Wednesday, August 24, 2011

October 1963: The Crimson Dynamo!

Journey Into Mystery # 97

Our Story

“The Lava Man” 
After rescuing a pilot who has blacked out in mid-flight, Thor returns to the office of Dr. Blake. After yet again losing his nerve to tell Jane Foster that he loves her, the Thunder God asks Odin’s permission to marry her – and is point blank refused. Deciding to renounce his heritage as Thor in order to be with Jane, Don Blake finds he is too late. Jane informs him that she is leaving his employ rather than be around a man who can’t speak his feelings. Meanwhile a new menace, the Lava Man, has appeared and makes his mission very clear to human kind: evacuate the cities of Earth, so that his subterranean people can take their rightful place as rulers of the surface world. An elemental battle ensues, and a heartbroken Thor eventually proves the master, returning the Lava Man to the volcano from whence he came in a vortex of wind – and shattering the mountain on top of him. Jane Foster stays true to her decision, now working for a slimy Dr. Andrews, leaving our good doctor to ponder his future.

JIM # 97 marks the first installment of the five-page short, “Tales Of Asgard, Home Of The Mighty Norse Gods”. In the debut story we see the very beginnings of the Norse legends, leading up to the arrival of Odin, and his love of the people of Earth, which they encircled with Yggdrasill, the magical tree of life. This was a permanent monthly addition, until enough pages were given to the primary stories to take up the whole issue.

JB: Definitely this issue is a step forward for the Thor character. It marks the return of Jack Kirby to the artistic chores; giving the story a more characteristic look. The Lava Man is an interesting and worthy villain, although it’s a bit tiresome to hear that Loki was the one behind his coming to the surface world. The Jane Foster conflict is likewise given a bit of gravity when she takes a stand for her feelings. 

JS: I had to double-check to confirm that they didn't mistakenly bind an issue of Night Nurse into my Thor Masterworks here. Sure enough, it was Journey Into Mystery starring Lame Doc Blake. I'm wondering if the inclusion of The Lava Man was an afterthought... it certainly seemed that way considering his presence was attributed to the work of the ever-present (and getting tiresome) villain Loki. And I had to laugh when Don Blake considered disavowing his 'heritage' and giving up the mantle of Thor. 15 appearances (and not one with your name on the masthead) does not a heritage make, pal.

JB: The addition of the “Tales Of Asgard…” series shows that Stan and Jack wanted to provide a background and validity to the characters, even if the stories are not exactly like the original Norse legends, but close enough for our purposes. 

JS: I picked these up in the controversial recolored hardcover collection, and I have to admit I'm a fan. I think the contemporary coloring, while perhaps not an accurate representation of how they originally appeared, breathes new life into Kirby's artwork. I look forward to learning more about Asgard over the coming months!

Strange Tales Annual 2

Our Story

"On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!"

The Fox and his henchmen steal a DaVinci painting from the art museum and frame Spider-Man for the crime. Spidey goes to Glenville to ask the Torch for help. The Torch thinks Spider-Man is guilty and they fight. Spidey eventually convinces the Torch of his innocence, and together they catch the Fox.

Jack: This is one of the few times Kirby drew Spider-Man. Though Ditko gets inking credits, I don't see a lot of Ditko in this story. Even the panels of Peter Parker look more like Kirby than Ditko.

PE: It's not very good Kirby/Ditko art at that. It's a rush job, lacking any of the traits that we've come to appreciate from the two masters. The script's a quickie as well, all predicated on several coincidences. The Torch is fuming over the attention Spidey gets. Bad guy frames Spidey so the Web-Slinger heads off to get help from The Torch for some reason (Ant-Man and The Wasp were busy with the Porcupine). The Torch is getting a call from the police to help hunt down Spidey when, who should come calling? It's one of those "Mistaken heroes fight it out but make nice in the end" stories that Marvel would trot out almost monthly throughout the sixties and seventies (Marvel Team-Up should have been titled Marvel Misunderstandings)

Jack: I always loved these annuals! 72 pages for a quarter, and perfect-bound! They were a summer highlight.

PE: Yeah, Professor Jack, I agree. Even though the lead story is abysmal there's a lot of comic book here. For those keeping score, you also get these ten pulse-pounding sagas of science fiction and wonder:   "I Was the Invisible Man" (by Jack Kirby); "I Was Prisoner on the Planet of Plunder"; "Nightmare Planet" (by Joe Sinnott): "I Am the Scourge of Atlantis" (by Dick Ayers); "I Captured the Abominable Snowman" (by Steve Ditko); "Worlds Within Worlds" "I Am Robot" (by Bob Powell and Joe Sinnott); "I Was the Man Who Lived Twice"; "I Fly to the Stars"; and "Prison 2000AD" (by Kirby and Christopher Rule). 

JS: Call me crazy, but for my money, I'd settle for a good comic at a fraction of the length. 

Strange Tales 113

Our Story

"The Coming of the Plantman!"

Johnny is dating Doris Evans, who prefers him as Johnny rather than the Human Torch. Doris's father fires Sam, the gardener, who becomes Plantman after his invention to increase the I.Q. of plants is struck by lightning. Plantman becomes Master of All Plant Life and battles the Torch, but when his plants turn on him he escapes capture by hiding in a hollow tree.

Jack: How to write a Human Torch story: introduce a dopey new villain, have him battle the Torch to a draw, have the Torch figure something out and win a rematch.

JS: If it were only that painless. No, this time out we've got The Shadow going up against the Torch. That is The Shadow, isn't it?

Jack: The menacing bushes on the cover sadly do not make an appearance in the actual story.

JS: Yes, the testicular bushes are noticeably absent. Fortunately there are plenty of wrestling trees and other plants on the move to be found inside.  

Same old story--girl vs. career.
Jack: This story was so bad I took a look at what DC put out in October 1963--23 comics to Marvel's 12. DC definitely had better artists (Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Joe Kubert), but Marvel already looks like it was aiming at an older audience.

JS: In light of these tales, The Torch has been inching past The Ant Man as my least favorite solo character in the early days of the Marvel Universe.

Tales of Suspense 46

Our Story

Khruschev's looking for a secret weapon to destroy Iron Man and he may have found it in the eccentric but brilliant Professor Vanko, aka The Crimson Dynamo. If the Head Red can dispatch tin-head, then Tony Stark will be an easy target. Vanko has devised a suit of armor much like that of Stark's yellow bodyguard and it's only a matter of time before he gets to try it out. Once in America, Vanko visits Stark's factories one by one and creates havoc and destruction, leading to distrust in Stark by the American war machine. Through an elaborate ruse, Iron Man is able to convince Vanko to cut short his evil ways and come over to the good guys' side by defecting. They march arm-in-arm back to Stark Industries.

PE: It's unclear why Vanko has the nickname "Crimson Dynamo" before the red suit is even constructed.

JS: Back then they probably had to submit the names early to secure the copyright.

PE: Forgive me, Marvelites, but that "Pepper" Potts can be a real bitch at times, especially to "Happy." Not that I'm complaining. At least we don't get another wallflower the likes of Betty Brant and Jane Foster. I wonder when, and if, she grows out of this phase and becomes the nice girl Gwyneth Paltrow portrays in the films. There is a little bit of the cliched "<sigh> That Tony Stark is so dreamy. I don't want to be his secretary. I want to be his wife!" nonsense but, thankfully, it's kept to a minimum.

JS: Oddly enough, despite not liking her in almost everything she's done, I do love Gwyneth as Pepper.

PE: That Iron Man is one scheming son-of-a-gun. Imagine taking the time and having the foresight, while your enemy is in hot pursuit, to stop and record a phoney message to convince Vanko that all Commies are treacherous! And how about Vanko's on-a-dime change of heart from "Red 'til I'm Dead" to realizing he's been "at the service of a savage, double-dealing system." I assume Tony Stark's Russian is flawless?

JS: All the skills that money can buy! Are we any closer to the red and gold Iron Man?

PE: Though The Crimson Dynamo cannot be considered an A-list villain by any stretch, he's a definite step up from such forgettable foes as Jack Frost, The Mad Pharaoh, and Kala, Queen of the Underworld. CD has faced Iron Man several more times over the years but, on an interesting note, this would be Anton Vanko's only appearance as a foe. You'll have to keep watching to find out why. The Vanko name will be familiar to those who saw the dreadful Iron Man 2. Mickey Rourke plays a character named Ivan Vanko, whose father Anton is robbed of credit and fortune for one of his inventions by Tony Stark's father. Vanko becomes the villain Whiplash. All manner of boredom ensues.

Fantastic Four 19

Our Story

Browsing a display of ancient Egyptian relics, Reed Richards espies a hieroglyphic that convinces him that an ancient pharaoh had discovered the cure for blindness, using radioactive herbs. Hoping to help Ben's girlfriend, Alicia, the Four travel back to ancient Egypt, using one of Doctor Doom's abandoned toys. Once they get there, however, they're in for a rude surprise. Egypt is ruled by Rama-Tut, a pharaoh not from ancient Egypt but from the future. Bored with life in the year 3000, he creates a time machine in the form of a sphinx and travels back for a bit of adventure but his ship is damaged and he's trapped in the past. Luckily he's stranded with his Ultra-Diode Ray-Gun, which allows him to do...well, just about anything I guess, including sapping the powers and making slaves of the FF. Rama-Tut intends to make Sue Storm his bride (where's Namor when you need him?) but her three partners save the day. Rama-Tut escapes in his newly-repaired time machine.

PE: With all his scientific experimenting, how does Reed Richards find the time to do research on Egyptology? No wonder Sue Storm is still seesawing with her emotions for Namor. And then Reed notices something in the hieroglyphics on display that makes him jump to the conclusion that the ancient pharaohs had created a cure for blindness! "Hold on! Here's how we cure Alicia! Let's hop in a time machine and check it out!" And how, for the love of Pete, did he know that the pharaoh used radioactive herbs? It's an urn with squiggly lines coming out. Couldn't it have been a vat of garlic or, more sinisterly, a Piss Jug?

JS: It's a real shame they didn't take the time to look up Tony Stark when they were in the ancient past.

PE: To test for booby traps, Johnny Storm throws Rama-Tut's ultra-sophisticated Diode Raygun through a door, only to watch as it's atomized. Umm, couldn't that have been used as an effective weapon?

JS: I wonder how many more issues before Reed assumes the form of a time machine so they can go back in time whenever they want.

PE: This is a so-so read for me but I appreciate the twists and turns that Kirby and Lee invest in the story. It's really the first of the sort of "turned-inside-out" science fiction that would become the title's bread and butter very soon.

JS: Does that mean more so-so stories to come?

PE: Much like the ever-changing mythos of The Hulk that we were subjected to several months ago, The Thing's rules and regulations have a tweaking now and then. Here we find out that under extreme heat (as in desert heat), The Thing's molecules revert back to those of Ben Grimm. Hmmm, I wonder if this was a rule that was jettisoned very quickly.

JS: We like to call that The Marvel Way.

PE: Ancient Egyptian relics and hieroglyphics must have been the rage even back in 1963. Stan was creating killer mummies and evil pharaohs faster than dopey secretaries.

JS: Kudos for making a point to not have Sue's Egyptian outfit (not made of unstable molecules) not disappear when she does.

PE: Doesn't the final reveal (that Doom's time machine won't transport radioactive material from the past to the present) negate the entire journey? Why wouldn't Reed say at the beginning of the long, arduous trip: "Well, this might not work as I'm pretty sure the stuff won't come back with us"?

JS: And they learned the all important lesson that Doctor Doom's time machine had the good taste not to transport radioactive samples from one time period to another. fortunately, it's more forgiving with human torches, stretchy-men, rock monsters and invisible women. 

PE: Rama-Tut's a complicated (and intriguing) villain who would pop back up the following year (in Avengers #8), re-named Kang the Conqueror, and have a long and fruitful history of villainy. I remember reading a particularly enjoyable multi-issue arc featuring Kang in Avengers #129-132 and Giant-Size Avengers #2 when I was a lad.

Jack: I recall Kang as my favorite Marvel villain, so I am a big Rama-Tut fan!

JS: I think this issue features the first reference to VTOL* (*vertical take off and landing) that would become a staple in the X-Men and GI Joe for decades.
PE: On the Fantastic Four Fan Page, future comic writer Steve Gerber (creator of Howard the Duck) writes in that since The Wasp joined up with Ant-Man it's been a great strip. Gerber was 15 at the time the letter was published so his opinions of that horrid title can be excused.

The Amazing Spider-Man 5

Our Story

Doctor Doom has decided that Spider-Man would be a perfect ally in his plot to destroy The Fantastic Four and rule the world. After contemplating it a bit, Spidey opts out, thus making him an enemy of the insulted Doom. The mad doctor scours the city with his new Spider-detector (which traces a "spider's impulses" back to its origin) to search for his new foe. At the same time, the gang at Pete's high school have concocted a "terrific gag" for Parker: Flash Thompson dresses up in a Spidey costume to scare Parker out of his wits. The gag backfires when Doom's detector finds the faux-Spidey in close proximity to a non-costumed Peter Parker. The Doc nabs Flash and uses him to blackmail the FF. The real Spider-Man swings to the rescue.

JS: In this issue, we find out Peter Parker reads Fantastic Four comics. How else can we explain his knowing who Doctor Doom was before meeting him.

PE: The Doc mentions that it's strange that Spidey (actually Flash) is wearing his costume in broad daylight. I haven't been paying attention: was there, at some point in this series, an unwritten rule that Spider-Man didn't go out until dark?

JS: I haven't been paying attention either, but even I know there's no nocturnal limitation on PP's abilities.

PE: Incredibly, for a brief moment there, Parker contemplates letting Doom murder Flash Thompson! What was that about "great strength" and "great responsibility"?

JS: Those fall right behind "great girlfriend." I love that evil genius look in his eye...

PE: First hints of a romance blooming between Peter and JJJ's secretary Betty Brant. An older woman! Another taboo buster from the House of Ideas.

JS: Let's not get ahead of ourselves until the taboos are actually busted.

PE: A surprisingly lackluster production considering the classic issues surrounding it but they can't always be hit out of the park, can they?

JS: I've got four words for you. Next Month = The Lizard.

PE: In the "Spider's Web" letters pages, Dan Fleming of Ottawa, Kansas pines for the days before "that horrible year of 1954, when the crime books were at their peak and the Comics Code came in..." Amen, Dan.

Tales to Astonish 48

Our Story

Embittered by neglect, super-scientist Alex Gentry has created the perfect armor, aping the most dreaded creature known to man, the porcupine. Each spine on his costume can unleash a different deadly toxin. Originally built to arm our forces, the suit is instead used for nefarious purposes when its creator snaps and travels down the road to crime. Only the minimal powers of The Astonishing Ant-Man and The Wonderful Wasp can defeat the quills of evil!

JS: Really? The Porcupine? And to think this is after I was sure we had already scraped the bottom of the barrel...

PE: I'm having a hard time picturing a battlefield filled with soldiers wearing porcupine costumes. But a harder time believing that Alex Gentry morphs from All-American Scientist aiding his country to would-be super-villain in three panels.

 JS: Really? Where have you been for the past two years?

PE: Ah! More personal names for our ant helpers.This issue we're introduced to Korr and Foss's brother, Torne.

JS: It's about darn time. I've been thinking (for the past several issues) that the ants are the most reliably interesting characters in the book.

PE: I'd like to see a detailed panel breaking down that super-duper trampoline machine that Pym uses to get places. It always seems to transport him right to the site he needs to get to. Does it have a Latitude/Longitude dial? What's the scope of trajectory? Is that window always open or has Henry Pym ever forgotten at the last moment? Does the speed at which he's traveling require oxygen?

JS: Clearly he can vault from one panel to the next with the greatest of ease.

PE: So The Porcupine has The Astonishing Ant-Man right where he wants him and he takes the time to disarm him instead of just squishing the little pest between his two fingers? Instead he puts Ant-Man in a bathtub full of water, walks away and says something along the lines of "I've gotta go but I'll come back in a few hours to see if you were able to survive my nefarious trap!!!"

JS: That's right out of the Evil Genius' playbook.

PE: We get an elaborate five-panel sequence where Ant-Man and The Wasp labor mightily to pour liquid cement into plastic bags before The Porcupine gets back to the lab. Was I the only one who wondered why they didn't simply revert back to normal size and avoid all the trouble? I mean, as soon as they poured the goop in the bags they could have shrunk back down to teensy weensy superhero size so as best to combat their foe.

JS: Why stop there. Aside from the free insect transportation offered, why even bother shrinking?

PE: Heads up, True Believers! This here's the last of The Astonishingly Asinine Adventures of Ant-Man. Oh, we've not seen the last of Henry Pym to be sure. Something tells me his tales will grow to new heights of absurdity next month.

JS: For a brief moment, I was thrilled. Until I saw the cover to TTA #48.

Also this month

Kathy #25
Modeling with Millie #26
Patsy and Hedy #90
Patsy Walker #110
Rawhide Kid #36


The Rawhide Kid helps an old couple who are being chased by three owlhoots and finds himself "A Prisoner of Outlaw Town" (Rawhide Kid #36). Rawhide captures the three thugs and takes them back to Wade Township where he expects to find a sheriff to hear his unnerving story. Not only does his story fall on the deaf ears of the sheriff but he's tossed in the slammer for impeding justice. The three bullies were all deputies! When The Kid discovers that the whole town justice system is crooked, he aims to right the wrongs being perpetrated. Art by Dick Ayers.

1 comment:

  1. I generally like Gwyneth, but don't think she's especially well cast as Pepper, who indeed got more likable as time went by. That's nothing, though, compared with the EPIC miscasting of Kirtsen Dunst--whom I also like otherwise--as Mary Jane Watson in the Spider-Man movies. A single look at the self-assured and drop-dead-gorgeous M.J. on her first appearance (if memory serves me correctly, it was the last panel of AMAZING #42, where she boasts, "Face it, tiger--you've just hit the jackpot!") proves that she bears no resemblance to Dunst's timid, cute-but-by-no-means-gorgeous imitation.

    The Kang/Avengers arc Pete mentioned was part of my Marvel glory days, so I'm with you all the way, there in particular and regarding Kang in general. A lot of cool stuff came in stories involving the erstwhile Rama-Tut. And I agree with Gerber (later one of my all-time favorite Marvel writers) that the Wasp brought up Hank's game, for whatever that's worth.