Wednesday, August 3, 2011

July 1963: The Coming of Dr. Strange

Amazing Spider-Man #3

Our Story

Otto Octavious, better known to his co-workers down at the Atomic Testing Lab as "Doctor Octopus" has a special set of mechanized arms attached to his torso that makes science much easier. Unfortunately for the good doctor, an accident with that ol' devil radiation ends up fusing his "contraption" to his body. The mishap also leaves the Doc mentally unstable but able to psychically control his extra arms. Spider-Man, at that very moment sighing that normal criminals ain't his bag, gets wind of some funny goings-on at the hospital that Octavious is recuperating in and promises, as Peter Parker, to get J. Jonah Jameson some pics.

Arriving at the hospital, Spidey discovers that Doc Ock has captured several doctors and is forcing them to do evil deeds with beakers and prescription tablets. The Amazing Spider-Man rushes in and is quickly shown the window by "the first villain to ever beat" him. Dejected, Peter Parker spends quite a few panels feeling sorry for himself and contemplating early retirement until he listens in on a stirring speech from Johnny Storm aka The Human Torch. With new vitality racing through his spider-irradiated blood, the hero defeats the misunderstood Octopus (misunderstood in the sense that the guy has six arms, not eight) and once again saves the day.

Peter Enfantino: Johnny Storm makes a cameo appearance to speak to a group of students at Peter's high school. During his lecture, he informs us that he had been asked to tackle Doc Ock but he'd been using his flame so much recently, he "has to wait a few days to let it get strong again." This is interesting news as we've never really been given any guidelines for Johnny's flame. It's been hinted at but usually as "for only a few hours". A few days seems extreme. These rules seem to change from issue to issue, much like Bruce Banner's Hulking out and Jane Foster's ability to spell "cat." Can a Marvel Zombie out there tell us if Johnny ever again mentioned this limiting of his abilities or did it just fall by the wayside?

John Scoleri: So who was Johnny Storm's agent? FF, Strange Tales AND Spider-Man this month? And though he was brought in to deal with Doc Ock, clearly they only needed him to spur PP into another confrontation with ol' eight-limbs.

PE: The parade of great villains continues in the pages of ASM. First, last issue's Vulture, now Doc Ock. Soon we'll get the likes of The Sandman, The Lizard, and Electro. All bad guys that have stood the test of time as opposed to the riff-raff clogging up the pages of the other titles.

JS: While I await the Lizard's arrival with great anticipation, I have to say that Doc Ock was another one of those villains I never truly appreciated, with a check your brain at the door origin story. Radiation that causes metal to meld to his skin? Sure, I'll buy that. But extending the control to his physiology? Still, Ditko manages to make him interesting.

PE: Spider-Man truly was Marvel's flagship title and I'm sure it had a lot to do with Steve Ditko. The artist's work just keeps getting better. Comic historians debate endlessly (on either side of the table like Democrats and Republicans) how much of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange were actually written by Ditko. You can't tell what the truth is from interviews. No one seems to be able to remember who did what. Let those debates rage on. I'll simply be enjoying the stories and artistry, no matter who wrote them. Amazingly, Ock almost seemed as though he'd be heading to second-tier status but strong storylines (including one in the early 70s that saw Octavious almost marrying Aunt May!) elevated him to the big leagues. The appearance in the second Sam Raimi film (as portrayed brilliantly by Alfred Molina) only cemented that status.

JS: I don't know how much he had to do with the writing, but I do like how he started to shake up some of the panel layouts. The standard three rows were getting a tad monotonous.

PE: In the first installment of the fan page, Spider's Web, future comic dealer Buddy Saunders predicts rather presciently that "in no time at all, Spider-Man should be ranking among the very tops in the comic world."

Fantastic Four 16

Our Story

The Fantastic Four are having a problem keeping their true size. They seem to be shrinking without warning. Before you can say "Let's help the falling sales of Tales to Astonish," The Astonishing Ant-Man is called on to help The Four. Henry Pym loans a bit of his shrinking serum to the team to help them get to the bottom of the mystery. Turns out that Doctor Doom, shrunken down to micro-size back in issue 10* (* as related by Jazzy Johnny Scoleri and Pizzazzy Petey Enfantino back in January 1963), has grown to be ruler of a really tiny civilization. Trapping The Four in his micro-world, Doom plots to enslave them

Peter Enfantino: The Four have all been having these really wacky shrinking accidents lately and yet don't think it important enough to share with their team mates. Ben Grimm is so embarrassed about shrinking down to mini-size, he hides in Reed Richards' guinea pig cage? Yep, something I'd do. Grimm relates that "next thing he knew, he was normal-sized again." Famous missing panel shows the results of The Thing growing large inside a guinea pig cage and the resulting PETA protest outside the Baxter Building.

JS: I'm continually amazed that you and I seem to notice the same things. 

PE: The return of the Kirby/Lee monsters of yore with The Terrible Lizard Warriors of Tok. And not a minute too soon. Who thought we'd actually be pining for the days of Tim Boo Ba and Monsteroso when confronted by the boring exploits of Doctor doom and his micro-men?

JS: I love that Reed refers to him as The Astonishing Ant-Man. As if he's trying to protect the copyright. July 63 was a summer of crossovers...

PE: Ant-Man's quite a help. He shrinks down to mini-size and is immediately taken captive by Doom's men. I guess they didn't realize that Ant-Man, though shrunken down to ant size, still retains his big guy strength.

JS: Did you notice that the worst possible scenario for Sue wasn't that she'd be slave to the lizard men, but that her hair would be a mess? Doom's return was unfortunately a lackluster one. I'll chalk it up to the fact that the best is yet to come.

Marvel's proofreaders take a vacation

PE: Poor Ben Grimm can't tell the difference between Sue Storm and Alicia Masters. Alicia's supposed to be the blind one in the strip.

JS: For some reason, we're supposed to accept that the blind gal is only interested in a human rockpile, and not a fleshy Ben. What's up with that? And Reed is so focused on solving Ben's problem that he shoves a beaker in his mouth while he's balancing a piano in one hand? Like, oops, I missed that detail...

Strange Tales 110

Our Story
"The Human Torch vs. The Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete"

Two of the Torch's enemies team up in a doomed effort to defeat our hero.  Pete breaks the Wizard out of jail and they trap Johnny in a room of mirrors.

JS: Woo-hoo! All my favorites packed into one issue! Somebody shoot me now.

PE: Where the hell's The Astonishing Ant-Man when you need him most?

Jack:  This story has some pretty bad art by Dick Ayers.

JS: Tales like this make me appreciate how good a bad Doctor Doom story is.

Jack:  The first third of the story is filler, as Johnny looks through his scrapbook and recaps past battles.  What exactly is in that scrapbook?  Little bits of paste?

Our Story

"Dr. Strange: Master of Black Magic!"

A man whose sleep is tortured by a recurring nightmare visits the Greenwich Village home of Dr. Strange for help.  The doctor promises to solve the man's problem by entering his dream. That night, in the dream, Dr. Strange discovers that the man's evil deeds are what is tormenting him.  Strange must call upon The Master, his tutor, for help to escape Nightmare, his ancient foe.

Jack:  Wow!  In five pages, Lee and Ditko establish a completely new character.

JS: Ditko was obviously able to draw on some of his darker tales from the pre-superhero days with this new creation. 

Jack:  Ditko's art is so different from what was being featured in other Marvel super-hero comics at the time.  Coming right after Dick Ayers's slapdash Torch story, it's a real jolt.

JS: For the most part I liked it, but what's with rectangle head on the Doc?

Jack:  This is a mix of Marvel horror tales and hero tales.  It's not an origin story--Dr. Strange is already known in the community.

JS: Here's another character I never read growing up, and one of those that I'm most looking forward to reading.

Journey Into Mystery # 94

Our Story:

“Thor And Loki Attack The Human Race”

In a U.S. military test, a missile, armed with a nuclear warhead, is being sent up in space to explode. When the missile first goes off course, and then fails to remotely destruct, an urgent radio bulletin is sent out to the Mighty Thor to save the day. Dr. Blake hears the plea, and, as Thor, has the missile harmlessly blown up in midair momentarily. When a dragon suddenly appears in the sky, Thor is distracted long enough to look away at the moment his hammer returns, and is struck in the back of the neck. Recovering quickly, Thor decides to go to Asgard and free his evil half brother Loki from the Uru menacles holding him prisoner. What?! Indeed, Loki has orchestrated the loss of control of the missile, and the “dragon” illusion, so that the hammer would strike Thor in the chromosomatic gland, causing the Thunder God’s personality to change—for the worse. Knocking Heimdall aside upon arriving in Asgard, and freeing Loki. Now a pair of evil buddies, the two brothers push Odin and his fellow gods aside, demanding absolute rule of Asgard at threat of harming the human race on Earth.

Making good on their threat, Thor and Loki cause the human race no end of grief, causing earthquakes and thunderstorms, and destroying famous landmarks. Waving a white flag of surrender, U.N. delegates approach, offering to help convince Odin to give up his rule of Asgard, and thus stop the fearsome assault on Earth. At the first chance Thor gets to toss his hammer in the U.N. building, it mysteriously stops in midflight, until it has the chance to hit Thor again in the neck, returning him to normal. The U.N. delegates are actually Odin and his cronies in disguise, who had this plan to bring Thor back, and send Loki packing.

JB: First thing I see is the double length handle of Thor’s hammer, courtesy of artist Joe Sinnott. It seems to grow longer with each issue Sinnott drew. Wait ‘til next month.

JS: Is it just me, or is Loki the new star of Journey Into Mystery? It feels like he's in almost every issue.

JB: Yet another appearance for Loki, with the evil Thor providing some “comic” relief in his role-reversal. Luckily Odin and his fellows have enough supernatural powers to fix all those landmark buildings and erase the incident from the minds of men. At least they’re not saying Thor alone has that power.

JS: Yeah. No one will notice the Asgardian take on a Pyramid, or the Eiffel Tower. No problem at all.

PE: Where the hell is Larry Lieber when you need him most?

Tales of Suspense #43

Our Story
Iron Man goes up against the folks from Netherworld in this early installment of Iron Man in Tales of Suspense. One has to wonder where our pal Namor was. Considering all the crossovers this month, a Sub-Mariner would have been perfect for this issue.

JS: It looks like we've got four more installments of the gold-buckethead Iron Man before he migrates to his famous red and yellow outfit. Hopefully with the costume change we'll see an improvement in the stories, too.

PE: -Spoiler alert- Don't bet on it, Professor John!

JS: Our Netherians, Kala and Baxu will be back, eventually. Watch for them in FF a hundred or so issues ahead of us.

PE: Can I skip ahead?

Tales to Astonish 45

Our Story

Because you demanded it! The startling return of Egghead, the master villain! Seeking revenge for his emasculating defeat at the hands of a really small guy with really no super powers, the brilliant but deranged scientist known as Egghead plots an overly elaborate scheme (take my word for it, it's overly elaborate) to steal diamonds to trap The Wasp to trap Ant-Man. In league with two toughs (one, known only as Ape, resembles an ape), Egghead pulls off the stunning plan and traps The Wasp in a hornet's nest. Forced to call Ant-Man for help (though she really doesn't want to), Janet unwittingly sets Henry up for a fall... right into a deadly iguana cage. Making a quick dispatch of the lizard (and drawing the ire of PETA for the second time this month), Henry Pym outwits Egghead and foils his dastardly plan. The master criminal, however, manages to elude police and will, undoubtedly, be back for more thrills at a later date (hopefully in a Charlton Comic and outside the scope of this blog).

the hardest part of writing Ant
JS: It's interesting to note that it took quite a while before somebody went after the Ant-Man with an anteater. Seems like a no-brainer to me? We don't see the anteater's fate by the end of the issue, so here's hoping for his return in the near future.

Peter Enfantino: Again, I'd love to see sales figures on these early Marvel titles as I find it hard to believe this swill sold very many copies (in the grand scheme of things circa 1963). Egghead enjoyed an undeserved longevity in Marvel Comics, next popping up (as far as I can tell) in Avengers 63 and forming a quartet of super-villains called the Emissaries of Evil (with The Rhino, Cobalt Man, and Solarr—all three still veiled in 1963). If there are tiers lower than fourth, this guy sits on that shelf.

Also this month

Gunsmoke Western #77 (final issue)
Kid Colt Outlaw #111
Love Romances #106
Millie the Model #115
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #2
Two-Gun Kid #64


"Don't Draw Against Drago" (Gunsmoke Western #77) is a heapin' helpin' full of good advice but Kid Colt finds that sometimes you can't back down from a fight. Even against a man who may be able to outdraw you. Colt's big heart gets the better of him again as he promises the wife of a sheriff that Drago will never draw on her man. To keep that promise, The Kid has to force Drago to draw on him instead. When the exciting moment comes, Drago is wide left and only skims The Kid's shoulder but Colt is on the money and puts one right between Drago's eyes. Well, no, that would be another company, another time. In this one, The Kid manages to disarm the villain with two shots at the six-shooters. Ah, the Wild, Wild West indeed. Sadly (and this is not sarcasm), this would be the final issue of Gunsmoke Western. Though the genre was flourishing on TV and at the movies, it was losing ground with the kids. Somehow the other three titles would limp along for several more years (and, indeed, a few more titles were added along the way). I would have liked for Gunsmoke Western to be a bit more of an anthology title rather than a second Kid Colt book. It might have made for a little more variety. But then a good portion of these stories are obviously "borrowed" from the other media.

In "The Saga of Sam Hawk, The Manhunter" (Kid Colt Outlaw #111), a super-sized Colt thriller, The Kid is stalked by the most vicious bounty hunter this side of the Pecos, Sam Hawk. Hawk will stop at nothing to get his man and his man happens to be the hero of this title. Hawk manages to trap Colt several times but just can't seem to get the varmint to justice without somehow losing him. In the end, the gargantuan heart of Kid Colt wins when Hawk comes down with pneumonia and The Kid risks his life to get the man the medicine to cure him. <sigh> what a guy! Jack Keller provides the art again.

Dick Ayers steps out from behind The King's shadow and provides not just the inking but the penciling of "Trapped By Grizzly Grogan" (Two-Gun Kid #64). Matt Hawk is walking girlfriend Nancy Carter when they're approached by the brutish Grizzly Grogan, who insists on spending some quality time with Nancy. Matt begs his leave and hightails it with Nancy mumbling out a perfect imitation of Jane Foster, something about the lack of backbone in the men in her life. Of course, Matt is simply looking for a phone booth to change into the Two-Gun Kid. This issue introduces the supporting character, prize-fighter Boom-Boom Brown, who will figure in several of The Two-Gun Kid's adventures. As for Ayers' art, it looks sketchy and unfinished, very reminiscent of the kind of art that filled the pages of The Two-Gun Kid in the 1940s.

In "7 Doomed Men" (Sgt Fury #2), The Howlers are to act as decoys in a little French coastal town to deflect the attention of the Germans while an unmanned allied destroyer drifts in, filled with TNT, to destroy the German U-boats docked there. Mission accomplished, the Howlers head back to camp only to find they've got another top-secret assignment: infiltrate the concentration camp in Heinemunde and stop the German scientists who are close to creating the A-Bomb. Unlike the westerns and hero comics, Sgt Fury is a violent title. It would have to be, I guess, given its subject matter, The camp is bleak, the prisoners emaciated and unshaven. Grenades are tossed in rooms filled with unarmed German officers or at passing motorcycles (at times with a bit too much pleasure, I must add). The result is not, as in Kid Colt Outlaw, wounded fingers but real death. No escaping that. Hats off to Lee and Kirby for treating war in a mature fashion and somehow managing to skirt the dreaded Comics Code.


  1. I wonder if I could call on Ant-Man and the Wasp for help? We have a few more ants coming in the house than I'd like, and the other day we found some wasps had started to build a nest inside the door of our car!! Maybe the blog is affecting me strangely.
    Say, did anyone ever read the fantastic short story "Lenington Versus The Ants" (in school maybe)? I found a link to the story here:
    A little off topic, but interesting.

  2. Professor Jim!
    I've got the old time radio show of Leinegen v. Ants. The Escape episode ("Designed to help you escape the four walls of today") starred William "Cannon" Conrad as Leinengen. Of course, there was the movie version later on, "The Naked Jungle" starring Charlton Heston (and William Conrad). I'm fairly sure the radio show is floating around for free listening on the net.

  3. Doctors Octopus and Strange introduced in the same month? By the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth, 'twas a grand time to be alive...which I had been for all of thirty days at that point. Clearly, I would grow up in a better world after that.

    I agree with "Pizzazzy Petey" (again) on two points: first, that exactly who did what is essentially immaterial by now. Lee and Ditko (or Lee and Kirby, or whoever) were making increasingly awesome comics together, despite the teething pains you guys have so sagely identified, and we were the lucky beneficiaries. End of story. Second, unlike the disappointing Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man movie (through no fault of the well-cast Willem The Foe--er, Dafoe), Doc Ock proved in the second one that Marvel villains onscreen, and CGI, can both be good things if properly, uh, handled.

    But even I, who never watched SEINFELD, am amazed that nobody made a "shrinkage" allusion regarding the size-challenged FF. Another interesting omission is the fact that because Paste-Pot Pete became (none too soon) the Trapster, his team-up with the Wizard brings them halfway to Frightful Four status. The Terrible Two?

    Clearly, the advent of Dr. Strange distracted you. And as much as I give credit to Ditko as Spidey's co-creator, I've always preferred his art on Doc, where realism wasn't exactly at a premium; quite the reverse, in fact.

    Your remarks about the demise of GUNSMOKE WESTERN remind us that when it came to churning out sagebrush sagas back then, everybody was doin' it, including some surprising folks. Even The GREAT Richard Matheson (or TGRM as we know him chez Bradley) wrote more episodes of LAWMAN in that same period than he did for any series except THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

    And yes, I join in the love for Leinengen on both page and screen.