Meanwhile…: November, 1963

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #6

asm6“Face-to-Face With…the Lizard!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
Scientist Curtis Connors self-administers a serum that restores his lost limb, but also turns him into a power-hungry lizard. In the Everglades, Spider-Man confronts the Lizard and develops an antidote. As they battle, Spidey forces the antidote down the Lizard’s throat before the crazed scientist can taint the water supply, thus preventing the transformation of local reptiles into a monstrously powerful army. Due to an earlier encounter with Spider-Man, Liz is now infatuated with the superhero and wants nothing to do with Peter.

WHAT’S HOT
LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION! Getting Spidey out of the city and into the Florida swamp is a nice move, a refreshing change of pace.

PARKER THE PLAYER, PART I. In the last issue, Peter began to develop an interest in Betty Brant, and it doesn’t take long for him to make his first move. He’s about to ask Betty for a date, when Jameson rudely interrupts. Bold move for Peter. It appears his Spider-Man persona is doing wonders for his self-confidence.

PARKER THE PLAYER, PART II. In other news, the always glib Spider-Man, while rescuing Liz from jewel-stealing thugs at the museum, tosses off a “Blue eyes,” remark that sets the high school girl’s heart aflutter. Now she’s no longer interested in Peter, or Flash, or anyone other than the elusive and mysterious Spider-Man! Does my spider-sense tell me we’re working up to a complicated web of love triangles? As Peter notes when Liz turns him down for a date, “Only a guy with MY nutty luck could end up being his OWN competition!”

WHAT’S NOT
CAPTAIN OF THE OBVIOUS. I’m afraid Spidey’s not as smooth as he thinks, when he confronts Jameson saying he’s going to accept the Lizard’s challenge, pointedly adding, “So you’d better send a photographer to Florida to cover the story!”

DULL-WITTED? Frankly, I’m amazed a newspaper man of Jameson’s experience doesn’t immediately suspect something fishy about Parker and Spider-Man making the exact suggestion within mere days of each other. Jameson may not have “spider-sense,” but you’d at least think he’s developed some level of journalistic intuition. Then again, his intuition was probably a wee bit topsy-turvy at the moment, hanging from his office ceiling by a spider web!

They don’t like the way that kid’s looking at them. Maybe it’s because he looks like…Spider-Man?!

REANIMATION?
Connors the Lizard has created a serum to turn all reptiles against humanity, and we are potentially looking at the biggest Japanese monster movie ever. But in the end, Spider-Man forces the antidote into the scaly scientist. Restored to his rightful form, Connors burns his research, promising never to dabble in such experiments again. So…is that a promise he keeps, or will we see the Lizard again?

The fact that the latest Spider-Man movie features the villainous Lizard makes me suspect this character is more than a one-hit wonder. But I wonder how we’ll get him back. I’d put my money on the brilliant Connors recreating the destroyed research, reasoning, “Oh, if I just do this one thing a little bit differently, surely this time it will work!” And of course it won’t. I’m not peeking ahead, but I’ll be looking forward to a next appearance by the Lizard.

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AVENGERS #2

a2“The Avengers Battle the Space Phantom”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
In an effort to conquer Earth, the Space Phantom first sets out to destroy the Avengers. He shape shifts into each member of the super team, behaving badly and setting them against each other. Through their combined ingenuity, the gang discovers his trick, and in the end, the Space Phantom’s attempt to send Thor to limbo backfires, and the Phantom himself becomes trapped in limbo. However, Hulk has been deeply offended by the other Avengers, and sets out on his own once again.

WHAT’S HOT
REPUTATION. The Avengers’ reputation has developed quickly to the point that beings from outer space are willing to travel weeks at light speed simply for the opportunity to destroy them. They’ve rapidly achieved status on a par with the FF!

SHAPE SHIFTING. The Space Phantom’s ability to shape shift causes multiple opportunities for us to see the Avengers fighting each other. Why is it we’re so fascinated by the idea of the good guys fighting each other? Is it just because we want to find out which superpower will trump the others? The Phantom’s super power of impersonation is impressive and dangerous—until everyone figures out what he’s doing.

NON-STOP. The more I read comics, the more I realize how much having multiple heroes in a title creates non-stop action. If the Space Phantom had faced off against any one of them, and not the whole bunch, the story would have been a lot less exciting, and over much sooner.

BUILT-IN CHEST PLATE ACCESSORY COMPARTMENT. In the heat of battle with the Hulk, Iron Man retrieves additional hardware from a built-in chest plate accessory compartment. Somewhat like a well-equipped vacuum cleaner.

HYPERSENSITIVITY. The Wasp is “hypersensitive to certain stimuli”? First I’ve heard of it. Well, wait…on the next page, Stan admits it might be partly due to simple “female intuition.” In this group, even a demi-power like female intuition can come in handy.

WHAT’S NOT
COFFEE CLUTCH. As the Avengers meet, Iron Man explains, “Even when there is no task before us, we still meet regularly to get to know each other better.” How horrid! This brings up every awkward and uncomfortable “getting to know you” session I’ve ever been forced to attend at church or work.

STUPID CRIMINALS. The Space Phantom feels a need to boast and brag, so reveals all his secrets to Rick Jones, then leaves. Hello!! I guess the Space Phantom hasn’t been paying close enough attention to know about the Teen Brigade—and in fact, later in the story, Jones uses his ham radio to relay his discoveries to Giant-Man.

PRONOUN AGREEMENT. As super villains will do from time to time (lots of times, actually), the Space Phantom refers to himself in the third person, but finishes the sentence in the first person. Observe: “How easy it is for the Space Phantom to sow the seeds of distrust and hatred among my victims!” Am I the only one a bit confused?

GIANT WASP. Okay, it’s not really a giant wasp, but while Janet is wasp-sized, she’s attacked by the Space Phantom disguised as a wasp, so the evil wasp is essentially the same size as her. Not a fan of insects in general, and this image strikes me as truly unnerving.

RUST. Another thing I didn’t know about our superheroes. Iron Man will rust in a rainstorm? Srsly? How can he be a superhero if he can’t go out in the rain?

SECRET IDENTITIES?
Iron Man and Thor are super concerned about maintaining their secret identities, yet Iron Man arranges for the Avengers to hold their clubhouse meeting at Stark’s industrial plant, and Thor leaves instructions to get in touch with Don Blake if he’s needed. Also, Rick Jones is a known friend to both Hulk and Bruce Banner, who never seem to be around at the same time. We shouldn’t need an Avenger whose superpower is super-intelligence to begin figuring out these secret identities. I wonder if any of them will hash out the identities of the others, then keep mum, out of a sense of propriety…to say nothing of fair play.

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FANTASTIC FOUR #20

ff20“The Mysterious Molecule Man!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
The Watcher warns the Fantastic Four about the Molecule Man, who is a victim of an atomic accident and now “controls every molecule in the universe.” These powers are overstated, however, because after the team fights Molecule Man unsuccessfully, Reed surmises that this super villain cannot affect organic matter. Alicia covers the Four in plastic, so they appear to be statues. When Molecule Man attacks, the force feedback overwhelms him, and the Watcher quickly steps in to whisk away the Molecule Man.

WHAT’S HOT
YANCY STREET GANG. Not only do we finally get to see some members of the Yancy Street Gang, but they also help the Fantastic Four. Even though Thing is embarrassed by this turn of events, it keeps our heroes in the game.

THE WAND. It’s never really explained where the magic wand comes from, but in the end, it’s all that remains of the Molecule Man. Of course, he isn’t killed, just taken away by the Watcher, so there’s a good chance he’ll return. But even if he doesn’t, his powerful wand remains, and could play a part in future stories.

UNSTOPPABLE. We spend most of the story believing that Molecule Man has the ability to control “EVERY molecule in the universe.” His powers seem limitless, so midway through, with our heroes completely unsuccessful at containing him (never mind stopping him), we’re left wondering how in the world they’re going to get out of this mess. This is comic book drama at its best! Right? Not so fast, my friend! Read on…

WHAT’S NOT
CHEAT. The ability to “control EVERY molecule in the universe”? Well….not exactly true, is it? Late in the story, Reed surmises that “If he uses his power on organic molecules the force feedback is too painful for him to endure.” Thus, they are able to trick and weaken the Molecule Man, which the Watcher perceives as “Game over! You’ve won!” Pseudo science? Yes, but more significantly, this giant loophole finally allows our superheroes to emerge victorious. If not for this loophole, would they ever have found a way to defeat Molecule Man? I’m not so sure, and personally I feel cheated, having been fed vital misinformation.

YOU BREAK IT, YOU BUY IT. When Ben breaks a water pipe to attack the blue sphere, Reed says now they’ll have to repay the city. Really? The city would make them pay for damages incurred during a public service mission?

JOHNNY CAN’T READ? Johnny asks “Reed, what exactly are molecules?” I know we have to get this information to the readers, some who may still be in grade school, making paper airplanes during science lessons rather than paying attention to the teacher, but it’s hard to imagine that high school Johnny would ask this question. Unless maybe his academic career is absolutely littered with paper airplanes?

PRIME DIRECTIVE. SIGH… I’m not a big fan of The Prime Directive when it rears its obtrusive head on Star Trek, and even less when the Watcher reminds the FF that his kind are forbidden to interfere with people on other planets. But…by visiting people on other planets to provide information they would not know otherwise, isn’t that interference? And later, the Watcher says he could not interfere with the battle, “But now that you have won” he is able to take away the Molecule Man, restore the Baxter Building, and undo everything the Molecule Man did. Maybe I use a different dictionary than they do on the Watcher’s planet, but in my book, EVERYTHING he does in this story is interference.

DUH… If everyone in NY is looking for the FF, wouldn’t someone be keeping an eye on Thing’s girlfriend? Yet, when they go to Alicia’s apartment, they are safe.

ALSO…How is it that magnets can pull apart Mr. Fantastic?

ALTERNATE APPROACH
Everyone in this story is taking the wrong approach to Molecule Man. Early on, it should be clear to the authorities, and the FF, that it will be next to impossible to defeat a villain who controls “EVERY molecule in the universe.” (Of course, once you change the meaning of the word “every,” EVERYTHING changes…) It should have occurred to someone to bring in a super-team of psychologists to study and analyze the Molecule Man’s issues and motivations, in hopes of convincing him to use his powers for good, not self-serving evil. They might not be able to stop him from doing evil, but perhaps someone could stop him from wanting to do evil. We’ve all heard that absolute power corrupts absolutely, but for most of this story, it appears the only hope the good guys have is in converting this powerful villain. Someone should have at least tried.

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JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #98

jim98“Challenged By the Human Cobra!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Don Heck
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
When Dr. Blake travels to Bombay to forget his love for Jane Foster, he learns that Dr. Shecktor’s assistant has been transformed by the bite of a radioactive cobra. The Human Cobra arrives in America, where he demands control of a chemical plant. Thor appears and they battle. The Cobra eludes Thor and shows up at Dr. Andrews office, taking his new nurse Jane Foster as hostage. Thor rescues Jane, but the slippery Cobra escapes again. Disillusioned by Andrews’ willingness to cooperate with a super villain, Jane returns to work for Dr. Blake.

WHAT’S HOT
JANE COMES TO HER SENSES. When Dr. Andrews agrees immediately to assist the Cobra in order to save his own life, Jane is appalled. After Thor rescues her from the Cobra, “in less time than it takes to tell,” she leaves Andrews and begs Blake to take her back. He of course is only too willing, and order is restored to the universe.

BY ODIN’S BEARD! In the accompanying Tale of Asgard, Odin battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants. We’ve often heard Thor swear by the beard of Odin, but in this story, Odin swears by his own beard.

WHAT’S NOT
EMPLOYMENT SCREENING. Dr. Shecktor’s assistant is named Klaus, which sounds foreign enough for us to feel certain he will shortly be up to no good. Maybe Shecktor hasn’t read enough Marvel Comics to recognize which names indicate potential super-villiandom, but he should have at least realized that no good was likely to come out of hiring an ex-con to assist him in dangerous experiments.

FATHERLY ADVICE. Odin summons Thor to give him the advice, “Forget all about the girl you love.” Gee, thanks a lot for that great bit of advice, Dad. I’ll just go right ahead and do that little thing.

CHANGE OF HEART? At the end of the story, why does the narrator suggest that Odin arranged events so Blake and Jane can work together once again? We began with Odin advising Thor to forget Jane…so why would he now watch their reunion with a satisfied smile? Surely Odin must realize Thor is only going to keep pestering him with requests to be allowed to marry his mortal heartthrob.

TALKY TALKY. Thor chides the Cobra for talking too much about his powers, but interestingly, if you dissect their conversation, you’ll notice the Cobra’s bragging goes on for 30 words, while Thor employs 34 words to scold him. Who needs chiding now?

COBRA
The jury is still out on the Cobra. First, it’s difficult to believe his cobra attributes are organic, not just a costume. Snakes are disgusting and frightening, but are the powers of a snake combined with human intelligence enough to stymie our current stable of superheroes? The Cobra ultimately escapes, so perhaps we’ll meet him again; maybe I’ll be more impressed on the next outing.

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STRANGE TALES #114

st114“The Human Torch Meets Captain America”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
When thieves steal a car from the antique auto show, special guest Captain America thwarts the crime, not only refusing Torch’s assistance, but also stealing his thunder. Captain America later helps the thieves break out of prison, and during the ensuing chase, Torch captures the thieves, and also unmasks Captain America to reveal he is actually the criminal known as The Acrobat. In other news, Johnny’s love affair with Doris begins to cool off.

WHAT’S HOT
“BUY ME” COVER. An unbelievable situation is set up on the cover. Before you even turn the first page, you know you have to find out why all-around good guy Captain America is at odds with the Human Torch.

CAPTAIN AMERICA. He’s baa-a-a-ck! Captain America is “one of the most powerful superheroes of the past.” With hindsight, we are aware he’s once again going to be a major player in the battle between good and evil, but readers in 1963 had no way of predicting this.

THIS IS A TEST. THIS IS ONLY A TEST. Thankfully “Cap” has not really turned to the dark side, and in the end, Stan lets us know this has only been a test to see if readers might be interested in seeing a resurgence of this iconic hero. “As usual,” Stan writes, “your letters will give us the answer!” I love it when the readers are included in the decision-making processes of the Marvel bullpen, but in this case, I feel relatively certain Stan and company were already mapping out (the real) Captain America’s return, with or without the readers’ vote of approval.

WHAT’S NOT
STUPID CRIMINALS. The thugs who steal the car from the antique auto show are surprised when Torch comes after them. “Hey! We didn’t figure on this!” Hello! If you’re committing a crime in Glenville, you’ve got to be pretty stupid not to consider the possibility that Torch will get involved.

LINOLEUM. When Johnny gets mad about Doris’ interest in Captain America, he accidentally flames on and burns the linoleum. I don’t know what troubles me most about this scene—Johnny being unable to control his flame, or Doris’ preoccupation with linoleum. Either way, this uneasy couple has got to go. I still don’t understand what he sees in her, and she obviously has no appreciation for his unique talents.

TRUE TO CHARACTER
Johnny’s main concern is not that he was ineffective as a crime-fighter, or even that his girlfriend is mad at him, but that Captain America “stole the spotlight.” This is not the way a superhero should be thinking, yet it’s entirely believable, coming from this headstrong teenage boy. It sometimes seems the superheroes of Marvel’s Silver Age are portrayed as human beings first, and almost incidentally, as superheroes in their spare time. It’s great to humanize our heroes, but maybe it’s time for a good dose of Captain America, as a template of what a superhero should be.

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“The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
Mordo tricks Dr. Strange into a castle, immobilizing him with a spellbinding candle vapor. Strange projects a plea for help, and a beautiful young woman hears and obeys, arriving at the castle to break the spell. Strange recognizes that this woman possesses a dormant talent for sorcery, and when Mordo arrives, he says the same. After Strange vanquishes Mordo in a titanic battle in a mystic dimension, the young woman wishes to become his disciple, but Strange declines…for now, saying it will be too dangerous for her until Mordo is permanently out of the picture.

WHAT’S HOT
POTENTIAL DISCIPLE. Somehow, I never thought of Dr. Strange connecting beautiful young women, never mind beautiful young women who want to be his disciple. In the same way that Wasp infused the Ant-Man series with a good dose of spunky electricity, this story opens up the possibility for an exciting future alliance.

WHAT’S NOT
OR NOT. Probably not going to happen, though, at least not for a long, long time. We’ve just begun our journeys with Dr. Strange, and Baron Mordo has been set up as his arch enemy. Arch enemies are not that easily disposed of. Still, I’m hoping a time will come when Strange once again encounters the beautiful young sorceress-in-waiting.

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6 Responses to Meanwhile…: November, 1963

  1. nick caputo says:

    Great and fun observations as usual, Chrissy. FF # 20 is one of the earliest comics I recall reading, so I have a soft spot for that story. It was a little creepy at 5/6 years old, with the Molecule Man’s face and the odd looking Watcher, but I was drawn to this stuff early on. Your point about the Watcher interfering has long been an ongoing joke, since he always seems to interfere! And the Yancy Street Gang is also special, since my fellow comics fans Barry Pearl and Michael Vassallo have adopted that name to identify ourselves when we attend conventions and meet up with fellow fans!

    A pretty decent batch of comics this time around. Spider-Man is always an entertaining read and the Avengers was a fun story. The Space Phantom is a little goofy-looking, but he did make a good opponent for the team. I like the fact that Stan made the Torch egotistical, playing off the fact that a teenager with those powers might well think he was, (excuse the pun)… hot. Now if only he could meet up with Buzz (an in-joke for Chrissy and any fellow Dark Shadows fans!)

    • Chrissy says:

      Haha! Anyone for crossover fan fiction? The FF travel to Collinsport, Maine for a relaxing vacation and run into Buzz in the Blue Whale, who challenges Torch to a motorcycle race. Meanwhile, Thing stumbles into the basement of the Old House…

      Oh, so many ideas!!

  2. nick caputo says:

    Chrissy,

    You have a long way before you get there (and I won’t give away any story points) but in FF # 94 (dated January 1969) the team travel to an old mansion and Ben remarks: “Who’s gonna open the door..BARNABAS or QUASIMODO!”.

    BTW, Roy Thomas was a fan of Dark Shadows when he was working for Marvel. He explained that he would take the phone off the hook when the show came on so he could watch DS undisturbed (he also wrote a satire of the show in Spoof # 1).

  3. Lee Seitz says:

    Avengers #2 brought something to mind I hadn’t thought of before. You’re covering the books in the order they were published, but there have been many stories inserted in between these issues over the years. I’m not speaking of a flashback that reveals some “new” detail or ones that attempt to rewrite a character’s history, but entire issues crafted as if they’d been published at the time. For example, Avengers #1-1/2 (a 1999 one-shot) and the entire Untold Tales of Spider-man series. I assume, living with Russ, you’re aware such things exist even if you don’t know the particulars. Have you ever been tempted to read one to see how well they captured the spirits of their inspiration?

    • Chrissy says:

      Actually, I had NOT known these books existed! Russ is fairly careful not to tell me too much, since he wants me to have the original experience that readers back in the 1960’s would have had. And I want that too! Of course, with all the movies and TV shows and such that are available today, that’s sort of impossible. But at least we’re giving it the old college try.

      There’s another issue too. At one point, Russ told me about a title called The Marvels, which depicts the “man on the street” view of what it’s like to live in a world full of superheroes, and the idea intrigued me so much, that now I keep bugging him about when I might get to those stories. Apparently I have a long, long time…WAH!! But at least it’s something to look forward to.

      With Marvel Comics, I find, there’s always something to look forward to. All things in their proper time. Can’t wait for Retirement! Got lots of items on that “To Do” list, including being able to read more comics!

      • Lee Seitz says:

        Oops, sorry to let the cat out of the bag, then. Just remember, since these books were retroactively inserted, you’re not missing anything big.

        Yeah, Marvels is definitely worth reading. And probably worth the wait. But at your current point in Marvel history, you couldn’t even read #2.

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