Mondo Marvel #31 - October 1964A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy
Another month has sped by and it's time to wind back to clock to October, 1964 and see what Stan and the Boys have in store for us with their latest batch of four-color goodness!
Of course, by "latest", I mean Early Sixties Latest.
I kind of feel like we've settled into a groove as we head toward the end of 1964. The shared universe that Lee and Co. have been building is pretty solidly entrenched, with guest appearances becoming so common that they aren't even that much of a big deal already. I mean, this month, The Avengers show up in two other stories as well as their own title. The X-Men make a brief appearance in Thor's solo story and the Human Torch drops by Spidey's adventure. And if a title didn't have a guest appearance this month, those characters showed up in other titles last time out.
Well, except for Sgt. Fury, but that's understandable.
It's getting so you can't pick up a Marvel book without getting some intimation of what's going on across town in someone else's title.
And that's awesome!
That's the big draw to Marvel Comics for me. Especially during this period. I'm really enjoying watching how all of these relationships build from month to month. And it just keeps building and building. I'm pretty sure we're still operating at something close to Real Time in the books, too.
It won't be for quite some time before Lee and his contemporaries have to start dealing with the passing of time and lay on with the retcons. So we should be enjoying what we've got here: A brand spanking new Universe, growing and developing from scratch, incorporating Real History into its narrative, and working contemporary life into its pages naturally. Once the heroes have to stop aging, it changes part of the Marvel Dynamic, but we'll talk about that more if we ever get to that point.
That's something we can take up on the message boards until then!
But enough of my jibber-jabber! Let's get into this month's Mondo Marvel!
Fantastic Four #31
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
"The Mad Menace of the Macabre Mole Man!"
Hey everybody! The Mole Man's back! And this time he's stealing entire city blocks in an unexplained plan to conquer the surface world!
Okay, so last time out, Mole Man threatened to use his massive hydraulics to steal entire cities, but Reed re-wired the remote control when MM wasn't looking. Then, when he pushed the button (in what can only be described as a violently insane attempt at mass murder) he blew up his own kingdom, instead.
For his next attempt, Mole Man has limited his reach to just stealing city blocks. It's not his main goal, of course. His main goal is to kidnap Sue and hold her captive, so the FF won't interfere in his fiendish plans this time. But the FF isn't the only game in town anymore, so not only are the guys pressured to stay out of the way, they're supposed to keep other heroes, like, say, The Avengers, from trying to stop him.
You know, I felt sorry for Mole Man back in Fantastic Four #1. He was tormented by people for being ugly and had a reason for trying to destroy the world. Sure, he was crazy, but he wasn't purely evil. He was damaged.
After surviving two of Reed's murder attempts, however, he's just full-blown nuts now, and really doesn't have anything even slightly sympathetic about him anymore.
Needless to say, the Fantastic Four stop his rather pointless plans, again blowing up Mole Man's entire operation and, I assume, killing both him and hundreds, if not thousands, of Moloids in the process.
You remember the Moloids, right? The pasty, big-eyed slaves? The ones who build all of Mole Man's amazing equipment? I know that last time out, Mole Man said they built the stuff for him, but who designed all that? Gigantic hydraulic lifts that can essentially steal entire cities, lowering them miles into the earth? That's pretty impressive. I never got the impression that Mole Man was that smart, but maybe I'm wrong.
I'm sure it'll be addressed somewhere along the way.
In the meantime, we get one main revelation and a minor insight into the psychology of superheroes.
When gigantic holes open up in New York and entire city blocks disappear into the earth, the FF aren't the only ones interested in finding out what's what. The Avengers show up and have to be forcibly restrained from diving into the hole and kicking the Mole Man's tiny, ugly butt. The FF stop them and explain that Sue's a captive. The Avengers agree to stand down, but only for twenty-four hours. After that, screw the hostage.
Throughout the entire confrontation, which surprisingly doesn't turn into a slugfest, the Avengers treat the FF like trash. They seem to actually be offended that the Fantastic Four would dare to lay hands on them or get in their way.
I know the Avengers have high-level governmental approval, but there's no reason for even Captain America to act like a dick. But they do.
I suppose it's understandable, given that while the FF are celebrities and have saved the world over and over, they're not really what one might call "professional" superheroes. The Avengers, on the other hand, were made for this shit. They were probably salivating at the thought of fighting giant subterranean monsters. I know Thor was, at any rate.
Side by side with the First Family of Marvel, The Avengers come off as arrogant authoritarians in this issue. I don't know if that's a conscious decision on Lee and Kirby's part, but it does set up a nice dichotomy between the teams.
I'm kind of interested, though, in what would have happened if the FF hadn't wrapped this up in under twenty-four hours.
Meanwhile, the real eye-opener this month is the revelation that Sue and Johnny have a dad!
I mean, of course, they had a father somewhere at some point, but, like Reed admits for us, the assumption had always been that they were orphans or something. Actually, we don't really know anything about any of the gang's families outside of the team itself.
And now we know that Old Man Storm was a genius doctor of medicine. He was also a criminal who's been in jail for who knows how long. Luckily for Sue, who is critically injured in the escape from the Mole Man's lair, he had just escaped prison and was on the lam. The only question was would he be willing to give up his freedom to save his daughter.
Short answer: Yes.
And here Reed was, worrying that the guy in the newspaper was an old flame. How creepy. I mean, sure, Reed's probably as old as her dad, but come on. Gross.
Strange Tales #125
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers
Inker: Paul Reinman
"The Sub-Mariner Must Be Stopped!"
This issue is basically one long fight sequence between Johnny, Ben, and Namor, with the only real plot development beforehand being Ben and Johnny getting pissed off at a reporter and a photographer from Life Magazine because they want to see Reed and Sue instead of them. Yes, they literally threaten them and chase them away.
And, granted, they think that Namor has an army following him, ready to attack and invade New York, so they leap into action and confront him on his home turf (the ocean). This is arguably a noble, heroic act.
However, this story is really all about what dicks Johnny and Ben are and how they screw up everything.
See, the reporters were there to interview Reed and Sue about Ben and Johnny. It was going to be a surprise! Now they'll probably never come back.
And Namor? The Sub-Mariner was on his way to meet with Reed and Sue to hash out a peace treaty between the surface and Atlanteans. But Ben and Johnny blew that one, too, and now Namor will never trust them again!
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Inker: George Roussos
"Doctor Strange: Mordo Must Not Catch Me!"
Okay, this is a step in the right direction, at least.
Of course, it's essentially the same story as every Mordo story so far, so that's not so hot. But what works here is exactly what I've been talking about for the past few months. What works is that we have a certifiable threat that is built on the history of the characters. Where Strange and Mordo are concerned, Lee and Ditko have a definitive purpose and direction.
If only it weren't the same simplistic purpose and direction that they use every time Mordo is invoked.
This time, Mordo has captured the Ancient One, stashed him away, and confronts Strange. Strange shifts the fight to the ectoplasmic realm and with no physical or temporal restraints, starts leaping around the world with Mordo hot on his ghostly heels. All of which is really just an excuse for Ditko to draw background settings ranging from England to France to Egypt and then, finally the Himalayas, where Strange finds and frees his Master. He then thoroughly kicks Mordo's ass, only to be chastised by The Ancient One into letting his ARCH NEMESIS go.
Can't lower one's self to one's enemy's level, after all.
It's a solid little piece of work, both visually and narratively, if one we've seen a few times already in the life of this series.
On an interesting note to X-Fans, this issue marks the first real appearance of a force that you may recognize: The Crimson Circle of Cyttorak. Actually, last month Strange mentioned the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak when he freed Cleopatra, but I was so overwhelmed by the lameness of that story that it slipped right by me.
This month, however, we actually see the power of Cyttorak in action, as Mordo uses it to keep the Ancient One caged until Strange can free him. It will be the better part of a year until we meet Juggernaut in X-Men #12 and learn that he is powered by Cyttorak as well.
Hopefully that means that Lee will be starting to develop some sort of structure for the magical world of the Marvel Universe sometime soon.
Amazing Spider-Man #17
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
"The Return of the Green Goblin!"
And they're not kidding! Although we open with a splash page of Pete in class, he's thinking about The Green Goblin and wondering where he's been holed up since back in Issue 14, where the two of them ran into the Hulk. But turn the page and BAM! We're at the lair of the Green Goblin and he's blasting the heck out of a dummy in a Spider-Man costume.
He's got new weapons and a revamped goblin-glider and can't wait to take another shot at Spidey. Once his practice is over, though, he unmasks, changes into his street clothes and goes off to meet the day.
This is one of those classic moments in Spider-Lore, where Ditko and Lee were at odds. Or at least, this is the start of one of their conflicts. The story goes, and I'm sure you've all heard it before, that Lee wanted Green Goblin to be someone we knew along the way as a surprise twist when he was finally exposed. Ditko, on the other hand, wanted GG to be some random dude that nobody knew, in order to drive home the notion that it would have been more like real life.
Of course, Ditko has since refuted this idea, but still wanted it to be someone fairly peripheral, but someone who's character he would have already established at least somewhat. Of course, the actual reveal won't be occurring until Issue 39, so we've got a long way to go before we actually have to talk about that.
But keep your eyes out along the way and we can gossip about who we think Ditko was intending to be behind the mask!
Most of this issue, once the initial establishing of the bad guy for the issue is out of the way, takes place during the build-up and the execution of the first meeting of the Spider-Man Fan Club and Spidey's "surprise" appearance. Apparently Flash Thompson, president of the fan club, learned the same marketing approaches that The Ringmaster learned last issue. He just puts out an ad for the club and claims Spider-Man will be there.
And sure enough, Peter Parker says what the hell and goes.
He needs to work on his self-esteem, but we already knew that.
One of the reasons that he's kind of desperate to get some adulation is that he recently made a complete fool of himself by interrupting the filming of a movie where he thought an actual super villain heist was going on. Because of this, most of New York thinks he's kind of an idiot.
So showing up at the Fan Club meeting is a way to boost his morale. Except, of course, this is Spider-Man we're talking about, so you know things aren't going to go his way.
Things start okay, but the Green Goblin attacks him at the meeting and for a little while, he's able to make the fight seem like an act meant to entertain everybody. This doesn't last too long, and Johnny Storm, who's at the meeting thanks to his girlfriend, jumps into the fray. Strangely, Pete takes this as an opportunity to slip away, change, and make an appearance.
It doesn't go well, though, as Betty sees him getting his hair messed with by Liz. So Betty thinks he went to the meeting with Liz and that's why he brushed her off earlier. The boy just can't win.
Anyway, once everyone is distracted, Pete changes back into costume and rejoins the battle. And just when things are looking pretty good, he overhears someone on the phone repeating the news that Aunt May has had a heart attack and Pete needs to get to the hospital.
Being a good nephew, Pete ditches the fight without much hesitation, which, unfortunately, looks to the crowd like he's running away from the fight. Meanwhile, the Green Goblin gets away from the Torch and the whole evening turns into a bust.
Once the danger is past and Aunt May is on the way to recovery, we get the final page of the issue devoted to Pete getting more and more depressed. The whole town thinks Spider-Man is either a coward or a phoney, Betty is hurt because of Liz's advances, and the Green Goblin is still on the loose.
I'm half-expecting to see Pete contemplating the business end of a straight-razor in the final panel.
I understand the whole point of Spider-Man is to have a character with real problems who's not your cliché of what a superhero is supposed to be all about, but Good Grief! Cut the guy some slack! This ending really killed a lot of the enjoyment of the comic for me.
I want Pete to be put under stress, but he's got to have some sunshine in his life or it's all going to be too much to keep reading about. I suppose we still have the promise of that sweet Mary Jane that Aunt May keeps trying to set Pete up with, but from what I understand, we don't even get a glimpse of her for another seven or eight issues and her big, historic reveal doesn't happen until Issue 42!!
That's nearly two years from now.
Hopefully we don't have to see Pete getting hooked on pills or unsuccessfully trying to commit suicide before then.
Writer: Stan Lee
Art: Joe Orlando
Inking: Vince Colletta
"Killgrave, The Unbelievable Purple Man!"
Killgrave is a very interesting character.
Sure, the secret origin is goofy, Sixties-era Marvel ridiculousness (he was a European spy who was accidentally dosed with an experimental nerve gas that turned him purple and gave him the power to control people's minds), and you have to wonder about the decision to only dress in purple when he's got purple skin, but he's got one of the more disturbing and unnerving powers in the MU.
He produces some sort of bio-chemical pheromone that forces anyone in range to do his absolute bidding without question. The influence only wears off after he's long gone.
This story doesn't really put him to good use, but the unimaginative ways that he uses his power can, if we want to be generous, be attributed to the lack of vision of the character. Surely it's not just that Stan Lee didn't know what to really do with the guy. So what we get here is your garden-variety, simple power fantasy. He orders Karen Page to be his secretary (and apparently that's all he orders her to do), he orders a bunch of boxers to be his bodyguards, and he orders the manager of a fine hotel to give him free rooms.
This is after he walked into a bank and told the cashier to give him money and he did.
The only reason Daredevil is even involved is because the court ordered a lawyer be appointed to Killgrave so he'd have legal representation when he was brought to trial for the robbery. Of course, as soon as Killgrave gets bored in jail, he orders himself released and walks away.
Daredevil is the only person he's met who can resist his control, so Killgrave decides DD must die. But we all know that's not going to happen. After an initial confrontation, where Killgrave sets a crowd of ordinary people onto DD and he's forced to flee, our hero goes home and whips up a couple of new tricks. He slips a tape recorder into his billy club, and also, somehow, inserts a retractable sheet of chemical-coated plastic into the thing as well.
Oh, and he can bend it and use it as a boomerang.
That is one versatile little billy club.
Anyway, the plastic ends up being Killgrave's downfall, as when he's wrapped in it, it keeps his creepy pheromones from escaping and influencing people. That, combined with his recorded confession, gives the police excuse enough to lock him away for a good long while.
It's a bit of a letdown, storywise, although it is probably the best Daredevil story so far. But if they were wanting to keep Daredevil in the realm of dark and gritty (which they seemed to be shooting for over the past few issues), they really missed an opportunity with Killgrave. There are a lot more nasty, creepy things you can do with a character who can make people obey his every whim.
The highlight of this issue, however, isn't the story or the characters, but the art. Joe Orlando and Vince Colletta together are producing a damn fine looking book. There's not much of your standard Marvel flair here. There are no over-exaggerated forms or action sequences, or stylized storytelling techniques.
Instead, what we get are solidly structured pages, with fairly believable action, and extremely believable character designs. Every person in every crowd scene is a distinct and realistic person. Even Killgrave, who we only know is a European spy, has a distinct look that, when we find out in the future that he's a Yugoslavian spy, we'll look back at this appearance and say, "Yeah. He looks Yugoslavian."
This is a good-looking book and one that I doubt is getting the recognition that the rest of the Marvel catalog is receiving. If only Lee could come up with a consistent approach that would really stake a claim for who and what Daredevil is going to be.
Tales to Astonish #60
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers
Inker: Paul Reinman
"The Beasts of Berlin!"
Not only does this month's Giant Man adventure bring us an actual up-front, in your face reference back to Hank's dead wife, but we get Hank actually using his powers effectively and not looking like a gigantic goof!
It seems that a government agent friend of his, Lee Kearns (who was really just a voice on the telephone back in Tales to Astonish #44, which introduced The Wasp) has snuck over the Berlin Wall in an attempt to stop the Commies from implementing an intriguing new weapon. Kearns has been captured and accused of spying, which isn't actually accurate. He was there intent on sabotage, not spying.
Anyway, he's a goner unless Hank can man up and rescue him.
Which, surprisingly, he does.
Not before being a dick to his entire fan club, of course. We can't have Hank being too perfect, after all.
This is one of the only times Hank has gone into action in his entire career as a superhero where he doesn't stumble and fall, flail about, or generally make a fool of himself at some point along the way. In fact, he's pretty bad-ass this month.
Not only does he save Kearns and destroy the Red super weapon, he takes on a small army of intelligent Commie gorillas (in snazzy purple overalls). Not guerillas, but actual simian soldiers who've been zapped with the secret weapon: an Intelligence Ray!
An Intelligence Ray that makes Apes smart, but for some reason only Stan Lee can explain, makes people act like apes.
Yeah. I know.
But Hank saves the day and his friend, while at the same time getting a little bit of closure regarding his dead wife. Plus the whole "dead wife" thing gets Jan off his back for a little while.
This is probably the best day in Hank's life.
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Inker: George Roussos
"The Incredible Hulk!"
I know I was excited last month about getting to read Lee and Ditko bringing the Hulk back to a monthly series. I know what I said. But this is a real letdown.
Not only is the art bordering on awful, with Roussos' inks forcing Ditko's pencils into a one-dimensional caricature of what Ditko is capable of, the story is about as weak as they come.
Granted, this is the first installment of an ongoing story, but it doesn't fill me with hope. Where Hulk has been surprisingly complex and threatening in his guest-spots over the past year or two, here he's disappointingly simple in his motivations. And Ditko's representation of them monster is oddly handsome and heroic.
I say oddly, because it was Ditko's inking over Kirby's pencils that really captured my favorite representation of Hulk so far. Sure, that was potential murderer/rapist Hulk, but it was the most distinctive and effective characterization yet. I was kind of hoping for something at least close to that.
Instead we get a Hulk with no real motivation, who doesn't look much like a monster (green skin notwithstanding), and a story that was, quite frankly, boring.
We do get some ground rules, though. This time out, Banner's transformations are triggered by stress instead of by the moon or whatever. This is a great little innovation in that it provides an interesting and exciting narrative kink to the tales. Banner has to keep from getting too worked up over anything from here on out, or he may trigger a transformation into his Big Green Id.
This is a development that we're all familiar with, I know, but here we get it laid out in stone for the first time. Unfortunately, we also get a bad idea along with it. In this iteration, when Hulk gets too excited, he turns back into Banner.
Yeah, that's right. Banner gets too worked up and he turns into Hulk. Hulk gets too worked up, he turns back into Banner. That's pretty much a story-killer of a plot development, if you ask me. I don't think it'll last long.
But what's the Hulk without antagonists who can stand up to him? And this month we get . . . well, I'm not going to lie to you. This month we get a big robot. But it's not really a robot, because it's made to be worn (sort of) by a human.
You see, Banner is developing this "robot" in order to allow scientists to get close to an actual atomic explosion and study the effects in person, as they happen. So this is one hard-core robot suit. And it's just the sort of thing spies want to steal and Hulk wants to fight.
Until he gets too excited, that is. Then he changes back and the killer robot that's been hijacked by a spy (a Commie spy, we can safely assume) escapes.
Tune in next month to find out what happens next! It's really not exciting enough to use an exclamation point with that sentence, but sue me, I'm a romantic.
Oh, and did I mention that Roussos' inks ruin Ditko's pencils? I did? Well, I just want to say it again.
This was a huge disappointment.
Tales of Suspense #58
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck
Inker: Dick Ayers
"In Mortal Combat With Captain America!"
If you were ever wondering what would happen when everyone knew each other in the Marvel Universe and there was no reason for heroes to mistakenly fight each other anymore, then wonder no more. That's what The Chameleon is here for.
In a fairly funny bit of business, Kraven the Hunter and Chameleon, still hanging around together after their last fiasco over in Amazing Spider-Man #15, decide to sneak back into America and cause some trouble. But Iron Man stumbles upon them and captures Kraven in a matter of seconds. He misses Chameleon, but the fact that Kraven is so easily dismissed just killed me.
He's such a douchebag.
Anyway, Chameleon decides to harass Iron Man for some reason, and does so the only way he knows how. He dresses up like someone else and messes with Iron Man's head. And as you can see by the cover and title, he dresses up like Captain America.
That only makes sense, if you think about it. There aren't any other Avengers that Chameleon could dress as and convincingly pull off the deception. He can't grow large or shrink. He's a man. He just doesn't have the guns to pull of Thor's sleeveless look. So, Captain America it is.
And what would, in the real world, be a relatively quick story of mistaken identity and the capture of a devious villain, stretches out for fourteen pages. Luckily, the Avengers show up to point out that Iron Man is being a schmuck and he should have listened to Cap instead of just tried to fight him – especially after Cap was handing him his ass for most of the fight. Does Iron Man really think that The Chameleon would be a credible threat? I suppose that the bizarre story that Chameleon makes up about strapping Cap into a weird "thought-transference" machine and might sound credible to a guy who spends most of his time trying to come up with ideas like "thought-transference" machines.
So I'll give Chameleon that. He's an excellent liar. And Tony's so arrogant I guess it works that he doesn't doubt his actions once he gets started. Of course, since he knows what Cap really looks like, I suppose Cap could have taken off his mask to prove who he was.
Is this the real source of the eventual Superhero Civil War that would plague the Marvel Universe?
All in all, it's another okay, but really inessential Iron Man story. I was really hoping for more Hawkeye, to be quite honest.
Journey Into Mystery #109
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
"When Magneto Strikes!"
Well, this is an odd one.
Essentially what we have here is a start at an X-Men story, but Thor stumbles into the middle, and then gets left behind as the X-Men story takes off into another direction.
Magneto and the Brotherhood are sneaking around off the coast of New York in a hidden sub. And by "hidden" I mean it's got a big hunk of fake driftwood attached to the top of it that hides the periscope. I guess no one expects anything odd from a hunk of driftwood moving purposefully through the harbor?
Anyway, Magneto sends out his henchmen to find the X-Men. He's sure he's about to discover their headquarters, you see. But while they're out searching, Magneto decides to practice with his powers and causes a brief magnetic freakout that attracts Dr. Blake's attention. Blake turns into Thor and easily tracks down Magneto's sub, busting in and spoiling Magneto's fun.
As is Maggie's usual approach, he first offers to team-up with Thor, but when the Asgardian rejects him because, you know, he's not evil, Magneto attacks. In what should be a humbling sequence of actions, Thor nearly beats the living snot out of the mutant, but for a slight miscalculation in how long it's been since he touched his hammer.
After changing back into his human identity at an inopportune moment, Blake is nearly killed trying to avoid a magnetic attack designed to kill Thor. Luckily, Magneto is distracted by the Brotherhood, who are on the run from the X-Men. Yes, they found them, all right.
In a clever and amusing artistic twist, Kirby decides to keep the X-Men almost completely off-panel as they battle the Brotherhood. We get a shot of Cyclops' eye beams, a peek at Beast's feet, and Iceman's powers come bursting into a panel, icing up the Thermo-Nuclear Proton Bomb (!!!) that Magneto has armed and ready to kill Thor.
You know, I understand that sometime in the future, Magneto becomes a more sympathetic character, but really. He's a son of a bitch in these early stories. He doesn't give a crap who dies, so long as he comes out on top. I mean, come on. A THERMO-NUCLEAR PROTON BOMB just off the shore of New York? That's attempted mass murder.
Someone needs to put a bullet in the man's head, and soon, or really bad things are going to happen.
Oh, but on a happier note, it looks like Blake and Nurse Jane are kind of dating. Sort of. Okay, they were going to go out to dinner, but instead she makes him a ham and cheese sandwich.
Hey, they've got to start somewhere.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
"Tales of Asgard: Banished From Asgard!"
This is the first time that I've been disappointed with a "Tales of Asgard" story. But it's not because of the art.
As usual, Kirby and Colletta do a great job telling the story and all of the design elements are up to snuff. It's just that the story leaves a lot to be desired.
I suppose I would have given it more leeway if it had been based on actual myth, or tried to do a little something with its basic thrust, but the story here is very similar to last month's. Last month, it worked, however. Mainly because they stuck with just a few characters and kept the focus on Thor's action in freeing the slaves from the Troll Kindgom.
This month, the action is mainly focused on a traitor in the court of Asgard. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but the guy is Loki's cousin and his name is Arkin the Weak.
Yes, that's right. Arkin the Weak.
An Asgardian who's descriptive name is "The Weak" is destined to cause a problem. They might as well of named him Shifty McUntrustworthy.
Of course, Arkin the Weak sells out Asgard to the "normal-sized" Giant Queen, Knorda. Is "normal-sized" appropriate here? If I were a giant, I'd be a little offended.
But, as we know, history is written by the winners. So it's Arkin the Weak and the Normal-Sized Knorda who team-up to take down Thor, who's been, as the title says, banished from Asgard. This prompts a gigantic giant attack on the solitary Thor as he rides away from Asgard.
Then, after a brief chase, Thor leads them into a dead-end, walled canyon, that only he can escape from. Well, I guess the "normal-sized" Knorda and Arkin the Puny could have followed him, but they don't.
That's when Odin springs his trap! Surprise! Thor wasn't really banished. It was all a ruse to flush out the traitor. Way to go Weak. Not only are you weak in body, but weak in mind. At least Knorda gets the option to surrender nobly, throwing herself to Odin's mercy.
Arkin the Pathetic isn't going to be so lucky, I'd imagine.
The Avengers #9
Writer: Stan Lee
Art: Don Heck
Inking: Dick Ayers
"The Coming of the… Wonder Man!"
I'm not going to lie to you.
When I was around eight years old, Wonder Man was my favorite superhero. That was after he returned from the dead in 1976, but once introduced to the character, I found a reprint of his origin from Avengers #9 somewhere and was completely won over.
There's just something about this guy that appealed to me then, and still does.
As we see in this issue, he was an industrialist rival of Tony Stark's, and he blamed Stark for driving him out of business. With his company floundering, Simon Williams began embezzling funds to try and keep the family business going. Instead, he was caught and put on trial.
So right off the bat, we've got a morally conflicted character who can trace his problems to the economic superpower of Tony Stark. Whether that's true or not, we don't know at this stage. But it sets him up as a sort of collateral damage to Stark's business empire.
Then he's hauled off to South America by The Enchantress and The Executioner and experimented on by Baron Zemo. Yes, he agrees to everything that happens up to this point, but he's been painted into a corner and really just has the illusion of choice. Much like Superfly, he's just making the plays that The Man have forced on him.
Sure, he didn't have to embezzle funds, but consider that an act of desperation to save the family company. And he doesn't know Zemo's plan for him until after he's given powers to rival the entire Avengers team. He immediately balks at the idea of destroying The Avengers, but then Zemo reveals that the process that gave him his powers will also kill him in a week, and only Zemo has a cure.
It's not really a cure, though. It's more of a stop-gap measure. He'll have to keep getting injections once a week for the rest of his life, and with that, Zemo has him under his thumb. Unless Simon wants to die, of course.
So they set up a confrontation and allow Simon, now dubbed Wonder Man, to intervene, prove his powers and intentions, and join The Avengers. Everything goes according to plan, and then he betrays them, capturing The Wasp (of panel – they just say she's captured and suddenly, there she is in chains – no explanation) and luring the rest of the team to South America, where they are summarily defeated by the Masters of Evil.
But that's when Simon Williams becomes the character that won me over completely. Knowing full well that turning on Zemo and the Masters means his own death, he can't sit back and let them kill The Avengers. So he frees Thor and helps fight against his former partners in crime.
Together, the Avengers and Wonder Man drive the Masters of Evil away (yes, they escape again), and while our heroes stand around helpless, Simon Williams dies. But he dies a hero, redeemed.
As I said, I was eight when I first found out who Wonder Man was, and he was awesome. But then, I've always had a thing for heroes who prove their worth and then have to die. I was an odd kid.
This also marks the first issue of The Avengers without Jack Kirby on art duties. Don Heck takes over the penciling this month, with Dick Ayers on inks, and it's a distinctly different approach to the super team. It has its pluses and minuses.
On the plus side, I like the more realistic approach that Heck has to characterization. There's a little more variety in the looks of characters, from body types to facial features. Although all of his women still look pretty similar.
But in moving more toward realism, as with Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, we lose the dynamism of Kirby's energy and exuberance. We also have a number of odd narrative choices being made by Heck. I'm not sure whether to attribute that to his trying to work in the Lee/Kirby mode of collaboration or if just made bad choices.
A fair amount of action happens off-panel with our heroes watching, or the panels themselves just aren't framed in a way to really show what's going on. I kind of think this issue was running late, since some of the ads included are promoting the next month's issues as "On Sale Now!", including next month's Tales of Suspense, which features an interesting development in the Iron Man continuity.
It looks like next month, Tony Stark disappears as Iron Man assumes his responsibilities around the company. Happy and Pepper, though, aren't sure whether to trust Iron Man and are worried about their boss.
The only reason I know this is that in this issue of The Avengers, there's reference to Stark's disappearance! Before it's happened!
This is the first real glitch in the timing of events across titles that I can recall, but it won't be the last.
Does anyone out there have access to, or know of a website that tracks the original release dates of Marvel's output through the Sixties? I'm really just going by the cover dates, and we all know how if a book is running late, those cover dates can pretty much be dismissed as ways of keeping track of reading order.
Oh, and as a little extra bit of rumor-mongering here, there's an interesting story from behind the scenes this month. It seems that, according to Stan Lee, when DC heard about Wonder Man, they issued a Cease and Desist letter, effectively forcing Marvel to kill of the character at the end of the story.
It wasn't until the mid-Seventies when, after Marvel introduced Power Man and DC shortly thereafter introduced their own new character, Power Girl, that Marvel's powers-that-be brought Wonder Man back to life.
Whether all that's true or not, who knows?
But DC did sue Will Eisner back in 1939 for introducing a character called Wonder Man. Although that was more because the character was a near total rip-off of Superman. I suppose the two stories could have become intertwined in the world of rumors, but regardless, after one issue, Marvel's Wonder Man was killed off, only to appear a couple of times thereafter, before returning to life as a zombie.
Yes, a zombie.
Is it any wonder my little eight year old brain was blown?
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #11
Writer: Stan Lee
Art: Dick Ayers
Inking: George Roussos
"The Crackdown of Capt. Flint!"
Just like last month, this issue marks a dramatic improvement in the collaboration between Lee and Ayers on this title. I don't know what the explanation is, and I don't really care. All I know is that Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos is back on track. It's a subtly different track, yes, but on track it is.
This month, the Howlers' regular C.O. is sent on a mission to organize the training of more commando units similar to our boys, and while he's gone, Captain "Blood 'n Guts" Flint is standing in. And that's bad news for our heroes.
You see, Capt. Flint is not only a bad-ass, but a hard-ass, to boot. He's obsessively by-the-book, and if you haven't caught on to anything over the course of the ten previous issues of this book, you have to have caught on to the fact that Fury and his crew have never even heard of the book.
Flint's first impact is to get the Howlers cleaned up and looking like soldiers. That much is easy enough to deal with. The gang just shaves and makes sure they're dressed to regulation. Sure, there's some griping, but it's just your ordinary grousing. But the trouble really starts when the Howlers get a new assignment and Capt. Flint opts to come along and lead the mission.
It looks like the entire point of this issue is to drive home the idea that rules are made to be broken. Or at least, that rules and order are fine in theory, but are quickly, and justifiably, tossed out the window once you're out in the real world.
Captain Flint's scrubbed and polished approach to a commando mission nearly gets everyone killed, as his orders to lay mines along a road out in the open, combined with the shined to perfection reflective Captain's bars on his helmet, gives away their position and makes them the target of enemy planes.
As you might expect, when Fury saves his life, Flint is knocked out, leaving Fury in charge (as it should be), and like magic, the Howlers ditch their uniforms and are suddenly in their familiar, individualistic garb. They also ditch the Captain's plan and improve their way into destroying the Nazi convoy without explosives that would attract even more German attention.
After a narrow escape, where Flint is forced to go knuckle to knuckle with some Nazi soldiers, everyone makes it back home safe and sound. Flint is quiet the whole way back, though, so everyone is expecting the worst.
But, lo and behold! Instead of planning an impending court martial, it turns out that Flint was instead considering his own approach to being a soldier. When Captain Sawyer returns to the troop early, he finds that Flint has ditched his tie and razor.
Yes, Fury took "a real good West Point Officer and ruin[ed] him!"
According to Captain Flint, Fury's commandoes are the "best dang soldiers" he ever led into battle.
And in case anyone missed the whole thematic point of this story, when describing the Nazis in the middle of their battle, Lee makes a point of mentioning how they are "trained to obey orders like mechanical automatons."
I don't really have a larger point to make with this, but it's nice to see Lee taking his most "realistic" (or least "fantastic", if you will) title to drive home some social criticisms, from the early anti-bigotry to an outright embracing of anti-authoritarianism.
What's not to like?
Well, that's it for me this month.
Be sure to stop by the message boards or drop me an email and let me know what I missed this month. I know I'm forgetting stuff right and left, but there's just so much material to wade through that I can't keep up with everything.
Hopefully I haven't gotten too far off point as these months have gone on. If I have, please let me know! You folks are the reason I keep at this, and your contributions are always welcome!
Until next time, Wah-hoo!