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?


  1. Am I the only one that is getting annoyed at how they use an exclamation mark after every sentence in these comics? What, did the 'period' not work on the printing presses back then?

  2. That exclamation mark is pretty annoying Tom!!! Ooops, sorry. Villans like Dr. Doom, and many others in their first introductions were almost too big to handle, as you point put John. Yet Stan and crew hit something right; a lot of these villians are still with us today. Poor world!
    I remember reading Tales To Astonish, the book by Ronin Ro about the Stan Lee/Jack KIrby, Marvel days. There seemed to be lots of controversy about who wrote what, etc. It may be a case of so what; Lee, Kirby, Ditko,etc. all seem to be recognized over time as the greats they were.

  3. Gene Colan was second only to Jack Kirby as my favourite comic book artist when I was growing up.

  4. Believe it or not, if memory serves me correctly, Tom's tongue-in-cheek answer to the exclamation-point question is substantially correct. I'd always been piqued by the overuse of EPs, and am pretty sure that the matter was addressed in an early '70s Marvel lettercol, where they explained that the periods didn't always print well enough to be seen, so they used the EP just to make sure SOMETHING showed up. Anybody else remember that, or did I just hallucinate the whole thing? (Could I really have made that up?)