Captain America: The Great Gold Steal by Ted White, a review.

Bantam Books published July 1968; 118 pages; the story starts on page 1! There are no illustrations or ads in the book.

This paperback book was NOT part of the Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books Marvel Novel series. In fact, this book was released ten years prior.

Because of the phenomenal success of the Batman TV show, in 1966 and 1967 everything comic book-y was all the rage.

Marvel wanted to cash in on the rage by publishing novel-length prose paperbacks of their superhero line. For some unknown reason, Marvel’s owner, Martin Goodman, did not want to license his two best-sellers – Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four – but he allowed an Avengers book, published in 1967 as The Avengers Battle the Earth-Wrecker by legendary comic book writer Otto Binder.

The book tanked – either because of the poor-writing style (hard to believe with Otto Binder, but supposedly Binder knew nothing of the “Marvel Style” and Stan Lee did not approve of the assigned writer) or lack of promotion on Marvel’s part (perhaps because of Lee’s dislike of choice of author). The latter argument has some meat to it. If Marvel hyped this paperback the way it hyped its comics and cartoons, it would have done reasonably well. It would not have outsold One Hundred Years of Solitude, but …

Because the Avengers book was such a bust, the follow-up novel with Captain America was not published until July of 1968. It sold about 98,000 copies and only had one printing.

Author Ted White is the Hugo-award winning author of the Qanar series published by Lancer. He acknowledges his homage to Doc Savage in this Captain America novel.

The unsigned cover is by Mitchell Hooks who also did, among his many other works, the movie poster for Doctor No. Ted White also acknowledges his love of Ian Fleming in this Captain America novel.

And what a fun mix of Doc Savage-pulp and James Bond this story is!

Throughout this series of novels I read the book before looking up anything about it. That way I am not influenced by the reviews and commentary of others. All through the story I imagined this could have been re-written as a Doc Savage story with very little effort.

And I knew I was onto a Doc Savage homage when one of the characters was named Monk.

The prior (later) Captain America novel Holocaust for Hire was also pulpy fun, but for a younger audience. This novel was aimed at all ages.

A “tsk-tsk” goes to Mr. White for his dedication: “To Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, without whom there would be no Captain America”. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon created Captain America. Without them, there would be no Captain America. Even Stan would admit that.

An unidentified man was mysteriously killed searching for Captain America. The police and Cap discover he was killed by a laser to the back!! He had a gold ingot in his pocket – from the US Federal Reserve in the heart of New York.

Cap and some police officers head down to the vaults containing the billions of gold bars and find the thieves access from an abandoned subway tunnel – they had already stolen millions of dollars of bars.

Cap goes into the tunnel to find a thief still there! After dispatching the crook, Cap lifts the receiver of the radio in the tunnel. One of the lieutenants on the other end detonates an explosive in the tunnel – they think Captain America is killed!

But because of his incredible training and physique, Cap works his way out of the rubble.

The lieutenants of the gold thieves were named Sparrow, Starling and Raven. We learn they work for the Eagle – all very pulpish, too!

They eventually capture Captain America and resume their theft of the gold. Captain America escapes and follows the lieutenants to their lair on Staten Island where the identity of the Eagle is finally revealed!

The revelation and conclusion literally takes place in the last four pages of the story.

I particularly enjoyed the prose on Cap’s physical abilities – something straight out of a Doc Savage novel! For example – controlling his healing ability and consciously increasing his adrenaline to work his way out of the rubble caused him to lose seven pounds.

The author spends almost a quarter of the novel on Captain America’s origin. Since it was so well done I am not complaining. I enjoyed how he added more pulpish-ness to the origin. It was not just a chemical formula injected into weak Steve Rogers, but Rogers was also – prior to the injection of the super-serum – put through months of physical training, examination of his bio systems and even his DNA and RNA (acknowledging that Dr. Erskine was decades ahead of his time).  Interestingly, steel rods were put into his bone marrow for strength and to allow his bones to support the extra musculature. Early shades of Wolverine there …

Odd that the book begins with a two-page recap of the Captain’s origin, but then given much more details beginning on page 13.

As a super-hero book, The Great Gold Steal is good but not great. As the Marvel Novel Series shows, it is hard to transfer the visual impact of a comic book into prose form – as good as some of the stories are. The weaker novels are simply prose versions of the comic book.

However, as a pulp book, The Great Gold Steal is wonderful fun! Narrow escapes, bone-crunching battles and a dum-dum-duuuuummmm-style reveal of the true villain – not once but twice! Some bad guys are not as they seem!

Better to think of this book as a pulp novel. If this were a new Doc Savage or Avenger (Richard Benson, not the Marvel super-team) tale, it might have been better received.

Original Material Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Bantam Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

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Murdermoon! Marvel Novel Series #11 – Spider-Man and the Hulk!

Last but not least! Marvel Novel Series #11 concludes with a Marvel Team-Up, featuring their biggest (at the time … and today!): The Amazing Spider-Man and the Incredible Hulk: Murdermoon by Paul Kupperberg

Paul Kupperberg is the creator of Arion Lord of Atlantis and Checkmate. He is the author of the “Death of Archie” storyline.

The book is 208 pages long, but begins on page 9 – making it the longest novel in the series. There are Spider-Man and Hulk illustrations at the beginning of each chapter (with no credit for the artists). Maybe they learned their lesson from the prior Avenger book: the illustrations match the star of the specific chapter – Spider-Man for the Spidey chapters and Hulk for old Greenskin’s chapters.

There is no blurb for the “next” novel on the back. Did they know this was the last one?

Cover is signed by Bob Larkin, known for his painted covers of Marvel magazines.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.

 

Spider-Man thwarts a quartet of thieves in a government office. One felon gets away with plans and other documents of NASA’s next unmanned space launch. Spidey later learns more plans were stolen from the Johnson Space Center. He discovers through underworld contacts that the thieves were hired by an outfit near Niagara Falls.

After rampaging through Nevada as the Hulk, Banner awakes in a small town in Kansas where he finds work, a place to live, and new friends. An article in the local paper says a cure for gamma radiation may have been found in Chicago. Banner goes to Chicago and is incapacitated by the doctors who planted the article as a trap. They take him to their lair near Niagara Falls.

The scientists plant a device in Hulk’s ear to control him. When Spider-Man busts into the lab, they order the Hulk to attack!

The evil scientists launch their satellite that will hack into all other satellites in orbit, giving the scientists control over all the information in the globe! Can our heroes stop it in time?

 

J Jonah Jameson is not quite on the leash he was with Crime Campaign, but still within tolerable levels. Another nice bit of continuity is the mention of Cindy Sayers from Spidey’s (and Kupperberg’s) prior book!

This is a true team-up! It is not a Spider-Man story with the Hulk as a guest star or visa-versa. Each hero is given his own chapter – with the Hulk travelling the highways and byways of the good ole’ USA: Nevada to Kansas to Chicago to upstate New York … just to get him under Spider-Man’s radar.  But it reflects Hulk’s wandering and his interaction with us ordinary mortals so vital to the TV series. One nice bit shows us how Banner can afford his constant change of wardrobe!

Fun story and a great conclusion to the Marvel Novel Series.

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

Marvel Novel Series #10 – The Avengers!

#10: The Avengers: The Man Who Stole Tomorrow by David Michelinie

The book was published on September 1, 1979 and contains 192 pages; with the story beginning on page 9.

Chapters begin with an illustration of various Avengers; the specific characters shown are not necessarily the featured characters of the chapter. More thought could have gone into that. The artist(s) are not mentioned. More thought could have gone into THAT as well. One illustration I can confidently identify begins Chapter 8: the Wasp from the splash page of Avengers #83 (December 1970) by John Buscema. I’ve always loved that picture of the Wasp… Speaking of Wasp, it is strange they include members who are NOT in the story: Hawkeye, Black Panther and Wasp.

David Michelinie has written for DC and Marvel – including long runs on Iron Man and Amazing Spider-Man. Jim Rhodes and Venom were created and introduced during his tenures. By this time he had finished a superb trifecta of comics for DC: Claw the Unconquered, Star Hunters and Starfire.

The cover art is by the late Dave Cockrum, co-creator (at least) of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. His work with the Legion of Superheroes and the X-Men has achieved cult status.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

The back cover hypes the next book of the series.

In the Avengers animated television program, the team clashed with Kang in an episode called “The Man Who Stole Tomorrow”, but it had no other relation to this story.

***

An Inuit shaman enters Avengers Mansion during debriefing (they had just stopped an alien invasion) and, with the use of his totems, eliminates every member of the team and captures Captain America.

Clues from his incantations lead the Avengers to Alaska. Another reference leads Iron Man and Vision to Atlantis to confront Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor tells them this shaman’s tribe worshipped Cap while he was locked in ice. Namor threw the Cap-sicle into the nearby river. It eventually made it to the sea and Cap was rescued by the original Avengers (in the classic Avengers #4). The Avengers and Namor defeat the shaman (as well as his totem Brother Bear) and learn that the shaman’s powers were not magic but highly advanced science.

They deduce the villain Kang the Conqueror gave the shaman the scientific doo-dads.

So Thor whisks the team – Captain America still frozen in the ice-like energy field – to the year 3900 and the battle is joined!

 

 

 

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Marvel Novel Series #9: a Marvel Superheroes anthology

#9: Stan Lee Presents: the Marvel Superheroes edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman

This is the most unique paperback of the series for several reasons:

  1. It is the only anthology of the series.
  2. It contains the only story that was originally in a comic book before being novelized (the Hulk tale)
  3. It contains the only story that was later adapted to a comic book (the Avengers tale)
  4. It ties with #10 for the longest book (208 pages, but is second in actual text pages)
  5. It is the only book of the series with a story written by a woman.
  6. (more personally) it was the only book I owned of the series at the time they were originally published. It was also the first time I read about the X-Men (I would flip over to the cover while reading to guess which character was which), Daredevil, Man-Thing and Ultron.

It says something about the quality of this book that I still remember most of it 37 years later: Tony Stark‘s techno-fear (he shivers and the temperature in the lab is automatically raised – what if Ulton is in control?), the Wasp’s disgust at the shade of green in Moondragon’s costume, the other Avengers calling Vision “Vizh” – as a kid I was fascinated at this use of phonetic dialogue, etc. (I already had some stories under my belt), Man-Thing smothering the Hulk, Nightcrawler, when told to teleport into an unknown cylinder asking, “What if it is solid?”.

 

The book was published on August 1, 1979 and contains 208 pages; the first story beginning on page 9.

Delineation pages divide the stories – a blank page, a title page with an illustration of the protagonists (or some of them in the case of the Avengers and X-Men) and another blank page before the new story begins. This only leaves 188 pages of actual text, making it actually the second-longest book of the series.

The cover art is by the late Dave Cockrum, co-creator (at least) of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. His work with the Legion of Superheroes and the X-Men has achieved cult status.

Co-edited and compiled by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.  Len Wein is introduced in the section reviewing his Hulk story …

***

The Avengers, “This Evil Undying” by James Shooter.

Speaking of the Legion of Superheroes … “Big” Jim Shooter began writing professional stories of the Legion beginning at age 14. He created Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, the Fatal Five and the Parasite (the Superman foe). He was Marvel’s editor-in-chief for nine years beginning in 1978 during the publication of this book series.

Through a post-hypnotic suggestion during their last battle, Iron Man revives Ultron. Ultron was last destroyed by the Scarlet Witch’s hex powers.

Iron Man, suspecting he might be manipulated, left a tracer for the other Avengers to find him in case he is controlled again. Good thinking. Iron Man WAS controlled and kidnapped the Witch, taking her to Ultron’s new lair.

The remaining Avengers – Captain America, Thor, Vision and Hawkeye – gave chase. The Wasp also joins in the fight- following Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch in her own way.

The final battle with Ultron is joined!

An excellent and fun story – one of the best of this series! It was adapted in comic book form in Avengers 201-202.

But the story wasn’t perfect- Hawkeye’s juvenile dialogue was grating even when I read it in 1979 – and I was the perfect age at which this story was aimed. Given more pages, his character could have been fleshed out. The “I am the weakest member which explains my sophomoric bravado” shtick (used a lot during the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days of the Avengers) was only touched on. He redeemed himself, of course, and showed him to be as heroic as any of the other more powerful Avengers, but by then I was sick of the shtick…

Captain America barked some commands and threw his Mighty Shield, but little else. The book focused on the members of the Avengers who hadn’t gotten their own novel yet … with one exception …

I wish there would have been more Thor!

Talk about hands-on management: Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter could still kick out a wonderful and readable tale! This could have easily been made into a full-length story with more action added (going after Ultron’s mechanical robotic “army” – two, count ‘em – with more time spent on Hawkeye, Cap and Thor). Why wasn’t it?

***

Daredevil, “Blind Justice” by Kyle Christopher.

Christopher is the pen name for Martin Pasko, an Emmy-award winning writer known by us Bronze Age fans as a writer of Superman family of stories and the Swamp Thing revival. His origin reboot of Dr. Fate is still considered canon.  He also wrote Bronze Age Wonder Woman and the World’s Greatest Superheroes comic strip.

Comic book scribe Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Flash) lists this story as one of “the five most underrated Daredevil stories you must read” (http://13thdimension.com/the-five-most-underrated-daredevil-stories-you-must-read-by-mark-waid/) and with good reason!

A man and woman are put in witness protection after finking on the local mafia. They are treated so improperly by the government they come out of hiding and hire Nelson and Murdock to sue. The mob, headed by the Owl, go after the couple (and Foggy) with lethal force. Daredevil discovers a mob informant within their circle of office staff and friends (that’s as close as I can get without spoiling). Daredevil’s origin is also recapped.

The story is secondary compared to the parts detailing Daredevil’s abilities. His ability to “see” even though blind is superbly explained throughout the short story. He can read emotions by hearing pulse rates and heart beats; he determines body language by sensing air currents. He can read newsprint due to the shape of the ink on the paper. Describing these details in prose is handled better than when tried in comic book form – at least when Pasko is writing it.

***

The X-Men, “Children of the Atom” by Mary Jo Duffy.

This would have been among Duffy’s first work in the industry. Her first Marvel stories were in 1979: the start of her long run on Power Man/Iron Fist, an excellent story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Old Republic in Star Wars #26 (a personal favorite) and issues of Defenders and Marvel Two-in-One.

She gives us an excellent story that serves as a great primer for the X-Men. Considering the complex weave of the franchise over the past few decades, it is tempting to call the story simplistic, but it is not. It is a wonderful short story.

For ten pages we are introduced to Salem Center and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X and six of his students: Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Banshee, Storm and Colossus.

American and Soviet missiles are straying from their projected paths during an international test. Professor X deduces they are affected by a magnetic anomaly barely traceable at the Arctic Circle.

Who could be behind it? (I know! I know! Ooo! Ooo! Mr. Kotter!)

The X-Men go to the magnetic anomaly and find the stronghold of the supervillain of the piece … a mutant named …

No, not the Toad!

***

The Incredible Hulk, “Museum Piece” by Len Wein.

Len Wein is the co-creator of Marvel’s Wolverine as well as being the one who joined him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men he also co-created DC’s Swamp Thing. Here he writes of the Hulk meeting Marvel’s version of the muck-encrusted mockery of a man. In a literary sense, Len Wein shows us his Man-Thing.

This is the only story in the Marvel Novel Series what was a comic book first – a prose story adapted from Incredible Hulk #s 197-198 (also written by Len Wein).

The Hulk battles local Florida police and ends up carried by a helicopter to the everglades. After battling alligators and snakes, the Hulk finally rests and changes back to Banner. Bruce finds a small, mute, grey-colored man and befriends him just as they are attacked by pirates. Yes, pirates.

Turning into the Hulk, he dispatches the pirates quickly but then confronts their master – the Collector! The Collector turns the grey man into the Golem and orders it to attack Hulk.

The Collector also has Man-Thing in his sway, and orders Man-Thing to attack Hulk, too.

Hulk and his two friends are locked in a pod and kept docile by ankle-bracelets. Turning back into Banner, he easily slips through the ankle-bracelets; Golem and Man-Thing then slip through their bracelets easily due to their powers.

Hulk befriends Scheherazade and eventually confronts the Collector and his minions: alien warriors, soldiers from history, etc. Man-Thing and the Golem join in.

It’s a Monster Mash and an incredibly fun story! It was a good comic book, too!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

Marvel Novel Series #8 – The Amazing Spider-Man: Crime Campaign by Paul Kupperberg

#8: The Amazing Spider-Man: Crime Campaign by Paul Kupperberg

Paul Kupperberg is the creator of Arion Lord of Atlantis and Checkmate. He is the author of the “Death of Archie” storyline. He currently has a Kickstarter campaign for Kupperberg Komics: Secret Romances and Super Gorillas at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/394056054/kupperberg-komics-secret-romances-and-super-gorill?ref=user_menu

The book is 192 pages long, but begins on page 9 – making it the longest novel of the series so far. There are Spider-Man illustrations at the beginning of each chapter (with no credit for the artists). There are no Pocket Book house ads. It was published July 1, 1979.

Cover is signed by Bob Larkin, known for his painted covers of Marvel magazines.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

 

National newsman Ian Forester announces his candidacy for mayor of New York. He is expected to win the primary due to his popularity, beating the unnamed incumbent.

But all is not as it appears – the Kingpin has kidnapped Forester’s daughter to force him into the campaign. Kingpin gathers the other crime lords of the city – including his only real competitor Silvermane – and asks them to join forces. With the mayor in his pocket, they will all make fortunes skimming off the city’s coffers; graft that no one will discover for decades. They will make Tammany Hall look like a Presbyterian sewing circle!

Peter Parker teases J Jonah Jameson into also running for mayor. Cindy Sayers, JJJ’s niece, introduces herself to Peter. JJJ orders Peter to teach her the fine art of journalistic photography; Peter obviously bristles at the idea of a tagalong. He suspects Cindy is more than she seems – is she here only to spy on Peter? Does JJJ suspect he is really Spider-Man?

Imagine Peter’s surprise when, during a press conference, Forester is threatened by … Spider-Man! Peter ditches Cindy, changes into his union suit, and battles his doppleganger. The fake Spider-Man, using a poison gas, gets away.

Forester goes to Silvermane and asks his help to rescue his daughter, thus betraying Kingpin. Silvermane agrees. Spidey finds and rescues Forester’s daughter just as Silvermane’s and Kingpin’s forces do battle!

 

Paul Kupperberg weaves an excellent story with twists and turns and betrayals with every chapter. What is Kingpin’s REAL motive? What about Silvermane’s “betrayal”? Is Cindy Sayer spying for her uncle? Joe “Robbie” Robertson’s tells Peter that JJJ was an only child. How, then, can he have a niece? Who is she? Who is the fake Spider-Man?

Rather than “just” a comic book in prose, Kupperberg gives us a genuine crime thriller/mystery!

Cindy Sayers is a great note of continuity in the novel series. In Book 1: Mayhem in Manhattan JJJ mentions her and says she wants to learn about photography. Here she and Peter kindle a romance, even as Peter suspects she might not be who she says she is.

Speaking of old JJJ, Paul keeps him down to tolerable levels in this novel (can you tell I am not a fan of Jameson? haha).  Jameson is not the eternally obnoxious blowhard of Mayhem in Manhattan and in the comic books. Here he is a bossy bully, but not the cliché caricature.  Unlike in Mayhem, JJJ is not given a few paragraphs justifying the way he is and giving the reader a reason to give him some grudging respect. It is not needed in Crime Campaign. Because the reader does not dislike JJJ here – he is kept on a short leash. Well done.

Very well done!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Marvel Novel Series #7: Dr. Strange – Nightmare!

#7: Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts: Nightmare by William Rotsler

The author is a four-time Hugo Award winner for his art and the author of many Star Trek novels as well as the author of the novelizations of the movies Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Futureworld. He died in 1997. He wrote Marvel Novel #6 And Call my Killer … Modok.

Cover by Bob Larkin, released June 1, 1979; the book is 188 pages long, although the story begins at page 9. Illustrations of Dr. Strange begin each chapter, as was done with #1: The Amazing Spider-Man: Mayhem in Manhattan and #2: The Incredible Hulk: Stalker from the Stars; but as with the two prior books, there is no credit as to who drew them. It may be easy to guess, but I would rather not!

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

For the first time, the paperback contains four pages of ads for other Pocket Books – including a selection of occult books, their Space 1999 series and books by science fiction authors John Jakes, Larry Pournelle, Theodore Sturgeon, AE Van Vogt, Jack Vance, Kate Wilhelm and Jack Williamson.

Gratmens: who knows? As silly as Strange’s incantations are, each name could be a hidden friend or comic book professional. The king of the Hittites or the ancient god-mage of the Nubians could have been an anagram for anyone. Page 81’s Alantripi, an Atlantean Sage seems an obvious gratmen – but a quick internet search reveals nothing…

Some of his common phrases are here: the Hoary Hosts of Hoggarth, the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, the Vapors of Valtorr, and the Yawning Yowls of Jagermeister. Well, I made up that last one. I once joked about Dr. Strange’s Amulet of Amaretto and have never forgotten it. It’s a fun game! Try it! Make one up of your own!

 

This is my favorite book of the series. I love them all, really. Not a stinker in the bunch.  Granted these are not the collected works of Hemingway, but they are all fun superhero fare.

Maybe that’s why I like this one so much; like its protagonist, it is not necessarily a superhero story: it is mystical and magical! There are references to the Necronomicon and the Dreamlands.

The story itself is very Lovecraftian: At least three people in the world are having disturbing nightmares. One is a televangelist, the other an up-and-coming boxer and the third (that the readers know of) is a hitman/assassin.  The evangelist’s wife is concerned: the minister is on the brink of “stardom” and he has not been the same since the nightmares started.

Dr. Strange senses something is indeed wrong and injects himself into the minister’s dreams. There he runs into his old adversary Nightmare, who is planning his most nefarious plan yet to conquer the waking world!

 

Oddly, I was never a huge fan of Dr. Strange’s comic book. I read them and liked them, but they were always read AFTER more standard superhero books. I did not much like magic and mysticism in comics … still don’t: it was never a good fit. In other books, most notably the Defenders, Dr. Strange was limited to blasting the bad guys with energy bolts from his hands – far removed from the incantations in this novel.

Just as odd: superheroes in prose was, to me, nothing more than light reading.  Fun, sure! But as I said; this isn’t exactly Hemingway.

It makes sense that I would enjoy a novel about a supernatural character rather than a super-heroic one.

It is also the easiest book to re-do without the Marvel characters. This could have easily been re-written with a descendent of Randolph Carter or a new creation.  Can you imagine the massive rewrite that And Call my Killer … Modok would have to go through to wipe out Marvel’s presence?

Rotsler did a fine job here. Only a tiny fraction of the cringe-worthy dialogue from his prior Iron Man book (“Me, Modok, he tried to trick!”) is present in Nightmare.

Dr. Strange’s multi-chapter hunt for Clea in the many-doored dreamscape is inspiring.

I read this just before the Dr. Strange movie came out. I couldn’t WAIT and was not disappointed!  You won’t be either.

 

Original Material Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Iron Man: and Call my Killer … Modok! Marvel Novel series #6

#6: Iron Man: and Call my Killer … Modok! by William Rotsler.

The author is a four-time Hugo Award winner for his art and the author of many Star Trek novels as well as the author of the novelizations of the movies Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Futureworld. He died in 1997.

By now the cover artist signs his work: Bob Larkin, cover artist for many Marvel magazines.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

Released May 1, 1979; the book is 189 pages long, although the story begins at page 9.

Gratman: Evanier Electronics is mentioned as a business. Mark Evanier? He had no connection to Iron Man and at the time of this paperback, he worked mainly with DC Comics. However, the next book, #7’s Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts: Nightmare is dedicated to him, so it is likely.

***

AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics, a science-based terrorist group) attacks Tony Stark during a college lecture. Stark, as Iron Man, fights them off successfully but still sustains some harm to his already-damaged heart. Cue origin recap.

One of the sergeants in charge of the failed kidnapping faced AIM’s mysterious leader (we comic book fans – and those who remember the title of the book – have a pretty solid idea who the leader is). The kidnapping having failed, the leader thinks up another cunning plan – he shall create an army of Iron Man suits!

He activates two of his sleeper agents in Stark International to create a diversion to successfully steal the Iron Man armor blueprints.

Modok tries to sell the blueprints to the highest bidder, but Stark outmaneuvers Modok by auctioning off the Iron Man suit directly. At auction, it is bought by an Arabic businessman. Modok kidnaps the businessman and his suit.

Surprise! The suit is really Iron Man himself! He is defeated by Modok and unmasked as Tony Stark.  Stark is then forced to create a new Iron Man suit for Modok’s #1 henchman.

Meanwhile, Happy and Nick Fury & Shield find Modok’s hiding place and attack. Iron Man and the henchman in the new suit duke it out. Ol’ Shellhead then sets his sights squarely on Modok!

***

The author does an excellent job of juggling the superhero action and the “civilian” moments of Tony Stark, Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts and employees of Stark International – we even read moments with the AIM sleepers and soldiers. It makes the novel more … grown up.

It would have made a nice juxtaposition to show Stark creating the original Iron Man suit in Viet Nam with the new suit he was creating for Modok. It would have put the origin flashback near the end of the book, which may have been a drawback being too close to the big finish.

Speaking of that, twenty pages is spent recapping Iron Man’s origins in the jungles of Viet Nam. It is excellently done! The author tells us how Tony met and hired Happy Hogan in a later 15-page flashback. Modok’s origin takes about five pages. More than 20% of the novel is flashback.

Interestingly, I tried to listen to Tony Stark/Iron Man speak in Robert Downey Jr’s voice but could not. Despite his (deservedly) owning the role in the recent spate of movies, and being able to hear his voice in the recent comic books and animated TV shows (where such an imitation is likely done intentionally), I can’t hear Downey speak these lines. Only when he is Modok’s captive and Stark’s dialogue is more smart-alecky and defiant does the current version of Iron Man seep through.

And the author does a wonderful job, despite the sometimes comic-booky dialogue. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is jarring; especially considering how wonderfully the rest of the dialogue is written.

Examples: “Iron Man swears it!” and (I am not kidding you) “I, Modok, knew at once how he hoped to trick me. Me, Modok, he tried to trick!”

Yoda-speak this reads like does…

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.