott, but it’s especially, uhm, hard to do so when this story contains what I consider to be one of the defining images of the “zip-suited” Fury, bordering the panels on page 10. That splash page of a stogie-clutching Nick in his batwing sky-diving get-up is equally guaranteed to knock your socks off, and we even get the obligatory match-flare shot, this time with Dum Dum. Jaunty Jim kicks it up another notch with his groundbreaking layouts, most notably in the multi-angled page 6, where he cleverly visualizes the “maze of death”; the pinwheel effect on page 7, with its M.C. Escher-style optical illusion; and the aforementioned Fury-as-border from page 10.

PE: Don't forget that crazy, psychedelic suspension beam on page 4! I wonder if SHIELD's gizmo creator had to come up with special ceegars for Colonel Fury (could he possibly survive underwater spy missions without one?) as that splash page begs the question, "how does a man soar high in the air in a H.A.W.K. suit and still toke on a stogie without changing his flight pattern?" I've said it before and, doubtless, I'll say it again, but I see a youthful Steranko in his art studio with piles of The Spirit dailies stacked all around him for inspiration. That's not a knock, mind you, as I believe Jaunty Jim brought back to comics something that was missing since the days of Eisner's famous detective: style. Couple that with the artist's obvious fascination with the then-exploding psychedelic art scene and you get the most unique look in comic books. Imagine how much of a gamble it was to let Steranko have his way amidst the bland and interchangeable artists that populated the pages of better selling titles. Funnily enough, in the Coming Attractions box on the letter page, it's noted that Sternako has promised "Mighty Marvel's first venture into "psychedelic artwork!" Obviously, the warden wasn't paying attention to what the inmate was already doing.

Jack: I did not so much "read" this story as I "experienced" it. I may pull up some Hendrix on YouTube and read it again. I think this is the best artwork I've seen on a Marvel story since we started reading way back in November of '61.

The Mighty Thor 150
Our Story

As the Wrecker leaves Thor for dead, Hela Goddess of Death appears, to take the Thunder God to Valhalla, home of gods that have left the land of the living. However a shimmer of life, a wraith of Thor, still lingers, and is not yet ready to go. He attempts to tackle the Wrecker once more, but his astral form is both unsolid and unseen. A last ditch effort finds the Thunder God laying down his ghostly form to rejoin his body. Is it life or death? With Hela departed, the former prevails. While all this happens on Earth, Balder and Sif face danger aplenty as they travel through the Norn forest. Karnilla’s forest Barbaric, a huge warrior, pins Balder with a two-pronged arrow, but the brave one manages to free himself and overcome his bestial foe. Sif, however, has vanished, and soon Balder succumbs to a cloud of slumber herbs, fired from a gun pellet by the witch queen’s loyal trolls. Sif is brought before Karnilla, her veritable opposite, where a hidden Loki is keeping watch. The Norn Queen convinces Sif that by entering the body of the Destroyer (which she has located with her magic powers) she can save her beloved Thor from death at the hands of the Wrecker. The raven-haired goddess agrees, and Karnilla sends her to Earth, and then shares a diabolical laugh with Loki. Sif/Destroyer finds the Wrecker, and promptly blasts him aside—broken crowbar and all. Thor sees only that he has a new, far deadlier foe, not knowing it is Sif who has saved him, and prepares to attack.

“Triton” is the Inhuman we meet this month in the back pages, the only Inhuman who breathes water rather than air. Swimming in the vast freedom of the ocean, he mistakes an underwater creature (from the Black Lagoon?) to be attacking a human woman, but it is only a film crew. They fire tranquilizer guns at the Inhuman, and put him in a water tank on their ships deck. Triton is not as helpless as he appears, merely biding his time to see what the humans will do.

JB: I don’t know if it’s because we expect it, or if the writers/artists anticipate it, but I swear a change in year (’67-’68, etc.) or numbers (140’s -‘50’s, etc.) brings about a change of quality every time. Case in point here, as the latter marks a return to some of the best issues of the Thor title (the 160’s are pretty damn good too).  

MB:  In this month’s final issue of Tales to Astonish, we learn that Loki is eager to divert Big Daddy Odin’s attention away from the plight of his actual son on Midgard, and here it’s easy to see why, with the Goddess of Death seemingly disappointed that Thor is (per Monty Python) “not quite dead.”  Whether by accident or by design, this story really turns the spotlight on strong female characters, be they good (Sif), bad (Karnilla, the Norn Queen), or indifferent (Hela).  I’m always glad to see the Destroyer, but really hope they’ll get around to explaining next issue why he/she/it can no longer talk, making Sif conveniently unable to explain herself to her boyfriend; interesting how the Wrecker, who gave Thor such trouble, is bested so easily by the Destroyer.

PE: The counterpoint to Hela's consternation with the Thunder God's lack of rigidity would be Loki's initial glee. Though they've fought long and hard (as most brothers would do) over the last 67 issues, you'd think there would be a bit of sadness, at least maybe a pregnant pause. Though I'm fond of Hela, a more effective costume might have been dark robes rather than something she bought at The Inhumans' garage sale the weekend before. I suppose she may have been lost amidst all the fabulous costumes The King designed for our bevy of new characters but the presence of Hela should evoke eeriness rather than a shrug. Does Balder actually kill Barbaric? He says the beast is "vanquished beyond vestige of doubt" but very rarely does a Marvel hero take a battle to its obvious conclusion (we had that classic Iron Man story a few months back where Shellhead killed his opponent and felt no remorse but other than that I'm hard pressed to serve up an example). 

JB: The cover, with the red/green contrast, as the death goddess Hela (in her first mainstream appearance in the Thor title) beckons the Thunder God, is a beauty. Page three is almost as nice. Good point Professor Matthew about the strong female roles that come to fore here. I’m surprised Hela let Thor off so easily. The first time too the Norn Queen is referred to as Karnilla--love the sound of all these ladies names! I have to admit to being a little pleased to see the Destroyer—one of Thor’s greatest foes-- make mincemeat out of the Wrecker.  

PE: Once again, I'm reminded what a cool villain The Destroyer is. My fondness, believe it or not, grew out of Kenneth Branagh's film version last summer, an all-powerful 21st Century version of Ray Harryhausen's Talos from Jason and the Argonauts. Well, that's how I saw it. Bolt upright with a fabulously sharp headpiece and robotic gait, rather than the slumping, jogging astronaut seen here, the cinematic Destroyer is that all-too-seldom-seen feat, a villain improved upon from his comic roots.

Marvel Super-Heroes 13
Captain Marvel
Our Story

After converting his hand-held uni-beam into a wrist-blaster that can reverse its destructive effects with an artificial magnetic core, Mar-Vell tries to return to the ship to renew his supply of breathing potion, but is almost killed when Yon-Rogg “accidentally” fires their laser.  The burst downs a small private plane, and upon learning that the dead pilot, Walter Lawson, was a guidance-systems expert assigned to the base, Mar-Vell alters his papers to take his place, sustained by a capsule of breathing potion beamed to him by Una.  He is introduced to the head of security, Miss Danvers, and shown a 30-foot robot found in the South Pacific, which he recognizes as Intergalactic Sentry #459…and which Yon-Rogg revives and sends against him.

MB: A recent Bullpen Bulletin noted that they were keeping Captain Marvel’s debut “on sale for an extra month, to give you collectors an extra thirty days to latch onto this irreplaceable premiere issue.  We’ve got mighty big plans for [him], so we strongly advise you to get with him now, in order to be in at the very beginning!”  The decision to give Mar-Vell his own monthly magazine seems to have been an abrupt one, since we were promised that this story would be continued in Marvel Super-Heroes #14 instead.  Stan wastes no time turning his newest creation over to heir apparent Roy Thomas, with Colan inked by Paul Reinman; Roy, in turn, introduces a secondary character who—like Bill Foster in The Avengers—will become a 1970s super-hero, Ms. Marvel.

PE: Though all the Marvel titles are reliant on either a pinch or pound of science fiction, Captain Marvel seems, to me anyway, to be the strip most infused with the genre. I may be stating the obvious here but the spaceships, giant robots, and Mar-Vell himself could have been torn from the pages of an Edmond Hamilton pulp story (and Hamilton wrote comic books as well). At the same time, Roy Thomas seems hell-bent on delivering a dead serious story, eschewing the Keystone Kops writing he was exhibiting on The X-Men at the same time. Not having kept up with The Avengers the last few months, but reading my colleagues' praise of Rascally Roy's direction with that title, I'd say this is the first evidence I've seen of the great comic book writer Thomas would soon become. Anyone else see a similarity between Sentry 459 and The Destroyer, currently on view in The Mighty Thor?

MB: The new story is backed by the usual array of vintage material:  untitled tales of the Golden Age Black Knight and Vision (from Black Knight #2 and Marvel Mystery Comics #25, respectively); “Human Torch—Fugitive at Large!” and the Namor entry “Invasion!!” (both from Sub-Mariner Comics #35); and the Romita-drawn “Top Secret!” (Young Men #25), with Captain America and Bucky up against “the most dreaded killer in all the Red spy network.”  The letters page features a request for new adventures of the Black Knight from X-Men artist-to-be Dave Cockrum, whose appetite was whetted by an earlier story reprinted in Fantasy Masterpieces #11; the editors direct “Davey’s” attention to his Silver-Age heroic namesake, just recently introduced in Avengers #48.

Jack: That drawing of Cap REALLY looks like the work of Frank Robbins.

Fantastic Four 72
Our Story

Ben, Johnny and Crystal feel the emptiness of Reed and Sue’s departure to normal life, but don’t have long to wait… the Watcher appears before them. His message is grave: the Silver Surfer is about to attack humanity! Reed and Sue, travelling to California by train, downplay their concerns for their teammates. The Silver Surfer, sick of the greed and hatred in the humans all around him, has decided that the way to save the human race, is by giving them a taste of their own medicine; to cause destruction all around him so the people of Earth will unite against a common foe, and learn the folly of their ways. When the Torch tries to stop him, the Surfer surrounds him with cosmic force. Ben comes next, jumping from the jet cycle to the flying board, but up in the air, he’s at a disadvantage. The Watcher finds the train the other half of our team is on, and stops it easily, without harm. He warns Reed and Sue of the danger, and sends Mr. Fantastic (but not Sue) to join the game. Reed uses the equipment in the Baxter Building to help him find the Thing and the Surfer. The Pentagon by this time has ordered the use of the Sonic Shark, an experimental missile designed to use and unleash cosmic power. Reed is afraid that even the Silver Surfer’s powers may not save him, and indeed the missile seems to ready to do it’s job. Sheer brute force saves the day, as Reed maneuvers Ben close enough with the Pogo Plane for him to wallop the missile into the upper atmosphere, where it explodes without causing undo harm. The grateful Surfer, weakened but unharmed, sees the error of his method, and finds hope for humanity after all.

PE: An oddball one-shot that feels more like an opening salvo in yet another cosmic epic. A bit longer and this would have been perfect for a King-Size Special. The Surfer's tantrums seem entirely random to me. He's been living amongst the human race for months now and wakes up one morning with a startling plan in his shiny dome: I'll create one mankind by uniting them against me! What fun I'll have destroying buildings and, ostensibly, killing innocents with the falling debris. Wasn't SS around when Galactus threatened our world and we came together as one for about, oh, twelve hours and then resumed regular programming? I do like the concept of The Sonic Shark but wonder how it won't be pulled out of its protective carrying case from now on when a super-baddie threatens the peace.

MB:  Even the ever-excellent Joe Sinnott seems to be especially on his game with this issue, befitting its weighty subject, and although my gut reaction is that the Surfer’s behavior is a bit out of character, it is perhaps unfair to say that, when Stan has written said character since Day One.  I’d gotten a bit jaded with full-page shots lately, since so many of them seem to be by the numbers and/or not really necessary, but that aerial view of the Surfer above Manhattan made me say, “Whoa!”  It seems strange that Reed, so determined to distance himself from the FF until the baby is born, should wear his uniform under his clothes (shades of Superman!), but I suppose he figures, “Hey, you never know”; it also takes the Watcher about thirty seconds to recruit him.

JB: Maybe it’s just relief after the Mad Thinker saga dragged on so long, but this issue was a blast! No one’s missed how unlikely the Surfer’s method is that he chooses to achieve his goal of uniting humanity, but he takes us right along with him on this joy ride. The bizarre oddity of the Watcher appearing in the Baxter Building, and later stopping the train, are delightful. And he manages to spout some poetry along the way (“All-powerful? There is only one who deserves that name! And his only weapon is…love!”). Even the predictable turnaround the Silver Surfer makes at the finale still can’t help but rouse a glimmer of hope (for humanity and comic books). This is the best F.F. cover in a while; stunning. An easy read that could happily have gone on longer.

Tales to Astonish 101
Our Story

Bruce Banner is taking a long siesta after his green counter-part got done slugging it out with the Sub-Mariner last issue. The mischievous Loki spies the helpless scientist while searching Earth for his hated brother Thor. This gives him the bright idea of transporting the Hulk to Asgard with the intention of the savage goliath wreaking so much havoc that Odin will become distracted, allowing Loki to rid himself of Thor once and for all with his father being too busy to interfere. The plan gets off to a great start as the Hulk knocks the guardian of the Asgard entrance, Heimdall, out of his way before he barges into the city. The Hulk is then confronted by the Warriors Three. While they fight it out a bit, it doesn’t get very serious and eventually the Hulk pretty much just asks to be left alone and if they could explain to him how he got on this strange world in the first place. Loki is unhappy that his strategy didn’t go exactly the way that he planned. In a move of petty revenge, he transforms the Hulk back into Bruce Banner while he is leaping over a ravine. The story ends with Banner apparently falling to his death.

Tom: You’ve got to hand it to the Bullpen in regard to how they creatively handle the Hulk’s misadventures. Even when the stories aren’t all that great, like this one, at least they aren’t ever boring. The way he talks and acts, the Hulk is starting to remind me of some super-powered, belligerent drunk. Only instead of bar hopping, he bounces from state to state, to different worlds, planets, and dimensions. In the end, a blacked out Bruce Banner awakens wondering just what the hell he did and where he was at the night before? Did he piss anybody off?

MB: For the first time since #93, Giacoia returns to ink Marie’s Hulk, and does his usual excellent job as Jade-Jaws is whisked rather capriciously off to Asgard for an encounter with the Warriors Three, the latest in a long line of monkey wrenches thrown forcibly into the works by Thor’s evil adoptive brother, Loki. Lest we forget, Goldilocks and Greenskin were once (briefly) fellow Avengers, but the Hulkster is clearly an unknown quantity to Hogun’s Heroes. Fortunately, the Marvel Misunderstanding between them is short-lived, ending as soon as the noble Asgardians sense his intrinsic innocence, yet before you know it that darned God of Mischief intervenes yet again, propelling Bruce in an apparent death plunge into…his own mag.

Jack: What the heck is going on? Loki transports Hulk to Asgard just to stir up trouble? It may not make much sense, but this is a fun story. I have not been reading Thor, but if the supporting cast is this entertaining, then I guess I should be!

Tom: It’s the end of an era and the dawn of a new one when this title next issue becomes The Incredible Hulk! Thanks for the fun memories Tales to Astonish!

Namor, The Sub-Mariner
Our Story

Namor has been suffering from nightmares where he sees an evil being that torments him. He believes he recognizes the sinister person, but because of his amnesia he is unsure who it is. Seeking out his old home in the Arctic, Namor hopes to find some clues that will shed some light on his nightmares. On his journey, he tangles with and easily defeats a U.S. fighter jet. Back at the devastated Atlantis, Lady Dorma and Warlord Seth survey the crumbled surroundings as the people move forward to find another home to build at a different location. Everyone believes Namor to have perished as a hero and saved them from a previous explosion. Subby arrives at his former home as a child where everything is now covered in ice. Inside a hidden catacomb, he is attacked by a giant warrior made of ice. Sub-Mariner defeats the ice warrior and knocks it through a wall. To his shock and amazement, the evil looking being he saw in his dreams is awaiting him.

Tom: I can’t say that I recognize this creepy looking guy at the end who has super-villain written all over him, but I’m sure we’ll all find out just what his story is when Namor goes on over to Tales of Suspense where his adventures will continue (according to a note in this issue). The story in itself wasn’t anything really memorable. However, I’ll always be more than happy to read a comic when a gratuitous monster or creature, in this case the ice warrior, is thrown in to amp up the action level a little bit.

MB: Having turned the typewriter over to Stan for last issue’s full-length wingding (which I missed), Goodwin is back, while Adkins remains restricted to inks, this time over the welcome work of Gene Colan, the strip’s inaugural penciler way back in #70. Yet what a difference a delineator makes, in this case betwixt the amorphous scribbling of Vince Colletta then and the clean clarity of Dapper Dan now, with the reader the clear winner. Namor looks terrific, as do the frozen wastelands and ruins he visits, and those bookend appearances by the villain we will come to know as Destiny give the story an almost EC Comics feel (one half expects Subby to utter a closing “Choke!”); I also enjoyed the somber dignity of the Atlanteans.

Jack: When Subby headed for the Arctic circle, I half expected him to find Superman's Fortress of Solitude. Let's all have a moment of silence for Tales to Astonish, which ends its 101-issue run with this issue. We made it through Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Hulk and Sub Mariner. But according to the coming attractions at the bottom of the letters page, next issue the Hulk takes over Tales to Astonish by himself while Subby moves to Tales of Suspense. Stay tuned to next week's post to learn what REALLY happened.

PE: Well, TTA indeed becomes The Incredible Hulk but that journey over to Tales of Suspense won't happen. TOS ends its long run this month as well and Subby will get his own troubled title in two months.

Our crack researchers dug up this
unused and rejected page by Jack
Kirby revealing Sub-Mariner's
mysterious foe at the Arctic Circle. 

The Avengers 50
Our Story

The three remaining Avengers wonder how they're going to hold the group together, while Hercules battles a monster in Limbo and then locates his fellow banished Olympians. Zeus sends Hercules back to Earth, were he joins the Avengers in fighting Typhon. Hercules uses one of Captain America's judo moves to finish off the big guy and leads him back to Olympus. The gods are restored to their rightful place, Typhon is sent to Hades, and Hercules's term as an Avenger comes to an end. The rest of the Avengers vow to find Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and bring them back to the fold.

MB: When it comes to an artist inking his own pencils, Big John Buscema is clearly at or close to the top of the heap, and although we could debate precisely when Roy nailed his style on this book, he has obviously done so. With two major villains for the Avengers to tackle, Roy wisely deferred Magneto to another day, focusing on Typhon and the plight of the Olympians to give Hercules a stunning send-off from his first stint as an Assembler. The effect of upgrading to Buscema’s gorgeous, exquisitely detailed artwork here and in the previous issue is (to borrow a phrase I once coined in a context I’ve forgotten) like going from 2D to 3D; I had trouble getting past the splash page, off of which two of my favorite characters practically leaped with tension.

Jack: This was a fitting anniversary issue, although it seemed more like Hercules Comics than The Avengers. I agree with Prof. Matthew's assessment of Buscema's art--it's muscular and exciting. The circulation report says that the issue closest to October 1, 1967 sold 318,000 copies--less than X-Men! On the letters page is a missive from 16 year old Tony Isabella, who would go to work for Marvel in 1972.

Eyes on the prize, Wanda!

The X-Men 42

Our Story

Once again, the X-Men are forced to deal with the sub-par villain Grotesk. As reglar readers will come to expect, he's no more interesting this time around than he was in the last. While it's not quite enough to make the overall issue interesting, the final panel almost makes up for things.  If they only hadn't telegraphed it with the cover, some readers may actually have believed they were reading the last of the lone heroes.    
JS: Don Heck's lackluster pencils do nothing to help elevate this tale.

PE: It's perhaps stating the obvious but this story (and Professor X's behavior) makes no sense whatsoever. Never mind that X is seemingly in two places at the same time (at X-Mansion with his unrequited love, Marvel Girl, and at the laboratory across town with the Oscillotronoscope-Ray), the bald-headed genius just can't make up his mind. He doesn't want to send help for Cyclops and Beast to defeat Gro-Tesk, the Sub-Human That Lived but the goal is to put the monster down before he reaches the earthquake-causing gizmo. He has Marvel Girl act purposely vague about his intentions to the rest of The X-Kids and then suddenly calls them to the lab to help fight Gro-Tesk. And, I know this is a real silly question but, if this doohickey is going to shake the world to dust, why not destroy it before it can be used? Can't wait to see how Roy worms his way out of the corner he paints himself into with the final panel's "death" of Prof. X. A clone created by the Prof. just before he had his breakfast that morning? A cryogenic freeze until Reed Richards can find a cure for whatever ails our leader? Will Marvel Girl open the shower door to a smiling Xavier and discover it was...all...a...dream?

Jack: Has anyone else noticed how often Marvel characters say "there's no time to go into that now?" So many misunderstandings could be avoided if they'd just take a minute and tell each other what's going on. Is it just me, or have the covers been getting better across the board? This one really struck a chord with me, though I'm sure I remember it as the cover of X-Men 90 rather than this issue. The annual sales report is in this issue and it states that X-Men sold a whopping 345,000 copies of the issue closest to October 1, 1967. Imagine sales figures like that! No wonder Stan Lee is loaded. And by the way, I really enjoyed this issue!

JS: Look at that image to the right. You can almost imagine that coming from an interesting comic.

Next issue: Cyclops goes to
Wal-Mart to get his visor straightened.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #2
Kid Colt Outlaw #139
Marvel Tales #13
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #52
Two-Gun Kid #92


  1. Re: Prof. Matthew's comment about Johnny Craig's art being "reportedly ill-suited for superhero strips" -- we'll all get a chance to see for ourselves a few issues down the line when Craig pencils and inks two Iron Man stories all by himself. In the meantime, I think he works well over Genial Gene in this month/week's TOS. Colan couldn't have been the easiest guy to ink effectively, with the smeary swaths of grey/black, the sometimes rubbery fish-eye-lens distortions and whatnot. I'll take him over Tartaglione, Colletta or (as in this month/week's ugly Captain Marvel installment) Reinman any day.

    And as for that '50s era Cap panel looking like Frank Robbins -- I know that's intended to be a dig (I've been following the "70s Batman" feature on the Bare Bones blog) but if I were young Johnny Romita, I'd take it as a compliment :)


  2. Thanks for weighing in, B.T. I've really grown to appreciate and look forward to your pithy comments.

    I forget exactly how it was phrased, but I had the impression that it was as much a matter of Craig himself not being happy with super-hero assignments as it was of people not liking his work on them. I certainly had no problem with the short-lived Colan/Craig team on Shellhead, although I missed the solo Craig stuff during the brief interregnum between Colan and Tuska.

    Wasn't bothered by Reinman's inks on Mar-Vell this time around, but I completely agree re: Tartag and Colletta. As for Robbins, you ain't seen nothin' yet. If you're still with us when we get to his mid-'70s CAPTAIN AMERICA and THE INVADERS, you'll get digs that will make this look like Marvel Excavation and Archaeology!

  3. B.T.

    I'm not only glad that you put up with us (Jack and I, that is) despite our obvious dislike for all Robbins all the time, but that you let us know your thoughts on how we're doing. Very much appreciated by all of us, believe me. I think I speak for all my brother professors when I say it makes reading these things much easier! And if you decide you'd like to add your two cents on the Marvels on THIS side of the screen, please e-mail me at There's always a place here for intelligent commentary (this is where Jack comes in and asks how I could include myself in the intellignet commentary).

    1. And, yes, I really did mean to misspell intelligent!

  4. I am maintaining radio silence until someone laughs at the snowman.

  5. That's just cold, dude.

    And B.T., I took another look at that Captain America panel and it still stinks. You do realize that, despite the horribly forced perspective, he is just stepping off a curb into the street.

  6. Jack: looks to me like Cap is LEAPING off the curb into the street :) -- but seriously, while I'll admit Romita's '50s Cap stuff is pretty uneven, I still kinda dig it, "horrible forced perspective" and all.

    And while you guys are far from being Fan Outliers when it comes to despising Frank Robbins' art, I think Romita himself really WOULD have taken it as a compliment to be compared to him, especially in his younger days when he was obviously heavily influenced by the "Caniff School" look. Robbins was (and is) held in high esteem by LOTS of comics pros: Alex Toth, Mike Mignola, Darwyn Cooke, Kevin Nowlan, etc.

    Oh, we're gonna have some fun when 1975 rolls around...

    Matthew: I think you're right about Johnny Craig not having any particular interest in drawing superhero comics (though I can't remember where I heard / read that, either). I'll hold off on further comment until the issues in question show up here.


  7. Q: Why did Captain America leap off the curb and cross the road?

    A: To meet up with Frosty the Snowman on the other side.

  8. ...revealing the true origin of how he was trapped in a block of ice for all those years...

  9. It's been said that if the X-Men had been cancelled with issue #11 it would've been the first comic book mini-series. The central theme of good mutants protecting society from the threat of their evil brethren, and the ensuing public paranoia, runs through to about issue #21, where Roy Thomas takes the book in a different direction, mostly burying the mutant angle, and pitting the X-Men against an astounding array of tenth rate villains.

    The X-Men was launched as a bi-monthly book the same month as The Avengers, but, where The Avengers went monthly with issue #6, the X-Men had to wait until issue #14, sixteen months later. This would suggest that circulation-wise, the book always struggled. So, we endure another 20 issues of little or nothing, new costumes, etc. and now we get “soap opera ratings boosting tactic #1” --- “let's kill of a main character.” It's been a while since I've looked at these issues, and they're worse than I remembered. BTW, was this the first time the term “Not a hoax. Not a dream. Not an imaginary story.” appeared anywhere?

    Joe Sinnott must've drunk a lot of coffee this month. Besides his regular gig inking Kirby on the FF he's inking Steranko on Nick Fury. Finishing all those heavily rendered pages took their toll. In an interview, he said that he spent so much time inking page 6 of FF #72 that it cost him money he could've made inking another page. But, look at the end result. If I could own one page of Kirby artwork, this might be it. I'll never figure out why didn't Marvel release the page as a poster.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)