Welcome one and all to another installment of Mondo Marvel!
I’m your host and glutton for punishment, Paul Brian McCoy, and it’s time to take a look at Marvel’s super hero releases for August, 1963.
I know I’ve said before that I was going to make it short and sweet, then spent hundreds and hundreds of words discussing awful comics, but this time I really mean it.
There’s not much good this month, at all. I’m really getting to the point where I don’t want to spend a lot of time on issues that don’t offer anything at all creatively, so I’m going to start simplifying a lot of these entries.
So, let’s just get it over with, eh?
Tales of Suspense #44
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: R. Berns (Robert Bernstein)
Pencils: Don Heck
Okay. I get it.
The ladies love Tony Stark.
This story is nonsense from beginning to end.
The Mad Pharaoh put himself into a drug-induced coma and slept for 2,000 years, only to awaken and rub his magic amulet to travel back to Ancient Egypt in an attempt to overthrow Cleopatra using Tony Stark’s big brain.
Huh? That’s really a plan?
Tony escapes the Mad Pharaoh, helps the Egyptians defeat the Romans, then scares the Mad Pharaoh into stumbling and falling on his sword. Then turns down Cleopatra’s offer of a booty call.
This comic is pretty useless, adding nothing to the Marvel Universe except tedium.
It doesn’t help that scripting duties are still being handled by Bernstein, who just doesn’t seem to be able to capture the Marvel Feel of things. He tries to give us a bombastic opening, in the manner of Lee or Hart, but it ends up just being drab and boring. Much like the rest of the story.
Heck’s art is decent, but his backgrounds and choreography suffers this time out. There’s just really not a lot to enjoy with this story.
Things aren’t looking good if this, as the cover says, is “The Marvel Age of Comics!”
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: R. Berns (Robert Bernstein)
Art: Joe Sinnott
And I thought this month’s Iron Man story was bad.
In this adventure, Dr. Donald Blake builds a super-intelligent android with unbreakable skin that can be used as genius android soldiers by the government.
The thing solves “the world’s most complicated mathematical problem” and then withstands a direct smack from Thor’s hammer. Of course, twisting the dials of his controller all at once causes him to short circuit and explode, so maybe it’s not such a great android.
It turns out that the android was made to explode on purpose, by Blake’s jealous rival, Dr. Zaxton, who has a special creation of his own – a Duplicating Machine. He points it at something, hits a button, and an exact duplicate pops into existence. Over and over again.
But it can’t duplicate living beings, so Zaxton kidnaps Nurse Jane Foster and blackmails Blake into helping, since Blake’s android was so impressive.
This, of course, leads to the creation of a duplicate Thor and duplicate hammers. And Zaxton’s surprise reveal that the duplicates have opposite personalities of their originals and are under his mental control.
Anyway, there’s a lot of duplicating things like alley cats and fully-loaded jet airliners, that apparently just stay in existence once their created. No mention of any of it. What happens to the three or four duplicated airplanes full of passengers that suddenly appear in the New York sky?
Who cares? It’s all nonsense.
Sinnott’s art is pretty good, bringing a believable realism to all of the characters except Thor, who just never seems right. Sinnott really isn’t a good fit for this title. He’d probably be better suited to something like Ant-Man or the Human Torch’s solo adventures.
The good news is, we only have to suffer through one more Bernstein scripted adventure of Thor! The bad news is, it looks like it might be the worst one yet.
But at least we’re almost through it. I don’t know if the stories get better when Lee takes over full writing chores, but they can hardly get any worse.
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: H.E. Huntley (Ernie Hart)
Art: Don Heck
In which Ant-Man and Wasp go on a vacation to sunny Greece, only to stumble upon an alien invasion. And once again, Wasp goes flying off without thinking and gets captured.
Sure, the plot is recycled crap that’s been used in just about every Marvel title so far, but at least Hart keeps it snappy.
I’ve lost track. How many alien races are there now? And why is Earth so attractive to them all? Just once, I’d like someone to explain this.
Heck’s artwork here is a little better than his work on Iron Man, although the backgrounds are still simplified. He does a good job with the ordinary people that Hank and Jan encounter, but his aliens leave something to be desired.
This is one of those rare occasions where our heroes’ ability to shrink is actually put to good use, sort of, allowing them to spy on the aliens, sneak into the prisoners’ compound, and get inside the alien robot and figure out how to take control of it.
There’s also a nice bit where the aliens communicate using electrical impulses transmitted directly from their brains. These impulses overwhelm Ant-Man and Wasp, until Hank can figure out a quick way of finding a wavelength to counteract it. This leads organically into his takeover of the alien robot. Once inside, he manually adjusts the frequency that the robot operates
on to one that he can control with his helmet.
Jan also changes size when it is appropriate and beneficial, unlike we’ve seen in the past. She grows to full size when attempting to free the aliens’ prisoners.
Sure, she doesn’t shrink again when captured in the fist of the giant robot along with the other prisoners, but I can accept that, given the fact that she shrinks by releasing a gas, which I’d assume would also effect the prisoners around her.
Anyway, this isn’t a bad little adventure. Especially in comparison to the other stories so far. It doesn’t really build on anything, or live up the whole “Marvel Age of Comics” promotion, but it’s a start.
Plot: Stan Lee
Script: H. Huntley (Ernie Hart)
Art: Dick Ayers
This is one good-looking story. Ayers’ art is clean and easy to follow. The characters are all very distinctive and expressive, occasionally bordering on caricature, though. In fact, a couple of shots of the gangsters involved in this tale kind of reminded me of Dick Tracy villains.
Asbestos Man is essentially another super-genius, Professor Kasloff, who decides that crime will pay more than his company job, but he realizes that he knows nothing about crime, so in order to make contacts, he decides to defeat and humiliate the Human Torch. He uses his scientific know-how to craft a creepy looking costume that looks like something out of Hostel and gets to work.
There’s really not much to this story, beyond that. He beats Johnny, Johnny goes home and cries about it, then after a pep talk from Sue, the Torch goes back out and humiliates the old man in the scary suit.
I can only assume that Professor Kasloff also gets cancer eventually.
Oh yeah, and the FF appear briefly to warn Johnny of the dangers of giving in to taunts and challenges.
Art: Steve Ditko
“Face to Face With the Magic of Baron Mordo!”
Now this is more like it.
Too bad it’s only five pages.
As with the first Doctor Strange adventure, we’re getting insanely compressed storytelling and bizarre, moody art introducing another of Strange’s arch-enemies, Baron Mordo, while hinting at a great deal of back story.
Unfortunately, the current story is fairly light on content. Baron Mordo is introduced and his spirit image manipulates one of The Master’s servants into poisoning the old guy. Once The Master realizes that he’s dying, Mordo reveals himself and demands to know The Master’s secrets. He refuses and summons Doctor Strange.
We then get almost two pages of ghostly figures fist fighting as they pass through walls and ceilings and whatnot.
Somehow, the spirit image of Doctor Strange’s magical amulet can be used as though it were actually there, and Strange is able to channel energy through it, reviving The Master. Then Strange tricks Mordo into fleeing, which allows The Master’s servants to heal him.
That’s about it. We do end the story with an ominous premonition of death, though. So it looks like whatever doubts I might have had about the plans for the character last time, Lee and Ditko are making it clear that they can tell more stories. It won’t be the next issue, however. Or the next one.
This is a character that shows a lot of promise and opens up the Marvel Universe in a way that no other character has so far. There hasn’t really been much magic in the MU so far. Sure, Doctor Doom claims to have mastered the mystic arts, but he hasn’t really put it into practice. We’ve had the appearance of magical paints and Pandora’s Box, too.
Loki and the Asgardians have really been the most defined magical intrusion into the Science Fiction world that Lee and Kirby began constructing back in Fantastic Four #1, but honestly, Loki’s magic is kind of worthless as a narrative element. I mean, he can just do whatever he wants. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. For Loki, magic is just like playing make-believe and whatever he can imagine can happen.
That’s interesting in what it means for the nature of reality in the Marvel Universe and just how powerful the gods really are, but it’s a bit of a cop-out at the same time. If anything goes and there are no rules, except the occasional arbitrary ones like Thor needing to touch his hammer all the time, then it kills dramatic tension. If anything goes and there are no rules, no threat is really a threat and there are no repercussions to magical actions because, as we saw with last month’s Thor adventure, everything can just be wiped clean with magic like nothing ever happened.
If everything can be redone with no repercussions, then nothing matters.
Doctor Strange appears to be different.
With Doctor Strange, we’re seeing magic being introduced as a skill-set that can be learned and harnessed. Doctor Strange doesn’t just point at something and change it into something else. So far we’ve seen very specific abilities; the releasing of the astral form, which requires meditation and leaves the physical body behind and vulnerable; the ability to enter dreams and the suggestion that when we dream we are actually accessing another realm with a mysterious ruler of its own.
We’ve also seen one magical artifact, Strange’s amulet. It also has specific abilities so far, being able to channel healing energy and to temporarily paralyze people. This implies that there are specific uses for magical artifacts in the context of these stories. And specific uses implies rules.
The introduction of Thor, Loki, and the Asgardians expanded the range of entities that exist in the MU in a way that space aliens and other dimensions didn’t. The introduction of Doctor Strange seems to have expanded the range of possible powers and abilities in a way that radiation and technology didn’t.
For me, this is one of the most interesting developments in the Marvel Universe to this point. I want to see it explored more.
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers
But that will have to wait, because fi
rst we get to return to another weak Fantastic Four adventure.
This issue picks up moments after the conclusion of last month’s Ant-Man “team-up.” You remember, the one where Ant-Man does nothing and Doctor Doom escaped?
Anyway, the first part of this story is spent having each member of the FF run around town trying to find Doom. Of course, no one can find him, but in the process Ben causes a bunch of accidental property damage and Sue kind of reveals herself to be, well, not really racist, but… She sees this “shady looking” character, an “underworld type” as she calls him, in the middle of what appears to be a gun buy. Well, it turns out to be a toy gun and instead of stopping a crime, Sue accidentally damages a toymaker’s reputation and probably cost him some business.
Anyway, no one can find Doom, so the gang decides to go out for a night on the town. Before leaving though, a little old janitor helps them avoid the crowds of fans outside and shakes everybody’s hands.
Yeah, you guessed it. The little old man is really Doctor Doom in disguise. Not out of his armor and in his true identity, but wearing a little old man costume over his metal armor and metal mask. It’s really just kind of silly. Almost as silly as the stupid, intangible floating goons that hover around the FF, spoiling their night out.
They’re not dangerous and they disappear as soon as the gang discovers how Doom tagged them, but they allow Doom to map each of the team on a genetic level and spy on them for a little while. This then gives Doom the opportunity to kidnap Alicia, and with her as hostage, threaten the entire country. And yes, President Kennedy’s hair does make an appearance.
As does Khrushchev, who silences his gloating cronies by reminding them they may be next on Doom’s list.
I say that this issue is weak, but I guess it’s really only half weak. Up until this point, I really didn’t care for any of it. But then, suddenly, Lee and Kirby start to pull it together.
The recurring “temporary cure for Ben” idea gets brought out again, but this time it actually has a reason and helps to move the plot forward. We get the usual, splitting up of the team and everybody gets their own deathtrap plot point, but Sue is oddly missing. She’s nowhere to be seen (no pun intended) as the boys beat their respective traps and confront Doom, who remains safe behind a force field.
Then, get this, Sue finds Alicia and takes on Doom solo. She then proceeds to knock Doom around like a punk. She trips him, grapples with him, and tosses him like a, um, like a punk. Who knew that Reed Richards was one of the world’s greatest Judo experts and that Sue was his prize pupil.
I sure didn’t.
I thought she just tripped people and flipped switches while nobody was looking.
Anyway, she kicks Doom’s ass, but then he pulls a gun. Before he can fire, though, the boys show up and, in a scene that I’m getting pretty damned tired of seeing, Doom escapes by jumping out the hatch of his flying hideout. We see him tumble away through the sky, getting smaller and smaller, until he disappears from sight.
Just like he has at the end of just about every single confrontation we’ve had to this point.
So, it’s not a great issue, but at least they gave Sue something to do and actually incorporated a bit of continuity in as a necessary plot point. You see, the team could never have accessed Doom’s flying fortress, because the defense system was keyed in to each members specific genetic makeup. By changing back to human for a short period, Ben was able to slip through, change back and trash the security system.
And if we include Johnny’s use of flame doubles to avoid one of Doom’s deathtraps, every member played a vital role in this adventure. You know, after spending most of the issue screwing around and accomplishing nothing. It looks like we might be heading into another good stretch of Fantastic Four stories as Lee and Kirby begin building on the continuity they’ve established so far, and introduce some new characters in the next few months.
So that’s that. Not as long as these columns have been, but hopefully not as painful to get through.
Be here in two weeks as we have another big column and TWO new titles launching. Yes, that’s right. Next time out we get both The Avengers and The X-Men! On the down side, it’ll be a couple of columns before Doctor Strange returns.
This column will be the death of me.