Returning to the corner of the Marvel Universe occupied by Marvel’s first family, I thought it would be appropriate to focus on an amazing annual from the Bronze Age. In FF 169, Luke Cage was under the sway of the Puppet Master, and attacked the Fantastic Four. While he was going crazy, he knocked some Vibranium into Reed’s time machine. It was transported back to WWII era, and into the hands of the Nazis. With this awesome weapon, it looked as if the Allies would be defeated, and the world would live in tyranny. The FF then uses the time machine to hurl themselves back in time to help the greatest team of WWII, The Invaders, stop the Nazis and Baron Zemo!
This era of Marvel will always be my favorite, as Jack Kirby (cover pencils, inks by Joe Sinnott) returned to do some great covers like this one. Not to be outdone, is Mr. editor/writer/everything man, Roy Thomas, as he adds his uncanny ability to write team books. And this one has two great teams in it! One of my all time favorite artists, is “Big” John Buscema (pencils). His pencils are always a treat to see, and the inks of Sam Grainger compliment him well. Colors by Phil Rachelson, and letters by Sam Rosen!
How is it possible that a character that cannot speak be so appealing? Well, when you take an origin story that involves a mystical swamp (near the Nexus of All Realities), a scientist, and Hydra (a later retcon not explicitly told in the origin story), and you’ve got a great way to convince me. Taking the concept from King Kong (1933), men who seek to cage something unnatural, and put it on display, are just begging for trouble. The trope of trying to contain something that is virtually uncontrollable, is one that’s been used many times over, with a varying degree of success. This time is definitely on the positive side.
When he was still alive, the mind of Steve “Baby” Gerber (writer) might have been a scary place to dive into. Hi stories about the weird and supernatural are top-notch. Why he isn’t recognized more outside of the circle of hardcore fans is a mystery to me, especially considering the praise other creators from that era and beyond seem to have for him and his work. Of Out of all the people who’ve drawn Man-Thing, I think “Big” John Buscema (pencils on interiors, and cover art) is my favorite. He certainly understood how to draw everything even though he’s gone on record stating he didn’t like to draw superheroes all that much, he always did an admirable job. He is still one of the giants of the industry. “Santa” Klaus Janson (inks) is an artist that I first saw on Daredevil, and always thought he brought an extra dimension to whatever he had his hands in. John Costanza (letters) and Linda Lessmann (colors), are two very capable contributors that never failed to get it done. Let us not forget “Rascally” Roy Thomas (editor), as his work not only as a writer, but editing also is something that puts him at the top of the food chain in comic book history! You also get three bonus stories with work by great creators like Dick Ayers, Don Heck, and Jack Kirby!
Some of my favorite comics are those of Thor, volume one. Especially the issues in the mid-200s. I really enjoy the way each story seems self-contained but also connecting to the previous and following issues in a way that wasn’t inconvenient. In this second part of a three-part story, Tor must team-up with his sworn enemy, Ulik the Troll. These two absolutely hate one another, but they must work together to defeat a dragon and then a giant! By story’s end though, Ulik and his minions are laughing at the Prince of Asgard!
I’m a big fan of “Lively” Len Wein (writer/editor). From his work as an editor (Watchmen, New Teen Titans), and vision in reviving the X-Men franchise (along with Dave Cockrum), he really should be recognized a lot more than anyone seems to give him credit. Artist “Big” John Buscema (pencils), is a master that let us too soon. His work on books like Conan, The Avengers, and Silver Surfer are the stuff of legend. Of course, as with most artists, some inkers suited his style better than others, but honestly, his pencils were strong enough that they typically would show right through. One of the inkers that did suite him quite well, was Tony DeZuniga (Jonah Hex, Black Orchid). He’s another one of those guys that rarely gets enough airtime, as an inker or penciler, and that is a travesty. Colors were by the ever-present Marie Severin. She’s someone who should definitely be on your radar simply because not only was she a great artist, but also because she was one of the few women in comics since back in the Silver Age. Letters were by Condoy (?). The cover was by Jack “King” Kirby, and even though there appears to have been some alterations, you can still see the weight that Kirby’s pencils carry.
Getting two superheroes to fight is usually an interesting trope, but sometimes it does border on the ludicrous. This one lies somewhere in the middle, so fasten your seat-belt. Spidey and the Surfer haven’t had a lot of contact, so the times they do meet are kind of cool. The story really revolves around a boy that’s enthralled by comic books, and heroes such as these two. He gets a little too close to the action though, and winds up nearly being killed! Don’t worry, Spidey and the Surfer have enough time even with fighting to save the youth!
The glorious days of Marvel in the late Silver/early Bronze Age is undeniable. The work that Stan “The Man” Lee (writer) and “Big” John Buscema (pencils) put in on this title is awesome. Dan Adkins did a great job inking this story, and Sam Rosen with the letters as well. The grandeur of the Silver Surfer was never on better display than in this series! Just an FYI: You also get an issue of Warlock (#11), that is also a fantastic read (Kudos to Jim Starlin, Steve Leialoha, and Tom Orzechowski)!
Of course, who doesn’t enjoy a good story where Conan thrashes some scoundrels, and then saves the beautiful woman! I know a lot of people will steer clear of a series like this because they think it’s very one-trick pony, but if you really enjoy the genre, give it a try! This story in particular has a very weird and twisting ending. Sometimes Conan can get a little weary in regards to the plot, but action is never missing nor is a mystical/magical aspect that always kept my interest. Throw in an evil sorcerer or a weird creature, and I’m in for the long run!
When you have a character with the history that Conan has, it’s now extremely difficult to cook up decent stories. That’s not to take anything away from Roy Thomas (writer) mind you, but the groundwork laid by Robert E. Howard (creator) surely deserves the lion-share of the credit. It certainly doesn’t hurt your book when you have an artist the caliber of “Big” John Buscema (pencils, R.I.P.) and Ernie Chan (inker on interiors and cover) to put forth a spectacular visual feast either! Add on Bronze Age stalwarts John Costanza (letters), and Glynis Wein (colors), and the book will ascend to the heights of greatness! Did I forget to mention the cover by the master, Gil Kane?
After Jack Kirby left Marvel, I’m sure there were some that were very despondent, both within Marvel, and fans. One of the books he left, was Thor. Most would probably say that the Fantastic Four or Captain America are his crowning achievements, but for me, I think Thor is right up there with anything he ever gave us during his time at Marvel Comics. So, the stage is set, Kirby is gone, and who can even possibly try to fill his shoes? Enter John Buscema! The man’s work is well documented, and for all the greats of his time, he stands tall, right there among them. In this issue, we see Odin brought back to life with the help of Hela! We also get a treat, and see the god of war, Pluto, as he battles Thor!
As I’ve already pointed out, this issue is a good one, and basically, you have two elements driving that fact. First is the great creative team of Gerry Conway (writer), “Big” John Buscema (pencils), Jim Mooney (inks), Artie Simek (letters), Gil Kane (cover pencils), and Vince Colletta (cover inks)! The second is the awesome continuity that had been put into place by Lee and Kirby, up until this point in the character’s history. Throw those things together, and you get a great title!
Although Jack Kirby created Annihilus (FF Annual #6, 1968), there have a been a couple of other creative teams that did some really great work with the character. Case in point- Fantastic Four #140! In this issue, we see more schemes from the bug-like alien from the Negative Zone, plus his awesome origin. I’m not 100% sure if it had been shown in detail like this before, as I don’t have a copy of FF Annual #6, but if not, definitely grab a copy of this book for that cool story!
In the years shortly after Kirby left Marvel, you had a solid contingency of creators that were more than willing to step up to the plate, and give it a go. One of them, writer Gerry Conway, did just that, and more, when he took over books like Spider-Man, Thor, and this title as well (he didn’t write everything after Kirby left, but definitely had the longest run until Byrne came along later). I know most don’t think of Conway when they think FF writers, but believe me, they should. And lets face it, when you have an art team like “Big” John Buscema and “Joltin” Joe Sinnott in your corner, you’re on the path to success. Add on George Roussos (colorist), and John Costanza (letters), and the team is set! The book grabs your attention right away with a cover from “Riotous” Rich Buckler and “Fearless” Frank Giacoia!
I decided to do a double-shot of Thor, and it’s no coincidence that both of these issues have work by none other than the king of comics, Jack Kirby! I love this era of Thor, and Len Wein and John Buscema (and Tony DeZuniga) have a lot to do with that fact. After posting some pic from the series “The Eternals” by Kirby, I felt compelled to spotlight some of his other work from the mid-1970’s (during his final stint at Marvel). Issue #254 is a straight reprint of Thor #159, (1968), and shows just how and why Thor became intertwined with Dr. Don Blake. The second issue (#257), is the last part of a story that showed Thor and the Warriors Three in conflict with the Atlas Age monster, Sporr! And not just for kicks, the very life of Lady Sif may be at stake! Great morality play in this issue, plus the action you get from this era!
The first issue of this double-shot gives us a great cover by “Riotus” Rich Buckler (pencils) and “Joltin” Joe Sinnott (inks)! The interiors of course, are by Jack “King” Kirby (pencils) and “Valiant” Vince Colletta (inks), with letters by “Swinging” Sammy Rosen and script by Stan “The Man” Lee. The second issue brings us an incredible cover by Kirby and Sinnott. This team has given us such wondrous work over the years, and this cover is one of them! The interiors are also very good, and we have “Big” John Buscema (pencils) and Tony DeZuniga (inks), to thank for that. Add in perennial colorist, Glynis Wein, to round out the art team. The writer of this awesome story, is none other than Len Wein! He’s had some great runs in comics, but for me, this one is the best!
They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I agree, and in the case of this issue of the Fantastic Four, you can definitely see that the entire thing is an homage to Jack Kirby. The Fantastic Four are awesome enough, but throw in the Inhumans, and Thraxon the Schemer, and you get a Bronze Age winner! Alright, the big draw isn’t Thraxon the Schemer, but a throw-down between the Sphinx and Black Bolt! Yes, these two heavyweights go toe to toe, and this is one brawl you can’t miss!
When the epic adventure starts with an incredible cover by “Big” John Buscema (pencils) and “Joltin” Joe Sinnott (inks), you know you’re in for a great visual story. The FF at this time was under the guidance of “Marvelous” Marv Wolfman (writer & editor) and he really crafted some cool cosmic tales during his tenure. The interior work was also very good, and we have Bob Hall (pencils, first half), Keith Pollard (pencils, second half), and Bob Wiacek (inks) to thank for that! Rounding out the team is Glynis Wein (colors) and John Costanza (letters).
With all due respect to Steve Ditko, I enjoy the Romita era of Spider-Man better. Not only for the artistic difference (even though this issue is penciled by someone else), but also for the stories. Yes, the rogues gallery Ditko created can never be outdone, but what was done with them after his departure was exceptional. What writers like Gerry Conway, and Len Wein did with them really cemented them in the Spider-Man mythos. In this story (originally presented in Amazing Spider-Man #73, 1965), Spidey and Captain Stacy are trying to figure out where the Shocker has hidden the tablet he stole in the previous arc. There’s only one problem, the Maggia also want to know where it is, and they’ve hired some new muscle to find it – Man-Mountain Marko!
This issue in particular was penciled by none other than “Big” John Buscema (over John “Ring-a-Ding”Romita layouts). Buscema didn’t do many pages of the wall-crawler, but when he did, it was incredible as his work always was back in the day. Inking is marvel perennial favorite, Jim “Madman” Mooney! This guy can ink, pencil, do interiors, covers, you name it! And all with a consistency and professionalism like the others in the Marvel bullpen! Let us not forget the letters by “Sleepy” Sam Rosen and story by “Smilin'” Stan Lee! One look at this cover (by Romita), and you know you’re back in the heyday of Marvel Comics!