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.


  1. Interesting to see where the Marvel villians first appeared. I know The Ringmaster from Thor later on (#145-6); I didn't realize that the The Incredible Hulk #3 was his first appearance.

    1. A villain called the Ringmaster was used by Kirby & Simon in one of their Captain America stories circa 1941 or '42, and looked pretty much like the Silver Age Ringmaster. Much later, it was retconned that the Golden Age Ringmaster was the father of the later one. By now, tho', I suppose they'll have to make the elder one the current one's grandfather.

  2. What's the deal with the evil circuses? In the same month we've got The Hulk and Kid Colt locking horns with them? Sadly, given the wimpy era, I'm guessing Colt didn't do anything cool like mow down the criminal Ringling Bros. with a Gatling gun.