Wednesday, December 7, 2011

January 1965: The Scorpion Strikes!

Journey Into Mystery #112

Our Story

Two groups of kids on the street are having a heated debate about who is the mightier: our ever-loving Thunder God or the Incredible Hulk. And who just happens to be flying by...? Landing in their midst, Thor recounts to the eager teenagers the story that had only been partly revealed to the public (and us!), back in The Avengers #3. When Giant-Man and Iron Man were busy trying to capture the Sub-Mariner, Thor did battle with old green skin (in a cave in Gibraltar). Quickly realizing that this titanic battle was like no other he had faced before, Thor enclosed himself in a dimension- disrupting vortex long enough to send a request to Odin: a chance to have five minutes in which to do hand-to-hand combat with the Hulk without reverting to Don Blake should he put down his hammer. His father grants his request, and Thor returns to real time and space, tossing aside his hammer to face off barehanded against the Hulk, who is eager to destroy not only Thor…but also his hammer. The two are seemingly an even match. Each blow Thor delivers is matched by Bruce Banner’s alter ego, and it seems a battle impossible to call a winner. Odin watches keenly but committed not to interfere. As the five minutes are almost up, the force of Thor hurled by the Hulk, as the Thunder God smashes into the tunnel wall, cause the wall of rock to cave in, burying the Hulk. Thor smashes his way through the rock with his hammer to find the Hulk, who has dug his way out of the rock with his bare hands. As Thor reunites with his fellow Avengers, the confusion allows Hulk and Namor to escape. Battle inconclusive; teenagers awed.

“The Coming Of Loki” is the Tales Of Asgard this time round. We are witness to the historical battle of Odin and the warriors against giant King Laufey and his soldiers of Jotunheim. As Laufy is slain, a helpless child is discovered wrapped in blankets: the very son of the former king, hidden in shame because he was not born a giant. Odin feels Loki, Laufy’s son, should be accorded his due as a rightful prince, and adopts him as a stepson to live forever after in Asgard.

JB: This issue is a pretty special one in the annals of early JIM ranks. It ties the Avengers in with Thor nicely, and gives us someone maybe Thor can’t defeat, our friendly Hulk. The battle is perhaps the best one yet; and hey, who really is stronger?

PE: A bizarre concoction this one. Presented almost as a lost chapter from the events detailed in The Avengers #3, the "titanic battle" the team waged against The Sub-Mariner and one-time Avenger, The Hulk. It's a decent story but I think the more interesting battle would have been to pit lame Doctor Don Blake against the king of pocket protectors, Bruce Banner and his purple elast-O trousers. Now that would have been an interesting "lost chapter."

JB: No Loki! Well, except in the Tales Of Asgard, and that’s a pretty good one. It’s interesting to compare King Laufy here with his character in the Thor movie. How different the lives of all of Asgard would have been had Odin not made the choice to adopt Loki.

MB:  This is the final issue of JIM on which I’ll be weighing in for now, concluding as it does my Essential Thor Vol. 1, but I get to go out on a high note with a Thor vs. Hulk smackdown.  At least I thought I could, until I realized that I found Stan’s approach to the “okay, here’s what really happened” type of story less satisfying than those Roy Thomas would do a decade later, as we learn what ostensibly happened between the lines in Avengers #3.  Also annoying was the fact that Stan was just as coy as the thunder god himself regarding the “Who is stronger?” question, and I believe their clash in Defenders #10 ended on an equally inconclusive note.  If I remember my Marvel history correctly, they made no bones about the Hulk beating the Thing because (repeat after me, class) “the madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.”  It strikes me that it would be just as reasonable to have Thor beat Greenskin because, let’s face it, he’s an immortal, and the Hulk is not.  And, heretical though it may be, I’m not wild about Kirby’s Hulk.

JB: I still recall seeing this issue on the wall at Astonishing Books And Comics, the local comic store extraordinaire in my city, back in 1977. It was for sale for $3.25, and that decimal is in the right place. It seemed a lot back then, Maybe the issue didn’t quite live up to my expectations when I finally got it, but reading it again now, it does breaks some new ground for the Thor saga. 

The Amazing Spider-Man #20

Our Story

The mystery man that was following Peter Parker last issue turns out to be Mac Gargan, a quasi-private detective, hired by J. Jonah Jameson to tail Peter Parker to find out how he gets those magnificent action shots of Spider-Man. When JJJ gets wind of a mad scientist who can swap powers in animals (make a rat breathe water, allow a fish to breathe air, etc.), he gets the crazy notion that at last he's figured out a way to rid himself of that pesky Spider-Man. Bribing Gargan to be the guinea pig, JJJ watches in glee as the man becomes a human scorpion in a matter of hours. An elaborate suit with bludgeoning tail makes the package complete. Gargan/The Scorpion heads out to tackle Spider-Man. Taken by surprise, the wall-crawler is no match for the stronger man and is walloped in no time flat. At about this time, Professor Stillwell, the "father" of The Scorpion, realizes that the more powerful the villain gets, the more evil he becomes and sets out to right his terrible wrong. That may be too late as, soon after he's defeated Spidey, The Scorpion sets off on a robbery spree. Stillwell is killed in a fall while attempting to talk Gargan into taking the antidote so it's entirely up to Spider-Man to stop the madman's rampage. Ironically, the final battle takes place in the offices of The Daily Bugle, where Spider-Man must defeat The Scorpion to save the life of J. Jonah Jameson.

PE: Top to bottom, front to back, this is the best Spider-Man adventure presented thus far. The Scorpion is a formidable foe and one, like The Green Goblin, who is more than likely insane or at least heading that way. We also get an honest-to-goodness fatality in Doctor Farley Stillwell (well, at least until one of the bright new boys at Marvel brings him back as Spider-Man's lost uncle or some such rot). Steve Ditko's never been better. Some of his panels look downright noir-ish. Witness the masterly way Ditko reveals that his new creation, The Scorpion, is slowly but surely losing his mind:

JS: I had no idea that Jameson was the originator of The Scorpion. Of course, did anyone honestly think that his cheering for Spider-Man after he saved his butt was going to last to the next issue?

PE: To paraphrase JJJ, it's a nice irony that he helps create The Scorpion to destroy the menace known as Spider-Man, only to watch his baby grow up to be a bigger monster than the wall-crawler. In the end, the only thing that stands between him and the news desk in the sky is Spider-Man. But then JJJ wouldn't have sought out Stillwell had it not been for his hatred for the wall-crawler. Ah, irony is such a complex character, no?

JS: I don't know if I ever knew the story behind the Scorpion's tail before now. Perhaps a little too Doc-Ock when it comes to super-apendages. And was there some reason behind Stillwell shaving Gargan's head? It's not like Spidey has to shave his head to have a smooth looking mask.

 MB: I welcome the advent of the Scorpion, whom I’ve always considered one of Spidey’s most formidable early foes.  I’d rank him above the majority of the Sinister Six (the Vulture, Electro, Kraven, Mysterio), but below the remainder (Dr. Octopus, the Sandman), the Lizard, and the Green Goblin, in no particular order.  It’s only just occurred to me how many of them dressed in green.  What’s up with that?  The fact that JJJ was instrumental in turning p.i. Mac Gargan into the Scorpion only gives him extra spice, and the running battle between Spidey and “Scorpey” puts this among the more action-packed issues.  It’s a nice dramatic touch that Dr. Farley Stillwell pays with his life for the sin of unleashing the Scorpion, whose “uncle,” Harlan Stillwell, created a less memorable villain, the Human Fly, in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10.

JS: I might go so far as to rank him just below the Goblin and Lizard, but time will tell as we see him go up against Spidey in the future.

PE: On a personal note, this was the first Spider-Man story I ever read. I got hold of a coverless copy of Marvel Tales #15 (July 1968) and must have read this story a dozen times. The web-bat always scared the heck out of me and I could never figure out what Aunt May was doing to Peter's head on that last page (was she shoving a needle into his eye?). I was a Spidey fan from that day on.

JS: I can see how this would have convinced a reader to come back for more.

PE: Even though that tail's been torn off, we're delighted to announce that you'll be seeing more of The Scorpion later this year!

JS: Cool. Is it just me, or on the splash page does The Scorpion's tail look more like a third arm?

Strange Tales #128

The Human Torch & The Thing

Our Story

Quicksilver is planning on abandoning the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  Before he gets too far, his sister, the Scarlet Witch, stops him.  She isn’t fully convinced to go along with her brother since Magneto wasn’t a bad guy all of the time.  The two decide that they need to contact some of earth’s super-heroes for shelter.  Unfortunately for them, they choose the Fantastic Four.  Coincidentally, the Torch and the Thing happen to be chilling at the Baxter building by themselves, with Reed and Sue out on some type of mission.  While watching television, Ben and Johnny watch a news special profiling such evil, dangerous mutants as Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.  The two heroes get pumped up about fighting these villains if they ever cross paths.  The mutant black sheep get into the Baxter Building but fight with a couple of security guards since they don’t have access or permission to go to the FF’s secret elevator that leads to their pad.  They easily subdue the guards using magic and hoses.  Once they reach the FF’s hangout, the mutants are attacked by Johnny and Ben because they think it’s an ambush.  The ensuing battle is pretty even, ending when the brother and sister decide that they have had enough and were wrong to seek help from humans.  The Torch and Thing let them leave without trying to stop them since they felt it was something Reed would have wanted.

PE: And the hits just keep on comin'. Here's a novel idea: Quicksilver and The Scarlet Witch are tired of living under Magneto's dictatorship so they attempt to find out what it's like out there in the real world. Just as they decide to seek advice from The Fantastic Four, Johnny and The Torch see an APB on the duo. Quicky and Witch arrive, are attacked, try to explain, they attack back. Torch tries to make friends, it's too late, he attacks back. Perhaps Quicksilver can make friends with Torch, nope, it's too late. Maybe The Witch can talk some sense into... At the end of 12 pages, we know nothing more about these characters than when we started.

Tom:  At least this one was pretty short.  Other then that, there's not much more I can say in its defense.  You can't blame the Thing or Torch for attacking the socially awkward mutants.  After all, we can clearly see Quicksilver just running unannounced into their home, with not so much as a head's up phone call. 

PE: And about that APB. The X-Men waited how long to issue pictures of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants? Even though the X-Men have fought these guys 6 out of 8 issues, no one in the public noticed these guys? Hmmm. A bit farfetched.

Jack: What a novel idea for a story! A misunderstanding leads to a fight between super-powered bozos who should not be fighting.

PE: Just how far can The Scarlet Witch cast a "hex?" And what constitutes a "hex?" A torrential downpour? She can control the weather? A bit farfetched.

Doctor Strange

Our Story

Dr. Strange:

A disciple of someone called the Demon arrives at Dr. Strange’s home before the good doctor can even remove his cloak! The Demon summons the disciple back (in his skivvies, no less) and banishes him. Dr. Strange decides that the Demon must be stopped. Dr. Strange animates the poor disciple’s clothing to lead him to the Demon. The Demon fails in his attempt to trap our hero, who frees himself in order to do battle. Dr. Strange defeats the Demon pretty easily, rescues the underwear-clad disciple, and puts the Demon into a trance, ending his menace.

Jack: Kind of a letdown after the last two issues were so good.

JS: Is the Demon really that bad of a guy? When he transported his disciple from Strange's pad, yanking him right out of his clothes, he was polite enough to let him keep his briefs.

MB: This issue and the next might be regarded as breathers before the main event, but Stan and Steve seem to be in top form nonetheless, with a villain squarely in the Ditko mode and a plethora of hallucinogenic ’60s visuals.  And there’s something deliciously Invisible Man-ish about Doc following that jaunty suit of empty clothes to the lair of the Demon.

JS: That was my favorite bit, too. After receiving his upgraded powers last ish, I was really hoping they would follow up with a bang, and instead we got a whimper.

The X-Men #9

Our Story

After several issues of mystery, we finally find out where Professor X has been going: deep into the earth's core to find an old foe, Lucifer. Once he finds him, he learns that Lucifer has devised a bomb that will destroy the world if detonated, a bomb directly linked to the villain's heartbeat. If Lucifer goes down, so does the world. Professor X gives his students an explicit warning: Lucifer is not to be messed with at any cost. Enter The Avengers, who have been tracking the vibrations made from the bomb and are hell-bent on stopping wide spread carnage. Unaware the bomb is rigged and not really familiar with this new super-team, The Avengers attack The X-Men in an attempt to gain access to the bomb. Professor X finally subdues Lucifer and explains to Thor what's been going on. The Avengers call it a day and leave Lucifer for The X-Men to handle.

PE: We learn that Lucifer is responsible for Professor X's being confined to a wheelchair but the hows and whys will remain a mystery for at least one more issue since the Prof. proclaims it "a story to be told at a later date."

JS: Wait just a minute. Since when does Professor X pack heat? I'll eagerly await the issue where we learn this was all a doppleganger.

PE: 1... 2...3... It's all a misunderstanding! The entire Marvel Universe is built on a misunderstanding, it would seem. Didn't The Avengers just go through this confusion with The Fantastic Four a few months ago (in FF #31)? It seems as though Marvel Heroes spend more time fighting Marvel Heroes than they do Marvel Villains. The Avengers' cameo does nothing to drive on the plot. It's merely there to drum up lackluster sales for The X-Men title. The Beast didn't even have time to run maneuver J-12 before The Avengers were pulling up camp and heading for some other hero's title.

JS: Even Iron Man is getting tired of this crossover routine. If at the end of the day, it's all just filler unrelated to the story at hand, why bother? Thank goodness the Fantastic Four weren't on a European vacation, or they would have joined in, too.

PE: Hard to believe that Thor and company would travel so far to face this world-threatening menace and then take Prof. X's word that the X-team will get the job done. Really? Why wouldn't the second team hang around just in case? In fact, they leave throwing "humorous" barbs at each other, even though the threat has not been wiped out.

JS: Setting aside his Death Wish tendencies, the Professor X I grew up with could have used any number of his Mutant capacities to get in Lucifer's head and switch him off, while keeping his heart pumping long enough for the bomb squad to come and deactivate it.

Fantastic Four #34

Our Story

The world's richest man, Gregory Hungerford Gideon, is tired of waiting to acquire the last of the most powerful companies on Earth. He phones the CEOs of each company and tells them to set him a daunting task. If he can pull off that chore, they must sell him their remaining shares. It's agreed (by the company men) that the most impossible task in the world would be to defeat the Fantastic Four. Gideon sets to the task of destroying the FF by planting false clues that pit the team against each other. Only the love of a son and wife can save the trillionaire from the abyss of self-loathing he calls life.

JS: Don't forget the first three pages focused on Ben's getting a Beatle wig from the Yancy Street Gang. Yep, a whole lotta shakin' goin' on in the Baxter Building.

PE: If I was one of those CEOs, I'd have set the bar a bit higher: keep the Fantastic Four from fighting each other for more than one issue! Seriously, who did Stan think he was fooling when he awkwardly phrased on the cover: "If you always thought it could never happen, you can't afford to miss A House Divided." Even readers who only had picked up a couple FFs must have always not thought it couldn't happen since it never always happened!

JS: Did you stop to savor Gideon's palacial office? Hell, his desk chair isn't a chair, it's a couch!

PE: Wow! Reed Richards is the "victim of one of the most ingeniously diabolical frame-ups of all time? Only if you're dealing with a team full of dopes. All it took this time (no Puppet Master, no Red Ghost, no Sub-Mariner, no Gamma-Beta Ray shower) was a note reading "I'm a Skrull but don't tell anyone. Sincerely, Reed Richards" hidden in a fake spaceship and the Four are at each others' throats once again. And how about our leader? Faced with the Torch and Thing coming at him, he picks up an ominous gun lying in the street near him ("Hmmm, I don't know how this got here or what it does but I'll use it and not question further")

JS: How is it the FF can hold off the greatest villains in the Universe, and yet when it comes to someone reposessing the valuables in The Baxter Building, Mr. F is caught off guard?

PE: And, straight from the hairdresser, Sue Storm falls just as easily as Ben Grimm with a note scrawled on a wall: "Hey Sis, I'm in the middle of fighting Doctor Doom but I've got a couple seconds to jot this down. PS. Watch out for the robot!" I've a question maybe one of the other professors can answer: I know Sue Storm's suit (including her lady's things, I'm sure) is made of unstable molecules and turns invisible when she does. What about the stuff in her pocket? Spare change, credit cards, salon numbers, the things that make Sue what she is. I ask because of the scene in the cab when invisible Sue gives the cabbie a dollar for her fare. Was that buck invisible while in her change purse, and why? Does it become visible when it hits the air or something nonsensical like that? Then explain to me how Reed can turn his legs into wheels and roll down the street without his face eventually becoming part of those wheels?

JS: Reed as plastic-man is a real pet peeve of mine. He can stretch, Stan. He's not Modeling-Clay man.

PE: Gideon isn't just a rich man who wants to own the world and will do anything to achieve that end. He's also a bad father and husband. How could you ignore a sweet little kid who reads Fantastic Four comic books and a wife who desires nothing but the company of her Professor X look-alike husband? I'm sure sub-plots about megalomaniacs and their broken homes was a rare thing back in 1964 but I can't help but laugh at the forced messages here. Gideon's sudden change of heart at the finale is a groaner as well. "Money is nothing if you got no family." I get it.

JS: I'm sure a guy who has staff carting billions of dollars through his personal (albeit palacial) office can find less villanous ways to entertain himself.

PE: If Gideon can spend thirty million buck on a Doctor Doom patented Electronic Time Displacer, why not pay the world's best assassins to kill the three CEOs instead? How would Ben know that Reed turned off the power to the machine and the recoil sent the kid and him back to the present? I'm missing something here, I know. This story is filled with bilge and sewer waste and heads my short-list for "worst story of the year." "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine"? Not by a long shot.

JS: Yeah, this ranks down there with Infant Terrible.

PE: You think you've seen the last of Gregory Hungerford Gideon? I was pretty much convinced he'd gone the straight and narrow but be patient, he'll return in exactly 100 issues!

The Avengers #12

Our Story

Answering a desperate plea from an embattled anthill, Gi-Ant Man rallies the Avengers only to find his teammates have better things to do than investigate brawls over queen ants. The giant Avenger is forced to look into the matter on his own and he discovers that The Mole Man is back and more dangerous than ever. This time, the subterranean super-villain has devised a new gizmo he calls The Atomic Gyroscope, a weapon that will make earth spin faster on its axis until the entire surface world is destroyed. Pym is taken prisoner by the blind servants of The Mole Man but the remaining Avengers soon learn the error of their ways when buildings begin to shake and tremors begin to tremble. When the team finally gets around to rescuing their partner, they discover that The Mole Man has been joined by another regular Fantastic Four villain, The Red Ghost. Together, the two attempt to off the powerful team and take control of the surface world.

PE: I like Jan's bitchyness when Hank tells her there's an emergency in Anthill #7. She mocks him several times before heading for the hairdresser. However... when The (real) Avengers deliver the mock, it rings false. No way would Henry Pym sound the alarm unless it was necessary. The rest of the team know that and yet they show anger at being called. Then to add a real hoot to the proceedings, Gi-Ant Man defends his ant buddies by saying "Well, now hold on just a moment. The last time my pahdnuhs rang me on the Cybernetic hotline, it turned out (MARVEL COINCIDENCE ALERT!!) The Mole Man was back in town. Once, just once, I'd like to see one of these heroes be wrong about a wild, out of left field hunch.

JS: Nothing spoils an Avengers tale as quickly as an emphasis on Giant Man.

PE: The Mole Man's been able to do pretty well, building his gigantic fortress under the crust with just a bunch of blind midgets. Where do you suppose they bought the materials for that Atomic Gyroscope? And does Moley run a very long electrical cord up to the surface or has he installed generators down there?

JS: I never realized that old Moley ever showed up outside of the pages of FF. As a result, his going up against the Avengers felt somewhat out of place, despite it haveing a same-old, same-old ending.

PE: If my tally is correct, this is The Mole Man's fourth Marvel adventure and yet his M.O. remains identical: craft a machine that will destroy all life on the surface of earth and then rise from below and become ruler of a desolate, steaming, lifeless planet. How much fun that would be! Has anyone talked to him about this?

JS: Do you think someone shuffled together Stan's scripts for Ant-Man, The Avengers and the FF and dealt out this mess?

PE: New power alert! Thor can use Mjolnir as a divining rod. No one seems to question why Iron man can put together Tony Stark's new contraption so quickly. Yeah sure, he's Stark's bodyguard but should he know all the secrets of his "boss"?

JS: If only Stark's real bodyguard knew half as much...

PE: Right out of left field, The Red Ghost shows up midway through our tale, convincing The Mole Man that two villains are better than one. Can't convince me. He hasn't brought along his Super Apes though as they're "unpredictable." Speaking of right out of left field, The Mole Man has captured Hank Pym and bathed him in an "anti-Cybernetic ray"! That Mole is a genius. How did he know?

JS: I know that we're getting closer and closer to great issues of FF. Are there any good Avengers tales on the horizon?

PE: George R. R. Martin contributes another letter to the "All About the Avengers" page (he's also featured on the Fantastic Four Fan Page this month). This guy was the T. M. Maple of the 1960s!

Tales of Suspense #61

Iron Man

Our Story

After their boss's disappearance last issue, Pepper and Happy go to the police and voice their suspicions about Iron Man. Just because he's an Avenger, he's not above the law, opines Pepper. While relaxing in his bungalow, Stark is happened upon by Happy, who's snooping around for clues in his boss's house. Forced to hop in bed with his iron suit on (sans mask), Stark becomes trapped in a bed of madness. Not able to rise up for fear of the world learning his secret identity and afraid if he removes his armor his heart will give out, the brilliant inventor can only wait and keep up his deception. Meanwhile, back in the Orient, The Mandarin is still smarting from his last defeat at the hands of Iron Man and has invented a "killer satellite" which homes in on anyone of his choosing. His first choice is Tony Stark. A laser destroys Tony's house and he's presumed dead (but we already knew that 'cuz Stan spilled the beans in last month's Avengers! -Persnickety Pete), leaving Iron Man free to investigate without having to constantly play Mrs. Doubtfire with Happy and Pepper. His trail leads naturally to the beam's source, The Mandarin, who's waiting for Shellhead in his mountain fortress. Mandarin's robot captures the Iron Avenger and the villain is about to put him out of his misery when he decides to tell him a story first...

PE: Though I think this is one of Don Heck's more solid pieces of work, I'm not sure I understand Happy Hogan's transformation from a geeky underling to dashing private eye. He's sleeker, much less gawky, and that's not lost on Pepper, it seems. Has he been hitting his boss's gym?

JS: Wouldn't they have recognized Stark's body language when they burst in to hand in their resignations? For a minute I thought we were finally getting the story I've been longing for, only to find a Mandarin surprise.

PE: Good trick Iron Man pulls on the plane. He dresses up as a fat man (with his armor underneath), boards a plane, and then over the Asian coast, he pulls the emergency door open and jumps out. Planes were quite different in the sixties because if you tried that today, you'd take a few of the stewardesses along with you at the very least.

JS: And Iron Man just didn't circumnavigate the globe because...? Why not hop into a Stark jet?

PE: The climax is a good old-fashioned cliffhanger, the perfect capper to one of the best Iron Man yarns since the strip started. If I'd been reading this as a little kid, it would have had the desired reaction in me all those years ago: I can't wait to read the next installment. In fact, that's what I'm saying right now. Wonder of wonders!

JS: I initially thought the Mandarin portion of the story would be a let-down, but you're right, by the end of the issue I was anxious to peek ahead to the next chapter.

Captain America

Our Story

Captain America flies to Vietnam to release a captured helicopter pilot. The man is the brother of a soldier who saved Cap during World War II. After being "tested" by several Viet Cong warriors, Cap is brought before The General, a huge Sumo wrestler eager to show that American heroes can break just as easily as ordinary soldiers.

PE: It's hard to get involved in a 10-page story but this one's enjoyable enough. It's nice to see Captain America without his current (and future) partner, Rick Jones. For me, Rick did nothing but weigh Cap down. I could see that even as a kid. I do think it's a hoot that Jack Kirby couldn't just present a Sumo menace for Cap to face. He had to draw the world's tallest Sumo. Figuring that Cap has to be at least six feet tall, The General must be ten! A big fat guy in a diaper wasn't imposing enough, we need to make him Gi-Ant Man as well. Bring on the 1940s, I says.

JS: Really? A Sumo wrestler? I'm surprised that they just didn't make the character The Blob.

MB: To me, the most interesting thing about this one-and-done is its stab at topicality by pitting the ultimate World War II hero against the Viet Cong, and relatively early in the Vietnam War at that—this issue was cover-dated three years before the Tet Offensive.  It’s also worth noting that just two issues later, TOS would leave Cap’s contemporary escapades to the pages of The Avengers and begin a long string of “tales from the perilous past,” highlighted by origin stories for Cap and the Red Skull.  Do Vietnamese have Sumo?  I dunno…

JS: I for one am looking forward to those Cap and Red Skull origin stories.

PE: On the letters page, future fabulous artist Pete Von Sholly (Comic Book Nerd) wants to know why everyone's always picking on Sue Storm. If he was asking that question of one of our professors, I'd raise my hand.

Tales to Astonish #63


Our Story

We spy the world’s greatest hero couple as Giant-Man is in the middle of a grueling training session.  He bounces and trapezes around like an orangutan until a police officer pays him a visit and asks him to go see the chief.  The hero couple is informed at police headquarters that a new gang of toughs, under the leadership of a villain known only as the Wrecker, have been robbing and shaking down businesses in the city.  The Wrecker wears a black hood over his mug to hide his secret identity.  The heroes hatch a scheme where they buy an old hardware store to use as bait.  The former owner of the store is a cantankerous older man who says that anybody that pays the Wrecker is a coward.  Later on, a couple of thugs from the gang come into the hardware store to shake down the Pyms.  Big Hank easily punches out both mooks, and once the Wrecker hears about this, he’s one pissed-off baddie.  The Wrecker realizes that this is a crisis situation for his criminal enterprise.  He immediately puts out the word to his cronies that Plan W is now in full effect.  Plan W basically consists of his huge mob of lackeys wreaking havoc across the entire city so that the police and fire departments have their hands full dealing with blazes and riots.  Now, the Wrecker and a few of his boys have the chance to visit the Pyms for an attitude adjustment.  It’s a Pier 6 brawl once the Pyms activate their super powers to battle the Wrecker and company.  In the ensuing melee, fists are thrown, gas bombs go off, and even a bear trap comes into play.  Thankfully, the Pyms prevail and the whole gang is brought down.  The Wrecker's identity is revealed at the end to be the cantankerous store owner who sold it to our heroes earlier.  And he would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those nosy Pyms.    

Tom:  I've never read a comic book from the 1940s, but if I did, I'd imagine it would be a lot like this story.  Dean Peter was definitely right on the money when he said that last issue’s Giant-Man story was so bad it was good.  This one is so bad that it's boring.  At least the folks in charge over at Marvel would soon be putting their own Plan W in effect for Giant-Ham, sending him back to the locker room and giving backup QB Sub-Mariner a chance to help out the Tales to Astonish team.

Jack: I thought the cover was pretty neat and I kind of liked the Giant Man story. The 1940s vibe may come from artist Carl Burgos, who returns to pencil this tale with inks by Chic Stone, who seems to make his pencillers shine. Burgos was the artist on the Golden Age Torch. I guess I’m in the minority, though. On the letters page, Stan Lee apologizes for this story, calling it weak. He claims that they had a different villain in mind but pulled the original idea at the last minute when they found out that a competitor had used a similar villain. Huh?
PE: Stan didn't fathom, back in 1964, that a bunch of clods in the future would dedicate a big piece of their time to dissecting and discussing his work. It's only natural then that he'd think he could pull a fast one over on the comic buying public by re-writing Tales to Astonish #37 and renaming The Protector. You're nuts if you think I'm going to read that garbage again, but I'd put a fin down that, when the villain was unmasked, the outcome was exactly the same as well. Ironic then , that Stan apologizes for the weak villain, citing similarities to (I'm assuming) a DC villain when the real pirating was a lot closer to home.

PE: I may just be repeating myself but this could be the worst art Marvel has published to this point. Carl Burgos elevates Dick Ayers to Quality Floor #5: Bill Everett and co. His Wasp shows no trace of reality in her proportions: Vampira-like waistline, Madonna-esque breasts and Porky Pig face. Some of his "people on the street" lack noses or lips. But then, again, why bother putting yourself into your craft when you have Stan (or whoever was writing this crap behind Stan's back and signing his name to it) typing up this nonsense to work with?

MB: Normally, I’d resent devoting 5 pages of a 12-page story to Hank’s equivalent of a Danger Room workout, but when the villain is as dull as the Wrecker (no way José to be confused with his more durable crowbar-wielding namesake from Thor and The Defenders), it’s a toss-up as to which is less interesting.  Don’t know too much about the laws of physics, but since I doubt they allow for objects that can grow and shrink in midair anyway, it’s probably superfluous to question the weird science on display here, or Stan’s somewhat creative sense of time (“in less than one micro-second!”).  Why Commissioner Gordo—uh, “the Chief”—couldn’t simply pick up the phone or use the Ant-Signal to summon Hank instead of sending a minion is equally mysterious, but at least removing Ayers from the art equation, with Chic Stone now inking the pencils of a mysteriously Anglicized Carl Burgos, couldn’t hurt.  Extra points for the smooch at the end.
Memo to Jan--LBJ won

PE: What does this mean? The Wasp (to Gi-Ant Man): "Well, I hope you're quite proud of yourself for worrying me about you the way you did!" I had to read that sentence four times before realizing it makes no sense whatsoever.

PE: Never let it be said that, despite the lack of A-list villains to fight, Hank Pym doesn't go that extra mile to lasso the bad guys. In this issue, he darn near harasses a merchant into selling him a store so he can bait The Wrecker. I want to see the follow-up story where The Wasp is nagging Henry to do something with the empty storefront he owns now. By the way, I hinted at it above but the real identity of The Wrecker is ludicrous. I do think it's miraculous that The Wrecker's hood keeps him protected from his own tear gas bomb despite the fact that he has eyeholes!

The Hulk

Our Story

It’s secret origin time as we learn about the nefarious Leader, who has been pulling the strings the last couple of issues.  Basically, the Leader was a dumb laborer who got accidentally mixed up in a Gamma bomb blast that transformed him into a green super-intellectual.  Think the Hulk, except wimpy and smart instead of strong and stupid.  Back at the military base, Bruce Banner is about to go on a train ride that is carrying some type of nuclear weapon he invented.  The Chameleon is still hanging around, doing his spy thing.  He lets the big-headed Leader know of what’s transpiring.  The Leader has constructed a sponge-like humanoid that is deadly strong, which he controls through a headset.  He sends his pink creation to stop the train from reaching its destination.  This sets up a Hulk vs. pink sponge man fight that goes back and forth for awhile, ending when the Hulk jars the humanoid so badly that the Leader loses control.  In the end, Banner is blamed for causing the catastrophe by Talbot, and we last see him sitting in lockup, under arrest.  The Leader is a changed villain after his loss, obsessed with the Hulk and his origins.    

Tom:  Big landmark issue with the introduction of one of the Hulk’s greatest foes.  The artwork does the creepy Leader justice, while making the Hulk look like a typical muscle-bound wrestler.  As a big Hulk fan, I must say that this story was as cool as ice.  Rip away fellow professors, if you must.

PE: I like The Leader a lot. Very cool villain, very iconic. Arguably, The Hulk's Doctor Doom or Green Goblin (although I'd have to say I'm partial to The Abomination) in scope. It's too bad that Louis Leterrier's The Incredible Hulk laid a giant green egg at the box office (despite being a good film overall) as the director was obviously setting up The Leader as the villain in the sequel. Actor Tim Blake Nelson played scientist Samuel Stern aka The Leader in the film and in the climax he starts to mutate into the Big-Brain we've known and loved all these years.

Jack: I liked this story, too. The Leader is a cool villain, though I always thought he was taller.

PE: What's with these so-called deadly Gamma Rays? Bruce Banner was blasted with them and lived to tell the tale and now an "ordinary laborer" is "bombarded" by enough rays to kill dozens of men and is reading books faster than ever before. I could use some of these Gamma Rays on a Tuesday night when I'm up against the MU deadline!

Tom:  I'm not trying to be a wise guy or anything, but something about the scene where the Hulk first leaps on and attacks the pink humanoid looks a little less then wholesome......maybe I'm wrong.

Jack: I don’t think the Hulk goes in for pink spongy guys. I like how he gets upset when he feels himself changing back to puny Bruce Banner. I did not like how he defied the laws of physics by changing directions in mid-flight, though—the Hulk can’t fly!

PE: That was a beverage-spitter, Professor Jack! The Hulk can't fly but I guess The Chameleon can hold his breath under a boulder and rubble for 24 hours as that's just what he does this issue! Our last image this issue is Banner in a prison cell moaning that he can't clear his name without admitting he's The Hulk. Obviously that's what it's going to take since everyone around the scientist seems to be comatose or just stupid. Let's review the facts, Major talbot: you locked Banner in a train car, The Hulk shows up, the nuclear device (which is very heavy I assume) gets knocked off the train, the car you left Banner in now has a really big exit where there wasn't one earlier, and now you find puny Bruce out in the desert with the nuclear device and those darned suspicious ripped up purple trousers. Hmmm, nope, nothing awry here, General Thunderstroke.

Also this month

Kid Colt Outlaw #120
Millie the Model Annual #4
Millie the Model #126
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #14
Two-Gun Kid #73


When Hitler commands his top fighting weapon to capture Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos, the war-weary team  faces "The Blitzkrieg Squad of Baron Strucker" (#14). I've defended George Bell's inking skills several times in this blog but you won't find any such praise here. Bell's inks over Dick Ayers' pencils this issue are awful. The story, pure comic book drivel, has Strucker going to lengths, under Der Fuehrer's orders, to gather together a German version of the Commandos. Why they bother is anyone's guess since the idea isn't explored past the planning stages. Once the mock team is constructed they set out to trap the Commandos with various trickeries but the traits of each German, designed to mirror each Howler, are never exploited and the tale descends into nothing special.

Our weekly look at Marvel's branching out into the "mainstream society" and merchandising begins here. The first real glimpse at the M.M.M.S., Marvel's first stab at a fan club.

1 comment:

  1. In the Life section of today's USA Today is a big article called "Avengers, X-Men to do battle while Earth is at stake." One of the creators, Ed Brubaker, says "it's one of those legendary ideas." I'm glad to see the House of Ideas continues to flog a horse that was already dead in 1965. And this time it will drag on for 12 issues!