Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

I looked at DC in September of ’66; now here’s Marvel

Back at the start of April I took a look at some of DC’s books from September of ’66. I wanted to follow up immediately with a Marvel-centered post but it took longer than I expected. As Marvel’s output is much smaller, I can cover it all, though not necessarily in detail. For instance, as Marvel doesn’t have its 1960s Western comics on the app, I know nothing about this Kid Colt issue other than the cover artist’s name, Jack Keller.I’ve already discussed Tales to Astonish #83 (cover by Kirby) in relation to the Secret Empire’s Number One and his plans to destroy the Hulk. The Sub-Mariner strip is “meh” for me at this point β€” Gene Colan’s art is great but Namor losing it because Lady Dorma’s supposedly run off with Krang lacks the spark of Marvel’s stronger romances or more interesting villains.The Hulk story is more memorable. Returning from a battle with Tyrannus, Hulk saves Betty from Boomerang (working for the Secret Empire, of course) which results in a stunned General Ross admitting that maybe both Hulk and Banner are more than he thought. It’s a striking moment of humanity in a one-note adversary (What If … J. Jonah Jameson Were a General?) β€” but I already know it won’t last, any more than Ben Grimm accepting his transformation did.

Next, another Western, this time with a Dick Ayers cover β€”β€”and then one of Marvel’s A-listers, The Amazing Spider-Man with the “final” fate of the Green Goblin, dramatized on the cover by John Romita.It’s remarkable how well this issue works, given it’s Norman Osborne doing the one thing villains should never do, engaging in long exposition while the hero escapes. I don’t find this as improbable as some do β€” even people who aren’t power-mad villains will talk a captive audience’s ear off β€” and here it works perfectly. Norman’s desperate to convince Spider-Man that the Green Goblin really won all those fights they had! Sure, Spidey seemed to win, but it was just luck! While I doubt Stan Lee had it in mind, it comes off like a parody of Steve Ditko’s objectivist beliefs: Norman desperately wants to believe he’s John Galt, invincible super-genius and he ain’t all that.

As I’ve mentioned before, the two-part showdown with the Goblin reads like Stan and John Romita are wrapping up the Lee/Ditko era; the following issue similarly resolves Peter/Betty as he realizes she was his first love, but never his true love. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about the new era eventually.

In Fantastic Four, the excitement is literally non-stop as Lee and Kirby segue swiftly from one story into the next. In #54 (cover by Jack Kirby) they wrap up their first visit to Wakanda, then Johnny and Wyatt take one of T’Challa’s experimental flying craft out for a spin. Over the course of the issue they meet the immortal Prester John, then Johnny steals his Evil Eye to free the Inhumans from the Negative Zone. At this point the Zone was the barrier confining the Inhumans’ Great Refuge; the dimension now known as the Negative Zone was simply “subspace.”

Johnny’s passion for Crystal feels more like obsession than love β€” he fell so hard, so fast, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had pheromone powers β€” and stealing the Evil Eye feels part of that. It’s still some lively, high-energy storytelling.

I’ve nothing to say about this reprint collection except that, like DC’s annuals, it shows how hard it was to find old stories back in the day. That made reprints cool.Next up, two Stan Goldberg covers for Millie the Model. This was one of several appearances by the Gears with their mod Liverpool sound β€” hmm, why does that remind me of some other group?I’ve covered this month’s Strange Tales SHIELD story in the Secret Empire posts. Dr. Strange, by Denny O’Neil and Bill Everett (who did the cover), is a little stronger than their earlier efforts, with a good origin for the Ancient One. It’s still a pale shadow of what the series once was.Tales of Suspense #81 is a weak installment in a good run. The Iron Man story shown on Gene Colan’s cover is filler: Iron Man flies to Washington for a Congressional hearing, brooding all the way; the resurrected Titanium Man spends the time testing his new, improved armor; at the end, the titans clash. However the next two issues are dynamic wall-to-wall action so I forgive Lee and Colan for this one.I’m not so forgiving of the Captain America story. “Them” β€” not yet revealed as a reborn Hydra β€” have liberated the Red Skull from two decades of suspended animation to serve them, which you will not be surprised turns out to be a huge mistake. In the previous issue, the Red Skull got hold of AIM’s new gadget, the Cosmic Cube, giving him power absolute; as he demonstrates this issue, Cap has no chance against him.

No problem for the Star-Spangled Avenger: he drops to his knees and begs the Skull for a chance to serve him, to be first among his lackeys. The Red Skull’s so into this he lets Cap crawl close enough to challenge his control of the cube and then take him down. Sorry Stan and Jack, even a Red Skull intoxicated by power knows his nemesis too well to imagine Cap would ever submit to him. It’s a hamfisted ending.Daredevil shows how much the quality at Marvel has improved: it ranks with X-Men at the bottom of the superhero books but it’s a much higher low bar than when the bottom was Ant-Man. It’s still not good, though, despite that Romita cover.

This issue has the Owl kidnap the judge who once sentenced him, then kidnap Matt Murdock for the judge’s trial β€” you can’t say it was a kangaroo court when the judge had one of the the country’s top defense attorneys, can you? While I liked the Owl as an arrogant businessman in his first appearance, here he’s just a pompous bag of wind β€” who as we learn next issue, built this fortress HQ on top of a live volcano (no way that can turn out badly, right?). And Matt has never been acclaimed such a legal giant before. Stan did better in Spider-Man explaining why Foggy got assigned as the Rhino’s court-appointed lawyer β€” “I felt someone with your experience in bizarre cases was needed.”

Thor gets both a regular issue and an annual. Like FF, the new issue is part of a non-stop flow of adventure, shifting into a new story before the next one wraps up. Here Thor flies to Rigel to challenge the alien Colonizers’ takeover of Earth. This leads to a confrontation with Ego the Living Planet in the following issue, as Ego scares the Rigelians enough they’ll give up Earth if Thor takes him down. It’s a spectacular battle though with an unsatisfying ending; like the Cosmic Cube story, Stan and Jack can’t seem to find a good way to resolve a fight against such overwhelming powerIn hindsight, this issue shows the writing was on the wall for Jane Foster as Thor’s love interest. One of the Colonizers forces her to flee New York in the assumption Thor will drop everything to find her; instead, he puts Duty before Love, which keeps Jane securely out of the action until she’s kidnapped again by the High Evolutionary’s creation Lord Taga a couple of issues later. Maybe writing her out explains Harris Hobbs’ kidnapping her too.

X-Men is Marvel’s other weakest book though right now it’s more fun than Daredevil. Artist Werner Roth is no Gene Colan but Roy Thomas does a better job than Stan at making the X-Men feel like a tight group of teen friends. Even so, I’d pick any DC superhero book over them or Hornhead.

Avengers pushes the envelope by pitting the heroes against the Sons of the Serpent and their blatantly racist, xenophobic program for America. Don Heck struggles with the plotting, as he often did (the perennial drawback of the Marvel method) but I give Heck and Lee props for the subject matter. Though it’s hard to believe the Sons of the Serpent kept going: what sort of white supremacist group stays creditable when their leaders were a Chinese communist (this story), a black and white pair of propagandists (next Avengers appearance) and then a black businessman (Defenders)?A third Millie. Such a shame there was nothing Marvel or DC could do to get girls reading comics, isn’t there? No point in catering to anyone but male readers … dang it, where’s the button for the sarcasm font?Last comes Sgt. Fury (Dick Ayers cover again), another being written by Rascally Roy Thomas. In the previous issue Fury has to leave the Howlers in Nazi hands to complete his mission; this issue he’s furious that CO Sam Sawyer won’t let him charge off to Germany solo to rescue them.

Sawyer reminds Nick that he’s known the squad as long as Fury has and worries about them just as much, then goes and reflects on how he first met Nick and Dum-Dum. Don’t worry, next issue Sgt. Fury and Eric Koenig, a repentant Nazi-turned-Howler, infiltrate Berlin along with the Maulers (rival commando group) to bring the boys home.Sgt. Fury is still a crappy book (Jeff disagrees but he’s wrong) but Thomas is showing flashes of improvement; this is one of the few times I think the Maulers have been shown as competent rather than also-rans to Fury’s squad. As this isn’t one I read back in the day, I have the least idea what lies ahead, which I admit is kind of cool.

So that’s Marvel in ’66.

#SFWApro.

6 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    X-Men is Marvel’s other weakest book
    The cover says ‘Plague of the Locust!’

    Who?
    I mean, I have that issue. I must. But, who?
    I do not remember this ‘Locust’ at all.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    Bah! Some people just don’t know a good comic when it is staring them in the face!

    That is one of Roy’s better ones, though not his best. As an origin story, for Fury and Sawyer, it is pretty decent, though Roy’s history is all over the place and most of it is wrong; but, hey, comics. Roy had a better batting average for history than most of his contemporaries, though. The story is set in 1940, with the Germans invading Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg. That would put it in May; but, Sawyer is training with the British Commandos (it doesn’t explain if he is there with the Canadian Army or if he somehow enlisted with the British (since the US was neutral) and the Commandos weren’t formed until June of 1940, after Dunkirk. Later, he has Sam transferred to the US Army Rangers, soon after Pearl Harbor, but they weren’t formed until June 1942 and their first combat action was in August, in the Dieppe Raid. He has Sam & Dum-Dum together, in North Africa, before Fury and the rest arrive as the new 1st Attack Squad, as seen in the first issue (complete with Pvt Jonathan “Junior” Jupiter, aka “Cannon Fodder” as he was to be their first and only casualty.

    Fury is fine for the gung ho kind of action you saw in things like The Rat Patrol (which was inspired by the SAS, who finally got their due with the new SAS: Rogue Heroes series, from the BBC) or any number of the less thoughtful 60s war movies or any of the Italian Macaroni Combat films. It’s somewhat on par with The Dirty Dozen, though minus the more realistic characterizations (relatively speaking) or Raid on Rommel. Not quite up there with something like Tobruk or The Guns of Navarone. DC’s war comics were a bit more thoughtful, generally.

    Gary Friedrich really upped the game when he joined and John Severin, inking Ayers (and making it look like Severin) really made it look sweet. They tone down the sillier stuff in favor of grittier adventures, though never quite the same as a Kanigher & Kubert Sgt Rock or Enemy Ace story; but, on par with The Unknown Soldier or The Losers (in Our Fighting Forces), before Kirby had his run on the series.

    In regards the romance stuff, DC made a pretty good go of it until about the early-mid 70s. Marvel lost their best people for them, in the 50s, when they dumped most of their staff and the ones they got back, like John Romita, were put to work on the superheroes. Roy and his bunch were never quite up to doing stories that attracted girl readers. DC’s editor, Dorothy Woolfolk, was the top editor for that stuff and a lot of young talent were mentored by her. Charlton also had a pretty good bunch and did well with those comics, into the mid-70s. marvel just became a boys’ club earlier than everyone else. Funny enough, in the 80s, Louise Simonson proposed doing romance comics to try to capture the Harlequin audience (they released series romance books monthly, just like the old magazines and pulps) and was rebuffed by Jim Shooter. Comics have been scrambling for female readers ever since. The Japanese understood better and the manga boom captured the girls, easily. Some creators, like Neil Gaiman and Los Bros Hernandez don’t seem to have a problem attracting them; can’t understand why DC and Marvel can’t attract them, with guys in their underwear punching each other, while women dressed like strippers, stand around in awkward poses.

    Roy tended to follow the trends in war movies of the 60s and swiped a few plots from them. Issue #36 features the Howlers on a train, passing from Germany, through Switzerland, to Italy, carrying a top German officer, with the passage listed as a transport of medical supplies, to pass through Swiss borders. They will get on it in Switzerland, disguised as medical inspectors and try to nab the German officer, before it reaches Italy. The action on the train and the ending bears more than a passing resemblance to Von Ryan’s Express, with Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard.

    1. Thanks for the background on sources/history. I think Roy got better at history when he worked on Invaders. It will be interesting in any case to watch him develop over the remaining years of this reread.
      I’ve heard good things about Gary Friedrich’s run and I’m looking forward to reaching that point too.

      1. One thing I do like about Roy’s Sgt. Fury stuff is that he keeps emphasizing the mission is greater than the individual β€” the reason the Howlers wind up trapped in Berlin is because Fury had to leave them behind to get a Greek partisan leader to safety.

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