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
After having bought Captain America for five months straight (or almost straight, as I somehow managed to miss issue #111), in early 1969 I took a couple of months off from reading the Star-Spangled Avenger’s adventures. Five decades later, I can’t quite remember why I did so. Obviously, beginning with #114 there was a considerable stylistic shift in the look of the book, which had just seen the end of Jim Steranko’s brief but epochal run as the series’ artist — but it seems unlikely that I would have turned up my nose at the work of either John Romita (who drew both the cover and interiors of #114) or John Buscema (who contributed the interior art for #115, behind a Marie Severin cover), considering how much I enjoyed their work on other titles. Admittedly, the Romita cover is a little dull, at least in comparison to the Steranko (and Jack Kirby) jobs that immediately preceded it, but it’s hard for me to believe I would have passed on Severin’s dramatic rendition of a shrunk-down Cap being held prisoner within a transparent cube by the Red Skull, while Sharon Carter looks on helplessly. Perhaps I never actually saw that issue on the stands (or the one preceding it, for that matter). Read More
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 stint 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
I first made the acquaintance of Marvel Comics’ X-Men in April, 1968 — one year prior to the publication of the subject of today’s post. — when they made a guest appearance in Avengers #53. That particular issue turned out to be the last chapter of a crossover story that had begun in the mutant team’s own book; and even though I now knew how everything would turn out, I was still curious enough about the characters and situations to go back and pick up the preceding chapter in that same month’s issue of X-Men (and even to buy the issue before that, when the opportunity presented itself). But though I enjoyed those two comics well enough, I wasn’t taken enough with either of them to keep following the series. As I wrote in my X-Men #45 post last year, that may have been partly due to the somewhat atypical circumstances surrounding the book at the time I sampled it. Marvel had then just recently decided to start downplaying the team concept in the series’ cover designs, in favor of spotlighting the individual members (or, in a few cases, major story events); a decision that was soon mirrored in the stories themselves, as the team actually broke up in the issue immediately following the Avengers crossover, #46. In addition, I was almost certainly influenced in my decision to pass on X-Men (at least for the time being), by my lack of enthusiasm for the competent but underwhelming art that then filled the title’s pages, by the likes of Don Heck and Werner Roth.
Apparently, I wasn’t alone in my general attitude of indifference to Marvel’s Merry Mutants, as, by virtually all accounts, the title was the publisher’s worst selling at the time — if not yet right on the edge of cancellation, then still uncomfortably close to it. Which is why, when Neal Adams — the hottest young artist at Marvel’s main competitor, DC Comics — came to Marvel expressing an interest in doing some work for them, and editor-in-chief Stan Lee gave him his choice of assignments… Adams chose to work on X-Men. Read More
When we last saw Matt Murdock, at the end of last month’s post about Daredevil #51, our Man Without Fear was in pretty bad shape. After undergoing an ordinary blood test in his costumed identity, he’d had a drastic adverse reaction to the due to the radioactive particles in his bloodstream (or something like that), and after wandering around in a delirium for a bit, had collapsed in an alley. Meanwhile, the New York Police Department, having been clued in about the imminent danger to the Scarlet Swashbuckler, had put out an all-points bulletin for our hero. And while all this was going on, DD’s current nemesis, a sinister robotics genius named Starr Saxon, had accidentally stumbled onto his foe’s secret identity — and had also, on pretext of being a friend of Matt’s, had convinced the blind lawyer’s almost-girlfriend, Karen Page, to accompany him, leading her into who knows what dread danger. Read More
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
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
When I first saw the cover of Daredevil #51 on the spinner rack fifty years ago, I believe I must have known something was up.
After all, I’d been buying and reading this series for a whole year now, and even if I wasn’t the most sophisticated spotter and identifier of individual artists’ styles at age eleven, I believe that I could tell a Gene Colan Daredevil cover from, well, anyone else’s.
Not that there hadn’t been any non-Colan DD covers in the twelve months I’d been following the book — there’d been issue #43‘s, which was a Jack Kirby job. But that particular issue had guest-starred Captain America, and since Kirby was Cap’s regular artist at that time (and also his co-creator, of course, though I probably didn’t know that yet), that had made sense.
But who was this, who’d drawn the cover for #51? I mean, Daredevil’s head looked… different (and not just because it was giant and translucent). There was something sort of Kirbyesque about it, actually, but it wasn’t Kirby. So who? Read More
As I’ve related in previous posts, I was a little slow in warming up to Doctor Strange. Marvel Comics finally got me in late 1968, however, through the double-barrelled approach of first giving him a visual makeover, and then guest-starring him in The Avengers. Those moves caught my interest — which, according to what Roy Thomas (a Marvel associate editor at the time, not to mention the writer of both Doctor Strange and Avengers) would state decades later in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks – Doctor Strange, Vol. 3, was precisely what the publisher had hoped they’d do.
But the next issue of Doctor Strange to hit the stands after Avengers #61 was a reprint, featuring the good Doctor’s “old look” — though, since it was a reprint of a classic tale by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee that co-starred Spider-Man, and which was 100 % new to me, I didn’t really have much to complain about. Still, I was happy to see Doctor Strange #180, the “real” follow-up to Avengers #61, when it finally arrived in early February, 1969. Read More
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