August 1, 2013

My Merry Marvel Read-Thru: A Miscellaneous Beginning

I want to state up front that this isn't really a formal project. I've been working my way up through the superhero titles of the Marvel Silver Age for a while now, and don't have any intention of looping back and re-reading the stuff I've already finished. Since I know several of my followers have been interested in discussing things as I've slowly progressed, I figured I'd just jot down general thoughts so they'd have a better sense of where I am with each book and what I'm feeling.

After this post, I'll largely be going year by year, series by series - i.e. doing all of Thor from '67, then Spider-Man from '67, so on and so forth. As you can see below, before I started the year-by-year system, I read more deeply into Hulk and Dr. Strange (as well as Fantastic Four and X-Men), and will start chronicling them once I get to the point where I've left off. They're here because I wanted to round them to the end of the years where I stopped. As for Daredevil and Avengers, those were the last bits of '66 I had, and so we'll be picking up the next post firmly in 1967.

And at the moment, I'm only doing the series which started in the '60s, so as we get to 1970 and beyond, I'm not going to be adding any other series until I get past the point where all of these ended in the late 90s.

Daredevil #23 (December 1966)

"DD Goes Wild"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

After defeating the Tri-Android, Daredevil is teleported to the Masked Marauder's HQ, where he has to face the three men who made up the Tri-Android's programming - Dancer, Mangler, and Brain - then take on the Gladiator. Marauder decides to double cross his partner, teleporting Gladiator and Daredevil into a Colosseum film set, where they have to fight in front of the gathered forces of the Maggia, and wrestle a lion. Meanwhile, Karen and Foggy try to figure out where Matt wandered off to while dressed in a Daredevil costume, as she wrestles with her suspicions and doubts.

Colan's art continues being fantastic, fluid, and expressive, but its gloominess is still clashing with Stan's zingers and goofy plotting, and even the focus on solid action doesn't keep this from being a nonsensical mess of silliness, which isn't even all that fun anymore. That said, Gladiator still holds his own well (much better than the worthless Masked Marauder) and there's a great bit where Daredevil gets sand thrown in his face and has to pretend to be affected by it while not batting an eye in kicking ass.

As for Karen, if she isn't calling out Matt on being Daredevil within the next few issues by this point, I'm gonna feel pretty insulted by this drawn out tact of melodrama.

Not Recommended

The Avengers #33 (October 1966)

"To Smash a Serpent"
By Stan Lee and Don Heck.

The Sons of the Serpent are holding their big rally, with the Avengers as their celebrity guests to give weight to their cause of ethnic hatred. But they don't realize until too late that Goliath is playing a bluff while Hawkeye sneaks into the Serpents' HQ to rescue the captive Captain America, with the help of Black Widow.

A lot of the twists don't sell (an evil doppel-Cap and the predictable identity of Serpent Supreme) and Heck's art is as rushed and choppily staged as ever, often breaking momentum instead of driving it, but it's not a bad story. Hawkeye and Goliath get some personal moments in the spotlight, and this is one of those stories against prejudice and bigotry that Stan really poured his heart into, giving it moments of legitimate power. There's also a great cameo from Senator Byrd, and I like the way Stan and Don use the crowd to cover the politics of the rally from every angle.

That said, there's a few moments of Hank losing his temper which are an uncomfortable foreshadowing (likely unintended) of the years of abuse to come.


The Avengers #34 (November 1966)

"The Living Laser"
By Stan Lee and Don Heck.

The Avengers go up against the Living Laser and his unbeatable blah blah they kick his ass but he still gets the upper hand for an unnecessary cliffhanger, because this needed to be a two-parter? Really? The setup of him being a creepy stalker of Wasp is intriguing, but it's never really followed through on, and isn't helped by Stan's inability to write women without sounding like a sexist dope. The Laser is otherwise an uninteresting villain, whose battle gimmick of a laser beam (Oh noes!) pales against other villains who have already had lasers on top of other weapons and abilities. And why couldn't this have just been Unicorn if we're going there? Or Melter? Why do we need a new character?

Aside from a nice little fight in the woods between Laser and Goliath, Heck's storytelling is just as choppy as ever and Stan's dialogue does little to save it. There's also an odd sanitization of things as, when Laser goes on a rampage through the city, everything he destroys is brushed off as stuff already set for demolition/disposal. I know this is a recurring tool whenever the heroes destroy a building or plane or boat, but this is the bad guy, and all they're doing is further neutering him.

Not Recommended

The Avengers #35 (December 1966)

"The Light That Failed"
By Roy Thomas and Don Heck.

The male Avengers break free of the Living Laser's trap, but he's still got his mitts on Wasp as... he goes to Central America and joins a bandito revolution of the government which then wants to use his lasers to quell a peoples' revolt? A bit out of nowhere, but okay, as the Avengers then have to push through armed forces to his castle stronghold, saving the day, and Goliath reveals he can now change size again.

Roy's clumsily enthusiastic writing is a breath of fresh air after Stan's increasing flippancy, but it brings the usual Roy problems of oddly random plot twists (like the complete left-field shift to Central America) and being so desperate to fill each panel with dialogue that he's even adding stuff that's nowhere in the art, weighing down the pace instead of driving it. Still, it's exciting fluff, and entertaining enough. Don's art is a little sketchier than usual, but moves the story a little more cleanly, probably because Roy often wrote out more detailed plots than Stan's in-person pitches.

I'm not sure we needed to fix Goliath this early, though, as his struggles to cure his size were an interesting fusion of Ben Grimm and Reed Richards into a single person. And I don't get why Laser has a surprisingly sympathetic ending where the story preaches tolerance of those who can't control their stalking infatuations. His last name wouldn't be Cullen by any chance, would it?


Dr. Strange #181 (July 1969)

"If a World Should Die Before I Wake"
By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer.

After Nightmare challenges Strange to a fateful final battle, Stephen enjoys an evening about town with Clea before entering the subconscious realm and battling through legions to reach the lord of dark dreams in a battle overseen by a captive Eternity.

A bit dreary, a bit dull at times, with the date with Clea having none of the bittersweet spark of heart pangs Roy's overwrought writing is aiming for, but the Colan/Palmer art continues to be stunning, and once we're in the dream realm, it goes all out in exciting '69 psychedelic trippy surrealism.


Dr. Strange #182 (September 1969)

"And Juggernaut Makes Three"
By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer.

At the mercy of Nightmare, Strange pulls a desperate gambit by summoning Juggernaut (!?) to beat the crap out of the lord of dreams. The two villains eventually team up, but by then, Strange laid a trick in place which causes them to free Eternity from his bonds, and he? vanquishes the two to some hidden realm and returns Strange to Earth with the gift of a new civilian name.

You can't deny the random twists of Roy's plotting with how Juggernaut suddenly drops into the mix, but it works surprisingly well, making for an epic and trippy beatdown. Less successful in the plotting is the continuous attempt to justify Strange's still bland superhero redesign by now giving him a different name (Stephen Sanders) in the real world so as to better mask his identity.

On the art side, Colan/Palmer are still going all out with wild layouts and psychedelic nightmare visuals, among the best dynamic blocking comics have to offer. My one gripe is that I'm guessing Colan doesn't draw people with massive builds very often, because Juggernaut is a little too spindly and lanky, and his armor looks kind of silly when its not wrapped around what should be gargantuan limbs.


Dr. Strange #183 (November 1969)

"They Walk By Night"
By Roy Thomas, Gene Colan, and Tom Palmer.

While still coming to grips with the cosmic changing of his last name, Strange receives a desperate telegram from Kenneth Ward, an adventurer college buddy, who's now trapped in a wheel chair, the victim of spells cast by three demonic manservants in search of an idol he encountered in a distant land. Strange smites them by opening a curtain, then vows to find the idol.

A bit of a dreary, dry story lacking in impact and suffering from a by-the-numbers setup. It also ends the original series on an unfortunate cliffhanger which would be resolved elsewhere before Strange's own series would be relaunched.

Still worth reading, though, because of Colan/Palmer's flowing, enchanting artwork, and the story, while dull, is not without its pulpy charms.


The Incredible Hulk #132 (October 1970)

"In the Hands of Hydra"
By Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, and John Severin.

With Hulk shackled and unconscious, firmly in the grip of Ross's forces, Jim Wilson walks off, conflicted over his part in things. He's lured in by Hydra, who play on the boy's sympathies in a plot to get their hands on the Hulk. Once their Hulk-heist plays out, Hulk breaks loose to protect the betrayed Jim, but the boy catches a blast and the Hulk escapes, frightened about the fate of the fading young man in his arms.

Trimpe's layouts are still clunky yet clean, and he pulls some nice tricks with successive, evolving panel tiers, and he's gloriously boosted up by the lush detailing of the always welcome Severin. Roy's story is quite strong, too. I mean, we've seen Hulk captured by one party and abducted by another plenty of times, but it's well anchored on the conflicts of Jim Wilson, who sells himself out to two parties now instead of trusting in his friend, the Hulk. The story literally calls out that he's filling the shoes once worn by Rick Jones, and I welcome this as there's plenty of depth to explore with this character and the corners he finds himself wedged in.


Hulk #133 (November 1937)

"Day of Thunder - Night of Death"
By Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, and John Severin.

Jim Wilson's life is saved when Ross personally confronts the Hulk and gets his permission to take the boy, but further negotiations are silenced by a trigger-happy soldier, so Hulk hops to the Atlantic coast and sails to Europe, where he finds himself in Morvania, a little kingdom over-thrown by a dictator (actually, he calls himself The Dictator) named Draxton. Hulk proceeds to smash through Draxton's forces, causing a stir of reassurance among rebels, then promises the Dictator he'll be sticking around for a while.

This is a simple story told very well. Ross's desire to finally settle things with the Hulk is a great moment between them, even as it goes to pot. The trip across the Atlantic is marvelously inventive, as Roy lets Hulk sneak onto a boat with an entire page of dialogue-free panels, then chronicles the trip through the log of a captain we never know and will never hear from again. And when we get to Morvania, there's hilarious moments like Draxton going off on a speech about how he slew the green giant, not noticing as Hulk pulls himself up from the cliff behind the dictator.

I've never been that big a fan of Roy (who's often too wordy with chaotic plotting), nor Herb (who's storytelling is clean, but the actual panels themselves are blandly framed), yet they're a hell of a team here as they make up for stories which aren't the most memorable by experimenting with how those stories are told and peppering them with wonderful little character moments. And Severin's detailed inks are still a delight.


The Incredible Hulk #134 (December 1970)

"Among Us Walks... The Golem"
By Roy Thomas, Herb Trimpe, and Sal Buscema.

The rebels of Morvania tie the appearance of the Hulk to old legends of the Golem, and feel the time is now right to rise up against the Dictator. Yet Hulk refuses to fight for any men on either side... until the little girl of the rebel leader sheds a tear for her father's plight. Hulk kills the Dictator and walks into the woods, refusing the rebels' offer to be their new king.

Buscema is quite a step down as inker from John Severin, and while he does give the art a great Jack Kirby blockiness, it also further betrays Trimpe's clunky framing, which lacks the dynamism that made Kirby's style work. It still flows well, with good action, a nice dank mood to the desperation of the rebellion, and the touching moments where Hulk catches the girl's tear and destroys the symbolic necklace of the monarchy. It's a simple story, but very well told by Roy, never once slipping into the odd jerks of randomness nor overly verbose dialogue he's typically known for. A good, solid issue.

Though, man, I'd totally love to read a What If... of what would have happened had Hulk accepted the throne.


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