Meanwhile…: November, 1964

STRANGE TALES #126

st126“Pawns of the Deadly Duo!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Inks: Paul Reinman
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
The Mad Thinker and the Puppet Master conspire to destroy the Fantastic Four. Under the Puppet Master’s control, Thing knocks Torch out of the Fantasticar, but he reverts to Ben Grimm and saves his little buddy. Reed outfits Thing in a modified thought-projecter helmet to reveal which villain is behind the attack. In their secret lair, the Mad Thinker instructs the Puppet Master to double the amount of radioactive clay in his next Thing puppet. However, their attempt to weaken Thing backfires because Thing is now wearing another Reed-designed helmet. This one boomerangs a mighty power feedback back to the source. As the Puppet Master lies motionless on the floor, the Mad Thinker swears to “get them yet.”

WHAT’S HOT
HUNK ALERT! Once again we are treated to an all too brief appearance by the burly bare-chested Ben Grimm.

GENIUS ALERT! Reed creates a device which he believes may very well keep the Puppet Master from ever bothering them again. We can only hope it works…

WHAT’S NOT
EVERYTHING ELSE ABOUT THIS STORY. The same old mediocre villains are up to their sale old mediocre tricks, and our heroes respond as predicted. This story could be stricken from the Marvel annals with no detrimental effect to the overall narrative.

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st126splash“The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
Strange travels to the Realm of Darkness to confront the Dread Dormammu. He overcomes a series of challenges, but will not battle Dormammu until next ish. Stay tuned…

WHAT’S HOT
THE GIRL WITH THE ODD WHITE HAIR. A girl watches Strange from afar, notes that he is “young and fair to behold,” and silently urges him to turn back and save himself. I guess not everyone in the Realm of Darkness is completely evil.

But the sympathetic temperament of this character is not the most interesting thing.

It’s always a hoot to see how Marvel portrays the citizens of other worlds. Obviously a good deal of imagination goes into these artistic interpretations, yet somehow we always seem to remain strictly within the confines of 1960’s. Recall if you will all the gals of the original Star Trek universe—though they had green skin or wore strange beehive hairdos, mini skirts and go-go boots were standard uniform for crewmembers, and alien females applied makeup and covered their bodies in a way that was sure to prove alluring to the away party (and the television audience).

The mysterious white-haired girl in this story fits right into this mold. I hope we see her again…not only because I want to find out who she is, but honestly, I can’t wait to see what she may next pull out of her wardrobe.

WHAT’S NOT
OVERKILL. This story contains a plethora of crypic references: the Dread Dramannu, the all-seeing Agamatto, the crimson bands of Cyttorak, the twelve moons of Munnipor, the light of Vishanti….you get the idea. I understand the objective here is the same as with the white-haired girl— to impress upon the reader that we’re no longer in Kansas. But too much of a good thing can leave us overwhelmed—and not in a good way. We should be intrigued, not confused. I suppose we’ll eventually get further explanation for all these oddities, but right now, I feel too uncomfortably like a stranger in a strange, strange land.

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AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #18

asm18“The End of Spider-Man!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
After running out of last issue’s Fan Club Meeting, Spider-Man is now more than ever the object of public ridicule and distrust. Immobilized by concern for sick Aunt May, he finds himself unwilling to take a risk in fighting the usual villains. Poor Peter is also overwhelmed by money and girl trouble. He’s about ready to turn in his mask for good, until Aunt May recovers enough to give him a fiery lecture about “gumption.” After reading an anti-Spidey editorial by JJJ, Pete digs his Spidey costume out of the trash can and vows to fight like he’s never fought before!

WHAT’S HOT
ALL SOAP, ALL THE TIME. Midway through this issue, I realized that even though we’d had a brief appearance by Sandman and some random thugs, this story was not about Spidey fighting evildoers. It was all about Pete’s personal problems—sick aunt, no money, girl troubles, foolish Flash and Jameson’s relentless, annoying gloating. Near the end, poor Pete’s so overwhelmed, he’s ready to hang up his mask…permanently! Of course he doesn’t, and comes back stronger than ever.

WHAT’S NOT
CAN THIS REALLY BE THE END? This compelling question is put forth on the cover and the all-too-obvious answer is: No. Of course not. Despite the provocation, from my unique perspective a half-century down the road, I recognize it as nothing more than hype designed to sell comic mags. As I’m sure the readers of the day did as well.

However, the tag “the story you never expected to read” is not entirely disingenuous. It’s simply misleading. We never expected ALL SOAP, ALL THE TIME. It’s new! It’s different! It’s a refreshing break from the formula! But don’t get used to it. Despite the brief respite, this is surely NOT the end of Spidey fighting his parade of villains.

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TALES OF SUSPENSE #59

tos59“The Black Knight!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Don Heck

IN A NUTSHELL
Black Knight breaks out of jail and tracks down Iron Man at Stark’s factory, just as Stark collapses, then locks himself in his office to recharge his battery. Worried about the boss, Pepper and Happy try everything they can to reach him, while Iron Man uses transistors and inducers to get up to full speed. He busts out of the building and fights Black Knight, rescuing good-intentioned Happy from the building ledge along the way. In the end, Iron Man delivers Black Knight to the police, and later, when he tells Pepper and Happy that Stark suddenly left for a business trip…they don’t believe him.

WHAT’S HOT
I’D DO ANYTHING… Happy is willing to risk his life climbing out on the ledge to get into the room to help the boss who seems to be having a medical emergency. That’s true friendship. And true job security.

WHAT’S NOT
I DON’T TRUST ANYONE. In sharp contrast, Stark would risk his life to a medical emergency rather than let his closest friends in on his secret identity. I guess a lifetime as a playboy billionaire has skewed his sense of priorities. Or is this just the way all good superheroes with secret identities are expected to behave?

HOWEVER…
THE SEEDS OF SUSPICION. As Happy and Pepper attempt to break into Stark’s office to help him, they note that the door and “the whole blamed WALL is solid steel.” The moment is too fraught with drama for more than a perfunctory “I wonder why?” but at the end of the story, Iron Man tells them Stark just suffered a dizzy spell and left town, and they don’t believe him. I wonder if this might be the beginning of Stark’s supporting cast finally putting the pieces together?

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tos59splash“Captain America”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
While Cap is on Avengers “callout” duty, a bunch of thugs show up, hoping to break what they perceive to be the weakest link in the Avengers chain. Despite the fact that one bad guy is dressed in a suit of armor, another wields an acetylene torch, and yet another a bazooka, Cap prevails in the end. Not so weak after all, eh?

WHAT’S HOT
NEW AND IMPROVED. For a series premiere, this story is wholly unremarkable. The best thing I have to report is the first appearance of Stark’s butler, Jarvis. (By the way, a new feature: Whenever I meet a character that I already know from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ll do a quick compare-contrast of my “First Impression” in a pink sidebar.) However, even a second-rate Captain America story beats a first-rate Watcher story any day. No matter how this Captain America series turns out, I’m not sad to see the giant-headed toga-ed one taking a seat even further back on the Marvel bus.

FIRST IMPRESSION

jarvis1stimpressI first knew Jarvis as the voice of Stark’s super-intelligent computer, and later, the attractive British butler who assists Peggy Carter with such adorable dignity. This early version of Jarvis can’t hold a candle to either, but being a nut for origin stories, I’m glad to finally meet the original. One thing both seem to possess: that uncanny British propensity for being, above all else, PROPER.

I’D RATHER DO IT MYSELF! You’d think that since this is Cap’s first adventure in his own Silver Age series, a few buddies might have dropped by to help kick-off the spin-off. To date, Torch has almost never been able to get through a single issue of his Human Torch series without at least Thing dropping by to assist—and in fact, it’s happened so often, the series has now been rightly named “The Human Torch and the Ever-Lovin’ Thing!” Guest appearances appear to be the norm in the Marvel Universe, but Stan and Jack let Cap fly solo in his premiere outing. Does this prove they think he has enough charisma to carry the series on his own? Or is it more likely they realize how ridiculous it would look if Cap needed the entire Avengers gang to show up to help him knock off a few common thugs?

ALWAYS ON THE JOB. You gotta love the dedication of the superhero: even when they’re off duty, they stay in uniform. Me, I would be in my jammies, drinking that Jarvis coffee, and hoping he’s baked some nice scones as well. But then, I’m not a superhero. (Hmmmm…maybe that’s why…)

WHAT’S NOT
SECOND FIDDLE. When Cap sees a picture of Bucky, he refers to him as “My teen-age sidekick.” In what universe do superheroes refer to their sidekicks AS sidekicks? Perhaps in…the Marvel Universe? I don’t know. Frankly, it sounds awkward and silly.

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JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #110

jim110“Every Hand Against Him!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
Loki disguises himself as a mortal and bails Hyde and Cobra out of jail, then increases their powers, so they can band together against Thor. When Hyde and Cobra kidnap Jane, Thor deduces Loki is behind it and rushes to Asgard, though Odin has banished him. Loki reveals Jane’s location, then Thor convinces Odin to lift his banishment. Odin transports Thor to Jane, where he fights Hyde and Cobra. Tear gas temporarily disables Thor, but leaves Jane at death’s door. Thor stops time until he can figure out what to do. Tune in next time…

WHAT’S HOT
IT’S TOO EASY BEING GREEN. When Loki changes into a mortal, he wears a green suit. Hmmm…the mysterious man whose secret identity is Green Goblin also appears in a green suit. I know it’s a jump in logic, and I’m mostly being facetious, but how cool would it be if LOKI (in his spare time) is secretly moonlighting as the Green Goblin??

WHEN IN ROME…As soon as Thor gets back to Asgard, his speech grows so much more archaic.

  • “It hurls back to thee!”
  • “There is much evil afoot on earth!”
  • “Admit it, thou basest of villains!”

Do you have an accent? Does it fade when you’re away from home and family, then get stronger when you get back amongst thy people? I imagine this is what’s happening to Thor. For sure, Dr. Don Blake would never talk this way!

WHAT’S NOT
PICK-NIT. The splash informs us that this comic was “eventually lettered” by Art Simek. He must have been working on a stressful deadline, because there’s a major lettering blunder on page eight, when Thor instructs the crowds, “Back! Stand no one approach me.” Reminds me so much of Dark Shadows “Fridspeak”

IT’S KIND OF A GAS (NOT!). Seems Thor is susceptible to tear gas. Only temporarily, but still… this is not good. I sort of like my gods to be above such troublesome physical reactions. I hope this is a development the writers will quickly discard. The same way I’d like them to discard…

TIME STANDS STILL. This cannot possibly be put down in the plus column when writing comics. In real life…yeah! Wouldn’t it be great? But in comics, if a character can make time stand still, the next logical step is that they’re able to turn back time. And once you turn back time and un-do everything that’s been done, it all become one big fat “SO WHAT?” Nothing is real, so nothing matters, which is exactly the problem I had in this month’s installment of The Avengers.

jim110splash“The Defeat of Odin!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letters: Art Simek

Odin leads his forces into battle across the Boiling Plain, but turns back to prevent harm to the horses, who “have not been tinged with immortality as WE have!” Later, when Thor points out he could have neutralized the geysers with a simple spell, Odin insists he retreated to give hope to the enemy, so they will maintain “the fire of rebellion in their blood,” which guarantees “the race of man remain strong and fearless!” To which Thor replies, “I think I begin to understand, Father!”

I agree that Thor only BEGINS to understand. The narrator claims that Odin’s goal is “helping mankind” become “truly strong…truly courageous,” but I see an egotistical leader who considers the simple, easy victory a shabby victory. Instead, he allows his opponent to develop a false sense of security, so that when they next meet on the battlefield, his challenge will bring a victory worth bragging about. Essentially, Odin is fattening up his enemy for the kill.

Call me a cynic, but…so much for helping mankind.

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TALES TO ASTONISH #61

tta61“Now Walks the Android”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: George Bell

IN A NUTSHELL
Egghead escapes from jail and lures Hank and Jan to an abandoned warehouse to fight his remote-controlled giant purple android. He causes the android to transform from lighter than a feather to heavy as bricks, which confuses Giant-Man, even as the air is drained from the room, further weakening our heroes. Wasp also gets in on the fight, but in the end it is Giant-Man who has the victory, spinning the android in dizzying circles which makes Egghead feel so lightheaded and sick, he finally agrees to set them free.

WHAT’S HOT
BLUE EYES. Jan is always calling Hank “Blue Eyes,” and I never really got it until the close-up on the bottom of page five.

BEST LINE EVER. In the same panel where Hank shows off his baby blues, he sums up his life more concisely than I’ve yet heard: “I’m a biochemist by trade….an adventurer by accident…and an Avenger by choice!” Good stuff! ’Nuff said.

WHAT’S NOT
A NEWWWW CAAAARR! Hank and Jan have a new car. Tony Stark’s latest invention, a chemically-powered converti-car, is described as both a frozen custard stand, or “overgrown fishbowl.” Though nowhere as stylish as the FF’s flying bathtub, that’s not my problem with this latest development. When the narrator describes the converti-car as “more comfortable than the back of a flying ant,” my first thought is oh no…I see the handwriting on the wall. Being GIANT-Man is so much sexier than being Ant-Man. It feels like this is just another step in the process of phasing out the little guy.

STARS IN THEIR EYES. Once again, our heroes are lured into a dangerous situation by a mysterious offer of free publicity. This usually happens to the Fantastic Four, but I guess Hank and Jan have been too busy fighting their own set of villains and entertaining hospitalized children to keep up with their comic book reading. If they were up to date, maybe they could have learned something from Torch and Thing’s mistakes, and avoided having to find out for themselves.

OUCH! THAT STINGS! The android is described as “lifeless,” so it makes no sense that it would react to Wasp’s sting. Of course Egghead is controlling the android, but he should be smart enough not to let himself become distracted by tiny annoyances like the Wasp. If he’d stayed on the task of destroying Giant-Man, rather than having the android “Whup!” and “Thwup!” at Wasp, he might have won this battle. Or, at the very least, not have been so ignobly defeated by a dizzy spell.

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tta61splash“Captured at Last!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Steve Ditko
Inks: George Bell
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
After Hulk escapes Banner’s two-ton robot, the robot stumbles upon Banner’s cave, where the spy inside builds a bomb. Major Talbot arrives at the base and flirts with Betty while tracking down Banner. When the robot threatens Betty, Banner becomes Hulk and casts the robot into a bottomless pit. Hulk annihilates the missile, but is knocked unconscious, found by Talbot and captured in Stark-designed chains. After Talbot shields Betty from falling rocks, she shows interest in him and doubts her devotion to Bruce.

FIRST IMPRESSION

talbot1stimpressI’m excited to meet Glenn Talbot, another character I’ve come to know in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In SHIELD, he’s played by Adrian Pasdar, who’s not bad-looking, but the Silver Age version seems to have way too much in common with Tony Stark (tall, dark, handsome, mustachioed). If it weren’t for Talbot’s uniform, I would barely be able to tell them apart (though, of course, there’s really no such thing as TOO MUCH “tall, dark and handsome”).

WHAT’S HOT
ONE…TWO…THREE…If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time the second part of a story does not bring about a conclusion. This is new, and full of promise. I think we’re about to get seriously serial.

SOMEBODY’S WATCHING ME. As if Banner doesn’t have enough trouble, the US Military has now assigned Major Glenn Talbot as his personal watchdog. Talbot’s sole purpose is to make trouble for Banner, and in these first few pages, it seems he’s going to excel at his mission. Romantically wedging himself between Bruce and Betty—that’s just the icing on the cake.

WHAT’S NOT
WHO?? Talbot calls Betty Ross “Miss Brant.” I’m not surprised–though, if I were Betty, I would be, if not surprised, somewhat offended. Does this guy have so many girlfriends he can’t keep them straight? Who else do we know who has too many women to keep track of? Stan Lee! While Peter Parker’s girlfriend is Betty Brant, maybe Stan should have named Bruce Banner’s girlfriend… Roxanne Ross? It would have made things simpler and less confusing. Also, perhaps he should have avoided names that have two possible spellings….like Glen and Glenn.

COPTOR SHIP. Why does Banner call a helicopter a “ship”? I don’t know…maybe it’s a military term for a copter?

MOUSY BROWN. Betty is not very attractive in this issue. The girl needs to get herself a new colorist…or some Clairol! (Though admittedly, it may have just been a function of the reprint I was reading. But I’ve seen her look better.)

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FANTASTIC FOUR #32

ff32“Death of a Hero!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
In his prison cell, Johnny and Sue’s father is possessed by the Super Skrull. He breaks out, dons a costume, calls himself the Invincible Man and wreaks havoc. When the FF are unwilling to vigorously pursue and fight him, they are perceived as weak. Reed discovers and reveals Storm Sr. is really the Super Skrull, and threatens to destroy the Skrull planet unless they return Dr. Storm. The Skrulls exchange Super Skrull for Dr. Storm, but send him back with a bomb. The bomb explodes and Dr. Storm dies.

WHAT’S HOT
ART. The outer space artwork on page three is outstanding and unexpected. Also, Sue looks fetching in her updated hairdo.

QUIZ TO FOLLOW. I didn’t guess that the Invincible Man was actually the Super Skrull. When the imposter Dr. Storm boasts “Whatever the Fantastic Four can do, I can do better!” I should have been suspicious, but honestly, at that point I was just too wrapped up in the story to want to stop and play Sherlock Holmes.

MAYBE THIS TIME… Reed successfully transforms Thing to Ben, but he has amnesia and a mean streak, so Reed reverts him back to the lovable Thing. We keep hoping Reed will figure this out and come up with a permanent solution for his old pal Ben Grimm. Or…do we? Though Grimm is considerably more handsome and pleasant than Thing, he’s nowhere near as powerful and interesting.

WHAT’S NOT
YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR. The Super Skrull dresses himself in primary colors with a hood, boots and oversized belt and declares that now he’s ready to be an Invincible Man because how he LOOKS like an Invincible Man! Uh….not. If that were the case, every Halloween would be the most dangerous time of the year EVER.

FAMILY DRAMA CUT SHORT. It’s too sad, and too bad, that they kill off Dr. Storm in the end. Here’s a character we could have gotten a lot of soap opera mileage out of.

BAD MANNERS. Reed figures out what’s going on, but doesn’t bother to share it with any of the others. He just starts bossing everyone around, demanding blind obedience, and becomes downright grumpy, at one point telling Ben to “Shut up!”

WORSE MANNERS. The Skrulls honor their commitment to return Dr. Storm…but nobody said anything about not attaching a bomb to his body, so they do. Bad form, bad form.

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X-MEN #8

ux8“Unus, the Untouchable!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
When a paranoid crowd misinterprets Beast’s good deed, he quits the X-Men. Unus the Untouchable must beat an X-Man before he can join Magneto. He fights Cyclops, Iceman and Angel, sending them into retreat. Meanwhile, Hank creates a ray-gun to INCREASE Unus’ power, which his fellow X-Men misinterpret. But when Unus’ strength is increased, the Untouchable can touch nothing, not even food, and he grows distraught. Beast reverses the effects, in exchange for Unus’ promise to stop being a super-villain.

WHAT’S HOT
POOR BEAST. So much of the action in this story is based upon misunderstanding. The crowd quickly turns on Beast, even though he has just saved a young boy’s life, and later, the X-Men turn on him, when they don’t understand why he wants to increase Unus’ power. In the first case, I doubt much could have been done to counter the mob mentality (“I’ve heard there are MANY such mutants in hiding…waiting to take over the world!”) but Hank could have easily explained his intentions to his fellow mutants to get them on his side. Could have, that is…if Cyclops’ demand for “a mighty good explanation,” wasn’t so quickly followed by “Drop that!” and laser beams shooting out of his eyes. Beast is treated so unfairly in this story, by everyone. Which compels the drama.

WILL HE…OR WON’T HE? At the end of the story, Unus is still out there, with his extraordinarily defensive superpower. Sure, right now, he’s promised to be a good boy, but some day, when he’s had his fill of smokes and steaks, who’s to say he won’t once again flirt with the idea of putting on the “distinctive costume”? Who’s to say Mastermind won’t be back with further enticements and recruiting efforts? Someone like Unus is just too powerful to leave out there; I predict we’ll see him again.

WHAT’S NOT
THE ONLY GIRL IN TOWN. When Jean Gray first joined the X-Men, every one of those teenaged boys had the hots for her, as if they had never seen a girl before in their lives. Heck, at one point, Professor X was secretly expressing his longing for the underage redhead. Now, it’s Scott turn to surreptitiously pine for “how gorgeous her lips are…how silken her hair is.” And get this! Jean secretly feels the same way about HIM. I’m all for soap opera, but this one feels a bit forced.

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This entry was posted in Captain America, Doctor Strange, Fantastic Four, Giant-Man, Hulk, Human Torch, Iron Man, Meanwhile, Sgt. Fury, Spider-Man, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, Thor, Wasp, X-Men. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Meanwhile…: November, 1964

  1. Commander Benson says:

    It would have to have been a decade after the Major Talbot character was introduced for anyone to really see it, and it had to be a coïncidence for the resemblance to appear in Steve Ditko’s art, but Talbot sure looks like a young Alex Trebek to me.

  2. haydn says:

    The Hulk story in Tales to Astonish was originally drawn by Joe Orlando, uncredited. He refused to make changes requested by Stan Lee, so the story was given to Steve Ditko (and inker George Roussos) to finish. (info from Mark Evanier’s website in a series of exchanges with Fred Hembeck. The Grand Comics Database notes this backstory.)

  3. Haydn says:

    Apologies. I meant to say the Giant-Man story.

    • Chrissy says:

      Okay, so it’s the Giant Man story with Egghead and the Android that went through some growing pains? Interesting background info. The art did strike me as a bit different than what I’m used to. Well, especially Hank’s rugged face and blue eyes. Who was responsible for that??

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