Doug: I suppose the art is as good a place as any to begin today's discussion. On the job are two Silver Age veterans in Jim "Madman" Mooney and Frank Giacoia. As I mentioned last week, I am using the first volume of Essential Marvel Team-Up as my resource (thanks to my partner for providing the pretty color images over these first three weeks of August!). I'd bet you I could flip through that book and randomly stop on a page and at first glance tell you if Mooney was on the art team. Where am I going with this? I don't dislike Jim Mooney at all -- not a bit. But, his art is "qualified". What I mean is that his figurework and storytelling is OK, above average even -- the guy was a pro. But his faces are just generally so darned cute it's hard to take these characters seriously. Johnny Romita had this same sort of "soft" style, but managed to pull off a menacing look here and there. I think Mooney was perfect for his tenure on Supergirl, but here his Johnny Storm just isn't getting it done in the hero department. Does this make sense?
Karen: Generally I like Jim Mooney. Not one of my favorites but a very serviceable artist.I didn't really have a problem with his Johnny Storm -I guess I've always thought of him as being a "teen idol" type anyway.
Doug: Storywise, we pick it up just about where we left off at the end of last issue. Kang and Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man are squaring off in the 23rd Century -- the home time of Zarrko, and a spot in the timestream Kang has come to conquer ('cause that's what he does). Iron Man and Spider-Man had been brought into the conflict and Zarrko had used them as wild cards in attacking Kang's citadel. But in one of the fracases, IM was knocked for a loop. Spidey was as well, but recovers just as the scene between the two time masters is about to climax. Zarrko reveals to Kang, a plot which Webhead overhears, that he will send three time capsules back in time to effectively stop the evolution of innovation. When these doohickeys go off, jets will become biplanes, guns will become slingshots, etc. Once the tech. is out of the question, Zarrko will swoop in and take over the Earth in that era. However, he plans to leave one weapons depot untouched so that he can use it to rule. From there, he will somehow (I'm just not clear on the logic or plausibility of this scheme) rule all of time. Kang seems a bit nervous, so this thing must have some legs.
Karen: When it comes to time travel stories, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief quite a bit if the story is entertaining. But this whole scheme is beyond ludicrous. Your use of the term 'evolution' is apt. It's not time travel, but some sort of bizarre rewinding of progress, like you could "devolve" technological or societal developments. What I'm talking about will become more apparent during the course of the review. But I have to say, it's idiotic.
Doug: As I said, Spider-Man is alert during Zarrko's monologue. He whispers to Iron Man that they need to head this plan off at the pass and engage the super-baddies. But Iron Man, although also conscious, tells Spidey that he'd better make tracks -- the armor is damaged and has no power! In effect, Tony Stark is a prisoner in his own metal skin! Knowing he's no match for Kang and Zarrko, Spider-Man looks to find a way a) out of harm's way and b) back to 1973. Well wouldn't you know it, he finds a time machine and miraculously figures it out faster than would Reed Richards. Couple of things about this scene, but I'm trying to roll with it: young Peter Parker deduces how time travel should work and what sort of equipment would make it work, and then is able to run the processes necessary to get what he wants. Oh, and one more thing -- I teased last week about Zarrko's labeled device; here we see "Portal Effect" just where it needed to be for Spider-Man to escape. A-hem...
Karen: Was everything conveniently labeled back then? I found it amusing that Kang and Zarrko were so rapped up in their argument that they completely missed the fact that Spidey escaped.
Doug: As Spidey materializes back in 1973, Zarrko continues to menace Kang. But as the Conqueror moves to end the nonsense, he's startled -- scared even -- to see the
arrival of some mystery folks... who we'll meet in the next issue.
Spidey is indeed home, but not home home. Nope -- he plops down square in the middle of the Baxter Building. The Torch happens to be the only one home, and since he and Spidey go way back there's no need for any senseless fisticuffs. They act like the old chums they are (Johnny sure is cuuuute!), have a beverage, and Spidey brings his buddy up to speed on the adventure. No other FF members are around, so it's just the two of them to save the world. They decide they need to locate Zarrko's three time capsules and destroy them. Spidey knows that they are set to land in Japan, South America, and Greece. So they split up and set off -- Johnny for the Land of the Rising Sun, and Peter for Venezuela. Since neither of them could get to those locales, Johnny hops a trans-Pacific flight (what do you suppose that last minute ticket cost him?) and Spider-Man does the same -- sort of. He webs himself to the bottom of a plane, and then somehow knows exactly when to disengage. I am trying really hard to believe this, putting my best kid hat on. Really? Webbed to the bottom of a plane, flying at 30,000 feet? Whatever...
Karen: Where do I start? There's just so many 'shake my head' moments here. So by sheer coincidence, Spidey winds up in the Baxter Building? Why not just have him arrive somewhere in NYC and then go to the Baxter Building to get help? Then they just hang out and have a pleasant little chat. They don't know exactly where the capsules are landing but they head off. Johnny at least gets a ticket and rides inside a plane. I am just as incredulous as you are regarding Spidey'smode of transport. He even makes a comment about his 'air supply' about to run out -what did he do, web one up? I have this image of Spidey huffing from a web sack...the mind boggles.
Doug: Both of our heroes encounter the time capsules just as they've gone off. Johnny ends up fighting a local with a gun who reverts to a samurai warrior. It's a weird scene, as the Torch obviously doesn't want to hurt the guy and so fights him hand-to-hand. Spider-Man encounters some of the Venezuelan locals, who revert back to pre-Columbian indigenous Americans. Both of our heroes get close enough to the time capsules that they are affected by its radiation. Johnny feels like he's losing his mind; Spidey feels about the same. As Spider-Man is about to succumb, the Torch shows up. Whaa--aaat?? Yup. Johnny tells Spider-Man how to avoid the pull of the radiation. He says an hour ago he was having the same trouble, figured it out, and then "hitched a ride" on a plane, figuring Spidey would be having the same problems. An hour. From Japan to Venezuela. And by the way, how did they know how to locate these devices in the first place? Oh, man...
Karen: You know a lot more happened in those scenes but you still spent more time than they deserved describing them. This is utter crap. I'm sorry. It's just that bad. This device somehow turns not time back, but progress back? So a modern Japanese man becomes a samurai? Oh and they misspelled 'samurai' in the book too. And what commercial plane can go from Japan to Venezuela in an hour? I was tempted to stop reading but I didn't want to leave you hanging. Really...
Doug: I'm sure our readers who've not previously seen this story can tell from the art samples that the Torch's and Spider-Man's battles were told separately. In the interest of my own valuable time, as well as my sanity, I condensed about five pages into that one paragraph. Yeah, this is bad.
Doug: Johnny says he thinks he recognizes the radiation that the time capsules emit, but cannot place it; Spidey says they have one device to find and destroy. So our youthful protagonists jump in a biplane -- Johnny piloting -- but once not under the influence of the time capsule the plane soon becomes a jet. Apparently no sweat, as Johnny pilots it anyway. They head for Greece, where it looks like an episode from the Hellenic period. The boys do a little dust-up of the hometown folks, and locate the time capsule. As Johnny is about to incinerate it, Spider-Man stops him -- he says, wait, dude -- it's the only way we have to possible get back to the future and free the Avengers! So they neutralize the deal, and then the Torch tells that he's figured out why he knows that radiation pattern. He thinks it's the same as the negative zone that radiates around the Great Refuge -- home of the Inhumans! Spidey's like, "Let's roll!" but the Torch says no way -- he's got a certain ex-girlfriend who lives there and he doesn't want to open old wounds. But instead of helping Spider-Man, he just leaves! Just leaves!
Karen: Well of course he does! You were expecting it to start making sense now?!
Doug: Being a gentleman, I'm going to give my partner first crack at the summation of today's yarn. But I hope I don't prejudice her if I say this might be a notch below a Spidey Super-Stories tale!
Karen: I already called it 'crap' so I think it's pretty clear how I feel. Really, this is a sub-par effort on the part of Conway, and I bet if we were to ask him, he'd agree. Now I will take up the role of apologist here, and note that the man did seem to be writing an awful lot of titles and fill-ins back in the early 70s, so you know not every single one of them is going to be gold, or silver. Let's face it, this isn't even brass. I'm sure his 'progress devolver' must have seemed like a nifty idea at the time, but in action it just seems completely silly. To be fair, as a nine-year old, I probably would have reacted differently. But even if we disregard the inanities of the plot, overall, this is an unsatisfying affair, with no central villain and a lot of running around but not much pay-off. Truly a real low point in our reviews.
Doug: Having obviously read the first two issues in this little 3-parter, I'll add that I've also read the conclusion, which we'll feature next week. This middle installment is definitely a stinker. I wonder if the creative team was working Marvel Method, or if Conway was responsible for a plot synopsis or even a full script. At the top I spotlighted Jim Mooney and Frank Giacoia as Silver Age guys; I could see Mooney hearkening back to those days at DC Comics and coming up with some of the elements of this story. If true, and I agree with you about the volume of work Gerry Conway was churning out at this point in history, then the outcomes here might be explained. But even if my little fantasy explanation is true, it doesn't make it a good story, and the bottom line is that either Stan Lee or Roy Thomas signed off on it!
Our collaborators, Martinex1 and Redartz, have opened a new blog called Back in the Bronze Age... If you have liked the sorts of topics seen here on Bronze Age Babies, then you are going to feel right at home at Back in the Bronze Age... Give them a visit!
Karen and Doug
Bronze Age Babies, Unite!
On Sunday, 4/23/17, Martinex1, Doug, and Redartz gathered for a day of fun at C2E2 in Chicago. It was great to finally meet in person after years of online cameraderie.
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons and a daughter-in-law.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
Believe it or not, the Bronze Age Babies have never spoken to each other...
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Dig Karen's Work Here? Then You Should Check Her Out in Back Issue!
BI #44 is available for digital download and in print. I've read Karen's article on reader reaction to Gerry Conway's ASM #121-122, and it's excellent. This entire magazine was fun! -- Doug
Back Issue #45
As if Karen's work on Spidey in the Bronze Age wasn't awesome enough, she's at it again with a look at the romance of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Back Issue's "Odd Couples" issue -- from TwoMorrows!
Karen's talking the Mighty Thor in the Bronze Age!
Click the cover to order a print or digital copy of Back Issue! #53