Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Marvel in late ’67: Part One

I’ve been meeting to post about several different Marvel books and keep getting distracted by other topics. This and a follow-up post next week should get me caught up.Amazing Spider-Man followed the spectacular highs of “Spider-Man No More” and Spidey’s first battle with the Kingpin with the return of Doctor Octopus in #53, after 20 issues away. It’s the first time I’ve been disappointed in the Lee/Romita run: Romita’s Dr. Octopus doesn’t work as well for me as Ditko’s and Lee’s dialog makes the villain feel much less distinctive, more generic. Like my thoughts about Gwen’s internal dialog in “Spider-Man No More” this is a purely subjective reaction — it’s not like I’m comparing the dialog side-by-side — but it’s my gut reaction.

The book does keep up the pressure on Peter’s personal life, for example by having Harry — Peter’s first real friend besides Betty Brant — become annoyed at the way Peter doesn’t trust him: look at the way Peter keeps Harry out of his bedroom, as if he thinks Harry’s going to swipe something! Of course it’s to hide Peter’s exposed costume but he can’t tell Harry that.

Octavius hiding out by boarding with May adds to Peter’s woes. Unfortunately ——well, May comes off like she’s a complete ninny. I accepted that at the time but now it feels way ageist. I prefer Larry Lieber’s joke take in a pinup in this year’s annual.Over in Avengers, Roy Thomas is already displaying the fascination with continuity that would mark much of his career. Rather than explaining away past discontinuities or oddities, it shows by him tying the book in with other events on Earth-616. Stan Lee, of course, had already been doing that but Thomas seems to do it more consistently and frequently. Some examples:Over in Roy’s X-Men, when they need Doctor Strange’s help against Juggernaut, Stephen emphasizes he can only spare a few minutes because he’s busy saving the world from the judgment of the Living Tribunal in his own book.

Unfortunately Roy’s sense of continuity deserted him in Avengers #46, “The Agony and the Anthill.”Hank and Jan’s old foe The Human Top makes two big costume changes: One is to slip into his new outfit as Whirlwind, the other is to don a chauffeur’s uniform and go to work as Jan’s new driver, Charles.

This is bizarre because while David “Whirlwind” Cannon mentions forging his references, he doesn’t say anything about plastic surgery or disguise. Yet somehow neither hero recognizes the man who almost killed Hank and became obsessed with possessing the Wasp (sexual assault was clearly on the agenda) even though they’ve seen him up close and unmasked. As Brian Cronin says, there are other problems with the story but that’s the one that’s always leaped out at me. Nevertheless Cannon somehow kept his identity concealed until late in Steve Englehart’s time on the book.

While I’m not bothering to read it and I doubt it’s even on the Marvel app, I’ll note Marvel was marketing its transition to Saturday morning cartoons with a one-shot mixing reprints with ‘toon adaptations.Daredevil remains Marvel’s worst book. In #30 we launch a three-part story in which Hornhead takes on Mr. Hyde and the Human Cobra, first by pretending to be their arch-foe Thor.Thor, of course, shows up to confront the imposter but for once the hero vs. hero gets resolved quickly; perhaps they realized DD holding his own against Thor for more than a minute would be ludicrous. Subsequently Mr. Hyde’s blindness-inducing ray fails to affect Matt’s eyes but shuts down all his hyper-senses instead: can Matt fight the villains when he’s really sightless?

It’s not a bad hook but this was during the period Matt was posing as his own twin brother Mike Murdock to keep Foggy and Karen from thinking Matt is Daredevil. Mike is an annoying character, particularly his constantly insulting Foggy as “Tubby.” At the same time I can buy Matt getting into the role: much like Doc Savage playing tough guy Henry Peace in The Freckled Shark, it’s a chance for a straight arrow to cut loose. His repeated put-downs of Foggy are because he knows his buddy might see through the ruse so it’s best to keep him pissed off and at a distance.

You might think discovering that Mike’s blind would trigger some suspicions  but Matt/Mike has an answer ready:Only wouldn’t Matt have told his college roommate and BFF how he lost his sight in an accident? No need to make up a cover story in college when he had no plans at the time to become a masked crimefighter. And why doesn’t “Mike” simply tell Foggy about Hyde’s ray: it doesn’t expose his identity and “weakness in our eyes” will only make Foggy suspicious when DD finds a cure (which he does of course). Lee and Gene Colan, however, just forget all about what Mike said and apparently so does Foggy.

On the plus side Foggy does get a good scene in #34, charging in against all odds to save DD from the Beetle — not to impress Karen with his heroism but because he figures he owes Daredevil for all the times he’s saved their lives. And I can always count on Colan to make weak stories look great.On the downside, Lee’s dialog tics are getting the best of him again. It’s common enough for his foes to use adjectives before their names — the Melter insists on calling himself “the mysterious Melter” even though he’s quite prosaic — but why would the Beetle call himself “bombastic”? Answer: he wouldn’t. Stan just grabbed an adjective without thinking.

Fantastic Four #68 is disappointing. Ben freaks out over the possibility Alicia will someday regain her sight and realize he’s a monster. Even though Ben was happy and secure in their love not that long ago, his insecurity is understandable — except that Alicia already knows from hugging him that he’s not Rock Hudson.This may be another disability cliche, that blind people are easy to fool (can’t tell one voice from another for instance). In any case it explains Ben begging Reed for a cure. Reed replies he’s already brought in the brilliant Dr. Santini to collaborate, unaware the Mad Thinker has replaced Santini. Instead of curing Ben the ray turns him evil … which feels identical to what the Wizard did to Ben in #41To be fair, judged in isolation “His Mission: Destroy the Fantastic Four” is a good story but I’ve grown used to the FF being top of the line, not to Lee and Kirby repeating themselves. Mort Weisinger recycled plots constantly and that doesn’t bug me as much because I don’t expect as much from the books under his supervision.The FF Annual for 1967 is fresh stuff but it isn’t good at all. Psycho-Man ranks as the least interesting emotion-manipulator in comics; however you define star power, he has absolutely none. And his three henchmen, Live Wire, Shellshock and Ivan, serve no purpose other than to give the heroes easy butts to kick.

#SFWApro. Art top to bottom by John Romita (2), Larry Lieber, Don Heck x2, John Buscema x2, Gene Colan x3, Jack Kirbyx4,


  1. Le Messor

    Sounds like this whole round was disappointing for you.

    I honestly didn’t notice a big change in art style from Ditko to Romita, but I often have trouble with the art from that time, and Ditko hadn’t yet fully developed his very distinctive style (or the inkers buried it).

    “Alicia already knows from hugging him that he’s not Rock Hudson.”

    If there’s one thing Ben is, it’s Rock.

    “I’ve grown used to the FF being top of the line, not to Lee and Kirby repeating themselves. Mort Weisinger recycled plots constantly and that doesn’t bug me as much because I don’t expect as much from the books under his supervision.”

    So, n the day you’d have been a Marvel man, not a DC man?

    1. No, I was a DC man but not particularly a Superman-man. Outside of the Legion, I skipped Mort’s books most months.
      I definitely feel Marvel’s slipped from its peak but even at its peak there was Giant-Man and the Human Torch’s solo strip. By comparison, Daredevil as the weakest of the superhero books (not counting the Western heroes) is head and shoulders above them.

      1. Le Messor

        Were you deliberately skipping Mort’s books, or did you skip certain books and notice the connection later?
        (Basically, I’d never have noticed an editor enough to skip their book, so I’m wondering if you did.)

        The Human Torch’s solo strip is one of the few runs I have from the time, but I don’t remember it much.
        Daredevil never appealed to me; a solo, street-level character is about the least interesting kind of superhero for me. And he doesn’t have Batman’s rogue’s gallery to bring him back up.

        1. Oh, describing them as Weisinger’s books is me talking about them now — at the time it was more that Superman didn’t seem very interesting. Nor really did Batman, though for different reasons (I could see myself fighting crime with super-speed, I knew I’d never be good enough without powers to be the Bat).

  2. Huh. I read ASM 55 and it’s such a dynamic action issue it makes up for my dissatisfaction with the earlier installments … until it gives Peter amnesia and Octavius convinces him they’re partners in crime. Even Lee and Romita can’t make that old chestnut work.
    “Haven’t you heard of amnesia? According to the soap operas it’s the world’s most common disease.” — the Korean SF miniseries Nine: Nine Time Travels.

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