Avengers #69 (October, 1969)

In his Introduction to the 2008 Marvel Masterworks volume reprinting this issue, scripter Roy Thomas compliments his artistic collaborator Sal Buscema for the “dramatic yet difficult cover”, noting that “it’s always hard to have a bunch of little guys fighting one big guy — and Goliath’s in-between size just complicated things further.”  That’s undoubtedly true; but my recent re-reading of Thomas’ words in preparation for writing this post reminded me of another cover that met the very same challenge, with at least a couple of the same characters — namely, Sal’s big brother John’s cover for Avengers #45, which came out almost exactly two years prior to Avengers #69, and which also just so happens to have been not only my first Avengers comic, but my first Marvel comic, period.  There’s no good reason why any of that should be particularly significant to anyone except me, I realize; but I hope you’ll pardon my momentary self-indulgence in deciding to highlight it here anyway.  Read More

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Thor #169 (October, 1969)

At the conclusion of our discussion of Thor #166 three months ago, we left the God of Thunder about to face the judgement of his omnipotent All-Father, Odin, for his crime in succumbing to the affliction of Warrior Madness.  Thor had been driven to this state of irrational, uncontrollable fury following the abduction of his lady, Sif, by the artificially-created superhuman called Him (later to be known as Adam Warlock).  As things turned out, Sif was safely rescued, and Him, though soundly thrashed by the scion of Asgard, escaped without mortal injury.  Nevertheless, at the issue’s end Thor was called home to the Golden Realm to face the music; what he didn’t yet know, but we readers did, is that Odin had already determined that his punishment would be to go on a cosmic quest to find the world-devouring Galactus, learn the secret of his origin, and end his threat forevermore.  Read More

Captain Marvel #17 (October, 1969)

In the letters column of the comic that’s our main topic today, reader Normand LaBelle of Sherbrooke, Quebec expressed his great displeasure with the Captain Marvel series’ recent turn of direction, finding fault especially with the drastic changes to the titular hero’s powers and mission that had come about in issue #11.  In responding to Mr. LaBelle, the anonymous editorial staffer — probably Marvel Comics associate editor (and, as of this very issue, returning Captain Marvel writer) Roy Thomas — essentially agreed with him:  Read More

Fantastic Four #91 (October, 1969)

The titular subject of today’s post is the first full chapter in the final complete multi-issue storyline of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four.  Along with that distinction, this story arc is well remembered for being one of the best examples of how Kirby, by this time deeply dissatisfied with his situation at Marvel Comics, was rather brazenly lifting his story ideas from stuff he’d seen on TV.  Several months earlier, he’d “playfully parodied the theme of” (as an item in this very month’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletins put it) the British cult program The Prisoner for the main conceit of a four-part Doctor Doom epic.  This time, it was an episode of Star Trek — or, more probably, two episodes of Star Trek.  But before we get into all that, here’s a bit of background to help set the stage…  Read More

Hulk #118 (August, 1969)

By May, 1969, I’d been reading Marvel comics regularly for about a year and a half, and had sampled at least one issue of most of their superhero-fronted titles — most, but not quite all. This month, I finally got around to checking out The Incredible Hulk. 

At this time, my knowledge of the Hulk was pretty much limited to what I’d been able to glean from his guest appearances in comics I had read, the most substantial of which had been in Avengers Annual #2 (Sept.,1968) and Captain America #110 (Feb., 1969).  From those, I’d learned at least some of the basics regarding the character — I knew, for instance, that the Hulk was the super-strong alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner, an otherwise “ordinary” human being.  I even knew a bit about his past history with a teenager named Rick Jones.  But I also knew that he was belligerent, dangerously uncontrollable, and — at least sometimes (especially as depicted by artist Jim Steranko in CA #110) — rather frightening.  Based on what I’d seen so far, I didn’t quite understand what made the Hulk a superhero.

But Marvel certainly seemed to be positioning him as a superhero, as best as I could tell; and I liked Marvel superhero comics.  Thus, it was inevitable that I’d give the Hulk’s series a shot sooner and later; and when Hulk #118 came along, it probably seemed like an ideal opportunity to take the plunge, if only because the issue guest-starred the one other Marvel heroic headliner whose title I still hadn’t sampled: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner.  Read More

Thor #166 (July, 1969)

There’s a case to be made that the God of Thunder’s adversary in the issue of his comic we’re discussing today — the being known at this point only as “Him”, though he’d later pick up the less confusing appellation “Adam Warlock” — was the last major character creation of artist/storyteller Jack Kirby during his most important and productive tenure at Marvel Comics.  As recalled by comics writer and historian — and longtime Kirby associate — Mark Evanier (and reported by numerous writers, including Mike Gartland in The Jack Kirby Collector #24), the story that Kirby plotted and drew for Fantastic Four #66 – 67 was a tale of well-intentioned scientists who create an ultimate human being, an entity who’s not only physically perfect but also possesses godlike powers, only to have this being, once it’s emerged from gestation within its cocoon, turn on them and destroy them, simply because they don’t meet his standards of perfection.  However, when it came time to script the story, Kirby’s collaborator (and editor), Stan Lee, jettisoned this theme — intended as Kirby’s ironic commentary on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy — possibly because it didn’t present a clear-cut “bad guy”.  In Lee’s version of the story — which was the one that saw print, of course — the scientists wanted to use their creation to dominate the world; “Him” realized this, and destroyed the would-be despots before taking his leave of humanity.  Already disgruntled with Lee (and with Marvel Comics, generally) over a number of matters — including the way that Lee had appropriated and reinterpreted an earlier Kirby creation for FF, the Silver Surfer —  Kirby may have seen this latest alteration of his creative vision to be, in Gartland’s words, “the last straw”.  From this time on, the theory goes, the “King” would refrain from bringing his full creative powers to bear on the work he did for Marvel, with the result that he would introduce few, if any, truly significant new characters in his last couple of years before jumping ship for DC Comics.  Read More

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

Silver Surfer #5 (April, 1969)

My interest in Marvel Comics’ Silver Surfer series seems to have been somewhat sporadic in the first half-year or so of its original run.  As I’ve written in earlier posts, I bought the first issue in May, 1968, and though I liked that book a lot (at least, that’s how I remember things), I opted to pass on both the second and third issues (unless, of course, I never saw either of them on the stands, which is quite possible).  Issue #4, however, was most likely a no-brainer purchase decision for my eleven-year-old self, what with its absolutely iconic cover (by John and Sal Buscema) depicting the Surfer and the mighty Thor about to come to blows.  And considering how spectacularly that book delivered on its cover’s promise, my picking up the following issue when I saw it was probably a given, as well –even though its cover (by John Romita, according to the Grand Comics Database), while good, wasn’t quite in the same exalted class.  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