Meanwhile…: February, 1964

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #9

asm9“The Man Called Electro!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
With the power of electricity at his command, super-villain Electro robs banks. Jameson publishes front page news that Spider-Man IS Electro, and needing money for Aunt May’s operation, Peter sells him photoshopped pix to support the erroneous theory. When Electro frees criminals from the detention center, Spidey fights and eventually vanquishes Electro by dousing him with a hose. To quell his conscience, Peter gives Jameson photos of the fight. Betty tells Peter his involvement in dangerous situations makes her nervous.

WHAT’S HOT
TIMELY COMICS. I’m reading and posting about the first appearance of Electro in Marvel Comics the same week this super-villain hits the big screen in Spider-Man 2. Honestly, folks, I didn’t plan it this way. It’s just another one of those serendipitous coincidences I love so much.

SPEC-LESS. After reading the previous issue of Amazing Spider-Man, where Peter’s glasses are broken, I wondered if we would see them again. Apparently not…at least not yet. I also wondered if the kids at school would give Pete more respect after he knocked out Flash. There’s some evidence in this story that Peter’s reputation may indeed be keeping up with his new, groovier, spec-less appearance.

THE SUPERHERO WHO COULD BE—YOU! The story ends with the narrator suggesting that Spider-Man is “the superhero who could be–you!” As this issue continues and intensifies Peter’s real-life problems (sick relatives, no money, angry boss, girl troubles), it’s easy to see how teenage readers identify with him.

BETTY. The drama between Peter and Betty advances in this issue, as we see another side of our hero’s new love interest. Betty is a caring soul who will sit with a sick elderly woman, but a dark secret in her past makes her fear she could “be hurt again!” The last panel suggests they are both experiencing the first pangs of love. As if there wasn’t enough going on already in the Spider-Man title!

SCIENCE. This story has so much information about the workings and the dangers of electricity (rubber will insulate against electricity, but metal acts as a lightning rod), it almost reads like a junior high science textbook. The science in this story is not nerdy, it’s…electrifyingly HOT! Because commanding electricity, really is right up there when it comes to superpowers. However…

WHAT’S NOT
DRESSED FOR SUCCESS? What’s not hot, I fear, is the extremely goofy costume Max Dillon puts together for his super-villain exploits. I get that super-villains can’t just walk around in three piece suits, or no one will know they’re super-villains, but all those pointy lightning spikes hanging from his face and wrists…perhaps a bit…over the top? Can you say “Overkill”? And why green? What is it about green that screams “Electricity”? Nothing. I get the yellow, but I would have preferred to see red or orange in this goofy get-up. That’s my first thought, but I’m also a big fan of the blue electric man as seen in the upcoming Spider-Man 2 movie. Let’s face it: almost any color would make him look more dangerous (and less organic) than green.

THE J. JONAH JAMESON SCHOOL OF RESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM
I continue to be baffled over why J. Jonah Jameson, as the publisher of a major metropolitan newspaper, is willing to sabotage his circulation with questionable journalistic practices. The man is obviously consumed by personal vendettas, to the point that he lets his emotions stand in the way of reason. Ever since we’ve met him, he consistently abuses his position of power to advance his personal beliefs.

Based on the observation that both Spider-Man and Electro are powerful and confident, can climb buildings, and know who he is, Jameson jumps to the conclusion that they are same person. Without any effort to fact-check, he publishes this bit of flawed logic as front page news. Readers ponder, saying, “How could they print it if it weren’t true?” However, later, when Peter’s photoshopped pix are published as “proof,” the public begins to ask questions. “Jameson’s a nut!” one says, and another suggests that though the publishing mogul may not be actively trying to deceive them, perhaps he has made a “mistake.”

When Spidey and Electro appear at the same time, Jameson is crushed, finally realizing the error of his ways. But he’s not concerned at all about the integrity of his newspaper. His main concern is “I’ll be a laughingstock!” And then he goes on to say that it’s ALL because of Peter Parker.

So, at this point, he’s not even willing to think backwards enough to say “I goofed. I was wrong.” No, it’s ALL because of Peter Parker. Of course, Peter was wrong to give Jameson those doctored photos (though it was for a good cause, and he felt awful about it). But Jameson doesn’t feel awful about anything except the prospect of himself being a laughingstock.

In the end, Jameson’s ready to fire Peter, sue him, and give that “blanketty-blank” a piece of his mind…until the boy photographer shows up with front page pix that are the best yet! Now, Jameson’s all buddy-buddy again, as he rubs his hands together with an unsavory look upon his face, thinking, “I’m ROBBING him! I’ll make a FORTUNE with his pictures! But I DESERVE it–cause he’s a FOOL!”

Okay. I’ve let Jameson speak for himself here. There’s nothing more I need add.

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FANTASTIC FOUR #23

ff23“The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
When Reed snaps at everyone for bickering, the others plan mutiny. Meanwhile, Doctor Doom collects criminals–strong Bill Brogan, con man “Handsome Harry” Phillips, and heat-resistant Yogi Dakor–to help destroy the Fantastic Four. Each member of the FF is tricked into captivity, but they break free and fight Doom. Doom uses the force of a solar wave and ionic dust particles to melt the room, but he himself is cast into outer space, while the FF survive. The plan to mutiny Reed as leader is abandoned.

WHAT’S HOT
INSULTS. Usually it’s Thing and Johnny flinging the insults back and forth, but Reed gets off a good one: “Ben, did anyone ever tell you you’re funny as a crutch? And only half as decorative?” He also accuses Ben and Johnny of being “temperamental prima-donnas” with “alleged minds.” Ouch!

ROBOTS. Add to Doctor Doom’s resume, he is a master Robot Designer. Jeez! Is there anything this guy can’t do?

PUSHING BUTTONS. Torch is lured by the promise of a sports car, Thing by hopes of retaliation against the Yancy Street Gang, and Sue is knocked out by the scent of poisoned flowers from an admirer. In addition, Doom tricks Reed into an escape-proof plexiglass container by using a robot of Thing to make him believe his help is needed. Doom may have many dangerous toys (including a flying belt to catapult him out of harm’s way), but perhaps his greatest weapon is his acute understanding of human psychology.

THE FORCE IS WITH SUE! Her force field helps out in more ways than one, and is a big part of Doom’s ultimate fall into the great abyss of space. Glad to see Stan and company so quickly realizing the power of the force.

WHAT’S NOT
NEEDLESS DESTRUCTION. Doom has a robot that looks like Thing. He decides, “One grotesque THING to look at is one too many! We need no more!” and destroys the robot. Yes, it’s a very dramatic insult, but was it wise? Wouldn’t a robot of Thing come in handy in the future? Well, I guess if he ever needs one again, he’ll just build it.

WEAKNESS. Last time we learned that Sue has a force field. This time we learn that using it weakens her. Well, Torch is also unable to flame on after extreme firepower, so I guess it’s not a girly weakness, just a story device to increase the potential drama.

SHUDDUP ALREADY!! During a moment of extreme peril, Reed stops for a science lesson about solar waves and ionic dust particles.

BOSS DOOM
The criminals Doom springs from jail may have wanted to stay put. Sure, Doom gets them out and increases their powers, and what’s more, he even promises them each $5,000. (WOOoooOOO!) I don’t know if they ever actually get their money, because as soon as they open the box, they are transported to another dimension, until Doom next summons them. Is this hot…or not? I guess it all depends where he’s sent them to wait it out.

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TALES TO ASTONISH #52

tta52“The Black Knight Strikes!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Dick Ayers
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
Professor Nathan Garrett discovers how to make a horse fly and develops an arsenal of unusual weapons, which he uses in his new super-villain persona, the Black Knight. Commencing a crime spree, his real motive is to exact revenge upon Giant-Man, who once captured him. With a little bit of ingenuity (and the help of the Wasp), Giant-Man escapes the clutches of the Black Knight, and counter-attacks. When Giant-Man must choose in favor of saving Wasp, the Black Knight escapes, but vows to return.

WHAT’S HOT
THE SMALLER THEY ARE… Previously, Henry Pym spied on the bad guys as super-small Ant-Man. Ant-Man comes in handy later as well, when Giant-Man needs to get out of a tight situation (bound by cables). Now that Pym has activated his Giant-Man persona, it’s good to see there are still some things the little guy can do better. And let’s not forget the tactical element of surprise, when Pym instantly morphs from Giant-Man to Ant-Man, or vice versa. This crazy morphing causes the villain to exclaim, “Either you’re not human, or I’m going mad–MAD–MAD!!

GIANT-MENSCH?? Giant-Man tells Garrett, “If threats could kill, I’d have been kaput long ago!” Later, when he jumps from the winged horse and catches a ride on a carnival parachute, he asks, “Got room for a kibitzer, folks?”

COURAGE. As Giant-Man jumps from a plane to a helicopter, an Air Force officer observes, “Big as he is, his size will never match his courage.” Agreed.

WHAT’S NOT
DOUBT. When Jan first describes the Black Knight, Henry counters with, “You could make a fortune writing comic books.” Haha! But why does he automatically doubt her fantastic story? Haven’t they dealt with the fantastic before? Aren’t THEY fantastic? I’m disappointed in Henry for showing very little trust in his partner.

VANITY. Giant-Man recognizes that the Black Knight’s “one vulnerable point is his colossal vanity.” But…isn’t that the vulnerable point on every super-villain?

CONCERN. When the Black Knight points out that the flying horse is about to crash, Giant-Man worries about Wasp. But wait! Couldn’t she just fly away before they crash? Hank’s concern is touching, but at this point, I think, he should be more concerned about his own safety.

AND YOUR SUPERPOWER IS…WHAT?
On the splash, Stan suggests that the Black Knight will rank with the world’s greatest super-villains. I beg to differ. Sure, he’s smart, and has fashioned lots of interesting and dangerous weapons, but he’s a guy on a flying horse, in a suit of armor. The flying horse is cool, of course, but Garrett could have achieved flight in any number of ways. And now he’s got to feed the horse, and stable it, and brush its mane, etc. etc. Is the awesome effect of a flying horse really worth all that trouble?

Without his weapons, the Black Knight has no offensive power, and without his horse, he has no means of escape. I think we’ve already met many more fearsome and efficient super-villains than this.

NOT WHAT THEY SEEM!
tta52thumbThis time around, Wasp tells a tale to orphans about the year 3000, where all may not be what it seems. Escaping prisoners visit a planet and help the men fight the women, only to learn afterwards that they were fighting over the men’s preferred custom of catching and imprisoning space travelers. The prisoners are re-imprisoned, saying, “We walked right into it!”

Not much of a story going on here in a mere five pages, but I enjoyed the idea that on some planets, cute little foxes or bunny rabbits (or kagaroos?…) are the vicious carnivores that hunt and kill wolves. As the title says: “Not what they seem!”

Wonder who Wasp will choose to entertain next time.

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TALES OF SUSPENSE #50

tos50“The Hands of the Mandarin!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Don Heck
Letters: Ray Holloway

IN A NUTSHELL
Uncle Sam asks Iron Man to learn more about the Mandarin, so he flies to China and discovers for himself how powerful a foe is the man with a ring of power on each finger. Iron Man escapes the Mandarin’s grip and hurries back for the Stark Industries Employee Dinner, where glammed-up Pepper is attending with Happy as her date. Pepper worries that Stark will never ask her out if he thinks she’s dating Happy, and Happy worries that Stark is mad because he’s dating Pepper. Stark, on the other hand, is still worried about the Mandarin.

WHAT’S HOT
HOT PEPPER! Pepper looks great in this issue, very sophisticated, after her visit to the beauty parlor. With a new hairdo and no freckles, Tony finally notices and says she’s beautiful. But good ol’ Happy—he kinda likes her “the other way.”

BRAINS. Iron Man reckons that the Mandarin is the brainiest enemy he’s ever faced. I don’t know if I agree, but in superhero or super-villain, brains always come down in the plus column.

MISS AND…HIT! Have to hand it to Marvel. I just got done complaining about what a wimpy villain the Black Knight turned out to be, yet in the same month, Marvel also introduces the Mandarin, with his brains, brawn and ten rings of power. I know the Mandarin is a big deal in the Marvel Universe (well, except, maybe in Iron Man 3, which was kind of a surprise and a cheat both at the same time). This is only the first time I’m seeing the real Mandarin in action, so I’m not convinced yet, but he definitely shows promise.

NOT YELLOW. And at least his skin is not actually yellow.

WHAT’S NOT
TALKY TALKY. On the splash, we’re asked not to begin reading if we’re in a hurry, for time must be taken to “savor the drama, the suspense, all the sensational fantastic developments to the fullest.” This is the given reason, but in addition, this tale, like many others, is bursting with so many words, if you don’t have a good chunk of time, you’re not going to finish in one sitting.

TICK TOCK. The employee dinner is TONIGHT. Stark has time to fly via jet to China, have his run-in with the Mandarin, and then jet back to New York…and still get there in time for the special event. I think someone’s playing fast and loose with the clock.

SLOPPY SECONDS. Pepper would rather have Happy as a date than no date at all. That’s not really fair to Happy, who’s a decent bloke hopelessly hung up on a gal who only sees him as “better than nothing.”

OPERATE? However, having said all that, Happy is glad that Tony’s out of town so he can “really operate” with Pepper. There’s something unsavory about that term. It may be a 60’s colloquialism, but it makes him sound like a cad.

MEN!
When Stark finally notices all the trouble Pepper went through to attract him, he is impressed by her sudden glamor. Or is he? Yes, we know Tony Stark likes his women urbane and sophisticated, but we also know that he knows that underneath all that makeup and hair dye, it’s just Pepper, his freckle-faced secretary. I wonder if he really finds her attractive now, or is he simply saying what he knows she wants to hear? After all, he has a lot to make up for, after the way he treated her in Tales of Suspense #48. And we know she must be a really good secretary. She couldn’t hold her job with the illustrious Tony Stark this long, if she wasn’t! Perhaps Stark realizes that he can’t afford to lose her, and is willing to play the game, just to retain her services.

If so…cad.

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JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #101

jim101“The Return of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
Thor is in a snit because he can’t marry Jane Foster. Odin punishes him by reducing his power and denying him access to Asgard. To destroy Thor in his moment of despair, Loki returns memory to the Tomorrow Man, who travels back to the 20th century with a robot to challenge Thor. At half power, Thor cannot fight efficiently, and agrees to return to the 23rd century with Zarrko, rather than risk further destruction to the earthlings. To be continued…

WHAT’S HOT
CHRONOLOGY. When Odin remembers what happened in last month’s issue of Journey into Mystery, he says “It was only one short month ago.” I don’t think the chronologist will always be this lucky, but in this case, real-world time and Marvel time are apparently moving at the same rate.

WHAT’S NOT
STOP CRYING, OR I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT! Odin has “ordered” Thor to forget his love for Jane Foster, and when Thor persists in it, Odin punishes him. I know these are immortals, but does that make it any easier for them to put aside their emotions? If no, isn’t Odin being cruel? And if yes, it is easier, why can’t Thor do it?

HALF POWER. Thor is at half power in this story…and this is half a story! Huh?? I should have guessed! But when I got to the end of page 13 and saw that I will have to wait until the next issue to find out how it ends, I was disappointed.

SIDE EFFECT OF THE AVENGERS INITIATIVE. Thor must be spending too much time with Hulk. He refers to the mortals as having “petty PUNY lives.”

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jim101thumb“The Invasion of Asgard!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
Sibling rival Loki tricks young Thor into guarding a “weak spot” in Asgard, then summons the Powers of Evil to attack Thor. Loki’s plan backfires when Odin and the Asgardian warriors arrive and beat back the evil ones. After this, Thor is delighted that he can lift Mjolnir a little higher. Meanwhile, Loki sulks and plots new evil against his brother.

WHAT’S HOT
STRONG WEAPONS. When Heimdall strikes, it is “with all the cosmic force of the universe in the blade of my sword!!” Wow!!

THE FORCES OF EVIL. I know it’s odd to put “THE FORCES OF EVIL” in the “WHAT’S HOT” column, but when I saw the conglomeration of evil in the second story, it brought back many pleasant memories of the old cartoon version of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. This is one of my favorite stories of all time, and though it has been done more expertly, nothing beats the evil Queen summoning “The People of the Toadstools!” The top of page 16 looks sort of like that.

WHAT’S NOT
PRETTY GOD. Young Thor looks like a girl…maybe Farrah Fawcett in her hey-day? Hard to take him serious as a mighty hero until he gets those bangs clipped.

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7 Responses to Meanwhile…: February, 1964

  1. nick caputo says:

    Another great batch of reviews and commentary. Spider-Man was hitting into high gear with this issue. There will be plenty of drama in the months to come and I look forward to your observations. Electro is not my favorite villain, nor is his wardrobe, but Steve Ditko designed so many inventive costumes, (not the least of which is Spidey’s) that I’d give him some slack.

    I have it on good authority that Dr. Doom is not very good at jumping rope!

    The Black Knight was a nicely designed villain, but maybe if he had invented a talking horse he would have been more interesting (what do you expect from a Mr. Ed fan!)

    You’ll be seeing much more of the Mandarin in the months to come. Incidentally, Don Heck was told by Stan to make Pepper more glamorous, but Heck originally based her on actress Ann B. Davis who appeared in Love That Bob (AKA the Bob Cummings show) and later known for her role as the maid in The Brady Bunch. Heck thought it would be more interesting to have a homely girl in love with the boss but Stan wanted to make her more attractive, so…

  2. Chrissy says:

    We just saw Amazing Spider-Man 2, and THAT Electro is far more what you would expect a character named “Electro” to look like. Very impressed.

    I had heard that story about Pepper being based on Ann B. Davis, and that’s hysterical! In the earliest stories, I can totally see it. At this point I’ve read one or two more Iron Man stories, and I feel they’re still working on what they want to do with Pepper. I’m sure she’ll go through lots of changes before we reach the Pepper we know from the Marvel movies.

    But I have to agree with Don Heck—a homely girl in love with the boss is much more interesting than a “looker.” If Pepper is attractive, Tony will date her, then move on to someone else, she’ll get mad, and quit her job. From what I know right now, it seems if we want to keep Pepper around, she needs to be pining after Stark, not dating him. I’m also a fan of the Stark/Pepper/Happy love triangle, and it just doesn’t work as well if Happy is lusting after his boss’ girlfriend. Well…it WOULD work, I guess, but more in a Desperate Housewives kind of way, not in a 1960’s Silver Age of Comics way.

  3. Actually, ma’am, I have to disagree with you and Don Heck. Keeping Pepper Potts as Tony Stark’s “Schultzy” really had no place to go.

    While it was never in my top-tier of situation comedies, I found The Bob Cummings Show entertaining enough to watch it regularly, and I am very familiar with the Mark-one Pepper Potts’s prototype—Charmaine “Schultzy” Shultz, as portrayed by Ann B. Davis. Miss Davis is a talented comedienne, and as Schultzy, her wry, off-handed lines were gems. But her mugging and pandering to attract her boss, Bob Collins [Cummings’ character], romantically quickly grew old and eventually came across as somewhat pathetic.

    But, more important—for purposes of using it as a model for Pepper Potts and Tony Stark—the situation between Schultzy and Bob Collins never went anywhere. After five seasons, she was still mugging and pandering, and Bob was still ignoring it (usually) or smarmily deflecting it (on occasion). The situation never went anywhere because there was no place for it to go. Bob Collins, an inveterate womaniser, was never going to look upon Schultzy as a romantic interest, and Schultzy was so taken with Bob that she would never consider any other man, one that she might have a reasonable chance of landing.

    I think that Stan Lee figured that out. He had painted himself into the same corner by making Pepper a version of Schultzy. The only way to wrestle some real romantic drama into the series was to make Pepper the type of girl that populated Tony Stark’s Little Black Book. Not that Stark necessarily would make a pass at Pepper; it would have been sufficient—for the purposes of generating romantic drama within the Tony/Pepper/Happy triangle—for Happy to see that Pepper was now the kind of skirt that Stark would chase.

    Thus, Pep got shunted off to the beauty parlour, where she was described as having “shot the works” (which always tickled me, because apparently “shooting the works” at Pepper’s beauty parlour included not only dyeing her hair and covering her freckles, but also straightening out her pug nose and giving her about three more inches—in both height and bustline).

    But the change created a more dynamic situation between Stark and Pepper and Happy, one which could go in any of several different directions (and you’ll see which ones as you keep reading).

  4. Chrissy says:

    Good points! Yes, I can see how the homely girl pining after the playboy boss would get tiresome after a while. And, as you point out, I don’t yet know how this all going to play out. Perhaps I err in saying if Pepper is attractive, Tony will date her….maybe he won’t? Because he knows if he does, eventually he’ll move on to another woman, and then she’ll get mad, and maybe quit? And if she’s a good secretary, he wouldn’t want her to quit. So, if he plays his cards right, he’ll keep her dangling, showing just enough interest to keep her coming into work each day.

    Boy! I’m really painting a picture of Tony Stark as a cad! Well, the “playboy” has never been my idea of the perfect man. I much prefer the Tony/Pepper dynamic we have in the movies—where she has “tamed” him, and stabilized him. We want his adventurous spirit to come out in his fighting crime, NOT in his conquering females. At least, that’s my preference.

    This relationship is one of my favorite Marvel “soap operas” so far, and I can’t wait to see how it all works out!

  5. nick caputo says:

    In Don Heck’s defense, I think he felt that glamorizing Pepper made here too similar to countless other women in comics. A less attractive character was more interesting to him as an artist, and he could develop more comedic elements within that framework. Would it have worked long term? Who knows, but as editor Stan Lee made the decisions, so Pepper had an instant makeover.

  6. Benway says:

    Hi! First post; great blog. To Stan’s credit, he did have Happy Hogan saying he liked Pepper better before the change. So is Stark Stan Lee and Hogan Heck?

    • Chrissy says:

      Hi! Thank you for commenting. My apologies for not getting back sooner. Life gets busy, one thing leads to another, and before you know it…

      But anyway, as for your comment about Happy liking Pepper better before she changes, I totally understand that. After she glams up, she’s more attractive to playboy Stark, and Happy doesn’t want Stark taking notice! Though I’m not really sure what Happy sees in Pepper in these early issues, because she’s really not that nice to him, is she? Again! Another character to psychoanalyze!

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