September 1, 2013

This Week In My Merry Marvel Read-Thru

Tales of Suspense #86 (February 1967)

Iron Man "Death Duel for the Life of Happy Hogan"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

Iron Man and the Mandarin throw down, Iron Man wins and saves Happy, and I couldn't be more bored. Stan's writing is wordy and dull. Gene's art is still an uncomfortable fit for the series, with Frank doing an awful job on his heavy inks. There's no energy, no flow to the fight, no personality to the characters. It's just a lifeless jumble of lines on a page.

Not Recommended

Captain America "The Secret"
By Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Frank Giacoia.

Captain America invades Yashonka, a Commie weapons research lab in the Orient, where he fights a giant mech suit, contacts the undercover Agent 60, evades the Beeper Dogs, and sets out to destroy the dreaded Z-Ray. Very few people can jam-pack 10 pages with as much pure action and excitement as Jack, and Stan's snappy dialogue follows along with it nicely. And as much crap as I gave Frank's inks above when he's messing up Colan's art, his heavy style is a fine match for Jack.


Daredevil #25 (February 1967)

"Enter: The Leap-Frog"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

Karen and Foggy are armed with a letter from Spider-Man claiming Matt is Daredevil, so our hero quickly makes up a twin brother named Mike Murdock (yes, really) who's the actual costumed crimefighter, and Matt even visits them as "Mike", a laid-back and cocky swinger. Also, he takes on Leap-Frog, a two-bit thief dressed in a green suit with flippers and springs on his feet.

This issue is stupid. Like, massively stupid. It's snappy and entertaining at times, but I'm not exactly laughing at the twists because of how "clever" they are. The "Mike" angle is complete nonsense, yet it seems they'll be playing it out for a few more issues, and Leap-Frog is an absolute waste of a nothing villain. Gene's fluid, dramatic art is still nice, but it's still locked in a struggle with Stan's flippant script and Frank's heavy inks.

Not Recommended

The Ghost Rider #1 (February 1967)

"The Origin of the Ghost Rider"
By Dick Ayers, Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas, and Vince Colletta.

Settler Carter Slade is attacked by a pack of white men dressed as Native Americans to chase people off land they want, and Carter is saved by real Natives, the medicine man of whom declares him a chosen savior, giving Carter a white shroud, a screeching white horse named Banshee, and dust that makes him sparkle in the moonlight, thus creating the hero of the night: The Ghost Rider!

I'm not a fan of western comics (not that they're bad, I just find them often repetitive with a limiting aesthetic) and mainly checked this one out just to get a sense of Marvel's earlier attempt at this title before reinventing the Ghost Rider name in the 70s. And it's adorable. It's charming and quaint and all kinds of old-timey, but it's just not my thing, and the writing and art are very basic and no different in 1967 than stuff I've read from 20 years earlier. Thus, I ultimately didn't finish it and don't really have any plans to continue with the series during this read-thru.

So I can't say whether I recommend it or not, just that it's not my cup of tea.

The Avengers #37 (February 1967)

"To Conquer a Colossus"
By Roy Thomas and Don Heck.

Captives of Ixar, the Avengers learn the tale of the supercomputer's creation, then finally make their escape. When they overpower the Ultroids, Ixar fuses himself to all of his artificial creations, creating a massive colossus figure who's more than a match for them.

I'm really impressed at how Don Heck's art keeps getting cleaner and tighter and nicely stylized, and he's gone from one of my least favorites of this period to someone I'm keeping an eager eye on. His storytelling from panel to panel is still a little choppy, but improving, and it's the images within each panel that are showing a developing skill with some images that would still sell as impressive to this day. Roy's script is a bit wordy, and he still needs to learn when to let the art speak for itself instead of feeling a need to explain every little thing, but he's developing a snappiness to his dialogue that's starting to rival Stan, and what seems to be a mediocre "alien invasion" plot takes a great turn in the last few pages as Hawkeye and Black Widow figure out the captured old Burgomeister is the real Ixar, and get into an ethical debate about whether killing him to resolve the crisis is something they can justifiably do.

It's great stuff, and I'm curious to see if this'll play out in coming issues as Hawkeye covers for Widow (who was all set to off the dude) in his attempt to get her on the team.


Tales of Suspense #87 (March 1967)

Iron Man "Crisis - At the Earth's Core"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

Tony is building a giant drill to bore into the earth and "further human knowledge", which coincides with a number of nearby structures being pulled into the ground. As a mob starts to bristle with fear and suspicions about what's going on in the factory, and a group of foreign saboteurs break in, the whole building is also pulled into the ground. Surprising nobody but Tony, the culprit is Mole Man, who wants to steal the drill.

I don't hate it as much as past installments (probably due to lack of Mandarin), and there are some moments of snappiness in Stan's script that gives a bit more zing to Gene's gloomy and fluid (albeit out-of-place) art, but the whole thing feels a bit misguided. It seems like Stan is trying to shoe-horn the story to fit Gene by making it a gothic tale of our "mad scientist" hero obsessing over his latest invention while rumors and suspicions ripple through the growing mob outside, who cringe at the flickering light and bales of smoke. I can see why they're going this route, but it's still not working and shows even more how out of place Colan's work is here. And then there's the saboteur battle that comes out of nowhere and goes right back, and the completely unshocking yet overly dramatized reveal of Mole Man.

Just a completely misguided mess.

Not Recommended

Captain America "Wanted: Captain America"
By Roy Thomas, Jack Sparling, and Joe Sinnott.

The peerless Planner, a new criminal mastermind in town, disguises himself as Captain America so he and his hoods can keep the hero off their tails by tying him up with the police. The cops agree to Cap's deal to turn himself in if he doesn't find the real guilty party in two hours, which doesn't take him all that long.

With the over-the-top portrayal of the Planner and his zebra-stripe-costumed henchmen, this has far more in common with the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman tv series, which had been on the air for over a year at the time, than it does Kirby's two-fisted action stories. That said, it's still surprisingly entertaining, with Roy's script making up for over-explanation with a snappy sense of fun, and Sparling's crisp, jaunty art (I love his faces) leaping about like a bright display of fireworks. I also love that the Planner's entire motivation is to steal the Stark-designed gadgets in Cap's shield, which we've already long since established Cap got rid of, ending the story on a whimsical "waa-waaaaa" note.

This shouldn't work, but it remarkably does.


Daredevil #26 (March 1967)

"Stilt-Man Strikes Again"
By Stan Lee and Gene Colan.

During his arraignment hearing (with Foggy as his lawyer), Leap-Frog gets a hold of his spring boots and escapes, injuring himself and discovering Stilt-Man outside the courthouse, who was hoping to spring the dude to team up. Instead, Stilt-Man has to duke it out with Daredevil, and when the telescopic villain is knocked out, he's carted away by the Masked Marauder... who turns out to be the manager of Matt & Foggy's office building! And not only that, but he's figured out the two lawyers are in some way connected to Daredevil.

Stan has been trying really hard to play this book in the same style and tone as Amazing Spider-Man, and this is the closest he's come to achieving it. The way Stilt-Man suddenly shows up with the pathetic desire to team with Leap-Frog is adorable given how ridiculous both are, and the fight with DD, while brief, is a lot of fun. While the Marauder's reveal isn't all that shocking, it's still well played and leaves off on a great note to set up future possibilities. And even the nonsensical "Mike" Murdock ruse is a laugh riot, mostly because Colan, who's gloomy, dynamic art has always been at odds with Stan's scripts, finally gives in and changes his style to one of light adventure and hilarious comic hijinks. Who knew he had such comedic chops in him, and that they'd suddenly break out after such a long struggle!

I can't say this is the best direction for the series to be going in, but at least they're finally executing it well enough that I'm willing to go along for the ride.


The Avengers #38 (March 1967)

"In Our Midst... An Immortal"
By Roy Thomas, Don Heck, and George Roussos.

The arguments over whether or not Black Widow should be inducted into the Avengers comes to a surprising conclusion when she calls it all quits and even tells Hawkeye to forget her... the reason being Nick Fury has enlisted her for a top secret assignment. The Avenger Mansion then comes under attack by Hercules, who's been put under a love spell by the Enchantress. Much duking out is had until the spell is lifted and Herc, now exiled to Earth by Zeus for a year, becomes the new member of the team.

There's a lot that this book does well. The story is full of great twists which kept me on my toes and show Roy's great handling of the various characters and their personalities. Hercules is a lot of fun and him being a surprise addition to the team is wonderful. The way Black Widow's arc ends is wonderfully downbeat and I'm curious how it'll play out down the road. The action is fast and exciting with Don's stylish art still holding at the level of quality he's risen to in the last few issues, and the inclusion of Roussos, on of my favorite inkers of the era, never hurts.

The main problem is Roy's writing. The man just doesn't know when to hold back a little and trust that the art is telling the story, and he seems bound and determined to fill every open space in each panel he can. No matter how snappy he's gotten and how good his story, he's just piling the words on so think that it becomes a slog. Also, the way they break the spell is pulled straight out of his ass.

A good issue, but not the easiest read.


Tales of Suspense #88 (April 1967)

Iron Man "Beyond All Rescue"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

Eluding the hordes of Mole Man is pretty tricky now that Iron Man also discovers Pepper trapped deep in the Earth, but they're set upon by a giant robot fire-breathing dragon (!?). Another dull affair, with the dragon battle being a needless addition, Iron Man chewing out Pepper with a heaping dose of Stan's sexism, and a big twist where Mole Man blows up... because? It's just no fun, and not even nice to look at, with Gene's art still struggling in a series where his style doesn't fit, and Frank's inks do nothing to help matters.

Not Recommended

Captain America "If Bucky Lives..."
By Stan Lee and Gil Kane.

Captain America gets a distress call from what appears to be Bucky, and heads to a remote island, where a mysterious figure with a mastery of large plastic bubbles pits Cap against Swordsman and Power Man.

I've never been a huge fan of Kane's art, and this period is especially unappealing, with its moments of snappiness occasionally undone by really horrible flubs of anatomical contortion or eyes pointed in the wrong direction (nope, can't blame Colletta for it this time). His shading is also so sparse as to leave the page feeling largely empty and lacking in depth.

On the writing side, this is tired Stan pulling something half-hearted out of his ass, as the general appeal of the setup is tossed aside for a random battle with two established losers and nonsensical science doohickery. And Sam Rosen should be pelted with his lettering here as it's all over the place and had me backtracking as it's laid out in the wrong order at times.

Not Recommended

Daredevil #27 (April 1967)

"Mike Murdock Must Die"
By Stan Lee, Gene Colan, and Frank Giacoia.

The Masked Marauder kidnaps Matt, Foggy, and Karen in the hopes of learning DD's identity. He pays the ultimate fate when he blunders into his own disintegrating forcefield. Meanwhile, Stiltman dukes it out with Spider-Man.

After the big reveal of Marauder's identity, he goes out pretty quick just as I expected the series to play him out a bit more. It's still an entertaining book, though, as Stan is in full on Spider-Man mode, with all the cogs of his light and merry melodrama clicking into place amidst crackling action. Gene's art is along for the fun ride with only the heavy stain of Frank's inks sapping a bit of the joy.

It's still second-rate Spider-Man, but a fun second-rate Spider-Man. And, hey, we get to have fun with Spider-Man, too!


The Avengers #39 (April 1967)

"The Torment... and the Triumph"
By Roy Thomas, Don Heck, and George Roussos.

The Mad Thinker divides the Avengers, taking them out individually - with the help of his new sidekicks, Hammerhead, Piledriver, and Thunderboots - so he can finally gain access to the wealth of technology Tony Stark has set up in the mansion. What the Thinker doesn't know is that Hercules is now on the team, and guess who just arrived home from a wild night on the town!

This is a really solid Avengers tale, with a good strategy from the Thinker as he methodically takes down each of the lead cast, good character moments like Hawkeye still in a slump over Black Widow's now public "betrayal" or Goliath wondering if he had her judged all wrong, seemingly disposable new characters like the trio of henchmen actually holding their own quite well, and the great ticking clock of whether or not Hercules will get home in time to save the day. And when he does, it tips the scales in all the right ways.

As I said, an absolutely solid issue. Roy's writing is still a little long-winded, but snappy and he's got a real knack for each of these characters. Don's art is strong and expressive, with some great action moments and a nice use of sequential panels I haven't really seen from him before. George's inks are a little inconsistent, a little loose and rough at times, but mostly quite strong.


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