Wednesday, March 31, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1964, part 2


Last issue, Jane was badly hurt and Thor was locked in combat with Cobra and Mr. Hyde (whose respective powers have been amped up by Loki).

Thor fights a running battle throughout the trap-laden house while—up in Asgard—Balder runs a gauntlet of dangers to find a healer who can save Jane. What follows is some great Jack Kirby action scenes. And there’s an unusul aspect to the fight near its end, when Thor defeats Cobra by rewiring one of the trap (he’d learned about electrical wiring from Iron Man).

In the end, the villains are caught and Jane is saved. Hopefully, she’ll make it through an issue or two without being kidnapped yet again.

The “Tales of Asgard" story is another short but visually sweet excuse to show off Kirby’s superlative artwork. Thor fights a duel against a big bully named Sigurd, nearly losing unti he figures out the source of Sigurd’s strength. Not much to it in terms of plot, but it looks magnificent.


We’re starting to get some strong storytelling in the Iron Man tales. After last issue’s close call (when the chest plate that keeps his heart pumping nearly runs out of power), Tony’s afraid to take his armor off. So he continues with his plan to tell everyone that Stark is on a secret business trip and he (Iron Man) has been left in charge.

But he’s making up this plan has he goes along and comes across as inconsistent. Pepper, Happy and the cops are all suspicious of him. In fact, they begin to think that maybe Iron Man has done away with Stark. Iron Man has to make a run for it and later, when he radios Thor to announce he won’t make the next Avenger’s meeting, the Thunder God replies the Avengers expect him to “lift the veil of suspicion” quickly to avoid tarnishing that group’s reputation.

In the meantime, the Black Widow sends Hawkeye to Stark’s factory to steal something she can use to get back into the good graces of the Russians. Hawkeye balks at treason, but the Widow vamps him into thinking she’s really working for “international peace.’

This leads to another Hawkeye-Iron Man fight in which the archer is driven off and Iron Man gets a chance to save Pepper’s life. Because of this, though everyone is still suspicious, they back off Iron Man for the time being and allow him to take charge.

Also, the Black Widow is snagged by Communist agents and taken out of the country. She’ll be back and she will, eventually, defect and become a good guy. But that leaves poor Hawkeye at loose ends for the time being. Of course, he’s on the verge of finally becoming an out-and-out good guy himself in just a few more months.

When Iron Man first got his own series, it suffered somewhat from a lack of strong supporting characters and any real emotional involvement. With the “Iron Man in charge” subplot going strong, that’s finally starting to change.

In the Captain America story, Cap is beatin’ up thugs again---this time, a team of assassins sent by Baron Zemo. Rick Jones gets in a few licks as well. As with most of these early Cap stories, there’s a very basic plot primarily intended to highlight the fight scene. And that’s just fine, because Jack Kirby gives us yet another outstanding fight.

I’m really giving my thesaurus a work-out for this month’s issue coming up with adjectives to describe both Kirby’s and Ditko’s incomparable layouts. (See? Imcomparable—another gift from my thesaurus.) But it’s true. One of the main reasons that most Marvel books from this time period were so good was that the right artists were drawing exactly the right books: Kirby on the FF, Thor and Captain America; Ditko on Spidey and Dr. Strange. The visuals they were providing each month are true gifts from the comic book gods.

That’s it for this week. Next time, we’ll finish December 1964 with looks at Giant Man, Hulk, the Avengers and Daredevil.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: “Luke’s Law” 1/10/60

An old man is ambushed and beaten up near his homestead. But he’s a tough old guy—a man who has survived for years in the lawless west. So he refuses to press charges, even when his son tells Matt Dillon about the incident. He’s determined to take care of the matter himself.

Not surprisingly, this sets in motion events that lead to tragedy.

The straightforward and excellent script combines with some sharp performances to help make the supporting characters seem like real people. This was typical of the best Gunsmoke episodes and it made the not uncommon tragic dénouements all the more heartfelt.

You can listen to this episode or download it HERE.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gosh darn it--I watched them in the wrong order!!!

I'm a big fan of the silent movie swashbucklers of Douglas Fairbanks Sr. So when The Iron Mask (1929), came up as a suggested movie for me on Netflix, it was with some embarrassment that I realized I had never seen either it or Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers (1921).

So I popped The Iron Mask to the top of my Netflix list and watched it a few days later when the disc arrived. It proved to be an energetic and interesting adaptation of Dumas' classic novel. Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers, like most movie versions, used just the first half of the novel as its story, so this sequel was able to incorporate events from the second half of that novel with elements from The Man in the Iron Mask. It also came out right at the beginning of the sound era--so, though it is still a silent film, D'Artagnan is given a couple of short speeches: a prologue and another speech later on to help bridge a twenty year jump in time.

The next movie I got from Netflix was indeed Fairbanks' The Three Musketeers.  Loved that one, too. Especially the fight between the Musketeers and Cardinal's Guards, with D'Artagnan at one point doing a really cool somersault over a Guard to take him down and save Aramis' life.

But, gosh darn it, I therefore watched them in the wrong order!! I hate it when that happens. Oh, well, I'll watch 'em again one day and make sure I get them in the right order.And, of course, it really doesn't matter at all. It's not as if I'm not already intimately familiar with both stories. But that's the way my mind works--I gotta watch stuff in order. I just gotta.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: December 1964, part 1


This is a great issue. It has a strong plot that is perfectly designed to show off Jack Kirby’s strengths as an artist.

Namor has found his people again and been re-accepted as King, promising never to leave them again. But heavy is the brow that wears the crown—Namor soon finds himself in pitched battle with Attuma and his barbaric hoards.

This is Attuma’s first appearance—he’ll be a regular nemesis of the Sub-Mariner throughout the years. But it’s an Atlantean we’ve met before who really causes trouble. Lady Dorma, annoyed because Namor blew her off when she expressed love and concern for him, allows Attuma’s forces to pass by Atlantis’ first line of defenses.

Struck by guilt, she runs to the FF for help. Reed’s no fan of Namor, but Attuma would be a worse threat. So Reed sprays them all with an “Oxo-spray” that will allow the to breathe underwater for a time, then they race off to help.

They arrive just as Namor and Attuma are facing off in a duel. Attuma’s got a bunch of traps set up to allow him to cheat, but the FF manage to secretly take these out. Namor wins the duel without ever evening knowing his unlikely allies were there.

Kirby does wonderful work here. His designs for the undersea vehicles, weapons and creatures are, well, fantastic. And he—as always—gives us exciting and seamlessly choreographed action sequences.

Stan Lee provides everyone with great dialogue—especially Ben Grimm, whose one-liners fly at an even faster-than-usual pace.

Another especially strong issue in what was still Marvel’s best book.


Or maybe The Amazing Spider Man is Marvel’s best book at this time. Spider Man is out catching crooks again and soon re-establishes his tarnished reputation. But, in the meantime, Sandman and the Enforcers have teamed up to start taking out superheroes (whether for revenge or in preparation for a crime wave isn’t made clear—but what the hey. Either motive would have been legitimate).

The bad guys capture the Human Torch (who, in a nice bit of continuity, is exhausted from his fight in this month’s Strange Tales) and use him as bait for Spidey. But the webslinger proves to be too tough for them, fighting the villains off until he’s able to free Johnny. Together, the two heroes soon round up everyone but Sandman.

In a wonderful sequence, Sandman manages to get away when Spidey and the Torch get in each other’s way and end up tangled in webbing. But the crook is too exhausted to escape when a couple of cops grab him.

Just as this month’s FF was a perfect showcase for Kirby, this month’s Spider Man is a perfect showcase for Steve Ditko. He handles the action beautifully, of course. But he also does a great job on the character-driven moments. There’s scene in which J.J. Jameson is about to give a speech about how he exposed Spider Man as a coward. When an assistant (an obvious yes-man with the wonderful name of Wormley) whispers to him that Spider Man is back in action, we get a series of panels showing Jonah’s facial expression transforming from a wide shark-like smile to a look of pure horror. It’s hilarious.

Other character moments are seeded throughout the story as well, including bits with Flash, Liz and Betty. We meet Ned Leeds, the Bugle reporter who will eventually marry Betty some years later and who is already getting dates with the girl. Peter, otherwise feeling good about himself, doesn’t bat an eye over this. He won’t get around to feeling jealous for another issue or two.

The issue ends with someone we haven’t seen before following Peter home. Who is he? That’s something we’ll learn next issue.


Johnny and Ben are captured and consistently outsmarted by a “mystery villain.” Fortunately for them, the “villain” turns out to be Reed, who is teaching them a lesson about why he’s the team leader (something Johnny had earlier been mouthing off about).

The plot is okay and the action handled well. The dialogue and personality clashes between Ben, Johnny and Reed are all quite good, lifting an average story to an above-average level.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange continues to face off against Dormammu. (And, by the way, it’s STILL impossible to type “Dormammu” correctly on the first try.) But before their duel begins, Dr. Strange gets some information from Clea.

Well, from the girl whose name we will learn is Clea in a future issue. She’s still unnamed at this point. But she lets the Doc know that if Dormammu is defeated, all the beings in Dormammu’s dimension will die. Dormammu long ago created a mystical barrier that keeps the super-powerful Mindless Ones from rampages through the dimension, destroying it all.

So if Strange beats Dormammu (gosh-darn-it, I hate typing that name), the dimension is doomed. But if Dormammu (GRRRRRR!!! Three tries to get it right!) isn’t defeated, Earth will be in danger.

Strange eventually decides that he’s gotta go with saving Earth, since he took an oath to protect that world. But when the duel begins, he slowly gets beaten down by Dormammu. But he fights well enough to force the bad guy to siphon off energy from the mystical barrier. This, in turn, lets the Mindless Ones break in. Dormammu and Strange have to work together to lock them out again.

That leaves Strange in Dormammu’s debt, allowing the sorcerer to exact a promise neither to harm Clea or ever threaten Earth.

Nearly the entire story takes place in Dormammu’s dimension, filled with strange creatures and bizarre landscapes. Ditko’s weird and inspired visuals are the backbone of this story, but the moral dilemma that presents itself to Doctor Strange also adds strength to the story.

That’s if for now. Next week, we’ll drop by to visit Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Our Miss Brooks: “Tape Recorder” 4/26/50

I probably don’t include enough comedies in my Friday’s Favorite OTR feature. I love old-time radio in large part because it is such an effective storytelling tool; adventure and mystery shows are the best examples of this. But radio gave us some of the best comedy ever (much of it, of course, by way of vaudeville): Jack Benny, Burns & Allen, Abbott and Costello, Fibber McGee and Molly, the Great Gildersleeve, and so on.

Our Miss Brooks is another hilarious example. Eve Arden played the title role—a put-upon high school English teacher with a sharp and sarcastic wit. Arden was a brilliant comedienne, perfecting a dry delivery that was just right for drawing the biggest laughs out of her dialogue.

She was ably assisted on Our Miss Brooks by Gale Gordon as the penny-pinching school principal, Jeff Chandler as the biology teacher who never quite grasped that Miss Brooks had a crush on him, and Richard Crenna has an overly-enthusiastic student whose voice never quite finished changing. Gordon especially helped make the show—the man was one of the finest comedic actors of the 20th Century. (As he repeatedly proved in other radio shows such as Fibber McGee and on television sitcoms such as The Lucy Show.)

This episode is a comedy of errors that builds up to a rolling-on-the-floor conclusion. It involves a tape recorder, a miscommunication about which bill to send to the school board and a frog in the biology lab that was apparently homesick for the swamp. This all ties together in the end, when some out-of-context conversations recorded on tape are inadvertantly played for the head of the school board.

Gee whiz, my summary of the show doesn’t sound all that funny at all, does it? Just listen to the thing instead. Trust me, it’s funny.

You can listen to this episode or download it HERE.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The most insidious death traps ever!!!!

Being a fan of pulp fiction, B-movies, comic strips and comic books, I have vicariously run across more than my share of horrible death traps. Rare is the pulp or comic hero who hasn't had to fight, think or trick his way out of a death trap or two during his career. Some heroes, such as Batman and the Shadow, literally aren't capable of making it through an adventure without getting caught in at least one death trap.

Death traps come in all shapes and sizes. A Nazi spy once tried to drop Charlie Chan through a trap door installed in an elevator. Batman was once tied up to a giant birthday cake candle that shot him up into the air. The Shadow was once trapped in a locked room with metal doors and a small army of gangsters sticking machine gun barrels in his direction through narrow gun ports.

But, by golly, any hero worth his salt will beat impossible odds and make good his escape from the latest model death traps.

There are two particular death traps that have always stood out in my mind as being particularly horrible.

The first pops up towards the end of the novel The Return of Fu Manchu (1916), the second of that series. The heroes, Nayland Smith and his friend Dr. Petrie, have been captured by the evil Devil Doctor.

Smith is laid flat on the floor and locked into a cage divided into six compartments, with the first compartment containing Smith's feet and so on up to his head.


He glanced toward the Burman, who retired immediately, to re-enter a moment later carrying a curious leather sack, in shape not unlike that of a sakka or Arab water-carrier. Opening a little trap in the top of the first compartment of the cage (that is, the compartment which covered Smith's bare feet and ankles) he inserted the neck of the sack, then suddenly seized it by the bottom and shook it vigorously. Before my horrified gaze four huge rats came tumbling out from the bag into the cage! The dacoit snatched away the sack and snapped the shutter fast. A moving mist obscured my sight, a mist through which I saw the green eyes of Dr. Fu-Manchu fixed upon me, and through which, as from a great distance, his voice, sunk to a snake-like hiss, came to my ears.

"Cantonese rats, Dr. Petrie, the most ravenous in the world . . . they have eaten nothing for nearly a week!"

So poor Nayland Smith is going to have to watch himself get eaten alive by rats, one body section at a time. Petrie is chained to a chair next to him and given a sword, but his range of motion is limited so that the only action he can take with the weapon would be to put Smith out of his misery.

Now that's evil.

But not, perhaps, as evil as the trap the villainous Mrs. Pruneface placed Dick Tracy into. In a  sequence of Chester Gould's brilliant comic strip published in 1943, Mrs. Pruneface (looking to revenge the death of her husband, the Nazi spy Pruneface) captures Tracy and ties him to the floor. Then she mounts a refrigerator over him on blocks of ice, with a spike protruding from the 'fridge down towards Tracy. So, as the ice melts....


There have been a lot of really evil death traps, but I gotta rate these two as a solid 10 on the evil-meter.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1964, part 3


Hank’s arch-enemy—the mad scientist Egghead—using “living cell beam” to turn a store mannequin into a giant, indestructible android. Then, while mentally controlling the android, he uses it to attack Giant Man.

But when Giant Man realizes that Egghead feels whatever the android feels, he’s able to defeat the thing by grabbing it by the feet and spinning it around. This makes Egghead dizzy enough to break contact with the android

It’s an okay story, but—as I’ve mentioned before—it’s really too bad Giant Man and Wasp never got a good Rogue’s Gallery. None of their villains come close to the level of visual coolness enjoyed by—say—Spider Man’s enemies.

Meanwhile, the Hulk is still tussling with the robot that was captured by the commie spy last month. The robot is indestructible, but Hulk manages to knock it into a bottomless pit (and save the military base from a missile launched by the spy). But he’s knocked out and captured by the army. The issue ends with Hulk in chains, straining to break free before he transforms back into Banner in front of everyone.

This issue also introduced Major Glenn Talbot, who will be a regular supporting cast member (and an occasional rival for Betty Ross’ attentions) for some years to come.

As with the Giant Man tale, this is a good but unexceptional story. Steve Ditko is still doing the art and—as wonderful as his work is on Spider Man and Dr. Strange—his style just doesn’t seem to work for Hulk at all.


The Masters of Evil are still plotting against the Avengers when a being called Immortus pops into Zemo’s castle and offers to help.

Immortus is a master of time and space and the ruler of Limbo. His powers are very similar to Kang and—in fact—he’ll eventually be retconned into a future version of Kang. As the character is developed in later appearances, he’ll turn out to be a sort of guardian of the time stream. But in his debut here, he wants to destroy the Avengers pretty much because he “craves adventure.”

So he captures Rick Jones—confining him in the Tower of London in the 18th Century—to lure the rest of the Avengers into a trap. He summons up Goliath to fight Giant Man, Merlin the Magician to fight Iron Man and Hercules to fight Thor. He also zaps Cap back to 18th Century London to force him to fight an army of guards in an attempt to free Rick.

The Avengers manage to defeat their respective opponents, only to then get attacked by Zemo, Executioner and Enchantress immediately afterwards. Cap manages to get back to the present in time to turn the tide of battle.

The ending is a little unsatisfying. When it’s obvious the bad guys are going to lose, Enchantress uses a spell to zap them back in time a few days, where they then ignore Immortus’ attempts to contact them and prevent the entire adventure from actually happening. Without a strong plot-driven reason for such a resolution, it really takes some of the fun out of an otherwise entertaining issue.

Also, Cap at one point thinks (just because Immortus tells him so) that one of the Avengers sold out Rick to the villain. So Cap gets in a fight with his teammates. This is simply too contrived to work. No way a smart cookie like Cap is just gonna trust the bad guy about something like that.

Another interesting point: the “Hercules” that Thor fights is a completely different visual from the Hercules who becomes a regular part of Marvel continuity a few months later. (The new Herc will debut in the 1965 Thor annual.) I’m pretty sure that there is an eventual retcon in which the Hercules fought in this issue turns out not to be the “real” one. If anyone remembers for sure if this was the case, please post a comment and let me know. My copy of the Marvel Universe Handbook doesn’t clarify this.

X-MEN #8

A couple of fairly important events take place in this issue. First, Bobby Drake learns to increase the coldness of his body when he becomes Iceman, changing his appearance from a snowy look to his more familiar translucent icy look.

Also, we get the first real example of anti-mutant feelings among the common folk of the Marvel Universe. When Beast risks his secret identity to save a child from danger, the crowd gets worked up about a “dangerous mutant” hiding in their midst. Beast and Iceman barely escape the suddenly violent mob. And Beast is so angered, he figures human beings aren’t worth the effort of saving and he quits the X-Men. He pops up soon afterwards as a pro wrestler.

But he comes back to the team when they need him. The main villain in this story is Unus the Untouchable, who can’t be touched by anything that might hurt him. Unus wants to join Magneto’s group, but must prove himself first by defeating the X-Men.

His first battle with them is a draw. Hank returns to rig up a secret weapon—a ray that increases Unus’ power. Now nothing can touch the poor guy, including food and drink. He’s forced to surrender and give up being a super villain before Hank zaps him again to turn him back to “normal.”

Unus will eventually return to crime, though, becoming another of the Marvel Universe’s growing cadre of second string villains.

Finally, there’s a scene with Professor X, who is lowering himself into a deep abyss with a hoverchair. His mission? That will be clarified next issue.

That’s it for November. In December 1964, the FF will team up with a former opponent; Spidey will prove he’s not chicken, then teams up with the Avengers; Ben and Johnny fight a “mystery villain”; Dr. Strange and Thor both continue the fights they started this month; Iron Man encounters some old enemies; both Henry Pym and Bruce Banner get impersonated; and Daredevil fights an annoyingly silly villain.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: “Blood Waters” 6/17/54

Yes, I know I’ve featured several other Escape episodes on Friday’s Favorite OTR in the last few weeks, but every once in a while, I remember just how cool a show it is and load my portable MP3 player with a bunch of episodes.

The one stars Vic Perrin as a down-and-out diver stuck doing low-paying jobs in a South American port. An old enemy—apparently the guy responsible for the diver having to leave the U.S.—offers him a job recovering treasure from a sunken ship.

The diver doesn’t want the job, quite reasonable convinced the other guy will double-cross him. But sympathy for a girl caught up in his enemy’s machinations convinces him to go along with it. When the small expedition arrives at the site of the sunken ship, he soon discovers that there is danger below the water as well as above.

The usual high production values of Escape combine with Vic Perrin’s superb job as protagonist and narrator to make this a riveting tale.

You can listen to this episode or download it HERE.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Still the best dino fight ever!

The original 1933 version of King Kong is one of my favorite films. The 1976 version with Jessica Lange simply does not exist in my universe. And, though I appreciated a lot of the visual artistry that went into the 2005 version, it was too long, had too many unnecessary story arcs for the supporting characters, tried too hard to shove the idea that we were supposed to sympathize with Kong, and used the annoying modern hyper-editing techniques that effectively ruined what would otherwise have been some really cool dinosaur fight scenes. It tried too hard to be an epic, whereas the original became an epic by simply telling a straightforward adventure story so well.

I still like Willis O'Brien's stop motion special effects. They have a charm and personality to them that neither of the remakes come close to capturing.  And in terms of coherent editing and story logic, it beats the overdone 2005 version by a mile.

I make a point to watch King Kong only once per year. I do so on Superbowl Sunday, since I'm not a football fan, but the big game makes it an easy date to remember. That way, I never really get used to it--it remains a treat every time.

But there's no harm in occasionally giving the best dinosaur fight scene ever an extra viewing every once in a while, is there?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1964, part 2


I’ve whined about this before, but I can’t help it: Why the heck does “All-Knowing, All-Seeing” Odin keep taking advice from Loki? You know, the god of mischief who has betrayed Asgard on numerous occasions? This just seems like an inherently bad idea.

Oh, well, it’s a nifty issue otherwise. Loki has bailed Mr. Hyde and Cobra out of prison and magically increased their power. He has them kidnap Jane Foster (who, at this point in Marvel history, may very well hold the record for “girl friend most often kidnapped”) and use her to force Thor to back off when he comes after them

Odin—on the advice of Loki, for gosh sakes—observes these events and gets in a snit, banning Thor from Asgard. But when Thor deduces that Loki is involved, he’s got to fight his way into Asgard to confront the villain. This leads to a wonderful but all-to-brief fight scene against Heimdall on the Rainbow bridge, then a free-for-all with a bunch of Asgardian Red Shirts. This is the sort of stuff Jack Kirby always makes visually awesome.

Loki rats out his minions and Thor is zapped back to Earth by Odin to battle Hyde and Cobra. Jane gets hurt in the crossfire and the issue ends with the villains about to launch another attack on the Thunder God.

The Tales of Asgard story involves Odin and his army confronting a rebel army and apparently losing. It’s a short but effective tale that, as usual, gives Jack Kirby free reign to add a little more visual awesomeness to the issue.


The Black Knight breaks out of jail and vows to take revenge on the Avengers. He attacks Stark Industries to force Iron Man to fight him—starting with Shellhead simply because he doesn’t know how to find any of the other Avengers.

There’s a really good airborne dogfight between the two characters that makes up the bulk of the issue, with the Knight using an assortment of weapons to hold his own against Tony. It’s marred slightly at the end when Black Knight, knocked off his flying horse, is falling to the ground. He and Iron Man have an awfully long conversion (basically a negotiating session—“drop your lance and I’ll save you” stuff) during that fall before Tony finally saves the guy. A bit too long, in fact, to be believable—they did everything but formally draw up a treaty while the Black Knight is plunging to his doom.

Wrapped around the action stuff is a sub-plot in which Tony starts having chest pains. He realizes his chest plate is malfunctioning and realizes he has to keep his armor on to give the plate enough power to keep his heart pumping. So the issue ends with Iron Man telling a suspicious Pepper and Happy that Tony’s gone on a secret trip and has left him in charge. This is the beginning of an extended sub-plot in which Tony’s life as Iron Man is going to interfere with his ability to run his business, eventually bringing him into conflict with a senator who wants to cancel his government contracts. It’s a good idea that will largely be well-executed, though it will also include far too much whining from Tony about being secretly in love with Pepper.

All things considered, it’s a good story—Don Heck’s action sequences are never quite up to Kirby or Ditko standards, but they’re still fun.

But if you want to see a Jack Kirby action scene, turn the page and read Captain America’s first modern-era solo story. A gang of crooks waits until it is Captain America’s turn to keep watch at the Avengers Mansion. They figure they can get the drop on a “glorified acrobat” with no powers, then loot the place of anything valuable.

But Cap proves too much for them. The bad guys through everything but the kitchen sink at Cap, including a guy in an armored suit, a gas bazooka, and a couple of karate experts. But to no avail—the Living Legend of World War II cleans the floor with them all.

Gee whiz, it’s a fun fight. It’s a vivid, dynamic sequence that moves quickly without ever confusing the reader—a wonderful example of Jack’s skill at fight choreography.

This story also introduces us to Jarvis, the Avengers’ butler. He only gets a few panels this time around, but he’ll become a regular in Avengers. Superheroes will come and go from the group, but Jarvis will be eternal.

That’s it for this week. I was including Giant Man and the Hulk along with Thor and Iron Man, but with the addition of Captain America, we’ll hold off on the two big guys till next week. We’ll also visit with the Avengers and the X-Men as we finish off November 1964.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Dimension X: “The Veldt” 8/9/51

Ray Bradbury’s stories were borrowed by a variety of radio shows during the 1950s. This isn’t surprising; structure a radio script so that the narration and dialogue preserves Bradbury’s wonderful prose intact and you are guaranteed to have a great episode.

Dimension X (and its successor, X Minus One) turned to Bradbury a lot. This one involves parents who buy their two children a holographic nursery. It’s a room that reads the children’s thoughts, then creates whatever environment they desire.

But when the parents allow their spoiled children to spend too much time in the nursery, they eventually learn just how real (and how deadly) the creations of that room can be.

Bradbury was commenting on inattentive and lax parents in this story, but human nature being what it is, he comes across as downright prescient. One can’t help but think of kids today who spend more time in front of TVs and computer screens than they do interacting with their parents—or of the parents who allow this. Of course, those real-life children can’t access technology that allows them to take out their inattentive parents.

At least—not yet.

You can download this episode or listen to it HERE.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

How did the body GET in the library anyways.

The Body in the Library (1941),  by Agatha Christie.

If I were asked to choose between Agatha Christies two most famous creations—to pick whether I enjoy reading about Hercule Poirot more than Miss Jane Marple, or visa versa—then I believe I’d be stumped.

Both are classic characters—fictional people who (like Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe) we can easily come to believe as real. We’ve already run across Poirot in this post, but it’s Miss Marple who fingers the killer in The Body in the Library.

The body belongs to a young dancer named Ruby Keene, who’s been strangled to death. The library is in Gossington Hall, the upper-class home of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry. How the body ended up in their library is one of many mysterious aspects of the case. Neither the Bantrys nor their servants knew the poor girl.

So Mrs. Bantry calls Miss Marple, the elderly woman with a predilection for solving crimes.

It’s always fun to follow along with Miss Marple when she’s on a case. She puts things together not just through deductive reasoning, but also through her sharp and cynical understanding of human nature. She parallels what she sees in people with analogous situations she has encountered in her small hometown. For instance, when she sees the body in the library, she comments that it’s just like when young Tommy Bond put the frog in the clock. And that actually makes sense, when she eventually explains herself.

Anyway, the investigation of the crime leads to the hotel where the murdered girl worked. Soon, another body turns up, though the connection to the first murder isn’t obvious. (Well, not obvious to us. Miss Marple sees it pretty much right away.)  There’s a couple of likely suspects, but both have good alibis. And how the heck DID the body end up in the library anyways?

As is typical of Agatha Christie’s wonderful novels, the clues are all there for us to see along with Miss Marple. The solution is intricate, but makes perfect sense when it’s all explained to us in the end. And the dénouement is excellent—the killer’s identity isn’t revealed even after he or she is caught. It’s only when Miss Marple finally takes us through her reasoning that we all come to understand exactly what’s been going on.

Next time, we'll finish off our Great Detective Survey with a look at The Nine Tailors, by Dorothy Sayers.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: November 1964, part 1


Well, this issue certainly seeps with tragedy. First, Reed figures out a way to turn Ben human again, but this has a side effect of giving Ben amnesia, so he’s gotta be changed back into the Thing.

Then an alien trades places with Sue and Johnny’s dad (still in jail after surrendering himself in the previous issue) and then breaks out of prison. The fake Dr. Storm goes on a rampage with the ability to duplicate any of the Fantastic Four.

Sue and Johnny think the alien is really their dad gone nuts. A confused and heartbroken Sue at one point even interferes with Reed’s attempt to attack the alien. Reed, though, deduces what’s really going on—figuring out that “Dr. Storm” is really the Super Skrull, back for a re-match.

Reed’s pretty much annoyed with the rest of the team by now. He quite literally tells them all to just shut up and do what they’re told. (I love it when Reed gets mad—it always makes for a fun scene.) He manages to contact the Skrull home world and tell them the jig is up. Super Skrull is teleported home and the real Dr. Storm is returned to Earth.

But the doc’s been booby-trapped and he’s forced to sacrifice himself to save his kids.

In the previous issue, Stan and Jack got a little too soap-opera. But here, they do a superb job and the emotions generated by the story come across as real. The sequence involving a cure for Ben, Sue and Johnny’s confusion over what to do about their “dad,” and the elder Storm’s self-sacrifice makes for a succession of honestly touching moments.


And, by golly, we’ve got more honest emotion over here in Spider Man. After the events of the last issue, Spider Man is now publically reviled as being a coward, especially since he hasn’t been seen since he apparently ran away from the Green Goblin. In fact, Peter is so concerned that his convalescing Aunt May needs him, he’s now thinking he shouldn’t take any chances. When he spots some thieves breaking into a jewelry store, he phones the cops rather than take them out himself.

And when he runs into the Sandman, he then runs away from the Sandman. Unfortunately, someone films this and the public hates Spider Man even more.

On top of all this, Betty Brant is still mad at Peter for apparently standing her up. The end result is Peter being lonely, depressed and constantly worried about Aunt May.

But Aunt May finally begins to feel better, giving Peter a pep talk about having gumption and not giving up. Peter realizes he’s been acting like a quitter and the issue ends with him donning his Spider Man costume once more.

It’s an issue low in action but high in some really nifty character development. And it all leads up to some great action stuff in next month’s issue, when Spidey shows the world he’s not a coward after all.


The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master had teamed up to destroy the F.F. a few months back in Fantastic Four #28. Now we find out they are still working together, now planning on taking out the F.F. one at a time.

What follows is a straightforward little tale in which the villains’ plans go awry and we get some nice emphasis on just how inherently decent a person Ben Grimm is. (He also gets turned human again for a few minutes—this is Ben’s month for unsuccessful transformations.) Reed plays a part as well—rigging up a funny looking helmet that feeds Puppet Master’s mind control energies back at the bad guy, exploding his Ben puppet.

Meanwhile, Dr. Strange has his first meeting with the Dread Dormammu, the despotic ruler of another dimension. When Dormammu threatens to invade Earth, the good doctor travels to his home dimension for a pre-emptive strike.

Strange battles a succession of magical opponents before confronting Dormammu. The story continues into the next issue as the two protagonists finally meet face to face.

This is the sort of story that Steve Ditko was born to illustrate. The alien landscapes, the various weird creatures, Dormammu’s striking visual design—it’s all perfect.

Strange also meets a really purty girl in Dormammu’s dimension. She isn’t given a name yet, but this is the first appearance of Clea, the doctor’s future lady love.

Also, I’ve discovered that “Dormammu” is a nearly impossible word to type correctly on the first try.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll visit with Thor and Iron Man. We’ll also take a look at Captain America’s solo debut.
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