Wednesday, July 27, 2011

June 1963: The Coming of The Fantastic Four... Fan Club!

Strange Tales 109

Our Story

Johnny is bored with high school and regrets not being able to join the rest of the FF on an out of town mission because of his heavy homework load.  While flying aroung Glenville looking for trouble, he happens on The Sorcerer, another eccentric hermit with an enormous house.  What Johnny doesn't know is that The Sorcerer now possesses the real Pandora's Box of Greek myth, and he goes around town unleashing imps from the box such as "Hatred" and "Cold" in order to commit a one-man crime wave.  Johnny confronts him and quickly defeats him, fusing the box's lid on and dumping it in the ocean.

John Scoleri: Allow me to make one positive comment about this Human Torch tale (and don't expect that to become a regular thing). For kids unfamiliar with Greek mythology, it introduces the story of Pandora's Box. So, for educational value alone, I'll cut it some slack.

Jack:  Glenville is quite a hotbed of nuts!  When the cop on page 11 wonders who is behind the crime spree and suggests it "must be some sort of wizard" who lives in Glenville, you would think Johnny would go after The Wizard, but no—Johnny's brilliant mind immediately leaps to The Sorcerer!

JS: Clearly he was a bad guy... as hinted at by his oft-showcased hairy knuckles. And as old as he looks, The Sorcerer has particularly dark hair. Do you think there was Grecian Formula in the crate of artifacts with Pandora's box?

Journey Into Mystery #93 

Our Story

“The Mysterious Radioactive Man”

The Reds are back (did I say they wouldn’t be?)! This time they are invading India. A Yankee medical mission led by Dr. Don Blake, there to treat the wounded, has the extra advantage of having the Mighty Thor close at hand. That’s exactly what’s needed to turn back the Chinese tanks with the power of the storm and create a respite in the battle. A Chinese scientist named Chen Lu, meanwhile, has built up his resistance to radioactivity over many months, and he risks all to expose himself to a massive dose that transforms him into a super-man who can harness radioactive energy at will. Shot from a submarine in a torpedo into off shore American waters, which he then melts away, Lu lands on New York City shores, where he makes it known he is there to destroy Thor. Now back in the States, Dr.Blake finishes a critical operation before he can appear as the Thunder God. Lu is able to turn aside Thor’s hammer and withstand his lighting bolts, not to mention that he informs our blond hero that any direct physical violence to his person will cause Lu to reach critical mass and explode. He hypnotizes Thor into throwing away his weapon, which luckily for the rest of us, Thor throws it far enough away that the Radioactive Man has to go searching for it. In an Earthly minute, Blake is back with us, and runs off to modify one of his x-ray devices to help locate the hammer- at the bottom of the Hudson River. He dives off a pier into the water and manages to reach the hammer and turn into Thor seconds before he blacks out. Turning Lu’s own threat against him, Thor creates a vortex that sends the radioactive man back to China, where he reaches critical mass and explodes.

PE: According to Doctor Fielding S. Rumsackle's essential Radiation and All Its Super-Powers (Bullshit Press, 2004), page 27, radiation cannot aid in hypnotism. 

JB: It’s good to see Jack Kirby back, and he does some nice work here (Agreed, Professor Jim. Some of Kirby's work here predicts his ascension to The King's Throne over at The Fantastic Four in a few years but Thor's facial features in spots look "washed"-PE). The Radioactive Man himself isn’t that original-- radiation seems to create all manner of super heroes and villains at Marvel, but he is a fair bit of fun.

JS: At least he immunized himself against radiation first. Another great power that you think a brilliant scientist might consider monetizing before going the super-villain route.

PE: How does Don Blake have time to mend local thugs when Thor is always off helping other countries fight the Commies?

JB: For the first time Thor demonstrates that he has some innate powers, blasting Lu with lightning from his bare hands instead of his Mjolnir, (which decided not to come back when he tossed it away this time).

JS: Seriously now, do these unspecified powers have no bounds?

PE: As I noted in another post, a shared Marvel Universe seems to be an idea yet to come. The Radioactive Man ("Look out, he seems to be Radio-Active! He must be... The Radio-Active Man!!!") comes to New York to defeat Thor as he seems to feel that will gain him street cred in the United States. But wouldn't he then have to tackle The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man, etc? Short-sighted if you ask me.

JS: Yes, but not everything can have the all-seeing power of Blake's Mjolnir-finder. Just turn on the TV and get GPS coordinates where you lost your hammer.

PE: Dr. Don proves he's not only a nifty surgeon (he flies through an operation "only he could perform"), an undercover Norse God (in spandex), and an all-around good guy for crooks to have around (albeit lame), he's also got the industrial smarts of future team-mate Tony Stark. Blake comes up with the idea of how to concoct a gizmo to find his missing hammer and an hour later he's marketing it.

JS: When do you think they realized that they only had 5 panels left in which they had to confront and defeat the villain?

PE: I do like the nasty side of Thor. Evidently, he sends RA-Man to his doom with a few one-liners and a kick in the pants with not one bit of remorse.


Fantastic Four 15

Our Story

Reed Richards is contacted by New York's police chief and warned that all the top crime bosses in America are converging for a pow-wow. What could be up? Of course, it's the master villain, The Thinker, who can predict within a milli-second upcoming events. Want to know if your husband will have an affair with his secretary? The Thinker's your man! Could Macy's be having a 20% off sale on that dreamy new dress you've wanted? Just call on The Thinker! Can Stan and Jack be far from the really good writing historians claim was their foundation? Ulp!

Since The Thinker can predict any occurrence before it happens, he aligns four separate coincidences to form a distraction to keep The Four busy while he hatches his master plan: to rule New York. To achieve these ends, he need only wait for the incoming meteorite to hit the harbor and wipe out electricity throughout the city. He and his thugs then take over the Baxter Building and all Reed Richards' experiments. Reed grows to rue the day he decided to keep in-depth notes on creating life lying around the coffee table. Luckily, the Fantastic Four decide that life apart isn't all it's cracked up to be (at exactly the same moment) and head back to base, only to find the building has been transformed into a giant crystal and The Thinker has been monkeying around in things man was never meant to toy with. Luckily, postman Willy Lumpkin and 1963's worst deus ex machina save the day.

Damn those spoilers!

Peter Enfantino: Unless I miss my guess, this is the first time that the Fantastic Four headquarters is referred to as The Baxter Building.

JS: Unfortunately, that's the highlight of the issue.

PE: What well-respected teen pyromaniac would be caught dead in a hat like the one Johnny Storm wears out on a hot date?

JS: Sue gets her hair done! They just don't tackle these important issues anymore.

PE: I think it's hilarious that Stan and Jack parade Sue Storm around as a strong representative of womanhood and a vital piece of The Four but whenever a plotline like this comes up (which is pretty often) where a wedge is driven between the team, Sue ends up the star of a movie or a new advertising campaign for perfume. Strong Marvel females indeed. Sue Storm, Jane Foster and Betty Ross as The Dixie Chicks? And, after The Four decide to go their separate ways for a "vacation," Ben notes that this is the "first time we ever busted up!" Say what? Where was he when The Torch quit the group four times in the first year?

JS: He rightly didn't consider Johnny leaving as the band breaking up. Did I mention that this issue screams filler from start to finish.

PE: I'm no science major (and if you've paid close attention, you'll note I know nothing about writing either), but that "one-celled" lifeform that Reed manages to conjure up shore looks like a fish.

JS: Nit-picker...

PE: The Thinker. The Ponderer. The Predictor. The Coincidentist. If The Thinker can foresee every event before it happens he should know his plan won't work and just save some time and turn himself over to the cops. But then maybe he sees all that and his return appearance next year in FF 28. Gosh, this guy is a Thinker! But then, so is Reed Richards. Imagine knowing that a titanic battle with The Mad Thinker and His Awesome Android would peak at just the time you'd notified the mailman to ring your doorbell?

JS: You would know—doesn't the postman always ring twice?

PE: On the fan page, Ginger Church of Denton, Texas (are you out there, Ginger?) asks if it's not a bit silly for a 17 year old Reed Richards (seen in flashback in issue 11) to be smoking a pipe. Amen to that, Ginger! Roy Thomas also writes in and, in the announcements section, the first mention of the fanzine, Comicollector, edited by Ron Foss. What amazing fun it must have been to see this Universe unfolding before your eyes. We're entering the Age of Marvel, true believers!

JS: I take it back, this news beats the naming of the Baxter Building.

Tales of Suspense 42

Our Story

Golden Iron Man is back! After helping the FBI nab some commies, he comes under the wrath of the Red Barbarian. When one of the Barbarians agents ("The Actor") figures out that Stark is Iron Man, you can imagine how excited he is to share that info with his boss. But he never gets a chance, and Tony Stark's secret identity is preserved. Whew!

JS: Don Heck's art almost seems rushed this issue. 

PE: But I'm with you, in general, as far as Heck goes. He shows dashes of brilliance and hints of mediocrity but, overall, I'm more impressed with his art than I thought I'd be.

JS: Whose bright idea was it to hide a miniature A-bomb into a briefcase lock. 

PE: The Actor? The A-Bomber? The Hider?

JS: Hey Pete, how long until we get a new suit for Iron Boy? The kid's Halloween costume look has got to go.

PE: Well, Professor Jonathan, according to The Mad Thinker, we have exactly six more issues of yellow (or gold, depending on your reprint)  armor to endure. What I'm more concerned about is the caliber of villains Tin-head is facing. Lee and Heck were obviously drawing from the recycle bin that Larry Leiber had piled up next to his desk (hey, what about Desk-Man? Was that ever used?). Things will not get better for a few more issues when we finally get a peek at one of Tony Stark's more enduring foes.

Tales to Astonish 44

Our Story

In a flashback story, we come to find what cancer has been eating at Henry Pym's soul all these years. Turns out the brilliant scientist was once married to Russian defector Maria Trovaya, daughter of a commie scientist who also defected to the promised land to conduct his work in peace away from the hammers and sickles of evil. Returning to Russia for a visit, Maria is kidnaped and murdered, leading Pym to vow someday he'll grow small and fight evil.

Back to the present day, Henry is visited by the ground-breaking Gamma-Ray beam trend-setter, Dr. Vernon Van Dyne and his daughter Janet (coincidentally the spittin' image of dead wife, Maria). The egghead is seeking help with his cosmos-dividing beam to far-off stars and he believes Pym to be the man. Alas, Henry informs Van Dyne that, admittedly, he's a brilliant Marvel scientist but not the brain for the job. Van Dyne thanks him and returns to his own lab where he pushes on with his experiments. The testing is a little too fruitful though as a monster from the planet Kosmos rides the beam back to earth and slays Van Dyne.

Vowing to avenge her father's death, Janet contacts Henry Pym, who in a moment of "what the hell," reveals to the perfect stranger that he is, in fact, the Mighty Ant-Man. The duo decide that some intergalactic monsters can only be defeated by two super-small heroes and The Wasp is born!

Peter Enfantino: So it turns out we have Maria Trovaya to blame for Ant-Man's incredibly boring adventures. "Go to the ants, thou sluggard" indeed!

JS: Perhaps the most interesting development of the Ant-Man saga. Of course, as you've intimated, a trip to the produce section would have qualified for that.

PE: Add Janet Van Dyne, later to become the multi-talented Wasp, to the growing ranks of Dopey Marvel Females (DMVs). At least initially we're led to believe this as she echoes the thoughts of such intelligent specimens as Jane Foster when she muses that Dr. Pym seems to be one of those boring bookworms rather than a dreamy adventurous type. Little does she know that Pym would, a few decades later, prove to be one of those masculine fellas who likes to drink and beat on his wife. In 1963, I'd venture a guess, she'd take it over boredom.

JS: Ant-Man's got a girl friend, Ant-Man's got a girl friend!

PE: Dr. Van Dyne is working on another of those rare Gamma-Ray beams to pierce the galaxy (ostensibly to find dreamy he-men for his daughter) and yet he goes to Henry Pym rather than Bruce Banner. This was my first hint that there would be no seventh issue of Hulk.

PE: The MarveL-OL moments just stack up this issue: Ant-Man, ace detective, takes one look at the body of Dr. Van Dyne and deduces that he's been murdered, probably from fright. Heart attack or natural causes ruled out immediately. Janet Van Dyne is on the case though, as her woman's intuition tells her that her father's work had something to do with his death. She says this as she steps over the debris in her father's trashed lab. And yet, she can't deduce that Henry Pym is Ant-Man when he answers the door in a robe with his AM tights clearly visible?! Does Henry Pym really have a woman's wasp costume made of unstable molecules stashed in his wardrobe?

PE: You have to wonder just how old Janet is. Pym continually says "You're too young for falling in love" or other such twaddle. Are we looking at Marvel's first case of jailbait here? The relationship of Henry and Janet, without going into too many spoilers, would be a rocky and complicated one over the decades. Multiple costume changes, name changes, size changes, marriage, divorce, alcoholism, madness and, eventually, the death of one of the characters. Though these early tales lack anything resembling reality or intelligent script-writing, the later tales can be quite grim and dark. Hard to believe after reading this particular story.

JS: How many more months before we get to the good stuff? The double-header of Human Torch and Ant-Man tales every time I sit down to read the next month's issues gets decidedly more unbearable as we go on.

PE: Curiously, Jack Kirby gets credit for the art with Don Heck a nod for inking. There's no Kirby here. It's Heck all the way. The script is written by H. E. Huntley (aka Ernest Hart), who also wrote some of the truly... unique...adventures of The Human Torch running in Strange Tales. I'm speaking for both John and I when I say that we can't wait to see what kinds of danger these two can get into in the months ahead.

JS: Maybe Heck was overworked this month.

Also this month

Kathy #23
Modeling with Millie #23
Patsy and Hedy #88
Patsy Walker #107
Rawhide Kid #34


The Rawhide Kid becomes a "Prisoner of the Apaches" (Rawhide Kid #34) when he unwittingly comes between a fight between a hot-headed and trigger-happy wagon train leader and the Apaches. In the continuing competition to see who's more loveable and who's the most misunderstood outlaw, Rawhide gives himself to the Indians rather than let a married man be captured. It's all sorted out in the end and, by golly, those blood-thirsty Injuns ain't so bad after all! If you have to read cliched swill like this, at least you can look at the pretty pitchers (here crafted by the great Jack Davis).

1 comment:

  1. Hold on a minute--Johnny Storm is sitting in a parked car with a hot babe who is puckered up and ready to smooch, and he says "Great Balls of Fire?" Another Marvel double-entendre? Between rear views of Subby and R-rated Johnny, this was quite a racy mag!