Wednesday, July 20, 2011

May 1963: The Howlers!

Journey Into Mystery #92

Our Story

“The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer”
Neri, the handmaiden of Fricka (Queen of Asgard and Odin’s wife), and Heimdall, guardian of the rainbow bridge, witness Loki bound by ten chains to a huge rock by Odin’s order. Guess what’s going to happen now? 

On Earth, Dr. Blake’s reputation for helping injured mobsters has made him a target; no surprise thus, when a mob boss and his men seek out the good doctor to save to remove a couple of bullets. After saving his life, Blake distracts them long enough to turn to Thor and bind the men to a hospital table, delivering them by air to the waiting police. Later, Thor stars in a Viking picture in Norway, “defeating” a huge mechanical sea serpent. Didn’t see that coming did you?

All this happens under the watchful eye of Loki, who sets his latest spell in motion. When Thor tosses his hammer during the filming, Loki uses his magic to attract the Uru metal of the mighty mallet to the selfsame metal in his chains, shattering them. Confused why his hammer strayed off course and never returned, Thor calls upon Odin to help locate it. Returning his son to Asgard to use the wisdom of their fellow gods, Odin tells Thor the hammer must be in Asgard (with the aid of a little “suggestion” from Loki). Thor searches Asgard’s wilderness, encountering attacking trees (which are still mad at the Thunder God) and a fleet of flying dragons. He defeats them all by forging hammers out of wood and then rock, with his bare hands. When the new rock hammer (which contains a little Uru too) veers off course and doesn’t return, Thor follows it to where it landed: magnetized to Loki’s broken chains, along with the real hammer. Thor mentally contacts the other gods to tell them of Loki’s escape. Odin, Heimdall and Fricka apprehend the evil villain.

John Scoleri: Once again we see that Doc Blake remains the favorite doctor of wounded mobsters everywhere. If you were a wounded mobster, I would highly recommend avoiding the doctor associated with the super hero. Also in this issue, Thor becomes the second Marvel superhero to star in a feature film within the confines of his comic title. I personally found it amusing that the producers got Thor to believe that the proceeds for his contribution to the film would go to various charities.

JB: I like when Loki points out "even in Earth films he's wrecking my evil schemes".

JS: Loki makes yet another appearance in this issue, which is supposed to distract you from asking the question why Thor didn't turn back to Don Blake without his hammer (unless the last 5 pages take place in less than 60 seconds).

JB: That makes four for Loki so far (if you count JIM #91). His horns seem to grow longer each time. Nice to see Thor forced to use his wits.

Strange Tales 108

Our Story

Wilhelm Van Vile, former counterfeiter turned "The Painter of A Thousand Perils", made a surprising discovery while escaping from prison. He tunneled into an underground cavern, where he found ancient alien cave paintings, paint, and brushes that allow whatever he paints to come to life. His attempt to become a master criminal using these tools is foiled by the Human Torch.

JS: Did TPOATP actually paint in the word balloons on the splash page? If he weren't a criminal, he would have been a perfect back-up man for Kirby. Their styles are nearly indistinguishable.

Jack: What a weird story! Kirby returns and it seems like there's enough material here for a longer adventure. It ends abruptly on page 13. For once, there are too many ideas and not enough space.

JS: Gangsters, villains with unlimited abilities... boy this is all starting to sound familiar.. And the surprise new ability of the week—the Torch can now blow super smoke rings (!?!) that corral his enemies.

Fantastic Four 14

Our Story

For what only seems to be the 14th time in 14 issues, the Fantastic Four are menaced by Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Mobbed by unruly fan clubs after their return from the moon* (*as stunningly transcribed by the professors of MU in our last report), Ben, Reed, and Sue are rescued by Johnny Storm, who delights that the latest in an unending series of things he can do with fire, "The Whirling Warm Air Suction Vacuum," is a hit with his team. Back at the FF headquarters, Reed catches Sue using his top-secret "roving eye" tv apparatus to search the bottom of the sea for pointy eared-mermen in tight green trunks. 
Meanwhile, across town we find the Puppet Master, thought to be dead in the triple somersault dive he took out his tenth story window but actually rehabbing in a sanitarium, preparing his revenge. Coincidentally, PM (now looking more like Charlie McCarthy than Yul Brynner) chooses Namor to do his bidding. Utilizing the rare Mento-Fish, which can "sense human thoughts and transmit them to any point on earth through mental-electro waves," Subby sends out a message to Sue Storm: dump the Stretch and meet me at a pier on the lower east side" (romantic, this one). When she gets there, Sue finds Sub-Mariner in a trance-like state and a deadly Hypno-Fish traps her in a big bubble and takes her to the bottom of the sea. 
Wasting no time, the remaining members of the FF dive to the bottom of the sea to retrieve their fair teammate but Namor is ready for them, throwing batches of sea creatures their way (including the "ravenous flame-eater" and the "dagger-needle coral"). After a tumultuous sea battle, The Puppet Master's control over Subby is lifted and the evil villain is crushed in the tentacles of a giant squid - or is he??

JS: Just when you think they're over-using Subby, we find out that The Puppet Master (looking creepier than ever) is calling the shots. Oddly enough, it probably would have been a better issue without the PM-angle.

Peter Enfantino: I think Sue likes the view on the cover.

JS: Alicia seems to be dropped into this issue to give Jack something to draw in the background. Her only contribution to the story was to 'sense' that the PM was behind the whole deal. Unfortunately for her, the clairvoyance that she felt apparently wasn't shared by daddy, as he nearly kills her off with the rest of the Fantastic Four.

PE: My BS-o-meter went right through the roof with the one-two punch of the Mento-Fish and the Hypno-Fish (which not only hypnotizes its prey but bubblizes it as well)!

JS: The Mento-Fish sounds like a bad idea for a breath mint. No need to give the character new powers when you can introduce new fish with special powers in each issue.

PE: Marve-LOL panel of the issue; as a giant squid glides towards his ship, the Puppet Master races against time to handcraft a squid puppet from his radioactive clay so that he can control it. I'm sorry to say he doesn't win the prize.

JS: And here I thought he was peeling potatoes for dinner.

PE: I almost expected to see in the Coming Next Issue blurb: "Be with us next when The Fantastic Four face their mightiest foe—The Sub-Mariner!"

JS: I actually went so far as to look at the next issue just to confirm it wasn't another Subby story.

PE: In the "Special Announcement Time" section of the Fan Page (a precursor to the Bullpen Bulletins), there's a first mention of a FF Annual. By the way, the Fan Page is actually "pages" as it had, by 1963, been expanded to two pages.

Tales of Suspense 41

Our Story

Carl Strange (or "Doctor Strange" as the world knows him) controls uses his mind-electrifying neuron-blasting ultra-frequency "contraption" (his scientific term, not mine) to manipulate Iron Man into breaking him out of prison. Once free, Strange threatens the world with the 24-megaton bomb he he intends to destroy the world with unless his daughter finds a rich guy to marry.

Peter Enfantino: A wild and wacky story, comprised mostly of flashbacks, that would convince readers that they must have missed a Marvel comic featuring Doctor Strange. Strange is struck by a lightning bolt while surrounded by US troops, the villain is described as "a master of evil," a reporter exclaims that surely the only human who can defeat Iron Man is the nefarious Doctor Strange, luckily locked away in prison.

JS: We're told that Iron Man, like the Fantastic Four, is an excellent deterrent for extraterrestrials considering invading Earth.

PE: The dopey Strange wants to control the world so that daughter Carla will have her pick of better husbands. Huh? Much like Professor Weems over in Tales to Astonish this month, Strange wants to make up for not being a good father all these years by conquering the world so his daughter will be proud. The first thing he should do for little Carla is get her a new wardrobe and hairstyle. Poor girl looks like Jane Foster.

PE: Obviously this fifth-tier villain should not be confused with the more widely-known Doctor Strange (Stephen Strange) who will be introduced to marvel readers in a couple months. This Doctor Strange was effectively retired thanks to the popularity of his namesake. But then, who knows? Strange escapes capture at the climax. Maybe somewhere Kurt Busiek is reading Tales of Suspense 41 and thinking "Hmmm, never seen again? I'll take care of that."

JS: We learn two more interesting facts about Iron Man in this issue. 1) Ultra frequency waves can be used by any two-bit hood to control him. 2) He can run on 2 flashlight batteries. Thank God for rechargables.

PE: Marvel prison wardens continue to prove why they'll never be hired at Arkham Asylum. They leave super-villains sitting in their cells in their costumes, they allow master scientist criminals to work in the lab, and sponsor lock-picking classes.

Tales to Astonish 43

Our Story

Cast aside by the University that used his great mind for so many years, Professor Elias Weems decides revenge is a dish served old and invents a machine that ages anyone he zaps. Naturally, this doesn't sit well with Henry Pym aka Ant-Man, who can reduce himself to ant-size* (* but still retain his big guy strength), and he attempts to thwart the scheme of the self-titled "Time-Master."

Peter Enfantino: I can just hear Stan telling little brother Larry that he can write comic stories but he's not allowed to invent interesting villains. Gotta be what happened. And... let me get this straight: Elias Weems has his grandson, little Tommy (who he used to rock on his knee and tell bedtime stories to) coming to stay. Tommy is so proud of his gramps, the highfalutin' scientist. Now though, since being fired from the University, Tommy will be ashamed of his tata. So the only way out to avoid that shame is... a life of crime! Tommy will be so proud.

JS: Ageism impacts people in different ways, Peter.

PE: Larry Lieber Science Alert!! This time we're blessed with a "Anti-Matter Energy Beam" that spurts "electromagnetic energy which increases the motion of the body's atoms" and "quickens the atomic activity of all living tissue." At least Professor Weems made the weapon easy enough for anyone to use as our finale shows when Ant-Man instructs someone in a crowd to train the ray on him and zap him.

Marvel stock panel 3,435
PE: If Elias Weems is so smart and can whip up an aging machine on a dime, why not a "reverse-aging machine" he can train on himself? Proof that I am smarter than Marvel Universe professors!

JS: Let me get this straight. Fired from his job, guy decides to get his revenge by developing a beam that make people younger. Something tells me that with the sales on that product alone, the guy's a freakin' billionaire.

PE: I wouldn't mind living in Center City if I was a crook. Professor Weems messes with the atoms of strangers (who knows what side effects will pop up from a machine that can age your body to the rim of death?), threatens the police, and creates general anarchy and ill will, and then is treated like a hero because he, understandably, was upset he had been fired? The judge lets him off, the dean gives him his job back (with a $10k raise and new, younger, secretary), little Tommy asks for a new bedtime story, and Ant-Man sighs that maybe we've all learned a lesson about firing old fogies.

JS: Well, these days it is illegal...

PE: The Marvel Universe seems to be constantly awash with crowds just milling.

JS: Fortunately it's more Don Heck crowds. While I'm a fan of Kirby's style-to-come, I'd have to say that of the artists of the period, Heck is probably my favorite. Despite the stories.

PE: "Is this the end of Ant-Man?" the cover begs. So do the readers.

JS: Amen to that.

Amazing Spider-Man 2

Our Story

A fiendish new fiend, The Vulture has been terrorizing the population of the Marvel Universe, swooping out of the sky and stealing valuables. The authorities are useless as there's no warning to these attacks. Meanwhile, Peter (Palmer) has hit upon a genius idea to raise money to help his Aunt May pay bills: shooting action photos for magazines! Spider-Man gets the better of the old bird when he discovers just what makes his enemy fly. In our second adventure, Peter Parker is delighted to learn he'll be working with the famous Professor Cobbwell on a special assignment. Before Parker becomes Cobbwell's equal however, the scientist has him running errands. This leads Spider-Man to The Tinkerer's fix-it shop, actually the home base of an alien invasion crew from the planet StrangeTales.

Peter Enfantino: The first incarnation of The Vulture points out what's so unique about several of the first wave of the Silver Age villains, a quality that had evaded my attention until now: he's an old guy. Old, gnarly, decrepit. No costume-ripping muscles, no impossible abs, no hair! I could be The Vulture. He's just a normal man who's happened upon a gimmick he's developed to aid him in a life of crime. He's a cousin to the Moleman, The Puppet Master, and several other super bad geniuses to come.

JS: It's also interesting to note that Spider-Man never set out to stop the Vulture. His entire motivation was financial. I guess he quickly forgot the old great power/great responsibility talk.

PE: I hadn't remembered until this re-reading that it wasn't always The Daily Bugle Jameson was hawking. There was NOW Magazine and that's the incentive for young Peter Parker to become a photographer. Well, that and the mortgage.

JS: I had read the first 30 or so issues of Spider-Man before and I too had forgotten about that.

PE: Our final glimpse of the jailed Vulture (still in his costume!) shows he sure isn't housed at Arkham.

JS: In the second story this issue, would you say that Cobbwell was JJJ's father, or did Ditko have trouble drawing characters with distinct looks?

PE: Peter Parker gasps that he'd be honored to work with Professor Cobbwell, "the most famous electronics expert in town!" How many electronics experts are there in this town? In the second story, we get our first look at Flash Thompson, who may or may not be Moose from the first story. I'll get back to you on that. The Tinkerer story also injects the first blast of science fiction that has been a staple of the first dozen issues of Fantastic Four. The fabulously mysterious final panel leaves the reader wondering who The Tinkerer actually is. After just two issues you'd just naturally assume it was The Chameleon back for more intrigue and back-stabbing, but was it he? First, working for the Commies and then another world? I'm sure some alert Marv-ophile out there can tell me if the mystery was ever solved.

JS: That creepy Tinkerer was scarier looking than the aliens he was working with.

Also this month

Gunsmoke Western #76
Kid Colt Outlaw #110
Love Romances #105
Millie the Model #114
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #1
Two-Gun Kid #63


Our first glimpse at what would become one of Marvel's icons, Nick Fury. Before he was an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., before he wore an eye patch, before he was Captain America's favorite foil, even before he was African-American, he was Sgt. Fury, leader of the ace fighting machine known as The Howling Commandos of World War II. In our first adventure, the Commandos must infiltrate France, where the Nazis are holding, and possibly torturing, an ally who knows all about the plans for D-Day. Unlike Robert Kanigher's Sgt Rock (published by DC since 1959), the Sgt. Fury tales throw common sense and reality right out the window in an effort to tell an entertaining story. So you'll get panels of Fury hanging out an airplane window shooting at passing bombers or Commandos tossing grenades (with unerring accuracy) at planes while parachuting. The little nitpicks don't detract from the enjoyment I had reading the story. Jack Kirby's fabulous pencils have quite a lot to do with it. His panels are shoved full to bursting with raucous action and bigger-than-life characters. Because of the setting, there's a lot more violence as well. You'll get the feeling here (as opposed to the western comics) that bullets are finding vital parts and blood is flowing.

The outlaw with a heart of gold actually instigates "The Capture of Kid Colt" (Gunsmoke Western #76). Chased into Nevada and wounded by a posse, Colt manages to make it to Boontown before collapsing. There, a friendly sheriff hooks him up withe a doc and The Kid heals fast. While in the town, he learns of the sheriff's impending ouster by the town mayor, Jethro Scrubb, who wants to install his puppet, Blade Simms as the new sheriff. The old sheriff sighs to The Kid and says, with a straight face, "If there were only an outlaw in this territory I could arrest, then the townfolk would see I'm the man for the job and re-elect me. But the outlaws done run dry in these here parts." It takes at least five minutes longer for The Kid to get his bright idea than the average reader. He gives himself up to his buddy, the sheriff and everything turns out for the best. Through some razzle-dazzle, The Kid is released so that he can be hounded in another town and Scrubb ends up in the pokey. Art by Jack Keller.

In his own title, The Kid comes up against an outlaw in a Doctor Doom mask who's terrorizing a small town. The Kid can't stand to see innocent folk hurt so he gets to work trying to lasso this metal hombre. It's either his huge heart or the fact that the bounty on The Iron Mask is double that on Kid Colt himself. That's gotta rile you up a bit, I'd think. Colt foils the bad man and unmasks him as the town's blacksmith (a deduction worthy of Columbo). Art chores on "Behind the Iron Mask"(Kid Colt Outlaw #110) fell to Jack Keller once again but this time he seems to be taking the easy road. It's a rather boring story with very average artwork.

In a non-Two-Gun Kid story, "The Lawman Cometh" (Two-Gun Kid #63), an entire town awaits with nervous excitement their new Marshall. As they wait in a saloon, an Indian comes in to have a drink. One man takes offense and lets the Indian know just how he feels with his fists. When the fighting's over, the indian reveals himself as the new marshall. Not a very jolting revelation (I suspect it wasn't even that surprising fifty years ago) but there's some nice art by Paul Reinman and a cut above the usual "Two-Gun Kid finds a way to get his girl to like him more" story that fills the rest of this issue.


  1. We've got the westerns, the big superheroes, and now Nick Fury. I confess I almost boycotted some Marvel titles growing up, while embracing others. "Sgt. Fury" was one of my former (as was X-Men)- looking forward to learning more here.
    Pope: Thanks for telling the Facebook group "Silver Age Comics" about us! They had some positive comments.

  2. Professors!

    I've just discovered a fabulous website that actually lists sales figures for the comics per year:

    According to the site, the best-selling Marvel comics in 1963 were: Rawhide Kid, Kid Colt Outlaw, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Journey Into Mystery, Patsy Walker, and Millie the Model. Incredibly, no Fantastic Four listed. The titles all sold in the neighborhood of 173,000-194,000 range. Dennis the menace left all competitors in the dust with a whopping 493,000 a month!

    1. If you check the methodology listed on the site, data is only available for the comics that published "Statements of Ownership ...". The Fantastic Four (and ASM) didn't publish statements in the early years. I think it fair to assume that they were Marvel's biggest sellers.


  3. Peter-

    Thanks for finding that website. Wow! Dennis the Menace?! What strange times the early 60's must have been. Never read the comic, but the t.v. show definitely sucked.

    I liked your opinion of the Vulture, one of Spidey's more neglected foes. Perhaps you could dress up as him at one of the comic-cons? It might get you a few free Dazzler comics.

    I'll admit it's hard for me to really get into the Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt issue summaries that you guys do. Your writing is great, but unfortunately the comics were not. All the plots seem tedious, uncreative, lame, etc. Did either of those two clowns actually ever shoot and kill somebody?

  4. I wonder if the sales figures were tied to distribution. Perhaps the newer titles were not being distributed as widely as the older, more established titles.

  5. Jack-

    That makes a lot of sense. There is no way that most of those titles could have sold more then the Fantastic Four comics unless they weren't distributed evenly.

  6. I like that Astonish was Marvel's best seller of 1960. It was always a bit more popular than Suspense, & my favorite pre-hero mag...

  7. Yes, Roger Stern solves the mystery of ASM#2 in Peter Parker #51 in 1981!
    I dig the sales stats too.
    This has been fun, once again watching the unveiling of early Marvel with you.