A Moment of Reflection

thinkerSo. I’ve now read all the Marvel superhero comics from 1961-1964. This is a good time to sit back and reflect on how far I’ve come.

It’s also a good time to take a breath, because now that I’ve reached the end of 1964, it’s time for (tum tum ta tum!!!) the Marvelous Awards! Yes, I have once again embarked on the enormous task of trying to determine the best of the best and the worst of the worst of an entire year of Marvel Comics, and let me tell you, this is not easy. It’s time-intensive, thought-intensive, and involves a tremendous amount of effort in gathering together all the pieces. So, right now, taking a break from all that, I’ve decided this month to simply embark on a quiet moment of reflection regarding my Marvel experience thus far.

When I began this venture about four years ago, I had no idea how far it might go. I had no expectations regarding how much I might enjoy, or perhaps be bored with, the antiquated two-dimensional figures and one-dimensional stories originally presented on the flimsiest of paper for the lowest price possible.

footballBut, I married a “comics guy,” so I wanted to read a few comics, and acquaint myself with this alternate Universe which has so thoroughly captured my dear husband’s imagination. After all, he introduced me to college football, and that’s turned out to be a blast! Could comics be just as much fun?

So I began to read the earliest stories, and almost always felt there was reason to go on to the next issue. Since I often felt I had quite a bit to say about what I was reading, it occurred to me that Russ and I might do a podcast about these early comics, a discussion between an expert and a novice. At the time, we were producing The Drawing Room podcast about the 1960’s TV soap opera Dark Shadows, so podcasting was new and fun. I don’t know what in the world made us think doing ANOTHER podcast at the same time was something two working people could possibly handle in their spare time, but we recorded one episode of a Marvel-themed podcast and immediately realized it wasn’t going to work. So we put that idea aside.

But I still felt I had so much to say about Marvel Comics, and then one day…it hit me! A blog! A blog is a hell of a lot easier to put together than a podcast. And so The Marvelous Zone came into existence.

overpopulationOriginally, my intent was to “read Marvel Comics,” with no end-point in sight, but I soon realized such an enterprise was madness. I did the math and decided that even if I read one comic each day, my time here on earth would be up long before I ever reached the end of Marvel Comics. Because Marvel Comics is a living, growing entity. Like the impossibility of counting every person on earth if one walked in front of you each second, you would never get to the end, because while people were waiting in line for you to count them, they would be having babies, who would grow up and have more babies, and so it goes. There is no end.

This realization was disheartening, forcing me to face my own mortality. But then I thought of this: I might be able to set parameters on my blog so that I was only reviewing “The Silver Age.” Russ informs me the Silver Age goes to about 1973 or so, which means there is an END, and though long off, one day it will actually be in sight. THIS is do-able.

trixiethorBesides, the Silver Age has great personal appeal for me. It mostly encompasses the 1960’s, one of my very favorite decades (if you don’t believe me, check out my other blog, Whimsieville, which stars my adorably funny-looking dolls from the 1960’s). I was a kid during the 1960’s, so despite the social unrest of the era, most of my memories are pleasant. And reading Marvel Comics brings back those pleasant memories of a simpler, kinder time.

When I see Torch flying by the World’s Fair Globe, I remember the day my parents took us to the World’s Fair. I don’t remember anything else about the World’s Fair, except the globe, and the fact that it was a fine, holiday-like summer day, and I had a st123bannerapretty new dress to wear, a paisley print of lime green, bright pink and orange, colors so popular and stylish during the 1960’s. That day, I felt so much a part of everything going on in the world. Thank you, Marvel, for reminding me of that.

In addition, when I read Marvel Comics, I run into Ed Sullivan and JFK, which takes me back to my childhood, and that feels good. Even when I run into “the Commies,” that also makes me feel good. Despite the fact that at the time I had no idea about politics, these Cold War Commies seem so much less menacing than the threats that face us today.

skrullsAt that time, I also had no idea how distinctive the social climate, language, fashions and hairstyles really were, because to my 1960’s kid-self, that’s just the way it was. But now, looking back, it appears so excessively stylized…and nostalgic. Even the Marvel depiction of “little green men from Mars” evokes the sci-fi of the day. Which now seems so innocent and quaint. And even comfortable, in a wistful way.

So at this juncture, I feel compelled to ask myself several questions about my experiences so far. But before I do, one more observation: I suspect that most readers of this blog are seasoned comic book readers, having started their lifelong obsession as boys, and I of course am completely different. Not only am I distinguished from the average comic reader by my sex, but also by my age. As an adult, my initial exposure to these stories yields observations no eight-year-old boy from 1964 would ever make.

avengersmovieBut that’s not my observation. I’m just setting the stage.

My observation is that by coming to this party fifty years late, I’ve arrived at the best possible time. This is the age of Marvel Cinema! I first became aware of the Marvel Universe when my teenage kids talked me into seeing the X-Men movie in 2000. And that was only the beginning! During the next fifteen years or so, the Marvel Universe has exploded on the screen like nothing anyone could have predicted.

Thinking of those eight year old boys from the 1960’s, I wonder if they could have ever even begun to IMAGINE that their favorite superheroes might one day appear in such fabulously beautiful, complex and realistic movies. Like the Bible verse that tells us “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love Him,” I feel certain it never occurred to those little boys that movies like this could possibly exist. But now, they do. And not only that…they just…keep…coming.

It’s a GREAT time to be alive in the Marvel Universe!

Well now, having said all that, let’s get on with my questions.

Previous to reading Marvel Comics, my exposure to the idea of “superheroes” was probably limited to the Christopher Reeve Superman movies of the 70’s and 80’s, and the aforementioned X-Men movies early in the 2000’s. I understood that for movies, a certain amount of drama and romance would need to be incorporated, but I never EVER expected to find so much drama and romance between the pages of a twelve cent comic book! batmanpowTen years ago, if you had asked me what comic books were about, I probably would have said “A good guy in tights fights a bad guy, and the good guy wins.” Pow, Bam! Oh yeah…that’s right…I’m just now remembering the Batman TV show of the 1960’s…but that’s exactly my point! Action and adventure, but very little in the way of deep character development. Who knew comics could be all this?

But picking up my first issue of Fantastic Four, I found a family of ordinary people, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and from there, the depth of their characterizations and relationships continues to grow. I love the idea of the Noble Villain, like Sub-Mariner, who opposes the heroes, but as the monarch of his own kingdom, he’s trying to do what’s best for his own people. I also love the idea of a really smart, generally good guy like Reed Richards, who can sometimes be sort of a jackass. Not to mention a complete romantic doofus.

It’s not all black and white. Between these newsprint pages we find so many shades of gray. Thor struggles with his love for a mortal woman. Matt Murdock finagles a way to use his powers and still honor the promise he made to his dead father. Pym decides being Ant-Man is no longer good enough, now he must be GIANT-Man as well. You could psychoanalyze these guys for hours! And I do.

I’ve had the opportunity to glance at some recent Marvel Comics, and honestly, I’m blown away by the art. It appears that nowadays, the art is the star, and word balloons take a back seat. Somehow, Marvel has learned to let the pictures tell the story. I’m looking forward to moving into these more streamlined stories, that don’t take half of forever to read, because there’s just so…many… freaking…words!

writer9bNow, having said this, I know what’s going on, at least to some extent. When the Silver Age of Marvel Comics was in its infancy, the audience was growing month by month. I’ve waded through many re-tellings of origin stories, to say nothing of how Daredevil keeps chattering about his stupendous abilities. It gets a bit tiresome, but at the same time, I understand the need for repetition, so new folks can catch up. However, when you have panels like this one, where the talky-talky completely obliterates a character’s face, I think it’s time for someone in the Marvel bullpen to step back and rethink the process.

But you know what? If that’s the worst I can come up with, I’m probably doing pretty good.

What do I look forward to? Are you kidding? So much, so very much! Let me mention just a few thoughts.

carterFirst, because of my exposure to the movies, I’m aware of so many great characters that haven’t even been hinted at, by the end of 1964! Can’t wait to meet them, especially some of the X-Men, like Storm and Wolverine. Of course, one of my favorite places in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is Planet Television. I’ve been enjoying SHIELD for over three years now, but even that doesn’t hold a candle to when they take a break and let Peggy Carter go at it. Oh, wait! How could I have forgotten Guardians of the Galaxy?

When I finally meet all these characters in the comics, I wonder if they’ll live up to my expectations…

As for villains, you have to admit, in these first years of the Silver Age, many of them aren’t very impressive. Not only do we have your garden variety thugs and gangsters, but there’s also the Tinkerer, and Paste Pot Pete. Some preliminary efforts have already been made to rehabilitate PPP’s image, but honestly…how much improvement can we expect from a guy whose motto is “Paste is the supreme weapon”?

I know the day is coming when I’ll meet Ultron, and I hope Magneto and his gang of evil mutants will stop bickering like a dysfunctional family and get down to some serious EVIL. I look forward to bigger, better, truly villainous villains. I look forward to the day when comic book Loki impresses and terrifies me as much as Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

As previously mentioned, I’m also looking forward to more sophisticated artwork, but also more sophisticated storytelling. Not that long ago in my Silver Age reading, I began to run into story lines that stretch across two issues. I know eventually stories will stretch across several issues, so that reading Marvel Comics will be more like a series of novellas, rather than short stories. (And I do prefer novels to short stories.)

And maybe…just maybe, if I’m lucky… some of those stories will advance the stagnant romances that so far spin around in huge circles of secrecy and misunderstandings. Don’t spoil me, but I can’t wait to see if Reed and Sue, Tony and Pepper, Matt and Karen, Hank and Janet, and Donald and Jane can ever get past these high school games that people play and move into more serious adult relationships. And would it be too much for the romantic in me to hope for the chiming of wedding bells?

Movie WeddingIn the old days, movies always ended with a wedding; now they often begin with an unhappily married couple. I don’t want any of these characters to be unhappy, but I would like to see their lives move along, as if they are real people. Even though, of course, they are not real people. And they don’t have normal lives. But still. I want to see at least some of them eventually get married. (Again, don’t spoil me!!)

You’ll notice there was no mention of Peter Parker in my long list of romantic couples. And why not? Because I have not yet met Mary Jane Watson! Aunt May keeps hinting and teasing that she’s about to appear, but so far…no Mary Jane. And I know Peter will also have a romance with Gwen Stacy, but I don’t think I can get anywhere near Gwen Stacy until I first at least MEET Mary Jane.

So, yeah. I’m looking forward to meeting Mary Jane Watson.

The single thing that has surprised me most about reading Marvel Comics is that I enjoy them as much as I do. I knew from the beginning these were stories originally written for little boys, so there was no particular reason to anticipate I would find anything significantly compelling. It seemed extremely likely I was simply not the audience for this particular form of entertainment. After all, I’ve never been able to see the attraction of video games or Shakespeare, though there are plenty of fans for each in this diverse world of ours. And that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks.

funAt first I thought I would read a few stories to please Russ, show him that I gave Marvel a chance, then move on. But Marvel would not let me simply “move on.” Very quickly, over the course of a dozen or so stories, I became interested, and invested.

Have you ever flipped through the TV channels and run into one of those murder mysteries like Dateline or Forensic Files? If you linger even a moment, somehow you end up watching the whole damn thing. Something about it grabs you and won’t let go.

In the case of murder mysteries, it’s a morbid sense of “whodunit?” But with Marvel comics, I come back full circle to what I said at the beginning: The characters, the relationships, the drama, the romance. And most of all, the FUN.

If these stories weren’t fun, I wouldn’t read them. If they weren’t fun, I wouldn’t do this blog. But they are, and I do.

And now what I do, is get back to preparing (tum tum ta tum!!!) the Second Annual Marvelous Awards!

Posted in Year In Review | 3 Comments

Meanwhile…: December, 1964


st127The Mystery Villain!
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Inks: Paul Reinman
Letters: Art Simek

When Johnny gets annoyed with Reed, he and Thing set off on their own. First stop: they go west to compete in an auto race. Turns out they are the only ones racing, and become prisoners of their cars, which drive them deep into a subterranean chamber. There, a mysterious villain tricks and taunts them, eventually revealing himself to be none other than…Mr. Fantastic himself! The errant FF members acknowledge Reed’s ability to out-think and out-maneuver them and submit to his leadership.

WHO IS IT? The cover and splash challenge the reader to guess the secret identity of the Mystery Villain. Seems I’m not very good at this. When Torch and Thing start with a brief adventure in the ocean, I guessed Namor. When they are thrust into the underground, I guessed Mole Man. Wrong both times. I was truly surprised when the “villain” was revealed. Nice work in a self-contained story that almost has the feel of an Aesop’s Fable.

IT’S ALL ABOUT REED. I’m chiding myself because it never occurred to me the “villain” could be Reed…but then, really, why would it? Early in the story, when Johnny first pitches a fit, Reed declares “I’m too busy to bother wet-nursing a pair of malcontents!” and I believed him. My mistake. Turns out, not only is Reed NOT “too busy,” but he actually has oodles of time and resources to dream up and carry out this elaborate scheme, just to prove his point. And what’s his point? That the others simply can’t get along without him. And so, even though this title belongs to Torch and Thing, once again the moral of the story is “It’s Reed Richards world, the rest of us just live in it.”


st127splash“Duel With the Dread Dormammu!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

Dr. Strange prepares to battle Dormammu, who has threatened to invade Earth. He faces a quandary when a white-haired girl reveals that only Dormammu prevents the Mindless Ones from entering and destroying their land. Ultimately, Strange decides his first allegiance is to Earth, so he fights. Though winning, the battle weakens Dormammu, and the Mindless Ones break through. Strange assists Dormammu in restoring the barrier, and in exchange, Dormammu agrees not to invade Earth. The Ancient One rewards Strange with a new cape and more wondrous amulet.

EVERYBODY LOVES DR. STRANGE. Well, okay, not everybody. Dormammu certainly doesn’t. But when Strange invites the white-haired girl to join him on Earth, she pouts, “No, this is my world! It is HERE that I belong…no matter where my HEART shall be!” Apparently Betty White has lost at least a part of her heart to the caped warrior from Earth. I wonder why… Is it his unfathomable power with the mystic arts…or does she have a weak spot for his strong jawline and Cumberbatch-esque high cheekbones?

NOT MUCH. Not much is not hot. I thoroughly enjoyed this story.


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Want to own the Doctor Strange story? Buy the Masterworks!


asm19“Spidey Strikes Back!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

Sandman teams up with Montana, Fancy Dan and the Ox to capture the Human Torch, using him as bait to lure Spider-Man into a fight. They fight, Spidey sets Torch free, and together the two teenage superheroes wrangle up the villains for the cops. In other news, Peter does not seem to mind at all that Betty has a new beau, Liz remains mad at the clueless Flash, Jameson is lividly embarrassed by Spider-Man’s triumphant return, and Aunt May gets a good night’s sleep. But just when Peter thinks all is well, a mysterious man hints at a sinister plot.

OH, BOY! Okay, it’s not fair that a new, shadowy figure, unrelated to all the action that has gone before, suddenly appears in the bottom half of the last page, threatening to “act” against Peter Parker, as soon as he’s “sure.” This does not seem to have anything to do with the story we just read, but honestly, how many times do we encounter this fishhook in popular literature and media? I’m most famously reminded of the 1980’s TV show Quantum Leap, where hapless hero Sam Beckett could never quite get back to his own time, but ended each adventure unceremoniously dropped into a new situation, which he always began with a hearty, “Oh, boy!” So yeah…it’s not fair. But it keeps us coming back for more.

BROMANCE A-BREWIN’? Spidey and Torch have never been the best of friends, but sentiments thaw as they work together to get the bad guys. Though I wouldn’t yet call it friendship, they’re at least gaining more respect for each other’s powers, despite their continued perfunctory jabs and jibes.

TAKE SOMINEX TONIGHT AND SLEEP…Poor Aunt May. She’s had her share of health troubles lately, but here at last, we see her getting a good night’s sleep. And after that, we see her smiling and joking with Peter. It does a heart good.

THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY. Betty has a new beau, and Peter doesn’t give a hoot. “Have a nice time tonight, you two!” he easily tells Betty and Ned, after Betty turns him down for a date. To which Betty wonders, with a worried face, “I secretly hoped he’s be a little JEALOUS! But…he doesn’t seem to CARE! Have I…really LOST him??” To which I say, Betty, dear…if you play games, there’s always a chance you’ll lose.

ONE PLUS THREE DOES NOT EQUAL FOUR. Sandman teams up with the Enforcers, and you have to wonder if the trio slows him down more than helps him. The only good thing you can say about the Enforcers is that their varied “skills” give Steve Ditko plenty of panels to show how easily Spider-Man can defeat them. For my money, I think Moe, Larry and Curly could provide Spidey just as much of a challenge, and provide us a greater measure of entertainment. (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!)


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ff33“Side-by-Side With Sub-Mariner!”
Story: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

When Attuma attacks Atlantis, Namor’s slighted girlfriend Dorma grants Attuma access to the undersea kingdom. When Attuma threatens to break his vow not to personally harm Namor, Dorma enlists the aid of the FF. With Reed’s Oxo-Spray giving them the ability to breath underwater, the four bring the fight to Atlantis, each contributing their particular skills to the battle. As the spray wears off, they rise to the surface, just as Attuma is surrendering to Namor. Namor forgives Dorma, never realizing the FF were helping him.

ATTUMA. Well, really, he’s not that hot. He’s ugly, conceited, and easily defeated. But I love his name. Russ and I were recently recalling the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Kindergarten Cop, in which undercover cop John Kimble bellows at a hypochondriac five year old, “It’s not attuma!” Once I read the name of this villain, of course every one of his word balloons was delivered in a strong Austrian accent. And if that doesn’t make this fun, then what does?

ME SUE, YOU INVISIBLE TOO. When Namor most needs a victory in hand-to-hand combat with Attuma, Sue uses her powers to make him invisible. How cool is that?? She’s come a long way, baby, from those early days when all she could do was turn herself invisible. Creating protective force fields has become a huge weapon in her arsenal, and now this—if not better, at least as good. We’re getting further and further away from the need for Reed to invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln’s mother and lecture the readers on Why Sue Is a Valuable Member of Our Team.

SIDE-BY-SIDE IN SECRET. Namor is never aware the Fantastic Four have been assisting him. Too bad. I was looking forward to his reaction when he finds out he’s beholden to his mortal enemies. I also wanted to see how forgiving he might be of Dorma, once he learned she did not believe he could win the battle on his own. Namor may be able to understand and forgive errors made “in the name of love,” but I doubt he would look so kindly upon her lack of respect for his mighty powers.


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jim111“The Power of the Thunder God!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

With Jane near death, Thor has stopped time so he can fight for retribution upon Hyde and Cobra. Meanwhile, in Asgard, thanks to Balder’s clever song, Odin remembers his own youthful forbidden love. Now softened towards the mortal Jane, Odin sends Loki…oops! I mean Balder, to secure a life-saving potion for her from a magic medicine man. Balder makes the quest, delivers the potion to Thor, and Jane is saved. Thor captures Hyde and Cobra, but that’s pretty much beside the point.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT THOR… I’m starting to get the hang of these two-part stories. When I first ran into this format a few months back, it was disconcerting. I wanted to know RIGHT AWAY what was going to happen. But when I picked up this issue, it suddenly all came back to me and I said, “Oh, good! I finally get to see how this turns out!” During the time between my reading of JIM 110 and JIM 111, I didn’t lose any sleep over poor Jane at death’s door, or Hyde and Cobra on the loose, because I knew as soon as I got back to the story, all would somehow be put right. And it has. For the moment, at least.

I know I’ll run into many more of these two-parters, and soon even three-parters and more-parters. But you know what? Even though my preference is still for a full story completely contained within one issue, I’m making progress, and I’ll be ready for the future of Marvel Comics, as it comes my way.

ODIN, THE GOD OF FORGETFULNESS. Will he never learn? A king, never mind a god, should have more sense than Odin displays here. I don’t mean because he so easily falls prey to bold Balder’s ballad about King Odin’s past love life. Actually, that’s one of the first things I’ve enjoyed about Odin, because it shows he does, apparently, have a heart.

Instead, I’m talking about the fact that once he’s made the momentous decision to save Jane’s life, who does he pick for the mission? Of all people…Loki! Why? First of all, isn’t Loki supposed to be banished for past wrongdoings? And furthermore, isn’t Odin aware of the epic sibling rivalry that consumes the evil Loki? In what universe (Asgard, included) does it make sense to send Loki to help Thor?

Maybe Odin’s been so wrapped up in his own issues of running a kingdom and all, that he isn’t really paying attention to his kids. Or maybe…he’s just playing right into Stan Lee’s hands.

Fortunately, Loki’s “peers” have greater understanding than dear old dad, and make the decision to send Balder instead. Which, by the way, is in direct opposition to an edict from their king…but Odin’s too…something or other…to know or care.

jim111splashThe Secret of Sigurd!
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letters: Art Simek

Loki leads Thor and Balder to Sigurd, who has a “secret power,” and goads Thor into fighting the warrior. With each fall to the ground, Sigurd grows stronger—which happens to be his secret power. So Thor flings Sigurd into outer space, where he will never touch ground again. Loki feigns congratulations, and Balder muses that Loki’s hatred of Thor is almost beyond understanding.

Reference: my earlier comment on “epic sibling rivalry.”


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tos60“Suspected of Murder!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Sam Rosen

Unwilling to remove his costume for fear of death, Iron Man continues to pique Pepper and Happy’s suspicions that he may be involved in Stark’s disappearance. The cops are called in and question Iron Man. Meanwhile, Black Widow convinces Hawkeye to steal weapons plans from Stark’s factory. When Hawkeye takes Pepper hostage, Iron Man attacks, and the fight ends with Hawkeye hitching a ride on a passing jet—little realizing that the jet is transporting Black Widow back to the motherland for interrogation.

GAL #1. Pepper looks fetching in her yellow dress. For once, a redhead in a color other than pink! (I know Marvel Comics doesn’t often do that, but in real life, I can’t tell you how many times I see redheads wearing pink, with clashing results, and I just don’t understand it…one of life’s great mysteries.)

GAL #2. We get a rare glimpse into Black Widow, as she worries, “Hawkeye…my darling…will they ever let me see you again?” And all this time, we thought she was just a conniving hard-hearted bit-ca. But now, guess what? Perhaps she does indeed care about something other than herself, and her cause. And that makes her so much more interesting.

MISTAKES. First, Stark neglects to lock the door while raiding his own safe in his Iron Man costume, then he leaves on the Iron Man gloves while writing a note from Tony Stark. (Got that??) Besides the obvious detail of no corroborating fingerprints, wouldn’t the klutzy gloves naturally affect his penmanship so it was either unrecognizable as Stark’s, or at the very least, the note appeared to be written under duress? I understand this is only Tales of Suspense #60, but this stress is mild in comparison to what he’s going to face later (Battle of New York, anyone?), and these are just too many stupid mistakes for someone supposedly so brilliant.

SECRECY. If ever there was a moment for Stark to come clean with his secret identity, now is the time. It’s so frustrating that he persists in letting the two people he is closest to, Happy and Pepper, not only believe Iron Man is a different person, but also that Iron Man may be involved in Tony Stark’s disappearance. We’re talking cops, guns, suspicion of theft and MURDER, and yet still he goes on, pretending. Oh, how simple it would all be if Stark would just TRUST his friends, for once. They could actually be of great assistance! But of course, Tony Stark is John Wayne, not Scooby-Doo; he doesn’t believe he needs a “gang.” It’s surprising this unashamed individualist ever consented to be part of the Avengers.


tos60splash“The Army of Assassins Strikes!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

Zemo’s Army of Assassins takes on Captain America during his appearance at a charity benefit. When Rick Jones realizes the fight is not simply for entertainment, the assassins go after him, but Cap comes to the rescue. The assassins use a sub-miniature missile to no avail, and are captured by the police. Zemo is not pleased.

HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL? There’s no excuse for this story. Nothing happens except Cap defeats the bad guys, just as any good superhero always will. Why are you wasting my time?

There’s only one good takeaway from this story: with Cap’s judo lessons, Rick Jones is able to use leverage and maneuvers to take on and escape from a band of assassins. Either Rick is more self-sufficient than we thought, or Zemo got gypped when he hired those “assassins.” The only thing that gets assassinated is Zemo’s TV screen, which he blasts to smithereens after Cap pointedly calls him a coward.

Okay, that’s two takeaways. But on the whole, for anyone whose TV was still in one piece in December, 1964, instead of reading this comic, their time would have been better spent watching the world premiere of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.


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Want to own the Captain America story? Buy the Masterworks!


Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Sam Rosen

To get his revenge, Kang infiltrates the Avengers with a Spider-Man robot. The robot tells the Avengers that Zemo has taken Iron Man to the Temple of Tirod in Mexico. Immediately, the Avengers travel to the Temple, and there “Spider-Man” fights and defeats them, for Kang had filled the tomb with unnerving nerve gas. But the real Spider-Man, on a Spider-Sense hunch, shows up, fights the robot, shuts it down and saves the day. The Avengers figure out Kang was behind it all. And Iron Man is still missing.

TONY, WHERE ART THOU? Kudos on the reference to the ongoing drama in Tales of Suspense. With Iron Man missing, the remaining Avengers call an emergency meeting to discuss his whereabouts, believing he has gone off alone to track down clues to his boss’s murder. Which is entirely not the case, but still, it’s nice to see Iron Man’s friends struggling to make sense of the mystery.

MEETING…ADJOURNED. At the same time, it’s NOT nice that we actually have to sit through this entirely too long and too wordy meeting full of first and second motions and “You’re out of order, Rick!” to young Jones, who can’t seem to give up his dream of being a superhero. It’s so tedious. What’s the point? Is this scene here to show us that, like ordinary crime-fighting police officers, the other side of super-heroism is a lot of boring meetings and paperwork?

I…ROBOT. Kang’s Spider-Man robot is a technological marvel, but far too cognizant to be a robot. He uses colorful language to make numerous value judgments about his foes and frequently praises his creator, Kang. (“Look at the speed with which they blaze into action! Too bad they do not suspect they are merely racing to their doom!” and… “only the brilliant Kang would have thought to give me the ability to speak in the same vernacular as the real Spider-Man.”) Yes, I know this is a robot from the year 3000, and certainly robotics would have advanced in the last thousand years or so, but for the purposes of this story, I would have liked to see the robot acting more…well…robot-like.

MY GOD IS BIGGER THAN YOURS. Why is Thor subject to the effects of nerve gas? Such shortcomings make him seem less like a GOD and more like a mere muscle-bond human being (who can fly).

TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS. While Thor presumably flies to Mexico on the strength of Mjolnir, Giant-Man and Wasp stowaway on a jet. Captain America parachutes in—how, or from where, we know not. But how does Spider-Man get there, and so quickly? Remember, this is high school kid Peter Parker who worries about paying Aunt May’s doctor bills and needing new kitchen appliances. In ASM 6, he had trouble raising the funds for a trip to Florida. I’ll buy his explanation that his spider-sense tingled with knowledge of an imposter, and it even makes sense that he silently followed the imposter to learn more. But how did he sneak all the way from NYC to Mexico? And who paid for it??


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Posted in Avengers, Captain America, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Human Torch, Iron Man, Meanwhile, Sgt. Fury, Spider-Man, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Thor | Leave a comment

DAREDEVIL #5: In Plain Sight

Published: December, 1964

Published: December, 1964

“The Man With the Mask!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Wallace Wood

Let’s start this one with our villain, the Magnificent Matador. Well…okay…not really that magnificent. In fact, the Matador is far from the greatest villain ever. He doesn’t even have a superpower. All he has is a few fancy moves, and a cape. Which can be stepped on. But I quickly made the decision to put up with him, for a couple of very good reasons.

One: It took me only three panels to realize that though this guy is nothing more than an unemployed entertainer, he’s imbued with all the swagger of a Doctor Doom. What he lacks in substance, he makes up for in style, incorporating a heavy dose of arrogance and irony into all his actions.

There’s no place in the Marvel Universe for villains who aren’t brimming with self-confidence and bravado. So, muchos puntos to the Matador for being audacious enough to first of all, take on Daredevil, but extra points for robbing a safe, in plain sight…while attending a costume party! And if that isn’t brazen enough, his next move is to burglarize…a burglar alarm factory!

dd5saferobYou’ve got to admire the Matador’s command of the ironic. This fellow is as full of himself as Donald Trump, and he’s having a blast messing around with people’s expectations.

And then there’s this: With all his flowery hyperbole, somehow I couldn’t help but assign him a funny voice. Within only a few pages, I realized he sounded very much like cartoon character Speedy Gonzalez or the iconic corn chip salesman, Frito Bandito. Once you go there, you’re having as much fun as the Matador, and there’s no turning back. You’re willing to forgive the “villain” for not being the most fearsome foe ever, since he’s so damned entertaining.

So, who exactly IS the Matador? At the beginning of our story, nobody knows. Police hunt for clues, while prominent criminologists are summoned for consultation. Fearing that “throughout the nation, the young people, and the foolish, unthinking adults, will soon start making a HERO of him,” Murdock takes matters into his own hands. By dead of night, as the crime-fighting dd5bullfightDaredevil, he infiltrates the archive room of the public library and runs his super-sensitive fingers through the international newspapers to discover that his latest opponent is actually disgraced matador Manuel Eloganto who got butted in the butt by a bull. Blaming his injuries on hecklers, Eloganto seeks revenge upon “all mankind.”

That kind of “all or nothing at all” self-centered thinking makes absolute sense for an ego-maniacal villain, but here’s what doesn’t make sense: why does it take a blind man to see what no one else can? The answer to the Matador’s true identify was right there in plain sight for anyone who cared to do the investigative journalism…but I guess the press was too busy writing stories about Giant-Man and the Fantastic Four, and the police…oh, never mind

Thank goodness Matt Murdock/Daredevil is on the case! He’s apparently the only person in town who has enough brains to actually solve this mystery. Or…was it something else?

Sure, Murdock’s a super-smart guy, but in this case, he may be more highly motivated than anyone else to solve the mystery and see the Matador brought to justice.

You see, Daredevil was burned badly by the Matador in scene one. In fact, I was sorely disappointed by his failings in his first confrontation with the Matador. It’s not believable that Daredevil’s superpowers would be rendered useless because there are “too many voices” and “too much commotion.” Isn’t Daredevil above distraction, able to pick out only those details that are most important at the moment? What’s going on here? Does he really have such a huge Achilles Heel? Does his concern for Karen’s safety put him off his game? Or, are the writers simply stretching for a plot device to infuse this otherwise benign confrontation with an added dose of drama?

Well, I guess we needed to set the stage for Murdock’s hell-bent determination to outsmart the bad guy. And that he does, and rather cleverly, by making the outrageous claim that “Matador IS Daredevil.” An accusation this crazy flies right to the top of the front page, and now Daredevil only needs to sit back and wait for the inevitable confrontation.


Murdock’s ploy works, because he’s a very smart guy who understands the psychology of his enemy. The Matador cannot resist this open invitation to the offices of Nelson & Murdock, where he naturally finds Daredevil waiting, and they naturally fight. Daredevil lures the Matador out the window, into plain sight, so the entire neighborhood can see, first of all, that Daredevil and Matador are NOT the same person, but more importantly, that Daredevil is the superior combatant. Having been overwhelmed by the Matador’s cape during their first encounter, Daredevil’s not going to let that little detail confuse him again. He deftly steps on the cape, incapacitating the flamboyant villain until the police arrive to cart him away to jail.

dd5scrunchProblem solved.

One final point, though: I found it ironic that in this story it’s Murdock, not Daredevil, who plays the greater part in capturing the criminal. Murdock does all the investigative legwork, and the psychological heavy lifting. Basically, all Daredevil has to do is step on the Matador’s cape. Who’s the superhero now?

But never mind all that. Let’s finally get to what this story is really about. Because the entire Matador story pales in comparison to the soap opera going on in this issue. Our love triangle has suddenly gotten both acute and obtuse, at the same time. Acute, because there’s a proposal of marriage about to be laid on the table. And obtuse, because none of the three points of the triangle see clearly enough to realize this is the most ridiculous plot development that could possibly take place.

Until now, Karen’s been minding the front desk of Nelson & Murdock, answering phones, filing, a little light typing, and a side order of harmless flirting thrown in, just to keep things interesting (“Mind if Matt escorts you,” Foggy asks, “and I join you later?” To which Karen replies with a grin, “I guess I can stand it if he can!”). I doubt she has any idea that Foggy’s about to propose. And why should she?

Because unless a whole lot has gone on behind the scenes in these first five issues that Stan and company have unfairly kept secret from the readers, Foggy is as blind as Matt in thinking Karen might be anywhere near ready to marry him. Sure, they may have gone on a few dates, and even dressed up together as Antony and Cleopatra, but that hardly seems enough of a foundation upon which to build a future. dd5triangleFoggy’s left all his logic and deductive reasoning skills in the courtroom, and is operating on sheer wishful thinking. Should he present the engagement ring to Karen, I predict her gentle “Let’s Be Friends” speech will shatter his heart into a million pieces. And he’ll really have no one to blame but himself, but still…how sad.

But here’s the most baffling part.

When Foggy appears with the engagement ring, Matt is totally blindsided (pun intended). He may be blind, but that doesn’t give him a free pass on not knowing how Foggy feels about Karen. Shouldn’t he at least have SUSPECTED? If not because these two are buddies who presumably talk to each other about what’s going on it their lives, wouldn’t Matt have been able to detect something suspicious in Foggy’s rapid heartbeat whenever Karen enters the room?

dd5believeFor that matter, shouldn’t Matt also be able to determine just by listening to heartbeats whether or not Karen feels the same way about Foggy? Or, about him?

But it’s been previously established that although Matt’s superpowers work for criminals, they short-circuit every time regarding matters of the heart. He WANTS to believe, but doesn’t dare trust the supernatural evidence, even when it’s in plain sight.

Of course, when Matt learns that Foggy is interested in Karen, he does the noble thing and steps back to allow his friend to pursue the girl, while he nurses a broken heart and cultivates the lonely melancholy of the superhero.

Sigh…I guess it has to be this way. With the end result that nobody gets what they want. But then, we’re only five issues into the title. Plenty of time for all of this to work itself out.

One more thing: this is the first time I’m seeing the artwork of Wally Wood, and though I’m not as sensitive an art critic as more experienced comic book readers, I like what I see. At the very least, Karen looks attractive, both as her blonde self and the temptress Cleopatra.

dd5karenShe’s stylish, pleasant, sympathetic, and not difficult to look at. Even if it doesn’t make sense that both her bosses are madly in love with her after only five issues, it at least makes sense that there’s interest on both their parts.

Of course, it should have been evident to both Matt and Foggy from the start that the addition of a pretty gal to their two-bachelor office might lead to romantic complications. But then, after reading this issue, it’s evident to me that no one in the Daredevil corner of the Marvel Universe, blind or sighted, is adept at seeing things that are in plain sight.

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TALES TO ASTONISH #62: This Masquerade

Published: December, 1964

Published: December, 1964

Giant-Man and Hulk are now sharing Tales to Astonish. Though their personalities are on opposite sides of the spectrum, oddly, they seem more alike than different. Of course they’re both HUGE, both alter egos of brilliant scientists who enjoy the company of devoted gal-pals with whom they are almost but not quite, well, sorta romantically involved. That much is obvious. But as I read this issue of Tales to Astonish, I found even more common themes running through their narratives. Some don’t hold up as well as others, but let’s take a look.

“Giant-Man Versus the Wonderful Wasp!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Carl Burgos
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Art Simek

We begin with Giant-Man facing a new villain…if you want to call him a “villain.” Second-Story Sammy is actually little more than a second-class thug, who wears a hat and bow tie while burglarizing second-story apartments. This career is going nowhere. Clearly Sammy needs a new angle, a makeover, and he gets one when he witnesses bio-chemist Henry Pym committing the unforgiveable error of using too potent an additive in his experiment. An explosion throws Pym across the room, knocking him out.

During the explosion, a business card drops from the table to the floor. (Because, as everyone knows, no bio-chemist worth his sodium chloride could possibly complete a potentially explosive experiment without his business card being right there…)

tta62buscardSammy picks up the card, discovers it’s for Henry Pym, Bio-Chemist, and correctly jumps to the conclusion that the unconscious man in the Giant-Man monkey suit must BE Henry Pym. (Hey, folks, we’ve only got 12 pages to tell this story, can’t waste a whole lot of time trying to get things to make sense.)

So at this point, I’m feeling somewhat deflated about the potential for this story, but then something happens that’s both amazing and disturbing. When Sammy puts on the Giant-Man suit, he finds he has ALL the powers that Hank has when wearing the suit. He is, effectively, Giant-Man.

Which leads me to ask the question: how dangerous is it, to have that much power in something that can be stolen?

Let’s quickly review the other Avengers as they slip into their superhero attire. Captain America also has a suit, but the power is not in the suit, it’s in his chemically altered and well-trained body. As Russ rightly points out, Steve Rogers is Captain America, even in his pajamas. Yes, he’s got that shield, but any criminal stealing it would not be able to wield it as a weapon, unless he also possessed the same conditioning and strength as Steve Rogers.

tos55imjim105thorIron Man has a suit (and you’ll notice for this discussion, I can’t bring myself to call it a “costume”). Iron Man’s suit also has a lot of power, arguably more than Pym’s expanding leotard and cybernetic helmet. Could that suit be stolen and manipulated for evil purposes? Perhaps. I haven’t seen that storyline, but I surmise that a villain would need the brilliant brain and technical know-how of a Tony Stark to make the suit perform effectively. (Of course, that’s not out of the realm of possibility, so…hmmm…I guess I’ll have to wait and see.)

As for Thor, he’s a god, his power cannot be stolen. Except perhaps by another god, like Loki, who can hypnotize and neutralize him, but that’s not the same as stealing his power. Thor has his hammer, which no one but he can pick up, so….no problem there.

Conclusion? Of all the superheroes I’ve met so far, Giant-Man is the most vulnerable to attack and impersonation. And that’s a real problem, for him, and the world he lives in. As such, Pym would be wise to jealously guard his secret identity. And of course, the conceit of this story is that he actually DOES have a policy of keeping his Giant-Man identity a secret. Except…he doesn’t.

Even if we forget for a moment that at the end of this story, he invites members of THE PRESS up to Henry Pym’s lab, Giant-Man has never been super-careful about his secret identity. For instance, in Tales to Astonish #55, Giant-Man and Wasp hold a fan club meeting…IN HENRY PYM’S LABORATORY! Hello! Does this strike anyone as odd? It’s apparently common knowledge, if not that Pym and Giant-Man are the same person, that they are at least buddies. Any villain who wanted to find out more about Giant-Man would only have to corner mild-mannered Pym in a dark alley and make him talk.

tta54fanclubNow, as if this wasn’t enough, in Tales to Astonish #54, Pym receives a surprise visit from his fan club at his lab, while he’s wearing his Giant-Man costume…without his mask! So, everyone in his fan club now knows that the giant man inside the Giant-Man suit IS, in fact, Henry Pym.

One more? In Tales to Astonish #58, Captain America actually STOPS BY Pym’s lab to deliver a message to Giant-Man. As we all know, there’s a solemn pact among the Avengers that they never reveal their real identities to each other. But somehow, Cap had no problem knowing exactly where to find Giant-Man. (Maybe he’s been dating a talkative gal from Giant-Man’s fan club?)

There may be other examples, but I’ve made my point. Giant-Man’s secret identity…well…not so secret. But the funny part is that brilliant scientist Pym honestly believes it is! Because, at the end of the story, he feels compelled to use a memory-loss serum on Sammy to make him forget everything that’s happened.

cheersWiping Sammy’s memory clean is actually a good idea, though not for the preservation of Giant-Man’s secret identify. The real reason should be so Sammy doesn’t get drunk at the bar and blab to everyone he knows that by stealing Giant-Man’s suit, he got to BE Giant-Man for a day. That’s a much bigger and more dangerous issue for Giant-Man than his supposed “secret identity.”

So why does the story not go there? Theory: Maybe Pym is aware that he has a problem with his “one size fits all” suit, but is embarrassed to confess to Jan that he doesn’t know how to fix it. There could be a lot more going on behind the scenes than the writers are letting us in on. Or, more likely, they simply haven’t put a dollar’s worth of thought into a 12-cent, 12-page story.

tta62splash“Enter…the Chameleon!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: George Bell
Letters: Sam Rose

But let’s move on to Hulk now, because Bruce Banner also has a secret identity, but like Thor, there’s no way anyone’s stealing his thunder by stumbling upon a pill or portion or wundersuit. And unlike fellow scientist Pym, Banner’s survival and freedom is absolutely dependent upon no one finding out that he moonlights as Mr. Mean and Green. In Banner’s case, the secret really IS supreme, and for that reason I might be able to forgive him for what at first appear to be misplaced priorities.

We start on the splash, with Hulk imprisoned in unbreakable chains, anxiously lamenting that he must make every effort to break free before General Ross learns “who I really AM!!” Then, as soon as Banner is Banner once again, practically the first words out of his mouth are a relieved “I don’t think anyone saw my transformation!”

At the end of the story, when the blast of the gamma bomb causes Hulk to turn back, Banner’s first thought is how lucky he is there’s so much smoke that nobody saw him transform. Not “I’m grateful I’m still alive,” or “Thank God nobody was killed by the bomb!” No, uppermost in his mind is the preservation of his secret identity.

But Banner’s secret identity is only a small portion of the masquerading going on here. The Chameleon serves as the villain of this piece, and though in the past I’ve been less than impressed, slowly I’m beginning to appreciate his charms.

Chameleon is sent on a mission by a mysterious leader, named…wait for it…The Leader. His objective is to find out what happened to the agent sent to General Ross’s missile base in Tales to Astonish #61, but that little fact is completely beside the point. The point is that it’s the Chameleon, so now we know we’re off on a roller coaster ride of nothing being what it seems.

tta62masksArriving at the base, Chameleon impersonates General Ross in order to make Hulk his ally. The clueless soldiers leave the commandeering “General” alone with the beast. Hulk is uncooperative, of course, but that doesn’t matter, because when Chameleon/Ross steps away for a moment, Hulk transforms back to Banner and escapes.

Drats! But Chameleon isn’t beaten yet. Deciding he may not be able to fulfill his mission of finding out about the missing agent, he settles on Plan B, stealing secrets from one of America’s greatest atomic scientists. To do this, he captures and impersonates Banner, locating not only the plans, but also an actual GAMMA BOMB Banner just happens to have laying around in his office.

All seems to be going well for Chameleon, but then…enter Betty. A mere girl. It takes her all of 30 seconds to figure out that the guy who looks like Bruce is not really her sweetie-pie. tta62intuitionThe narrator puts this down to “an intuition, which only females seem to have.” Which makes me wonder if Stan is implying that all women possess a mild yet innate level of superpowers.

A short time later, “Banner” hides an unconscious Betty in a “rocket speed-velocity test sled,” then runs off, hoping to deliver the gamma grenade to the Leader and become “the most important spy of all!”

The real Banner has other plans, though, and having transformed to Hulk, pursues Chameleon, who is forced to use the gamma bomb, which of course has no impact on someone of Hulk’s stature. Chameleon escapes with nothing to show for his efforts, and Banner disappears into the smoke, hoping he can change clothes before Talbot “puts two and two together and realizes who the Hulk really IS!”

Well, not much chance of anyone putting two and two together any time soon. What fun would that be? I feel confident I’ll continue to enjoy the amusements of masquerade in Marvel Comics for a long time to come.

And now, for something completely different: I have a little problem with the way justice is handed out in both stories.

In the Hulk feature, the charges against Banner are quickly dismissed when Betty swears he wasn’t the one who kidnapped her and set off that bomb. Ross reveals that he still has suspicions, but what do you expect? He’s an over-protective father. The important point is that based solely on the testimony of Banner’s GIRLFRIEND, they’re not even going to investigate the matter further. Is this any way to run a military, with a ferocious green monster running about? It’s all resolved too easily.

But that’s nothing compared to the way the Giant-Man story concludes.


Okay. Where shall I begin? How about… “just happened to have some memory-loss serum lying around”? Between Banner with gamma bombs carelessly strewn about his office, and Pym’s potent memory-loss serum, I’d say our scientist boys are awfully careless with their toys.

But that’s not the worst of it. I have to wonder: If indeed Pym has a memory serum that can make criminals forget they’ve ever been criminals, why doesn’t he share this incredible concoction with the justice system? Jail wardens could simply pop a drop of the potion in every inmate’s plate of beans, wipe their slates clean, empty the jails and solve all of society’s ills overnight.

bronsonWouldn’t that be wonderful? Or…maybe not. Because even though criminals would no longer remember they’ve been criminals, there would still be victims demanding justice. Does that not count for anything?

I guess not, if you happen to be Henry Pym, Bio-Chemist. He has no problem taking upon himself the roles of judge and jury, and never mind executioner, because he’ll simply pardon wrongdoers, whenever it suits his own purposes (i.e. – keeping his secret, which we’ve already determined, is no secret at all). He’s like a mad scientist performing brain surgery on people without consent.

Apparently, Pym has decided that one of the perks of being a superhero is that he gets to decide who has to pay and who gets a free pass. I’m concerned about any one person having all this power, especially if that person is self-absorbed and at least somewhat delusional.

In addition to Hank having no respect for the legislative and judicial branches of government, he also thinks the press is a bunch of bungling idiots who couldn’t get a story if it was staring them straight in the face. And here in the Marvel Universe, he may be right. After all, tta62plantGiant-Man invites reporters to Pym’s lab to tell them how he, Giant-Man, stopped the giant plant. (Oh yeah, there’s this giant plant, menacing all of New York, but I haven’t mentioned it till now, because it’s the least interesting aspect of the story.)

We don’t see it, but don’t you think at some point it might occur to one of these reporters to ask, “Hey, where did this giant plant come from? We’re here in the lab of bio-chemist Henry Pym, could there be any chance Pym wreaked havoc on the city by letting one of his experiments get out of control? And if that’s the case, maybe PYM should be held accountable for his actions?”

And do you think it might occur to any of these ace reporters to question WHY Giant-Man calls a press conference in Pym’s lab? Are none of them going to connect the dots? Or, is Giant-Man right in assuming none of them have enough brains to figure it out?

Or, perhaps he simply sprayed them all with his memory loss serum, selectively wiping their memories of only those things he no longer wishes them to recall.

Wow. It’s awfully convenient to have superpowers and super-potions. Seems Giant-Man can get away with almost anything he wants. I’m not liking him very much in this story.


I could go on like this all day, but let’s wrap this up now with a few random observations.

  • tta62waspThis time around, Giant-Man artist is Carlos Burgos, whom Russ tells me has a history with Marvel Comics, but this is the first time I’m seeing his art, and I especially like what he does with Wasp.
  • tta62hulkeyesSteve Ditko gives us the art for the Hulk story, and though poor Betty can’t hold a candle to Wasp, I was impressed with the “make-up” Ditko applies to the troubled Hulk, giving him a much more stressed and menacing appearance.
  • All the Marvel Comics I’m reading are overwritten, but this Giant-Man story tops the list for alliteration. The narrator can’t mention Henry without calling him “happy” or “handsome,” even though those adjectives have nothing to do with the story. Then, when the narrator pops in with an arrow to warn “Look out, Sammy! That ledge isn’t safe!” I feel it’s the writer who’s gone over the edge.
  • tta62ledgesign

  • Oh, and one more thing… on the top of page 17, does General Ross really say “blankity-blank”?? Commander Benson, you’ve been in the military: did your officers talk like that?
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