Friday, April 27, 2012

170: The Amazing Spider-Man #16

  • This is an issue that really takes advantage of the world-building that Marvel have been taking great pains to employ. After all, the comic guest-stars a hero who has his own magazine (showcasing their first meeting, in fact - despite Spidey having been emblazoned upon the cover of Daredevil #1), and featuring a set of villains which debuted in the title of yet another! And Lee & Ditko's use of Daredevil really is an effective one; the story doesn't  feature the hero only in mighty action scenes - as so many guest-spots tend to do - but also illustrates more character-driven ones, such as Matt Murdock's interactions with Foggy & Karen back at his law office. It even touches on the "But I mustn't reveal my feelings!" romantic subplot which most of Stan's solo heroes seem to have at this point (cf. Iron Man and Thor, for instance).

     A comparison of the original splash page, and
    the retouched Marvel Masterworks version.

  • Circuses may have long passed their heyday, unable to compete with the fast & flashy home entertainments available now, but the continued appearance of such a setting in these comics (including, you'll recall, The Avengers #1) shows that they still had a viable presence at the time. In fact, Barry Pearl points out that the Circus of Crime is a concept that Stan Lee just couldn't seem to let go of! An evil Ringmaster first appeared in 1941's Captain America Comics #5 - and though that may have been a Simon & Kirby production, Stan certainly would have been aware of it, as he was already working for Marvel at the time (and in fact had a couple of contributions to that selfsame issue). And if that's not enough, Stan also featured a Circus of Crime in June 1962's Kid Colt #106 - in fact, just one month before debuting the Ringmaster's circus in The Incredible Hulk!

    Early versions of the villains.
    (Scans courtesy of Barry Pearl!)

  • As entertaining as the comic may be, it's also undeniable that the plotting is, as ever, a bit nuts. To entice audience members to come to the circus, and thus provide a full house ripe for the thieving, the Ringmaster advertises that the show will feature the performances of a certain daring Spider-Man! And yet when Peter inevitably spies ones of these circus posters, rather than suspecting that something may be afoot, he instead thinks: Hey, maybe he should go! (Matt Murdock likewise hears about it, and joins Foggy and Karen in attending.) Interestingly, Spidey performing ostentatious antics can't help but recall (intentionally? or not?) memories of his show business obsessions in Amazing Fantasy #15. Despite everything he's learned about priorities and responsibility in his still-fresh career, he's still an insecure kid craving the accolades and attention of the crowd.

    Ditko's rendition of Daredevil is incredibly appealing!

  • As he did in The Hulk #3, the Ringmaster waits until the crowd is enthralled with the action and then hypnotizes them, en masse, into giving over all their valuables (with no memory of the event). But he didn't reckon on a blind man in the audience, upon whom the Ringmaster's hypnotizing headgear has no effect! This, then, is how Stan & Steve get the two heroes to fight upon first meeting: because, after all, the Ringmaster has Spidey hypnotized too. But I wonder if Stan considered such an event a risky proposition, to have the star of the book be so thoroughly controlled, and someone else's patsy, for so much of the tale. Might his fans, protective, feel that their favorite hero was being dissed? If so, Stan would be sure to hear about it in the letters page....

    Really?  'cause it kinda seems like Spidey does think for
    himself there.... (Not that Daredevil would know it!)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

169: The Avengers #7

The Avengers #7
June 9, 1964

  • This issue opens with Iron Man being reprimanded for having deliberately ignored an Avengers call for aid, something that happened in the last issue of his own magazine. Marvel really are doing a decent job building the idea of one large, interconnected story that takes place over the course of all their different superhero comics, and are subtly encouraging readers to pick them all up if they want the whole picture! (That said, Stan's still careful to explain the salient details for those who might have missed it.) In The Fantastic Four #1, Stan introduced the idea of a superteam that did not get along all the time - unlike, say, the Justice League of America, over at DC - and in the pages of The Avengers, he's continued that tradition: first, by having one of the founding members quit at the end of their second issue, and now again by showing that heroes will be called on the carpet and duly disciplined when they happen to screw up.

    Even with the villains, Stan will write in a love triangle!

  • The Masters of Evil were introduced last month - and yes, that's "month", as the comic has now gone monthly! - and yet they're already back, albeit in a different form. (It's worth noting that the MOE name is never applied to the three in this issue; however, given the membership that the villainous team will soon take, it's clear that this is an indisputable link in that chain.) And if this seems a familiar move, that's because it's similar to what's been happening in the pages of The X-Men, where the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants debuted in issue #4, and have thus far reappeared in every issue since. Clearly, Stan and Jack know when they've happened upon a concept with a lot of potential in it, and this "team of baddies" idea is it! But here they're already tinkering with the lineup of the group, even in its second appearance - as the leader, Zemo, is the only one to return! But that's okay - he's joined by Thor villains the Enchantress and the Executioner, freshly banished from fabled Asgard by All-Father Odin.

    Gotta love those kooky villain masks!

  • Meanwhile, in an early interlude Stan teases us again with the idea of making Rick Jones into Cap's new partner, replacing his World War II sidekick Bucky - something that's been hinted at and foreshadowed since Cap's return back in issue #4. But when Rick finds Bucky's old costume and decides to try it on and surprise Captain America, Cap freaks out! Perhaps this whole Rick-as-new-sidekick thing has been one massive misdirect all along....

    These days, we'd call that a case of PTSD.

  • Having been soundly defeated by the assembled Avengers before, the MOE's tack this time is seemingly to pick the heroes off, one by one. With Iron Man suspended, they wait till Giant-Man and the Wasp head off to New England for some scientific insect research, and then lure Cap to South America, so that the Enchantress can use a magic potion to brainwash Thor into perceiving his fellow teammates as evil demons whom he must surely destroy. It's a devious plan, and one which makes for an exciting adventure - marred, unfortunately, by the hurry and nonsense with which the tale is suddenly wrapped up. For instance, the baddies are making their getaway ... and yet they stop to throw the unconscious Captain America off their ship, rather than (say) take him with them as their prisoner. And then, as if Stan and Jack felt the need to give the Avengers some sort of victory, we see Thor whirl his hammer round to whip up a space warp (!!) into their path, whisking the villains away to ... oh, I dunno, somewhere. Of course, they won't be gone for very long...!

    Wow!  I'll bet that image gave more than a few kids nightmares for a week.