Welcome one and all! Hope the Rapture didn’t get you!
Well, I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing, then by all means, I hope you got Raptured up with the best of them!
Anyway, it’s that time again! Time for me to sit at my computer like a hermit and type my little fingers to the bone. And why? For you, my pretties! For you!
Seriously. I’m not getting paid for this stuff.
We’re finally wrapping up the year 1964, and we’ve got a crapload of good stuff to get through this month. I mean, awesomely good stuff.
Sure there’s some bad stuff. Some really bad stuff. But more about that later.
I just realized that if I hadn’t been drinking last month when I was putting the finishing touches on Mondo Marvel #32, I might not have missed that it was almost two years to the day since I started this crazy project!
So not only are we saying goodbye to 1964, we’re saying hello to Year Three of Mondo Marvel. Needless to say, I didn’t think clearly about what I was getting into when I started this, or I wouldn’t have been crazy enough to commit to it. But what’s done is done and we can’t stop now!
There’s just too much good stuff coming in the next year’s worth of Marvel history. I won’t spoil anything now, if you can spoil things that happened forty six years ago, but there’s even gooder stuff than the good stuff below.
But before my grammar completely breaks down and I start typing with my fingers on the wrong keys, let’s just jump right into December, 1964, eh? Let’s jump right into Mondo Marvel!
Is that an awesome cover, or what?
I’m really enjoying how Kirby keeps slipping the photo-montages into his work. Not only do we get this awesome black and white undersea background on the cover, but a few pages into the story we get a full-page underwater scene, filled with color-tinted fish of all sorts and the F.F.’s submarine.
It’s the little touches like this that help to set Marvel, and Kirby in particular, apart. I love it!
And the story’s not bad, either.
If you found yourself asking what in the world would cause the Fantastic Four to team-up with one of their biggest enemies, well, it turns out Namor is the lesser of two evils. This issue sees the introduction of Attuma, a deep-sea barbarian who believes that it is his destiny to fulfill an ancient legend and conquer Atlantis.
But why is Namor’s situation so dire that the Fantastic Four are needed to help out?
Because of a woman scorned, of course.
Remember Lady Dorma, from Fantastic Four Annual #1? As it turns out, Namor rejected her again, this time as Attuma’s forces were rallying to attack the walls of Atlantis, so, in an effort to humble the Prince, she lets Attuma through the defenses. And once through, he immediately betrays her, ignoring his promise not to hurt Namor.
What the hell, lady?
Anyway, overcome with guilt and shame, Lady Dorma went looking for the F.F., and since they’d rather have a somewhat honorable leader in power, as opposed to a power-crazed barbarian, the gang decides to help out. And thanks to Reed’s handy-dandy Oxo Spray, they’ll be able to breathe under water for a while. Johnny can even use his flames somehow!
It’s all very Spongebob, if you ask me, with war machines rumbling along roads and nobody thinking of swimming over the walls of Atlantis, instead battering them down.
The conflict doesn’t play out exactly as I’d anticipated, given the title of the story. Namor never knows that the F.F. are there. Their reasoning is that if he discovers them, he might consider it an attack and then fight both them and Attuma. Also, Lady Dorma wants to spare Namor’s pride.
So the team sneakily keeps Attuma’s forces from dishonorably attacking him while he and Attuma engage in a One-on-One battle to end the war. And if you weren’t sure that Attuma’s forces were much more evil than Namor’s, they planned on using a “Nutro-nuclear Dissolvo-bomb” to destroy all of Atlantis in a last-ditch effort to defeat Namor.
A Nutro-nuclear Dissolvo-bomb.
I don’t have any idea what that is, but it doesn’t sound very healthy for either the Atlanteans OR the invading forces.
Namor defeats Attuma, as you probably guessed, and the F.F. gets back to the surface just as their Oxo Spray wears off. All’s well that ends well, eh? Namor even forgives Lady Dorma for betraying him to Attuma, because, you know, Love makes you do Crazy Shit.
So this issue is all about how Johnny wants to be taken seriously, so he challenges Reed’s authority as leader of the Fantastic Four. In a rational and measured response, Reed tells him and Ben to hit the road. And Ben wasn’t even saying anything.
Then the boys get a mysterious invitation to a drag race that turns out to be a trap set by an equally mysterious masked villain. Not only are the cars completely under the villain’s control, they take the boys to an underground cave where they are confronted by said Mystery Villain.
Mystery Villain then proceeds to taunt and threaten them, easily countering every attack they try. Then, as their oxygen is running out (the cave is airtight, you see), he frees them, only to take off his mask and reveal himself to be Reed.
Wow. And I thought Reed was being a dick last month.
He did all of this to prove to them that he’s the Leader of the Team, dammit. Questioning his authority could kill them all someday, so they have to stop challenging him. Even though Ben wasn’t challenging him and Johnny was just blowing off some steam.
Anyway, that’s why the Fantastic Four need a leader, but the Avengers don’t. As Reed says, The Avengers are mature enough not to need someone in charge all the time.
What was probably the best Doctor Strange issue so far is followed up this month with an even better one. How’s that for raising the bar!
Unlike the first half of this comic, with the sorry-ass story of Reed punishing his friends and family for doubting him again, the sheer amount of awesome that Ditko throws on these pages makes the book worth buying, keeping, and treasuring.
But before jumping right into the awesomeness of a Doctor Strange vs. Dormammu all-out magic-fest, we take a pause to further establish just what’s at stake here. You see, Dormammu is bored with just killing chall
engers who aren’t a real threat, so he puts Strange in a time-out so he can think about what he’s attempting to do here.
He’s attempting to battle and maybe kill a godlike being who rules an entire dimension. He should think this over.
While he’s pondering his possible imminent demise, the magic lady from last issue pops up again and takes him on a tour of The Beyond and introduces us all to The Mindless Ones. I love the design of these beasties: massive, hulking forms with no faces except for a glowing hole that shoots energy beams. They’re unstoppable, almost.
It’s only a magical barrier powered by Dormammu himself that keeps them trapped in The Beyond. If Dormammu is defeated, the barrier falls and the Mindless Ones come rushing through like a combination bulldozer/piranha swarm.
Which creates a dilemma for the good Doctor. Defeat Dormammu and save Earth at the cost of the inhabitants of Dormammu’s world, or lose and allow Dormammu to enslave the Earth. Remind me again why Strange has been vowing by Dormammu since this series began?
Ultimately, we get an ending that isn’t just a cop-out kind of ending that I’ve kind of come to expect sometimes when Lee paints himself into a corner. But the introduction of the threat of the Mindless Ones is a good one, and as Dormammu’s power and attention are focused on defeating Strange, who turns out to be an actual challenge for him, the barrier to the Beyond comes tumbling down.
This forces Strange to team-up, however slightly, to help Dormammu push the barrier back into place. And thus, Dormammu is honor-bound not to kill Strange. To add insult to injury, Strange wrangles a couple of promises from the smokey-headed monster.
First, the magic girl is to be unharmed. Second, he forces Dormammu to vow never to invade Earth. Nicely done, if I do say so myself.
But Strange didn’t just save Earth, he busted up the spell that had been keeping the Ancient One feeble, and won himself a new cloak and amulet! Power Ups!
This is Ditko at his psychedelic best right here.
The way he plays with abstract backgrounds keeps the reader from being able to establish any kind of horizon lines, and he uses bizarre perspectives to create the effect of portals to other dimensions floating in space. There’s an almost M. C. Escher quality to a lot of these designs, combined with the wavy, melty energy of a work by Dali.
He also emphasizes the physicality of casting the spells, with attention being paid to both body and hand movements. This is what many writers down the road will forget about. Using magic in the Marvel Universe is almost like a martial art with occasional summoning words.
They don’t just say jibberish words and “magic” happens.
They manipulate the powers at their disposal, and it is tiring; both physically and mentally.
This is the best Doctor Strange story so far, easily. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
Finally! With Aunt May healthy and out of the hospital, it’s time for Spider-Man to get back to kicking ass and taking names, and it’s time for Peter Parker to stop moping around and start feeling good about his life again.
The Sandman and The Enforcers are making a play to take over New York’s Criminal Underworld, and their first act is capturing the Human Torch (for some reason). And get this! They probably wouldn’t have been able to capture him as easily as they do if he wasn’t so worn out from the big fight he just had.
And the footnote directs us to this month’s Strange Tales. You know, the one where Reed battles Johnny and Ben to a standstill to prove what a great leader he is?
This issue is all about the Big Payoff. We get fantastic action sequences as Spidey first battles a gang of bank robbers, then tracks Fancy Dan to a building full of criminals and fights them all, then takes on Sandman, The Enforcers and a small army of thugs (those who didn’t get rounded up by the cops earlier, I guess). And the final fight becomes a team-up with The Human Torch!
This is Ditko unleashed as much as it is Spidey unleashed.
Back-to-back with this month’s Doctor Strange adventure, it’s almost like Ditko is throwing down the gauntlet to Kirby. And Kirby’s up to the challenge with Fantastic Four #33 being just as action-packed as this issue of Amazing Spider-Man.
So far, it’s only the usual Human Torch / Thing dud slowing down an excellent month of comics.
And I almost forgot to mention the great reaction shots of Jameson as he discovers that Spidey isn’t really a coward and a fake. Watching his face drop was priceless. As was seeing him punching a brick wall in frustration.
Not only does this issue bring Spidey back in full force, it also introduces a mystery man in the final panels. Someone is paying a henchman to keep an eye on Peter Parker for some reason.
A few months ago (Mondo Marvel #28, to be exact), Carl Burgos illustrated a Human Torch & The Thing adventure that was only moderately awful. In that issue he was credited as the first person to illustrate a Human Torch adventure back in the day. As I noted at the time, he actually created the character and was in the process of suing Marvel to assert ownership of the character.
The details of the lawsuit are gone, as far as I can tell, but nothing seemed to have come from it, unless Burgos settled for a temp job as his payoff. First the Human Torch adventure, and now the first of a three-issue run illustrating the other lamest comic on the stands, Giant-Man and The Wasp. He shoulda got a better lawyer.
Meanwhile, back in this issue, Super-Genius Hank creates a formula that will speed up plant growth, you know, to help the “Have-not Countries” grow enough food to live on. However, as luck would have it, or as we’ve come to know it around here, as Hank would have it, the formula is uncontrollable and the city is soon in danger of being overrun with super plants.
Someday one of his inventions is going to really go wrong and threaten the entire world. Nah, just kidding. He’s a hero. Heroes don’t do stuff like that. Unless they’re just abject failures.
But instead of being able to stop the monstrous plant growth, Hank has an accident in his lab and is knocked unconscious. Thanks to the monstrous plant growth, a common thief gains access to the lab, discovers Hank’s secret identity, and steals his costume and by extension, his powers.
It’s only because the thief is as big a failure at crime as Hank is at science that anything works out this issue.
And for some reason, right in the middle of Hank getting his costume back and trying to stop the monstrous plant growth that is threatening the entire city, we stop for a panel that gives us a cross-section of an Ant City.
I shit thee not.
ways wondered where the toilet was in an Ant City, and now I know. It’s off to the right opposite and a little lower than the “Lowest Tunnel” to nowhere. And we discover that the “Honey Ants” are segregated from the rest of the Ant City. I wouldn’t trust them either.
But how does Hank keep his identity secret once the thief is captured? That’s an easy one.
He just happened to have some “Memory Loss Serum” lying around and dosed the thief, who not only forgot that Hank was Giant-Man, but forgot he, the thief, was a crook. Who knows what else the poor bastard forgot. I hope he wasn’t on any medications.
Well this is a stronger effort than the previous three installments. It’s still kind of boring and has very little of the visual flair I’ve come to expect from Ditko. I can’t help but wonder if it’s just a problem with the story itself.
He doesn’t seem to have many opportunities to illustrate any dynamic sequences. Hulk is a lumbering brute and isn’t prone to acrobatics or intricate combat orchestration. And the setting isn’t really prime for the type of work Ditko excels at (either cityscapes or abstractions).
This just isn’t a work I’d imagine Ditko was really enjoying.
Storywise, we get the return of Rick Jones and Marvel’s premiere consistently failing spy, The Chameleon. But in the first intriguing element to the story, we discover that a mysterious man calling himself The Leader and wearing a weird red full-head helmet, is responsible for sending the original spy who stole the Robot that started this new run of stories. The Robot with a man in it that Hulk dropped down a bottomless pit last issue.
This time, he sends The Chameleon to find out what happened to his other spy, and while that’s all well and good, what’s really interesting is the fact that he’s working on some sort of “humanoid creation” that will allow the Leader to “take over personally.”
Whatever that means.
But I’m intrigued. For the first time in this relaunch.
Tony Stark is still missing, Iron Man is a suspect, yadda yadda yadda.
This issue feels like it’s all about shuffling pieces around but no real headway is made.
Hawkeye and Black Widow return, but while Hawkeye is out trying to steal Stark’s secrets, for the good of the world, Natasha tells him, she gets picked up by the Russians and sent back to the Mother Country for interrogation. Things don’t look good for her at all.
And Stark spends all his time in his Iron Man armor trying to figure out how to convince Pepper and Happy that he didn’t do anything to harm Stark, all because he’s afraid to remove his armor and cut the power to his heart.
And I’m sorry, but Don Heck’s art here is just kind of bland.
All in all, this is a forgettable installment. The only thing that really happens is the police suspect Iron Man in Tony Stark’s disappearance, but they can’t prove anything. And when he saves Pepper from Hawkeye (allowing Hawkeye to escape, yet again), they let him go, but keep him under suspicion.
Just in case anyone missed the last issue of Tales of Suspense and didn’t get to see Captain America take on a room full of men trying desperately to take him out, just open the pages of this issue and you’ll see Captain America take on a room full of men trying desperately to take him out.
This time it’s the Army of Assassins, sent by Baron Zemo to capture Cap and bring him back alive to Zemo’s South American hideout.
But as we saw last issue, Cap won’t be taken out by a room full of men, no matter how desperately they try.
Going back to what I mentioned earlier about a gauntlet and Ditko, this comic is tailor-made to allow Kirby to cut loose with some wall-to-wall action. After opening with a short fight sequence that is very reminiscent of the opening of From Russia with Love (1963), a substitute Captain America is defeated by some sneaky assassins in a training exercise set up by Zemo.
They engage with Cap at a public exhibition where Captain America is going to demonstrate the benefits of physical fitness and self-defense training. But the group of athletes who were supposed to take part have been gassed and stashed away. It’s the Army of Assassins who take the stage.
And proceed to have their asses handed to them in a fantastic fight sequence that really shows what Kirby can do when given free rein.
Sure, there’s not much to the story, but that’s not the point.
Lee/Kirby Captain America stories are, so far, all about the action. I suppose they’ll get around to doing more character work, but for now, I’m fine with this. The action is spectacular and Captain America is freaking awesome.
Sometimes that’s enough.
Kirby steps it up again with the cover to this issue. It looks like it’s done with colored pencils and is gorgeous. So gorgeous, in fact, that the blurb even says so!
On the inside, it’s part two of Thor vs. Hyde and Cobra, where Loki has powered the bad guys up in an attempt to make them a credible threat! And, in case you’ve forgotten, Jane Foster is dying, so Thor has stopped time around the House of Traps, in order to try and save her.
What’s interesting about this issue is that while Kirby does provide exciting action sequences as Thor does battle with Hyde and Cobra (and the house itself), we also get some Asgardian action to boot! Balder the Brave sings Odin a song that reminds him of something he’s spent centuries trying to forget: that he, the All-Father, once loved a mortal woman, too. And while they couldn’t be together, at least he can understand Thor’s predicament. As he says, “The living heart is one thing even Odin has no power to control.”
Anyway, he deems that Jane Foster shall live and tasks Loki to take a message to Hardol the Healer and provide medicine that will cure Jane. Loki says sure, having no intention of getting the meds, but that’s when Balder and a fine, upstanding group of Asgardian wa
rriors save the day.
Balder takes on the task of finding Hardol, while the warriors gang up to keep Loki out of mischief. Then Balder goes on an epic adventure, first surviving the Swamps of Endless Flames, then defeating a Phantom whose touch brings death, followed by making it through the Forest of Eternal Nightmare Plants, and finally crossing both the Valley of Swords and the Valley of Avalanches to get to Hardol’s tranquil hut.
Why the healer is so hard to get to is hard to say.
I guess that’s just how Vikings roll.
The medicine is provided just in time, of course, and all’s well that ends well.
I just have a hard time enjoying Thor’s earthly adventures when in Asgard, even a trip to the healer is fraught with more dangers than we’ve seen in half a year of adventures on Midgard.
Proving once again that the Tales of Asgard are much better when they’re actually based on myths, “The Secret of Sigurd” goes a little far afield of Norse mythology, but adapts the story of Hercules vs. Antaeus, with Thor in the Hercules role, and a stranger named Sigurd playing Antaeus.
For those not in the know, Anteaus was the son of Poseidon and Gaia who was exceptionally strong, so long as his feet touched the ground (his mother earth). Hercules beat him by holding him up off the ground and squeezing him to death.
We get a more sanitized version of the story here. In the Marvel Asgardian version, Thor, Loki, and Balder are out hiking, when they come across a fellow named Sigurd who claims the forest as his and challenges them to battle.
Again, that’s just how Vikings roll, I guess.
Loki knows what’s up and Balder remembers that Sigurd had some sort of secret, but can’t remember what it is. Thor is goaded into fighting him and finds, surprise, that every time he throws Sigurd to the ground, he gets up stronger. When Balder remembers Sigurd’s power, Thor hurls him into space.
At least Thor was kind enough to aim him for a deserted asteroid where he’ll “never menace either human or godling again!”
On a side note, the name Sigurd is a variation on Siegfried, the hero in the German Nibelungenlied, and Richard Wagner’s operas Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Where Stan Lee heard the name, who knows?
Well, sort of.
This is one of the most forgettable Avengers adventures so far. Kang sends a robot duplicate of Spider-Man back from the year 3000 to defeat the Avengers. It doesn’t work. The real Spider-Man shows up and saves the day. At the Temple of Tirod in Mexico.
Why Mexico? Why not, apparently.
The most interesting thing about this story is how well it syncs up with the rest of the comics out around this time. Tony Stark is missing and Iron Man has gone absent, too. The Avengers vote to provide Iron Man a leave of absence while he no doubt searches for his missing “employer.” We also have Wasp’s new costume syncing with its first appearance in this month’s Tales to Astonish.
It’s the little things like that that impress me the most sometimes.
Almost enough to overlook the absurdity that Kang has been “waiting patiently” for a moment to attack the Avengers again, like now, with Iron Man missing.
He’s a Master of Time Travel!
I don’t think there’s any reason for Lee to stick to the notion that the same amount of time has passed for Kang as for us. Can’t he just jump to whatever time he wants? Why wait?
That’s about all there is to this one.
Not much of a story here either, but it sure looks good.
I’m extremely tempted to leave it at that. I mean, come on. This issue, Daredevil fights an evil matador.
Called The Matador.
What else is there to say?
Oh, sure, Foggy wants to propose marriage to Karen, but, gasp! Matt loves her too! Luckily, he’s willing to sacrifice his happiness to live alone, fighting an evil matador.
He even says, “Where Daredevil walks, he must walk alone! Thus do I accept my lonely fate!”
He’s talking about himself in the third person and fighting an evil matador.
If Wally Wood didn’t make it all look so perfect and pretty, I’d be tempted to stop reading this stupid comic. What’s that? Who’s Wally Wood?
Get thee to the Internet. Oh wait, you’re already here. If you don’t know who Wallace Wood is, then just read his Wikipedia page and go from there.
The man was gifted, to say the least.
Unfortunately this was a sorry excuse for a script to introduce him to the Marvel readers.
And luckily we don’t go out on a sour note this month.
That’s right. You read that correctly folks.
Jack “King” Kirby returns to Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos to illustrate the historic first meeting of Captain America and Nick Fury! This is the good stuff, kids.
There’s just something special about Kirby and Ayers together working on this comic. I don’t know what it is, but Ayers alone just doesn’t compare. It may sound like hyperbole, but I’ll be damned if every freaking panel in this book is gold.
This is what I’ve been saying ever since Kirby left the title. He brings an energy and an exaggeration to the storytelling that is perfectly suited to the way Lee scripts the tale. The angles are more dramatic, the jaws are thrust out farther, and the explosions nearly blast off of the page.
Hell, there’s even a photo-collage panel slipped into the climactic scene as a tunnel explodes.
There’s just an all-around care in both the writing and the art that we hardly see in the rest of Marvel’s output. Not that Lee, Kirby, Ditko, and the rest aren’t doing excellent work in the superhero titles. It just seems like Lee, Kirby, and Ayers go above-and-beyond to craft the best book on the shelves when they’re working on Sgt. Fury.
If there was a gauntlet being thrown down this month, I’m afraid Kirby just came out on top.
And without further ado, I will say adios.