Thursday, September 23, 2021

This Way Toward... Doom!


Perhaps eyeing the success of the DC horror/fantasy anthology titles House Of Secrets and House Of Mystery, Marvel launched two similarly themed books in late 1969: Tower Of Shadows and, one month later, Chamber Of Darkness. Like their DC counterparts which were published on a bimonthly basis (off and on), both Tower and Chamber hit the stands every other month--but it seems the similarity ends there in terms of sales, as Marvel's offerings sold poorly and were discontinued after ten and eight issues, respectively. Tower, premiering first, seemed somewhat better received by readers, judging by letters page response, though the ratio of raves to more critical assessments appeared to be about 30/70. There was also the question of sustainability, as both series began pulling in reprinted material from their earlier anthology titles from the '50s-'60s (Strange Tales and Tales Of Suspense) with their sixth issue.

Suffice to say that DC's House titles were in no danger of readers jumping ship for Marvel's offerings--though it wasn't for lack of trying on Marvel's part, at least initially, as some of the company's most notable talent were tapped to contribute stories. Roy Thomas, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, John Buscema, Gene Colan, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Jim Steranko, et al. (including John Romita Sr., who mostly did cover work) were seemingly able to accommodate seven-page assignments (or less) within a two-month window (though I believe Steranko withdrew after only one story, reportedly due to a disagreement with Lee)--with some artists even pulling double duty and contributing scripts as well as art, in addition to inkers providing readers with examples of their own pencils.

After their all-too-brief runs, each title shifted to formats made up of almost entirely reprinted material, in addition to adopting new mastheads. Tower became Creatures On The Loose, which mixed its reprints with sword and sorcery tales as well as a regular feature on Man-Wolf, while Chamber morphed to Monsters On The Prowl--each book having a run of 30 to 37 bimonthly issues (the creatures pulling ahead of the monsters--make of that what you will). But since there's a little more ground to cover with both Tower and Chamber, and having already examined Jack Kirby's stories in the latter, let's turn to a few samples from some of the other names we've mentioned who made their mark in the macabre during the brief time when these two titles were being published.

Monday, September 20, 2021

"...And Fear Shall Follow!"

I would have to credit artist Berni Wrightson for selling me on Marvel's 1969 horror-fantasy anthology title, Chamber Of Darkness, which ran bimonthly with (mostly) new material from the likes of Wrightson, Tom Palmer, John and Sal Buscema, Barry Smith, Don Heck, and even Jack Kirby, whose departure from the company was imminent by the time his Chamber stories were published. I didn't happen upon the series until its penultimate issue in 1970 featuring Wrightson's cover, at which point I took advantage of older issues still being available (if slightly buried) in store "spinner" racks to work my way backward.

A full look at the Chamber series will be forthcoming in the PPC (and high time, too)--but for now, the mention serves to bring to light the rare instances where Kirby was given scripting assignments for Marvel stories. Having already covered his 1970 work on Amazing Adventures where he wrote and pencilled tales featuring the uncanny Inhumans, we turn back the clock a bit to as early as 1966 where Kirby fills in for the vacationing Stan Lee (who still manages a credit on the story as Editor), and see how Kirby's writing would suit the hard-nosed Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Though with Dr. Strange monopolizing that issue's cover, we'd have to turn to the previous issue's cover to get an idea of the circumstances which Fury faces, an image which isn't far off the mark.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Beware The Heroes Of... The Dream Dome!


It's September of 1976, and here's how things were shaping up in the Marvel Universe:
  • The incredible Hulk, once again on the sub-atomic world of Jarella, was finally dishing out some hurt on Psyklop when this agent of the Dark Gods faced the brute mano a... uh, whatever you'd call Psyklop;
  • The Fantastic Four, along with the High Evolutionary, were compelled to search the galaxy for a world which would willingly give itself over to the hunger of Galactus in place of the devourer's first choice, Counter-Earth (and if you were among those readers anticipating a battle between the Evolutionary and Galactus, well...);
  • Iron Man is trying to get the Controller under control;
  • Thor investigates the possibility that the missing Odin is in the dimension of Death;
  • The Avengers finally settle on their new lineup, only to have the walking-dead Wonder Man crash the public announcement;
  • The new X-Men, their title still being published bimonthly, are in the midst of battling their way out of Steven Lang's Project Armageddon;
  • The amazing Spider-Man is running for his life from his more amazing Spider-mobile, which has no driver at the wheel (a fate that probably awaits some of us from today's self-driving cars, folks);
  • Captain America and the Falcon are trying to solve the mystery of Jack Kirby's Night People; and, last but not least...
  • Dr. Strange faces a new enemy in Stygyro, while his disciple Clea is seduced by Ben Franklin. (Come on, you may say "ewwww!" and insist you won't click that link, but we both know otherwise.)

Meanwhile, Amazing Adventures, with its "War Of The Worlds" adaptation, is one issue away from cancellation--which is usually the time when Marvel pulls out all the stops in an effort to benefit from a sales spike before the axe falls.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Inhumans! Mandarin! Kirby!


In August of 1970, Marvel Comics launched both Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales, two bimonthly books with split-story formats that recalled the success of the company's earlier trio of titles from 1964 which eventually adopted the same double-feature presentations--Tales To Astonish, Tales Of Suspense, and Strange Tales, all of which shifted their focus from monster/mystery/macabre tales to super-hero adventures in 1962-63.

In some of his last work for the company before his departure, artist Jack Kirby would be assigned work on each book's premiere issues. Having already seen Kirby's work with writer Stan Lee on the Ka-Zar feature of Astonishing Tales, we turn to his contribution to the first four issues of Amazing Adventures, a title where the uncanny Inhumans would be featured until the beginning of 1972 (on a bimonthly publication schedule). In this assignment, Kirby would not only provide artwork but also write both stories--to my knowledge, the last of only four scripting jobs he would turn in during his nine years with the company (apart from his earlier work with Timely/Atlas comics), a rare opportunity to see a Marvel story executed exactly as Kirby conceived it.

Since the Inhumans (like the issue's other featured star, the Black Widow) would only be allotted one-half of each issue due to the split-feature format, Kirby's work for these four issues would essentially comprise two regular-sized stories. And we have quite a lineup of guest-stars, with the Inhumans coming into conflict with the villainous Mandarin as well as none other than Kirby's signature characters at Marvel, the Fantastic Four.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

A Fearsome Forgathering of Frivolous, Far Out Frenzy!


Aside from mental institutions and Congressional debates (which may sound redundant), you and I are generally not exposed to much if any sort of frenzy in our lives. Yet on planet Earth as seen through the eyes of comic book creators, incidences of large-scale mania, madness, insanity, or sheer frenzy can be found across the globe--any year, every year, whether due to invasions, or the plans of a super-villain brought to fruition, or world-ending disasters brought on by a malevolent power, or attack-induced panic, or any of a dozen other threats which the human race has proven ill-equipped to deal with. The word can also be applied to the unpredictable and seemingly unstoppable circumstances occurring within a particular story, as the characters involved struggle to deal with the situation.

So, fair warning:  If you're easily affected by such heightened states of hysteria, reach for that mouse or touchpad and click over to a less alarming site! (Like the news.  Ha! Kidding!) Because the PPC is about to do a frenzied roundup of those incidences, and try to figure out just why they're in such a state of:

Come on, shriek it with me...

AAAAAH! Stop it! Can't... STAND IT!

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Past Gives Way To The Future


Among the number of other surprises present in the 1998 Fantastic Four Annual, writer Karl Kesel broached a subject which Marvel had always taken care to skirt by in charting the adventures of its many heroes over the decades:  the fact that nearly forty years had passed since the launch of Fantastic Four #1, even as the FF as well as the company's other mortal characters have remained in fighting shape and have persevered through the decades with nary a wrinkle or gray hair present, regardless of prior stories which have rooted them in the past. And as the FF title neared the close of the 20th century, the annual's opening fold-out sported a bio which primed the team to keep themselves viable for the 21st.

Marvel would later apply such revisions across the board for those characters who required a more generic origin that severed them from past events in real life. But as far as a more direct approach in an actual story, the '98 annual appears to fire an opening salvo on the subject where Kesel takes an almost tongue-in-cheek, all-in-good-fun approach toward distancing the FF from their 1960s beginnings while conforming to Marvel's dictum going forward.

Regardless of this cover's dramatic captions, it's fair to tell you that this story does not, in even the slightest, involve the Thing fighting against his three partners, alone or otherwise. He is, however, reckoning with a time, and a place, not his own--a situation which, fortunately, makes allowances for

Thursday, September 2, 2021

"Frenzy On The Fortieth Floor!"


When Marvel's two new double-feature mags, Astonishing Tales and Amazing Adventures, premiered in 1970, artist Jack Kirby received assignments for each. For Astonishing Tales, he would provide art for Stan Lee's two-part Ka-Zar story featuring Kraven the Hunter; and for Amazing Adventures, Kirby would both write and pencil a two-part tale featuring the Fantastic Four and the Inhumans, followed by another two-parter which had the Inhumans going up against the Mandarin. Along with his art on the final issue of Silver Surfer, and his lead-in to the Sub-Mariner/Magneto story in Fantastic Four (and we should also include some of his work salvaged for issue 109 of that title), this would be Kirby's closing work for the company before resigning his position.

This being my first read of the Ka-Zar story, over fifty years after it was published, I was still amazed at how well Lee and Kirby could mesh their talents in a clash between opponents who were fairly well-matched in their abilities, particularly when Lee didn't skimp on his dialog and took an active interest in the characters' interaction. That might be understandably hard to pull off when it came to Ka-Zar, who in 1970 was still a character who conversed in only the most basic manner and generally reacted to hostilities by lashing out without much verbal elaboration. (Contrast that with Ka-Zar's follow-up meeting with Kraven in Ka-Zar The Savage in late 1982, where Ka-Zar's thoughts and speech were indistinguishable from practically any American man-on-the-street from the '80s.) Lee received some help from Kraven's ego in that regard, however, as both characters tended to refer to themselves in the third person.

Yet it bears mentioning that Kraven has the edge in this matchup, even without taking into account his steadfast belief in his own fighting prowess. Aside from the fact that he will first spend time researching his prey's habits and potential weaknesses, while his unsuspecting target has no such advantage, he will usually have prepared the means to incapacitate and/or capture his intended victim rather than rely solely on a hand-to-hand struggle. (When was the last time you saw a hunter who didn't pack gear against which their prey would be defenseless? Only Wolverine has a blunt but rational assessment concerning the so-called "skill" needed to kill.) That said, Kraven, unlike Ka-Zar, pairs his instincts with a knowledge of strategy, tactics, and physical vulnerabilities--and, yes, belief in a superiority over your foe probably doesn't hurt, either.

The twist in this story, however, is the fact that Ka-Zar is only a means to an end when it comes to Kraven's true target.

Monday, August 30, 2021

The Revealing Of... The Enemy!


The story of Korvac--or, rather, the character we're most familiar with from a ten-month string of Avengers stories in 1978--began following his emergence from a conflict in the 31st century and into our own, where he stumbled upon a source of power that would pave the way for a greater conflict to come.

As we've learned, "Michael," as he refers to himself, had now set out to make himself the universe's benefactor and the savior of all who live by freeing all beings from the chaotic cruelty and injustice of life throughout the universe, while bringing all existence under his own "sane and benevolent rule"--words which for any reader of comics ring familiar as those spoken by many would-be oppressors who felt similarly entitled.

Like other sagas in Marvel's titles which have slowly unfolded over stretches of time (the story of "They" being one such example), this plot winding its way through the Avengers book managed to stay relevant even through shifts in the book's creative talent, as well as the turmoil which can often be found in the team's adventures--sandwiched as it was between their desperate battle with Count Nefaria and their showdown with the deadly Ultron, where the they learned that another threat was now stalking them.

More disappearances occurred both before and after the Avengers (joined by Ms. Marvel) went on to deal with the menace of Tyrak--yet unknown to them, one of the Guardians of the Galaxy, travelling from the future to head off a suspected attempt on the life of one of their members, Vance Astro, had already managed to sense the true nature of their enemy and decided to confront him. It would be a meeting which would cost Starhawk his life.

Starhawk was then sent on his way, oblivious to what had just occurred and no longer a threat to Michael. As we've also seen, Michael had been joined by Carina Walters, a fashion model he coerced to come with him but who in reality is the daughter of the Collector--sent to spy on Michael, but who had instead fallen in love with him.

In dealing with Starhawk, Michael had, in his own words, drawn first blood in the war to come--but as we backtrack and assemble the pieces of this conflict taking shape, how will even the Avengers come to know of this threat before it's too late?

Thursday, August 26, 2021

When Skrulls Take A Holiday


At the conclusion of the PPC's post on the Skrulls of Kral--a planet of Skrulls who became fascinated with Earth's gangster era from the 1920s-30s to the extent of shifting their shapes to mimic the people and culture of that period--it seemed those Skrulls were getting their just deserts from those they had captured from other worlds and enslaved to fight one another in their "Great Games," held to settle territorial disputes between Kralian gang bosses. Having broken free from their captors, thanks to the timely arrival of the Fantastic Four who had come in search of the Thing, the slaves turned on the Skrulls in revolt, making their intentions crystal clear.

But you wouldn't expect gangsters to take this sort of thing on the chin--and gangsters who are actually Skrulls, a race which doesn't particularly hold humans in high regard, might bear even more of a grudge toward those who have interfered in their affairs.

Which gives a nod to our 1928 Packard to pull up to another

Marvel Trivia Question

What became of the Kralians after the demise of the Great Games?

Monday, August 23, 2021

"Spider-Man No More!"


During those times when Marvel brought special attention to a title's 50th issue, one story which surely stood out in that respect was the fiftieth issue of Amazing Spider-Man--one of the company's flagship characters who, as Peter Parker, reaches a pivotal moment and decides to walk away from his life as the wall-crawler forever, a moment that comes across in the issue's stunning and still memorable cover by artist John Romita Sr.

Following his previous issue, you'd think things would be looking up for Spider-Man.  Having survived a near-death battle at the hands (er, wings) of Blackie Drago, the new Vulture, only to then go on to defeat the team-up of Drago and Kraven the Hunter in a hands-down victory, Spidey was feeling jubilant and riding high. But it seems the next-issue blurb in the story's closing panel, "Spider-Man No More!", was to be taken seriously--yet how could Peter's optimism take such a nose dive so quickly?

A future Avengers story which spelled disaster for the team would have Hawkeye remarking that the team had suffered "an extraordinarily bad day," and that, living the lives they do, "[they] had it coming." We won't go so far as to say that the pile-on which is about to befall Peter amounts to his just deserts--after all, if there's anyone who doesn't deserve the raw hand his life continues to deal him, it's Peter Parker--but not long after page one, Romita and writer Stan Lee do their level best to crush Peter's spirit and morale with a steadily depressing day which has him questioning his life's direction.

The fun starts when Spider-Man foils a bank robbery in progress, an accomplishment which normally would be cause for smiles and thank-yous--but the level of gratitude he receives afterward becomes almost a metaphor for how he's come to be regarded by the general public when he goes into action.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Avenger, Reassembled!


Show of hands: Who was glad that Marvel brought back the merciless Thor-clone that Tony Stark unleashed against his fellow heroes?


Nobody?? Well, a few writers apparently thought this construct was worth another look.

Introduced in the pages of the Civil War series, the cybernetic Thor-clone was produced by the efforts of Henry Pym, Tony Stark, and Reed Richards in order to give their side of the conflict an edge while conveying the impression that the real Thor had chosen to side with them rather than Captain America. Held in reserve until needed, "Thor" went on to viciously cut down Cap's forces with swaths of lightning, only to then completely cross the line and make use of another bolt to kill Bill Foster (aka Goliath) without a second thought. Once the dust had settled, a shutdown code was then sent by Richards to deactivate the cyber-clone in order to investigate what had gone wrong--but the tragedy was enough to prompt both sides to reassess their methods, as well as their convictions.

In the final struggle, however, the Thor-clone was deemed fit for reactivation and once again joined the fight against Cap's forces--only to be made short work of by Hercules, who channels former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in the scene.

But as anyone familiar with Ultron knows, anything busted up can be put back together in the realm of fiction. The question is, who aside from the mad Thinker would want to restore the Thor-clone to full functionality?

Or, for our purposes let's put it another way:

You'd be surprised at how often the Thor-clone is repaired to senselessly kill again.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Enslaved To Fight... Or Die!


Although none of us were likely aware of it at the time, a four-part story arc which played out from September to December of 1969 in the pages of Fantastic Four would be the last multi-issue storyline for the book from artist Jack Kirby--and you had only to look at its collective covers to realize that it was something of a feast for the imagination.

By this time, Kirby and his family were living in Irvine, CA--still doing a flurry of work for Marvel, though discontented with his lack of a contract or residuals (e.g., not being compensated for the art he was providing for Marvelmania, the fan club which had spun off from the defunct MMMS). After completing a three-part story in mid-1970 for his other regular title, Mighty Thor, Kirby would turn in what became his final work for that book which would appear in August of that year. But it was his work on the premiere issues of Amazing Adventures and Astonishing Tales, as well as fill-in work for the soon-to-be-cancelled Silver Surfer title, which would coincide with the disappointment he felt at failing to secure an equitable contract with the company, marking an end to his distinguished career at Marvel Comics.

Yet it's the FF tale we throw the spotlight on here, published just over a year and a half after the airing of "A Piece Of The Action," a Star Trek episode with which it shares certain elements--specifically, a planet whose population has patterned their own development from America's gangster culture of the 1920s. The story also takes the opportunity to focus on one member of the FF in particular--Ben Grimm, the Thing, who is targeted by a foe whose power is ideal for luring an unsuspecting victim into a trap.

Having taken a taxi to a secluded area in the countryside, there's little doubt that "Reed" is about to make his move on the Thing--and taking a glance at one of this story's covers, the nature of this enemy is all too clear. The story has also made a point of showing earlier that he's meticulously prepared well in order to capture this member of the FF--yet the question remains, why?

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Comes Now... The End Of The Universe!


War has broken out in Asgard! No, strike that: War has been declared on Asgard, by the embodiment of a billion, billion tyrants whose hatred drives him not only to destroy the Asgardians but to wipe out all of existence! We refer of course to Mangog, imprisoned by Odin following his race's invasion of Asgard but rashly freed by the troll, Ulik, and who now carves a path of destruction and death toward the realm. His ultimate goal (aside from slaying Asgardians): to draw the huge weapon known as the Odinsword, which, once freed from its sheath, will bring an end to everything, and everyone.

In Part One of this story, we watched as Mangog defied all resistance of and weaponry used by the gods and went on to decimate their ranks--including, incredibly, withstanding the full power of the God of Thunder, Thor, unleashed to no avail. Yet Thor realizes that if Mangog makes it past himself and his comrades-in-arms, the beast will have a virtually unimpeded path to the Odinsword--and so Thor searches for his foe along the banks of a new river, the result of a fierce storm he created which only swept Mangog some distance away and gained himself and his group of warriors a respite (a brief one, at best). But just as Thor feared, Mangog lives--and a fateful battle begins for the survival of the entire universe!

At this day's end, will any warriors of Asgard--will anyone, anywhere--be left to mourn the fallen?

Monday, August 9, 2021

"...To Wake The Mangog!"


While the Tales Of Asgard feature tucked within the pages of Mighty Thor provided readers with more extended exposure to Asgardian armed conflicts from the past, Asgard's battle with the troll kingdom of Geirrodur gave us our first look at how the realm would fare in all-out war with an aggressor. Yet that struggle, while destructive and a clear threat to Asgard, also hinged on the trolls' captivity of an alien who was compelled to provide foreknowledge of the Asgardians' plans and strategy as well as weapons which would give Geirrodur's forces a clear advantage over Odin's warriors as well as Odin himself--and once Odin's son, Thor, dealt successfully with that aspect of the trolls' offensive, Geirrodur was forced to retreat and subsequently offer his surrender.

Apparently, the troll war must have elicited favorable reader response, as it took only a little over a year for writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby to raise the stakes considerably and launch the gods of Asgard into another life-or-death conflict, serious enough that the Asgardians came to regard it as the coming of Ragnarok. This time, these warriors, bred to battle, would fight a very one-sided war in which their combat with the trolls paled by comparison, as they found themselves pitted against the might of a billion, billion beings--all rolled into one unstoppable, revenge-crazed bruiser.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Story Terrible

OR: "Will Somebody Get This Kid A Rattle??"

In the spirit of full disclosure, the review you're about to read is one I've avoided several times during the PPC's run, simply because I've always had difficulty sitting down with the Fantastic Four story from 1964 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, "The Infant Terrible!", an issue that always seemed to perpetually end up at the bottom of my stack of stories to look into. Among my reasons: The issue's cover design, frankly, doesn't entice me to pick up the issue, but, rather, impulsively set it aside.  Also, the appeal of Kirby's alien seems limited to kids Pre-K to second grade, and isn't really a selling point for me.  In addition, I felt the story's title was terrible in itself--while  both its cover and title page are hell-bent on making sure the reader (that would be me, in this case) wasn't put off from this story right from the start (that would again be me).

"The writer doth cajole too much, methinks" (with apologies to Hamlet's Queen Gertrude). While it's true Lee was no stranger to the hard sell, it's almost as if even he believes the FF's popularity isn't enough to carry the ball here. But on that score, you be the judge.

Monday, August 2, 2021

"To Die Like A God!"


There's certainly no shortage of wars in the realm of Asgard, home of a race of Norse warriors who rally to the call of steel-clashing war in the same way that you and I would to news of the next Avengers film. As readers, we've been lucky enough to have our pick of Asgardian wars from which to choose, whether the aggressor was the Egyptian god Seth, or Surtur (to say nothing of his bringing along his forces), or the granddaddy of all life-or-death conflicts, Ragnarok. To put it mildly, the Asgardians gird themselves for rebuilding their demolished realm as often as they sharpen their swords to meet an invader.

With all the formidable, overwhelming threats the Asgardians face in their immortal lives, then, you would think the trolls who toil in the depths of the realm wouldn't pose much of a challenge for warriors who have faced these creatures with relish, either in isolated instances or when they've joined with like-minded aggressors such as Pluto or Loki in attacks against the realm. But Asgard's warriors have learned never to underestimate the resourcefulness of trolls, a lesson that came during an all-out attack on their city and their liege which nearly led to defeat for the realm's defenders--thanks to cunning planning, a brutal mass of muscle, and a powerful, albeit unwilling, ally.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Special Agent Fred Duncan, At Your Service


Given how prevalent the plotline of anti-mutant sentiment has been in Marvel's line of X-books, and how we've seen increasingly powerful forces engage in operations to target and incapacitate or eliminate mutants, it was no surprise to find even the mutant X-Men questioning Charles Xavier's dream of peaceful co-existence between humans and mutants--at one point, even holding an impassioned meeting with their founder and mentor which called into question their taking on field missions which often only served to put targets on their backs. Such a meeting could only bring to light the injuries and deaths the team has suffered and grieved; and to his dismay and sadness, Xavier also discovers from Rachel Summers, who has arrived from an alternate timeline where mutants have been openly hunted and enslaved, that he and his school and students were early casualties in the outbreak of full-scale war against mutants.

As we've learned from Nightcrawler, and as we've seen for ourselves, there were serious consequences for Storm during the operation against Rogue which was sanctioned by the United States government. Yet in the beginning, before the "X-Men" were formed and Xavier began to see humans becoming aware of and alarmed at the existence of mutants in their midst, he reached out to the office of the F.B.I. charged with investigating the situation and proposed working closely with its agents as a joint task force, comparing notes on the mutant situation as it developed while also making contact with any mutants who appeared in order to ascertain and, if necessary, curtail any threat they might pose.

Thus would begin a long and productive quid pro quo relationship between Xavier and the office of Special Agent Fred Duncan, as Xavier assembled a staff of his own to respond to incidences where it was necessary to learn the abilities and intentions of a new mutant.* Strange that Duncan and Xavier didn't choose to make contact with each other when Magneto had attacked Cape Citadel; instead, Xavier was alerted to the incident by, of all things, a radio bulletin. But the two men were on the same page when it came to the Vanisher.

*Xavier would be more direct with the X-Men themselves as to their ongoing mission: "There are many mutants walking the Earth... and more are born each year! It is our job to protect mankind from those mutants who hate the human race, and wish to destroy it... the evil mutants!" (paraphrased from The X-Men #1)

Duncan's communications with Xavier (and vice versa) take place behind the scenes from this point on (alerting Xavier to the sightings of Ka-Zar, for instance). But when Xavier suddenly dies after a fatal encounter with the "sub-human" named Grotesk, Duncan addresses the X-Men after the funeral regarding their future. (Writer Gary Friedrich has him named "Amos" Duncan, for whatever reason.)

Time passes, and Duncan would appear here and there in other titles such as Ka-Zar, Shanna the She-Devil--as well as X-Men: The Hidden Years, a title which picks up where the cancelled X-Men series left off and of course features a once-more-alive Xavier who had recovered by the end of the original series' last issue. Here, he mostly makes a cameo appearance, but it's a nice nod to the character by writer/artist John Byrne.

Much later, however, when the new X-Men have established themselves, Senator Robert Kelly, who heads an ad hoc Congressional committee on mutant affairs, begins stoking anti-mutant fervor once more--and the team's below-the-radar ties with the U.S. Government now work against them.

The X-Men's plan succeeds (though not without complications)--and if you're wondering why Duncan himself didn't head this off, stay tuned.

An interesting companion piece to the relationship between Xavier and Duncan can be found in the 2008 issue X-Men: Odd Men Out, which publishes two previously unreleased stories by former X-Men artist Dave Cockrum two years after his death and adds context to pivotal points in the existence of the team which Duncan and of course Xavier played a role in. The first story, written by Roger Stern, reunites the two old friends after Duncan had retired from the Bureau and began working as a security consultant while also writing a book (hoping to "blow the lid off the government's mishandling of anti-mutant hysteria."

The issue is a pleasant trip down memory lane for the two, as well as an interesting retrospective--while Stern, no stranger to past lore of Marvel's stable of heroes, provides sensible explanations for those instances where Duncan's activities "behind the scenes" could have shed some light on things occurring in the book during the late '60s. For example, Duncan's true reason for instructing the team to split up following Xavier's "death" (a sham which both Duncan and Jean Grey had been made fully aware of by Xavier):

While "Project Wideawake," which involved the Government constructing and deploying a new series of Sentinels as part of an effort to seek out and end the mutant threat, barrels ahead while shutting out Duncan's input entirely.

As for the virus that Carol Danvers deploys to erase the Pentagon database on the X-Men, Duncan is there when Project Wideawake's head, Henry Gyrich, comes looking to roll some heads but is outraged by Duncan's seeming inability to reconstruct the data. And when Gyrich pulls rank, he finds that Duncan has already prepared his response.

In a later series published in 2012-13, The First X-Men by Neal Adams and Christos Gage, where Logan and Sabretooth take it upon themselves to gather a group of young people (not yet denoted as "mutants" by nongovernment personnel) and train them in the use of their powers, Duncan is presented as a counter to the plans of Bolivar Trask, who offers a different, aggressive approach to dealing with those powered individuals who have begun appearing in news accounts. The shocked expressions of both men (the exception being Mr. Hartfield's casual introduction) indicate the arrival of the hideous entrance of Lyle Doorne, aka Virus, whose mobility depends on grafting onto and gradually draining the life of a human host--a mutant who assures them that it can neutralize the threat presented by Logan and Creed and add them to the government's ranks in "controlled" form.

As for Duncan, he continues his own efforts in these early days of his career... encountering Logan and his group as they attempt to recruit the (at this point in time) vagrant Sub-Mariner... butting heads with Trask... and unknowingly crossing paths with Xavier when he was a private in the army while the government had yet to make their investigations into the growing population of mutants public.

Regrettably, Logan's efforts implode, and, demoralized, he washes his hands of the entire debacle and goes his own way--but not before Duncan takes a last stab at bringing him into the fold in a more formal capacity.

* * *

While each of these later series in their own way brings us full circle, Adams' series of course finds a way to blend in new material which serves to start the ball rolling on what would become a distinguished career of public service for Duncan. It's gratifying to see such attention paid to what essentially amounted to a footnote in the history of the X-Men, and fortunately these stories were told at a time before Marvel began to so radically reinvent its print product. As for Agent Duncan making it to the big screen, the closest we come to Duncan appearing in film was with the character's uncredited portrayal by actor Oliver Platt in "X-Men: First Class"--a C.I.A. man in his new role, but an adjustment that we know Fred Duncan would have taken in stride.