Once more into the breach, dear friends. Once more into the breach.
And by that I mean, welcome to the latest and greatest edition of Mondo Marvel! Where we may not be the only place on the Internet where someone is making their way through all of Marvel’s Sixties Comics in chronological order, but we’re definitely doing it in the least efficient and most soul-destroying way possible!
This column is great fun to write, and if I could manage my time better, it would be a lot less time-consuming. But as it is, with our new monthly schedule, I’m finding myself far less stressed and far more refreshed when Mondo Marvel time comes around.
And with that said, why don’t we jump right into this month’s adventures?
And they’re not kidding.
Our story opens with the FF checking out Yancy Street, home of the Ben-hating Yancy Street Gang, where crime has apparently been on the rise. However, since we’re dealing with normal people, rather than super villains, the FF find themselves a little bit out of their league. Unwilling to actually use their powers aggressively, and finding their casual usage countered with things like sneezing powder, buckets of water, and falling trash cans.
And so, they bid a hasty retreat.
But a midnight challenge, and the suspicion that there’s someone else behind the Yancy Street Gang’s attack, get the FF back on the street, where it turns out they were right. There was someone else behind it all.
After they’re attacked by a gorilla, an orangutan, and a baboon they discover the Red Ghost is back. Of course, it takes them a while to put two and two together for some reason. I guess Reed just doesn’t like jumping to conclusions.
Anyway, they’re captured and taken back to the moon, where the Red Ghost abandons them to die. But they’re hard to kill, and burrow their way to The Watcher’s home, where they are greeted, granted asylum, but warned not to touch anything.
The rest of the story focuses on the conflict with the Red Ghost and his monkeys, with Red Ghost ending up, in a matter reminiscent of every Doctor Doom combat, tumbling away into a weird vortex never to be seen again. Or will he?
It’s nowhere near as innovative and exciting as the last time our heroes ended up on the moon, and ultimately seems like a weak attempt to recapture that sense of adventure. I appreciate the narrative trick of starting out on Yancy Street, taking the action all the way to the moon and back again. It does a nice job of establishing the scope of what an FF adventure can encompass, but it’s all rather passionless and a little boring.
The highest point is Kirby’s use of photo-collage on the approach to the moon. I’m not sure what the inspiration was here, but having the Red Ghost’s ship illustrated against a half-page black and white photo of the moon’s surface with the earth off in the distance is pretty awesome.
It’s an innovative touch to a story that could use all the extra flash and glamor at their disposal. These stories seem to ebb and flow in quality, as Lee and Kirby struggle to find inspiration, it seems. At the moment, we are apparently in a low point, where they’re scrambling to find an idea to really take hold and trigger another round of stories worthy of the World’s Greatest Comic Magazine claim.
Once again, Johnny Storm is used as the testing ground for a weird and fairly useless villain. This time, it’s The Beetle!
That’s right. The Beetle.
Sure, he may look like a humble master mechanic who works in a factory, but in his spare time, he’s built an awesome Beetle suit. His helmet is a power source that can double or even triple his strength somehow, his wings allow him to fly, and his creepy, magno-suction enhanced, long-fingered gloves allow him to um, lift stuff.
To be honest, the costume design isn’t bad, although it does remind me of a weird cross between West Virginia cryptozoological superstars, The Mothman and The Flatwoods Monster. Google those and you’ll see what I mean.
In an interesting twist, he doesn’t really seem to be evil, or even a criminal, really. He just wants to be famous and figures that taking out half of the Fantastic Four would be a good way to get his name in the papers. So he takes on Johnny and Ben while they’re out on a double date, and almost succeeds in defeating them, but is forced to hide, utilizing another beetle-abilty, digging a hole and covering himself up.
As you can probably guess, he’s captured and taken away by the police.
In a nice touch, this adventure is illustrated by Carl Burgos, credited on the first page as the man who first drew the Human Torch back in the Golden Age of Comics. In truth, he was the creator of the original Torch and had launched a lawsuit against Marvel to assert ownership of the character, but nothing came of it.
In the final panel of the story, Burgos drew himself and Stan Lee watching the Torch and Thing walk off. Stan says, “There go the greatest guys in the world, Carl.” To which Carl replies, “Aw, you’re just prejudiced, Stan.”
Rumor has it they didn’t get along, so I’m not sure what to make of that.
Well, um. Yeah. Uh, not sure what to make of this one.
Not only is Ditko’s art horribly abused by Roussos’ inking, the story, where Loki tricks Dr. Strange into trying to steal Thor’s hammer, but then turns into a battle between the Sorcerer and the God of Mischief, is awful.
While I appreciate the attempt to integrate Doctor Strange into the Marvel Universe, this latest attempt is even more poorly executed than his guest-appearance in Fantastic Four.
The only redeeming feature of this adventure is that it throws into plain light the fact that the Asgardian gods are actually something more than just super-powered beings. In his spirit form, Loki is still insanely powerful and able to beat down on Strange like an adult fighting a child. If it weren’t for the fact that Thor regains his hammer and is approaching Strange’s home, which causes Loki to flee, Doctor Strange would be dead.
In fact, just before the killing blow, Strange is apologizing in his head to The Ancient One for wasting his teachings on a dead man.
Lee and Ditko really need to find a focus for this comic.
And we get another classic Spider-Man villain introduced this month, as Kraven the Hunter arrives on our shores with the singular purpose of staging a Human Hunt. And while J. Jonah Jameson mentions that there are laws about that sort of thing, he’s not averse to publicizing and supporting the hunt. You know, so long as it all stays legal, of course.
Kraven emerges as an interesting contrast to the typical Spider-Man villains, who are generally creepy as hell and/or weirdly damaged in one way or another. Kraven, however, is a handsome international celebrity who, while he looks normal, is hopped up on African potions providing him with super strength and speed. He’s not above using a little poison to give himself an advantage either.
In a way, he’s a little more dangerous than the typical villain, in that he’s all out in the open and not doing anything overtly illegal, although in the end it turns out the authorities aren’t turning a blind eye to the whole “I’m here to hunt a human” angle. And while they’re more than willing to deport him once he’s captured by Spidey, nobody did much to keep the hunt from happening.
Perhaps more interesting than any of that, though, are the details of Peter Parker’s love life (or lack thereof). Liz is flirting with him aggressively, Betty is upset and cold because she thinks Pete likes Liz, and Aunt May is trying to set Pete up with their neighbor, Mrs. Watson’s, niece.
Hmmm. Mrs. Watson, eh? That sounds familiar.
Of course, being Marvel, in the end, Pete strikes out with everyone, and even though he gives in and agrees to the blind date, Mrs. Watson’s niece stands him up.
Interestingly, Aunt May says that she’s good marriage material.
I suppose we’ll be hearing more on that front in the future.
So this month, Daredevil gets is very own super villain. Sort of.
I guess The Owl has some sort of power. The power to glide. Or something.
Plus, he’s a big, strong guy.
Okay. He’s not so super, but he’s definitely a villain. And he’s all Daredevil’s!
There’s not much to talk about with the story, to be honest. The Owl is a bad man, who frames his accountant for his own bad deeds, and when his accountant gets charged for The Owl’s crimes, he laughs in his face. The accountant then walks out into traffic and kills himself.
I guess there is something talk about with this story.
That’s pretty hardcore and not the sort of thing we’re used to seeing in our comics. Especially in mid-1964. It doesn’t have much of an impact on the story, beyond shifting the police’s attention to The Owl, making the framing of the accountant all the more pointless and his death more meaningless.
So that means The Owl needs a lawyer, so he picks one at random from the phone book, and it turns out to be Matt Murdock. Murdock gets him out on bail and then The Owl skips town. D’oh!
Matt knew he was going to do that, but let him leave anyway, figuring that he could find him pretty easily using his heightened sense. But, after all night searching, there’s no sign of The Owl.
I guess no one notices the huge Owl-shaped house up on the mountainside overlooking the city. I know Daredevil is blind, but somebody should have seen that.
As usual with these sorts of stories, an unfortunate confluence of events conspire to get Matt’s secretary, Karen walking into the wrong room at the wrong time. That wrong time would be just as DD has found The Owl and is ready to provide a thorough beat-down. Instead, he has to surrender, and both he and Karen end up in giant birdcages.
Of course they escape and there’s one final throwdown that ends with The Owl disappearing in the ocean. Yawn.
The best thing about this issue is the art. Joe Orlando and Vince Colletta combine to provide the most realistic and visually distinctive art of the month. Colletta uses a lot of thin lines to create a stylized look that at times is extremely similar to woodblock printing. This creates an innovative and unique look for Daredevil, particularly when combined with Orlando’s very detailed and expressive character work.
I was more impressed just by looking at this comic than I was by actually reading it. Not that it was bad or anything. It was just kind of boring. I’d be very interested in seeing this art team take on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, actually.
That would be a helluva combination.
It’s off to darkest Africa for our heroes this month, as Hank and Jan are recruited by Captain America to go take care of a giant who’s demanding human sacrifices from the humble African villagers in his area. Turns out its an alien being looking for a human to take back to his planet for study. And, as usually happens in the Marvel Universe, he’s mystified by the miraculous powers of Giant-Man and the Wasp, reporting to his superiors that Earth should be avoided because all earthlings have magical powers.
It’s all very silly and provides us with one or two nuggets of good, old-fashioned Hank Pym stupidity. The biggest (pun intended) being that since The Colossus is thirty feet tall and Hank can only safely grow to about twelve feet, once he starts getting his ass handed to him, Hank decides to power on up to thirty feet, too. And he immediately starts getting dizzy, wobbling around, and is generally about as threatening as a sick kitten.
A gigantic sick kitten, but a kitten nonetheless.
The only interesting thing about the story is that Lee has finally decided to do something about the whole, “I’ve got to take a pill to activate my powers” bullshit that has helped to make Ant-Man/Giant-Man a joke. Hank figures out a way to trigger his growing and shrinking mentally this issue, and that’s pretty cool.
But, being a bit of a douche, he doesn’t share the ability with Wasp. He can, however, make her shrink on command with his own power. Um, if there was ever a character clearly trying, perhaps sub-consciously (or perhaps not), to make his lady friend dependent on him, Hank would fit the bill.
Why not just shoot her up with heroin that only you can get for her, Hank?
And this Wasp adventure, demonstrates that she really doesn’t need Hank around anyway.
This adventure hearkens back to those early Ant-Man adventures, only it’s actually kind of good. Not great, mind you, but it demonstrates that Jan isn’t just a bubble-headed ditz.
You see, The Magician (who Jan and Hank defeated back in Tales to Astonish #56) has escaped from prison and is looking for revenge. At the same time, Jan has heard that a local department store is going to be having a special event, debuting a line of clothing inspired by her and her Waspy fashion-sense. And there ain’t nothing gonna keep Jan from checking it out.
Not even Hank’s demand that she lock herself in his lab to stay safe from The Magician.
Really, Hank? Lock her in your lab is the appropriate response? Again, the psychological resonance of this reaction is something someone somewhere should study.
Meanwhile, back in the story, we discover that the fashion show is indeed a trap (and that The Magician is responsible for it all – including the clothing designs??? That’s what it sounds like.) and Jan is quickly on the defensive as The Magician hampers her ability to fly. Why she doesn’t just stay human-sized and kick him in the nuts is a mystery for another day.
She tries avoiding him with a toy car, but he smashes the motor. Then she uses her air-gun “sting” to get his cloak caught in an escalator and while he’s trapped on the ground, she uses a remote-control robot to tie him up.
However she did it, the day is saved, so she heads home to Hank, who has been worried sick and hasn’t heard the news that she’s already defeated the villain of the piece. Instead of telling him, she lets him fret and assures him that she’ll always need him around to look after her.
Awww. How cute.
She’s enabling his slow psychotic break. Now if that ain’t love, I don’t know what is.
I’m beginning to think that in order to be a Marvel Super Hero, you’ve got to have some sort of manic-depressive personality disorder. Ben Grimm has mostly adjusted to his current state, but Spidey’s got serious issues. Doctor Strange was a total dick before crippling his hands. We all know Hank Pym is just messed up and is only going to get worse. Thor mopes around like he’s in Junior High, and in a little bit, we’re going to see Captain America nearly snap at Rick Jones like a demented ex-lover (more on that later).
And here we open with Iron Man pissed off and smashing up Tony Stark’s lab, because he’s depressed about having to wear his chest plate to keep from dying. He’s sick of it all and decides to take a break from playing superhero for a while.
Unfortunately, this occurs at a time when The Avengers call, requesting his assistance during an emergency. The threat is vague and we never really find out just what it’s all about, but the point is, Iron Man flakes out on his teammates.
This has repercussions that we’ll read more about in this month’s The Avengers, which is kind of cool and really makes the whole “shared universe” thing work all the better.
The rest of the issue is essentially a huge life lesson for Tony, driving home the fact that since he’s already established his association with Iron Man in the public’s eye (Iron Man’s his “bodyguard,” remember?), if he decides to stop playing Iron Man, when super villains come calling, people he cares about are going to get hurt.
In this case, Pepper gets kidnapped and Happy who gets beaten into critical condition while trying to fend off a new armored attacker, The Unicorn. All the while, Tony’s out on a date with some slut. And before you ask, yes even though The Unicorn is a remarkably silly name, the character is kind of cool.
He’s another Russian agent, using armor developed by The Crimson Dynamo before he defected. His horn can pretty much do anything you can think of, which is a bit of a stretch, but makes for a dangerous foe.
But Tony proves to be the more dangerous foe, if only because he’s willing to give his word on things and then find ways to weasel out. For example, he agrees to surrender to The Unicorn and get on a plane headed for behind the Iron Curtain in order to get The Unicorn to reveal where he’d planted a bomb. Once on the plane and in mid-air, though, Tony zigs and zags, saying he never promised to stay on the plane, then he busts up the plane, causing it to crash.
At least he doesn’t shoot down the parachuting survivors, I guess.
But he’s so busy being clever that he loses track of The Unicorn, and once again, Iron Man lets a dangerous Russian saboteur escape at the end of the day.
Nice going Tony. Your win percentage is what you should be depressed about.
I’m really beginning to think that it doesn’t matter what the story is, so long as Chic Stone is inking Kirby, everything will be all right.
This story has a few good parts, a couple of weaknesses, and one hard-ass ending.
First, the good parts. This month, Thor finally gets actual confirmation from Nurse Jane that she loves Dr. Blake. This provides Kirby with an opportunity to really utilize body language and staging for something other than huge bouts of fisticuffs. We open with Dr. Blake moping around his office because, you guessed it, Odin won’t let him marry a mortal.
So he slams his cane against the floor and changes into Thor, figuring that as Thor he can figure out how to prove to her that he didn’t betray himself (when he “betrayed” Thor to Mr. Hyde and The Cobra as Blake last month), when suddenly, Jane walks in on him.
So Thor acts like he’s there to kick Blake’s ass and Jane begs him not to, since she loves him and whatnot.
Upon hearing this, Thor freezes, politely excuses himself, and then starts flying around the city like a giddy schoolgirl, plucking flowers and shouting “She loves me!” for all to hear. It’s kind of embarrassing, but kind of endearing at the same time.
We are then introduced to another good part, the new villain, The Grey Gargoyle. GG is a French chemist who spilled a weird concoction on his hand that gave him the power to turn anyone he touches to stone for an hour. Even himself! Luckily, if he touches himself (snicker!) he’s living stone and can move around, talk, etc. Others aren’t so lucky, and are turned into living statues for 60 minutes.
That brings us to a weakness. The Gray Gargoyle’s costume. Sure, when he’s all stoned he looks kind of cool, but when he’s in his fleshy form, we realize that he’s running around in boots, gloves, a pair of boxers and a cape. He looks like someone who’s escaped from a black and white gay pride parade.
The fight between GG and Thor is nicely done, too, and in a moment of letting his guard down, Thor finds himself turned to stone. Luckily, he tumbles over, striking his hammer on th
e ground and turning himself back into Blake. Looks like the stoning doesn’t carry over from body to body (which is an interesting element of the Blake/Thor relationship that really should be explored more).
Another nice touch is having Blake call up Tony Stark for help. Stark provides Blake with a strange futuristic projector which allows him to project an image of Thor flying around. He uses this to lure the Grey Gargoyle out to the docks.
This is where the hard-ass ending comes into play.
In his stone form, Grey Gargoyle is too heavy to swim and sinks like a, well, like a rock. And by the time his stoniness wears off, he’ll be too far down to make it back to the surface. It’s not clear whether or not he’s actually breathing while in his stone form, so if he is, he’s boned. If he stays stone, he sinks. If he changes back, he drowns.
Tough luck, Frenchie. That’s what you get for playing hardball with a freaking Viking God.
We also discover, in passing, this issue, when Thor requests that the police deliver one of GG’s victims to Dr. Blake’s office, “With the authority vested in [him] by The Avengers,” it’s granted. Because “The Avengers have top Federal Priority” whatever that may mean.
So, Odin giving Balder the gift of immortality last month, really burned Loki’s butt. Since then, he’s been obsessing over how to kill someone when everything in the world pledged to protect him.
Although, to be fair, that’s a bit of a rewrite of what actually happened last time. If you remember, Odin actually granted him immortality, saying nothing can harm him. This month, Balder’s gift is changed to more reflect the actual Norse mythology, where everything pledged to do him no harm.
Except for the lowly mistletoe, that is.
In the myth, you probably already know, the Asgardians had fun shooting things at Balder since they couldn’t hurt him, until Loki tricked an old blind man to shoot an arrow made of mistletoe at him, killing him and triggering Ragnarok.
In the Marvel Universe, however, Loki goes to the mystical, magical, and smoking hot Norn Queen to find out Balder’s weakness. He then has one of his Troll slaves (Loki owns slaves?) build a blow gun and a mistletoe dart sharp enough to pierce Balder’s armor.
Why Balder wears armor, I don’t quite understand, but roll with it.
Then, from the shadows, Loki readies his blow gun and while Balder is sparring with a friend, and stumbles while trying not to step on a caterpillar (!), fires!
But Loki forgot that The Norn Queen also vowed to protect Balder, and she zaps the God of Mischief, saving Balder’s life.
Again, this is a pretty simple story, but Kirby’s art shines. Colletta’s inking isn’t as scratchy as last time out, and while there’s not a lot of action, the characterization is gorgeous. I particularly like the panel where Loki is preparing to fire the blow gun. Not only is the inking delicate and detailed, Kirby uses the curved window frame to create a frame inside the panel’s edge, giving it a more stylized look than what we might normally expect from the standard four-panel grid that these stories usually stick to.
And did I mention that the Norn Queen was smoking hot?
The title of this adventure is a little misleading. This isn’t really their darkest hour. It’s not that dark at all, really. I mean, this is the Marvel Universe. The fact that the central conceit of this issue is that Thor is put under The Enchantress’ spell and made to believe the rest of The Avengers are evil and must be stopped shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It’s damn near commonplace.
Nope. Not dark at all.
I was tricked into thinking that the “darkest hour” might be something more subtle in nature, given the way the issue opens. It seems that Iron Man is being brought up on charges, um, Avengers Charges, I guess, for not answering the summons of the rest of the team over in Tales of Suspense #56. They find him guilty and sentence him to a week’s suspension.
This even though back in Tales of Suspense, they mention the fact that they’ve agreed as a team that they are “each [their] own master.”
As an aging liberal with anarchist tendencies, I like the sound of that. A community of sovereign individuals and all that. It kind of makes me wonder just what sorts of provisions they had to make in order to receive that “Top Federal Priority” status mentioned in Journey into Mystery.
Anyway, in a nice little bit of parallel structuring, at the same time Thor is banishing Iron Man for a week, we cut to Asgard, where Odin is banishing The Enchantress and The Executioner as punishment for their attack on Thor in Journey into Mystery #103. Unfortunately, in what can only be described as monumentally poor planning on Odin’s part, he sentences them to do their time on Earth.
You know. Where Thor lives.
And thus our conflict is born.
Also born this issue is what will soon become a standard Captain America scenario. Two standard Cap scenarios, actually. The first is the training session, where Cap spars with a bunch of hired help and proceeds to kick everyone’s asses. it’s always fun and provides Kirby with a chance to orchestrate a nice fight sequence that helps to establish Captain America as the Super Soldier extraordinaire.
The second recurring Captain America scenarios occurs after the training is done. Cap is brooding on the fact that even with all his training, he couldn’t save his WWII sidekick, Bucky. That’s when Rick walks in wearing Bucky’s costume, that he found in Cap’s closet.
Needless to say, Cap freaks the hell out.
It’s one of those scenes that you would expect to see in a creepy psycho-drama, where the widower marries a new wife but keeps the dead wife’s things in a special place where they’re not to be touched. And when he discovers the new wife trying on the dead wife’s clothes, he goes psychotic and could end up killing her and then committing suicide.
Or maybe not.
Regardless, Kirby draws Cap in this scene as though he’s lost his damn mind, shouting “Take it off!” over and over at Rick, before yanking the Bucky mask off of him and planting himself at his desk, one hand over his face, the other pointing out the door. Which is where Rick is commanded to go.
It’s disturbing as hell, man.
The rest of the issue is devoted to two lines of narration. In one, Cap is directed toward South America, where Baron Zemo is hiding out. Of course, it’s a trap, but Cap isn’t concerned. In the second narrative line, Thor is isolated by The Enchantress and put under her spell. She convinces him, as I said earlier, that The Avengers are evil and must be stopped.
Both narratives converge in the end, as Zemo returns to New York with Cap in tow, and Thor is awakened from his trance (but not before Hank again, for the second time this month, grows way too tall and becomes a useless
wreck – sigh) just in time to witness a last-minute escape by our villains.
But, as The Grey Gargoyle found out, you don’t mess with Thor. He whips up a handy-dandy “all-consuming space warp!” This sends Zemo’s ship off to who-knows-where. As Thor explains, “a space warp can lead anywhere – to a different city – or a different universe!!”
So, the villains are dismissed, quite possibly to their deaths. But it’s all good. The Avengers don’t even consider that Zemo and the others could be dead. They just know that wherever they are, The Avengers will find them. That’s when Cap, seeming a little crazy again, shouts, “And when we do, nothing will save them – NOTHING!!!”
Yes, that’s three exclamation points. Cap don’t fool around.
Yes, you read that correctly. This month, the Howlers are dropped into Germany on a mission to capture Hitler himself.
And when Nick Fury breaks it down for you, it doesn’t sound all that difficult, really. At least, not for the Howling Commandos. These guys are at the top of their game.
As I mentioned last time out, Ayers’ art doesn’t have the flair or the energy that Kirby brought to the page and that really does hamper my acceptance of the stories themselves. But this time, without any real science fiction elements, it works better.
I’m still not all that convinced anymore, though.
One of the things that really worked for this book was the way Kirby’s over-the-top illustrations sold the outlandishness of the writing. Just as Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds wouldn’t really work if the style in which the story is told wasn’t as adventurous as the ideas, I’m afraid Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos is slipping into decline without Kirby’s contributions.
Story-wise, if we were dealing with an alternate history that hadn’t been established already, there might be some sense of purpose to this adventure, but we know the Howlers can’t really capture Hitler. Hell, Hitler’s already shown up in the modern Marvel Universe, so this story’s dead before it even gets going.
The twist at the end (the gang captures a Hitler double, instead of the real deal) is then undermined by the declaration that it’s a win anyway, since now they have proof that Hitler uses doubles, and that’s a PR victory.
If you say so.
From my perspective, the Howlers just risked life and limb, nearly dying in front of a German firing squad, just to provide support for a propaganda move. Sure, it would have been nice if they could have captured the real Hitler, but when General Durstine admits to half-expecting this to be what was going to happen, it just pissed me off.
On the plus side, this issue saw the return of Baron Strucker, which serves as the first step in really cementing Strucker as Fury’s main nemesis. Except, of course, that he’s not much of a threat and is mainly presented as a coward who’s ready to sell out Hitler to save his own life. That makes sense, since I’m sure Lee wasn’t interested in making any of the Nazis respectable in any way, but it’s still a little disappointing as an example of character development.
Am I the only one who thinks a villain that’s nearly as competent as the hero is more credible threat?
Oh well. They’re Nazis. What was I expecting?
And with that another one bites the dust.
Be sure to pay attention, because the next Mondo Marvel will be a quicky, devoted entirely to the two new Annuals released in 1964: Fantastic Four Annual #2, which is focused entirely on Doctor Doom, and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, which features a gigantic adventure pitting Spidey against all of his deadliest foes!
Until then, remember…