When last we left Aquaman, the King of the Seven Seas had just been reunited with his long-lost Queen, Mera, and the two were swimming swiftly back to Atlantis to confront Narkran — the man whom Aquaman had trusted to rule Atlantis in his stead while he searched for the kidnapped Mera, and whom he’d since learned had actually been conspiring all along with surface-world gangsters to take and hold Mera prisoner. Both King and Queen were unaware, however, of three other critical situations that were unfolding at the same time: the first (and most urgent) being the solitary battle of Aquaman’s junior partner Aqualad against a fearsome sea monster called the Bugala; the second, a burgeoning popular movement of rebellion against Narkran’s despotism by a band of young Atlanteans; and the third, an ongoing series of tremors that were rocking the undersea kingdom’s foundations.
Behind a typically well-rendered (and atypically not too misleading) cover by Nick Cardy which highlighted the first of those three crises, the first few pages of the story picked up on the second one. Meanwhile, the credits on page 2 also alerted readers that the “SAG” team of Steve Skeates (writer), Jim Aparo (penciller, inker, and letterer), and Dick Giordano (editor) were all back at all of their accustomed jobs, following Aparo’s having been spelled on inks by Frank Giacoia in the previous issue:
Steve Skeates had given the black-haired, bearded rebel leader a name in the previous issue — Mupo — but seemed to have forgotten it by the time issue #47 rolled around, as he never refers to the guy as anything but “the rebel leader” henceforth; either that, or he’d become anxious over the possibility that some higher-up at DC Comics would figure out that the counterculture-identifying writer had derived the name from the backwards spelling of the word “opium” (yep, it’s a drug reference) — despite editor Dick Giordano having already prevailed upon him to change the original spelling from “Muipo”.*
Along the same line, the observant reader will also have noted the presence of a popular peace symbol in the rebel headquarters’ decor — a not-especially-subtle means of visually suggesting a kinship between Atlantis’ rebel movement and the real-life youth movements of the Sixties.
Poor Imp had been left behind back in issue #43, when Aqualad was first taken captive by the purple-skinned humanoids of Eldfur, who would later force him to fight their local sea monster. Recalling that there’s a valley nearby where dwells “a rather advanced — rather peaceful civilization” (a reference to the Eldfur folk, who have undergone a significant decline since Aquaman last encountered them), Aquaman suggests that he and Mera delay their return to Atlantis long enough to take a detour to that valley to see if Aqualad might be there. They then swim off in that direction, inexplicably leaving the faithful Imp behind; sadly for domesticated giant Hippocampus fans, the seahorse would make no further appearances following this issue. (Aquaman’s own mount, Storm, almost suffered the same fate after the Sea King [and Steve Skeates] abandoned him in similar fashion, back in issue #42. Time would prove kinder to Storm than to Imp, however, for even though the royal steed never reappeared during the “SAG” run of Aquaman, he’d be brought back into service in later years by other comics creators.)
Some of the rebels figure that Narkran is only bluffing, and won’t really harm Aquagirl; Mupo, however, is unwilling to risk it:
Meanwhile, Aquaman and Mera have reached the valley where the Sea King remembers that the people of Eldfur used to have their habitation; but…
When last we saw Captain America, back in May, the Living Legend of World War II was in a very tight spot. His greatest foe, the Red Skull, had used the awesome power of the Cosmic Cube to switch bodies with him, and then, after forcing him into conflicts with police officers, his buddies in the Avengers, and even his girlfriend Sharon Carter, had banished him to the remote Isle of the Exiles.
That all went down in Captain America #116. Unfortunately, my eleven-year-old self didn’t manage to score a copy of the next issue when it was released in June, 1969, so I missed out on the historic first appearance of Sam Wilson, the Falcon, in #117. Thankfully, I had better luck the following month; and so, in July, 1969, these three things happened: the United States of America had its 193rd birthday; I had my twelfth; and we both got to bear witness as mainstream comic books’ first African-American superhero went into action for the very first time.* That may have not been quite as historic an event as the Falcon’s actual debut, but it was still pretty special.
As I was immediately informed by the issue’s splash page, “The Falcon Fights On!” was by the same creative team who’d produced the last two issues — Stan Lee (scripter), Gene Colan (penciller), and Joe Sinnott (inker). Lee’s caption also let me know that, whatever else might have gone down in #117, our hero was still trapped on the Exiles’ island:
On first glancing at this page, I probably assumed that the face of Captain America hovering in the sky was a symbolic representation of the Sentinel of Liberty himself. Page 2 quickly disabused me of that notion, however:
Yeah, what if Cap took off that dang Red Skull mask? Having read issue #116, I was painfully aware that the beleaguered hero could likely have saved himself quite a bit of trouble with the Avengers, et al, if he’d just ditched the mask first thing.
Having worked out how Cap has managed to evade the Exiles thus far, the Skull decides he still doesn’t have any reason to worry, since there’s no possible way his arch-enemy can get off the island. He therefor decides to let events play themselves out, at least for now:
My twelve-year-old self was still pretty mystified as to who the Exiles were — as well as to why, if they were bad guys, they hated the Red Skull so much. Fans who’d been reading Captain America regularly since issue #102 or thereabouts, however, would be aware that they were old allies of the Skull from the World War II era. Why did they have a mad on for him now? As related in issue #115 (another issue I hadn’t read, unfortunately), it was actually the Exiles who’d recently retrieved the Cosmic Cube, which the Skull had thought lost at the bottom of the sea, and returned it to him. But he’d then betrayed them, refusing to share the Cube’s power, and marooning them back on their Isle.
We readers watch as one of the Exiles, General Ching, fires his pistol at the falcon, but misses; and then we follow the bird’s flight as it wings back to its master:
I’m sure that my younger self immediately surmised that the master of the hunting bird, Redwing, must be the same guy as the costumed black man dubbed “the Falcon” on the comic’s cover; and I hope I was bright enough to also guess that the black-haired white man dressed in green was Captain America — still stuck in the Skull’s body, but by now at least having finally had the sense to take off the villain’s mask.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but Sam Wilson’s utterance of his own name in the third panel of page 5 was, in fact, the first time his given name had appeared. In the previous issue, he’d turned up “on panel” without benefit of introduction, as it were, and by the end of the issue, writer Stan Lee still hadn’t provided him with any appellation beyond the superhero codename “the Falcon”, granted him in the last panel of the last page, which was also the first in-story appearance of his costume.
Speaking of the costume — that little metal falcon necklace doesn’t seem like the most practical accessory to wear going into hand-to-hand combat, but hey, what do I know?
Besides noting that he’s from “the swingin’ slums of Harlem, U.S.A.“, which is presumably where he fought “all those street gangs back home”, Lee doesn’t offer us readers many details about Sam’s background. As I’d eventually learn, however, issue #117 hadn’t told readers very much, either, though our new hero-in-training did allow that he’d always had an affinity for birds, and had in fact owned “the biggest pigeon coop on any rooftop in Harlem” before getting into falcons. Sam had acquired Redwing relatively recently, while vacationing in Rio de Janeiro, and some time after that had answered an ad in the newspaper from someone looking to hire a hunting falcon for use on their island. It turned out to be the Exiles, of course — according to Sam’s account, they were “bored… looking for kicks!” (Yeah, sure, sounds perfectly reasonable.) Soon after arriving, however, Sam realized that he’d made a huge mistake, and bugged out to take refuge with the native islanders in their village. By the time Cap met him, Sam was already planning to organize the villagers against the Exiles, who’d been oppressing them for some indeterminate period. Naturally, Cap — without revealing his true identity to his new friend — convinced him that if he really wanted to inspire people to rise up, he should become a costumed superhero — and he, nameless wanderer that he was, was just the man to train Sam for the job.
OK, so now we know all about Sam Wilson** — or, at least, all that Lee and company are inclined to share for the time being. So, while Sam and Cap continue with their “grueling” training session, let’s look in on some of the other players in our four-color drama, beginning with the Red Skull. What nefarious deeds must this depraved villain, now possessed of one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, now be committing , or at least contemplating?
Well, even “A”-list Marvel supervillains have to sleep some time, I guess.
Upon answering his hotel room phone, the Skull is informed by the front desk that the lodging’s lobby is rapidly becoming thronged with rabid fans, whom the staff probably won’t be able to hold off much longer. How does “Cap” respond?
Why, he uses the power of the Cube to help him slip past the crowds, and then makes sure they all see him blowing them off. The fiend!
I said this before in my CA #116 post, but I just can’t let this scene go by without making the point again: these are some pretty damn unimaginative, ineffectual, and downright petty uses to which the Skull keeps putting the nigh-infinite power of the Cosmic Cube. Shouldn’t he be getting on with remaking the world in the image of National Socialism by now, or something?
And now, the scene shifts to a prominent member of Cap’s regular supporting cast — though it sure looks like he’s fast on his way to becoming an ex-member…
Throughout my fifty-four years of reading comic books, it’s hard for me to think of another cover that was as much of a pleasant surprise on first sight than Neal Adams’ cover for The Brave and the Bold #85. This goateed, grimacing tough guy, aiming an arrow out in the general direction of the viewer that didn’t look the least bit “tricky”, but rather looked quite deadly — this was Green Arrow?
The thing is, I actually already liked Green Arrow. Not that he was one of my very favorite characters, or anything like that; in fact, I’m fairly certain I’d never even read a solo tale featuring DC Comics’ Emerald Archer at this point, though that may have been mainly because I’d never really had the chance. (GA had lost his regular backup slot in World’s Finest in early 1964, a full year-and-a-half before I began buying comics; and though there’d been a few of his tales reprinted here and there since then, I’d missed them.) But I enjoyed seeing him in Justice League of America, perhaps at least in part because of his underdog status. While I generally favored JLA tales that focused on the team’s heavy hitters — Superman, Batman, etc. — I also appreciated those stories that allowed the “lesser” heroes their time in the spotlight, the way that Justice League of America #57 did for Green Arrow. I didn’t even mind all that much when the storytellers (writer Gardner Fox and artists Mike Sekowsky and Sid Greene, in this case) subjected the Battling Bowman to such silliness as the scene below, where GA, facing four armed criminals, takes the time to set up a trick shot because… it’s just more fun, I guess?
Trick shots and “tricky shafts”… that was Green Arrow as I knew him, in June, 1969. A guy who was pretty obviously an imitation of Batman (millionaire secret identity, teen ward/partner, themed cave, car, and plane, etc., etc.) with an overlay of Robin Hood. Nothing to dislike, really, but nothing to get too excited about, either.
Which is why the advent of Green Arrow a la Adams was such a shock. Even before cracking open the cover, this bearded badass was obviously going to be a drastic new take on a character that I and the rest of DC’s readership already thought we knew.
I was doing a series of comic books called Brave and the Bold, and I was told that the next character we were going to team up with Batman was Green Arrow. And of all the characters that I was teaming him up with, I kind of rebelled at that because as I told my editor Murray Boltinoff outside of the fact that he’s just a copy of Batman he’s a dull and boring character. And so Murray said “Well, you want to change him?” Ha, well sure. I said let’s try to get him away from what he was and see what we can do. So, my writer, Bob Haney, gave us the opportunity to change him to the extent we changed his costume. But you know, that was enough for me.
It was enough to get the ball rolling, at least, on the reinvention of a classic (if minor) Golden Age hero that would ultimately be seen as having had such an impact on the comic book field that, in 2016, comics writer, editor, executive, and historian Paul Levitz could write (for the San Diego Comic-Con official program book): “In many ways, the Bronze Age began with Green Arrow.” If that’s indeed true, then surely BatB #85 is one highly significant signpost on the road leading from the Silver Age to the Bronze.
And it all started like this…
Of course, the Caped Crusader isn’t seriously hurt by this sudden, at-speed impact with a concrete overpass (he’s Batman, dammit) — but he is delayed long enough for the would-be assassins to make a clean getaway.
Oliver Queen’s “penthouse office” seems to be located in Gotham City itself, rather than Green Arrow’s accustomed stomping grounds of Star City — but then, why wouldn’t Queen Industries have offices all over the United States, or even the world? Also, in 1969 the location of Star City hadn’t yet been established as being on the Western Seaboard, so this isn’t necessarily the bi-coastal business enterprise it might first appear; the fictional Star City could have been right up (or down) the Eastern Seaboard from the equally fictional Gotham at this point in DC continuity. (Not that writer Bob Haney ever paid much attention to that kind of thing, anyway.)
Something that I’m sure I paid no attention to as an eleven-year-old reader, but makes me scratch my head today, is how the real estate project Oliver is bidding on is supposed to “save this state from bankruptcy”, no matter how big it is. At age 61, I’m still no expert on public finance, but I’m pretty sure that state governments usually spend money on construction projects, not take in money from them. I guess Haney may be referring to property, sales, and other tax revenue eventually realized off people and businesses relocating to “New Island”, but wouldn’t all that be years away? But, again, I’m no expert.
“…this new costume I had made up!” Oliver’s phrasing rather seems to beg the question: Just how does a superhero with a secret identity go about having a new outfit “made up” in the first place?
In the same 2016 interview quoted above, Neal Adams had this to say about his visual makeover of Green Arrow:
I realized that if Green Arrow was going to get away from being an imitation Batman – you know he had an Arrowcar, he had Speedy [Green Arrow’s sidekick]…. If we could get rid of that stuff and basically turn him into a modern-day Robin Hood, then well, you know it’s one thing to be an imitation Robin Hood which isn’t kind of bad, but a bad thing to be an imitation Batman.
He was blond-haired so that gave me the opportunity to give him a blond beard. I made his outfit be a little bit more of an archer’s outfit that I gave him leather protectors on his arms, I gave him a triple quiver so that it would mold to his back…
So, I made a character that I felt was more of a modern-day Robin Hood and that is what Green Arrow became.
Of course, the “modern-day Robin Hood” angle had been a part of Green Arrow since his debut — after all, you could hardly have an adventuring archer who ran around in a green tunic and tights, and sported a feathered green bycocket, and not evoke the popular image of Sherwood’s legendary outlaw. But Adams does manage to strengthen the visual identification through the changes he mentions (the beard, the arm protectors), as well as those he doesn’t (the laced leather jerkin, the excision of bright red from the costume’s color scheme in favor of several different shades of green). Interestingly, this more “historical” (or at least “authentic”) visual take on the hero brings him closer to a standard superhero look in at least one way — the new jerkin and shirt combo are more form-fitting than the archer’s former short-sleeved tunic.
On page 6, Adams cuts loose with some of the story’s most innovative panel layouts and audacious camera angles:
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Gotham…
After the debut of Green Arrow’s new look, this was the second largest surprise of the issue. While there’s a whole Bat-family of characters privy to Bruce Wayne’s secret these days, not to mention the members of the Justice League of America (and probably most of the rest of the greater superhero community), the list of folks who knew in 1969 that Bruce and Bats were one and the same was (allowing for some inconsistencies in individual stories, here and there) a pretty short one, comprised entirely (I think) of Robin, Alfred, Superman, and Deadman.
(That last name, of course had only been added to the list as of the previous summer’s Brave and the Bold #79; and as such is another product of the collaboration of Haney and Adams, who appear to have taken to this particular theme.)
Last month, the blog tackled Avengers #66, which featured the first chapter of writer Roy Thomas’ second-ever storyline featuring the super–villainous robot Ultron, as well as the first mention ever of Wolverine’s favorite metal, adamantium. Today, we’re moving on to the second chapter of this three-part tale, which, like the first, was illustrated by the young British artist Barry Windsor-Smith — save for the cover, that is, which was instead drawn by an American artist, named Buscema. Unlike with issue #66, however, the Buscema who pencilled #67’s cover (inked, as #66’s had been, by Sam Grainger) wasn’t the veteran John, but rather John’s brother, Sal.
The younger Buscema had been working as an inker for Marvel Comics for a little over half a year — among his first published jobs, he’d embellished his sibling’s pencils for the classic Silver Surfer #4 — but this cover represented his Marvel debut as a penciller. It would soon prove a harbinger of bigger things to come, as with the very next issue of Avengers, #68, the 33-year-old artist would graduate to becoming the regular artist for its interiors.
But as far as issue #67 was concerned, everything beyond the cover was still the 20-year-old Windsor-Smith’s show — as was probably evident to anyone taking a look at #67’s opening splash page, even before looking at the credits…
…unless you mistook the pencilled artwork for that of Jack Kirby, or even Jim Steranko — who were still two very dominant influences on BWS’s developing style at this early stage of his career.
The inks were by industry veteran George Klein, and represented his last work on Avengers — a series for which he’d embellished the lion’s share of issues published ever since #55, a full year earlier. As noted in last week’s post, Klein had sadly passed away in May, 1969, but his work would continue to appear in Marvel’s comics for several months after his death.
The script? That, of course, was by Roy Thomas — just as it had been for the last thirty-five issues (including two annuals).
Thomas and company picked up their story in the immediate aftermath of the last issue’s climactic last page reveal — namely, the return from the “dead” of Henry (Yellowjacket) Pym’s rogue creation, Ultron-5 (who himself had later created the Avengers’ android member, the Vision, as revealed in issue #58) — in the new and improved form of…
Having thrown us right into the middle of explosive action in the first scene (though Thomas did manage to squeeze in just a teensy bit of exposition on page 2, as you may have noticed), our storytellers now shift the scene to the Vision — the mystery of whose sudden and inexplicable betrayal of his teammates had been the driver of the plot in issue #66, all the way up until Ultron-6’s last-page appearance.
With that mystery solved — and with any readers who’d missed #66 now brought up to date on just about everything truly essential for following the story from this point — it’s back to the rock’em, sock’em action:
Between Barry Windsor-Smith’s two leading lights of comics art, the Jack Kirby influence shines more brightly through most of Avengers #67 — but there’s certainly at least a glimmer of Jim Steranko in the layout of page 5, as Ultron-6’s hand lever serves double duty as a panel border. (Or had BWS been looking at Neal Adams’ stuff, too?)
Thankfully, Yellowjacket’s wings cushion his landing — but he barely has the chance to alert the Wasp and Iron Man that they’re facing a resurrected Ultron, who to make matters exponentially worse is now made of indestructible adamantium, when the malevolent robot makes a dive-bombing run at them. The three Avengers all narrowly manage to evade him; but then, he comes back around for another pass, this time aiming directly at his creator — “the most dangerous of all the Avengers!” — and Hank’s only spared thanks to Iron Man running interference:
His timely save of Yellowjacket notwithstanding, Iron Man is pretty ineffectual — not just in this particular skirmish, but throughout the whole three-part storyline, thanks to the “accident” (actually a deliberate act of sabotage by the Ultron-controlled Vision) he suffered early in issue #66. I find it an interesting choice by the storytellers to downplay the Armored Avenger’s role, considering that Roy Thomas was already going out on something of a limb with his editor (Stan Lee) by including both Iron Man and Thor in the story in the first place. Perhaps the thought was that the four “regular” team members — Yellowjacket, Wasp, Vision, and Goliath* — would be too much overshadowed if both of these “OG” Avengers powerhouses were operating at full strength throughout all three issues.
As soon as Goliath sets him back on his feet, YJ is eager to be off again, in pursuit of his errant creation — but his teammates urge him to pause at least long enough to catch a breath, and maybe ponder a question or two:
When the blog last checked in with Daredevil, back in March, we saw how, at the climax of issue #52, our hero was forced to let his defeated adversary — the murderous roboticist named Starr Saxon — get away free, due to Saxon having quite inconveniently learned that the Man Without Fear is secretly blind lawyer Matt Murdock. Then, following a retelling of his origin story in issue #53, DD came up with the perfect solution — he’d kill off Matt! As he put it in the issue’s last panel: “My problem isn’t Daredevil — and never was! It was always Matt — the blind lawyer — the hapless, helpless invalid!He’s been my plague — since the day I first donned a costume!”
This was probably the worst idea ol’ Hornhead had come up with in a very long time — and considering all the other bad ideas he’d contemplated and then implemented over just the past year or two, that’s really saying something. These bad ideas had included (in chronological order): faking the death of both Daredevil and his “third” identity of Mike Murdock (Matt’s fictional twin brother) in an explosion, so that he could live an unencumbered life as Matt; then, after realizing he really did still want to be a costumed hero, having to invent a new, second Daredevil, supposedly the original hero’s replacement; then deciding to retire as Daredevil yet again, a resolution that lasted less than an issue, as a robot assassin sent by Starr Saxon to kill DD instead attacked Matt, having found him by scent (long story); that event required him to suit up again, and ultimately led to his current predicament of subject to being blackmailed by Saxon over his secret identity.
I mean, I can see where Matt’s coming from. It must be a drag to have everyone feeling sorry for you and fussing over you because of your supposed disability, when you can in fact navigate the world better than a sighted person, at least in most situations. But has he really thought this through? How will he make his way through the world with no valid legal identity? Where will he live? What will he do for money? And what will the effect be on his former secretary and almost-girlfriend, Karen Page, who loves Matt and doesn’t know he’s Daredevil?
Let’s take a look inside Daredevil #54, to see how these questions were addressed by the creative team of writer Roy Thomas, penciller Gene Colan (who’d returned to his long-time regular gig with issue #53, following a trio of stories drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith, and inker George Klein (whose very last contribution to Daredevil this would be).* First, though, regarding the cover (also by Colan) — just in case you’re wondering about Spider-Man’s appearance among its several floating heads — Spidey makes a cameo appearance that takes up all of two panels, as he and Daredevil literally bump into each other on the street while they’re both tussling with some hoods. (Marvel did that kind of thing fairly often back in the day — though I suppose we can be grateful that at lrast they didn’t slap a big “Special Guest Appearance By Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man!!!” blurb on the book.)
The question of how Karen Page will take Matt’s “death” is taken up as early as the splash page:
…. and the answer is, unsurprisingly, “not well”. In fact, Karen is so broken up that she’s pulling a late-nighter at the office where she currently works for recently elected District Attorney Franklin “Foggy” Nelson, who of course also happens to be Matt’s best buddy (though, at this point in the series’ continuity, he has no more idea that Matt is really Daredevil than Karen does). While there, she’s startled by the arrival of DD himself, who’s come there, not to tell her that he’s really Matt, or even that Matt’s not really dead, but to retrieve his recently-mislaid cane — a tool which poor, “dead” Matt may no longer have any use for, but which Daredevil definitely does, as it’s actually his signature billy-club weapon in disguise. However, Karen ends up taking the cane home to her own apartment, wanting to keep it as a memento of her lost love — which forces our hero to follow her there, wait an hour or so for her to go to sleep, and then sneak into her bedroom and steal it. (Yeah, that is kind of creepy.) Then, mission accomplished, Daredevil goes home.
Wait a minute — “goes home“? What home? I hear you, but just hold that thought for now, OK? Because first, Thomas and Colan have to show us how DD pulled off faking his death this time (before you get fully absorbed in the flashback, however, please be sure to note that Matt has apparently been wearing his shades under his Daredevil cowl this evening):
How did Matt get to this private airport in the first place? Well, he appears to have driven himself there. That may seem like a highly improbable feat for a blind man — even one with a radar sense — but it’s actually something he’s done before, on at least one occasion.
I suppose that if you can manage to drive a car using your radar sense, then flying a plane is no big deal either (especially when you have no intention of trying to land the thing).
And that’s how a superhero knocks off his civilian identity, boys and girls. Easy-peasy!
Now what’s all this about Matt’s “home”? How does he, a “dead” man, even have a home to go to? Those seem like pretty fair questions to me — but, as you’ll be able to tell from the very next page, they don’t seem to have occurred to our storytellers:
The clear implication of page 12, from the first panel’s depiction of Matt chillin’ in his PJs onward, is that after spending his days in costume as Daredevil, he’s going back to his Manhattan brownstone digs every night to crash — and while one might allow that it could take Matt Murdock’s landlord, legal representatives, etc., a few days to change the locks, dispose of his property and furnishings, etc., it seems highly improbable that this situation would continue indefinitely — through all “the days that follow”, in Roy Thomas’ phrase — or, at least, that Matt should assume that it would. But hey, maybe that stuff works differently in the Marvel Universe.
After one particularly unsatisfying day of beating up street hoods, and getting no closer to nabbing Starr Saxon, Daredevil decides to distract himself by reading the newspaper. “Nothing like a bit of nuclear sabre-rattling — for taking your mind off your problems!”
As editor Stan Lee’s footnote (likely scripted by Thomas himself) informs us, Mister Fear was one of the first villains DD ever fought, and he had appeared in all of one issue, Daredevil #6 (Feb., 1965). (Even then, he’d shared billing with a couple of hirelings, the Ox and the Eel, as “the Fellowship of Fear”.) His modus operandi — using a gas that caused intense, debilitating fear in his victims — is likely to remind many comics fans of the similar shtick of the classic DC Comics villain, the Scarecrow — but it’s worth noting that while that Batman foe did indeed debut much earlier than Mister Fear, having made his first appearance in World’s Finest Comics #3 (Fall, 1941), he didn’t actually begin using fear-inducing chemicals until Batman #189 (Feb., 1967) — a comic book published a full two years after Daredevil #6, and thus having the potential, at least, to have been influenced by it. Still, it’s fair to say that Mister Fear never caught on the way DC’s villain did — perhaps simply because the “scarecrow” image is immediate, and even archetypal, in a way that a conventional super-villain costume can never be; even when the design is by as gifted an artist as Mister Fear’s co-creator (with Stan Lee), Wally Wood.
Fear goes on television to repeat his challenge, offering to give $100,000 to charity if Daredevil accepts his challenge, and vowing that even without using his “fear-pellets”, he’ll be able to prove that “the ‘Man Without Fear’ — is a common, craven coward!!”
Justice League of America was the first comic book title that you could say I “collected”, though I wouldn’t have used (or understood) that term at the time. I bought my first issue, #40 (Nov., 1965) at the age of eight, just a month or so after buying my first comic book, period, and didn’t miss a single issue out of the next twenty-eight — a run of a little over three years. Of course, it helped that I sent “National Comics” (i.e., DC) a dollar in the mail for a year’s subscription early on (and was then obliged to live with the legendary, dreaded folded-in-half crease for the next ten issues); but even after that ran out, I was able keep the run going without a break up through #68. If you’re old enough to remember how unreliable standard newsstand distribution was in the latter half of the 1960s (or if you just happen to be a regular reader of this blog) you’ll realize that was something of a feat — especially for a kid who had to rely on his parents for transportation to the convenience stores where he bought his comics, and couldn’t be certain of getting to the spinner rack every single week.
But in late 1968, my luck finally ran out. Or something like that. I don’t actually remember ever seeing JLA #69 on the stands, so perhaps I never did. On the other hand, I’d begun buying an ever-greater quantity of Marvel comics over the past year, and it’s possible that I did see this issue and ended up passing on it in favor of Avengers or Thor or something. Either way, though, I missed it.
And then, just a few months later, it happened again. I missed JLA #72. While the first time might have been a fluke, this one clinched it; I was no longer buying each and every issue of Justice League of America. To this day, I don’t know whether this development was due simply to the mere vagaries of fate, or if it had more to do with my own evolving tastes; still, however it happened, an era of sorts had passed for yours truly.
But miss the annual summer two-part Justice League-Justice Society team-up epic? Yeah, that wasn’t going to happen.
Seeing issue #73 on the spinner rack, with its lineup of JSAers in view, I doubt that I hesitated for a single moment before snatching the book up — although, frankly, I wasn’t crazy about the cover, which, like that of the issue immediately preceding it, was by the great Joe Kubert. Part of that was probably my lack of familiarity with Kubert’s style — I didn’t read DC’s war comics, which was where most of the artist’s work appeared — but it probably also had something to do with the static, passive posture of the Earth-Two heroes, who were drawn to appear subordinate to some nameless, super-strong kid (who, as I’d be annoyed to learn upon reading the issue, didn’t even play a significant part in the story). Of course, since DC’s new Editorial Director, Carmine Infantino, was designing most if not all the publisher’s covers at this time, it would probably be unfair to blame Kubert for all of its weaknesses; on the other hand, it’s probably also fair to say that the veteran illustrator (who’d recently been promoted to editor) wasn’t really into the capes-and-tights stuff, especially at this point in his career.
But, no matter, really. The cover wasn’t going to keep me from buying the comic; and besides, as my eleven-year-old self discovered as soon as I opened the book to the first page, the interior art was by the regular, reliable team of Dick Dillin (penciller) and Sid Greene (inker):
Scripter Denny O’Neil’s choice of “Aquarius” as the name for a “bad” star, “guilty of crimes most heinous” seems a little odd; while as the signifier of a constellation as well as an astrological sign the name certainly has stellar associations, in everyday use the term “Aquarian” usually connotes benign ideas, like expanded consciousness, peace, love, etc.; this would have been especially true in 1969, with the hippie movement going strong, and the musical Hair (“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…”) packing them in on Broadway. Perhaps O’Neil, staunch political liberal though he was, was subtly sending a message of skepticism regarding some of the more mystical aspects of the late-Sixties counterculture (though I should add that this is pure speculation on my part).
I suspect that my eleven-year-old self was at least slightly surprised to see a member of Earth-Two’s Justice Society, the Red Tornado, already present and speaking with members of the Justice League as the story began. Obviously, by missing issue #72, I had missed some significant plot developments; in 1969, that was still a rare occurrence in DC’s comics, where the sort of issue-to-issue continuity commonly found in Marvel’s books was the exception, rather than the rule. With the advent of newer, younger writers like Denny O’Neil, however, things were beginning to change at DC on that score.
Incidentally, this was the first JLA-JSA team-up story not written by Gardner Fox, who’d developed DC’s “multiple Earths” concept in collaboration with JLA editor Julius Schwartz eight years prior, in Flash #123. And while Denny O’Neil seems to have been among the least “fannish” of the emerging new generation of comic book writers, he appears to have enjoyed the opportunity to script the superheroes of the Golden Age for an issue or two, even though it made for a extra-crowded cast (and consequent storytelling challenges). “The Justice Society — those were my characters from when I was a little kid,” O’Neil explained to interviewer Michael Eury some four-and-a-half decades later for The Justice League Companion (TwoMorrows, 2005), “so there is just enough of a fan in me to enjoy revisiting these things.”
The remainder of this issue is largely taken up by a single long flashback, as “Reddy” relates his tale to the listening Justice Leaguers:
Starman’s cosmic rod-blast merely rebounds upon him, with extra juice. He next tries “old-fashioned fisticuffs“, which prove equally useless.
“…Earth-Two’s foremost feminine fighter”? Hmm, I dunno… seems Wonder Woman (who’ll be showing up in just a few pages, as it happens) might have something to say about that.
I’d never seen the Black Canary’s hubby Larry Lance before, but I assumed that he’d been a member of her series’ supporting cast back in the Golden Age; and, of course, I was right. He’d been introduced in Flash Comics #92 (February, 1948) — just six issues after Dinah herself had debuted in the “Johnny Thunder” strip running in that title, and two after she’d achieved billing as that JSA member’s co-star. (Flash Comics #92 was in fact the issue in which the Canary finally pushed poor Johnny completely out of his own strip completely.) Dinah and Larry’s marriage, on the other hand, had taken place sometime between her last Golden Age appearance (in All-Star Comics #57 [Feb.-March, 195]) and her Silver Age return (in JLA #21 [Aug., 1963]). Larry had turned up once since then, in a 1965 issue of The Brave and the Bold that teamed up Starman and Black Canary, but I’d never seen that story, as it had predated my inaugural comic book-buying experience by a couple of months.
Something that neither my younger self nor anyone else reading the above scene in 1969 (or anyone involved with writing, illustrating, or editing it, for that matter) would have then guessed was that Dinah Drake Lance and Ted Knight had a history of having once been more than mere Justice Society colleagues, or even close friends. As would be revealed decades later in James Robinson and Tony Harris’ Starman series, Dinah and Ted had carried on a love affair for a time, behind the backs of their respective spouses. (Of course, that particular revelation technically concerned the “post-Crisis” Starman and Black Canary, not the original Earth-Two versions; so whether or not the heroes on view in JLA #73 have the same adulterous episode in their past is ultimately up to each individual reader and their own personal headcanon.)
Even if I’d believed that Larry Drake had never appeared before now, I doubt I would have thought for a moment that the Black Canary’s husband would turn out to be an actual, bona fide homicidal maniac. Nah, something had to be off here:
As I’ve written in several previous posts, I was something of a wuss as a kid, at least when it came to my choices in entertainment. (Oh, who do I think I’m kidding? I was an all-around, all-purpose wuss.) To put it plainly, I was scared of being scared.
So I pretty much eschewed all forms of scary media: horror movies, eerie TV shows, spooky comic books… you get the idea.* That is, until a friend took me gently by the hand (metaphorically speaking) and showed me that a walk through the cemetery at midnight could actually be kind of fun.
In 1969, Ann Cummings lived down the street for me, and had been my friend for as long as I could remember. We were into most of the same TV shows of the mid-to-late Sixties — The Wild Wild West, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees — and I trusted her tastes. And while I don’t recall that Ann was into comic books in all that big a way, at least, not at the same level as me (but then, who was?), she did read some — and it was at her house that I first remember seeing — and eventually reading — some issues of DC Comics’ “mystery” titles.**
I don’t recall exactly how many of these comics I read at Ann’s, but the two that made the greatest impression on me were the 181st and 182nd issues of House of Mystery, both of which featured covers by Neal Adams (a factor that would have definitely enhanced the comics’ appeal for me at the time). Alas, since I didn’t buy ’em off the stands myself, neither of those comics is eligible for its own blog post — which is a shame, considering the long-lasting impact they both had on my tastes (and not just in comics). It’s possible that when I get around to posting about the first issue of House of Mystery that I did buy, I won’t be able to resist telling you a bit more about them — but for now, let me just say that my readings of the two stories that provide the bases for Adams’ covers — #181’s “The Siren of Satan”, by Robert Kanigher and Bernie Wrightson, and #182’s “The Devil’s Doorway, by Jack Oleck and Alex Toth, provided some of my earliest experiences of the pleasurable frisson of being scared by a story. The final panels of both stories are seared into my memory as deeply as any graphic images I’ve ever encountered, before or since; indeed, in the first few weeks after I initially read the comics where they appear, these stories may have even kept me up a night or two.
What they didn’t do, however, was keep me from wanting to read more stories like them — which I suppose is the main reason why, when I soon thereafter had the opportunity to pick up House of Secrets #81, I yielded to impulse, and bought it.***
This comic book might have had a “No. 81” on the cover, but it was a “first” issue in some ways. The last issue of House of Secrets to appear prior to this one had been published almost three whole years earlier, in July, 1966, and the title, then featuring the superhero genre characters Eclipso and Prince Ra-Man, had been a very different sort of comic book than the revived version would prove to be. I had begun buying and reading comics in the summer of 1965, so I probably saw at least a couple of issues of this iteration of House of Secrets before its demise; but an issue of Brave and the Bold that co-featured Eclipso with Batman was the closest I ever got to buying one.
The series got its new lease on life as part of the late -Sixties “artist-editor” movement at DC Comics, a change of course for the industry leader that began with the ascendancy of Carmine Infantino (himself previously a freelance artist) to an executive role at the company. Joe Orlando was one of several veteran artists who accepted Infantino’s offer to join DC’s staff as an editor. Among the first titles assigned to Orlando was House of Mystery — and while it might have not been Orlando’s original idea to transition that series from superheroes to “mystery” (i.e., horror) — according to an interview Carmine Infantino gave Comic Book Artist in 1998, the initiative to bring back mystery came from DC Publisher Irwin Donenfeld — the move was a natural one for him. After all, he’d been a member of the stable of artists responsible for crafting the most-acclaimed horror comics ever — those published by EC Comics — back in the Fifties; and more recently, he’d been a contributor to Warren Publishing’s black-and-white horror comic magazines Creepy and Eerie, even playing an editorial role on the first issue of the former (his actual masthead credit read “Story Ideas”).
Orlando’s first issue of House of Mystery, #174, was an all-reprint issue presenting relatively tame fantasy tales from DC’s vast library; but with the next (cover-dated July-Aug., 1968), he began featuring new material, and also introduced his original creation, Cain — the “able caretaker” of the series’ titular domicile. Cain made his debut on issue #175’s first page, written and drawn by Orlando himself:
Cain fell squarely in the grand tradition of the sardonic, punning “horror hosts”, which had first emerged in the Forties in radio programs such as Inner Sanctum Mystery, and then had entered the comic book medium through such figures as EC’s famous “GhoulLunatics” (the Crypt Keeper, the Vault Keeper, and the Old Witch). Following the imposition of the Comics Code Authority in the mid-Fifties, and the subsequent banishment of horror from American comics, the tradition had been kept alive in popular culture through television film hosts like Vampira and Zacherley, before returning to comics in the Sixties with Warren’s Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie, who were both clearly inspired by their predecessors at EC.
Cain appears to have been a hit, as he was joined at DC by a number of other brand-new host-storyteller characters within less than a year. The first was the Mad Mod Witch, who debuted in The Unexpected #108 (Aug.-Sept., 1968); she was followed by the Three Witches (Mordred, Mildred, and Cynthia) in The Witching Hour #1 (Feb.-March, 1969). Lastly, there came Judge Gallows, who alternated appearances with the Mad Mod Witch in Unexpected, beginning with issue #113 (June-July, 1969). Both Unexpected and Witching Hour were, like House of Mystery, mystery anthology titles (the former having been newly repurposed from featuring science fiction stories); and though neither were edited by Orlando, in their development of these hosts, the series’ editors (DC veteran Murray Boltinoff on Unexpected, and Orlando’s fellow artist-editor and DC “newbie”, Dick Giordano, on Witching Hour) followed the EC and Warren alumnus’ lead.
The last of these first DC hosts, Judge Gallows, arrived on the scene just in time to appear in DC Special #4 (July-Sept., 1969) — a one-shot reprint anthology edited by Orlando, in which all of the above-named hosts took turns telling tales to a group of hard-to-please kids. A framing sequence, written by Mark Hanerfeld and drawn by Bill Draut, introduced all the established yarnspinners on the book’s first page — along with one new face:
By the spring of ’69, House of Mystery and its two sister titles were all apparently doing well enough that DC decided it was time to bring back the publisher’s other “House” title. Orlando was given the job of re-launching House of Secrets (though he’d almost immediately relinquish his editorial role to Dick Giordano, who would take the reins beginning with the second new issue, #83) — and he quite reasonably hit on the idea of making the “new” title a sort of companion to the existing series, with a host who would provide a strong contrast to Cain even while being (literally) related to him.
Orlando had of course derived the name of his House of Mystery host from the story of Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis; as he told interviewer Paul Levitz for the 6th issue of Amazing World of DC Comics in 1975: “[I] felt I couldn’t go wrong with the original Biblical names.” So the host of House of Secrets would be Cain’s brother Abel — and, following the lead of his scriptural source, Abel would be the less assertive, seemingly weaker of the pair — easy prey for Cain’s acerbic wit (and perhaps worse than that).
Abel was designed to contrast with his older sibling in his physique as well as in his personality. While the long, lean Cain had been visually based on a young fan-turned-pro named Len Wein (later to write the single most famous story ever to appear in House of Secrets, issue #92’s “Swamp Thing”), the shorter, heavier Abel was based on yet another fan-turned-pro, Mark Hanerfeld (who would go on to write Abel’s first appearance in DC Special #4, and afterwards would become Orlando’s editorial assistant).**** Orlando’s early sketch of Abel (shown at right) suggests that the artist-editor was considering giving him a beret at one point; by the time DC Special #4 went to press, however, that notion appears to have been discarded.
DC Special #4, featuring Abel’s debut appearance, went on sale May 22, 1969. Not quite two weeks later, on June 3, it was followed by House of Secrets #81.
And some time after that — perhaps quite some time after that (see my third footnote, below) — is where yours truly came in.
As of June, 1969, Neal Adams had been turning out multiple covers for DC Comics on a monthly basis for almost two years. In this month alone, his output included the full art for the covers of Unexpected #114, Brave and the Bold #85, and Adventure Comics #383, as well as inks for the covers of five additional titles in the “Superman” family of comics. (Adams was also the regular cover artist for Superboy, Tomahawk, and of course House of Mystery, but they were all published bi-monthly, and June was an off month for them.) His art would come to define the look of DC’s mystery line during this era, though that may have had as much to do with the consistency of subject matter as it did Adams’ skill as setting an eerie mood. As Joe Orlando would tell Comic Book Artist‘s Jon B. Cooke in a 1998 interview:
Bill Gaines [EC Comics publisher and co-editor] told me a long time ago that the best-selling covers he had published were ones that depicted boys in danger. He got the idea from an illustration in Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer where Tom was in a graveyard and witness to a murder. That concept, in many different ways, worked over and over again.
Orlando and Adams did indeed use the “boys in danger” concept “over and over again” — though they usually mixed things up by showing one or more girls in jeopardy as well, such as the young lady on House of Secrets #81’s cover. And, of course, they raised the stakes even further here by adding a dog to the scene — maybe the most authentically terrified-looking pooch that had ever appeared on a comic-book cover. (If your heart doesn’t go out to that poor dog… well, then, I don’t think I want to know you.) But I don’t recall being motivated to pick up this issue — or any other DC mystery comic, for that matter — by the presence of children on the cover. What usually sold such a book to me was the object of the kids’ terror — here, of course the House of Secrets itself, given vividly malevolent life by Adams’ “realistic” style of illustration. And, as I’d soon discover, though there were no children (or dogs) to be found within the comic book’s pages, the cover’s emphasis on the House was absolutely appropriate.
The comic’s first page, rather that giving us an introductory frontispiece, or a traditional splash panel with a story title and creator credits, drops us cold into the beginning of the first story:
As a young reader, I was already hooked. I just had to turn to the next page to find out what this huge, mysterious, clumping thing could be.
Back in October of last year, I wrote a post about Amazing Spider-Man #68, the first installment of the “petrified clay tablet” story arc that would run for a full eight issues (or ten, depending on how you look at it — more about that later). If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may remember that I identified this storyline as a major highlight of my early years as a Spider-Man fan, and that I wrote I planned to return to it for at least a couple more posts before we reached the 50th anniversary of its finale.
Well, it’s kind of funny how things go, sometimes. The fact is, there have been so many other fine comics hitting the half-century mark over the past seven months that Spidey has kept getting squeezed out. But there’s no way I can let the climactic chapter, issue #75’s “Death Without Warning” pass by without posting about it; and so, here we are.
Of course, I can hardly launch into a review of AS-M #75 without giving you some sense of what’s preceded it, right? Let’s start, then, with a brief recap of what went down in issue #68: As you may recall, a recently-discovered clay tablet was being exhibited on the campus of Empire State University, the institute of higher learning attended by our hero Peter Parker, aka your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Spidey’s enemy, the gangland boss known as the Kingpin, was keen to acquire the mysterious but priceless artifact, and used the occasion of a campus protest to stage a theft. Spider-Man attempted to thwart the robbery, but was ultimately unsuccessful. And that’s where we left matters, back in October.
In the next issue, however, the wall-crawler was able to track the Kingpin to his lair, and ultimately managed both to overcome his foe and to retrieve the stolen tablet; but the Kingpin, while being taken into custody, told the police that Spider-Man was his partner in crime, so that when Spidey attempted to turn over the tablet, the cops responded by firing on him. The situation grew even worse in issue #70, as the Kingpin broke out of jail and went after our now-wanted web-slinger in a bid to reclaim the tablet. Just as before, Spider-Man was able to foil the Kingpin’s efforts — but the villain managed to escape, due primarily to the interference of Daily Bugle publisher (and Spider-Man nemesis) J. Jonah Jameson. An angry Spidey then seized Jameson and began berating him, only to have the publisher collapse in his grasp; as he fled the scene, our hero wondered if he’d just proven that he was the dangerous menace Jameson had always claimed he was.
Fortunately, the next issue revealed that J.J.J. had suffered only a case of shock, not a heart attack. But Spider-Man was still stuck with a “hot” tablet and was still wanted by the NYPD, besides — and then, to make matters worse, the onetime Avenger known as Quicksilver — who’d been on the lam with his sister, the Scarlet Witch, and their ally, the Toad, ever since Avengers #53 — decided that he could redeem himself in the eyes of his estranged teammates (and the law) by capturing the “wanted criminal”, Spider-Man. The two superhumans fought, until Spidey ultimately managed to dissuade the mutant speedster from his course of action. Before the issue’s end, the web-slinger also finally hit on a way to dispose of the tablet, by delivering it into the hands of retired police captain George Stacy — the father of Peter Parker’s girlfriend, Gwen, and a man who’d shown himself sympathetic to Spider-Man in the past.
Unluckily for all concerned, however, in the very next issue the Stacys’ home was invaded by the Shocker, a villain last seen in AS-M #46. Having read of the tablet’s current whereabouts in the newspapers (!), the Shocker overcame the elderly Capt. Stacy and took the priceless artifact from his wall safe. But his plan to auction it off to the highest underworld bidder went awry when he learned that since Spider-Man had stolen the tablet from the Kingpin, it had become too hot, and no one wanted to touch it any longer. Spider-Man confronted and eventually defeated the Shocker, but by that time the villain had stashed the tablet away in an unknown location.
In issue #73, following a tip provided by the recovering Capt. Stacy, Spidey tracked down the Shocker’s onetime girlfriend, only to find someone had already gotten to her before him and was tearing the poor woman’s place apart, looking for the tablet. This was Man-Mountain Marko, an enforcer for “the Maggia” (a fictional criminal organization that’s more-or-less the Marvel Universe version of the Mafia). Despite his apparently not having any actual super-powers, the hulking, musclebound Marko managed to more than hold his own against Spider-Man, and ultimately got away with the tablet after dropping the Shocker’s ex out of a window, forcing our hero to abandon the fight and rescue the girl.
Marko took the tablet directly to his boss, the elderly Silvermane — described as being among the last of the Maggia’s “legendary, old-time leaders“. Meanwhile, another Maggia figure — a diminutive “big-time mouthpiece” named Caesar Cicero — bailed out a subordinate of the Kingpin named Wilson, who’d been introduced in issue #68 as the Kingpin’s resident “brain” and expert on the tablet. Silvermane and Cicero quickly set Wilson to work on deciphering the ancient artifact’s inscriptions. Before long, however, he was joined by another expert — a research biologist named Dr. Curt Connors, whom Cicero had ordered kidnapped from his lab in the Florida Everglades and brought to New York. What Cicero and Silvermane didn’t know, however, was that Dr. Connors was prone to turning into a scaly, green, reptilian monster, the Lizard — one of Spider-Man’s oldest foes, a creation of writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko who’d debuted in AS-M #6 and had made one return engagement since then.
Issue #74 revealed that the Maggia had also kidnapped Connors’ wife Martha and son Billy — the former of whom knew her husband’s secret — to ensure his cooperation. Spider-Man learned of this development, however, and even found out where the mother and son were being held, but was ultimately unsuccessful in his attempt to rescue them. A booby-trap blew up the hideout where the Connors had recently been imprisoned, almost killing our hero, as a car sped Cicero and his captives away to the safety of Silvermane’s headquarters. Quickly recovering, Spider-Man once more took up the chase…
Elsewhere in the heavily secured building, Dr. Connors was rapidly approaching a breakthrough — but time was running out even more rapidly for him and the hapless Wison, in more ways than one:
And still elsewhere in the Maggia boss’ HQ, young Billy Connors confided to his mom that he’d known his dad’s secret for years.
Finally, Dr. Connors completed his work. He gave the vial of serum to Silvermane, while cautioning the aged crimelord that the formula hadn’t been tested yet:
I feel pretty confident in making the statement that Neal Adams’ cover for X-Men #58, featuring the debut of Scott “Cyclops” Summers’ younger brother Alex in the costumed hero identity of Havok, is one of the most iconic of the late Silver Age at Marvel Comics. But apparently, not everyone associated with that cover was, or is, completely happy with how it turned out — at least, not in the published version.
…Neal turned in a real beauty for X-Men #58, with a color-held overlay of Havok as the focal point. Alas, Neal’s suggested color scheme wasn’t followed. Instead of the blue that would have been the closest equivalent of the black in his costume inside, it was decided (by whom I dunno, but it wasn’t me, babe) that the Havok figure should be color-held in orange and yellow. Bad idea.
Well, maybe. I gotta say, though, that that orange-and-yellow has always worked for me. I mean, those colors really popped against the cover’s dark blue-gray background; and besides, blue ain’t black, after all. Too bad we don’t have a “blue” version to compare the published version with… wait, what did you say? We do, kind of? Courtesy of the cover to the trade paperback edition of Marvel Masterworks – The X-Men, Vol. 6, featuring Adams’ art newly recolored by Richard Isanove? Oh, okay then.
Hmm. I’ve gotta say, I still like the original version better — though I’ll grant that that might just be my nostalgia talking.
But, moving on along… If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll recall that in last month’s post about X-Men #57 (the second issue produced by the team of Thomas, Adams, and inker Tom Palmer, but the first by those three worthies that I myself bought), we last left two members of the titular team of mutant superheroes, Bobby “Iceman” Drake and Hank “Beast” McCoy, about to be walloped by one of the mutant-hunting giant robots known as the Sentinels — just as they were watching the master of said Sentinels, one Larry Trask, being interviewed on television. X-Men #58’s “Mission: Murder!” picks up precisely where the preceding issue’s story left off:
Adams follows this exciting splash page with a jaw-dropping double-page spread, composed of curving, diagonally-oriented panels that depict the two X-Men’s battle against the Sentinel, while inset rectangular panels present the ongoing television interview, with Trask’s comments providing unintentional but eerily appropriate commentary regarding our heroes’ predicament:
After two more pages of less-innovatively designed, but still thrilling action, Bobby manages to earn Hank and himself a temporary breather — which he uses to convince Hank to escape, while he runs interference. “Face it — we can’t hold out forever!” the Iceman explains. “And nobody’s going to find Lorna — if we both get caught!” he adds, referring to his girlfriend Lorna Dane, aka Polaris, who was captured by the Sentinels in the previous issue.
Page 6’s single (?) panel depicting the Beast’s escape from Scott Summers’ apartment may not make a whole lot of logical narrative sense, but it’s a joy to look at, nonetheless.
On the next page, Hank forlornly watches as the Sentinel flies away with his captured comrade; then he uses a video communications device to report in to the three remaining X-Men, who are still halfway around the world, in Egypt (where they’d traveled in issue #55, on a mission to rescue Alex Summers from a villainous mutant calling himself the Living Pharaoh). Upon learning that the Sentinels have returned, Warren “Angel” Worthington III abruptly takes to the skies, intent on flying back to the United States under his own power — leaving Scott Summers and Jean “Marvel Girl” Grey to follow later, by commercial jet.
Meanwhile, having returned from the TV studio to his secret lair, Larry Trask takes custody of his latest acquisition, Bobby Drake; and after dousing him with a gas to inhibit his powers for a four-hour period, has him tossed in a cell:
Havok’s costume — which we see here, properly colored, for the first time — is generally conceded to be one of the great super-character designs, in part because of two distinctive visual elements included by its creator, Neal Adams — first, the suit is always rendered as a solid black silhouette, with no highlights added to clarify aspects of the figure; and second, the concentric circles on (or in?) Havok’s torso, which (unlike a conventional chest emblem) are always shown “facing” the viewer, and which also double as a visual expression of his power when — as in this sequence — he releases the destructive energy that the costume serves to contain and control.
In previous issues, the Living Monolith — who was essentially an upgraded version of the Villain Formerly Known as the Living Pharaoh — had been established as having a strange link with Alex; they both got their powers from absorbing cosmic radiation, and when one’s power levels went up, the other’s went down, proportionately. Judging by Larry Trask’s wild laughter, that situation may be about to change:
Following Gene Colan’s three-issue stint as penciller on Marvel Comics’ Avengers series, the 66th issue brought yet another artistic change — though not the one that the book’s cover appeared to indicate. That illustration, which depicted the team of heroes — including, unusually for this era, both Thor and Iron Man — battling one of their own, the Vision, across multiple levels of their mansion HQ — was by John Buscema, who’d been the series’ regular artist for the better part of the two years immediately preceding Colan’s brief tenure. The interior art, however, was by one of Marvel’s newest (and youngest) artists, the nineteen-year-old British import we’d eventually come to know as Barry Windsor-Smith.
Windsor-Smith, whose work had most recently appeared in Daredevil #52, was at this time working in a style heavily influenced by those of Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko (though he was as yet nowhere near as technically proficient as either of those artists) — and on this issue’s opening splash (inked, like the rest of the book, by veteran artist Syd Shores), the figure of the Mighty Thor bears Kirby’s mark quite clearly.
At this point in Avengers history, neither Thor nor Iron Man were regular, active members of the team — and they hadn’t been for quite some time — ever since “The Old Order Changeth!” in issue #16 (May, 1965), in fact. Editor (and original Avengers scripter) Stan Lee had forbidden current writer Roy Thomas to feature either of these heroes — or, since issue #47, Captain America — on a regular basis, apparently due to concerns over potential continuity conflicts with the trio’s solo titles more than to any worries about overexposure. Thomas had nevertheless contrived to feature them on an occasional basis, usually in the context of “special events” such as #58‘s admission of the Vision to Avengers membership. Issue #66, however, seems to mark the moment when Thomas essentially decided he’d henceforth ask Lee for forgiveness rather than permission, and feature one or more of the “Big Three” whenever he wanted to — though it would still be some time before Cap, Thor, and Iron Man began once again to appear on a consistent, regular basis.
The third panel on page 4 features the story’s second use of a word that would ultimately represent this comic book’s primary claim to fame — “adamantium“. Some seven years after this story’s publication, readers would learn that the claws and skeleton of a new X-Man named Wolverine had been reinforced with this virtually indestructible metal; and as that character proceeded to rocket in popularity, adamantium became very well-known.
In May, 1969, however, I think it’s fair to say that adamantium was just another made-up comic-book word. As far as my eleven-year-old self was concerned, this scene’s introduction of adamantium was less immediately impactful than its ominous depiction of the Vision, accompanied by Yellowjacket’s remarks about his creepy, “inhuman” voice. This was the story’s first hint of the coming conflict between our heroes promised by the issue’s cover — a hint further developed in the first panels of the following page:
Yellowjacket’s “dye your threads” wisecrack is of course a reference to the fact that Clint Barton’s new Goliath costume has undergone a color change after only three issues. (I’m inclined to believe that someone, probably Roy Thomas, realized that the original, all-blue color scheme gave the outfit a bit too much of a leather-fetish vibe.)
Also on this page, we have an acknowledgement as well as an explanation for the absence of the Black Panther this issue. Interestingly, the Panther was absent from the Avengers’ guest appearance in this month’s issue of Captain America (although he did appear on its cover). In my post about that comic a week or so back, I speculated that maybe artist Gene Colan forgot to include him, or even ran out of room to do so; but perhaps there was some actual coordination of the continuity between that book (written as well as edited by Stan Lee) and this one.
The Avengers make a thorough search of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier without finding any sign of the Vision — and it’s noted that he’s pulled his vanishing act right in the middle of the discussion about adamantium. Hmm…
“I know whose voice speaks to me…” Clearly, the Vision is, at the least, being influenced by some outside entity — if not directly controlled.
Back at Avengers Mansion, Hank Pym (aka Yellowjacket) continues to worry about the Vision’s disappearance:
As the Avengers’ doubts over their newest member increase, it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that the Vision has actually only been an Avenger for nine issues, including this one — and only came into existence one issue prior to that.
“The game’s getting rough!” Oh, so this is some kind of training exercise, a la the X-Men’s Danger Room? Well, everything should be all right then. Shouldn’t it?