Greetings, fellow travelers!
It’s that time again! Time for another dip into the past to see just what the hell Stan Lee was thinking forty years ago.
Just kidding! It’s pretty obvious that he wasn’t thinking much of this stuff through at all! Although I have to admit, this month there does seem to be some method to his madness.
But it’s not just his madness, I know. King Kirby is probably just as much to blame for what’s on the page as Lee was. Not to mention Ditko and Dick Ayers. Oh, and Don Heck. But I don’t think I’d be standing in line to take credit for the story that Heck illustrates this month.
That aside, this is one of the most interesting months so far. Nor for the quality of the stories, necessarily, although there are some good ones here, but for what seems to be the underlying theme of the month.
We’ve known for a while that the Marvel Universe was a place where any character could bump into any other, since almost all of them are based in New York. Well, this month, Lee really drives that point home, with just about every issue featuring some sort of crossover. And when a crossover isn’t enough, he throws in a team-up and includes footnotes to point out just where all these characters last appeared.
It’s a touch of genius, really. In just this one month, we get the introduction of two soon-to-be classic villains, and the team-ups/returns of a couple dozen characters, all accompanied with footnotes letting readers know when and where they last appeared.
If you like what you read this month, go looking for those back issues, kids! You don’t want to miss out on History in the Making!
And speaking of which, I’m Paul Brian McCoy, and this is our monthly excursion into the origins of the Marvel Universe, month-by-month. This is Mondo Marvel.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
“We Have to Fight The X-Men!”
This comic kicks off what appears to be a concerted effort to include as many crossovers and Super Villain Team-ups as humanly possible in one month. Not only do the X-Men guest-star, we also have The Puppet Master teaming up with The Mad Thinker and his “Awesome Android.”
By doing this, Lee and Kirby are provided with the opportunity to re-emphasize the interconnectedness of the Marvel Universe, where everyone seems to know each other. After opening the issue with Reed and Sue running down a list of villains that The X-Men have defeated (although they list The Space Phantom, when he was actually beaten by The Avengers – Oops!), Johnny mentions his own team-up with Iceman (in Strange Tales #120).
As you can probably guess, since The Puppet Master is involved, we’re going to get a big Super-Team Smackdown this time out. The Mad Thinker recruits The Puppet Master to create his most powerful puppet yet: Professor X! In a nicely orchestrated scene, we see Professor X struggling to resist having his mind taken over (ironic, eh?), but to no avail. And once he’s under Puppet Master’s control, he orders The X-Men to capture and defeat the Fantastic Four.
They naturally question the order at first, but with a handy-dandy little lie (an idea that would, almost forty years later serve as an inspiration for Warren Ellis’ Planetary), they are convinced that The FF are bent on world domination.
And once again we see that in the Marvel Universe, paranoia and distrust are always lurking just beneath the veneer of civilized society, and all it takes is one unfounded accusation before none of your past matters anymore.
With what seems to be more and more common in Marvel Comics as these months go by, Kirby’s artwork, and action sequences in particular, are the star of this issue. We get not one, but two battles between the superteams, although the second is interrupted by The Mad Thinker’s traps.
And as one would expect, once The X-Men find out what’s what, they turn on The Mad Thinker and Puppet Master with no hesitation, freeing Professor X from their control in the process. From that point on, the outcome is pretty obvious. The FF escape their traps to find The X-Men engaged in battle with the gigantic Android, they team-up, and with Professor X’s help from afar, defeat it.
Unfortunately, the Fantastic Four’s persistent inability to close the deal means that both The Mad Thinker and The Puppet Master escape.
All in all, this is a tidy little adventure with few real repercussions. What it does do, however, is introduce The X-Men to the readers of The Fantastic Four and establish them as a credible Super Team. One capable of going toe-to-toe with the First Family of Marvel.
It also helps to provide a sense of community that a true shared universe can foster and grow, while spinning a web of Marvel continuity that is beginning to link all of the characters together, both heroes and villains.
And if that Fantastic Four story didn’t do the trick, this month’s Human Torch solo story brings back Doctor Doom’s three henchmen from Fantastic Four #23 (the footnote for that is even included on the cover blurb!). And not only does it bring them back, the first three pages of this fourteen page story are spent recapping that previous appearance and reintroducing Handsome Harry Phillips, Yogi Dakor, and Bull Brogin.
But it’s not all about looking back and tying this story in to the previous one. We also get a short note advising us to look forward to Doctor Doom’s return in the upcoming Fantastic Four Annual #2 later this summer!
The story goes pretty much as you’d guess. The bad guys catch Johnny off-guard and capture him. He escapes and defeats them.
There are really only two elements of this story that are worth mentioning. The first is that I’m really starting to worry about Johnny’s health. He’s constantly being tied up in asbestos ropes, wrapped in asbestos blankets, or locked-up in asbestos-lined trailers. And then, in order to alert people that he’s trapped inside, he smoulders until the trailer fills with asbestos-tinged smoke and the fire department is called.
At this rate, Johnny’s going to have cancer before he graduates high school.
Secondly, we end with Sue berating Johnny for messing up the house while she was out doing whatever it is women do in the Marvel Universe. Probably getting her hair done, or shopping. But not to worry, Johnny tells the reader in a final panel where he directly addresses us all. Sue found out what happened and she was “so embarrassed she couldn’t speak for an hour!”
Ha ha ha!
Poor Sue. She gets no respect.
And by the way, have I mentioned lately how confused these Torch stories make me? Why does Sue live alone with Johnny in a suburb somewhere? How is this reconciled with the building of inter-title continuity?
This month’s Doctor Strange story also brings back an old villain, an no, it’s not Baron Mordo again. This time out, Nightmare captures Strange in a dream state when the good doctor (of Black Magic) dozes off, exhausted, and forgets to mutter his protective chant.
You see, Strange has been fighting the forces of evil non-stop while we’ve been reading about dumb-ass Johnny.
As with Kirby’s action sequences, Ditko’s otherworldly set designs (and movement through them) take center stage over the story. But, with that said, the story isn’t bad.
It’s simple, yes. But compared to some of the other exciting, but brainless, slugfests we get month in and out, this story has its own elegance.
Even the threat of Nightmare is more of an existential one than a physical one – although I suppose the threat of never waking up is actually a death sentence. Nightmare’s total control over both Time and Space in his dream realm allows Lee and Ditko to really play with the nature of Strange’s predicament.
My only real quibble with the story is that the full range of Nightmare’s power is mentioned, but doesn’t really hit me as a reader. The “alien-ness” of Nightmare needs more emphasis for me. He claims to have never been defeated on any planet, dimension, or galaxy, which puts him on a threat level unlike any other villain in the Marvel Universe. This is countered by the fact that he’s confined to the dream world with no “true power over normal humans.” He’s only a danger to those who dabble in the mystic arts.
The logic of the story kind of breaks down at the end, but given whats come before, I’m more willing to overlook it than I might be in another story.
So far this month, we’ve already seen a number of connections being drawn across titles and to past stories, with heroes and villains teaming up or returning, and Amazing Spider-Man #14 is no different. There is, however, a slight, if important difference.
The first new villain to be introduced this month is a doozy. So much so, in fact, that we open the story with a glimpse of The Green Goblin in his lair. According to legend, Lee’s original concept for GG was for him to appear as a mythological demon, but Ditko nixed that, stepping up to the plate and swinging for the bleachers with his concept and design of GG as a human villain.
And all was right in the land.
For this first appearance, Green Goblin teams up with The Enforcers (last seen in Amazing Spider-Man #10) to set a trap for Spidey.
No real reason, it turns out. Lee and Ditko provide no more reasoning behind his appearance beyond the fact that he planned to get rid of Spider-Man and then launch a worldwide crime syndicate. I know, I know. He seems to have forgotten about ALL THE OTHER SUPER HEROES OPERATING IN NEW YORK AT THE SAME TIME.
But hey, he’s just starting out.
Regardless of the motivation, Ditko provides another excellent character design with Green Goblin’s extremely creepy costume and accompanying gadgets. When, at the end of the story, the action moves to a series of caves in the American Southwest, Ditko’s moody set designs and claustrophobic staging help to make him even more menacing.
The sudden appearance of The Hulk is a bit of a surprise, but fits right in with the underlying methodology of nearly all of this month’s titles. It’s as if any story that takes place out West is going to logically necessitate an appearance by The Hulk.
Honestly, though, it feels more like the story was coming up short and Ditko felt the need to toss another threat into the story in order to extend the third act and fill their page count. I assume it’s just coincidence that the Hulk’s inclusion in this story ties contributes to the feeling that any character in the Marvel stable could show up in any title at any time. I’m not complaining. I think it’s fantastic and helps to create a sense of freshness and excitement in the Marvel titles of the time that was missing elsewhere.
And continuing the ongoing crossovers for this month, Spider-Man shows up in this month’s Giant Man and The Wasp adventure, which also features the return of their “classic” villain, Egghead.
The plot is fairly standard and Lee and Ayers don’t really do much to stretch their creative muscles with this one. Egghead manipulates our heroes into fighting each other, then, while the police are distracted by the battle, he plans a daring heist. As usual, our heroes make up and together, defeat Egghead.
I’m not sure how long Lee can keep finding ways to pit our heroes against each other, especially if it’s going to be such a common event. I understand that having these crossovers helps to build the Marvel Universe, and sales, I would imagine, but I need more variety in my stories!
On the plus side, Jan is finally given a weapon this issue. Hank builds her a “Wasp’s Sting” that she wears strapped to her wrist. Sure, it only fires blasts of compressed air, but at least it’s something. She no longer has to luck into finding a needle or a nail when danger arrives.
There’s really only one other mildly interesting development this month. It seems that Jan and Spider-Man don’t really like each other. I mean, AT ALL. And it’s not just a casual thing. They really don’t like each other. Hank figures out why, though.
It’s because, you see, wasps and spiders are natural enemies.
Yeah. It seems that Jan’s and Pete’s tampered-with DNA has effected them on some sort of biological level, and for some reason, this is a revelation used for comic relief. No one is bothered by this!
If this sort of thing can happen, shouldn’t we be worried about other genetic predispositions coming to light? This should be creeping everyone out.
For some unknown reason, this month marks the debut of an actual Wasp solo feature. No more using her as the framing device for reprint stories. For the time being, Jan gets her own adventures, thus expanding the Marvel Universe just a little bit more.
Although, if this first adventure is any indication, things aren’t looking good for her. In fact, this story
does a lot more to undermine her than it does to validate her existence in a solo tale.
Essentially, while on her way to a date with Hank, Jan spots a creepy fellow ducking down a manhole into the sewers. Um, I mean down a manhole into the vast underground tunnels. Yeah. Anyway, she discovers that the fellow just burgled a jewelery store, so she shrinks down and follows him underground.
Into the stink, if you will.
I’m not kidding, either. The “tunnels” are filled with thick, stuffy air that makes it hard to breathe and think.
According to a footnote on the first page, this story takes place before Hank designed her Wasp’s Sting, so, luckily, Jan finds a needle in the sewer and tries to use it as a weapon against the anonymous burglar. Unfortunately, the fumes cause her to be too weak and awkward to effectively use the needle. Or to do much of anything, really.
In fact, if this crook weren’t excessively simple-minded, this whole underground jaunt could have taken a horribly dark turn. Luckily, Jan’s able to trick the guy into believing that The Invisible Girl followed him into the sewer, so he surrenders himself to the police.
And then nobody believes that Jan actually captured the bad guy.
And Hank is downright rude to her about it, basically calling her a liar and canceling their date. Although that could have had something to do with the smell.
Oh good grief, this one is just awful. Particularly so, after all the interesting political sub-text of the previous issue.
From the very opening page, with narration that describes a smile spreading across Iron Man’s face, then has the Mandarin bitching about Iron Man’s smile in the face of death, when HE’S GOT AN IRON MASK ON, you just know that there’s not a lot of effort going into this one. I thought maybe it was just a mistake. A slip of the narrative tongue, if you will.
But then on the second page, Iron Man defends his smile, by “reminding” The Mandarin that Stark is loose in his castle.
And then it gets worse.
Falling for Iron Man’s trick, instead of finishing him off quickly, The Mandarin puts his death trap on “Hold Steady” so he can run off to the secret location of his Secret Weapon to make sure Stark hasn’t found it yet. For a genius, he’s kind of a dumbass.
Then, as soon as he leaves, Iron Man escapes and follows Mandarin straight to the Doomsday Weapon.
This is followed by a series of ludicrous and violent back and forths, including, I shit thee not, a huge metal plate on a giant spring that smashes Iron Man through the floor, leaving an Iron Man-shaped hole in the floor.
Meanwhile, back at Stark HQ, Happy is in charge for some reason and stressing out because HE’S NOT QUALIFIED TO RUN STARK INDUSTRIES! He’s the friggin’ chauffeur for Pete’s sake. Why is he sending ideas for super weapons off to the workshop? And why are they building them?
Back in Iron Man’s wacky adventures, we get another couple of stupid exchanges, then Iron Man distracts Mandarin long enough to sneak in and destroy his Doomsday Weapon. And he leaves a snarky little note behind, saying “Better luck next time, Mandy –- Iron Man.”
He calls him Mandy in a note left behind on the rubble.
This is awful.
I don’t know if it’s the collaboration with Kirby or if Lee just put a little more thought into this Thor adventure than he did the Iron Man story discussed above, but this story’s conclusion doesn’t fall anywhere near as short as that one did.
This story even has a nice little parallel structure, where both Thor and Mr. Hyde use the same trick to get out of trouble and escape each other. When Thor is forced to change back into Dr. Blake (because his hammer was locked up inside a machine at the end of Part One of this adventure last month, remember?), he is able to duck into the crowd of hostages while Hyde and The Cobra are distracted. Then, as Blake, he is able to trick the villains into retrieving his cane from the machine and duck back into the same crowd and change back into Thor.
And nobody sees him!
Hyde uses the same trick to escape the police and then trail Thor to a deserted part of town. While no one is looking, Hyde downs his wonderful elixir and changes back into Calvin Zabo and slips out with the other hostages. Cobra, on the other hand, is captured, arrested, and hauled away.
Really, Cobra is pretty freaking useless.
This leads to a majorly awesome fist fight between Hyde and Thor. Hyde gets the drop on Thor, knocking his hammer from his hand, inspiring a flash of panic as Thor worries about changing back into Blake (remember, if the hammer is out of his hands for more than one minute, he changes into Blake). But Thor decides, on the spur of the moment, that if he can’t beat Hyde to a pulp in under a minute with his bare hands, he isn’t worthy of the name Thor.
What follows is a knock-down, drag-out fight that, with Kirby’s pencils and Chic Stone’s inks, looks every bit as exciting and violent as you’d imagine. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating; I love Chic Stone’s inks on Kirby’s pencils! There’s enough delicate line work to provide plenty of detail, but he’s not shy about using the heavier lines where it suits the action and the panel.
This is good looking stuff.
And oh yeah. The story ends with Black in the doghouse with Nurse Foster, since he had to pretend to betray Thor (sort of) in order to get his hands on his staff earlier.
Poor Blake just can’t win.
This month’s “Tales of Asgard” focuses on Balder the Brave (if the title didn’t give that away), and it’s a pretty straight-forward tale that is very reminiscent in tone to the Norse Myths that inspired it. The biggest difference between this story and the “origin” of Balder in the original myths is pretty huge, but the end result is almost identical. Instead of all things vowing never to hurt Balder (as in the myth), here, Odin grants him invulnerability after a series of fake execution attempts.
Yeah, that’s how Odin rolls.
It’s a short, simple story, but is one of the most satisfying pieces of work published this month.
One of the main reasons for this lies with Kirby’s art, yet again. The panels are big and expansive, with simple action which suits the story perfectly. The costume design is what we’ve come to expect from Kirby’s Asgardian style, but what’s really nice is how Vince C
olletta’s inks bring it all to life.
Colletta brings a very different feel to Kirby’s pencils than Stone does in the main Thor story, but they’re just as gorgeous. The line work is almost feathered, as if he’s using a brush to create his textures. It’s soft, but powerful.
Does that make sense?
The Iron Man and Thor stories were a bit of a break from the huge crossover/team-up mania of this month’s releases, but as head into the home stretch, Lee and Kirby let out all the stops. The return of the Marvel Villains continues with this month’s The Avengers, while at the same time a new classic villain is introduced. Baron Zemo, the former Nazi scientist responsible for killing Bucky and sending Captain America into the ice for 20 years, is hiding out in South America. But when he discovers that Cap’s back, he comes out of hiding and recruits a super villain team to take on The Avengers.
Villains that have all appeared in previous adventures of each Avengers’ solo titles.
The Black Knight (last seen in Tales to Astonish #52), The Melter (from Tales of Suspense #47), and The Radioactive Man (who died, or so we thought, at the end of Journey Into Mystery #93), attack New York using Baron Zemo’s super adhesive. The same super adhesive that keeps his cowl glued to his face.
Not on purpose. It was caused by Captain America and is part of why Zemo hates Cap so.
But, yeah. The big plan is to glue everyone to the streets of New York. Not sure what comes next, but it’s hard to believe the Nazis lost the war with this kind of genius planning, eh?
Anyway, after Giant Man and Cap get caught in the Super Glue, Jan remembers hearing about the Human Torch’s defeat of a villain with a decidedly sticky bent, Paste Pot Pete. She figures that since he’s all about the sticky stuff, he can probably help out in exchange for a reduction of his prison sentence. And she’s right!
He helps get them, and the rest of the city, unstuck, and since we’re dealing with a Super Adhesive, Cap figures Baron Zemo is behind the attack and formulates a strategy for dealing with the so-called Masters of Evil.
I could be wrong, so please let me know on the message board or in an e-mail if I am, but I think this is the first appearance of the now-Classic comic book battle strategy of swapping opponents to exploit their nemesis-specific attacks.
This issue, despite whatever storytelling shortcomings there are, provides another very strong example of utilizing the shared continuity of the characters to help build a believable, and successful world. It really does seem like this entire month of comics was devoted to weaving together a tapestry of interconnections between characters, be they heroes or villains.
Lee and Kirby double-dipped with their newest villain this month, while at the same time strengthening the continuity ties between World War Two and the Contemporary Sixties, with a look at Baron Zemo before he was granted his title. During this adventure, we meet Dr. Zemo, a real bastard of a Nazi scientist who’s created a “Death Ray” that The Howling Commandos are tasked with destroying.
Story-wise, this is one of the weakest of the Sgt. Fury stories so far, since, for me anyway, the best Howling Commandos stories are grounded in “reality” – and yes I am very aware that literal realism isn’t a high priority in these stories – rather than more generic sci-fi concepts. Setting the Howling Commandos against a “Mad Scientist” shoves the story into a more Marvel-centric narrative mode, for sure, but it causes the story to suffer.
And it doesn’t help that Kirby is gone. Don’t get me wrong. Dick Ayers does an admirable job maintaining the feel of the adventures that Kirby originated, but as in other comics where Ayers has taken over for Kirby, there’s more of an emphasis on realism. There’s less of the stylized, bombastic energy that Kirby brought to the page, and this should work well for other Howling Commandos stories, but with the sci-fi slant of this story, it’s just not a good match.
I guess what I’m saying is that if Kirby was drawing death rays and death traps in scary castles, I’d be more accepting of it. But Ayers is more suited to straight, realistic war action.
In other news, “Junior” Juniper, who was killed in action in Issue #4, is finally replaced, although I’m not sure about the replacement. British Private Percival “Pinky” Pinkerton, a prim, proper, but fairly kick-ass soldier arrives wearing a beret and carrying an umbrella. He’s a nice contrast to the rest of the team, and makes some sense given the Commandos’ role working out of the UK, but he’s going to take some getting used to.
Even if he can beat up people with just his umbrella.
Aside from that, there’s really not much else to say about this issue. Hopefully, next month, because it is monthly now, it’ll get back on track.
No month of crossovers and Super Villain Team-ups would be complete without an appearance by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, so that’s what we get with this month’s X-Men. According to the footnotes, this issue takes place immediately after the conclusion of last month’s Fantastic Four #27, and Namor is still royally pissed about losing Sue to Reed.
This entire issue resolves around both Magneto’s and Professor X’s desire to recruit Namor to their side of the growing mutant conflict. Professor X is the first to suggest this issue that Namor may be a mutant, and if he is, then The X-Men need to find him before Magneto does. However Magneto is already on the hunt.
Using their astral forms (an ability still unexplained – I guess I can see Prof. X being able to do this, given his skill set, but Magneto? I need more information.), they explore the oceans but Professor X decides to hang back and let Magneto do all the heavy lifting.
From this point on the entire issue revolves around both The X-Men and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants trying to get on Namor’s good side. As such, it veers away form the usual Us vs. Them dialectic that Lee almost always falls back on, instead treating Namor as a fully-fledged third force equal to the others.
Most of the action takes place on Magneto’s secret island hideaway, which provides an opportunity for Professor X to tell a story that was strangely reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Ct
hulhu,” where a sailing ship discovers a mysterious island after their compass goes mad. Before they can determine if the island’s real or just a mass hallucination, the ship rises from the seas and flies away, sitting down fifty miles south of Bermuda.
Using this information, the X-Men charter a sailboat (that looks more like a pirate ship than your standard sailboat) and begin their journey to track down Magneto’s secret base, with Professor X psychically scanning for Magneto’s presence.
From this point on, it’s shipwrecks, illusions, and explosions, until Namor takes offense to the way Magneto speaks to The Scarlet Witch. When this occurs, Magneto retreats, leaving Namor and Wanda to confront the X-Men (who have captured her brother, Quicksilver, by then). After their attacks prove completely ineffective against Namor, Professor X calls a halt to the fighting and everybody grumbles until Namor gets fed up and leaves.
There’s a last small bit of violence as Magneto tries to attack Namor, but the Sub-Mariner destroys Magneto’s gigantic Magnet Machine before stalking off into the ocean. Then the Brotherhood escapes and the X-Men head home on Magneto’s abandoned boat.
As you can see, there’s a lot of story packed into this issue, and while some elements seem a little like wheel-spinning (the continuing build-up of isolation between Wanda and Pietro and the rest of The Brotherhood, for example), we do get a couple of interesting developments. The suggestion that Namor is a mutant goes a long way toward legitimizing the idea of Mutanthood in the Marvel Universe, given that Namor is arguably the very first Marvel Character.
The contrast between the Evil Mutants and The X-Men is extremely pronounced, emphasizing the teamwork and sense of community between the good guys with the discord and sense of oppression between the bad guys. At the same time, however, with Namor’s perspective added to the mix, we see how The X-Men’s behavior lumps them in with the Evil Mutants in his eyes.
Another nice touch is the way Namor is positioned at the end of the story. The poor guy just can’t get a break. Every time he tries to team-up with someone it ends in disaster. Dr. Doom, The Hulk, and now Magneto have all helped to push him further and further into isolation. And even his own people are wary of him thanks to his attraction to surface women (he’s intrigued by Wanda in this issue, but consciously pushes those feelings away as he leaves). He serves as an ironic counterpoint to all the connections and relationships being built in all the other titles this month.
Wow. That sure took a melancholy turn at the end, didn’t it?
Feel free to stop by the message boards or drop me an e-mail to let me know what I missed or what I got right this time out.
Until next time, Wah-Hoo!