When we last left Captain Mar-Vell of the Kree, at the conclusion of our Captain Marvel #12 post back in January, the alien soldier-cum-Earth superhero had just emerged from a battle against a mysterious android, the Man-Slayer, that had been rampaging across “the Cape”, a U.S. missile base in Florida. Meanwhile, both Mar-Vell’s Earth secret identity of Dr. Walter Lawson and his costumed-adventurer persona of Captain Marvel were now wanted for treason, leaving our protagonist in a bit of a pickle. All of this was serving to distract Mar-Vell from what should be job number one — using the awesome new powers granted him by the cosmic entity Zo to exact vengeance on his mortal enemy, the Kree colonel named Yon-Rogg, whom Mar-Vell held responsible for the death of his beloved Medic Una.
And while all this was going on on the printed page, Captain Marvel was facing challenges behind the scenes as well — because after already going through three writers and an equal number of artists over its fourteen-issue run (counting two issues of Marvel Super-Heroes), his series was about to welcome aboard yet another writer, Gary Friedrich, and artist, Frank Springer. With Captain Marvel #13, both of those gentlemen dove right into the ongoing storyline that had been developed over the past couple of issues by the previous scripter (Arnold Drake) and penciller (Dick Ayers) — and then proceeded to tread water for twenty pages.
Honestly, I’m not trying to be snide, here, but I’m not sure what else you’d call it. After all, Drake and Ayers had tied off the Man-Slayer plotline pretty neatly in #12, or so it had at least appeared. In that issue, the android’s fight with Mar-Vell had ended decisively, if abruptly, when the artificial being inexplicably shut down — inexplicably for Mar-Vell, that is, as the comic’s readers had seen the S.H.I.E.L.D. operative known as the Black Widow sabotage its control system from a remote location on a Caribbean island, where the Man-Slayer’s mysterious master had his secret base. That episode had led (in a rather oblique fashion) into Avengers #63, where readers learned what next befell the Widow at the hands of said master — ultimately identified, more or less, as the Mad Thinker — but to go by that story, it didn’t appear that the Man-Slayer would have any further role to play in the Thinker’s schemes, or in either the Avengers’ or Captain Marvel’s continuing storylines.
But in the opening pages of CM #13’s “Traitors or Heroes?”, the Man-Slayer suddenly came back to life, resuscitated by a reserve power supply — and proceeded to attack the Cape again, despite the fact that he could no longer receive direction from his master and had no idea why he should even bother. (“What good will it do me?” the android asked plaintively on page 6.) Mar-Vell again attempted to stop him; but then, when the Cape’s military security personnel started shooting at him, he used his Zo-given teleportation powers to whisk himself away to the the orbiting starship of the Kree. There he had a brief, inconclusive tussle with Colonel Yon-Rogg before returning to the Cape, arriving just as the Man-Slayer was threatening Carol Danvers — the head of base security, and also a developing romantic interest (kinda, sorta) for Mar-Vell. Our Captain managed to save Carol by shutting down the Man-Slayer once more, using a “lasonic disintegrator” (i.e., a ray-gun) to blow apart one of the supply cables for its battery pack. Thus, the end of issue #13 brought us back pretty much to where we’d been at the end of issue #12; the only real difference being that in the earlier issue, our hero had teleported himself away from the soldiers pointing their guns at him in the last two panels, whereas #13 concluded with him still standing there. If that’s not treading water, I don’t know what is.
Anyway, that’s how things stood at the beginning of Captain Marvel #14, the primary subject of today’s post:
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll recall that we last saw “Mr. Stark” on an airplane, heading home after a brief but eventful stay on an unnamed Caribbean island, as chronicled in Iron Man #14. And just as promised in that story’s closing caption, here’s Tony, flying into a brand new adventure…
…except that at the end of IM #14, our hero was accompanied on his flight by his current lady friend, Janice Cord. Obviously, there were some problems in coordinating details between the stories, with penciller Springer and inker Vince Colletta presumably turning in their completed, Cord-less pages too late for any adjustments to be made — thereby necessitating the editorial footnote seen above, with its awkward explanation that Tony has since dropped the young lady off somewhere, some time between the end of that issue and now. Sheesh.
And what’s up with Tony flirting so hard with the flight attendant? Admittedly, I wasn’t a regular reader of Iron Man back in the day, and yeah, I know about the guy’s playboy rep, but it doesn’t seem consistent with his characterization circa 1969 for him to be quite so cavalier regarding Janice Cord’s affections.
Oh, well. Moving on…
Here we have the first indication within these pages that this story is part of the ongoing “stealth crossover” involving various issues of not only Captain Marvel and Avengers, but also Sub-Mariner — all of which deal with different aspects of a scheme by the Puppet Master, the Mad Thinker, and Egghead to take over the world. As already discussed, the storyline had actually kicked off a couple of months earlier in Captain Marvel #12, in which the Mad Thinker sent his Man-Slayer android to wreck the Cape, and then moved into Avengers #63, where the alliance between the Thinker, Egghead, and Puppet Master was revealed — although what they were planning remained a mystery.
OK, now… while Iron Man is sneaking out the rear hatch of the plane and beginning his flight to the Cape, let’s take a moment and think about what’s happening here. The Puppet Master has taken control of Iron Man through his “radioactive replica”, and is sending him on a mission to destroy Captain Marvel. Why Captain Marvel? Well, it probably has something to do with Mar-Vell’s earlier interference with the Man-Slayer’s attack on the Cape. But why send Iron Man? The Puppet Master’s choice of the Golden Avenger as a living weapon seems pretty random, as he couldn’t know that Iron Man was in the vicinity, at least not with certainty. Remember, this was a time when the world didn’t know that Tony Stark and Iron Man were the same person, and in fact believed that ol’ Shellhead was the millionaire inventor’s bodyguard. OK, maybe the Puppet Master somehow found out that Tony Stark was flying out of the Caribbean that day, and just assumed Iron Man would be somewhere nearby — but it would be nice if the story told us so, don’t you think? (Though I have to be honest here and acknowledge that I don’t recall being the slightest bit troubled by any of these questions in 1969.)
Not counting the parody version that appeared in Not Brand Echh #9‘s “Captain Marvin” story (“Carol Dandruff”), I’d first made the acquaintance of Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel #12. There, she’d seemed a tough, authoritative, no-nonsense individual — though Arnold Drake’s script did suggest that part of her grim determination to bring in the “traitor” Captain Marvel might stem from her resentment towards him for spurning her romantic advances. By contrast, Gary Friedrich’s version is a more conventional, “emotional” female character, though of course she’s still brave enough to face down Iron Man. All in all, considering the time in which this story was written, it’s hardly surprising (though of course still disappointing) that Carol’s primary role here is to serve as a damsel in distress — a role that comes clearly into focus on the very next page.
Captain Marvel and Iron Man continue to fight as the ambulance arrives and carries Carol away. But then, Mar-Vell manages to retrieve his
ray-gun lasonic disintegrator, and…
Well, the villainous trio’s plan is making a little more sense now. The Cape is the place from whence the U.S. sends up its moon rockets and stuff like that, so it’s reasonable for the bad guys to decide it should be taken out for the sake of Egghead’s space station. But, um, wouldn’t it have been a bit more direct, and efficient, for the Puppet Master to have simply made a radioactive figure of Captain Marvel, ordered him to destroy the base, and then have him turn his lasonic disintegrator on himself, rather than drag Iron Man into this whole business? I mean, I’m not an evil genius or anything, I’m just spitballin’, here…
For the remainder of page 11, Frank Springer livens up what’s so far been a pretty underwhelming pencilling job with a series of wordless, perfectly round action panels, representing the Puppet Master’s perspective as he watches the fight on his viewscreen:
Iron Man is down? Whoops, that wasn’t supposed to happen.
But though P.M. may throw the biggest hissy fit ever, the fact remains that his “perfect, radioactive replica” of Iron Man hasn’t accounted for the hero’s bum ticker:
And with that exquisitely boneheaded move, the Puppet Master rings down the curtain and joins the choir invisible. OK, not really — because, despite the authoritative pronouncement of Friedrich’s omniscient narrator, the “vociferous” (?) villain has not worked with “these foolish figurines” for the last time — not by a long shot. Indeed, he’d be back in little more than a year, working once more with the Mad Thinker to try to take down the Fantastic Four in their special 100th issue, with no explanation given for how he survived. (He may have gone without food for a while, however, as that story found him restored to his original Jack Kirby design of a small, thin, puppet-resembling fellow, as seen at right.)
It takes nine narrow, heavily-worded panels, but by the end of page 15, both Captain Marvel and Iron Man have been extricated from the crossover storyline our storytellers contrived mightily to get them into in the first place. (If you’re keeping score, this is the second time that Mar-Vell has passed in and out of the Egghead-Thinker-Puppet Master plotline without ever learning who’s actually behind these shenanigans.) So now Friedrich and Springer have five whole pages to maybe move the real Captain Marvel story forward just a bit, after once again treading water for the better part of an issue.
Lost in reverie, Mar-Vell soars aimlessly through the cosmos for some time before finally coming in for a landing on a lifeless, nameless asteroid. In his existential distress, he cries out to the unfeeling universe: “What am I doing? Where am I going?” — and (because this is a comic book, after all) actually gets an answer. It seems that Mar-Vell’s mysterious benefactor, the great and powerful Zo, has had just about enough of the Kree warrior’s dicking around:
Alright, so Friedrich and Springer have spent most of their five remaining pages on single and double-page splashes — at least they’ve moved Captain Marvel on to a new chapter of his story, as he returns home to the Kree Galaxy. (So much for vengeance on Yon-Rogg, I guess, but whattya gonna do?) This development comes just in time for yet another major change in the creative team, as Frank Springer will bow out after this issue, to be replaced by…
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. We’ll continue to track the strange saga of Captain Marvel (the character and the series) in this blog in the months to come; but before we go there, we’ll need to wrap things up with the crossover storyline of which this issue is just one part. So be sure to come back next week, when we’ll take a look at Avengers #64, and…
What’s that? What about Sub-Mariner #14, ostensibly the first third of Marvel Comics’ “titanic trilogy” of March, 1969, you ask? Yeah, well… about that…
If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you’re probably aware that I only write here about comics I acquired brand new, fifty years ago. And the fact is — I didn’t buy S-M #14 when it was new. Indeed — I never bought it at all, even as a back issue. What’s more, I didn’t even get around to reading its story (in a reprint edition) until quite recently.
Of course, I’m sure I looked for it on the stands that March. But since I had yet to buy or read an issue of Sub-Mariner, i probably wasn’t too upset when I realized I’d missed it — especially since by then I would have already read the conclusion of the story in Avengers, and knew how things turned out. And as for picking it up later, as a back issue — well, my interest in the Sub-Mariner over the years would never be more than intermittent, and by the time I also had enough interest in Marvel’s Golden Age history to be intrigued by the role of the original Human Torch in the story, I had other priorities as a collector. That’s what I figure happened, anyway.
So, according to my own self-imposed rules for the blog, I can’t devote a post to this issue. But since I know you’re curious (OK… make that, I hope at least some of you are curious) about what happens in it, here’s a quick take, focusing on those aspects of the story most germane to the multi-title crossover.
“Burn, Namor… Burn!” was written by Roy Thomas (who, as the scripter of the lion’s share of the comics in this crossover, seems the most likely candidate for having masterminded the whole thing), pencilled by Marie Severin, and inked by Mike Esposito (using the nom de plume of “Joe Gaudioso” — begging the question, had DC Comics busted him for “Mickey Demeo” by this time?). The tale finds Prince Namor of Atlantis investigating some mysterious goings-on in an unnamed region of the Pacific Ocean, where he’s attacked by a flaming figure who appears to be the original, android “Human” Torch — an old ally of Namor’s from the days of World War II, but now apparently under the control of the Mad Thinker, who (having apparently turned over his former Caribbean base to the Puppet Master) is now operating from beneath a dormant volcano on a Pacific island:
Subby whips up a tidal wave, with which he manages to subdue the Torch long enough for the latter to explain how he came to be under the Thinker’s control — a story which hearkens back to Fantastic Four Annual #4 (Nov., 1966), in which the Thinker had found and resuscitated the dormant android, sending him to attack his “modern” counterpart, the FF’s Johnny Storm. That story had ended with the apparent demise of the original Torch — but as the Torch now explains to Namor, he was recently revived yet again by the Thinker, though with extremely muddled memories. Controlled by an amulet placed around his neck, the Torch followed the Thinker’s directive to plant a device within a nearby volcano, then cause an eruption, which in its turn would charge the device — though for what purpose, the Torch had no idea…
Over the next minute, Egghead broadcasts on all frequencies (conveniently, radios and TV sets continue to work during the blackout, though only for this purpose), telling America that in one hour, he’ll let everyone know what they have to do to keep him from blacking out the entire nation for good.
Of course, it’s not just ordinary citizens and government officials who receive the message — most of Marvel’s heroes do as well, providing the opportunity for Thomas and Severin to deliver the most “crossover-y” page of the entire crossover:
Even Tony Stark, 10,000 feet high above the Caribbean and cut off from all terrestrial communications, gets to share in the moment.
Allies once more, the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch fly to the Mad Thinker’s base and wreck the apparatus which, somehow acting in concert with the device planted in the volcano earlier, contributes the Thinker’s third of the villainous trio’s “triangle of terror”. Along the way, they discover that the Torch isn’t really the Torch at all — he’s Toro, the original Torch’s junior partner from the Forties, whom the Thinker kidnapped and brainwashed to believe he was actually the Torch.
While the two old allies are hashing all this out, the Thinker attempts to flee; but…
And there you go. The original Human Torch is still dead (except he’s not, really — post-FF Annual #4, his body was refurbished by Ultron, and he’s now the Vision*). And Toro, too, is now dead (though he’ll eventually be restored to life as well, courtesy of Bucky Barnes and a Cosmic Cube). Finally, the Mad Thinker is… well, definitely not dead; since, as we saw some dozen or so paragraphs back, he’ll be back in about a year to team up again with the Puppet Master, in Fantastic Four #100. Sigh. Was there ever a time when comic book characters just, y’know, died and stayed that way? (Never mind; it was a rhetorical question.)
But regardless of all that — we are all caught up now with the first two parts of Roy Thomas and co.’s “trilogy of terror”. Come back in just a week to find out how the last villain standing, Egghead, will manage all on his own against the Avengers. (But no peeking, hear?)
*Yes, I know it’s really a lot more complicated than that, but let’s just leave it there for now, OK?