Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Finding Silver in Bronze: Marvel Double Feature 2

Marvel Double Feature #2 (February 1973)
"Them" (originally presented in Tales of Suspense 78)
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Frank Giacoia
"Into the Jaws of Death" (originally presented in Tales of Suspense 85)
Stan Lee-Gene Colan/Frankie Giacoia

Doug: Today we're going to kick off the first new series of our second year -- "Finding Silver in Bronze". You know, as we've been saying over the past few weeks, many of the Giant-Size issues, Annuals, the Treasury Editions -- all of these often contained Silver Age reprint material. Marvel also dedicated several new-release magazines to preserving their Silver Age history. This series will look at those so-called "reprint titles", like Marvel's Greatest Comics, Marvel Tales, Marvel Super-Heroes, and this title -- Marvel Double Feature.

Doug: First of all, I had to do a little research, and got a surprise. Usually in these books there was a small box just above the indicia that told where the material originally appeared. No such luck here. What I was surprised about was that these two stories came from two different issues of Tales of Suspense, and each was slightly altered to fit into the "modern" page count.

Karen: Since I don't have this particular issue of Marvel Double Feature, I'll be using my Captain America DVD rom to read these tales.

Doug: The plot of the Captain America story is pretty basic, although there is quite a bit of Marvel history packed into the ten pages. Cap's alone in Avengers mansion (during the "Kooky Quartet" era of the Avengers) doing a training session when Col. Nick Fury happens by. Interrupting Cap, and nearly putting his own life in danger, Fury tells Cap that SHIELD is up against a new, unseen foe known only as "Them". Pretty typical Stan Lee cornball writing, huh? And what's more, this organization has perfected a means of duplicating the human brain, and installing it in androids.

Karen: This story really felt like it was 75% Kirby, 25% Lee! The emphasis on non-stop action, the bizarre tiny brain, humanoids, etc, all gave me the impression that Stan did little more than script this issue, which was not that unusual. But this particular story has Kirby written all over it.

Doug: The duo are soon attacked by one such android, who emits acid and melts himself right through the wall of the mansion. A melee breaks out as Fury and Cap try unsuccessfully to stop their new adversary. While battling, they determine that the pods on the android's torso are full of chemicals, which it mixes to give off a new hazard. Cap's shield, Fury's fists, a pistol, and a hand grenade all prove futile in stopping the construct.

Doug: Flash away, then, to a high-tech lab where some dudes in yellow beehive hats are discussing their plans to dominate SHIELD. Yep, it's those lovable techies from AIM -- Advanced Idea Mechanics! But, at this time they weren't yet named. They were only known as... Them! Man, this is Silver Age Stan at his finest. And Kirby's art is familiarly flamboyant -- accurate anatomy be damned!

Karen: I really loved the big "vats" here where 'THEM" are growing humanoids. In the one marked Stage 2, you can just see these tiny heads poking out above the liquid. Then in the bigger vat marked Stage 4, we see full-sized humanoids being grown. Although it's completely insane, it feels like there is a sense of order to this madness!

Doug: Fury finally beats the baddie with "SHIELD knock-out drops" -- yep, this was also the era of the campy Batman television show, and there was no shortage of stuff like that in this story (like the Avengers' "automatic Frigi-defense circuit"). Fury notices the thing has a mouth, so he pops some pills right down the shoot. Wrecks the deal completely.

Doug: As I mentioned, this tale took place during the Kooky Quartet era when the Avengers were comprised of Cap, Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. During that period, Cap often pined for a job with SHIELD. In that light, there's a little pay-off here.

Karen: Funny to think, now that Cap is often considered the most indispensable Avenger, that there was a time when he really didn't want to be an Avenger!

Doug: The super-nasty in the Iron Man story is none other than the Mandarin! And he ain't playing nice. Apparently in the last issue, faithful Happy Hogan had the suit on and was captured. Now the Mandarin is slicing and dicing him up with his ten rings.

Karen: Considering he got no resistance from Happy, shouldn't the Mandarin have started to clue into the fact that this wasn't the real Iron Man? I would have thought he was more observant than that!

Doug: Cut back to the States, where Tony Stark has just checked himself out of the hospital. He rushes to his factory on Long Island Sound and begins to modify a suit of armor, hoping to make his strongest creation to date. Gene Colan is in top form in these panels, with multiple camera angles and a full page showing Stark's frenetic efforts. Good stuff!

Karen: The scene where Stark enters his Long Island plant was funny - no ID card, he just says,"Don't you recognize me?" What a lack of security. Yet when he enters his private lab, the locking mechanism on the door is activated by his fingerprint! He thinks about how he needs to patent it -well heck, I'd put that doohickey at the front gate too!

Karen: It was fun seeing how Stark's employees comment about how he's got everything -rich, famous, handsome, and genius too! They sure played that idea up in the recent movies.

Doug: You can tell that Stan was still on the Red Scare kick a bit. Before embarking to Asia to confront the Mandarin, Stark tape records all of his secrets to give to Senator Byrd. As Stark comments, "I feel better for having done that! For, if anything should happen to me -- my secrets must never be lost to those who fight for freedom!"

Karen: OK, this is weird. I haven't read the issues before this one, so I don't really know who Senator Byrd is, but the REAL Senator Robert Byrd just passed away. Just struck me as odd. And Byrd would have been a senator at the time this issue was published -1967!

Karen: The scene where IM super-charges himself or whatever he's doing is pretty dynamic. But I was surprised -Shellhead says the rays he's bathing in will strengthen his blood cells! So besides making new armor he's affecting his physiology? Man, these Marvel scientists and engineers are all experts at everything!

Doug: As Iron Man approaches the Mandarin's lair, we see the ringed one interrogating Happy. Just as Happy's about to get his, who should bust in, but the real Iron Man! As they say, to be continued. Only problem is, I don't have the next issue!

Karen: I'm pretty sure Happy comes out of this just fine, Doug!


david_b said...

THIS ISSUE HAD IT ALL..!! The premiere issue was good, but this one remains one of the FINEST reprints ever.

AWESOME COVER (nice bright contrasts with green and red.., AWESOME STORIES (one of my favorite Kirby Cap stories.., simple and sweet), super cheap reprint price on eBay. It's still a keeper after all these years.

J.A. Morris said...

Nope,wasn't Robert Byrd.
The Senator mentioned by Iron Man was the fictitious Senator Harrington Byrd. Perhaps this character was based on Virginia Harry Byrd(who served in the Senate for over 30 years)or his son Harry Jr who succeeded him in '65(I live in Virginia,sorry to get "historical" on you). Or maybe Harrington was an amalgam of Harry and Robert Byrd.

Edo Bosnar said...

Haven't read this issue, or any from this series, but I have to say I'm glad you're giving some attention to a real staple of the Bronze Age - the reprint titles. I mentioned this in another thread, but I'll say it again: these series were a wonderful and rather cheap way to catch up on a lot of Marvel history...

Doug said...

Thanks for the comments, all.

In coming weeks and months, we'll dip into some FF, Hulk, and Spidey reprints from the Silver Age. I know we're Bronze Age around here, but doggone it -- the Silver Age was too much fun to just wipe it away!

Be on the look-out for a Dressed for Success with a late Silver/early Bronze Age flair!


ChrisPV said...

One of the things I've always thought Marvel had all over DC was the reprint market. Even back in the Bronze Age, there was this marked dedication to getting older stories into readers' hands. Which is great for folks like me, who come to the party late!

Anonymous said...

Cap finally did use that A-1 priority gadget to make contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. in Avengers #32, reprinted in Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action #2. And the real Iron Man defeated the Mandarin in Tales of Suspense #86, after programming Happy Hogan's armor suit to fly him safely home.

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