August 25, 2013

This Week In My Merry Marvel Read-Thru

The Amazing Spider-Man #44 (January 1967)

"Where Crawls the Lizard"
By Stan Lee and John Romita.

Dr. Connors has a relapse, sending the Lizard on a spree to frame Spider-Man for robberies. Meanwhile, Aunt May is on a trip Peter can't currently pay for, and the gang at college goes ga-ga when they meet Mary Jane for the first time.

There isn't a whole lot too the bulk of the story, but it's still some great action, crisply laid out in Romita's clean style. I'm curious why they're making it a multi-parter, but the cliffhanger of Spidey once again being injured and down on the ropes is nicely done. Also, the stuff with everyone meeting MJ is fantastic, with Harry in awe, Flash laying the charm on thick, Gwen frosting up with jealousy, and MJ blazing through it with her care-free grin. Stan still doesn't have a handle on her wild 60s slang, but it works.


The Amazing Spider-Man #45 (February 1967)

"Spidey Smashes Out"
By Stan Lee and John Romita.

In spite of his wounded arm, Spider-Man keeps hunting down the Lizard, eventually tracking him to a trainyard with a shipment of live reptiles becoming the first soldiers in the villain's intended army. Spidey quickly dispatches with the beasts, then tricks the Lizard into entering a refrigerated car, quickly rendering the cold-blooded man unconscious. Racing back to Connor's lab, Spidey manages to revert the doctor back to human. In the end, Spidey thinks of all the work he didn't get done during all this, the money he doesn't have to pay for the trip Aunt May is still on, the friends who are having fun without him, and wonders why he still does what he does, and if he should take up Harry's offer of a job in Norman Osborne's lab.

The art and writing are every bit as snappy as always, even though nothing particularly outside the norm happens in this issue. The whole battle with the Lizard is a by-the-numbers affair staying true to the formula of their first encounter. There's nothing really new going on with any of his friends (aside from the job offer Harry quickly passes along). Foswell is still eager to tail Parker and learn his secret, but is sidetracked within a panel and nothing more comes of it. There is the nice gutpunch of a down-on-his-luck Peter sitting in the shadows and pondering his fate, juxtaposed with Dr. Connors and his family thinking Spider-Man is a swell guy who must not have a care in the world, but it's nothing we haven't seen before and doesn't really explore things to the depth of the Ditko days.

Also, there's an odd panel where Stan leaves all the word balloons blank and tells readers to have fun filling them in themselves. Stan, great job throwing a kick in the momentum of your narrative, and breaking the wall in a way so tonally discordant with the rest of the issue. Still, though


The Amazing Spider-Man #46 (March 1967)

"The Sinister Shocker"
By Stan Lee and John Romita.

While still healing from his arm injury, Spider-Man encounters the Shocker, a safecracker with a pair of vibrating gauntlets who promptly beats down our hero. Elsewhile, Peter picks up Aunt May, and they both decide to move out of the family home, and he takes up Harry's offer to become roomies. He also develops feeling for Gwen's dancing, takes part in the farewells for Flash (off to Vietnam), manages to shake off Foswell's near success at learning his secret identity, and finally takes out the Shocker.

A crackling good time of a read, with Romita's vibrant art and Stan's snappy writing keeping the yucks, melodrama, and action flowing from page to page. Minor quibbles are Stan getting way too caught up in his teen slang again, an oddly sombre note in the last panel, and the Shocker not having much in the way of any character at all. But as I said, minor quibbles, as the rest of the issue is a great mix of action (thin character aside, Shocker is a neat design and his powerful blows in the fight scenes are wonderfully conveyed by John) and the everyday twists and turns of Pete and his friends.


The Amazing Spider-Man #47 (April 1967)

"In the Hands of the Hunter"
By Stan Lee and John Romita.

The entire gang finally gets together for the big sendoff party for Flash. Meanwhile, Kraven is back and eager to collect a payment the Green Goblin stiffed him on, and when the trail leading to Norman Osborne goes cold given that the man is out of town on business, he goes after Harry. Who is, of course, at Flash's party.

This starts off seeming like just another throwaway issue where an established villain comes back to settle their grudge, complete with a new gimmick (the eyes of Kraven's lion-head vest can now shoot rays that magnetize a person's electrolytes, making them move slow... because, sure?), but it steadily builds into a great capper of an issue that almost feels like a season finale. The entire cast pops up, including Foswell, Betty, and Ned, and having the big duke-out be over one of Spidey's friends while surrounded by all their other friends really gives the scene some weight and energy. This is also the book with the infamous panel of Gwen dancing, and the triangle between she, Pete, and MJ is now firmly set as Flash says his farewells.

For as much crap as I give Stan, and as much as I miss the social commentary and deconstructionist philosophies of Ditko's run, his writing here and the crisp art of Romita is absolute magic. It may not be as deep as the book used to be, but it's sure solid entertainment with a great ensemble and a good sense of both humor and action.


Tales of Suspense #85 (January 1967)

Iron Man "Into the Jaws of Death"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

Happy's in the Iron Man suit, about to face down with the Mandarin! And instead of exploring this excellent setup, we instead cut back to Tony stumbling to and through his lab as he builds himself a newer, even more powerful suit of armor... which looks exactly the same as the suit Happy's wearing. He then flies to wherever Mandarin is and uses fancy new doohickeys to get through a series of boobytraps, and that's pretty much it. Gene's art is still illustrated well, but his gloomy fluidity continues to feel out of place in this series. Stan's writing is stiff and the story completely blows its potential by becoming a showcase for stuff we've already seen before. And I still think Mandarin is a shit villain.

Not Recommended

Captain America "The Blitzkrieg of Batroc"
By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Frank Giacoia.

Diving into Hydra HQ to save the mysterious female SHIELD agent, Cap dukes it out with Batroc the Leaper. And that's pretty much the whole story as Jack gives us half a dozen pages of these two in battle, ending with Batroc again aiding the foe who honorably bested him in combat. Great art, great fun, Stan's traded barbs are delightful, and I especially love the page so filled with fighting panels that he just lets the art speak for itself.


Daredevil #24 (January 1967)

"The Mystery of the Midnight Stalker"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

Plunderer is again trying to wrest the family estate from his step-brother Ka-Zar, this time framing the jungle man as perpetrator of a number of crimes. British authorities surround Ka-Zar in his castle, but Daredevil dives in first, initially fighting Ka-Zar, then teaming up with him in taking down Plunderer and clearing Ka-Zar's name.

There's problems here. The opening where Daredevil takes on some guerrillas before flying a plane (!?!) is nonsense, and the whole Ka-Zar/Plunderer plot has been drawn across so many issues that they might as well make it the jungle man's book by this point. Frank's inks are also a bit heavy-handed on Gene Colan's fluid art, which still has a great gloominess which clashes against Stan's attempts to make this as light and witty as Spider-Man. Despite all this, it's still a snappy, entertaining read, and I love the cliffhanger ending where Karen finds a letter from Spider-Man promising to keep Matt's identity as Daredevil a secret. I know it won't come to anything, but still a nice little kicker.


The Avengers #36 (January 1967)

"The Ultroids Attack"
By Roy Thomas and Don Heck.

A giant flying saucer supercomputer named Ixar takes over the hometown of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, luring in the Avengers so it can steal their powers to replicate in its army of androids Ultroids. There's not much to the disposable story, but Roy's writing is surprisingly snappy and character driven, keeping it all moving at a great pace. Don seems to be experimenting with his art style a bit, with a blockier, bulkier, sketchier look which, rather than knocking off Jack Kirby, is more a forebearer of the type of art Howard Chaykin would do down the road. It's still not great, but has a bit more personality and energy than Heck's usual stuff, and there's little moments where he's cleaning up his storytelling skills from panel to panel. Also, nice bit with Hawkeye wanting to let Black Widow join the team only for Goliath to go off in a rage (thankfully not slapping anyone) about how they aren't meant to be a home for all the reformed villains out there.

Mostly fluff, but entertaining fluff.


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