Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Marvel Collector's Item Classics Christmas Special: The Editorial "Whee!"

Marvel’s Rollercoaster, 1972-77
by Matthew Bradley

Note: As we slide gracefully from the swingin' sixties into the sensational seventies, we'll offer "Sunday Specials" now and then, thoughts on what the decade means (or meant) to us, notes on the fads, and some surprises still to be mapped out. Enjoy! -Professor Pete

Nope, it ain't Tom Petty
My Marvel years are neatly bracketed by the tenures as editor in chief (EIC) of Stan Lee, in place since before I was born or there was a Marvel, and Jim Shooter (1978-87), who helped usher me out at the end of the Bronze Age, circa 1985.  In Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics (to which I am immeasurably indebted), the late Les Daniels notes that after “Stan the Man” passed the torch to “Roy the Boy” Thomas in September 1972, “the head editorial post was occupied by five men [Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, and Archie Goodwin] in less than five years.”  Quite the rollercoaster, but it was my favorite Marvel era and, according to Daniels, “the eventual result of this upheaval was Marvel’s transformation into the unquestioned leader of the comic book industry,” so one hopes that, like a rollercoaster, it was fun as well as scary.

All five of these men had been among Marvel’s top writers before becoming EIC, and continued to write during and after their tenures; many in fact left the post because they preferred to focus on the creative rather than the business aspects; several graduated to writer/editor contracts that later became controversial, because they were believed to be insufficiently supervised.  If you’re like me, you rarely if ever read a comic book and say, “Man, that was really well edited,” so I thought it might be interesting to look not only at any changes that took place while they were EICs, but also at their major writing credits.  “Major” is, in this case, at least partially subjective, so I apologize if I’ve omitted your favorites, and as a further disclaimer, if I indicate a range of issues for a specific run (e.g., #51-71), that doesn’t necessarily mean the person wrote every single issue in between.

Marv Wolfman
As a writer, Thomas was second only to Lee in the length and breadth of his contribution:  during his initial 15-year stint with Marvel, he scripted virtually every major strip at one time or another, frequently succeeding Stan directly, and displayed an unrivaled focus on continuity, often creating stories to fill or explain existing gaps.  He co-created, launched, or revamped the likes of Brother Voodoo, Captain Marvel, the Defenders, Doc Samson, Ghost Rider, the Invaders, Iron Fist, Killraven, Man-Thing, Marvel Team-Up, Morbius, Ms. Marvel, Ultron, Valkyrie, Warlock, What If?, and Yellowjacket.  He also expanded Marvel’s horizons with licensed properties Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonja, Star Wars, and Tarzan; among his notable runs were Avengers #35-104 (including the famed Kree-Skrull War), X-Men #55-66, Sub-Mariner #1-39, and Fantastic Four #126-37 & 157-81.

Hired as a staff writer, Roy epitomized a new generation of Marvel creators who grew up as Marvel fans, and started making his mark on the company even while serving as Stan’s unofficial assistant.  Another important thread running through this tapestry was Marvel’s relationship with the industry’s self-censoring Comics Code Authority, whose restrictions they either challenged directly, by publishing an Amazing Spider-Man trilogy about drug addiction—at the request of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare—without the Code’s seal of approval, or sidestepped with a new line of black-and-white magazines not subject to the Code.  Partly as a result of the drug issues, some of the Code rules were relaxed, allowing horrific content (verboten since the EC furore of the 1950s) to resurface 

in new titles like Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and The Monster of Frankenstein.

Gerry Conway
As EIC, Thomas presided over the breathtaking, if somewhat scattershot, expansion that Stan had announced simultaneously with Roy’s elevation and dubbed “Phase Two.”  This outstripped even the frenzy of 1968, when a change in distribution policy finally allowed Marvel to grant individual titles (some of them short-lived) to characters who previously shared space in the so-called “split books”—Captain America, Dr. Strange, the Hulk, Iron Man, Nick Fury, the Sub-Mariner—as well as creating new titles for Captain Marvel and the Silver Surfer.  In 1972 alone, they added an average of more than one title or strip per month to their schedule, but while it continued for several years, this policy of launching books like a bunch of drunken sailors was clearly unsustainable, and finally they seemed to cancel books as fast as they created them, clearly unable to foretell success or failure.

“Roy was great,” Lee told Daniels.  “He saved my life when I stopped editing, because I had to find somebody who could follow my style fairly well.  Roy fit the bill beautifully.”  Now Marvel’s publisher, Lee was forced to lighten his writing load (although alternating with Roy on Spidey until 1973), and even briefly served as president, while increasing his role as the public face of Marvel through college lecturing and the like.  Roy, meanwhile, created concepts and storylines for many of the new strips, often without credit, and then turned the scripting duties over to other young writers.  One major trend was to diversify their roster of overwhelmingly white, male heroes, finally awarding the first black super-hero, the Black Panther, his own strip, and introducing others who were female (The Cat, Shanna the She-Devil), black (Luke Cage, Hero for Hire), or Asian (Master of Kung Fu).

That much expansion demanded extra supervision:  the post of art director, previously an additional hat worn by Lee as EIC, went to Spider-Man legend John Romita in July 1973, and when the horror-heavy black-and-white magazines grew into their own division, Roy recruited “Marvelous Marv” Wolfman (who created Crazy, their answer to Mad) to serve as editor.  Outgoing personnel during the same period included two freelance artists who enjoyed relatively brief but legendary collaborations with Thomas, Neal Adams (X-Men, Avengers) and Barry Smith (Conan the Barbarian), now known as Windsor-Smith.  At the end of 1974, with such major new writers as Wein, Conway, Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, and Jim Starlin also on board, Roy resigned as EIC and turned the reins over to Wein, a friend of Conway’s who’d famously created Swamp Thing for rival DC Comics.

Len Wein
“Lively Len” made modest contributions to the early years of such books as Werewolf by Night (#5-8), Power Man (#17-21), and Defenders (#12-19), also scripting the short-lived Brother Voodoo strip in Strange Tales #169-73.  Longer runs included Marvel Team-Up #11-27, Fantastic Four #154-57 & 182-94, Amazing Spider-Man #151-180, Thor #242-71, and particularly Incredible Hulk #179-222, but his biggest claim to fame was reviving the X-Men with Dave Cockrum, having previously co-created Wolverine as an antagonist for the Hulk.  Thomas was also integral to the project, yet it did not come to fruition until after the changing of the guard, while Wein soon turned the writing over to his assistant, Chris Claremont—whose 17-year stint on the book is the stuff of industry legend—and in the summer of 1975 resigned as EIC in favor of Wolfman, whose old job Goodwin filled.

Befitting his moniker, Wolfman was best known for Marvel’s more macabre offerings, contributing short stints to Werewolf by Night (#11-15) and Dr. Strange (#19-23), and penning all but the first six issues of Tomb of Dracula (#7-70), for which he and penciler Gene Colan created the vampire-hunter Blade.  He also wrote more conventional double-digit runs, including Daredevil #125-43, Power Man #35-46, Fantastic Four #190-215, Amazing Spider-Man #182-204, and Marvel Two-in-One #25-38; inaugurated the Edgar Rice Burroughs property John Carter, Warlord of Mars (#1-15) and Spider-Woman (#1-8); and wrote the entire run of Nova (#1-25).  Among the highlights of his days as EIC, which lasted until early 1976, was shepherding Steve Gerber’s cult favorite Howard the Duck, introduced in the Man-Thing strip from (Adventure into) Fear, into his own title.

Archie Goodwin
Also during Wolfman’s editorship, James Galton became Marvel’s next president (1975-90), and worked well with Stan to rectify an ominous combination of high sales and low profits, partly by reducing the bewildering number of titles they published.  The company suffered a blow to its credibility whenever delivery schedules were not met, so Wolfman instituted an inventory system whereby fill-in issues were created—mostly by writer Bill Mantlo and artist Sal Buscema—to obviate the need for reprints when there was a hole in the production schedule.  Wolfman’s replacement as EIC, “Merry Gerry” Conway, began writing for DC at the tender age of 16, and was recruited by Roy a year later in 1970, but gave new meaning to the term revolving door (“We used to say, ‘Don’t paint his name on the door, just tack it up,’” Stan Lee told Daniels) with his one-month stint c. March 1976.

The brevity of Conway’s hitch as EIC was inversely proportional to his significance as a writer, justly famed  for his historic run on Amazing Spider-Man (#111-49), during which he controversially killed off Gwen Stacy and the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, and introduced the Punisher.  He succeeded Thomas on Sub-Mariner (#40-49), Daredevil (#72-98), and Fantastic Four (#133-52), and scripted the first issues of Tomb of Dracula; Werewolf by Night; Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man; and Ms. Marvel.  Further significant runs included Thor #193-238 and two tours of duty apiece on Iron Man (#35-43 & 91-97) and Marvel Team-Up (#2-12 & 28-37), but just as impressive was Conway’s diversity, with shorter stints on an astounding array of titles:  Astonishing Tales, Amazing Adventures, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Avengers, Defenders, Ghost Rider, et al.

He That Shall Not Be Named
The natural “next in line” in the spring of 1976 was beloved writer and editor “Artful [or Amiable] Archie” Goodwin, whose interest in Marvel had first been piqued by working with Colan and Steve Ditko for Warren Publications on the black-and-white horror comic magazines Creepy (which pioneered the format) and Eerie.  It would be some time before Marvel was out of the woods—cutbacks were now common, and they had to wait for the problematic writer-editor contracts to expire—but Galton’s austerity measures succeeded in stanching the red ink, and as he told Daniels, “Within a year, we were profitable,” with future EIC Shooter attributing the company’s very survival to the runaway hit Star Wars.  By the time Goodwin resigned as EIC in late 1977, Marvel was bursting forth into other media with the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip and Incredible Hulk TV pilot films.

Although he had been writing for Marvel longer than his three immediate predecessors as EIC, Goodwin had a comparatively thin list of credits with the company, especially in the super-hero genre that was their bread and butter.  In that capacity, he is most notable for following Stan on the venerable Iron Man strip, seeing it through the transition from the last days of Tales of Suspense and the one-shot Iron Man and Sub-Mariner to Shellhead’s solo title, of which he wrote the first 28 issues.  Goodwin had the bad luck to succeed Jim Steranko on Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (#6-7); gave the world Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (#1-4); contributed rather more substantial runs with Incredible Hulk #148-57 and especially Star Wars #11-50; and wrote a smattering of issues of Fantastic Four (#115-18), Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (#4-8) and, years later, Dazzler (#38-42).

On the first working day of ’78, Archie’s replacement took over, but that’s another story:

Merry Christmas to all our faithful readers from the Zombies at Marvel University! We'll be back in our regular Wednesday slot next week.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Marvel Collectors' Item Classic #13

Ruminations on the Cusp of a Decade

By Professor Matthew R. Bradley

Note: As we slide gracefully from the swingin' sixties into the sensational seventies, we'll offer "Sunday Specials" now and then, thoughts on what the decade means (or meant) to us, notes on the fads, and some surprises still to be mapped out. Enjoy! -Professor Pete

Since joining the faculty here at Marvel University, I have echoed several colleagues in sometimes expressing impatience to get through the 1960s and into the ’70s.  This by no means indicates any lack of love for those Silver-Age classics (and not-so-classics) over which we have labored these many months, rather that—being Men of a Certain Age—we have a shared frame of reference that locates our seminal Marvel experiences in the ’70s.  Now, however, as paradoxical as it may seem, I am trying to dampen expectations in myself, my colleagues, and our readers for the very beginning of that magical decade.

Due to The Professor Matthew Time Paradox, I am currently working on the MU post for December ’69 as I write this, but have already drafted the following pre-emptive strike to go into my review of the January 1970 issue of The Silver Surfer:  “The odometer merely ticking over into a new decade did not kick off our beloved Bronze Age, which arguably begins with Kirby’s departure [c. September]; even then, many developments this writer reveres were still more than a year away.  Much of 1970 sees the continuing contraction that leaves X-Men in reprints, Captain Marvel on hiatus (twice), and this title cancelled.”

The first sign of new growth is the somewhat inexplicable second attempts at split books, Amazing
Adventures and Astonishing Tales, in August 1970.  My recollection/impression after many years is that the Widow, Inhumans, and Doom series were not that great (Ka-Zar is, naturally, beneath my notice, although like a pro, I will soldier through his half of those issues I do have).  But love them or hate them, the fact that Marvel abandoned this revived format after only eight issues apiece in favor of more conventional try-out books (Beast!  Deathlok!) means that, at least at the outset, they constituted a failed experiment.

However, when those aforementioned “developments” start kicking in at the very end of 1971, we get—in quick succession—Marvel Feature (Defenders!  Ant-Man [for anyone who cares]!  Marvel Two-in-One prototype!), …Team-Up (’Nuff said!), and …Premiere (Warlock!  Dr. Strange!  Iron Fist!).  Actually, …Spotlight precedes them all, but doesn’t come onto my personal radar until the advent of Ghost Rider in #5, simultaneous with the debuts of the solo Defenders and Warlock books.  Per Emeril, “BAM!”  So, I’m thinking my personal Golden Age is 1972-76 (just one year behind Dean Enfantino with 1971-75).

This encompasses the wonderment wrought by Englehart, Starlin, Conway, Wein, et alia in some of the more established books, the sheer quantity and quality of new creators and creations, and—to a lesser but fun degree—the short-lived juggernaut of Giant-Size titles (morphing into Annuals Mark II).  Yet I also think, despite our broad-brush adulation for “the ’70s,” that 1970-71 might be very slow going, only partly due to the aforementioned contraction.  I prophesy, for example, that the decision to stop running continued stories, however temporary, is going to drag things down considerably, but only time will tell…

As for 1977 on, well, that’s another story.

Extra! Extra! Be sure to tune in on Christmas Day for Professor Matthew's dissertation on the musical chairs known as the editor's job at Marvel in the early 1970s.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

July 1969: 15 cents for a comic book? Are they nuts?

The Amazing Spider-Man 74
Our Story

Maggia head honcho Silvermane has the ancient, mysterious tablet The Kingpin fought long and hard to obtain, but the elderly gangster has no idea how to use it. To this end, his goons have kidnapped Curt Connors and are holding the biologist's wife and son as collateral. If Connors can't unlock the secret, it's curtains for the whole family. Little does Silvermane know that Curt comes with his own baggage (lizard-skin at that) and is doing an exemplary job of keeping his scaly friend in the closet. Meanwhile, Caesar Cicero (The Big C) has designs on Silvermane's post and has been making plans to unseat the old guy. Into all this turmoil swings The Amazing Spider-Man, who battles The Big C and his goons but the mobster makes good his getaway, Connors family in tow. Curt deciphers the symbols on the tablet, discovering that they are a formula for a potion. Despite Man-Mountain Marko's protestations, Silvermane wastes no time having the potion brewed and downs it in one gulp. After falling to the floor in pain he rises, no longer an older man. The tablet has unlocked the secret of the fountain of youth!

PE: A near-perfect issue from start to finish, with a fabulous script chock full of surprises and suspense. What is the secret of that dadblamed tablet and will Stan ever clue us in? Yep, we get the goods!  Can Curt Connors reign in the beast? Well, yeah, sorta and we're on the edge of our seats while he does! Will The Big C stage his coup before Silvermane can discover the secret of the tablet? Not quite! The art by Romita and Mooney is dynamic. What more could you want from a superhero comic? Well, a little more Parker's private life advancement would be nice. The little we get is weak (the only weak link here, I hasten to add) and cliched. Used to be the most annoying thing about The Amazing Spider-Man was Aunt May's monthly visit from The Grim Reaper. Now it's Peter's visit to campus while he's got something pressing on his mind. It always ends up leading to the same dialogue when Peter inadvertently shines on one of his peeps: "Oh, Parker must think he's too good for us." In this case, it's Harry Osborn flashing the lame mustache he copped from The Mandarin. Take it from me (without cheating and looking ahead) that 'stache won't last.

MB: My yellowing, long-coverless copy of this issue was among the first comics I ever owned, so nostalgia pretty much guarantees that I love it, yet I suspect it can stand very well on its own merits.  Being so familiar with the story enabled me to focus a bit more than usual on what I consider superb Romita/Mooney art, especially the way Ring-a-Ding lays out his panels, varying the size and shape to suit the action, which in terms of actual fighting is minimal, yet Stan infuses his script with so much drama that we never feel cheated.  From the exposition-packed splash page to the stunning closing shot of the young Silvermane, plus all of the tension surrounding Connors, this has consistently kept me on the edge of my seat for forty-three years.

PE: At times, Curt Connors' struggles to keep his reptilian alter ego in check are a bit too reminiscent of the other green Marvel guy who comes out in times of stress. I got a flashback to the "big heavy machine lift" issue when Spidey must get under a steel door before it closes. A really silly question popped up for me this issue while Webhead was swinging around town, waiting for his Spidey Sense to ring its alarm and let him know The Big C was nearby. What if The Green Goblin or The Rhino or The Chameleon were just below? Would his Sense go off but in a different way or is he tuning in only for The Big C and all other "tingles" are put on hold? How does his head not explode in a city where catastrophic danger happens at least nine times a month? An important question, this one.

Dr. Strange 181
Our Story

Dr. Strange accepts Nightmare’s challenge, but the fiend tells him he must wait one hour. Dr. Strange hangs out with Clea until it’s time to enter the dream dimension. He fights off Nightmare’s minions before confronting the big guy, only to find himself in a heap of trouble when the Eye of Agamotto is turned against him.

Jack: After all these many months of following Dr. Strange, his title is now bi-monthly and, after two more issues, it will be canceled, setting the good doctor adrift as an occasional guest star in other books. It’s a shame, because Colan and Palmer are doing outstanding work. I have never read these late issues before (at least, not that I can recall) and I think the blue mask was a mistake—it adds nothing to the character.

MB: In the first sign of impending cancellation, this and Fury’s book are yet again joined at the hip as each slips to bimonthly status, and although it pains me to say it, I have a few reservations about Roy’s story this time, if not the Colan/Palmer art.  Nightmare (at whom we do not get a good look; is that deliberate?) has always been a formidable foe, but not one I’d put into the category of those who could push a heavyweight like Eternity around, while the details of his current clash with Strange seem ill-defined.  Mundane concerns like secret-identity problems are out of place in this book, and despite her own mystic powers, Clea is increasingly sidelined into “she who must be protected” mode, instead of acting as a potentially valuable ally to Dr. Strange.

The Mighty Thor 166
Our Story

Having been given the dimensional slip a second time by “Him,” Thor’s rage has reached epic proportions. As Balder realizes, it has indeed reached the state known as the Warrior Madness, where reason is lost, and justice gives may to revenge. Mjolnir transports them to the planet where He has taken Sif. Vines burst forth from the ground to ensnare Balder, thus assuring that the battle will be between Thunder God and Super-Being. Other eyes observe the events unfold: Odin in Asgard, and Karnilla and Hag (who is fashioning a model of Balder for future mischief) in her kingdom. When Him realizes that Thor is fighting with no mercy, he forms a cocoon around himself and escapes. With Sif back, Thor’s sanity begins to return. He knows what he has done, and the trio returns to Asgard, where Thor must face punishment for his behavior. Odin has picked the sentence. Thor will be the one to pilot the mighty Cosmos-craft, a ship designed for the sole purpose of finding Galactus.

JB: The first 15-cent Thor doesn’t quite live up to the promise it offers from last month. The battle with Him (you guys are right, it is getting a little like “Hey You!”) is almost incidental; the real purpose seems to be to set up Thor for the mission to find Galactus. Ah, what great secrets Thor and Him could have shared about the powers of the universe! And now let’s see what this Galactus (is he a Thor mainstay now instead of the F.F.?) stuff is all about…

MB: The suspicions that began growing inside me while I read the previous issue are now completely confirmed:  it is going to take the Bronze-Age magic of Roy Thomas and Gil Kane to transform Him into a character any more interesting or inventive than his name.  Here, he’s just a super-powered naïf with no particular personality, who manages to drive Thor into the forbidden “warrior madness” that is this storyline’s distinguishing characteristic (so far), then retreats back into yet another cocoon.  Their actual bludgeoning doesn’t strike me as terribly interesting, so for me, the most noteworthy aspect of the Kirby/Colletta artwork is the degree to which Karnilla—in one of the five space-gobbling full-page shots—has turned from a bit of a battle-axe into a hottie.

PE: And Haag has transformed into the heretofore-unseen fourth mascot of EC Comics (after The Vault-Keeper, The Crypt-Keeper and The Old Witch). I'd have to agree that the threat of Him provided nothing more than a few panels of god-to-whatever combat but it provided the impetus for the warrior madness, a fascinating concept, which further pushes us into the long-hinted at rematch with Galactus. I only have one question: if Odin is so "all-seeing and all-knowing," then why did it take his astrologer to discover Thor was infected with warrior madness? Would The Thunder God's pop have eventually discovered his son's madness through some epiphany? All-seeing, all-knowing, but with a little help from his friends.

The X-Men 58
Our Story

The Beast and Iceman fight off Larry Trask's Sentinels, only to have Hank escape while Bobby is captured. Back in Trask's lair, he is reunited with Alex (now clad in black and dubbed 'Havok') and Lorna. Additional Sentinels capture Warren, and Mesmero finds out that Magneto hasn't been his partner after all - it was a robot Magneto that the Sentinels dispatch quickly. The Mutant round up continues as Banshee is also snagged, and the Living Monolith is encased in goo. Everything is going to Trask's plan until the medal around his neck is removed and his own Sentinels turn against him, as it's revealed he's also a mutant!

MB:  I first read this and the issues on either side of it at the age of 12, reprinted in Giant-Size X-Men #2 (the same month as my second issue of the new team), and even knowing nothing of their legendary status, I was blown away; I now rank them alongside Steranko’s and Starlin’s peaks among the best Marvel comics I have ever read.  Finally unleashed on full issues, Thomas and Adams create such a gripping epic that one can hardly believe we were suffering through the hell of Arnold Drake just four months ago.  The script and artwork combine to make these “Neo-Sentinels” truly awesome adversaries, finally living up to the full potential of the characters Stan and Jack created years ago, and including mutants outside the X-Men increases the story’s scope.

JS: Just like last issue, these tall Sentinels manage to sneak right up to someone's front door before busting in, and once again, I'm totally willing to let it go. The Sentinels continue to demonstrate that they will be THE foe the X-Men have to contend with in years to come. The other thing that struck me this time out was that I had forgotten how many other muties show up for a panel or two. I'm counting on Glenn to enlighten us if the Magneto bait-and-switch was planned all along or if Rascally Roy was planning to reintroduce the character and did not want to be tied down by his recent appearances.

Jack: Holy cow! This is what I’ve been waiting for. If Adams was getting his feet wet the last two issues, this issue represents (for me) what may well be the best 20 pages I’ve seen in my time here at Marvel University. The art is so solid; it just keeps impressing me as I turn each page. The story is great, too. If it were not the middle of 1969, Neal Adams would get my vote for Marvel artist of the decade.

PE: At last, all the hype pays off! I'd say this is the best X-Men I've read in all these months and (almost) worth the drudgery of the past several years. There's a maturity to Roy's writing that belies the fact that this is, after all, a kiddie comic book. Yes, the title has brought up the themes of racism and hatred time and again (and again and again) but maybe we've been hit over the head with the wrong instrument in the past. Picture a Nerf hammer (Arnold Drake) vs. a hatchet (Rascally Roy). But then great artists seem to bring out the best in writers at Marvel. If you're working on a script that you're particularly proud of, do you want to hand it over to Werner Roth or Neal Adams? I'm enjoying the irony that Magneto, after all these years of telling The X-Kids that they should be allies because the humans are the real enemy, turns out to have been right all the time. The Sentinel sweep scoops up the bad mutants with the good. How will that go down in the X-Camp? How long before we get a Magneto/X-Kids team-up? Neal Adams's startling panel layouts are just as revolutionary as Jim Steranko's. The TV reporter atop each page reminded me of Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns two decades later. Just to throw in something snarky: Iceman's meteoric romance with Lorna Dane (he's calling her affectionate terms but I'm curious to see if the relationship is one-way) brings to mind the "love at first sight" melodrama of Johnny Storm and Crystal. Yeah, she's a mutant, but what could be the attraction of a guy who turns into ice and whines a lot?

JS: Funny you mention the Dark Knight Returns similarity. I was thinking the exact same thing when re-reading this issue. Of course, I'll take Adams pencils over Miller's any day of the week. Any day.

Daredevil 54
Our Story

It's another busy day in the life of Daredevil as he fakes the death of his alter-ego, Matt Murdock, by crashing a plane he was supposed to be on.  Now that the world believes him dead, Double D tries to track down Starr Saxon and put him away since the villain knows his secret identity.  He has no luck finding him, but Mr. Fear, newly released from prison, issues a challenge to Daredevil at a set time at the zoo.  Using his new power of instilling fear with a mere gesture, the bad guy humiliates Double D in front of a crowd.  The story ends with Mr. Fear escaping and Daredevil feeling like a coward.

Tom:  I've come to the conclusion that Daredevil may be the most mentally unstable super-hero in the entire Marvel Universe.  He has definitely faked the deaths of more alter-egos then any other hero.  This series has gotten so ridiculous that Spider-Man had to be brought back for a brief cameo to clear up that he once believed Matt Murdock was Daredevil.  I actually like Mr. Fear but his appearance did little to help out.  Great cover, though.  I'll say probably one of the best in the series. 

MB: It’s interesting that Colan has not only returned to the DD fold but also swapped books with Barry Smith, who this month pencils the first of his handful of Avengers issues, while Gene and the recently wed George Klein hold down the fort here.  A few months back, a Bullpen Bulletin reported that Gentleman Gene was looking for a new book to draw, so perhaps his three-part stint with the Assemblers got that out of his system; in any case, his return is well-timed, for we need his stabilizing influence as Roy and Daredevil paint themselves into this ever-tightening corner by faking the death of another Murdock brother.  I missed Mr. Fear’s first go-round when the faculty covered it, so I have no opinion on his return (although I know the attendant spoiler).

Jack: Daredevil is so fickle! One minute he wants to stop being Daredevil, the next he’s killing off Matt Murdock. I read this same plot in Batman about five years later—Bruce Wayne supposedly died in a plane crash but later turned up in a South American jungle. And talk about fickle—what’s with these Marvel crowds? One minute they’re clamoring just to touch DD’s hand, the next they’re skulking away because they think he’s a coward. I’m glad Gene Colan is back on art duties and it’s nice to see Mr. Fear again, but this issue has a lot of soap opera padding.

Fantastic Four 88
Our Story

Returning from Latveria, the F.F. get a chance to reunite with their son (and Alicia), and to plan their domestic future. They take the Fantasti-Car to see the mysterious house that Sue discovered while looking for a less public home to raise their child in. It may be private, fireproof, and virtually unbreakable, but proves to be unsettling. Reed it attacked by stun blasts when trying to drill a wall hole, and a constant hum keeps everyone on edge. What they don’t yet realize is that some mysterious light that has come from the house has caused temporary blindness for many people in the neighborhood, and subsequent eye pain for each of them, and that their every move is being watched. Nevertheless, Sue talks Reed into moving, and they begin to bring their belongings from the Baxter Building. When they are enjoying dinner, Sue-style, they suddenly find themselves losing their sight. The reason: the light rays have intensified, and its cause is soon apparent. The house is really a surface access for its creator: the Mole Man, who plans to blind humanity with his rays.

MB:  I hate to be a killjoy, especially with so much handsome Kirby/Sinnott art on hand, but this one really is far-fetched, even by comic-book standards.  Without enumerating them individually, what it adds up to is, with all of these many red flags warning them against it, why on Earth do they persist in renting this fershlugginer house?  And not only that, but they do it while acknowledging that they probably shouldn’t, effectively saying, “Man, this really seems bizarre and unwise—so let’s stick our heads a little further into the noose.”  Of course, it doesn’t help that the place looks about as inviting and comfortable as living inside a rocket engine, but I must say it casts the worst possible light on Reed that he would take it with so little investigation.

The Fantastic Fools

PE: Oh come on now, Professor Matthew, lighten up! Just because these guys fight cosmic enemies daily doesn't mean they'd necessarily recognize a flying saucer (or a machine from the deep)  if they saw one. In fact, think about it, the only dwelling The Four have lived in is a skyscraper. They have absolutely no idea what to look for in a new home. I think it's fabulous that Johnny Storm flame-tests all the houses they're interested in buying. I wonder if normal wooden houses stand up to his experiments. Stretcho's "Somehow... in some subtle way... I sense great menace here" sounds just like a responsible parent with the normal jitters about to move his kid into a new house. Setting off "stun bolts" and "bell jars," while drilling a hole in the wall to hang a picture, happens all the time when moving in to a new home. And that constant headache-inducing hum is probably just the garbage disposal. Throw in the totally blind babysitter. Nope, I had no problem buying this one.

JB: I remember this cover well as one of the first issues of Fantastic Four I saw at my local comic store. As this re-read I have to say it didn’t quite live up to my memories. As you point out Professor Matthew, why the heck would they want to move in here with all the warning bells? The house doesn’t ever seem very big, yet Reed figures they’re going to be setting up shop for a while, suggesting renting out the Baxter Building. And unless you’re ghost hunting, would you really want to spend everyday in a scary forest neighborhood? There are some neat touches though. The panel when they enter the house looks like something out of Dr. Seuss. It’s interesting to see them in civilian clothes for a change. When Ben heads up in the elevator, I like the floor button details. If only the villain was someone other than the Mole Man…

The Incredible Hulk 117
Our Story

The mighty Hulk is able to break out of his cocoon-type prison just as the leader is launching a nuclear missile on the other side of the world.  After the monster breaks free, the Leader shoots the green goliath, along with his Super-Humanoid, with a teleporter gun. This sends them to a far off location so they can duke it out and not destroy any of his precious machinery.  The Hulk defeats the Leader's henchman after burying him inside a volcano.  Once he leaps back to the base, Betty soothes the Hulk into turning back into Bruce Banner.  Banner is able to quickly activate a rocket that intercepts the bomb, so the Leader launches more.  Turning back into the Hulk, the beast is able to leap in the air to stop them.  The story ends with the Leader escaping and the Hulk knocked out as he lies in a pool of water.

Tom:  Another satisfactory ending.  This series seems to have found its footing, with more consistent quality than what we have been subjected to previously.

Apologies to Stanley Kubrick and Slim Pickens
MB: I won’t say this is a perfect issue, but we seem to be continuing to move in the right direction, and with Happy Herbie inking his own pencils—as he will through the end of the year—we get a glass of unfiltered Trimpe, for better or worse.  As is the case with many a penciler, I might prefer his work in the hands of just the right inker (whoever that might be), but at least it’s a far cry from that lengthy period during which his signature style struggled to escape from the clutches of another’s inks…just as the Hulk battled the Leader’s plastithene living cage. Stan’s script lets our hero, largely sidelined of late, take a more active role in both his green- and pink-skinned identities, foiling the Leader’s super-humanoid and his rocket attacks left and right.

The Invincible Iron Man 15
Our Story

Despite being declared dead by Iron Man, the general public, and comic fans worldwide, The Unicorn is very much alive and seeking revenge against the superhero who defeated him so soundly months ago. This time, the horn-headed villain isn't alone: he's teamed up with another long-forgotten fifth-tier baddie, The Red Ghost, who's yearning to land his hands on Tony Stark's newest invention: The Cosmic Ray Intensifier. Hornhead and The Ghost show up at the Ray's testing grounds and attack Stark and Jasper Sitwell, stealing the Ray in the process. Not trusting that The Unicorn can get the job done, The Ghost sics his super-monkeys on Shellhead but a few-well placed repulsor rays have the apes heading for shelter. Iron Man finds the hideout of The Red Ghost and attempts to wrest the Intensifier away from the evil genius but, before he can, he's once again attacked by The Unicorn. This gives The Red Ghost a chance to bathe himself and his simian sidekicks in the rays of The Intensifier. New powers surge through The Ghost and he and his pets board an escape craft while Shellhead and Unicorn duke it out. Too late they find out that The Ghost has rigged the hideout to blow!

PE: What with being the world's most eligible billionaire bachelor and his side hobby of saving the world, where does Tony Stark find the time to invent all these wonderful gadgets? Seriously, isn't there some plot every issue by a super baddie to steal one of Stark's new super-gizmos? And, if these doohickies are so incredibly important, why is that we never hear about them after the current issue is over? Doesn't Tony have a huge warehouse where he stores weapons he creates in hopes that he may actually have to use them someday? The Red Ghost lets on to the fourth wall that he needs the Cosmic Ray Intensifier because he has lost all his super powers and can't steal anymore. Isn't that why Stan gave him monkeys?

MB: The surprisingly consistent Goodwin/Tuska/Craig creative team (notwithstanding George’s vacation last issue) continues to make this one of the books I most look forward to each month; Archie’s bringing back the Unicorn clearly does nothing to change that, and he plants yet another important seed by introducing Alex Niven.  It’s a bit unclear why the Red Ghost tells the Unicorn “A signal broadcast by me is what drew you here”:  had he been specifically monitoring Uni for some reason, or did he just have a general “Calling all ex-Commies” alert blanketing the area?  The two former Soviet operatives do indeed seem well-matched but, alas for Uni, this sets the template of him being duped by a fellow super-villain in exchange for the promise of a cure.

PE: It's one of those "Not really bad but not really good" installments with nothing outstanding to recommend it. I'd give it a B-.

Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner 15
Our Story

Diane Arliss, sister of the Tiger Shark, contacts Namor to let him know she's holding Lady Dorma at Empire State University. Flying into a mad rage, the Sub-Mariner heads for the campus to free his love. Unbeknownst to Namor, Diane is being forced to lure him to the school by Dr. Dorcas and his partner, Gregson Gilbert. The pair have promised to cure Diane's half-fish brother if she plays along. When Namor reaches the campus, he finds Dorma guarded by The Dragon Man. When an errant Energo-Blaster blast hits Drago dead square in the forehead, all hell breaks loose and it's up to Sub-Mariner to put a leash back on the reptilian android before he brings Empire State U down on all their heads.

PE: I can see Stan Lee leaning back in his easy chair, heavy sigh, knowing that the last title not to feature the mention of an anti-war demonstration on campus has been checked off his list. Can't wait for 1975 when all our heroes own a pet rock. New weapon alert: The Energo-Blaster, $49.95 at the Marvel Armory. Looks like a simple revolver but oh, what a wallop it packs. Actually, I have no idea what its function is since Dorcas exclaims that the Blaster controls The Dragon Man but will destroy Sub-Mariner. New gizmo alert: The Morphotron, $127.85 at the Marvel Fratamastat Depot. Capable of turning half-fish guys into real guys.

Namor's career ended abruptly when he
realized it was really clear anti-freeze
MB: I have to imagine that Marie Severin’s pencils aren’t the easiest to ink, yet for all my grousing about Vince Colletta, he’s a surprisingly good choice here, even if the results are a tad uneven; individual panels display one artist in the ascendant or a nice synthesis, notably the close-up of Subby in page 2, panel 4.  Speaking of art, I often find that color choices dictate my cover preferences as much as anything, and this one, with the light-and-dark contrast of Namor and the Dragon Man against that profondo rosso background, really grabbed me.  In truth, with Roy’s steady hand at the helm, this book has weathered Buscema’s departure better than I dared to hope, remaining among my monthly favorites, and Tiger Shark’s return naturally bodes well.

PE: Severin/Colletta's version of The Dragon Man looks like a toothless octogenarian with a tail and purple boxers but, otherwise, I find the art to be passable. It ain't Everett but then who else is? The story is blahsville, simply spinning the wheels for 20 pages, and in the end we find it was simply just a roundabout way of getting back to the Tiger-Shark. Is this the same Roy Thomas who spun X-Men #58?

Tom:  Any story that features a battle with Dragon Man is okay in my book.  It's nice to see this series returning to it's normal high quality after last issue.

Captain America 115
Our Story

The Cosmic Cube has been found... and its current owner has a very large red skull atop his shoulders. Captain America just wants the world to forget he was ever Steve Rogers but a little peace and quiet is the last thing on The Skull's mind. He toys with Cap, sending him to another dimension filled with vicious, indescribable beasties and back again like a human yo-yo. But The Skull has left his most ruthless ploy to last. With the aid of the Cosmic Cube, he reads Cap's mind and discovers the Avenger's love for Sharon Carter. With but a wave of his hand, Sharon appears before them. As if to add the cherry on top, The Skull switches bodies with Captain America as Sharon comes out of her trance.

PE: In our look at twenty years of Marvel, I assume we'll see more of The Skull than any other Cap baddie. That's a good thing if we get such gleefully sadistic chatter from the baddie as when he goads the overpowered Captain America:

You are the most totally, completely, thoroughly helpless living being who has ever existed! And I have made you so!

This is a great beginning for what looks to be a classic arc. The ol' switcheroo has been done to death both in the Marvel Universe and over at the Distinguished Competitor but I'm willing to lay odds that we won't be disappointed thanks to the cast and crew.

MB: Okay, let’s see:  Kirby, Steranko, Romita, now Big John Buscema (with baby bro Sal carried over from last ish as inker)…no shortage of top pencilers on this strip, that’s for sure!  Tempting as it is to let the work of the Buscema Brothers speak for itself, I feel I ought to add that they draw a mean Red Skull, not always the easiest character to capture, and really go to town on the Exiles, who also seemed to inspire co-creator Kirby. Cap, Rick, and especially La Carter all look great, and if I recall my Marvel history correctly, this body-switching scenario not only allows the Skull to put the Cosmic Cube to somewhat more substantive use than his usual—albeit unsuccessful—scattershot approach, but also has major ramifications for the title’s future.

PE: I picture those poor Teen Brigade kids (now middle-aged, with Doritos dust in their beards) sitting by their ham radios for the last six or seven years, just hoping and praying that Rick Jones would call and end their lives of boredom. As for Rick, his "woe is me" act is about as tiresome as Cap's constant pining for the real Bucky. One whiny-ass is enough for a single title.

Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. 13
Our Story

The fugitive Fury sees the red-white-and-blue-clad Super-Patriot exhort Americans to save the nation from government “traitors,” and after his forces repel S.H.I.E.L.D.’s attempt to bring him in for questioning, Nick recalls how he himself was captured and imprisoned, only to be busted out by Laura.  Gabe believes the Super-Patriot framed Fury, so he lets Nick go and provides a tip that the enemy is expected to strike at the U.N., which he plans to disintegrate with weapons concealed in barges.  Their encounter is reported back to the Super-Patriot by Number Seven, who unmasks as a disguised Sitwell and arrests Fury, yet when Nick subdues and supplants Jasper, the Super-Patriot dies in the fray and then is unmasked as…Fury.

MB: Now bimonthly, with the stink of death officially on it, this book also regresses from last issue’s refreshing Parkhouse/Smith anomaly to the lamest of ducks, Friedrich, with art this time by Herb Trimpe and Sam Grainger, who certainly can’t make things any worse than Springer did.  So we go from a megalomaniacal Hate-Monger unmasked as (gasp) another Hitler to a megalomaniacal Super-Patriot unmasked as (gasp) Fury.  How, I might ask, did he persuade the public, seemingly on nothing but his say-so, that the government, the U.N, and S.H.I.E.L.D. are all traitors?  We’re not usually quite that stupid.  The fact that he falls to his death after tripping over the U.S. flag he claims to defend might be a delicious irony, if we gave a crap about this walking roll of bunting.

PE: Hard to believe that this is the same Herb Trimpe who would, a few years later, make his version of The Incredible Hulk the definitive greenskin goliath. The art is simply awful. The Super-Patriot is always depicted with legs wide apart, as if the artist had just interrupted the villain during his jumping jacks. The figures have no form or anatomical reason to them. In one panel, it appears as though The Super-Patriot has no ass while the final panel of the dopey baddy shows him splayed on a sidewalk, apparently twisted all the way around. My favorite though (reprinted right) shows that poor Nick Fury has obviously crossed some angry head-shrinkers. Our "next issue" caption promising "The Reason Why!!" seems to have left a few words out: "The Reason Why We Foist This Crap on You!!"

The Avengers 66
Our Story

The Avengers are assembled on Shield’s Helicarrier to test a cylinder of Adamantium. Neither Thor’s hammer nor Iron Man’s repulsor rays can damage it, and don’t even ask about Goliath’s fist. The Vision disappears on an unknown mission and returns in secret to steal the Adamantium. He returns and fights the Avengers, only to distract them until Ultron-5 is reborn.

Jack: I sighed when I opened this issue and saw that Barry Smith has taken over as artist, but it was not as bad as I expected. He would make a pretty good artist on Iron Man, based on this issue. I had to go back to last issue to see if I missed something, because this issue starts with Thor and Iron Man in attendance, but no—it just jumps into the story without any warning or explanation. This whole issue seems kind of unfocused, as if the plotting were not very sure. Perhaps it’s the effect of allowing a young artist to work under the Marvel Method—the pages he delivered to Roy Thomas may have been a bit confusing.

Mr. Mopey-Pants
MB: Continuing his Cook’s tour of Marvel books (X-MenDaredevilS.H.I.E.L.D.), Barry Smith brings his pencils to bear on the Assemblers after the Colan trilogy, and although I don’t consider his style a perfect match either, I think I prefer it to Gene’s on this title; to be fair, I’m also not sure Syd Shores is Smith’s finest inker.  The Pym/Ultron/Vision web grows steadily more tangled, with Smith especially effective on our crimson android (particularly in the story’s penultimate panel), and I believe the “Did you ever walk thru something that isn’t…?” spread is considered a high-water mark.  The introduction of adamantium is a major development for the entire Marvel Universe, so Rascally Roy can add a new feather to his increasingly crowded cap.

Suitable for turning into a really
groovy album cover

Marvel University is closed next Wednesday, December 26th but that doesn't mean we'll be taking it easy around the campus. Professor Matthew has been hard at work on a series of Specials prepping us for the dawning of the new decade. Tune in Sunday for the first essay and then we'll be running a Christmas Day Special you won't want to miss! Happy Holidays from the staff at Marvel University.

Also this month

Captain Savage and His Battlefield Raiders #15
Chili #3
Marvel Super-Heroes #21 (now all-reprint)
Marvel Tales #21
Millie the Model #172
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #68

 MB: I am fascinated not by what Marvel Super-Heroes #21 is (i.e., all reprints—as are the remaining 84—in this case of X-Men #2 and Avengers #3), but what it isn’t.  A Bullpen Bulletin says, “He’s here—the mind-bending superhero of the far future!  Alone, the man called Starhawk takes on a universe aflame with hatred!  And wait’ll you see—the Mandroids!”  It seems the Roy Thomas/Dan Adkins tale was spiked so abruptly by SF-averse publisher Martin Goodman that it is still listed as “On Sale Right Now!”  This is not to be confused with the secret Steranko project mentioned recently, or the ’75 model Starhawk introduced in Defenders #27 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema; Roy also recycled the “Mandroid” name in Captain Marvel #18 and Avengers #94. 

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