Wednesday, September 21, 2011

February 1964: Electro and The Mandarin!

Strange Tales #117

The Human Torch

Our Story

Johnny Storm sees a TV bulletin announcing that the Eel is at large again. "Flame On!" he cries, and flies to the prison, where he corrals the Eel and forces him back inside, only to learn he is now a free man. The Eel has no intention of going straight, however, and robs a stamp collector shop. Johnny lures him into stealing a large ruby but is defeated when he tries to follow the Eel's tricked-out helicopter. Sue Storm helps the teen moron figure out that the Eel must be at the aquarium, and the Torch rushes there. A pitched battle ensues, with the Torch emerging victorious.

PE: Last issue's scene of Johnny Storm flying in one end of a jet and out the other seems practically realistic compared to this issue's knee slapper of The Torch exiting his house through the fireplace.

JS: Well. Sue did explain the drapes were not fireproof...

PE: Shouldn't The Eel and Electro join forces? They could call themselves Electric Company. The Eel has quite the collection of weapons. The grand prize would have to be his whirlybird, a helicopter that hovers in air without the need for a pilot (I'd love to see how The Eel leaped from that skyscraper into the helicopter without being chopped to bits). It's even equipped with tail-end laughing gas exhausts! The job of Chief Custodian at an aquarium must pay good money!

JS: I'm willing to buy that the helicopter can hover without him at the controls. But I do have a problem with him jumping to it, from above, and not being chopped into Unagi by the spinning blades...

PE: It takes airhead Sue Storm to point out what no one else seems to figure out. The Eel could be hiding out at the aquarium where his alter ego, Leopold Stryke, works while he's in his street clothes. Well, if The Eel isn't smart enough to find a less conspicuous hideout, at least he had the forethought to rub himself down with asbestos grease before tackling The Torch again. Obviously, The Torch's other foes haven't gotten wind of this wonderful concoction yet or his crime-fighting days would be numbered.

JS: Do you think anybody who worked at the aquarium wondered what the huge drums of asbestos grease were for? Or was that used in the snack bar?

Jack: Even Johnny Storm doesn't read Strange Tales!

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Baron Mordo, who really needs to get out more, traps Dr. Strange's mansion in an unknown dimension. Our hero visits Mordo in spirit form, only to be trapped in an "ethereal cylinder." Mordo hotfoots it to Tibet to kill the Ancient One, but Strange beats him there and saves the day.

JS: Oddly enough, Doctor Strange is becoming the one monthly title I'm looking forward to the most. So much so that I broke down and ordered a copy of the color Masterworks TPB to replace my B&W Essential.
PE: The art's as great as always but the script points out why the multi-part arcs that would make Marvel famous are so important. There's not enough room in eight pages of panels to tell a gripping story. It appears that Doctor Strange (and most of the Marvel characters actually) are just hanging around the house waiting to be attacked by some super bad guy. They'll be in peril for five pages but they'll always pull through. There's not much backstory in this series. We know Johnny Storm from the pages of Fantastic Four so some of the spaces between the tiles are already filled in. Not so with Doctor Strange. I'm sure it's just around the corner though. At least we've got pretty pictures to look at. Can't say that's the case with The Torch.

JS: As much fun as I'm having with the Doc's adventures, they're not without their groaner moments as well. Such as when we find that the astral Strange, trapped in the Astral bell jar, wasn't really trapped at all, since the Astral bell jar didn't have an Astral base to keep his Astral self contained. Making Mordo feel like a dumb Astral, to be sure.

Jack: Enough Mordo already! We need some new villains.

Journey Into Mystery

#101“The Return Of Zarrko The Tomorrow Man”

Our Story

Enraged that Odin continues to forbid him to love Jane Foster, Thor storms through the city streets, causing enough thoughtless damage that Iron Man, Giant Man and the Wasp come out to try to calm him down. Observing this, Odin decides to strip the Thunder God of half his power until he agrees to forget about his love. Loki takes advantage of this opportunity to find an enemy to defeat Thor. He finds his pawn in Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, whose memory of his evil desires had been wiped clean when he fought the Thunder God the first time. Zarrko, working as a menial clerk in a scientific facility, wastes no time in using the resources of the 23rd century to travel back in time with an altered mining robot to get his revenge upon Thor. Even fueled by his anger, Thor hasn’t the might to defeat the Tomorrow Man and his robot, and he reluctantly agrees to return to the future with Zarrko to help him rule the 23rd century in exchange for not harming our Earth in the present. In the Tales Of Asgard story this month, “The Invasion Of Asgard” becomes a test for young Thor, as he is set up by Loki to fight many of Asgards’ foes on his own.

PE: The return of our old friend, Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man in a much better story than last time (and Kirby's art on the strip is getting better and better). The interaction between Thor and his estranged father is gripping. Yeah, Loki's being used entirely too much but at least he's being kept in the background. The story also feels fuller because it's a two-parter and thus, Stan and Jack have more space to introduce new angles to the mythology. Big plus is the absence of Plain Jane Foster.

JB: I agree about the art, Pete. An impressive cover. Actually the colours of your frame captures are sometimes better than the originals. Loki's the catalyst in BOTH this month's stories. Doesn't he have anything better to do? What would Thor do without him?

JS: So we've officially ushered in the era of multi-part storylines! Now if they only gave us a story worth telling in one issue, as opposed to two.

JB: Nice tie-in to The Avengers; there haven’t been many yet in the JIMs. I wonder if the peaceful world of the 23rd century contradicts any other versions of our future in Marvel?

PE: Guest-starring The Avengers! I like how Iron Man produces a wad of cash to pay off the driver of the truck Thor demolishes. The truck is totaled but Giant Man tells the owner "no harm done", he'll make it right by "straightening the wheels!" Do you remember back when Henry Pym was Ant-Man and we'd get constant reminders that, though he's a really little superhero, he retains the strength of his bigger size? Maybe when he turns to Giant-Man, he retains the eyesight of his smaller size. Just a thought.

JS: Lots of Avengers make cameos in the first part of the story. More filler to extend the page count?

PE: The Tales of Asgard segments continue to be extremely entertaining. This one tells the story of how Thor fought off the advance of The Evil Ones, a collection of demons and monsters hellbent on invading Asgard. When it came to his half-brother Loki, that Thor sure was a gullible young'un.

JS: I've been enjoying these as well. Much more dependable both in story and art.

JB: Sometimes the third tales in each month of JIM (scripted and drawn by Larry Leiber most of the time) are more fun than the main story—the last ties to the original comic. This one, “The Enemies”, where the peace-loving residents of the planet Iydilica use their intelligence to outwit the evil invading Vulcans, is a good example.

The Amazing Spider-Man #9

Our Story

Desperately needing money to pay for Aunt May's surgery, Peter Parker has been spinning all around town, trying to drum up some business in order to snap some shots for J. Jonah Jameson. Providence arrives in the guise of Electro, a new super-powered villain, whose body has harnessed electricity and can deliver deadly jolts to anyone who dares stand in his way. Spider-Man's finding it hard to find time to fight his new foe however, as he can't leave Aunt May's side. This leaves Electro free to run rampant, releasing jailed convicts to build his crew of henchmen. Aunt May pulls through her surgery just in time for Spider-Man to quash the prison break and wrap Electro up in a nice little package (with an assist from a fire hose). All this and a budding romance with Jonah's secretary, Betty Brant, make for one busy life.

PE: Far be it for me to argue with the science of the Marvel Universe, but something about Electro's origin doesn't sound right to me. Max Dillon's a power lineman, and he's gripping wires when he's struck by lightning. The two electric currents cancel each other out? Presto, his body is full of electricity. That sounds outlandish. Gamma Rays and Cosmic dust clouds I can buy, but this, I'm not sure. You're laughing at me, aren't you?

JS: Yes. Considering the blast Banner survived despite his proximity to it, there's no room to question anyone's ability to survive a catastrophe. For reasons I can't explain, I've always liked Electro. There's something cool about the mask, as silly as it looks.

PE: We're never told exactly what Aunt May is going under the knife for but it must be pretty serious. Peter has to come up with $1000 to pay the top surgeon in the country.

JS: This would be an easy opportunity to take a pot-shot, but I'll cut the old broad some slack.

PE: Peter Parker seems to be getting closer to Betty Brant. I wonder why Stan elected to introduce other romantic interests for Peter when Betty had been around from the start. I'm beating a dead horse, I know, but like the villains in this strip, the characters are substantially more interesting than any of the other hero comics of the period. Betty's the only female character (and that includes Sue Storm) in the Marvel Universe of the 1960s who doesn't seem to be sighing over the title's hero or wishing she were at the hairdresser/nail salon/dress shop. And I just love the little hint of mystery she drops this issue about someone in her past. Now, if Steve could get her eyes a little closer together, she might actually be attractive.

JS: Clearly at this stage in the game, BB was the woman lined up for PP. Thank God she's not another Jane Foster-type.

PE: The Amazing Spider-Man continues to pump out classic villains. The title hasn't yet had to stoop to the tactics that its older sister, Fantastic Four, must do seemingly month in and month out: bring back the same villains over and over. Electro's got a great suit but I gotta believe he's had some near disasters with the lower bolts on his mask. Chafing at the very least. Incidentally, this is not the first super-villain named Electro. Max Dillon's predecessor was the Communist (hiss!) bad guy who fought Captain America in Captain America Comics #78 (September 1954).

JS: Correct me if I'm wrong, but it feels like the majority of the villains introduced in the initial 10 issues of Spider-Man went on to become major players in the book. When you look at the Fantastic Four, by comparison, it seems like the standout villains were fewer and further between.

PE: We award our shield to landmark issues but we don't want to overdo it. I could just as easily plop that shield into just about any of the Spideys of this vintage. They're that good. I can't say that today's comics provide the same sense of wonder and surprise.

JS: While I agree with you, I can't let Electro's first appearance go unnoticed.
Tales of Suspense #50

Our Story

The American Government is concerned about the evil genius known as The Mandarin so they enlist Iron man to take a trip to Red China (Commies!!) and report back with any pertinent info. What Iron Man finds there is a very powerful villain with no agenda to speak of besides total destruction. The Mandarin is aided in his quest for domination by high level karate skills and the rings he wears on each finger, ten different deadly powers. Iron Man is temporarily detained by The Mandarin but, thanks to his mathematical skills and a little electrical know-how, is able to make it back to America for an important dinner date with happy and Pepper.

PE: Thank goodness Don Heck is back. I couldn't take another Steve Ditko Iron Man issue. It looks like Tony Stark has put on a bit of weight since last issue. Happy and Pepper have had a trip to the Fountain of Youth. Heck haters can blahblahblah as much as they want but no one did Iron Man better in the early 60s.

JS: So what exactly is the deal here? Did Marvel not want to pay royalties to Sax Rohmer? I know Fu Manchu eventually turned up in one of my favorite 70s series, Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.

PE: Another episode of That's Incredible!: while The Mandarin is swinging a killer karate chop at Iron Man, Tinhead has the time and wherewithal to figure out velocity factors on his "built-in slide rule calculator."

JS: Yeah, can the suit be that technologically advanced if it still has a slide rule?
Ummm...actually, that's eight fingers, two thumbs

PE: Spider-Man has his Green Goblin, The FF have Doctor Doom, The Red Skull will forever plague Captain America. For Iron Man, his yang would have to be The Mandarin. I don't have the stats in front of me but I assume Mandarin has had more appearances than any other foe Iron Man has faced in his pages. Equipped with ten rings, each with a different deadly power. With superduper acknowledgement to Wikipedia, the powers are: Ice Blast, Mento-Intensifier, Electro-Blast, Flame Blast, White Light, Black Light, Disintegration Beam, Vortex Beam, Impact Beam, and Matter Rearranger. Quite an array. Though the Mandarin proves to be a very popular villain, this intro story (sans origin) is not very exciting and, at the time, the character must have seemed to be just another in a line of third-tier bad guys. It's only from 50 years on we know any better.

JS: Does his evil twin, The Cantonese, ever make an appearance?

PE: For the longest time, it was expected that Jon Favreau, director of the first two Iron man films, would utilize The Mandarin just as Hollywood always turns to the iconic villains. Instead they used iron-suited heavies ala Iron Man himself. Looking at The Mandarin's portrayal here, adjustments would have to be made to satisfy PC Hollywood studios. This Oriental has Jerry Lewis-style buck teeth, Spock ears, and impossibly slanted eyes.

JS: I do think the character is certainly more interesting than the majority of throwaway villains that have gone up against the FF.

PE: This issue also features a "Tale of the Watcher." Titled "Journey's End," it's the story of Wilbur Weems, too scrawny and meek for girls, who volunteers for a dangerous space journey that takes him through a cloud of radioactive dust (sound familiar?). Unlike Ben Grimm, Wilbur transforms into a handsome man and takes to living on a planet of beautiful people.

Tales to Astonish #52

Our Story

Brilliant scientist Professor Garrett has decided that the good guys don't pay enough so he's selling top secret secrets to the Red Chinese. Commie Scum! Giant Man's having none of that and he makes quick work of the traitor. Unfortunately, treason must be tantamount to a misdemeanor in 1964 because Garrett is let out on bail and the Chinese help him escape. Idle hands are the devil's workshop and all that, so Garrett decides to genetically splice his own Pegasus, arms himself with top of the line gear, dresses up in chain mail, and flies back to America to rob armored cars. It's not long before Giant Man gets wind of The Black Knight and, while fighting miles above earth, discovers that the nutty knight is actually his old friend Garrett.

PE: Giant-Man busts a crooked scientist (working, of course, for those freakin' commies) and his henchman without the help of the wonderful wee worthless Wasp. How did he manage?

JS: Reed Richards would probably point out that the Wasp is a woman, after all.

PE: Once again, we find a scientist so brilliant he decides that a life of crime is the life that's prime. I like that he sees a statue of a winged horse and decides "I've got to make one of these" and gets started gene splicing eagles and stallions. Lucky for us he didn't run into the Statue of David. But if he's so brilliant, why can't he make a less clunky costume? Seriously, how much does that armor weigh? And why bother crafting a lance with a .45 caliber machine gun in it when you can mount a machine gun on your steed? At least The Black Knight armed himself with some sensible weapons: an acetylene torch (also built into his lance), a paralyzer pistol (in case the machine gun doesn't work?), and the piece de resistance, an itch ray (probably what the stinkin' commies were lookin' for in the first place), which causes The Knight's enemies to break out in embarrassing fits of itching.

JS: Again, if you've got the skills to create a flying horse, methinks you've got what it take to be financially successful. But kudos for putting your mind to something and getting it done in the space of two panels.

PE: New gadget for Ant-Man/Giant-Man: a cybernetic ant-communicator which enables him to download mental impulses from ant brains and read them on a video monitor (Donald Blake might want to borrow this for reading Jane Foster's "brain"). Why are these ants even hanging around anymore? Henry Pym has cast them out of his superhero life like last week's National Enquirer.

JS: He must be keeping them on the payroll somehow. I wonder if radioactive ants would be capable of sending HD signals.

PE: Double belly laugh in our exciting climax. Giant-Man becomes Ant-Man to land on The Black Knight's steed in mid-air. He then takes his growth pill to become Normal-Sized Man but the weight of The Black Knight, his armory, and Normal-Sized Man are too much for the equine mutation and NSM must take a dive. Luckily, according to NSM, 1000 feet in the air is "low enough" and a conveniently placed parachute ride at a carnival cushions his fall. When the Wasp delivers one of her patented stings to the steed, The Knight takes a tumble as well, landing upright in a roller coaster car. Martin and Lewis were never this funny.

JS: You pointed out recently how Giant-Man often appears to be either Middle-Man or Shrimpy-Man. That continues in this issue, where I often spent an extra few seconds trying to decipher whether GM was in the sized based on forced perspective, or he was really supposed to look anywhere from 1 to 3x normal human size (in a few panels, he seems to be taller than the rollercoaster-PE).

PE: Ordinarily, in this space I tell you how lousy this latest Giant-Man story was. I won't this time because I firmly believe this is an outre classic, one that has to be read from start to its 17th and final goofy page to be fully appreciated. If I didn't have to worry about Marvel lawyers, I'd scan the whole thing here. Seek this one out, true believers.

PE: I don't have the space (nor the patience) to reveal the entire story of The Black Knight in all his various incarnations. An earlier version, set in Medieval times, appeared in his own comic for five issues (May-December 1955), with art by the fabulous Joe Maneely. You'll probably notice that we here at the University don't recommend books and magazines very often. The simple fact is there's a heck of a lot of biographical material available out there in print and on the web. We've got vast libraries of the stuff. But here I'll put in a plug for Alter Ego Magazine, edited by Roy Thomas. #28 featured a special spotlight on Joe Maneely and his career. Highly recommended (but then so are the other 100+ issues). You can find ordering info at Two Morrows. The version we meet in this Tale to Astonish would hang around for several years and will make appearances soon in issues of Avengers and Tales of Suspense.

Fantastic Four #23

Our Story

The Fantastic Four are having a hard time getting along when Doctor Doom returns yet again to resume his never-ending scheme of revenge. This time Doom has drafted a trio of convicts and blasts them with super-power juice, giving each one the power to overtake one fourth of the Fantastic Four (leaving Mr. Fantastic for himself). Things go swimmingly for the Doc until the Four put aside their squabbles and realize they are much stronger when they are fighting as a team.

PE: The FF almost disband this issue, fight over who should be the new leader but, in the end, decide Reed is the best man for the job. I'm sure this disturbing trend will continue.

JS: Reed comes across as a bit of a jerk this issue. Are we sure he's not a Skrull imposter?

PE: Some useful new weapons for Johnny Storm. While tussling with Ben Grimm, he doles out lukewarm flame pellets, mild heat explosions, and a cold-flame fly swatter. Next up: The Humid Torch.

JS: Don't forget the 'gentle diffused heat to thaw out Reed. If not for that, Reed might have had a twin brother in the X-Men's Iceman!

PE: Doom seals Reed in a plexi-glass container without letting Reed (or the reader) know how Stretch is supposed to breathe.

JS: If you built a convincing Thing-robot, would you be so quick to disintegrate it?

PE: Make sure your next rental is not in the path of a "solar wave." Evidently, it's fairly common in New York and quite the selling point for evil villains.

JS: Does this issue mark the introduction of The Thing using the phrase 'cloberin' time'? This is the first time I've specifically noticed that.

PE: I may be doomed to repeat myself endlessly but this is the silliest (and most confusing) climax I've yet read in the Marvel Age of Comics (I'll second that emotion. -JS). On the verge of being foiled yet again, Doctor Doom reveals that he bought the warehouse he's entrapped the Four in because his research "discovered it is in the path of a Solar Wave which sweeps the earth every twenty four hours." When a hole in the floor materializes and the Four are looking into deep outer space, Mr. Fantastic exclaims "I should have known! Doom put us directly in the path of a Solar Wave! He must have known it was about to pass this way!" He then relates for the other three/Fourths a history of Solar Waves. Thinking fast on her feet, Sue Storm sends out an invisible field that encloses Doom, thus including him in any apocalypse that comes the Four's way. When the Solar Wave eats up most of the floor, Doom falls into space and eventually becomes topping on a giant space pizza. The Four are saved however because, as Reed Richards enthuses, "ionic dust is expensive" and Doom couldn't afford to sprinkle it in every room. I'm waiting for comic books to be released with audio commentary so Stan can explain this nonsense to me. Five and six year-olds would nod their heads and say "That Stretcho shore is smart. He outwitted Doctor Doom again." Their heads wouldn't hurt like mine does.

JS: Is Doom destined to end every storyline lost in space?

No Anchovies Please

Also this month

Kathy #27 (final issue)
Modeling with Millie #29
Patsy and Hedy #92
Patsy Walker #113
Rawhide Kid #38


The infiltration of costumed villains in the Old West continues with "The Revenge of Red Raven" (Rawhide Kid #38). Red Raven and his bunch of owlhoots are robbing a bank when The Rawhide Kid interrupts and turns them over to the law. Stewing in prison, Red Raven swears vengeance on The Kid and his cellmate, an old Indian medicine man promises to aid Raven in his trek. The Indian hands over a costume, coincidentally that of a bird (Red Raven?), that enables the hombre to fly. And once he's broken out of jail, fly he does... right to Rawhide. The costume is similar to what The Falcon would wear but outside of that novelty this is another dismal western outing. Art by Dick Ayers.


  1. I'm always on the fence--an electrified one, natch--as to whether Electro is a formidable bad guy or just a doofus with a funny hat, but you've gotta give him one thing: he certainly has had staying power as a classic Spidey villain, and was of course a member of the original Sinister Six in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1...coming soon to a blog near me.

    My friend Tom's standard rap against Iron Man--whom I champion with equal vigor (can't wait until we're past this transitional armor and into the quintessential red and gold version)--is that "he has no good villains." Tom pooh-poohs me when I bring up the Mandarin, yet for a guy who grew up reading Rohmer, ol' yellow-peril Mandy, with his ten cool rings, was the real deal. One of the oldest comics I own, and still one of my favorites, is AVENGERS ANNUAL #1, in which Mandy formed an all-star team of bad guys (Enchantress, Executioner, Living Laser, Power Man, Swordsman and the clincher, his pet colossus, Ultimo) to battle the Assemblers. It used the chapter format that I loved so well, breaking each team down into subgroups, and the action-packed artwork epitomized why I continue to defend Don Heck. That's my kinda super-villain--take that, Tom!

    I'm not that familiar with the "original" Black Knight (i.e., Garrett), but his successor, Dane Whitman, will always have a special place in my heart as the unwitting catalyst for Englehart's epic Avengers-Defenders war a few years later.

    As usual, despite my mixed feelings about Ditko, those early issues of AMAZING and the Doc Strange strip inspire the warmest memories.

  2. Mathew Bradley-

    Regarding the Avengers Annual: I wouldn't necessarily rate those villains as All-Stars. I think you are being too kind. However, I must agree that the chapter format, breaking the teams into smaller groups, was awesome!

    Some of the best comics using that type of style were the ones featuring the Grandmaster. The God-like being would pick out several different opponents to combat each other for his own amusement and wagers.

  3. Well said, UTW (obviously not the "Tom" I referred to in my comment).

    And I'm always happy to err on the side of kindness.