Mondo Marvel #24 - April 1964

A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy

We're back!

After a brief delay, thanks to my own forgetfulness, really (I left a bunch of notes and rough drafts at work – duh), we took a short vacation last week, but now we're back, better than ever!

Well, maybe about as good as before.

Which isn't really all that, when you get right down to it.

Aw. Is Paul sad?

Not really! Hahahaha! This is Mondo Marvel!

This is the place to go on the Internet to explore the earliest days of the Marvel Universe on a month-by-month, issue-by-issue basis. We've been going for nearly a year now, and we've got miles to go before we sleep.

Miles to go before we sleep.

Sleep.

Zzzzzzzz.

Oh! Excuse me!

Before I slip into unconsciousness, I suppose we should get started.

Welcome to April, 1964, Marvel-style...




April 1964
Fantastic Four #25
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell

 

 

"The Hulk vs. The Thing!"



Now here's what I'm talking about.

I know, I know. You're probably thinking, but Paul, it's a practically issue-long slugfest between The Thing and The Hulk, with not a lot of story to go around. Why are you so excited?

Well, not only is it an awesome fight between two of Marvel's superstars, it's also the first real example of what can be done with a shared universe when the timing's right. I also appreciate the fact that Lee figures out a way to take Reed out of the equation right from the start.

I mean, come on. Big Brain could probably figure out a gadget that would knock Hulk out or something, and then where would our big fight be?

So the opening scene of Reed accidentally discovering a possible cure for Ben not only serves to put him out of commission later (Reed falls into a coma after being exposed to the chemicals he was trying to get Ben to drink!!), but also allows for Ben to make a straight-forward declaration that he's at a happy place in his life. He's not moping around or suicidal any more.

Alicia loves him and if the formula would allow him to change back and forth from rocky to human forms, then he'd take it. Otherwise...

But then we get to the meat of the issue. This story takes place immediately after the Avengers have arrived home with Captain America in tow. According to the papers, The Avengers are now hunting The Hulk (after he escaped them at the end of The Avengers #3) and the Hulk is on the run out West.

We then get a guest-appearance by The Hulk, followed quickly by The Avengers, as New York and the FF feel the repercussions of recent events in The Avengers. You see, Hulk finds a newspaper clipping saying he's been replaced in The Avengers by Captain America, and when he sees that Rick Jones has a new boyfriend, he vows to destroy the team and heads East.

Unfortunately, he and The Avengers pass like ships in the night. Literally. They pass each other in the darkness, avoiding an immediate conflict in the desert.

We also get a major goof, as Bruce Banner is repeatedly referred to as Bob Banner. And I do mean repeatedly. It's like Lee wants us to notice he got the name wrong. I guess I'll have to check the letters pages later to see what the fan community had to say about that.

Anyway, with Reed out of commission, it's up to Ben to stop Hulk from destroying New York in an attempt to flush out The Avengers. And boy, is it a nice piece of orchestration. The scale of the damage here is very similar to that of one of Namor's attacks on New York. Buildings are torn down, streets are destroyed, and I'd be surprised to find that there were no civilian casualties.

Of course, there aren't any, but there should be, given the violence of this issue.

Then we leave the issue with a cliffhanger!

That's right True Believers! Not only is this a massive crossover story, it's too big to be contained in one issue! If The Avengers were a monthly, I have no doubt we would have seen our first multi-title crossover and this story would have finished up over there.

Instead, The Fantastic Four #26 will feature The Avengers coming back to New York to team up with The Fantastic Four to battle The Hulk.

It doesn't get any bigger than this, friends.

Awesome.




Strange Tales #119
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers

 

 

"The Torch Goes Wild!"



Once again, there's really not much to this story. Although the titles says that "The Torch Goes Wild!" he isn't so much going wild as he is having a spaz attack. You see his girlfriend dumps him, the FF go on vacation without him (because he can't miss school), and then The Rabble Rouser turns everyone against him.

No drinks. No boobs. Nothing. It's hardly going wild at all.

At least there's not that dirty feeling to go along with it. Not really.

Okay. A little.

Anyway, as you loyal readers can probably already guess, I'm going to mention the Marvel/Human Torch double-whammy. We have a strangely mustacheoed villain who is secretly a Red. That then turns into a triple-play when he turns society against The Torch. I'd say this story was probably written by a computer program rather than by Stan Lee.

A particularly dull-witted computer program, at that.

The dirty Commie this month is called The Rabble Rouser, and for someone who's an undercover Red, he sure looks like a weird Mexican hippie. Seems to me like most 1964 Squares would take one look at him and start shouting "Commie!" until their paranoid little hearts burst.

Oh yeah. Johnny captures him in the end.

Surprise.

And his girlfriend didn't really break up with him. She was just dating that other guy to make Johnny jealous.

So far in these comics, Doris Evans just seems to be a bitch.

 

Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
"Doctor Strange: Beyond the Purple Veil!"



This is another minor Doctor Strange adventure, involving yet another dimensional portal and an "alien" race enslaving humans. At least they weren't actively coming through the portal to invade us this time. Instead, only losers get sucked through huge, ostrich-egg sized gemstone beyond the purple veil. Whatever that means.

The ruler of this dimension, Aggamon, claims to be all powerful and looks a little bit like the Mekon from Dan Dare. His power is channeled through a strange machine/weapon, rather than being a purely magical being like the Good Doctor. But as it turns out, he really is more powerful than Dr. Strange.

Luckily, like most villains in comics, his will isn't that strong, and as he and Strange play magical Chicken to the death, he blinks. So not only does Strange defeat a tyrant, he also rescues a couple of human burglars (they tried to steal the gem from Strange's home) and sets them on the straight and narrow.

I'm curious. Is there a resource out there somewhere that documents all of the alien and alternate-dimensional races that exist in the Marvel Universe? We're talking about over two years of comics now, with new races springing up nearly every month or so – sometimes in more than one title at a time. Are the Skrulls the only alien race who've made multiple appearances at this point?

I forget.

My mind is going, Dave.




Amazing Spider-Man #11
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko

 

 

"Turning Point!"



I really enjoy how every now and then, Spidey actually acts like a teenager. In this instance, when Pete hears that Doc Ock is going to be released from prison, he flips out, suits up, and pays a visit to the warden of the prison, telling him that he can't release Octavius. The warden promptly tells him that Ock has served his time and to get out of his office! As the warden puts it, "No masked adventurer dictates the law while I'm the warden here!"

Well put.

Of course, upon reflection, Spidey knows Ock can't be locked up indefinitely, but he's sure he'll be up to no good.

So in order to keep tabs on the villain, Pete works all night designing and building a fancy, spider-shaped tracking device. And the Spider-Tracer is born!

But really that's a small moment. The big story here is that we finally find out what Betty Brant's secret is! And it's nowhere near as scandalous as I'd hoped.

No secret babies or crazy Spring Break videos (damn, I can't get that Torch Goes Wild out of my head). Instead, we find out that she's got a shady brother, Bennett Brant, who's working as a lawyer for two-bit hood, Blackie Gaxton.

One can only assume that he's not much of a lawyer, seeing as how Blackie was sent to prison. For some reason I can't quite figure out, Betty is persuaded to bring Doc Ock to Philadelphia in order to break Blackie out of said prison. This is after giving Bennett all of her money to try and pay off his debt to the thug, and running away from Peter to keep him from finding out about her shady brother.

Oh well. The motivations are weak, but the intent is good.

Lee is giving us what will be the first of any number of situations in Spidey's life where he tries to do the right thing, someone is murdered, and because he's Spider-Man and Spider-Man is associated with the death in some way, he can't be happy.

This time out, it's good old Bennett who gets killed as Blackie tries to shoot Spider-Man. Betty's initial reaction is to hate Spider-Man and blame him for her brother's death. Later, after calming down, she realizes that Spidey isn't to blame, but she still never wants to see him again, since he will remind her of her dead brother.

Which sucks for Peter, since he was planning on telling her about his secret identity as soon as this mess was all over.

Man if there was ever a situation that really summed up the Peter Parker experience, this was it. And it will be repeated again and again as the series goes on.

We should all take a moment to reflect on the purity of this first accidental death caused vaguely by Spider-Man that will hurt Pete's chances of being happy and loved when not in costume.

Oh, and he fights Doc Ock in what is a very well choreographed and exciting extended fight scene. Ditko is the best at Marvel when it comes to illustrating action sequences, no question. Kirby has more energy, but it's chaotic and sometimes doesn't make much sense. It's more spectacle than narrative.

Ditko, on the other hand, moves you through each scene smoothly and clearly, in a way that really is perfect for the way Spider-Man moves. There's also a nice sense of realism in the way the characters are proportioned. There aren't stock characters. Everyone is an individual.

I know I say this a lot, but really, this is the good stuff.




Daredevil #1
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Bill Everett

 

 

"The Origin of Daredevil!"



Holy crap! From out of nowhere, we get a new character debuting this month! And with his very own, full-length title!

What the hell?

Who is this Daredevil, and where does he come from?

It turns out that Stan Lee wanted to find something for Bill Everett to work on. Everett, if you recall, CREATED THE SUB-MARINER! That alone means that in my book he can kick everyone's ass.

Anyway, Lee wanted to find something for Everett to work on and together, along with some character designs by Kirby and some last minute inking by Ditko, came up with the blind lawyer by day, blind super-hero by night, Daredevil.

The introduction of Daredevil into the Marvel Universe is significant for at least three reasons. First, it's the first time that Everett gets involved with the modern MU. Soon, he'll be penciling again on a semi-regular basis. Secondly, this is the first Marvel hero who is essentially a normal man operating at peak physical condition. Sure, his senses are all heightened, but he's not working with actively offensive powers or super strength. He has an advantage, but his agility and fighting skills are decidedly human.

And third, he's blind. For real. Not as a cover or anything, but really blind. His heightened senses make his vision kind of a moot point, but there you have it. Lee has created "flawed" characters before, but this is the first physically handicapped hero.

It's a bold move and it represents the core of what makes a comic Marvel as opposed to another publisher.

Nearly every Marvel character, as we all know, is built on the concept of overcoming obstacles, whether they be psychological, physical, or even social. This is a very nice example of side-stepping metaphorical handicaps (as in the case of a character like Ben Grimm) to directly address the very real condition of a whole segment of the audience.

But what about the story, you ask?

It's not bad at all. In fact it's an extremely solid piece of craftsmanship.

We open in medias res and then flash back to tell the life story of Matt Murdock. Something special about this story is that even though it does fall back on the standard "death of a parent" motif, Matt had already spent his entire life studying and exercising to become the best person he can be, regardless of the intervention of fate.

Even if he hadn't been blinded and granted extra powers, he was going to be a hero in one way or another. The powers are an enhancement, rather than an instigating factor, making him who he is.

The other thing that makes this special is Everett's art. It's gorgeous! The detail and variation in the character designs hearkens back to the Golden Age style. And from what I understand, the art was running late and Steve Ditko was called in to ink and help out with the backgrounds.

Regardless, this is a fine-looking book with a classic feel that fits securely into the modern Marvel style of storytelling. Daredevil is a pretty promising new addition to the Marvel Universe.

But will it hold up? I keep forgetting that it was one of these first wave titles rather than having been launched in the early Seventies. I have a feeling that's in part because of the quality of the first ten years of Daredevil stories.

We'll see.




Tales of Suspense #52
Plot: Stan Lee
Story: N. Korok
Artist: Don Heck

 

 

"The Crimson Dynamo Strikes Again!"



It's nice to see some attention being paid to building the continuity of Iron Man. One of the real strengths of the new Marvel Universe is the way things that happened in one issue will have repercussions on future stories. In this instance, way back in Tales of Suspense #46, the original Crimson Dynamo, Professor Anton Vanko defected to America and offered his services to Stark Industries.

Well, we all know that Commie Leaders hate betrayal even more than they hate failure. And when you combine the two, as Vanko did, you don't really have much of a future. Oh sure, things might seem to be going okay for a while, but eventually someone's going to come gunning for you.

And this month, that's exactly what happens.

Soviet spies The Black Widow and the man known only as Boris (although he will eventually be retconned into having the last name, Turgenev) arrive in America on a covert mission to dispose of both Vanko and Tony Stark.

Yes, that is Boris and Natasha. Nuff said, thankyouverymuch.

The interesting thing about this story is just how effective the Soviet spies actually are. Either that or this is just evidence of how poor Stark's security is, I suppose. Because Boris is allowed to wander around Stark's plant, and eventually gets the opportunity to kidnap Vanko and the Crimson Dynamo armor.

And while he's doing that, Natasha is out on a date with Tony Stark!!!

The man really needs to stop thinking with little Tony.

Anyway, Boris, in the Crimson Dynamo armor, gets the jump on Iron Man and is almost ready to head back to Commie Land. If only Natasha would hurry up and capture Stark. Luckily, this logistical mix-up allows Iron Man the time he needs to recharge his armor, free Vanko, and return to face down Boris.

And, of course, with Boris exposed as a Commie spy, Natasha is outed by default. Because, of course, they introduced themselves to Stark together, rather than each of them slipping into Stark's orbit separately.

That's really their only real mistake, though.

If they had known Iron Man was really Stark, he and Vanko would have been in a gulag somewhere before anyone knew they were gone.

In the end Vanko sacrifices his own life to defeat Boris and in the confusion, The Black Widow slips away. It's all pretty dramatic, and one of the better Iron Man stories so far. Plus, we end the story with Natasha on the run in America, hiding out from both Iron Man and the Commies.

You remember what I said about Commie Leaders hating failure, right?

I'm sure we'll be seeing more of her in the weeks to come.




Tales to Astonish #54
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck

 

 

"No Place to Hide!"



And, as if to demonstrate just how useless Hank and Jan really are, this month's Giant-Man and The Wasp adventure has the American Government recruiting them to go undercover and spy on a third-world Commie dictator. You see, there's just no way people would freely elect a Commie into office. He had to have rigged the election.

But since we have no proof, Hank and Jan become spies.

However, in stark contrast to Natasha and Boris, Hank and Jan are horrible at it. In fact, before they even get out of the airport, Jan is arrested and taken away (with all of the spare grow/shrink pills in her purse). Hank grows giant-sized and then realizes that he doesn't have the pills to let him shrink back to normal size.

This leads to a slapstick chase where Hank actually gets hung up in telephone wires, stumbles into a building, knocking down part of its wall, trips over a fruit stand, gets tangled up in the stand's canvas cover, then accidentally busts his foot through a bridge that isn't strong enough to support his weight.

And to start all that off, he was knocked down by the new President of Santo Rico, El Toro.

Yes, El Toro. And he wears horns on his head. And his constituents all dress like stereotypical Mexican peasants.

Um. Yeah.

Luckily, South American Commies who dress like bulls in public aren't all that when it comes to running things, after all. Hank is able to "sneak" his way to the prison where Jan is being held and rescues her.

You see, her hands are tied behind her back so she can't reach her purse.

Huh?

But Hank can fit his giant arm through a tiny porthole and grab the purse?

Huh?

Anyway, as you can probably guess, they stumble across the exact paperwork they need to prove El Toro stole the election, which they then toss to the crowd of freedom loving citizens who then praise "the giant one" for freeing them from "El Toro's tyranny." Because it took a giant American and his tiny "girlfriend" to free them from a loser wearing a bull hat.

I am really getting sick of these stories, but we've got over a year's worth still to come. They're not only insulting to the character, but this one is just barely a step above an Anti-Immigration Pamphlet.

Sigh.




Journey Into Mystery #103
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone

 

 

"The Enchantress and The Executioner!"



Keeping with the current trend of continuing the next story at the moment the previous one left off, this Thor adventure begins with him returning from the future. And then, for those who are wondering just what Thor had been doing in the future, we get a recap as Dr. Don Blake lies down for a nap.

Meanwhile, in heaven.. er I mean, in Asgard, Odin is at wit's end over this whole "My son is in love with someone from the wrong side of the rainbow bridge" thing and decides to ask Loki for advice.

That's how you know Odin's losing it. He's asking his evil son for guidance in dealing with his good son.

It can't end well, you know.

But Loki's idea isn't a bad one, really. It's one that decades of parents have tried to use when their kids are getting interested in love interests that aren't approved. He suggests hooking Thor up with a sexy Asgardian lady.

Odin likes the idea and sends Loki to enlist the aid of The Enchantress. For some reason, she doesn't seem to have an actual name at this point. Just a description, really. And once Dr. Blake rejects her, she enlists the aid of another Asgardian Adjective, The Executioner.

His job is to steal Nurse Jane away, leaving Don Blake/Thor alone and ready for The Enchantress' advances. Of course, this doesn't sit well with Thor, who, upon discovering that The Executioner has zapped Jane away to another dimension, decides to kick his ass.

Go figure.

Anyway, what began as the set-up for an Asgardian Penthouse letter, quickly turns into a Sausage Party as Thor and The Executioner clash with their magical weapons; The hammer for Thor, and a magic ax for Executioner.

Nothing gay about that.

Or about the fight being all about getting the weapons out of each other's hands. Once neither guy is holding his weapon, they start talking, and The Executioner switches teams, offering to return Jane if Thor will give him his magic hammer.

Nothing gay about that, either.

But as we all know, only the worthy can lift Thor's hammer, so we get a few rather suggestive panels of The Executioner trying mightily to heave the hammer from the ground. And it turns out he can lift the shaft, but the bell-end won't leave the ground. And believe me, that's a panel you won't soon forget.

But you don't betray a lady. It just isn't done. Especially if her name is The Enchantress. You're likely going to get enchanted, you know? Which is exactly what happens.

Then, she threatens to turn Thor's hammer into a poisonous serpent, but forgot that the hammer is protected by Odin's magic. Thus, Thor defeats his enemies and swoops them up in a whirlwind and sends them back to Asgard.

There's probably something serious that could be said about the phallic imagery and the emphasis on trying to get Thor's hammer away from him. But I just don't think I'm the one to say something serious about it.

Not today anyway.

I will say, though, that it's very nice to have Thor doing battle with enemies that at least stand a chance against him. I don't care for Thor amongst the humans all that much. I want to see him having adventures on a larger scale, more suitable to a god.

Anyone getting tired of me saying this, yet?

 

Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Chic Stone
"Tales of Asgard: Thor's Mission to Mirmir!"



Now this sort of thing I could read all day.

I think part of what makes these "Tales of Asgard" stand out so much is that Kirby is mainly sticking to a four-panel per page grid, which, while not allowing a lot of wiggle-room for the storytelling, lets each page seem grander. Every panel is given more focus and stands almost on its own as a piece of art.

And Kirby's dynamism, combined with the awesome inking of Chic Stone in particular, is really made for the larger panel format.

Squeezing his imagery down into six or seven panels per page still looks good, but there's a cramped feel that may be contributing to my dissatisfaction to the main Thor stories.

I want bigger.

And as for bigger stories, does it get any bigger than the origins of humanity?

That's what this issue is, kids. Thor receives a magical flying Dwarf-forged boat called Skipbladnir, which he uses to fly to the land of Mirmir. Once there, he battles a dragon and then a giant wart-hog man, before confronting King Mirmir and requesting that he fulfill an ancient obligation to Odin.

That obligation?

Create human life on Earth. No biggie.

And with that, Aske and Embla are brought to life from a pair of trees, an Alder and an Ash, starting a new race "in the image of the immortals of Asgard."

So there you have it boys and girls. Toss your Bibles, because you've got a new mythology. Well, not so new. There's a special editor's note at the end explaining that this is a freely translated Norse Legend. It's not some pesky attempt by some New York creative-types to undermine your religion.

No sir, indeed.

These are just superheroes. Nothing to see here.




And thus, another installment of Mondo Marvel is completed. Sure, it's a week late, but I'm human.

Mostly.

Hopefully we'll be avoiding any of this sort of postponement in the future.

Stop by the forums and let me know what you thought of this week's issues and let me know if I'm being too hard on poor Hank. I hear he's a bit delicate. I wouldn't want to push him over the edge or anything.

Wah-Hoo!

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