Wednesday, September 26, 2012

July 1968: The Big Gamble - Marvel's First Super-Hero Magazine

Captain America 103
Our Story

The Red Skull's henchmen kidnap the newly-christened Sharon Carter (at last, no more
SPOILER WARNINGs!) at a posh dinner date, hoping to lure her beau Captain America out of hiding. Unfortunately for The Skull, he hired these goons for their brawn and not their brain as Sharon was dancing with Steve Rogers at the time of the abduction! Their boss is none too happy but he realizes that it won't be too long before he gets another shot at his hated adversary. Sure enough, a dozen panels or so later, Cap has thumbed a ride on a jet and is dumped into the sea just outside the Skull's island fortress. Quickly making his way through The Skull's naval assault, Cap makes it into the fortress compound, only to be taken prisoner by The Skull. The evil Nazi genius has concocted yet another way to control the Star-Spangled Avenger: with a strip of nuclear tape attached to the back of Cap's neck, an explosive device that can be detonated near or far. As Captain America and Sharon Carter win their freedom and escape in one of the Skull's jets, the Scarlet Scourge gloats that everything has gone according to plan. He pulls the detonator from his pocket and looks skyward, vowing that today is gonna be a real good day.

The Red Skull comes to the realization that hiring Nazi swine doesn't always work in his favor

PE: You gotta love that opening with the Skull dressing down his Nazi boobs for not recognizing Captain America in his civvies: "That's the one thing wrong with demanding complete obedience! My men become human robots... they had a chance to dispose of my accursed enemy -- and fumbled it!" This issue's Fabulous Firearm addition to the Marvel Armory Hall of Fame goes to Sharon ("Call me Agent 13 or call me a taxi!") Carter and her obviously Mandarin-inspired fingernail arsenal. Stan was accommodating enough in the old days to run a chart of Mandy's tricked-out rings so I'm hoping to see what, oh say, Sharon's other middle finger can do. It's jarring to hear Cap call his sweetheart by her first name rather than "Lady," "Woman," or "Toots." Puzzling though is the exchange between the pair when Cap tells her that he has to get her to safety before butting heads with the Skull. Sharon replies: "But you promised you'd never let me stand in the way!" The hero replies "That was before I knew how much you mean to me." I might be exaggerating a wee bit but I'd say that Cap told Agent 13 (and us, the readers) just how he felt about her in the same panel he met her!

Captain America, Mummy... Unwrapped!

Oh, good—now that old Sleepyhead is out of the way, we can get down to some serious shield-on-Skull, to say nothing of S.H.I.E.L.D.-on-Skull, action.  It may just be a quirk of the inking, but Cap seems to display a kind of maniacal glee while driving his “gigantic, unstoppable flaming torpedo” up to the fortress, which isn’t exactly his stoic style, although his patriotic speechifying at the climax most definitely is (and, as always, seems to me quite justified coming from a Jewish World War II-era creative team).  Yet unless the patent cuts in my Marvel Super Action reprint have obscured a pertinent plot point, Cap must be a bit gullible not to realize that he and Sharon were being allowed to escape from cells that they already knew were bugged.

Sub-Mariner 3
Our Story

The evil Plant Man sends his monstrous plant creatures to destroy England as Namor and Triton watch helplessly as captives.  A giant plant creature made out of coral demolishes everything in its path.  When the super-villain commands Namor to be his mouthpiece in negotiating his demands to rule the country, he refuses, along with Triton.  For their insolence, they are sent to a chamber to die as plants suck away their oxygen.  Namor finds a cactus, which he breaks open to get water from it.  Newly rejuvenated by the water, he and Triton break out of the ship to stop the giant plant beasts.  It’s not easy, but eventually the heroes use fire to defeat the Plant Man’s creations.  In the end, the heroes part ways as Dorma finds out that her love, Sub-Mariner, is still alive.

Tom:  Not much to say except that this issue was lackluster all around.  Even the dependable artwork looked pretty rushed and shoddy.     

MB: This conclusion of the Triton two-parter is a bit of a mixed bag, and I think its greatest asset (other than those unbeatable Buscema/Giacoia figures) is seeing the Atlantean and the Inhuman on the same side rather than at odds, even if the Defiant Ones routine hampers their abilities.  The biggest debit, ironically, also lies with the artwork, but more on a conceptual level, so that I’m reluctant to blame Big John, biased though I may be; in short, the problem is that the Leviathan, this issue’s supposedly city-threatening menace, looks like nothing so much as a huge can of Popeye’s spinach run amok.  This is somehow suitable to the third-rate villain responsible for its creation, while Lady Dorma’s crisis of conscience seems like a retread of earlier episodes.

Jack: This is the best Marvel comic I have read among the July 1968 issues! John Buscema’s art is so strong that even Plant Man looks good. Triton is a great ally (or friend) for Namor, and Roy’s script shows glimmers of intelligence that put it a cut above most Marvel fare—he references the biblical Leviathan and uses Brobdingnagian as an adjective, recalling Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

The Amazing Spider-Man 62
Our Story

Medusa has come to New York on a mission from her people, The Inhumans, to find out if they can at last walk the streets unmolested. On the way, she manages to accidentally cut The Amazing Spider-Man's line as he's swinging from rooftop to rooftop. The two exchange pleasantries and then go their separate ways. Medusa sets down on a busy street and causes a bit of a commotion, drawing the attention of Montgomery Bliss, president and CEO of Heavenly Hair Spray. He offers her a job, representing and posing for the company. After a few shots, the titanically-tressed tart grows bored and, when Bliss raises a fuss, trashes several hundred dollars worth of equipment. Seeking revenge, Bliss convinces Our Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man that Medusa has vowed to wreck the city. Proving once again that, yes, you can fool all the people all the time, Spidey goes off in search of Medusa with all best intentions.

PE: The very definition of a filler, this issue brings me back to the bad old days of The Torch and Ant-Man strips. Nothing is handled right here. Medusa's goal is to find out why the humans don't trust the Inhumans. Could it be their fiery tempers? As when she trashes the office of Heavenly Hair Spray because the boss asks her to pose for more pictures. Gwen Stacy is still so angry at Peter Parker she won't speak to him despite the fact that she knows her father was under the influence of The Kingpin. How shallow is that? Not typical of the Gwen character we've grown to be fond of. Spider-Man stumbles into Marvel Cliche #1: The Misunderstanding, it seems, more than any other hero (well, okay, aside from The X-Men) and here he does it with a dunce cap on. Montgomery Bliss tells Spidey that Medusa has wrecked his office and is intent on destroying New York next. The wall-crawler scratches his head and mutters "Hmmm, it doesn't make sense to me" and then swings off to find her, with a thought balloon above his head: "If she
is dangerous, I've got to stop her first and ask questions later!" I think this is Line #1 in The Marvel Book of Plotting. The only moment of entertainment for me here was Bliss's exclamation after Spider-Man heads off to corral the Inhuman: "Call our entire publicity department! I want every cameraman we can get up on the rooftops! History will record this as hair spray's finest hour!" Within a minute the building's rooftop is filled with paparazzi!

MB: This seems to be unconnected with Medusa’s simultaneous solo story in 
Marvel Super-Heroes #15 (which I do not have), where she sports a different outfit.  It’s good that these and Triton’s current Sub-Mariner guest shot are keeping the Inhumans in play between the recent demise of their back-up feature in Thor and the start of their Amazing Adventures strip two years hence.  I love how Stan really tries to vary the tiresome Marvel Misunderstanding:  the frenemies du jour part on relatively good terms after an initial encounter, with Spidey’s curiosity piqued as much as anything else, and when they do come into conflict, it does not arise out of the mutual suspicions of two hot-headed heroes, but requires Spidey’s persuasion by instigator Bliss.

PE: Most of the "civilian life" stuff we get this issue is throwaway: the aforementioned Gwen hissy-fit, the uncharacteristic "oh well" type answer Captain Stacy gives to Gwen when she tells her pop that she and Peter on the outs,  and Harry Osborn's terrifying battle with homework. The only ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds of mundanity is the impending return of the guy with the glider, whose amnesiac alter ego is seeing late night shows about a past unmasking in his head. This bodes well for the future.

Doctor Strange 170
Our Story

The Ancient One calls out to Dr. Strange yet seems deep in sleep. Dr. Strange enters the old teacher’s mind, only to be trapped there by Nightmare! Dr. Strange struggles to free himself from the evil one’s spells and eventually prevails, only to learn that the whole episode was a test permitted by the Ancient One.

Jack: Dan Adkins must have broken out the extra large tracing paper for this issue, because there are a lot of big panels, including the splash page and a two-page spread. For a series that never seems to go anywhere, these last two issues have seemed particularly lacking in new events. The teaser for next issue says “Clea Lives!” so hopefully she and Victoria Bentley will have a good old-fashioned catfight.

 It bears remembering that Strange was one of the first characters entrusted to Roy (back in #143), and one to whom he repeatedly returned, so it’s fitting that he oversee Doc’s solo book, consolidating his position with the overdue return of inaugural bad guy Nightmare.  In the interim, Adkins has proven himself the strip’s best post-Ditko artist, distinguishing himself in this case with his usual superb Strange and such striking, Sterankoesque layouts as the increasing close-ups of Doc on page 2, and the spectacular two-page spread of his astral form faced with the mounted Nightmare on pages 12-13.  In short, this represents two well-teamed talents, unleashed in a worthy format, and despite the excellence to come, I shall miss Dapper Dan’s work on Doc.

How about splashing some water in his face?

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 2
Our Story

After Jimmy survives a fun-house odyssey that turns out to be his final test before joining S.H.I.E.L.D., and Fury enjoys a quiet idyll at home with Val, they are en route to a rendezvous with the Helicarrier off the Pacific Coast when their plane is brought down by a mysterious beam.  Taken to a nearby island, Valhalla, they are welcomed by the long-missing scientist Noah Black, now called Centurius, who plans to cleanse Earth with radioactive fire and repopulate it with new life forms of his own creation.  The arrival of P.D.Q. Werner and a film crew, who plan to shoot a jungle epic with a giant robot Kong, gives Nick and Jimmy the allies they need to combat the island’s dinosaurs and foil Centurius’s scheme before it’s too late.

MB: This is my least favorite Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D. story, and I think one reason is that even with an entire issue at his disposal, Jim (ably inked by Giacoia) devoted so much space to the admittedly atmospheric sequence of bringing Jimmy into the fold, the main story suffered—not that I object to the wordless montage set in Nick’s apartment, making his romance with Val more overt.  The coincidence of Fury and the filmmakers showing up on Valhalla at the same time is a howler, if you’ll pardon the pun, and you’d think Centurius, whose plans appear at once overly familiar and improperly fleshed out, would better dissuade outsiders.  Werner’s use of a life-sized robot Kong anticipates De Laurentiis by several years, although its efficacy against dinosaurs seems unlikely.

Jack: While I love the splash page and the opening sequence with Jimmy Woo in the funhouse is neat, this issue devolves into utter nonsense. There is a weird one-page sequence with Fury and Val getting romantic at his swinging pad, and Woo veers dangerously into Number One Son territory with this line: “It is said that the smallest of fleas can cause discomfort to the greatest of dogs.” Once the grade Z movie company appears, the story really goes off into la la land. Steranko’s “tribute to the movies” is a stinker.

PE: What a load of hooey! I think maybe Jim Steranko was reading his own press clippings and figured he could get away with anything at the time. Innovator maybe but not always a good storyteller. But what do I know? Three issues later, the letters pages will be filled with praise (from super-fan Ron Foss and future writer Don McGregor, among others) for Jaunty Jim's groundbreaking use of a "Negro villain." Might have been even more groundbreaking if his name wasn't Noah

The Mighty Thor 154

Our Story

A bolt of force from Asgard has interrupted the battle on Earth between Thor and Loki, yet Odin gives no further word to enlighten the Thunder God as to the reason why. Thor returns to the hospital to find that Sif is recovering nicely from her wounds in the battle against Loki. Hela, Goddess of Death appears, eager, it seems, to add the Thunder God to her conquests. She gives him until he is mortally wounded in battle before he has to join her in Valhalla, and while sorely tempted by the sight of unending glorious battles, Thor tells the cheering warriors of times past to—begone! Elsewhere, Ulik, having saved himself from a bottomless fall down the Abyss of Shadows, explores the cave where he finds himself. It is lit by enchanti-stones that Odin has put there, and they lead to a metal door sealed in the rock. The door has an inscription from the All-Father not to disturb what lies within, so of course Ulik does precisely that, tossing the rocks aside. What was contained, and is no longer, is a fearsome being called Mangog, a muscled, armoured grotesque monster perhaps the size of a small ice-giant. He immediately makes Ulik aware that the intentions of the Mangog are to destroy all that lives, and to bring about Ragnarok, the end of the world. Keeping the mighty troll alive only to be of use to him. Mangog climbs his way out of the Abyss of Shadows.  Ulik, once lifted out, flees, knowing that even he is no match for this enemy of Asgard. Back on Earth, Thor sets out to find Loki, who has made himself invisible. The God of Evil uses his power to return to Asgard, where he finds that his (step) father is asleep—Odinsleep that is. Loki wastes no time is seating himself on the throne, which he is loath to give up. Balder is still a captive of the Norn Queen, who makes known her love for him, and that if he rejects her, he will end up like the Legion of the Lost, a group of warriors missing for ages, now frozen like statues. Business on Earth keeps Thor busy for a time, rescuing a man from a group of thugs who all themselves Muggers Incorporated, and trading philosophies with a trio of hippies, still awaiting the word of Odin to call him back to the city of the gods.

JB: The mundanity of Thor’s dealings on Earth contrast nicely with the introduction of Mangog, one of those wonderful foes who are simply too powerful to be defeated, and delightfully visual. I remember first reading this four-part epic in Marvel Treasury Edition #10 back in 1976, and for the longest time I could never find an original of the upcoming issue #156. This tale could be a candidate for a Thor movie adaptation.

PE: There's a gargantuan amount of intrigue, suspense, and excitement packed tight in these pages but, amazingly, very little honest-to-gosh action or fight sequences (about the most violent act committed is Mangog's initial attack on Ulik). We get Sif bedridden, Balder courted, Loki triumphant, Odin picking the wrong time to catch forty winks, and the danger of Ulik suddenly dwarfed by the newly-released Mangog! I can't wait for the next installment. Obviously some bits of this issue inspired Ashley Miller, Zack Stentz, and Don Payne, screenwriters of Kenneth Branagh's Thor. The sequence where Loki seizes the throne of Asgard while Odin slumbers could have come panel for panel out of this story. By the way, is this the first mention of the "life-renewing" Odinsleep or did I miss a mention in Tales of Asgard at some point? Stan and Jack show what cool cats these Marvel characters continue to be. Picking up girls at the malt shop, twistin' the night away to the funky rhythm of Dylan and, now, enlightening some Summer of Love freaks. Thor's pep talk to the hippies: "Tis not by dropping out -- but by plunging in -- into the maelstrom of life itself -- that thou shalt find thy wisdom." Sounds like vintage Thomas to me!

Despite its dull cover, this is not a bad issue, and the Mangog’s gasp-inducing reveal helps to rehabilitate the sometimes devalued full-page shot, but the story seems to have too much going on for its own good.  There’s no real reason for Hela to show up when she does, especially since Sif was probably closer to death before Blake operated, while Thor’s encounters with those crooks and counter-culture types felt like an excuse for him to spout off (however eloquently) on what fools these mortals be.  The all-alone-by-the-telephone bit is odd:  did Dad pass out so fast he couldn’t even finish his message?  If not, he could have said, “Look, old boy, just popping off for some Odinsleep now, but do come home—something frightfully important’s going on here.”

JB: There is a lot going on here, Professor Matthew, but for me it all weaves together nicely. This type of cover, with a bunch of panels in the background, isn’t my favourite, but here, with no words, and Thor running towards us, it makes a promise that for the most part it keeps. Perhaps the panel of Mangog pushing Ulik aside is an earlier version of how Mangog was supposed to look, with no armour and fingers instead of claws. Seeing the gateway to Valhalla open up is a nice touch, and it ties in our old friend Harokin, late of Tales Of Asgard. It’s a bit odd Thor doesn’t just go to Asgard to find out what’s going on, although his lady is likely his first concern. 

JS: Call me Professor Crazy, but I actually like this style of cover. 

PE: An interesting quote from Thor this issue has me puzzled. The Thunder God remarks that he must become Dr. Don Blake as only the lame doc's brain can help the hospitalized Sif. Do the guys actually switch brains when the big change comes? I've remarked before that I still don't comprehend where Blake goes when Thor appears and vice versa. I have a hard time picturing Thor in some purgatory or Asgard waiting room while Doc Blake administers flu vaccine to an old lady. Later on in this issue, Blake remarks that he needs to attend to some "unfinished business" and then bangs the cane. Obviously, the pair must share some of the same brainwaves.

Jack: Do you remember the TV show Quantum Leap? Obviously, Don Blake goes to the waiting room.

Marvel Super-Heroes 15
Our Story

In love with Black Bolt and sad that he cannot speak, Medusa sets out to find a machine to fix his problem. She gets dragged back into the Frightful Four when the Wizard promises to help her with Black Bolt’s speech impediment; secretly, he wants her to help him steal a key ingredient for his new doohickey to cause mayhem. The beautiful redhead succeeds in stealing the key item but eventually figures out she’s been duped and heads home with Mr. Strong, Silent type.

Jack: What a gorgeous cover, with those great colors on a yellow background! I don’t know about anyone else, but I get very nostalgic for these late ‘60s, 25 cent, perfect-bound Marvels. The Medusa story is a whopping 25 pages long, and it makes me wonder if the great Gene Colan is starting to spread himself a little thin. Medusa is certainly a male fantasy figure come to life, and Colan takes Kirby’s Amazonian female proportions and smooths them out to make her a real knockout.

I've got my eye on you!
PE: The art, as usual, is fabulous. Gene's good girl art really does lift the strip high above what it would have been had, say, Heck or even Buscema drawn it. The script won't win any Alleys though. It's a mishmash of flashbacks, cliches, and awkward fight scenes. Nothing says all-out action like a fight between four people in a small enclosed pod. I wouldn't necessarily cry out for a solo Medusa strip but as a 25-page one-off in a remainder title, it's not all that bad. But the rest of the package, the vintage material, makes that two-bits you dumped at the Rexall counter a little easier to live without. The Black Knight strip (from 1955) always seems to be the same story but who cares when you've got those exquisite panels drawn lovingly by Joe Maneely? No beheadings, dragons, or incest. A different kind of medieval eye candy. There's also a charming three-page Namor childhood story co-starring his future adversary Byrrah (from 1954); the origin of the short-lived character, The Black Marvel (from 1940), with barely passable art by Al Gabriele (ironically, this caucasian "Black Marvel" would be rebooted in the late 1990s, for the Spider-Man off-shoot Slingers, as an African-American); and a nicely illustrated Captain America and Bucky story from the "last gasp" era of Marvel's big three (Cap, Namor, and The Torch). The Cap entry, unfortunately, is hampered by one of the two or three variations of "Captain America Turns Traitor" used to this day.

Wotta honey!
PE: The letters page offers up a very deep and insightful missive from one Bob Schoenfeld (who, at the time, was editing the respected fanzine Gosh Wow!), who takes Stan Lee to task for a 1950s Captain America story that was reprinted in Marvel Super-Heroes #12. In the story, a young pacifist tells Cap and Bucky that he "can't stand any kind of fighting!" Cap swear that "if I have to die, it will be worth it if I can make this boy see the light!" Schoenfeld rips Stan a new one for the story's obvious anti-pacifist, pro-STINKIN' COMMIES message. I give "The Man" a ton of credit for letting the letter see the light of day in the first place but his answer ("We are not now, nor have we ever been, warmongers! However we are now, as we have ever been, Patriots!") leaves a lot to be desired. 

The Avengers 54
Our Story

Avengers Mansion has been rigged up with a new security system but when Jarvis the butler turns bad, watch out! He gives the secret plans to the New Masters of Evil, who use them to get inside and pick off the Avengers one by one. Led by a mysterious figure known as the Crimson Cowl, can these New Masters succeed where the original Masters failed? In the final panel, the Crimson Cowl is revealed to be none other than Jarvis!

Jack: The constantly rotating membership of the Avengers is really working for me—this is an unusual series that never features the same cast for long but continues to remain interesting. The one on one battles between the Masters of Evil and the Avengers are handled well. My only complaint is that Buscema doesn’t seem to have a knack for drawing sexy women—even though heads turn when she walks down the street, Janet is nowhere near as hot as she has been in the hands of other artists.

Not working for at least
one MU professor
MB: So much going on here I hardly know where to start, so I’ll begin at the end, only to admit that after many years I have no idea what all this crazy Jarvis stuff is about, although the face of the robot Cowl looks suspiciously familiar.  None of these New Masters of Evil ranks any higher than the third tier in my book, but that’s all right, because even against the Avengers, you don’t want them to be too formidable, except in aggregate, and they are well chosen in the sense of how many have vendettas against one or more Assemblers.  Finally, the whole business about the Black Knight impersonating his villainous uncle is far-fetched in the extreme, but damned if he doesn’t have some stones on him for trying, so to him I say, “A for effort and welcome back.”

Jack: On the letters page, future fan writers Don and Maggie Thompson contribute a letter correcting Roy’s spelling.

The Invincible Iron Man 3
Our Story

After saving a construction team at Stark Industries from a falling rocket, Iron Man discovers that his life-giving armor isn't what it used to be and he needs to make some modifications or there won't be any Iron Man. Tony Stark draws the curtains and becomes a nomad while working on the new gadgetry. This leads to speculation on the part of many. Newlyweds Happy and Pepper Hogan decide that they're the only ones that can help the boss (and Happy, being the only other man on earth to know his chief's secret, is convinced of that fact) and head for Stark's factory, cutting short their honeymoon. Since Stark finds he doesn't have the strength to lift his little finger, it turns out Happy was right as, once there, Tony talks his chauffeur/butler/ gardener/toadie into building his new armor for him. Unfortuately for our favorite schlemiel, he's exposed to a dangerous level of cobalt from the bombarder and becomes The Freak again.

PE: I must have blinked while doughboy Happy Hogan (who had so much trouble getting into a size 62 Iron Man suit not long ago) became Rock Hudson. But what really pushes the believability factor on this strip into the red zone is Jasper Sitwell showing Whitney Frost around the top-secret Stark Industries. He's just met this babe. SHIELD's finest, my flamethrowing ball point pen! By the way, with this issue Tony Stark edges May Parker 67-66 in the Deathbed Tournament but, as we all know, this will be a hard-fought match throughout the next several decades. We'll keep you updated.

Here's something you don't see everyday.

 I’ve come to the conclusion (hardly earth-shattering) that masks and helmets must be easier to draw than facial features, which might explain why artists can often depict, say, Iron Man or Spider-Man more effectively than unmasked characters; a prime example is this issue, in which Shellhead looks normal, while the Freak—at least on Craig’s cover—looks like something out of a Ren and Stimpy cartoon.  Archie continues to leave an important stamp on this fledgling book, introducing the protean Whitney/Jasper relationship, plus a crucial modification to Tony’s armor, the thermocouple unit.  As drawn by Craig, Happy looks far less doleful than before, and it’s nice to see the Hogans again, even if a return appearance by the Freak is the price to be paid.

PE: Would this accident turn Happy into the same Freak he transformed into last time? More important, where does his hair go? When he shrinks back down to normal, does he have that old lady baggy skin where his muscles were at? Do you think Pepper might like him better as a freak? That look in HappyFreak's eyes upon seeing his new bride splayed out in front of him reminds me of the climax of Young Frankenstein. Letters this issue from future super movie producer Bob Gale and future super comic book artist Walt Simonson.

The X-Men 46
Our Story

Is this it? Have we finally reached the end of The X-Men? Well, we're certainly one step closer as The Juggernaut is zapped from the Crimson Cosmos to Xavier's lab. He works his way through our X-Men in search of Professor X, only to find out the Prof's already dead. He's no sooner mysteriously zapped back to the Crimson Cosmos, and the X-kids decide to close up shop.

Since most of the issues from this period are new to me, I have no idea where they are headed with Professor X’s alleged demise or the breaking up of the X-Men, and it looks as if scripter Gary Friedrich’s interim stint, in between and overlapping with Roy Thomas and Arnold Drake, will be too short for any major initiatives.  But I do know that nothing kicks this book up a notch like a Juggernaut appearance, making it all the more unfortunate that his return had to be shortened to accommodate the “Origins” segment.  Whether by Tuska there or by Heck and Roth in the main story, the art—all inked by Tartaglione—rarely rises above the functional, yet I have certainly seen worse in my day, and at least we get a glimpse of Xavier in the “Origins” episode.

JS: Anyone else think the Fed who visits the X-Men was actually Giant-Man based on this panel:

Jack: When one is lurking in the far-flung dimensions of the Crimson Cosmos for oh, say, 13 issues, where does one get a sandwich? Are there girls lurking there too? Does Clea ever float by? Did the Juggernaut do isometrics to stay so buff? Just asking. Oh yeah, and the X-Men broke up. I doubt it’ll last very long. As for the backup story, what looked like an interesting series has turned into a waste of space.

JS: So this issue ends with the team disbanding. The dramatic impact of this is tempered somewhat by the description of the next issue. Oh, well.

Har? Hot eyes?

Law dog?

The Incredible Hulk 105
Our Story

Betty Ross has been kidnapped by the Hulk because the misguided brute thinks that he is keeping her safe.  She is able to talk him into taking her back to her apartment so she can call her father.  A couple of crooks accost Betty and, as the Hulk comes to her aid, one of them shoots him in the leg as he is transforming back into Bruce Banner.  As this is all transpiring, two mercenaries aboard a freighter shoot a missile capsule towards the New York harbor.  One of the men tells the other that the capsule contains quite a horrific beast.  The creature was formed when the U.S. government tested one of their atomic bombs, which awakened a caveman type of creature that had been in suspended animation for countless years.  Scientists of an enemy foreign country tried to study the creature, but it morphed from the radiation exposure into a monster with great strength and power.  After it was subdued by a large amount of sleeping gas, it was put into the capsule and sent to the U.S. to destroy it by the evil foreign powers.  Once the creature gets out of the capsule, it wanders the city, destroying things.  Eventually, the Hulk comes across it and, like two natural enemies, they go at it.  The pink monster is no cream puff, as even the Hulk’s mightiest blows only cause it to crystallize in the places where the Hulk hits it.  Strength-wise, the two seem about equal, except that the new pink monster’s skin is so radioactive that it burns the Hulk when he touches it.  The pink menace also has the power to absorb radiation, even being able to temporarily turn the Hulk back into Banner after putting him in a bear hug.  Across town, Major Talbot and Rick Jones are finishing up their visit with Fantastic Four leader Reed Richards.  Richards has put together a device that will turn the Hulk back into Bruce Banner after following instructions that Banner wrote down in case of an emergency.  He reluctantly gives the device to Talbot since it could very well kill Banner.  They go to where the monsters were recently battling and he uses the device on the Hulk.  It works, and the Hulkster reverts back to Banner.  The story ends with Bruce, Rick, and Talbot about to be attacked by the remaining pink beast.

At this point, we don't know
who the heck he is...
Tom:   While this story was good in parts, and definitely exciting, it was just too weird with too much going on.  Between robbers trying to kidnap Betty, strange nuclear monsters, Reed Richards, and communist ruler Mao making an appearance, it’s all just a little too much to digest.  I don’t see why the Hulk would have trouble walking just because Banner was shot in the leg or legs.  The villain in this story would later go on to be called the Missing Link, last seen in an issue of Rom--current whereabouts unknown;  presumed to be living in a trailer park and working as a Domino’s pizza delivery driver.     

Jack: I have had just about all I can stand of Marie Severin’s goofy art on this strip. This issue probably sets the record for transformations back and forth from Hulk to Banner. The origin of the Beast-Man is a throwback to about five years before, when Stan the Man loved two things more than any other: atomic bomb explosions and Commies. This issue is such a mess that things can only go up from here.

Sit! Stay!
MB: Having co-written this issue with Bill Everett—atop his current duties on the Avengers, Mar-Vell, Dr. Strange, and Namor—Roy is working on as many books this month as Stan (Spidey, Cap, DD, FF, Thor), leaving the rest in the hands of Steranko (S.H.I.E.L.D.) and newbies Goodwin (Iron Man, Medusa) and Friedrich (X-Men).  More than most, the Hulk seems to wear his new format badly, either floundering or falling back into old ways (e.g., those telltale “Hulkinueds”), and I fear Tuska’s inks don’t give Severin’s pencils a lot of help in this case.  If I may beat a dead horse, the Hulk says, “He gives off some kind of radiation…Hulk was created by radiation”…and then, just a few pages later, “He’s on fire somehow…on fire inside!”  WTF?

Captain Marvel 3
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Events in space sector X3-Y heat up as Mar-Vell, playing possum, is taken aboard the Super Skrull’s ship and subjected to the mind-delving psycho-probe, until he recovers enough to escape and return to his own ship.  Outfoxing the treacherous Yon-Rogg, he claims his right to contact the Imperial Minister (noting en passant the planet’s “artificial rings of defensive space-mines [and] flotsam-like cosmic sea of enemy-detecting sub-sonic crystals”), who grants him permission to return to Earth, albeit only to stop the Skrull.  The latter, posing as “Lawson,” locates the cylinder and enters the Cape, hoping to check out the Sentry, but Mar-Vell returns in time to make him hypnotize himself (don’t ask) and flee into space before the bomb is disarmed.

MB: Right from its stylized, highly effective yellow-and-green cover, and the nice detail of the Super Skrull finding the unmasked Mar-Vell’s appearance loathsome, this mag moves from strength to strength.  The psycho-probe is a clever device to catch up any latecomers and advance the plot at the same time, since discerning what brought the Kree to Earth is the primary raison d’ĂȘtre of the Skrull’s mission.  For the first time, we learn the name of the Kree starship, the Helion, and Roy deftly lets Yon-Rogg repeatedly commit evil via mere inaction.  All this plus Namor next issue? In a word, wow.  You’ll notice I am so enraptured that I’m not even complaining about Colletta, whose inks, I must allow, seem peculiarly well-suited to Colan’s pencils for this particular strip.

PE: Five chapters in and it suddenly occurs to me what Captain Marvel reminds me of most: DC. I can't see Spider-Man, Thor or Daredevil walking the same streets as Batman and Robin but I sure can imagine Mar-Vell sitting around a table at headquarters, shooting the bull with Hawkman, The Spectre, The Flash, The Atom, and the rest of the JSA. The only difference is that I'm enjoying this series. The two aliens, both using the Dr. Lawson alias at the base, are having a secret war among the humans around them. No one on earth is aware there's an imminent atomic blast. The Skrull can't figure out why a Kree is suddenly defending a race they both should want destroyed. And I love this Colan art, Colleta inks and all. Just look at that dynamic panel of Kree v. Skrull! What's not to like? If there's only one drawback to this issue, it's the criminally rushed climax

Daredevil 42
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With Daredevil presumed dead, a new villain called the Jester takes the streets of New York hostage, committing crimes all over the city using weird toy weapons.  As he looks through one of his personal scrapbooks it is revealed that the bad guy was a former play actor.  To better himself at his craft, the Jester would learn sword fighting, combat techniques, and would exercise himself into peak condition.  Unfortunately, the one area he did not improve himself in was his acting skills, which subsequently got him booed off stage and out of work.  For revenge, he turned into a law breaker.  Richard Raleigh is a corrupt man running for Mayor.  He rationalizes that if he wins the election, he will need a District Attorney who he can control.  Realizing that Foggy Nelson would give him a headache if he were elected D.A., he comes up with the plan of hiring the Jester to get Foggy out of the running.  As Matt Murdock, Foggy, Karen, and Deborah take a stroll in the park, the Jester attacks.  Matt can’t turn into Daredevil in front of his friends, so he lets the criminal kidnap him.  At the Jester’s hideout, a locked away Matt changes back into the only hero with the guts to put a stop to things---Daredevil!  A wild melee ensues when the two brawl it out.  Daredevil is actually knocked out while the Jester runs off to Raleigh’s office to complain about his plan.  Double D awakens and follows his trail.  Once they reach his office, Raleigh is found murdered by some unknown assailant.  The story ends with the Jester escaping and Matt realizing that the world will always need heroes like Daredevil.

We're gonna miss the big galoot.
Tom:  I wouldn’t laugh at the Jester.  Is he a cheap D.C. comics Joker rip-off?  Yes.  Is he a boring villain with zero charisma?  No.  The bullpen sure gave him quite a premier with an attempt to make him seem threatening by fighting Daredevil to a standstill.  In future appearances he would seem to be regulated to being a less credible foe, easily dispatched of, and is largely forgotten today by casual fans.  He did have a successor after the original Jester was left catatonic from being possessed by a demon.  The successor was shot to death by the Punisher a couple of years ago.  What a loser.               

Jack: One thing I love about Daredevil is the colors, and the Jester has a great color scheme. Sure, he’s a knock off of the Joker, but his origin story is silly but lovable. There are a couple of shameless plugs for the new Spider-Man comic. I was surprised that this was a one-issue story since it seemed like they were setting things up for more with the Jester.

MB:   Having turned the page and entered the Post-Mike-Murdock Era, we now meet one of DD’s most persistent recurring villains, the Jester, as well as getting a glimpse of corrupt pol Richard Raleigh (also featured in this month’s debut of the short-lived Spectacular Spider-Man mag).  Meanwhile, Marvel scribe-to-be Mark Gruenwald weighs in with another LOC and, in contrast to much of our faculty, he identifies this as his “favorite adventure magazine.”  Now, I have gone on record as admiring Dapper Dan Adkins’s work on Dr. Strange and elsewhere, but I feel that he is less effective here, giving recent tag-team inkers Giacoia and Tartaglione a break; it may be that he is simply letting Colan be Colan, but in some panels, he is doing him no favors.

Fantastic Four 76
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In order to save the Earth from certain death at the hands of a starving Galactus, Reed has promised the mighty planet-eater that the F.F. will find the Silver Surfer for him. The magic boarder, with the aid of Reed Richards genius, has fled to a place where even his former master cannot find him: the micro-world. Reed, Ben and Johnny however, do hope to find him, following in the Reducta-craft that Reed had designed to explore worlds within worlds.
The trio gets shrunk down small enough to enter the drop of liquid on the microscope slide, seeing molecules become gigantic all around them. Meanwhile a visit from the doctor informs Sue all is well with her pregnancy, but an offhand remark, as well as Crystal’s non-response to her inquiry, tell Sue that the boys are in trouble of some sort. It doesn’t take long for the Reducta-craft to find the Surfer, having followed the same path, seeing him in bliss at his newfound freedom. The Surfer does land, followed by the F.F., but a quick attack by the Torch and Thing doesn’t help matters, and the space-farer responds in turn, and then takes flight again. Soon he is spotted by a probe vessel from this world, which sends a signal back to its master, the most powerful scientist from Sub-Atomica, the merciless Psycho-man. His way of dealing with the situation is to send forth an android called simply an Indestructible. The android encounters the Fantastic Four first, and mistakes them for his quarry. He grabs the craft in mid-flight until Ben jettisons from his seat and kicks him off. The battle picks up on the surface of a planetoid, where the creature seems stronger than Ben (due, perhaps to the stronger gravity here) and immune to Johnny’s flame, being able to allow the bolts to pass harmlessly through him. Just as it seems that the battle is hopeless, the Indestructible fades away. The Silver Surfer has overheard the discussion of the three men, and understands the purpose for which they have come. Duty calls more loudly even than freedom, as he vows to return to offer himself up to Galactus and save Earth from destruction. Reed and crew stay behind, as he explains to Ben and Johnny that the purpose of his building the Reducta-craft was to end the threat of Sub-Atomica, lest they should decide to invade our world once again.

JB: I for one kind of liked Psycho-man in the most recent Fantastic Four Annual, and was looking forward to his return here. It would seem to make more sense if we saw a little more about the inhabitants here though; it seems like he’s more of a solo villain. Maybe next issue will fill out some details.  Wasn’t the robot creature in Thor #132 also called an Indestructible? He served kind of the same purpose. I appreciate the Surfer’s joy at the freedom he feels, and saddened yet enamored by his devotion to what he feels is his duty.

MB:  Like Reed, but for different reasons, I’ve dreaded the return of the Psycho-Man—who so underwhelmed me in Fantastic Four Special #5—especially since the expression “worlds within worlds” was first bandied about, but it’s almost worth it for that full-page shot of the “free and unfettered” Surfer enjoying his brave new world.  It’s interesting that as far back as 1968 (one year after the release of the SF classic Fantastic Voyage), Reed is already using the word “micronaut” to refer to themselves.  As an aside, I’m astounded at how cavalierly they cut their reprints:  page 3 of the Marvel’s Greatest Comics version begins, “well may we hope…that Crystal’s impassioned words—are true!,” though said Inhuman has been neither seen nor heard.

That’s an interesting point Professor Matthew, about cutting pages in the issue reprints. Ironically, although I hate this (like the editing of classic shows in syndication), it didn’t stop some sagas from becoming my favourites (like the Mangog storyline, or the Hercules/Pluto one, for instance, over in Thor) when I first read them as a kid. The up side would be the fun of reading these edited scenes (or watching, in the case of TV) when I first got my hands on the originals.

Unaware they have an audience, the boys catch a quick bath.

PE: This may be a case of stretching a three-issue arc into four parts but it's enjoyable enough. A good chunk of this chapter is devoted to The Boys chasing The Surfer in circles and moaning about the impending doom of earth. I think throwing Psycho-Man and "Indestructible" into the story is overstuffing the pie. It's amazing how the robot's name got around the little microverse so quick ("He must be indestructible" "I think you're right, Reed, he may be indestructible" "Why, I'd say...").  I've given up trying to figure out this screwy timeline (I say that but you know I'll keep complaining). It takes Peter Parker forty years to get out of college but Sue Richards is fit to pop after just a handful of issues. Her OB/GYN sniffs disdainfully at the thought that Reed Richards isn't at Sue's side "when the time is so near!" This isn't secret identitied Peter Parker we're talking here but Reed Richards, a guy who's saved the world 75 times and, is in all likelihood, engaged in a 76th at the moment. Doesn't this doc read the papers?

The Spectacular Spider-Man 1
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While on a routine swing through the city, The Spectacular Spider-Man is attacked, without provocation, by a ten-foot tall strongman with a keen dislike for mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh. Said politician just happens to be the rage with Peter Parker's friends, so we know he's a happenin' dude. At a rally to raise funds for Raleigh, Peter spots a falling light fixture just in time and must risk the exposure of his secret identity to save lives. Luckily he's able to save the day and himself as well thanks to a few handy web cartridges and some ingenuity. Meanwhile, Richard Raleigh happens to dump some unknown information in our laps: he's manufacturing a war with the underworld to make it look to the American people as if he's getting the job done. In secret, he's got a mad scientist in his basement making Frankenstein Monsters out of nameless hoodlums and hiring armed bandits to hold up jewelry shops all over town. The man has got to be stopped! It seems Captain Stacy is the only man in town who has doubts about the sugar-coated pol and once Raleigh gets wind of Stacy's background checks, he sends his Man-Monster over to silence the old man once and for all. Fortunately for the Captain, Spider-Man happens to be in the neighborhood and puts a stop to the giant's plan. In the end, the "Man-Monster" and The Web-Slinger duke it out at Richard Raleigh's townhouse (during which, the politician and his mad scientist are both retired as Marvel villains) and only one lives to tell the tale. I'll not spoil the surprise by revealing which one is the victor.

PE: A milestone in the Marvel timeline. A failure (and we'll proffer some perceived reasons for that failure when we get to the discussion of the second and final issue in November) but a milestone nonetheless. Marvel had monkeyed around with the magazine market before (Monsters to Laugh With and Monsters Unlimited), but never starring their comic book heroes. Warren Publishing had proven that comic magazines could sell in the tens of thousands (with Eerie and Creepy) and Stan obviously thought his popular characters could do that business ten-fold. The Amazing Spider-Man was the company's biggest-selling title in 1968, so if anything could get the kids to plunk down their extra dimes and pennies, it was the wall-crawler. Stan had so much faith in the project he pulled John Romita off penciling The Amazing title (relegating The Jazzy One to "breakdowns" and bringing in Don Heck to finish up) for several months to work on The Spectacular Spider-Man. In my opinion, bringing Heck aboard was near-disastrous as Romita had become the premier artist on the book after filling some really big shoes. In fact, this interruption would last quite a few years. Romita would continue to provide layouts, covers, and inking but The Amazing Spider-Man would see no solo Romita pencils again until issue 105. Artist Harry Rosenbaum, who usually made his coin from the men's magazines (at least that's what all my sources say, but I can't find any examples of such) was commissioned to provide the painted cover over a John Romita layout.

MB:  Because this black-and-white magazine story—which is a little like reading one of the Essentials—was revamped and published in Amazing Spider-Man #116-18 in 1973 (with Raleigh alive at the outset), it obviously cannot be canonical in the four-color Marvel Universe.  To make matters murkier, Raleigh is seen both alive and dead in the contemporaneous Daredevil #42, yet under circumstances that do not seem consistent with his demise here.  In any event, Romita’s artwork is dynamite even without color, and despite its epic 52-page length, the script doesn’t feel padded; it would have been cool to see ol’ Ring-a-Ding tackle Spidey’s origin, but the Brothers Lieber and Mr. Everett do an entirely creditable job with the back-up featurette.

Proof that with no code comes senseless violence

PE: So, what about the story itself? Well, it's good enough. It hits all the right buttons. A lot of action, some good soap opera, nice pencils by Romita, the black and white being both a plus and negative at times. In some panels, I get a stark, noirish vibe while others look a little too raw (coming off, to me, like one of those Eerie publications - Tales from the Tomb, Tales of Voodoo, etc. - from the early 1970s). It does deliver a rarity for a 52-page superhero story, very little padding and you have to give Stan and John an extra star for the brutal death (shown on-panel) of Richard Raleigh at the climax (JJJ's vow to tell the world that Raleigh died a hero adds a sweet irony cherry to the top of the cake). That's the added bonus we get by buying a comic that doesn't need Code Approval. The patter between Gwen and MJ (with Gwen purring "Pull in your claws dear... let's wait for the bell") is classic and something that's sorely missing from the monthly title at the moment. I'm with Captain Stacy on Richard Raleigh, though. How can this guy fool everyone in New York? I expected this to be Mysterio in disguise, hypnotizing his followers through the TV set or something, but no, it's just your average sweet-talking, lying-through-his-teeth politician. In fact, if I were to pick one bone, it would be the sketchy game plan of Richard Raleigh. I'd have liked to see some more blanks filled in. 

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Leatherneck Raiders #4

Marvel Tales #15
Millie the Model #160
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #56