Sunday, November 21, 2021

Matthew Bradley's Giant Super-Hero Grab-Bag #2


Issue #2: Daredevil
by Professor Matthew Bradley

Daredevil #9 (August 1965):  “That He May See!”

“Fundamental plot and script by Smilin’ Stan Lee; basic layouts and delineation by Wondrous Wally Wood; comprehensive penciled graphics by Bouncin’ Bobby Powell”

Make what you will of those credits, which sound to me like the art bounced back and forth from Wood to Powell and back to Wood; Golden Age vet Powell’s work with Wally (whose cover art epitomizes the dignified look he gave DD) on this and the next two issues was among his last—he died in 1967.  Here begins one of the few continuous runs you’re going to find in these posts, a whopping six issues, so don’t get used to it, but it’s hardly an auspicious start, with a justifiably forgotten, one-time-only, Dr. Doom-wannabe villain.  At least we get a lovely splash page of DD dangling beneath a bridge as he prepares to tackle some hijackers who are fleeing out to sea, and although winged in the arm during the altercation, he buys time for the Coast Guard to take over.

What, no fly-catching?  Damn!

En route
to work the next day, Murdock meets Karen Page, still after him to get an eye operation from Dr. Van Eyck, who’s just left America for Lichtenbad, “a fly speck on the map of Europe”; as they interrupt Foggy’s putting practice, he reminds Matt of their foreign-exchange law-school classmate Klaus Kruger, now its hereditary ruler.  Speak of the devil and he shall appear:  at her behest, the duke drops in on his old pals on a brief NYC visit, and Matt agrees to return with him for the operation, curiosity piqued as he senses that the invitation is a lie.  The Man without Fear is, yes, afraid that the operation will cost him his super-senses, yet still departs for the prison-like walled city, where Kruger—protected by a bullet-proof vest—karate-chops a would-be assassin.

Matt senses omnipresent fear and hatred, convincing him that Kruger has turned Lichtenbad into a slave state, and while awaiting the results of his x-rays, DD does a one-armed recon, observing as a group of would-be revolutionaries is arrested by the duke’s robot palace guards.  Following them, he leaps over the shark-filled moat into the castle, where he detects “complex electronic equipment…and enough power to blow up half a continent!”  Wrongly concluding that DD is the underground leader, the overconfident duke doesn’t even unmask the disabled and outnumbered hero once he is defeated and manacled, revealing that both Van Eyck and Murdock are among “the best brains in all the world [who have] come here to serve me,” and he is simply being used.

I’ve heard of the
glass ceiling, but…
Scheduled to be shot at sunrise with the rest, DD effects a breakout, as Stan inflicts some wince-inducing byplay with the locals (“Why do you pause on the stair that way?”  “I thought it was a bus stop!  Why else?”).  He then returns to his Murdock i.d., and after a brief interlude in which a more svelte Foggy than we’d later get used to burns with jealousy over Karen’s love for Matt, Van Eyck is just warning his patient when his words—picked up by hidden microphones—lead to his arrest.  Reverting to DD, Matt swings into action while the people are, um, revolting, firing “high-potency mortar projectiles” from his billy club (who knew?) at the robots, but to no avail; stopping them means stopping Kruger, the self-styled “greatest hand-to-hand fighter in Europe!”

Battling this “penny-ante Attila” brings him within reach of the control button deactivating the robots, which the people then destroy, yet he cannot stop the duke from playing his trump card:  a radioactive cobalt cloud to wipe out all mankind.  Van Eyck, who has deduced DD’s identity, disconnects the rods “before the atomic pile reaches critical mass,” but takes Matt’s secret to the grave, overcome by radiation.  The duke’s ill-advised leap at DD results in a fatal plunge from the castle’s parapet, while the death of “the only surgeon capable of performing the delicate operation needed to restore my vision” means Murdock must return sans surgery, which that son of a bitch Nelson—clearly meaner as well as leaner here—attributes to his having chickened out.

“You shall never be forgotten’..unlike Klaus Kruger.”

Daredevil #10 (October 1965):  “While the City Sleeps!”

“Exquisite editing by Stan Lee; lustrous layouts by Bob Powell; stunning script and art by Wally Wood”

More crazy credits, with a then-rare edits-only byline for Smiley, and Wally assuming the lion’s share of creative duties, giving him the dubious honor of co-creating, along with layout artist Powell, the Ani-Men, who sport the breathtakingly original monikers of Ape-, Bird-, Cat-, and Frog-Man.  Despite their appearance, basically by default, in a landmark issue—Thunderbird’s death atop their boss du jour Count Nefaria’s exploding getaway plane in X-Men #95—I’d never rank these clowns above third-tier villains.  So I hardly consider the debut of their first iteration here as “The Organization” (aka, sans Frog-Man, the Unholy Three) cause for celebration, nor was I exactly heartbroken when they were taken out by the Spymaster’s bomb in Iron Man #116.

 Now who’s jealous?
Of much greater import is the introduction of Foggy’s junior-high sweetheart and future ex-wife, Deborah Harris, a key supporting character for almost 20 years, until #222, which, by a bizarre coincidence, I see from my records is the first issue after I stopped buying DD.  But I’m getting ahead of myself, and “While the Reader—er, City Sleeps!” opens as Cat-Man ( Townshend Horgan) effects a prison break at the Organizer’s behest, utilizing a “blackout bomb” whose “electronic impulse…disrupts every circuit in the area” to spring Gordon “Monk” Keefer.  Soon, cheap thugs Henry Hawk and ex-Navy frogman François “Frog” Le Blanc are recruited as well, convening at the Chemco Building to become, respectively, Ape-, Bird- and—natch—Frog-Man.

Monitored via headsets and chest-mounted “creepy-peepy” TV cameras, their assignments match their unique skills (see panel grab), the first step in the Organizer’s plan to discredit, undermine, and take control of the city government, so it’s not until page 6 that we join our regulars.  Karen tells Matt of the crime wave, and Foggy invites them to a yacht party celebrating his nomination as D.A. by the Reform Party, where they meet the candidates for mayor, assemblyman, and borough president:  respectively host Abner Jonas, Milton Monroe, and Bernard Harris, to whose daughter Jonas re-introduces Foggy.  She comes on strong, and Matt’s suspicions are confirmed as he hears the Organizer, transmitting from the yacht, order Frog-Man to attack a target aboard.

Saves me the trouble of retyping everything.

Okay, you garments—you stay right here
In an unusually implausible sequence, Matt “trips,” his wildly flailing arm swinging a boom that deflects the spear Frog-Man fired at Jonas; drops overboard, quite unnoticed; changes to DD, his radar doubling as sonar; skirmishes with the fleeing Froggy until dazed by a concussion grenade, all sans air; and slips back aboard, equally  unnoticed, to mingle…conveniently overlooking that his duds and, presumably, shades, etc., were last seen sinking to the bottom of the harbor.  How big is this yacht already, and where was Karen when the blind guy hit the drink?  Yet when Froggy returns to his Chemco lair (cue classic ’60s cut-away diagram), the Organizer is content to have made it seem that “criminal elements” fear the Reform Party—you don’t suppose…naah.

Next in his plan to “give the illusion of an endless attack directed against the…Party” (and yes, the conspicuous ring on the middle finger of his right hand sent me back a few pages to confirm that someone else wears one), he sends Bird-Man to steal the campaign funds.  Having staked out their downtown H.Q. on a hunch, DD retrieves the loot—eliciting a rare occurrence of simulated profanity—but is again unable to prevent his flying foe’s escape.  Outraged, the Organizer dupes DD into helping the Ani-Men rob the Chemical Exchange Bank, in another implausible sequence that I won’t dissect; this puts Hornhead in dutch with an NYPD seemingly unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt this early in his crime-busting career, leaving him a fugitive from justice.

@!!#*!’ = ‘gol-durned

As DD foils goons breaking up a Reform Party street rally, our bizarre love quadrangle continues to unfold, with Karen—whom Foggy, gaining in the polls, invites to Deborah’s penthouse party in his honor—wondering whom she really loves.  There, Milt says he’s pulling out, dismayed by Abner’s attempt to benefit from the crime wave and blame it on the present administration, while DD, unable to stop Bird-Man from abducting Deb, kayoes Cat-Man.  Sent to silence the stoolie as he spills what little he knows, Ape-Man is again anticipated by DD, who feigns defeat in order to trail him to Chemco, but as he perches on a ledge to overhear Deb’s damning dialogue (“Now that fool Nelson will do anything the boss wants”), he is oblivious to an approaching Bird-Man...

#11 (December 1965):  “A Time to Unmask!”

Written by Stan Lee; penciled by Bobby Powell; inked by Wally Wood

The credits have now settled back down into a more traditional writer/penciler/inker triad, with Wally’s diminished contribution signaling the finale of his brief but seminal stint on this title, during which he established DD’s enduring red costume.  To me, the important question is not (as on the cover) “Who is the Organizer?,” but rather, “Who cares?”; the Silver Age was lousy with these generic, hooded/masked master planners, including the actual Master Planner, who debuted that same month in Amazing Spider-Man #31 and turned out to be an inexplicable nom de guerre for the far more interesting Dr. Octopus.  At least this two-parter constitutes the entire career of the Organizer, whose “secret” identity could be considered an insult to our intelligence.

“Now that Wally got the writing out of his system,” per the end of last ish, “he left it for poor Stan to finish next issue!...while you’re waiting, see if you can find the clue we planted showing who the Organizer is”; check.  After a jam-packed splash-page recap (complete with a continuity gaffe calling Deb “Foggy’s college-days girl friend”), it’s round two of DD vs. Bird-Man, with Hornhead faking a fatal fall and—presumed dead—doubling back to “free” Deb, playing along in the vain hope that she’ll lead him to the Organizer, but she returns to Foggy, whom DD hasn’t the heart to wise up.  He does warn his partner that the Reform Party smells fishy, and although believing Matt is just jealous of his newfound fame, Foggy calls his bluff and agrees to set a trap.

 Is this the Pulchritude Party’s candidate?
They tell his fellow candidates that they have evidence of the Organizer’s identity locked in their safe, and while Matt “trips” to protect Karen and Foggy by scaring away the intruder he senses ransacking the office, the shambles convinces Foggy he was right.  They surveil the candidates to no avail, so DD returns to his best lead, Deb, whom he hears telling the Organizer that his plan to kill the present mayor is going too far.  Her life now in jeopardy for defying him, she agrees to join forces with DD, who has her dispatch Frog-Man to Gracie Mansion; easily besting him, DD switches their outfits, persuading the Organizer that he has defeated “Hornhead” and turned him in to the police, to whom he gives the wavelength that will reveal all when he infiltrates Chemco.

Jesus, I would’ve
Knowing that the public deserves the truth, the NYPD cuts the feed into the broadcast channels, prompting a stealth plug for the Nick Fury strip launched four months ago in Strange Tales #135; with the faux-reformers exposed, the Organization beats feet/wings while “Froggy” is dropped through a trap door and, prematurely written off again, goes home for his spare DD duds.  The only absentee when the candidates resign, claiming to have been duped, Monroe is deduced to be the Organizer, clinched by the latter’s simultaneous broadcast.  But just as Foggy—not to be confused with Froggy—observes that it could have been pre-recorded, the remaining Ani-Men put the snatch on Jonas as a precaution, and we’re all familiar with the ersatz hostage bit by now.

As DD arrives to battle Ape- and Bird-Man, Jonas first tries to “help” with suspiciously close gunshots, then beelines “for the police,” leaving Hornhead to trounce the menagerie while, at his behest, Foggy tackles Abner, revealed by, yup, his ring as—GASP!—the Organizer and forced to confess when Deb fingers him as well.  Yet all these distractions from their legal practice have left Nelson & Murdock unable to make the rent so, enabling them to get “a smaller, cheaper office,” Matt takes a leave of absence “to travel and take it easy,” and the curtain comes down amid a torrent of soap-suds (“He doesn’t love me!...He couldn’t leave like this if he did!”).  Said one newsman, “Too bad about Nelson!  He’d have made a good D.A.!”…but his time will come.

“Two down, two to go.”

Daredevil #12 (January 1966):  “Sightless, in a Savage Land!”

Written by Stan Lee; layouts by Jack Kirby; artwork by John Romita

Preceding the Ka-Zar kaper in our prior post by about two years, this “landmark issue!  In which Daredevil attains the towering heights of greatness he was born to achieve!...introduc[es] the matchless artistic wizardry of Marvel’s newest, and most eagerly-awaited, illustrator…the inimitable John Romita!” (building on a foundation of Kirby layouts); take that, slacker Wood!  Although brief, Jazzy Johnny’s stint on DD included the “backdoor pilot” for his defining run on Amazing Spider-Man, Spidey’s guest-shot in the #16-17 two-parter.  Believing that “Without me they’ll be free to follow their hearts!,” DD swings across town to board the S.S. Odyssey in the nick of time for a “cruise to the other side of the world”—but it’s been targeted by the Plunderer.

Making his debut in pirate garb, sans super-villain costume, he uses “blast-ray guns rather than blunderbusses,” yet DD is getting the advantage until the Plunderer threatens to toss the captured crew into the shark-infested waters.  Stan cross-cuts with the Savage Land, where Ka-Zar defeats but spares a T. rex—and pines briefly for friends who departed in X-Men #10—before he and Zabu watch and wait while Swamp Men sail down river to attack forbidden Skull Island, seeking to destroy their master, the jungle lord.  The freebooter leaves the luxury liner with “the greatest prize of all…a man of spirit…and skill!  A man after my own heart,” namely a captive DD, who learns that his host, an engineering genius, was born a landed nobleman, Lord Parnival Plunder.

Lost in translation?

Converting his faux schooner into a submarine, he says that when they reach their destination—Skull Island—by a sub-Antarctic channel he found seeking Atlantis, DD must choose to serve or die.  Surfacing, Parny is equally upset to see the isle aflame, but as he vows vengeance on the departed Swamp Men, K-Z leads Zabu in an attack, thinking our hero a baddie (gotta have a MARMIS, right?).  Deflected by K-Z’s stone, Plunder’s shots detonate his cache of explosives as DD realizes K-Z’s mighty blow has blunted his radar sense; recalling the costumed X-Men, K-Z reconsiders and saves him from the flames, yet runs afoul of killer plants hunting up medicinal ju-ju berries, while Maa-Gor, last of the deadly ape men, approaches DD, out cold in K-Z’s cave.

Somebody had to invoke Nemo.

#13 (February 1966):  “The Secret of Ka-Zar’s Origin!”

Written by Stan Lee; layouts by Jack Kirby; artwork by John Romita

Obviously no big secret at this late date, but bear with us for Jazzy’s sophomore effort, providing finished artwork over Kirby’s layouts in another transitional issue, which opens as “Maa-Gor’s guttural grunts and growls” awaken DD in a, shall we say, timely fashion.  Now “truly blind and helpless,” he’s in a tight spot as Zabu extricates K-Z from another, buying time for him to torch the killer plant, his victory cry chilling the blood of Parnival & Co.  Thinking he’s saving K-Z instead of DD, whose blindness is deduced by slimy crewman Slagg, Plunder drives off Maa-Gor with a blast, then reveals that the jungle lord is his brother; scene-shift again to Foggy and Karen lamenting Matt, reported lost at sea, and back to K-Z as he and Zabu return with the ju-ju berries.

Trapping Zabu, Parny offers proof:  each possesses half of a medallion given to them years ago by their father, and distracted by this revelation, K-Z too is caught, yet before his cage is covered with steel plates, he tosses the berries to DD, who keeps his returning powers secret as Plunder’s sub takes them to his English castle and butler, Feepers.  The Plunderer wants to exploit his brother’s trust in DD to get his half of the medal, no mere bit of bling but “a key to the greatest power on Earth,” an ore whose vibrations can destroy metal in any form.  The first Lord Plunder sealed it in a stone crypt openable only with the medallion, forged from a chip of ore and divided between them just before he and Kevin fled enemy agents back into the jungle where he found it.

He ain't heavy...

Infra-red courtesy of DD’s radar sense.

I’ve associated vibranium with Wakanda for so long that it’s strange to see it introduced in the Savage Land mythos, but indeed, what later became known as Antarctic vibranium or anti-metal was but the first of several isotopes with differing properties.  Flashback over, Parny shoves DD into the dungeon with K-Z, where he’ll stay until he obtains the other half, but the plan seems flawed as Kev vows never to trust anyone again.  After two pages of well-delineated brawling, DD has used his back as a springboard to vault up out of the dungeon, flattening the Plunderer (“I thought you were bli…uhhh!”), and inadvertently gotten back into K-Z’s good graces by addressing him as Kevin, yet his rescue is interrupted by Slagg, complete with a shoulder-parrot.

Planning to kill them and grab the medallion, Slagg is shot by Feepers, who’s bided his time for years awaiting just such a moment, yet the vibranium in K-Z’s waist pouch (triggered by…?) destroys his gun, and DD decks him as the jungle lord leaps out the window in an ill-planned bid to return home, unwilling to accept help.  Hornhead tags along as Feepers—revealed as F-18, an agent of “an international espionage network”—spreads the word on the spies’ jungle telegraph, summoning men from all around the world in minutes to seize the medallion.  Eager for the local police to do the job for him, Parny fingers the escapees for Slagg’s murder, initiating a manhunt, but in a cliffhanger, a shadowy spy beats them to it, blasting the fugitives with a rifle grenade…

The butler really did do it.

#14 (March 1966):  “If This Be Justice…!”

Written by Stan Lee; penciled by John Romita; inked by Frankie Ray [Frank Giacoia]

Sans Kirby, Romita shifts gears to pencil this trilogy’s concluding chapter, under the inks of the pseudonymous Frank Giacoia, as DD leaves the stunned K-Z—spared by, respectively, “superb reflexes [and] jungle-bred strength”—to follow their attacker, Boswell, bringing Kevin’s half of the medallion to Feepers.  He arrives just as Parny is confronting Feepers with his treachery and, promised double his fee, fires away, but Plunder flips out of the way, leaving Feepers to take the bullet, and after kayoing Boswell is in possession of both halves.  Appalled that K-Z’s presumed death bothers his brother not a whit, DD reveals himself; disarmed when the medallion atomizes his battle-ax, the Plunderer regains the upper hand as constables arrive with a trussed-up Ka-Zar.

What the well-dressed modern-day
 pirate is wearing.
DD is forced to flee, leaving K-Z for the jug and Parny alone to open the hidden crypt, forge what he calls the Plunder-Stone into a vibra-ray gun able to destroy any metal on Earth, and don suitable garb.  Matt cables the delighted Foggy (whose appearance is still fluctuating) to say that he not only is alive but also needs his partner’s help to clear Kevin, knowing he’ll be too busy to do so himself.  As Foggy and Karen wing their way there, DD follows Parny to his hidden sub base, where the Plunderer promotes his identically costumed minions from pirates to military officers, bent on world domination, with weapons made of a “special material” unaffected by the vibra-ray; as they exit stage right for final preparations, DD bops and impersonates a lone guard.

Karen and Foggy arrive in London, where Matt has left them instructions, while the Plunderer’s crew storms a North Atlantic early warning missile base, the vibra-gun disintegrating everything from rifles to tanks; “If this were on TV, or in a comic book, I’d say the writer had flipped,” DD thinks.  His hand forced when Parny announces his intention to fire a missile at any fleet that attacks him, Hornhead whips off his Plunder-duds, disarming Parny with his cape and defanging him by revealing his secret.  Over the still-open radio transmitter with which he made his threat, DD tells the other, eagerly listening defense commands that his guns are made of plastic (tipped off by the “strange noise [they make] when fired”), enabling them to build comparable weapons.

Capes:  they’re not just for matadors any more.

Reunited and it feels so good…

In the courtroom, the defense awaits Matt’s appearance and Ka-Zar, his tranquilizer having worn off, shatters his chains, only to be toppled by a gas-shell barrage; meanwhile, Parny’s men give up as DD flattens, unmasks, and forces the truth out of him.  Upon receiving General Cartright’s statement, the judge dismisses all charges against the hospitalized and still-unconscious K-Z, expected to make a quick recovery due to his “superb physical condition,” while Matt reappears to join Karen and Foggy in his room.  They’re overjoyed that he has decided to end his leave of absence (“I’ve never removed your name from the door,” says Foggy), as he ponders what will become of Ka-Zar—and what explanation he can concoct that won’t expose his secret identity…

Daredevil #18 (July 1966):  “There Shall Come a Gladiator!”

Written by Stan Lee and Denny O’Neil; penciled by John Romita; inked by Frank Giacoia

By now, Fearless Frank is using his own byline as the vacationing Smiley (who wrote the first seven pages), “Dandy Denny O’Neil” (who scripted the balance), and Jazzy introduce one of the most enduring members of DD’s rogues’ gallery:  “seedy, run-down” East Side costume-shop owner Melvin Potter.  Not a name to strike terror into the heart, you might say, but perhaps you know him better as the Gladiator.  He grudgingly agrees to alter a Hornhead costume for Foggy, who wants to leverage Karen’s belief that he’s DD into marriage, but Mel, hating the costumed super-heroes so popular with his clients, thinks, “anyone could be a super-hero…or villain…if he had the right powers built into his clothes!,” and intends to use the faux-DD as his guinea pig.

Clothes make the man...
or not

The real McCoy knows that Foggy is endangering both himself and Karen, yet fears “he’d never forgive me if I spoiled his little deception,” and blames Spidey, who “put that fool idea into his head” during the aforementioned two-parter.  When Foggy picks up his costume, Mel convinces him that he’ll really impress the lady if he battles a super-villain, offering to “hire” someone who will “pretend” to attack him, and—fresh out of bridges to buy—he agrees (“What have I got to lose?  It sounds completely foolproof!”).  Leaving nothing to chance, Hornhead hops on the roof of the cab as Foggy picks up Karen, planning to stop off for an “appointment” along the way, for which Mel prepares himself, certain that disposing of Foggy will make the real DD seek him out.

After his dramatic, full-page unveiling, an evocative scene set near the docks amid swirling fog finds, uh, Foggy laboriously removing his suit, surreptitiously watched by Karen and a concealed DD, the latter having deduced his plan and believing him to be in no real danger.  Knocking out Foggy with one blow, the Gladiator sets his sights on Karen as possible bait, surprised by the speedy recovery of “the flabby fool,” which the now wised-up DD hopes will make him careless.  As he embarks on “one of the toughest fights of my career,” the Gladiator relying on his “oxygen regenerator” and forcing him into the bay, Karen flags down a patrol car that takes her to the office and a drop-in by building manager Dunn, possibly aka Frank (Masked Marauder) Farnum.

Not to be confused with 
Russell Crowe
Having “practiced yoga breathing techniques” after battling Namor in #7, DD plays possum and initiates round two on the dock against a foe who clearly “has an identity problem,” and is laid low by a karate chop just below his helmet.  Loath to answer “a lot of embarrassing questions,” DD beats feet as the fuzz arrive, leaving Foggy equally puzzled regarding “Daredevil’s” defeat of the Gladiator—none the wiser himself to the substitution—while “on patrol.”  Back at Nelson & Murdock, Matt tells Dunn he’s likely to find Foggy, with whom he has “personal business,” there the next day, then resumes fretting about his imposture, because “Much of my effectiveness as a force for justice depends on the respect of both the official authorities and the underworld!”

Coming Soon!

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Matthew Bradley's Superhero Grab Bag #1


Issue #1
by Professor Matthew Bradley

Introduction:  A Day Late and a Super-Hero Short

Welcome to another series of irregular (in every sense) posts, inspired by the confluence of two recent events, one of them a memorial gathering on Sunday, July 25—the day before what would have been his 55th birthday—for our fallen friend, Professor Tom Flynn.  In attendance were the surviving members of the MU faculty’s ex-Penguin USA (PUSA) wing:  (l-r)  Professors Gilbert Colon, Joe Tura, Bradley, and Chris Blake, whose actual 55th birthday it was.  Hosted by Tom’s incredibly gracious brother, Tim, and sister-in-law, Suzanne, the event was an opportunity for his friends and family to celebrate his rich life and legacy, especially since his sudden passing near the start of, although not from, the pandemic had deprived us all of the usual elements of closure.

Naturally, his steadfast devotion to MU came up more than once, reminding me what a joy it was to revisit my extensive Marvel collection and contribute to this blog on a regular basis until we’d finished its formal curriculum in February 2017, even if the workload was at times crushing.  By a curious coincidence, while working on an article for a future issue of the print version of bare•bones (also brought to you by the usual suspects), I was reacquainted with Comic Rack, the program some of us use to store and open files of Marvel and other publications.  There, I saw the files that our august Dean Peter Enfantino had generously sent me on CD long ago to fill the relatively small number of holes remaining in my collection, many of which—for various reasons—remain unread today.

I wasn’t in on the ground floor of MU, and at the time I dipped my toe in the water, access to my collection was limited, so my earliest contributions were sporadic at best.  Looks like my historic first solo post ran on 10/9/11, although I’d already been commenting for some time and, as early as 9/28/10, weighed in on Dean Pete’s “Return of the Original Captain America” post on b*b’s “e-zine” counterpart.  As I recalled, of the 98 issues (other than long runs of Tales of Suspense and …to Astonish, about which more another time) he’d sent me, most arrived when they’d been covered already, leaving them with no immediate practical application, but memory’s a funny thing, and I’ve now discovered that a little more than half were indeed pressed into service then.

That still leaves a fair number (44, if anyone’s counting) of Silver Age issues to which I’ll be devoting ex post facto coverage in these posts, which are intended merely to supplement, rather than to supplant, the fine work of my colleagues back in the day; this is simply an opportunity for me to play catch-up with my own take on them.  This inaugural post will be the most deserving of the “grab-bag” moniker, as it happens to include a few random issues of multiple titles, while each of the remainder will group 4-7 issues of a single strip, although even those will frequently not be contiguous. I envision one devoted to Daredevil (c. 1965-6), two to Fantastic Four (c. 1963-7), one to Journey into Mystery/Thor (c. 1965-7), and three to X-Men (c. 1966-8).

Amazing Spider-Man #57 (February 1968)  

“The Coming of Ka-Zar!”

Written by Stan Lee; penciled by John Romita and Don Heck; inked by Mickey Demeo [Mike Esposito]

Ironic that this issue is “co-featuring Zabu the savage, sensational saber-tooth,” since Tom, a man who loved his cats (as we do chez Bradley), had a wonderful one named Sabretooth when I met him.  First, poor Spidey has to get his head together, having lost his memory while defeating Doc Ock last time out, but amnesiac or not, some things never change:  as rain pelts his rooftop refuge, he observes, “I’m probably the original Hard-Luck Charlie!”  As he catches 40 winks in the rafters of Grand Central, Aunt May is sick with worry over Peter’s disappearance, and before she can phone Harry for an update, her own roommate, Anna Watson, finds her collapsed and calls Dr. Bromwell; meanwhile, John Jameson defends his decision not to try to capture Spidey.

And Zabu didn't even have to wear a mask!

Fortunately not our august
Dean Paste-Pot.
Unpersuaded, JJJ learns that Lord Kevin Plunder (aka Tarzan-clone Ka-Zar) has flown into JFK with Zabu in tow for a confab about the estate with his lawyer, some ambulance-chaser named Murdock.  Jonah pits the naïve jungle lord against “a dangerous, deadly menace,” and the cross-cutting continues as snoopy Harry, finding a Spidey tracer on the floor of Pete’s closet, draws the wrong conclusion:  that he’s been kidnapped by…himself!  Hearing a radio report that John is on his side, Spidey seeks him out in search of intel, wondering why the missing freshman’s name is so familiar, while Bromwell opines that his safe return would be the best medicine; Spidey finds John with the latter’s new ally, Captain Stacy, whose daughter Gwen bursts in to accuse Spidey.

Spidey laments, “We’re not getting anywhere,” perhaps sensing that a MARMIS (Marvel Misunderstanding- Dean Pete) is overdue, and leaps out the window, as does Ka-Zar, who “borrows” a rope and grappling hook before tracing his scent from GCT to the Bugle, where Spidey unwittingly hopes the paper’s “morgue” may aid his memoire.  Preying on his amnesia, JJJ is seconds away from tricking him into unmasking when Ka-Zar bursts in, shattering both the window and the prior panel average of six per page.  “Jazzy John Romita’s” pencils, finished by “Dashin’ Don Heck” and embellished by “Mickey Demeo” (Mike Esposito), show ol’ Kev appearing practically to leap off the paper (interestingly, Spidey’s flinching pose atop that three-panel page looks positively Ditkoesque) and it’s game on.

"You imbecile, not now Cato!" --J. Clouseau

Finally free from scene-change-induced whiplash, we savor a long-awaited donnybrook, with K-Z praising “truly a worthy foe” (recalling Kraven the Hunter, thrown into the mix when Spidey visits the Savage Land in #103) who “might have made a fitting friend…”  It carries them into Central Park, “his type of terrain,” where Spidey, out of web-fluid, is outnumbered when Zabu escapes his “tightly-locked hotel room…sens[ing] the grave danger,” and propels him to the bottom of the lake.  Having recognized his opponent’s innate nobility, and knowing that Zabu’s unsought intervention has placed an asterisk on the victory anyway, Ka-Zar fishes out our water-logged—presumably still amnesiac—arachnid and proclaims, “The battle has ended…forever!”

Avengers #7 (August 1964) 

“Their Darkest Hour!”

Written by Stan Lee; penciled by Jack Kirby; inked by Chic Stone

So quickly was Jack Kirby succeeded on this strip by Heck (the next issue would be his last with full pencils), who for me defined the look of the Assemblers, that despite his creating the group with Stan Lee, I always find seeing the King’s work in these early issues a little jarring.  Stan is wasting no time deploying his footnote-provided context for the Marvel Universe, immediately citing Shellhead’s blowing off an Avengers’ alarm in the same month’s “Iron Man [i.e., Tales of Suspense] #56”—leading to this issue’s “special board of inquiry session”—and the recent attack by the Executioner and Enchantress on Thor in Journey into Mystery #103.  In double-barreled judgments, IM is suspended from assembling for a week while Odin banishes the E & E to Earth.

The gang's all here.

The Executioner is stripped of helmet and ax before they’re kicked down Bifrost with clashing agendas:  he hopes he’ll still outshine “the weak mortals” to win her heart, while she has the hots for Thor; trouble ahead, but Loki, who’d pulled their strings, is thrilled they’ll imperil his foster brother.  No sooner has the Enchantress opined that they need an ally to clue them in on Earthly ways than she spots a headline about Zemo’s escape after the Avengers defeated the Masters of Evil.  Done mopping the floor with wrestlers for his daily workout, Cap explodes at Rick Jones when he finds and tries on Bucky’s old outfit, still haunted by his death at Zemo’s hands, and the baron himself is visited by the E & E’s astral projections in a secret Amazonian jungle kingdom.

He readily agrees to seek joint revenge on Cap and Thor, who soon see Giant-Man and the Wasp off on a New England entomological investigation, then go their separate ways.  Cutting through Central Park, Cap and Rick are approached by Hans Grubervelt, Zemo’s “repentant” ex- #2, who reveals his location, but it’s a masked Executioner, luring Cap into a trap—with Rick eating his dust—and isolating Thor.  Summoned by a “strangely haunting call,” the unwary thunder god is enthralled with spell and potion by the Enchantress, who convinces him the Assemblers are his enemies; meanwhile, bailing out over the Amazon, Cap repurposes his ’chute for protection from a gas-filled missile, slashes free with his shield and hits the ground running to fend off the locals.

With friends like these...

"If only I had a pillow"
Eluding them lands him in a big-game trap, while Thor summons the Pyms back, ambushing and shattering their jet copter with Mjolnir; Hank is forced to overtax himself by growing to 40 feet to shorten his fall, with a news report prompting IM to enter the fray, sentence be damned.  Jan’s buzzing distracts Thor until Shellhead arrives, yet although the Executioner gloats from a nearby rooftop, his partner frets over Zemo’s progress, and her long-distance effort to seal the pit with a cave-in merely provides Cap—protected by his shield—with a rocky “stairway” exit.  Scattering Zemo’s men with a “giant flexible vine” (looks like a tree to me) before they can deploy a vibra-gun, Cap levels his palace with it, hitching a ride on the getaway plane with his shield’s magnets.

The breather enabling him to return to a mere 12 feet, Hank assists IM, who breaks the spell with reflected sunlight, leaving the Avengers, uhm, reassembled as all parties converge with Zemo’s arrival.  Although Cap smashes his windscreen, the Executioner leaps aboard to stun and eject him, but Thor uses Mjolnir to create “an all-consuming space warp” that transports the fleeing ship and the unholy three within it to…who knows where?  Lots of moving parts, feeling at times like a jumble of misplaced JIM/TOS pages, but Stan orchestrates—as Jack and Chic delineate—the action nicely; of historical interest, the lettercol’s “Special Announcements Section” heralds the solo Hulk strip’s debut in Tales to Astonish #60, after he and co-star Hank cross paths in #59.

"Well, if I can't cause mayhem,
I'll just -- dance!"

Avengers #9 (October 1964)

“The Coming of the…Wonder Man!”

Written by Stan Lee; penciled by Don Heck; inked by Dick Ayers

As much as I adore the arc in which Gerry Conway et alia resurrected Simon Williams (in every sense), starting in #151 and crossing over with Bill Mantlo’s woefully underrated Super-Villain Team-Up, I’d never before had access to “the” Wonder Man’s origin story, marking Don’s debut as penciler.  After last issue’s Kang interlude, an obsessed Cap is seeing hallucinations of Zemo, who is “hovering helplessly between the sixth and seventh dimensions” with the Executioner and Enchantress; the latter’s spell returns them to Zemo’s jungle kingdom to hatch Plan B.  For this, they offer penniless inventor Simon—driven to embezzlement to avoid bankruptcy after “Tony Stark’s latest inventions made your patents worthless”—wealth, power, and a shot at vengeance.

"...if you want something
done, ask a woman."
-- M. Thatcher

Beefed up by the “most powerful ionic rays ever assembled in once concentrated area,” he’s now a bullet-proof “living engine of destruction,” and will join the Avengers to strike from within; it does not get by the Executioner that his partner, who seems to get hot pants for everyone but him, “has never looked at me like that!”  Having given him Giant-Man’s strength, fists rivaling Mjolnir, a rocket-belt, and Cap’s battle skills, Zemo ensures Wondy’s loyalty:  the rays are fatal sans weekly injections of an antidote.  Days later, a staged payroll robbery gives the Assemblers the return bout they craved, interrupted by Wonder Man, and after “driving off” Zemo et al., he claims to be the baron’s unwilling guinea pig, seeking help to find the cure for his “rare disease.”

"Ah, puny humans --gotta love 'em."
It all goes south (American) when Wondy returns to Zemo’s H.Q., luring the Avengers into yet another trap with a false radio report that he’s been “recaptured,” but being forced to bring Jan as bait makes him begin to question his allies’ m.o.  As all parties converge—the men assembling via no fewer than three separate modes of transportation in this pre-quinjet era—he sucker punches Thor, more comfortable showing his true colors, and at first single-handedly holds his own, knowing his injection depends on victory.  Yet as the Asgardians help Zemo tip the balance decisively in his favor, and he prepares to execute his defeated foes, Wonder Man asks himself, “they tried to help me when I came to them!...Is life so dear—that I’d pay such a price for it??”

So that's what they did
before the internet

He moves the boulder trapping Thor in a pit, which had separated him from his hammer for the crucial 60 seconds, effecting the change to Don Blake; unseen amidst the chaos, the lame medico retrieves Mjolnir—which, in a notable gaffe, did not revert to Don’s walking stick.  With Thor’s reappearance, the jig is clearly up for Zemo & Co., but it’s a pyrrhic victory as the baddies escape once more, with the Avengers narrowly avoiding a booby trap, and Wonder Man, absent the antidote, dies a hero’s death.  I probably haven’t seen a lot of Silver-Age lettercols, so I’m realizing that the “Special Announcements Section” (here occupying 75% of the second page, and bruiting the start of Cap’s solo strip in TOS #59) is a precursor of the Bullpen Bulletins Page.

"It has not been in vain." -- F. Unger

Up Next:
A heapin' helpin' of
the Man Without Fear!