We’re back on Jack Kinney’s turf, in the year 1960. Popeye and Buddy Brutus has the interesting trait that it’s produced by and story by Jack Kinney, although the director is Rudy Larriva. I admit an instinctive dread of Larriva’s directing. He had the thankless task of making those 1960s Coyote and Road Runner cartoons, when Warner Brothers wouldn’t pay for animation or a fourth bar of music. But the Popeye cartoons were … made under similar circumstances, really. Still, different studio, different circumstances. This could be Larriva’s chance to shine.
What this cartoon evokes is that thing Paul McCartney occasionally does, where he has a couple of songs he’s worked out only parts to and so he puts them together into a medley. Here, there’s a couple of partly-developed diving-based cartoon premises, somehow none of which are enough to last five and a half minutes, all leaning against each other. This all doesn’t work as well as Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, but I can’t say I don’t like it either. My reaction is more that I’m not sure what to make of it all.
We start with Popeye and Brutus setting out to dive in the same part of the ocean. After some squabbling Brutus proposes they be skin-diving buddies. It’s an interesting move for Brutus, who at least starts out the cartoon being the more peaceful one. It also reminds me of Dizzy Divers, the 1935 Fleischer short, in its setup. He even goes looking for Popeye after his rival disappears. It’s only when they run across some treasure that Brutus does his heel turn. Popeye and Brutus spend nearly the whole short underwater without breathing equipment or coming up for air. I know Popeye’s done this before. And the classic Bugs Bunny short Hare Ribbin’ did it too. I don’t know why, though. I mean, yes, I know they’re skin diving, but you could change that with one line of dialogue. Did they figure that if Popeye and Brutus’s faces were covered with masks, their bodies would have to move more to compensate, and they couldn’t afford that?
In their diving, Popeye and Brutus run across Atlantis. Neat idea. A unique one, too. If the Popeye Wikia doesn’t fail me, this is the only time Popeye’s been at an Atlantis. And it’s a weird Atlantis, as it’s an Old West city except populated by octopuses. We see a bar fight and ink-squirt “gunfight” and … that’s about it. There can’t be many octopus-based Old West Atlantises out in the pop culture and it’s disappointing that somehow that wasn’t worth four minutes of screen time.
Popeye and Brutus end up having a showdown in Old West Atlantis, one that involves none of the inhabitants of the town and barely any of the setting. It’s a very silly fight, although the kind of silly that tickles me. Brutus shoots with a harpoon gun that’s always got not quite enough slack to reach Popeye. Popeye shoots back with a water pistol, using one glass for his ammunition. Maybe this is what justifies making this a skin-diving cartoon. Brutus washing water off his face that’s already deep in the water is funny in a weird conceptual way. It’s sure to tickle the seven-year-old. It tickles me today, but I have that kind of brain.
Brutus ends up getting the bends, in that literal way cartoons used to convince the seven-year-old me was just a thing that happened to divers sometimes. Popeye hooks Wimpy’s fishing line to his buddy — them calling each other “buddy” is a motif that comes and goes this short — and he’s hauled to safety.
I can’t call this bad, although I understand people who’ll feel it’s disjointed and storyless. I may just be responding to the weirdness of the construction. And the weirdness of ideas like “Atlantis, but it’s an Old West town populated by octopuses”. But it also doesn’t work in a way that makes this jumble of ideas clearly good.
Well, lying has to carry with it intent. I wasn’t lying when I said I planned to do my comic strip plot recaps for Tuesdays, for example. Stuff just got in the way. And it’s not as if anyone’s 2020 has gone to plan, or else I’d have written this during slack moments of Pinburgh. But as we finish another quarter-year with no new creative team for The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s getting harder to believe that there ever will be. If I get any news about Spider-Man returning to the comics I’ll report it in an essay at this link. And, what the heck, I’ll keep it in the story-update cycle at least a bit longer. This story, from Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber, ran in 2015-16.
J Jonah Jameson takes the injured Peter Parker to the same hospital. (Parker was woozy after his fight with Namor.) Partly to be a decent person, but also because Parker let slip that Pharus went there. Jameson meets Dr Liz Bellman, who’s got the toxins out of Pharus, and that’s all he can get before the soldiers arrive. They figure to take Pharus into custody. Parker slips out and, as Spider-Man, uses his spider-powers to open a door. Spidey kidnaps, or liberates, Pharus, who dives into the New York Harbor. And disappears. There’s one day until Namor declares even more war on the surface world.
Pharus swims to Namor’s ship, though, and tells of his treatment, and the kindness received. Namor doesn’t see this as any reason to call off the war, and sails back to the New York City pier he just left. He steps out to fight Spider-Man, because it would be rude not to. Spider-Man’s no match for Namor, but Pharus pleads for his life. And the life of the surface world, arguing that Spider-Man can be the brave leader who alters the surface world. Namor’s unmoved.
Mary Jane Parker arrives, offering to become his bride if he’ll spare Spider-Man. Namor refuses this, on the reasonable grounds a leader cannot put his desires ahead of his country’s.
Finally Dr Bellman arrives, asking for mercy on her behalf. She’s the spitting image of her grandmother, Betty Dean, who talked Namor out of attacking the surface world back in 1940 or so. And who Namor’s been crushing on ever since. Bellman says Dean’s last words were begging to remind Namor of how the surface world and Atlantis can share the world peacefully.
And this changes his mind. Namor can now see how his way of going to war will only lead to war. He’ll give the surface world another try, and never bother with killing Spider-Man or whatnot. Namor sails his flying Atlantis boat out of the story on the 15th of June, although it takes a little while to quite wrap everything up. Dr Bellman heading out. Reporters showing up. Spider-Man telling the United Nations how there will be peace when the people of the world want it so badly that their governments will have no choice but to give it to them. That sort of thing. Spider-Man webs out, too, so that Peter Parker can learn how Jameson isn’t buying Spider-Man Versus Namor pictures.
We get the transition to the current story the 28th of June. Peter Parker and Mary Jane walk through the crowds. A trenchcoated figure starts following. He’s Xandu. He figures Mary Jane might just help him get the Wand of Watoomb, and that will make him happy. By a wild coincidence, though, the Parkers walk past the lair of Doctor Strange. Newspaper Spider-Man, sometime in the past, teamed up with Dr Strange to stop Xandu the sorcerer. Hey, what are the odds?
Mary Jane wants to meet Dr Strange, but Peter can’t think of a pretext that isn’t weird or secret-identity-spoiling. Xandu can, though: he ‘accidentally’ bumps her hand and it sets off a weird tingling. She, claiming a strange compulsion to meet Strange, knocks on his door. Dr Strange is happy to take some time away from his job of wearing a giant pinball surrounded by flower petals to meet an actress like Mary Jane. So there we are.
This story originally started the 21st of February, 2016. It ran through the 17th of July, so, 21 weeks total. We should finish the 22nd of November this year if I haven’t counted wrong.
Nope, no cartoonists yet. We’re still rerunning a Roy Thomas and Larry Lieber story from 2015-16. If the story will repeat in full, then it will end in the middle of June. The following story would be a team-up with Doctor Strange to fight Xandu. I have not heard anything about hiring a new creative team. Given the lead time needed for comics that run on Sundays, I expect this means the strip is not leaving reruns anytime soon.
Atlantis starts sinking ships, although gently, to avoid loss of life at first. And then Water Force One, carrying Namor, shows up at the East River docks. Namor’s come to scold the United Nations. And he’s brought along an adorable water moppet. He’s Pharus, a kid who’s contracted Backstory Syndrome, suffering from human pollution and doomed never to recover. Namor says the Atlantean hospitals can’t help him. Spidey asks, well, why not try human hospitals? They’re sure to do great with a non-human child who can’t breathe air without taking an oxygen pill and who’s got all the symptoms of mer-consumption. As they punch each other, Mary Jane kidnaps Pharus. With the help of Dr Liz Bellman she gets him away from the Atlantean guards and over to Metro General Hospital.
Namor tosses Spider-Man into the water, where they can fight on the Sub-Mariner’s home lack-of-ground. Mary Jane scolds Namor, who says there’s no reason for him to keep fighting now that he’s beaten. Namor accepts Mary Jane’s answer to where Pharus went, and then heads to the United Nations, in session.
He informs the assembled heads of state that he’s taking over the seas. If the surface-dwellers keep control, after all, Earth will soon be dead. It’s a complaint he’s made before and, again, he’s not exactly wrong. He gives the United Nations one day to figure out how it’s going to fix pollution and that’s it. And then he leaves, before anyone can stop him. And almost before Spider-Man wakes up again.
Well, at least Peter Parker can sell some pictures of Spider-Man fighting with Namor. J Jonah Jameson is delighted to have proof that Spider-Man and Namor are in a state of cahootery. While Jameson explains his reasoning, though, the still-woozy Peter Parker faints. Parker says he got hit by debris during the fight. Jameson sees a chance to rush to Metro General Hospital. Which turns out to be a lucky break: Peter Parker mentions that’s where Mary Jane said the Atlantean boy was. So now Jameson figures to prowl around the hospital until he finds Pharus.
Will Jameson, and Spider-Man, find the Atlantean boy? Will there be some act of human kindness that melts Namor’s hardened heart? Will the surface world remain in control of the seas? Will there be an astounding link to the policewoman Betty Dean who headed off the Sub-Mariner’s destruction of the surface world in 1940? Will Scrooge become a second father to the boy, who did not die? There are two ways to find out, one of them coming back here around mid-July and the other looking at late 2015 and early 2016 on Comics Kingdom. Your choice.
The Hobgoblin uses a decoy to make Spider-Man hug a bomb. While Spidey’s knocked out, Hobgoblin handcuffs him to a goofy-looking flying bomb, and unmasks him. Hobgoblin stops long enough to cackle about how he used to be Harry Osborn. And he’s going to shoot this bat-glider rocket carrying Spidey into Mary Jane and Black Widow. Spidey notices the plot point dropped there. Osborn’s got fair reason to kill Spidey, who he blames for killing his father, and Mary Jane, his ex-fiancée. What’s he got against Black Widow?
On the rocket flight Spider-Man realizes he can’t get his hands free of the chains. But he can … somehow … do thigh-squeezes mighty enough to crumple the rocket exhaust. This should send the glider off-course, although it’s drawn like it actually sends the rocket right for Mary Jane and Black Widow. Well, it’s not like he had much time to change course. But he misses the whole building they’re on. And Black Widow uses her gadgets to send the glider flying straight up, giving Spider-Man time to try breaking out again. Turns out he couldn’t break the cuffs holding him to the rocket, but he could break the rocket fuselage holding the cuffs, which makes sense.
The rocket explodes, or falls apart, and Black Widow catches Spider-Man in the falling. Then the two get a battle against Hobgoblin. This goes well, except that Hobgoblin’s gimmick is flaming jack-o-lantern bombs that explode on contact and that’s a bit goofy. Anyway, they catch Hobgoblin and unmask him. It’s a confused Harry Osborn inside. This makes Spider-Man remember there’s another person in the story. And makes Black Widow identify “Dr Mark Stone”: he’s really … Dmitri Gregorin!
They explain who? soon enough: He’s the former Soviet spy who’d killed Black Widow’s friends years ago. She’s been hunting him. He pulls a gun on them, so, Spider-Man webs the gun away from him and Black Widow clobbers him. And now we get explanations. After a lot of plastic surgery Gregorin had set himself up a new life. But he heard Black Widow was after him. And here he had Harry Osborn, trying to cure his obsessive hatred of Spider-Man, as a patient. Why not hypnotize Osborn into an obsessive hatred of Black Widow instead?
Black Widow points out how the laws of pulp writing say it’s impossible to hypnotize people to commit murder. Stone/Gregorin points out, scientific progress! It’s an answer I love. Meanwhile, Harry Osborn, dragged along to all this, says he’s changed. Spider-Man and Black Widow’s great efforts to stop him from hypno-murdering people have done something. He doesn’t hold Spider-Man responsible for his father’s death, or hate him anymore. Or hate anyone. It’s a great moment of hope for us all. And hey, isn’t it great that a supervillain has had his obsessions broken, and he’ll never lapse back into trouble-making ever again?
Filming resumes on Mary Jane’s movie, Marvella 2: The Spy Who Shagged Me. And Black Widow drops the mention that she knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man. But she’s not going to go blathering the secret. Except here, in earshot of everyone else at the wrap party.
And with the 29th of December we transition to the next, and current, story. It first ran from the 23rd of August, 2015 through to about the 14th of February, 2016. So unless Marvel and Comics Kingdom are planning to interrupt this mid-story, these repeats are going to last until the middle of June. So I could pre-write the next two of these, and save myself a rush before deadline in April and in July, but I would never be that kind to myself. The story after that is a team-up with Doctor Strange, against Xandu. Then a team-up with Ant-Man, against Elihas Starr. And then a team-up with Rocket Raccoon, against Ronan the Accuser, which is where I started these plot recaps. If we get to there without new strips I’ll probably drop The Amazing Spider-Man from this series.
That’s far in the future and in the past. The current day past has Marvel Comics’s first great ambiguous villain: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Since 1939 he occasionally pops out of Atlantis to condemn the surface-dwellers to death for their crimes against the sea. And, since 1939, the surface-dwellers fend him off but admit he’s not wrong exactly. In-between punishing the surface-dwellers for their arrogance he turns ally, and then goes quiet for a while. It is part of the rich tapestry of nature’s cycles, like El Niño-Southern Oscillation or the monsoons that sweep over southeast Asia.
So Mary Jane, with a couple free weeks, buys an ocean cruise. Peter Parker comes along. They’re a day away from the Virgin Islands when a giant tentacle something reaches over the edge of the boat. Peter Parker’s ready to grab his Spider-Suit when Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, appears. Namor declares that he has spent 75 years warning the surface-dwellers about how they’re destroying the oceans, and he’s had enough. So he’s taking over the world, starting with this cruise ship.
The ship’s captain tries to punch Namor, which goes as well as you’d think. Mary Jane interrupts Namor before he can kill the captain. Namor’s smitten with such a surface-dweller, who reminds him of Betty Dean. Dean stood up to Namor in 1940 (if you believe the comic strip) or 1939 (if you believe the fan wiki). She did much to have Namor bring Atlantis into World War II as co-belligerent with the Allies. So that’s a nice person to remind someone of. Then Namor declares that he shall marry this not-so-mere woman.
Mary Jane shows superheroic courage in not laughing in his face. Besides, she’s married. “Oh yeah? To some invisible boyfriend in Canada, I bet,” he answers, and keeps on this marriage idea until Peter Parker steps up. And so, as Mary Jane was trying to avoid, they start Superhero Battling. Difficulty level: Peter has to keep announcing how, like, the deck is slippery, that’s why he can knock over Namor. Not because he has the proportional strength of a spider.