Friday, July 1, 2011

October 1962: Starring The Human Torch!

Tales to Astonish #36

Our Story

Russian agent Comrade X is given the task of capturing Henry Pym, The Ant-Man so that the Russkies can acquire his miraculous miniaturizing potion and shrink their armies to ant size. Once into enemy territory, they can revert to man-size and crush the free world! Pym is alerted to the scheme by an ex-lover of Comrade X. Not only are Russians despicable but they talk too much in bed. In the end, Henry Pym is victorious thanks to smarts and a load of ants.

Ant-i-Crime Squad
Peter Enfantino: In this issue, we're let on to the fact that the crafty Pym has spy-ants working for him. They hang around in police precinct garbage cans and let Pym know of any evil deeds that need his special attention. Being that Marvel cops are so fond of Twinkies and Ho-Hos, I assume the volunteer line for this job is out the anthill.

John Scoleri: Can I raise a practical question at this point? Does Ant-Man have any fans? Aside from the ants, I mean. I guess a billion ants can't be wrong.

PE: The jilted lover knows so much about Comrade X's scheme that I assumed it was a trap (Jilted is right. But I don't think the appropriate usage is "...He jilted me for another woman!!" -JS). What's revealed in the end, I must admit, I wasn't expecting. Good twist to a ho-hum story but Stan couldn't leave it be, with Pym explaining he knew what was going on the entire time. Doesn't hold water.  Ant-Man was easily Marvel's weakest series of the first batch. Problem is, Pym's range is so limited, it doesn't invite exciting tales. Stan and Jack must have really struggled with this one. 

JS: Granted, it's nice when a story surprises you, but that doesn't mean any ludicrous twist they employ is automatically a good one. Too bad Comrade X didn't hit A-M with the DDT when she had him dead to rights.

Fantastic Four #7

Our Story 

Grown fat from too much margarine, candies, and pastries, and perhaps nursing an addiction to the hookah, Kurggo, Master of Planet X, watches his television jealously as the human race lives in relative happiness while the Xians await a runaway asteroid that will demolish their world. Kurggo gets the bright idea that if he kidnaps The Fantastic Four and brings them back to Planet X, they may solve his asteroid dilemma. 

Meanwhile, in the Baxter Building, Reed is trying to drum up enthusiasm for The Four's appearance in Washington that night and finding he's the only one who wants to go. The others take turns sulking or arguing, little dreaming of the danger awaiting them.

Kurggo has sent his private robot to nab The Four and Gort the robot does not go unnoticed by human eyes as he activates Kurggo's "hostility ray." Suddenly the people of earth are doing mean and rotten things to their fellow man: a wife dumps porridge on her husband's head, George Michael releases a new album, and the very politicians who are trumpeting The Four for their heroism turn on them and issue warrants for their arrest.

That's Kurggo's plan: to make The Four fugitives on their home planet and force them to accompany his servant to Planet X. There, Reed works against the clock to devise a way to stop the asteroid from obliterating five billion people and four Fantastics.

John Scoleri: Clearly Sue is so infatuated with Namor that her head is morphing into the triangular shape of his, as evidenced by her portrait on the cover of this issue.

Peter Enfantino: The evolution of the appearance of The Thing continues: this issue he looks like something that escaped from the Art Clokey Studio.

PE: After a couple issues devoid of the Tales to Astonish monsters/plotlines, we get Kurggo, Master of Planet X, a Journey Into Mystery if there ever was one.

JS: Here I go with another practical question. If Kurggo is so damn smart, why doesn't he get off his ass and deal with the friggin runaway asteroid? We lowly earthlings have solved that problem at least three times in big budget box office bombs. Of course, when you look into the sky and see the asteroid, it's really too late.

PE: Incredibly, when the robot tells Reed Richards the only place The Four will be safe is on Planet X, Mister Fantastically Gullible shrugs and says "Yep, guy's right. Let's go." The only one to sound the alarm that this may be a trap is The Thing of all people. Reed later admits that he's going out of curiosity. So he's willing to risk all their lives, head off millions of miles to another planet, because he's curious? What an outstanding leader.

JS: So future planets in peril take note - just send an invite and round trip tickets and you're good to go.

PE: Why would anyone name their world Planet X? Are they located between Planets W and Y? And what's that world on the other side of Planet Z called? 

JS: I was ready to refer to this one as Planet ZZZzzz.

PE: And for the miracle solution? Reed tips his hand that he's broken into Henry Pym's lab and copped his shrinking solution, suggesting to Kurggo that they blast the entire population of Planet X and ship them all off in one spaceship. Next issue: Henry Pym files suit.

JS: Again, the asteroid is basically hitting the planet when they begin to execute Reed's master plan. Might as well call him Noah, because if you're willing to believe that you can get five billion Plan-Xers aboard two spaceships in a matter of minutes, I've got an Ark to sell you...

Journey Into Mystery #85

Our Story

We're introduced to the God of Mischief, Loki, trapped in a tree in Asgard for ages by Thor. Through a bit of his mischief, he manipulates a passing Heimdall (guardian of Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge that allows Asgardians to travel to the Nine Realms) to release him from his wooden prison. Once free, Loki naturally wants to work up some fun and games while also plotting revenge on the Thunder God. He decides to kill two birds with one stone and heads for Earth where he has a showdown with Thor. After a public fracas, Loki is tamed and sent hurling back to Asgard.

PE: No mention is made of Loki's relationship to Thor (his half-brother) nor Odin (his "adopted" father). Indeed, when Loki lands on his ass in Asgard in front of Odin, the God remarks that it's just another job well-done for his eldest son. The back characters are still sketchy but we now know that the good stuff was on the way soon. Nurse Jane Foster is still no more than window dressing, this time fawning over the "dashing" Loki. As with the early issues of Fantastic Four, Kirby has yet to hit his stride with Thor. The Thunder God looks a little too cute for my tastes though Kirby's Loki hits the ground running, establishing that evil grin right from the get-go.

JS: I thought it was Blake's fault that he couldn't get a relationship going with Foster, but if she thinks Loki is dashing in comparison to Thor, our lame Doc doesn't stand a chance.

PE: Loki has had a roller coaster career. He's not much more than a guy out for fun in his few appearances but years later he'd become a major player in the Marvel Villain Hall of Fame. 

JS: I'm fascinated that so many villains introduced in the early issues are still around today.

JB: A couple of interesting things that I don’t off-hand recall being used later. If Loki established a mental link with Thor’s Uru hammer, why didn’t he use it in future conflicts to find his half-brother? Another is that water rendered Loki’s power ineffectual. Thor could have saved himself a lot of trouble if he’d remembered this earlier on! Apparently, Thor hasn’t been back to Asgard since Don Blake discovered the hammer, since Loki says no one knows where he is. The God of Evil’s turning the humans into negatives was an interesting image (are we back in The Outer Limits?).

Strange Tales #101

Our Story

After saving several civilians from death or hospitalization from the dangerous carnie rides, The Torch puts on his detective cap and realizes that the rides that were tampered with were all 'tall ones.' Why? Because the customers on those contraptions might happen to look down into the ocean below and see a Russian submarine complete with a not so inconspicuous hammer and sickle logo on its side! Thankfully 'The Torch' captures the evil Russians aboard the sub before he catches 'The Destroyer.' Our villain turns out to be the publisher of the town's newspaper that originally reported the threats that were written. It turns out that he was feeding information to the commies before the carnival came to town and didn't want to risk being spotted. Makes sense.

Tom McMillion: Due to the popularity of 'The Fantastic Four,' Ol' Flame Head is given his time to shine in his own solo series! This issue starts out with our hero racing against an atomic-powered, guided missile....just for his own amusement! Of course he wins. We learn that Johnny Storm has moved into a small, quiet town with his sister, Sue Storm AKA The Invisible Woman. His identity is a secret and a few times during the story he has to come up with ways to save the day while keeping his fellow schoolmate chums in the dark about his alter ego.

Peter Enfantino: Since when is his identity a secret? I must have missed the issue of FF where the entire population of New York forgets that The Human Torch is, in fact, the attention-seeking teenager, Johnny Storm. The regular FF title has never made bones about the fact the Four don't have "secret identities." It's a bit confusing as to just how long Johnny can retain his flame. Several times through the first half-dozen issues of Fantastic Four, Johnny's flame dies out after a relatively short period of time. In the splash page here, he's outracing "atomic-powered guided missiles" high above the earth (where oxygen is at a minimum to begin with). I'll play Devil's Advocate and explain that, with time, The Torch is beginning to master his flame and extend its running time. So where's my No-Prize? And thanks are due, I guess, to Fantastic Four Magazine for loaning The Torch to Strange Tales!

JS: If Marvel was so desperate to give a teenage superhero his own feature, why are they dragging their feet with Peter Parker?

TM: The main villain for this issue is known as 'The Destroyer,' who pretty much looks like a goof in a green and yellow haz-mat suit. I guess the choice of his lame costume is fitting when you consider the fact that his main criminal deeds involve him sabotaging carnival rides. The Destroyer then sends letters to the local newspaper warning that if the carnival doesn't close, the carnage will continue.

PE: It's a Scooby-Doo story, right down to the unmasking of the villain. Sadly, this was The Destroyer's only appearance. Not to be confused with the far more powerful Destroyer, who would appear in the pages of Thor later on the 1960s.

JS: And he would have gotten away with it if not for that meddling kid...

PE: We're treated to another blueprint, this time of Johnny Storm's special asbestos laden bedroom. I assume that things got dicey when asbestos was outlawed in 1989. A special room to store spare parts for his Hot Rods? Seems a bit bizarre, even in a comic book where a kid catches fire. I don't see the bathroom in this blueprint. I'll refrain from the obvious juvenile questions about toilet habits and safety but really must wonder if The Torch pees fire.

TM: On a humorous side note, the readers of this issue are introduced to Johnny Storm's bedroom. Everything is made from asbestos, including his bed, in case he has a nightmare while sleeping and flames on! Considering the unhealthy material used, we Marvel fans are lucky that the Human Torch didn't die before the 1970s.

PE: And Johnny refers to Reed (his future brother-in-law) as "Mr. Fantastic" rather than Reed. Does he call his sister "Invisible Girl"? In this issue, we learn that Johnny has mastered the art of controlling any flame within a few feet of him. He puts this trick to good use when he needs to turn into The Torch to save a passenger of a runaway roller coaster car. The molten teenager focuses his will on a smoker's lighter and manages to produce enough smoke to create a subterfuge. In fact, he causes enough smoke to send several dozen people to the hospital with monoxide intake.

Also this month

Kathy #19
Life with Millie #19
Patsy Walker #103
Patsy and Hedy #84
Rawhide Kid #30
Tales of Suspense #34


United Planets Rocketship EXP 410 approaches "The Forbidden World" (Tales of Suspense #34), only to be repelled by missiles. Pissed off, all but one of the rocketmen vote to bomb the planet out of existence for its nasty behaviour. The one standout begs for forgiving and peace but his pleas fall on deaf ears. They load up a smaller craft and head down with an atom bomb. Just as the mini-ship has taken off, the mothership gets the message that the planet was trying to warn off the space travellers from landing since the planet's atmosphere is incendiary. Luckily, the mini-ship explodes when hitting the planet's atmosphere and isn't able to deliver its deadly payload. The amazing thing about this story is not its deadly dialogue or sub-par Kirby art, but the fact that its a note-for-note rip-off of "Nothing Can Save Us" from TOS #29, proof that Lee and Kirby were out of gas when it came to these science fiction shorts. Oh, for the days of Grottu and Goom!

The Rawhide Kid has a "Showdown with the Crow Mangum Gang" (Rawhide Kid #30) after happening upon a ranch the Mangum Gang had just raided. Rawhide don't usually tangle in other hombres' business but this is different. Picking on an unarmed rancher and his family goes against the Code of the West. Rawhide tracks the gang down and forces them to return their booty and patch up the ranch. Nice Kirby art here.

From the Fan Page of FF #7. First appearance of the word ECHH?



  1. Ant-Man might not be one of the most exciting superheroes to read about, but I think a Marvel movie starring him might have potential. Think about it, especially if you are a fan of the old 'Incredible Shrinking Man' movie, imagine what could be done with today's CGI. A movie where the little hero is running around back yards, punching out bees, possums, cats, and all other assorted critters would be a pretty neat film.

    In regards to the Thing's constant evolving: according to the Marvel Universe Handbook, when Ben Grimm is first transformed, he is only able to lift around 2 tons. Now, in the present day, his strength level is up to him being able to max out at 75 tons. Not too shabby!

  2. I had high hopes for the Ant-Man movie when Edgar Wright was attached (with Simon Pegg as a possible Henry Pym). The problem is that unlike Matheson's Shrinking Man, once he got to a certain size, he didn't interact with humans anymore. I don't know how you sell the guy small enough to ride on an ant's back having conversations (let alone fighting) criminals...

    As for The Thing, clearly that's adjusted for inflation. ;)

  3. George Michael? Was that a test to see if we were paying attention?