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Mondo Marvel #25 - May 1964

A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy

Step right up! Prepare to be amazed and astounded by the wonders we've got on display this fine April evening!

Ignore the gentleman behind the curtain having the sneezing fit; I'm sure his beer will sooth his allergies.

Yes! That's right! It's Mondo Marvel and it's ready and waiting for you!

Yes, you, young Timothy Foo.

Ahem.

Sorry about that. It's been a long day.

But I wasn't kidding! Mondo Marvel is here to share with you the amazing adventures of May, 1964, when a green-skinned behemoth fought modern Marvels on a skyscraper overlooking New York; when a surging flow of Lava Men attempted to run rampant in the American Midwest; when a sick teen won the heart of the prettiest girl in school and another teen went home alone after saving a Romantic Cruise from pirates; when an asteroid fell form the sky and a mountain raised up into the air!

And that's not even mentioning the haunted house or the giants walking the earth!

All this and more await you in this week's installment of Mondo Marvel: May 1964!




May 1964
Fantastic Four #26
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell

 

 

"The Avengers Take Over!"



Damn! If I were a kid reading this for the first time, back when it was originally published, I think I might never have discovered the joys of masturbation, because this would have taken its place.

Is that too much?

But seriously. Moments like this are what make Marvel so fantastic to me. Not only do we have a story so big that it takes two full issues to tell it, we've got nearly every superhero in the Marvel Universe taking part. Granted, there's no Spidey, Doc Strange, or X-Men (and Daredevil's a little too new to consider yet), but all of the heavy hitters are here, and they're all going up against the Hulk.

That's pretty much the definition of Nerdgasm, isn't it?

The Big Event is the bastard love child of this comic right here.

And not only do we have just about all the Marvel characters gathered in one place, we've also got great spotlight moments for nearly every character. Ben shows just how much heart he's got by refusing to give up even when he's clearly outclassed by the Hulk in sheer power. Johnny stops being a punk kid and really steps up. Captain America really impresses as he goes toe to toe with Hulk, relying only on his athleticism.

Hell, even Hank and Jan get moments to shine. That couldn't have been easy to write.

I also really liked the way Rick Jones is continuously telling everyone to stop fighting and let him talk to Hulk, but nobody's listening. I don't know if he could have actually reached Hulk, but it's a nice character touch that even in the middle of all-out war between the Avengers, The FF, and Hulk, Rick refused to give up on his friend.

Sure, the whole spurned lover vibe was still creepy, especially when Hulk faces off with Cap, calling him "the one who tried to get Rick away from me!", but all in all, this sort of story is why I read Marvel Comics.




Strange Tales #120
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers

 

 

"The Torch Meets The Iceman!"



While this is a fairly forgettable story, it's actually one of the first Human Torch stories in a long time that doesn't just suck.

For a change, I like the character and he doesn't really act like the dick he usually is. I'm sure next month he'll go back to being the spoiled brat doing battle with older men who may or may not secretly want to have sex with him, but for this one moment, he's an okay guy.

In fact, after reading about Iceman in the paper, Johnny actually wants to meet him, which is the exact opposite reaction he has when reading about Spider-Man. Granted, he's a little dismissive, but there's no open hostility this time.

This is the second time an X-Man has crossed over into another story (the first being Angel appearing in Tales of Suspense #49 where he met Iron Man). For a change, there's not a super hero misunderstanding that leads to a fight that leads to a team-up.

Instead, this is just a story about how lonely Bobby Drake, Iceman, is.

He's the youngest of the X-Men, and even though he really has no shot with Jean Grey, still wants to ask her out. Ah, the dangers of being the only girl amongst four teenage boys (and a professor who kind of wants to hit on you, too). So Professor X suggests Bobby get out and try to meet some ladies.

As luck would have it, he chooses to take a Romantic Cruise around New York Harbor, but neglects to invite a girl along, hoping to meet someone there. Of course, everyone on the Romantic Cruise is on a date, including Johnny Storm and his girlfriend, Doris. And thus, we kind of get an idea about why he can't meet a nice girl somewhere.

Luckily, The Barracuda (continuing the trend of bearded/mustached men battling the Torch), a pirate-of-sorts, attempts to hijack the cruise and rob everyone on board. This leads to a team-up between the Torch and Iceman, and they proceed to swab the deck with the pirates.

The fight scenes are inventive and exciting as each hero takes turns in the spotlight before helping each other out of various jams. Although I have to question Stan Lee's plotting when he has the pirates use gasoline to melt Bobby's ice, then, moments later has the Torch tossing fireballs all over the place. It's bad enough that Johnny set fire to the boat once, but that could have been a real mess.

But the good guys win, of course, and in a moment that's actually a little sad, Bobby heads home alone, making a floating, icy path for himself across the water. Then, as Johnny and Doris look out at the big full moon, she wonders if Iceman has a girlfriend. And Johnny's sure he's got dozens of them.

I'm pretty sure he's not suggesting that Bobby is a man-whore, but that someone like Iceman should have lots of ladies paying attention to him. However, sadly, that's just not the case.

Poor Bobby.

 

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
"Doctor Strange: The House of Shadows!"



This month we get the Mighty Marvel version of your traditional Haunted House story. And by that I mean, of course, that we're probably either dealing with an alien invasion or a secret Communist plot.

It ain't the Commies, folks.

I know that Lee and Ditko didn't really think too far beyond the basic concept of a "Master of the Mystic Arts" – at least not at this point – but there does seem to be a natural development of, if not rules, then a logic to the stories.

So far, pretty much all of Strange's magical abilities are in the forms of summons for aid from more powerful beings, or in the utilization of magical artifacts, more often than not, his amulet. And usually, the level of skill and ability is directly related to will and imagination. His foes so far, outside of Baron Mordo and Nightmare, are essentially the same sorts of alien invaders that every other Marvel hero has to take care of at one point or another.

And while it might be a little silly to have an alien invader from another space-time continuum appear in the form of a haunted house, it is still suitably creepy, especially since we never really get any idea just what it's doing with the television personality it captures.

The oddest thing, though, is that the house has apparently been around for years, according to the yokels in the crowd watching the televised haunted house special. There's no mention of other people disappearing inside. It's just your run-of-the-mill haunted house that tonight, for some reason, decides to kidnap a human being.

There are a couple of neat touches that Lee and Ditko bring to the story, such as having Strange's ectoplasmic form unable to enter the house. There's not a real explanation for this, but it serves its purpose of making the house seem more threatening than it actually turns out to be.

My favorite bit, though, is when Strange activates his enchanted amulet, which opens a disturbing "all-seeing" eye that then slowly launches itself from the amulet and mounts itself on Strange's brow, giving him a hideously oversized third eye. Through this eye he can see inside of the house without actually entering it.

That's scarier than the haunted house, if you ask me.

But when all is said and done, I don't think there's a lot "supernatural" in these stories. They really just seem to be dealing with beings and technologies that are outside of human limitations. They don't seem to be any more supernatural than Mutant Abilities are in the MU.

I'm also a little put off by the relationship between Strange and the beings he keeps invoking. I'd like to see a little more exploration here, since good guys and bad guys are both calling on the same entities for assistance.

It seems like someone like Dormammu might play favorites. Or maybe it isn't until he actually encounters Doctor Strange that he starts paying attention to who gets his aid and who doesn't.

I suppose we'll have to just wait and see about that.




Amazing Spider-Man #12
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

 

 

"Unmasked By Doctor Octopus!"



Wow! We're already through the first year of Amazing Spider-Man? It doesn't seem like it's been that long.

For me, anyway.

And the most significant event of the first year coming to a close? For me, it has to be Peter Parker getting Liz to fall for him by just being himself (and almost getting killed, of course), but turning her down so he can go hang with Betty. And then Liz says she deserves it for the way she's behaved!

Watching Flash turn into a jealous, shunned child is also kind of gratifying, even though he is starting to change. A little, at least.

I think the reason I like this moment the most is that it, along with Flash's earlier softening of the heart, gives us some concrete examples of Peter influencing those around him by example. When he stands up to Flash, Flash starts to show some respect. When he gets unmasked by Doc Ock while defending Betty, Liz sees his heroic side and repents. Both of the shallowest characters in the series are beginning to show some depth.

A little, at least.

I haven't really read these comics before, so for all I know, they both go right back to being stereotypes, but for now, these are good moments. Who would have ever thought that Peter Parker would be in a position where he had to choose between two ladies who want to court him?

The question now becomes, how does all this effect Pete in the feedback loop that is social dynamics? We've already seen that while in his Spidey outfit, he has a tendency to be a bit of a short-tempered dick. Or, in other words, a typical teenager. Will he start getting a big head as Pete, now? And will that sabotage his relationships as he begins to change?

But back to this issue. After escaping last time out, Doc Ock is obsessed with defeating Spider-Man and goes on a crime rampage across the United States, with each crime ending with him getting closer and closer to be captured by regular law-enforcement.

So he decides that maybe he'll have to go back to New York if he wants to lure Spidey out. Which is a good plan, since Pete's broke and has finals coming up, and can't go galavanting around the country chasing a crazy man with robotic octopus arms. A man's got to have his priorities, after all.

Pete's also coming down with a twenty-four hour bug, but when Doc Ock kidnaps Betty and challenges him, he shows up anyway, only to find himself depowered. Needless to say, Ock makes short work of him, unmasking him in front of everyone.

This is what raises Pete's stock with Liz. She thinks that Pete just dressed up like Spidey to try and save Betty, and it don't get more heroic than that, my friends. That's what impresses the ladies.

Anyway, after a good night's sleep, Pete's as good as new and we get a rematch.

I've said it before, but I'm going to say it again. Ditko's staging and orchestration of these fight scenes is wonderful. There's a fluidity to the way the action flows across the page that isn't matched by any of the other Marvel artists working at this time. Everybody's got their own mad skills, but this is where Ditko shines.

This is another high point in a series that seems to be made of almost nothing but high points.




Tales of Suspense #53
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: N. Korok
Artist: Don Heck

 

 

"The Black Widow Strikes Again!"



Tony Stark is a sexist douche.

Sure, we already know that, really. But this issue we discover that he actually let Black Widow escape last time. He let her escape.

Why?

Because, and I quote, "after all, she is just a woman... and such a lovely one!"

And in doing so, we have a disgraced Russian spy on the scene, desperate to do anything to get back into her leader's good graces. So when Tony accidentally creates an anti-gravity device, she shows up to steal it. Which she promptly does, because she's actually dangerous and good at her job, and Tony's a sexist douche.

Then, after doing a ridiculous amount of damage during a sabotage binge, Black Widow escapes again. This time, at least, it's while Tony's rescuing her henchmen from being crushed under a falling mountain. They all wonder why Iron Man would save them, and his reply?

"That's the trouble with you Commies! You just don't dig us!"

So not only is he a sexist, he's a closet beatnik?

Anyway, the anti-gravity device is destroyed in the battle, and the generals compliment Iron Man on saving the day while in the same breath they insult Tony Stark, calling him an "over-rated playboy... or worse!"

I'm not sure what the "or worse" is meant to imply. Although earlier there were some doubts, yet again, about Tony's patriotism. I mean, he let the anti-gravity device get stolen, so he probably has Commie sympathies, right?

Remember, all it takes is one slip-up in the Marvel Universe and everyone will turn on you. At least for a day or so.

 

Plot: Stan Lee
Script & Art: Larry Lieber
Inks: Paul Reinman
"Tales of the Watcher: The Way It Began..."



I haven't been paying any attention to these "Tales of the Watcher" stories, since they're really just the same as the Wasp stories in Tales to Astonish, where the characters introduce stories that are either the usual science fiction shorts that used to be the mainstay of Marvel Comics, or are reprints of those older stories.

But this one is actually the Origin of The Watcher, so I thought it deserved comment.

As if you couldn't guess, The Watcher is from a race so advanced that they can do just about anything. They're immortal, they can travel the universe in an energy form, and they think they know what's best for the rest of us.

Or at least they used to. You know, before they inadvertently caused a nuclear holocaust by giving advanced technologies to a planet that wasn't emotionally ready to handle it.

So now they just watch and don't get involved.

I know. Not the most inspired origin, but what did you expect?




Tales to Astonish #55
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers

 

 

"On The Trail of The Human Top!"



As usual, the biggest weak spot in the Marvel line-up is, once again, Giant-Man and The Wasp. This month, the Human Top is back, and after managing to make Hank look stupid, yet again, he kidnaps Jan and steals Hank's stash of growing pills.

This is after we open to a scene of Giant-Man and The Wasp entertaining the Giant-Man Fan Club with newsreel footage of them fighting crime.

Could someone explain why Giant-Man has a fan club? And why does he let them hang out in his home?

It's kind of sad, really. Of course, they seem kind of lame, too, so maybe they deserve each other.

And the less said about the Wasp back-up and its horrible jokes, the better.




Journey Into Mystery #104
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone

 

 

"Giants Walk the Earth!"



For an ancient, omnipotent All-Father, Odin makes a rookie mistake this month. Once again, he's so upset over being unable to stop Thor from loving a mortal woman that again he asks Loki for advice. So Loki suggests Odin go visit Earth, since he hasn't been in so long.

Odin thinks that's a great idea and actually leaves Loki in charge, with an added boost of Odin-Power. Loki then, of course, sets free Skagg, the Storm Giant, and Surtur, the Fire Demon to ravage the Earth and kill his brother and father. You remember Surtur, right?

Odin trapped him at the heart of the planet because he was going to burn down all of creation? Yeah. That Surtur.

So, Odin does what gods do. He magically zaps every human being on Earth into another dimension so he, Thor, and Balder the Brave can fight the giant monsters without risking any casualties.

And then we get what I've been wanting to see from the very beginning. We get Asgardian gods kicking ass and taking names on a massive scale. It's so cool I wasn't even bothered by the whole "magnetized asteroid" bit that traps Surtur in space.

The only thing that would have made this better was if we'd gotten to watch Odin put his boot in Loki's ass when he got home. Instead, he sends Loki off to serve the Trolls until Odin decides he's had enough.

Surely he means "serve" them, as in doing manual labor, right? Even Odin wouldn't get so pissed off that he pimped out Loki to Trolls, would he? Is that Viking justice? I guess we'll just have to wait and see how Loki's doing when he gets back.

This might further explain the depths of Loki's grudge against Thor and Odin.

 

Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Don Heck
"Tales of Asgard: Heimdall, Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge!"



This week, "Tales of Asgard" shifts gears and begins introducing Thor's supporting cast of characters. We begin with eagle-eyed, sharp-eared Heimdall, Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge.

It seems that Asgard keeps getting attacked by surprise because they don't have any sentries or advanced warning system. Go figure.

So Odin decides that they need to post a guard on the Rainbow Bridge, which is apparently the only way anyone can approach the city. Therefore, he holds auditions and Heimdall is the best-suited for the job.

The end.

Seriously. The end.

There's not much to this one, although we do find out that Heimdall is known for his honesty, he can hear plants growing, and can see through time, or something. This is definitely not the best of the "Tales of Asgard," but it still looks good anyway.

Heck's inks are a little on the raw side, though. Chic Stone has spoiled me, I guess.




The Avengers #5
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman

 

 

"Invasion of The Lava Men!"



Remember how I was lamenting the never-ending proliferation of alien races in the Marvel Universe, and wishing that Lee would return to more of these races in order to flesh them out? Stan Lee was listening to me in the future...um, from his place in the past? Or something?

Anyway, this issue of The Avengers sees the return of not just one Lava Man, but a whole army of Lava Men! We last saw the Lava Man (turns out his real name is Molto – no, really) in Journey Into Mystery #97, when Loki had brought him to the surface as a prank, and then he tried to burn the world down. Luckily, Thor was there to put a stop to his antics, tossing him back down a volcano and pounding it closed behind him.

Since then, Molto has turned into a peaceful sort, pleading with his fellow Lava Men not to attack the surface world. However, an evil Witch Doctor has gained the King's ear, and they are intent on heaving the dreaded Living Rock through the surface, where it might destroy all humanity, and spare the Lava Men.

The Avengers are on the case, though, and with a surprise appearance from The Hulk, matters are soon sorted out. You know, with a lot of punching. That's what The Avengers do best, it seems. And they don't really seem interested in much beyond that.

One of the things that entertains me the most about this issue is how the team returns to Tony Stark's Avengers Headquarters to inspect the damage of the Hulk's attack (from this month's Fantastic Four adventure), and then decide it's time to call it a day and split, leaving Iron Man alone to arrange the clean-up and rebuilding.

Nice one, gang.

When all's said and done, this isn't much of an adventure, but it does a decent job establishing the threat-level that The Avengers will be operating at. Stan Lee does another excellent job giving each character a spotlight moment or two, and Kirby's Lava Men art is downright horrifying at times. Seriously, that Witch Doctor is going to be showing up in my nightmares.

So far, so good with this title. Although I must admit something.

A few years ago, when I first bought The Essential Avengers, Volume 1 I sat down and tried to read it from start to finish, but couldn't do it. I didn't care for the writing and the general "Sixties-ness" of the whole enterprise. I think that jumping into them cold doesn't do these comics any favors. They really do operate under an entirely different aesthetic sense from comics today.

And if you're a fan of more psychological and emotionally realistic writing, or even of consistent internal logic sometimes, it's going to be hard to give these books a fair shake.

One of the greatest benefits I'm seeing by going back and reading them all from the beginning is the real appreciation for just what Stan and Company accomplished with these characters and titles. Really, aside from the Human Torch and Giant-Man adventures, every one of these books has broken some ground either in characterization or in mainstream narrative traditions.

So when we get something like The Avengers, where the simple goal is to tell exciting adventure stories worthy of uniting the majority of Marvel's top characters, even though there's not a lot of depth, there's a lot of fun to be had.




The X-Men #5
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman

 

 

"Trapped: One X-Man!"



This issue is a little weak in terms of plot, but it does a lot to establish events to come, as well as plant the seeds of character moments we'll see more fully developed as the months roll on.

For example, at the end of last issue, Professor X was injured and lost his psychic powers. This month, the team come to grips with the fact that they're on their own in the field as they continue to carry on the Professor's dream.

But guess what? He's faking. The big faker.

Sure, he says it was a test, but it was a little on the cruel side. I have expect him to get up and start walking, too.

We also see that Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch aren't completely on-board with Magneto and hopefully it won't take too much more to push them away from him completely.

And what could be cooler than to have one's own asteroid as a secret base of operations? Asteroid M was an inspired choice of headquarters, even if it does make superhero battles particularly dangerous. As we see later, once the fit hits the shan and the asteroid begins to fall apart, nobody's safe on either side of the conflict.

The only thing that really makes me wonder about this issue is the question of just why The Toad goes into a trance and allows the X-Men to follow him all the way to Asteroid M. There's no stated explanation, although I suppose we can assume that Professor X had something to do with it.

Of course, that completely undermines the whole "final exam" quality of the story, since the team would never have found their way to Magneto's hideout and saved Angel if Toad hadn't led them there.

I'm also kind of wondering if we're not spending too much time with the villains here. It doesn't help that they're more interesting characters than the X-Men and their inner conflicts have more emotional investment, particularly with the way Wanda and Pietro are struggling with loyalty issues.

Something's going to have to happen to shake things up with our title characters or they're in danger of having their own comic stolen out from under them by the secondary characters.




Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #7
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell (George Roussos)

 

 

"The Court-Martial of Sergeant Fury!"



Don't worry. Even though things look bad for the ole' Sarge, you know that he's going to get out of this mess with his hide intact.

But to be honest, the whole pretense of having Fury court-martialed is really just a way for Lee and Kirby to begin introducing more biographical elements into the story and give us some insight into who Fury was before he became the tough-as-nails leader of the Howling Commandos.

Turns out he was an orphan from the wrong side of the tracks growing up in New York. He met a red-headed kid and took up amateur boxing, and together they became rough, but clean and honest, kids, according to the parish priest. It was Red's death at Pearl Harbor that inspired Fury to join the war effort and get hooked up with The Howling Commandos in the first place.

There's also an amusing moment where the straight-laced Lieutenant who's charged Fury with disobeying a direct order and assaulting an officer, after describing a young Nick Fury as a troublemaker and lounge about, always fighting or taking part in one shady deed or another, breaks down and admits that he wishes he were half the man Fury is.

Awesome.

And of course, in the end, Fury is vindicated, there are no hard feelings, and in no time at all, Sgt. Fury is back in the field running the Commandos ragged.

Ah, good times.

There's just such a roughneck energy to this comic that even an issue like this, where the situations are even more contrived than usual, still just makes me like all the characters more. The way they stand up for each other with no regard for the consequences is admirable, and is, in its own way, helping to define Marvel Moral Behavior.

Maybe that's reading too much into it, but with this issue and this month's Fantastic Four, you kind of get a sense that Lee and Kirby are at least giving some attention to how these characters perform as role models.

For boys and young men, anyway.

Women still get the short end of the stick most of the time, but when it comes to Boys Adventures, we're getting a clinic on how masculinity is defined and reinforced in the Marvel Universe. Hell, I read these stories and want to be like Fury. He's a hardcase bastard, but he takes no shit and knows what's right.

He kind of reminds me of Lemmy from Motorhead like that.

I can't wait to read some stories with Fury and Captain America working together. That should be something to see.




Well, not only was that one of the biggest weeks in Mondo Marvel history, it was one of the strongest!

Until next time, gang!

Wah-Hoo!

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