Wednesday, June 29, 2011

September 1962: The Return of the Ant-Man

Hulk #3

Our story

Rick locks Banner in an undersea vault to keep him from rampaging when evening falls and he becomes The Hulk. Ross's soldiers detain Rick and Ross convinces him to bring back The Hulk to test a rocket. Rick lures The Hulk into the rocket, only to learn it was a trick to get rid of the monster once and for all. The sun comes up and Hulk changes back into Banner, only to pass through a vast radiation belt (see The Fantastic Four!). Rick throws a switch to bring the rocket back, but an electric shock travels down from space and links Rick to The Hulk more closely than ever.
When The Hulk returns to Earth, Rick discovers that he can control the monster, and they play Simon Says for awhile. After a three-page recap of the origin story (in case we forgot after two issues), a new story begins.

The Ringmaster is a very cool villain! He runs his own traveling circus and hypnotizes crowds with his crazy hat so he can rob them. He brings the Hulk a-leaping. The circus folk knock Hulk out cold with a powerful water hose (!) and exhibit him, but soon enough ol' green skin breaks loose and escapes, just as the Army arrives to capture him.

Tom: For no clear reason, Hulk suddenly develops the power of flight at the very end and takes off with his teen sidekick on his back.

John Scoleri: The lead time probably makes it a coincidence, but I sure thought they were trying to ape the success of Spider-Man last month by giving Hulk an Amazing Fantasy 15 inspired cover. And it's not like he really flies... he just leaps really far distances... without having to hit the ground in between stops. Wasn't that Superman's original power? Leaping tall buildings in a single bound? Aw, hell. The Hulk flies.

Peter Enfantino: Why would cool cat-daddy-O Rick Jones trust Thunderclap Ross with the safety of The Hulk? Is this the world's stupidest teenager? And someone pleeeease explain to me how that blast of radioactivity traveled from the ship to the button that the suddenly scientific Jones is pushing ("Hmmm, this must be it, the one marked 'Bring Her on Home'"). Rick Jones is the only one to notice the capsule falling back to earth? (I'm thinking he got bit by Peter Parker and became The Amazing Science Prodigy. - JS). The most important mission of the U.S. Army and they're popping the Buds and eating pretzels while the Hulk falls through airspace undetected! Oops! You don't have to remind me that we're talking about a comic book aimed at 9 year-old boys, not 49-year old kids who never grew up but all I'd have to do is aim you toward the premiere appearance of Spider-Man last month to show you proof that imagination and intelligence can go hand in hand in these four-color worlds.

JS: This particular issue had more than its share of what-was-that moments for me. Banner's 'underwater lair,' the fact that Rick somehow thinks sending Hulk up in a rocket that a human supposedly couldn't survive - conveniently forgetting that at some point the big H would turn back into Banner, the aforementioned electro-radioactive link that makes Hulk Rick's Frankenstein-like slave, and the throwaway line, "good thing I was able to replace the steel ramrod." When, Rick? And how!?

Jack: Stan the Man seems to be flailing around a bit with the Hulk and it's only issue #3. The Hulk gets the power of flight, but with no explanation.

JS: Is anyone else troubled by the fact that the reason for Banner's metamorphosis still seems to be plot driven? We see him turn when he's in the underwater cell, we see him turn when he's in space, we see him turn when he sees sunlight... come on Stan, it would be nice if you could get your story straight!

PE: You can clearly see why this comic was axed after only six issues. The art's a bit slapdash, the writing's lazy (a re-telling of the origin story two issues later?), and there's a lack of genuine villainy here. No Doctor Doom, no Loki, we get Toad Men and Gargoyles. Probably because, as Jack notes above, Stan doesn't seem to know what to do with this character and the comic suffers for that. Is the Hulk, like Sub-Mariner, a villain or a hero?

Jack: I have a special place in my heart for this issue, since when I was about 10 I talked the kid around the corner into giving it to me for free. It thereafter became the oldest comic I had, at least for awhile...

Tom: The series wasn't really going that bad, (the unnecessary recap is unforgivable) it just took them awhile to figure out that the best way to sell the Hulk series was to have him brawl with other musclebound brutes of the same caliber.

PE: The Ringmaster is a fourth (or maybe) fifth tier villain whose only power is his ability to hypnotize people with his silly hat. We'll next see him in The Amazing Spider-Man #16.

Jack: Hey! I like his hat! He seems kind of cool to me.

JS: I'm willing to accept that everyone at the circus is hypnotized by The Ringmaster, but I can't get past the fact that every single person in every small town they go to actually goes to the circus. I guess even law enforcement took the night off to attend.  

Tom: Whoa Peter! The Ringmaster by himself kind of blows, but anything having to do with an evil circus gets my approval. Maybe the title for this issue should have been, "Something Stupid This Way Comes?" Besides, if you think he's bad, wait until you witness the fearsome terror of Paste-Pot Pete!

JS: Call me crazy, but was that Mjolnir I saw? 

PE: You're crazy!

Fantastic Four #6
Our story

While the Fantastic Four fool around with fan letters and dying children, their previous two villains create a Super-Villain Team-Up! Doctor Doom has convinced Sub-Mariner that two evil heads are better than one and reveals to Subby his new weapon: The Grabber! A little cylinder that can lift tons. Armed with The Grabber, Sub-Mariner makes a visit to the Baxter Building just as Johnny Storm discovers a glamour shot of Subby hidden among his sister's books. Obviously, the Invisible Girl is a bit smitten with the Fish-man and begs the other three Fantasticals to hear Namor out. The Prince of the Sea claims he wants to make a pact of peace even as the Baxter Building rips from its foundation and rises into the air. Doctor Doom hauls the skyscraper into space but, thank goodness notes Reed, the building's special glass can withstand the pressure of space and contain the air within its walls for a short time.
Doom's plan is to hurtle the building towards the sun (with the Sub-Mariner thrown in for good measure), effectively leaving him the most powerful man on earth and saving us from any more obnoxious in-team fighting. Never one to give up, the Sub-Mariner reaches Doctor Doom and forces him out of his craft. The bad Doctor grabs hold of a passing meteor and is sent hurtling helplessly into space. Is this the end of Doctor Doom?

Namor then safely guides the building back to its foundation and, ostensibly, hooks up the sewer, water and electricity lines that must have snapped when it was kidnapped. The Four are left pondering the eternal question: when is a foe a friend?

PE: First mention of "The Yancy Street Gang," a band of hoodlum youth always pickin' on poor Ben Grimm.

JS: First time a building gets pulled into space and subsequently returned to its foundation without any issues. Really? Is this where we're going with things?

Double entendres - Marvel style
PE: The in-fighting might have seemed innovative the first issue or two but by the sixth it's run its course. It's just silly and panel-wasting now.  

JS: Interesting that six issues in we get our first super-villain team up. Unfortunately, as Doctor Doom is left hurtling into space on a meteor, it's a shame we'll never see him again...

PE: A framed picture of Sue Storm sits on the Sub-Mariner's shelf. I'm surprised it wasn't signed "To Subby-Love, Sue." But even more laughable is the fact that Sue has a photo of Subby! Was it from Reuter's? Olan-Mills? Candid Camera? In the tradition of "Hmmm, this Sub-Mariner comic shore is good. Hey! That bum there is the Sub-Mariner," we get the Sue and Johnny fight over the photo and who should materialize just after the fight? You got it. 

JS: The way Sue had it hidden, you'd think she had the infamous nude photos of Namor, and not just the headshot his agency sent to people who sent him fan mail.

PE: Were Stan and Jack already fresh out of ideas? The fact that they took the villains from the two previous issues and teamed them up seems to hint so. History shows us that the pairing of the bad guys was a stroke of genius but it didn't lead to much excitement here. Six issues in and I'm still waiting for that jolt.

Tom: For the record, I've always felt that the Sub-Mariner was a complete tool. He looks like Spock after mugging Robin for his green Daisy Dukes. You were right though Peter about the two villains going on to have a few powerful alliances later down the road.

Tales to Astonish #35 

Our Story
Weeks after destroying his miniaturizing formula, Professor Hank Pym has second thought and whips up another batch but puts it in a place safe enough that no one else will find it. In the meantime, our government has entrusted Pym with the task of creating a formula to make people immune to radioactivity.

When.. the red-shaded characters get wind of the formula, they send their best leg-breakers to steal the potion. Faced with certain doom, Pym has no choice but to don his new Ant-Man costume (complete with anti-Ant venom material and those fabulous unstable molecules) and slam back a shot of his brew.

Once Henry manages to get outside the lab via slingshot, he heads for the first anthill he can find. There he's attacked by a worker but manages to beat it down, surmising that, though he's shrunk down to the size of an ant, he's retained the strength of a human. With the colony of ants behind him, Henry Pym manages to save the day and quash the Russkies' espionage.

Peter Enfantino: How is it that, when Pym shrinks down to ant size and rigs the rubber band to shoot him up to the window, he's not splattered all over the window? Did I miss the small print that explained that not only would Pym shrink to ant size but he'd also be able to do things an ant can do... like not break its back?

JS: Clearly you're not paying attention to Stan's scientific asides... Here he was pulling facts out of an encyclopedia so kids would learn about ants, and you didn't even get it.

PE: I do like these breaks in the action to explain things to us readers. Very reminiscent of the Baxter Building breakdown in every other issue of Fantastic Four. Here we get a complete rundown of the Ant-Man headgear.

JS: So you were paying attention.

PE: Rather than a superhero story I get the feeling this is one of those Scholastic "How the Flowers Grow" comic books designed to enlighten us to the insect world. It's a drab story with uninteresting characters, That goes for our hero, Henry Pym himself. We know very little about this guy so what would make us want to tune in for another adventure of a guy who can shrink down to the size of an ant and the colony he commands? Not much of a future, I would have thought and yet they squeezed thirteen more issues out of the formula before Ant-Man would give way to... ah, but that would be telling!

JS: I was amused by the Saturday morning serial tactic of re-playing the ending of our last tale with a slight difference that allows the story to continue rather than being a one-shot. Gotta get rid of that serum so there's no risk of this happening ever again. On second thought, let me mix up one more batch...
Journey Into Mystery #84

Our story

In "The Mighty Thor vs. The Executioner" (Lee/Kirby), fighting mounts in communist San Diablo, Dr. Don Blake volunteers his services to the wounded and poor in the region. The evil dictator, The Executioner, orders the boat filled with medical staff to be sunk. Luckily, Donald Blake has brought along his cane and the jet fighters are no match for the power and fury of the Mighty Thor. Once into San Diablo, he ends the reign of El Verdugo.

PE: We're introduced to Don Blake's long-suffering nurse, Jane Foster, here no more than a femme fatale and a swooner whenever the Mighty Thor is around. At the beginning of the story, we find out that Blake has a Thor-sized crush on his employee and the feeling is mutual, though once Thor hits the scene we get a deja vu of Clark Kent/Lois Lane (though to be fair, Thor looks nothing like Don Blake whereas how could the dopey Lois not figure out Clark was Superman when she worked with him for years and he disappears every time Supes is around?). "Oh, Dr. Don is nice, but Thor is dreamy!" The word "lame" is used to describe Blake's physical (rather than mental) condition more than a handful of times. PC dictates that word wouldn't be found anywhere near a man with a can these days. Lee and Kirby's continued hatred of Communists fuels nearly every panel of this story.
JS: Lame is right! Each subsequent lame reference had me laughing harder.

JS: I love how this third-world dictator rates a super-villain name. 

Jim Barwise: I have to say, this issue is quite a letdown after JIM #83.  I never was a fan of the “anti-communist” views of the Marvels of this time. Was this view expressed in D.C. Comics at the time, or was this just Stan and /or Jack’s view?  I was surprised I enjoyed reading this one after such a long time. The Executioner, of course is the same name of the much more intriguing villain upcoming in JIM# 103. And hey, wait a minute; did they say Jane NELSON on page 4? Oops! I agree with you Pete, at this point Jane Foster isn’t much of a leading lady; although she does develop into a character of some substance as time goes on. Better  days to come soon!

Also this month

Gunsmoke Western #72
Kid Colt Outlaw #106
Linda Carter, Student Nurse #7
Love Romances #101
Millie the Model #110
Strange Tales Annual #1
Strange Tales #100
Tales of Suspense #33


In one of the biggest bargains this side of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Strange Tales Annual #1 (technically the title is The Big Strange Tales Annual) packs a baker's dozen of prime monster and spook tales in its 76 pages for two lousy bits! Fairly evenly divided among the four sf titles, Strange Tales is represented by 3 of those stories, the balance being stories from Tales to Astonish (4 stories), Tales of Suspense (2), and Journey Into Mystery (4). Ironically, the annual plops down right in the midst of the big sf title shakedown. Only one of these books would be strictly anthology as of September 1962 (and that title, Tales of Suspense, would follow quickly). This must have been quite a treasure trove for comic fans in mid-1962. FYI: the stories included are: "I Unleashed Shagg Upon the World" (Kirby); "I Come from the Shadow World" (Ditko); "He Waits for Us in the Glacier" (Heck); "I Became a... Human Bomb" (Reinman); "Grottu, King of the Insects" (Kirby); "I Know the Secret of the Poltergeist" (Ditko); "I Saw the Serpent that Saved the World" (Heck); "The Stranger in Space" (John Forte); "I Saw Diablo! the Demon from the Fifth Dimension" (Kirby); "I Found the Giant in the Sky" (Ditko); "Beware!! The Ghosts Surround Me!!" (Heck); "I Saw the Invasion of the Stone Men" (Ditko); and "A Martian Walks Among Us!" (Kirby). Marvel's second Annual (Millie the Model back in January was the first) of the Silver Age. Could this be the coolest comic book ever? It makes one stop and consider, at least.

"Where is the Wommelly?" (Tales of Suspense #33) is the question asked by all of earth when a fleet of spaceships manned by the alien race of the Wommellys attacks with an eye on conquest. We're able to repel them with simple missiles and rifles it seems, but one ship makes it through and crashlands. The pilot is not located and the human race spends the next three pages asking questions like "Where could the Wommelly be?" and making obviously misleading statements such as "Well, he must have four eyes, two heads, and tentacles if he's from space!" As readers of Tales of Suspense, we know what the alien will look like at the climax. At least he looks like a Steve Ditko human.

In the special non-celebratory 100th issue of Strange Tales, we find Don Heck's "Beware the Uboongi," about America's first trip to Uranus (no jokes, please) and the vicious species we find there. Sent with their tails between their legs, the Americans must return to earth for high-powered weapons against this deadly foe, the Uboongi. Since a nation has to remain on a distant planet for 24 hours before it can claim that planet, those rotten commies decide to get the jump on us. We're the good guys so we warn them but they won't listen. When the Russians land on Uranus, they observe two species of animal, something resembling a rhino and the other, a sheep. They naturally assume the rhino is the deadlier of the critters but if they'd read "The Enemies of the Colony" in EC Comics' Weird Fantasy title (as Stan or Don surely had), they'd know better.

In Gunsmoke Western #72, we find out "How Kid Colt Became an Outlaw." When that dirty no-good bow-legged son of a hoss Lash Larribee wants his way, he gets it. Lash has been terrorizing the ranch owners around Abiline, Wyoming (birthplace of Blaine "Kid" Colt), using strong arm tactics to get them to join his "Ranchers' Protective Association" (a western version of mob protection it seems). Only one rancher refuses Lash's offer: Blaine's father, Dan, a no-nonsense rancher who has only one Achille's Heel - Blaine refuses to wear a gun. Dan suspects the reason is Blaine lacks the mean streak required to carry a .45. The real reason is that Blaine can already draw faster than anyone but is worried his temper might cause him trouble were he to pack a six-shooter. Blaine's manhood is finally put to the test when Lash Larribee guns down Dan in the street and the Kid goes looking for revenge. He finds it and begins a long life of running from the law. I've not read every western comic written (yet) so I've only what I have read to compare this origin story to and I have to say it stands out. It pushes the buttons it's meant to and provides motivation for Kid's character. It's interesting that a stirring scene like the shooting of Dan Colt doesn't even happen "on-panel" but rather is referred to in the past when Blaine rides in to town looking for his father. Lee and Keller could have milked that panel for loads of pathos but chose, what I think is, the more dramatically satisfying route. Definitely one of the best Marvel western stories.

In a double-sized action-packed saga over in his own title, Kid Colt faces off against "The Circus of Crime" (Kid Colt Outlaw #106). Looking for a way out of another town out for his reward money, The Kid hides in a circus wagon, only to find out that the circus performers are all crooks. Populated by colorful characters with names like sword-throwin' Blade Benson, high-wire walker Mr. Marvel, the Tumbling Turners, and animal tamer Captain Corbett and his deadly bear Bonzo (!), the troop look like something more comfortable in the pages of Daredevil than Kid Colt Outlaw. The Kid once again saves the day by thwarting a bank robbery and then hightails it from the law.

Monday, June 27, 2011

August 1962: The Coming of Spider-Man and Thor!

Amazing Fantasy #15

Our Story

Peter Parker, the big brain of Midtown High, is ignored and mocked by everyone but his beloved Uncle Ben and Aunt May. The lonely teen attends a science lecture and is bitten by a radioactive spider. Feeling a bit queasy, he exits the auditorium and is almost run down by a group of joy-riding teenagers. To avoid becoming roadkill, Parker leaps high onto the side of a building. He soon learns that the dying spider had transferred its super power to the teen. The excited Peter Parker looks for ways to cash in on his new-found strength, finding it in a local wrestling match. A TV producer in the audience offers the youngster a shot at super-stardom and Peter gets to work on his costume, whipping up wrist bracelets that shoot liquid cement and a spider costume.

But the sudden fame goes right to the kid's head and the sweet wallflower becomes an arrogant jerk overnight, culminating in an incident in which he stands idly by as a crook is chased by a police officer. When the cop asks why Spider-Man took no action, the new hero claims he only looks out for Number One.

Then one night, after a show, Parker arrives at home to find that his Uncle Ben has been gunned down in a burglary and the killer is trapped in a local warehouse. Suiting up, Spider-Man heads to the warehouse and captures the killer, only to find that the man is the crook he let run by him earlier. It is then that Peter Parker learns that "with great power there must also come — great responsibility."

Peter Enfantino: Though condensed and hurried, this is perhaps the greatest origin story ever written for a Marvel character. It still dazzles all these years (and revisions) later. Ditko's art is perfect for the geeky Parker and would get even better over the next few years in the regular title. It's hard to picture this strip drawn by Jack Kirby, the artist originally slated for the title.

John Scoleri: Hang on a second—did I just read a Marvel Comic that didn't pull a giant monster out of its hat? While I agree Ditko does a masterful job with the Spider-Man costume right out of the gate, I found the sardonic grins of Aunt May and Uncle Ben are sporting in every panel they appear quite unsettling. You'd think the Joker snuck over from DC to gas the Parker household.

PE: An Amazing Fantasy #16 was planned (it would have featured the second adventure of The Amazing Spider-Man) but scrapped when the Spider-Man character drew so much fan mail and received its own title (to appear in March of 63). In 1995-96, Marvel published a mini-series of Amazing Fantasy issues #16-18 filling in "the blanks" between the events of Amazing Fantasy #15 and The Amazing Spider-Man #1. The three issues were written by, in my opinion, the best of the "new breed" of comic writers, Kurt Busiek, who seems to have read and ingested every comic book ever written. Busiek was also responsible for some of the best comic books published in the 1990s-2000s, including Marvels, a run on The Avengers, and his own creation, the Watchman-esque Astro City (which I liked much more than Watchmen, so sue me).

JS: Not to nit pick, Stan, but spiders are arachnids, not insects. And for the record, the remainder of the stories in this issue, "The Bell-Ringer," "Man in the Mummy Case," and "There are Martians Among Us!," are all standard Lee-Ditko filler. Which makes it all the more impressive that they came up with something so groundbreaking with Spider-Man, the first Marvel comic to receive our Golden Shield award for distinguished comic storytelling.

Journey Into Mystery #83

Our Story

Dr. Donald Blake, vacationing in Norway, is chased into a cave by aliens made of stone. There he finds a secret passageway containing a gnarled hunk of wood resembling the cane Blake must use to get around. When he strikes the wood against the cave wall, the cane becomes the hammer of Thor. When Blake holds the hammer, he becomes The God of Thunder. When he releases it, his frail human form (and the cane)  returns. The stone men are no match for the power of Thor and his whirling hammer and soon board their ship, scotching their plans for the domination of Earth.

JS: And just like that, we're right back to Lee/Kirby rock monsters from space. 

 PE: The first installment of Thor is barely a skeleton of a story, fragmented from other sources: the dynamic of the cane/hammer and Blake/Thor reminded me quite a bit of Captain Marvel (the 1940s version rather than the 60s Marvel hero) and the stone men are hardly more than sketches borrowed from an issue of Tales to Astonish or Tales of Suspense (or, for that matter, one of the back up sf stories included in Journey Into Mystery). It would be a few issues before the proper mythology we've come to know through the years would begin to peek through. We know nothing about Blake's life. Why is he so frail? Why is he vacationing alone and why does he look and sound so miserable? "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor" is an interesting inscription on the hammer itself. So, why is Don Blake worthy of the power? What is the definition of worthy? If Don Blake has the power of Thor, does the real Thor have to sit down and take a breather somewhere up in Asgard? Or does Blake physically become Thor? And if so, where does Donald Blake "go" when this transformation is complete? All complex questions for a 14 page story, I'll grant you, but the story would have evoked enough interest in me if I'd picked it up from the newsstand in 1962. I'd be back for installment two.

JS: Personally, I think Blake gets the costume and instant hair growth as he's infused with the spirit of Thor. Regardless (and not just because of the recent film), I must admit I'm anxious to learn more about this character that I have so little personal history with.

Jim Barwise: And we have the famous last panel which has “THORR” written with the two r’s. One of the things that makes the character in these early issues less defined than we expect of him is the lack of the Shakespearean dialogue we’d come to love (or maybe hate for some): “What sound doth now assail mine ears?” (one of my faves), etc.  Don Blake likewise transforms later on into a less frail character. The Stone Men look a little like distorted versions of the Thing with no pants on (the latter comment according to the astute eyes of my 6-year old son), but they succeed in the early going in being scary, pretty effective against the background of the Norwegian village. I don’t have an original of this one, so my reprint has the Stone Men as green on the cover; I don’t know if this was the case on the original? Maybe they stole the Hulk's initial skin.  Nice cover still.

Also this month

Kathy #18
Life with Millie #18
Patsy and Hedy #83
Patsy Walker #102
Rawhide Kid #29
Strange Tales #99
Tales of Suspense #32
Tales to Astonish #34

Science Fiction writer Paul Marshall discovers there is "A Monster at My Window!" (Tales to Astonish #34) after a night of nightmare-filled sleep. At first thinking it a hallucination form working too hard, Paul soon discovers that, yep, there's "A Monster at My Window!" The goliath breaks in the apartment and chases Paul to the roof. There, it tells him what it wants: the writer is to pen a series of adventures centering on friendly aliens. Once the world is infatuated with friendly critters from space, his planet (located in the "sixth dimension") will begin their invasion. Paul calmly tells the giant he has no problem writing the stories but the aliens will resemble, you guessed it, invaders from Paul's planet. Paul is a giant lobster from a far away star system (not the sixth dimension). This is one of those crazy little fillers where the second half of the story belies the first. Why would Paul spend the first six pages having nightmares about invasions and running from space versions of Tor Johnson if he was a deadly alien himself? Yep, you're right. It's just a Lee/Kirby comic book story. Enjoy it for what it is. #34 would be the final issue of Tales to Astonish in the anthology format (following in the footsteps of this month's Journey Into Mystery). A short story or two would still be featured in each issue but the bulk of the story pages will be given over to Marvel's tiniest superhero. If the science fiction/giant monster story wasn't exactly dead at Marvel yet, the Gamma Rays were aimed at its heart.

A barroom was probably where this silly slice of Cold War hysteria was crafted!
The next entry in the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby Commie Series is "The Day Before Doomsday" (Strange Tales #99), wild and wacky Republican  propaganda form the 1960s (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and pretty much assures me of one thing: distribution of Marvel Comics to the USSR was not high on Lee/Kirby's priority list. America's brainiest scientist, John Peterson, defects to Moscow to help the Russians win the Cold War by building the perfect defensive weapon: a dome completely covering the city (well, all but the missile windows). When the dome is complete, Peterson asks the Russians if he may push the button that launches the missiles at the US. The Commie crumbs laugh and put John on the first jet back to the US, tossing the scientist out of the plane to parachute back to a treason trial. Well, not so fast. As the countdown runs to 0 and the missile button is pushed, all of the United States (and the USSR as well) are amazed to see Moscow tear itself from its country and hurtle towards space. The crafty Peterson, working as an infiltrator for our diabolical military devised a way to make all of Moscow a rocket ship. The Pentagon boys have a larf as they note that "now the commie warlords will fly through space through all eternity!"

Well, "The Man in the Anthill" was a huge success, why not "The Man in the Beehive!"  (Tales of Suspense #32). The tale if Lucius Farnsworth, who has a way with the bees, it seems. His loving touch elicits not only barrels of honey (making him "the richest beekeeper in the state!") but waves of jealousy from his comrades-in-hives. One B-man in particular has had his fill of failure and decides to rob Farnsworth's home safe. Caught in the act by Farnsworth, the nebbish finally finds out the true secret of The #1 Beekeeper in the State: hypnotism! Turns out Farnsworth is a mutant and his specialty is shrinking humans to the size of bees (he never does explain why the bees would like him more when he's their size but no matter...), which he demonstrates. Life in a beehive is hell for a human. Kirby and Ayers provide the art.

Kirby and Ayers also provide the fireworks for "The Trail of Apache Joe" (Rawhide Kid #29). Rawhide is promised a pardon by a dying sheriff (pay attention that "dying" part as Rawhide shore didn't) if he'll track down and bring in the mangy varmint known as Apache Joe (who doesn't appear to be an Indian, by the way). Our second most popular Marvel outlaw nabs Joe and heads back to town only to find the sheriff has died and a new lawman in office, one who doesn't cotton to deals with alleged killers. Rawhide Kid just gets out of town with his hide intact.

Friday, June 24, 2011

July 1962: Doom!

Fantastic Four #5

Our story

The Fantastic Four are trapped in their high-rise building by the evil Doctor Victor Von Doom, a dabbler in black magic and a college alum of Reed's. In a very brief origin flashback Reed relates how Von Doom took his sorcery experiments one step too far and was rewarded with a face full of explosion. Cast out of college, Von Doom roams the world for ancient rites he can use to rule the earth. Von Doom has created a Time Travel machine and blackmails Reed, Johnny and The Thing into visiting the past by holding Sue hostage. His goal: to have the Thrilling Three steal Blackbeard's pirate treasure and bring it back to him.

Once in the past, the trio steal pirate clothing and head for a pub, where they're drugged and stashed onto a pirate ship as slaves. Obviously, no one notices that the big guy with the eye patch and beard happens to be orange but once on board the three are not shy to show off their talents. Coincidentally, their ship is soon attacked by a ship filled with pirate booty. When the three and their new crew board the ship, they soon discover through some goofy time/space continuum tweak (or whatever) that The Thing is actually Blackbeard and that, if they'd not traveled into the past, there would not have been a Blackbeard (Oy, my head hurts!).

It's time to head back home but Ben gets a head full of "I'm a legend" and decides to stay in the past to fulfill his destiny as the world's greatest pirate. Thankfully for the history of comics, a twister comes along and destroys both the ship and The Thing's dreams of glory and fame. Once back, they tangle with Doom, who flies away thanks to a concealed rocket harness.

Peter Enfantino: The Fantastic Four's most identifiable super-villain, a character so popular that he, much like villains like The Kingpin and The Scorpion, would have identical popularity in other Marvel comics. Doom would become a pain in the side for Thor later in the decade and would, along with Sub-Mariner, co-headline his own comic, Super-Villain Team-Up (which survived for 17 issues in 1975-80). Not a great first entry though. He's just an outline and bookends for a silly pirate story. Doom would be involved in many classic stories in the future.

John Scoleri: How is it that Stan and Jack came up with an interesting character like Doom (even spending the time to establish his elaborate backstory), and then fail to utilize him? Or worse yet, they establish that he has the skill to create a time machine, and yet, despite having an army of robotic servants, he can't use it himself.

PE: I wish I had a dime for every time Reed Richards has said "This could very well be the most dangerous foe we've encountered." I picture a wall at The Baxter Building where all the foes are ranked. One issue very soon, Reed will exclaim "Ah yes, The Moleman ... the third most dangerous foe we've ever fought."

JS: I don't know how anyone reading this book wouldn't have thought they jumped the shark with this issue. Here we are, back in jolly old pirate times in our contemporary costumes. Wait, here's a pirate costume for The Thing. And a wig and fake beard. And an eye-patch. Doom transported them back in time right behind a costume shop? Not that anyone would ever suspect a well costumed orange rock-pirate.

PE: No Kirby giant monsters in sight. First time for that. As reader Alan Carlson correctly notes on the Fan Page in FF #7, there's no way that the clothes stolen by Reed Richards could be made from unstable molecules, so how is it he's able to stretch and not have an embarrassing RRRRIP appear across the panel?

JS: Hang on there - what about the gratuitous Hulk plug? That has to count for something.

PE: Famous fans Roy Thomas and Ronn Foss contribute letters to the Fan Page this issue. Foss was one of the early "super-fans" in comicdom of the 1960s as was Thomas. Of course, Thomas was one of the first fans to "crossover," first writing for many of the titles and later becoming the first editor-in-chief to follow Stan Lee.

Incredible Hulk #2

Our Story

The Hulk returns and is now the green color we all know and love. The evil Toad Men are monitoring earth with their superior alien technology. They decide to kidnap Bruce Banner, because he is the smartest person on the planet, in order to get him to reveal just what we earthlings are holding in the technological department. They also kidnap Rick Jones but dump him like a bad habit when they realize he's just a dumb teenager. While hostage, Banner turns into the Hulk, with the Jade Giant getting a hold of the Toad Men's laser gun. The Hulk blasts them away then deviously comes to the conclusion that he can use these creeps' gadgets to wipe out mankind! His scheme doesn't get too far, however, as the U.S. Military gets its act together and blows the ship to the ground. Poor Bruce Banner is found in the wreckage where he is then arrested and branded a traitor. There's a lot going on for just a single issue. Bruce turns back into the Hulk, kidnaps Betty and holds her hostage. Finally, when the Toadster's fleet of ships are about to attack earth, the Hulk turns back to Bruce Banner, after an alien induced tremor, and gets out the ol' gamma ray gun. He zaps the alien armada so that they careen out of control, into a space-less void with no way to return (unfortunately, this was not the last of the Toad Men). Bruce is regaled as a hero while General Ross still can't shake that sinking feeling that Banner and the Hulk might somehow be "connected." The issue ends with the Hulk being shown in an underground chamber, beneath the sea, where he is incarcerated at nighttime when Bruce transforms. I tell ya, that Bruce Banner thinks of everything.

Tom McMillion: Just take a look at that awesome cover for the Hulk's second issue. It's like something from The Outer Limits! Either that or a sci-fi B-movie.

JS: Toad Men—or Skrulls in disguise! Their plan sounds awfully familiar...

PE: Astonishing that aliens millions of miles from earth look like toads and, more astonishingly, call themselves the Toad Men. Is there a universal language?

JS: Can the professor of Physics please explain to me why magnetic ray guns would have such a profound effect on human bodies?

PE: And then he can explain to me how such a weakling managed to get such heavy equipment down into that cave under the sea.

JS: My favorite bit is when Bruce is looking out the spaceship window, the entire Earth in view, and he is able to tell that Rick Jones landed safely!

PE: I'm not an expert on comic artists. Far from it. At times, I wouldn't be able to point out the difference between a Todd McFarlane and a Bernie Wrightson. Well, okay, that's a bad example. There's a reason I can't tell the difference. Anyway, I swear that several panels this issue look like Steve Ditko's art. Tell me I'm not crazy. Sure don't look like the typical Kirby job.

Jack: It is Ditko. He supposedly inked over Kirby's layouts, but I'm hard pressed to see much Kirby here, beyond possibly some basic sketching underneath.

PE: Ah, good catch, Professor Jack.

JS: So would Bruce Banner have been able to fly the spaceship, or is that one of the other special powers he gains when he becomes the Hulk. Good thing that getting away from the Earth substitutes for it being nighttime, or Hulk-time.
Kirby? Or Ditko?

JS: Talk about dumb luck. If not for the earthquake knocking her unconscious, Betty would have been on to Banner's secret in issue #2!

PE: Speaking of dumb, when do these Marvel women start doing anything but sighing and fainting?

Jack: Does anyone else think General Ross later got a dishonorable discharge and took a job editing a certain Daily Bugle?

Also this month

Amazing Adult Fantasy #14
Gunsmoke Western #71
Journey Into Mystery #82
Kid Colt Outlaw #105
Linda Carter, Student Nurse #6
Love Romances #100
Millie the Model #109
Strange Tales #98
Tales of Suspense #31
Tales to Astonish #33


Atomic scientist Brad Carter absorbs radioactivity through his years of exposure and later passes his radiated DNA on to his son, Tad. The social outcast and Peter Parker twin soon learns he can read thoughts, move objects with his mind and, ultimately, fly. Spurned by the human race as a freak, he is telepathically contacted by a mysterious voice who assures Tad that he is not alone, that there are other "mutants" in the world and that they are banding together to wait for the day that mankind is adult enough to accept mutants. I'd never heard of this story until, after reading it for the first time recently, I did some Google research and found that "The Man in the Sky" (Amazing Adult Fantasy #14) is now widely accepted (and also dismissed) as the first Marvel mutant story. It does certainly seem to be Stan Lee's warm-up to The X-Men (which would not appear for another fourteen months). It's interesting then that Jack Kirby took the reins on art for the X title rather than Ditko but I assume that Ditko, by mid-1963, had his brushes full of The Amazing Spider-Man and Dr. Strange and couldn't spare the time. Even without the historical aspects, this is a very good story and ends on an ambiguous finale, rare for a story of this type. Will the band of mutants stay in hiding for years until they're welcomed by the human race or tire of the prejudice and turn to the "dark side" as the classic X-Men villain, Magneto, would later do.
As mentioned previously, this would be the final issue with the "Adult" tag as next issue jettisons the Peter Parker lookalikes and presents the first story of the real McCoy.

Another of my childhood favorites, due to its reprinting in the 1970s version of Journey Into Mystery (Vol. 2 No. 7, October 1973), "The Scorpion Strikes" is one of those glorious "Check your brain at the door or you'll be sorry" Lee/Kirby stories that, no matter how inane, can be nothing but enjoyable. Exposed to "Delta particles" in a standard Marvel laboratory, a scorpion grows to hundreds of times its size, but that's not all. He also sports fangs, grows bloodshot eyes and masters telepathy. He terrorizes the small base but before he can expand his plot for world scorpion domination, by exposing his scorpion buddies to the same shower he got, he's foiled by a hypnotist. This must be what Stan Lee was talking about when referring to comic books that are aimed at a 6 year-old audience but that was alright with a pre-teen Peter Enfantino.
In the same issue we find the always-stellar Gene Colan contributing beautiful art to one of the best of the early 1960s "horror" comic stories, "I Am the Prisoner of The Voodoo King." Its an old, oft-told tale (the con artist who attempts to rip off the natives but ends up paying for his idiocy) but with enough flair to make it seem almost original. And then, of course, there's Mr. Colan and his creepy shades. Hinting at what he'd give us in a few years during his epic Marvel runs, first on Daredevil and then later, more importantly on his 70-issue run of Tomb of Dracula. In the early 1980s, Colan would re-team with his Dracula writer Marv Wolfman for the DC horror/espionage winner, Night Force. This would be the final issue of Journey Into Mystery in this format. Beginning with the next issue, the short story would take a back seat (literally) to a certain Asgardian Thunder God.

An interesting thing happens to Kid Colt, Outlaw when he faces "The Rage of Billy the Kid" (Gunsmoke Western #71): he lives up to his reputation. When a small town sheriff gets the drop on Colt, he's headed for jail until the duo run afoul of Billy the Kid in the act of robbing a train. The sheriff is no match for Billy the Kid and Colt is freed by the legendary outlaw. Kid Colt rides away but rejoins Billy when it's revealed that the train is loaded with armed gunmen. Feeling obliged to Billy for freeing him, Colt takes part in the shootout but is quick to note in a thought balloon that he "...ain't aimin' to hurt anyone..." The entire army would be no match for The Two Kids and they soon stand triumphant. Billy's plan for killing the sheriff rubs Colt the wrong way and the two outlaws soon part on less than friendly terms. Kid Colt has always stood quite firmly on the side of Truth, Justice, and The American Way, despite his undeserved outlaw rep. This story sees the Kid step into a gray area, one I didn't think Stan Lee would visit. After shoving a gun in a sheriff's back, Kid Colt really is an outlaw. It's too bad the western comics didn't have letters pages in the early 1960s as I'd like to see what readers at the time thought of the startling event. I'm sure Stan would wave it off and explain that in the end Colt saved the sheriff so the good evens, if not outweighs, the bad. I think it's a great story, a darker Kid Colt than usual, but I wouldn't buy that good/bad excuse for a second.

Riding into a town that he isn't wanted in is one of Kid Colt's favorite pasttimes. In "The Menace of The Mask Maker" (Kid Colt Outlaw #105), The Kid puts his boots up on a table, has a nice meal, then decides to take a nap in a nice room. Unknown to him, there are two shady characters witnessing his blissful peace of mind, one of whom just happens to own a mask making shop. - Let me call time out here for a moment and break the fourth wall as it were. Why in the name of hell would someone open a mask shop in the old west? How would that brainless hombre then make a living? Be that as it may - This guy's so good at making a mask, he disguises himself as Kid Colt and robs the innkeeper of his loot. Colt barely escapes the hand of the law when it comes to the door of his room. Hightailin' it past the mask shop, he spies the owner inside counting his loot. We cut to the mask maker and his cohort on the edge of town, arguing over the division of the money. The partner pulls a gun and slips off his mask to reveal Kid Colt! The Kid confesses that after the maskman left his office, the outlaw slipped in and made a Second Banana disguise to get the drop on the bad man. Today, it would all have been done with CGI.

An alien appears before the U.N., telling the world it's on the verge of a conquest by a race of barbarians. The warriors offer only one chance: if the Earth can offer up a human who can beat the alien in any kind of competition, the invasion will be called off and the Earth will be safe. The giant claims "No Human Can Beat Me!" (Strange Tales #98). The world's nations, now truly united, offer up their strongest, their smartest, their longest-lasting, only to be beaten in every contest. It's up to Frank Taylor, henpecked and unloved by his wife, to outsmart the creature. Taylor challenges the creature to outlast him in a sleeping competition. Ostensibly, Frank can now go home to a loving wife. Jack Kirby's warrior looks very much like one of the characters from his "New Gods" Universe that would explode for DC in the 1970s.

Feeling washed-up and unloved, stage actor Victor Marshall prepares to put all his memorabilia into "Dead Storage" (Tales to Astonish #33) but inadvertently reads the address wrong, ending up at 911 Elm Street rather than 116. This ends up being one small slip for Victor but a giant bullet dodged for the world. We find out that 911 Elm Street is actually a cleverly disguised spaceship housing the small party of aliens sent to Earth to scout before an invasion (stop me if you've heard this one a few times in the last couple months). Seizing the opportunity for one last great role, Victor ambushes one of the aliens, delves into his magic make-up kit among his storage boxes, and disguises himself up as the dead alien space invader. If "Dead Storage" was set in the old west, I'd venture a guess that Victor and Kid Colt did their shopping at the same mercantile. As it is, the thespian's ruse comes off without a hitch. He convinces the aliens that Earth is a dying world and has a very contagious disease. The aliens spend little time folding up their lawn chairs and picnic tables and are millions of miles away before Victor can even doff his Kirby-esque alien mask.

A "far, distant planet" decides it wants to conquer Earth (it will have to stand in line, judging by the last few issues of the sf titles) and sends "The Monster in the Iron Mask" (Tales of Suspense #31) to "soften up" the earthlings. When the ship lands, the alien is discovered by the young son of a magician. The creature tells the boy he's there to lay waste to man and he's unstoppable but adds a disclaimer: "My only weak spot is that I must breathe even as you do! That is why I wear this air-tight IRON MASK, so that you cannot defeat me with poison gases or any deadly fumes." The best defense is always to tell your foe what your Achille's Heel is. And that's what this big galoot hopes for. Guns, tanks, even nuclear bombs don't work against the giant. Lucky for us, we've got magicians as little Bobby's dad suddenly hits on the monster's strategy: "tell the puny earthlings that gas won't stop me so they'll won't use it against me." When the magician alerts the military, they gas the alien and send him on his way back to space. The alien (think Robot Monster with a Dr. Doom mask) is not one of Jack Kirby's shining moments but that's alright as it seems Stan is on cruise control here as well. They can't all be "I Created Sporr, the Thing That Could Not Die!"
Separated at birth?