Meanwhile…: December, 1964

STRANGE TALES #127

st127The Mystery Villain!
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Inks: Paul Reinman
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
When Johnny gets annoyed with Reed, he and Thing set off on their own. First stop: they go west to compete in an auto race. Turns out they are the only ones racing, and become prisoners of their cars, which drive them deep into a subterranean chamber. There, a mysterious villain tricks and taunts them, eventually revealing himself to be none other than…Mr. Fantastic himself! The errant FF members acknowledge Reed’s ability to out-think and out-maneuver them and submit to his leadership.

WHAT’S HOT
WHO IS IT? The cover and splash challenge the reader to guess the secret identity of the Mystery Villain. Seems I’m not very good at this. When Torch and Thing start with a brief adventure in the ocean, I guessed Namor. When they are thrust into the underground, I guessed Mole Man. Wrong both times. I was truly surprised when the “villain” was revealed. Nice work in a self-contained story that almost has the feel of an Aesop’s Fable.

WHAT’S NOT
IT’S ALL ABOUT REED. I’m chiding myself because it never occurred to me the “villain” could be Reed…but then, really, why would it? Early in the story, when Johnny first pitches a fit, Reed declares “I’m too busy to bother wet-nursing a pair of malcontents!” and I believed him. My mistake. Turns out, not only is Reed NOT “too busy,” but he actually has oodles of time and resources to dream up and carry out this elaborate scheme, just to prove his point. And what’s his point? That the others simply can’t get along without him. And so, even though this title belongs to Torch and Thing, once again the moral of the story is “It’s Reed Richards world, the rest of us just live in it.”

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st127splash“Duel With the Dread Dormammu!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
Dr. Strange prepares to battle Dormammu, who has threatened to invade Earth. He faces a quandary when a white-haired girl reveals that only Dormammu prevents the Mindless Ones from entering and destroying their land. Ultimately, Strange decides his first allegiance is to Earth, so he fights. Though winning, the battle weakens Dormammu, and the Mindless Ones break through. Strange assists Dormammu in restoring the barrier, and in exchange, Dormammu agrees not to invade Earth. The Ancient One rewards Strange with a new cape and more wondrous amulet.

WHAT’S HOT
EVERYBODY LOVES DR. STRANGE. Well, okay, not everybody. Dormammu certainly doesn’t. But when Strange invites the white-haired girl to join him on Earth, she pouts, “No, this is my world! It is HERE that I belong…no matter where my HEART shall be!” Apparently Betty White has lost at least a part of her heart to the caped warrior from Earth. I wonder why… Is it his unfathomable power with the mystic arts…or does she have a weak spot for his strong jawline and Cumberbatch-esque high cheekbones?

WHAT’S NOT
NOT MUCH. Not much is not hot. I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

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AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #19

asm19“Spidey Strikes Back!”
Script: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
Sandman teams up with Montana, Fancy Dan and the Ox to capture the Human Torch, using him as bait to lure Spider-Man into a fight. They fight, Spidey sets Torch free, and together the two teenage superheroes wrangle up the villains for the cops. In other news, Peter does not seem to mind at all that Betty has a new beau, Liz remains mad at the clueless Flash, Jameson is lividly embarrassed by Spider-Man’s triumphant return, and Aunt May gets a good night’s sleep. But just when Peter thinks all is well, a mysterious man hints at a sinister plot.

WHAT’S HOT
OH, BOY! Okay, it’s not fair that a new, shadowy figure, unrelated to all the action that has gone before, suddenly appears in the bottom half of the last page, threatening to “act” against Peter Parker, as soon as he’s “sure.” This does not seem to have anything to do with the story we just read, but honestly, how many times do we encounter this fishhook in popular literature and media? I’m most famously reminded of the 1980’s TV show Quantum Leap, where hapless hero Sam Beckett could never quite get back to his own time, but ended each adventure unceremoniously dropped into a new situation, which he always began with a hearty, “Oh, boy!” So yeah…it’s not fair. But it keeps us coming back for more.

BROMANCE A-BREWIN’? Spidey and Torch have never been the best of friends, but sentiments thaw as they work together to get the bad guys. Though I wouldn’t yet call it friendship, they’re at least gaining more respect for each other’s powers, despite their continued perfunctory jabs and jibes.

TAKE SOMINEX TONIGHT AND SLEEP…Poor Aunt May. She’s had her share of health troubles lately, but here at last, we see her getting a good night’s sleep. And after that, we see her smiling and joking with Peter. It does a heart good.

WHAT’S NOT
THE GAMES PEOPLE PLAY. Betty has a new beau, and Peter doesn’t give a hoot. “Have a nice time tonight, you two!” he easily tells Betty and Ned, after Betty turns him down for a date. To which Betty wonders, with a worried face, “I secretly hoped he’s be a little JEALOUS! But…he doesn’t seem to CARE! Have I…really LOST him??” To which I say, Betty, dear…if you play games, there’s always a chance you’ll lose.

ONE PLUS THREE DOES NOT EQUAL FOUR. Sandman teams up with the Enforcers, and you have to wonder if the trio slows him down more than helps him. The only good thing you can say about the Enforcers is that their varied “skills” give Steve Ditko plenty of panels to show how easily Spider-Man can defeat them. For my money, I think Moe, Larry and Curly could provide Spidey just as much of a challenge, and provide us a greater measure of entertainment. (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!)

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FANTASTIC FOUR #33

ff33“Side-by-Side With Sub-Mariner!”
Story: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
When Attuma attacks Atlantis, Namor’s slighted girlfriend Dorma grants Attuma access to the undersea kingdom. When Attuma threatens to break his vow not to personally harm Namor, Dorma enlists the aid of the FF. With Reed’s Oxo-Spray giving them the ability to breath underwater, the four bring the fight to Atlantis, each contributing their particular skills to the battle. As the spray wears off, they rise to the surface, just as Attuma is surrendering to Namor. Namor forgives Dorma, never realizing the FF were helping him.

WHAT’S HOT
ATTUMA. Well, really, he’s not that hot. He’s ugly, conceited, and easily defeated. But I love his name. Russ and I were recently recalling the Arnold Schwarzenegger comedy Kindergarten Cop, in which undercover cop John Kimble bellows at a hypochondriac five year old, “It’s not attuma!” Once I read the name of this villain, of course every one of his word balloons was delivered in a strong Austrian accent. And if that doesn’t make this fun, then what does?

ME SUE, YOU INVISIBLE TOO. When Namor most needs a victory in hand-to-hand combat with Attuma, Sue uses her powers to make him invisible. How cool is that?? She’s come a long way, baby, from those early days when all she could do was turn herself invisible. Creating protective force fields has become a huge weapon in her arsenal, and now this—if not better, at least as good. We’re getting further and further away from the need for Reed to invoke the name of Abraham Lincoln’s mother and lecture the readers on Why Sue Is a Valuable Member of Our Team.

WHAT’S NOT
SIDE-BY-SIDE IN SECRET. Namor is never aware the Fantastic Four have been assisting him. Too bad. I was looking forward to his reaction when he finds out he’s beholden to his mortal enemies. I also wanted to see how forgiving he might be of Dorma, once he learned she did not believe he could win the battle on his own. Namor may be able to understand and forgive errors made “in the name of love,” but I doubt he would look so kindly upon her lack of respect for his mighty powers.

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JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #111

jim111“The Power of the Thunder God!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
With Jane near death, Thor has stopped time so he can fight for retribution upon Hyde and Cobra. Meanwhile, in Asgard, thanks to Balder’s clever song, Odin remembers his own youthful forbidden love. Now softened towards the mortal Jane, Odin sends Loki…oops! I mean Balder, to secure a life-saving potion for her from a magic medicine man. Balder makes the quest, delivers the potion to Thor, and Jane is saved. Thor captures Hyde and Cobra, but that’s pretty much beside the point.

WHAT’S HOT
WHEN WE LAST LEFT THOR… I’m starting to get the hang of these two-part stories. When I first ran into this format a few months back, it was disconcerting. I wanted to know RIGHT AWAY what was going to happen. But when I picked up this issue, it suddenly all came back to me and I said, “Oh, good! I finally get to see how this turns out!” During the time between my reading of JIM 110 and JIM 111, I didn’t lose any sleep over poor Jane at death’s door, or Hyde and Cobra on the loose, because I knew as soon as I got back to the story, all would somehow be put right. And it has. For the moment, at least.

I know I’ll run into many more of these two-parters, and soon even three-parters and more-parters. But you know what? Even though my preference is still for a full story completely contained within one issue, I’m making progress, and I’ll be ready for the future of Marvel Comics, as it comes my way.

WHAT’S NOT
ODIN, THE GOD OF FORGETFULNESS. Will he never learn? A king, never mind a god, should have more sense than Odin displays here. I don’t mean because he so easily falls prey to bold Balder’s ballad about King Odin’s past love life. Actually, that’s one of the first things I’ve enjoyed about Odin, because it shows he does, apparently, have a heart.

Instead, I’m talking about the fact that once he’s made the momentous decision to save Jane’s life, who does he pick for the mission? Of all people…Loki! Why? First of all, isn’t Loki supposed to be banished for past wrongdoings? And furthermore, isn’t Odin aware of the epic sibling rivalry that consumes the evil Loki? In what universe (Asgard, included) does it make sense to send Loki to help Thor?

Maybe Odin’s been so wrapped up in his own issues of running a kingdom and all, that he isn’t really paying attention to his kids. Or maybe…he’s just playing right into Stan Lee’s hands.

Fortunately, Loki’s “peers” have greater understanding than dear old dad, and make the decision to send Balder instead. Which, by the way, is in direct opposition to an edict from their king…but Odin’s too…something or other…to know or care.

jim111splashThe Secret of Sigurd!
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letters: Art Simek

Loki leads Thor and Balder to Sigurd, who has a “secret power,” and goads Thor into fighting the warrior. With each fall to the ground, Sigurd grows stronger—which happens to be his secret power. So Thor flings Sigurd into outer space, where he will never touch ground again. Loki feigns congratulations, and Balder muses that Loki’s hatred of Thor is almost beyond understanding.

Reference: my earlier comment on “epic sibling rivalry.”

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TALES OF SUSPENSE #60

tos60“Suspected of Murder!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Dick Ayers
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
Unwilling to remove his costume for fear of death, Iron Man continues to pique Pepper and Happy’s suspicions that he may be involved in Stark’s disappearance. The cops are called in and question Iron Man. Meanwhile, Black Widow convinces Hawkeye to steal weapons plans from Stark’s factory. When Hawkeye takes Pepper hostage, Iron Man attacks, and the fight ends with Hawkeye hitching a ride on a passing jet—little realizing that the jet is transporting Black Widow back to the motherland for interrogation.

WHAT’S HOT
GAL #1. Pepper looks fetching in her yellow dress. For once, a redhead in a color other than pink! (I know Marvel Comics doesn’t often do that, but in real life, I can’t tell you how many times I see redheads wearing pink, with clashing results, and I just don’t understand it…one of life’s great mysteries.)

GAL #2. We get a rare glimpse into Black Widow, as she worries, “Hawkeye…my darling…will they ever let me see you again?” And all this time, we thought she was just a conniving hard-hearted bit-ca. But now, guess what? Perhaps she does indeed care about something other than herself, and her cause. And that makes her so much more interesting.

WHAT’S NOT
MISTAKES. First, Stark neglects to lock the door while raiding his own safe in his Iron Man costume, then he leaves on the Iron Man gloves while writing a note from Tony Stark. (Got that??) Besides the obvious detail of no corroborating fingerprints, wouldn’t the klutzy gloves naturally affect his penmanship so it was either unrecognizable as Stark’s, or at the very least, the note appeared to be written under duress? I understand this is only Tales of Suspense #60, but this stress is mild in comparison to what he’s going to face later (Battle of New York, anyone?), and these are just too many stupid mistakes for someone supposedly so brilliant.

SECRECY. If ever there was a moment for Stark to come clean with his secret identity, now is the time. It’s so frustrating that he persists in letting the two people he is closest to, Happy and Pepper, not only believe Iron Man is a different person, but also that Iron Man may be involved in Tony Stark’s disappearance. We’re talking cops, guns, suspicion of theft and MURDER, and yet still he goes on, pretending. Oh, how simple it would all be if Stark would just TRUST his friends, for once. They could actually be of great assistance! But of course, Tony Stark is John Wayne, not Scooby-Doo; he doesn’t believe he needs a “gang.” It’s surprising this unashamed individualist ever consented to be part of the Avengers.

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tos60splash“The Army of Assassins Strikes!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Art Simek

IN A NUTSHELL
Zemo’s Army of Assassins takes on Captain America during his appearance at a charity benefit. When Rick Jones realizes the fight is not simply for entertainment, the assassins go after him, but Cap comes to the rescue. The assassins use a sub-miniature missile to no avail, and are captured by the police. Zemo is not pleased.

HOT OR NOT?
HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL? There’s no excuse for this story. Nothing happens except Cap defeats the bad guys, just as any good superhero always will. Why are you wasting my time?

There’s only one good takeaway from this story: with Cap’s judo lessons, Rick Jones is able to use leverage and maneuvers to take on and escape from a band of assassins. Either Rick is more self-sufficient than we thought, or Zemo got gypped when he hired those “assassins.” The only thing that gets assassinated is Zemo’s TV screen, which he blasts to smithereens after Cap pointedly calls him a coward.

Okay, that’s two takeaways. But on the whole, for anyone whose TV was still in one piece in December, 1964, instead of reading this comic, their time would have been better spent watching the world premiere of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

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AVENGERS #11

a11“Spider-Man!”
Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck
Inks: Chic Stone
Letters: Sam Rosen

IN A NUTSHELL
To get his revenge, Kang infiltrates the Avengers with a Spider-Man robot. The robot tells the Avengers that Zemo has taken Iron Man to the Temple of Tirod in Mexico. Immediately, the Avengers travel to the Temple, and there “Spider-Man” fights and defeats them, for Kang had filled the tomb with unnerving nerve gas. But the real Spider-Man, on a Spider-Sense hunch, shows up, fights the robot, shuts it down and saves the day. The Avengers figure out Kang was behind it all. And Iron Man is still missing.

WHAT’S HOT
TONY, WHERE ART THOU? Kudos on the reference to the ongoing drama in Tales of Suspense. With Iron Man missing, the remaining Avengers call an emergency meeting to discuss his whereabouts, believing he has gone off alone to track down clues to his boss’s murder. Which is entirely not the case, but still, it’s nice to see Iron Man’s friends struggling to make sense of the mystery.

WHAT’S NOT
MEETING…ADJOURNED. At the same time, it’s NOT nice that we actually have to sit through this entirely too long and too wordy meeting full of first and second motions and “You’re out of order, Rick!” to young Jones, who can’t seem to give up his dream of being a superhero. It’s so tedious. What’s the point? Is this scene here to show us that, like ordinary crime-fighting police officers, the other side of super-heroism is a lot of boring meetings and paperwork?

I…ROBOT. Kang’s Spider-Man robot is a technological marvel, but far too cognizant to be a robot. He uses colorful language to make numerous value judgments about his foes and frequently praises his creator, Kang. (“Look at the speed with which they blaze into action! Too bad they do not suspect they are merely racing to their doom!” and… “only the brilliant Kang would have thought to give me the ability to speak in the same vernacular as the real Spider-Man.”) Yes, I know this is a robot from the year 3000, and certainly robotics would have advanced in the last thousand years or so, but for the purposes of this story, I would have liked to see the robot acting more…well…robot-like.

MY GOD IS BIGGER THAN YOURS. Why is Thor subject to the effects of nerve gas? Such shortcomings make him seem less like a GOD and more like a mere muscle-bond human being (who can fly).

TRAVEL ARRANGEMENTS. While Thor presumably flies to Mexico on the strength of Mjolnir, Giant-Man and Wasp stowaway on a jet. Captain America parachutes in—how, or from where, we know not. But how does Spider-Man get there, and so quickly? Remember, this is high school kid Peter Parker who worries about paying Aunt May’s doctor bills and needing new kitchen appliances. In ASM 6, he had trouble raising the funds for a trip to Florida. I’ll buy his explanation that his spider-sense tingled with knowledge of an imposter, and it even makes sense that he silently followed the imposter to learn more. But how did he sneak all the way from NYC to Mexico? And who paid for it??

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