Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

"Library Book" Suspense 9/20/45


Myrna Loy hits not one--but two--librarian stereotypes in this episode. She's the prim & prudish Old Maid Librarian. But, when she takes her glasses off, she's the Hot Librarian.

She's also a lot of fun, in a silly but well-constructed mystery about a librarian who realizes the missing pages from a book were used to construct a ransom note. When she can't get the cops to believe her, she investigates on her own. That, of course, lands her in hot water.


Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Kindle, a Barbarian, and an Ancient Evil

One of the nice things about owning a Kindle is the tons of pulp-era fiction available at little or no cost. It means I get to regularly re-visit my favorite stories or read stuff I've never run across before. Sometimes, it means I finally get to catch up on reading a story by a favorite author that I've managed to miss in the past.

That just happened with Robert E Howard's "Valley of the Worm." It's actually a fairly well-known story among his fans, so I'm a little embarrassed that I've never read it before. But I finally have and it's a really good one. It's about a prehistoric barbarian and his battle with a huge and immortal monster.  There is a truly epic battle at the tale's climax.

When Howard was at his best, his command of the English language and his ability to find just the right words to carry a story along was almost without peer in the pulp world. This story is indeed one of his best and works quite well as both an adventure tale and a horror tale. H.P. Lovecraft's influence on Howard is really apparent here. In fact, though I don't believe the story was intended to be part of Lovecraft's Cthulu cycle, it could easily be included in it.

For some edge-of-your-seat scares and great action, read the story for yourself:

VALLEY OF THE WORMS

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1966, part 1

FANTASTIC FOUR #46

There’s a typically well-choreographed Kirby fight scene as the FF takes on Black Bolt and some of the other Inhumans. Expertly wrapped up in this fight is dialogue that imparts information to us and provides us with good characterization. The only note that rings false in all this is Crystal and Johnny (who have only briefly glimpsed each other at this point) already obviously falling in love.

But this is easily forgivable in a comic book that is such a pleasure to both read and to simply look at. By the time the issue ends, the following things have happened.

1) We learn the scaly Inhuman Triton can only breathe in water, but he’s captured by the mysterious Seeker anyways.
2) We learn the Seeker is an Inhuman whose job it is capture wayward Inhumans and return them to the Great Refuge.
3) We learn the Seeker can really screw up sometimes, such as when he mistakes the sleeping Dragon Man for a big Inhuman.
4) We (and the FF) learn that the Inhumans are a species that developed earlier than man and perfected genetic engineering used to give themselves cool powers. They live isolated from us violent humans in a place called The Great Refuge.
5) We see Black Bolt and his followers get teleported away by Lockjaw.
6) Not long after that, Dragon Man gets loose and goes on a rampage through New York City.

Gee whiz, this is great stuff. And the momentum will continue to build as, over the next few issues, the Inhuman story arc is temporarily resolved and our heroes meet the Silver Surfer and Galactus.


SPIDER MAN #32

And talk about great stuff!!! Aunt May is sick and seems doomed. Well, that by itself is hardly new, but on this occasion, she’s sick because she’s somehow absorbed some radiation. Peter realizes it must have come from his blood when he was the donor for a transfusion.

As Spider Man, he recruits Dr. Curt Connors (formally the Lizard) to help. Connors now lives in New York and he whips up a cure for Aunt May—but he needs a particular rare isotope to activate it.

Of course, the isotope has been stolen by the Master Planner’s men. The Master Planner, by the way, turns out to be Dr. Octopus, who has been having his men steal scientific stuff to experiment with the idea of giving himself extra powers.

Spidey literally goes on a rampage. It’s a defining Spider Man moment—determined to save Aunt May, he gives up cracking wise and making jokes. Instead, he starts beating the snot out of every crook he can track down, trying to find out where the Master Planner is. It’s a character trait that pops up again from time to time throughout his career—threaten Peter’s family or friends and you are in for a world of hurt.

Anyway, Ock is using an underwater base in the East River. The one small weak point in an otherwise superb story is that Spidey pretty much just accidentally stumbles over a hidden sewer entrance to the base, making his frantic efforts up until then almost beside the point.

He goes one-on-one against Doc Ock, who is shocked and awed by Spidey’s anger. But Peter actually puts up too good a fight, bringing tons of debris down on top of him, trapping him just out of reach of the serum he needs while the roof keeping out the river starts to give way.


AVENGERS #24

The Avengers are still in the far future, trying to help Princess Ravonna defend her kingdom against Kang’s army. There’s one heck of a last stand, but the heroes are all captured and Ravonna’s kingdom is taken by the conqueror.

But Kang, who is still in love with the Princess, refuses to execute her. That ticks off his military commanders, who decide the boss is showing weakness. They revolt and Kang is forced to turn to the Avengers for help. It all ends with Kang defeating his own men, but Ravonna getting zapped and perhaps killed with a ray gun. The Avengers are sent back in time to present day before they find out if the poor girl lives.

This was an entertaining and fast-paced story, set up to highlight the realization by the three younger heroes that Captain America is the backbone of the team. It's a lesson Hawkeye will need a few more issues to really learn, though.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll look at Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, the X-Mena and Daredevil.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Cloak and Dagger: “Recommendation from Rommel” 8/6/50


An OSS agent posing as a chocolate salesman in Milan has an unplanned encounter with Field Marshal Rommel. Rommel turns out to like him.

For an American spy, this is both scary and advantageous. As is typical of this excellent story, the story is expertly told. There’s a really fun twist at the end involving a letter of recommendation written by Rommel that adds an element of humor to this normally very tense show.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

I'm being haunted by the ghost of Vic Perrin!!!

I am. Really.

Not long ago, I watched an episode of the original Mission: Impossible TV series. Jim Phelps and his IM team were convincing the bad guy that they could produce a mechanical double of a country's ruler, all while secretly rescuing someone else and rigging the situation to expose the bad guy's evil machinations.

I couldn't quite place one of the actors playing a supporting role in the episode. When I got the the credits, there it was: Vic Perrin.

I should have recognized him. Perrin was an excellent character actor. He's best remembered now for doing the opening narration for the original Outer Limits TV series. But he also did tons of Old Time Radio and a lot of TV animation voice over work. And he guest-starred on countless TV episodes

So it's not that unusual for him to pop up in a randomly chosen Mission: Impossible episode. But then--THE VERY NEXT DAY--I had some time to kill before heading to the comic shop to play in a game tournament. I watched a Twilight Zone episode. Vic Perrin was in it, playing one of the Martians that put Roddy McDowell in a zoo.

Then I watch an episode of Wanted: Dead or Alive, the TV Western that starred a very young Steve McQueen. (I had recently picked up a season set real cheap from the discount bin at Wal Mart.) And who was the villain? Vic Perrin!!!!

I don't know why, but I'm apparently being haunted by the ghost of Vic Perrin, who is subtly guiding my DVD choices so that I watch something he appeared in!!!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1965, part 3


JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #123

Thor continues to be super-awesome in storytelling, themes and visuals. Stan and Jack’s work here and on Fantastic Four will (for the next several years) be consistently incredible.

Thor takes reporter Harris Hobbes to Asgard, where he finds Loki and the Absorbing Man apparently about to take down Odin himself. But the ruler of Asgard surrenders his scepter rather than see Asgard torn apart by a massive fight.

It’s just a trick, of course. Loki and Crusher immediately start to argue over who gets the scepter—then Odin casually sends them zipping away into space, permanently exiled into the interstellar vastness.

Odin really shines in this issue. He’s haughty and proud, but has the chops to back this up with decisive action. In previous issues, he sometimes had moments that seemed less than “all-wise.” But now he’s portrayed exactly as he should be--powerful and decisive.

By the way, Harris Hobbs’ camera breaks, Odin kicks him out of Asgard before he can make a pencil sketch and he gets his memory wiped anyway. So he pretty much has the suckiest day ever and (if I remember correctly) pretty much disappears from Thor’s continuity anyways.

In the meantime, a witch doctor finds the Norn stone Thor dropped three issues ago. This gives him the power to single-handedly fight off some Communist troops. That’s a good thing—but his decision to conquer the world is a bad thing. Thor will very soon have some work to do.

The Tales of Asgard back up as the ship and crew getting past a huge dragon after Balder destroys it with a magic trumpet blast. That brief description, though, doesn’t do the short story justice. Jack Kirby’s art makes every panel look breathtaking.


TALES TO ASTONISH #74

In the Sub Mariner story, Stan Lee once again manages to squeeze in a boat-load of action into a relatively few pages. The scene switches back and forth between Namor as he fights hordes of Faceless Ones to save Dorma; Krang has he seals himself up in Atlantis’ palace and sics a robot tank on the rebelling citizens; and an old guy who volunteers to find Namor and tell him he’s wanted back home (whether he finds Neptune’s Trident or not). Adam Austin’s art continues to be eye-catching and dynamic. It ends in an appropriately cliff-hanger fashion with Namor holding an unconscious Dorma as the Faceless Ones regroup to attack him anew.


While Namor is still having adventures deep undersea, the Hulk is still on the Moon, fighting the alien creature that’s also after the Watcher’s Ultimate Machine. (One of the reasons I love doing these reviews is that I get to write sentences like that.)

The Watcher doesn’t want his house trashed, so he teleports the two combatants to a remote location (it’s never made clear where—it doesn’t seem to be on the Moon.) What follows is a pretty nifty fight, with the Hulk coming out on top. So the Watcher zaps Hulk back to his home and lets him take the clear sphere identified as the Ultimate Machine. The Leader then zaps the Hulk home.

There was an interesting bit of characterization when all this was going on. The Hulk realizes that even though he now has Banner’s brain, his driving emotions and desire to fight are the Hulk’s. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve always wondered how much of the Hulk’s constant evolution was planned by Stan Lee and how much he just made up as he went along. I think maybe Stan was still experimenting with the character, trying to find the right Jekyll/Hyde balance in personality and rules of transformation that made for the best dramatic fit.

Anyway, back on Earth, the Leader snatches the Ultimate Machine from the Hulk and uses it to download all the knowledge of the universe into his own mind. This proves to be too much for him and he falls over dead. Of course, he’s not actually dead—he’ll be back soon enough as a regularly appearing villain in the Marvel Universe. But for now, the Hulk is back on Earth and free from his arch enemy.


TALES OF SUSPENSE #72

A playgirl jilted by Tony hires the Mad Thinker to find out who Iron Man really is as part of her plan to get revenge. It’s a silly motivation, but it leads to some pretty good action scenes. The Thinker sends his android to kidnap Tony, intending to force Iron Man’s identity from his “boss.” Tony manages to escape long enough to get his armor on and manages to outfight the android, blow up the Thinker’s lab and take the villain to prison. The playgirl has to walk miles to get home. Not much of a punishment after funding kidnapping, but boy were her feet sore.

Artist Don Heck does a pretty nice job on the fight scene. A new and interesting sub-plot in which Senator Byrd wants to force Tony into revealing Iron Man’s identity (in the interest of national security) begins in this issue as well.

In the next issue, Gene Colon will begin doing the art for Iron Man, staying on the book for a couple of years and really amping up the stories visually. Colon never drew an uninteresting panel of comic art in his life and he’ll be giving Shellhead a really dynamic look.

Captain America, it turns out, has been recounting all the World War II stories we’ve been reading to his fellow Avengers. He has one more war-time memory—that of beating the Red Skull a final time. Just before the Skull’s apparent death, the villain claims that in exactly 20 years “The Sleepers will awake!”

Well, it has been 20 years, hasn’t it? And the Sleepers do awake. They’re giant Nazi robots that have been buried while awaiting activation—Kirby gives them a clunky, retro design that seems appropriate for the time period in which they were built.

The first one pops up in Germany. Cap fights it, but it pretty much just brushes past him, intent on rendezvousing with the other two Sleepers.


That’s it for now. Next week, we enter 1966 as the FF try to find out what’s up with the Inhumans; Spider Man tries to find out who’s running the high-tech thieves’ gang; the Avengers continue to battle Kang in the far future, while the Hulk does some time traveling of his own; Nick Fury blows a bunch of stuff up; Dr. Strange goes one-on-one against Dormammu; Daredevil fights pirates AND dinosaurs (how cool is that?); the X-Men and Captain America both fight giant robots; Thor goes after the lost Norn Stone; Namor returns to Atlantis; and Iron Man confronts an old enemy to save an old friend.

It was a good time to be a comic book fan. And you could have bought every single one of these comics for a total of $1.08, plus maybe sales tax. $1.08 for a months’ worth of time travel, pirates, dinosaurs, giant robots, battles both in the ocean and on the Moon, and lots of superheroes. I really need to get to work on my time machine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “Last Coach West” 8/22/45


Gee whiz, someone on The Lone Ranger writing staff got just a little bit sneaky. This episode is literally a remake of the classic 1939 Western Stagecoach.

Well, maybe not so sneaky. Stagecoach is based on a short story by Ernest Haycox titled “The Stage to Lordsburg.” I suppose that WXYZ in Detroit (where The Lone Ranger was produced) might have acquired the rights to that story.

Because there’s no question that it is indeed the same story—a stagecoach is caught in a remote location by Apaches on the warpath. The people riding the coach are exactly the same character templates as those in the movie (with a couple of them subtracted to help trim the story into a 30-minute time slot). They interact with one another in pretty much the same way their film counterparts did. Of course, in this instance, they are also joined by the Lone Ranger. And it’s the Ranger (rather than the character played by John Wayne in the movie) who performs the dangerous feat of jumping off the stage onto the horses to control them after the reins are dropped.

If I had to guess, I would guess against extra money being spent to buy the rights to Haycox’s story. I think the writers really were being a little sneaky. But what the hey. We kinda sorta get a John Wayne/Lone Ranger team-up. How cool is that?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

From the Bonhomme Richard to Russia

A little while back, I posted THIS about pulp stories that had Cossack heroes.The post is primarily about Khilt the Cossack, an extraordinarily cool hero from a series of adventure stories by Harold Lamb, published back int the 1910s & 1920s.


Lamb, though, apparently loved Cossacks. In 1924, he used one named Ivak in a story titled "Forward." Set in the late 19th Century, it's about Ivak escorting an American naval officer from Petersburg in his journey to take command of the Russian fleet. But certain members of Catherine the Great's court--acting out of political ambition and jealousy--are determined to make sure the American never reaches his duty station.

The American? Well, if you haven't guessed it from the title of this post, then you oughta be embarrassed. It is, of course, John Paul Jones. It was Jones, remember, who was captain of the Bonhomme Richard when it took on the British warship Serapis in in 1779. It was Jones who replied "Sir, I have not yet begun to fight" when asked if he would surrender his badly damaged ship. Jones fought on and captured the Serapis, moving his surviving crew aboard just before the Bonhomme Richard sank from under him.


Jones is just as cool in Lamb's story. With the clever and skilled Ivak at his side, he overcomes enemies and hacks past danger. The only Russian word he learns is "Forward!" But that's pretty much all Ivak needs to hear anyways.

Also in 1924, Lamb published "The Sword of Honor," in which Jones has taken command of the Russian fleet and goes up against the ships of the Ottoman Empire. The point-of-view character this time is Pierre, a French sailor who had been aboard the Bonhomme Richard and was eager to serve alongside Jones once again. Pierre has more than his share of adventure just getting to Jones, but then is with the Admiral as Jones deals with back-stabbing and cowardly political enemies and takes on the Turks at the same time. There's a massive fleet-vs-fleet engagement and a mission to capture a Turkish ship from under the guns of a fortress.

Both stories are action-packed adventures that manage squeeze in a total of three heroes (Ivak, Pierre and Jones) who have been thoroughly dipped in awesome sauce.

These stories have been reprinted in Swords from the Sea, an anthology of sea-going adventures by Lamb. All the stories are fun, but the two featuring John Paul Jones are particularly enjoyable. John Paul Jones is even cooler than keel boats and giant ants.*







*see my last two Thursday posts to make sense of that last sentence.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1965, part 2


STRANGE TALES #139

With the help of Hydra Leader’s estranged daughter and a shirt with high explosives woven into the fabric, Nick blasts out of the cell he’s locked in. He and the girl, both now armed with submachine guns taken from downed guards, begin blasting it out with Hydra troopers.


In the meantime, Tony Stark is putting the finishing touches on his Braino-saur, which turns out to be a rocket-equipped computer able to disarm the Hydra bomb currently in orbit around the Earth.


While all this is going on, Gabe and Dum Dum figure out where the Hydra base is and lead a strike force to attack. But will they arrive in time to save Nick and the girl?


The 12-page tale does a very good job of jumping back and forth between multiple points-of-view without losing track of the story. And we get to see more Kirby-designed gadgetry, though the “mechanical hunter” that Hydra sends after Nick isn’t as cool looking as most of Jack’s visuals usually are. Not that it’s bad. It just manages to leave the impression that maybe Jack wasn’t spending as much time on this book as he is on FF or Thor. Most Kirby machines rate a 9 or 10 on the Bogart/Karloff Pure Coolness Scale™. This one was maybe a 7.


James Bond influences remain apparent. Hydra Leader keeps a panther on a leash next to him pretty much all the time—that’s a touch that would fit the average Bond villain to a tee. And we got a Q-inspired scene a few issues back, in which Nick is shown how his explosive clothing works, that pays off this issue.


Dr. Strange’s story is a particularly good one—the first of several issues that will feature non-stop magical battling. In this one, Strange and Mordo duel. Mordo’s power is still being amped up by Dormammu, but Strange out-fights him, playing off first Mordo’s overconfidence and then his innate cowardice. Finally, Dormammu gets disgusted with Mordo and—as the issue ends—decides to finally take a personal hand in the battle

Ditko’s art is still perfect for the story—presenting bizarre and fascinating visuals to represent the magic spells the two combatants toss at each other. This issue and the next two (which concludes this long story arc) are, in my opinion, the best in Dr. Strange’s canon.




DAREDEVIL #11

The uninteresting story of the Organizer and his attempt to gain political control of New York City is wrapped up as Daredevil exposes the scheme. There is a nicely choreographed fight scene between DD and the Organizer’s minions, but overall the story was awkwardly constructed and predictable.

The issue ends with Matt taking a leave of absence from the law firm. He’s convinced that Foggy and Karen are in love and doesn’t want to come between them. Ah, whatever. It will take Matt on a cruise ship and into a really cool two-part story arc.





X-MEN #15

This is pretty much an all-action issue, though we do get some information via flashback about Hank McCoy’s early life (made fun of because of his appearance, excelling at school academically and athletically, recruited by Professor X).

The X-Men assault the Sentinel HQ. Beast and Iceman are captured in the first attack, but Cyclops, Jean and Angel blast their way in during a second try. Iceman is busted out of his prison while Beast is being mind-probed. The heroes manage to trash a couple of Sentinels, but all are captured (or re-captured, as the case may be). Master Mold, the prototype Sentinel, then tells Dr. Trask to build an army of Sentinels so they can “serve mankind” by conquering it. Boy, is Trask’s face red as he realizes how badly he’s screwed up, but he’s got no choice but to obey Master Mold.

Good solid action that works well as the middle chapter in the Sentinel trilogy.

That’s it for now. We’ll finish December next week with looks at Thor, Hulk, Sub Mariner, Iron Man and Captain America.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: “19 Deacon Street” 11/22/45


Lloyd Nolan does a particularly good job narrating this story about a tie salesman who becomes obsessed with finding out about an actress who disappeared ten years ago. The well-plotted mystery has an element to it that is arguably supernatural—something that was a little unusual for Suspense.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Keel boats: 7.9. Giant Ants: 7.8.

Last week we talked about giant ants. This week, we're talking about Mike Fink and keel boats.

And, yes, according to the Bogart/Karloff Coolness Scale, keel boats score a 7.9, while giant ants come in at 7.8. It has been mathematically demonstrated that keel boats are slightly cooler than giant ants.

Keel boats, by the way, are flat-bottomed craft that was poled up and down the rivers of the American West in the early 19th century. They were a very common means for transporting cargo in those days.


We moved from ants to boats via Fess Parker, whose small role in Them that got him cast as Davy Crockett.

That was inspired casting.  Parker and sidekick Buddy Ebsen played their roles with easy going charm through three episodes of Walt Disney's television show and started a Crockett craze. Kids across America started badgering their parents for coon-skinned hats and Disney quickly re-edited the TV episodes into a theatrical film.


Well, Disney wanted to bring his viewers more Davy, but Davy died at the Alamo in the last episode. So two "flashback" episodes were produced, recounting an adventure Davy and George Russell (Ebsen's character) had along the Mississippi River a few years before the Alamo.These episodes were then themselves edited together and released theatrically.

And Davy Crockett and the River Pirates (1955) is actually my favorite of the two Crockett films (though both are excellent and colorful adventures). Why? Well, because it's got keel boats in it, of course. And the pre-Civil War Mississippi River, which by itself has a Bogart/Karloff Coolness rating of 8.3.

The villain through most of the movie is Mike Fink, who (like Davy) is a fictionalized version of a real guy. There was a real Mike Fink, a keel boatman who was reputed to be stronger and tougher than anyone on the River.He's become a minor legend in American folklore, appearing in a variety dime novels and and other stories through the years.


In River Pirates, Davy and Mike become competitors in a keel boat race from Natchez to New Orleans. Later, the two join forces to smoke out a band of pirates who are posing as Indians. Jeff York plays Mike as a boisterous and full-of-himself bully, but one who eventually shows traits of loyalty and bravery.  York fits the role, both physically and in terms of personality, helping add to the overall sense of gun.

The movie has beautiful scenery, a silly but fun song ("Mike Fink, King of the River") and a unique and entertaining action set-piece at the climax. Mike's boat is besieged in mid-river by pirates in canoes, followed by Davy and George slugging it out with the pirate leadership in a large loot-filled cave.





By the way, Fess Parker and Jeff York teamed up in yet another excellent live-action Disney movie. They always made for a fun pair.

So there you have it. As cool as giant ants are, keel boats (especially if they're piloted by Mike Fink down the Mississippi) are cooler yet.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1965, part 1



FANTASTIC FOUR #45

Gee whiz, Stan and Jack jam so much storytelling (and some nifty characterizations) into this issue that I’m not even going to try to summarize it in detail. Suffice to say that the Dragon Man is more or less befriended by the FF, leaving Reed with the problem of figuring out what to do with it.

In the meantime, Johnny stumbles over the hidden lair of the Inhumans. These include Gorgon and Medusa, but we also meet Lockjaw (the huge, teleporting dog and the coolest pet in the Marvel Universe), Karnak, Crystal and Triton. Triton, though, is cloaked in this issue—his big reveal will come next issue. We meet Black Bolt as well, though only in the last panel as the leader of the Inhumans confronts our heroes. We learn no details about the Inhumans yet, but that’ll be coming soon. I’ll talk a little more about the Inhumans then, but for now I’ll just say that they are a fun addition to the Marvel Universe and will be the focal point of a lot of great stories over the years.

We get a great internal monologue from Ben, who is (rather understandable) feeling sorry for himself and wondering if Alicia just pities him rather than actually loves him. It’s a bit melodramatic, but Ben has become so likable that it does generate quite a bit of sympathy for the big galoot.

There’s a great line of dialogue for Reed: When Sue expresses concern for him at one point, he snaps at her to “Stop acting like a wife and start acting like a team member!”

Johnny’s love life is also in flux. He gives Dorrie Evans a call, but she blows him off. That’s pretty much Dorrie’s exit from Johnny’s life. She’d been his girlfriend almost since the FF began, but had never really been given much personality. So Johnny will be falling for Crystal. Actually, he’ll be falling for her a little too quickly to be believable, but at this point, the Fantastic Four is so much fun that I can forgive minor missteps like that. I don't think Dorrie shows up again for years--when Johnny tries looking her up and discovers she's a married mother of two.


SPIDER MAN #31


Peter’s off to college. It’s in this issue that we meet Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, both of whom will become very, very important in Peter’s life in the months to come. At first, though, it looks as if he’ll never make friends with him. Aunt May takes ill just as classes begin. When Harry and Gwen try to make friends with Peter, he brushes them off so he can hurry to the hospital to see May. They begin to think he’s stuck up.

Stan Lee has been handling the characterizations in Spider Man exceptionally well, but all this comes across as a little contrived. All Peter had to do was say “Sorry, the woman who raised me is ill. I gotta visit her” and there wouldn’t have been a problem. Oh, well. It’s still a lot better than the awkward romantic shenanigans going on in other Marvel books.

Peter’s relationship with Betty Brant is also coming to its culmination. Ned is still making goo-goo eyes at her as she unsuccessfully tries to get in touch with Peter. This is all a part of shoving Betty out of the book and giving Gwen the center stage in the pretty girl category.

But this is s superhero book, so all this mushy stuff is wrapped around the story of some high-tech thieves who are stealing scientific equipment. Spider Man clashes with them a few times, but as of yet has no clue who the mastermind behind the crime wave is.

This issue moves along at a steady and entertaining pace, but it’s really just a set up for the next couple of issues, which represent some of the best and most intense storytelling from the Lee/Ditko era.

 AVENGERS #23


Well, Cap has indeed quit the Avengers, getting a job as sparring partner to a boxer in training. But when he learns the remaining Avengers have been kidnapped by Kang and taken into the far future, he figures out a way to follow.

There’s some nice character bits here among Hawkeye, Quicksilver and Wanda, as they all realize just how much of a leader and linchpin for the team Cap is. But most of the issue involves them battling against Kang’s super-advanced weaponry.

Kang, in the meantime, is making goo-goo eyes at Ravonna, the leader of a small country that he has not overtly conquered (holding back for her sake). But when she continually rejects him, he orders his troops to move in. This leaves the Avengers in a Last Stand situation against Kang’s army.

It’s all good, action-oriented storytelling.

That’s it for now. As regular readers have noticed, the increased number of monthly books has caused me to re-order my reviews. We’ll get to Nick Fury and Dr. Strange next week, along with the X-Men and Daredevil.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nick Carter, Detective: "Eight Records of Death" 4/6/46


Someone buys a package at an unclaimed package auction. Inside, he finds eight record blanks--small wax discs that people could use to make their own recordings at home.

What he hears on those discs makes him immediately speed to Nick Carter. A woman apparently held hostage in her own home by greedy relatives secretly made the recordings, which were then later somehow shipped to New York City.

I love the way this episode is constructed. Each record gives just a little bit more information as the woman refuses to sign over her property to her captors. She grows more and more desperate on each successive recording, often with her being forced to stop before she can say everything she wants to. It's an innovative and effective way of presenting the case to us.

Nick methodically investigates, trying to learn the identity of the woman and her evil relatives. The episode ends with Nick tied up and seemingly doomed. But Nick Carter rarely fails to think his way out of danger.


Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

SF meets Police Procedural

You know what I like most about the giant ant movie THEM (1954)? Well, that'd be the giant ants, of course. But what I enjoy the second most is the way the script is structured.

It's an intelligently written story that moves logically from Point A to Point B to Point C, using the structure of a police procedural. Weird stuff happens in a remote New Mexican area. The local sheriff (James Whitmore) looks into things as stuff moves from weird to bizarre and a number of people are killed. Soon, Whitmore is joined by federal agent James Arness and cranky scientist Edmund Gwenn. They soon discover a really, really big ant nest full of really, really big ants--mutated by atomic radiation.


Poison gas takes care of the nest, but a couple of queens have already hatched and flown off. One lands on a ship at sea--another takes refuge in the Los Angeles sewer system. If not found and destroyed before another batch of eggs hatch, the world is pretty much doomed.

The special effects are largely very good (though there are a few instances in which the giant puppets being used aren't quite mobile enough to be convincing) and the excellent cast plays the whole movie straight as they follow up a series of clues to track down the queen ants. It's a great way to structure a film, giving it a semi-documentary feel that adds to the versimilitude and suspense to an enjoyable monster film.

Fun fact about this movie: Fess Parker has a brief role as a pilot who's locked away in a psycho ward after he claims to have seen a giant flying ant. It was seeing Parker in this film that convinced Walt Disney to cast him in his upcoming Davy Crockett episodes on the Wonderful World of Disney. Considering how successful those episodes were (both artistically and commercially), we have all the more reason to be grateful to those giant ants.

More on Davy Crockett, by the way, next week.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

History of Marvel Comics: November 1965, part 3

TALES TO ASTONISH #73



Lots of stuff going on this time. Namor manages to defeat the guardian of the Diamonds of Doom, getting one step closer to finding Neptune’s trident. The people of Atlantis rise up against Krang and seem to be winning a swift but violent civil war, but the warlord seems to have one last trick up his sleeve as he turns a mysterious dial. And Lady Dorma is at the mercy of the Faceless Ones, a horde of, well, faceless creatures.

So Namor has to choose between finishing his quest or zipping off to rescue Dorma—whose “love for me has never faltered.” Well, it actually did falter a time or two, such as when she HELPED KRANG TAKE THE THRONE FROM NAMOR. But Namor seems to have forgotten this for the moment as he opts to possibly lose his throne by saving the girl.

It’s actually a really good story, with Adam Austin continuing to provide strong art work. But the character interactions are a little bit inconsistent—both Dorma’s loyalty and the loyalties of the Atlantian people in general seem to fluctuate randomly. Perhaps Stan Lee—juggling so many serial stories at the same time—simply managed to lose track of some of the details.

Meanwhile, the Leader uses a gamma ray laser to melt the bullet lodged in Hulk’s skull. Now Hulk can revert to Banner safely, but the extra dose of gamma rays seem to have locked him in Hulk’s form permanently. He still has Banner’s mind, though the Leader doesn’t suspect that.

Feeling himself to be under obligation to the Leader, Hulk allows himself to be teleported to the Watcher’s domicile on the Moon, where he is to retrieve a sphere the Leader calls “the ultimate machine.” The Watcher greets the Hulk, but also tells him he’s free to look around. The Watcher, remember, has vowed never to interfere.

Of course, he actually interferes all the time (and is about to do so in a big way over in Fantastic Four in just a few months.) He’s also kicked people out of his house before. But the story requires him to be a bit more laid back this time, so he gives Hulk the run of his place.

But a big, scaly alien known as the “most powerful fighter in the galaxy” is also the ultimate machine. The chapter ends with the Hulk and the alien facing off against each other.

It’s another strong chapter in the serial. Jack Kirby is still doing the layouts (with Bob Powell doing the finished art), so the various machines and alien creatures decorating the Watcher’s house all look pretty cool.

It’s also interesting to note that Hulk/Banner still doesn’t have any established rules for turning back and forth between monster and human. I’d be interested to know how much of this Stan planned in advance and how much of it he just made up as he went along. Was he planning on having Banner stuck in Hulk’s body long term? Did he have the idea of finally stabilizing the conditions on what makes Banner change already in mind? Stan’s scripts are providing rollicking fun, so this isn’t a complaint, but I often wonder how far ahead he planned and how much was stream of consciousness.


AVENGERS #22



Legally banned from working as a team, the Avengers all go their own way. But the job market for disgraced superheroes is a sparse one and the only work Pietro, Wanda and Hawkeye can get is working for the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. They don’t know the Circus is a crooked operation at first, but when the Ringmaster tries to hypnotize them into helping break the law, they soon catch on.

Something I commented on before—prison sentences in the Marvel Universe seem to be pretty light. It’s only been a few months since the Circus folk were all busted by Spider Man. And this probably is only a few weeks in comic book time. But they’ve already been tried and convicted, served their sentence and are back on the street.

It’s not a big deal and is actually an acceptable break from reality. There’s no reason not to reuse villains—that sort of continuity was a big part of the Marvel Universe’s appeal—and it would get old to have them break out of prison every single time.

Besides, the Ringmaster not currently being wanted allows him to falsely accuse the ex-Avengers of trying to rob him. So, after a few pages of fun fight scenes, the good guys take it on the lam.

But Captain America hasn’t given up. He manages to trick Power Man into making a taped confession of the whole “discredit the Avengers” plot. His trick is a bit contrived, but the fight scene that follows, with the three wanted Avengers showing up to help Cap team up on Power Man, is a great one, so we’ll be forgiving.

Enchantress washes her hands of the whole mess and teleports. Deprived of his hot babe, Power Man gets discouraged and surrenders. The Avengers are hailed as heroes and reinstated. (In the meantime, the cops had made the Circus of Crime crew fess up about that incident—a nice touch, since they were known criminals.) But all does not end well. Though Hawkeye and Pietro finally seem appreciative of Cap’s leadership, he’s sick of them and the issue ends as he quits.

X-MEN #14



The anti-mutant bigotry theme that runs through X-Men comics is abruptly kicked into high gear in this issue when Dr. Bolivar Trask (an eminent anthropologist) publically announces that mutants are a danger. They might at any moment use their powers to enslave mankind.

Of course, this is what Magneto and his allies had been trying to do since X-Men #1, but the issue is simplified here to make it a thematic analog to bigotry and mob rule. And that’s fine—it’s something that the better written issues of Marvel’s mutant titles have often handled quite well through the years.

Anyway, it turns out that though Trask might be a good anthropologist, he really stinks at robot design. He builds a number of giant Sentinels—destined to be one of the X-Men’s most persistent foes through the years—but they turn on him as well. They are programmed to seek out and capture mutants, but they’ve decided that they’re better than us mere humans. While the X-Men have trouble battling just one Sentinel, the others take Trask to the secret underground facility where they were constructed.

The issue ends when the X-Men are confronted outside this facility by its defensive weaponry.

I like the way the action is choreographed this time around. The X-Men are actually on vacation when Professor X encounters the Sentinels. He sends out a mental alert, but his students are all coming from different locations, so they show up singly or in pairs. It’s a trick that allows the action to build up momentum in an entertaining manner.

That’s it for this time. In December, the X-Men and Daredevil both become monthly titles, so I’ll be re-ordering the reviews slightly. Throughout that month, the FF will be meeting more of the Inhumans; Spider Man meets some important supporting characters; Nick Fury pulls of a jail break; Dr. Strange finally confronts Baron Mordo face to face; Thor and his dad defend Asgard; Iron Man fights a big android; Captain America fights a big robot; the X-Man fight a lot of giant robots; Namor attempts to rescue his lady love; Hulk finds out what the “ultimate machine” actually does; the Avengers do some time traveling; and Daredevil continues his match-up against the Organizer’s gang.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Lone Ranger: “New State Guns” 7/16/45


A U.S. Marshal asks the Ranger to go undercover and join a gang of outlaws hiding out in the newly formed state of Oklahoma. But when Tonto rides into a small town to try to make contact with one of the outlaws, he arrives just in time to see the bad guy killed by the local sheriff.

A young outlaw wanna-be turns up who provides the Ranger and Tonto with a way into the gang. But will the Ranger’s cover identity hold up—or will he take a slug in the back before the day is over?

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A drunken Irishman and a clueless English man walk into the jungle…

One of my favorite adventure novels is Shout at the Devil, by Wilbur Smith (first published in 1968). An aging and alcoholic Irish-American expatriate named Flynn Patrick O’Flynn lives in British East Africa in the years just before World War I, making his living by crossing over into German-controlled territory and poaching elephant ivory.


To give his latest plan a vague sense of legitimacy, he cons a none-to-bright Englishman named Sebastian Oldsmith into joining up with him. The idea is to “annex” a small island for the British Empire, then use that as a base to hunt elephants.

It’s a dumb plan, but Flynn doesn’t always think things out either. Soon, he’s wounded and most of his men are dead after the local German commissioner, the obese and sadistic Herman Fleischer, attacks his camp. And it’s suddenly up to Sebastian to get Flynn and the surviving men out alive.

To everyone’s surprise, including Sebastian’s, he turns out to be quick-thinking when things get dangerous. But this is the sort of story in which one thing leads to another. There’s a whole series of edge-of-your-seat adventures—all described with gusto and humor by the author—before the two protagonists get back to Flynn’s home. They outrun the Germans in a boat race downriver to the ocean, where they are sunk by a German warship and left adrift on a small raft. Flynn’s wound becomes infected and Sebastian has to perform some surgery with a hunting knife. Food and water run low. And so on and so on.

Once safe at home, Sebastian wastes no time in falling in love with Flynn’s beautiful daughter Rosa. A few adventures later, though, and the book takes an abrupt and tragic turn as war breaks out. Fleischer, now able to cross the border, attacks Flynn’s home and… well, I did mention there’s tragedy involved, right?

It’s amazing how well Smith manages to pull off this sudden shift in atmosphere. What was a fairly light-hearted adventure suddenly becomes a much darker tale of revenge, but the action and sense of adventure continue apace. The humor never entirely disappears, either, though it pops up less often. The shift might have made the book seem unsatisfying or thematically schizophrenic, but instead it all still hangs together into a single coherent story. It may all be a matter of pacing—the action sequences follow one another so quickly and effectively that everything else is just sort of carried along with them. When the finale arrives—involving an attempt to sneak a bomb aboard a damaged German battleship—the reader finds himself on the edge of his seat.

Flynn and Sebastian are great characters, an unlikely pair of allies who work well together despite themselves. Flynn is a perpetually drunken rogue, but you find yourself liking him anyways. Sebastian is in over his head most of the time, but he has an innate sense of decency and loyalty that works as a balance to Flynn’s excesses. I don’t think either of them could hold up as a novel’s protagonist by themselves, but together they make an effective composite hero.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1965, part 2

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #122



Thor quickly recovers from the blow that laid him out at the end of the last issue and continues the fight, slowly getting the upper hand over Crusher Creel because of his agility and sheer courage.

But Loki has been keeping an eye on the armies of Asgard and realizes that most are on patrol. With only a skeleton force guarding Odin’s palace, he decides its time for a coup. He zaps Crusher to Asgard and the two attack the palace.

Meanwhile, Thor spots Jane in a window and saves her just as she’s passed out from smoke inhalation. (She caused a gas explosion to get his attention.) He turns into Dr. Blake to treat her, allowing Jane’s hooded captor to get a picture of this.

The captor turns out to be Harris Hobbs, the reporter who was around in the first Absorbing Man story. Hobbs tries to blackmail Thor for information—he wants the scoop of the lifetime. This doesn’t work when Thor threatens to just send him back to the distant past or the far-flung future and just leave him there.

All this is great storytelling and an excuse to allow Jack Kirby to draw first some dinosaurs and then a futuristic landscape where a dead Earth is about to collide with another planet. It all looks magnificient.

Anyway, Thor and Hobbs mutually agree to a trip to Asgard, though Hobbs will have his memory wiped afterwards. He’s satisfied with this—he’ll get his scoop even if he can’t writer about it, or even remember it. I’m not sure if the logic behind that holds up, but if you’re silly enough to try to blackmail a god, I guess you have to take what you can get.

Back on Asgard, Loki and Crusher beat down some Asgardian Red Shirts and confront Odin. Odin zaps Crusher with his cosmic-powered scepter, but the villain simply absorbs this. As the issue ends, it appears that Odin is in real trouble.

This is another great issue—both Thor’s quick trip through time and Crusher’s fight with the Asgardians look typically great. Hobbs is pretty good character and it’s too bad he didn’t catch on enough to become at least a semi-regular in the Marvel Universe. His plan to blackmail Thor was a bit rotten, but he impresses the Thunder God with his courage and proves to be a decent person at heart.

The Tales of Asgard story shows us Thor and the Warriors Three fighting Loki and the rest of the mutinous crew, ending when Balder (still mounted on the figurehead) begins to sound a large horn in a mysterious effort to save the ship from the maelstrom. These bite-sized chunks of Kirby’s awesome art continue to be a delight.

TALES OF SUSPENSE #71



Iron Man takes advantage of his greater agility and the new weapon Happy brought him to hand Titanium Man his titanium butt. Happy is rushed to the hospital and it’s uncertain if he’ll live. And Senator Byrd and now Pepper Potts now hold Tony in contempt because he wasn’t around while Iron Man and Happy were risking their lives.

With Happy’s injury, Pepper has finally admitted she loves him, which finally leaves the awkward and poorly done romantic triangle behind. In fact, the new twist of having everyone dump on Tony because he seems to be uncaring about his friends is a lot more interesting.

Meanwhile, Cap finishes up his World War II flashback as he shakes off the effects of the sleep gas sooner than the Nazis expected. They beat up a lot of Nazis. The traitorous scientist’s sister sacrifices her life to save them. The scientist switches sides and fires the V-2 rocket at the Nazi troops besieging Cap’s Ranger unit, saving them. He then blows up the castle, himself and the Nazis. Only Cap and Bucky escape.

These WWII flashbacks have been a ball, featuring some great action sequences. Next issue, Cap will return to the present, but he won’t quite be done with dealing with Nazis yet, as a series of secret weapons left over from the war are activated.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll finish up November with a peek at the Avengers, Namor, Hulk and the X-Men.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Suspense: “Where There’s a Will” 2/24/49

James Mason stars in this adaptation of an Agatha Christie story. He’s a guy who owes a small fortune to ill-tempered gamblers. Fortunately, he’s the main beneficiary in his aunt’s will—and his aunt has a weak heart.

Being an Agatha story, the method that Mason uses to scare his aunt to death is clever and apparently foolproof. But—being an Agatha story—the one small detail that causes his plan to unravel is cleverly hidden inside the plot. Mason had a great voice for radio and it’s a pleasure to hear him in such a well-constructed story.


Click HERE to listen or download.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1965, part 1

FANTASTIC FOUR #44



Gee whiz, Reed’s barely married and Sue’s already making him use his world-changing intellect to FIX THE DISHWASHER!!??!!

It’s no wonder Johnny gets fed up and goes out for a drive. But he gets kidnapped by Medusa, who is on the run from someone.

That someone proves to be Gorgon, a guy who can cause earthquake-like shockwaves by stamping his feet. It sounds silly, but Jack Kirby’s visual design works perfectly and makes it seem appropriate.

Anyway, there’s too much in the way of action and exposition to explain quickly. Suffice to say that even by the end of the issue, the FF isn’t sure if they should be helping Medusa or Gorgon. The Dragon Man has gotten involved and flown off with Sue, while the other three heroes gets trapped in a condemned building knocked over by Gorgon.

This is the beginning of the story arc introducing us to the Inhumans, a fascinating addition to the Marvel Universe.


SPIDER MAN #30



The villain in this one—a clever cat burgler known (not surprisingly) as the Cat—is pretty second string, but the story and action are handled well, with fun bit of Spidey-appropriate irony at the end. The Cat robs Jameson, causing the newspaperman to overcome his stinginess and offer a $1,000 reward. Spider Man wants to collect that reward and rub J.J.J.’s nose in it, but the cops manage to catch the Cat just ahead of him.

Meanwhile, we get some hints that Aunt May is getting sick again. Of course, getting deathly ill from time to time may actually be a super power with Aunt May, but this will lead to a classic Spider Man moment in a couple of issues.

Also, the whole Peter/Betty/Ned triangle comes to a head. I won’t describe it in detail, because it sounds too soap opera-like. But it really is handled nicely and when the various characters act unwisely and mess up their relationships, it comes across as being in character for each of them. The gist of it is that Betty wants a boyfriend who is stable and dependable and not likely to get killed. Peter, obviously, can’t fulfill these requirements, so he breaks things off with her. She’ll be around for a few more issues before disappearing from the book for quite awhile, but a certain blonde who’s doomed to one day get offed by the Green Goblin will be showing up next issue to take over as lead eye candy.

STRANGE TALES #138

That's a cool cover, isn't it?

Anyway, Hydra has their Betatron Bomb in orbit and are demanding the entire world surrender. Tony Stark is whipping up an anti-Hydra weapon called a Braino-saur, but when an assassination squad attacks Stark’s factory, things go awry. Fury is there and puts up a tough fight (helped along by his bullet-proof suit), but he’s overwhelmed and hauled off to Hydra HQ.


Kirby designs a neat looking flying tank that Hydra uses to escape with their prisoner and it’s a lot of fun watching Fury go toe-to-toe with a couple of dozen Hydra agents. It all adds up to another chapter of solid storytelling.


Dr. Strange, in the meantime, finally meets Eternity—an uber-powerful cosmic being who can grant him the power he needs to defeat Mordo and Dormammu. But Eternity mystically scans Strange and tells him he already has the key to winning. He doesn’t explain himself any more than that. Uber-powerful cosmic beings are often cryptic. It seems to be a part of the job description.

A little miffed, Strange returns to Earth and discovers Mordo has found and captured the Ancient One. With no choice remaining, Strange finally heads off to confront his enemies.

That’s it for now. Next week, as usual, we’ll check in with Thor, Iron Man and Cap.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Sam Spade: “The Fairly Bright Caper” 10/31/48


Sam is hired to do security at a swanky Halloween costume party in which twenty guests have been invited to come without costumes. Not surprisingly, someone gets murdered before the party is over.

The Adventures of Sam Spade was well-known for combining good storytelling with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and populating its episodes with quirky characters. This time around, I think writers Bob Tallman and Gil Doud really outdid themselves in quirkiness, making the episode pure fun from start to finish. Of course, Howard Duff’s rapid-fire characterization of Sam helps make it all fit together.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prehistory of Geekdom--the Final Chapter

You can argue that the title "Father of Science Fiction" can be awarded to a number of different people for perfectly valid reasons, but good ol' Jules Verne is the man most commonly referred to as such. And, by golly, he deserves it.

It was Verne who really took the idea of reasonably extrapolating what technological advances might some day be possible, then building wonderful works of fiction around that idea. It was Verne who gave us great characters like Captain Nemo and Phileas Fogg. It was Verne who really did invent science fiction.


Not that his extrapolations were always accurate. If you ever decide to travel to the moon, do not do so by shooting yourself out of a giant cannon. It's just not a good idea.

A century and a half later, Verne's novels are still wonderful experiences. His enthusiasm and imagination literally drips from each page, making the reader yearn to join Nemo on his submarine or Fogg in his lightning fast trip around the world.

H.G. Wells, the other 19th Century "Father of Science Fiction," was less concerned with scientific accuracy (something Verne was critical of) and more concerned with hiding a little bit of social commentary in his works. The trouble was that his ideas were so cool that almost no one every notices the commentary. War of the Worlds, for instance, was meant in part to be a criticism of Western colonialism. But those really cool Martian tripods ended up being so much fun in their own right that the deeper meaning pretty much sailed over everyone's head.

But, heck, those tripods are worth the price of admission by themselves. The heck with all that deeper meaning.


Anyway, these two men pretty much guaranteed the continued existence of science fiction. Without them, we probably wouldn't have had Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury or John Campbell. We wouldn't have X-Wing fighters, Federation starships, or Colonial Space Marines getting caught by face huggers. We wouldn't have AT-AT walkers or Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon.

Welles and Verne provided the final and perhaps most important ingredient for creating the modern geek. Their work, combined with those writing detective fiction, horror, Westerns and adventure stories during the 19th Century--all of whom were building on themes and characters from myth and legend--created those of us who can rattle off the secret identities of the X-Men without even pausing or tell you exactly what episode Spock first used the Vulcan nerve pinch.

As I said when I originally started this series--all of history has culminated in the creation of the comic book/science fiction geek. We are the pinnacle of civilization. Bow before us. We will soon rule over you all.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: 1965 Annuals

FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #3



Like most guys, when I’m forced to attend a wedding, I always end up wishing that I could sneak a book in with me to have something interesting to do while that whole wedding thing is going on. I appreciate a guy and a girl falling in love and committing themselves to one another for the rest of their lives. But, let’s face it. You’re all boring.

But, by golly, Reed and Sue’s wedding is actually interesting! Why? Because Doctor Doom uses an Emotion Charger ray to get pretty much all the villains in the Marvel Universe riled up to attack the Baxter Building just before the ceremony. And I don’t mean just the Fantastic Four’s usual enemies. I mean EVERYBODY. Even the Black Knight and the Human Top show up to cause trouble.

Fortunately, the wedding guests include the X-Men, Doctor Strange, the Avengers and Daredevil. And there are SHIELD agents running security.

A massive free-for-all ensues. There’s really not a lot of plot here—it’s all an excuse for Jack Kirby to show everybody fighting, well, everybody else. And it all looks more fun than a barrel of space monkeys.

Why can’t more wedding be like this? I wouldn’t mind going to one if we get to see Angel in a dogfight with the Black Knight or Ben Grimm stuffing an armful of Moloids back down their hole.

Oh, well. Reed spoils everything when the Watcher gives him a time distortion device that pretty much re-sets everything and makes Dr. Doom forget about his Emotion Charger. The wedding then proceeds normally. It was fun while it lasted, though.

SPIDER MAN ANNUAL #2



An evil magician named Xandu hypnotizes a couple of thugs, turning them into super-strong automaton. He then uses them in a surprise attack against Doctor Strange, stealing a mystic artifact that will make him all powerful.

Spider Man sees the thugs exiting Strange’s home and gets involved. This leads to him getting zapped into another dimension (a situation he accepts with remarkable aplomb—he doesn’t pause in his wisecracking for even a moment). Anyway, Spidey and Doctor Strange end up double-teaming Xandu and getting the artifact back.

Steve Ditko had proven to be the perfect artist for both Spider Man and Dr. Strange, despite the books being very different in their respective ambiances. So seeing him go to town in a story that tosses the two heroes together is quite a treat.

JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY ANNUAL #1



The FF annual was an excuse for a massive fight scene. The Thor annual is an excuse for a one-on-one fight scene, but it’s just as cool.

Thor is on patrol outside Asgard and gets into a tussle with a couple of storm giants. He gets knocked into a hidden tunnel that leads to Mount Olympus. He soon meets Hercules, who is crossing a narrow bridge in one direction while Thor is crossing the other way.

So who moves aside for whom? You can see where this is leading—the two gods spend eight or nine pages slugging it out before Zeus shows up and declares it a tie. It no longer matters, by the way, who crosses the bridge first, because the bridge got trashed in the fight.

One of Jack Kirby’s strength as an artist was giving a sense of real power whenever someone threw a punch. When Thor or Herc lets go with a haymaker, Kirby makes it look as if the blow really could tear the top off a mountain. So it’s not surprising that his Thor/Hercules fight is fun to watch. It’s just too bad there wasn’t a wedding going on in Olympus. It would have given all the poor guys attending something interesting to look at.

Anyway, this means we have now covered four full years of Marvel superhero action. At this moment, all the books are at least good and several of them (FF, Thor, Spider Man) are downright brilliant. Weak entries such as Giant Man have been replaced by stronger and more visual striking series such as the Sub-Mariner. Daredevil is probably the weakest book from 1965, but even he has his moments (such as the Daredevil/Namor fight in DD #7).

The Marvel Universe is getting quite large and complex. And it will be expanding even more soon. The FF is about to meet the Inhumans and Spider Man is on the verge of adding several very important supporting characters to his cast. The Galactus storyline in FF will be starting soon, while the God of Thunder is about to be dropped into some of his most cosmically cool adventures ever.

Next week, we’ll start looking at November 1965. The FF begin yet another superb multi-part adventure; Spider Man tracks down a cat burgler; Nick Fury gets captured; Dr. Strange finally meets Eternity; Thor continues to battle Absorbing Man, while Iron Man continues to battle Titanium Man; the Atlantians revolt against Krang; Hulk gets some good news and some bad news; the Avengers try to prove they're not a menace; and the X-Men have their first tussle against a certain type of giant robot.

By the way, starting with December 1965, both the X-Men and Daredevil become monthly books. That means I’ll probably be reorganizing the order in which I look at the books over the course of a month’s issues.
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