Wednesday, August 31, 2011

November 1963: Ant-Man Becomes Giant Man!

Tales to Astonish #49

Our Story

A vicious alien being nicknamed The Eraser (because he can erase people) is kidnapping atomic scientists and teleporting them to Dimension Z. Dr. Henry Pym, not only a really good looking professor but also one of the three top atomic scientists in the world, is monkeying around with his growth serum and has just about perfected the antithesis of his shrinking pill. Despite the danger of breaking up his “The Two Smallest Heroes on the Planet” act with The Wasp, Pym has decided he’ll get more respect if villains can actually see him. The first experiment is not what you’d call a success and his house is destroyed. Not to worry though, as this is the Marvel Universe. Just as he’s nearing the perfect dosage, he’s escorted to Dimension Z to discover that the bosses there are hungry for atomic power and have kidnapped the other two brilliant scientists. Yo-yo-ing between Gigantism and Teensyism, Hank Pym (with an assist from The Wasp) crushes the dastardly scheme and zips back to Dimension A (?) with geniuses intact. 
PE: It’s in the pages of Tales to Astonish #49 that we finally learn that there are 26 dimensions and Henry Pym has just been transported to the last one on the list (unless there are also numbered dimensions as well): Dimension Z!

JS: Funny. I feel like I've been in Dimension ZZZZZZ! 
PE: What’s more amazing than a scientist who can grow large or small with a single pill? The same scientist can also rebuild his house in just a couple of comic panels! Pym’s house is destroyed when he becomes “Gianter-Man” on the first page of the story but, miraculously, he’s back to conducting tests in that same house by the second page.

JS: I think the contractor used unstable molecules...

PE: I’m staying tuned just to see if Janet can keep from blundering and calling Hank “Giant-Man” when he’s actually “Ant-Man” and vice versa. We’ve been told (endlessly) that, despite his “shrinkage,” Ant-Man retains all the power of his normal sized body when he’s The World’s Smallest Hero. Evidently, that adage does not hold true when Pym becomes Giant-Man, as he seems to have Giant-Man strength. My head hurts just keeping up with all this science.
PE: You’ve all been breathlessly awaiting this issue, thinking that the quality of the stories would grow proportionately with Hank Pym’s new alter ego. Ummm…

JS: And if gi(ANT) man isn't enough to excite you, we've got the menace of The Eraser! It sure feels like they've had to come up with 100+ horrible characters to end up with a handful that deserve to stick around.
PE: Incredibly enough, Bill Mantlo would resurrect the fourth-tier Eraser 13 years later in Marvel Two-In-One #15, where the newly-christened Living Eraser would battle The Thing and Morbius, the Living Vampire. Just goes to show you that even the lousy villains get a second chance.

Strange Tales #114

The Human Torch

Our Story

"The Human Torch Meets Captain America"
The Torch is busy practicing in the yard with Invisible Girl when his pals show up to tell him that Captain America is back and plans to make an appearance at the antique auto show in town today! At the show, crooks steal an antique car. Johnny goes after them, but Captain America appears on the scene, unhappy that the Torch has interfered. As usual, the citizens of Glenville laud the new hero and ignore Johnny Storm. Even Doris Evans, Johnny's girlfriend, thinks the red, white and blue hero is dreamy. After Captain America helps the car thieves escape from prison, the Torch chases them, and they reveal that Cap planned the robbery. Cap and the Torch fight, but eventually Johnny gets the upper hand and unmasks Cap, revealing him to be The Acrobat (see Strange Tales 106). Johnny wistfully reads an old Captain America comic book and wonders what ever happened to his boyhood hero.
Jack: An editor's note says that this story was a test to see if readers want Captain America to return.

JS: It was clearly done to sell books. I wonder how many readers were disappointed like me when they realized they had been hoodwinked. I should have known better, considering it was, in fact, a Human Torch tale.

PE: Well, actually, you should have known better because you know Marvel history and what's about to happen in a couple months. 

Jack: On the cover, it refers to the Golden Age of Comics and the Marvel Age--when were those terms first used? 

Jack: Captain America is obviously an impostor from early in the story.

JS: You're in luck, Peter's an authority on imposter Captain America's.

Jack: Dick Ayers takes a month off and lets Kirby draw Cap again.

Dr. Strange

Our Story

"The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo"
Dr. Strange returns for his third story after a two-issue hiatus, in response to readers' "enthusiastic mail." Sir Clive Bentley calls Dr Strange from London, requesting help. The master of the mystic arts responds, only to be trapped by Baron Mordo's candle, which gives off a paralyzing vapor. Strange uses his mental powers to summon a nearby girl to Bentley's castle; she arrives and snuffs out the candle before its flame dies and ends the magician's life.

Strange and Mordo's spirit selves battle until Mordo disappears. The story ends as Strange consults with The Ancient One in Tibet and anticipates Mordo's next attack.

JS: One of the things I like about Dr. Strange is that he doesn't necessarily look like a hero. He almost has a Snidely Whiplash look.

Jack: Dr. Strange will need another adversary if this is to continue—stories two and three are basically the same.

JS: Yeah, although this one mostly happened in reality, and not just the astral plane, where Baron Mordo's bad hair really stands out.

Jack: This is one of Ditko's more boring art jobs--three of five pages are nine equal panels and not much happens.

The Avengers #2

Our Story
The Space Phantom can assume any human vessel he desires (forcing the real person into a limbo until the alien takes another form). The vessels he desires at the moment are the newly formed super-group The Avengers. One by one, The Wasp, Hulk, Giant-Man, and Iron Man are possessed by the crafty creature and forced to do battle with one another. It’s only when Space Phantom attempts to overtake Thor, who is a God not a human, that The Avengers are able to send The Phantom into his own limbo. The fighting takes a toll on the group though and The Hulk decides he’s better off a solo act (with no book to go to though). The remaining heroes ponder what may be in store for them in the near future now that the green goliath is roaming the free world without a leash. They’ll find out very quickly.
PE: Like the episode before it, “The Avengers Battle The Space Phantom” is a casebook of tedious writing and lazy art. The Space Phantom is a villain with a potentially deadly power: he can transform himself into anyone. So, what does he do? He hatches a plan to morph into each member of the super-team for the sole purpose of initiating arguments. There has to be a quicker way of conquering earth. Kirby's art looks like photo-shop or one of those Marvel cartoons of the 1960s. The backgrounds are barely filled in.

JS: Yawn! Okay, so at least we got the freakiest looking villain since old Longface himself (The Wizard). But Ye Ole Space Phantom has a Wolverine hairstyle, decades before it would become all the rage. 
PE: Can The Wasp come off as more vacuous? Her constant comments like “Hmmm, he might be dangerous but he’s a hunk” or “I’d sure like to get to know that dreamy Thor better” make the Kirby/Lee team appear a bit, oh I don’t know, immature.

JS: What's with Thor pissing and moaning about The Hulk's shorts? 
PE: More in-team fighting from The House of Ideas. Iron Man calls Thor “Long Hair.” Hulk calls Giant Man stupid. The Wasp calls Thor adorable. Hulk calls Iron Man “rustpot.” How long before the novelty of bickering superheroes who come together in the end for the betterment of mankind wears thin for Stan Lee? 

JS: Ah, just two issues in, and it's one big happy family.
PE: The Space Phantom must thank his lucky stars when Rick Jones shows up to give him a brief bio on their history together.Of course, Rick must have sunstroke as he tells The Hulk that when he's on holiday he's Don Blake rather than Bruce Banner. Damn that Deadline Doom!
PE: Iron Man’s “chest plate accessory compartment” which houses a plethora of “expandable” devices continues to amaze me. We’ve only seen the beginning of it over in our coverage of Tales of Suspense. Here, Stark is able to hook up a huge hammer to his armor, one which ostensibly can fold up into a nice handkerchief size and be stored away for future use. Anyone out there seen a diagram of the full contents of Tony Stark’s “CPAC”? And say it ain’t so that Iron Man can unfurl a fully-stocked bar complete with stools but his suit will rust instantly if rained on!

Tales of Suspense #47

Our Story

The army is having problems with Stark Industries' new tanks: they seem to be melting. Though the military may suspect that Tony Stark is just another American businessman (ie taking billions of dollars and skimming off the top while using low-grade materials), we know differently, don't we, True Believers? Yes, the truth is that one of Stark's disgraced competitors, Bruno Horgan, has stumbled on the secret of iron-melting! Iron Man must reveal The Melter and stop his nasty hobby before Stark Industries is ruined. But what can Iron Man do when his newest foe has the power to melt his toughest iron suit? A bit of "rabbit up my sleeve" finally defeats The Melter but he escapes down a sewer hole. Is he drowned or will he resurface some day?
PE: As with most of this month's Marvel villains (or any month's, for that matter), we get a lot of head-scratching before Stan christens our villain The Melter. I'd have opted for The Iron Melter. Wasn't taken yet.

JS: Mister Melty? Melty Melter? 

PE: Although this art job is credited to Steve Ditko and Don Heck, I don't see a trace of Ditko here. What's the story?

PE: Department of "Marvel time really does move differently, doesn't it?" Iron Man's suit of iron is susceptible to The Melter's rays so Tony Stark takes time in the middle of all the action to redesign his armor in aluminum! That must take hours to do in real life!

JS: Stark's a bright guy... so how is it he had to have part of his suit melted to realize that this was a risk? Um, duh! Then again, this is the same braniac who's running to plug into a 110v outlet every 20 minutes. You think he'd invest some time in developing a battery pack of sorts.

PE: Even after a year's worth of stories and what I'd like to think of as a pretty good suspension of disbelief quota, I laugh every time I see Iron Man, in his clunky yellow suit, running down a corridor. I'm no scientist but that ain't gonna happen, folks.

JS: The way the suit moves, you wouldn't assume it was made of iron, but then it wouldn't have been susceptible to the Meltimator. 

PE: Just as Ant-Man has his "Ah, I've landed on a comfortable carpet of ants after my rubber-banded journey" dialogue that runs in each issue, so we have to put up with Iron Man's foes constantly saying "Ah, Iron Man, I'd heard you worked for Tony Stark and here you are in his factory/office/bed!"

JS: It's a good thing, too, since folks don't seem to have any trouble getting to the rich socialite.

PE: Spoiler Alert! The Melter didn't go down the drain to his doom but lived to fight another day. In fact, he'll pop up in another title in just a few months. He had the usual life of a third tier villain, a few starring roles here and there, and was eventually offed by a bad guy with the unwieldy name of Scourge of the Underworld (in Avengers #263). None of his fellow third-tiers attended the funeral nor did Stark Industries send flowers.

Fantastic Four #20

Our Story
An atomic testing accident transforms mild-mannered Owen Reece into the deadly Molecule Man, a man who can control molecules! Tipped off to the new villain by The Watcher, the Four return to their Baxter Building base to Baxter Building! In a wild coincidence, the fortress has been stolen by The Molecule Man. The Fantastic Four find they have their hands full with this new menace as he can turn anything into a deadly weapon. Luckily, Reed stumbles on The Molecule's Achilles' Heel: he can only alter inorganic molecules! After a ferocious battle, MM is defeated by the FF and carted away by The Watcher.

PE: Legend has it that Stan and Jack threw darts at a board and "Molecule Man" won over the other choices Mr. Molecule, The Mad Molecule, and simply The Molecule. A man who controls molecules would naturally be known universe-wide as The Molecule Man.

JS: What is it with Stan and Jack continually introducing super-villains with unlimited powers? And yet despite their ability to do basically anything, the FF once again saves the day within 22 pages (thanks to that fancy plaster coating disguise).

PE: It's never explained why Mr. Molecular has to use a wand like some whacked-out magician. If his body is the conductor, why a wand?

JS: Seriously? Johnny has to ask Reed what a molecule is? And this kid has his own comic book? Even Peter knows what molecules are...

PE: I know that Stan was simply trying to educate his younger readers by having Johnny Storm ask Reed Richards the definition of molecules but it makes the fiery hero come off as a bit of a dimwit. Having said that...I'd have appreciated a fuller explanation of how The Four managed to foil Mr. Molec's scheme by having Alicia cover them in plaster. 

PE: I would argue with The Watcher when he asserts he's not interfering with the human race by capturing MM and imprisoning him somewhere because the FF had already won the battle. No matter that the bad guy was probably still dangerous. I'd say "interference."

JS: The Watcher is looking rather jaundiced in the Masterworks edition. Funny how they go out of their way to talk about not getting involved in human affairs as they get involved in human affairs.

PE: This was the one and only appearance of this incarnation of The Molecule Man. Years after he's dispatched in our rousing climax, The Molecule Man creates an artificial man he adopts as his son. On his dying day he transfers his molecular power to that son, who becomes Molecule Man II and fights The Thing to avenge his father's death (Ben has a little help from The Man-Thing in that battle, which took place in the premiere issue of Marvel Two-In-One).

PE: Mark Gruenwald would one day create The Official Handbook of The Marvel Universe and write Captain America for ten years, but in 1963 he was the ten year-old secretary of The Fantastic Four Fan Club in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He also edited the comic fanzine, Omniverse. He died (at age 43) of a heart attack in 1996. Also in the Fantastic 4 Fan Page, we get a letter from none other than 15 year-old George R. Martin, who would grow up to become writer George R. R. Martin. Among Martin's many accomplishments is the multi-volume Wild Cards, a paperback series very much influenced by X-Men and other Marvel heroes. 

Amazing Spider-Man #6

Our Story

A man-sized lizard is terrorizing the Everglades. A challenge from J. Jonah Jameson sends Spider-Man to Florida to get to the bottom of what may just be an urban legend. Once there, Spidey finds The Lizard is anything but myth. But beneath the gruff exterior of the giant reptile lies a kind scientist named Curtis Connors. The renowned professor was working on a serum to grow new limbs by experimenting on reptiles. Not only does the professor want to help mankind but he’d like to grow a replacement for his missing right arm. The formula works but it comes with unfortunate side effects. Not only does the scientist take on the guise of a human lizard, he’s slowly but surely losing his human mind. Luckily for Dr. Connors, Spider-Man also happens to be Peter Parker, science major and very quickly the ace teenager has concocted an antidote. The professor is restored to human form and Spider-Man promises to keep Connors’ secret between the two of them.
PE: A new kind of Marvel villain: the sympathetic bad guy. Curt Connors only wants to be whole again. He doesn’t want to rule the world or destroy mankind. His Hulk-like other half certainly does, but we know that the doctor is a good guy and we root for Spider-Man to find a cure for him. It’s another fabulous origin tale for what would become an iconic Marvel super-villain. The notion that a scientist would use the DNA from reptiles to regenerate human tissue is not a prepostrous one, even 50 years later (it’s akin to the theory that motored Jurassic Park). I’m not a scientist but the idea seems rational.

JS: Everyone's freaked out by a talking Lizard man, but no one questions the fact that he wears a lab coat and purple pants. 

PE: I don’t think it’s spoiling much to reveal that The Lizard will return several times throughout the title in the next fifty years. The monster would get more and more vicious with every appearance, with the professor’s will evaporating each time, culminating in last year’s appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #631. The beast’s savagery hits an all time high (or low, depending who you talk to) when he attacks and devours his son Billy! Not a storyline you’d see developing in the Marvel Age of 1963.

JS: The Lizard was always my favorite Spider-Man villain—I always wanted the Mego doll. I even like him with his early look - the frog-like face. I do think it's kind of silly that when Doc Connors reverts to human form, he's missing the arm again. 
PE: It’s too bad Sam Raimi never got to use The Lizard in one of his Spider-Man films. He was grooming Curt Connors (who had been transplanted to Peter’s college) for a future appearance it seems but the Raimi reign ended before the professor (and actor Dylan Baker) could have his day in the sun. Word on the street is that The Lizard will be featured in the newly re-booted franchise. The Amazing Spider-Man is due in May 2012.

X-Men #2

Our Story

The newly formed teenage gang of superheroes faces their deadliest foe yet: a mutant named The Vanisher who can...vanish. When The Vanisher steals top secret files and blackmails our government, The X-Men step in to save the day. But in the end, Professor X must reveal his secret super power to end the threat and return the files to the American government.

PE: I hope that the formula of this strip begins to vary soon. The novelty of watching The X-Men members train in their danger room was interesting in the first issue but a bit repetitive by the second. The in-fighting we have to endure has been done to death two years after the first issue of Fantastic Four.

JS: There were a few surprises—like when Jean places the Angel's admirers atop a movie theater marquee! And when Professor X 'projects' a mental image on the wall!

PE: Most of the Marvel comics characters didn't face their iconic foe until several issues into their run. The X-Men had the unenviable dilemma of unveiling its greatest villain in the first issue. Nowhere to go but down (aka Thor and Human Torch rejected bad guys like The Vanisher).

JS: The Vanisher wins the award for dumbest looking super villain yet.

PE: I'm still not sure why The Vanisher made a big deal of popping into the Pentagon to announce he would be ripping off top secret files in a couple days. Why not just steal them right then and there. A character in the strip actually asks the same pertinent question but Stan Lee's not around to give an answer.

Journey Into Mystery #98

“Challenged By The Human Cobra”

Our Story

All-father Odin has this advice for his son: forget Jane Foster, but it is something the Thunder God cannot do. To get away from his troubles, Don Blake takes a spontaneous trip to India, where he overhears that Professor Shecktor, an old teacher of his, is dying from the bite of a king cobra. Speeding to his friend’s side, Blake is told by Shecktor, before he dies, that his assistant an ex-con named Klaus, had freed the cobra they had been studying (and Shecktor had secretly been exposing to radiation), which then bit them both. Klaus gave himself, but not Shecktor, the anti-venom, to make it look like an accident. As a result of the radiation, Klaus has developed the speed, strength, and cunning of a king cobra, with human intelligence to boot, and is calling himself the Cobra. Thor sets out to avenge his friend’s death, following the trail of the Cobra to a chemical plant in the U.S., where the reptilian creature demands the plant’s resources to create a subservient race of snakey creatures. The Thunder God finds the Cobra and seems to gain the upper hand in the battle, but loses him in the fog of venomous “cobra gas”. Ironically, when the Cobra breaks into a doctor’s office to steal some supplies, it is none other than that of a certain Dr. Andrews, who recently employed a nurse named … Foster (what a small world!). Andrew’s cowardice in the face of danger convinces Jane that it was a mistake to leave Don Blake and she manages to alert a passing by Thor to her need for help. Thor saves his beloved Jane, but in the confusion, the Cobra again escapes.

This month, “Tales Of Asgard” relates the tale of Odin’s battle against the Ice Giants, including their fearful leader, Ymir, called King Laufey in the recent Thor movie.

JB: Here’s yet another villain created by radioactivity; well at least it wasn’t Loki or the Reds. Let me see, what radioactive animal do I want to be bitten by, to get some super powers? Still, the Cobra is a decent foe, soon to team up with Mr. Hyde.

JB: Don Heck does an interesting job with the art, with some different angles, and proportions, including a perky-looking Jane Foster.

JS: Stan couldn't stand to leave Lame Don Blake on his own for a single issue, so we get Jane Foster back by this issue's conclusion.

JS: I guess it was a bit early in the Marvel tenure for Jane Foster to go out the way of Gwen Stacy. I'm curious if anyone else had such a flash forward

JS: I thought a tale of Odin fighting Ice Giants would be a surefire winner, however the Tales from Asgard installment in this issue left me wanting.

Also this month
Kid Colt Outlaw #113
Millie the Model #117
Modeling with Millie #27
Patsy Walker #111
Sgt Fury and His Howling Commandos #4
Two-Gun Kid #66

Fury and his Commandos are charged with sneaking into Berlin and "rescuing" a radio broadcaster named Lord Ha-Ha in "Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh" (Sgt Fury #4). The reason to make the trek is two-fold: Lord Ha-Ha is Berlin's equivalent of Tokyo Rose and to bring him back to England would be a morale booster to the troops. He also happens to be the son of Peter Hawley, who has lots of friends in high places. Hawley, who thinks his son has been brainwashed, wants the man whisked out of Germany pronto. Aided by the underground, Fury and his men disguise themselves as a circus troop but when they reach Ha-Ha, he's a bit reluctant to go.
Saving a train from a robbery by Bull Barton, Kid Colt comes to the attention of territorial governor McDonald Morgan, who promises a full pardon if the Kid will put his gun down for a full month. Getting there is not easy as Colt wanders from incident to incident where his six-shooters would come in handy. Just when he thinks he's out of it, they drag him back in! Worst of all, he has to deal with "The Revenge of Bull Barton" (Kid Colt Outlaw #113).
It's "Revenge" month at the Marvel Western Round-Up. Matt Hawk aka Two-Gun Kid finds himself "Trapped By Ringo's Raiders" (Two-Gun Kid #66). Years ago, Two-Gun broke up a bank robbery by Jace Ringo and Ringo has never really forgiven him for it. Well, Jace is out of jail and Two-Gun finds that the pokey didn't really make the robber see the error of his ways. He's planning his next heist while still behind bars. Luckily, the town of Tombstone has their very own guardian angel.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

October 1963: The Crimson Dynamo!

Journey Into Mystery # 97

Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Tales Annual 2

Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Tales 113

Our Story

"The Coming of the Plantman!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of Suspense 46

Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fantastic Four 19

Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JS: We like to call that The Marvel Way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Amazing Spider-Man 5

Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales to Astonish 48

Our Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also this month

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


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