Strange Tales #115 (12/10/1963)

detailOnce again, this issue of Strange Tales #115 is once again split between a solo Human Torch story and a Dr. Strange tale. As has been the norm up to this point, the solo Human Torch story is wildly inconsistent and poorly written. For one, I just love how the other members of the Fantastic Four are usually too busy to actually fight villains. In Strange Tales #115, for instance, Mr. Fantastic is too busy to assist with the Sandman because of an experiment and the Thing and Invisible Woman are too busy writing a report. Seriously? Over fighting a villain? What kind of superheroes are they?

Another concern with this issue is Lee didn’t even try to come up with a creative way of having the Sandman escape, rather he was just placed in a regular prison cell. That’s just plain lazy writing. The confrontation between Sandman and the Human Torch was okay, but it’s beyond me how the bottom half of the Human Torch gets wet, but his top stays dry when the ceiling sprinklers come on. Luckily for the Human Torch he is now a judo master and is able to toss Sandman around like nothing. Really a poorly thought out story.

Luckily, the Dr. Strange tale is much better, which is the first telling of Dr. Strange’s well-known origin story. The tale opens with Dr. Strange traveling to India to seek the aide of the Ancient One in healing him. It is through the Ancient One’s peering into Dr. Strange’s mind that we learn of his past as an arrogant surgeon and the accident that damaged the nerves in his hands. It’s a very short, but effective story. Now if only the Human Torch stories could get on par with the Dr. Strange ones this series would be much better.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists: Jack Kirby
  • Writers: Stan Lee
  • Pencilers: Dick Ayers
  • Inkers: Dick Ayers
  • Colourists:
  • Letterers: Artie Simek
  • Editors: Stan Lee

 

Strange Tales #114 (11/10/1963)

detailStrange Tales #114, as the cover shows, features the return of Captain America or at least it would seem so to the reader back in 1963. However, pretty much every modern reader would know that Captain America made his reappearance in Avengers #4, which is still a few months off. Also, why would you open a story by basically stating that there is a twist coming at the end? That was just plain stupid. Anyways, our tale opens with the Human Torch doing his still incredibly goofy looking training when it is soon interrupted by his friends, who are excited to inform him that Captain America is coming to town. Naturally, the Human Torch was a big fan of Captain America back in the day and is curious to see what he’s been up to for all these years.

Unfortunately, that’s where the decent part of the story ends. Soon, the story descends quickly into that pure Silver Age cheese. It all begins with a pair of car thieves deciding that parade is the best time to steal a car, and that a tommy gun was also apparently necessary. Anyways, this clumsy event is used to have the Human Torch run into Captain America as they both leap into action to stop the criminals. This leads to Captain America informs the Human Torch that he’s getting in his way and to stay out of it. Naturally, this causes the Human Torch to become butt hurt.

The next scene is where the story comes completely off the wheels, with Captain America breaking out the criminals so that they can be decoys while he robs the bank. Now, why wouldn’t he had just done that the first time around? It seriously makes zero sense. In addition, as is way to common in this series, the Human Torch’s powers are way too inconsistent. For example, he’s taken out by a mop, but a few panels latter he’s able to basically blow out the seams of an asbestos lined truck? And don’t get me started on that truck as a plot device.

In the end, the main thing going for this story was its surprise surrounding the apparent return of Captain America, which unfortunately is no longer available to hold this story up. Take that away and you basically have story that is pretty pointless and adds nothing to the Human Torch as a character or any new elements to his story.

This issue also sees the return of Dr. Strange, as he once again must battle the dreaded Baron Mordo. The story opens with Dr. Strange being called by someone claiming to be Lord Bentley in need of help. Naturally, Dr. Strange leaps to action to give assistance and quickly springs a trap laid by Baron Mordo. What ensues is an interesting mystic art battle that has a number of gaping holes. Probably the biggest one is Baron Mordo goes straight up Bond villain and decides to leave the room so that Dr. Strange can escape the trap. In addition, the ending just made zero sense and makes what proceeded it make zero sense. Still, this story is definitely better than the Human Torch story.

Rating: 2.5/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists: Jack Kirby
  • Writers: Stan Lee
  • Pencilers: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko
  • Inkers: Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko
  • Colorists:
  • Letterers: Sam Rosen
  • Editors: Stan Lee

 

Strange Tales #113 (10/10/1963)

njnj.jpgStrange Tales #113 opens with Johnny Storm facing his most difficult challenge thus far: a woman who doesn’t think he’s God’s gift to women. I have to say this definitely caught me by surprise to find a female character that doesn’t immediately swoon at the sight of the Human Torch. While, I found it funny that Johnny Storm was struggling so mightily over the fact that Doris is not taken with his magnificent self, went on far too long (two whole pages even).

After this, the scene switches over to Samuel Smithers, the gardener who had previously been fired by Doris father previously because apparently he was more concerned with trying to make plants smarter than actually cutting them. Naturally, this leads to a vow of vengeance by Smithers. Luckily for him, a lightening bolt struck his shear-like instrument, which successfully increases the intelligence of plants and also allows him to, conveniently, also control the plants and have them follow his every order. While the way Smithers obtains his powers is typical silver age cheesiness, the power is at least interesting. Although, I think it probably would’ve been more effective if it was Smithers rather than the shears that was actually the source of power.

Unfortunately, Smithers is no Poison Ivy and that becomes readily apparent when he dubs himself Plantman and goes about framing Doris’ father and thus enacting his vengeance, which was actually a pretty straightforward and sound plot. Unfortunately, things basically take a massive dump after this point. It all starts with the Human Torch running across the Plantman, at which point Plantman just shout out that he was the one who did the frame job for no reason at all. What then unfolds over the next seven pages is probably the lamest battle that I have yet seen in these pages; especially when you think about that fact that with the Human Torch’s power over fire should make this a one sided affair. I mean after all the Human Torch has been able to flame on under the ocean, so some damp seaweed shouldn’t give him any problems, right?

In the end, Strange Tales #113 manages to accomplish two things. The first is it introduces yet another villain who wants to take over the world, which makes you wonder if they ever read about how that turns out for all the previous villains. The second thing it does is it continues to cement the Human Torch as being an incredibly egotistical character who thinks he is the greatest thing to happen to women. Really, this issue is just incredibly forgettable and it really lacks any kind of satisfying conclusion.

Rating: 1.5/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists:
  • Writers: Stan Lee, Joe Carter
  • Pencilers: Dick Ayers
  • Inkers: Dick Ayers
  • Colorists:
  • Letterers: Sam Rosen
  • Editors:

 

Strange Tales Annual #2 (10/10/1963)

mm.jpgThis issue demonstrates Lee’s habit of forgetting events from the previous issues. In this case, in the last issue Lee spent the issue trying to show that the Human Torch wasn’t a hot-head and didn’t relish the spotlight. However in this issue we see the Human Torch basically throwing a tantrum and whining about how Spider-Man is getting too much media coverage and is stealing his spotlight. Really, the Human Torch just comes off as bratty. Also, it’s a shame that the Invisible Girl has basically just been turned into the Human Torch’s mother in this series.

Soon after Human Torch’s temper tantrum, the issue turns to an art museum that is displaying a previously unknown Da Vinci work of art and it is here that we are introduced to the story’s villain, the Fox, an art thief. The Fox eventually hatches a plan, which is suitable enough, and steals the not only the painting, but also frames Spider-Man in the process. The rational of doing that just to keep the police off his trail makes sense and is a welcome change of pace in the typical motivations of villains up to this point.

The scene then shifts to a well drawn distant shot of Spider-Man standing on top of a skyscraper overlooking the city. It is here that the story breaks down a little bit, as Spider-Man’s rational for wanting to team-up with the Human Torch basically boils down to him also being a teenager, which is just silly. Anyways, upon seeking out the Human Torch, naturally they end up having to fight each other at first because Lee loves to lean on that very, very tired trope of an encounter between superheroes must always lead to a misunderstanding a fight. Yawn.

Eventually the heroes workout their differences and decide to team up to track down the Fox. Unfortunately the Fox, while a perfectly serviceable, if not generic villain, also represents Lee’s tendency to have his villains really reflect their namesake. Thus the Fox is naturally tricky and has his secret hideouts all underground, basically like a borrow. Although, I did enjoy the exchange between him, as an old lady, and Spider-Man. That was just funny.

In the end, Strange Tales Annual #2 is a perfectly serviceable, well-paced issue that features some nice art and an ultimately forgettable story and villain.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko
  • Writers: Stan Lee
  • Pencilers: Jack Kirby
  • Inkers: Steve Ditko
  • Colorists:
  • Letterers: Artie Simek
  • Editors:

Strange Tales #112 (09/10/1963)

detail.jpgStrange Tales #112 once again features a solo Human Torch story. In this issue, the Human Torch finds himself under assault via TV personality, Ted Braddock, who is accusing the Human Torch of being a hot head and a show bout who wants attention. Naturally, the Human Torch is insulted by this, even though previously he had went out of his way to try to get everyone’s attention by doing tricks in the sky, which basically reinforces Braddock’s accusations. While it’s obvious that Lee is trying to set the Human Torch as being misunderstood hero, but that setup doesn’t really work when you show the individual doing exactly what he’s being accused of.

Meanwhile, the story shifts to the Eel, breaking into Charles Lawson’s laboratory via a helicopter and running off with basically a mini nuke. This again basically continues Lee’s trope of unsecured laboratories containing incredibly powerful weapons. Also, what is the deal with this villain? I mean his motivations are unknown, which is fine, but his powers are pretty lame. Basically he has a slippery electrified suit.

On top of issues with the villain, the story has some serious problems beyond this point. First off, the whole concept of an atomic bomb that explodes after an hour of being removed from the bag unless a button is pressed. First, this plot vehicle is just plain ridiculous, even for a Silver Age comic. Beyond that, it’s clear from events in the comic that there is no way all of that happened within an hour. While this challenge that the Human Torch is supposed to overcome makes no sense, I do like the idea that the Eel is portrayed as being in way over his head.

Unfortunately, the issue is further dragged down by Lee’s overreliance on a character developing a gizmo to track down an individual based on vague explanations. In addition, the outcome of this issue just doesn’t work, because the idea of a noble sacrifice was pretty much negated by failing to fully demonstrated what happened to the Human Torch and also my mentioning a magical restorative ray being available. Still, if you can look beyond these flaws, this is one of the better Human Torch stories in this series.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists: Steve Ditko
  • Writers: Stan Lee
  • Pencilers: Steve Ditko
  • Inkers: Steve Ditko
  • Colorists:
  • Letterers: Sam Rosen
  • Editors: Stan Lee

 

 

 

Tales of Suspense #44 (08/10/1963)

detail.jpgIn Tales of Suspense #44 Tony Stark heads to Egypt to assist an archeologist friend with excavating the tomb Hatap, the Mad Pharaoh. Naturally, it turns out that Hatap is actually still alive and forces Stark to go back in time with him to defeat Cleopatra and claim the kingdom of Egypt.

Unfortunately, while the basic idea sounds cool, the execution of the story is poorly done. From the opening with the reporter pestering Tony Stark about whether or not he would be able to bang Cleopatra to Hatap waking up and immediately knowing how long he has been asleep and having knowledge of English, this story was so poorly thoughts out. Plus, why would Iron Man fight against the Romans? Didn’t he just technically change history? Also, some of his gadgets are just too much, I’m looking at you little wheels and rocket head.

In the end Tales to Astonish #44 is definitely the worst issue in the series, and probably one of the worst issues in the chronological order so far. You would not be missing much if you passed on this issue.

Rating: 1.0/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists: Jack Kirby
  • Writers: Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein
  • Pencilers: Don Heck
  • Inkers:
  • Colorists:
  • Letterers: Sam Rosen
  • Editors:

Strange Tales #111 (08/10/1963)

detail.jpgA common countermeasure to the Human Torch in a number of these silver age stories thus far has been asbestos-covered things, such bullets, rooms, clothing, etc. Well in Strange Tales #111 we’re finally treated to a villain who slathers himself in the stuff and calls himself Asbestos Man, but the questions is how does one get to that point? Well, if you’re Professor Orson Kasloff you decide that you want to be the best criminal you can be, because apparently patenting and selling your products won’t make you money. Anyways, Professor Kasloff, being the smart person that he is realizes that the only way to be a successful criminal is to take on the Human Torch and thus Asbestos Man is born!

I have to admit this was an okay story by the standards of the series, but if they were going for an encore of Amazing Spider-Man #3, which sees Dr. Octopus defeat Spider-Man, they certainly didn’t hit the right notes on this one. In addition, this issue proves that doing your taxes is just plain hard, because even the smartest man in the Marvel Universe needed assistance with it. At least the artwork in this issue was pretty good and I also kind of dug Asbestos Man’s gear, outside of the net.

In addition to the Human Torch story, there’s a five page Dr. Strange story, which sees him foiling the plot of Baron Mordo, his arch nemesis, to take out the Ancient One and gain his knowledge of the black arts. At five pages long, there isn’t too much space for story development, but what was there was entertaining. In addition, the artwork of the Dr. Strange Story provides an interesting contrast to the Human Torch story. Plus astral plane battles are just cool. I hope in future issues Dr. Strange gets a little more page count.

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Creators:

  • Cover Artists: Jack Kirby, Dick Ayers
  • Writers: Stan Lee
  • Pencilers: Dick Ayers
  • Inkers: Steve Ditko
  • Colorists:
  • Letterers: Terry Szenics
  • Editors: Stan Lee