Bronze Age Beginnings

Saturday, 31 December 2011

A Happy Bronze Age New Year!

....if I ever finish 1972!

With credit to Colin Smith from Too Busy Thinking About My Comics for the scan from Fantastic Four #133.

The Avengers #98

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: Barry Smith

Inker: Sal Buscema

Following the events of the Kree-Skull War, it’s time for the Avengers to take stock and ask some important questions... like, where is Clint (Goliath) Barton?

Last seen upon an exploding space craft, the gathered heroes are uncertain whether their missing teammate survived; so Thor announces he will return to Asgard (to peer into some mystic mirrors looking for answers), Iron Man reckons Tony Stark (wink wink) has some other resources that’ll help in their search, and Captain America puts on the discover that a pro-war rally – led by a Mr. Tallon – is taking place in the city.

As acting Chairman, the Vision sends Cap, the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (with Rick Jones tagging along) to investigate Mr. Tallon and his Warhawks, but all are soon swayed to the pro-war sentiment by the mysterious music played by Mr. Tallon’s two robed associates.

Meanwhile, Thor has returned to Avengers Mansion, unable to enter Asgard (this tale apparently takes place before, or perhaps after, the ‘legendary’ events of Thor #198). The Vision tries to contact Iron Man, but he too has fallen under the spell of Mr. Tallon; so it is left to the android and the god (both immune to the other-worldly music) to make things right.

The Vision sends Thor to the rally, while he goes to confront Iron Man. After a titanic tussle, Iron Man is freed from the spell when another of the pan pipers is killed in the clash. The two then join Thor, who recognises Mr. Tallon as Ares, the Greek god of war.

As Thor’s mighty hammer is caught in one of the Scarlet Witch’s hex spheres, an explosive arrow flies towards it, disabling the hex and allowing the hammer to return to Thor. The Vision makes quick work of the two remaining pipers, revealing them to be Satyrs, and the crowd (and the other Avengers) are returned to normal. The mysterious archer then makes himself known. It’s Clint Barton, in a hideous new outfit, and again calling himself Hawkeye. Putting off any questions to how he survived being stranded in space, Hawkeye announces he has a companion – an amnesiac Hercules!
This was a strong return to form for Roy Thomas after the mangled climax to the Kree-Skrull War, and he is ably abetted by an ever improving Barry Smith. Smith still has some problems with faces (the eyes are invariably too close together), but his storytelling is effective, clear, and dynamic.

Shame about that new outfit for Hawkeye though; what an eyesore!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

The Mighty Thor #198

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Vince Colletta

Returned to Asgard from his quest for The Well At World’s End, Thor must now do battle with the mighty Mangog. So there be plenty of pulse pounding action, ‘till the near- death Odin revives and puts an end to the Mangog before collapsing (again). This time, Odin be proper dead methinks... but hark? Thor doth realise that Hela hath yet to claim his soul; so he freezes time about Odin’s sacred form, denying Hela’s cold hand once they reach their own dimension.

Elsewhere, and more interestingly, Sif and Hildegard (accompanied by Silas Grant) are still on Blackworld – a strange planet that keeps shifting from one Earth era to another – where they run into the Rigelian Coloniser Tana Nile. Tana appears to be in a bit of a flap about “HIM”! Or as Hildegard puts it...

“By the stars! It can’t be! It can’t BEEEEEEE!”

This was a lot more fun than previous issues, now that Thor’s boring old quest is over; and Colletta’s inks are a lot more sympathetic to Buscema’s pencils than usual. I’d like to see Gerry Conway write more Earthbound adventures, though, as the contrast between gods and humans is always more interesting than adventures set in Asgard alone.

Buy Thor #198 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Amazing Spider-Man #107

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: John Romita

Inker: Frank Giacoia

After capturing Spidey last ish, the diabolical (and I mean that!) Professor Smyth returns to his hide-out to put his insidious plan in motion. With Spidey out of action, and Smyth’s spy scanners positioned throughout the city, the local mobs can rob banks of millions, and be one step ahead of the cops. There is just one slight flaw in his genius plan; he keeps Spider-Man alive. Duh!

As you can guess, Spidey escapes Smyth’s Spider Slayer and puts a stop to his shenanigans.

Meanwhile, Flash Thompson catches up with Gwen and reveals to her his dark secret. That will have to wait until next ish, however, as Flash is taken away by some men in uniform and the next issue blurb promises a startling Spidey special...

Quite frankly, that will be a relief after the last three boring issues of Spider-Man’s rematch with Professor Smyth and his Spider Slayer; Stan Lee appears to be just going through the motions where Spider-Man himself is concerned, only showing some interest when writing the occasional snippet of soap opera involving Spidey’s supporting cast.

Is it just a coincidence that the two titles Stan Lee is currently writing, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, are both in the doldrums? Could both comics use a fresher voice?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Thirty-nine years ago this weekend, a comic fan was born!

On the 30th September 1972, the last Saturday of the month, the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel was released upon an unsuspecting public. It was a momentous occasion, birthing a generation of Marvel readers and making at least one comic fan for life.

My original copy of this life-changing comic was lost many moons ago, but fortune smiled upon me when I won a reasonably priced copy on eBay earlier this month. I’d been tempted a number of times, but it was the realisation that the date of original publication meant that I would be able to perform some kind of voodoo magic by reading this particular comic exactly 39 years since I first held it my eager hands, and in my childhood home too, that I placed a decisive bid. Perhaps a rift in the space/time continuum would open up and transport me back to 1972 to meet my seven year old self.

So yesterday, on the hottest day on record for October, I settled down with Mighty World of Marvel no. 1 and a Fab lolly.........

.........and though no rift in the space/time continuum opened up, it was a rewarding experience.

I have likely read the three stories featuring The Hulk, Fantastic Four and Spider-Man many times since in other formats, but nothing compares to the experience of where and how I first encountered these iconic characters. On pulpy newsprint paper in black & white (and green!), at a larger size than the original printed pages, the crude - but exciting - storytelling of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko is completely enthralling. There is a primacy to these initial appearances - designed to capture the imagination of children - that reinforced why I still read comics despite the accumulation of years of cynical exploitation. Yes, the plot holes are apparent to my 46 year old self, but they would not have mattered to me at 7. That kid in 1972 just wanted more.

For the princely sum of 5p, I got the first 10 pages of The Hulk #1, a Fantastic Four pin-up, the first 13 pages of Fantastic Four #1, a Special Message from Stan Lee and the chance to win a mystery free gift, and the whole of Spider-Man’s origin from Amazing Fantasy #15.

I would also have got a free iron-on Hulk T-shirt transfer, but I sadly no longer recall what I did with that. I imagine it was dutifully ironed on and subsequently washed off by mum.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Pen Pal Swap Shop

There can’t be many kids who grew up in the UK during the 70s who didn’t watch Multi-Coloured Swap Shop on a Saturday morning. Apart from the dubious charms of ‘cuddly’ Noel Edmonds, Maggie Philbin, and ‘wacky’ Keith ‘Cheggers’ Chegwin, kids could write or phone in to swap their unwanted Christmas presents for some other kid’s unwanted tat.

Three years earlier though, in 1973, there was more swapping going on in the pages of Marvel’s UK publications. I was reminded of this just the other night while leafing through a copy of The Avengers No. 13 (cover date week 
ending December 15).
On the inside cover was Pen Pals Swap Shop No.7.

A typical swap:

“I HAVE a Spiderman poster and 6 Mighty World of Marvel.
I WANT TO SWAP for a Spiderman Suit”

I have no idea if Haminder Jolly from Hounslow ever got his Spiderman suit (I sincerely hope he did!), but what a great idea.

I have loads of unwanted comics I’d like to swap, so what would someone swap me for the first two years of Dazzler?

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Marvel Comics in the 1970s

This thing of beauty better be in my Christmas stocking...or else!

I've read the previous volume on Marvel during the Sixties, and very good it was too; but I can't imagine how this won't quickly become my bible for all things Marvel in the Seventies.

As Jack Kirby once said,

"Don't ask! Just buy it!"

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Bronze Age Avengers comic you've never read, but wish you could...

If you've never visited John Byrne's website, you probably aren't aware that he regularly posts various commissions he works on. They are often gorgeous, and always interesting.

I won't post the actual image here, but this faux The Avengers cover perfectly captures what I love about late Bronze Age Marvel. If only.....

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Incredible Hulk #150

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Archie Goodwin

Artist: Herb Trimpe

Inker: John Severin

After defeating The Inheritor last issue, the Hulk lurks in the underground complex of Project Greenskin as General Ross and his soldiers seek him out. Using T-Gas shells they attempt to subdue him, but the Green Goliath outwits them by grabbing a mask and...


With a mighty leap, the Hulk escapes the complex, coming to rest on a mesa - where he spends the night brooding about his lost love Jarella.

A new day brings a fresh attack from General Ross and his Hulkbusters, but it is cut short by an order to cease all operations due to a congressional hearing. Project Greenskin is under investigation for its funding; money which, according to Congressman Roger Dutton, could be better spent on housing, poverty programs and the environment. He may have a point.

Meanwhile, Glen Talbot and Betty Ross are searching for the Hulk/Bruce Banner. As they locate him, he leaps away in pursuit of a bike gang terrorising a green-haired girl in a car (could this be the Hulk’s lost love Jarella?). Scattering the gang, the Hulk is surprised to see that the rest of the gang has been incapacitated by the girl.

It’s Lorna Dane of the X-Men. As she escapes across the desert she’s attacked by another member of the gang, but is rescued by Alex Summers. It is Alex she is seeking, as Prof. X sent her to find him to persuade him to return to the X-Men. Cue a flashback to a fight between Havok and Iceman over Lorna, which resulted in Havok thinking he’d mortally wounded his rival and deciding to leave.
Alex is having none of it - feeling that his powers are too out of control - but he doesn’t have much time to protest. The Hulk arrives and it’s time to put on the costume.

The Hulk grabs Lorna and makes like King Kong, climbing to the top of a mesa. It is then he realises that Lorna is not his lost love Jarella, and that he has been fooled by her green hair.

Havok challenges Hulk to release Lorna, and as they fight, Hulk rips off the side of the mesa with Lorna perched on top. Havok realises that to save Lorna he must master his powers.

He bombards the Hulk’s mind with a tightly focussed beam of cosmic energy while coercing him into lowering the rock to the ground. This causes the Hulk to change back into Bruce Banner. Havok lowers Lorna to the ground with his powers and they walk off into the sunset (to return to the X-Men) totally oblivious to the half-naked Bruce Banner lying beneath a precariously perched slab of mesa.

Fortunately, Betty Ross and Glen Talbot soon arrive; but as Betty cradles Bruce he whispers into her ear,

“ love...!”

Archie Goodwin ‘s script is efficient at capturing the Hulk’s eternal search for acceptance while in constant conflict with the forces gathered against him, and Alex Summer’s character arc is well done.

The only small niggle was Lorna Dane’s use of her power leaving her in a weakened state, and generally acting the damsel-in-distress.

The art is superb, John Severin’s finishes adding a fantastic texture and depth to Herb Trimpe’s pencils.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Fantastic Four #121

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Stan Lee

Artist: John Buscema

Inker: Joe Sinnott

After last issues arrival of Gabriel, the Air-Walker, heralding the end of the world, it is left to the Fantastic Four to confront him - as all across the Earth, civilization falls into despair. Riots, looting, industry shutting down because no one wants to work; all within a few hours it seems.

Gabriel convinces the denizens of New York City to destroy the Fantastic Four, so the team makes a quick exit. They appear particularly ineffectual against Gabriel, for as Johnny Storm rightly points out,

“How? How can he stand on air like that?”

That would be Johnny Storm, the teenager who turns into a Human Torch and flies.

After getting no joy at the nearest TV network, Reed orders the team back to the Baxter Building so he can grab a weapon – for they cannot face Gabriel again empty handed – and race after him in the Fantasti-Car. Reed fires his Beta Ray and Gabriel starts to fade away, but that’s not what Reed expected because,

“No! It’s’s mad! It’s not what should have happened!”

So what should have happened Reed? Ah well, we’ll never know now, as suddenly a ship rises out of the water straight at them. The Fantasti-Car crashes into the sea and the ship lands on top. The Fantastic Four escape unscathed however, just in time for Gabriel to show up again, asking,

“Surely you didn’t expect your puny ray to defeat Gabriel!”

To which Reed answers,

“No, I didn’t!”

Wha? So what was the point of going back to the Baxter Building to grab your Beta Ray, eh Reed?

Never mind, because Gabriel creates a massive tidal wave that sweeps the Fantastic Four into the city, where they become separated. The Thing ends up on the same roof-top as Gabriel for some “CLOBBERIN’ TIME” while Reed and Sue race to help him. The Human Torch gets there first, however, and goes after Gabriel with his NEAR-NOVA HEAT to no avail. How are the Fantastic Four going to win this one? Cut away to...

The Silver Surfer moping around on an asteroid in the distant sub-stratosphere. Despite his persecution complex, he decides once again to aid us mere mortals. Surfing to Earth he confronts Gabriel with his POWER COSMIC, and Gabriel admits that all that went on before was a meaningless sham as it is the Surfer that he sought to destroy.

Not sure why he didn’t just go and find him then.

After a brief battle, the Silver Surfer uses his POWER COSMIC to tear Gabriel’s cape, which is, as Gabriel announces...

“It is my power! It is the source life!”

...before crashing to the ground and revealed to be a robot. The Silver Surfer asks the question on everyone’s lips,

“What of him who made the robot?”

The final page cliff-hanger reveals all.....


As with the previous issue, the plotting is shambolic and the dialogue makes little sense. The best bit is the last splash-page reveal of Galactus.

Which is AWESOME!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Marvel Team-Up #1

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: Ross Andru

Inker: Mike Esposito

It’s Christmas Eve, and Peter Parker is on an assignment for The Daily Bugle. J Jonah Jameson has requested pictures of some hardy winter swimmers at the beach, so Peter is on hand when Sandman makes an unscheduled appearance. After the obligatory tussle, Sandman makes his escape when Spider-Man mentions what day of the year it is.

Reasoning that Sandman isn’t his problem, as he only fought him once a long time ago and he’s got a date with Gwen that night (whither great power comes great responsibility, Spidey?), Spider-Man heads for the Baxter Building.

As Spidey attempts to enter the building, he narrowly misses some fire-rings that Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) is idly shooting out of the window. Johnny is alone (the other members of the Fantastic Four are at Whisper Hill for Christmas), and in a mope about girl-problems. Spider-Man mentions that he fought Sandman in New Jersey, and Johnny remembers that he first encountered Sandman on George Washington Bridge (in Strange Tales #115). Putting two and two together, and perhaps coming up with four, Spidey agrees to accompany Johnny in the Fantasti-Car to George Washington Bridge, and then over to the Jersey side. While on the look-out for Sandman, Spidey spies a mugging in progress and goes to the victim’s aid. In the spirit of Christmas, the woman* involved decides to let the thwarted muggers go - after Spidey has detained them with webbing for a bit.

Continuing on, The Human Torch gets to show his stuff by stopping an out of control truck, before they spot Sandman. Challenging him, both are out-witted (it ain’t hard), and Sandman dumps them, tied up together, into a water tower. Knowing these two will need all the help they can get, Sandman drops Spidey a handy hint as to how they can escape.

After escaping the death-trap, the two spot Sandman climbing through a window. Following him into the house, they’re met by Sandman in civvies (he’s called William Baker here; isn’t his civilian name Flint Marko?) He tells them to keep it down as he is there to see his old sickly mum, and agrees to give himself up if they give him a few minutes with her. This gives the two an excuse to remember their nearest and dearest; so Peter thinks about Aunt May for a bit, and Johnny mopes some more about Crystal.

As you might guess, after his five minutes are up he escapes down the plug-hole leaving just a few grains of sand behind.

Roy Thomas pulls out all the stops to give us a warm Christmas glow, yet it all seems a tad perfunctory with some lapses in logic. Would a villain on the FBI’s Most Wanted list really tell Spider-Man how to escape a death-trap?

The two co-stars work well together, trading quips back and forth, but both appear a bit callow and I generally like my heroes a little less self-absorbed. All in all, not a great example of a grand tradition - the comic book Christmas tale.

*The unnamed woman is later ret-conned into being Misty Knight’s first appearance by Chris Claremont; presumably because she’s black and has an afro.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Marvel Feature #2

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Roy Thomas

Artist: Ross Andru

Inker: Sal Buscema

If it’s Halloween, we must be in Rutland, Vermont. Cue the obligatory Bronze Age cameos for Tom Fagan and a Marvel writer; in this instance Roy Thomas (with wife Jeanie)*.

It’s the night before All-Hallows Eve, and some witchy folks in robes are summoning The Dread Dormammu. When he shows up he isn’t too pleased. What he needs is the vessel to escape his otherworldly dimension, and in this instance that would be Dr. Strange (just his body will do). Some of those same witchy robed folks have journeyed to New York’s Greenwich Village and the good doctors Sanctum Sanctorum, where they trick Dr. Strange’s astral self from his body so they can kidnap it before returning to Rutland. Wong puts up a good fight but soon succumbs; luckily he was on the telephone to Clea at the time. She soon arrives, and after Wong fills her in decides she better summon some help. Interestingly, it appears that Stephen Strange and Clea are on the outs at this time, and her powers have waned somewhat.

Using the Eye of Agamotto, Clea manages to broadcast an image of Dr. Strange to two recent allies, Namor the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk, and both answer the summons to New York and a dark alley where Clea and Wong are waiting. After dressing Namor in some civilian wear, Clea hypnotises Hulk into transforming back into Bruce Banner and gives him some tranquilisers to keep his mood swings in check. They then catch a bus to Rutland to rescue Dr. Strange’s body.

Up on Bald Mountain, proceedings have begun to release Dormammu so he can reside in Dr. Strange’s body and conquer our dimension. Our intrepid band of rescuers climb the mountain, battling witchy robed folks on the way, and when they reach the summit, just as Dormammu appears, Dr. Strange’s astral self shows up - he was hiding within Wong. A battle ensues, and Dormammu is once more banished.

Roy Thomas’ script is efficient at bringing these three very different characters together, but if The Defenders are to continue as a team, a less convoluted means will need to be found to accomplish that on a regular basis. The concept does have a lot of potential though, and I enjoyed the interaction between the three leads (+ Clea). Ross Andru, inked by Sal Buscema, captures the mood necessary to this type of story, filling the pages with an eerie atmosphere and strong storytelling (and his Clea is a delight too -weird hair and all).

*last seen in The Avengers #83

There’s also a ‘fabulous Fifties featurette’, from Sub-Mariner Comic #36, showcasing Namor’s astute Atlantean intelligence. After helping an alien world drain the Earth of its water, Namor suddenly realises...

“Ah...good! Now the sun will go to work, and the world’s population will perish without water!! Oh, what sweet revenge! At last I’ve gotten even! But...WAIT!!! What have I done??? Without water, my own race will die off, too!!!”

Oh, Namor...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Bronze Age Beginnings

Trying to define exactly when Marvel’s Bronze Age began is fraught with danger; it would be hard to find any two Marvel fans of the Bronze Age that can agree on a specific date or issue, and besides, it would not have been a sudden line-wide shift from the Silver Age to the Bronze Age, but a gradual shift in tone and style. It is generally agreed that the shift occurred in the early 70s, but many of Marvel’s comics would still read with a Silver Age sensibility well into the early years of that Marvellous decade.

Read on here...

R.I.P Gene Colan 1926 - 2011

It has been reported that Gene Colan, the artist who defined many a Bronze Age Marvel series - notably Daredevil, Tomb of Dracula and Howard The Duck - has passed away. He will be missed.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Amazing Adventures #11

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Tom Sutton

Inker: Syd Shores

Following last month’s introduction of Werewolf By Night, in Marvel Spotlight # 2, Marvel gives us another monster feature in The Beast; but this isn’t a new character. The Beast is the further mutated Hank McCoy of X-Men fame.

The effusive Hank McCoy was the first to graduate from the X-Men, taking up a position within the Brand Corporation to study genetic mutation, where he develops a serum that can mutate ordinary humans for a limited period. Discovering that one of his co-workers is working for an enemy organisation, Hank drinks the serum (to disguise his true identity) and sets out to prevent the planned espionage. He loses track of time, and when he returns to his lab to reverse the beast-like mutation, Hank discovers that it has become permanent.

As with Werewolf By Night, Gerry Conway appears to like writing these creature-features, breathing new life into a character not seen for a few years. He sets up a solid premise and introduces a love interest that will lead to further drama. Tom Sutton, much like Mike Ploog on the Werewolf By Night feature, is well suited to a less super-heroic comic, capturing Hank McCoy’s new bestial qualities, and the darker tone, perfectly.

Buy Amazing Adventures #11 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Jungle Queens to Spider-Women: Five Bronze Age Marvel Heroines Who Could...

Marvel has never had much luck with headlining female characters, perhaps because during the Silver Age there wasn’t a single Marvel heroine created as anything other than a supporting character. They were girlfriends or team members first, but never really heroines in their own right.

So the five heroines (I’m not including Night Nurse!) awarded their own titles during the Bronze Age was a comparative explosion, though maybe they were a little misguided. The early Seventies heroines were informed by feminist ideology, and the heroines created during the later half of the decade, well, Marvel needed to protect their copyrights. Neither approach was entirely satisfactory, but all five are still around today in one form or another.

The Cat

The Claws of the Cat lasted only four issues, from November 1972 to June 1973. She made one other appearance, in Marvel Team-Up, before getting a make-over as Tigra. Her costume was found by Patsy Walker (in The Avengers), who went onto a troubled career as Hellcat (she married the Son of Satan, and committed suicide before getting better). Tigra joined The Avengers, and the last I heard she’d been beaten and humiliated on TV, and impregnated by a Skrull masquerading as Hank Pym.

Shanna the She-Devil

Shanna lasted just a little longer than The Cat, with five issues from December 1972 to August 1973. She made numerous guest appearances subsequently, before ending up with Ka-Zar. She later married him in the excellent series (written by Bruce Jones and initially drawn by Brent Anderson) during the early Eighties, and as far as I know she’s still happily married, living in a three-up, two-down tree-house in the Savage Land.

Ms. Marvel

Carol Danvers (Ms. Marvel - the first of Marvel’s derivative heroines to be) first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes #13 (March 1968), and debuted as the Kree/Human hybrid heroine in January 1977. Her series lasted 23 issues, ending in April 1979, but she went onto a long and eventful career in the Marvel Universe. For a heroine supposedly born from the women’s rights movement, she was treated very shabbily during her initial membership of The Avengers. Her rape in The Avengers #200 was the comic I chose as my own personal end to Marvel’s Bronze Age. She was later re-made as Binary by Chris Claremont in the pages of Uncanny X-Men, before reverting to her old self (albeit now called Warbird) in the re-launched The Avengers in the mid-Nineties. Writer Kurt Busiek gave her a drink problem and a subsequent court martial from The Avengers, and couldn’t resist picking at the scab of the whole sordid Immortus business during his overblown, and overlong, Kang saga. Ms. Marvel has latterly been ‘elevated’ to the position of Marvel’s premiere heroine, gaining another series in the last decade that lasted 50 issues, and has been included in The Avengers fairly regularly since.


The second imitative heroine in Marvel’ s catalogue, Spider-Woman, was created specifically to protect the Spider- derivative copyright in Marvel Spotlight #32 (February 1977), but went onto a 50 issue run in her own series from April 1978 to June 1983, after which she died, got better, and was de-powered. Her alter-ego, Jessica Drew, hung around the fringes of the Marvel Universe until Brian Bendis re-introduced Spider-Woman in his New Avengers. It turns out she was the Skrull Queen, and the real Spider-Woman was being held captive by the Skrulls. After Secret Invasion, the real Spider-Woman joined The Avengers, but I don’t know if it has ever been explained how she regained her powers.


Stan Lee created She-Hulk to retain the rights to any possible female spin-off as a result of the Incredible Hulk TV series, and wrote the first issue of The Savage She-Hulk at the tail-end of the Bronze Age in February 1980. Her initial series lasted 25 issues, ending in March 1982. Jennifer (She-Hulk) Walters has been a member of the Fantastic Four, The Avengers, The Defenders and The Lady Liberators amongst others (she gets around a lot), and has had a further two series (The Sensational She-Hulk, by John Byrne, repositioning her as a character that regularly breaks the fourth wall). When Brian Bendis Disassembled The Avengers, he used She-Hulk to ‘kill’ The Vision, ending the career of a much-loved Avengers mainstay.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sub-Mariner #47

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Gene Colan

Inker: Mike Esposito

Essentially, this book moves in an entirely different direction from the previous issue (in which Subby’s Dad died), and introduces a new cast member. I get the feeling Gerry Conway just wanted to move on from all that stuff, so he has Namor riding a freight train suffering from amnesia (supposedly from the shock of his Dad snuffing it) and fighting a few bums before ending up in Chicago.

There’s a brief interlude with Diane Arliss - Namor’s “true love” - and Walter (Sting-Ray) Newell, lamenting how Subby is just so cold and distant, and Senator Winters in Washington cursing the day he took up Namor’s cause, trying to establish him as an ecological symbol.

Back in Chicago, Subby encounters a young girl – Cindy Jones – before collapsing. Uh oh, Namor doesn’t realise he’s being shadowed by some cloaked figure.....

So, Cindy brews up some good herbs and things for Namor, and Namor makes some polite chit-chat about her book-reading prowess, when suddenly there’ a knock at the door. Any other night it might be the Avon Lady calling, but wouldn’t ya know it? It’s DOOM!

Time for a fight, and an amusing sequence in which DOOM! And Namor crash into another apartment, wherein an elderly couple wonder if they’re from the Census Bureau! Make no mistake though, this is NOBLE DOOM! who extinguishes a flaming sofa so his reputation won’t be tarnished by the death of the old couple.

We also get to see POETIC DOOM! :

“...THERE! The repelling rays from my finger-tips form a suitable cushion beneath us, waves of energy spreading rapidly the ripples in a stone-struck pool! Poetic, is it not, my loud and boisterous friend?”

Unsurprisingly, Namor doesn’t answer. He was probably too embarrassed.

Anyway, DOOM! is up to his old tricks, bamboozling Namor into believing they’re both cut from the same cloth, and with Cindy in tow they set off for an A.I.M base in New Orleans – in search of a fantastic weapon. I’m only guessing, but going by the final panel that would be the Cosmic Cube, and MODOK has it.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Captain America #147

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Gary Friedrich

Artist: Sal Buscema

Inker: John Verpoorten

Cap and Femme Force have raided a Hydra Base near Las Vegas to rescue a captured Sharon Carter. While Femme Force mops up sundry Hydra goons, Cap confronts The Supreme Hydra who seemingly fries Sharon. Cap, driven to a murderous rage, unmasks The Supreme to reveal that he is...The Schemer!

No, me neither. Apparently he last appeared in Spidey #83-85, and with that reveal comes another. The man masquerading as Howard Hughes (sorry, Harold Howard), father of The Supreme Hydra/The Schemer, and in control of Hydra, is none other than The Kingpin!

I think we need some explanation, so cue some flashbacks.

After the events in Spidey #83-85, The Kingpin had some kind of breakdown thanks to his son’s, erm, scheming, so to make amends his son joined Hydra (don’t worry, he has a plan). After rising to the position of The Supreme Hydra he kidnaps his old Dad and subjects him to some experimental shock treatment. Luckily (!) The Kingpin survives the remedy and his son makes his Mom promise that she’ll never reveal who was responsible for curing him, and, oh yeah, to also make sure that his Dad takes over Hydra.

Phew! Got all that?

Meanwhile, Sam Wilson is on his way to Las Vegas at the behest of Nick Fury.

Anyway, The Supreme escapes from Cap and makes his getaway in a rocket, so Cap follows with a jet-pack strapped to his back all the way to Las Vegas, where The Supreme lands his rocket craft on top of a hotel owned by Harold Howard. Cap follows him up to Howard’s penthouse, and is met by The Kingpin who engages him in battle. As always, the hero is surprised by how fast and agile the larger opponent is, and is almost beaten until the sudden arrival of The Falcon. With the tide of battle turned, we’re due another twist and a cliff-hanger ending. Someone else is actually in charge...

“Silence swine...and all will be made clear! The Kingpin is not the head of Hydra...nor was his son...nor was any Supreme Hydra who ever supposedly was in charge!”

Gulp! I wonder who that could be.

Monday, 25 April 2011

From out of the past! The lovely, lethal Asbestos Lady!

I was a complete sucker for Golden Age characters growing up; I think it was a mixture of miss-placed nostalgia, and the implied history/continuity of the heroes I'd only recently discovered. So, The Invaders, by Roy Thomas, was a nascent fan-boys dream. And regardless of what seems popular opinion, I absolutely adored the art of Frank Robbins; Robbins art perfectly captured the 'look' I expected of Golden Age characters and stories (at this point I'd only seen a few in the pages of Fantasy Masterpieces).

As you probably gather from the cover, this issue chronicles the never before revealed origin of Toro. Or, rather, a Roy Thomas' retcon. While I grew to, not hate, but certainly disdain retcons as I grew older, then I absolutely adored these secret histories and whatnot.

The Invaders are returning to England from various missions in the Third Reich, with a severely injured Toro in tow. This is a perfectly suitable, though slim, excuse for Roy Thomas to reveal the origin of the Human Torch's young ward - and what a mixed up origin it is.

Toro's parents used to work in various sciences, his father (Fred Raymond) being an expert in flame-proofing, and his mother (Nora) indulging in a spot of hazardous experiments with Radium.
You just know that isn't going to end well.

So, despite both becoming sick, they decide to marry and have a baby! Along comes Toro (named as such for reasons unknown, but I'm going to guess that they just wanted him to suffer), and they get progressively sicker until The Asbestos Lady turns up wanting Fred's help in her quest to further the criminal possibilities of asbestos (!) The Human Torch arrives to prevent Fred's kidnapping, and is then told all about the remarkable Toro who exhibits invulnerability to flames. Nora calls him a mutant (a result of their hazardous careers).

Sheesh! First they decide to have a kid when they both know they're dying, regardless of any possible complications (like a mutant gene), and then call him Toro into the bargain. He never had a chance. At least his mutant gene only made him flame-proof, eh?

Anyway, Fred gets a call telling him that Nora's only got a few weeks left, so sensibly he decides to take them all on vacation. Watch out for that tree trunk on the tracks, Fred.....too late. Toro survives the crash (because flames are his friend), and, erm, gets taken in by a kindly fire-eater couple from a passing Circus. They hide him from the authorities, because, you know, they want a son.

Now I know why Fred and Nora called him Toro - they were planning ahead for his future career in the Circus!

Then, one night, the Human Torch comes looking (because he's a bit lonely for his own kind - sorta), and his mere presence (and intense heat) causes Toro to burst into flame too.

And start calling the Human Torch, erm, Pappy.

Despite all the ridiculous elements, this comic exhibited the same charm I found so endearing when I was 12 years old. Roy Thomas knew he had a mountain to climb to try and make some sense of Toro, and he did what he could. Unluckily, if you come looking for the wonderful art of Mr Robbins, you'll be disappointed - the issue is drawn by Jim Mooney and inked by Frank Springer. They do a good job of capturing the existing feel of The Invaders, but lack Robbins' crazy anatomy.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Kool Kirby Avengers Kovers!

I never really got Jack Kirby during my early exposure to his art - reprinted in various Marvel UK titles - but just as The Avengers returned to UK distribution, Jack Kirby returned to Marvel and produced four covers for the team that I have some very fond memories of. There were nine in total, but only four were pure Kirby, the others featuring layouts by Al Milgrom, and one with some minor alterations by John Romita.

The first was #148 (cover date June 1976) and featured The Avengers getting their collective arses kicked by Marvel's stand-in Justice League of America, the Squadron Supreme. It is a classic example of Kirby's use of three planes to convey depth; the foreground with Golden Archer, Tom Thumb and The Amphibian looking at the middle-ground, with the focus on Hyperion holding a defeated Thor aloft while standing atop a crumpled mess of Avengers, and in the background, cheering him on, Cap'n Hawk, Doctor Spectrum and Lady Lark. It is a perfect example of an artist controlling the viewer's eye through composition, further enhanced by a very limited colour palette, predominant with the three primaries and a dash of the secondary's, against a stark white base. It was inked by Mike Esposito.

The second cover was #151 (cover date September 1976), and is a classic 'the old order changeth' image, inked by Dan Adkins.
Kirby uses pretty much the same composition here, the assembled Avengers candidates in the foreground looking at Captain America in the middle-ground, with Thor and Iron Man slightly behind him in the background. Again, the three primaries, red, yellow and blue are predominant, while the foreground characters are blocked out in a grey tone that emphasises the importance of the three primary characters against a white base.

Note the way that Thor and Iron Man are staring out, straight at you, the reader, challenging you to guess at the new line-up. How could you resist?

Issue #152, again inked by Dan Adkins, features the new line-up plus a surprise addition.The surprise addition of Wonder Man, along with the villain Black Talon, is, in this case, the focus of the foreground, while The Vision is in the solid middle-ground and The Wasp, The Scarlet Witch, Iron Man and Captain America are in the background. The Vision's placement is well judged, considering his importance to the story of Wonder Man.

The cover is dominated by the colour green, - one of the secondary colours - in the costumes of The Vision and Wonder Man, and the background. The Black Talon's costume has also had some red added to the blue, creating almost a purple hue in contrast to the strong blue that Captain America is wearing (highlighting his villainy).

The three-toned green background, while it doesn't allow the central image to 'pop', does create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense, suitable for a story involving a man dressed as a chicken raising a fallen 'hero' from the dead.

Last, but by no means least, is #157, either inked by Adkins or Joe Sinnott. This is probably my favourite of all four.

Again, Kirby uses the three planes, but they are much closer in relationship this time. He also brings the foreground up close and tight, featuring the fallen figures of Captain America and Iron Man,
 with the middle-ground taken up by the imposing lower third of the issue's mystery villain.

The remaining Avengers, The Vision, The Scarlet Witch and
Yellowjacket are scattered around in the background, The Vision's leg (and Wanda's arm) entering the middle-ground, and anchoring the imposing figure coloured in greys.

It is the predominant use of grey, on the legs of the Black Knight (Oops! Spoliers!), and in the slightly grey toned Captain America (against a cool blue base) that adds to the prevailing sense of menace. Who is this villain, and how did he defeat all The Avengers?

As I mentioned earlier, I never got Jack Kirby when I was younger, but these four covers alone were enough to fire my imagination and taught me to appreciate what made Kirby one of the best, if not the best, super-hero cover artists of all time.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Extra! The power of Attuma, Tiger Shark, Dr. Dorcas!

Every now and then I search eBay for Marvel Bronze Age and look for something I don’t have, looks interesting, and is cheap. I figure it's pot-luck, but if I’m not paying more than I would for a modern comic then I have nothing to lose (except maybe 20 minutes).

I have never understood the appeal of super-villain comics; how can you sympathise with serial-killers, megalomaniacs, terrorists and assassins? For that reason I’ve never bought a Wolverine comic or, when I was much younger, any comic billing itself as a Super-Villain Team-Up! Still, this was only £1.44 and features Namor, the Sub-Mariner. He may have gone all Avenging Son on us surface-dwellers once in a while, but I don’t think his heart was ever really in it. Plus, he’s wearing his Disco Leathers.

I am going to say up front – this comic was one white hot mess! As written by Jim Shooter for the December 1975 issue, we have the Amphibians, and Subby, held hostage on Hydrobase by three of the dullest villains ever, and Betty Dean (a very old Sub-Mariner supporting character) has just been killed by Dr.Dorcas (pronounced Dorkas I assume - if so, it’s entirely appropriate). 

Dr. Doom rescues Namor because he seeks some sort of an alliance (something to do with ruling the world together), and some sloppy writing painting Doom as a benevolent dictator. I’ve always hated that aspect of Doom – and it seems particularly galling in light of world events today. Anyway, Doom and Namor return to Hydrobase with a cunning plan, ending in Subby ‘accidentally’ killing Dorcas, and Doom very un-accidentally killing some poor wretch, a court jester type character who’d mocked Doom earlier. That he was called Saru-San is neither here nor there. 

I really want to jump all over Shooter’s abysmal script, but I am going to give him the benefit of doubt considering he must have been pulled in at the last minute to finish a Tony Isabella story (info gleaned from a Peter Sanderson LoC taking Isabella to task for #2). The comic was drawn by George Evans, a name unfamiliar to me, and a quick look at his Wikipedia profile explains why. Though he started his career in comic in 1940 at Fiction House, and also worked for EC, his Marvel work was limited to just a handful of issues in the 70s – none of which I’d ever read. The art on this issue was both efficient and uninspired, typical bog-standard Marvel fare. 

The next issue box teases a new writer, a new artist, and a new direction. Are there any Super-Villain Team-Up fans out there that want to recommend further reading?

Monday, 4 April 2011

Bronze Age Marvel covers: Tomb of Dracula #1

I'm going to be reviewing this one in the near future, but I thought I'd say a few words about this Neal Adams' cover now; and those few words are - Adams can't draw Dracula! Everything else works but Dracula himself looks wrong, like he'd been lifted from elsewhere and dropped in.

What really makes this a great cover, though, is the excellent logo; definitely one of the best during the Bronze Age.

I never read any of the US editions of Tomb of Dracula, instead my blood-sucking reading came from Dracula Lives which lasted 87 issues from 1974 to 1976. This particular cover was used on #4, but reversed, and it doesn't seem to work quite as well without the original logo or border.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Bronze Age Marvel covers: Spider-Man #101

Returning to the theme of favourite Bronze Age covers, Steve W of the fabulous suggested this one in the comments for Thor #337. It's a nice Gil Kane and John Romita Sr. composition, but it's Morbius' dialogue that clinch's the deal. What a cheek - the Disco Vampire calling Spidey a freak just because he's got a few extra arms!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Daredevil #85

Cover date: March 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Gene Colan

Inker: Syd Shores

Last issue Matt and Natasha were getting it on in Switzerland, this ish they’re jet-setting back from London – living the high-life in the glamorous 70s, eh Matt? Unfortunately The Gladiator (and gang) is on board for a spot of hijacking, necessitating Matt having to change into his Daredevil garb in the toilet. Not really the way to join the Mile High Club, ol’ hornhead!

I actually quite like this vibe – I can imagine Matt and Natasha hanging out at Studio 54 (a few years later) with the likes of Mick, Bianca, Liza and Jerry, indulging in a life of care-free hedonism.

Conway seems to be enjoying himself here, playing up the soap-opera between Matt, Natasha and Ivan – but what is going on with Ivan’s dialogue? I thought he was Russian? Does this sound like a Russian?

“Thanks for reminding me, sweetheart! Wouldn’t want to ruin baby-mouths complexion, would we?”

“Maybe you’d like to tell us what this stick-up’s all about, hey handsome?”

Conway also introduces a note of tension between his three principals, while cutting away to Karen Page accepting a proposal and heading for Los Angeles, and Foggy Nelson closing-up shop. He really was breaking up the old status-quo, and turning Daredevil into a sophisticated comic (despite the comic book trappings).

The Gene Colan and Syd Shores art is a pleasure – I especially enjoyed the opening splash-page with a symbolic Daredevil floating in the clouds above the 747; it set the mood wonderfully for a cracking good read

Sunday, 20 March 2011

The Demon and the Demi-God!

Every now and then I search eBay for Marvel Bronze Age and look for something I don’t have, looks interesting, and is cheap. I figure it's pot-luck, but if I’m not paying more than I would for a modern comic then I have nothing to lose (except maybe 20 minutes).

The Champions, more than any other Marvel team, seem to me to be the most emblematic of the Bronze Age; more so than the All-New X-Men (a re-invention of a Silver Age team) and The Defenders (which formed ‘officially’ just as the Bronze Age began) it inexplicably captured the imagination of this particular 10 year old boy with its first issue in 1975.

Starring a motley crew of Silver Age characters and one Bronze Age invention, it was forged at the height of Marvel’s Bronze Age – when it seemed a new concept (good or bad) was being published every other month.

That being said, despite an intriguing mix of characters, it never particularly worked. Hampered initially by some uninspired Don Heck art and a concept in search of a direction, it improved towards the end of its short life with the arrival of John Byrne on art but completely failed to fulfil its potential.

So, for 30p I snagged The Champions #10 (Jan 1976) by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall. And for 30p I got the skrag end of a skirmish between The Champions and three of Russia’s super-heroes (and a super-villain). No foot notes, no re-cap pages, but it didn’t matter. That old saying about every comic being someone’s first is true, but every comic I read as a kid was my first and what I didn’t know made me want to read more. Sod having everything explained to me, I just wanted something that excited me to read the next issue (and maybe scour the second-hand bookstalls for the previous issues). This didn’t really excite me though.

Angel, Iceman, Hercules and Ghost Rider have been imprisoned underground by Darkstar (hence the cover) while the Black Widow and Ivan, and some other guy, are held captive aboard a ‘hovering supersonic craft’. Turns out that that the Crimson Dynamo is Ivan’s presumed dead son, who wants revenge on his old Dad because of some brainwashing.

I have no idea why The Griffin (an American?) is piloting the craft.

A fairly uninspired fight closes the comic, but what would have brought me back next month was the ‘defection’ of Darkstar. The Champions really needed another female member.

The art by Bob Hall was certainly an improvement over Don Heck, and Bill Mantlo was the go-to Marvel Bronze Age writer who more often than not turned in an entertaining comic. This just wasn’t one of them.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Bronze Age Marvel covers: Spider-Man #141

Spidey against all his greatest (living) foes, and Morbius. I always wondered how Spider-Man had such a hard time against a pensioner wearing a pair of wings and a man wearing a fish bowl on his head. Why was Peter Parker such an under-achiever?

Bronze Age Marvel covers: The Avengers #141

Ah, a classic super-team stand-off! I remember being very confused by this storyline when I was finally allowed to buy The Avengers in the UK; I only knew of the Squadron Sinister from a few back issues I'd managed to purloin, and the addition of the rest of the Justice Leag..sorry...Squadron Supreme made things very interesting. George Perez' art was also a revelation.

Bronze Age Marvel covers: Spider-Man #122

Hmm..never really being a Spidey reader, this cover doesn't do much for me. However, I can certainly appreciate how it might hold a special place for Spidey fans: this was the issue in which Spidey broke his girlfriend's neck, right?

Bronze Age Marvel covers: Dr. Strange #1

A great choice, it's Frank Brunner after all, but like Thor I could never get into the good Doctor. I aim to change this very soon though; if it was written by Steve Englehart, then it must be at least readable.

Bronze Age Marvel covers: Thor #337

A very cool cover, and the first solo Thor comic I ever bought. I'm sorry to all the Thor fans out there, but the Son of Odin is deadly dull. Walt Simonson, however, made him readable. Marvel had a great run during the 80's allowing writer/artists to take over books and make magic. Frank Miller on Daredevil, John Byrne on Fantastic Four, and Walt on Thor. I never actually saw the run out though, for as good as Walt's work was, eh, it's Thor.

Double Feature Special

I've been away for a bit; life got in the way of comics for awhile, but I'm going to be back with a vengeance soon enough.

To warm up, I'm going to try a good old fashioned cross-over with the fabulous Bronze Age Babies at where I recently got to ask that age old question: What is your favourite Bronze Age Marvel cover?

Nominations so far are: Thor #337, Dr.Strange #1, Spider-Man #122, The Avengers #141, The Avengers #161, Marvel Treasury Edition #21, Giant-Size X-Men #1, Fantastic Four #112, Tomb of Dracula #1, Marvel Presents #3, Iron Man #80, Conan #17, Marvel Team-Up #38, The Avengers #200, Giant-Size Man-Thing #5, Marvel Premier #10, Captain Marvel #29, Warlock #11, The Avengers #116-117, The Defenders #9-10, Fantastic Four #137, Marvel Double Feature #1-2 ....

As might be expected the choices are wide and diverse so I thought it might be a good idea to post them here and add a little commentary of my own.

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