(Editor’s Note: Just before posting this month’s column I was informed of the tragic news that comics legend Gene Colan has passed away.
This is just awful.
Gene Colan was one of the greatest artists in the business, and helped to warp my little mind as a child with his horrifyingly beautiful work on Tomb of Dracula and his simply amazing and bizarre time with Howard the Duck.
One of my earliest memories of reading comics where the artist really stood out and caught my attention was in Howard the Duck # 13, when KISS emerged from Winda’s head in the mental ward. It was unnerving, insane, and gorgeous all at the same time. I don’t think anyone illustrated the glorious madness of the late Steve Gerber any better.
Mr. Colan, you too will be greatly missed. RIP.)
You know what time it is? It’s time for Mondo Marvel, the most insane comics-related endurance test that you’ll ever lay your eyeballs on!
Now get your eyeballs off of the screen and pay attention!
I’m writing this introduction before actually putting another word on the page, and at this point, I don’t think this installment of Mondo Marvel is going to be a very long one.
Well, this is a pretty weak month, if I do say so myself. And I do say so myself! It’s an uncharacteristically weak month, and not a good way to start off the new year. We’ve got a lot of half-baked ideas, refurbished plots, and just downright wastes of time.
But at least Spidey, Thor, and Nick Fury are there to save the day.
So we might as well get this over with. Here’s Mondo Marvel!
This issue opens with the declaration, “Introducing: The Fascinating Villainy of: Mr. Gideon!” And not only do we not need that second colon (because who really needs two colons?), we don’t need Mr. Gideon. He is decidedly not fascinating, nor is he really villainous.
He’s essentially Donald Trump without hair; a mega-rich asshat who thinks that he can do whatever he wants because he’s loaded. So he makes a bet with his main rivals that he can do anything they challenge him to do, and if he wins, they promise to sell out to him.
The task they choose? Defeat the Fantastic Four.
So he uses his vast fortune to mess with them and decides to adopt the most novel, um, I mean the most overused approach in Marvel Comics to take down the team: trick them and make them turn on each other. Unfortunately, Mr. Gideon’s only child loves the Fantastic Four, so when he finds out what daddy’s up to, he interferes and nearly gets sent back in time. Luckily, the time machine accidentally recoils when Reed cuts its power and returns them to the present.
What? Yeah. The plan culminates in Mr. Gideon using a knock-off of Doctor Doom’s time machine to try and send the FF back in time. However, we don’t get any of that.
You know, the one idea in this book that might inspire an interesting story.
Anyway, Mr. Gideon learns a valuable lesson about greed and family and something-or-other heartwarming before giving up his fortune and going home with his loving family.
I was not impressed.
The most interesting/disturbing thing about this issue to me was the fact that Alicia still can’t really tell that Ben and Johnny are horsing around when Ben threatens to pulverize Johnny or when Johnny threatens to burn Ben to death. There’s something about Reed having to physically restrain Ben during his violent freakouts, um, I mean goofing around that frightens the poor blind girl.
On the plus side, she’s getting used to Ben’s “temper tantrums.”
And what set him off this time?
The Yancy Street Gang sent him a Beatles wig and Johnny made a joke about it. But what nobody knows is that Ben always wanted to try on a Beatles wig. Seriously.
This one starts out fairly interesting, with Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch trying to decide whether or not to abandon Magneto. Quicksilver wants to split, but Wanda still feels like they owe Magneto something for saving them. If this seems like a pretty huge character development that could lead to a major shift in the X-Men group narrative, it is.
So you know it’s not going anywhere, being addressed in this sorry excuse for an ongoing series.
Because they don’t have any super-powered friends they can confide in and ask advice of, they decide to try asking the only super-powered people in New York with a public address: The Fantastic Four!
Unfortunately, when they get there, only Ben and Johnny are home, and as “luck” would have it, the X-Men have just released pictures of Magneto and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to the press. That’s bad timing, there.
Of course, if that wasn’t slipped into the story, there wouldn’t be any reason for Ben and Johnny to mindlessly attack their visitors and impress upon them that they don’t fit in anywhere except for among their dirty mutant allies.
Way to go, boys.
Remind me again why these two have their own series? Is it really just so we can watch them screw things up month in and out?
After the highs of the last two Doctor Strange adventures, this one just falls flat. There’s literally nothing interesting in this story.
Okay, that’s a little harsh.
If I had read it before the previous battle with The Dread Dormammu, it might have been okay. It’s really just treading water, doing next to nothing to advance any sort of character or plot development.
Sure, we get to see Strange use his snazzy new cloak of teleportation, and his shiny new amulet shoots a bright light.
But really… the villain of the piece calls himself The Demon?
Not only does the name not have anything to do with the character, The Demon is just a generic Ditko villain. But I mean that only in the visual sense, with his ridiculous headgear, absurdly flowing sleeves, and M.C. Hammer pants.
A generic Ditko villain should ideally at least have some sort of philosophical basis for his villainy. This guy’s just bad. Evil. And somehow, this is the first time anyone’s ever heard of him.
How does one get powerful enough to challenge Doctor Strange without somebody noticing?
What’s going on in the Marvel Magic Subculture? Don’t these folks get together and talk? If only just to gossip? Surely there’s a coffee shop they a
ll hang out at.
Now there’s an idea I’d like to see explored.
At least we get a few pages of freaky-deaky magic battle that lets Ditko just cut loose and fill the page with crazy shapes and funky poses.
That’s about all there is to praise in this one.
Well, I didn’t see that coming!
Remember last month how there was some guy tailing Peter and reporting to some mysterious boss? That guy’s name was Mac Gargin, and he was a private investigator. And the mysterious boss? That was J. Jonah Jameson trying to find out how Pete gets those amazing pictures!
What the hell?
Jameson has some serious issues. And serious cash to throw around.
Anyway, Jameson stumbles across a proposed article for his paper about a scientist who has found a way to cause mutations in animals, swapping characteristics from one beastie to another. Jameson snaps a bit and realizes that this doctor could maybe give powers to a human and that human could then destroy Spider-Man!
I mean it. Jameson’s losing it.
So Dr. Farley Stillwell, in need of funding, agrees to give it a try. Mac Gargin, in need of cash from any source, agrees to be the guinea pig. They’ll take home ten thousand dollars each and Jameson hopes to see Spider-Man defeated and ridden out of town on a rail.
The result is The Scorpion! And he’s one nasty piece of work. He’s extraordinarily strong, crushing granite blocks with his hands and outfitted with a heavy, sledgehammer-like tail on his costume. Oh, and I forgot to mention that as time passes, he gets stronger and stronger. And the stronger he gets, the more evil he becomes!
That’s a helluva side-effect, doc.
Spidey doesn’t have a lot of luck handling him, either. He gets his butt handed to him twice before figuring out that he should rip Scorpie’s tail off before just pounding him in the face over and over until he’s unconscious.
This was a close one. The Scorpion is a pretty formidable foe, which took me by surprise. I just figured he was a bad guy in a funny suit, but holy crap was I wrong.
Heh, I made the same mistake Spidey did.
At least I didn’t get beaten to a pulp in the process.
Unfortunately, Spidey can’t save Dr. Stillwell, who sacrifices his life to try and turn Scorpion back into a normal, amoral bastard. It’s not until Scorpie is about to murder Jameson in his own office that Spidey steps up his game and stops him.
And since this is an Amazing Spider-Man comic, we end with Pete being mocked by his school “chums”, treated like a baby by Aunt May, and having his glory stolen by Jameson. The final shot of Pete sitting in his room sewing up his tattered Spidey-Suit is pitch-perfect.
That epitomizes Spider-Man for me.
This is essentially “Trapped by the Protector!” from Tales to Astonish #37, told over again.
Don’t remember that one? Well, why should you.
It was the one where somebody was shaking down jewelry stores for protection money but it turned out The Protector owned one of the shops himself. Hank figured out who he was because his shop wasn’t making any money, but The Protector tried to shake him down anyway.
This time, somebody is shaking down a bunch of local businesses. Somebody calling himself The Wrecker. You see, if he doesn’t get paid, he wrecks their shit. And this time Hank figures out that it’s the guy who refuses to pay, but then quickly sells him his shop.
That’s right. Hank and Jan buy a hardware store in order to blend in to the community and draw The Wrecker’s attention.
I guess there are enough differences that this isn’t a total rip-off of the earlier story, but it’s so half-heartedly done that it all just feels lazy.
At least Hank spends part of this issue practicing his acrobatics and quick-shrinking/quick-growing. He’s aware of the fact that he was a clumsy loser when he started out and is trying to do something about it.
Sure, he’s still freaking people out by jumping out of windows and shrinking at the last minute so he doesn’t smash things up, but he’s trying.
Not that The Avengers have noticed.
But more on that later.
Did I mention that Jan gets sprayed with DDT this issue? For reals.
But don’t worry. She’s okay.
Yes, there is a train ride involved with this issue.
But that’s at the end.
This story begins in the laboratory of The Leader, who is hard at work on his Indescribable Humanoid!
Although I would describe it as a featureless spongy-man.
Anyway, The Leader sends his Humanoid to steal a generic nuclear device that’s being transported by train from one base in the Midwest to another. The whole scenario is so generic that not only is the device not described at all, there’s no real destination other than that generic “other base.”
It does set up an amusing battle between The Hulk and the Humanoid, which is made out of a weird, flexible sponge-like material and mentally controlled by The Leader from a distance.
Hmmm. The Hulk. The Humanoid. The Leader. A nuclear device. A base.
There’s not a whole lot of imagination at work here when it comes to setting up the plots and establishing the characters so far.
However, there is one interesting thing.
My memory may be faulty, but I think The Leader is the first Hulk villain who is also gamma-irradiated. His origin focuses specifically on the fact that he was an ordinary unskilled laborer who had never finished high school. But once he was dosed with Gamma Radiation (in a scene that visually very deliberately recalls Banner’s original accident), he becomes obsessed with reading and learning until one day he finally transforms into his green-skinned, huge-headed new identity.
When we contrast this with Banner’s transformation into Hulk we get a very similar pre- and post-accident connection. It looks like Gamma exposure doesn’t just change you randomly. It brings out the exact opposite of who you were before you were dosed.
This is an intriguing development, but not one that’s specifically laid out in the text. They may not stick with this effect as the series progresses, but it’s a neat little subtext and a clever way to kick off the new Hulk series.
Unfortunately, that’s about the only clever thing about the relaunch so far. This new approach to Hulk really lacks the energy a
nd enthusiasm that the original 6-issue series had. Looking back over those first six issues really makes these current ones seem all the poorer.
Sure, the stories weren’t as focused, but damn if they weren’t more entertaining.
On the other hand, it looks like we’re getting a longer-form attempt at storytelling, as each installment builds on the previous in one way or another, rather than telling done in one stories like we get with Giant Man and Wasp, or Thing and Human Torch.
I can’t help but wonder if that’s Ditko’s influence.
Of course, I ask that and then am reminded that we’re getting something similar here with Iron Man. Similar, but not exactly the same.
Sure, the story is building upon what came before, particularly since the “disappearance” of Tony Stark, but we’re still sticking to more of a done-in-one-or-sometimes-two approach. Mainly the story advancement involves the supporting characters.
This month, Happy and Pepper turn in their resignations because they just don’t trust Iron Man to be running things. And why should they when the first image we get is Iron Man, in full costume, relaxing in Stark’s chair with his feet up on the desk!
He surely doesn’t seem to be concerned with Stark’s disappearance, so why should anyone think he was really trying to do the right thing. It really looks like he’s stepping in to reap the rewards of being put in charge.
Of course, Stark is Iron Man, so we know what’s really going on, but it seems he should at least be trying to play the part of the concerned bodyguard.
Anyway, we get the Return of Tony Stark before we get to the Death of Tony Stark this issue. Happy starts sneaking around and surprises Stark. So, in order to keep Happy from discovering his secret identity, Stark jumps in bed and pulls the covers up to his chin, then tells Happy that he’s been hiding out with some kind of sickness.
This leads to police interviews, press coverage, and ultimately a giant laser-beam attack from space.
Yes, out of the blue, The Mandarin is back with a spy satellite/death ray that he uses to blow the living hell out of Stark’s living quarters. So with Stark assumed dead, Iron Man is off to China where he is immediately captured and tied to a huge spinning wheel.
At least next month we’re promised the Origin of The Mandarin!
That might be interesting.
And, establishing a Yellow Menace theme with this issue, Captain America heads over to Vietnam to take on The Sumo.
Yeah, Sumo is Japanese, but…
What’s really interesting about this is that this is being published right as President Lyndon Johnson was escalating the number of American troops in Vietnam, going from around 2000 a few years earlier to over 16,000 through 1964.
It’s one of those rare moments so far in Marvel history where the news and current events of the real world (beyond pop culture references like the Beatles, anyway) show up and influence what’s happening in the stories. Sure, we’ve had Commies and Red Agents and all that along with a little bit of the race to the moon, but setting a story in an Asian country where we’re building up and getting ready to engage in a serious conflict is something different.
Or maybe I’m reading too much into this. I guess Stan was reading the newspapers and thought it would be timely (ha!) to include the reference. Of course, he then turns it into a racist caricature by throwing a Japanese cliché into the mix as the Vietnamese General.
They all look alike, right?
Bad form, Stan.
This is really the least successful Captain America story so far, mainly because of the insertion of current events. It helps, though, that Cap’s there to rescue a captured helicopter pilot, Lieutenant Jim Baker.
No, not the disgraced televangelist, but a gray-skinned black man (there are any number of other shades of brown being used on the page – why are black folk always gray?) who’s older brother apparently helped rescue Cap one time in Europe during WWII, so he owes Baker a favor.
This provides the opportunity for Cap to not only fight some huge Vietnamese soldiers, but to deal with their gigantic Sumo leader.
Is it just me, or have I seen the action shots before? Especially the ones where two guys are attacking Cap from opposite sides and he ducks and/or twists?
Are we already getting stale visually here?
Or is it just an off-month?
I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
As if early Sixties Marvel New York wasn’t bad enough with all the super villains, Commies, and alien invasions going on, this issue of Journey into Mystery opens with Thor coming across what looks like is going to be a gang fight.
A gang fight between Thor and Hulk fans.
Seriously. It looks like it’s going to get violent any minute now.
This story has to be fan service to all the letters they had to be getting about who would win in a fight, so Thor calms everyone down and tells them a little story about when he and Hulk went mano y mano.
It all started back in Avengers #3.
You remember that, right? When The Avengers tracked down Hulk and found out he’d teamed up with Namor in Gibraltar and they fought each other to a standstill.
As it turns out, we didn’t see the whole story back then. It seems Thor and Hulk got separated from the rest and Thor decided this would be a good time to prove that he was the stronger of the two. So he took a little time-out and contacted Odin. After pleading his case, Odin agreed to remove the enchantments from Mjolnir, including the whole “one-minute rule”, so Thor could fight Hulk without any tricks.
This should be good!
And it is. Kirby brings all the crazy action that he’s been cutting loose with in “Tales of Asgard” and lets Thor go whole hog against a combatant who could take it and dish it out, too.
The best part may be the fact that Odin is watching from Asgard, sipping on wine and playing with his falcons. Odin knows how to relax and enjoy the big fight.
There’s not a lot more to it than this. Thor and Hulk beat the crap out of each other and it’s so much fun I can’t stand it! This is the most intellectually shallow comic of the month, but the most overall satisfying.
Or maybe I’m just simple.
And I love the fact that
in the closing panels, we discover the Hulk rampaging in the American Southwest, just pounding on shit and raging about how he wants to smash Thor…forever!
So, from what I can dig up, according the most of the mythology, Loki was one of the Jötunn, a race of Giants, and somehow he became Odin’s blood-brother. This is why he was brought into the Aesir to hang with Thor, Baldur, and the bunch. However, he was never really accepted, thanks to his being a devious manipulator and lying sumbitch.
He ended up tied to a tree or a rock depending on the story, after engineering the murder of Baldur and triggering Ragnarok. While bound there, a serpent drools poison down onto his brow. His wife tries to keep the poison from hitting him by catching it in a bowl, but whenever she goes to empty it, Loki gets a face of burning poison.
Then, when Ragnarok rolls around (heh, see what I did there?) he slips his bonds and dies battling Heimdall.
But if you ask anybody, they’re more than likely going to tell you that Loki is Thor’s half-brother. And do you know why?
Because of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. That’s why.
This “Tale of Asgard” tells the story of Odin’s battle with Laufey, King of the Giants of Jotunheim. The whole story is one long battle sequence, first between Odin (wielding Mjolnir, from the looks of it) and Laufey, but soon spiraling out to include an army of Giants and Norse Warriors.
This is the sort of thing Kirby was born for.
In the end, Odin discovers Laufey’s undersized embarrassment of a son, Loki, wrapped in a bundle and stashed in a corner. And though he is warned that even Loki’s name sounds evil and foreboding, since he’s a True Prince, Odin makes a snap decision that will affect all of Asgard and the Nine Worlds from that moment on.
He decides to adopt the creepy little bugger with his antennae-like hair-do.
All in all, it’s a classic origin story that really fits perfectly into the grand, mythological scale of these “Tales of Asgard”. It’s one I remember, panel-for-panel, from my childhood reading these stories in reprint collections. I think it was Bring on the Bad Guys where I first read it!
And starting next month, we get more childhood adventures of Thor and Loki! I can’t wait!
Seriously. It’s good stuff!
So when I mentioned Hank trying to up his game, but The Avengers not paying attention? Well, it nearly gets him killed this issue.
You see, he gets a warning from his ant friends that something bad is building up underground and when he tells his friends and comrades, The Avengers, they laugh him out of the room, insult him, and abandon him.
Even Jan thinks to herself how ridiculous it sounds to say you talk to ants.
So Hank goes off on his own to investigate the problem, and promptly runs into The Mole Man! And hordes of those creepy underground dwellers, the Subterrareans!
Well, they’re not so creepy the way Heck draws them. When Kirby drew them, back in Fantastic Four #22 they were genuinely disturbing. Here, they’re just mildly creepy.
Anyway, Hank gets captured, of course, and The Avengers have to come save him. But not before The Mole Man’s new Atomic Gyroscope has begun speeding up the rotation of the earth, causing a subtle slip into apocalyptic death and destruction.
As if that weren’t enough, we get a couple of pages where Cap beats up some thieves. Also, from out of nowhere, The Red Ghost shows up, sans his Super-Apes, to help the Mole Man. Turns out the apes were too unpredictable.
Really? They were apes! What did he expect?
Anyway, he’s ditched them and doesn’t need anybody now!
Well, except he wants to team up with Mole Man for some reason.
It’s kind of like they just pulled his name out of a hat and said, “Okay, let’s pair these two up.”
Hank ends up saving the day and vindicating himself and his ant friends. Then Thor actually destroys Mole Man’s “war making potential” for months, at least, and Iron Man brings down the house on everyone, hopefully closing off the bad guys’ route to the surface.
Except they’re underground dwellers. Does he think they don’t have the means to dig tunnels?
This slow and uninspired story ends with a panel of The Avengers preparing to offer an apology to Hank (whenever he actually gets there), and one of Mole Man and Red Ghost bitching at each other.
I’m a little worried about The Avengers. Something needs to happen here soon or I’m going to really lose interest in the series.
I’m not sure why The Avengers are in this one.
I guess they make a nice diversion; something to keep the kids entertained while the grown-ups do the real work. And by that, I mean while Xavier does battle with Lucifer!
Naw, not Lucifer, the Devil, but Lucifer, the evil genius that somehow cost Xavier the use of his legs. How did that happen?
Charles’ll tell you that story sometime, if they get out of this alive.
For some reason, Lucifer has his headquarters in a cave, deep underground in the Balkans. And while Charles makes his way down to confront him, The X-Men have crossed the ocean on a cruise ship and are rushing through Europe to help.
I’m not sure if Stan knew exactly where the Balkans were, to be honest. He has the team crossing the North Atlantic, barely avoiding an iceberg on the way, then suddenly they’re in a Bavarian village (which is in southern Germany), then they enter a cave and are in the Balkans (which is in southeastern Europe). Apparently in the Marvel Universe, Europe is about the size of a small town.
Of course, I guess I shouldn’t expect him to get his geography right, if he can’t even be bothered to differentiate between the Vietnamese and Japanese in that Captain America story. Hell, he’s probably so jazzed up on coffee he’s lucky to not see everything as a blur.
Anyway, The Avengers show up too, because Thor’s hammer is tingling.
And no, that’s not a V.D. joke. Although I’m sure there are some fine specialists in Bavaria doing work that wouldn’t be approved in the U.S. at the time.
He senses evil and The Avengers are there to put a stop to it. But Lucifer has his heartbeat rigged up to a monstrous Thermal Bomb. It’s somehow “aimed” at the heart of Antarctica (more interesting geography) and will cause the destruction of the world if it go
So Xavier tells the X-Men to keep the Avengers from busting in and possibly killing Lucifer. He’s got it all under control, anyway, using his psychic powers to put Lucifer in a coma.
Once that’s taken care of, he calls off his X-Men and only then decides to explain it all to Thor, who immediately sees the wisdom in not killing Lucifer and calls for the Avengers to head for home. Useless, really. The whole point of including them here is just to see a few pages of them fighting the X-Men.
If this sort of thing keeps up, pretty soon everybody in the Marvel Superhero Subculture is going to have the super-fight equivalent of chlamydia.
Now that was a V.D. joke.
Not a good one, I know. But I’m tired.
So Cyclops is able to disarm the bomb and then they just let Lucifer go. Because they have sworn never to hurt anyone. Really. But Charles lets him know that they’re not even. They’ve just stopped one of his evil plans, but he still can’t walk!
It’s really kind of a letdown.
If that title doesn’t tell you everything you need to know, then something’s wrong with you. Baron Strucker putting together his own Howling Commandos?
And as it turns out, it’s not half bad. Again, though, we’re weak on story and strong on action, so it’s not a complete win, but close enough.
Essentially the story is just what I said. Hitler orders Baron Strucker to capture Fury and the Howlers alive, so he can watch them die. Strucker is given every resource and decides that creating his own Howlers team is the way to go.
One interesting note in all this: Even Strucker thinks Hitler is a madman.
Nice one, Stan!
Even more entertaining than having Strucker think bad thoughts about his boss, is the fact that as Strucker puts his Blitzkrieg Squad through their exhaustive training, he grows stubble just like Fury’s. It’s kind of endearing. In a way.
The Blitzkrieg Squad is a nice touch, with each of the team members recruited being chosen because they are essentially German versions of the Howlers. Sure, they don’t get names, but they each have a distinctive hat.
And in a surprise guest-appearance, we have the return of Skipper (last seen in Sgt. Fury #10)! You remember Skipper, right? No, not Barbie’s friend. Capt. Simon Savage! He later gets an actual name, transfers to the Marines, and gets his own comic: Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders (but that’s not until 1968)!
The rest of the comic goes off pretty much as you’d expect. Strucker lays out a trap, the Howlers fall for it and get captured for a minute or two, but then they bust out and make fools of the Blitzkrieg Squad and Baron Strucker.
Believe you me. Hitler is not impressed.
But I am. This was another pretty entertaining Sgt. Fury adventure, and there was just something about the clean lines of Ayers and Roussos that worked for me. Sometimes it doesn’t, but this time it did.
Maybe I just dug the stylish outfits the Blitzkrieg Squad got to wear: black turtlenecks with snazzy little red skull and crossbones on them. Fascist flair is fashion cool, as Bowie said.
And that does it for the comics this month. Although I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this month marks the launch of the Merry Marvel Marching Society!
There’s a full-page ad in most of the books, promising a membership button that reads, “I Belong to the Merry Marvel Marching Society!”, a batch of “useless” stickers (including some that say “Stamp Out the M.M.M.S.!”, for those who don’t appreciate them), a M.M.M.S. membership card, and a certificate, signed by Stan Lee and suitable for framing! But the real prize is an honest to goodness 33 1/3 flexi-disc with “the actual voices of the Bullpen Gang clowning around and welcoming you to the M.M.M.S.!”
In 2007, Doug Pratt actually posted a remastered version of that classic record on his website, where you can listen to and/or download it at your convenience. Here’s the link!
When it says “talk about a collector’s item” they weren’t kidding! They even have their own theme song! Don’t believe me? Watch this:
And it’s all for the measly price of one hard-earned buck! With more surprises promised somewhere down the line!
I would have signed up for this without a moment’s hesitation. Hell, I’d probably do it now, just for kicks, with the current “bullpen”.
Well, that wasn’t as short as I thought it was going to be. Oh well. I’m a glutton for punishment!
Until next time, Wah-hoo!