Saturday, July 31, 2010

September 1972

And the Morbius Saga in MTU finally comes to a close, with the help of the then-homeless X-Men. Over in B&B, the Metal Men check in with Batman – what would B&B be like without the Metal Men?

Marvel Team-Up #4 three and 1/2 whiskers

DATE: September, 1972

TITLE: “And Then – The X-Men!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The X-Men
VILLAIN: Morbius the Living Vampire

WRITER: Gerry Conway
EDITOR: Roy Thomas

INKER: Steve Mitchell

STORY: While a still-ill Peter Parker thrashes through nightmares in his sleep, Morbius the Living Vampire returns to State University to abduct Prof. Jorgenson. Unfortunately, Spider-Man’s found investigating the scene after the fact and is blamed for the kidnapping. In Westchester, Professor Charles Xavier sends his mutant students, the X-Men, to rescue his old colleague Prof. Jorgenson. The mutants track down Spider-Man and winning a battle with him take him back to Prof. X, who after searching the young hero’s mind realizes he’s not the kidnapper. Now with Morbius as their target the X-Men confront and beat the vampire, recover Prof. Jorgenson who in turn saves Spider-Man’s life from the toxins in his blood from a previous encounter with Morbius.

COMMENTS: The Human Torch team-ups come to an end this issue as the X-Men join Spider-Man for an adventure. The mutant heroes’ own stories hit a kind of hibernation as their title ceases to publish new adventures almost two years previously, and at this time in the middle of more than four years of reprints. During that time, the X-Men guest-star in various other Marvel series until their triumphant return in 1975’s GIANT-SIZE X-MEN #1.

Sadly, there is no real team-up here between Spider-Man and Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman and the Angel. As is becoming par for the course with MTU, the two sides battle over a misunderstanding – Spider-Man losing due to his illness – and never get the chance to fight side-by-side. By story’s end there’s no real animosity between them over the earlier fight and Spider-Man makes a quick exit, claiming he’s “anti-social.”

For the first time in MTU one of Spider-Man’s supporting cast makes an appearance – namely Harry Osborn, Peter Parker’s friend and roommate. This is most likely due to the fact that scripter Gerry Conway was at the time the newly-minted writer of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, also. Conway also makes heavy use of the events of ASM #102, wherein Spider-Man was cured of extra arms by a dose of serum made from Morbius’ blood – here the cause for the hero’s illness.

The “next issue” blurb trumpets “The Eye of the Basilisk!” though no such story appears in MTU #5. A villain called the Basilisk will appear in issue #16, more than a year later and written not by Conway but by fellow scribe Len Wein.

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #103 two and 1/2 whiskers

DATE: Sept-Oct, 1972

TITLE: “A Traitor Lurks Inside Earth!”

STARS: Batman and The Metal Men

WRITER: Bob Haney
EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTISTS: Bob Brown and Frank McLaughlin

STORY: Having killed his creator, the USA’s ultimate robot-computer John Doe blackmails the entire country from its lair deep beneath the desert. Batman recruits the Metal Men to infiltrate John Doe’s location but the robots are captured, forcing the Masked Manhunter to find his own way in. The super-computer will not be easily beaten, though, for once its own personality is destroyed its takes on that of its late creator.

COMMENTS: This issue marks the first time since B&B’s inception in 1955 that it failed to meet its bi-monthly schedule, due to Aparo’s personal emergency. The Metal Men had been “retired” for almost three years previously, after their series was put on hiatus in late 1969, but a year after their team-up here their book was re-activated. There are echoes in the story of B&B #74 and its “robot convention” and also of “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its runaway computer Hal – though John Doe sings “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, not “Daisy”.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

July 1972

The Spidey-Torch love-fest continues in MTU while over in B&B Batman has to deal with his own gaggle of hip kids…and Aparo needs a little help from his friends.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #3 three whiskers

DATE: July, 1972

TITLE: “The Power to Purge!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The Human Torch
VILLAIN: Morbius the Living Vampire

WRITER: Gerry Conway
EDITOR: Stan Lee

INKER: Giacoia

STORY: Brothers Jacob and Jefferson Bolt part ways after a heated argument but instead of peace Jefferson discovers Morbius floating unconscious in the river. For his troubles Morbius feeds on his rescuer, turning him into a vampire. Morbius fiancée Martine asks the Fantastic Four for help and when she mentions a Professor Hans Jorgenson at State University in Queens it jogs Johnny Storm’s memories. Recalling that Spider-Man attends the same school, the Human Torch seeks out both the Professor and the web-slinger. Spider-Man, suffering from apparent extreme flu-like symptoms stumbles upon Morbius attacking a student on campus and attempts to stem the vampire’s actions. Soon, the Human Torch, Jacob and Jefferson Bolt, and a mob of angry and mislead students enter the fray – and Morbius escapes.

COMMENTS: In this, MTU’s first continued story, Spider-Man and the Human Torch team up for the third consecutive issue. Johnny is again portrayed as being willing to seek out Spidey, albeit grudgingly and this time for information on a possible foe. Their relationship becomes a bit more complex herein; they face off like prizefighters when first spotting one another yet fly into battle together, despite their almost complete lack of ability to work in tandem. In one striking sequence, the ill Spider-Man is pulled off of Morbius by Johnny before the young hero beats the vampire to a pulp. At the coda, Spidey compliments the Torch for a heart-felt comment on the plight of the story’s two brothers.

There is an odd statement by Johnny in the story of how Spider-Man told him about Morbius when the two heroes last met. As their previous recorded meeting was two months earlier in MTU #2, which holds no mention of the vampire and was also written by Gerry Conway, it’s a strange comment and one obviously meant to serve the plot.

Morbius and Martine make their debuts in 1971’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #101 and 102, respectively. A scientific vampire, as opposed to a supernatural one, Michael Morbius gains vampiric abilities and disabilities from a blood experiment rather than a curse. One of Marvel’s strangest characters, he is neither completely good nor evil but almost always all-together self-centered. His appearance here in the river corresponds with his seeming disappearance at the end of ASM #102.

Look also for a cameo of Archie Bunker, of TV’s “All in the Family.”

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #102 three whiskers

DATE: June-July, 1972

TITLE: “The Commune of Defiance”

STARS: Batman and The Teen Titans
VILLAIN: Sonny Trask and Angel Lee

WRITER: Bob Haney
EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTISTS: Jim Aparo, Neal Adams and Dick Giordano

STORY: The Barclayville neighborhood of Gotham’s a slum and its protectors, the Young Aquarians, are sick of the city turning its back on the area. After some civil disobedience, with help from Batman and the Titans, Gotham’s Mayor gives Barclayville 30 days to clean up its streets or its demolition time for the historic district. All goes well until the neighborhood’s crime lord gets out of prison and decides to teach the Aquarians a lesson on who’s the boss…

COMMENTS: A family emergency interrupted Aparo halfway through #102’s art chores, but B&B alum Adams and inker Giordano stepped in to finish the job with nary a bump. The story is another early 1970s lecture on “urban renewal” and “flower power”, complete with hip vigilantes the Young Aquarians: Jamie, Ben Ahmed, Needles, Mother Earth, and “Lawyer.” The Titans line-up this time around includes Robin, Kid Flash, Speedy, Wonder Girl, and the plain clothed Mal Duncan. Dig Needles aping Marvel’s Stan Lee with exclamations of “True Believer!”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

May 1972

Seems as if Marvel may have wanted MTU to be nothing more than a Spidey-Torch joint...and Metamorpho, every B&B fan's friend crawls out of his retirement and kick-starts a long-standing convention for the book.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #2 three whiskers

DATE: May, 1972

TITLE: “And Spidey Makes Four!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The Human Torch
VILLAINS: The Frightful Four, Annihilus

WRITER: Gerry Conway
EDITOR: Stan Lee

INKER: Jim Mooney

STORY: A depressed Johnny Storm seeks out Spider-Man for some friendly talk but is rebuffed by the wall-crawler. Later, Spider-Man shows up at the Fantastic Four’s Baxter Building headquarters and proceeds to pummel the Torch insensate. Johnny then learns that his fellow hero has been hypnotized by the Frightful Four, whose leader the Wizard plans to utilize the FF’s equipment to capture and store vast amounts of cosmic energy. Unfortunately, the process opens a doorway to the Negative Zone and its most infamous denizen, the evil and powerful Annihilus. Mentally freed, Spider-Man stands with the Torch between the menace of the Frightful Four and a terrifying incursion from beyond.

COMMENTS: More a Human Torch story than a Spider-Man tale, the webslinger is used mostly as the villains’ tool for most of the narrative until he wakes up for the last four pages. Despite their long-standing rocky relationship, Johnny actually proposes friendship to his fellow teen-ager, an olive branch that an uncharacteristically-callous Spider-Man shrugs off as “playing counselor to some neurotic’s fantasies!”

The loose references in this issue to the previous issue, such as Johnny’s mention of working with Spider-Man “a few weeks ago” and Sandman’s bit of payback on Spidey, presage the multipart MTU stories to come.

Johnny Storm is pining herein for the Inhuman girl called Crystal, whom he first meets and falls in love with in 1965’s FANTASTIC FOUR #45. After a long romance Crystal leaves Johnny for the mutant Quicksilver, with whom she eventually marries and has a child.

The Frightful Four first run afoul of the Fantastic Four in FF #36, in 1965. At first their membership consists of the Wizard, Sandman, Trapster, and the Inhuman Medusa. As noted in MTU #2, Medusa has left the group to join the side of the angels; the Wizard’s search for her replacement will become something of a running joke through the years.

Annihilus, one of the FF’s most powerful and dangerous foes, makes his debut in 1968’s FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #6. Wielder of the so-called Cosmic Control Rod, the would-be conqueror constantly seeks to extend his reign of tyranny outside the borders of his native Negative Zone. Before MTU #2, his most recent defeat is shown in the previous year’s FF#109-110.

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #101 three and a half whiskers

DATE: Apr-May, 1972

TITLE: “Cold Blood, Hot Gun!”

STARS: Batman and Metamorpho
VILLAIN: Bounty Hunter

WRITER: Bob Haney
EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTIST: Jim Aparo

STORY: A strange “murder list” left at a homicide includes both Bruce Wayne and Metamorpho’s girlfriend Sapphire Stagg. Batman steels himself for the onslaught of Bounty Hunter, a notorious one-armed assassin and the owner of the list, offering protection to everyone on the list. Meanwhile, Bruce and a restless Sapphire attend the auction of a grand old estate, not realizing that its owners are intricately linked to the hired killer – and Element Man is hot on Sapphire’s pretty heels.

COMMENTS: Before this issue Metamorpho had been in publishing limbo since the demise of his series, three years previous. During that time, Haney and DC solicited readers’ opinions on whether to bring Rex Mason back, the result of which is this tale. Bounty Hunter is one of Haney’s more-inspired villains, more of a gun-for-hire than a hunter of lawful bounties. Gordon is practically beside himself with worry over Bounty Hunter’s arrival in Gotham yet Haney allows the killer a rare getaway at stories end and a thoughtful Batman ponders their next encounter…

Where the ACTION Is


3 1/2 whiskers

The new CAPTAIN ACTION #1 “Season 2” picks up the, well, action from the previous series and gets right down to business. This is a solid adventure-intrigue comic with a lot going for it and though it isn’t perfect it tries hard and succeeds more than it fails.

The original Fabian Nicieza premise of super-spies and super-heroes in a world invaded by aliens from the previous series is further explored here and it’s an interesting one. It’s more super-spies than super-heroes but there are plenty of fisticuffs for, well, action fans. Steven Grant’s writing is competent and steady, with relatively-smooth dialogue and I had no real complaints with the pacing. Manuel Martin’s art is very nice, with – dare I say it – a very-occasional Wally Wood vibe, which is appropriate. Again, it’s a book that has it together in many ways and Moonstone should be proud of the package.

The story jumps right in from the previous series and puts our somewhat-newbie Captain Action right in the middle of trouble. Posing as the President of The United States he tires of his masquerade and when he tries to bail rushes headlong into a confrontation with Russian super-agents. One of the things I like best here is the relationship between Our Hero and his father, the former Captain Action of the 1960s. This isn’t the clichéd “I hate my dad and everything he stood for” rebellious relationship; the two men aren’t exactly the best of buds but they manage to work together and Captain Action Senior has much still to offer in his current role.

I also appreciate that the Captain Action owners haven’t relied on pure nostalgia here to sell the book. It must have been a challenge, to find a new path for the character, without miring him in the swamp of the 1960s yet not changing him so much his original fans couldn’t recognize him. The balance in CAPTAIN ACTION #1 is a good one, with equal parts past, present and future. Something for everyone.

Here’s where the book stumbles: not enough Captain Action. Let me clarify – for most of the, well, action herein Our Hero is not himself. See, in order to retain the old “man of a thousand faces” concept from the original 1960s toys, they’ve hooked him up with this stuff that allows him to change his appearance – and super-powers – at will. Problem is that you get Captain Action as everyone else but himself most times. The redesign of the original costume is a very good one and I wish I’d seen it more in what is an inaugural issue of sorts. I sympathize with what the creators have to deal with to make the Captain more than just the normal guy in the blue-black suit, but maybe they erred on the side of, well, action than image this time.

Also, there’s very little back-story relayed here and for someone picking up this book for the first time there may be a bit of confusion. I knew the back-story and I was still struggling at times to dope out the proceedings. And while I’m at it, the moratorium on Obama appearances should begin any moment now. Seriously, guys, it had its day quite a long time ago. Now, it’s just marketing, and not very good marketing. More like pandering.

We also get a retro Action Boy back-up tale which is a lot of fun and connects to the main story. Good to see this character wasn’t forgotten and is being brought into the fold to join the good Captain. This was a nice addition to the book and I for one am intrigued with where they're going with it.

Overall, Joe Ahearn and Ed Catto, the current owners of Captain Action, have been quality caretakers for the property, more so than any others who’ve tried to resurrect the character since his original days as an Ideal action figure. They’ve started with a good foundation, an interesting world in which Captain Action lives, and seem to have a plan in place to grow it. Again, they’re not just relying on nostalgia though they do tip their hats to it and recognize it for its worth. This is a crucial time, I think, as they could easily sink this property than save it. If this new CAPTAIN ACTION #1 is any indication, I think they’re going to save it.

Give it a try. There are far, far worse ways to spend your disposable dough at the comic shop these days.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

March 1972

As MTU dawned, B&B was celebrating its 100th issue...both strong entries and both displaying team-ups that are not always copacetic.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #1 3 1/2 whiskers

DATE: March, 1972

TITLE: “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The Human Torch VILLAIN: The Sandman

WRITER: Roy Thomas EDITOR: Stan Lee

PENCILLER: Ross Andru INKER: Mike Esposito

STORY: After a disastrous run-in with the Sandman, Spider-Man hopes to foist the problem off on the Fantastic Four - but gets the solo Human Torch instead. The squabbling heroes decide to confront the villain together, despite it being Christmas Eve, and a few short digressions later they track Sandman to New Jersey. Because of their inability to work together, the two heroes are defeated and dropped into a watery death-trap. After escaping, Spidey and the Torch catch up to the baddie and discover his Jersey secret: an ailing mother he visits every Christmas Eve.

COMMENTS: The Human Torch is a logical choice to inaugurate a series of Spider-Man team-ups. Johnny Storm first meets the wall-crawler alongside his Fantastic Four teammates in 1963’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #1, and beginning in STRANGE TALES ANNUAL #2 that same year the two heroes begin a long tradition of rough-and-tumble meetings.

MTU #1 portrays the Spider-Man/Torch relationship as before, a begrudging camaraderie with plenty of insults and put-downs in good measure. While the two heroes manage not to kill each other and even find some common teen-age ground, their ability to work in tandem leaves much to be desired.

Spider-Man makes an odd comment in this story that Sandman isn’t “his” enemy, though the grainy goon made his debut in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #4. In fact, Spidey claims he only “tackled him once” yet Sandman is a charter member of the Sinister Six, a team-up of Spider-Man villains, beginning in 1964’s AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1. The Torch first opposes Sandman in 1963, in STRANGE TALES #115, and then alongside the full FF in FANTASTIC FOUR #36, in 1965.

In MTU #64, in 1977, it will be revealed that the woman Spider-Man and the Torch save from muggers here in MTU #1 is Misty Knight, a tough-talking private-eye with a bionic arm and the paramour of the super hero martial artist Iron Fist.

Though it’s Christmas Eve in this story, there’s no indication of the holiday – nor the wintry season – in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #106, published the same month. Both stories are reputedly edited by Stan Lee.

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #100 4 whiskers

DATE: Feb-Mar, 1972

TITLE: “The Warrior in a Wheel-Chair”

STARS: Batman and 4 Famous Co-Stars VILLAIN: Belknap

WRITER: Bob Haney EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTIST: Jim Aparo

STORY: With a bullet lodged near his heart and awaiting a life-or-death operation, Batman calls in Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Black Canary, and Robin to intercept a shipment of heroin scheduled to be smuggled into Gotham. A drug kingpin senses interference and tests his network – and each of the heroes – determining that when the Caped Crusader goes under the knife, he must never recover.

COMMENTS: This “Spectacular 100th Issue” pulls out all the stops by offering four Bat-partners for the price of one. There’s a rare reference herein to another DC title, this time Green Lantern #86, the infamous “Speedy on smack” issue. In another scene, Green Arrow actually kills a drug smuggler with an arrow, seemingly without remorse and at odds with the character’s belief system. Batman running the show from a wheel-chair has a certain “Rear Window” ring to it and his ongoing narrative about a nearby spider, comparing it to his own ploy, verges on the poetic.