Wednesday, November 28, 2012

April 1969: Pretension, Thy Name is Fury!

The X-Men 55
Our Story

Cyclops and his brother Alex are kidnapped and taken to Egypt where The Living Pharaoh promises them a death fit for a mutant. Not ready for an early exit, Scott and Alex break their bonds and battle the Pharaoh and his Phar-faux henchmen. Soon they're joined by the rest of the X-Kids but it's Alex's day to shine as he discovers the long-hidden secret: he's a mutant just like his brother Scott. Where the X-Men are helpless against The Living Pharaoh, Alex uses his new-found powers to save the day

PE: "For a moment I thought I had picked up a mental pattern somehow like Scott's... yet somehow horribly... evil!" One wonders if Jean Grey has all these combinations in her head when mental patterns come crashing into her cerebellum. "I thought I detected Professor Xavier's thought patterns... but it was quizzically comedic." or "I just got a dose of Hank... yet with bigger feet!" I wanted to be someone driving down the freeway next to the two station wagons filled with pharaohs. And, oh, for the time when you could bring an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus on an airplane without a hassle from the TSA. Try that these days!

JS: I want to know how Scott, with a gimp S&M full-head helmet, was able to determine that Alex was not only with him, but in a Mummy Case. If I didn't know better, I'd say some of Jean's special powers of observation were rubbing off on him...

MB:  Maybe I’m just in a mellow mood, because I know Neal Adams is coming next ish, but especially after the Steranko/Smith anticlimaxes, I’m not minding the Heck/Roth/Colletta art here.  Another powerful force making me favorably disposed toward this issue is nostalgia, since I got it as one of my very first back issues, when I was too young to know the difference; it’s also the first time I’ve seen those before and after it, so it’s cool to have it in context at last.  The most important is the long-overdue return of Roy Thomas, riding to rescue us from the depredations of Arnold Dreck, and what a difference that makes:  the plotting is clear and coherent, the dialogue in character, sounding like something real—or at least comic-book—people might actually utter.

JS: Not to be too hard on this last issue of mediocrity before the book starts kicking serious butt—but did anyone (other than the X-babies) not see the discovery of Alex's Mutant abilities coming? I mean, if Scott made one more comment about, "by gosh I'm sure glad Alex isn't saddled with a Mutant malady like me," I think any number of his fellow muties would have slapped him. And Alex was talking as if he had already joined the team, referring to his brother by his code name. Not like he'd be giving away a secret identity by calling his brother by his given name.

PE: Exit Drake, Enter Thomas. 
Lame one-liners, pop references, and tired story lines populated by stick figure heroes and fifth-tier villains. So far, reads the same to me. Hopefully, the addition of Neal Adams next issue will see some nice green foliage on this long-dead landscape.

JS: Hang in there, Professor Pete. This place will look like Jordy Verrill's place come next issue.

Fantastic Four 85
Our Story

Reed, Ben, Johnny and Crystal are the “guests” of Dr. Doom in his “peaceful” kingdom of Latveria. He has hypnotized them into thinking they have lost their powers, periodically drugging them, and then reinforcing this notion. The good doctor is free therefore to move on to the next stage of his plan: a new series, perhaps a dozen, well-nigh indestructible robots, the first duty of which will be to destroy the entire village. But not yet…first he poses for a portrait, sans mask. Our missing teammate Sue has to be content looking for a home that would be suitable to raise a family. The problem is, she’s treated like a movie star wherever she goes, until the real estate agent takes her to a mysterious sci-fi home of unknown origin, that has created an aura of fear—and therefore privacy—around it. Back in Latveria, Doom’s new robots can no longer be contained, and break out to begin the destruction, with only a “powerless” F.F. left to stop them.

JB: There’s lots of interesting stuff going on here. The bit of Sue looking for a home (and looking like a movie star too) is kind of fun; the house she finds is an interesting concept. If Dr. Doom is as hideous as he’s supposed to be, it doesn’t seem to be upsetting his artist. And I find it odd that Reed, for one, doesn’t suspect that their loss of power is only imagined, after a similar paralysis with Mad Maximus recently. The kind of insect-faced robots might seem like a lesser threat than many of the F.F.’s foes, although you can feel the team sweat a little when they realize they’re going to have to do battle without their powers. Why would Doom want to destroy his own village?  Overall though, this is another fun issue, with an interesting cover concept.

MB: This is another of those issues that is perhaps most interesting when looked at in context:  the allusion to Dr. Doom’s rivalry with fellow arch-villain the Red Skull—and the fact that fully half the book is devoted to Doom and his doings in Latveria, rather than to the FF themselves—anticipate his forthcoming and long-delayed solo strip in Astonishing Tales.  (By a curious coincidence, Stan’s Soapbox for the next month explains that the reason for the delay of the proposed Inhumans book was due to a change in printers that resulted in a tighter production schedule.)  Despite ceding the spotlight to Doom for so much of the issue, the FF are in excellent form, with several nice character bits from Stan and the usual array of stunning Kirby/Sinnott art.

PE: The mental decline of Victor von Doom seems to be going as scheduled. Gone is the guy who you could picture teamed with the Beetle and The Wizard, pulling Ben Grimm's pants down, or spilling ice cream in front of The Baxter Building. I think, hands down, this is the best use of Doom ever. I never thought much of the villain (heresy, I know) back in the day, but this arc has me reconsidering and anticipating. It can only get better when he becomes a thorn in the side of The Mighty Thor very soon. Sue has definitely taken the bull by the horns, making all kinds of important decisions in the absence of her husband, ol' whatshisname. Stretch will come back one of these days after a grueling non-stop 25 or 30 issue arc battling outer space menaces, crazed Latverian royalty, and puppet masters to find the Baxter Building rented out to The Defenders, while Sue relocates to Atlantis and has five more kids, all with fins and gills.

Silver Surfer 5
Our Story

The “Space Scramble Pop-Gun” has been stolen from the Fantastic Four’s headquarters.  The Silver Surfer was the culprit – in an attempt to break the barrier to the galaxies.  The unperfected gun blows up and the Silver Surfer regains consciousness in physicist Al Harper’s home.  Harper promises to research the S.S.’s problem, but he needs money.  The Silver Surfer runs into a swindled, beaten gambler who is trying to raise money for his ill wife’s medical bills.  Norrin Radd takes to gambling using his cosmic power to stack the dice.  He gives some of his gains to the gambler and the rest to Al for the research.  When Al completes a gizmo to help the Silver Surfer escape, the Stranger enters the scene!  A “Null-Life Bomb” is in the Strangers’ scheme to annihilate humanity.  The Silver Surfer takes umbrage to this and abandons his plans of freedom in exchange for saving humanity.  He and Al Harper ride out on the surfboard searching for the bomb.  The S.S. battles the Stranger while Al stops the bomb.  While it’s diffused Al tragically dies.  The Stranger sees the good in humanity and leaves while the Silver Surfer commemorates Al’s death with an eternal fire.

NC:  It's a bit ironic to use a Null-Life bomb to show humans they are too violent! This is a tragic, but beautiful story.  It shows, at last, friendship, caring, and human kindness.
I love how the Silver Surfer assures Al he came by the money honestly – when he not only been gambling, but had been cheating when gambling!
MB: A recent Bullpen Bulletin boasts that, “no matter how you slice it, The Silver Surfer is probably the biggest smash hit in comic mag publishing since the still-supreme F.F.—just as you knew it would be!”  I must say this is the best I’ve ever seen the Stranger look, after his depictions by Kirby in X-Men and Kane in Tales to Astonish; although his intentions are as deadly as before, he has a bit more gravitas as rendered by the Buscema Brothers.  The Surfer’s quest for funds is unusual, and it’s interesting that in this issue, the role of the tragic individual who sacrifices himself to save a race, usually reserved for the Surfer himself, is instead given to another of Stan’s admirable men of color, physicist Al B. Harper, whose fate is quite harrowing.

Tales of the Watcher
Run, Roco, Run

The year is 2061.  Roco, a car thief, leaves the Earth for Jupiter, believing that the sentences, if you happen to get caught, are much less harsh.  It seems so easy, at first, to steal cars on Jupiter.  But Roco gets caught rather easily and is sentenced to life in prison!!!!!  He can’t believe it – not only are the sentences longer on Jupiter, the jail itself is harsh and almost uninhabitable.  Roco’s cell-mate helps him escape by telling him about a tunnel leaving their tiny cell.  Through many difficult barriers to freedom, Roco finally makes it!  However. . . it is revealed through the Watcher’s eyes, that Roco has actually been hypnotized to believe he has escaped.  He really is still in captivity, happily feeling free!

NC:  The Watcher seems to think that Roco may be a bit ill done by with this pseudo-freedom, but if he feels free, isn’t that enough?  JB and I think so!

The Amazing Spider-Man 71
Our Story

Quicksilver, hoping to prove to The Avengers that he and his sister, The Scarlet Witch, have turned good yet again, sets off to capture The Amazing Spider-Man and bring him to justice. Unfortunately for Pietro, the wall-crawler doesn't seem willing to raise his arms and march down to police headquarters without a fight. Since the name of this magazine is not The Amazing Quicksilver, we're all pretty sure who will win out.

PE: That opening segment, from Peter Parker feeling sorry for himself for the 55th time in 55 issues to our downtrodden hero greeting Harry Osborn while wearing a robe and his spider-pants is one long hoot. "So far, so good. Long as he doesn't look at my feet!" The irony is lost here that Quicksilver, thought by many to be one of Magneto's lackeys decides to battle Spidey to prove he's a good guy. Isn't he worried that the cops will slap the bracelets on both of them?

MB:  Courtesy of Dean Enfantino, this is one of the few Silver/Bronze-Age issues of Amazing I’d never seen before, and it’s great to catch up with Pietro et al. almost a year after Avengers #53, even if this does seem an unlikely location for their reappearance.  Given the frequency with which “the tragic Toad” used to urge Magneto to slay various super-heroes, it’s a bit disingenuous for him to claim he’s as pure as the driven snow, but that’s evil mutants for you, I guess.  I’m loving Romita’s pairing with Mooney, who really seems to have hit his stride on the inks, and the B-story with Robbie and the Bugle; even the Marvel Misunderstanding is mitigated by the fact that Quicksilver’s intentions are clearly stated, but predicated on outdated information.

PE: This here's what we professors call a 'tweener, an issue without much substance that falls between arcs. It follows the same general outline as the rest of the 'tweeners: one hero, through a Mighty Marvel Misunderstanding, decides to battle another hero but they both end up shaking hands twenty pages later. Nothing really happens in between that beginning and end and even a completist would be fine without this one.

Captain Marvel 12
Our Story

Having made his Faustian bargain with Zo, Mar-Vell transports himself to Earth, stopping en route to visit Una’s bier and put the fear of, uhm, himself in Yon-Rogg (upon whom he does not want his revenge to be too swift).  After a false landing in Cuba, he returns to the Cape, where Carol seeks his hide in both identities, as Captain Marvel for stealing the moon rocket, and as Lawson for being AWOL.  Working for S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Caribbean, the Black Widow sees an unidentified foe send his plastoid Man-Slayer to destroy the backup rocket just as base security is arresting “Lawson,” who casts an illusion of protesters as a diversion to become Mar-Vell; she destroys its energy transmitter, but is captured for bait as our hero teleports away.

MB:The best thing you can say about this issue is that it’s the last we will have to suffer through from the poison pen of Arnold Drake, whose mercifully brief Marvel TOD ends with a whimper in the pages of penciler Dick Ayers’s former home at Captain Savage and His Bottleneck Raiders.  He leaves the usual disjointed plotlines for his successor (don’t get your hopes up) to deal with, e.g., how—if at all—the Widow’s activities here square with the concurrent issues of Avengers or, for that matter, why Mar-Vell bothers to go back to the Cape, his status vis-à-vis the Kree rendering his mission apparently moot.  For what it’s worth, I’ll allow that inker Syd Shores seems slightly better able than Colletta to make something out of frequent faculty whipping boy Ayers’s efforts.

PE: I must say that I was intrigued (a word I haven't used in conjunction with the words Captain and Marvel since the first couple installments ) with where the story was going at its onset, almost rebooting the series in just a few panels. But then Drake quickly took an offramp to snoozeville and I was reminded just how awful this artwork is and I was right back at that same old emotion: dread. I would kill to get a copy of the Marvel Guide to Other Languages. Look up German and you'll find schweinhund, herr, and ach du lieber. The Chinese section contains flied lice, egg roll, and ah so! Arnold Drake pretty much goes to town on the Spanish language here: Caramba, Vamos, Muchachos, and my personal favorite, Ayyyyy Chihuahua! Can't you just see all the 8-year old Marvel Zombies conversing on the playground in foreign tongues? As much as I complain about Arno and his awful scripts, I just know I'll miss dialogue like:

MP: Th-th-that thing! It's the strangest living creature I've ever seen! What is it?

Lawson: I don't know the answer to that one, soldier! I only hope we live long enough to find it out!
              Get moving, soldier! We can't handle this thing alone! We've got to have every man and 
              weapon on the base with us!
MP: You're on target this time, doc -- I'll tell ya! (on the phone to his superior) No -- I ain't been 
        drinkin' or tryin' out for the Liars' Club! I'm tellin' you, sir-- this thing is real -- and alive! Which
        is more than we're gonna be if we don't get some help!                     

Doctor Strange 179
Our Story

This is a reprint of "The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange" from Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2 (1965) by Lee and Ditko.

Jack: Legend has it that Gene Colan was sick and could not finish this issue on time, so a reprint was plugged in to fill the hole. The new cover is by Barry Smith.

PE: "One of the things we try to demonstrate in our yarns is that nobody is all good, or all bad." So begins Stan's Soapbox sermon this month. "One of the greatest barriers to real peace and justice in this troubled world is the feeling that everyone on the other side of the ideological fence is a "bad guy." We don't know if you're a far-out radical or Mr. Establishment himself - if you're a black militant or a white liberal - if you're a pantin' protest marcher or a jolly John Bircher - but, whatever you are, don't get bogged down by kindergarten labels." I've bashed Stan before on this blog for talking out of both sides of his mouth, but this plea for world peace and understanding seems a bit too farcical to not comment. If we didn't have eight-plus years of stinkin' commie bashin' to look back on in Stan's comic book scripts, we'd almost think the guy was running for pope. "Maybe we'll never find true understanding until we listen to the other guy; and until we realize that we can never march across the Rainbow Bridge to true Nirvan - unless we do it side-by-side!" Amen to that, Stan.

The Incredible Hulk 114
Our Story

Hulk turns back into Banner as the Mandarin seeks and locates the Sandman and they agree to join forces. Bruce finds Betty and asks her for help, but Talbot and his men arrive and try to arrest Banner, leading him to change back into the Hulk. The Mandarin and the Sandman drop a gas bomb on the Hulk and spirit him away by helicopter to a hidden cave, where they are able to hold him briefly before he breaks free and a fight ensues. The Mandarin and the Sandman also hold Betty captive, but the Hulk foils their plans. The Mandarin flees; the Sandman falls into a giant pressure cooker and is turned to glass. Talbot and his men arrive and neutralize the Hulk.

MB:  The Mandarin has certainly been getting around lately, bopping back and forth between here and Iron Man with wild abandon to appear in one book or the other for six of the past eight months.  Ironically, although Mandy is Shellhead’s nemesis, I somewhat prefer the Trimpe/Adkins rendition seen here—where Herb’s style is finally starting to make itself felt—to the Tuska/Craig version found in IM’s own title.  The Sandman and the Mandarin certainly make an interesting pair, and at least Sandy is sounding like his old self once again, but by the time the fur starts to fly, there really isn’t sufficient space left to make the Hulk/Sandmandarin battle quite the epic struggle it should have been…and with partners like the Mandarin, who needs enemies?

A pity, indeed!
Jack: I agree with you, Matthew--Trimpe's art is starting to look like it belongs here. This was a fast-moving story that managed to be entertaining without breaking new ground. I did have to wonder about the Sandman's change into the Glassman at the end--it seems like he just wanders off, leaving the authorities to arrive and capture the Hulk. I wonder if he'll still be glass the next time we see him?

The Invincible Iron Man 12
Our Story

Iron Man's in a bit of a pickle. After setting his LMD up in his place to fool The Mandarin, newspapermen, the general public and, perhaps, the IRS, Shellhead watches in horror as an ambulance crew drives away the now-lifeless robot. Word gets around that the trillionaire playboy is dead and Tony realizes that he may be in a worse situation now than the one he tried to avoid! With power thrusters at full speed, he manages to beat the ambulance to the hospital and pulls a switcheroo just as the back of the vehicle is opened. To the amazement of the crew, Tony Stark is alive and kicking. Obviously not needing medical care (!), the two bozos watch as the munitions master walks off the hospital grounds and flies away in a helicopter. Most relieved person is the world has to be Janice Cord who gives her new beau a bear hug and then asks him to buy her dad's company again as her lawyer is getting antsy. Speaking of which... we finally get to learn why Vincent Sandhurst has been pushing Janice to sell to Tony. He needs the money to keep his insane brother happy. Years before, an accident left Vincent's brother, Basil, a burned and bitter scientific genius but now the madman has fashioned an outfit and dubbed himself The Controller in anticipation of world domination. He feels fairly confident that his Mental-Wave Absorbatron, a device that enables him to increase his might through the brains of his captives, will help him achieve that lofty goal. His newest prisoner becomes his devoted brother, Vincent. A week later, Tony and Janice go in search of her missing lawyer and happen upon the town located just below the Sandhurst castle. Tony is befuddled by the sight of an entire village walking around in a daze, mind-control discs imbedded in their foreheads, and Janice is confronted by The Controller, who wants to make her one of his prized subjects. Tony swiftly changes to Iron Man and does battle with his new enemy but falls victim to a mind control disc and becomes a mindless slave.

PE: The guy appears to be dead, could be another heart attack, who knows, but when he pops up on his gurney and out the back of the ambulance, apparently no one thinks to tell Tony Stark he needs to see a doctor! The guy just gets up and leaves. In one panel, I.M. is taking off what appears to be a head mask rather than armor. An artist mistake or is the armor really supposed to be that flexible? Janice Cord seems to have gone from thinking Tony the most selfish coward in the world to loving him in just the course of two or three issues. I've never read this run or even heard of Janice Cord. I'm hoping there's more to her than just "I love Tony. No, I love Iron Man. No, I love Tony..." We don't need another Pepper Potts in this title.

MB: Those who know of my obsession with Jim Starlin’s first Thanos War can guess that I have a major soft spot for the Controller, whose introduction here earns Goodwin another feather in his cap from this writer.  Moreover, his dark-and-stormy-night origin (which I did not read until decades after I first saw the character), suitable for an old Karloff flick, explains and is worthy of this formidable foe’s macabre appearance.  Amiable Archie has evidently been leading up to this ever since he brought Vincent Sandhurst into the strip, with cryptic references to what he’s been doing on the side, so that the miasma of evil surrounding Drexel Cord has far outlived his one-issue “lifespan,” and the story is consistently engrossing despite being basically buildup.

PE: I don't have the emotional investment in this character that you do, Professor Matthew. To me it's just another cliched origin and another dopily monikered villain. The Controller? Just as generic as The Thinker or The Growing Man. How about Combustible Man? Green-Stripe? Disc-Man? We should be talking about two Controllers (Control Brothers? The Symbiotic Siblings?) here since brother Vincent looks as though he absorbed just as much of the green Jell-O blast as Basil but escaped completely unscathed. A very Molecule Man-ish look. And what kind of science is behind the Absorbatron? It sucks up its prisoner's minds and increases The Controller's strength. Huh? In a cock-eyed way, I could see the gizmo increasing Basil's intellect but his pecs and abs? The math ain't workin'. His sudden ability to fly is almost shrugged off as well: "With the massive mind pool now under my control, even levitation is within my power..." 

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 11
Our Story

Laura drags Nick to a “diskatek” to hear “the hottest new group on the scene,” the Million Megaton Explosion, so the Hate-Monger, watching from orbit, uses his Hate-Ray to fan their ageism into violence against Fury, who barely escapes.  The lead singer, Rick Jefferson, uses an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show to rally America’s youth in revolt, and as they threaten to take control of the entire country, inflamed by the ray, Fury heads into space.  Once again infiltrating the Hate-Monger’s space station (an obvious lift from Stanley Kubrick’s recent 2001: A Space Odyssey), Fury evades his traps and meets him in hand-to-hand combat; dazed, his foe mistakes the escape hatch for his private chamber and floats into the void.

PE: Deja deja deja vu! Didn't Nick, just last issue, have to go into outer space all by his lonesome to ward off an evil plot to destroy the world by The Hate-Monger? How about some back-up this time? I'm guessing Professor Matthew really loved the panel of Hatey floating in space, exclaiming "I must have stepped into the escape hatch! I'm floating out of the ship...! No air... can't breathe! Aiiiieeee" In space, no once can hear you scream but they can hear you talking when you should already be dead.

MBStriving as always for fairness, I’ll give Friedrich and Springer, the Leopold and Loeb of comics, credit for doing something daringly different by opening this issue with a kind of “mixed-media” montage evoking the concept albums then in vogue (go read a book, Generation Z), popularized by the Beatles’ immortal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band   After that, it’s pretty much the usual crapola.  Not sure how smart it was to emphasize the generation gap between Nick and his sometime inamorata—again, whither Val?—but the main question, unspoken since last issue, is: knowing the HM was still up there, why didn’t S.H.I.E.L.D. blow him out of orbit?  Of course, a real TV network in 1969 would probably pull the plug on Rick’s speech after about five seconds.

PE: Shall I be the one to point out that, these days, you would never be able to get away with naming an African-American character Cooley? Rick Jefferson is obviously Paul Kantner and there are throwaway references to Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey. While I won't deny that the Haight was awash with gawdawful Airplane knockoffs, I can't see the nameless tune The Million Megaton Explosion croon at their happenin' event floating up the charts:

You see her cross a smoke-filled room,
surrounded by a veil of gloom.
And through a shroud of blackest doom,
she penetrates.

Then suddenly she smiles at you,
and you know just exactly what to do.
You flash a smile of purest
pearl white Errol Flynn.
And open up the trap 
you know you must fall in.

Then suddenly you know
what she wants you to do.
She's a hungry woman
who'll make a wreck of you!

Nope, not Eleanor Rigby. 

Prince Namor, The Sub-Mariner 12
Our Story

Karthon races toward Naga with the serpent crown as Namor follows in hot pursuit. Namor catches up to him at the Panama Canal but fails to halt his progress and instead falls under his spell. Karthon and Namor reach Lemuria and restore the crown to Naga, but it fails to bring back his youth. Naga goes wild with anger and frustration, pitting Namor against the giant monster Krustatos before driving him to destroy Naga’s royal chamber. In doing so, Namor unwittingly appears to kill Dorma, who had been Naga’s captive.

MB:  The penciling round-robin on this book has brought us from John Buscema to Marie Severin to Gene Colan and now back to Severin, who does a decent job, especially on the atmospheric splash page.  But I have the deepest contempt for Danny Fingeroth, reprint editor of Tales to Astonish #12, which boasts “A new solo tale of the Vision!” (by Tom DeFalco and John Fuller), a bonus I would otherwise welcome…if it didn’t come at the expense of cutting the Sub-Mariner entry that is the magazine’s raison d’être down to 17 pages.  Thank goodness I’ll shift to actual back issues after two more of these.  Once again, Karthon displays greater depth than that of a mere heavy, yet the story is basically an extended pissing match between Namor and Naga.

Jack: After taking a break from Marie Severin for awhile, I was impressed by her work on this issue, especially the drawings of the elderly, withered Naga. The story moves along swiftly but how many times can a Marvel hero be convinced that he has killed his beloved? You can put money on it--Dorma is not dead.

Captain America 112
Our Story

The Invincible Iron Man is filling in for Captain America at Avengers Mansion when he gets a fateful call on the "special phone." Police are reporting that Captain America has been killed by the forces of Hydra. As is tradition with fallen teammates, it's up to the Avenger on watch to close out the hero's file. As Tony Stark closes out the video file, he takes a stroll down memory lane, reliving some of Cap's greatest victories... and, yet again, his most life-changing defeat.

PE: Hmmm... Tony Stark can't shake a strange sense of "impending tragedy," and wonders where it could come from. Could it be the ringing of the "special phone," a line that only rings when something massively wrong has happened?  Iron Man speak about the tradition of closing out the file on fallen heroes as if Cap isn't the first. But isn't he? It's fabulous to see all the old footage of Cap and Bucky that someone went through and edited into the hero file. Whoever it was that compiled the tape also took the trouble to label each adventure so we have "The Case of the Giant Power Drill," wherein Cap must contend with a... giant power drill. Anyway, if you have to create a filler issue at the eleventh hour, this is the way to do it and still sleep at night, having taken a fan's twelve cents.

MB: I believe this is the first cover to feature those soon-to-be-dreaded words “Album Issue,” which came to signify a rehash that stopped the main storyline dead in its tracks, used instead of a reprint as a fill-in.  This ties in with the continuity but, per Glenn, “was created over a weekend by…Kirby when the third part of Steranko’s saga ran late,” reuniting Jack (inked by fellow Timely vet George Tuska) with Stan for a coda to his Silver-Age tenure on Cap, while allowing him to draw some Golden-Age villains he co-created in the ’40s.  Fun to see Bucky cut loose with a machine gun, even if we do have to watch him die yet again; lettercol correspondent Cedric Joseph floats the intriguing notion that an amnesiac Bucky survived—to sire Rick Jones!

The Mighty Thor 163
Our Story

Thor returns to Earth to learn the whereabouts of his lady Sif, who had gone to Midgard to get to the bottom of a bizarre mystery—and not been heard from since. Seeing a military convoy on the streets below, the Thunder God follows it to the source of the disturbance: a towering, impenetrable funnel of shimmering energy. The army fills Thor in on what little they know. The mysterious energy field surrounds the site of the city’s Atomic Research Centre, and by the description from the soldiers present, Thor concludes that Sif was indeed here, before she was pulled within it. While even Mjolnir seems unable to breach the vortex, blurry forms from within come closer to it’s surface, and Thor gets his wish, grabbed by monstrous hands and snatched away. His humanoid but deformed captors identify themselves as mutates, and are unarguably hostile. Thor overpowers them, and then encounters their powerful leader, who has imprisoned Sif to a magnetic “attracto-sphere.”  As this transpires, Odin searches his Book Of Ages for information about the origin of Galactus, whom he reasons will one day be a threat to Asgard. The chief mutate puts up a good fight, but Thor gains the upper hand and his opponent flees. Thor’s hammer having shattered the hold the attracto-sphere had on Sif, the two follow the path the mutate had taken and find themselves in a huge cavern full of the remains of machinery that would seem to be the results of a catastrophic atomic war. Some signs remaining fill out the picture: they have been transported not to another world but the future of Earth. They see the vanished Atomic Research Centre, and a trench coat-cloaked figure looming in front. The man reveals himself as Pluto, lord of the Netherworld, and the mastermind behind the spinning vortex. He holds the Asgardians at bay with a force that slows their bodily vibrations. He had seen the war-torn future of Earth, and plans to use the mutates as his allies to invade the 20th century. Setting this future as a trap for Thor, Pluto had brought the Atomic Research Centre with him to learn of any technology Earth of the present might have had to stop him. A blast of force stuns Thor and Sif, and the invasion is set to begin…just as a biological cocooned creature stirs inside the building.

JB: If the sci-fi of Galactus seemed more suited to the Fantastic Four, Pluto indeed scores it more along Asgardian lines. His appearance wearing Earthly clothes is a nicely bizarre twist, and the mutates remind me a little of the trolls from Thor’s 137-39 (especially the effective shot of the chief mutate with Sif as his prisoner, almost like Ulik). I suppose the future of Earth, post atomic war, might better be viewed as an alternative future, considering the many visions we’ve seen in the Marvel universe so far. Only two full-page drawings (not counting the title page) make us savor the art more than the last few issues, especially the stunning cover. Hints of things to come: Odin musing over what to do about Galactus, and the cocooned creature in the Atomic research Centre. Stan and Jack have really kept the quality of the 160s astonishingly high, finishing the decade in style.

MB: It’s amazing how differently I respond to various issues of this title when I can recall only one departure in many a year (the Bill Everett inks in #143) from the rock-solid consistency of the Lee/Kirby/Colletta creative team.  In contrast to last issue, this provides meat-and-potatoes Marvel storytelling in hearty, nutritious portions, fast-paced without being hurried; well-balanced among action, exposition, and suspense; and offering more than one surprise along the way—I’m not even factoring in my excitement over the sequence of events set in motion on the last page.  I have been impressed more than once with how successfully this book, when at its best, fuses SF with mythology, and having Pluto use time-travel against Thor seems to signal more of the same.

PE: So entertaining, so utterly enthralling is this latest installment that the only potshot I can muster is to point out that no human being utters dialogue like that on page 4, unless they're reading from a cue card. That's it. Everything else knocks my Spider-Man socks off. As in the previous issue, so many threads to keep track of and yet Jack and Stan seem to be able to keep all of the subplots interesting (and that's not even taking into account the great big shadow of the guy who eats Saturn for lunch which hangs over all). The cliffhanger must have had 1969 fanboys haunting their newsstands for weeks. Ah, the luxury of a Monday morning quarterback. I'll just reach for the next Mighty Thor in my pile and find out what the heck that mummified object is all about. 

Daredevil 51
Our Story

After the robot finishes off Biggie Benson and shuts itself off, Starr Saxon follows the signal from a tracer that fell off the robot when it fought Daredevil. He locates the tracer in Matt Murdock’s apartment and figures out that Murdock is Daredevil. Later, Daredevil returns home and calls Karen Page, setting up a meeting where he plans to profess his love and share his secret identity with her. He once again decides to quit being a super hero. Starr Saxon runs into Murdock on the street and reveals that he has learned his secret identity. Matt, who has not been felling well, freaks out during his date with Karen. He passes out in an alley, unaware that his blood test revealed radioactive particles in his blood, sparking the authorities to embark on a frantic search for Daredevil.

MB:  Stan passes the torch on yet another book to Roy, who pens the next 20 issues as well, and while Smith is held over from last month as penciler, the inks have reverted to the more familiar George Klein (SmithKlein?), with the virtual Rorschach test on page 16 a highlight.  It’s interesting that Roy begins his tenure on this book with the future of Matt’s career as Hornhead, and even his very life, in question; based on the fadeout, I’m guessing that the Captain America poster in page 15, panel 5 was no mere throwaway but a vital clue as to the origin of his malady. Not surprisingly, future Black Panther chronicler Don McGregor is full of praise in the lettercol for Stan’s classic “Brother, Take My Hand” from #47, as are several of the other correspondents.

Jack: Note the  Laugh-In/Arte Johnson reference on page 14, panel 1 ("Verrry Interesting"). Smith's art here seems like that of a young man reaching beyond his abilities, still copying Kirby and Steranko, not yet sure enough to develop his own style. This issue is more enjoyable when viewed as early work by a future star than as a strong issue on its own.

The Mighty Avengers 63
Our Story

Hawkeye, the Vision and the Black Panther barely avoid crashing as their rocket ship returns from their sojourn in Wakanda. They find Hank and Janet Pym waiting in Avengers Mansion; Hank explains that he has decided to retain his new identity as Yellowjacket in order to protect his health, which was endangered by his growth spurts. Nick Fury calls and requests aid in rescuing Natasha, leading Hawkeye to sneak a sip of Hank's growth serum and grow into a new Goliath. Hank rides atop a train to Coney Island, where Egghead, the Puppet aster and the Mad Thinker hold the Black Widow captive. Hank battles a huge android and succeeds in rescuing his girlfriend.

Much as I admire Gene Colan, I’ve always felt he was a poor choice for this title; not that he does a bad job, but his style just doesn’t seem like a suitable match for the Avengers, although of course Klein’s inks help smooth the transition.  I also have mixed feelings about the musical masks herein:  the Goliath persona, one of my favorites, would otherwise be absent now that Hank has elected to remain as YJ, yet I’ll miss my bowman, whose inferiority complex came a bit out of left field after all these years.  While three lower-level villains do not equal a first-tier one, they do compensate somewhat in quantity for what they lack in quality, and of course return visits by the Black Widow—who looks lovely—and a certain Colonel Fury are always welcome.

Leave it to Colan, Marvel's GGA king, to
increase Natasha's hotness factor by 10
Jack: Roy scrapes the bottom of the villain barrel with the threesome of Egghead, the Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master. It's nice to see the Black Widow growing her hair out, since I never liked her previous bouffant. The quote from Julius Caesar on page 14 is well-placed, though Roy pokes fun at his penchant for quoting great literature by having the other characters complain about it. In this month's Soapbox, Stan mentions that they switched to a new printer recently and uses that as an excuse for not starting the new Inhumans comic he had promised.

A nice, atmospheric panel

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The Mighty Marvel Western #4
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