Wednesday, August 11, 2010

January 1973

Another of my favorite MTUs this time, a story I first read in one of those great, over-sized Marvel Treasury editions of the 1970s. I remember digging the art but realizing that Gil Kane’s work looked…different, little realizing he was being inked by Mike Esposito. Makes for an interesting combo, eh? And speaking of interesting combos, how about that Batman/Wonder Woman team-up? As I say there below, this one signals the end of the “mod” WW era – fascinating time; too bad the story was fairly lukewarm.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #6 4 ½ whiskers

DATE: January, 1973

TITLE: “…As Those Who Will Not See!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The Thing
VILLAINS: The Puppet Master & The Mad Thinker

WRITER: Gerry Conway
EDITOR: Roy Thomas

INKER: Mike Esposito

STORY: At the Baxter Building Ben Grimm, the Thing, discovers Spider-Man crouched over the insensate form of the Puppet Master and demands an explanation. Ben’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters explains to the wall-crawler that the villain is her step-father while the Thing interrogates him about her blindness. With a small hope that Alicia’s condition may not be permanent the two heroes, the girl and the Puppet Master fly to his old lab in Pennsylvania. En route, the story of the Puppet Master’s guilt in the accident that stole his step-daughter’s sight comes out. At the lab, Spider-Man and the Thing are taken off-guard by security defenses while their prisoner slips away. Following him into the underground lair, the Puppet Master’s partner-in-crime is revealed: the Mad Thinker.

COMMENTS: Picking up moments after the end of the previous issue, with this story Conway attempts to impart some humanity into an otherwise base villain. The particulars behind Alicia’s blindness and the Puppet Master’s treachery are revealed here for the first time.

Spider-Man and the Thing will go onto many team-ups after this initial one, and though their relationship is characterized as a bit strained it’s not nearly as tenuous as that between Spider-Man and the Thing’s teammate the Human Torch. The web-slinger’s presence in the story is a bit odd, with only a brief comment by him about how he’d like to trust Ben Grimm and using the adventure as a way to gauge such possible trust.

The Mad Thinker’s been an opponent of the Fantastic Four almost as long as the Puppet Master, having first fought them in 1963’s FANTASTIC FOUR #15. His android servants change throughout the years but are usually gigantic and mute, such as the one in this story. The Thinker’s background has yet to be fully explored by writers and he remains a villain of unspecific power and motivation.

The team-up herein between the super-villains is atypical in that they share a laugh together but also typical in that the one betrays the other – the Puppet Master truly does love his step-daughter and when he perceives that she is threatened, he lashes out at his partner the Mad Thinker and brings their brief alliance to a ruinous close.

Conway’s story is strangely open-ended, offering a presumed suicide by the Puppet Master and no real explanation as to the supposed cure for Alicia.

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #105 three whiskers

DATE: Jan-Feb, 1973

TITLE: “Play Now…Die Later!”

STARS: Batman and Wonder Woman

WRITER: Bob Haney
EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTIST: Jim Aparo

STORY: Mod Diana Prince, the de-powered Wonder Woman, plays duenna to a beautiful girl caught in the middle of a Latino war transplanted to Gotham. Batman believes he’s being targeted with an old con called the “Spanish Prisoner Game” but the San Sebastian nationals he’s keeping a close eye on might just be on the up-and-up, desperately seeking a ransom for their father, the guardian of a treasure that may tip the scales of the war.

COMMENTS: This issue coincided with the end of the “mod” Diana Prince era of Wonder Woman, which lasted five years total. Diana has a strange “guardian angel” in this story, an Amazon warrior who helps her with advice and even saves her life. This issue is also a good example of the type of sophisticated story Haney had achieved by this time, eschewing super-villains and world-busting threats and concentrating on street-level drama. Keep a look-out for a semi-truck with the name HANEY emblazoned on its sides.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

November 1972

Two fantastic co-stars this month for our Web-slinging Wonder and Dark Knight: the Vision and Deadman. Gil Kane’s still hanging out in MTU and his artistic counterpart over at DC, Jim Aparo, returns to B&B after an unfortunate break. Now that I think of it, aren’t Kane and Aparo truly counterparts? Same universe of style and level of artistic merit, right? Also, check out my comments about some of the wonky stuff Haney was trying to insert into the Bat-mythos...

MARVEL TEAM-UP #5 - four whiskers

DATE: November, 1972

TITLE: “A Passion of the Mind!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The Vision
VILLAIN: The Puppet Master

WRITER: Gerry Conway
EDITOR: Roy Thomas

INKER: Mike Esposito

STORY: The android Vision is laid low by what he categorizes as “epileptic seizures,” a condition which literally throws him at the feet of night owl Spider-Man. Moved by the android’s plight and wishing to help, the web-slinger takes him to a local hospital for a covert EEG and computer probe. The results are startling: the Vision suffers from an extra set of brain waves. The two heroes track the unique frequency of the brain waves to the Baxter Building, headquarters of the Fantastic Four, where they discover the villainous Puppet Master and his new thrall, a hulking alien robot he calls the Monstroid. While Spider-Man battles the giant the Vision struggles against both the painful seizures and the evil manipulations of the Puppet Master.

COMMENTS: One of Marvel’s most unique characters, the Vision makes his debut in 1968’s AVENGERS #57 and soon becomes the comic book poster child for synthetic beings searching for their humanity. It’s of little surprise that he’s chosen for the first truly warm team-up for the series; he and Spider-Man’s interactions are friendly and sincere, despite this being their first meeting. Eschewing the by-now-clichéd “fight of misunderstanding,” Conway presents a desperate android who the web-slinger’s good nature embraces and which sets the stage for a true team-up of convenience.

Conway also ties plot elements to both the Visions then-occurring troubles in AVENGERS #105 and the famous Kree-Skrull War, penned by his MTU editor Roy Thomas. For the second issue in a row Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn appears, again at their shared apartment – where Spider-Man quite oddly initially takes the weakened Vision, hoping Harry will continue to slumber through their tête-à-tête.

The Puppet Master was already a longtime Fantastic Four foe at the time of this story, first appearing in FANTASTIC FOUR #8, in 1962. The stepfather of the Thing’s girlfriend Alicia Masters he provides not only the villainy here but also the link to the subsequent issue of MTU, a team-up with the Thing.

Note the opening of the tale, in which our insomniac wall-crawler swings off his frustrations over the night-darkened city and which also will become something of a standard Spider-Man story-opener.

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #104 - four whiskers

DATE: Nov-Dec, 1972

TITLE: “Second Chance for a Deadman?”

STARS: Batman and Deadman
VILLAINS: Lilly Lang and Richie Wandrus

WRITER: Bob Haney
EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTIST: Jim Aparo

STORY: Batman uncovers a fantastic “spa” that provides facelifts and identity changes for criminals, but its heavily-guarded island in Florida proves unbreachable. Enter Deadman as Batman’s invisible agent. The restless ghost takes up residence in spa owner Lilly Lang’s lover and while gathering evidence falls in love with her – hard. The game reaches a deadly conclusion when Deadman must choose between friend Batman and a real, physical life with Lilly.

COMMENTS: Aparo returns though B&B’s schedule is still off, a situation that would last until issue #107. Look for a reference to Deadman’s first B&B appearance in #79, a mention of Batman’s “bat-sense,” Commissioner Gordon referring to the Caped Crusader’s code against guns as “idiotic” (right after Batman brandishes one, albeit with blanks), and an interesting argument between Batman and Deadman wherein the spook tries to cut a deal that will allow Lilly to go free. In the end, he actually kills her, hoping to join with her ghost.

Zeroids #1 - Review

ZEROIDS #1four whiskers

If I know you as well as I think I do, you’ve recently bemoaned the lack of comics that revive old 1960s robot toys and combine them with sexy young co-eds, zombies and soldiers in Afghanistan – am I right?

Good, because Moonstone and Captain Action Enterprises have a new comic for you: ZEROIDS. But I warn you; its crazy-ass stuff.

One huge good thing right off the bat is that you don’t have to know anything about the Zeroids toys from the 1960s to read this. Which is good because barely anyone knows anything about the Zeroids toys from the 1960s. If you want to know, look ‘em up on Wikipedia – we’re talking about the comic book here. ZEROIDS #1 kicks right off with some backstory on the chunky-funky ‘roids and in a fairly interesting way, too. It’s all wrapped up with that old chestnut, the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico flying saucer crash, but the narrative manages to make it seem fresh and gets you up to speed. You’ll have to put up with a scientist named Zero – you can imagine what his school days were like – and a reference to the 1970s toy revival of the Zeroids – look it up – but overall it’s easy to follow.

Then the crazy-ass stuff happens. And happens. And happens.

Flash-forward to two separate yet somewhat concurrent stories of a houseful of cute girls in short-shorts and tank tops fending off a zombie plague and the misfortunes of two tough-as-nails soldiers in Afghanistan fending off a – yes – zombie plague. What the actual connection is between the two tales is held in abeyance for the nonce but as in the intro-backstory part, things move along nicely and then the alien ship arrives along with the robots.


I dug it all – its presented with some really nice, clean art by Roberto Castro and Craig Henderson that erred just this side of cartoony yet helps the crazy-ass proceedings gain a little traction in your brain matter. The downside is while the dialogue by Aaron Shaps is often smooth and engaging it also delves wayyy too many times into smug “hip” slang and awkward self-referencing – as in “Dude, if this was a horror movie, we’d be…” etc, etc. It’s kind of cute the first time but it gets old quick. For example, one of the soldiers is black and at one point he makes it known that in horror films the black guys always gets offed, no matter how nice they are. That sort of thing. Anyway, like I said, it’s not deal-killer but Shaps seems to be trying a bit too hard to appeal to one segment of the intended audience, i.e., “young people,” and this aging fanboy was taken out of the fiction one too many times.

I’m pretty sure that Moonstone and the Captain Action guys have a potential nut-job sleeper-winner on their hands here, if they can maintain the nuttiness and almost-camp that’s evident in ZEROIDS #1. Not sure if the sexy co-ed thing is anything more than just a bit of male-fantasy fluff but I guess time will tell if this first issue is a promise – or a threat. Regardless, this issue made me want to know what happens next, which is always a good thing for an ongoing comic.

Oh, and one more thing: not enough Zeroids. Just sayin’. I want to see how those old clunky toy designs will work in such a “hip” new world – you know, kind of like all of us aging fanboys.