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A Year of Cool Comics – Day 156

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the moments posted so far!

Today we take a look at the legendary first appearance of the Cosmic Cube in Tales of Suspense #79-81, by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee!!

Enjoy!

Our tremendous tale begins in Tales of Suspense #79, as we see the creation of the Cosmic Cube (the Red Skull is “working with” AIM, but he is preparing even then to betray them)…

That betrayal takes place at the beginning of #80, and it leads to a great action sequence of Captain America springing into battle, countered with the Red Skull being particularly horrific (to a character who was established last issue as one of his closest allies)…

Once on the island, Cap fights the Skull, but while the Skull is outclassed, fighting-wise, he has an edge – he doesn’t mind playing dirty!!

Things are looking bad for Cap in #81, as he tries to take the Skull out before he’s too used to the power…

Lee and Kirby are crackling here, aren’t they? It’s a really interesting premise for a story, which is why the Cosmic Cube has been used a lot ever since – it is a great plot device!

In any event, in the story, it looks like this is the end for Captain America until he tries one last gambit…

To see how Cap’s plan worked out, pick up Essential Captain America Vol. 1, which has this story plus FORTY OTHER Captain America stories (from Tales of Suspense, so they’re not particularly long)!!!

19 Comments

Travis Pelkie

June 6, 2010 at 1:47 am

This rocks. It also closes out the first volume of the Captain America Marvel Masterworks,, I think, if you want to read it in color.

Red Skull is one mean bastard. Kills his henchman and tells Cap he arranged to kill Bucky. Is that canon, that the Skull arranged Bucky’s “death”, or was it just the Skull talking smack?

The reference to the Count Royale story in Strange Tales 146 is interesting. Is that one of the earliest “crossovers” (that’s not the right term I want, but I hope you get the jist of what I’m saying) in the early Marvel era? I don’t think I’ve read that story, but I would assume if there is an Essential Nick Fury, it’s in there. Does it play a vital role to this story, or alternatively, does this story play a vital role to that?

The fact that Cap can withstand the Skull with the Cube for as long as he does means either the interface between the Cube and the Skull’s mind is imperfect, or, more likely, Cap is actually faster than thought. Yes indeedy.

Okay… am I the only one who saw that last panel with the Red Skull in the golden armor and thought “Skeletor in the live action Masters of the Universe film”?

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 6, 2010 at 6:35 am

If I recall correctly, the Red Skull in this story is the first Silver Age use of the whole “villain murders his henchmen” trope at Marvel. Stan and Jack really did treat the character as a particularly evil specimen even among their other megalomaniacal villains. (You’ve gotta love Stan covering over the Red Skull shooting down a plane in that dialogue about “parachuting to safety and then turning right around and scripting Kirby’s inarguable forced suicide scene.)

And the Cosmic Cube made for an excellent excuse to let Kirby draw whatever the hell he wanted. One scene omitted here depicts the Skull creating a “perfect humanoid” from the dust and dirt of the island; yeah, it’s a pretty obvious “a God am I” moment, but it’s also not so far (visually or thematically) from Kirby’s 1970s creations in the same vein, like Primus in Captain America or some of the similar notions that cropped up in Mister Miracle with Doctor Bedlam’s “animates,” Cadmus and the Monster Makers in his Jimmy Olsen stuff, etc.

As to the death of Bucky…the Skull’s mostly talking smack in continuity terms, since all he did was send Zemo to England in hopes of getting rid of a rival Nazi. But who knows what Lee and/or Kirby intended when this scene was written? Stan had the Skull use Bucky’s death as a psychological weapon in his next storyline after this arc, in Tales of Suspense #88-91.

The Skull’s Silver Age origin is also pretty fascinating, even beyond being a superhero comics story. Up until the bit where he gets to become a costumed villain, in fact, it’s a pretty creepy take on the way the average person’s resentments and bitterness make them prey to movements like National Socialism. (J.M. DeMatteis underlined this when he made the Skull’s real name “Johann Schmidt,” that is, a pseudo-Germanic take on “John Smith.”)

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 6, 2010 at 6:38 am

Oh, and the Royale thing is not the earliest Marvel crossover. That was probably the Hulk-Thing battle in FF #25-26, which resolved plotlines from Avengers #1-4 as well and ended with the FF, Avengers (including a just-revived Cap), and the Hulk all clashing in midtown Manhattan.

An even earlier non-Marvel crossover story was the 1940s introduction of Captain Marvel, Jr., which went through two issues of Master Comics and one of Captain Marvel Adventures and involved Captain Marvel, Bulletman, and then CM, Jr.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 6, 2010 at 6:38 am

Er…Whiz Comics, not Captain Marvel Adventures. D’oh!

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 6, 2010 at 6:42 am

Now that I think of it, the AIM vs. Shield story in Strange Tales #143-6 basically runs parallel plots through Captain America’s series in Tales of Suspense #78-84: AIM sends a “chemical android” to kill Fury and Cap in ToS #78, after which the whole Red Skull storyline seen here kicks off; Royale even turns up for a cameo there. Meanwhile, Royale is trying to discredit and destroy Fury in Strange Tales’s SHIELD Segments. And then Royale, defeated in ST #146, turns up on his way to the hospital in Tales of Suspense #82, where he activates the Super-Adaptoid that rapages through the next couple of issues.

This kicks SO much more ass then Ultimate Avengers.

“(J.M. DeMatteis underlined this when he made the Skull’s real name “Johann Schmidt,” that is, a pseudo-Germanic take on “John Smith.”)”

DeMatteis sort of bumbled this, though, when he wrote it as “Shmidt” (somewhat jewish-looking). But all recent stories I’ve read have it as “Schmidt”.

“It is enough to stagger the imagination of a wizard!”

Oh, Stan Lee.

Man, this is great stuff. As Kirby craziness goes, it’s too bad King Solomon’s Frogs never really took off the way the Cosmic Cube did.

I guess this is why I hated Steve Engleharts idea he later proposes in FF #319 that the Beyonder and the Molecule Man are really incomplete halves of an unformed Cosmic Cube. But was he the one that also named the Shaper of Worlds as a Cosmic Cube also? My memory is hazy on that. As unlikely as it seemed, I just liked the idea of these A.I.M. scientists coming up with the Cube on their own.

I love Englehart’s idea.

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 6, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Peter B. Gillis was the guy who made the Shaper a Skrull Cube; in fact, Gillis’s story is where this Cube evolved into Kubik, who turns up in the Englehart story in FF. Gillis did a lot of Cube-related stories in a lot of books, actually, and developed 90% of the Marvel mythology around it.

Frankly, I liked Englehart’s idea as well, since it made a lot of sense of the Beyonder and the Molecule Man’s connection. The problem with AIM developing the Cube all on their own is that it raises the question of why they didn’t make more of them; tying the Cube to something AIM couldn’t control answered that problem neatly.

Frankly, I would have prefered if they kept the reasons for the Cosmic Cube not being reproducible a mystery, just like with Captain America’s shield.

Travis Pelkie

June 6, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I think your post on the AIM vs SHIELD story is sort of what I was getting at, Omar. Not necessarily a crossover but a story that tied into 2 different books but didn’t necessarily directly overlap. There are plot points that matter to both stories, but you can read either one without needing to read the other.

Yes, I like the idea of something that A.I.M stumbled across and could not recreate also. I just don’t see why there should have been a connection between the Molecule Man and the Beyonder. IMO, the Beyonder worked best when it was this unseen force, Now Bendis has reshaped him into a mutant Inhuman.

Okay… am I the only one who saw that last panel with the Red Skull in the golden armor and thought “Skeletor in the live action Masters of the Universe film”?

Nope. He’s gone full-on Langella in that last panel.

Matthew Johnson

June 7, 2010 at 8:33 am

“This boulder displeases me!”

Omar Karindu, with the power of SUPER-hypocrisy!

June 7, 2010 at 3:57 pm

“It is insufficiently bouldery!”

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