Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Sophomore Slump: December 1961

 This month

Amazing Adult Fantasy #7
Journey Into Mystery #75
Kathy #14
Life With Millie #14
Patsy and Hedy #79
Patsy Walker #98
Rawhide Kid #25
Strange Tales #91
Tales of Suspense #24
Tales to Astonish #26


Baby-faced bad guy Joe Phelps is tired of being laughed at by prospective victims so he decides to find a fright mask to carry him over. He blunders into an old man’s shop and finds “The Mask of Morgumm” (Strange Tales #91), in all its wicked glory. The shop keeper pleads with Joe to select a different mask (“No, I couldn’t sell it! It’s different from the other masks”), but the thief is determined to make the grisly face his own. He beats the the man unconscious, steals the mask, and successfully robs a jewelry store. It’s only after escaping and unmasking that he realizes the man was right: it’s a different kind of mask. A few years later, a similar fate would befall the greedy relatives in The Twilight Zone’s “The Masks” (and, no, I don’t think Rod Serling stole his climax from “The Mask of Murgumm”). Don Heck’s art is unexciting but not horrendous. The story could use a bit of expansion (Where did the shopkeeper get the mask? What is its history? Is the mask sentient? How did the cops get to the scene of the crime so fast?) but it’s a fast read.

“The Magic of Mordoo” (Journey Into Mystery #75) is a fast read as well. It’s not a very good read though and the art would be barely passable for grade school, let alone a published comic book. Paul Reinman, who has done much better, provides the art for this story of a middle-aged man who meets a middle-aged woman while vacationing in the Bavarian Alps (why a man would vacation for two months alone in the Alps is a Journey Into Mystery itself). Franz Kopnik overhears villagers speaking of the sinister magic of Mordoo while making his way to his resort. It’s at the resort where he meets widow Katrina Steuben and falls deeply in love with her. There’s only one problem: she’s old and she looks it. Not one to be sidelined by minor details, Franz talks Katrina into enlisting Mordoo for a quick magic makeover. After insisting that there’s always bad after effects to his magic, Mordoo transforms Katrina into a 19-year old girl. Rebuffing Franz for being an old goat, the newly minted teen takes Mordoo and walks off into the sunset. Though I didn’t think much of “Mordoo,” I have to note that, unlike most EC Comics, Franz isn’t after a quick fortune, which is a refreshing change. He seems to be genuinely in love with Katrina, albeit with a few not-unreasonable requests for upkeep.

Jack Kirby returns for “Look Out!! Here Come the Four-Armed Men!” (Tales to Astonish #26). Explorer William Cartwright stumbles upon ancient jungle ruins that house a secret passageway that leads down into the lair of the four-armed men, a group of aliens watching our civilization, readying for the day they can take over Earth (considering all the damage we’d done to our world even at this point fifty years ago, the question has to be raised: why do all these aliens want to conquer Earth?). Using his elevated IQ, a book of matches and some handy methane gas, Cartwright manages to escape back to the real world. Once back at his mansion, he is stricken with a strange disease (which isn’t explained) and bedridden. He hires a bodyguard and a nurse and soon finds he needs one because of the other.

After suffering through three weak “tales of suspense,” we are treated to a nice art job by Steve Ditko in “Long Live the King!” (Tales of Suspense #24). Queen Sari has recently lost her beloved husband, King Kim, and realizes she must pick a husband to help rule her kingdom. Her unfortunate choice is Prince Rujak (I hasten to add that Prince Rujak is not Sari’s son), who quickly lays waste to Sari’s vast fortune and plots the queen’s death. Luckily, Sari has a guardian angel watching her and Rujak gets what’s coming to him. A well-told story all around.


"Why Won't They Believe Me?" (Amazing Adult Fantasy #7) is a fun little take on The Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Our hero discovers the wreckage of a space ship, empty save for a ship's log. The log reveals that the rocket's pilot was told by his bosses back home to transform himself into a human and assimilate himself into our society. It's not known why they want to do this other than a quick comment from the pilot that Earth's inhabitants have no idea that "their days are numbered." Realizing that the alien has already made his way into our world, our hero tries, without success, to convince anyone and everyone that there is a monster in our midst. At last his story is heard by the sympathetic Dr. Crater, who reveals that only one being could have read the hieroglyphics that make up the ship's report and that's the pilot himself. With a heavy sigh and an "Aaargh," the monster shakes his temporary amnesia (caused by the crash landing, according to Dr. Crater) and proclaims to the sky that he must be the galaxy's worst spy, catching himself! Another fine Ditko art job and a genuine surprise ending (to me, at least!) elevate this into the top ranks of the 1960s Marvel Monster stories.

"Your bedroll or mine, hombre?
The Rawhide Kid can't seem to get any respect when he rides into a town wishing only to make a deposit in the local bank in "The Bat Strikes!". Fearing the Kid is the fearsome masked bank-robber known as "The Bat," (The Rawhide Kid #25) the town's people give him a wide berth. The Kid, determined to clear his name, sticks around long enough to foil The Bat's latest robbery. When the Kid chases the outlaw out of town, The Bat is attacked by a mountain lion and falls off a cliff. Unmasked, The Bat is actually the bank owner, who'd been losing money and was stealing to cover its losses. The Rawhide Kid, like his fellow Marvel cowboys, was saddled with one really big problem: according to the Comics Code, he couldn't actually shoot anyone. So, you'd get panel after panel of showdowns that don't actually go anywhere or hats shot from their perches. Years later, of course, The Rawhide Kid would become Marvel's answer to Brokeback Mountain.

FRIDAY: Fantastic Four #2

1 comment:

  1. It looks like FF #1 was an anomaly and Marvel was barely hanging on as of Dec. 1961. I bet the explosion that soon occurred was quite a surprise!