Monday, July 4, 2011

November 1962: Zarrko or Zarkorr? You be the Judge

Tales to Astonish #37

Our Story

Ant-Man fights the costumed villain known as The Protector, a thug armed with an "electronic disintegrating ray" who's running a protection racket on local merchants. If the jewelers don't pay up, he vaporizes their stock. Henry Pym disguises himself as a jewelry shop owner to get the drop on the bad guy. Ant-Man saves the day by turning on a fan and blowing dust into the criminal's face ("Ah-Choooo" cried the villain) and unmasking him for all to see. Holy Scooby-Doo, what a revelation!

Peter Enfantino: I knew at some point in these proceedings we'd finally come to a comic that I have absolutely nothing (good) to write about. This truly is bottom-of-the-barrel, worse even than some of the horrendous science fiction stories Kirby and Lee were pumping out. How long do I have to wait until Steve Englehart shows up?

John Scoleri: Do you think Henry is going to catch a clue that being the size of an ant, even with the relative strength of an ant, doesn't give him much leverage when facing normal sized humans? He can be sucked into a vacuum, fer chrissakes!

Oops! Spoiler Alert!
Journey Into Mystery #86

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Oops! Spoiler Alert!
For some reason, Zarrko, a man from the 23rd Century can't stand happy people. His world has abolished war and weapons, men send women flowers, and Michael Bay hasn't made a movie in three hundred years. Paradise, no? So, in his spare time, Zarrko has built a time machine and has deduced that the best time to steal a weapon would be 1962 when A-Bombs could be bought at our corner stores.

At that very second, The Mighty Thor is only too happy to help the military perfect its anti-missile missiles somewhere in the middle of the desert. Just then, The Tomorrow Man materializes, helps himself to the military's new baby, The Cobalt Bomb, and heads back to the 23rd Century without so much as a by-your-leave.

With a little help from Odin, Thor follows Zarrko into the future to find that the scientist has already taken over through threat of annihilation. Zarrko traps Thor in a room of magnetic mirrors but the Thunder God has an ace up his sleeve: he's sent a decoy in ahead of him. Thor defeats the Tomorrow Man, leaving him with amnesia, and heads back to the present (which is actually the past to us, the readers of 2011).

Marvel men in the future wear bad hats
Peter Enfantino: Just the Tomorrow Man's name alone raises infinite interesting questions and dilemmas. Does he become the "Yesterday Man" while traveling from the past to our present? In his own world, would he be "The Present Man"? I feel Stan and Jack never really addressed these problematic questions.

JS: They were too busy coming up with pearls of wisdom like, "Since there was no time travel in the past, he must come from the future..."

PE: We get just another peek at Jane Foster, who's reading newspapers and mocking her boss for being weak. Cutting an easy check was the trademark of many a Marvel woman in the early sixties.

JS: The gal longs to work for Thor instead of the lame old Doc Blake. What, as his social secretary?

PE: Nice art by Jack Kirby, who was all over the map at this time in his career. He could be rushed and sketchy (Ant-Man), or producing art where characters changed looks from panel to panel (Fantastic Four) or, as in Thor, giving us a hint of the majesty and intricacy that would become his trademark by the mid-sixties.

JB: The first glimpse into the future in the Thor series. It was a little convenient that Zarrko loses his memory, but he comes back soon again. Later it will be hard to picture the regal Thor being so willing to help with those military tests, but it reflected the views of the time in Marvel comics. I guess the women of the 23rd century haven’t changed that much as we see one of them wistfully thinking how handsome our hero is. Maybe no one but Thor can lift his hammer, but I guess that doesn’t apply to robots! Odin certainly looks more impressive here.

Strange Tales #102

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In Glenville, Long Island, lives The Wizard, who possesses the World's Greatest BRAIN! Everyone knows where he lives and his amazing inventions have brought him fame and fortune. The only challenge left for him is--what else--to defeat the Human Torch!

He drills deep into the ground and pretends to get stuck so the Torch can rescue him. He then traps Johnny Storm at his house and goes around town impersonating The Torch and committing crimes. The Torch finally breaks out and vanquishes The Wizard with the help of Invisible Girl.

Peter Enfantino: I love how The Wizard sprays Johnny's body with his special chemical solution but not his head. We're still playing that "Here in Glenville, folks don't rightly know who the Human Torch rilly is!" nonsense. Don't Opie, Goober and Andy ever turn on the TV and watch the Evening News? The "surprise" twist ending shows that The Wizard must reside in Mayberry RFD as well.

Jack: Johnny does his best Clark Kent impersonation as he attempts to change into the Torch without anyone noticing.

JS: I'm sorry to report that not long after this adventure The Wizard died of cancer. He should have thought twice about that asbestos lined suit.

PE: The Torch, like Ant-Man was saddled with a string of unmemorable villains. The Wizard, with his monumentally big brain decides there's only one challenge left to him and that's to prove he's the most powerful man in the world. To prove that, he must defeat The Human Torch. Huh? Are The Thing, Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man next on that list?

JS: The Torch is perhaps a step up from (or on) Ant-Man, but not heaviest hitter in the Marvel U circa '62.

PE: Another of those helpful diagrams lets us know how The Wizard's Human Torch disguise works but neglects to tell us how that rocket doesn't burn his ass to cinders. Or how he's able to control his hands from Flaming On ala the real Torch.

JS: Hey Wizard—why the long face?

Jack: Kirby can really be an acquired taste.

Hulk #4

Our Story
It's two titanic tales in one comic! First off, we have "The Monster and the Machine! This story starts off as we eavesdrop on the Ross's. Betty mopes around thinking about Bruce while her daddy is working on a little project. He launches a fake Hulk into the sky, then shoots a rocket at it. Once the rocket makes contact with the generic Hulk, it engulfs him in a block of ice. General Ross seems quite self-assured that this will be the weapon to finally capture the Hulk. Meanwhile, the hero of the title and his 'good friend,' Rick Jones, spend some quality alone time in a secluded cabin. Rick is still able to control the Hulk telepathically. When Thunderbolt's army of goons pull a home invasion on their hideout, Rick orders the monster to escape, which he does with one of those new leaps he's learned to use. While the Hulk is on the lam in a neighboring town, Ross interrogates Rick, but the teenager remains solid, refusing to give up any information. This causes Rick to be arrested. Before the General can introduce the young punk to some water boarding techniques, Rick uses his telepathy, again, to order the Hulk to come back and save him. The Hulk leaps back and grabs Rick off of a Jeep he was being transported in and the two escape back to the underground cave. Rick places the Hulk in front of one of Dr. Banners doo-hickey machines. Miraculously, after only reading some of the good Doctors notes, he is able to convert the Hulkster back into being puny Banner. Bruce theorizes that if he takes some healthy doses of radiation, he might be able to control his monstrous alter ego. After he makes some adjustments to the radiation machine, he has Rick use it on him and is then transformed back into the Hulk......with Dr. Banners mind along with the Jade Giant's sassy attitude!!!! Deciding to be a hero instead of the jerk that he was, Banner/Hulk goes off and saves a family stuck in a burning farmhouse. And once again, Hulk goes home to the man-cave and has Rick transform him back into puny Banner.

The second story, "The Gladiator from Outer Space!" starts off promising as an alien spacecraft lands in the desert. Out of the ship comes Mongu, a giant beast of a warrior. He issues a challenge to the people of earth. The deal is this, if someone can fight and beat him in one-on-one combat, he'll grab his ball and go home. If Mongu is triumphant, then he will have his ships come and attack earth! Bruce Banner hears this and feels that it is his duty to take on the alien stranger in an intergalactic throw down. Of course, being no dummy, he uses that gamma machine of his to turn himself into the Hulk before going to the brawl. In case he needs a towel boy, the Hulk takes Rick Jones under his arm, then leaps off for battle. Any earthlings that paid good money to watch this heavyweight match on pay-per-view would surely have been disappointed as Mongu turns out to only be a machine, piloted from the inside by a Communist! Yes, it was all a scam just to trap the Hulk. The spaceship was also only a military plane. Unfortunately for them that the Russkies didn't have an actual alien warrior as the Hulk makes quick work of them using some of his soon to be famous signature moves such as the leaping in the air and landing thunderstomp! Like a giant green groundhog jacked up on roids, the Hulk burrows under the earth to rise up from under the faux spaceship to tear it to shreds. In the end, the annoyed Hulk takes off, and the commies, though beaten, manage to escape. The genius U.S. military shows up and finds the alien warrior machine husk and comes to the conclusion that the Hulk must have staged the whole thing like a bad wrestlemania match. By the way, the pilot of the android was named Boris Monguski.

Peter Enfantino: When did Rick Jones learn to use words like "critical mass" and pull levers on super-scientific machines when two or three weeks prior he was pulling on a beer or maybe his pud and that's about it. This was, remember, the hipster ding-dong-daddy-o who wanted to put some starch in those army dudes' shorts by taking a joyride out onto a bomb test site. Perhaps some time in the future, Stan will explain that when Rick got that big blast of electricity that followed the invisible line from the Hulk's space ship to the abort button*, he also was charged with Bruce Banner's neuron reflexors and his brain has grown to twice its size!
(* as brilliantly explained in our September 1962 blog)

JS: Giving the Hulk Banner's brain really changes things up. It would also seem like we've also moved away from the were-Hulk concept of him changing based on the sun rising and setting. Of course, whether he's leaping or flying is still open for debate.

PE: Obviously Thunderstruck Ross has the same MPs guarding his super-secret Iceberg Missile as were watching the rocket ship the Fantastic Four stole on that fateful day. Betty Ross strolls right past a guard up to a rocket about to launch without even a press pass.

Jack: I get the distinct feeling that Dr. Banner likes the idea of being able to pack on the muscle mighty quick. If only we could get him in the same room with Betty Ross, who gets my vote for dumbest girl of the month.

PE: First recorded instance of Hulk with Bruce Banner's brain. This would be followed by Hulk with Hulk's brain; Banner with Banner's brain; Banner with Hulk's brain; Rick Jones with Hulk's brain; Hulk with The Thing's brain; The Thing with...

JS: Tom McMillion's brain? ;)

Tom McMillion: I wish! They might as well have given the way that this series is going. Still, I'll take it easy on Stan Lee. One can imagine the fun he had writing these Hulk stories. It's like he finally got his chance to take one of his monster creations and expand its story unlike the usual one time only tales where the alien or monster invades, then either gets killed or sent home packing by a trickster human.

Marvel's first super-villain welder
PE: In the second of our double feature issue, Stan decides to re-visit a classic story line he's used multiple times, most recently" No Human Can Beat Me" in Strange Tales #98: Mongu, The Gladiator from Space comes to earth and threatens destruction unless the world can offer up a warrior to defeat him. Any takers? By the end of this story, Stan is so confused about which direction to take The Hulk, he's got him spouting the same "Youse guys" dialog The Thing inflicts on readers bi-monthly.

JS: Is it unfair that I know I only have to endure two more issues before we get a well deserved break from The Hulk?

Jack: At least the Hulk is able to defeat the Commies, a threat no other Marvel comic is bold enough to address head-on---oh, hang on a minute...

Tom McMillion: Yeah, I slowly came to the realization at the end of this stinker that I had been fooled once before by it. Back in grade school when I bought the first Hulk Marvel Masterworks I was totally excited. But as I went through the first couple of issues I realized, even at my young age, that they were severely dated. My only hope for some good fisticuffs action was when I reached this story in the collection. Who could blame me? The cover clearly advertised a Hulk vs. Alien Warrior showdown. One could only imagine my disappointment after reading this equivalent to a bad 'Twilight Zone' episode. I had blocked it out of my memory only to be fooled once again.

Fantastic Four #8
Our Story

After some rare in-team bickering, The Thing quits the FF (thus being the second of four to quit in just eight issues) and storms out into the street. While trying to calm Ben down, Sue notices a man climbing the Brooklyn Bridge. The Human Torch flies up to rescue him and discovers the man is in a trance. Miles away, we discover why: he's being manipulated by the evil Puppet Master who, through dolls and miniature sets made from radioactive clay, can control the helpless to do his bidding.
Enraged that The Torch has bungled his display of power, PM declares war on the FF, first beckoning The Thing to his headquarters. With the Invisible Girl on Ben's tail, soon the Master has two prisoners. There are no limits to the nastiness this evil genius will stoop to as he forces his blind step-daughter, Alicia, to dress up and imitate Sue Storm to fool Ben Grimm. Ben smashes his way into the Baxter Building but is returned to his Ben Grimm state (and therefore let loose of the Puppet Master's grasp) by Reed Richards' new potion. Unfortunately, once the elixir dries off of Ben's body, he reverts to The Thing again. He's got a new problem though: Alicia has the hots for him but only when he's The Thing!

Meanwhile, as all this drama is unfolding, The Puppet Master launches his next scheme: a mass break at the local prison. Ben, Reed, and Johnny break Sue out of the Puppet Master's lair and then head down to the prison to get things back in order. Struggling with his step-daughter, The Puppet Master trips and falls out a window to his death (?).

Peter Enfantino: First appearance of Alicia Masters, blind step-daughter of The Puppet Master and soon to play an important part in The Fantastic Four. And the mag goes monthly!

JS: I like how Ben finally addresses always being called "Thing" in this issue.

PE: I must confess to having a bit of a hard time suspending my disbelief regarding Reed's absorption and slingshotting of machine gun bullets. I've got to believe that rule was re-written before too long. If bullets can't harm Mr. Fantastic, what can?

JS: More importantly, after we've seen him do just about everything, include squeeze out of the tiniest of cracks or stretch great distances, Mr. Fantastic is shown to have a stretch limitation. I have no idea exactly how long that is, but it seems to be his reach from the Baxter to the Bridge.

PE: A no-no prize to the first reader who can tell me the purpose of the prison riot. Don't tell me it was a show of power as I believe the enslavement of The Fantastic Four would be a pretty good display.

JS: I'm willing to buy into the P-M's special radioactive clay, but I have a hard time believing he's got scale replicas of every possible location in town with such detail as every item on the Warden's desk in the prison. But even that pales in comparison to the WTF moment for me in this issue, when he gallops away on his winged horse?

PE: Don't worry about The Puppet Master. He'll return before too long. If you'd like to read his origin story, you'll find it in Marvel Team-Up #6.

Also this month

Gunsmoke Western #73
Kid Colt Outlaw #107
Linda Carter Student Nurse #8
Love Romances #102
Millie the Model #111
Tales of Suspense #35
Two-Gun Kid #60


Five years ago, Kid Colt helped put away Doc Draggett (who, as emaciated as he looks, could pass for Doc Holliday played by John Carradine) for robbing a bank. Five long, grueling years later, Doc is free with only one thing on his mind: revenge! Drawing on his years as a scientist, Doc invents a robot who can hit a bulls eye every time no matter where he’s standing (would I make this up?). Draggett tracks Colt to a little saloon town and tell the Kid there’s someone in an alley that has a beef with him. Kid, never one to back down from a challenge, enters the alley as the robot is putting on a display of his marksmanship. Colt outsmarts Doc and his robot, shooting the tin man down to tin cans. Daggett is nailed with one of the ricochets and dies, as one onlooker remarks, in a “kinda poetic way.” “I Can Outdraw Kid Colt!” (Gunsmoke Western #73) is one of the frequent science fiction/western hybrids Stan Lee and his artists (in this case, Jack Keller) would commit now and then. It’s proof that, Wild, Wild West (the TV series, not the movie) aside, sf and oaters don’t mix. Yet this would not be Colt’s only fantastical adventure this month.
Over in his own comic, The Kid is fleeing from a posse when he happens upon “The Giant Monster of Midnight Valley!” (Kid Colt Outlaw #107; art by Keller). Resembling a twenty-foot tall Beanie Baby, the monster is, of course, an alien who has crash landed on earth when his ship is damaged by a comet. He means earthlings no harm but tell that to the six-shooter packin’ hombres who make up the posse. All they see is a giant green Jasper! Colt finds himself playing bodyguard to the big galoot until the outlaw is shot and killed by a stray bullet. Luckily, the alien has a tube of “life-giving lotion” in his first aid kit. The Kid is revived just as the alien’s rescue ship shows and hightails it. The alien flies away promising he will return to earth some day to clear the outlaw’s name. Our editor pipes up in the final panel and lets us know that this story was based on notes dropped off at the editorial offices of Kid Colt Magazine by a mysterious being who disappeared with a thunderous roar.

Lawyer Matt Hawk comes to Tombstone, Texas to hang his shingle but gets a rough start from the local greeting party. Bullied by a gang of goons, the town of Tombstone has learned to live with harassment and bruises. One day, Matt stops the bullies from assaulting a retired gunfighter named Ben Dancer and in return, the old-timer trains Matt in the ways of the West. No longer just a dude from the East, Matt Hawk is now a card-carrying gunslinger. Dancer doesn’t want anyone to know Hawk has these skills so he dresses him up in a Zorro-type get-up and supplies him with the fastest hoss in the West, Thunder! And voila, “The Beginning of the Two-Gun Kid” (Two-Gun Kid #60), the Old West’s newest superhero. When Ben Dancer decides he’s had enough of Tombstone, he departs on a stage but the goon gang decide they’ll “kill two birds with one stone” by robbing the stage and killing the old man for showing them up. Hawk gets wind of the plan and rescues Ben as the Two-Gun Kid. Solidly written and plum exciting, “The Beginning” bodes well for this character. Jack Kirby’s art is the best I’ve seen from him on a western. So, if this is the origin of Two-Gun Kid, why does it come in his 60th issue? Though an all-new character, a previous unmasked Two-Gun Kid was the star of his own comic for 59 issues before being put on hiatus (in April 1961). The old Two-Gun was a singing gunslinger (a gunsinger?) with a horse named Cyclone (sample lyric from Two-Gun’s first adventure in 1948: I got two guns that bark and roar/They’re shooting day and night/ I got two guns and wish I had four/ Because I like to fight) who starred in stories with titles pulled from the pulps: “Hot Lead for Killer’s Roost” sounds like a Tommy Thompson oater right out of Dime Western.

“I Accepted the Deadly Challenge of Zarkorr” (Tales of Suspense #35) the same month as Thor fought the menace known as Zarrko but found this to be one Z too many. Lee/Kirby on the last legs of their science fiction anthology salad days. Had they not decided to try their hand at a Justice League knock-off, neither would be remembered today for these deadly dull dramas. This time, an alien from the Galactic Federation appears in Time Square in the year 2065 and delivers a speech: outer space has been watching earth’s progress on space travel. Now that earthlings can reach Mars, the Federation is nervous we’ll spread our bad habits through the universe and demands that a pilot fly to Mars without controls, relying on instincts alone. If the pilot fails, our race will be destroyed. As is the case with several of these sf stories, the savior of earth is a pilot put out to pasture as too old who proves himself in the end. In the laughable climax, it’s revealed that Zarkorr is the pilot himself, trying to show he can still be useful to mankind. Slow-paced, with a plot that charitably could be called “borrowed” from dozens of other Tales of Suspense, not even Jack Kirby can breathe life into this snoozer.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Is the Wizard that battles the Torch the same Wizard that would go on to form the Frightful Four?

  3. I haven't got a clue. Perhaps another member of the faculty knows?

  4. Yes, 'tis the selfsame Wizard, aka The Wingless Wizard. I confirmed it on the Marvel Comics Database.

  5. Thanks Matt, for doing some sleuthing and finding out for us. Now I can sleep a little easier knowing that there will never come a time when two lame Wizards appear in the same comic.