Wednesday, July 6, 2011

December 1962: The End of the Fantastic Four?

Fantastic Four #9

Our Story

The Fantastic Four are broke! Proving that crime indeed does not pay (nor does crime-fighting), the FF must declare bankruptcy and dissolve the group. This meets with the approval of Namor, who sets himself up as a Hollywood studio honcho (with the imaginative moniker of S.M Studios) and offers one million dollars to the Four to come out to L.A. to make a picture. Unaware that Namor is behind this charade, the FF hitch a ride to Southern Cali, where they soon learn the true identity of the man who's bailing them out. Destitute, they accept the offer anyway and get to work on their acting skills. Meanwhile, Sue Storm continues her flirtation with the Prince of the Sea. She allows that Namor fascinates her in an odd way and that's just fine with him. Shooting begins on the epic and before too long, the team realize that this isn't just a movie, it's Revenge Time starring Sub-Mariner! The crew travel to "Hidden Isle" and there Reed must fight a Cyclops, Johnny is attacked by asbestos natives, and Ben is struck by lightning just as Namor delivers a hammering blow. Only Gullible Sue Storm is left standing.
It is then that Namor reveals to Sue why he became a force to reckon with in Hollywood: he thought if he defeated Sue's partners, she'd be impressed and marry him. What a dope! In the end, The Invisible Girl forces Namor to fight her and she's saved in the end by the returning Three. Enraged by the Sub-Mariner's deceit (and the absence of a catering wagon), Reed, Johnny, and Ben are about to pummel the Fish-Man when Sue steps in front and delivers a passionate, if a bit misguided and forgetful, speech about fair play when dealing with deadly foes.

PE: The third appearance of Namor over the course of five issues. Yet another threatened disbanding of the group. The House Of Ideas had no foundation yet. This is like one of those stories DC cranked out in the sixties that I hated so much: "Robin Dies at Dawn"; "Jimmy Olson: Werewolf," etc. Make-Believe stories filled with inanity and childishness. I prefer my tales of elastic men to be a bit

John Scoleri: It didn't get off to a good start, considering the premise, but once we saw Reed flattened Silly Putty-style, I pretty much knew this was going to be an issue best quickly forgotten.

PE: So, let's get this straight. Namor is making the picture. He never films anything. He gets sent back to the sea with his fins between his legs. The movie comes out and is a massive hit.

JS: Frankly I'd rather watch the Roger Corman Fantastic Four film than Namor's. They keep mentioning how he's working without a script, but the best I can tell, the FF never share any screen time.

PE: On the Fan Page, we get letters from Buddy Saunders of Arlington, Texas, who would go on to open up the Lone Star mega-stores and mail order business, and a missive from Paul Gambaccini, who may or may not be the same P.G. who later went on to a big-time career as a Rolling Stone correspondent and BBC radio fixture. I've got a feeling this was him.

JS: Kirby still has a tendency to go wonky with anatomy. From one panel to the next, both Sue and Namor's foreheads extend to fiveheads.

PE: This one ranks right up (or down) there for me with the Ant-Man stories in stupidity.

Journey Into Mystery #87

Our Story

After five top scientists have inexplicably defected to the Russians, Dr. Don Blake volunteers to set himself up as a decoy to be kidnapped as well, pretending he’s invented a weapon for biological warfare. Of course he really just wants Thor to have the chance to set things right. Naturally the plan works, and a man posing as a photographer, who is really an agent from behind the Iron Curtain, uses gas to render the good doctor unconscious. When he awakes in a cell with the other scientists, they reveal that they were all kidnapped for their scientific genius, forced to leave goodbye notes to make them look like traitors. When the Red agents decide to separate the prisoners, Blake takes advantage of the opportunity to turn into Thor. He fights off some man-eating sharks in a water trap, before surrendering when the soldiers threaten the life of the other scientists. Forced to put down his hammer, and bound by electronic chains, Thor is left alone by his captors. In sixty seconds he turns back to Don Blake, unknown to the Reds, and he first frees the American prisoners, then uses the power of the storm to destroy the enemy fortress. With the aid of some underground freedom fighters, Dr. Blake and his peers return to the U.S. by boat.

Peter Enfantino: Seems a bit silly that the Mighty Thor, God of Thunder would have to invent a cover story so he would be captured by the scum commies as Dr. Don Blake, and isn't it something that a guy who's spent most of his time in Asgard knows that the Russians are really bad guys? Why not fly over and bust some heads as The Son of Odin? And would the military really let a lame doctor risk his life in such a way?

JS: I think they figured: what's the risk. If it fails, we lose a lame Doc.

PE: "I really have to change into Thor, but if I do these men will see me" (scratches his head) "How can I prevail?" Just then the Red Bastards come into the cell "All right, Amerikinski swine, time to separate you. Ve know there is strength in numbers so ve haff vays of breaking your vill." Coincidence, Marvel style.

JB: And of course they leave him alone again after he’s chained up, to change back into Blake! After dealing with the Executioner a couple of issues back, you’d think an ocean cruise would be the last thing Don Blake would want- might be some left over missiles.

JS: I liked the ever so convincing notes the scientists left behind. They showed more enthusiasm for the Reds than fans in Cincinnati do. Maybe Stan was just having an off month...

JB: Fortunately there weren’t too many more of these anti-Communist stories from Thor.

Tales to Astonish #38

Our Story

Since Ant-Man came on the scene, it's been "slim pickin's" for the underworld. A bad guy can't get a break in Henry Pym's town. Now the mafioso want to do something about it. They hire a disgraced government scientist nicknamed "Egghead" (because his head looks like an egg in case you're wondering), who does egg-sactly what the bad boys want him to do: turn Ant-Man's insect army against him by way of an ingenious transmitter that allows the mad scientist to converse with the ants just as Pym does. Egghead attempts to trap Ant-Man with flypaper but the miniature hero is just too smart for him and the poor misunderstood Ovalhead ends up in a flophouse wanted by police, the mob, and IHOP.

PE: Those ants are soooo intelligent that Egghead is able to give them explicit instructions to carry out and they don't even ask for a repeat. I wouldn't be able to remember all this: "Listen carefully to my instructions...tell the Ant-Man that thieves are planning to steal the Wentworth necklace from the museum Thursday night! There will be lookouts posted to warn them of the police! Only the Ant-Man can get past the lookouts and capture the thieves red-handed! When the Ant-Man falls for the bait, lead him to the museum...have him enter through an open window where I shall be waiting for him...waiting with flypaper!!" Of course Egghead is able to translate that simply into "Bzzzz Bzzzz Bzzzz."

JS: I'm beginning to think that William Dozier chose December of 1962 to pick up comic books, and was inspired to buy the rights to some character to do a campy TV series. For reasons unknown, he wasn't able to land the rights to FF, Thor, or Ant-Man, so he went across the street and ended up with Batman.

PE: Much like the many manifestations of Ben Grimm's orange rocky/mushy skin, Egghead's head changes shape form panel to panel, sometimes seeming just a bit too big (and resembling The Kingpin) and at other times looking just like Humpty Dumpty as played by Werner Klemperer.

JS: Seriously, Stan and Jack seemed to be scraping the bottom of the barrel. Another uninspired tale of the Ant-Man.

Strange Tales #103

Our Story

Developers are having problems, with every house they build in a swamp sinking all the way underneath the ground. A crazy old coot keeps appearing to tell them that it's the work of Swamp Demons. Do-gooder Torch decides to investigate with the encouragement of Reed Richards. Hiding out in the swamp during the middle of the night it is revealed that aliens are zapping under the foundations of the houses causing them to sink. The old coot himself turns out to be an alien in disguise. Tough guy Johnny decides to take them on and gets his fool self kidnapped and transported to the planet of the 5th dimension (snicker).

Held captive, it is revealed to Storm that the aliens were planning an invasion and the only place that their technology would allow them to transport them was where the houses were being built in the swamps! With the help of a hot alien chick, Johnny Storm leads a revolt against the would-be invaders. After he gets back home, The Torch has trouble concentrating on his studies, fantasizing about the hot alien chick.

TM: Johnny Storm stars in his third adventure, which by this time, it's pretty obvious the folks at Marvel were trying to duplicate the popularity of its Spider-Man comics. What with the Torch being in school along with having a secret identity, the two heroes might as well have been college roommates. Are the exciting Torch adventures able to compare with ol' Web Head's? Well, let's just say Johnny Storm and his 'Strange Tales,' couldn't hold a "Flame On!" to Peter Parker's stories of adventure. Still, there is some fun to be had in this old-school comic. The plot, (hooo-boy) basically involves the problem.

JS: Hard to believe the same guy was plotting these who would go to such greater success with Spider-Man. Perhaps it's because his power is in fact fantastic that it's hard to relate to the character the way more readers could identify with Peter Parker.

Peter Enfantino: When Johnny calls Reed on the Fantastic-phone, Mr. Fantastic tells him that there is no natural reason for the sinkings but that The Torch will have investigate on his own as the rest of The Fantastic Four are "busy with another case." I'd have liked to see some of these cases the Three solved without Johnny while the teenager flew solo in Strange Tales. Or Stan could have put out yet another spin-off, The Thrilling Three.

TM: While this story was a little painful to get through at times, it wasn't too bad. I'm surprised they don't remake it into a ten issue mini-series. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but there were a lot of similarities between this issue and Strange Tales #101. Commies at carnivals or aliens in swamps. Take your pick. Both featured our hero battling scummy, sub-human antagonists, set at dirty, abnormal locations.

PE: Sounds like writer Larry Lieber was ducking into big brother Stan's science book. Electro-Gamma Waves? Anti-Matter Electrons? 

JS: I knew Reed made the FF's costumes/uniforms out of unstable molecules, but I hadn't realized he had a whole clothing line designed to ensure Johnny could 'Flame On' whenever needed.

Jack: This looks like the first month that Marvel started running credits for inker, letterer, etc.  We now learn that Dick Ayers was the most hard-working man in NYC, inking Kirby's pages, and that Stan's brother Larry got into the family business.  I think the listing of the credits was the first sign of a connection between the creators and the readers that would help Marvel take off like crazy in the following years.

PE: I think Stan took one look at this script and said "Uh, let's start giving credit where credit's due!"

Also this month

Kathy #20
Life with Millie #20
Patsy and Hedy #85
Patsy Walker #104
Rawhide Kid #31
Tales of Suspense #36

Sylvester Meek is tired of being poor, with only the love of his girlfriend Daisy to keep him going. But he wants enough in the bank account to support her before he proposes. One day, into his used bookstore comes a man selling books, including a book on magic potions. His eyes seeing dollar signs, Sylvester whips up the formula for The Midas Touch and becomes a walking pariah. Everything Sylvester touches turns to gold including his food, the people he touches, buildings, everything (except the buzzer on his best friend’s door for some reason). With suicide the only solution, Mr. Meek finally turns to his friend Ralph, “A young scientist” who had scoffed at Meek’s initial query concerning the Midas formula. Leave it to young Marvel scientists to save the day, this time with one of the most outlandish expositories yet in a Marvel sf tale (and that’s saying something if you’ve been paying attention). What starts out as an interesting “Be careful what you wish for” morality tale turns into a laughfest. “Meet Mr. Meek, the Most Dangerous Man in the World” (Tales of Suspense #36) was written by Stan Lee and his brother, Larry Leiber and drawn by Don Heck (not one of his better art jobs).
The Rawhide Kid comes to the aid of some helpless ranchers in “Shoot-Out with Rock Rorick” (The Rawhide Kid #31) when the vicious title varmint forces them to sell their land to him. The Kid, tired of the bullying confronts Rorick and convinces him to sell the land back to the ranchers in a method that would have made Luca Brasi proud. It’s strange to say that an artist who had been the biz for 20 years by this time was just starting to find his groove, but it’s true about Jack Kirby in 1962. He was starting to fire on all cylinders, even in the clich├ęd western jobs he was given to illustrate. The only gripe I have with his portrayal of The Rawhide Kid is that it seems as though The Kid is always standing straight up as if he has a back brace on. I’d love to see some sales figures on these Marvel western titles. They couldn’t have been stellar (unless you compare them to sales figures for today’s Marvel titles) and yet the Marvel westerns continued to limp along well into the 1970s (albeit on a steady diet of reprints).

1962:  A Year-End Overview

The Marvel super-hero revival began with Fantastic Four, issued with a November 1961 cover date and a 10 cent price tag.  In that month, 10 other Marvel titles appeared, a mix of western, horror/science fiction, romance, and humor titles.

The Fantastic Four continued as the sole super-hero book for six months, appearing bi-monthly until it was joined by The Incredible Hulk, the first issue of which had a cover date of May 1962.  In the meantime, the price had begun to switch to 12 cents in January 1962 with a few books, and all books dated February 1962 were 12 cents a copy.

The Sub-Mariner joined the Torch in the Golden Age revival parade in Fantastic Four #4 (May 1962).  FF and Hulk stayed bi-monthly through the July 1962 issues, meaning that there were still only two super-hero books (and ten non super-hero books) that month.

August 1962 featured the first appearance of Spider-Man (Amazing Fantasy 15) and Thor (Journey into Mystery 83), with the non super-hero books dwindling to eight.  The super-hero explosion occurred in books dated September 1962, which probably corresponded to the start of summer on the newsstands.  FF 6, Hulk 3, Thor 84, and Ant Man's first series appearance (Tales to Astonish 35) meant that four super-hero books came out that month.  Thor was the first to be a monthly title, having taken over the lead spot in Journey into Mystery the month before; Ant Man and FF also became monthly titles.

In October 1962, the Human Torch took the lead spot in Strange Tales (101), making 4 monthly super-hero titles among the 10 books issued.  This was how it stood at the end of 1962--FF, Thor, Ant Man and the Torch coming out every month, with Hulk still bi-monthly and only six non super-hero titles.  The Marvel super-hero revival was catching on!


  1. Extra credit questions for students paying attention:

    1) Did you pronounce Namor's name as "Sub-Mare-in-er" or "Sub-Mareen-er"?

    2) Does anyone else still find themselves at antique stores/fleamarkets/garage sales secretly thinking they'll stumble across old comics? Has anyone found any good ones recently, or has e-bay killed this possibility?

  2. 1) Dig that crazy Sub-MARE-in-ur.

    2) Late last year at a local toy show of all places, a guy was blowing out a comic collection he inherited, with books ranging from $1-3. Runs of Marvels from the mid-60s through 70s. Some key issues had been pulled, but it was amazing to see beautiful runs of silver age books at prices below their contemporary counterparts on the newsstand. I arrived too late to get some of the most exciting deals (a guy was hemming and hawing over a near complete run of X-Men from 30-150 at those prices), but I did get some choice issues including Cap 109, the Drunk Iron Man issue, a run of Fear with Morbius, and several others that are currently escaping me. The guy promised to bring more to the next show (you could only imagine what was remaining considering the titles not represented at the show), but a local comic dealer made a deal to buy him out at the end of the show. I think you'll continue to see cases like this of people looking to liquidate collections as collectors around the country slowly die off...

  3. 1) I just refer to him as Diet Aquaman.

    2) Some decent pornography, but no comic books. I did pick up the Creepshow movie adaptation comic book for a dollar at a flea market. This one fat Albanian guy tried selling me the entire series of Dazzler comic books for $100.00 dollars! I just waited until he was busy talking to another customer, left five bucks on the table, then ran out with the collection. Other then that, nothing really good seems to show up like it used to.

    I like the above pick of Egghead in the flophouse. Very Noirish. I wonder if he spent the night smoking crack cocaine, while partying with some strumpets?

  4. TM: Marvel gave the Torch his own strip because the Golden Age Torch had been a hit, not because of the success of Spider-Man, which hadn't even appeared when Strange Tales #101 came out. And Peter are Johnny were in high school, not collage. But you're all correct: the Torch's solo series was lame.

  5. Mark-

    Thanks my good man, for pointing out some of my discrepancies. While I may be haled as a professor, I'll admit I'm no genius/expert.

  6. I have to agree with Professor Tom here that the folks at Marvel were more interested in the Torch as a teen hero than as a Golden Age revival.

  7. I always thought it was pronounced "Sub-Mareen-er". I hate when you think it's one way for years only to find out you were totally wrong.

  8. 1/ My girlfriend says "Soob - Mahr-in- errr"

    2/ My latest goldmine was buying all these Marvels on disc. Got them for a song, they're portable, and in color. I'm in heaven. After we slaughter the Marvels, I'm considering an overview of DC's "mystery" line. I snagged every single issue of those comics!

    And Tom! I'm so glad Scoleri will have some one to do the Dazzlers with him when we get to those!

  9. And I believe Professor Jack earns an extra gold star for the fine "year end wrap up." Good work, Professor!

    I'd love to find sales figures for these early 60s titles. Any ideas?