Bronze Age Beginnings

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...

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