Mondo Marvel #22 - February 1964A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy
Welcome back to the little journey through Marvel's sixties super-hero comics I like to call Mondo Marvel!
Or as I call it in private, The Column That Will Be The Death Of Me!
This week is another of those mixed bag weeks, where most of the comics don't seem to really be doing a whole lot as we wait for next month's big additions to the Marvel Universe. Kirby reigns back this month and Dick Ayers carries most of the artistic weight, but Stan the Man is still chugging away on all the titles.
Are we already into the Marvel Method? Does anyone know? I find it hard to believe that he would be able to actually write this many stories each month, so there has to be a lot of input by the artists, right?
Anyway, the best bits this month are whatever Ditko touched and "Tales of Asgard," in my humble opinion. The FF's adventure leaves something to be desired, and even though Iron Man meets his nemesis, there's not much to the story.
I'm still not sure why The Human Torch or Giant-Man and Wasp even have their own stories, to be honest. But there they are.
Since The Olympics are kicking my butt and stealing all my time, I'm going to cut this short and just jump right into the action. But before we go, I just want to offer my condolences to the U.S. Men's Curling team. It just wasn't your year, fellas. Maybe next time.
As I write this, the U.S. Women's Curling team is in a bad place, too, but could still squeak into the finals tonight if they win both their games and all the right teams lose. It doesn't look good, but good luck to them!
Why aren't there any places an amateur can Curl in West Virginia? Someone needs to step up and fix that. I live within ten minutes from a skating rink. Seems like someone could set that up for me.
Oh yeah. Mondo Marvel!!
Fantastic Four #23
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: George Bell
I'm really starting to think that Lee and Kirby just have no idea what to do with Doctor Doom. They clearly want to make him the Fantastic Four's arch-enemy, but so far, with two years' worth of opportunity, it's just not working.
Oh, he talks a good game, and everyone loves to keep saying how he's Reed's biggest rival, but we've yet to see it. His biggest strength seems to be in robotics. He can clearly build some pretty awesome robots, and his death-traps, while never working quite as planned, are kind of impressive. But he's seriously lacking in the personality department.
Even the Mole Man has a bit more depth. Or at least he's a bit more sympathetic in his origins.
Doom's just a pompous ass who has yet to have a plan come together.
Even Spider-Man has beaten him.
We're really going to have to see more attention given to fleshing out just who Victor Von Doom is and what's going on inside his head. Beyond just hating Reed for some unknown reason. So far, we know they were at the same college, but that's it. What happened, guys? Give us that story, before Doom just becomes a cool design but nothing more.
The really sad part of what's happened to Doom so far, is that while initially he had his own castle and lots of strange technologies, since then all of his big triumphs have happened off-page. Sure, he manipulated an alien culture and was able to steal their greatest technology. Sure, he was able to conquer a sub-atomic kingdom and make it his own.
But then the FF show up and he folds like a punk.
A punk in an awesome suit of armor and a short skirt.
I don't like how he's started acknowledging that he can't beat the FF on his own and keeps looking for partners he can betray or henchmen he can dispose of once they've done their part.
His "Master Plan" this time out, is to use three henchmen with boosted, yet oddly defined, natural abilities to beat the FF into submission, stick them in a room coated with Ionic Dust and hit it with a passing Solar Wave. This, naturally, will shuttle everyone in the room off to outer space.
Let's just go with it. Reed says it'll work, so I guess he and Doom must be smarter than me, because it kind of sounds like nonsense.
Anyway, after helping him get the FF into his "special place," Doom rewards his henchmen by zapping them to another dimension. Nice. So much for that benefits plan they might have been hoping to buy into.
Luckily, Doom doesn't know about Sue's new powers, and for the second issue in a row, Sue saves the day. Well, a combination of Sue's force fields and Doom's inherent cowardice save the day, to be honest. And once again, a Doctor Doom story ends with Doom falling into a void, disappearing from view.
The most entertaining part of this issue is really the opening few pages. After Johnny gets caught napping and lets a baby dinosaur pop through Doctor Doom's time machine (which is in Reed's lab so he can study it), Reed lets his inner douchebag take control and he insults everyone on the team.
He insults them so harshly that even Sue is offended and they decide to vote for a new team leader. Of course, Sue, Ben, and Johnny all vote for themselves, causing a three-way tie and a bout of rough-housing between the boys. Sue breaks it up, but is then insulted again by a smug and arrogant Reed.
No mind-control or possession here, folks. Reed's just a dick.
And then, after Sue saves all their asses, everyone acts like it was Reed who did the heavy lifting and kiss his feet, thanking him for his great leadership.
Really, Sue should just go solo. She could kill them all without even trying. But then how much time could she spend shopping and getting her hair done?
Stan and Jack really need to figure out how to write female characters without all the condescension.
Artistically, Kirby seems to be a bit distracted this month. While the character work is nearly up to his regular standards, there's not a lot of detail in most of the backgrounds, and a lot of panels have no backgrounds at all. And this is during a month where Kirby's only doing the art for The Fantastic Four and Thor's adventures in Journey Into Mystery. Dick Ayers handles Kirby's other regular titles, with Ditko continuing to provide strong work for Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, while Don Heck does an adequate job on Iron Man.
Maybe he's just trying to get ahead on next month's big issues of The Avengers, The X-Men, and Sgt. Fury? I don't know. But this issue of The Fantastic Four leaves a little something to be desired, visually.
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers
Oh boy, The Eel's back!
Does anyone really care? I don't.
Honestly, I can't see the appeal of these Human Torch stories at all. For a couple of months there, I thought that maybe we were going to see more character development, but that's kind of fallen by the wayside. His rogues' gallery is kind of weak now that we've moved beyond the "skeevy older perv" motif of The Wizard and Paste Pot Pete (not to mention all the other weird old bachelors with powers who live in Johnny's neighborhood). What does that leave us with? Plant-Man and The Eel?
That's kind of sad, really.
And we've got SEVENTEEN more adventures before The Human Torch is replaced with the far superior "Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." adventures. But hey. At least in one of those final adventures, Johnny and Ben get to meet The Beatles.
Really. That's not a joke.
Artist: Steve Ditko
"Doctor Strange: The Many Traps of Baron Mordo!"
You can tell that Lee and Ditko are still finding their feet with this character. He's really unlike anything else in the Marvel catalog and as such, you can just feel that they don't really know where to go with him. I'm convinced that Ditko is the driving force behind these stories and he's just drawing short pieces that will allow him to play around with shadow and light in a way he can't really get away with in Amazing Spider-Man.
The coloring in the original comics is just as distinctive as the artwork, really, relying on a darker, sometimes sickly, range of colors. There are lots of greens, purples, and blues, which then are contrasted with bursts of red at the climax of the story. And while I like the coloring, I can't help but prefer the black and white version in the Essential Dr. Strange collection.
Ditko is just having a field day creating creepy moods with heavy shadows and bizarre textures. Those shadows seem to be swirling around the edges of each panel before finally congealing into physical manifestations of Mordo's evil spells. And while there are quite a few empty or simplified backgrounds here, they are usually left empty to help create mood and focus attention on the action or the expressions of the characters.
There's no sense that the art was rushed or Ditko was preoccupied with other work. It all works together to create a very distinctive look and a very distinctive storytelling approach.
Honestly, I'm not sure if the words are necessary at all. They're definitely the weak spot so far.
Although this time out, only Mordo calls on Dormammu for his power, while Strange sticks to calling on The Ancient One himself and the power of The Vishanti. Maybe this is a signal that Lee's starting to pay more attention to the details. I can't tell.
I can't wait for Lee and Ditko to start building up some of the mythology here and shift away from these simpler stories with their simpler structures. There's only so much you can do creatively the way we're going now.
They need to open up the throttle and really play with these ideas.
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
And speaking of playing with the ideas at the heart of a series, Amazing Spider-Man is really beginning to do just that. It's similar to The Fantastic Four in this respect, except I find myself feeling like a lot of each issue of FF is almost filler. We understand already that they're like a family that barely gets along, but pulls together when the time is right.
We get that.
I don't think we need to be reminded of it as much as we are. I honestly think that there's approximately one third of each issue that could be tightened up and used to make the stories that much bigger.
Amazing Spider-Man, on the other hand, is really utilizing every page of just about every issue to advance the overarching narrative and develop characters.
For example, this issue not only throws Aunt May's poor health to the forefront of the book as a major motivating factor for Pete's actions throughout, but also begins laying some groundwork for developing Flash's character into something more than just a bully. We also get some very interesting character work with Betty Brant and find out that her crush on Pete isn't as creepy as it seemed all those issues ago.
It turns out Betty had to drop out of high school in order to get a job at the Daily Bugle. We don't know the details just yet, but the hints alone are enough to suddenly make the character much more than just a romantic interest, and begin fleshing her out as a more three-dimensional character. And there's more to come in the next few issues.
Are there any other comics on the stands at this time with major love interests, or any characters, really, who are high school drop-outs? Seems a bit risky to me. But daring, from a narrative standpoint.
And if that weren't enough, we're also introduced to one of Spidey's classic villains, Electro, who establishes pretty clearly that in the Marvel Universe, one's powers are secondary to their personalities. Electro was a dick before getting his powers, and he's just a more intensified dick once he's gotten them.
What's most amusing about Electro is that if he weren't such a dick in his previous life, he wouldn't have gotten his powers. By holding out for a cash reward to save his co-worker, he's still up on the electrical pole when the lightning strikes, otherwise he'd have been up and down much sooner.
In some ways you can look at his transformation as a parallel to Pete's, particularly when you take into consideration the financial aspect of each character's motivations. In fact, there aren't many characters in Amazing Spider-Man that aren't motivated or preoccupied with making enough money to pay their bills. Max Dillon, Electro, doesn't have anyone in his life and I think that's the main difference between how he turns out and how Pete turned out.
Hell, Pete still struggles with losing his temper and being tempted to break the law in order to make money. And this issue, he actually commits fraud in order to get the money for Aunt May's operation. It's not much of a stretch from that to Electro's robbing banks after investing every cent he had in buying a house and the equipment to increase his powers. He's broke. He's a dick. He's got super powers.
Is it any surprise he's a super villain?
If Pete weren't a nice guy and didn't have family keeping him on the straight and narrow, it wouldn't be too hard to see him go the villainous route.
And that's one of the biggest strengths of this series. It's also more than likely the contribution of Ditko on Lee's storytelling. Just about every character in this series is under intense financial and social pressure and have to choose between self-interest and altruism.
It's also interesting to see the beginning of Jameson's obsession with Spider-Man's identity. Actually, it's not quite that. We have the beginnings of a narrative preoccupation with the identities of the characters. This issue, Jameson is convinced that Electro is really Spider-Man, but in the end, Dillon is a nobody.
When Spidey unmasks him at the conclusion of their battle, he comments about this being the moment where, if it was a movie, he'd gasp in shock and say, "Good heavens! The butler!" But instead, he's never seen Max Dillon before. We're going to see something similar to this in the next issue, as well. I'm pretty sure there's something going on here thematically about the banality of evil, or maybe it's just a reaction to the typical cliches of dramatic structure.
Either way, it's refreshing and helps to make Amazing Spider-Man stand out even more as Marvel's new flagship title over The Fantastic Four.
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck
This month's adventure introduces The Mandarin, who is destined to become one of Iron Man's greatest enemies, if not the greatest. And we're in luck! He's not quite the racist stereotype that Fu Manchu is just yet.
The really interesting thing about The Mandarin, though, is that he operates independently from the Communist Chinese government. So independently, in fact, that the Commie general who is sent to request that The Mandarin share his atomic secrets with the government, is terrified of the man. And The Mandarin is having none of it.
After chasing the government stooges off, we shift our attention to Iron Man, who is being asked by the American government to find out more about The Mandarin. All that is known about him in the West is rumor, so in the name of national security, Iron Man agrees to invade Chinese airspace and spy on the enemy.
Okay. I know that The Mandarin is horrible despot, ruling his henchmen like a god-king and has a megalomaniacal desire to eventually conquer the world. But, come on. He turned down the Commies and made them run like scared children. And then our hero agreed with very little urging to do something very likely illegal, or at best could spark an international incident, just because the American government had heard some rumors.
There are a couple of other contrasts being made here, as well. The way The Mandarin and Tony Stark treat their "henchmen" is pretty clearly meant to make the two look like ideological opposites. While The Mandarin demands total submission, Tony makes a point of the fact that he allows his employees to speak to him any way they want. Of course, he follows that with the veiled threat that if they get out of hand he'll handle it his own way.
What way that is, is anybody's guess.
But he does read Happy the riot act for decking the mouthy fellow in charge of the employee's dinner that Stark can't attend. So I guess that's standing up for employee's rights. Or something. Before he invades another country's airspace to spy on one of China's citizens.
Then we get the technological comparison. Both Iron Man and The Mandarin are apparently scientific geniuses... genii? What's the plural for genius?
Anyway, they can both do wonders with the wires and the gadgets and whatsits.
Then they battle each other to a standstill before Iron Man escapes to catch his flight back to America.
So there you have it. The bad guy is a super-genius who's awful to work for and tells the government to stick it. The good guy is a super-genius who's okay to work for and does whatever the government tells him. Luckily only one of these two wants to rule the world.
At least consciously.
Is anyone else seeing some seeds of what Doctor Doom could become if handled right? Is The Mandarin supposed to be Iron Man's version of Doom? I can get behind that.
Visually, I really don't know what to make of The Mandarin's costume design. If anyone has any insight into this, please let me know.
Doom comes out on top in the fashion department, anyway, in my opinion.
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Dick Ayers
Man, there sure are a lot of brilliant professors who turn to crime in the Marvel Universe. I wonder it this goes back to the whole "financial hardship" theme from Amazing Spider-Man?
Or maybe scientists are just predominantly evil?
Or is science just not as difficult in the Marvel Universe.
I mean, this evil scientist, Professor Garrett, after just a few months, breeds a freaking winged horse!
A horse with wings!
By injecting just the right proportion of an eagle's blood cells into a stallion!
How awesome is that?
And what does he do with his amazing discovery?
He robs armored cars. Even in the 1964 Marvel Universe, it's all about the Benjamins.
And I forgot to mention he also creates a freeze ray, an acetylene torch that can burn through a two-foot steel wall, and a machine gun, all inside a lance.
Yes. A lance.
And it's got an itch ray.
I shit thee not.
Why does Garrett dress like a knight? And a Black Knight, at that?
No reason. His powers aren't even themed. Just his weapon of choice and his flying horse suggest anything Knight-like. It's like he just picked his secret super-villain identity from a generic costume catalog.
We're lucky he wasn't the Dark Pirate. Or the Sexy Nurse!
But don't get me wrong. The costume design is pretty awesome. I actually love the look, I just don't get the powers or why the guy in the suit chose the suit.
And for some reason, Giant Man and The Wasp defeat him by scaring him repeatedly with their growing and shrinking abilities. The Black Knight acts like he has no idea that Giant-Man can change his size. In fact, upon seeing Giant-Man shrink in order to avoid a blast from The Black Knight's paralysis ray, he immediately starts doubting his own sanity.
And I quote: "I must be losing my mind!! He changed size right before my eyes!!! Either you're not human, or I'm going mad – mad – MAD!!!"
Yup, you read that right. Three "mads" with three exclamation points.
But then, as if to demonstrate just how useless Giant-Man really is, The Black Knight hops onto the back of his winged horse and flies away, vowing to be back.
I hope he thinks out his plan more the next time, because this is getting old.
And then in a second feature, The Wasp tells a science fiction story to orphans that's all about how some evil men see some alien men fighting with alien women and join the side of the men to subdue the women. Unfortunately, the women were fighting against the men's plan to capture and cage any aliens that cross their path.
Ha, ha! Stupid men.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: G. Bell
Thor is a petulant child with immense powers and he needs to either grow up or get out of town. And even guest-stars, The Avengers, kind of think the same thing. Giant-Man is the only one who takes offense to Thor dismissing them like punks, while Iron Man says Thor clearly has a personal problem that they can't help with.
I just wonder if Hank is eager to bust up on Thor because of Jan's flirting.
I kind of also wonder if Odin would have granted Hank godhood for doing it.
Is it just me, or has the Thor storyline taken a meta-turn? I've been complaining about it being too weepy and soap-opera; about it needing more awesome Viking action. And what happens?
Mopey Thor wonders through town in such a blue funk that he isn't even aware of destroying things casually as he passes by. He calls mortals "chattering monkeys," for Pete's sake! He smashes OFF the front end of a truck with barely any effort, just because the driver told him to "Watch out!!"
Luckily, Iron Man is there to throw some cash at the problem and make it go away.
Is this the first time we've seen something like this? Not the destruction. I mean outside of the Fantastic Four having to pay for messing up a city street, this is one of the first times we've seen some accountability from the heroes for cleaning up their messes.
I like it.
Meanwhile, up in Asgard, I find myself on Loki's side. How the hell did that happen? I don't know if I would have halved Thor's power and banished him from Asgard, but I guess that's Asgardian Tough Love. Odin's not messing around this time. If Thor wants to act like a child, he can be punished like a child.
And while Thor's still powerful, he's nowhere near as powerful as he was. Heimdall, the Watcher at the Rainbow Bridge is easily able to turn him away, and Thor's magic uru hammer, while doing damage to Heimdall's shield, should have done a lot more. So, like a child, Thor tries to yell loud enough for Odin to hear him.
Whether Odin doesn't hear him or just ignores his cries isn't addressed. Again with the Tough Love.
Is this all a response to the popularity of the "Tales of Asgard" back-ups? I hope so. With any luck, we'll start seeing more godly action and maybe a little less high-school "nobody loves me" angst.
Oh yeah. The rest of the story.
Remember Zarrko? That's okay, he doesn't remember himself. Literally. Until Loki, looking into the future, gives him his memories back and he immediately vows revenge on Thor. He builds a giant robot, well, modifies a giant robot anyway, and travels to the current moment in 1964 and confronts Thor.
Why don't these time travelly types ever go back to before their enemies were around, or pop in while they're distracted or doing other things?
Anyway, Thor isn't quite strong enough to stop the giant robot easily, and rather than allow Zarrko to send it on a surface-clearing rampage, he talks Thor into surrendering and coming with him to the future as his slave.
Which really pisses Odin off. How could he have raised a son like this? What a wuss.
And thus ends part one of another two-parter. It's interesting to see the Thor stories becoming a little too big for their spot in the Journey Into Mystery mix. We're still a long way off from Thor taking over the title, but it won't be long until the whole book is made up of Thor and "Tales of Asgard," though.
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: G. Bell
"Tales of Asgard: The Invasion of Asgard!"
And here's why!
This story is all about young Loki setting up young Thor to take a fall, but Thor being a bit of a bad-ass. The Forces of Evil are attacking Asgard and teen Thor rushes to help out, but is turned away by Heimdall for being too young. Or in his own words, "There is man's work to be done here! Go!"
Heh. If that isn't thematically connected to Heimdall turning Thor away in the main story, I don't know what is.
Anyway, Loki leads Thor to a breach in the walls, and suggests Thor guard it while he goes for reinforcements. But we all know he's not bringing any help, right? See, Loki covets Odin's magic hammer just as much as Thor does, but let's be honest. Thor is Odin's favorite.
It'll be a while before we find out just why. I love that story.
Meanwhile, Thor is attacked by The Norn Hag riding Ulfrin the Dragon, Skoll and Hati, the Wolf Gods, Geirrodour the Troll, the Last of the Ice Giants, and The Merciless Rime Giants (if you're reading remastered copies, that is – Their identifying box is left blank in the Essentials collection – I'm wondering what happened in the original release? And what happened with the coloring in the remastered version above?). A motley looking bunch if ever there was one, and just what's missing from the main Thor adventures.
Rather than de-power the Thunder God, they should just up the quality of opponant. That would be worth reading!
Young Thor does a good job of holding them off, but finally falls to a spell that starts to turn him into a tree. Now that's good old-fashioned Viking magical battle stuff!
But before he is completely transformed, Odin arrives with reinforcements and Thor springs back to his normal self, the spell broken. Thanks to the clanging of Thor's sword, the others heard him and came running.
And Thor is credited with saving Asgard once the Evil Ones turn and slink back into the darkness.
Once again we leave "Tales of Asgard" with young Thor playing with his hammer, but unable to really get it up beyond his waste.
I'll just let you folks make the jokes there. I'm tired.
Awesome Viking God Action! That's what should be splattered across the front of this title for as long as "Tales of Asgard" is running. I love this part of the comic. It was my favorite bit as a child and I'm finding it just as entertaining as an adult.
I want more.
And with that, True Believers, Mondo Marvel is complete, yet again. We've got a couple of HUGE books next time, with the return of Captain America and the introduction of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! They really should do something about that name.
Until next time!