Comics : Marvel Super Heroes #14

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning

This review was first published on: 19 Mar 2018.

Background...

For its first eleven issues, it was Fantasy Masterpieces. From issue #21 on, it was an all-reprint book. But for nine issues in between, Marvel Super-Heroes featured stories introducing new characters like Captain Marvel and the Guardians of the Galaxy and giving solo slots to established characters like Medusa and Dr. Doom. And, oh yes, one Spider-Man story. Marvel Super-Heroes #14 appeared in the same month as Amazing Spider-Man #60. Its cover proclaimed, "A New Artist! An Off-Beat Plot! A Different Locale!".

On the title page, Stan explained, "When Jazzy Johnny (Romita) sprained his wrist, our old pal Ross Andru came to the rescue with this replacement Spidey yarn! But then, Johnny made his deadline after all! Since we can't bear to leave this mixed-up little masterpiece slumbering on the shelf, here it is, Pilgrim -- a once-in-a-lifetime treat for you!"

Inking Ross Andru's first Spider-Man story was Bill Everett, the creator of the Sub-Mariner. (Everett also inks the upcoming Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 and Captain America (Vol. 1) #137) in which Spidey guest-stars but that's really about it for his Spider-Man experiences.)

The Different Locale is New Orleans. The Off-Beat Plot succeeds in spite of (or maybe because of) its lapses in logic and its coincidence-heavy ending.

A mostly-forgotten gem from the late 1960s years of Spidey, here 's Marvel Super-Heroes #14.

In Detail...

"The Reprehensible Riddle of The Sorcerer"
Marvel Super Heroes #14
May 1968 : SMURF 049.600 : SM Guest
Summary: Full-Length Spider-Man Feature
Editor:  Stan Lee
Writer:  Stan Lee
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Bill Everett
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Review
 Reprinted In: Marvel Treasury Edition #1
Articles: Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Sorcerer II

First, let’s check the cover, as drawn by Ross Andru and Bill Everett. Nothing special here except that everything seems to be pointing to Spidey’s head, which is appropriate because his head…or rather, the control over his head… is the problem in this story. There is a burst of white light around Spidey’s head and torso. His head seems to be at the center of this burst. His hands clutch his head, emphasizing it. Behind him, the Synthetic Man reaches out toward Spidey’s head. In the lower left corner, the Sorcerer points at Spidey, although, admittedly, not specifically at his head. And the arrow, within which is the blurb, “An All-New Feature-Length Spidey Thriller!” points right at his head.

There is a black-and-white contents page on the inside front cover. Clockwise from top left, we have “Spider-Man…in The Reprehensible Riddle of the Sorcerer!” illustrated with page 15 panel 1 of the story, “Sub-Mariner!” with art from page 5 panel 3 of that story, and “The Human Torch!” from page 2 panel 1, “Captain America in The Girl Who Was Afraid” from page 4 panel 6, “Mercury in the 20th Century!” from page 6 panel 5, “The Black Knight!” from page 6 panel 2 of their respective stories.

The title of the Spidey story…”The Reprehensible Riddle of…the Sorcerer!” seems a bit odd. “Reprehensible” means “deplorable,” “disgraceful.” Perhaps the Sorcerer’s actions are reprehensible but not his “riddle.” But I have to admit, it sounds good. Perhaps it was this title that prompted the adjectives adjoining the credits on the contents page. Stan is described as “Enunciative Editor,” Sol Brodsky as “Precipitous Production Chief,” Roy as “Pleonastic Proofreader,” and so on. None of these seem to quite work but they are alliterative as all get-out.

The splash page is representative of a moment later in the story. On the left, a hand sticks a pin in the head of a Spider-Man Juju doll. Rings of energy emanate from the doll, striking Peter Parker in the head as he recoils. It’s all very symbolic and sinister and makes me want to read the story.

In an unassuming house, in a middle-class neighborhood, a grim-looking man sits. He is skeletal and pale, mostly bald with just a fringe of long grey hair wreathing his head. An adjacent room is filled with tribal masks, shrunken heads, statues of Kali and Anubis, anhks, and other mystic symbols. A flashlight is fastened to a stand behind the man's chair and its light shines on a photo of Spider-Man. The man focuses his attention on the photograph, "ready to destroy the victim whom I do not even know," through thought alone. "For the effective range of thought is without any limit. Just as the power of sorcery is ever boundless. Wherever he is... whatever he may be doing...a strange malady will now afflict him."

What Spider-Man is doing is preparing to jump through a skylight, intending to surprise three burglars in the building below. Suddenly he is stricken with dizziness and a severe headache. Losing his balance, he tumbles through the skylight into the criminals' midst. Anyone can see there is something seriously wrong with him. He can barely even stand. Being unsporting types, the three hoods decide they will never have a better chance to take out Spider-Man. But even in this state, Spider-Man is tough enough to best the hoods. They flee (with one yelling, "I don't care if somethin's wrong with 'im or not! I ain't tacklin' that cat no more!") right into the hands of the police. Good thing, too. Spider-Man is too ill to follow. (It turns out that the police were attracted by the crashing of the skylight. “It wasn’t us who crashed thru that blasted light!” says one hood. “Course not! It was the Wizard of Oz! Or maybe it was big, bad Spider-Man!” says a cop.)

The nameless man, henceforth known as the Sorcerer, somehow knows that his test has been a rousing success and vows that he will doom Spider-Man without even leaving his chair. (Sort of the Nero Wolfe of super-criminals.) He conveniently thinks back to his beginnings for those of us anxious for an origin. He was an expert in psychic research, because he had ESP himself, but he never discovered this ability in any others. He knew he had a talent for exerting his will over others but it was a talent untrained. So, he fled to the Mysterious East, then on to Dahomey, "the capital of sorcery in the Heart of Africa." There he learned Juju, "the art of mentally controlling any enemy" and upon returning to the United States, built his psycho-intensifier, which puts his mentality in the body of another. Now, his plans continue. He takes a Juju doll, dressed as Spider-Man, puts pressure on its head with his thumb, and Peter Parker, sneaking into the apartment he shares with Harry Osborn, gets the mother of all headaches once again. The Sorcerer sticks a tack in the doll's head to maintain the pressure, then puts it in a box and mails it to Spider-Man, care of General Delivery. Sooner or later, he reasons, after his plans are complete, the police will open the box and know who has defeated Spider-Man. (But he never explains HOW they will know. Did he leave a note?)

The next morning, Peter is still so sick he cannot get out of bed. He asks Harry to call Dr. Bromwell. There is a strange little panel in which it looks like Harry is taking a shower in a stall right next to Pete's bed but this doesn't stop him from making the call to the doctor and it doesn't stop the doctor from making a house call. (Ah, 1968!) Bromwell finds nothing wrong with Peter. Gwen and Mary Jane come over to baby Pete and end up both going out with Harry instead. (Red-headed MJ is described as “raven-tressed.” Doesn’t that mean brunette? And Dr. Bromwell tells Harry that Peter may have “some form of 24-hour virus. I’ll give you a prescription to get for him, just in case.” What kind of prescription would that be? The “just in case” variety?)

At that moment, the Sorcerer dons his psycho-intensifier and uses it to control Spider-Man. Peter feels a sudden compulsion to get out of bed, put on his best suit, pack his suitcase, and take a cab to the airport. He is aware of what he is doing but is powerless to stop. Harry spots him as he climbs into the cab and proclaims, "My gloomy roomie's either sleep-walking or he's nuts!"

Peter uses his savings to buy a ticket to New Orleans. Once Pete arrives, the Sorcerer relaxes the pressure a little bit. He doesn't want to overtax himself and, besides, he has to prepare Spider-Man to meet the Synthetic Man. (Also called, just once, the Hollow Man. But why? Is he really hollow?)

Now you may ask, why is it that the Sorcerer bothers with the Synthetic Man at all, since he is capable of making Spidey do whatever he wants? Why doesn't he command Spidey to jump in the Mississippi and stay under, for example? For that matter, why send him to New Orleans? Can't the Sorcerer afford to ship the Synthetic Man to New York? How did the Synthetic Man get to New Orleans in the first place? How did it get in the warehouse? Do warehouses have windows? And why did the Sorcerer put a return address on that package he sent to Spider-Man, care of General Delivery? But I'm getting ahead of things here. Back to the action.

In control of his body once more, Peter decides to check into the nearest hotel. Although it is Mardi Gras, the hotel he decides to go to actually has a vacancy! (Fantasy as you like it.) Meanwhile, the Post Office has received the package for Spider-Man. Two workers (Charlie and Lou) figure it must be a practical joke and decide to return it to sender. (Which they couldn't have done if the Sorcerer had not put his return address on...oh, never mind.)

Back in New Orleans, Peter rests in his room until Mardi Gras gets started. Suddenly the strange compulsion comes over him again. He gets into his Spidey duds and joins the festivities. “With everyone else in costume, nobody’ll suspect that this is the real thing!” he says (especially since a coloring mistake on page 12 panel 6 has temporarily turned his costume red and pink). His headache gets worse and he can't resist the urge to walk to the (ahem) "New Orleans Warehouse." Inside, he finds a ten-foot high crate and, breaking out of the crate, a ten-foot high blue-skinned creature. The Synthetic Man.

The battle begins and Spidey quickly learns three things. The Synthetic Man can make his body as pliant as rubber or as hard as rock at will. The diamond mounted on the giant's headband can shoot a destructive ray. And his headache is worse than ever.

Spider-Man first tries to fight, then tries to flee and finally manages to flip the Synthetic Man into a stack of barrels, burying the creature. Too weak to escape, nearly blacking out, Spider-Man desperately calls out, "Whoever you are, whoever is doing this to me...show yourself! Do you hear? You crummy coward!" His only answer is the crash of barrels as the Synthetic Man frees himself. He picks up Spider-Man and heaves him through a window onto the street.

The giant closes in for the kill. The Sorcerer smirks, "Nothing can save you now!" But at that very moment, the postman comes by the Sorcerer's house with the returned package, rings the doorbell, and, I kid you not, well...why not let Stan tell it? "Alas, the puzzled postman has no way of knowing that the shrill ring of the doorbell has changed the mystic pitch of the Sorcerer's psycho-intensifier...changed it just enough to cause a deadly mental feedback...one which no human brain on earth can have the power to withstand!"

Just like that, the Sorcerer is dead. The Synthetic Man, in the act of lifting a fruit cart with the intent of creaming Spider-Man, stops dead in his tracks. Without the Sorcerer to direct his movements, the giant drops the cart and wanders off into the Gulf of Mexico.

Spider-Man's headache disappears. He never learns whom he was fighting. "I've fought one of the most desperate battles of my life against a hidden, nameless foe." He heads back to his hotel, preparing to go back to New York.

As far as we know, the Sorcerer's body is never discovered. (It must really smell terrible right about now.) The Synthetic Man still lies at the bottom of the Gulf. It is a little surprising that no enterprising Spider-Writer has (literally) dredged the creature up and used him again. A return battle might be rather fun.

Now, the reprints, all of which are from the 1950s Atlas revival…except one.

The contents page refers to this story as Sub-Mariner but that’s just the character logo. The actual story is untitled. It was originally published in Sub-Mariner Comics #34, June 1954 and was written, penciled and inked by Subby creator Bill Everett.

A sailboat full of teenagers vanishes at sea and Sub-Mariner sets out to find them. He discovers an undersea cave with air bubbles coming out of it. Inside is “an aircraft-testing wind tunnel.” At the other end is an air lock. “The wind tunnel operating in reverse, could suck a fair-sized vessel through its mouth directly into this chamber.” Subby gets whacked on the head and is brought before a beautiful red-haired woman on a throne in an air-filled area. Her subjects are all blue-skinned like Atlanteans. She decides Subby is a spy and sends him to her torturer Mephistios. However, Mephistios recognizes Subby. “You used t’be my hero when I wuz just a liddle kid, Mister!” he says. (How old is Subby, anyway?) Mephistios decides, “I can’t torture a guy what used to be my hero!” and sets Subby Free. In the very next panel, Subby captures the queen and twists her arm behind her back. Unable to stand the pain, the queen releases the teenagers from the sailboat whom she had captured. Subby reverses the motor on the wind machine and the teens and their boat all get sucked back to the surface. Subby drags the queen up to the surface with him. The sailboat is perfectly fine and its radio still works. Subby goes into the cabin to notify the Coast Guard but he doesn’t bring the queen in with him, so why doesn’t she escape? Instead, in the very next panel, he is back in the water holding onto the queen. She tells him, “I can’t stand pain. I had too much of it when I was alive. When I died, I swore I’d get even. I swore I’d find a way to torture every living person I could get my hands on.”

Not sure what to make of that, Subby drags the queen back down and sets her machine to blow all of her subjects to the surface. He takes her back to the surface, as well. But when the Coast Guard ship arrives and Subby brings the queen on board, she has turned into a skeleton with long red hair. (Or, at least, so it seems. Bill doesn’t show us much of this.) “I don’t know what we’ve run into here,” says Subby, “but if her pals are anything like she is, they can darn well stay in the ocean! And so can she!” He tosses her back in the sea only to have the wind tunnel undertow begin again. How did this happen? “Some quirk of fate or the changing tide reversed the wind machine again.” A taunting voice, which is apparently the queen, tells Namor “We’re being pulled back down to our home in the deep!” For some reason, Bill doesn’t draw her, only having the voice come from off-panel. Subby tries to follow but the wind machine blows up. “That wind machine obviously got fouled,” he thinks, “and, as far as I’m concerned, it can stay that way!!!”

This is a pretty typical Atlas-era super-hero story. Six pages (some are 7 or 8 pages). No explanation for the whole set-up. Who is the queen? How can she still be around ruling an undersea race when she is dead? Or is she dead? How did she join up with blue-skinned Atlanteans (one of whom worshipped Namor)? Who created the wind tunnel? Why does it suddenly reverse itself? Why does it blow up? There are no answers and Subby doesn’t care. After all, in Atlas comics, the story doesn’t exist beyond its parameters. There’s no continuity here. No follow-up explanations. I love Bill Everett’s artwork but this is a thin thin story. One web.

The Return of…the Human Torch comes from Young Men #25, February 1954 and, in spite of the title, is not the first Atlas story featuring the Torch. (That happened in the previous issue, Young Men #24, December 1953.) The script is by Hank Chapman. The art is by Torch creator Carl Burgos.

There is a crime wave taking place in the city. None of the criminals look any more than 20 years old. The Human Torch and his kid sidekick Toro try to thwart a bank robbery but one of the crooks holds a gun to a woman’s head and forces Torch and Toro to surrender. (“Hey, Torch! Look! I got my rod against this dame’s head. Lay off us…or I’ll fill her with lead!”) The crooks lock the flaming duo in the bank vault, which is “air-proof.” “You’ll both suffocate in five minutes!”

The crooks escape in their car but Torch and Toro burn their way out of the vault and pursue them. They set the car on fire and capture the crooks but none of them seem to care. “They all seem happy to be in jail,” says Chief Wilson.

Torch and Toro go on patrol and notice that the “old-age home” where Toro’s Uncle Julius lives is boarded up. They learn from the building’s super that all the residents left and that the other old-age homes report the same thing. Investigating, Torch learns that all the old people have either recently died or disappeared. Toro says, “I haven’t seen an old person in weeks!” So, Torch and Toro disguise themselves as old people and roam the streets. A young man tells them, “I was over 70 last week…now I’m 20!” The young man takes them to Dr. Markov who tells a roomful of old people, “I can make you all young again…twenty years young! All you have to do is work for me…in crime! If you refuse…you die…as all the others who refused have died!” If they get caught, he tells them, “The stiffest sentence you can get is 5 to 10 years! You’re all over 70…I’ll make you 20…so if you serve 5 years in jail you’ll still be young when you get out at the age of 25!” All of the old folks agree and Markov turns them all into young men. But Torch and Toro are puzzled. If the age-converter works, “why does Markov use it for crime?” “He could make a fortune from the machine honestly.” Torch and Toro burn off their disguises. “Toro! My nephew!” says the young man who brought them there. Torch forces Markov into his machine. “Tell us why you’re peddling youth, and you yourself still remain an old man?” he says. Markov admits that the machine only works for a month “then they crumble into dust.” Enraged, Uncle Julius fires a gun at the machine, setting off an explosion that kills everyone inside…except for Torch and Toro who fight off the explosion with their flames.

This is one twisted little story but it’s so clever and works so well. All your questions are answered. “Why are all the crooks so young? Why do they laugh about being in jail? Where have all the old people gone? Why does Markov not use the machine on himself?” The answer to all of this is pretty grim. Essentially, Markov has succeeded in killing the entire senior population of the city. Including Toro’s Uncle Julius! Granted, Uncle Julius is a one-story device that I’m sure we never heard about before or after but still…Toro should be feeling pretty lousy after this adventure. And think about all those cheerful crooks in prison that are all going to turn to dust in a month. Does the Torch tell them? I suspect he does not. Really, there’s nothing to complain about with this story and, if you love nasty little tales as I do, it’s right up your alley. Five webs.

Mercury 20th Century is the only non-Atlas reprint included here. It is from Red Raven Comics #1 (August 1940), which ends up being a one-shot with the numbering taken over by Human Torch Comics with #2. It is a messy beginning for the Torch’s series with #4 in the indicia labeled as #3 on the cover (making two #3s in a row), then two #5s resetting the numbering so that Human Torch #2 becomes #1. In a new blurb added at the beginning of the story, Stan says, “Just for kicks, we thought we’d re-present the very first story that King Kirby ever did for Marvel! (But, why the pulsatin’ pen name at left? Don’t ask us - - even Jolly Jack doesn’t remember!!)” The reason why Jack doesn’t remember why he used the Martin A. Bursten pseudonym is that he didn’t, though many people thought so for quite a while. According to CBR’s “Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed,” Martin Burstein (Bursten’s real name) “was, in fact, a friend of Joe Simon’s from growing up, who made contact with Simon in the early 40s and did some work for Timely…[he] went on to work in public relations and politics, working alongside the Republican Party as they attempted to woo the Jewish vote in the 60s. In fact, years later, [he] would return the favor from Simon giving him some work by hiring Simon to work on a number of comics for the Republican party!” Joe says more about Martin Burstein in his book, “My Life in Comics.” The artwork is the work of the young Jack Kirby, though. He was 23 years old and his artwork gets better with age.

Jupiter, ruler of the gods, summons Mercury to Olympus to ask him to take on Pluto, Prince of Darkness. “Let one quotation of modern mortals serve as parting words, son,” says Jupiter, “I want you to lick the pants off that demon Pluto.” “It’s in the bag, All Wisest,” says Mercury. It is 1940 and the world is consumed by war. Pluto, who, in his true form, looks like the stereotypical image of the Devil (including a red outfit…with tights!), has assumed the form of Rudolph Hendler, ruler of Prussland who is, clearly, supposed to be Adolph Hitler. (This is about 7 months before Cap socks Hitler in the jaw on the cover of Captain America Comics #1, perhaps too soon to tackle Hitler by name.) Mercury recognizes that Hendler is Pluto and confronts him. “How I wish you were mortal so I could strangle you slowly,” says Mercury. Instead, he intends to “show man the way to peace as you did to war.” He steals all the war plans of the warring nations. With no plans passed to them, the soldiers “idle in the trenches” giving “them an opportunity to ponder and reason.” Prussland assigns their spy Thea Shilhausen, known as L5, to capture the plan stealer. She sets up an ambush with word of a new war plan. Mercury arrives and Thea and her men fire away at him. But Mercury is unharmed. “Peace is on the march L5,” he tells Thea, “Mere bullets won’t stop it.” He speeds away and travels the globe, never allowing “an order to reach a battlefield.” “Meanwhile, at the front, where activity has practically ceased, soldiers of opposing sides find the men they’ve been told to hate and destroy make quite amiable companions.” Jupiter looks down from Olympus and announces, “Mercury found a way to spoil Pluto’s game.”

Stan has added a “Next Issue” caption (“The Origin of…Black Marvel!”) as if he’s afraid we otherwise won’t realize that the story is over. And it is a strange place to leave it. But, really, where else can it go? As an anti-war piece, it is vaguely interesting but there isn’t much to it. The introduction of L5, even giving her an actual name, seems strange since it doesn’t lead anywhere. (Perhaps there was going to be a follow-up to this story that never came about.) Mercury isn’t given much in terms of characterization. Nor are any of the other characters for that matter. The story is top-heavy with narrative. Kirby’s artwork is striking but unformed. I’m giving it one web.

By the way, at some point, the Mercury in this story is retconned to become Makkari of the Eternals. I don’t even want to go there.

The Black Knight! is not the Iron Man villain from old Tales of Suspense stories or the super-hero from 1960s Avengers. He is, rather, secretly Sir Percy of Scandia who lives at the time of King Arthur. He had an Atlas series that lasted five issues. This story is from Black Knight #2, July 1955. The writer is unknown but the art is by Atlas stalwart Joe Maneely who almost certainly would have been part of the Marvel Age if not for his death at age 32 when he fell off a commuter train on his way home to New Jersey. This is from his Wikipedia entry: “Marvel editor-in-chief Stan Lee opined in the early 2000s that had Maneely lived, ‘he would have been another Jack Kirby. He would have been the best you could imagine’.”

Only Merlin the Magician knows the Black Knight’s identity. Sir Percy, like Bruce Wayne, hides his identity by playing the coward and the fop. He is the minstrel of Arthur’s court and, as the Black Knight, he continually thwarts Modred who would love to discover the Black Knight’s identity so that he can defeat him and take over Camelot.

That’s pretty much the plot of every Black Knight story. I don’t really even have to go into details. But I will.

With Lancelot and Galahad gone from Camelot, Sir Modred wins the knights’ tournament. As champion, he begs the honor of jousting with the King. Arthur agrees but chooses to dine first. Modred returns to his tent where he was summoned a soothsayer who sells him a “brew” which can be placed on a weapon and cause death from the “tiniest scratch.” But Merlin learns of this through his crystal ball. He sees Modred tell his flunky Hawkes to “go to my man whom I have placed as the King’s squire! See to it that he cuts the girth of Arthur’s saddle! A scratch from my lance and he is undone! Then I take the throne!” Merlin informs Sir Percy who pretends to be sick of combat and retires to his room. Before Modred and Arthur can begin, the Black Knight arrives and claims that Modred has not yet earned the right to battle Arthur since Modred has not yet faced him. As the two knights charge each other with lances, the Black Knight cries out, “Hola! For Pendragon!” (Is he practicing his Spanish?) In the first pass, the Knight’s lance is shattered. In the second pass, the Knight lops off the point of Modred’s lance with his sword. Arthur calls a halt to the whole thing. Modred thinks he can learn the Black Knight’s identity by searching “every room in the castle, and that knight’s room which is empty we can assume is this Black Knight’s!” (Can’t he just look around at the tournament and see which knight isn’t there?) Modred’s men grab the Knight, trying to delay him, but he fights them off. Merlin leads him to a passage that “enters by a hidden trap door under the table in your room.” (How convenient. Did Percy not know of this?) The Knight sheds his armor as he goes and arrives just before Modred and Hawkes arrive. They have checked his room last because they can’t imagine he can be the Black Knight. However, Percy’s room appears empty…until they find him under the table. “I grew a bit frightened at the sound of combat outside,” he tells them and Modred laughs. “And I thought this poltroon could be…oh no…not in a thousand years!”

These stories get old fast. The disdain Percy receives for being a coward (the Lady Rosamund mocks him in this story), Modred’s plots, the Black Knight’s timely arrival, the search for his identity. It’s all a big yawn. Joe Maneely’s artwork is detailed and expressive but it is wasted on simple stories like this. One web.

The Girl Who Was Afraid!, starring Captain America and Bucky, is from Men’s Adventures #27, May 1954. The scripter is unknown. The artwork is by Mort Lawrence who did a lot of Atlas work as well as a chapter of Avon’s Robotmen of the Lost Planet, one of my favorite oddball comics from the 50s. This is the “Commie Smasher” Cap, as he was touted on the covers of his Atlas Cap issues (#76-78). He was so rabidly anti-Red in these stories that Steve Engelhart retconned him into a madman imposter in Captain America #155, November 1972. (He couldn’t be the real Steve Rogers anyway, not after Stan told us that Cap was frozen in ice from 1945 until thawed out in Avengers #4, March 1964. Bucky, also is out of action from the end of the war until he appears as the Winter Soldier in Captain America #1, January 2005. This Bucky is later given the name “Jack Monroe,” in Captain America #281, May 1983, and becomes the hero called Nomad in Captain America #282, June 1983. In Captain America #3, April 2005, the Winter Soldier murders Jack, appropriately having the original Bucky eliminate the imposter.) So, here are the 50s Cap and Bucky, taking out Commies.

Steve Rogers and Bucky are on leave from the Army, visiting Egypt. While sightseeing (and riding camels), they are approached by Adu Bey who tells them he loves Americans and would like to offer his hospitality. “I hate wars and violence,” he says, “But the Reds…ugh! They threaten us all! Maybe I can flee to your land someday…and they will take me because I have been generous with you, eh?” Bucky smells a rat. “I don’t like this, Steve!” he says, “He sounds like a Red spy himself. He’s overdoing it!” Nevertheless, they take Adu up on his offer. He brings them to his mansion where they have a feast and dancers entertain them. One of the dancers taps out Morse code with her feet. “Help me I am in trouble. Meet me tonight at the old well.”

That night, Steve sneaks out to meet the dancer. She tells him that she is Adu Bey’s prisoner. Steve tells her that he can’t help…but Captain America can! He goes back to his room, changes into his Cap outfit and wakes Bucky. (And he’s got his shield, too. Where was he hiding that?) Cap and Bucky return to find the dancer has been grabbed by one of Adu’s men. Cap knocks the guy out and the threesome take some horses from the stable and ride off: Adu and his men in pursuit. The dancer tells them that they can hide in the tomb of Adu’s ancestors. “He would never desecrate it by entering!” In the tomb, Cap finds a secret room filled with “Red artillery” complete with “charts for a Red uprising in the cities!” “It’s a spy headquarters, all right, and I don’t need a guess as to who’s at the head of it…our fat buddy!” says Bucky. Suddenly, a group of men enter from another room. They capture Cap and Bucky, as the dancer, Shika (we finally learn her name in a caption on this page) screams for help. Her screams attract Adu and his men and they are swiftly captured too. “What goes on? He’s your Boss!” says Cap. Adu corrects him. “You are wrong, sir! Shika is the head of this gang of Reds! I kept her prisoner until I could find out where she kept her supplies!”

Cap and Bucky break free and run for it. Bucky wonders why the Reds don’t shoot at them as Cap leads them to a back exit. They then re-enter from the front where they tell Adu to hurry and run out the front. (Now, on the previous page, the caption told us that “Shika’s screams brought in Adu and his men,” but it appears that Adu is alone as he makes for the exit. And why do Shika’s men let him go so he can run? They had previously pinned his arms back and held him tight.) Shika gets steamed at this turn of events. She grabs a gun from one of her men and fires at Cap whereupon she learns why her men didn’t fire at Cap before. “The reverberations of the shot” collapse the walls of the tomb, burying and killing Shika and her men. Cap and Bucky escape. Cap is sorry that this “had to happen to the resting place of your family,” he tells Adu. But Adu replies, “I am honored to have it serve as a tomb for the betrayers of my country, Captain!”

“Are You a Red Dupe?” William Gaines asked in some of his EC Comics. In this story, Cap and Bucky sure are! They fall for a pretty obvious twist because they believe that Commies are fat bearded guys while patriots are beautiful women. At least the story itself knows better than to fall for this stereotype but it doesn’t know much else. What sort of Army leave allows Steve and Bucky to go all the way to Egypt? Where are they keeping their costumes…and Cap’s shield? If Adu is keeping Shika prisoner, why does he let her dance at his feast? Wouldn’t tapping that whole Morse code sentence be rather obvious…even to someone who doesn’t know Morse code? How is Shika even really a prisoner when she has her men, her artillery, and her radio transmitter hidden in the tomb? Why does Shika keep calling for help when it’s her own men who have captured Cap and Bucky? To keep up appearances? And why do Cap and Shika’s men know that firing a gun in the tomb will collapse the walls but Shika does not? It’s another messy story with two bumbling heroes who are too wrapped up in Commie smashing to do the right thing until they get pretty much everyone killed. But since they’re all Commies, who cares? One web.

In General...

So when does the Spidey story in this issue take place? The Marvel Chronology Project places it between ASM #49 and ASM #50. The only real evidence is Gwen’s hair. The problem is that she is still wearing that widow’s peak look that she gives up in ASM #48. I would put this story between ASM #46 and ASM #47

There was an earlier Sorcerer who fought the Human Torch back in Strange Tales #109, June 1963; reprinted in Marvel Tales #11. He, like this one, only has one appearance but at least he’s not moldering away in a chair somewhere…as far as we know, anyway.

According to Wikipedia, Ross Andru’s real name is Rossolav Andruskevitch, which I did not know.

The next Marvel Super-Heroes features a solo Medusa story. It is to promote this issue that Spidey tackles Medusa in ASM #62.

Overall Rating...

There are a number of questions that remain at the end of this Spider-Man story. We’ve been through some of them. Here are some more. Where does the Synthetic Man come from? Is he the Synthetic Man or the Hollow Man? Did the Sorcerer create him? Then why leave him in a New Orleans warehouse in a big crate? Why does the Synthetic Man wander into the Gulf after the Sorcerer’s death? How is he controlled anyway? And shouldn’t the tack in the Juju doll still give Spidey a headache or does it need the Sorcerer’s power to make it work?

Ross Andru eventually becomes the regular ASM penciler for most of the issues from #125-185. His slightly cartoony style, already established at DC with Wonder Woman and Metal Men, works wonderfully well with the web-slinger…once you get used to it. Here, perhaps because it is his first crack at Spidey or perhaps because of Bill Everett’s inking, it feels jarringly different from John Romita’s work seen at the same time and I’m not all that fond of it.

But who cares? Because I love this issue! I love the idea of attacking Spidey through his mind. I love the Mardi Gras setting. I love the look of the Synthetic Man. I love the idea of Spidey nearly losing to an opponent he doesn’t meet and never knows exists. I love that Spidey faces certain defeat until the introduction of chance even if it is because of something as stupid as the Sorcerer putting his return address on his General Delivery package to Spider-Man. In fact, I love the idea that the Sorcerer is defeated because he puts his return address on that package. And I love the thought that his body is still moldering away in that chair all these years later.

So, I am giving this issue five webs. I don’t even care that the reprint stories are mostly terrible. I’m still giving this issue five webs.

Footnote...

Next: Did I hear a request for more reprints? You’re getting more reprints! It’s Marvel Tales #14!