Wednesday, September 7, 2011

December 1963: Iron Man Gets His New Armor!

Strange Tales #115

Our Story - Human Torch

Reed summons Johnny to tell him that Spider-Man's foe, The Sandman, has escaped from prison. Johnny assumes that his mission is to capture the villain, but Reed just wants him to locate Spider-Man, who can use his experience to defeat the Sandman.

Johnny finds the Sandman, but the bad guy escapes, preferring to wait for Spider-Man. Johnny dons a Spider-Man disguise and lures the Sandman into a battle. The Sandman tries to wear Johnny out, but the Torch maneuvers them both under water sprinklers, leading to an old-fashioned fight without super-powers.

In the end, the Sandman is led back to prison as Spider-Man watches from the sidelines, unhappy that the Torch is fighting his battles.

JS: The Sandman is back in town, but the Human Torch is determined to intercept him before he makes it to the next issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Jack: Why didn't the Torch just turn the Sandman into the Glass-Man with some hot flame? Perhaps Reed was too busy working on a cure for Alicia's blindness to recall high school chemistry.

PE: Ryker’s Island problems continue. Some bright prison warden thought a nice view without sealed glass would be just the thing to rehabilitate The Sandman.

JS: So, are Spider-Man costumes so easy to come by that HT ran down to the costume shop to pick one up (I honestly thought it would turn out to be a Spider-Man dummy made of flame-PE) ? Or does he have a new power to change his unstable molecule costume into any outfit he chooses?

PE: New rule to add to the Torch’s powers. Even with his flame extinguished, he has enough body heat to double his strength. I’ve run out of room in my notebook. You’re on your own from here on out.

JS: Either Spider-Man missed his call time, or The Torch wasn't willing to pay his fee to get him in more than two panels and a head shot on the cover?

Jack: Maybe they wanted to keep Dick "Tracy" Ayers away from drawing the web-slinger too often--judging from the panel to the left, that may have been wise.

PE: Spider-Man appears courtesy of The Amazing Spider-Man Magazine.

Our Story - Doctor Strange

Haughty surgeon Stephen Strange only cared about money, until the day his nerves were injured in a car accident and he could no longer operate. Too proud to accept his newly decreased status, he becomes a drifter and a derelict, until a chance bit of overheard conversation leads him to India, to seek the legendary healer known as the Ancient One.

Strange scoffs at the old wizard's offer to take him on as a student. Forced to remain by impassable snow, Strange discovers that the Ancient One's pupil, Mordo, is trying to destroy his master. The disgraced medical doctor becomes convinced of the efficacy of magic and vows to learn the mystic arts, determined to defeat Mordo and protect the Ancient One.

JS: It took four appearances, but we finally get around to the origin of Steven Strange. Turns out he was quite an ass.

PE: This is where I type in my usual "nicely done art by Ditko." Really top-notch and an enjoyable, though a bit rushed, origin story.

JS: So much of this short tale was focused on what a jerk the Doc was, I honestly had a hard time buying that in short order he totally turned around. In retrospect, I almost preferred not knowing how he came to be the arch enemy of Mordo.

Jack: I am still trying to figure out what "I crave a boon" means.

Journey Into Mystery #99

“The Mysterious Mr. Hyde”
Our Story:

Calvin Zabo, another ne’er do well wanna-be scientist, was fascinated by Robert Luis Stevenson’s tale of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. He has developed a potion to do just that – to HIMSELF! Seeing his alter–ego “Hyde” as a perfect way to hide his “Zabo” half from suspicion of any evil-doing, Calvin sets about on his first offense as Mr. Hyde: to end the life of Donald Blake, who had once refused Zabo’s request for employment.

Thor, meanwhile, joyfully returns to Earth after a successful audience with Odin – who has conceded that while the Thunder God may never marry a mortal, Jane Foster may be given the chance of immortality if she proves worthy. Dr. Blake enters his office to find Mr. Hyde threatening Jane Foster. Pushing Blake out the window and stealing the contents of the doctor’s safe, Hyde flees to plot his next crime. Jane, having fainted, doesn’t see Don become Thor, and is told by the Thunder God he saved Blake from a fatal fall. Back at his hideout, Zabo/Hyde hears this news and vows the destruction of Thor, beginning by impersonating the Thunder God and robbing a bank.

In this installment of Tales of Asgard, Marvel continues to lay the foundation of making the connection between the somewhat fragile version of Thor we see thus far, with the hero of Norse legends. Our story finds Odin battling Surtur the Fire Demon. I’d forgotten that Surtur was trapped inside the Earth and provided our planet with heat and energy.

JS: Holy Asgard! Our first real cliffhanger to be continued next issue!

JB: In later issues, the Cobra and Mr. Hyde become a team, so in these last two issues it is interesting to see them on their own merits (or lack of?). Marvel did a fun trick here – spinning a classic story into comic-book form. And while Zabo’s transformation is rather ridiculous, I found it believable. This is the first two-part Thor tale so far.

PE: The idea of overlapping storylines is groundbreaking for Marvel. It’s not been done before that I can recall. Only problem is that the transition is so abrupt we’re not sure what we’re reading. Has Mr. Hyde bought a Thor costume and worked on a speed potion overnight? I’m not sure what I’m reading here.

JB: And of course, the authorities conclude on their own rather quickly that the bad Thor was a fake!

JS: Have I been sleeping through these journeys into mystery? When did Jane Foster go from loving goldilocks to the lame doctor?

PE: Our ol’ whipping girl, Jane Foster is every bit as vapid as ever. I thought it might have been because I took a couple issues off (but don't worry, I'll catch up, true believer!) but she really seems to be in love with lame-o!

JB: Some important foreshadowing here with the chance of Jane Foster becoming an immortal. She’s got a lot of work to do!

JS: Clearly, Calvin Zabo isn't the sharpest tool in the shed. If he was looking to get rich by robbing his boss, he would have been better off interviewing over at Stark Industries.

PE: More snappy writing from The House of Ideas: Calvin Zabo, aka Mr. Hyde, claims that Don Blake is “a famous lame doctor” and moans that Blake has “(e)verything! Wealth, fame, a beautiful nurse! I knew I had to find a way to harm him somehow!” As we’ve seen with other early Marvel villains, Zabo’s a super-intelligent scientist so what does he do? He creates a potion to turn himself into a monster so he can seek revenge on Dr. Don Blake for refusing to hire him.

JB: If I did that to my old bosses, where would I be today?

JS: I love how Zabo's potion not only changed his look and strength, but his fingerprints as well. Do you think it also changed his social security number and gave him minty fresh breath?

JS: Meanwhile, back on Asgard, Thor plays the whiny teenager, and goes so far as to raise Mjonir to Odin. I was a little disappointed there wasn't a little oldfather smackdown as a result...

PE: If I was Odin and my kid raised his hammer to me, I’d kick his ass, son or no son. Loki doesn’t seem to be such a burden to the ol’ man now.

JS: This crazy issue is surprisingly entertaining. My favorite bit comes after Mr. Hyde tosses Blake out the window. We get a page of back and forth panels alternating between Hyde and Blake free falling. Thank goodness he took that office in the Empire State building. The page also features the classic line about Jane fainting, "And then, because she is a female..."

PE: But what’s with the radio newscaster who tells the world that “Dr. Donald Blake, eminent neuro-surgeon, was miraculously saved from a plunge from his office window today by the arrival of The Mighty Thor…” He’s not eminent, he’s lame. Everyone knows that.

JS: We don't know how, but have to assume Mr. Hyde modified his Robert Louis Stevenson serum with a few drops of Stan Lee, allowing himself to turn into Thor. I guess we'll have to wait until the next issue to find out.

JS: I would say it was appropriate for Don Heck to draw the issue featuring a villain supposed to be hideous. Unfortunately, everything in the issue he drew looks pretty bad. Kirby's Tales from Asgard provides a welcome relief, albeit another lackluster installment about a fire demon driven to the Earth's core by Odin.
PE: Professor John, I think this is the first time we've disagreed about anything since you thought Betty Brant could beat Jane Foster in a mudpit. Excellent chapter of Tales of Asgard. The antithesis of the main story: intelligently written and nicely drawn by Jack Kirby. This little bit makes me want to fast-forward through the chaff to get to the wheat.

JB: Hang in there guys, the really good ones are coming soon. And come on Jane, I still think you're great, but you gotta convince everyone else!

Tales to Astonish #50

Our Story

Dave Cannon's always been a bad boy. When he was young he'd steal fruit from the grocer and the cops couldn't stop him. His secret? Dave can spin like a top and reach high speeds with the greatest of ease. Not one to retire as a really good produce vandal, Dave whirls his way to the top by fixing races with the mob. Tired of sharing his loot, Cannon goes solo. He buys a really dumb looking get-up and christens himself The Human Top (The Cannon was taken, I guess) and robs ultra-chic Danly's Department Store. Luckily, Giant Man and The Wasp have been tipped off by ants who speak in hieroglyphics and are lying in wait for The Top. Not used to his new ungainly size, Giant Man makes a fool of himself in front of the public and vows to hit the gym.

PE: On the splash page, Stan exclaims that "Giant Man seems to have taken comic fandom by storm!" I'm not sure how Stan could know that since he's reminded us several times that it takes two or three issues before Marvel gets sales figures and fan feedback. Wishful thinking?

JS: Can I just say the Wasp needs to lose that silly hat. Though for the first time, I have to admit I'm warming up to their relationship.

PE: The whacky and fun-loving relationship between Hank and Janet reaches a zenith of snappy repartee. Meanwhile, the inanity of the strip also reaches a zenith with the "Password" game Hank Pym has to play to understand what his ants are trying to tell him.

PE: Now that Ant Man is Gi-Ant Man, you'd think his dopey slave ants would head for greener pastures but they still do Pym's bidding. Wisely though, they've steadfastly refused to catch him when he springs from his new giant slingshot. They still perform incredible feats like munching through concrete in seconds!

JS: A trait of ants that's not widely recorded.

PE: Marvel's first true two-parter? This "adventure" ends right in the middle of the story and we're promised the final half will appear in TTA #51. The search for a good Giant Man story continues as well.

JS: Au contraire, Professor Peter. It's at best a tie with the Asgardian Prince as noted above. But for the life of me, I can't imagine Stan's pitch, "This Human Top story is too good to contain to a single issue. Why, he's already taken comic fandom by storm!"
The Amazing Spider-Man #7

Our Story

Acting the model prisoner, The Vulture is allowed to use the machine shop and quickly whips up a new flying costume. But this new set of wings is modified, better than the set that Spider-Man easily put out to pasture (in The Amazing Spider-Man #2). When Spidey catches up to him, The Vulture tricks him into believing he's an easy target. In the ensuing battle, Spider-Man is beaten and badly sprains his arm. Sucking it up, Web-Head defends J. Jonah Jameson when The Vulture arrives at The Daily Bugle to ransack the payroll. After a vicious brawl, The Vulture is taken down and it's safe to fly the friendly skies again.

PE: Once again, the powers-that-be need to replace the wardens out on Ryker's Island. Who gets the bright idea of letting these Marvel criminals run machinery in the workshops? They're super-villains for a reason. They're real smart!

JS: And for goodness sake, don't shoot at the guy flying away, the bullets might hit an innocent bystander.

PE: The Vulture's a cool-looking character but, modified wings or no, he's still just an old guy who can fly. He has no super-powers. The idea that he can beat Spider-Man is ridiculous.

JS: You have to wonder why he goes with the whole vulture getup anyway. Why not just be a land based robber?

As opposed to the first "fatal mistake"?
PE: Isn't it a bit foolhardy of Spidey to let The Vulture see him snap a shot of him with his camera? Later, when Parker's in Jonah's office and The Vulture breaks in, the old codger might have put two and two together.

JS: I think the villains must assume those shots are for Spidey's own photo album. But you think they might bother to investigate when those photos turn up on the front page of the Daily Bugle credited to this Peter Parker character.

PE: Nice climactic exchange between Peter Parker and Betty Brant (although I'd question whether a "timid lad" like Parker would call Brant "baby."). We're starting to see the introduction of interaction between Peter and females. Just baby steps right now though. This is, after all, a long time before we meet Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy.

JS: Yep. Maybe our little Petey is finally growing up...

PE: On The Spider's-Web page, future music critic Paul Gambaccini writes in to praise the maturation of Steve Ditko's art on The Amazing Spider-Man. Paul notes that, in the beginning, the art was "pitifully primitive, lacked imagination, and made one believe that Steve was a doting, senile old codger who you left on your staff because you didn't have the heart to fire him." Gambaccini also claims that Marvel's competitors have deteriorated and "now seems like eccch!" Stan, in a rare show of modesty (this was early in his Mighty Marvel career, remember), corrects Gambaccini: "We don't feel it's fair for you to knock any other group of magazines while boosting ours....There are many fine talents producing well-written and well-drawn stories at other houses beside MARVEL." This from the guy who, very soon, will refer to DC as "Brand Ecch." Stan also asks the readers if they'd mind Marvel shutting down all the letters pages save that for the FF. I'm pretty sure I know what the answer was but I'll keep you posted.

Tales of Suspense #48

Our Story

It's safe to say that Iron Man has never fought a foe like Mister Doll. An evil, but talented, artist who can sculpt clay into the figure of his enemy. When he squeezes the toy, its likeness has no will and does whatever Doll bids. When Iron Man comes under Mr. Doll's power, he's forced to jump from a cliff into the ocean. Drained of energy and facing death, Tony Stark limps back home and ponders retirement. The billionaire channels frustration into action though when he completely revamps his armor, chucking the cumbersome yellow garbage can for a "sleek, slimmed-down gold and red.

PE: Well, at last Professor Scoleri gets that new Iron Man armor he's been clamoring for. Was it worth the wait, John?

JS: In a word... no. An improvement, perhaps, but I'm getting very bored with mister plug-into-the-closest-wall-outlet-just-in-time.

PE: The artwork this issue by Steve Ditko and Dick Ayers is in startling contrast to that of Don Heck. This strip has a 1950s feel to it rather than the hip 60s aura we've grown accustomed to with Heck. That's not a good thing here though. Not much Ditko peeks through. One panel (to my right) has a major character's head obscured by a speech balloon! (I've seen that a few times now. -JS)

PE: Another shows a grotesquely emaciated Iron Man. Tony Stark resembles a Ghastly Graham Ingels wife-killer. Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan have not aged well since last issue. The whole package reeks. It's a rushed story. Mister Doll is nothing more than a re-titled Puppet Master (which is ironic since the cover proclaims Doll "a truly different super-villain"). And...Mister Doll? The very name is designed to strike fear in the Iron Avenger. If the moniker doesn't grab you, the anvil on his head will. This looks and reads like a story put in a drawer for twenty years.

JS: You know you're in trouble when Stan is bragging on the splash page that they've come up with yet another seemingly unbeatable villain. Really? I think that this far into the Marvel Age, they should have put away the cookie cutters.

PE: When Iron Man unveils his new armor, it's as though he's breaking the fourth wall to tell us all about it in the fashion of a used car salesman (that is, unless he's gone mad and is selling himself on the new armor): "A sleek, aerodynamic fit designed for battle as well as comfort. Jet propulsion on each shoe for a little more get-up-and-go. Smooth, supple, form-fitting..." Two full pages of panels diagramming Stark's new toy. How his new mask will be able to show his expression ("which will psychologically aid in instilling fear in the hearts of my enemies") is beyond me. It's iron!

JS: So this is the Iron Man armor that inspired the Ultraman enemy Alien Baltan, right? I look forward to the next version.

PE: We've been subjected to some strange stories so far in the first two years of The Marvel Universe, but face it true believers, "This is the Looniest Comic Story You'll Read This Month!!!"

Half-Off Month at the Super-Villain Costume Store?

Fantastic Four #21

Our Story

A sociopath known as The Hate-Monger uses an H-Ray (that's Hate-Ray to the uninitiated) to stir mob mentality in his audiences. The latest target is the Fantastic Four who, after being zapped, decide that four solo Fantastic Four titles would be better than one (we here at MU disagree of course) and break up the group yet again. Enter Colonel Nick Fury, who's attempting to enlist the Fantastic Four's help to settle a civil disruption in San Gusto. Seems Uncle Sam has been propping the small country up as an antidote to communism and if the experiment fails (thanks to the H-Ray), America will lose face as well as billions invested. Fury tricks The Four into flying to San Gusto to quash the rebellion.
PE: One-half a landmark issue, one-half just an average comic story. It's the first real sign of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's "social awareness" that would elevate later to become the "fifth-color" in the Marvel Comics of the 1960s. Here we're given an obvious Hitler-influenced villain, The Hate-Monger, a character that allows Stan/Jack to comment on the country's civil rights issues without actually coming out and saying "People, we got some big problems right here in America." San Gusto is obviously a stand-in for Cuba. It's too bad then that the team's thoughtful political storyline (which may have completely gone over the heads of the six year-olds who were buying the title) is ruined by a silly in-fighting sub-plot. The bickering may have been effective had not Stan and Jack made it a part of each and every FF issue.

JS: I think perhaps your judgment was clouded by the inclusion of your pal Nick Fury. Declaring the issue as a classic on the splash page also doesn't do anything to dampen expectations.

PE: This is the first appearance of the modern-day Nick Fury, star of Marvel's war comic Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (and shame on you if you're not reading that title). Having fifty years of hindsight might make the errors more glaring but there are some major inconsistencies with the 1960s Fury. We'll learn in a few months that the Captain America Nick fought with in World War II was frozen in ice for nearly twenty years. That explains Cap's relative youth. So what's with Fury? He should be in his fifties (which actually shines a light on the equal absurdity of having Reed Richards run across Fury in WWII). Then there's the lack of an eyepatch (and facial hair). Marvel history asserts that Fury took shrapnel in the eye near the end of the war and he's got that eyepatch in his appearances in the mid-60s Strange Tales. And Nick acts as though he and Reed were bosom buddies on the battlefield but, as I recall, there was only a chance meeting for a panel or two (in Sgt Fury #3 - but you'd know that if you read the "Other Highlights" section. -PE). Nitpicking, I know. I love the Fury character and he elevates just about anything he appears in. Here he comes off as 1963's version of Ollie North, pulling off back-door operations for our government.

JS: So you're basically saying that this is a decent issue of Nick Fury wrapped in the pages of FF? Now I'm really glad I'm not reading those...

PE: Trouble brews within the FF and, sure enough, Sue Storm heads for a dress shop.

JS: Where they don't use unstable molecule fabrics.

PE: Nothing seems to occur in the Marvel Universe that is not connected. Reed happens to be checking his "Tidescope" machine early on and then finds later that the abnormalities he'd been seeing are directly related to The Hate-Monger's H-Ray which affects the "moon's gravitational pull." The Hate-Monger targets the FF at the same time Nick Fury comes calling for aid in San Gusto. Sue Storm dreams of an unending supply of fashionable wigs just before the FF break up, which allows her to go shopping.

JS: The only thing missing was somehow tying it in to every other title this month.

PE: The final panels' unmasking of The Hate-Monger is intriguing but I think it would have been more effective had we not seen the reveal. This panel to the right is as far as it should have gone.

JS: I can't decide what was more ludicrous—the revelation or their nonchalant reaction to it.

Also this month

Kathy #26
Modeling with Millie #28
Patsy and Hedy #91
Patsy Walker #112
Rawhide Kid #37


There's no rest for an outlaw and The Rawhide Kid has been living under that curse for a long time now. All the poor Kid wants is some rest and a meal (in fact, isn't that all an outlaw wants in the Western Marvel Universe?) in the sleepy ghost town of Pinto Bend. The sheriff wants no part of The Kid in his town though, as he's dealing with a new virus in the Old West: the costumed villain. An hombre named The Rattler, equally good with either hand on a gun, incredibly acrobatic, and a heck of a snappy dresser. In the end, The Rattler is unmasked as a circus acrobat The Kid had had a run-in with earlier in this yawner. Dick Ayers provides the art for "The Rattler Strikes" (The Rawhide Kid #37).

1963: A Year-End Overview:

The Marvel Age continued to develop slowly in 1963. The company put out 13 books with a cover date of January 1963, but only four were monthly super-hero titles and a fifth was a bi-monthly super-hero title that would be canceled in March (Hulk). The monster and science fiction books that had been a staple were disappearing, with those stories relegated to the back of books with super-heroes on the cover.

Spider-Man got his own bi-monthly title in March, the same month that the Hulk's sixth and final issue appeared. Iron Man also debuted that month, taking over the lead spot in Tales of Suspense. The Sub-Mariner continued to make guest appearances, in the April Torch tale and in the May Fantastic Four tale.

The Wasp joined Ant-Man in the June issue of Tales to Astonish, and Dr. Strange was introduced in the back of July's issue of Strange Tales. Millie the Model, Patsy, and the Rawhide Kid continued to appear on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, demonstrating that Marvel was still not overwhelmingly dedicated to its super-hero titles. Sergeant Fury had debuted as a bi-monthly book in May, the first Marvel entry in the "war" genre.

September was again a big month (comics with this cover date likely came out in July, when school was out and kids had more time to read comics). The X-Men and The Avengers both had their first bi-monthly issues, with The Avengers bringing back the Hulk after a six-month absence. The first super-hero annuals were published, with Fantastic Four Annual #1 in July and Strange Tales Annual #2 in August (featuring the Torch and Spider-Man). Spider-Man was promoted to monthly status in September after only three issues.

Ant-Man grew to become Giant-Man in November, and Captain America returned from the Golden Age grave in Strange Tales that month (or so the cover promised). December saw the origin of Dr. Strange. The expansion of this backup feature in Strange Tales meant that this title no longer had room for monster or science fiction stories after the Human Torch lead-in. Journey into Mystery's December issue included an incomplete Thor tale, foreshadowing the coming trend of multi-issue stories. Iron Man's new costume premiered in this month as well.

The Marvel Age was progressing slowly. Comics dated December 1963 included six monthly super-hero titles, four Archie knockoffs (two of which were monthly) and one bi-monthly western. Slowly but surely, super-heroes were taking over.


  1. This was a pretty good month for the folks at Marvel. Even the Human Torch story was better then his usual garbage.

    I'm a big Mr. Hyde fan. He's always been one of the better villains, if somewhat unknown compared to the other more popular bad guys in comics. I only wished that maybe the Avengers found the original Dr. Jekyll, floating in a block of ice, instead of some science professor named Calvin Zabo ripping off the character.

    Around 1990, in a backup mini-series story featured in Captain America, Mr. Hyde and the Cobra have a battle against each other. Cobra wins by using his weaponry and intellect over Hyde's brawn. Mr. Hyde can currently be seen as a member of the monthly Thunderbolts series. Don't worry, he hasn't been watered down into an anti-hero. In fact he's become a very sadistic murderer/rapist.

    Cliff Robertson passed away recently. Besides being an Oscar winner, Mr. Robertson starred in the first episode of The Outer Limits. Let's not also forget he played Uncle Ben Parker in the Spider-Man movies. God speed sir.

  2. Flaming torch should have turned sandman into a glass during the fight. but no, if it happens the story would end there.

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