Bronze Age Beginnings

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A girl named Frankie Raye

Face it tiger...oops, wrong redhead.

When John Byrne took the Fantastic Four Back to the Basics with Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #232 (cover date July 1981) it was a rather apt title considering his stance, in interviews at the time (if recall correctly), that nothing that came after Jack Kirby left the Fantastic Four with Vol. 1 #102 (cover date September 1970) ‘counted’, essentially ignoring the previous decade; or, to put it another way, the entirety of what we now fondly refer to as the Bronze Age of Marvel Comics. Byrne had sole responsibility for shaping the future of the Fantastic Four as both artist and writer, so he had to trust in his creative instincts; but it still seemed a tad disrespectful of all the other creators that came before him.

 It was a little odd, then, that in his first issue he used a character created by Roy Thomas and George Perez in Fantastic Four Vol. 1 #164 (cover date November 1975); Johnny Storm’s red-haired flame (pun intended), Frankie Raye. Frankie was Johnny’s only Bronze Age romantic entanglement after Crystal left the team (and later married Quicksilver), but only appeared a handful of times (the last being Vol. 1 #204 March 1979 – more than two years prior to the start of John Byrne’s run). Could it be that Byrne had been told something about the creation of Frankie Raye - that she was originally intended to be the daughter of Toro, the original Human Torch’s sidekick* - that he felt he could repurpose her for something else he had planned?** Do all red-haired girls have to ‘go bad’ in the end?

Johnny’s first date with Frankie (a’ lonely U.N. translator’ he met in a ‘ 2nd Avenue singles bar’) starts well as they wander from Art Fairs to Rock-Joints in New York’s Greenwich Village, but all good things must come to an end as The Crusader attacks. Johnny resists flaming-on - not wanting to reveal who he is to Frankie - but his hand is eventually forced; Frankie’s reaction shot by George Perez is a portent of what is to come.

The next time Johnny and Frankie meet up is in Fantastic Four #171 (cover date June 1976) at Central Park Zoo. They discuss why Frankie ran off the last time, and she explains that seeing Johnny become the Human Torch freaked her out. Unfortunately, just as Johnny tries to convince her that he is considering giving up the superhero life, and that she might just be the one, a spaceship lands and out comes Gorr – a giant golden gorilla. Johnny immediately flames-on, but then reconsiders and returns to Frankie, as the ‘police can handle that overgrown ape, soon as they get some heavier guns.’

A short time later, at Frankie’s apartment, Johnny overhears on the radio that his fellow teammates are helpless before Gorr, so with Frankie’s protestations ringing in his ear he flames-on and leaves. Frankie ‘suddenly knows the truth at last…that all this has happened to her…before!’

I wonder what that could mean?

It is another ten issues, in Fantastic Four #181 (cover date April 1977), before Frankie makes another appearance. Johnny is hanging around Greenwich Village in the hope of seeing Frankie again, and when he does she’s with another man. Johnny and Frankie argue, with Johnny making light of her fear of fire, so Frankie leaves. Johnny flies off, promising to ‘find out why you’re so traumatised by fire…if it takes forever!’

Considering this was Roy Thomas’ last issue, Johnny might be waiting some time.

Len Wein picks-up the Frankie and Johnny (non) relationship another ten issues later, in Fantastic Four #191 (cover date February 1978), when Johnny calls on Frankie - hoping to rekindle their romance - but is called away by the Fantasti-Flare before she can answer the door.

It is only another 13 issues until Frankie makes her last appearance during the Bronze Age, under the pen of Marv Wolfman, in Fantastic Four #204. Johnny bumps into her while enrolling at Empire State University, and while they discuss why they never quite got together in the past, Frankie gives her reasons as ‘never liked dating a superhero…or got used to you standing me up…or rushing off halfway through a date…or’ before being cut-off by an emergency call from Reed.

Presumably her next line was going to be ‘… or you turning into a human matchstick, and I hate fire’ but I suspect that plot point was being quietly buried.

Anyone that has read John Byrne’s 5 year + run on Fantastic Four knows that he eventually revealed Frankie to be the step-daughter of the original Human Torch’s creator, Phineas Horton. At the age of 14, she’d been accidentally doused in chemicals that gave her the power to burst into flame, but Horton hypnotised her into forgetting these events, while giving her a costume that mysteriously only appears when she is naked. Yeah, that never made complete sense to me, but it did give Byrne the chance to show the slightly salacious scene of Johnny gawping at a slowly disrobing Frankie.

Byrne teased his readers with the idea that Frankie might join the Fantastic Four, but over a few adventures he had Frankie show a disturbing propensity for violence and callousness, that ultimately culminated in her accepting a new job as Galactus’ herald, receiving the power cosmic, and becoming Nova.

While Frankie/Nova is apparently dead in current continuity, Byrne did originally intend to have Nova become the next Galactus, after another Big Bang at the culmination of his ‘ The Last Galactus Story’, the ending of which remains unpublished today.

I ask again, do all red-haired girls go bad eventually? Frankie’s sad fate has an echo of that other red-haired girl gone bad, Jean Grey/Phoenix, and I sort of wish that Roy Thomas had seen his plot for Frankie Raye through. Who knows, she might even be in the X-Men now, as the mutant daughter of Toro.

*I have only seen this referenced once online, as told to John Byrne by Len Wein, but can’t find anything else to corroborate it. It may be false, but given Roy Thomas’ predilection for using Golden Age characters and stitching them into then current continuity (see Giant-Size Avengers #1)…it has a ring of the truth to it.

**At a later date, Byrne also made reference to Frankie being Ann Raymond and Toro’s step-daughter in Avengers West Coast #50, so while it probably negates Roy Thomas’ earlier intent, it does at least acknowledge the connection.

Sunday, 14 October 2012


If you’re a regular dweller within this particular dusty, dark, corner of the comic blogosphere, you’ll no doubt have seen other celebratory posts this weekend about Britain’s very own superhero.

Captain Britain No. 1 was released the week ending October 13 1976. I was 11 years old, and the power of TV advertising (plus the lure of a free Captain Britain mask) worked its magic. I plunked down my 10p and prepared myself to be thrilled by the full colour exploits of the hero we’d all been demanding (apparently).

Well, not quite. Despite a personal message from Stan Lee informing us that nearly a full year was spent ‘creating the characters, developing the themes, and producing the greatest possible stories and illustrations!’ it wasn’t particularly evident within the seven slim  pages written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Herb Trimpe (inked by Fred Kida).

Brian Braddock was a pipe smoking physicist working at the Darkmoor Research Centre, a top secret nuclear complex, when it was attacked by Joshua Stragg…THE REAVER! Fleeing the scene on a motor bike, Brian was startled by the flashing lights of a passing hovercraft causing him to drive off a cliff. Still somehow alive, but battered and broken, Brian is given an ultimatum by a couple of floating heads. Choose either the sword or the amulet…life or death…and…


Well, we already knew what he choose, because the comic opened with two pages of Brian Braddock, as Captain Britain (wearing the amulet), fighting THE REAVER (brandishing a sword). Obviously it was decided that the Special Origin Issue! should open with some senses-shattering action, but it killed the cliff-hanger ending dead.

I wasn’t very impressed, and the lie was put to the claim that a year was spent producing the greatest possible stories and illustrations, by the two superior reprints included in the issue. A John Buscema drawn Fantastic Four, and a Jim Steranko Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Beat that Cap!

Still, I gave Captain Britain a chance and bought his comic for a few more weeks, but I was never that interested. It took a few more years, and the talents of Alan Moore and Alan Davis, to make me finally like Britain’s own superhero – and for that alone it is worth wishing Captain Britain a very happy 36th birthday!

Buy Captain Britain No.1 at My Comic Shop

Saturday, 13 October 2012


With the announcement this weekend that the final roster tally for the re-launched The Avengers is expected to be 30 plus members, I’m reminded of a time during the Bronze Age that The Avengers expanded to such an extent that it took a government employee to knock some sense into them.

In The Avengers #181 (cover date March 1979) The Avengers were up to 23 members and assorted guests, prompting a revocation of their priority status and an intervention by Henry Peter Gyrich. The result? A much diminished membership of 7, and one very pissed off Hawkeye - rejected in favour of The Falcon and equal opportunities, a federal government requirement for The Avengers priority status to be reinstated.

It was an audacious twist on the Old Order Changeth theme, written by David Michelinie and superbly drawn by John Byrne (inks by Gene Day), that gave us a series of classic reaction shots, not least Hawkeye’s. Say it again Clint…

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Bronze Age Marvel Greats: Sal Buscema

Despite my love for Marvel’s Bronze Age, I would be the first to admit that there are few extended runs during this period that really hold up to repeated readings. Many are flawed by inconsistent art teams, THE DREADED DEADLINE DOOM!, or sudden shifts in writers. One of my most revered Bronze Age Marvel runs is Steve Gerber’s time on The Defenders, marred only by his very sudden departure to be replaced by Gerry Conway.

In issue #41, in response to a letter, an unnamed Marvel employee (but it is most likely Gerber himself) writes:

“In any event, we’re not necessarily sorry you disagree with Steve Gerber’s plots or that they disagree with you, because Gerber’s been relieved of his duties on the book. Next issue, Gerry Conway takes over the scripting and he promises that THE DEFENDERS will shortly resemble a super-hero book – and not the outtakes from “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” – in plotting and dialogue once again.”


It struck me, though, after recently re-reading the run in its entirety, that the unsung hero is Sal Buscema. Never a flashy artist, he is an excellent storyteller and adds much needed consistency. His characters are always on-model (a practise a few of the later, more stylised, Marvel artists ignored, to the detriment of the Marvel Universe as a whole), and perfectly captures some of the more outrageous aspects of Gerber’s scripts. Just take a look at that panel above, with Val, Dr Strange and the Hulk wearing bozo masks, and marvel at the way Sal highlights the absurdity of the situation with an apparently matter-of-fact illustration. The tension between the absurd and the mundane is palpable.

Sal was inked by a variety of talented individuals (and Vinnie Colletta), but though Klaus Janson was nice (if a little overpowering), I am very partial to the inks of Mike Esposito. The most enduring image from Gerber’s run, for me, has always been Valkyrie’s despatch of a rat menacing a child in the slums, and Sal and Mike played the scene exceptionally. Enjoy.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

“I must be dreamed before midnight…but where is my dreamer?”

In The Defenders #21 (cover date March 1975), Steve Gerber introduced The Headmen, a villainous team of two mad-scientists and a mystic. Curiously, as announced in that issue's letter column, all three characters had appeared previously; but where?

Okay. So now you’ve met the Headmen – Dr. Nagan, Jerry Morgan, and Chondu. But you probably didn’t realise all three of these characters have appeared before! No, not in THE DEFENDERS…not even together as a team…but recently, in a Marvel mag published during 1974.
So guess what? It’s contest time! We’ll award a special prize – and a no-prize as well! – to the first reader who’s able to tell us where and when Nagan, Morgan, and Chondu last appeared. (And when you figure it out…hoo boy, are you gonna be surprised!).

Well, for those of us who were no-prize challenged (and 49 Bronze Age Marvelites got it right!) the answer was Weird Wonder Tales #7 (cover date December 1974), which reprinted a number of science fiction/horror tales from the 1950s.

Dr. Arthur Nagan, the Gorillia-Man, originally appeared in Mystery Tales #21 (art by Bob Powell); Chondu the Yogi first appeared in Tales of Suspense #9 (art by George Evans); and Dr. Jerry Morgan debuted in World of Fantasy #11 (art by Angelo Torres). The art was superb on each of the strips, but each had ‘shock’ endings a blind man could see coming. They must have intrigued Steve Gerber, however, for him to pluck these three Atlas era bozos from obscurity and cast them successfully in new Bronze Age Marvel roles. It was certainly a Weird (Wonder Tales) thing to do, but not entirely without precedent. Xemnu, the big white hairy fellah that menaced The Defenders early on, had made a similar transition.

It struck me, though, that Gerber may have lifted something else from that issue of Weird Wonder Tales. The Black Rain that emanates from Chondu’s brain after it is injected with a serum is described thus:

“…A sinister dream that dissolves into black rain and seeps into sleeping minds throughout the city.”

One of the other reprints in that issue of Weird Wonder Tales is Nightmare at Midnight, about a dream, depicted as a black floating mass, looking for a dreamer. Could it be that dream-without-a-dreamer that Chondu pulls from another dimension? I would like to think so.

This ‘prelude’ to The Defenders #21 is an interesting curio that makes me wonder what Gerber may, or may not, have been imbibing while reading Weird Wonder Tales #7 late one night in 1974. 

There was also an interesting item hidden away in this issue’s Stan Lee’s Soapbox. Stan mentions a Hitler documentary mag… say what? Surely Marvel didn’t? I haven’t been able to find anything on the ol’ web about it, so if anyone knows any information, please share. That just sounds so….ill considered!

Buy Weird Wonder Tales #7 at My Comic Shop

Friday, 3 August 2012

Mirror mirror...who is the fairest heroine of them all?

While The Winsome Wasp was Marvel’s go to heroine for fashion and frivolity, during the Bronze Age even Marvel’s most liberated ladies were never far from a full length mirror when trying on a stylish new outfit.

Presented here for your delectation, three heroines making their stunning debut in a trio of daring costumes. 

The Black Widow

Designed by John Romita Sr for Natasha Romanoff; appearing in The Amazing Spider-Man #86 July 1970


Designed by John Byrne for Brunnhilde; appearing in The Defenders #40 October 1976

Ms Marvel

Designed by Dave Cockrum for Carol Danvers; appearing in Ms Marvel #20 October 1978

Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Summer of '76

The Summer of ’76 was notable for many things. The UK was roasting in a heat-wave;  ABBA  was camping up the charts with Dancing Queen and Rod Stewart was singing about The Killing of Georgie. I was 11 years old; I’d moved up to big school, AND started my first job as a Paperboy. Things were good; school holidays seemed endless and I had my own money to spend on comics.

So what was I spending that hard-earned (dragging the Sunday papers around Highbury Hill at 7AM was hard labour!) cash on? What Bronze Age Marvel comics caught my eye in July 1976?

The Avengers #149

Steve Englehart was only two issues away from ending his era-defining run on The Avengers (and his time at Marvel during the Bronze Age) but before then he had to finish up a memorable multipart storyline in which The Avengers came into conflict with The Squadron Supreme, The Brand Corporation, Roxxon Oil, and The Serpent Crown. Oh, and he introduced Patsy Walker as The Hellcat.

The Defenders #37

Steve Gerber was spinning a lot of plates during the final stretch of his run on The Defenders. While Dr. Strange and Red Guardian were fighting off Plantman’s giant dandelion puffs, Kyle (Nighthawk) Richmond was still suffering an existential crisis from having his brain removed earlier, and Valkyrie was incarcerated in a women’s prison. Meanwhile, Nebulon was recruiting more costumed crazies to his Bozo cult…

The Fantastic Four #172

Bill Mantlo had the Fantastic Four battling a giant golden gorilla called Gorr, from Counter-Earth; a world created by the High Evolutionary, which was now under threat from Galactus and his new Herald, the Asgardian Destroyer armour.

Howard the Duck #4

Steve Gerber again, on his most personal series; the tale of Paul (Winky Man) Same, a man with a sleeping disorder and the inability to confront those who push him around.

The Invaders #7

Roy Thomas introduces us to the Falsworth’s; an upper-class family that includes World War I hero Union Jack, his daughter Jacqueline (who would later become the plucky heroine Spitfire after a blood transfusion from the android Human Torch) and nephew John, the Nazi vampire Baron Blood.

Obviously team books were what caught my eye during that blazing hot month; more heroes for my pennies, but also some exemplary comics. Steve Englehart’s Avengers (drawn by George Perez) never failed to entertain, and Steve Gerber’s comics left an indelible impact on my early teen self. I personally consider Englehart and Gerber to be the two pillars of Marvel’s Bronze Age, defining the era with their creativity and individual insight.

The Fantastic Four cover had floating heads which was always a must buy, and how could I resist that funky looking vampire on the cover of The Invaders? I don’t recall much of that period of the Fantastic Four - was this when the evil Reed (Brute) Richards from Counter Earth trapped the good one and replaced him on the team? - but I absolutely loved these early issues of The Invaders with art by Frank Robbins.

July ’76 filled my head with alternative Earths, Counter-Earths, giant golden gorillas and dandelion puffs, Bozos and Nazi Vampires, and taught me to stand up for myself for fear of running around at night wearing a night-shirt and cap! It was truly a Bronze Age smorgasbord.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

A Tale of Two Marvels

Mighty World of Marvel 1972

Captain Marvel 2012

I knew there was something familiar about that logo for the new Captain Marvel comic; were Marvel trying to fool me into buying a new comic from them? One featuring my favourite Bronze Age Marvel heroine? Nice try Marvel, but no sale.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Giant-Size Avengers #1

In the mid-70s there were some comics I wanted more than all others, and Marvel’s line of Giant-Size comics were undeniably the most coveted. They promised much, yet were denied me because of their non-distribution status in the UK. My hopes were raised by house-ads in the regular comics, and dashed by their lack of availability in the many newsagents I would frequent in my weekly search for new comics.

One in particular fascinated me; the cover of Giant-Size Avengers #1 promised the ‘startling reappearance of the fabled All-Winners Squad’ - a team of Golden Age characters I’d discovered recently in a battered copy of Fantasy Masterpieces #10 - and furthermore, I’d been made aware (most likely by an Editor’s note in a later issue of The Avengers) that it was the comic where it was revealed that The Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were the children of Bob (The Whizzer) Frank and Madeline (Miss America) Joyce. Being a fledgling continuity obsessive, and fan of stories that filled in the gaps of the rich tapestry the Marvel Universe once was, Giant-Size Avenges #1 made me think this one would live up to Stan Lee’s oft- repeated declaration that ‘This one has it all true-believer’.

I never did get hold of a copy during those formative years, but on eBay all things are available (for a price), and so I now own a copy of this once highly sought after comic.

Was it worth the 38 year wait? It certainly scratched a Bronze Age itch; the story of Nuklo - mutated by the terrible power that had just recently devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a child in possession of uncontrollable force and locked away for 25 years - was a sad acknowledgement of Man’s unknowing use of nuclear energy, written by Roy Thomas and drawn by Rich Buckler (inked by Dan Adkins). However, the reveal of the parentage of the mutant twins was slightly anti-climactic, almost tacked on in Thomas’ quest for a cohesive Marvel Universe. It was likely this lack of a solid underpinning that allowed for the later reveal that the twins were the children of Magneto.

Still, it stands as an interesting artefact of Marvel's Bronze Age. And one can't condemn something for not entirely living up to childhood expectations.

Buy Giant-Size Avengers #1 at My Comic Shop

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Sub-Mariner #48

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Gene Colan

Inker: Mike Esposito

The quest for the Cosmic Cube has led Doctor Doom, Namor and Cindy Jones to the Mississippian Bayou, but Doom isn’t convinced that Cindy should accompany them any further. This does not sit well with Namor so he leaves, taking Cindy with him.

Landing in New Orleans, Cindy immediately recognises the dwelling where she once lived and hints at the unhappy reasons she left. We soon discover that this place is, in the words of her old roommate - hippy Johnny - a “happy little drug-pushing nest”, which seems a contradiction.

Johnny threatens Namor with a gun, which is never a good thing; in the confusion one of Doom’s henchmen appears and kidnaps Cindy, and as the police arrive so does Doom, to collect his ‘friend’ Namor. He makes it clear that Cindy is his hostage and will remain so until Namor has fulfilled his part of the bargain.

Sometime later, Doom’s jet is over the Gulf of Mexico and Namor is tasked with scouting out the underwater den of the criminal organisation A.I.M.

Doom believes M.O.D.O.K., A.I.M.’s erstwhile leader, to be dead - following the events of Captain America #133 - a mistake M.O.D.O.K. plans to use to his advantage with his Android Army.

It’s clear that Conway still doesn’t have a solid handle on the direction he wants to take this title, and the inclusion of Doctor Doom almost relegates Namor to a supporting role in his own comic. There are still some dodgy allusions to Doom’s nobility, especially in his prevention of the rape of Cindy by one of his henchmen, and the internal monologue he is given on page 10:

“Doom…you are a fool. Once more your clever manipulations have alienated a man who might have been an ally…a man you might have called your friend! Namor hates you now… and though it pains you to admit it, Von Doom – he hates you with good reason.”

Don’t you just feel sorry for the ol’ terrorist?

The interlude in New Orleans also came across as padding, adding nothing to the plot, but highlighting Doom’ stupidity; if he hadn’t demanded that Cindy go no further with them, then he wouldn’t have had to organise Cindy’s subsequent kidnapping to ensure Namor’s co-operation.

The art was disappointing, Mike Esposito not being a particularly sympathetic inker for Gene Colan, but Colan’s storytelling is, as always, clear and distinctive.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Captain America #148

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Gary Friedrich

Artist: Sal Buscema

Inker: ?

“Eat some dirt! It may be the last thing we ever taste!”

So says Cap on the final page, and one can only wish... it’d be preferable to the bad taste left in my mouth by this stinker of a comic.

Yep, it’s the Red Skull (again!) with his dreams of Nazism and the rise of the Fourth Reich. He even has another Sleeper (the fifth), because Cap only defeated the last four. Oh hum.

So Cap is given an ultimatum; to surrender to the Sleeper (as tall as a skyscraper!) on the outskirts of Las Vegas, or the Red Skull will crush the free world with his unbeatable Sleeper. Leaving the Falcon to contact SHIELD and FEMME FORCE, and The Kingpin to rouse his men (organised crime in armoured vehicles), Cap sets of by jet-pack.

You can guess the rest. SHIELD, FEMME FORCE and The Kingpin’s men attack the Sleeper to no avail, while Cap sneaks aboard. Battlin’ his way through the Red Skull’s hordes, he confronts ol’ Skully who pulls a gun on him. Luckily, Redwing (Falc’s trained Falcon) swoops in and saves the day, and Cap accidentally knocks the Red Skull to his death. Cap and the Falcon smash up the controls and the Sleeper explodes.

So much for the unstoppable Sleeper, and the rise of Nazism!

Everything about this comic stunk. The plot, the pacing and the dialogue (oh, the dialogue is the worst!). It’s only saving grace are some nice panels here and there by Sal Buscema, who I am going to hazard a guess was inked, or finished, by Romita. I wonder why no inker was given a credit? Too embarrassed, maybe?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Daredevil #86

Cover date: April 1972

Writer: Gerry Conway

Artist: Gene Colan

Inker: Tom Palmer

Natasha (The Black Widow) loves Matt (Daredevil), but Matt thinks he still loves Karen (the movie star), who doesn’t love Phil (her agent) anymore; and isn’t sure about how she feels about Matt, either!

Oh yeah, and The Ox too!

If you’re wondering about The Ox - who died some months ago - it involves transplanted brains and radiation and doesn’t bear much thinking about. The meat here is the cast’s complicated love lives, which wouldn’t be out of place in an issue of Our Love Story.

Thankfully, Gerry Conway wraps everything up in a final two page sequence that finally puts to rest the Matt Murdoch/Karen Page romance, and moves Matt onto a new relationship with Natasha with a symbolic passing of the baton between the two women. It’s beautifully illustrated by the art team supreme of Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.

Karen: “It’s all right Natasha, you’d better go to him now. He needs you. There’s nothing more I can give him.”

Exit Karen, and next issue: SAN FRANCISCO!

Buy Daredevil #86 at My Comic shop
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