Wednesday, December 14, 2011

February 1965: The Origin of The Mandarin!

The Avengers #13

Our Story

The Avengers break up a fur heist but, unknown to the team, the crime was masterminded by the famous Count Nefaria, a rich genius who lives in a castle in Italy. When it becomes apparent to Nefaria that The Avengers are not going to leave his business alone, he moves his castle, brick by brick, to New Jersey (!) and plots to destroy the super-team. He does this by inviting them to his castle, trapping them with his "time transcender beam," and creating "electro-images" of each member. He sends the holograms to the Pentagon to issue an ultimatum: either the United States turns over all power to The Avengers or they will attack. Rather than bow down to some costumed kooks, the U.S. declares war  and issues a bounty on The Avengers. Since the team was in a trance the entire time their doppelgangers were laying the foundation for disaster, the boys know nothing about what's going on in the outside world. Nefaria releases them and the army attacks immediately but in the end, calmer heads prevail when all parties involved realize it's all been a huge misunderstanding. Unfortunately, in the final battle, The Wasp is hit by a stray bullet and her Avenger status is up in the air.

PE: I'd have liked a better explanation of how Count Nefaria's Electro-Ray Signal works. It seems to beam a holographic image of one of Nefaria's henchmen to his castle. When he gets angry at the guy he tells him he's going to erase his image. The guy panics and says something along the lines of "No, not that! Anything but that!" but we're not shown what happens. Why would the guy be afraid of his image being erased? Does it erase him as well? Further, how are the Avengers' electro-images able to hold water with The Pentagon. Are these things solid? This is a comic book. I am not supposed to be confused.

JS: I think that based on the context, we can assume if the image gets erased, things don't bode well for the original subject.

That's what happens to us when we read TTA!
PE: I'm so glad Stan managed to fit in a three-panel cameo for The Fantastic Four, kicked off with typical ignorant super-hero talk from Reed Richards. "If the Avengers really have turned against America, we have to aid in the fight to defeat them." Does this make three issues in a row where these dopes jump to conclusions? How many times does it take for one of the FF to say "Hold on, didn't we do this last week?" I know I'm saying that. 

JS: If you were the military, wouldn't you just say to hell with it and enter into battle with all the costumed freaks? It seems silly that they go from being allies to enemies to allies within the course of a few issues.

PE: Nefaria's life-plan of being a bad guy but never hurting anyone sounds pretty fishy to me. Why bother having a super-villain with that creed? Makes him a little wishy-washy but I guess since the rest of Nefaria's powers are so generic, Stan needed something unique to hang the guy's hat on. The only thing memorable about the guy from a 2011 perspective is that he fought The X-Men in the now-legendary first issue of their resurgence (#94, August 1975). This issue also sees the debut of Marvel's version of the mafia, The Maggia. We'll see a lot of this group over the years spread throughout the hero titles.

JS: Okay, I'll give him some respect for being the first villain the new X-Men face... but I have no tolerance for teen brigades...

PE: So, our final panel shows The Wasp, hit by a stray bullet, lying almost lifeless in the arms of Rick Jones. Curiously, no bullets were fired in the final battle so it's anyone's guess how she managed to become injured. Our teaser tells us we'll find out if she survives next issue but, between you and me, I can see the future...

Fantastic Four #35

Our Story

Reed Richards is invited to his alma mater to lecture before the students. While there, The Fantastic Four meet the strange Professor Gregson Gilbert, who tells them he's working on the construction of something so huge and powerful that not even the FF could stop it. Evidently, these kinds of crackpots crawl out of the woodwork regularly in front of Stretcho as he barely gives the scientist nor his sculpture a second glance. Meanwhile, halfway across the world in Transylvania, the FF's recent foe, Diablo, manages to escape the underground prison he'd been in since Issue #30. Driven by vengeance, he heads for the University to speak with, coincidentally, Professor Gilbert about the man's monstrous statue. Between the Professor's sculpting abilities and Diablo's black magic, they give life to The Dragon Man, a ten foot tall briefs-clad lizard with a crush on Sue Storm. There's a skirmish brewing and it looks like Dead Man's Lake will be the battleground.

PE: A few cameos here: Professor X and Scott Summers are at the University to check out some students who may or may not be mutants. According to Scott, the trip was a waste of time. Then we get a pop-in from Peter Parker. Well, at least it's supposed to be Peter Parker but this guy looks closer to Sub-Mariner. Not a good look for the Web-Headed teenager.

JS: I'll bet if Aunt May had been in the crossover, it would have made the cover.

PE: New power alert for Sue Storm: woman's intuition.

JS: Yeah, as her pimp, I mean as Diablo, drives by.

PE: I'd been wondering when Jack Kirby would give us another dose of his ol' SF monster magic, missing too long from this title. Dragon-Man's the perfect antidote to Sub-Mariner, Mole Man, and Diablo, but why do these guys feel the need to put a pair of boxer shorts on a dragon? It didn't work with Fin Fang Foom and it doesn't work visually here either. All you need is a smooth abdomen. Yeah, we know he's called Dragon Man but we won't look. That's a nitpick though. Stretch pants and all, Dragon Man is a beauty to behold when he's in flight spewing flame from his mouth. And he's a sympathetic character as well, something of a rarity.

JS: I think this is the earliest issue of FF that I have in my collection, and I always liked the Dragon Men. Oddly enough, I never gave the shorts a second thought.

PE: Why is that when Reed Richards sees some kind of calamity happening, he says something along the lines of "There's only one man I know who could be responsible for this and he's..." and he's always right! Why couldn't Doctor Doom have been the guy behind this?

JS:  Do you think he commands all the respect in the MU undeservedly? Cleary he is a braniac.

PE: Great sequence here when Johnny tries to absorb Drago's flame and becomes an uncontrollable fireball. He has to fly high and stay away from the action for a bit or he'll fry any passersby. A really good story and it's been a long time since I was able to say that about The Fantastic Four!

Strange Tales #129

The Human Torch and The Thing

Our Story
The Thing calls Johnny Storm on the Alert-O-Phone to tell him that the Terrible Trio has broken out of prison! Yes, Yogi Dakor, Handsome Harry Phillips and Bull Brogin are back. Johnny cuts short his golf game and flies around the city looking for the trio until his flame runs out and they capture him, restraining him with asbestos rope. His flame runs out again and his foot gets caught in some train tracks. He summons the Thing, who battles the trio but can’t free Johnny from the tracks. Bull wraps the Thing up in metal rails as a train approaches, but our hero bounces the train off of his big, orange feet, saving Johnny and sending the trio back to jail.

PE: In the Marvel Universe, The Thing can stop a speeding train with his feet without hurting any of the passengers. Stan tells us we're getting a new artist next issue. It's Bob Powell. I've peeked and he's no great shakes on this title. How about some new storylines? At least we've only got 5 more of these Thing-Torch issues left before we get to (hopefully) higher ground.

We will all miss Dick Ayers's art on this title.

The Marvel U professors
react to a new Human
Torch story.

Jack: Bad story, bad art, bad villains! As for Bob Powell, to us comic fans, he is the artist who did Mr. Mystic in the 1940s for the Eisner shop. However, Stan notes that “you’ve probably seen [his] work in some of our finer men’s magazines,” making me wonder what Stan has been reading and just who he thinks the audience is for Strange Tales!

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Dr. Strange turns down an offer to discuss black magic as a panelist on TV’s “Twelfth Hour.” The show goes on and the other panelists exhibit an effigy excavated in Peru. During a blackout, they are sucked into another dimension by the idol. Dr. Strange is called in to investigate and, after consulting with the Ancient One, he travels into the sixth dimension and battles Tiboro, who is ready to conquer the earth. As usual, Dr. Strange prevails, returning everyone to our world and wiping out their memories of what happened.

MB: Pinch-hitting for Stan on this final one-and-done before all Heaven breaks loose is Jann of the Jungle co-creator Don Rico (not to be confused with older brother Ron, famous for his rum).  According to Wikipedia, Don’s sole Silver Age output for Marvel consisted of this and the two-part introduction of the Black Widow—scripting Stan’s plot—in Suspense #52-53.  They also say he wrote them both under the pseudonym of N. Korok to pull the wool over the eyes of his paperback publisher, but in my mass-market edition, it says Don Rico; by any name, this is an adequate script graced with the usual awesome Ditko artwork.

JS: Pinch-hitting is right. Prior to this issue, have we seen the good Doctor engaing in fisticuffs? Not including on the astral plane...

Jack: Rico must have been paid by the word--this story is so text-heavy that in some panels it crowds the artwork.

The Amazing Spider-Man #21

Our Story

Out of prison after a long stretch, The Beetle immediately puts squaring up with The Human Torch on his short "to-do" list. Coincidentally, both Peter Parker and The Amazing Spider-Man are having issues with Johnny Storm and The Human Torch as well.  Parker helps Johnny's girlfriend, Doris, out after she's been mugged and the girl invites him in to her house for a soda. As Parker is leaving, Storm drives up and he and Doris get into an argument. The hot-headed member of the Fantastic Four heads for Peter's school where the two have an argument but Johnny knows he can't pop the skinny kid as he's too powerful for him. The scene is played out in front of Peter's girlfriend/just-a-friend Betty Brant and she breaks down in tears, convinced her true love has found someone else. This angers Peter Parker and he decides to have a bit of fun with the Torch by making a faux play for Doris. Meanwhile, The Beetle, lying in the grass waiting, has been watching all this with open eyes and ears and decides that Doris Evans is the perfect bait for his plans to put The Torch out of commission. Only The Amazing Spider-Man stands between The Beetle and the frightened girl.

PE: The Beetle is paroled and it makes headlines? The guy was only in for six days tops (in our time, he was in since Strange Tales #123), why the big buzz? Then, Johnny Storm reads the headline and automatically assumes the worst. He heads off to find out what the ex-con is up to. That's harassment in my book. That's why they give these guys a parole officer, right?

JS: How do you ruin an issue of Spider-Man? GIve it an injection of The Human Torch and one of his also-ran villains. Didn't I just compliment the book for having such high caliber villains?

PE: Betty Brant is acting like a yo-yo again. She can't commit to Peter Parker (or won't) and she's trying to make him jealous with Ned Leeds (out of the picture for a bit, it seems), but every time another woman, including Aunt May I'd wager, even comes within fifty feet of Parker, she erupts in tears. Women! Especially comic book women! But, of course, heroes are a lot like women in the Marvel Universe. Johnny Storm can't make up his mind if Spider-Man is friend or foe. Webhead helps Hothead save the girl and there's still doubt in the end. Dorrie says "Aren't you going to do something about that evil Spider-Man? I still think he was in league with The Beetle" and all this henpecked hero can add is "Well, I can't stop him. My flame is weak."

JS: Is it just me, or did Ditko give every character an elephant man makeover in this issue? Faces haven't been his strong point, but I felt like they were more disfigured with each turn of the page. 

PE: On the flip side of the dopey Betty Brant sub-plot, I love the interaction between Peter and Johnny over Doris Evans. It's a lot of fun (despite being every bit as dopey as any other Stan Lee romance angle) and the fact that the two heroes can't use their powers against each other while Parker is in civvies (each for a different reason) increases the entertainment value. Peter mouths off to The Torch and this should bring respect from the teens in his school but he's dismissed with a "The Torch doesn't want to hurt Puny Parker." Whatever became of Doris Evans? I know (SPOILER ALERT) before long Johnny will fall for Crystal, one of the Inhumans, a girl who can probably understand Johnny Storm's lifestyle quite a bit more than Doris Evans.

JS: Let's see, Peter's surrounded by girls vying for his attention, and somehow he ends up with the Torch's girl?

PE: Dopey Doris makes Johnny swear he won't flame on for 24 hours but, in a very funny sequence, the vow comes back to bite her in the shapely behind when The Beetle shows up to kidnap her. She calls Johnny but he won't believe her, thinking she's trying to be tricky. Serves that dame right. She's lucky Stan's writing this strip. If it was the 70s and Gerry Conway was pulling the strings, she'd end up dead! Spidey's a little thick in the head this issue. He can't figure out what The Beetle's plan is. Let's help him: 1/ The Beetle has just gotten out of the pokey and wants revenge against his bitter enemy, The Human Torch + 1/ Doris Evans is The Torch's girlfriend = kidnap the girl and you get the matchstick! The bad guy has to spell it out for him.

JS:Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me...

PE: Unfortunately, what starts out as a fun little romp falls into the same trap that these team-ups always slide into. The Torch believes that Spidey must have been involved with Dorrie's kidnapping (he was) and, once the two meet up, attacks the Webhead. Spider-Man doesn't explain himself and, instead, fights back. We've seen this crap over and over. How about a change of pace?

Daredevil #6

Our Story

While on hero patrol, Daredevil spies arch-villains the Eel and the Ox being filmed by a commercial crew.  The villains are pretending to be actors in a ruse to dupe the filmmakers into covering for their daring robbery.  The Ox snaps iron bars to allow them to break into a safe. Daredevil isn’t fooled.  He quickly leaps into action, brawling with the villains and holding his own.  A new, mysterious bad guy approaches from the shadows.  He shoots Double D with a gas pellet from a gun that causes him to go mad with fear.  Daredevil runs off in a panic, letting the three thugs make an escape.

The public’s general consensus is that Daredevil has lost his nerve, becoming a coward.  Meanwhile, we learn about the new leader of this small clique of evil villains in a flashback.  The masked terror-monger is a man named Zoltan Drago, a kind of mad scientist who invested his time into making life-like wax museum figures out of various super-heroes and villains.  His wax museum was a flop, so he tried desperately to concoct a potion that would give the wax figures life.  While this, too, never panned out, he lucked out when his pet cat knocked over one potion into another, which created the fear gas that Zoltan would soon harness.  After creating his spooky costume, Zoltan dubs himself Mr. Fear!  Making the rounds in the city’s underworld, he elects to draft the Eel and the Ox into his crew because the Ox is dumb and easy to manipulate, while the Eel is a wuss who will do whatever he tells him to.

Back at their museum headquarters, Mr. Fear is angered by Daredevil’s interference, so he creates the perfect bait to lure the hero to the hideout: a new Daredevil wax figure.  Matt Murdock is understandably depressed by his own cowardice, especially since the commercial crew filmed the whole thing for the world to see.  The Daredevil wax figure’s unveiling makes the news, so Matt, Foggy, and Karen skip out from work early to check it out.  While there, Foggy thinks he sees the dumb Ox watching them from a closet. Matt’s senses pick up on the fear gas that had earlier turned him chicken.  After the gawkers leave the museum, Mr. Fear orders his crew members to stay behind with him as Daredevil may still be around.  Mr. Fear is right on the money as Daredevil does go back inside to settle the score. As the costumed warriors fight, Foggy also sneaks back inside to see if the Ox really was hiding in the closet.

Foggy tries to help Daredevil by pulling off Mr. Fear’s mask.  The Ox slaps Foggy into a wall and the bad guys take off.  Daredevil takes Foggy to the hospital.  The Fellowship of Fear dresses up as doctors in an attempt to kill Foggy before he regains consciousness so he can’t rat out Mr. Fear’s identity to the authorities.  Daredevil thwarts their efforts so they once again are forced to retreat back to the wax museum hideout.  Double D ambushes them and defeats them all.  He even uses a fan to blow Mr. Fear’s toxins back onto himself, giving the villain a taste of his own medicine. All is well in Daredevil’s world as he once again proves the doubting public wrong.  Oh, and because a doctor says that since Foggy doesn’t have excessive alcohol or tobacco in his system, he’ll be just fine.   

Tom:  A fun read all around, even though I had to suspend disbelief for some of the wacky plot turns.  This issue strongly showcased Daredevil’s fighting skills against unfavorable odds.  Good old comic-style action throughout the book.  I'm not sure if this makes me a bad person, but something about seeing Foggy getting slapped into a wall like a mosquito brought a smile to my face.

Jack: I really love Wally Wood’s art. One of the many treats in this issue is to see his take on other Marvel heroes and villains, as depicted in the wax museum.

Tom:  I had to chuckle when I read the part where the Eel wondered to himself if the Torch had sent Mr. Fear after him.  Wow, Mr. Fear.  A guilty pleasure villain if there ever was one, at least to me.  If Boris Karloff’s Thriller series ever produced a comic book villain, he would probably come out looking something like this guy, especially with that whole wax museum origin.  At least he wasn’t a Commie. 

PE: Fear seems to me a skimpy super-power to hang a career on unless you can back it up with brawn as well. Readers seemed to agree as Mr. Fear never took the escalator up to a higher tier of bad-guy. His next appearance would be in DD #54 (July 1969). Of course, the novelty of a villain who instills fear in his foes had worn off quite a few years earlier as DC's The Scarecrow had been feuding with Batman since  1941. I'm sure Stan had forgotten all about that character when he created this one.

Jack: Stan the Man doesn’t miss a chance for some heartache, as Karen, Matt and Foggy establish the usual Marvel love triangle.

PE: There's not one single panel in this issue where Karen Page is thinking of her job, her plans for after work, her dog. She's bouncing from "I love Matt but he doesn't know I'm alive" on one page to "I know Foggy wants to marry me, and I know he'll make a great husband but I love Matt. But I can't throw my life away forever waiting for hi to tell me he loves me." You literally get the feeling this is all she thinks about, day in and day out. It's a wonder she can keep her mind on dictation.

Jack: How many times has Stan used the plot point of criminals covering up a robbery by pretending to film a movie? You’d think the cops would be onto this one by now.

PE: Mr. Fear's method of picking his henchmen is a novel one. He wisely opts out of attempting to talk to Doctor Doom or Zemo and chooses instead to go for the least intelligent fifth-tier bad-guys, The Ox (moonlighting from The Enforcers) and The Eel (last seen in Strange Tales #117). Speaking of dopey gimmicks, The Eel's is that he's too slippery to hold onto. Where the heck is Paste Pot Pete this issue?

Tales to Astonish #64


Our Story

Henry Pym is hard at work building a giant mechanical ant.  He snaps at Jan when she drops a tube that is important for the robot’s creation.  With her feelings hurt, Jan writes Hank a Dear Giant-John letter, revealing that she is leaving him for good.  When big Henry finds and reads the letter, he gets angry.  This causes him to lose control and he grows to giant-size, electrocuting himself when he bursts into some wires.  Jan is on a plane to get away from Hank.  She, along with the other passengers, gets sucked on to an artificial island that is supported by an underwater battleship led by Attuma. The army of blue-skinned sea barbarians wants to use the humans as test subjects to learn all the weaknesses of the human race before they invade the earth.  Jan is selected as the first guinea pig, but she is luckily able to ask her man for help through a flying ant.  Big Hank comes to the rescue, freeing his main squeeze.  The two defeat the hapless barbarian horde, leaving Attuma a whining shell of the underwater man he once was, as he promises never to bother the surface world again if they don’t hurt him.  The hero couple makes up and returns home.

Tom:  It was nice to see Giant-Man taking on a villain with some street cred as opposed to the last two issues with the Wrecker, Second Story Sam, and the ant plant.  

PE: What are the chances that the day Jan gets fed up and leaves Hank, she boards a plane that gets skyjacked by Attuma? Holy mackerel. I'm surprised The Wasp and Hank weren't watching old footage of Attuma's battle with Sub-Mariner  just before she left. And thank heavens Jan spots a nearby anthill and finds crumbs from an old shrink pill in her suitcase! I don't know what's funnier, those coincidences or the fact that the ant that Jan sends a plea to flies hundreds of miles in a couple of hours to deliver the message to Gi-Ant Man!

MB: Attuma doesn’t really get to shine here, which may in part be because he is from, as we are so often reminded, “the murky depths.  He was certainly easily dissuaded from his dreams of conquest by the Pyms’ size-changing abilities.  If ever we needed supporting evidence that Marvel put the C Team on its weakest strips, this opus by writer Leon Lazarus and artists Burgos and Reinman is it; it’s a damn shame that the interiors couldn’t match that fantastic cover.  A Golden Age colleague of Don Rico’s, Lazarus later recalled that Marvel publisher Martin Goodman wanted to try out other writers to avoid being too dependent on Stan.

PE: The Robotron device that comes out to greet the airplane passengers once they land looks just like one of those things you water your cat with. Since I'm fairly sure they didn't have these contraptions in 1965, this just goes to show you how prescient science fiction can be.

Jack: Water your cat? I don't think you hold Attuma in the proper regard, Prof. Pete.

PE: All looks peachy keen again as Jan and Hank ride off into the sunset, having made up, but we know better don't we? Over in The Avengers, Jan is fighting for her life. Professors Seabrook and Bradley have enthused over the double-bill format's ability to run serialized story lines over several issues. I'm just glad that Stan saw the light and opted not to present long-winded two-parters for Gi-Ant Man and The Worthless Wasp. 12 pages of this slop is enough. I'm not sure I could survive more.

Jack: The cliffhanger stories seem to be used in the better strips, while The Torch and Giant Man limp along to their inevitable demise.

PE: The Wasp keeps a handy uniform maintenance chart on the interior of her closet door. Speaking of which, I my have been asleep at the wheel these past several months of Gi-Ant Man postings (and really, would you people blame me?) but exactly when did Jan and Hank start shacking up? Jan's room that she runs to to cry her eyes out is in Hank Pym's place. Are we to believe it's just there for convenience when Jan's over helping Pym with his experiments?

The Hulk

Our Story

Bruce Banner is in jail for having tried to steal his own invention, popping tranquilizers to keep from getting too excited. Rick Jones appeals directly to the U.S. President, revealing that Banner is the Hulk, and Banner is set free. Taking the new invention for testing to an island, Banner gets worked up when Major Talbot criticizes him. He changes into the Hulk, just as the Leader unleashes a horde of humanoids in another attempt to capture the new invention. The Hulk battles a group of the pink, plastic creatures, unable to harm them because they snap back right after a punch. As the story ends, the Hulk's anger grows, and another transformation is about to occur.

PE: Wouldn't it be great (and a lot less complicated) if our real world scientists named their gizmos like the Marvel scientists? In the real world, Banner's "Nuclear Absorbatron," built to absorb a nuclear blast would be called a Terioscopic Imaging Fission Tricorder or some such mouthful.

Jack: I like these Hulk stories more with each issue of "our sensational super serial," as Stan calls it.

PE: Poor Bruce Banner has the same kind of rotten luck as lame Doc Blake. He just wants to be friends with Major Talbot but the guy just keeps pushing and pushing until the poor scientist gets excited. And we all know what happens when Bruce Banner gets excited.

Jack: Having Bruce (or Bob) pop tranquilizers is a good idea, but he runs out of them right when it counts--much as the Wasp runs out of her shrinko pills earlier in this same comic. I guess health insurance plans weren't that good in 1965.

PE: In these early days of The Hulk strip we're continually reminded that the Hulk is slow-thinking but he still talks like a fairly intelligent guy. I remember the first time I read this story (sometime in the late 60s) I thought the pink androids looked like bubblegum. Looking at it now, I wasn't such a dopey kid after all. They still look like big sticks of bubblegum.

Jack: They're plastic, Peter. Get it straight.

PE: Is this Marvel's first multi-part (as opposed to two-part) story? This story just seems to go on and on with no end in sight. Nothing really gets accomplished. Having said that, it's an entertaining story and I really like the serialized format (that doesn't mean I want to see 5-part "Giant-Man Takes on The Top!" stories.

Jack: It's "the only super-hero soap opera in all of comicdom"! At least for now...

Journey Into Mystery #113

Our Story

Odin leads Asgard’s best home, after defeating the warriors of Jotunheim. He’s not so pleased when Thor respectfully declines his request to stay in Asgard, and the Thunder God returns to Earth. Don Blake decides it’s time to come clean with Jane Foster if he ever wants a chance to really be with her—and he spills the beans about whom he really is. Sometimes timing doesn’t work for our hero. A furious Odin witnesses Blake telling Jane about his/Thor’s secret identity and strips the Doc of the power of the Thunder God. The moment just happens to be right for Paul Duvall, aka the Grey Gargoyle, to burst on the scene, having been found by a pair of scientists at the bottom of the Hudson River, and brought to a museum. The scientists become pretty rock statues, as the Gargoyle heads straight to the man he knows can contact Thor; you guessed it. Except now our surgeon doesn’t have the cure he needs! So when the Gargoyle bursts through the office window, it’s lame doc and pretty nurse on the run. They make it down the elevator, and get away in Blake’s Jaguar (?). Bounding between rooftops, the Gargoyle soon lands in their pathway, intent on giving them his permanent stone touch if Blake won’t put him in touch with Thor. Help arrives in the form of Honir The Hunter, sent by a forgiving Odin to transfer by touch, 30 seconds of time when Thor can live again. That’s all it takes for Thor to tap the city’s electrical power through a streetlight, and fuse Paul Duvall into a chunk of rock, with only his head remaining to greet the coming police. Don and Jane are safe once more; Odin decides to let Thor keep his power, and no ones the wiser about his identity.

Tales Of Asgard finds two young lads watching an Asgardian tourney, in “The Boyhood Of Loki”. Those lads would be Thor and Loki, and when the latter uses a spell to change the outcome of the battle, the opponents are quick to catch on. Thor defends his half-brother, and his honesty gains the favor of the warriors, while the silent hatred of Loki continues to fetter that once again, Thor is the favored one.

JB: The Grey Gargoyle is an entertaining villain, but what he does best here, is to allow the plot elements to mesh together. Thor gets a chance to tell Jane about his secret identity, Odin is forced to respect his son’s decision, and in the end Blake and Foster are kind of pushed into being more honest with each other about their feelings, thus giving their relationship a bit more depth.

PE: We get started in our story with wonderful pin-up quality art from "King" Kirby and explanation from Stan that the art doesn't really have anything to do with our story but he promised Jack he'd let him go hog-wild for a bit. It's an entertaining and, at times, exciting story marred only by the cop-out finale when Odin gets his way.

JB: Loki’s part in the main story is balanced nicely with the Tales Of Asgard. In the former, he manages to be around, gloating about Thor’s misfortunes, without having any direct effect on what’s happening. In the latter we see the beginnings of his meddling ways and internal loathing. If only that Laufy had given him a hug once in a while!

PE: Poor Lame Doc Blake (yep, the 'L' word is back) decides to pour his heart out to nurse Jane Foster and reveal his true identity to the woman he loves. Unfortunately for The Mighty Thor, his pop picks that moment to turn his son's confession into an Abbott and Costello routine:

Don: Ulp, I used to be The Mighty Thor. No, really Jane, I was. I'd smack this here cane on the ground and power would flow through my lame body. I can't figure out what's going on!
Jane: You've been working too hard, my lame little darling, take a nap.
Don: No, seriously. Let me try it again. Shazam! I am Thor! Flame On!

JB:  Now I don’t know if she’s a Black Widow or an Enchantress, but if we could only get Jane out of those nursing clothes and into something more…hmmm.

Tales of Suspense #62

Iron Man

Our Story

The Mandarin is about to dispatch Iron Man but decides to reveal his origin to him first. Soon after he was born, his mother and father died and he was left with his aunt, a really nasty specimen who vows to teach the child to hate the world as much as she does. When he has reached manhood, his wealth spent on training, he is forced to leave his palace by the government and walks the lands, too proud to work. One day he visits the "Valley of the Spirits," a place so feared no one will venture in. As he is walking along a sheer cliff, The Mandarin is startled by the bones of a long-dead dragon and falls into the Valley, where he discovers a space ship. He dons a helmet which tells him the story of the craft's navigator, Axonn-Karr of the planet Maklu-4 (located 60 quadrants between Maklu-3 and Maklu-5), on a journey to try to find intelligent life in other galaxies. Axonn, we learn, had a dragon form and was attacked and mortally wounded when he landed on earth. Nosing around the ship, The Mandarin finds the source of its power: ten nifty gem-encrusted rings! After finishing his fantastic story, The Mandarin attends to the job of killing Iron Man on a fast-spinning wheel.

PE: In the time-honored tradition of the serial cliffhangers, The Mandarin beams about how much he's dreamed of watching Iron Man die and then, once the wheel starts turning, he gives Shellhead the ol' "I'd love to stand here and watch you bite the big one, my old enemy, but I'm wanted elsewhere.
Ta ta!"

JS: While Fu Manchu was still a way off (hang in there, Shang-Chi—we're coming!), Iron Man describes Mandarin as an imitation Fu Manchu in this issue.

PE: I'm not sure about the logic behind Iron Man's assertion that the faster the wheel turns the faster he recharges his batteries. How does that work? No motion sickness at all? And why would The Mandarin admit to his enemy that once used, his rings take twenty minutes to recharge. Not the type of info you share with someone trying to do you bodily harm.

JS: Therein lies the benefit of having so damn many rings.

PE: Nice origin story here. I'd never read this one before. I like the science fiction elements and the tying in Axonn with Oriental dragon legends. Only problem is that, since the origin takes up so much of the allotted space this issue, there's not much room left for a proper story. What's left is a rushed battle and yet another escape. Nice ironic twist though as Iron Man is saved, inadvertently, by those despicable commies.

JS: I agree. Once they got past the I'm a super-villain because I was a poor, abused child, the origin got very interesting. I was wondering if they were going to find a way to tie him to Kang.

Captain America

Our Story

Captain America is duped, yet again, into a demonstration of his skills only to find out all is not what it seems. This time, Cap is requested to take part in a faux prison escape but learns too late that the faux is faux and the convicts have taken over Cell Block 10. Their plan is to use Cap's shield to unlock the magnetically charged double-thick prison doors. Cap shows them the error of their ways.

PE: It's to Stan's credit that he admits, on the splash page, that he's ripping himself off again as this story is a retread of the "physical fitness assassins" story line in TOS #60. I'm not sure why Stan owned up to it as he'd been re-writing his own stories constantly over the last three years and presenting them as "the greatest story yet from The House of Ideas" monthly.

MB: Thoughtful of Stan to remind us from the get-go how much this story resembles TOS #60; throw in #59 and you’ve got three Cap-takes-on-a-bunch-of-thugs tales within his first four solo outings.  But it’s Cap and Kirby and Stone, and a presumed Don Siegel allusion in the title (“Break-Out in Cell Block 10”), so we’re really not complaining. Love the final shot of Cap and Acting Superintendent Carlson dwarfed by those gigantic doors.

PE: After four solo Cap stories, Stan had already seen the writing on the wall. Since Captain America had no garden of super-villains to pick from, the natural way to keep the strip lively and "original" was to present new tales in a "classic" setting. This would allow Stan "The Man" and "King" Kirby to write fresh stories revolving around Cap and his old supporting cast (including Bucky Barnes and The Red Skull) and avoid the path that this strip was heading down: Ant-Man and The Human Torch territory. A wise move as we'll no doubt see.

Also this month

Modeling with Millie #37
Patsy and Hedy #98
Patsy Walker #119
Rawhide Kid #44
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #15


Nick Fury and His Howling Commandos are saved by a fourteen year-old freedom fighter in "Too Small to Fight, Too Young to Die" (#15). Sent into an enemy-controlled city on yet another death-defying mission, The Commandos are supposed to rendezvous with a mysterious Agent-X, a super-spy who'll help them on their mission. When they land, they're immediately attacked by Nazis but the boy, whose father is mayor of the town and has become a Nazi pawn, saves them and begs Fury to allow him Howler status. Halfway through this maudlin mess, there's absolutely no mystery as to the identity of Agent-X (hint: it turns out the apple doesn't fall far from the tree) and all that we're left with is padding and bad art (Ayers inked by Ditko is not a good combination for a war comic). Fury looks like he put on a couple hundred pounds in some panels. There's a letter from future KISS cover artist Ken Kelly on the "Tell It to Fury" page.

a word from our sponsor
The big announcement!


  1. Peek-y Pete, I'm sorry to say that Mr. Powell will similarly fail to thrill you on That Other Strip Where We Are Merely Marking Time Waiting for Better Things to Come, over in TALES TO ASTONISH. In STRANGE TALES, the difference will be like night and day.

    John, thanks for the honesty of your Elephant Man observation. That's a big part of why I've always felt more respect (due to its historic role) than actual affection for Ditko's Spidey.

  2. I wonder if Ditko was being overworked. Drawing Spider-Man and Hulk every month amounts to about a page a day. His Hulk art was pretty weak. It always seemed like Kirby could bang out volumes of art every month, including great covers--maybe Ditko was not able to work as fast and keep up the quality.

  3. Good point, Jack. I've read that Ditko worked more slowly because he inked his own pencils, which may have been a big factor. But his Hulk was nohow definitive (and I'm not even sure I'd attach that label to Kirby's).

    Let us observe a moment of silence for Captain America's co-creator (with the King), Joe Simon, dead at 98. R.I.P.