Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BAB Two-In-One: A Little Silver SHIELD in Bronze and A Wolf in Astronaut's Clothing

Doug: Reprint time, friends. Today's offering comes out of the pages of Nick Fury and his Agents of SHIELD #5, which was on the shelves in October 1973. The story originally appeared in Strange Tales #155-156 (April-May 1967) and was scripted by Roy Thomas. Jim Steranko handled the art chores and plotted the story. Steranko received the writing credit for the second of this two-parter, which would have been included in ST #156.

This is one swingin' Sixties spy-extravaganza! Take the best from Bond, U.N.C.L.E., and maybe even the Jetsons or Star Trek, tie it together with Steranko's contemporary pencils and experimental panels and you have a winner. Here's the deal: SHIELD has just developed the Autofac, a device somewhat like the X-Men's Cerebro in that it will ferret out the identity of the Supreme Hydra and allow SHIELD to smash their enemies once and for all.

The main plotline is Fury's new suit. It's a dandy -- bullet proof outer jacket, shirt with buttons that are really oxygen capsules, a pen that magnifies sound 100x, cuff links that emit an electronic charge, and cigars that release different chemicals. To top it all off, Fury's given a ring that will ultimately blow him up three seconds after triggering. Of course, it won't be long before ol' Nick gets to put his new threads to use.
The secondary plotline involves Laura Brown, daughter of the Supreme Hydra. She's been taken aboard the Helicarrier for protection from her father. Problem is, her father's infiltrated SHIELD and is currently in Fury's inner circle, disguised as Agent Bronson. Bronson's given the assignment of transporting Ms. Brown to SHIELD's west coast headquarters. As we later see, Laura suspects that Bronson might be the Supreme Hydra, and talks her way past a guard to check out what Autofac has to say; she's chloroformed by Bronson, who obviously feels no remorse in taking his daughter down.

Meanwhile, as Fury is becoming acquainted with his new outfit, a metal construct called the Dreadknought attacks the Helicarrier with the intent of slaying Nick Fury. A nifty battle rages (Steranko's choreography and camera angles are pretty straightforward, but you can see his genius coming), and Fury luckily h
as everything at his disposal that he needs to put the big blue robot down.

As we move into the second part, I had to crack u
p. Not only is Fury on the "vue-communicator" with LBJ, but he's immediately after introduced to a Professor Anton Trojak, who is a dead-ringer for Col. Harlan Sanders! This one's a tour de force of frenetic Steranko energy. While his art isn't to the point of pushing the standard panel layouts, his writing is passable. This part of the tale is a breath-taker -- it really moves.

Long story short: Trojak is, of course, a Hydra agent sent to kill Fury. I'll tell you, there're more Hydra guys on the Helicarrier than SHIELD agents! Bronson hypnotizes Gabe, Dum Dum, and Sitwell, who later attack Nick while dressed in Hydra outfits. Nick of course manages to subdue everyone, foil every plot, and find Laura Brown (who Bronson clothed in a SHIELD outfit when he put her down earlier). But, because life's gotten crazy on the Helicarrier, LBJ vue-communicates (saying "phoned" would have been easier) Fury again and puts him under house arrest until an investigation into just what the devil has been going on is completed. And oh yeah -- Bronson's put back in charge of transporting Laura Brown. The plot, as they say, thickens!

Karen: I'm picking right up from my previous two-in-one by reviewing Creatures on the Loose# 37 (Sept. 1975) featuring Man-Wolf. This was the final issue of this title. Low sales had taken their toll and the book was cut from production. At the time of its printing, it was clear (from a text piece in the issue by writer David Kraft) that it was uncertain whether the story of the Man-Wolf would ever be continued. Fortunately, it would be, in Marvel Premiere #45-46 - some three years after this issue! Both David Kraft and George Perez would return to finish off the story.

Karen: But back to the issue at hand. "Moonbound", produced by Kraft, Perez, and Fred Kida on the inking chores, picks up from the end of our previous issue, with the mysterious Garth about to cut the moonstone from Man-Wolf's neck. However, he is confronted by armed personnel from the space station and winds up fleeing. The space station people take Wolfy with them - until he snaps out of his stupor and goes bananas. Being even closer to the moon has apparently enhanced his strength and he starts scattering the men like flies. It's only when the station shifts in orbit, so that the earth is between it and the moon, that Man-Wolf falters and is captured.

Karen: Meanwhile on Earth: J. Jonah Jameson is trying to locate his son's missing fiance, Kristine, when he gets caught
up with a mysterious stranger who claims to know where she is. Perhaps this all would have made more sense if I'd read more than the previous issue. In any case, the stranger appears to be not only holding Kristine captive but connected to a previous attack on Man-Wolf by Kraven the Hunter. Jameson is saved in the nick of time by Simon Stroud, who is some sort of government agent. This was all a little confusing to me.

Karen: The enfeebled Man-Wolf is placed into an x-ray room that for some reason has foot-thick steel doors. In there, he reverts to John Jameson. He tries to
convince one of his captors that he is the real Jameson, but it doesn't really matter, as Garth knocks the guy unconscious. Garth frees Jameson and takes him with him as, "The Godstone is one with him!" I thought these guys were calling it the Weirdstone last issue. Oh well....

Karen: As the personnel of the space station pursue Jameson and Garth and h
is companions, Jameson agrees to pilot a spaceship for his captors, although he protests that he will change. Moments later, it is no longer Jameson at the controls but a snarling Man-Wolf! Back on the station, the personnel have discovered via an x-ray taken of Jameson while he was still in wolf-form that the moonstone has extended tendrils throughout his body! The two are in a symbiotic state -"but for what sinister purpose?" !!

Karen: Another fun issue, although it was a bit confusing on some level. Again, if I had read the previous issues it might have made more sense -or not! The biggest drawback to this issue was the inking - it made Perez' art have a very dull, unexciting look. You can still tell it's Perez by the layouts -he has such a distinctive way of telling a story. But the overall look is flat. It's hard to describe, so maybe some of the pictures I've posted will help to explain what I am talking about.

Karen: As mentioned before, a text article by Kraft on the letters page explains about the books' cancellation, and even goes into some detail about the plans the team had for concluding this storyline. It was obvious that the team had not been prepared for the end of the book and had been unable to wrap things up in this issue. I thought it was quite good of Kraft to explain where the story was going -it certainly seemed that he was uncertain whether the conclusion would ever see the light of day. Now to read Marvel Premiere and see how the plan compares to the execution!


Edo Bosnar said...

Again you tantalize me with bits and pieces of the Man-wolf story before the Marvel Premiere 2-parter. And again I plea for a re-print. Maybe somebody out there is listening...
About the art: yes, it's early Perez, yes, Kida's make it look a little flat, but it's still serviceable. However, with reference to another recent post on the blog, it shows that there are much worse inkers for Perez than Pablo Marcos.

Karen said...

Edo, I feel your pain! I'd love to see a collection of Man-Wolf. They've reprinted everything else -why not?

AS you can tell, both Doug and I are kind of sensitive about Perez art and who inks him. But never fear, when we get to the fourth part of George Perez July you'll hear nothing but praise from both of us!


Anonymous said...

Hang about - wasn't Laura Brown the daughter of the original Supreme Hydra? That's the impression I always had - part of this Agent Bronson thing was not knowing exactly who he was, but knowing that Ms Brown was the target of his attentions for some nefarious reason (which became evident a few issues later when we found out who he really was).

B Smith

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen - what surprises me about the Man-wolf material is that Marvel at least did not at least do one of those "special editions" to reprint it in the early '80s, like they did with Starlin's Warlock, Micronauts, Claremont/Byrne's Starlord, etc., etc. Especially since Perez was such a hot property at the time...
Speaking of collections: a few years ago I bought the Nick Fury edition that reprints the entire Steranko run in Strange Tales so I could finally read the whole thing - that one of the best comic-related investments I ever made.

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