Walt the World’s Been Waiting For

To my regret and disappointment, I decided to quit the Facebook group for Twomorrows’ Back Issue Magazine this week. I had posted a comment to the effect that DC characters of the 80s who seemed heavily influenced by Marvel (or more specifically Kirby Marvel characters) failed to find a long-term audience. I cited Jade and Obsidian from Infinity Inc. – who owe a lot to Wanda and Pietro, as the rest of the team echo the Avengers- and Blue Devil.

One member of the group took  issue with my only passing familiarity with the latter, fairly obscure character. Another poster went to great length to “mansplain” how BD’s creators was more overtly influenced by Ditko- whose Creeper is revived by DC every decade with no real commercial impact, I might add.

While I don’t think my point was invalidated at all, the condescension and antagonism was most unpleasant and it’s making me reassess whether it’s worth venturing an opinion on comical books for the vituperation of (other) middle aged men.

 

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Clearly no influence.

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Nonetheless, here are my thoughts on a collection of Bronze Age Thor comics. I picked up this b/w library copy because it reminded me of my own school days when US Marvels were spottily distributed. Also the thumbnails printed in the sporadic but thrilling FOOM Magazine marked Kirby’s return to the title after half a decade. The third reason was the debut of Walt Simonson as Thor’s penciller. Another series with which I’m largely unfamiliar is the 80s Thor run , apart from a few of the Malekith/Casket of Ancient Winters issues. Simonson’s Manhunter for DC seemed like a Marvel hero manque ( as we’ll see when I come to post on Deathlok and Skull the Slayer). His very brief reboot of the Avengers at the end of the decade is an oddball favourite of mine.

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Authorship of the God of Thunder’s adventures had passed by 1975 from sci-fi writer Gerry Conway to another DC creator, Len Wein ( who would originate the All-New X-Men in the same time period.) The bulk of the artwork in this book is by John Buscema, who lends a savage grandeur to Thor’s worlds.

This is most noticeable in the reprinted Thor Annual 5, which I believe was repurposed material from an aborted b/w Thor the Mighty magazine. Steve Englehart retells the first clash between Thor and Hercules in a Tolkeinesque saga, stripped of most Kirbyisms.

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However, in the regular monthly series, Wein revived many Lee/Kirby antagonists for Thor: Mangog, Ulik,  the Grey Gargoyle, the Destroyer and even the Stone Men from Saturn. He also revisited the very worn trope of Loki seizing the throne of Asgard with the aid of the Enchantress and Executioner. The Rigellian Recorder joined the supporting cast once again while Jane Foster was suddenly replaced by Sif, in a rather arbitrary reversal of their Rick Jones/Mar-Vell sytle melding.

While, by the end of the collection, Wein decided to reset Thor’s status quo as an Earthbound hero, interacting with fellow Avenger Iron Man and Nick Fury ( and with cameos by Mar-Vell, Daredevil, Nova and Shang-Chi), the majority of the run features aliens and monsters. One of the few two-parters I bought at the time ( issues 256-57) is a sci-fi/horror tale with a twist.

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The decaying worldship Levianon is very similar to the vessel in Space 1999‘s Mission of the Darians. The Kirby Klassic monster Sporr, in its motivation,  is also very like the creature from the “Conan: The Crawler in The Mists” record album that was adapted for the barbarian’s newspaper strip.

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The book also reprints the 1977 Thor Annual. This is the prologue to the Korvac/Avengers storyline, pitting the God of Thunder against the 70s version of the Guardians of the Galaxy and the world-beating cyborg himself.

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It’s rather bland and workaday but it features a cute homage to Cap’s revival from the ice, as the Guardians rescue Thor from floating in space.

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Unfortunately, this whole collection felt a little stale and second-hand. While the distinctive and ornate Norse trappings of Simonson’s vision  are evident from his second issue (#261), the quest for Odin, trapped on the Doomsday Star strongly reminded  me of Conway’s God-Jewel and Black Stars epics.  Wein is a more stylish writer than Conway- certainly more so than his contemporary, the saccharine, overwrought Marv Wolfman. But, as with his JLA scripts, his nostalgia for the Sixties stifles invention, aside from the automated Adamantium menace of FAUST. This is largely dull fare, although the artwork is gritty and regal.

Coming soon : Deathlok, Skull the Slayer and Magik

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Give My Regards to Sgt. Fury

Apologia: I may not always reply to your comments but it doesn’t mean I don’t read and appreciate them.

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My oldest surviving friendship in Glasgow is with Alex Harvey, whose rock star father wrote the song referenced in the title of today’s post. I recently read the Marvel Masterworks collection of the early Howling Commandos tales. War comics, along with Romance and the very prolific Westerns, are among the Marvel titles I rarely – if ever- read. Just over forty years ago in MWOM #220, Nick Fury’s battle diaries were serialised in b/w from December 1976.  Weirdly, although this was the long-distant period immediately before Louise Jameson’s Leela joined Doctor Who, those British weeklies feel quite recent to me!  Last December, I fell asleep twice during Rogue One and berated it as a poor imitation of a genuine war film – one that might feature some real acting.

Here’s a breakdown of the contents of the book:

 

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Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos is an explosive, dramatic introduction. Junior Juniper is a typically Kirby name and the group echo the diversity of other Kirby gangs- foremost, the Boy Commandos but also the next generation of the Newsboy Legion and the Dingbats. In a tense mission to rescue a Free French leader, resistance fighter Marie Labrave (!) looks a lot like Kirby’s first Agent Carter.

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Seven Doomed Men: the Howlers infiltrate a concentration camp to foil experiments with heavy water. The story ends with a mushroom cloud but unlike wartime stories at Bronze Age DC, there is no handwaving to suggest history has been rewritten.

Midnight on Massacre Mountain: the strange atomic world of WWII Marvel is referenced again.  Marvel After a pub brawl in Stratford-Upon-Avon, an MP asks if the Howlers are fed on H-bombs.  On an Italian mission, the squad uncover an SS officer impersonating a war correspondent. We also meet Reed Richards of the OSS! I can easily imagine Wolverine being retconned into this story at some point.

Lord Ha-Ha’s Last Laugh: this is the first Fury story I ever read- although I’m not sure where: an annual, perhaps?- and it’s significant for several developments in the Fury Formula established thus far. We are introduced to aristocratic Pam Hawley who will be Nick’s sweetheart until her tragic exit in one of the most moving episodes of the series.  Her brother, the eponymous propagandist, is a thinly-disguised portrayal of the traitor William Joyce. The Howlers travel to Berlin to capture him, as part of a circus troupe ( an early Marvel trope). Death is foreshadowed in the circus ring: ” Some way for a Howler to die…” and the prediction is fulfilled by baby-faced Junior Juniper. This is probably the highlight of the Kirby run.

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At the Mercy of Baron Strucker: this is the second Fury story I ever read. It appeared in the Pow annual above, alongside the debut of  both the Looter ( later the Meteor Man)  and the FF’s Invincible Man. Fury, driven by guilt over Junior’s death, is demoted after he is lured into a duel with Bavarian baron and weapons master, Strucker. Stan and Jack borrow the duel from Hamlet but locate Jutland (Denmark) is in the English Channel! Strucker is a cheat and a hissable baddie, the antagonist the series needed, who would return in Steranko’s SHIELD as Supreme Hydra; his descendants would include the terrorist twins Fenris (and a new Swordsman).

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The Fangs of the Desert Fox:  Dino is injured and replaced temporarily by the bigoted George Stonewell. It’s a rather ground-breaking “message” story where Jazz player Gabe gives the racist a blood transfusion. Some Arab allies in the desert also communicate the brotherhood theme.

The Court Martial of Sgt. Fury: does an amnesiac Fury bear a lifelong grudge against a superior officer? Flashbacks to Fury’s youth make for an interesting change of pace in a courtroom drama.

The Death Ray of Dr. Zemo: This is the first issue by Dick Ayers and it’s also notable for Marvel’s first ostensibly gay character, the David Niven-esque Percy Pinkerton ,who is Junior’s replacement. Certainly, his colourful name and his imitation by American soldiers  might very vaguely imply Percy’s sexuality but really, to me, he’s just depicted as another effete Britisher. We are also introduced to a treacherous, hoodless Nazi scientist with a disintegrator ray. I wish Stan and Jack had stuck to his adhesive obsession. Heh.

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Mission: Capture Adolf Hitler: Fury inveigles Strucker into a mission to kidnap the Fuhrer – but it turns out to be a double.

On to Okinawa: Jewish American Izzy impersonates a “Jap” and the Howlers compare him to Marlon Brando ( who wasn’t on Broadway until 1944! ) perhaps as a reference to Teahouse of the August Moon.

The Crackdown of Captain Flint: a by-the-book new commanding officer ends up becoming more like Fury- down to the stubble and see-gar- in a mission to smash a rocket convoy.

When a Howler Turns Traitor: In another mission to stop V-1 rockets, Dino poses as a deserter but ends up facing the firing squad until Fury turns up in the nick of time.

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Fighting Side-By-Side with Captain America: Kirby returns for a dynamic team-up with Cap’n’Bucky. Pam and Nick watch a newsreel of the Sentinel of Liberty and Nick grouses; Steve Rogers drinks in the Pig and Whistle and the action alternates between the two leads.  Gabe is injured for the second time in thirteen issues. The story involves a secret tunnel built to invade Britain. It’s blown up in an early example of Kirby Kollage. After the Ayers issues, it’s refreshing but there’s a lot of plot and character crammed into these pages

The Ayers episodes simply aren’t as strong as the Kirby adventures. There’s more slapstick and comedy and a flavour of Apokolips in Jack’s stories. Some Howlers seem redundant: Rebel Ralston the jockey and Izzy Cohen the mechanic, play little part in the stories. Dino, the Dean Martin analogue, is often the second lead but supporting characters like Pam, “Happy Sam” and “Bull” McGivney  are memorable.  I was surprised by how entertaining the series was and I would recommend it to fans of Sixties Lee and Kirby.

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So now, the only continuing Marvel stories of the Sixties  I haven’t tried are seafaring exploits of Captain Savage and his Leatherneck Raiders. But I think I’d rather experience Kirby’s work on the Losers at DC instead. Coming up soon:   Spy Smasher; Walt Simonson’s earliest sagas of Bronze Age Thor; the dystopian 1990s as experienced  by Deathlok the Demolisher.

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Journey of the Sorceror

So, here we are just over five years later, with the 300th post on  a blog- more often about old comics than not- which I originally started a year after moving to Elgin. Now,  three months after moving back to Glasgow and a mere six weeks after picking  it up from the sorting office, today’s tricentennial post concerns the 1979 Fireside book Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts.

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I had actually planned to buy this book for Christmas about a year ago but only got round to reading it last night. It’s an ebay purchase and in beautiful condition. Not only are the adventures of Doc Strange among my oldest recollections of Silver Age Marvel (primarily from 60s issues of Fantastic), he is probably the supernatural star of the Big Two whose comics I’ve read most. Perhaps DC’s Dr. Fate , Swamp Thing and Etrigan the Demon are fairly distant rivals unless we count Tomb of Dracula- but that’s rather blurring horror/monster comics with magic-users.

This is a slim book by necessity, since most of the stories were from the split book Strange Tales, which Doc shared with the Human Torch. As has become my wont lately, I’m dividing this review into three sections.

The first are the early adventures of Doc Strange, when his costume consisted of sombre shades of blue. This look is the one I’ve come to like best for the Sorceror Supreme. This early period also sees Doc depicted as of Asian origin: Kurt Busiek has made quite a case for this on Twitter. While it supports stereotypes of Orientals and “Celestials”, it is in keeping with Dr. Droom (subsequently Doctor Druid) the progenitor of the series.

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Face to Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo: I think this is the second Strange Tale and it introduces the sinister Mordo, who launches an attack on The Master ( the original sobriquet for the Ancient One. The spirit combat between the two adepts is more akin to Tibetan philosophy ( and Beat poetry) than the Lovercraftian tropes of Dr. Fate

Return to the Nightmare World is a sequel to the very first Strange Adventure (!). The Shadow World is a riot of stylish symbolism and the surreal. The face of the gaunt and evil Nightmare is always in shadow. How daring to introduce abstract villians that represent human consciousness- it’s a development of Jungian horrors like the Joker or Two-Face.

Beyond the Purple Veil: burglars who try to steal a mystic gem have to be rescued from slavery by the tyrant of the Purple Dimesion, Aggamon ( NOT Agamotto, apparently)

The House of Shadows: a live tv broadcast from a haunted house leads Strange to discover the house itself is actually an intruder from another “space-time continuum”. On some levels, Strange Tales (!!) can be read as science fiction. Here, in this clash with technology, the doctor is depicted as a silent, brooding figure reminiscent of the Phantom Stranger

The Challenge of Loki: I read this story again last summer in Galloway in the 1979 Marvel Summer Special. George Bell’s inking  makes Ditko look less ornate and more cartoony; more like his 70s work on Machine Man or Captain Universe.

These episodes are all unconnected save the Nightmare rematch. This is a contrast to the next cycle: three stories from the epic battle between Strange and the Mordo/Dormammu team.

The Hunter and the Hunted sees Strange on the run from his enemies in Hong Kong. It’s a pulp thriller that reminds me of the Englehart/Ditko Djinn story- I only ever saw one episode of that in Coyote.

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Face To Face At last With Baron Mordo reworks the title of the very first story in the book in a colourful clash that I first read in an issue of Marvel’s Greatest Comics: one which also reprinted the first appearance of the revamped  Black Widow.

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A Nameless Land, a Timeless Time pitches Strange into a dimension ruled by Shazana. Her good half-sister is a bit too much like Clea while Shazana joins the ranks of despots like Tiboro and Tazza. I really would have liked to see the story that introduced Eternity instead.

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I think I first read The Wondrous Worlds of Doctor Strange, from a Spider-Man annual, in the Fantastic summer special. Unusually, it’s plotted and drawn by Ditko and like the last story, the occult landscapes are astonishing. Spidey seems exceptionally sanguine about being banished to an unknown dimension…

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Stan’s last Strange tale, While the World Spins Mad is drawn by Barry Smith. It’s a blend of Art Nouveau and psychedelic imagery in the vein of Smith’s final Conan stories. Smith is a perfect replacement for Gene Colan as a master of mood but with an extra dimension of exoticism. This comic relaunched Doc for the Seventies.

I would have like to have seen a whole volume depicted to the Dormammu/Mordo saga – or the inclusion of the Lovecraft homage which was the last issue of the blue-visaged Strange of my childhood. Nonetheless, this  gorgeous book is one of the most enjoyable Fireside reprint collections, none of which I owned in the 70s because I’d seen most of the material too recently in the British weeklies.

Coming up in the winter of 2017:  the battle diaries of Stephen Strange’s co-star, Nick Fury; the earliest Simonson Thor sagas; Byrne’s Superman revisited; Skull the Slayer and Deathlok the Demolisher.

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Bronze Age Baby

It was disappointing to see the informative and friendly  Bronze Age Babies blog announce a state of permanent hiatus back in November. By way of a tribute, today’s post, the last one for 2016, will look at Bronze age Spider-Man team-ups, reprinted in one of my Xmas ebay buys.

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Spider-Man Annual 1977 would have gone on sale in the autumn of 1976. My parents had bought me the trio of annuals for 1975 but none of the 1976 annuals. Then for Xmas 1976, they got me the Mighty World of Marvel annual, the Star Trek annual and that year’s oversized Dr. Who annual (as they had the previous year) so I was lucky to get what I did in that era of austerity. My dad was still working as the manager of the TSB in Strathaven- it would be another couple of years before he moved to the Uddingston branch, his last job- and my mum was still a civilian typist in the police pool in East Kilbride. I was in second year at Strathaven Academy at that time.

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In the present day, I like to pick up a UK Marvel annual for its nostalgia value and the fact they sometimes contain material which wasn’t reprinted in the weeklies, such as the 1977 Avengers and Titans annuals.

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Another case in point are the two 1975 Giant-Size stories in the Spidey annual:

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The Yesterday Connection is a collaboration by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. It’s a timey-wimey adventure with Doc Savage, where the protagonists never actually meet. It also has something of the flavour of a Gardner Fox JLA yarn. On October 7th, 1974, Spidey is lured to a demolition site by an extra-dimensional woman called Desinna. Her astonishingly revealing costume gives Aala of Bal-Sagoth a run for her money.

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Spidey’s antagonist is not a satyr as the cover suggests but a Dick Dillin-style force field in humanoid form. A flashback establishes how Clark Savage and his Amazing Five encountered Desinna in the Thirties. She requested their help to restrain her mutated colleague Tarros and the sextet imprisoned the entity in the foundations of a building, now demolished. Spidey reasons that Doc was deceived by Desinna’s feminine wiles, which rather writes off the elder hero as her dupe, and ensures that Tarros  metes out his own justice for his mutation and exile.

My first encounter with Marvels’ Man of Bronze was the Buscema/Moench Silver Ziggurat story in the UK Super-Heroes Weekly but Ross Andru’s rendition of the Thirties heroes is quirky and full of character. Conway’s story rather cheats the reader of a team-up; if you can buy into a parallel world without time inhabited by blue humanoids, why not a full-blown time travel adventure for Web-head?

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The second story has no sci-fi elements. To Sow the Seeds of Death is the first team-up for Spidey and Conway’s gangland executioner the Punisher since his first UK appearance in the 1975 Spider-Man annual. The Punisher’s killing of a kidnapper at the beginning of the story is quite brutal and shocking. Spidey trails the Punisher to his abandoned power station hq and is informed of the Deterrence Research Corporations experiments on kidnap victims with toxic gas. Punny and Spidey infiltrate the DRC’s office but Spidey is captured and shipped by hover-copter to the death camp run by the organisation.Of course, Punisher pursues him and ensures director Moses Magnum dies horribly and graphically, exposed to the gas. Merry Christmas!

Magnum is unequivocally established as being born fifteen years before Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Despite his advancing years and melting to death, the alliterative arch-fiend appears in a  sequel to this story – a Luke Cage adventure by Chris Claremont, published in the US in the summer of 76-  which would be reprinted in the 1978  MWOM annual. Moses Magnum would return yet again from apparent death to menace Japan in the X-Men story which wrote out Banshee; the DRC, meanwhile, return in Spider-Woman 34, from very early in 1981, also written by Claremont.

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The Longest Hundred Yards is a straightforward crime thriller with no super-villain presence. The daughter of a computer scientist (and  former university football star) is kidnapped to extort a computerised catalogue of “all worldwide habitual offenders”. The scientist re-enacts his last,losing game in order to save his child but of  course, it ends tragically- a key note of Spidey stories? It’s a bit corny but shows Len Wein was a writer with a shade more flair than Conway. Unfortunately for the 1976 reader, the story would immediately be reprinted in the Super Spider-Man weekly in January 1977.

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Next year, I think I’ll go for that aforementioned  Mighty World of Marvel annual for 1978. but I’ve never read “The Web and the Flame”  in the 1979 Spidey annual. That’s a decision to make eleven months from now! In the meantime, have a happy new year- all the best for 2017!

Coming soon: Strange Tales

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Ants Will Vanquish The Lion

One of the series I most enjoyed this year was Nick Spencer’s Ant-Man, a broadly comic Elmore Leonard take on Marvel’s surprise cinematic star. In the last week, I read the Marvel Masterwork collection of Hank Pym’s original adventures, commencing with 50s-style monster shocker,  The Man in the Ant Hill.

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Ant-man is one of the most venerable heroes of Marvel’s Silver Age but I originally read his exploits quite out of sequence. First in the Avengers, the third Marvel UK b/w weekly. Then from 1976, in the Super-Heroes weekly ( see also https://materioptikon.wordpress.com/2015/02/)  and finally as Ant-Man in the Hulk weekly.

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We can divide the Ant-Man saga into three phases beginning with Return of the Ant-Man and continuing with Challenge of Comrade X/Trapped by the Protector/Betrayed by the Ants/Vengeance of the Scarlet Beetle/Day That Ant-Man Failed. These are Lee/Larry Lieber/Kirby adventures introducing the secret lab where Hank is catapulted into action- first against a young woman who masquerades as a Stalin lookalike; then, the traitor Egghead who might have inspired Vincent Price’s memorable Bat-villain; a mutated insect bent on world domination who reminds me of the denizens of Kamandi’s Dominion of the Devils; and the Protector and the Hijacker: racketeers who star in identical plots.

These are all disposable tales but they’re distinguished by Kirby’s invention and dynamism. Even the duplicated villains have a distinctive look.

The next phase is delivered by the Lieber-Don Heck team, beginning with Prisoner of the Slave World, where Hank recruits alien insects to overthrow an extra-dimensional warlord who has kidnapped Earth scientists. This dismal phase continues with The Voice of Doom and Mad Master of Time.  The former is a radio announcer who gains mind control powers akin to the more interesting and longer-lived Purple Man. The latter is a mad scientist with an ageing ray, redeemed by the affection of his nephew.

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The Wasp is introduced in The Creature From Kosmos, where we learn about Hank’s tragic marriage to Maria Trovaya. This retcon introduces a note of obsession and vengeance in Hank’s character and also rings a warning bell for his relationship with Jan, who has also been touched by tragedy. Hank refers to her as a child three times in the one story, which is unsettling. The whole thing smacks of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. However, flighty, silly Jan has another side, as we see later: a storyteller for “shut-ins” ( orphans and war veterans) in what seem to be rejected Tales of the Watcher.

The subsequent Hank & Jan stories are dreary and don’t capitalise on the grim, avenging angle. The  Terrible Traps of Egghead/ When Cyclops Walks The Earth/Music to Scream By/The Porcupine are all by Heck and Ernie Hart. The Cyclops is an alien invasion story which will be revisited in the subsequent Colossus adventure. (Holy Gifted Youngsters!) Trago, the Man with the Magic Trumpet reminds me of Golden Age Flash-foe the Fiddler. Jan, we discover, loves good jazz and digs a cool brass man. The Porcupine will always be a loser and will die in the 80s Cap/Serpent Society storyline.

The final phase sees Kirby return to revitalise Hank with The Birth of Giant-Man.  After only fifteen stories, all very lacklustre, Hank has an adventure with the Living Eraser, in a tale very reminiscent of Kirby’s Xeen Arrow epic.

The book concludes with my favourite villain from my earliest memories of Terrific, the Space Turnip- er, The Human Top. Dave Cannon has quite a developed back story and seems very realised.

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Showdown with the Human Top is a much more lively and vivid story and Kirby makes full use of Hank’s giant stature. Unfortunately, Hank’s self confidence issues are highlighted too, as Jan fakes his tests against a speedy Top robot. Again, we see Jim Shooter’s disintegration of Hank Pym’s sanity has an inevitable historical basis.

The last story is The Black Knight Strikes: I first read this in a b/w Alan Class comic in Lesmahagow in the early 70s. Another traitor scientist, Nathan Garrett, creates a flying horse through genetic engineering but is unnerved by Hank’s changing size?! A visually impressive villain who would go on to challenge Iron Man, his biggest contribution was the inspiration for the heroic Black Knight of Avengers fame ( Marvel’s first “Britisher” hero by proxy).

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It’s worth noting that DC’s Mighty Mite, the Atom, lasted for thirty-eight issues before a merger with Hawkman. Almost ten more than Gi/Ant-Man, despite being pitched into campy corn in the mid-60s. Why was Ray Palmer more successful than Ant-Man? The art by Gil Kane is one factor but I suspect it was the consistency of the gimmick-driven Gardner Fox scripts- the Atom’s competition in the form of the Flash, Green Lantern and even Batman was fairly equal. Compared to Spider-Man and the FF, however, Ant-Man was tame, predictable and sophisticated.

The drama and visual impact of the Kirby Giant-Man was too little, too late. Hank would get a new costume with a helmet resembling his Ant-Man gear in his final exploits, before being replaced by Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish and by Cap’s Kooky Quartet in the Avengers. No wonder he felt undermined.  When he returned, it was as the tormented but more dynamic Goliath. If Don Heck designed the costume, it’s one of his best, right up there with Sunfire.

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Hank of course had a further stint as Ant-Man in the early 70s, (pencilled by Herb Trimpe as a pastiche of The Incredible Shrinking Man) but spent the rest of the decade as the infamous Yellowjacket.  The flippant, fallible Scott Lang Ant-Man of the late Seventies was largely a supporting character in Iron Man, Avengers and the FF , even undergoing death and resurrection in the 2000s. Making him a good-hearted schlub and f*ck-up, as in the movie, seems to have made him a success in our cynical, solipsistic era.

Coming soon: Give My Regards to Sgt. Fury

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The Batmobile Lost a Wheel

It’s an overcast, stormy Christmas Eve morning here in suburbia. This festive period also marks the end of the 50th anniversary of the Batman tv show: the series which I remember most vividly as a preschool child and one I was still watching in middle age, trying to get a teaching job, as recently as four or five years ago.

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Last weekend, I read Batman: the TV Stories, a trade paperback released in response to the Batman ’66 title ( I might be posting about the 66/Steed/Mrs. Peel series on Some Fantastic Place soon). The reprints within were inspiration or direct sources for plots or plot elements in the tv series and they include:

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The Riddler: I first read this Bill Finger/Dick Sprang adventure in a b/w edition of the  Batman 30s-70s trade paperback, which I found in the Parnie Street incarnation of City Centre Comics in Glasgow at some point between the late 90s and  early 2000s. We are introduced to puzzle expert and cheat, E. Nigma, a visually memorable foe who vanishes in a pierside explosion at the climax of the story. As we know, it was Frank Gorshin’s manic and zestful performance as the giggling, grandiose Riddler which catapulted the character out of obscurity, languishing with the Signalman or Dr. Double-X.

A Hairpin, A Hacksaw, A Hole in the Ground: plotting to establish himself as the authority on comedy, the Joker traps B&R in a deathtrap where the masks of tragedy and comedy spout gas. This Finger/Lew Schwartz tale gives the lie to the idea that the Joker only returned to his murderous ways under O’Neil and Adams in the 70s.

The Joker’s Utility Belt: I first read this story in the Batman Giant of December 1965. David Vern Reed and Dick Sprang give the Clown Prince of Crime his own utility belt, obviously, containing exploding cigarettes, sneezing powder, etc. The joke is on the Joker, however, when he ends up as foreman in the prison belt factory.

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The Mad Hatter of Gotham City: Bill Finger and Shelly Moldoff introduce the bizarre hobby-robber version of the  Mad Hatter. I first encountered him in the mid-80s Barr/Davis Detective. While not as creepy or disturbing as the Wonderland iteration, this Hatter enables Tweedledee and Tweedledum to have their own agency as distinct characters. I also love the way David Wayne says “Beeeyat-man”. This story is quite dull, however.

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The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero: another Giant reprint, this Dave Wood/Moldoff story sees the frigid fiend curiously cured at the end. I like the cartoon narration that described him as “the cool, cruel Mr. Freeze” but Captain Cold is the more effective villain.

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Partners in Plunder: France Herron and Moldoff  give the Penguin a jet-propelled umbrella in this story, from 1965’s  drab, workaday Batman period. I really enjoy Robin Lord Taylor’s hysterical, mother-fixated Penguin on Gotham but the sneering, pompous Burgess Meredith is my favourite.

 

BATMAN, Frank Gorshin, 1966. TM and Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection

BATMAN, Frank Gorshin, 1966. TM and Copyright ©20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved, Courtesy: Everett Collection

The Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler: A Gardner Fox/Moldoff revival for the Riddler, who pretends to go straight. Another dreary tale which looks like it came from a colouring book.

The Joker’s Comedy Capers: a beautiful Broome/Infantino collaboration where the Leonardo of the Larcenous Laugh employs doubles of silent movie comedians to commit crimes.

Batman’s Inescapable Doom Trap: I think I first read this one in an issue of the b/w Super DC comic in the early 70s. It’s memorable for the oddly-named inventor Eivol Ekdal but otherwise, it’s deadly dull.

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The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl: the first time I read this Fox/ Infantino story was in a Double Double comic and of course, it’s reprinted in the Greatest Batgirl Stories tpb. I love seeing the “colorless female brain” having the time of her life and I particularly likethe montage depicting her quick-change costume:  the skirt, beret and handbag are all part of her Batgirl ensemble.

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This was also my first encounter with Killer Moth, the Lethal Lepidopteron. Sadly, there’s no Catwoman caper here. It’s a mixed bag and if you really want TV nostalgia, pick up the Bat-66 series,

In future posts, I’m considering returning to Grant Morrison’s Batman but after Xmas, I’m also thinking about Thor, Dr. Strange, Doc Savage, Spy Smasher, Sgt. Fury and Skull the Slayer. Have a cool Yule.

DC

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The Man and The King

School has broken up for the Xmas holidays and I’m holed up in the library while Storm Barbara gathers her forces outside. This is the same branch from which I borrowed Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume 9. The Sixties stories of which it’s comprised were reprinted in The Titans forty years ago; in the spring of 1976.

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I don’t think I could read or write before I started primary school. Perhaps that’s why the comics of 1968 and 1969 made such an impression upon me; Marvel’s more than DC too.

In this trade paperback, we can divide the twelve monthly stories, running from January to December of 1969 into four arcs, where the plots rise and fall organically in a way emulated by Claremont and Byrne in their lauded X-Men years. The images I’ll post are the individual issues I owned or read at the time.

maximus

The Mark of the Madman was my second Inhumans tale and follows on from Crystal’s election as the FF’s first new member since issue one. Maximus the Mad ( whom I may have “met” in the susbsequent encounter with the Hulk has taken over the Great Refuge and wants to use a hypno-ray on Mankind. It’s interesting that Roy Thomas retroactively gives Max powers of mind control when he next takes over in Amazing Adventures- up til now he was portrayed as a scientific genius , albeit a child-like crazy one: Caligula crossed with Einstein.  I loved the variety and strangeness of the Inhuman populace. Stan and Jack muddy the waters over Zorr- is he an android or an enhanced Alpha Primitive? Are the Alphas androids?

 

tortured-land

power-pride

I remember, shortly after reading one of the early parts of this story, choking on a boiled sweet in primary school and Miss Morrison holding me by my ankles to dislodge it!

Within the Tortured Land is my selection when they next plan a FF movie. It’s the sequence where Kirby first apes The Prisoner. Again, a hypnotic weapon is used to strip the quartet of their powers as Doom pits them against his omnipurpose robots in a sinister experiment. It’s a tense mix of super-spy drama ( Nick Fury and SHIELD cameo) and Ruritanian fantasy. The ending is an anticlimax but we see Doom at his most expansive and majestic. Even the Commies fear him. Unfortunately, Doom’s portrait artist seems to be wearing a wig- he’s bald in 85.

 

marvel-comics-the-titans-32-may-1976

A House There Was is the “nutty overgrown mushroom” which Sue selects , bizarrely, as the ideal place to bring up baby. Of course, it’s an elaborate trap by the Mole Man, at his most pathetic here and using an ultrasonic ray machine (?) to strike humanity blind. Reed almost dies in this claustrophobic tale. Ben’s anguish over Reed is set-up for the next arc…

 

92

The Skrull Takes a Slave is a space age take on Spartacus. I enjoyed the alien gladiators we meet: the Magna-Man, the Rhinogon, the Cat-man and the Primitoid.  Also, with the Skrull Prohibition Era pastiche planet,  it’s something of a rehearsal for In The Days of the Mob and the Chicago-Land two-parter in Kamandi. The serial, which was partially reprinted in a b/w “album” largely focuses on Ben Grimm . For years, I though I bought the “Ben Grimm, Killer” issue in Seafield,  Ayr instead of Subby’s May 71 comic. Clearly, I was mistaken; it was either Thor’s showdown with Infinity or Astonishing tales 5. or both.

album

Super-teams can be measured by their antagonists. Of course, some of the FF’s oldest foes return here. But the plethora of robots and androids in the series began in 64 with the Kree Sentry, continued in 70-71 with the Thinker’s green android; Galactus’ Punisher; Psycho-Man’s Indestructible One; Th e Thinker’s Android Man and of course, Tomazooma.

beret

Crystal never quite achieves an impact although she wears a beret well. Sue upstages her by saving the entire village in 86-87 and Crystal herself is a hostage in 82-83. She uses her powers in 83,87,89 and briefly in 93 but they’re described hand-wavingly vaguely as “force blasts” or “sonic waves”. While Johnny is now, increasingly, a handsome romantic lead, Ben is very much the star as the last arc attests. Perhaps these issues aren’t as inventive as the 1966-1967 period but, for me, they’re more beautiful and dramatic.

 

Next: Thank you, Caped Crusader

All images are presumed copyright of their respective owners