Wednesday, June 30, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1965, Part 3


A sexy Chinese scientist named Madame Macabre—raised and educated by the Mandarin—apparently has the power to enlarge and reduce objects. She at first tries to vamp Hank into joining her to conquer the world, then later just captures him outright to get him to tell her how HE enlarges and reduces stuff.

He and the Wasp (also a prisoner) manage to escape and capture her, discovering that she had an electronic device to simulate a superpower she did not inherently possess.

Madame Macabre is pretty unexceptional, though the connection to the Mandarin is nice. Also, the story gets points for letting the Wasp do most of the escaping/rescuing during the story, pulling Hank out of a jam in the nick of time.

The Hulk, meanwhile, is still in the Soviet base he trashed last issue. The base’s commander tries to zap him with a powerful proton gun, but another scientist who had been a forced laborer at the base takes the blast for the Hulk, giving his life to save him.

Hulk rampages through the base, nearly catching the now-terrified commander before his exertions cause him to turn back into Banner. It’s only when a couple of Soviet jets strafe the base that he Hulks-out again. The story ends with him about to go toe-to-toe with an armored task force.

Also, the American military learns that Banner is behind the Iron Curtain. Talbot is convinced more than ever that Banner is a traitor (he also hopes this is true so that Betty will become available). Betty is convinced Banner is innocent, but is afraid she’s wrong. Unfortunately, Rick Jones isn’t around this issue to call up LBJ again and get the president to clear Banner. Stan Lee is doing an excellent job with the serial format of these Hulk stories, but he either forgot or chose to ignore that particular plot thread (which would, to be fair, been too much of a dues ex machina to keep using).


Zemo arranges for Rick Jones to be kidnapped, then sics the Masters of Evil on the Avengers. While most of the Avengers battle the MoE through the streets of New York, Captain America flies to South America to rescue Rick.

The extended Avengers/MoE fight ends with the two groups confronting each other and the Avengers worried about innocent lives being lost if the battle continues. That confrontation will continue into the next issue, but the Zemo/Cap fight comes to an end when Zemo accidentally brings an avalanche down onto his own head. Zemo is killed (though he will one day sort of return when his son takes over his identity).

One other point of interest: Captain America writes a letter to Col. Nick Fury, looking for work as an agent for the government. Remember at this point we’ve seen Nick once outside his own WWII-set comic book, working for the CIA. He’s still a few months away from being appointed head of the super-spy organization SHIELD. But he’s still a logical choice for Cap to try to contact. And it’s a nice bit of character development that Cap is looking for a way to have a useful life outside of the Avengers.

There is one silly bit to the letter he writes, though. He starts it will “You won’t remember me, but we met during the war.” Cap, no one who meets a super-soldier with a shield in a red, white and blue costume is likely to ever forget him. Gee whiz.


DD finally redesigns his suit into his more familiar and much better looking red costume. If I remember correctly, it was artist Wally Wood who insisted on this, realizing that a yellow costume for “the Man without Fear” just didn’t work either visually or thematically.

Though one can’t help but wonder how a blind man decides on color motifs. It’s the one thing his super-senses don’t really help him with.

Anyway, the comic actually opens in Atlantis, where Namor’s warlord Krang is insisting that they attack the surface world without warning. Namor won’t go for this and opts instead to try a novel approach. He’ll go to the surface world and sue the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE for possession.

He randomly chooses Nelson & Murdock for lawyers. They explain that there’s no legal basis for the lawsuit, so Namor goes on a brief rampage, then surrenders, to get a criminal trial. He’ll present his case against the human race there.

But when he learns that Krang is trying to usurp his throne, he’s forced to give up on his lawsuit plans and break out of prison. That forces Matt to don his new costume and face off against this more-powerful foe.

What follows is a classic battle—beautifully drawn and choreographed by Wood. What makes it great is in large part that neither Wood nor Stan Lee’s script ever forgot that Namor is several times more powerful than Daredevil. DD uses a number of clever tactics, but in the end Namor lays him out.

But DD’s courage and tenacity impresses the prince of Atlantis. He leaves New York without hurting any more humans. Matt considers that a victory.

Wally Wood was one of the comic book industry’s truly great artists. His output for Marvel’s superhero books was relatively small, but what he did was remarkable. This issue of Daredevil is arguably his best Marvel work.

That’s it for April 1965. In May, the FF will rematch against the Frightful Four; Spider Man apparently goes nuts; Ben and Johnny tangle with a mad scientist; Dr. Strange confronts Baron Mordo; Thor goes on trial; Iron Man fights—Iron Man?; Captain America faces off against the Red Skull; Giant Man battles another fairly lame villain; the Hulk continues his behind-the-Iron-Curtain rampage; the Avengers drastically change their membership roster; and the X-Men go up against a cosmic-level threat.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Gunsmoke: "Marryin' Bertha" 5/22/60

Chester's been writing to women back east, not suspecting that one of them might actually show up in Dodge City and expect him to marry her.  Bertha is a big woman--a really big woman--and she doesn't take no for an answer.

It's not long, though, before Dillon suspects that Bertha's intentions might be nefarious. But to draw her out and get the evidence he needs, he has to push the reluctant Chester into agreeing to get married.

There's a lot a humor in this story--Parley Baer always played Chester well, but he's particularly good this time around. Baer was one of old-time radio's busiest and best character actors. This episode highlights just how talented he was.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Prehistory of Geekdom, Part 1

Where do all us nerds come from? Well, it turns out that all of history has conspired together to produce us. We comic book/SF geeks and nerds—those of us who can discuss painfully obscure aspects of Star Trek and cite comic book events by issue number, writer and artist--are the veritable culmination of everything. We are, by golly, the very pinnacle of civilization.

It’s true. Think about it. Elements that make up the plots, themes and characters of modern comics, as well as science fiction and fantasy novels/films/TV shows, go back to pretty much the beginning of civilization.

The various myths of many different cultures all contribute towards modern storytelling. For Western culture, we look most often to the Greeks. What is Hercules (or Perseus or Theseus) if not one of the original superheroes? Heck, the Jason and the Argonauts cycle is pretty much the original superhero team-up. Without the Argo, would we have the Justice League or the Avengers? Without Hercules, would we have Superman? (We certainly wouldn’t have the Marvel Comics version of Hercules, which in of itself would be a loss.)

Take a look at the Trojan War and the events of the Iliad. Aside from it kind of being yet another superhero team-up, the story deals with themes like loyalty, envy, bitterness, courage and honor. All themes that run rampant through comic books and adventure fiction of various genres.

Stories from religious history also contribute to geekiness. The story of Moses, for instance, teaches us a myriad of things about God’s nature and His plans for us even today. But it also once again provides us with both plot elements and themes that run through geeky fiction to this day. Without Moses (sent on a journey by his parents to save his life—adopted into another culture—returns to lead his people to freedom and bring us all laws that strengthen truth and justice), we almost certainly wouldn’t have Superman (sent on a journey by his parents to save his life—adopted into another culture—grows up to become a force for truth and justice).

As civilization progressed, storytellers and troubadours continued to toss elements into the mix that helped create the comic book nerd. Medieval tale-spinners took vague historical figures and used them to build the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood (two more examples of superhero teams). Even more so than in ancient Greece—due mostly to the influence of Judeo-Christian ethics--these characters came to represent fighting for what is right, protecting the innocent and promoting justice.

These tales gave us not just the basis for comic book superheroes, but the elements needed to create characters such as Captain Nemo, Long John Silver, Hopalong Cassidy, Indiana Jones, Han Solo, and James Bond. Heck, you can argue that SF novels such as Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy owe a debt to King Arthur’s Round Table. Hari Seldon assembles an organization of scientists to save civilization, just as Arthur brought together an organization of warriors to do pretty much the same thing.

So--clearly--all of human history has been working towards the creation of the comic book/SF nerd. It actually is all about us.

That’s it for now. This series will be intermittent rather than weekly, but when we return to it, I think we’ll jump forward to the 19th Century. This was a century that bred the elements of geekiness right and left—the creation of detective fiction, gothic horror, dime novels and pirate novels all come from the 1800s. Alexander Dumas had a few plots and characters to add to the mix as well.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1965, Part 2


Thor chases Loki to Asgard to rescue Jane and the two go toe-to-toe (enchanted sword vs. hammer) for a few pages before Odin breaks it up. Loki claims Thor brought Jane to Asgard (therefore violating a “no mortals allowed” rule), so Odin declares a “Trial of the Gods” to figure out who is telling the truth. Thor asks for a 48-hour continuance to return to take Jane back to Earth and catch the Absorbing Man.

There’s yet more great action before Thor defeats the Absorbing Man by spinning his hammer at “cyclotronic speed” and converting everything around the villain into helium. Crusher then himself changes into helium and floats off into space. The issue ends with Thor returning to Asgard for his trial.

There are several notable elements to this story:

1) By now, the speech patterns of the Asgardians have fully evolved into the faux-Elizabethan style that will be standard for most Marvel deities for decades to come. It makes no real sense, but it “sounds” right.

2) A character introduced last issue—a reporter named Harris Hobbs—continues to help Thor out. He’ll be around a few more issues, then pretty much disappear. I think he was meant to be another regular supporting character, but he just didn’t catch on.

3) Jane is freaked out by Asgard and the sight of Thor and Loki fighting. When Thor takes her back to Earth, he causes her to forget what she’s seen so she doesn’t have to deal with it. This (intentionally or not) foreshadows the eventual reason for the two breaking up.

4) Kirby’s art is typically excellent throughout, but one particular panel--involving the Absorbing Man taking on the aspects of the ground and trees and growing to gigantic proportions—looks particularly cool.

5) Crusher Creel breaks into a house and takes a married couple hostage at one point. This leads to another example of Stan Lee portraying a regular guy thrust into a dangerous situation but acting with courage.

The Tales of Asgard back-up tale involves Thor leading some soldiers against a Storm Giant. Loki uses some magic to help the giant escape, earning him an ally in his plans to eventually do away with his brother. More great Kirby artwork. Even small details like the design of an Asgardian catapult look nifty keen.


When we last saw the Black Widow, she’d been kidnapped back to the Soviet Union for failing at—well, pretty much everything she’d done so far. She refuses to work for the Soviets any longer, but they change her mind when they threaten to off her parents. She then agrees to make one more try at killing Iron Man.

It’s here that she gets a slicker costume (not quite yet her modern costume, but closer) that is more action-oriented, including a wrist mounted cable shooter that allows her to swing from building to building. She returns to the U.S. and vamps Hawkeye into helping her again.

It’s obvious that there are definite plans to turn both Hawkeye and Black Widow into heroes by now. The Widow is still only working for the bad guys to protect her parents, while Hawkeye balks at betraying his country (and agrees to help when he’s assured he’s “only” helping to destroy Iron Man).

The two kidnap Pepper and Happy, using them to lure Iron Man into a trap. Artist Don Heck’s work never equals Kirby in power, but he does choreograph a pretty good fight scene. Happy and Pepper are rescued, while the Widow and Hawkeye escape. The next time we see Hawkeye, at least, he’ll be solidly in the good guy camp.

We’re still jumping back to the World War II home front for Captain America’s adventure. A mystic is predicting acts of Nazi sabotage before they actually happen. Cap, Bucky and a pretty lady secret agent known only as Agent 13 investigate and end up beating the snot out of a band of Bundists who were using the fake psychic to spread fear among the populace. As usual with these early Cap stories, they exist primarily to allow Jack Kirby to choreograph extended fight scenes. Which is just fine by me.

That’s if for now. Next week, we’ll look at Giant Man, Hulk, the Avengers and Daredevil.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar" begins today on my Old Time Radio Serials blog.

YTJD had a long run on radio, with a number of different actors playing the lead role. In the mid-1950s, the show switched from a half-hour weekly format to a five-day-a-week serial, usually telling five-part stories running from Monday to Friday. It was the best of times for this already excellent show. The format allowed more character developments and made room for some pretty nifty plot twists.

Old Time Radio Serials blog.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Escape: "Second Class Passenger" 1/7/48

Harry Bartell really shines in this episode as a meek store clerk who has saved up to go on a round-the-world cruise. But when he gets lost in the rain while ashore at an out-of-the-way port, he stumbles into a rather violent adventure. It's a really strong story with a wonderful and somewhat thoughtful ending.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Everybody Learns from Sherlock Holmes

They really do. Not long ago, I wrote about a particular episode of The Adventures of Superman that used a similar concept to a Sherlock Holmes story.

Well, recently, the original Torchy Blane movies came out on DVD through the Warner Archives program. I’d seen most of them over the years on TV from time to time, but there’s a few I’ve missed. It’s nice to be able to get completely caught up on them.

Torchy, by the way, has an odd history. The movies are supposedly based on an excellent series of hard-boiled detective stories by Frederick Nebel. These featured a cop named Steve McBride and a perpetually drunk reporter named Kennedy, who often worked together to catch crooks and uncover corruption in fictional Richmond City.

When Warner Brothers brought the series to the big screen in nine entertaining B-movies, poor Kennedy was replaced by spunky, smart and fast-talking Torchy Blane. Played in seven of the films by the very pretty Glenda Farrell, Torchy was now engaged to Steve McBride (usually played by Barton MacLane). Their relationship was often more adversarial than loving—but they usually managed to solve whatever crime needed solving. And, it’s the wise-cracking Torchy who usually gets to the correct solution first, scooping the other newspapers on the story in the process. Also, Richmond City was replaced by New York City—most likely to allow the use of stock footage.

The movies aren’t the hard-boiled fare that the original stories were. They are more light-weight. But good writing and Warner Brothers’ stable of reliable character actors make it a really enjoyable series.

Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about a Sherlock Holmes connection. In Torchy Gets Her Man (1938), the girl reporter finds out MacBride is working on a top-secret sting operation at the race track, hoping to catch a counterfeiter. Eager to get a scoop, she decides to deal herself in by tailing the G-man who’s working with MacBride. What neither he nor MacBride know, though, is that the G-man actually is the counterfeiter. (That’s not a spoiler, by the way. The audience is given this information early on.)

When Torchy tries a straight tail, she loses the “G-man.” So she tries a different method. She pours creosote (a smelly oil that was used as a wood preservative) on the right rear tire of the guy’s car. Then she rents a bloodhound track the smell.

She even admits to have gotten the idea from Sherlock Holmes. In the novel The Sign of Four (1890—Holmes’ second appearance), someone fleeing from the scene of a murder steps in some creosote. Holmes uses a bloodhound named Toby to hunt him to the riverfront. This eventually leads to the classic boat chase that brings the case to a close.

Toby, by the way, is something of a fan favorite. If I remember correctly, this was his only actual appearance in a story from the original Canon, but he makes quite an impression on readers--or at least the dog-loving readers.

Well, Torchy doesn’t have access to Toby. She ends up with a German Shepherd named Blitzen (and is obligated to phonetically give commands to Blitzen in German). Despite the language barrier, Blitzen does a bang-up job, even playing an important role in saving Torchy’s life after she is captured and left tied up near a ticking time bomb.

So 48 years after the publication of The Sign of Four, spunky and pleasant-to-look-at Torchy Blane looks to the Great Detective for help. That same year, Orson Welles described Holmes during a Mercury Theater on the Air broadcast as “a gentleman who never lived and will never die.” Torchy Gets Her Man is just one small example of just how true that is.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: April 1965, part 1


Sue has been thinking about her late dad—killed a few issues earlier by the Skrulls. She wants whomever is responsible for the murder brought to justice.

Well, when your boyfriend is Reed Richards, catching a killer who is on another planet just might be possible. Reed borrows a rocket from NASA and rigs it with warp drive. Soon, the FF is on their way to the Skrull home world.

But once there, they abruptly discover that the atmosphere reduces their super powers to virtually nothing. Reed has to pretend to sell out mankind in order to build a power amplifier to give them their powers back. In the meantime, there’s some political intrigue going on between the Skrull Emperor and an ambitious warlord (who’s also the guy who got Sue’s dad killed). In the end, the warlord is killed, but Sue saves the Emperor’s daughter and earns the FF a Get Off the Skrull Home World Free card.

It’s strong, straightforward storytelling with some good characterizations and a lot of Kirby-designed alien creatures, weapons and vehicles. I especially like a line of dialogue that gives us some insight into Ben. During the trip through space, Ben is (as usual) joking about Reed’s explanation of the warp drive and acting like he doesn’t understand. Reed replies “Ben, you old phoney, as an ex-test pilot, you probably know more about all this than any of us do!”


A couple of great Spidey character moments pop up in this issue. At one point, he loses a chance to follow a suspicious person because he’s not wearing his costume under his clothes. It was still wet from his having washed it the night before.

Also, later on, he’s fighting a room full of mobsters. He jumps into an adjoining room and webs the door shut. While the mobsters are breaking the door down, Peter takes a moment to phone Aunt May and let her know he’ll be home late.

Anyway, the main plot involves the Green Goblin trying to take over a local mob and set himself up as crime boss of New York. Spider Man ends up getting involved. That leads first to that fight with mobsters. Then there’s a fight with the Goblin. As usual, Ditko’s handles the action superbly. There’s a neat twist at the end involving Goblin’s plans to get the mob leader arrested so he can take over.

There’s also some Peter/Betty stuff, in which Peter suspects she still has a thing for Ned Leeds. And Frederick Foswell—a Bugle reporter who had run a crime syndicate back in issue #10—gets paroled. Jameson hires him back to get good publicity, but Spidey suspects he may still be involved in the mob shenanigans. This is a plot thread that will play out over the next couple of issues.


The Mad Thinker, out for revenge, builds a super strong bouncing ball (about the size of a bowling ball) that flies and shoots out jets of frigid air (to put out Johnny’s flames).

It attacks Ben and Johnny while they’re at the dedication for a new dam. So the two heroes must save the dam after it is damaged as well as defeat the ball. An interesting twist (though not an uncommon one for Marvel Comics from this era) arises when the designer of the dam risks his life to help. Stan Lee did that from time to time—having an regular guy act heroically when the chips are down.

Dr. Strange, in the meantime, is still on the run from Baron Mordo and his minions. Trapped in Hong Kong, he uses both magic and his fists to fight past some thugs. Getting aboard a plane, he has an invisible fight with another of Mordo’s minions right over the head of the other unsuspecting passengers. It ends with Strange escaping Mordo for the moment, but he still doesn’t know his arch enemy is getting extra power from Dormammu. As with the Hulk, Stan Lee is demonstrating a real skill for serial storytelling. (In fact, extended plot threads and multi-part stories are starting to pop up in Fantastic Four and Spider Man as well.)

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll visit with Thor, Iron Man and Captain America.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

The Adventures of the Saint: "Horrible Hamburger" 9/10/50

This is a just-plain fun episode. Simon Templar is trying to get a friend's house on Long Island for a dinner, but Louie the Cab Driver gets lost. So they stop at an out-of-the-way diner for a bite to eat. The situation grows very strange when, soon afterward, they find a corpse stuffed in the trunk of Louie's cab.

What follows is a nicely constructed little mystery that ends with Simon and Louie taking cover in an open grave while someone takes potshots at them. There's a wonderful supporting character tossed in--a pretty farmer's daughter who comes on to an uncomfortable Simon.  She's just a little too young for him.

Actually, it's nice to know Simon has some standards. He once ended an episode by making out with the widow of a recent murder victim.

Vincent Price and Larry Dobkin (as Simon and Louie) have a wonderful rapport in this series. This episode highlights that rapport nicely.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Gods of the Electronic Books are plotting against me.

Well, not really. But it seems that way sometimes.

Last year, I bought an Amazon Kindle. I got it in large part because I was heading off to South Sudan on a mission trip. The dinky little plane that flies us from Uganda into the village of Nimule (where the compound I stay at is located) is limited to 30 pounds of luggage per passenger. In my previous trip, bringing along my Bible, reading materials for the plane trips, teaching notes and enough spare underwear to survive two weeks was a challenge. But the Kindle let me bring several different Bible translations, my notes and lots of reading material without having to worry about the weight at all. And, if I don't use the wireless, the Kindle battery lasts for a couple of weeks. It did indeed prove to be a great tool for the trip.

But I admit I like my Kindle for purely personal reasons also. I'm effectively carrying about 600 books with me wherever I go. Heck, I never have to interact with another human being again if I don't want to. And, really, how many real-life people are as interesting as, say, Captain Nemo or Long John Silver? You're all boring compared to them. Boring, I say!!!

(Ironically, it was a nice royalty check that allowed me to buy the Kindle, but neither of my books are available electronically, so aren't on the device.)

My goal is to one day make the Kindle my perfect personal library. But I've still got a page long list of books and short stories that aren't available electronically. I check once a month or so and a few items have popped up (such as some of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe novels), but there's still a lot of stuff I want that I can't get.

For instance, there's a delightful fantasy novel by Gordon R. Dickson titled. The Dragon and the the George (1976) that isn't available electronically. This is a fun book--great storytelling with a lot of humor and some really exciting action set pieces.

It's about a young college professor  named Jim Eckert and the girl to whom he's engaged (named Angie). Angie's making some extra cash by participating in a scientific experiment and gets zapped into another plane of reality. Jim follows, but ends up inhabiting the body of a dragon named Gorbash.

Angie is captured by an evil dragon working for the Dark Powers. Jim/Gorbash manages to locate a grouchy magician named Carolinus, who sends him on a quest to rescue Angie (which also now involves saving the world).

The world Jim is in is a sort of alternate medieval England. Soon, he manages to find a number of Companions for his quest. It's these characters--a wonderful motley crew--that really make the novel. Each of them brings a different sort of humor to the novel, but each also functions as a fully realized character that we really come to care about.

There's Sir Brian, whom normally hunts and slays dragons, but comes to accept that Jim really is a human in a dragon's body. There's Aragh, the talking wolf who had been a friend of Gorbash. Danielle is a beautiful girl whose father is a Robin Hood-style outlaw. Daffyd is the Welsh archer--the best archer in the world, it turns out--who is in love with Danielle. Secosh is a small "mere-dragon" who is meek and cowardly--at least he thinks he's cowardly. Smrgol is Gorbash's aging grand-uncle, a dragon-equivalent to the grizzled veteran with an endless supply of war stories.

I have a fondness for stories that use the "motley crew" approach--when a set of pretty much random characters with different skill sets are thrust together to do a job/mission/quest. Because of the skilled characterizations--Dickson gives them all believable personalities and masterfully avoids allowing any of them to turn into mere cliches--this is one of my favorites. Whenever I re-read it, I always end up wishing Smrgol the dragon were my grand-uncle. He's just such a cool guy.

Great fight scene at the end as well. The group has to divide up to fight a series of monsters on an individual basis. There's a giant slug-like worm monster, the aforementioned evil dragon, a band (flock?) of harpies, and an ogre.

Of course, I've still got the physical novel, so I can re-read it again anytime I want even if I can't get it for my Kindle. But it's the principle of the thing. My Kindle is destined to become by perfect personal library. The Dragon and the George is one of the books required to make that happen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

More Shameless Self-Promotion: My Wikipedia moment.

I've been cited in the footnotes of Wikipedia on several different entries, but THIS ENTRY on comic strip innovator Roy Crane quotes me extensively and identifies me as a "pop culture historian."

Pop Culture Historian. Almost makes me sound important, doesn't it?

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1965, part 3


Hank creates a new weapon—a cybernetic helmet that allows him to enlarge or reduce other objects. In the meantime, Jan puts together a snazzier costume for him.

Actually, the costume is a bit on the ugly side, but what the hey. When Hank’s experiments lead to the accidental enlargement of a spider, he and Jan are too busy fighting for their lives to worry about fashion.

Hank and Jan’s feature in Tales to Astonish is coming to an end soon. Including this issue, they have five more tales in which to astonish us before being replaced by the Submariner. Sadly, their final stories will all by average at best. It’s a pity that Giant Man couldn’t go out with a bang.

The Hulk storyline picks up with the big green guy still battling the Leader’s Humanoids. Some troops show up and a shower of hand grenades knock the combatants into the ocean. Hulk changes back into Banner and the Humanoids escape.

Not long afterwards, a Russian submarine “rescues” Banner and takes him to a secret research facility. Banner refuses to work for the Commies and gets locked into a tiny cell. Not surprisingly, he Hulks out and trashes the facility. The story ends with the Russian C.O. hunting for Hulk with a powerful “proton gun” and an armored column coming with reinforcements.

Steve Ditko is still doing the art and, as I’ve said before, his style (so perfect for Spider Man and Dr. Strange) doesn’t really fit the Hulk. But it’s still good artwork and Stan Lee has found a good storytelling rhythm for the serial format of the series.


Remember last issue ended with Wasp taking a bullet through her lung. Now her condition is critical and only one surgeon in the whole world has the skill to save her.

That’s a situation that comes up an awful lot in comic books, but it’s a reliable old saw. The Avengers quickly find the “doctor,” but he turns out to have been replaced by an alien. So now the Avengers have to track down some other aliens and rescue the doctor so he can save the Wasp.

They find the aliens (refugees from an interplanetary war) in a secret city near the North Pole. They needed the doctor to help them develop a way to breath Earth’s atmosphere.

After some fighting, the aliens agree to release the doctor and leave Earth. The doctor saves Wasp. And we get a cameo by the Watcher at the end.

The story is heavy on melodrama and we see a few too many panels of Giant Man worrying sick about Wasp and struggling to pull himself together. But overall we get a pretty good story. Melodrama is perfectly fine as long as its wrapped around good basic storytelling.

X-MEN #10

News reports come in of a “wild man” in a loin cloth running around Antarctica with a pet saber-tooth tiger. Professor X determines (via Cerebro and his own telepathy) that this guy isn’t a mutant, but the X-Men have been several weeks without a mission. So he sends them off to check it out pretty much just to keep the team in practice.

They track the “wild man” to a crevice in the ice, then down to the Savage Land—a tropical lost world full of prehistoric creatures.

Marvel Girl and (soon after) Angel are captured by ill-tempered natives and offered up to a T-Rex as a sacrifice. The other X-Men manage to find the wild man & his tiger and form an alliance. The native village is raided and, after some fighting, the X-Men rescue the captives and retreat. The wild man then insists they leave the Savage Land.

The wild man is, of course, Ka-Zar—the Marvel Universe analog to Tarzan. The Savage Land is the sort of lost world that Edgar Rice Burroughs seeded all over the Earth in the Tarzan Universe. And that’s just fine—stealing from Burroughs is an appropriate thing for any comic book universe to do. Lost worlds and jungle men are a natural fit. We get no origin tale for Ka-Zar yet, but that will come in time. The Savage Land (eventually revealed to be one of the few sources of a valuable energy-absorbing metal called “Vibranium”) will be fodder for a lot of fun stories in years to come.

The story gives Jack Kirby a chance to draw prehistoric dioramas and action sequences involving saber-tooths, dinosaurs, pterodactyls and (at one point) a stampede of mammoths. He also gives the natives some cool “primitive” weapons—such as a bow rigged to fire multiple arrows at the same time. It all looks great and he choreographs it all with his usual impeccable skill.

The one downside to the story—Scott and Jean are doing the “I love her/him, but can never tell him/her” bit that Stan had been shamelessly overusing in Marvel Comics during the early years. I think I had actually repressed the memory of it going on in the X-Men until I ran across its blatant use in this story. By this time, Stan was drifting away from this in many of the other books, but it still painfully lingered on in a few places.

But it’s not enough to upset what is otherwise a strong and exciting story.

That’s it for March 1965. In April, the FF go Skrull-hunting; Spidey goes Green Goblin-hunting; Johnny and Ben have trouble with a bouncing ball; Dr. Strange remains on the run; Thor gets on his dad’s bad side again; Iron Man runs up against an old enemy in a new costume; Giant Man fights a woman with a power sort of related to his; Hulk smashes a bunch of Commies; the Avengers rematch against the Masters of Evil; and Daredevil finally changes his costume AND has what is possibly his coolest fight ever.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday's Favorite OTR

Nick Carter, Master Detective: “The Case of the Howling Horse” 9/30/45

Nick is asked to investigate a strange case. Apparently, there is a rather strange horse loose on a wealthy explorer’s remote estate. First, the horse actually howls. Second, it’s been killing cattle. Third, it has apparently killed a man.

Nick dismisses all this as nonsense, of course. But there is something strange going on. All those headless corpses Nick and his assistants keep tripping over pretty much give that away.

This action-packed episode does a really nice job of weaving a monster/horror story into the show’s usual mystery format. The solution isn’t one many listeners will figure out—it’s a little too bizarre for that. But there’s plenty of excitement to be found along the way regardless.

Click HERE to listen or download.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Best Gangster Ever

Edward G. Robinson was such a magnificent actor—so good in so many roles—that it’s kinda dangerous to pick a best-ever role. If I were pinned to the wall and forced to choose, though, I think it’d be gangster Johnny Rocco in Key Largo (1948).

Rocco used to be big time until the Feds caught up with him and he got deported. Now he’s planning his comeback, sneaking back into the States from Cuba to sell some counterfeit bills in preparation for a more permanent return. He’s convinced he can bring back the glory days of prohibition and he’ll kill anyone who gets in his way.

Robinson had plenty of experience playing gangsters, but he’s never better than in Key Largo. He brings a combination of arrogance and ruthlessness to Rocco, but never steps over the line into camp. It’s easy to accept Rocco as a “real” bad guy, something that makes him seem all the more dangerous.

Most of the movie is set inside a remote hotel in the Florida Keys, where Rocco and his gang hole up while waiting to sell their merchandise. Their plans are delayed by a hurricane. And there’s a scene during the worst of the hurricane that marks just how well Robinson understood the character. The hotel is creaking, glasses are falling from the shelves and the wind is howling. Someone tells about how 800 people were washed away in a previous storm. Rocco is pacing up and down the floor, looking close to panic. Here’s a danger he can’t deal with or threaten or eliminate. He just has to ride it out and the fear nearly breaks him. Afterwards, he snaps back to his usual arrogant self.

Key Largo is a superlative film from start to finish, mostly because every part in it (including both the leads and the character roles) is perfectly cast. Edward G. Robinson’s Johnny Rocco may actually be better-than-perfect casting.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

History of the Marvel Universe: March 1965, part 2


I would pick this issue as the point at which Thor really takes off into true greatness. From here on in, the book achieves a sense of non-stop action and Kirby’s artwork goes from merely awesome to cosmically awesome. Major storylines will take on an epic feel and the overall lightning-like rhythm of the storytelling never lets up.

To start, Loki slips a potion to a brutal criminal named “Crusher” Creel. Creel becomes the Absorbing Man, having the ability to gain the properties and abilities of whatever he is near. So if he’s near a steel wall, his body becomes steel. When he fights Thor, he gains Thor’s strength and invulnerability. The ball and chain he carries (a brilliant visual touch) takes on the properties of Thor’s hammer.

Thor and Creel go one-on-one in what amounts to a destructive stalemate. Then Thor is summoned to Asgard by Balder and told that Loki has kidnapped Jane Foster. So the issue ends with Creel still loose on Earth and Jane a prisoner of the god of mischief.

The Tales of Asgard back-up feature involves the Asgardian version of Little Red Riding Hood, with the first comic book appearance of Fenris the giant wolf. Describing it as “Little Red Riding Hood” makes it sound light-weight, but Kirby gives us a short but cool fight scene between Fenris and an Asgardian hunter.


The “Tony is dead” storyline comes to end a little abruptly. Tony comes up with a way to redesign his chest plate so that he doesn’t have to wear his full armor all the time. Then he pops up in his office, saying that he was on a yacht trip without newspapers, so didn’t know he’d been reported dead.

He also makes up a story about being engaged, so that Pepper will give up on him and start seeing Happy. But he still spends far too much time secretly mooning over Pepper and wondering if he’s done the right thing.

It's a pity. The whole "Tony is dead" story line (and the distrust this was generating about Iron Man) was generating some good drama and probably could have gone on another few issues before it ran out of steam.

In the meantime, a saboteur is running amuck in Stark’s factory. Iron Man manages to run him down and discover it’s a disgruntled employee. It’s an okay story, but the luckless saboteur really doesn’t present that much of a threat to Iron Man.

There's a few nice touches, though. I like the reaction of one nameless employee to the announcment that Tony Stark is still alive: "I knew he was too rich to die." And a scene in which the acts of sabotage gets Tony into hot water with a workers' union rep over safety issues adds a dollop of realism to the story.

Meanwhile, the Captain America feature takes us back to World War II in a representation of Cap’s origin, then telling us how he ended up with a teenage sidekick named Bucky. The two heroes even have time to take out a Nazi U-boat before the story ends—not bad for a 10-page story.

It’s the first of what will be an extended series of World War II tales. It’s a great idea, reviewing Cap’s heritage for a new generation of readers, giving us page after page of Kirby fight scenes and telling strong, fast-paced tales.

That’s it for now. Next week, we’ll drop in on the Avengers, the X-Men, Hulk and Giant Man.
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