Bronze Age Beginnings

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Invincible Iron Man #45

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Gary Friedrich

Artist: George Tuska

Inker: Vince Colletta

The story opens half way through a fight between Iron Man and The Night Phantom, an indestructible android controlled by the ‘mysterious’ Mr. Kline. The same Mr. Kline who, erm, met his demise in last month’s Daredevil. I’ll get to that in a bit....

Also present is some gal named Marianne, who is apparently in love with our hero (and as it turns out, he with her) and has E.S.P.

After Tony Stark/Iron Man recovers from his usual heart seizure, he takes down The Night Phantom easily enough, just in time to cut away to some board room antics at Stark Industries with the other board members plotting to oust Stark. This meeting is being watched by Mr. Kline, which prompts a footnote;

“*Actually, nothing figures in Mr. Kline’s master schemes any longer since he perished in the climax of Daredevil #84. ..Stan.”

Holy interrupted sub-plot Batman! I guess, as reader Rick Kopesky puts it in the letter column, “This Mr. Kline mystery is overdone, and does not have me, for one, the least bit curious as to his secret identity.” And Marvel apparently listened, which explains that bizarre issue of Daredevil. Pity editorial forgot to inform Gary Friedrich, though.

After a brief scene of Young Iron Men in Love, and some guy named Kevin who’s got the hots for Marianne (and is jealous of his best friend and employer, Tony) we head back to Stark Industries, whereupon another boardroom meeting is crashed by The Guardsman. It turns out The Guardsman is Kevin (O’Brian), wearing a suit or armour designed by Stark.

Phew! We’re still not into Chapter Two.

Anyway, a bunch of student protesters turn up at Stark Industries to stick it to the man, and the boardroom members sic The Guardsman onto them...not a good idea, as he inadvertently injures three of them with a Repulsor Ray blast, inciting a riot as Iron Man appears. The Guardsman slinks away, and Iron Man flees the scene to avoid injuring anyone else and to keep the peace. He confronts Kevin in The Guardsman armour and disables him, before returning to the protest outside, just in time for the police to show up.

Continued next issue...

There was a lot going on here, which would probably have flowed easier without the Mr. Kline shenanigans. The soap-opera with Marianne also seemed out of place, but was well drawn by George Tuska, with some not unsympathetic Colletta inks. I’m certainly interested enough in where Tony’s proposal to the psychic Marianne goes.

Buy Iron Man #45 at My Comic Shop

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The Avengers #97

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Tom Palmer

I love this cover!

This is the final part of the Kree/Skrull war, and Rick Jones has been hurled into the Negative Zone to be menaced by Annihilus. One quick, unexpected, mind-blast from Rick and Annihilius is beaten, before Rick is transported back to the Supreme Intelligence for an explanation of where the mind-blast came from. It appears Rick is exhibiting the ultimate expression of the evolutionary capacity of the human race – handy that, because he then whips up the Golden Age heroes that appear on the cover, to fight of some Kree soldiers and Ronan the Accuser!

Rick then puts an end to the war by immobilising all the Kree and Skrull troops, before collapsing. Never fear, Captain Mar-Vell is on hand to merge with Rick and restore him to good health.

The Avengers return home, minus one. Clint ‘Goliath’ Barton is missing, presumed dead!

A satisfying conclusion to the first real Marvel epic, spoiled only slightly by some questions regarding just what is going to happen once all those Kree and Skrull come around– the Skrull Armada is still floating around out there in space!

It’s a pity that Neal Adams wasn’t able to complete the story, but Buscema inked by Tom Palmer is more than palatable.

Buy The Avengers #97 at My Comic Shop

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Mighty Thor #197

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Vince Colletta

Thor and his Warrior’s Three have reached the Well at the Edge of the World, so it’s time for a fight with “yon craggy giant”. Kartag (for that is his name) and Thor take a head dive into the Well, which shows Thor various visions, including the low down on why Odin sent Thor on this sorry arse quest in the first place. So it’s back to Asgard for Thor and the Warrior’s Three (accompanied by Kartag).

Sif and Hildegarde are still on that other planet, where everything appears to be not quite right; a steam boat shows up and Sif and Hildegarde are met by one Silas Grant.

Back on the Rainbow Bridge, Thor and his companions discover that Asgard is no longer in situ, but with some water from the Well - and Mighty Mjolnir – that’s not a problem. Once they locate Asgard, it’s time to fight Mangog!

This is really hard work, basically because Thor has the personality of a turnip. How did he ever get both Jane Foster and Sif interested?

I can only recommend this comic for the art of Buscema - despite the thin, scratchy, inks of Colletta.

Buy Thor #197 at My Comic Shop

Monday, 7 June 2010

The Amazing Spider-Man #106

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: John Romita

Inker: Frank Giacoia

So, Spidey has been unmasked by Professor Smyth, or rather he’s seen Spidey without his mask on via one of the many spy-lens devices Smyth controls around New York. Spidey swings off to Doc Conner’s to borrow his lab, and whips up a ‘life-like’ Peter Parker mask to fool Smyth into believing Spider-Man was aware of the spy-lens, and was wearing a Peter Parker (or some nobody, as the gathering of top New York gang leaders rightly puts it) mask to confuse all that?

Peter then goes on a date with Gwen; they visit Flash (who seems out of sorts), and then go on to the flicks and a bite to eat.
After the date, Peter changes back into Spider-Man to make his way back to Flash’s pad, thinking that Flash may open up to him without Gwen around. Cue Smyth and his Spider Slayer.....

The super-heroics are decidedly ho-hum, but Stan seems much more involved when scripting Peter Parker’s personal life. Luckily, John Romita is perfectly suited to soap-opera, enough to sufficiently pique my interest in Harry’s unrequited love for Mary Jane and Flash’s problems....more so than Smyth and his bloody Spider Slayer.

Buy The Amazing Spider-Man #106 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Incredible Hulk #149

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Archie Goodwin

Artist: Herb Trimpe

Inker: John Severin

The Hulk is under sedation at Project Greenskin following last issue, giving Betty an excuse to mope (as she does), and while wandering outside the base, wishes upon a ‘falling star’ for things to be different for Bruce and her. The ‘falling star’, however, is a spaceship crashing to Earth, from which emerges The Inheritor.

Unfortunately, the cover doesn’t show how completely ridiculous this Inheritor guy actually looks....

After dispatching a couple of poachers (because he hates humans, and he is the rightful inheritor of Earth, hence his sobriquet) , The Inheritor comes across a truck transporting that ol’ radioactive material that was always being driven across America during the Seventies, and as The Inheritor bathes in the radioactive material he remembers....

Meanwhile, after escaping his restraints and trying to escape the bunker, Hulk is downed by some tranquiliser gas and reverts to Bruce Banner. He is then convinced to help out with finding a cure for his condition, and has a bit of a think about his feelings for both Betty and Jarella (who went home to her atom last issue).

Anyway, The Inheritor has made his way to Project Greenskin in search of some more radioactive stuff, and tears up the joint resulting in Bruce being pinned beneath some heavy machinery. Cue the Hulk!

Some fighting ensues, The Inheritor gets his radiation fix, and he remembers exactly how he came to be. It seems the High Evolutionary mutated a low order of life into one of his New-Men, but after this New-Man expressed his lack of subservience to humans, the High Evolutionary had him banished from Earth, no doubt chalking it up to a bad day at work.
Have you guessed yet which low order of life The Inheritor was before the High Evolutionary switched on his genetic accelerator?

The Hulk and The Inheritor end up falling into the underground base through the retractable roof, and The Inheritor is hit by the radiation siphoning experiment Bruce was working on when he was so rudely interrupted earlier.

Yep, he devolves into a.....cockroach, which the Hulk flicks away while looking for The Inheritor.
I actually quite enjoyed this, despite the ending being broadcast very early on; and the art of Trimpe and Severin is top class, except when drawing The Inheritor that is.

Buy The Incredible Hulk #149 at My Comic Shop

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Fantastic Four #120

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Joe Sinnott

A very well executed cover by John Buscema.

A random group of terrorists attack the Baxter building, get defeated, the landlord shows up and shouts a lot, and then Agatha Harkness’s mystical projection shows up to warn the FF that a major threat to Earth has arrived. Gabriel, the Air-Walker appears, provoking a fight with the FF.

Wow! Stan Lee returns to ‘writing’ the Fantastic Four and proves he never really had much input beyond offering a brief plot synopsis for the artist to work from. As good as Buscema’s art is, he doesn’t have the imagination of Jack Kirby, and Lee just seems to be writing random captions and dialogue to fill the panels. I have no idea what the opening scene with the terrorists was about – they’re not even named or given a reason for being; and Sue is given some truly bizarre dialogue while showcasing her particular talents (that would be being totally ineffectual in combat, then).

Worst of all was this particular piece of dialogue after Reed gets bashed;

“Be careful, BEN! Anyone who could fell Reed so easily...”

That would be Mr Fantastic, the human rubber band.

Anyway, whatever happend to Reed's cure for Crystal he was working on last issue?

Buy Fantastic Four #120 at My Comic Shop

Monday, 17 May 2010

Marvel Spotlight #2

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Mike Ploog


It’s an age old story; teenage boy has birthday, grows hair in strange places, and starts staying out all night.

With a plot assist from the Thomas’, Conway turns in a surprisingly efficient script detailing Jack Russell’s >snigger< coming of age and his subsequent curse to turn into a Werewolf by Night. The real highlight, however, is the art of Mike Ploog. Ploog certainly wasn’t suitable for the mainline Marvel Universe at this stage, but his Underground Comix styling was perfect for this strip; even if Jack did look like he’d come in Freddy (of Scooby Doo) drag at one point. If I’d bought this comic in 1972 I’d have been howling for more.

There’s also a reprint of Venus drawn by Bill Everett, which is a revelation. Who knew Venus was such a straight talking dame?

“All right, you big, fat, cop! I’ve never given you a bum-steer before, have I? now I’m off my rocker! Go on back to your overstuffed desk chair in your cozy (sic) little headquarters, and read your comic books! I’LL HANDLE THIS MY WAY!!!”

Whoa! Don’t mess with Venus, evil-doers!

Buy Marvel Spotlight #2 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Astonishing Tales #10

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas & Gerry Conway

Artist: Barry Smith and Sal Buscema


This is the scrag end of a three-part story involving some soldiers - German and English - from WWII, continuing to fight the good fight after they somehow ended up in the Savage Land; with a twist. Naturaly, Ka-Zar and faithful Zabu put an end to that.

Admittedly, I wasn’t much looking forward to reading this as I’ve never been too fond of this particular Tarzan knock-off (except for the early Eighties Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson run), but it wasn’t that bad. Conway pitched in to help Thomas out, and I’m going to hazard a guess that Smith provided lay-outs for Buscema, as the art lacks Smith’s customary detail. Of note, there is a very brief appearance by Barbara ‘Bobbi’ Morse, the future Mockingbird and Mrs Hawkeye.

Buy Astonishing Tales #10 at My Comic Shop

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Sub-Mariner #46

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Gene Colan

Inker: Mike Esposito

Namor’s father, Captain Mackensie, has been captured by Tiger Shark and Llyra, prompting the Avenging Son’s rescue bid. Namor and Tiger Shark slug it out while Llyra pontificates on the side-lines, before both combatants are knocked out and strapped into some machine or other to leech energy from Subby to Tiger Shark. Meanwhile, Walter Newell - The Stingray - suits up to go to Namor’s aid. There’s some more fighting, Namor’s long-lost father ends up feeding the fishes, Llyra and Tiger Shark sneak off, and Namor has a bit of a mope about finding and losing his dear old dad.

Please note, contrary to Namor’s exclamation marked word balloon on the cover, Stingray didn’t do it!

Conway’s script is especially purple, none more so than when Namor laments in the last two panels, holding his father’s body before swimming away, “They? Who are they? They are but dream-like devils...of no lasting the end...of an evening rest.”
I suppose a simple “They are of no importance” wouldn’t suffice.

I have to admit, I always thought Stingray had a particularly striking costume, but Colan and Esposito don’t do it justice here– his full page costume reveal is especially shoddy. In fact, I don’t think Esposito was particularly suited to inking Colan’s pencils at all based on this issue.

Buy Sub-Mariner #46 at My Comic Shop

Friday, 14 May 2010

Captain America #146

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Gary Friedrich

Artist: Sal Buscema

Inker: John Verpoorten

Cap and his >ahem< Femme Force break up a Hydra hijacking of a Shield airliner, while Sharon Carter lies mortally wounded; later, Hydra kidnap Sharon from the hospital she was taken in a bid to lure Cap into another trap.

I like Captain America. Honestly, I do. The Star-spangled Avenger from another era, slightly out of date with modern times and grappling with an America gone sour – but this isn’t that Cap just yet. This one just fights Hydra agents endlessly with late 60’s super-spy elements tacked on. I can’t even say Femme Force without imagining a feminine hygiene one of the gals says “KEEP ‘EM UP! Just because we’re female doesn’t mean we won’t shoot!”

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Daredevil #84

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Gene Colan

Inker: Syd Shores

A very dynamic Gil Kane cover; Daredevil bursting out of the ‘frame’ into the foreground is an exceptional use of the cover format.

Erm, I’m not entirely sure what was going on here – something to do with an android from the future called The Assassin, who’d been masquerading as someone called Mr Kline, working for some bozo called Baal to prevent some terrible future coming about. Apparently, so I glean from a couple of footnotes, this also ties into some stuff going on in Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. That’s alright then...!

In this ish, Matt (Daredevil) Murdoch and Natasha (Black Widow) Romanoff get it on in Switzerland while putting an end to this particular plot line; at least I think the story is concluded – I may be wrong. Gerry Conway’s script is OK, but I got the distinct impression that he was basically just tidying up some loose ends before moving on. Gene Colan’s art is superb, and I very much enjoyed the inks of Syd Shores (despite Fred Hembeck contradicting me on the attractiveness of the Colan and Shores' team in the letter column).

Buy Daredevil #84 at My Comic Shop

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Avengers #96

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: Neal Adams

Inker(s): Palmer, Adams & Weiss

The Avengers - Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Vision and a powerless Goliath (Clint Barton) - race into deep space on a rescue mission (The Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Captain Marvel have been captured by the Skrulls). They encounter a Skrull fleet and much fighting follows. Meanwhile, Rick Jones has been captured by the Kree and comes face to (very large) face with the Supreme Intelligence....

This is a superb example of what makes/made The Avengers so great; Roy Thomas was firing on all cylinders and Neal Adams' art was simply outstanding. A perfect mix of team dynamics, characterisation (early signs of Vision's love for Wanda are on display) and exciting action.

Buy The Avengers #96 at My Comic Shop

The Mighty Thor #196

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Vince Colletta

Yea, Thor and the Warriors Three be on a quest to find the Well at World's Edge (is it me, or was Thor always on some quest or other?), while mighty Asgard be laid siege to by the Mangog! Meanwhile, Lady Sif and Hildegarde are hanging out on some backwaters planet called Blackworld.

Yep, a pretty typical Thor comic, with faux Shakespearean dialect, trolls, demons and Odin knows what else. It doesn't help that I've come in halfway through a storyline, but it pretty much sums up why I never really took to Thor. John Buscema's pencils aren't served particularly well by Colletta's scratchy inks and the letter column was especially boring.

Buy Thor #196 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 4 April 2010

The Amazing Spider-Man #105

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: Gil Kane

Inker: Frank Giacoia

Spider-Man encounters a protest group outside the Daily Bugle, and one of the protestors is Randy, Joe Robertson’s son. The protest goes almost without a hitch until J.J. Jameson turns up causing an altercation with Randy. Spider-Man webs up Jonah and makes a fool of him before heading of to a party to welcome back Flash (from Vietnam) and Harry Osborne (?), and Mary Jane makes a play for Peter (Parker).

Meanwhile, J.J Jameson goes off to meet with Professor Smyth to bankroll another Spider Slayer – long story short, Spider-Man is attacked by the Slayer, Jameson can’t control it, and it turns out that Smyth has an ulterior motive for giving the Slayer to Jameson. Peter Parker is unmasked as Spider-Man!

This was a curious melange of a comic – Stan Lee doesn’t seem to know whether he wants to write soap-opera, relevant comics (!), or super-heroics. It’s a pleasant, though uneven, ride, greatly improved by Gil Kane’s easy story-telling, and wonder-fully embellished by Frank Giacoia (though there is a dissenter of Giacoia’s inks in the letter pages).

Buy The Amazing Spider-Man #105 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Incredible Hulk #148

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Archie Goodwin (plot assist Chris Claremont)

Artist: Herb Trimpe

Inker: John Severin

Sometimes, the cover blurbs on Marvel comics of the Seventies are pure poetry and ‘THE GIRL IN THE EMERALD ATOM!’ certainly fits that bill.

The story opens in the desert at Project: Greenskin, with General Ross, his daughter Betty, Major Talbot and Peter Corbeau, doctor of physics, Nobel Prize winner and builder of Starcore One (note the plot assist from Chris Claremont?) as they discuss Corbeau’s plan to cure Bruce Banner.

Basically, the Hulk is captured and reverted-permanently, supposedly - by bombarding Banner with solar energy relayed back by Starcore One. Whatever works to get the plot underway, I assume.....

Anyway, at the same time this is going on, Jarella (Hulk’s sweetheart within an atom) is fighting off assailants, and making a decision to find her beloved Banner; a feat she manages by the use of magic, and is closely followed by an assassin.

Long story short, Jarella’s (and her assassin) arrival on Earth causes some problems - solar flares from the sun that threaten all life-setting up the issue’s dilemma (as well as Bruce Banner’s emotional conflict between Betty and Jarella), resulting in Bruce once more becoming the Hulk, and Jarella’s return to her own atom sized dimension.

Archie Goodwin was one of the best writers in comics during this period, but despite some good dialogue and characterisation, the story here is slight. Herb Trimpe was the consummate Bronze Age Hulk artist, and John Severin’s inks add a suitably textured nuance to his pencils.

Buy The Incredible Hulk #148 at My Comic Shop

Fantastic Four #119

Cover date: February 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Joe Sinnott

Curiously, the Black Panther appears on the cover, but is referred to by his civilian name T’Challa. I wonder if there’s a reason behind that. Let’s see, shall we....

The story opens with a typical bickering scenario between the Human Torch and the Thing. Johnny Storm is still on a downer about Crystal, his one true love, having to remain in the Great Refuge (home to The Inhumans) because of her allergy to air-pollutants, and it doesn’t take much to rile up blue-eyed Ben Grimm. Their irresponsible fighting is broken up by Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, and then we’re introduced to the issue’s plot.

It appears T’Challa, the Fantastic Four’s old friend and ally the Black Panther, has gone after some crooks and entered into the only remaining white supremacist nation left on the African continent – Rudyarda.

Yes, it’s the Seventies, and comics are relevant.

Reed Richards asks the Thing and the Human Torch to go on a rescue mission while he and Sue stay behind (Reed’s working on a doohickey to help Crystal), and after preventing a plane hijacking Ben and Johnny arrive in Rudyarda where the people are separated into Europeans and Coloreds. They track down one of the crooks, and discover that T’Challa has been imprisoned.

We now learn why the Black Panther was referred to as T’Challa on the cover; he’s taken on a new name - The Black Leopard – to dispel any connection to the Black Panther Party in the USA

Eventually Klaw shows up for a fight, our heroes win, and everyone goes home after making a symbolic gesture towards bringing down the walls of apartheid.

This was an enjoyable example of an early Seventies Marvel comic, with all the elements you might expect from a Fantastic Four story from this period. Guest writer Roy Thomas captures the voices of the Fantastic Four well, and John Buscema and Joe Sinnott’s art is solid craftsmanship.

Buy Fantastic Four #119 at My Comic Shop

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Growing up the Marvel way!

This month marked my last purchase of a new Marvel comic. After the cancellation of Ms Marvel - the last Marvel title I was buying regularly - I no longer have any reason to buy comics from what was once affectionately known as the House of Ideas; the rot set in with Avengers: Disassembled, and I don't feel like continuing anymore.

And yet.....

Marvel was my introduction to comics. Growing up in the UK, my voracious appetite for reading was met by the launch of Marvel’s UK line in September 1972. The Mighty World of Marvel, Spider-Man Comics Weekly and, most importantly, The Avengers in September 1973.

The Avengers was my first love super-hero team.

It wasn’t long before I was searching out those mysterious American versions, and my first purchase was The Avengers #114 (cover date August 1973), the introduction of Mantis, Steve Englehart writing, and a cover that has remained a firm favourite.

I was hooked, but with the introduction of Marvel UK The Avengers, the American version soon became non-distributed (to save confusion!), and it wasn’t until I was introduced to the joys of comic shops that I was able to glimpse the covers of my much missed The Avengers (my pocket money at that time didn’t stretch to buying new comics at import prices). This sad state of affairs lasted until early 1976 when The Avengers started appearing in the local newsagents again – I never missed another issue until the mid-Eighties.

With all that in mind, I’ve gradually formulated a plan to revisit what is termed the Marvel Bronze Age.

The first decision to make was where to start, and that led to some serious thought about how I define Marvel’s Bronze Age. The only conclusion I came to was the cover design, and more specifically, the logos.

This logo defines The Avengers for me, and when I did a little research it turned out that The Avengers logo and the definitive 1970’s Fantastic Four logo both appeared in the same month – cover date February 1972.

It all ties back to the year 1972, when I was seven years old.

The second decision was when to end this particular experiment. When did Marvel’s Bronze Age end? I was tempted to go with the appointment of Jim Shooter to editor-in-chief in 1978, but that seemed just a little petty and would have stopped short of one of my favourite The Avengers runs. So I went with the only sensible decision – when The Avengers stopped being fun.

That, ladies and gentlemen, was The Avengers #200, cover date October 1980. The infamous Rape of Ms Marvel. I was fifteen by then, and I knew that was a bad thing.

I have no doubts this will be a huge undertaking, and there is no guarantee I will ever finish it; but it will be fun trying, and revisiting those eight formative years.

I will, of course, have to purchase a lot of these comics for the first time, so the reading experience will be like new. I realise I could just go and buy all the various Essentials that are now available, but I want the reading experience to be as authentic as possible – letter pages, house ads, and editorial pages included. It will also include a lot of drudgery – I never particularly warmed to certain characters (Spider-Man, Thor, Dr Strange to name a few), but I may also learn to, if not love them, at least appreciate them.

First up – Fantastic Four #119
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