Avengers #64 (May, 1969)

Today’s post is the fourth in a series we’ve devoted to chronicling a storyline that ran through a number of Marvel comics in the first few months of 1969 — a sort of “stealth crossover” in which a number of the publisher’s heroes got involved (some without even knowing it) in foiling the dastardly plot of three (allegedly) big-brained super-villains intent on (what else?) taking over the world.  The comics readers of that time (your humble blogger among them) had to be paying close attention to all the editorial footnotes in the comics involved to follow the story (and even then, it was a hit-or-miss affair) — because, in high contrast to today’s multi-title “events”, Marvel’s in-house promotion for the crossover was virtually non-existent.

Things had first gotten rolling in January with Captain Marvel #12, in which the titular hero battled a powerful android, the Man-Slayer, that was trying to wreck a U.S. missile base in Florida called “the Cape” (as in Canaveral).  The Man-Slayer’s rampage was ultimately shut down not by Mar-Vell, however, but rather by S.H.I.E.L.D. operative the Black Widow, who was promptly taken prisoner by the Man-Slayer’s unseen masters.  Moving into February, Avengers #63 revealed the Widow’s captors to be the Mad Thinker, Egghead, and the Puppet Master.  The Widow was rescued by her boyfriend, the Avenging archer known as Hawkeye, though not before he’d downed a vial of Dr. Henry Pym’s growth serum and become the new Goliath.  Read More

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Captain Marvel #14 (June, 1969)

When we last left Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree, at the conclusion of our Captain Marvel #12 post back in January, the alien soldier-cum-Earth superhero had just emerged from a battle against a mysterious android, the Man-Slayer, that had been rampaging across “the Cape”, a U.S. missile base in Florida.  Meanwhile, both Mar-Vell’s Earth secret identity of Dr. Walter Lawson and his costumed-adventurer persona of Captain Marvel were now wanted for treason, leaving our protagonist in a bit of a pickle.  All of this was serving to distract Mar-Vell from what should be job number one — using the awesome new powers granted him by the cosmic entity Zo to exact vengeance on his mortal enemy, the Kree colonel named Yon-Rogg, whom Mar-Vell held responsible for the death of his beloved Medic Una.

And while all this was going on on the printed page, Captain Marvel was facing challenges behind the scenes as well — because after already going through three writers and an equal number of artists over its fourteen-issue run (counting two issues of Marvel Super-Heroes), his series was about to welcome aboard yet another writer, Gary Friedrich, and artist, Frank Springer.  With Captain Marvel #13, both of those gentlemen dove right into the ongoing storyline that had been developed over the past couple of issues by the previous scripter (Arnold Drake) and penciller (Dick Ayers) — and then proceeded to tread water for twenty pages.  Read More

Avengers #63 (April, 1969)

For younger readers of current comics, accustomed to publishers trumpeting every single guest appearance or “event” tie-in months in advance, the notion of a “stealth crossover” may seem all but incomprehensible.  Yet, that’s exactly what Marvel Comics did in the first quarter of 1969, as they carried over a plotline from the January-shipping issue of Captain Marvel into February’s Avengers (the subject of today’s post) without even so much as an editorial footnote in the first book to let fans know it was happening.  What the heck were they thinking fifty years ago, there at the “House of Ideas”?

But before we get into all that, we need to acknowledge the other two significant events happening in Avengers this month, one “in-story”, and the other behind the scenes, though both were heralded by the cover: the first, a major change concerning the superhero code-named Goliath; the second, the advent of a new regular artist — for after drawing Avengers for most of the last two years, John Buscema was being pulled off of the title to do layouts for Amazing Spider-Man, while Gene Colan was giving up Daredevil to take on Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Read More

Captain America #113 (May, 1969)

As readers of my post about Captain America #110 a few months back may remember, my eleven-year-old self read and enjoyed that comic book — the first in a classic trilogy of issues by Jim Steranko — when it came out in November, 1968, and I finished it ready and waiting to buy and read the next one.  However, for one reason or another (either it never made it to any of the retail outlets in Jackson, MS, where I bought my comics, or I just didn’t manage to get to the store before it sold out), I never saw, and thus couldn’t buy, Captain America #111.  Because, seriously — how could I have passed up a book with a cover that awesome, if I had seen it?

That issue continued the storyline created and developed by Steranko, who plotted as well as drew these issues (supported on the dialoguing end by writer-editor Stan Lee) in which Cap took on a new partner, Rick Jones, while also confronting the threat of the newly resurgent terrorist organization Hydra.  Issue #111 had ended with the apparent death of Captain America, showing the Star-Spangled Avenger’s silhouetted body struck by a hail of bullets as he dove from the roof of a waterfront building into New York City’s East River.  Read More

Captain Marvel #12 (April, 1969)

Regular readers of this blog will have heard me say this before, but it bears repeating — sometimes, I just have no idea why my younger self chose to buy a particular comic book fifty years ago.

That’s certainly the case with the subject of today’s post.  After passing Captain Marvel by on the stands for almost a year, in January, 1969 I decided to gamble twelve cents on the series’ twelfth issue.  How come?

Was it the cover, by John Romita and Sal Buscema (or maybe George Tuska and Buscema — the usual reference sources differ)?  I suppose it could be.  It’s not a particularly distinguished composition (at least, not to my present-day, 61-year-old eyes), but it’s not what I’d call bad — and those bright, contrasting colors really do pop.  So, maybe.

Perhaps it was the result of a long-simmering curiosity about the character that had been sparked by my reading of the “Captain Marvin” parody in the ninth issue of Marvel’s Not Brand Echh series, back in May of ’68.  That piece, produced by the “real” Captain Marvel’s onetime writer and penciller (Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, respectively) had served as a sort of primer on the origin, powers, and modus operandi of “Marvel’s Space-Born Super-Hero!™” — though one read through a cracked glass, as it were.  It had also been pretty funny to my then ten-year-old sensibilities, even if Thomas’ gags referencing the original Captain Marvel had gone right over my head.  So, maybe I recalled this story when I saw Captain Marvel #12 on the spinner rack, and decided to give the “real thing” a try.  Read More

Doctor Strange #179 (April, 1969)

My younger self of a half-century ago was a little slow in warming up to Marvel Comics’ Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange.  As I related a few weeks ago in my post about Avengers #61, I think it mostly had to do with the good Doctor’s look — the mustache, the white temples, the blousy tunic, etc. — which didn’t seem quite “superheroic” enough for my eleven-year-old sensibilities.  However, the “new look” that artist Gene Colan and writer Roy Thomas introduced in issue #177,  effectively giving the sorcerous hero a more conventional costume of tights and a mask (the latter actually being a magical transformation of his physiognomy), intrigued me when I saw it in Marvel’s house ads — and the deal was sealed when I bought and read the aforementioned Avengers issue, in which Dr, Strange showed off his new look in a featured guest appearance.  That book primed me to check out the Doc in his solo series, and I made plans to pick up the next issue when it came out.

But when I finally did see Doctor Strange #179 in the spinner rack, roughly a month later, I was in for a surprise.  Because the face that gazed out at me from the cover wasn’t the new, blue one — rather, it was the mustachioed, white-templed visage that I thought was now old hat.  What was going on?  I had no clue, but hey — Spider-Man was guest-starring in the issue, and the wall-crawler was by now not just my favorite Marvel hero, but my favorite comic-book hero, period.  I didn’t see how I could go wrong buying this comic; and thus, I put my twelve cents down on the convenience store counter, and took it home.   Read More

Avengers #61 (February, 1969)

The subject of today’s post, in addition to being another fine installment in writer Roy Thomas and artist John Buscema’s original run on The Avengers, also happens to have been my first real encounter (outside of a couple of cameos) with Marvel Comics’ Master of the Mystic Arts, Doctor Strange — or, at least, I think it was.

The problem here is that I know that, once upon a time, I owned a copy of Marvel Collectors’ Item Classics #19 — a terrific, double-sized reprint book that not only included a classic early Doctor Strange tale (from Strange Tales #128), but also an equally-classic Fantastic Four story (from the 27th issue of that team’s title) that guest-starred the good Doctor.  A double dose of Doc, if you will. And since that book would have been on sale in  November, 1968, it would necessarily have been my first Strange-featuring comic — if I’d bought it new off the stands, that is.  Which I have no truly compelling reason to believe I didn’t.

Still — and allowing for how vague many of my comics-buying memories are after half a century’s passage — I somehow don’t believe that was the case.  When I reread both these books now, Avengers #61 simply feels like it was my first Dr. Strange comic, and MCIC #19 … doesn’t.  So I’ve decided, for the purposes of this blog, that I probably came into possession of my copy of the reprint book some time later, probably via trade with (or sale by) a friend.  If I’m wrong — well, we’ll never know, right?  (Besides which, nobody but me likely cares all that much.)

But even if Avengers #61 wasn’t the first comic book I ever read that featured Dr. Strange, it was certainly the first non-reprint book to include the hero that I ever picked up.  Without it, I might well not have taken to the character as much (and almost certainly not as quickly) as I did; for, immediately following my reading this issue, I became a regular purchaser of the Doctor Strange series — and I’d remain a faithful reader of the title for years to come, sticking around through its rather frequent cancellations and revivals, with its star ultimately becoming my second favorite Marvel character (right after Thor).

Which is pretty much just what Roy Thomas and his colleagues at Marvel hoped would happen, when they decided to guest-star Doctor Strange in Avengers back in late 1968.   Read More

Silver Surfer #4 (February, 1969)

The Mighty Thor has been my favorite Marvel Comics character for the better part of the last half-century.  The subject of today’s post is as responsible for that fact as much as is any other single comic book — even though it’s not “really” a Thor comic.

As I’ve recounted in previous posts, I first made the acquaintance of Marvel’s take on the Norse god of thunder in the summer of 1967, via Avengers #45 (which also happened to be my very first Marvel comic), in which he appeared in only the first few pages.  I didn’t encounter him again until almost a year later — this time in the pages of Avengers Annual #2, in which he played a somewhat more substantial role — but I didn’t get around to buying an issue of Thor itself until September, when the cover of #158 caught my eye.  That turned out to be a pretty good first issue to purchase, since it reprinted in full Thor’s origin story from Journey into Mystery #83, and its new-material framing sequence by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby also introduced me to a number of the settings and characters that had been brought into the series post-origin, such as Asgard, Odin, the Lady Sif, and so forth.  I enjoyed that comic book quite a bit, but for whatever reason, I didn’t pick up another issue of Thor for several months.  Read More

Avengers #60 (January, 1969)

They just don’t make superhero wedding comics* the way they used to.

These days, it’s as likely as not that a heavily promoted “wedding issue” will come out and have not a single scene where anything remotely resembling a wedding ceremony occurs.  Or, a couple does get married, but it’s a different couple than the one whose marital union the book was supposed to be about.  Something of a bait-and-switch going on in both of those cases, if you ask me.

Ah, but in the Good Ol’ Days (AKA the Silver Age of Comics), the major funnybook publishers really knew how to celebrate them some nuptials.  For an example, take Aquaman #18 (Nov.-Dec., 1964), where the whole blamed Justice League of America turns out for the Sea King’s undersea wedding to Mera (bubble helmets thoughtfully provided by the Royal Atlantean Event Planning Committee, I’m sure),   Or Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), in which not only do all of Reed Richards’ and Sue Storm’s super friends show up, but so do a whole passel of super foes, as well, thanks to the machinations of the diabolical Doctor Doom.  Now that’s what I call a wedding to remember.  Not a dry (or un-blackened) eye in the house, y’know what i mean?

And then, there’s Avengers #60, featuring “‘Til Death Do Us Part!”, by Roy Thomas (writer), John Buscema (penciler), and Mike Esposito (inker, as “Micky Demeo”) — which not only gives us an Avengers Mansion-ful of super-powered guests and gatecrashers, but also brings the wacky on a level rarely seen before or since.  Read More

Captain America #110 (February, 1969)

You know, I could have had the whole run of Jim Steranko’s Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. — all four issues of it! (seven if you include the three he only did covers for) — bought new off the stands, back in 1968.  If only I’d had the smarts, or the good taste, or the foresight to buy ’em at the time.  Alas, for the road not taken…

Just to clarify — I’m referring here to the titular Nick Fury comic book series that premiered in February, 1968, and not to the whole run of the legendary artist’s work on the “Nick Fury” feature, which began with his providing finished art over Jack Kirby’s pencil layouts in Strange Tales #151.  Although, come to think about it, I could have started buying Steranko’s work even as far back as then, if I’d wanted; that issue came out in September, 1966, after all, and by that date I’d already been buying comic books for a little over a year.  But Strange Tales was a Marvel comic, and in 1966 I was only buying DC’s books (with the odd Gold Key thrown in here and there).  By early 1968, however, things had changed.  I had started buying a couple of Marvel comics (Amazing Spider-Man and Daredevil) regularly, and was considering sampling some others.  And, as veteran Marvel readers and comics historians well know, 1968 was the year that Marvel Comics finally got out from under the thumb of their distributor (who also happened to be their primary competitor, DC Comics) and significantly expanded their line.  Over the first three months of that year, Marvel took their three “double feature” titles — Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and the aforementioned Strange Tales — and split them up, resulting in six “new” titles — Captain America, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange, and Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.  Three of the books continued the numbering of the titles they’d been spun off from, while the other three (including Nick Fury) started with brand new issue #1’s.  What a great opportunity for a young comics fan to get in on the ground floor of some exciting new series, right?  Read More