Wednesday, March 27, 2013

July 1970: The 100th Issue of The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!!!

Sub-Mariner 27
Our Story

The surly Sub-Mariner doesn't appreciate the surface world headlines that broadcast stories about an ancient beast, the Kraken, looting and pillaging ships.  Namor is really ticked off because the headlines blame him as the main culprit behind the monster's wrath.  Seeking the help of Diane Arliss, Namor quickly comes into conflict with the sea monster.  Just like he thought, the Kraken is not real, but a giant underwater robotic vessel that is under the control of Commander Kraken and his crew of pirates.  They capture Subby temporarily, until he is able to break free and give the villain a traumatic beat down.  In a smart move, Namor is able to lead the fake Kraken vessel into the lair of the real monstrous Kraken.  The giant sea beast destroys the Kraken ship along with all the bad guys as Namor rescues Dorma and Diane Arliss from further danger.

Tom:  The nice twist ending saves this story from being mediocre.  This is why I like Namor, he's not bloodthirsty per se, but he has no problem letting his enemies meet an untimely death when the situation calls for it.  

Does he or doesn't he? Only Lady Dorma knows for sure!

SM: For the first time, I'm reading the splash page and it hits me; Namor spends most of his time sitting around in his underwear. Everyone else around him has clothing, shoes, helmets, gloves, whatever. Namor? Trunks and bracelets. Period. It's not like he's too big, will burst into flame or turn to ice and has to keep it down to his underpants. Also, this issue's splash gives the impression he's sitting naked on his throne, and the blanket over the seat looks like it's there so he doesn't leave a royal skidmark. (shudder) Moving on…

MB: Now that Our Pal Sal has succeeded Severin on this book, a Bullpen Bulletin trumpets that Merry Marie “will be doing a new superhero feature for us once again….[so] you’ll no longer be deprived of our favorite femme’s fantastically fabulous far-out artwork,” but I don’t believe such a strip ever materialized.  Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, the Buscema/Gaudioso team is growing nicely into the gig, with the full-page shot on page 14 very nicely laid out, and both of the Krakens, one man-made and one real, look awesome.  I like what Roy’s been doing with the tensions between Atlantis and the surface:  it isn’t necessarily the primary focus of the plot each time, but it does serve as a kind of a through-line, giving recent issues the feel of a unified theme.

SM: Namor once again comes to New York and gives me a quick laugh by saying "No human eye could follow my ship's exact path! Thus it is safe for me to land!" So none of the people in the surrounding buildings can see Namor's shuttle land and kick up a ton of billowing smoke as he touches down and call the police? This Commander Kraken is a lightweight, who, at the top of page 15, comes across like Percy Pinkerton in a pirate outfit. A weird reference as Namor launches his attack, nearly exhausting his "hidden reserve of strength." Hidden? Was it in a chamber? A utility belt? Another one shot, this time less fun than the previous two. Diane Arliss exists, apparently, only to create a love triangle. The art is pleasant without being great and I'm already forgetting half of this one.

The Avengers 78
Our Story

Cap answers a summons, ostensibly from the Avengers, but  actually a ruse by the returning Man-Ape. Cap is getting his star- spangled butt kicked when the rest of the Avengers arrive, allowing Quicksilver to save the shield-slinger from a deadly fall, with the help of the Vision. They learn that Cap was lured by a forged note left at SHIELD to come at once. The Man-Ape vows to destroy them all, but is mostly interested in exacting his revenge on the Black Panther. Man-Ape kidnaps Monica Lynn and uses her as insurance to get the Panther to fight him to the death. The battle begins and the Panther is tricked by a replica of Monica which promptly explodes, knocking T'Challa unconscious. When he comes to, the Panther begins to discern Man-Ape's lethal plan when the villain's allies arrive: the Living Laser, Power Man, the Swordsman and The Grim Reaper - who have formed a new evil team called The Lethal Legion!

SM: Another fairly involved build up to what will no doubt be a long, chatty battle next issue with a two panel resolution. It's all fairly routine stuff, although it's great to see Cap back on the title. I prefer some all-stars on the team rather than just the second stringers. Man-Ape is never going to make my list of favorite villains and it's kind of a shock to see him fronting this low rent Fright Four, but none of these guys makes me pant in excitement. T'Challa is  getting a lot of page time and it dawns on me that The Avengers has so many lead characters, they really don't need a supporting cast. Perhaps these people will make their way to Jungle Action and The Panther's own book.

MB:  For almost a year, the Brothers Buscema have been tag-teaming on this book, and now it’s Sal’s turn once again, but with a twist:  so far we’ve generally had either Sal/Grainger or John/Palmer, yet here they’ve paired Our Pal with Palmer.  Quite frankly, I’d rather have Palmer inking Sal, whose work he seems to strengthen (maybe because Sal’s still a relative neophyte, or maybe because his pencils were never as strong as those of his brother), than inking John, whom he sometimes diminishes.  My prior familiarity with this era is so limited that I’d quite forgotten M’Baku was fronting for the Lethal Legion, so that last page really came as a surprise to me, and if Roy doesn’t deliver a real humdinger of a conclusion next issue, I’ll be extremely disappointed.

PE: Extremely short-sighted of M'Baku (aka Man-Ape) to run around with gorilla's chompers digging into his forehead. Don't tell me that can't be detrimental in the midst of a battle.The Lethal Legion seem to be just the same ol' batch of sixth-tier villains who've gathered together before. Or maybe it's just that these sub-par bad guys are all melting into one in my mind.

SM: Sal and Tom bring forth dynamic art, which has recently been a strong suit in this book. Roy is starting to feel as overworked as Stan was in his busy period. Having Quicksilver slow his plummet off the building after catching Cap by vibrating swiftly was a hoot. After the Vision catches them, the android says what's on my mind: "your words are superfluous, Pietro and they waste time!" Amen, Vish. Overall, an average start to another two-parter.

Captain America 127
Our Story

Cap is helping Nick Fury test a new Protecto-Suit by flinging his shield at the head of SHIELD (see what I did there?). It works, thanks to the genius of the newly hired Dr. Ryder. Cap splits, ticked at Fury who keeps making comments about Cap's love life. Later, Fury and his goons are in their new suits fighting the men of AIM when one of the agents is hit - the suits have been compromised! There's a traitor in SHIELD! Is it the newly hired guy who invented the suits? No, it HAS to be Cap because "anyone can wear a mask and costume - even the guy who took off his mask at the end of the test, proving he's Steve Rogers. But never mind, Cap could be a traitor!" So they test him by making him fight an android only the real Cap can beat. He does so and he is finally told the whole deal is a maneuver to flush out the real traitor, the aforementioned Ryder (gasp!). Rather than explaining this to Cap, they tricked him, making Cap (and the rest of us) wonder how a man can protect himself from his friends.

SM: This story sucks. I'm sorry, but it's just chock full of Marvel Misunderstandings, people who refuse to explain their motives to their friends and who make idiotic decisions simply to get us to the next page. First, Cap and Fury are on speaking terms again when the last time they were together, Fury "lied" to Cap about Sharon's SHIELD status. He's still got the stinkeye for Sharon, but apparently Fury was easily forgiven. Considering Fury turns on a dime when it comes to how he treats Cap, I'd never trust the guy. Especially when he gives the job of telling Cap he's on the outs to the guy in the barber shop who fogs the windows. I wonder, does this barber shop get any of the street customers? Doesn't anyone notice the fogging and the coming and going of Cap and later The Falcon?

Strangely enough, Cap, with Wally Wood on board, we don't want her to face you!

MB: A Bullpen Bulletin boasts, “wait’ll you see Wondrous Wally Wood’s incomparable inking on Genial Gene Colan’s action-packed presentation of Captain America!  It’s just too much!”  I don’t know how Wood was lured back into the fold, yet in spite of their decidedly different styles they’re a good team, certainly making Colan better suited to the book.  This issue also benefits from guest-star turns by not only usual suspects Fury and Stark but also, more surprising, the Bugle’s Robbie Robertson.  However, I am once again a little disappointed with Stan’s story; we seem to have racked up an awful lot of yarns in recent months in which an innocent man is suspected of betraying S.H.I.E.L.D., or Cap and Sharon have another falling out.

PE: It's not the first time there's been a Marvel Misunderstanding (MARMIS) between Colonel Fury and the Star-Spangled Avenger and it certainly won't be the last but this one has a particularly stale odor about it. That's probably due to the extended, tired quarreling going on between Cap and Sharon (who turns on her beau at the drop of a hat: "Even the way he's been avoiding me! What if he's not the real Cap?"). At one point, Nick amazingly exclaims to Cap: "There's a traitor in this outfit - and the evidence points ta you!" despite no evidence whatsoever! Why is it the reader is always the one to know who the traitor is from the word "Go!"? Shouldn't Nick just suspect the new guy from here on out? In the end, we're right back to square one with a whiny Cap muttering something about "who can tell your real friends anymore?" For an iconic symbol, the guy mopes a lot. And can we please have a moratorium on killer androids? I love the art, which almost has a bi-polar effect: here's a grogeous Wally Wood woman here and a classic Colan noir alley scene there. Best of both worlds. It's too bad it won't be a continuing relationship (Dick Ayers becomes the regular inker beginning next issue).

SM: My synopsis was pretty snarky, but this really was a turd of an issue and a chore to summarize. Yes, granted, the reveal at the end at least gives Fury and Sharon a reason to act out of character by suspecting Cap, but there's no excuse for Cap once again being played by these jerks. Why he keeps going back to SHIELD says more about Cap than Fury. It's funny how Cap tears a strip off Fury by saying his love life is off limits "even to him." Since when? Cap routinely barges in, whines or makes demands about Sharon. Now he says it nobody's business? God, Stan, step down. Please. Good art, but not worth it.

Daredevil 66
Our Story

At the murdered actor Ross Archer’s funeral, Daredevil sneaks in to pick up clues. He finds nil, then is ejected by a less-than-respectful officer. In L.A., it seems, ol’ DD doesn’t get the respect New Yorkers afford him. Under the unusual circumstances, the network gives the cast and crew the choice of whether to continue the show. It’s a unanimous “yes.” Lester, the effects man, shows Karen Page a blueprint he’s secretly designed for an exo-skeleton suit. Leading man Vince Sterling interrupts; both, it seems, have an interest in Karen. DD, watching, determines almost everyone has a possible motive for murder. When Daredevil later sneaks into Lester’s office, he is surprised by . . . Brother Brimstone: Ka-Pow!! Coming to later, DD gets a clue regarding Karen’s whereabouts:  the La Brie Tar Pits Museum, where Lester has asked her to meet him at closing time. Our hero hurries there, hampered by L.A.’s smaller buildings. Lester is a no-show so Karen’s about to leave when the lights go down, fortunately an unlocked door provides an escape. Phew, until out pops Brother Brimstone, and Karen faints. He’s about to toss her into the Woolly Mammoth display, under which are tar pits, left over from California’s prehistoric times. Our pointy-eared friend arrives in the nick of time, but Brimstone’s no slouch: the two tangle in the tar pit. DD rips off a mask accompanying the stolen exo-skeleton (thus the missing heartbeat)—Vince Sterling!  The sly actor planned to steal the blueprints for his own wicked plans, and figured to silence Archer, Lester and Karen, thereby protecting his identity. DD attempts to pull them both out, but Sterling slips away, sinking into the tar to preserve his immortality in a different way.

JB: A very satisfying conclusion to a complex little whodunnit, one that was served much better as a two-parter than a single issue. I’m left wondering what happened to Lester; did Brimstone/Sterling already send him to his fate in the tar pit, or did he just lose his nerve to come meet Karen? Agreed that L.A. is a nice change for D.D.; maybe living there would be a compromise Matt and Karen could both live with?

NC:  For a girl who is supposedly nursing a broken-heart and thinking over whether she wants to be in a relationship with DD, Karen sure goes out on a lot of dates!  Karen is a trooper though, waiting for 2 hours after being stood up sure shows confidence!  I must admit I just assumed Lester would be our man (even though he’s a bit scrawny) because he was such a stalker type, but – expect the unexpected.  Beyond the “love” story I thought this was a fun and fantastic mystery!!!

MB:  Roy concludes this two-parter by shifting the focus from its Gothic aspects to the whodunit as Hornhead seeks the killer of Ross Archer, with the La Brea Tar Pits as a bizarre but undeniably atmospheric setting for the climax (plus that endearingly loopy Marie Severin cover).  Amid all of the homages, might the victim’s name be a tribute to Ross Macdonald, creator of the literary private eye Lew Archer, whom Paul Newman notoriously redubbed Harper when playing him on the screen?  Once again, Colan and Shores are very much in their element with a murder mystery, even one set in nominally sun-drenched Hollywood, so luckily the storyline lends itself to DD skulking around a funeral, perching in the rafters, searching dark rooms, et moody cetera.

SM: I really enjoy this sojourn to the West Coast. Pulling DD out of his element makes the series fresher. It's great to see him without annoying Foggy in tow, or once more battling Stilt Man or Leap Frog. I'm not saying the murder of Brother Brimstone is all that fantastic, but just having DD in a new venue really adds life to the series. It's a shame he wasn't kept there. New York is a tad overcrowded with super-heroes. Since the place is so hot with do-gooders, you'd think a bunch of villains would leave for other cities like Chicago or Tucson. The mystery murderer is exactly who I thought it would be: always keep an eye on the nice guy (at least he didn't invite Karen on a Coke date this time). Not too bad, really. I enjoyed this without much reservation. The art and story were quite good.

JT: "Trapped in the Tar Pits of Death"? I don't think the LA Tourist Board would be too keen on that headline!

Fantastic Four 100
Our Story

The F.F. are returning from the home of the Inhumans when their craft is shot out from under them. Luckily Crystal is returning with them, and she makes the air around them solid enough to carry them safely to the ground. Their craft is in pieces. But who fired on them? The answer is not long in coming: Kang the Conqueror, or is it Dr. Doom? Crystal, whose powers are unexpected from their foes, drops a tree on the duo, and on examining the bodies, Reed realizes they’re androids, as only the Puppet Master can create them. Combining his talents with those of the Mad Thinker, the two send a procession of the deadliest foes our heroes have met against them, android style. While the androids are dangerous, they lack the human element necessary to out-think the Fantastic Four, and one by one the evildoers are done in. When the Puppet Master and the Mad Thinker pull out their ace in the hole—the Incredible android-Hulk—he turns against them rather than take orders. The Puppet Master’s defensive gunfire ignites an explosion; a fitting ending? Our heroes return home. JB: This issue is like a movie that casts every name in Hollywood into two hours, and does none of them justice. I suppose the fact the super-villains here are androids (Reed figured that out fast!) is more realistic than having us accept that their real counterparts would co-operate. Still, if not for the number, I’d have scarcely noticed this issue was anything special. They can’t all be classics!

MB: As milestones go, 100 issues of the first real Marvel Comic is hard to beat, and it’s eminently satisfying that Sinnott (joining Lee and Kirby “at the height of their talents!”) is back for the occasion—nothing against Giacoia, naturlich.  In all of the excitement, Stan flubs and has Crystal call Doom “a stranger to my powers,” when she mixed it up in Latveria in #84-87 along with the rest of them; he likewise seems to have forgotten that the Puppet Master and the Thinker had a previous alliance (with Egghead), which ironically led to the apparent deaths of both men.  But what the hell, this is a fun, kitchen-sink birthday romp, where even Jack must resort to the occasional Ditkoesque nine-panel page to cram it all in, so who am I to criticize it?

SM: One hundred. That's a nice long streak of unbroken issues written and drawn by Lee and Kirby. Spider-Man may have been the Marvel Mascot and the breakthrough character of the MU, but the FF kicked it all off. The success of this title made all the other titles possible. There is no downplaying the importance of the Fantastic Four in comic book history, and while it didn't always live up to its boastful tagline as "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine," when it was at its best, it really was tough to beat. That's why when the FF reaches such a milestone issue, it should be something special. Sadly, Jack Kirby was on his way out, his hopes of fair treatment, true creative freedom, and equal credit smashed to bits. Considering their respective personalities, it's incredible Lee and Kirby stayed together as long as they did, but the one thing they truly shared was a love of the characters. Both men were extremely proud of their work and tried to give fans the best they could under whatever circumstances they faced. The fact that it ended with hard feelings is a real shame, but not necessarily a loss to the company. At least, not in the long run. The fact is, Lee and Kirby were getting older and their style of storytelling was quickly becoming passé. In addition, the "anything goes" pop culture product of the 60's gave way to the more realistic, gritty and relevant stories of the 70's. This was apparent not only in comics, but also on television and in movies. Irwin Allen went from fantasy sci-fi to down to earth disaster movies. Genies and witches gave way to racists and divorcees. Spaceships and spies stepped aside for drug dealers and rogue cops. Perhaps this sea change would have sent Jack packing anyway. Either way, the end was near and this attitude is reflected in this landmark issue.

PE: I'll be the bad guy here. For a milestone, it ain't much to crow about. Couldn't Stan and Jack have whipped up something more exciting than the umpteenth return of The Puppet Master and a whole lot of destructible android-robot-thingies? And, was I napping when Pups started making androids rather than using his dolls to control real people? Why would the third-tier evil genius go to all the time and trouble to invest each individual robot with the powers of its twin? That must have taken quite a while to do. I can see him sitting on his stool in his little workshop muttering to himself: "Ok, which one of these guys says 'Bub' and which talks with a Latvian accent?" Actually that would have made for a lot more fun: have the andorids' powers mixed up accidentally. So what was his scheme this time anyway? Because of its Anniversarial impact, this one has been regarded as a classic for decades but a re-reading proves otherwise.

SM: The story is lazy and while the art is - as usual - impressive, it is overstuffed with half baked cameos and a dearth of imagination. The panels are tiny, smaller than anything Jack had provided in years and while it's fun to see so many villains, nothing truly makes sense. Some of the blame goes to Stan for writing this mess. Apparently the whole FF stuck around the Great Refuge and waited for Crystal to be done helping Black Bolt, since she said he had to stay a while longer in the previous issue. Stan kicks off the story by making Ben fairly stupid as he completely forgets about Crystal's powers for the sake of unnecessary exposition. We see the reformed team of The Mad Thinker and The Puppet Master, who thankfully looks like he used to and not like the weird fat guy in the crazy costume Marie Severin liked to draw (wasn’t there a plastic surgery explanation about that in some other book?). There's no mention of their prior partnership when they manipulated the X-Men years earlier, or why they'd try to team up again. The Puppet Master whips up an array of the FF's past villains and somehow knows everything they do. For instance, how Kang and Doom are apparently related or the same person (a plot device that's never really explored beyond constantly mentioning it whenever they appear together). It all goes south for the bad guys when their Hulk replica goes nuts and wrecks the joint. A pat ending where the FF plays no part in their own victory. For them, it all just stops. There are some words from Reed about being the greatest team ever, but with this issue, you couldn't prove that by me. The art is better than it had been recently though and it's all nice to look at. But considering the FF's place in Marvel, not to mention the industry itself, this special issue fell short of being the tribute it could have been. Was there no place to stick The Mole Man? He may not be the best villain, but he was the team's first adversary. A disappointment. 

JT: A landmark issue for this pre-teen, from the beautifully overcrowded cover to the story packed with villains (fake as they may be, I used to flip for more, more, more back in the day) to an android Hulk to some classic art & dialogue. 

The Incredible Hulk 129
Our Story

The Leader is in a state of 'glum' after losing so many times to the Hulk.  In response, he uses his mind control powers to revert himself back into his former normal human self just in time to give a hitchhiking Bruce Banner a ride home.  After a sit-down in a restaurant, the Leader learns from Bruce that one of the few foes, the Hulk has ever fought, that has ever gathered any sympathy from him, is the monstrous Glob.  Using his advanced technology, the Leader resurrects the Glob from the gooey swamps of Florida and sicks him on the Jade Giant.  Once the two monsters clash under the sewer systems, it's an ugly sight to behold as each creature is equally matched, with the Glob brainwashed into believing that the Hulk is out to hurt Betty Banner.  Knowing that he can't knock out the Glob, the Hulk lures him up an electrical tower.  The Hulk then electrocutes the Glob with an open wire, causing him to plummet into a shack of 'dynamos,' blowing The Glob into smithereens.

Tom:  While I'll be the first to admit that I am pretty easygoing on this series, this issue was executed poorly.  They didn't need the Leader to be a part of this story with his whole "resurrection of the Glob" vengeance plot.  Lex Luthor has nothing to worry about in D.C. if the Leader keeps on making dumb decisions like he did in this issue.  Did I read this right?  The Glob was able to make it from Florida to L.A. with just making the newspapers?  If so, my hat's off to the big lug as he definitely doesn't strike me as a stealthy type of villain.  I'm sure I'm not the only one that thought of 'dog crap' when they showed the Glob's reformation on the final page after he got blown up.

MB: This one is certainly different, right from the Leader’s hitherto unknown ability to undo his own creation—the name Sam Sterns rang a bell, but I had him mixed up with Sam Smithers, so while I knew he was no ordinary truck driver, I was poised for him to turn out to be Plantman instead!  It’s curious that although Hulk calls the Glob by name when he first appears, he thereafter refers to him only as “you/it/the one who fights him/him/he/[the] other one.”  I like that Roy makes explicit the connection between Mogol and the Glob as Hulk’s potential friends (however unrealistic either might have been), as well as sowing the seeds of the Glob’s eventual return in this very issue; meanwhile, the unfiltered Trimpe artwork remains uniquely distinctive.

SM: Another issue from my kid-hood, one which gave us a little bit more information about the Leader, which was cool. The panels detailing his origin are faithfully recreated (first seen in Tales to Astonish by Steve Ditko) and now he's given a name. I love how Banner is being snooped upon by the Leader (in his War of the Worlds spaceship) and doesn't notice he's hovering inches behind him. The Marvel Super Heroes reprint omits page 2 entirely, but since Banner was talking about Betty in the splash and is still doing a monologue about her on page 3 (with unnecessary info in between), it was so smooth I never knew a page was missing. Banner is given clothes, but in the back half of the issue, he's down to his tattered pants, missing his shirt and shoes. He's apparently been in the sewers for a few days and there wasn't any reason given why he couldn't go back to the hotel (Sterns even said he could). Banner had no need to "hide" other than to avoid stress, but since that never works, I'm thinking an event was cut, or it's just carelessness. Was there a Hulk-out we didn't see? Who knows? I don't know if I like the Glob or not, but for a strength matching foe, he's not so bad, I guess. The art is still weird, but this was a fun issue. Slight, but enjoyable.

The Invincible Iron Man 27
Our Story

In the Midwestern Bay City, black militants set up a gypsy camp to disrupt the ground-breaking ceremony for a new community center, courtesy of the Iron Man Foundation, but while native son Eddie is reluctant to be its director, he agrees to join Iron Man as guests of honor.  A confrontation between the police, the militants, and councilman Lyle Bradshaw—who dismisses their demands—is inflamed by the rabble-rousing Firebrand’s thermo-bursts.  During a cooling-off period, activist Helene Davis tells Eddie that they would rather see the money used to set up black-owned businesses, and they soon learn that Bradshaw secretly heads the realtor and construction firm involved; Firebrand, who was trained by S.I., flees after kidnapping Bradshaw.

MB:  Whatever else I’ve said about Goodwin’s last few issues, he couldn’t wind up his long TOD on the strip—as he will next month—without introducing a final noteworthy character in the form of Firebrand (the initial article was later dropped) and bringing back another, Eddie March.  That’s the good news.  Now for the bad news.  In last month’s Captain America, we saw a white guy revealed to be stoking racial tensions in the black community for his own self-interest, which as noted already felt like a Sons of the Serpent rehash.  Here, we see a white guy revealed to be stoking racial tensions in the black community for his own self-interest.  In the middling news department, Heck and Craig seem a little better attuned to each other, but still appear unpolished.

SM: I'm trying to read these stories in the context of their times, but honestly, there's been far too much of the Civil Rights movement in the pages of Iron Man, The Avengers and Cap (but we ain't seen nothin' yet). They all say the same thing, which is usually "don't trust whitey." I hope it's a reflection on our society today that these tales seem over the top. While racism will probably never truly die, it is at least condemned by most of our society. Having said that, this isn't a bad tale at all. The Firebrand reminds me of The Rabble Rouser from the Human Torch series and the earlier Hate Monger when he was first introduced (as HITLER!). Only this time we get no clue to Firebrand's identity or how he made that amazing "just like skin" facemask. I mean, his mouth has its own opening to conform to every movement. 

PE: Yep, it's the same kind of racially-charged drama that's been clogging up way too many comic books this month so why do I think this one's a bit better handled than the Cap fiasco? Could be that I'm partial to Archie as a writer and truly believe he may have wanted to make a statement. It also confounded my expectations as, by page three, I was convinced that it was the Congressman who had donned a yellow suit and learned how to talk jive. I was pleasantly surprised to find out I was wrong. Firebrand will be back several times in Iron Man during our journey through the 1970s.

SM: I like Eddie March, he'll make a good supporting cast member, but it's easy to make him another Sam Wilson (who will be pushing the "helping my people" mantra until it's worn to the bone). I'd be interested to see how this situation plays out, if and when they come back to it. I just wonder how close to reality the black point of view was, considering the writers of these tales were just a bunch of white guys. Don Heck does better this issue than last. I don't have a lot of problems with the art. I am starting to long for more realistic inks coming later on in the decade, though.

JT: The earliest Iron Man ish I owned, this one brings back nice memories, especially for the cool cover and the nifty costume on Firebrand. 

The Mighty Thor 178
Our Story

Victory won for Asgard against Surtur the fire demon, Odin calls for a feast, but Thor senses something is amiss. It is the Abomination, the Gamma ray creature transformed from Soviet spy Emil Blonsky. He was brought to Earth, then later returned (see Silver Surfer #12) to the mighty being, the Stranger, who collects specimens from throughout the universe. The Abomination arrives back on the Stranger’s world free, and vows to attain revenge on his captor. The Stranger has zeroed in on another victim on his space scanner and departs to personally test this ones power. With him gone, the Abomination watches the scanner change scenes, a different world every few seconds. When the Gamma-green goliath accidentally hits a switch, he teleports the person in view to the Stranger’s world:  it is the Thunder God! The Abomination convinces Thor to free the other captors, which sets off an alarm, calling back the master. Thor takes up the battle against the Stranger. Reaching a stalemate, he decides to study this world before resuming the cause. Reasoning that within the identity of Don Blake lies his best hiding place, he stumbles upon the Abomination encouraging the masses to fight the Stranger. He realizes the Stranger’s captives are evil, but too late: they grab him! Without his walking stick, Blake faces certain death, but they let him slither away, considering him beneath their notice. Rescue comes from the lovely Sif, who identifies her beloved’s location, and returns his stick. The aliens appear, and Thor turns back time to when he first faced the Abomination, whom he imprisons before returning to Asgard.

JB: The John Buscema art makes this issue look the first one of the seventies, even if it’s not. But the transformation is gradual. The characters faces aren’t as expressive as in, say, the Silver Surfer, and the whole look of Asgard fairly soon takes on a whole new personality (i.e. a new look for Sif). Speaking of Buscema, I may have been negligent in not including Silver Surfer #4 amongst my best of the sixties tally. The Don Blake bit was a bit funny; it seems like a pretty dangerous place to take a chance surviving as a mortal. Of course it gives Sif a chance to come to the rescue. This isn’t the first time recently that she’s managed to find her way somewhere, without specifically mentioning her power to bypass space/time, so epically shown back in Thor #139.

MB:  “There’s a surprise awaiting you in this month’s Thor!  It’s illustrated by ol’ Johnny Buscema, who switched off with Jolly Jack this month just for kicks,” asserts a Bullpen Bulletin.  “Meanwhile, the King is making comic book history by drawing Silver Surfer #18, on sale ’most any minute!”  In point of fact, said issue—the last—would not appear for two months; Jack drew only one more Thor; and Big John would take over permanently after a two-issue fill-in by Neal Adams, yet perhaps Marvel was just trying to paper over the cracks at that point.  This Bradley Bulletin is more succinct:  “The Stranger?  The Abomination?  Buscema?  What’s not to like?”  (Well, okay, since I have asked, Colletta, who besmirches Buscema’s pencils, but never mind...).

PE: I'm having a hard time keeping The Collector and The Stranger apart in my over-loaded Marvel Zombie brain. One collects specimens from different planets and the other... Well, one collects and the other is strange, right?  I'll try to keep that in mind. Anything he thinks comes true but The Thinker was already taken. The climax leaves me asking that question you really have to ask: if it's that easy to turn back time and erase the dumb stuff he just did, why doesn't The Mighty Thor swing his hammer backwards at the climax of each issue?

SM: John Buscema steps in before Kirby's final issue, but the Colletta inks made the first two pages seem a lot like Jack's work. The layout of the splash is very Kirbyesque and if I didn't know better, I'd swear the first panel on page 2 was done by Jack. Aside from that, this is very much a "marking time" story. Abomination comes back from Space and fights Thor and Thor wins. The pictures are pretty, but nothing of importance seems to really happen.

The Amazing Spider-Man 86
Our Story

Reeling from his battle with the Kingpin, Spider-Man swings towards home, unaware he’s being watched by Black Widow, who wants to find the secret of Spidey’s powers to combine them with her own. A Reader’s Digest version of Widow’s tragic origin and personal life ensues, and she decides the affluent Madame Natasha needs to go and the Black Widow must rise in her place! A groggy Spidey swings home and changes into a groggy Peter, who walks in to Harry and the Stacys, with Gwen blaming Spider-Man for Peter’s bruised face and sniping. Can his spider-strength be fading? A slick new costume brings the Widow into the “swinging seventies” as she sets out to find Spidey again. After he stumble-swings around, Widow attacks, but easily bests the hurtin’ hero—until instinct kicks in and Widow ends up fleeing, realizing Spidey’s powers are his own and should remain a secret. After making it home, Peter decides to check his blood to see what exactly is wrong with him, but ends up hesitating and pondering his fate.

JT: Stan’s hyperbole meter is on high this issue, which for Mr. Lee says a lot! Spidey’s strangest battle! Um, not really. A sensational NEW costumed adventurer comes into being.. Eh, not so much. Well, OK there is a new costume but that’s not really what he said. At least Stan is honest enough to admit the whole Black Widow appearance was just to promote her new book Amazing Tales (really Amazing Adventures…tomato, tomahto…), kinda like the guest appearance by Edith’s cousin Maude on All in the Family, which led to the spinoff Maude. Yeah, that’s a stretch, but hey, trust me!

MB:  In The Superhero Women, which omits this story’s last two pages, Stan reveals that the first three were penciled by an uncredited Don Heck, who’d introduced the Widow as an Iron Man villain in Tales of Suspense #52 in 1964; I wouldn’t have noticed myself, but presumably, Mooney’s inks mask the transition to Romita.  The moment Professor Jack and others have been waiting for has finally arrived, and she’s ditched her dowdy duds for the Emma Peel-style catsuit, just in time for her short-lived solo strip in next month’s Amazing Adventures.  As back-door “auditions” go, it’s not a bad little story…and who knew that, 40 years later, new generations of fanboys would be drooling over an as-yet-unborn Scarlett Johansson as Natasha?

SM: As mentioned, this story appeared in the Fireside book The Super-Hero Women, which is where I first read it. It's a nice intro to the "new" Black Widow and a delayed explanation as to why Natasha dumped Clint Barton in The Avengers a month ago. I appreciate the cross-title continuity, but I'd really prefer it if character story arcs were resolved in the pages of their own books (like Wanda's powers being fully restored in The Hulk rather than The Avengers). Romita's art makes Natasha drop dead gorgeous. He really could draw hot women and Natasha is just super sexy.

JS: Anybody else think that since we last saw her, Natasha caught a Catwoman episode of the Adam West Batman series? 
  JT: I just went back and read the first couple pages again, and they sorta look a little Heck-ish, but you're right it's hard to tell.

PE: Does anyone here think Gwen Stacy should get a life? Whenever we see her these days, she's either bitching to Peter or pining for him. Does she have a job? The background soap opera stuff in this title, which I used to look forward to more than the action, has pretty much dried up and is spinning its squeaky wheels. Gwen gets mad. Gwen scolds Peter. Gwen wonders why Peter hasn't been around. I know there's a life-changing event on the horizon for the pretty young girl so I'll be patient. I've gotta question the smarts of The Amazing Spider-Man who, wondering if his powers have gone phffft, jumps out a window and says "Well, here goes nothin'." I'd test my powers on the ground rather than go splat! Then he decides to test his aunt's heart by popping around to see the old bird just as she's going through one of those "Oh, my heart would last at least another ten issues if I could just see my boy, Peter! Where has he gotten to?" Rather than swinging around town testing his powers, perhaps our hero should be making some phone calls to reassure his loved ones he's still breathing? As for the story itself, I found it to be another in a series of one-and-dones where the villain (as shapely as she is in her new get-up) is built up and then dealt with in a handful of panels. The Black Widow smacks Spidey around a few times, decides she's not going to find what she's looking for, and races away. It's obviously just an advertisement for the new zine (which is called "Amazing Tales" in the blurb) and not much more.

SM: It's nice that this isn't another Marvel Misunderstanding story. Natasha wants to test her mettle and Spider-Man is the logical choice for her. Of course, Spidey has to be under the weather and "still reeling from the fight with the Kingpin" to give her something of an edge, but I love how he just gets sick of the bullshit and explosively frees himself. Seeing him apparently breaking out of his trap so easily causes Natasha to reevaluate her methods as she begins her new career (coming soon!). Yes, once again, Gwen is a bit of a pill and more and more of the Gwen mystique is chipped away. By the time she's offed, I suspect there will be fewer outraged tears from the Faculty. Next issue, though, will be a good 'un.

JT: The art overall is, as always, terrific. Romita-Mooney is quite the team. Page 19 has some knockout panels depicting the sickly web-swinger that are as believable as the sweaty Parker on the final page. Great stuff! Great JJJ cameos also. And I have nothing against Black Widow, but her guest spot seems kinda unnecessary. But it works in places. Her battle scene is fast fun and her dialogue more Richmond Hill than Russia, but she’s drawn as well as the other redhead in this strip which is the biggest plus of all. Can we just say this issue helped lay the groundwork for Marvel Team-Up?

Also this month

Chili #15
Kid Colt Outlaw #148
Li'l Kids #1
Mad About Millie #13
Marvel Super-Heroes #27
Marvel Tales #27
Mighty Marvel Western #9
Millie the Model #184
My Love #6
Rawhide Kid #78
Ringo Kid #4
Tower of Shadows #6
Two-Gun Kid #93
Where Creatures Roam #1 ->
Where Monsters Dwell #4

With the launch of Where Creatures Roam, Marvel continues the plundering of Atlas fantasy/horror/monster reprints they began with Where Monsters Dwell in January. I can't begin to describe to you that sheer glee that burst out on my face when, as an eight year-old fledgling Marvel Zombie, I first saw WCR #1 on the Thrifty Drugs comic rack, sitting right beside WMD #4! I further wet myself (probably not an exaggeration) when looking inside to find such monster barn burners as "I Am the Brute That Walks!" by The King, "Kragoo!" by Don Heck, and Ditko's "Fear in the Night!". Marvel's reprint department was on cruise control this issue: rather than search around the various Golden Age titles for prime stories, they simply reprinted the bulk of Journey Into Mystery #65 (February 1961). The cover's just about the same as well. Smart guys these Marvel businessmen. Sadly for that eight-year-old MZ, WCR lasted only eight issues, proving that old adage true: Monsters May Dwell But Creatures May Not Roam.