Marvel Super Heroes #21

 Posted: Jan 2023
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


American Comic Book Chronicles The 1960s (1965-1969) refers to Marvel Super-Heroes as “Marvel’s Counterpoint to DC’s Showcase” in that it mostly headlined new characters or characters who had not previously been headliners. But that phase of the series was short-lived. The first eleven issues of the comic weren’t even Marvel Super-Heroes but, rather, Fantasy Masterpieces featuring Golden Age heroes and Atlas monster reprints. The change came with the introduction of the Mar-Vell Captain Marvel in MSH #12, December 1967 continuing into #13. We should all be familiar with Marvel Super-Heroes #14, May 1968 which featured Spider-Man. The other headliners from #15 to #20 were Medusa, the Phantom Eagle, the Black Knight, the Guardians of the Galaxy, Ka-Zar, and Doctor Doom. At the end of Doom’s MSH #20, May 1969, a full-page promo asks us “Who is…Starhawk? Merely the most mind-bending new concept of all from the House of Ideas! Blasting his way to you across two centuries in the next issue of…Marvel Superheroes.” But, when MSH #21 hit the stands, it had a Marie Severin (pencils)-John Romita (inks) cover featuring, as listed from top to bottom on the left, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, the Mighty Thor, Sub-Mariner, Giant-Man, the Wasp, Cyclops, Angel, Iceman, the Beast, and Marvel Girl. A blurb planted in the midst of them proclaims “11 of Marvel’s mightiest in one pulse-pounding mag!!” but, on opening the issue, it becomes clear that it is an all-reprint book.

Now, Marvel Super-Heroes has always had its share of reprints but has never been all-reprint. And weren’t we promised “the most mind-bending concept of all” with the introduction of Starhawk? So, what happened? At the start of the issue’s letter page, we get “An Explanation,” saying, in part, that “at the last minute, we discovered that the strip had not worked out just as we had wanted it to; we felt that it was substantially below the standards which we strive diligently (if not always totally successfully) to maintain. And so, with much regret, we’ve decided to postpone publication of our Starhawk saga until such time as we feel satisfied with it – and therefore believe that it represents the best that you’ve come to expect from the House of Marvel.” Well, that’s suitably vague. So, what really happened?

According to American Comic Book Chronicles 1965-1969 by John Wells, “Created by Roy Thomas and Dan Adkins, Starhawk was another futuristic hero, a man born Mark Wilde who operated in the post-apocalypse world of 2137 A.D. ‘A striking cover was done by Dan and sent to the office of publisher Martin Goodman,’ Thomas remembered, ‘and that’s what did us in.’ Goodman, the writer was soon to discover, ‘had no faith in science-fiction comics’ and specific elements in particular. ‘Dan’s cover for MSH #21 showed Starhawk amid all three,’ Thomas reported. ‘Rockets, robots and ray guns. By sheer accident, we hadn’t missed a trick in including all three of the elements which Martin Goodman considered deadly. So, he canceled the book. Period. End of story.’…Marvel Super-Heroes itself got an immediate reprieve, though, and was converted to an all-reprint title, devoted to the mid-1960s exploits of the X-Men, Daredevil, and others.” But it’s not Daredevil in the first of these reprint issues. It’s the Avengers.

Story Details

  Marvel Super Heroes #21
Summary: Spider-Man Cameo
Reprints: Avengers (Vol. 1) #3
Reprints: Uncanny X-Men (Vol. 1) #2

Avengers #3, January 1964 to be specific, an issue I’ve reviewed before. (Why Avengers #3? Well, because Avengers #1, September 1963 was already reprinted in Marvel Tales #2, 1965 and Avengers #2, November 1963 in Marvel Super Heroes #1 (1966). X-Men #1, September 1963 was also reprinted in Marvel Tales #2 which explains why this issue reprints X-Men #2.)

Now, if you click on that link, you’ll see that I reviewed Avengers #3 back in the days when I gave short shrift to everything except the Spidey appearance. So, what do you say? Shall we give it a full reviewing treatment now?

The Avengers Meet…Sub-Mariner!: The Avengers decide they have to find the Hulk who quit in a huff in Avengers #2. Iron Man has an “image projector,” and, Stan tells us, “the most miraculous part of Stark’s invention is the fact that the image which is projected can see, hear and be heard also, wherever it is.” So, Iron Man sends his image to the Baxter Building where the Thing gives him the brush-off because he’s heading out for a date. (To Iron Man’s query about locating the Hulk, the Thing says, “What do I look like, a bloodhound?”) The other three Fantastic Four members are there as well but Reed Richards is “in the middle of an experiment in flame control” with the Human Torch and the Invisible Girl is heading to a fashion show. (She tells Iron Man, “If I bump into him at the fashion show, I’ll give you a jingle.”)

Iron Man’s next visit is to Spider-Man. Again, check out the review of Avengers #3 for this scene and let’s move on to Iron Man’s next stop, Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. His image appears in front of the Beast during his training session which doesn’t please Professor X. He tells Iron Man that he will inform them if he learns of the Hulk. “And now my training class is still in session, so I’ll thank you to leave by the same means as you arrived.”

With Iron Man back from using the image projector, Thor suggests that they contact Rick Jones, “the only one who can control the Hulk.” The Wasp points out that Rick is a ham radio operator, so they have no trouble contacting him. Rick is back in the American southwest and, out in the desert, he encounters a man who tells him “there’s some kinda monster loose back there!” Rick follows the man’s path and finds the Hulk pulling a jeep out of a small lake. “Some fool stranger drove this thing right into the lake and ran off, as soon as he saw me,” says the Hulk. Rick talks the Hulk into returning to his secret cave where he uses the Gamma Ray machine to turn him back into Bruce Banner. Rick puts Bruce to bed and stations himself at the door but Bruce turns back into the Hulk in bed, gets up, and smashes his way out. He ignores Rick’s plea to stop and goes out into the desert once again.

So, Rick goes to the local Teen Brigade group where he uses their short wave set to call the Avengers to report that the Hulk is in “New Mexico Sector B.” Iron Man notifies the others and they all make their way to New Mexico. (Giant-Man has reduced to Ant-Man and the Wasp says, “You look like the poor man’s Ben Hur on that silly ant,” as he rides it like driving a chariot.) Iron Man arrives first because, Stan says, he was the first to leave but it seems to me that Thor should be a lot faster than Iron Man. Anyway, IM shows up and gets sucker-punched by the Hulk. He counters with his repulser rays, firing boulders at the Hulk who dodges them by hanging onto a cactus and hitting the dirt. The Hulk counters by shooting cactus spines at Iron Man who protects himself with a boulder.

Ant-Man and the Wasp arrive and go into an anthill where Ant-Man has the ants drop pebbles into an underground stream, damming it up until the water rushes to the surface below the Hulk’s feet. The Hulk leaps away but Iron Man uses his magnetic repulsers to spin the Hulk around. Thor arrives but the Hulk evades him by crashing down into an “old abandoned mine shaft,” then pops up by the tracks just as a train is passing by. He climbs onto the train and throws the caboose at Iron Man and Thor when they pursue. He then forces Iron Man to evade a crane that is part of one of the train cars and ties Thor up in the crane’s cable. Ant-Man, pursuing on an ant, becomes Giant-Man, surprising Hulk who still manages to grab some flour from a freight car and dump it down the train’s smokestack. It seems like there shouldn’t still be steam engines in 1963 but this article says that “Steam wasn’t systematically phased out in the U.S. until the 1960s,” so, okay. The flour sets up a smokescreen so that Giant-Man can’t see that the train is going into a tunnel. He smacks his head on the arch and falls off the train, joining Iron Man and Thor, who notes that the Hulk is able to defeat them because they pull their punches. Giant-Man agrees. “Hulk tries every savage trick in the book, while we hold back, trying to reason with him, trying to save him from himself!” The Wasp shows up to report that “I saw the train when it sped through Centerville but he wasn’t aboard any longer!” Instead, the Hulk has hid himself at the bottom of a load of gravel in a dump truck. That truck must travel a long way because it finally dumps its gravel into a body of water which appears to be the Atlantic Ocean, seeing as the Hulk swims away, thinking “the Gulf Stream isn’t too far from here.” Days later, a ship picks the Hulk up “in the cold Atlantic.” He’s “more dead than alive” so they “put him on deck and notify Washington immediately.”

Little does anyone know that the Hulk’s movements are being followed by Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner who uses a nifty Kirby headpiece to monitor things. “The Hulk’s strength will return sooner than the humans suspect,” he says in a panel with a super close-up of his face, “and when it does and when he abandons the ship, I’ll be waiting for him!”

Not long after, the Hulk recovers and jumps ship for a “small deserted island” where Namor is, indeed, waiting for him. Hulk tells him to “Get off his island!” Namor calls Hulk a “brainless dolt” and it’s on, with the Hulk crushing Namor between some rocks. But Namor breaks free, declaring, “It is said that you are the strongest living creature on the surface of the Earth! Well, know you this…Namor is strongest of all the sea creatures!” He grabs Hulk and takes both of them into the ocean, where he knocks Hulk unconscious by swimming around him “at whiplash speed.” He then drags Hulk back onto the island and suggests they team up to “bring humanity to its knees.” The Hulk agrees and the two decide that their first step will be to crush the Avengers. Namor summons his “electronically-controlled command ship” and they set off. But, inside the ship, Hulk thinks, “I’ll string along for a while, then smash him when he’s off guard!” and Namor thinks, “He’s too strong! Too undependable. When he’s served his purpose, I’ll destroy him.” The command ship anchors at the rock of Gibraltar since “here we have both land and water,” and then, somehow, they contact the Avengers and challenge them.

The Avengers use a Tony Stark-built “experimental prototype model of a new deep-sea jet bathyscaph” to travel to Gibraltar. Hulk and Subby have told them that they will be in “old caves under the giant rock” which were used by the British during World War II. “I understand there are still weapons here which they left behind,” says Iron Man and, sure enough, Hulk and Subby fire a howitzer shell at them. They are hoping that Thor will throw his hammer at it, to disarm him, but Iron Man uses his repulsers on it instead. Subby counters with an emery dust pellet that causes Iron Man to stiffen up. Thor holds Subby and Hulk at bay while Giant-Man and the Wasp use “old air raid life-saving equipment” to blow the emery dust out of Iron Man’s armor. Subby tries to counter with an “old air raid alarm” with a “shrill, high piercing blast [that] will destroy any living being who comes too close” but Giant-Man grabs him and tosses him to Iron Man who uses his repulsers on him. Subby smashes Iron Man’s “life-giving transistors,” putting him out of action.

Hulk and Subby take Thor on together but are unable to wrest his hammer from him. Giant-Man steps in to help. Just as Hulk declares that he will finish off Subby after beating the Avengers, he suddenly turns back into “Bob Banner.” (It is because of these screw-ups of calling Bruce “Bob” that he became “Robert Bruce Banner.”) At this time, no one knows the Hulk’s identity so Banner runs away before he can be seen.

Giant-Man, Thor and the repaired Iron Man trap Namor, who says of the Hulk, “He deserted me…betrayed me! Now I realize no human can be trusted! I despise you all!” Pressed up against a wall by Iron Man’s repulsers, Subby struggles until he cracks the wall, causing water to trickle in. Revived by the water, Namor breaks free and escapes. Thor has “too much respect for his valor” and feels that Subby has earned his escape. Giant-Man agrees but Iron Man wonders if they will live to regret it. Meanwhile, Subby dives into the drink, praying that they will meet again under the sea. “Ahh, how different the ending then shall be!”

The next page reproduces the cover to Avengers #3, “”because it was one of Marvel’s mightiest – because it featured our early assemblers in full battle array – and also because we had a spare page to fill!” On to No One Can Stop the Vanisher!, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, from X-Men #2, November 1963. In X-Men #1, September 1963, Stan and Jack introduced the team and had them thwart Magneto’s plans to take over the Cape Citadel missile base. The army thanked them for their help. So, the X-Men quickly became known to the country and were, initially, not treated as freaks and outcasts. In our story, Professor X sends out a mental message to Angel, Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Marvel Girl which is powerful enough to reach them miles away. As the group find various ways to get to Westchester, home of Professor X’s mansion, Angel is mobbed by teenage girls with one of them saying, “Hold him! I want his autograph!” and another saying, “Autograph, nothing! I want a kiss! Mmmmmmm!” Marvel Girl dismisses them with a telekinetic blast, saying, “Fun time’s over, chickadees! This isn’t Sadie Hawkins Day!” (Which is the day, originating in Al Capp’s Lil’ Abner newspaper comic strip, in which women can pursue men, asking them for a date or a dance.) Marvel Girl deposits the girls on top of a theatre marquee advertising a movie called “A Teen-Ager’s Tears,” starring Tuesday Weld. The movie didn’t exist but Tuesday Weld does. At this time, she was “Hollywood’s queen of teen” and she had already been through a lot, as seen in her IMDB mini-bio. Angel calls the Professor “Dr. X” here before picking Marvel Girl up and flying her to Westchester. (I’m not sure that “Dr. X” designation ever appears again.) The Beast hitches a ride on top of a commuter train while Cyclops and Iceman stop to save construction workers from a falling wall before hitching a ride with a “Merry Moppet Ice Cream Pops” truck, with Iceman sitting in the refrigerated back. As they get out, the driver insists he pay for the “three chocolate-chip pops you ate in there!” (The construction workers also recognize the X-Men and shake hands with them, although one complains that Iceman’s handshake turned his gloves into ice cubes.)

When they all arrive, Professor X projects “a series of mental images” on the wall to introduce them to “the newest menace to humankind.” “He calls himself the Vanisher” and he is a skinny bald guy who looks like he’s dressed as a snake. Professor X’s mental images show his students a recent occurrence of the Vanisher robbing a bank. He boldly asks a couple of policemen where the Metro National Bank is because he intends to rob it. At the bank, he holds the staff at gun point until he gets the money. Then, he puts away the gun, allowing the guards to get the drop on him. Except, he vanishes, taking the money with him. “That is the foe you will next encounter,” says the Prof and introduces the team to the Danger Room. “A huge unfurnished chamber which houses countless hidden perils.” We get a couple of pages of Danger Room action, including Professor X telling Angel to “pretend this missile is the Vanisher,” which is not very likely.

The real Vanisher is “a few hundred miles to the south,” appearing in the Pentagon. If you are wondering if he is a mutant, he lays it on the line. Held at gunpoint and told he needs a permit to enter, he replies, “Permits are for homo sapiens, fool! Not for the Vanisher! For I am indeed a true mutant…one of those destined to replace the human race! I am homo superior!” He teleports to a “locked, heavily-guarded conference room” to tell a general and a soldier named Hendershoot that he intends to steal the “Army’s continental defense plans” in a few days. He vanishes with the general noting that “he’s so sure of his powers that he didn’t bother taking the plans now.”

“Later, after reading of his incredible exploits in the newspapers, every denizen of the underworld who isn’t in prison flocks to the side of the seemingly invincible Vanisher!” Can it really be every denizen of the underworld? How did they all find his hideout? And, how much later does this take place because the X-Men are still working out in the Danger Room. The Vanisher tells “every denizen of the underworld” that he will allow them to become his lackeys and they all cheer.

The Danger Room session ends finally and the Prof mentally contacts FBI agent Fred Duncan at the Department of Special Affairs. Fred tells him about the Vanisher’s plans and provides a “McDonnell XV-1 convertiplane” for the X-Men to travel to Washington. At the Pentagon, the Army has left the plans in a satchel on a desk surrounded by four guards with machine guns. Apparently, it doesn’t occur to anyone to put the plans in a safe. Just because the Vanisher can appear anywhere doesn’t mean he’s a safecracker. But no, they play right into the Vanisher’s hands. He appears on top of the desk, grabs the plans and vanishes. Then he plays with the assigned agents, appearing in the hallway long enough for them to grab him but vanishing again. He appears outside on the steps (does the Pentagon have outside steps?) to find the X-Men waiting for him.

The Angel swoops down, grabs the Vanisher and lifts him into the sky. The Vanisher vanishes but doesn’t take the satchel with him. (Why not? He can vanish with it other times.) It falls into the Beast’s hands. He holds the satchel up and gloats over his victory. “I’ll probably be invited on the Ed Sullivan Show,” he says. (We all know about the Ed Sullivan Show, right?) But the Vanisher appears and takes the satchel away from him, saying, “If you are, it will only be for your novelty value…as a freak!” (Not the sort of thing you’d expect a supporter of homo superior to say.) Cyclops uses his power beam to knock the plans out of the Vanisher’s hands and Marvel Girl uses her telekinesis to keep them away from him, until the Vanisher cheats and uses sleeping gas to knock her out. Once the Vanisher has the satchel, Iceman freezes it to his hands but the Vanisher brags, “I’ll merely vanish again, to reappear instantaneously at a warmer spot which will melt your ice” but won’t his hands get frostbitten in the meantime? In any event, he’s gone and the X-Men get all mopey about it. “Maybe this’ll teach us not to think we’re so unbeatable,” Cyclops says. Angel tells them to “Cheer up, group! It’s not the end of the world! Nobody bats a thousand!” But tell that to the press. The newspaper headline the next day is “Vanisher Steals Defense Plans! X-Men Fail in Attempt to Halt Theft!” with the newsboy hawking the paper by saying, “Vanisher makes monkeys out of X-Men!” One guy reading the paper declares, “I knew it! The X-Men are nothing but over-rated phonies! If they were really so great, they wouldn’t keep their identities a secret!” (He must be related to J. Jonah Jameson.) And the public-at-large completely panics, deciding “If there’s no way to stop that Vanisher, I’m all for skippin’ town!” except “What good will running do? He can be anywhere! There’s no place that’s safe!”

Back in Westchester, the X-Men watch the news on their black and white TV. A Walter Cronkite-looking dude reads a flash. “The Vanisher has just demanded ten million dollars, tax-free, from the government, as his price for not turning our continental defense plans over to the Communists!” (I like that he blackmails the government and then worries about whether he’d have to pay taxes on it.) The X-Men snipe at each other. Angel and Iceman even actually fight. But Professor X breaks it all up, telling them “I have left you to your own devices until now! Actually, you have not done badly, considering your youth, and your lack of experience! For you were up against a most powerful foe! But the time has come for me to enter the picture…to show you that sometimes brute strength is not enough!” The Prof contacts the government and arranges to meet the Vanisher and his mob on the White House lawn with just the X-Men. “There ain’t any troops or guards around.” Having already defeated the X-Men, the Vanisher scoffs at them but then they step aside to reveal Professor X behind them, who gives the Vanisher “one chance to surrender to me.” Since the Prof is “completely unknown the public at large,” the Vanisher laughs at “a helpless human…alone and defenseless.” But then the Prof uses his mental powers and the Vanisher gets stricken with fear. “What has happened to me?” he thinks, “I cannot control my powers! I cannot vanish! Wait!! What has become of me?? What am I doing here? Who is this man who faces me? Tell me… please tell me…who am I?” He puts himself in the X-Men’s hands, saying “Please…do not harm me! I am weary…so weary! I must rest! I must think…have to learn who I am…what I am??”

Professor X calmly says, “He will trouble us no more!” but his mob aren’t going down so easily. They approach the X-Men with guns drawn but the X-Men make short work of them. (There’s a nice 1963 lob towards gender equality when Marvel Girl uses her powers to turn two guns on their owners. One hood says, “She’s more dangerous than the others!”) At last, the Army moves in to mop up. One soldier tells the Prof “You shouldn’t be this close to all that action, mister! You’re lucky you weren’t hurt!” but the X-Men know better. Away from the action, the Professor tells his students, “The greatest power on Earth is the magnificent power we all of us possess…the power of the human brain!”

At the bottom of the final panel is a “Next Ish” box, proclaiming “The most mind-grabbing surprise of all! What is it? You’ll see in MSH #22! Till then – Face Front!” What’s that mind-grabbing surprise? More Reprints!!!!

The next three pages are filled with Jack Kirby-drawn pin-ups of Cyclops, Marvel Girl, and the Beast from X-Men #6, July 1964, X-Men #9, January 1965, and X-Men #8, November 1964 respectively.

General Comments

The rest of the letter page’s “An Explanation” section reads, “Meanwhile, we have re-presented in this issue two of our earliest triumphs, starring the Avengers and the ever-lovin’ X-Men. And next ish, we hope to move you and shake you with one of the most startling new series yet! Try to guess what it will be – who our previously-established stars will be – and see if you can figure out who its cataclysmic co-stars will be! We’re bettin’ you can’t – but we seem to recall we’ve been mistaken a time or two before! Excelsior!” Go ahead. Try to guess. It won’t do you any good because it never appeared. I have no idea to what this was going to refer. One thing we know, it sure wasn’t Starhawk. Here’s American Comic Book Chronicles again: “The notorious cover eventually wound up on the front of the licensed Marvelmania Magazine (1970 Series) #3 in 1970 – with half of the story running in Marvelmania Magazine (1970 Series) #6 but the character was never officially used. Eventually, inspired by the house ad for the feature that had run in MSH #20, writer Steve Gerber created a different Starhawk in 1975.

As for the follow-ups to these stories, Avengers #4 picks up pretty much where this issue leaves off as Namor swims northward to accidentally revive Captain America. That story is not in the next issue of Marvel Super-Heroes as Daredevil takes the Avengers’ place. It is, instead, reprinted in Avengers Annual #3, September 1969. Avengers #5, May 1964 and Avengers #6, July 1964 are reprinted in Avengers Annual #4, January 1971. There are some missed issues along the way but eventually the Avengers reprints find a home in Marvel Triple Action.

The Hulk’s next appearance is Fantastic Four #25, April 1964. The Vanisher doesn’t return until X-Men #37, October 1967. Considering what Professor X did to him, who can blame him?

Overall Rating

In my original review of Avengers #3, I said “If you're only interested in it for Spider-Man, it's not worth your time but if you're looking for a classic Lee-Kirby battle royale between the original Avengers and the Hulk and Sub-Mariner, you can't beat it with a stick” and I gave it “Four and a half webs.”

X-Men #2 also has some classic Lee-Kirby action but is not quite as effective. At least it doesn’t end in a stalemate and it tries to give a lesson about the benefits of experience and the powers of the human brain but having Professor X wipe the Vanisher’s memory is unsatisfying. Really, why doesn’t the Professor do that to every enemy the X-Men face? I’m going to drop this one down to four webs.

And I’m going to drop the whole issue down to three webs because, really, reprints instead of Starhawk?


Next time: More reprints! What?! Really? Yes, really. It’s Marvel Tales #21.

 Posted: Jan 2023
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)