Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Monday, September 29, 2014
Young Men #25 (February 1954) -- cover by Joe Maneely or Carl Burgos
"The Return of the Human Torch" -- Hank Chapman-Carl Burgos
"Top Secret" -- Scripter Unknown-John Romita, Sr.
"The Shark People" -- Scripter Unknown-Bill Everett
Doug: Did any of our readers secure the wonderful package of reprints that were for sale through the JC Penney Christmas catalog back in 1994? I actually snagged this set in a comics/sports memorabilia store in Anderson, IN maybe a year or so after that. From the Grand Comics Database, and speaking specifically of today's issue:
One of the 1994 JC Penney Marvel Vintage Pack reprints. These are second printings of Marvel comics from the 50's-70's. There are a total of 15 different comics in the set:I'd strongly encourage you to visit the link just above. There were actually two other reprint sets of this nature, but the one we're dealing with today is by far the coolest (in this Bronze Age Baby's opinion).
Amazing Adult Fantasy #13; Amazing Spider-Man Special [Annual] #5; Avengers #88; Captain America #109; Fantastic Four #66 & #67; Incredible Hulk #140; Sgt. Fury #13; Sub-Mariner #8; Thor Special [Annual] #2; Tomb of Dracula #25; X-Men #28, #62 #63; and Young Men #25.
Three issues are reprinted from reprints: Fantastic Four #66 is reprinted from Marvel's Greatest Comics #49; Sgt. Fury #13 is reprinted from Special Marvel Edition #11; and X-Men #28 is reprinted from X-Men #76.
This set of 15 comics was available through the 1994 JC Penney Christmas Catalog, for $14.99 plus shipping. The front covers of these comics look exactly like the originals, but inside, contain advertisements from 1994, except for Young Men #25, which has all the original inside ads. All of these reprints have the same back cover Stridex ad. "Second Printing" appears at the end of the indicia.
[Publication information from Roger Perez, STL COMICS web site, http://stlcomics.com/gallery/jcpenney_stridex/]
Doug: It's strange how the creator credits for Young Men #25 are so sketchy, even down to the cover of the book. But nowhere could I find any hint that Stan Lee was the writer on any of the three stories we're going to examine. But it would be year's before readers could get their eyes on the names of those who crafted our favorite books. So armed with the limited information we have -- and I'm thankful we at least know who the pencilers were -- let's trudge ahead. But first, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is this: whenever I pick these decades-old books for some old school fun, it's usually with a Frederic Wertham-like sensationalism in mind. But as this issue would have seen print on the cusp of the DC Comics Silver Age, I think it behooves us to see if these three tales are more one-foot-in-WWII, or one-foot-in-the-Cold-War.
Doug: First up in the book is an 8-pager featuring the Human Torch and Toro. Of the three stories, this was probably most like the Golden Age stories. The artist is Carl Burgos, creator of the Torch, so I thought that was nice that after around a decade he was called back for the revival of Timely's Big Three (we'll see Sub-Mariner creator Bill Everett on the art chores in our third story). Burgos's art had certainly evolved by the time this saw print, although I couldn't help but feel that this story was just an extension of what we'd seen in the Torch's first appearance. This is a gangster story, mashed right into an episode of The Twilight Zone (which would not premiere on American television for another five years!). There's been a spate of robberies around "the big city", all carried out by very young thugs. In fact, after some investigation, it turns out that all of the bad guys are 20 years old! The Torch and Toro arrive on the scene mid-crime and create a little havoc. After some gunplay and a little flame-spitting (has Johnny Storm ever done that?), one of the goons grabs a dame (Golden Age talk, you know) and puts his piece to her head. The Torches are forced to comply with an order to get into the bank's safe. The bad guys figure that since it's soundproof it must be air proof. And, since it's on a timed lock, the Torches will suffocate and that will be the end of them. By the way, no mention was ever made in this story that the Torch is an android -- a storyline that was abandoned not long into the character's run, from what I understand.
Doug: Of course the Torches flame their way out of the safe by melting through the thick door. A hasty pursuit later and the good guys have the bad guys corralled and dropped off at the local precinct. But the chief tells the Torch that he almost has no room for all of the young criminals. And he can't figure it out -- they are all young, none are professional gangsters, and they all seem to like being in jail! The Torches have no answers, so head back out on patrol. Flying through the night skies, they pass over a senior living home, where Toro's Uncle Julius was staying. But as they get closer, they see that it is boarded up. A quick investigation shows that it had to close for business due to no new old people! What?? The Torches do some further fact-finding and note that there don't seem to be very many old people in town anymore. This is going to require some undercover work.
Doug: Back at the police station, our heroes are outfitted in "old guy" clothes and some make-up and hit the streets. It isn't long before a young man stops the two "oldsters" and asks them if they'd like to be young. The fact is, he says, he was 70 years old only last week -- and now he's 20! The disguised Torches want to know more, so go along with their new ally. Soon they are on the outskirts of town in a large mansion. A Doctor Markov (gotta love that Soviet bloc-sounding name in these Cold War years) tells the assemblage -- mostly older men -- that he can give them the vitality of a young man. In exchange, all they have to do is promise to rob and steal for him, and be willing to go to jail. The benefit of this scheme is, they are told, that as first-time offenders they won't be sentenced to more than five years behind bars. Once released, they will have the life of a 25-year old ahead of them! The old men begin to clamor to be first. Among those present is Toro's uncle. A few of the men go through the transformation, and then it's the Torches turns. Jim Hammond allows himself to be strapped into the machine, but right before the switch is thrown, he flames on and goes for the doctor while Toro moves against the young hood who brought them to the mansion. But as Toro flames on, the goon calls him his nephew! The guy they'd met on the street is Uncle Julius! The Torch binds Markov into the machine and threatens to do the switch on him, unless he fesses up to why he wants the guys to do the crime. Turns out that the men will only be 20 years old for 30 days -- after that, they turn to dust! Upon hearing that, Toro's uncle loses it and fires his gun. Despite a warning to stop unless he hits the high-voltage machine, one more bullet is fired -- and the place goes up. And up and away go the Human Torch and Toro, safely removed from the explosion.
Doug: The Captain America story was the weakest of the three, but seems a novelty due to the pencils of John Romita. The Jazzy One wasn't all that jazzy here, but you can see some flashes of the sort of work he'd do on Amazing Spider-Man a little over a decade hence. This iteration of Captain America is of course that of the commie-smasher. The gist of this story is that the Americans have developed an atomic cannon, and they need to keep its secrets from falling into the hands of spies. Bucky tells "Prof." Steve Rogers that Captain America is being paged through the newspapers, so Cap and his young sidekick enter our story in an effort to thwart the so-called Executioner (no, not that big Asgardian oaf). Top scientist Jim Slade is the only guy who knows the secrets of the firing pin for the cannon. After a greeting with Cap and Bucky, Slade declares that he's off to Las Vegas to meet his girl. After his departure, Cap is shown a picture of the lady -- and immediately recognizes her as Lupa Lupoff, Red spy!
Doug: Our heroes head to Vegas to stop the shenanigans that they know are coming. Trouble is, they're too late, as Lupoff and her assistant have drugged Slade. The good guys arrive to find Slade being driven away. They attack, but a little gunplay ensures that Slade is lost to them at this time. Cap beats up a couple of toughs, and they remark to each other how they fear for their lives at the hands of the Executioner, because they've failed to stop Cap. But, just down the street there's a booby trap, and two other guys are able to detonate a bomb, potentially killing the Star-Spangled (not yet) Avenger! We cut then to the desert, near where an A-bomb test is about to go off. Slade's strapped to a cactus, while Lupoff and her dude-friend interrogate him for the firing pin secret. He basically tells them to take a flying leap. But then they, too, begin to worry about the Executioner should they fail to extract the secret from Slade. But just then Bucky arrives and takes out the dude. But Lupa's having none of it, and pistol whips James Barnes.
Doug: Now tied up with Slade, it looks like it's curtains -- until Captain America arrives to save the day! Turns out his shield had saved him from the blast. Cap tears into Lupa's man, and then in the melee Lupa turns her gun on the guy and kills him! With his dying breath he looks at his woman and says that she is the Executioner! And she is -- punishing those who fail, including herself as she takes her own bullet. With the threat now ended, the boys regroup to watch the A-bomb test. Cap says, "A glorious sight... when it's on our side in the struggle for world peace!"
Doug: Bill Everett's art in the Sub-Mariner feature is the most sophisticated in this book -- it's just beautiful. The crime set-up is that people are jumping into or falling into the ocean, with many bodies washed ashore horribly mutilated. It looks to be shark attacks. We see a crowd scene, where the denizens of Battery Park await the Staten Island ferry. Suddenly a woman pushes through the crowd and leaps into the water. A man goes in after her, but surfaces with nothing but her clothes -- no other sign of the woman. The police are dumbfounded, as this has become a trend. In an apartment on the East side, Betty Dean and Namor, the Sub-Mariner, read the papers. Betty tells Namor of the goings on. Namor decides, because it doesn't all fit, that he will investigate.
Doug: Later that evening, Namor is down on the docks by the river. He finds a bum, badly disfigured. Namor calls the authorities (there is no sign in this story of Namor's past problems with the surface world) and talks to the detective that shows up. The guy insists that a shark did it. Namor dives into the water to check it out, but decides that the water is too cold for sharks. However, out in the ocean a small pleasure vessel is capsized -- and the men aboard are eaten alive. Later, a Coast Guard boat picks up the wreckage, and later after that several bodies are found on shore. Namor is there again to investigate, but says he's still stymied. A weird-looking guy on the beach offers a hypothesis about the sharks, but Namor casts it away. That night, Namor walks the beach, looking for any clue he can muster. Suddenly the same strange man from that afternoon appears, removes his clothes, and walks into the ocean. Too offbeat for the Avenging Son, Namor dives in after him. Namor finds no sign of the man beneath the waves, but he very soon encounters a Great White shark. The beast bears down on Namor, but the crown prince is too fast -- he grabs the lower jaw of the fish and breaks it, King Kong style! You might have guessed -- soon after, the police find the body of a man washed ashore, his jaw horribly disfigured. I had to chuckle a bit, as the cop on the beach remarked about the horrible death the guy must have had. Namor says that before they call it a murder, there should be some further investigation. But later in the same panel, Namor suggests that they can file it as a homicide. Strange doings -- was the Sub-Mariner indicting himself in the man's/shark's demise?
Doug: Later in the week, Namor is again on the beach at night looking for clues. A woman suddenly emerges from the waters. She's startled when she sees Namor, who hints at a theory he's developed about these strange goings-on. She's way too apprehensive, though, and turns on Namor. She lunges for him, but he evades and pins her to the ground. Letting her back up, she then narrates (in a whole lot of words) the explanation for our mystery, followed by its resolution -- you can find these panels at the bottom of the post. Too many art samples today, and to be honest -- I just couldn't get them to fit nicely together!
Doug: So where does this fit into this gray area between the Golden and Silver Ages? There are many elements of the 1940's -- teen sidekicks, lots of gunplay, and some serious violence (a woman is pistol-whipped in the Human Torch story). But the science fiction angles in both the Torch and Sub-Mariner tales place this a bit more toward the Silver Age. Of course, Cap's Red Scare-centered adventure falls right in between. I'd say this, though -- compared to the first few DC stories, including the Flash revival and subsequent stories, there's a lot more EC-type storytelling in Young Men #25 than we'll see only a short time later. Maybe that's why the revival of the Timely super-heroes didn't take off -- what is told here (and I'll have to assume in the other magazines that bore these new adventures) really doesn't require the presence of super-heroes for any resolution. The mad scientist in the first story could have just as easily been defeated by a Dick Tracy-type of character, and that holds true for the Cap tale. Namor, of the three, seemed most integral to the actual yarn that was spun. And what of the Comics Code Authority? Well look very closely back up at the cover -- notice the tiny star near the top left side of the book. In that little shape it says, "Conforms to the Comics Code". I guess as long as we don't have zombies or werewolves, we're good...
Saturday, September 27, 2014
We discuss Silver, Bronze, and Copper Ages topics all the time around here. This weekend we'd like you to see if you can delineate characteristics of parts of that period from 1968-1988 or so. What key works stand out as representative of each era, and can you put your finger on a key work and say, "Yeah, that's different from anything that had been going on just before." Like the Silver Age came to different companies at different times, we'll reach no consensus today and that's fine.
Who were those key creators who spurred on the next period? Can we say that a certain creator did his best work in a given period? Jack Kirby comes to mind -- obviously he's most known and perhaps best appreciated for his Silver Age work at Marvel. Yet his departure from the company and then later return serves as the very parameters of the Bronze Age for some comics historians.
Lastly, which characters epitomize these various ages? For this question I'd like you to think of characters created within the period you are discussing. They could certainly have a life stretching past, but let's examine just what about them makes them so representative of the period.
Have fun, and thanks in advance!
Friday, September 26, 2014
Karen: I admit it -this film has long been a guilty pleasure of mine -I even have it on DVD! It's such a weird, goofy blend of fantasy and science fiction, and it doesn't seem to know which it wants to be, but that's fine -I like both! Have at it, yea or nay -I won't be offended. I've noticed past a certain age group, I get a lot of puzzled stares when I bring this film up.
You might spot a very young Liam Neeson in the clip below:
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Karen: Today's buried treasure is a short-and-sweet one, just a little goodie I found that miraculously survived intact move after move: the Romulan warbird from the AMT 3-piece Star Trek model ship set from the mid 70s! My Enterprise and Klingon D-7 eventually were demolished, but the Romulan has hung in there. You can see it is rigged to hang from the ceiling, although currently it rests in drydock (on a shelf).
|I believe this was the design of the box when I got mine.|
|I didn't paint this model -the white plastic was perfect.|
|Surprisingly, the decal has held up well for almost 40 years!|
|Engage cloaking device!|
Karen: Star Trek models sure were a lot of fun! Kind of makes me want to go out and get the other two ships now...hmm, let's see what's on eBay....
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Fantastic Four #116 (November 1971)
"The Alien, The Ally, and... Armageddon!"
Archie Goodwin-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott
Karen: This was one of the first FF's I had, and it might have been my introduction to Dr. Doom, although that could have also occurred via Marvel's Greatest Comics. Whatever the case, it was this issue that made the single greatest impression upon me concerning the nature of the good Doctor's personality. The FF have been battling an alien being known as the Overmind. In the previous issue, the Overmind, who is the sole survivor of his alien race, and imbued with all the power of his people, used his tremendous psychic powers to take possession of Reed's mind and turn him against the rest of the team. Without their leader, the remaining three members of the FF are left feeling hopeless -what should they do?
Karen: This issue picks up with Sue, Ben, and Johnny, still stunned, trying to figure out not only how to stop the Overmind from taking over the world, but how to save Reed as well. Oddly enough, Johnny emerges as the leader! Yeah, 43 years later and I'm still not buying that. He and Ben grab a doohickey from Reed's lab and use it to track Reed, telling Sue to stay behind and monitor them, and act as a reserve. Yes, that was still a woman's place back in 1971. Ben and Johnny finally locate Reed and the Overmind in a wrecking yard. The alien giant has been hammering away at the FF's leader, assaulting him mentally and physically as he still resists his domination. Reed tries to mask thoughts of his family from the being but is ultimately unable to keep them hidden. Just at the breaking point his team-mates arrive and attack, but the Torch's flame and the Thing's pile-driving fists prove no match for the being.
Doug: By this time, if we look at real time, the FF had been doing their thing for 10 years. I thought that given Ben's military service as one of the hotshot test pilots, and having been such a close friend of Reed's for so many years, that Archie Goodwin really sold the other three short here. But then, it was all set-up, right? I haven't read the preceding issues (at least not in so long that I can remember them), but there was a real sense of defeat here. The Torch and the Thing were pretty ineffective. In that regard, Goodwin's crafted quite a bit of suspense. Too bad the cover gave it away...
Karen: Seeing Ben and Johnny hopelessly out-classed, Sue flies to the scene on a jet cycle, but her force fields prove useless. Ben and Johnny are defeated (in a stunning full-page takedown by Buscema and Sinnott) and then the Overmind controls Reed and sends him after Sue. She is only just able to fly off again and evade him. Sue desperately seeks help from the heroes she knows, including the Avengers,but no one is available. Meanwhile, in the streets of the city, the Overmind's power radiates, causing people to go mad and attack one another. Frightened and alone, Sue pauses on the edge of a river to gather her thoughts. Suddenly, her nanny, the sorceress Agatha Harkness, appears, and suggests she drop her prejudices and go to an unlikely source: Dr. Doom! Sue reluctantly heads to the Latverian Embassy, where she finds Dr. Doom has been monitoring the situation, and only regrets that it was not he who ended the FF. Sue then gives him a verbal slap in the face: "The Dr. Doom I remember might be ruthless and cold, but he had honor and nobility too. Instead, I encounter posturing and pettiness - or perhaps just a man a little afraid." This gets under Doom's skin, who responds, "Many demons rule Victor Von Doom, but not those of pettiness or fear! Very well. I am with you!"
Doug: I thought it was an awesome tie-in when Jarvis told Sue about the absence of the Avengers, which was due to the Kree/Skrull War! And hey -- with folks like Agatha Harkness and the Watcher around, who'd ever need to come up with an original idea? But while Miss Harkness came across as a woman in charge, for me her witch-like qualities do not place her in the same category as a woman that I'd put Sue. And in this scene, Sue came off as a product of Stan Lee-weakness. I also wasn't buying that Doom would be at the Latverian embassy in Manhattan. Seriously -- how many embassies around the world are hang-outs for any world leader? But Sue's remarks to Doom that challenged him were wonderful -- desperate, but a sure sign of strength we'd just been led to believe that she did not possess.
Karen: After stopping at Reed's lab to pick up a gizmo, Sue and Doom return to the site of the battle to recover Ben and Johnny, who come to ready to rumble with Doom. They're not too happy about the situation but agree to work with him -for now. The Overmind and brainwashed Reed are wreaking havoc in the city, when this new Fantastic Four finds them. Doom directs the Torch and Thing to attack the Overmind and divert him, while Doom approaches directly, striding through flames in a rather dramatic entrance ("Turn your eyes from the Torch, Overmind -Doom approaches!"). He uses the device he took from the lab -a psionic refractor -to send the Overmind's mental bolts back at him Although Doom takes credit for the gizmo, it was something Reed had already begun work on. Perhaps they can share the patent? It works well enough, and for a while, they have the big alien on the ropes. But then the Overmind brings Reed into play, attacking Sue. Without her force field to shield him, Doom's psionic refractor is quickly destroyed, and his armor is badly damaged. The Torch and Thing are knocked out too. Doom fights on, but is soon dropped. Reed finally snaps out of it when he realizes he's close to killing Sue, but he passes out from exhaustion.
Doug: How much memorizing do you suppose Doom did while in Reed's laboratories? What did you think when Sue was so easily ordered around? I understand that she had little bargaining room, but there were parts of this plot I simply could not abide. While I know I have the hindsight of history on my side, in the scene where Reed was attacking Sue, I kept looking at it and adding in what would happen with Franklin several issues hence and thinking to myself that it was no wonder Sue left and went to hang out with Namor!
Karen: As you mentioned before, Sue at this point was still being written as a helpless, frightened girl, rather than a strong, independent woman. It's a bit hard to swallow today. No one is left to oppose the Overmind -or so it would seem. As he exults in his victory, a ball of light crashes to Earth before him. A figure emerges -it is the Stranger! He explains that he is the last survivor of his world too, and the sum of its power -and his world was enemies with the Overminds'. He zaps the Overmind, shrinking him down to an infinitesimal size, where he can rule a dust mote! The Stranger departs unceremoniously, and the FF is left wondering what happened. Doom says a cosmic drama unfolded, and they played their parts. But when they meet again, it will be on his terms -and not as allies!
Doug: Deus. Ex. Machina. But I did like it. I was sort of like Ben and Johnny, "Wait, what just happened?!" said I to myself. The Stranger has been one of those characters so sparsely used that he's always mysterious, and always makes a big impact when he's on the scene. But that get-up...
Karen: I have to admit, the end was a bit of a letdown. What I really like about this story is that it always left me with the feeling that if just a few things had gone differently in his life, Victor Von Doom might have turned out to be one of the greatest heroes the world had ever known. But instead, his colossal ego led him down a much sadder path. Although a villain, there is much that is tragic about him.
Doug: Agreed. I'd have liked to see this story actually play out into a five or six issue yarn where we could get a look into Doom's heart. Is there any altruism in the man, or is he really so self-focused that he is incapable of doing right by others? Overall there was much to like about this issue, but I'm still stuck on some of the characterization deficiencies I noted for members of the first family.
The Brave and the Bold #111 (February/March 1974)
"Death Has the Last Laugh"
Bob Haney-Jim Aparo
Brave and the Bold reviews usually fall under the heading of "That Zany Bob Haney". Today, I think you'll agree that we're tripping on Earth-H in this issue. We open at the home of the Norton family, where every person has been murdered. A Joker card marks the crime as that of the Batman's most dangerous foe. And suddenly Batman snaps; snaps as we've never seen him before. I thought this seemed a departure from the usual stone-cold demeanor we've grown accustomed to, but let's see this through. Commissioner Gordon urges Batman to calm down and to keep things from getting personal. There are clues to be analyzed, and some of those do not point to the Joker -- but maybe to a frame-up. Chief among the missing "signature clues" is the lack of a hideous grin on the visage of the deceased. Right from the get-go, Bob Haney gives us a Batman and Jim Gordon relationship not unlike Frank and Marie Barone... However, a short while later at the morgue, the dead family members suddenly do exhibit said grin! But for the first time, the good guys find that the bodies had been injected post mortem with a chemical that caused the facial muscles to constrict into the grin. But whoever did that had to still be in the facility! A short chase by the Batman netted him a big konk on his noggin, and a fleeing assailant. Now the Batman was really ticked, and he took it out on every street thug he could find, looking for any lead as to the Joker's whereabouts.
Doug: The next day Gordon received a call from crime boss Rizzo who offers Batman a tip, with a catch. Leave all the goons alone (because after all -- it's bad for business when a guy like Rizzo has a bunch of spooked thugs working for him!), and he can have the Joker. Soon Batman's at Gotham's waterfront, where sure enough he finds the Joker's hide-out. But a clue there makes him hustle to the Turkish Baths (man, in a town the size of Gotham, they have everything!) -- where a short time later he finds the Joker in the mists, with a gun drawn! As the Batman lunges forward to strike the clown's arm, the Joker's gun fires harmlessly. But his would-be target, Burt Slade (underworld hitman extraordinaire), pulls a piece of his own and wings the Batman.
Doug: Batman ended up in the hospital; Gordon gave him (and the orderlies) strict instructions to take it easy. Well, a short time later Batman is with the Gotham City Harbormaster, wanting to know the Joker's whereabouts on the night of the Norton murders. And wouldn't you know it -- the Clown Prince of Crime has an alibi! It seems that when the Nortons were murdered, the Joker was on a barge, disguised as a hired hand. So who, then killed the family? Gordon and Batman get together and decide that Slade must be their guy -- and that maybe the Joker is out to nail him for sullying the Joker name with the playing card, etc.
Doug: Batman needs to bring Slade to justice, but knows that if the Joker gets to him first, there'll be no chance. So the only choice (ah, that Zany Bob Haney) is to team up with his mortal enemy. Now you just don't send a call or a text the Joker's way... Nope. You contact that fiend through spray paint. That's right -- Batman hires the "Graffiti Gang" to literally paint the town red, and soon it pays off. The Joker uses a payphone to ring the Batman in Gordon's office. The Joker agrees to work with the Batman, with the insurance that there won't be any tricks or police. The Joker uses a botched attempt by Batman to corral Slade as a golden opportunity to mock his former adversary. But another tip gives the Batman a chance to redeem himself. I think we all know how this is going to end -- with one humongous double-cross. And it does. Batman is lured to a dry lock in the outskirts of Gotham. Slade's there all right -- and so is the Joker! Yep... the Joker really had killed the Nortons, but set this whole thing up in such a way as to frame Slade (secretly working with the Joker) and make the Batman helpless but for the Joker's aid. Even Rizzo's phone tip was part of the charade. And now here stood the Batman, with the lock set to open! Of course he uses his strength and acrobatics to free himself from the torrent. Slade's taken out with a swift kick, and the Joker is too -- but after getting behind the wheel of the Batmobile! Darn thing wouldn't start, though. Oh yeah -- that's because the Joker didn't know the ignition was triggered by keying in the word "Batman" using the push buttons on the radio!
Doug: If you're not familiar with Bob Haney's and Jim Aparo's run on Brave and the Bold, this is pretty typical of what we've looked at through the years. I personally don't always care for my heroes being played as dolts -- or a "Bat-Sap" if you will. But Haney's so good at crafting these weirdly enjoyable tales that I usually give him a pass. Jim Aparo's art is solid as always -- he probably draws these characters second only to Neal Adams in my book.
Tales of Suspense #s 66-68 (June-August 1965)
"The Fantastic Origin of the Red Skull!"
"Lest Tyranny Triumph!"
"The Sentinel and the Spy!"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Chic Stone/Frankie Ray
Doug: Although these stories were published a year before I was born, I think the decision to run the Tales of Suspense Cap feature as a sort of "Untold Tales" was brilliant. While Cap moped around in the Avengers and other stories here in his own mag, readers could get a peek into that WWII past that framed the man they were reading about in the present. Some of you may ask, "But Doug and Karen, this is a Silver Age yarn!" Why yes it is -- but young Doug came to this first in the pages of the very Bronze Bring On the Bad Guys trade paperback for Christmas in 1976. Thanks, Mom!
Doug: In the first part of this 3-issue tale, Captain America and Bucky have been captured by the Nazis. They've been separated, with Bucky in general detention. Cap, on the other hand, is in the hands of his greatest enemy -- the murderous Red Skull! With Cap bound, the Skull narrates his backstory. Periodically during the conversation Cap is able to attack his nemesis, but the Skull always regains the upper hand. Finally, near the end of the Nazi's monologue, the Skull finds that Cap can muster no further resistance -- he has succumbed to a drug given him by one of the Skull's Nazi doctors. In a scene we never thought we'd see, Cap returns the Skull's "Heil Hitler" salute. Our guy, is now a bad guy.
Karen: It's pretty jarring to see Cap saluting the Skull and saying, "May the power of the Reich last a thousand years!" But prior to his brainwashing, I enjoyed Cap verbally bashing the Skull every chance he got. When the Skull relates the miserable conditions of his childhood and how it drove him to a life of crime, a hard-boiled Cap just says, "Lots of people had tough lives! My early years were no bed of roses either! But I don't waste time telling sob stories!"
Doug: Cap's resistance to the Skull was very similar to a setting we'd see much later -- the "Under Siege" storyline in the Avengers, when Baron Zemo had Cap bound while those he loved were tortured.
Doug: In the second installment, Cap trains with a group of SS soldiers. He is of course far advanced in combat to anything they can do. Near the end of the drill the Red Skull enters the room and receives deference from our hero. The Skull hands Cap a pistol and asks him to shoot a portrait of America's "leading military official". Cap nails it. Elsewhere, Bucky is brought before a brick wall with several other prisoners. Facing a firing squad, Bucky remains defiant to the end. But the commanding officer had ordered his goons to fire blanks -- mind games! Bucky knows what to do, and attacks. So do his fellows, and before long the prisoners have the upper hand on their captors. Back to Cap's story, we look in on Adolf Hitler himself, undressing one of his adjutants. Suddenly from a secret bookcase emerges the Skull, and shortly behind him -- Captain America! Hitler must have thought back to the pop on the jaw he got from Cap in March 1941, because he's terrified. But the Skull shows that he has Cap firmly under his control, and Hitler calms down. Until he tried to return the favor to Cap's chin -- and gets his knuckles bruised on the star-spangled shield!
Karen: The confrontation with Hitler is so weirdly comedic. The Fuhrer crouches behind a chair, pleading with the Skull, asking how he could do this to his "lovink fuhrer?" On one hand, clearly Lee and Kirby want to belittle Hitler and show him as nothing but a craven, pathetic worm. On the other hand though, seeing this mass murderer being played as a clown is somewhat disconcerting. One thing I find odd about this story is that at no time do we see Cap struggling to break free of the Skull's control, but then, because these were very short stories, they probably didn't have time to develop that.
Doug: I think you hit on an important point when you remark about the depiction of Hitler here. There's a real Golden Age vibe to this, isn't there? Of course, that's the setting of the story, but Lee/Kirby play it as if it were written during those times when comics were also war propaganda.
Karen: I think you're right. Perhaps Lee/Kirby just slipped back into old habits?
Doug: Later, Bucky eavesdrops on a couple of paratroopers, and is able to capture one and take his uniform. The Nazis are going to drop Cap right into Allied HQ, where our guy will assassinate the Skull's target. Bucky ends up seated right across from Cap on the plane, but Cap doesn't recognize him. Bucky does all he can to disrupt the plan, but our second chapter ends with Cap leveling a pistol and the American commander. But when he hesitates, a Nazi accomplice puts his own hand over Cap's, and pulls the trigger! But fear not, effendi -- as we open the third issue we see that Cap has overcome the drugs that had placed him under the Skull's control and has raised the gun away from the American general. A scrum commences, but you know how it ends already -- with the good guys on the winning team. So does this work? I think in the original 10-page installments, yes -- very much so. This would have dragged out over three months, so there would have been some heightened suspense for the reader. But even when read as one super-sized story, it's still quite good. Jack Kirby always poured his energy into his drafting, and Stan's Nazi dialogue is a real hoot. For the young reader who would have plunked down a dime and two pennies at the drug store, this had to have been a blast!
Karen: Because of the abbreviated format, it's definitely a bit rushed, but taken as an action-adventure story, without a focus on character, then it's a fun little trip. I get a kick out of the way Kirby manipulates the Skull's face (a mask!) to show such a variety of expressions. It would have been interesting to see more interaction between Cap and the Skull post-brainwashing, to have them actually go out on a mission together. This might be the weakest of the team-ups here but just the chance to see Cap 'sieg heiling' is a gas.
Warlock #10 (December 1975)
"How Strange My Destiny!"
Karen: I reviewed the conclusion to this tale almost two years ago, but Thanos is too good a villain not to bring back for this special hero/villain team-up post!
Karen: The situation: Warlock is determined to destroy the Magus, a religious tyrant who it turns out is a possible future version of Warlock! He has teamed up with the mysterious Gamora (deadliest woman in the whole galaxy), to achieve his goal. But they've proved no match for the Magus, who plans to put Warlock on the path that will lead to his transformation into his future self. Therefore, Gamora's master, Thanos, shows up to get directly involved! He says he knows how to defeat Warlock's foe. And that's where issue #10 starts. Before the Magus can call a mysterious being named the In-Betweener, who will start Warlock's change, he orders 25,000 Black Knights, his holy warriors, to attack Warlock and his comrades. Thanos quickly takes charge of the situation, as Warlock has essentially curled up into a fetal position. He shakes Warlock out of his paralysis and gets the group fighting.Despite their raw power, the sheer number of knights drives them back. Thanos holds the line as Warlock blasts an escape route for them through the floor into the holy palace's sub-basement. All escape except for Thanos, who gets trapped up above.
Karen: Despite Gamora's pleas, Warlock insists they must move on. They reach caverns under the palace and find the Matriarch, former aid to the Magus, who has been left for dead here after betraying her former leader. Warlock speaks with her briefly and she dies, and it leaves him feeling confused. Frustrated, he cries out, why must life be so cruel? A voice responds, "Because that is the way of life." It is Thanos. He says that because Warlock has chosen the path of the living, he has to pay its price, which is pain.
Karen: Next up, Starlin provides the reader with a two-page interlude, an introduction to Thanos presented by the Kree Captain Marvel. Returning to our tale, Thanos teleports the group back to his space ark. Warlock may be confused, but he's smart enough to ask why Thanos is helping him. Complicated as always, Thanos explains that he has certain plans, and some of them involve Warlock's soul gem. He has also seen that the Magus may oppose him, and has taken measures to stop him. One of these was creating Gamora, who was temporally-hidden from the Magus initially, because she was actually pulled from the Magus' future! But the Magus' god-like awareness was able to overcome her camouflage. Now they must pursue a different plan -Warlock's suicide!
Karen: While this is going on, the Magus is informed that Thanos is now with Warlock. He realizes that as a worshipper of death, Thanos would naturally oppose him. He locates Thanos' ship, and is at first unconcerned -until he realizes the mad titan has a time machine (a 'time probe')! After seeing this, he calls all his forces and they prepare to invade. Back on the space ark, Warlock concedes that Thanos is right -the only way to truly stop the Magus is to prevent him from ever coming to be -he must destroy his own soul!
Karen: This was cosmic comics as done by the master, Jim Starlin!Thanos and Warlock have been allies, enemies, and everything in between over the decades. But in this first encounter, Thanos decidedly holds the upper hand over a mentally and morally exhausted Adam Warlock.
Doug: It would seem silly on our parts to send you packing without putting a bow on this SBTU package, ya think? In the comments section we'd of course like to hear your thoughts on the issues we've covered today, but also some suggestions of other hero/villain team-ups you've loved in the past. And generally speaking, do you think such storylines work, or are they merely novelties?
Karen: It seems like it breaks down to the hero either choosing to team up out of necessity, or the hero being duped in some sense. But the villain always seems firmly in the driver's seat -even in the FF one, Doom could have said no. So regardless of the situation, are the heroes always more reactive and the villains always more proactive?
Doug: The Cap story seems to stand apart from the other three in that Cap was certainly an unwilling participant. In the FF and Batman stories, the heroes were desperate so yes -- the baddies definitely had all the cards. In the Warlock tale Thanos actually involved himself. You know, in all four stories it ends up that the villains are playing the heroes!
Karen: Well, I've heard it said that a really 'good' villain actually considers himself to be the hero of the story -that from his perspective, everything he does is right and correct. Certainly, Doom feels that way. The Skull likely does too, considering himself above mere morality. Thanos probably doesn't care about anything other than achieving his goals. And the Joker? Who can say?
Karen: Well, I've heard it said that a really 'good' villain actually considers himself to be the hero of the story -that from his perspective, everything he does is right and correct. Certainly, Doom feels that way. The Skull likely does too, considering himself above mere morality. Thanos probably doesn't care about anything other than achieving his goals. And the Joker? Who can say?
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Doug: Marvel's latest solicitations are out, and Alex Ross has two variant covers in the offerings. As has been the case over the past several months, these covers are in celebration of Marvel Comics' 75th Anniversary. Today's fare rank among my favorites in the entire project! Naysayers -- have at it!