Tales of Suspense #51

"The Sinister Scarecrow"


CMRO#121
Tales of Suspense #51
March 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

This month we see Iron Man battle it out with Scarecrow, a performer who decides he’s had enough of pandering to his audience and decides instead to use his talents to become a really good burglarThis is fine, except, his reasoning for choosing the guise of a scarecrow is a little beyond me. There’s some justification in amongst it all that links the performer’s nimbleness to that of a scarecrows? But that makes as much as sense as a flying shark. So what we’re left with is something of a half-baked villain story and some side-story that repeats the same old jokes we’ve read in behalf of Pepper and Happy a few times before. It’s nothing too offensive, but it’s not exactly one to remember either.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (out of 10) 

17.10.11

Tales to Astonish #52

"The Black Knight Strikes!"


CMRO#120
Tales to Astonish #52
February 1964

Written by Stan Lee (Larry Lieber on part 2)
Pencils by Dick Ayers (Larry Lieber on part 2)
Inks by Dick Ayers (George Bell on part 2)

Giant Man and The Wasp find themselves in all sort of trouble when they battle it out with a disgruntled foe with a love for flying horses and silly knight costumes. Okay, so if we’re going to start combining animals like The Black Knight does here, why not a bear-lion, or a flying shark? Yeah, those are pretty dumb ideas, but so is a vengeful knight on a airborne horse. Not only this but half the fight takes place in a carnival of sorts, and all sorts of hilariously not-funny hijinks takes place. To be fair, the whole has a sort of reckless charm about it that beats reading another Human Top story, but really this is just another forgettable Pym story that goes nowhere and that nobody cares about.

MY SCORE: 2.5 (Out of 10)

16.10.11

Tales of Suspense #50

"The Hands of the Mandarin"


CMRO#119
Tales of Suspense #50
February 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

So after the stunningly good looking redesign and overhaul of Iron Man and his comic last month, this time around we see Stark veteran at this point Don Heck take back the reigns as chief artist, and the result is unsurprisingly more moody and harsher than Ditko’s. The story too is a little more understated and serial, which too often has been the staple of this series, and not to great effect. This month we have the Mandarin—a oriental sorcerer of sorts that uses magic rings to do crazy things like cancel out sound waves, and lower drawbridges. Oh and, of course, he’s a karate master.

What’s most interesting about this one though, is that The Mandarin never really provokes anything from anyone, and instead it’s Iron Man that seeks out to defeat the villain because everyone back home is a little worried about the whole drawbridge thing. And then he uses the great underestimated power of geometry to bring him down. Of course. But all in all, it’s a fair effort, and a semi-decent read, but when the highlight of something like this is actually a silly side story involving back-up characters (Happy takes Pepper out to dinner), then it’s telling that Iron Man needs himself a proper adversary at this stage in his development and though The Mandarin would go on to be one, this isn’t his greatest moment by any means.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

15.10.11

Avengers #4

"Captain America Joins…The Avengers!


CMRO#105
Avengers #3
January 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Jack Kirby

So back in November of last year, Stan and company decided to dip their toe in the Golden Age waters once again so to speak, and gave classic superhero Captain America something of a fake trial run in Strange Tales #114. Comic fans rejoiced, and pretty much the rest of what would become of The Avengers would be shaped as such. And I think they were right in doing so; not only was that particular issue of Strange Tales one of the very few that didn’t stink, but seeing the Cap back in action (even though it wasn’t really him) was a little riveting and exciting; he adapted to the modern age perfectly enough to feel relevant and just as striking.

So fast forward three months then to his debut here in Avengers #4, where he comes back from the dead to team up with The Avengers to put a stop to Namor's threats. As far connecting the dots go, the issue does a good job of explaining how and why this happens, and while it's all done in shiny comic book silliness, it's not exactly insulting, logically, in comparison to say, your average Journey into Mystery issue. Instead Lee and company fill in the blanks as much as they need to and leave it at that—and it works. What doesn’t quite work as well as it possibly should however, is the eventual payoff of all this coming into play.

Told very much as a plain-faced action comic much in the stylings of those Golden Age marvels that Captain America once donned, this latest story for The Avengers is fast and all about packing a punch, but never really reaches the heights that it should considering all the build up and anticipation. That’s not to say that it’s a dull read—it’s anything but, considering all that’s transpiring, but you can’t help but feel like they could have done more with things here. Like, I don’t know; having the Hulk come back in place of the now tepidly befitting Prince Namor who’s losing his spark with every issue he appears in. Nevertheless, it’s still a nice read and the spark that the series is needing at this stage; it’s just a shame then that much of these great character moments are suffocated in amongst otherwise middling, run-of-the-mill action sequences.


MY SCORE: 7.0 (out of 10)

14.10.11

Journey into Mystery #102

"Slave of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man


CMRO#117
Journey into Mystery #102
March 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Chic Stone

Thor ditches the melodrama this month as the stunning climax of part 1’s cliffhanger comes to a full on action-packed close. Okay so, I’m making it sound better than it actually is; simply because much like the issue before it, the action on display here is incredibly dull and simplistic. From silly elaborations on the supposed utopian 23rd century, to the usual Journey into Mystery Thor can do anything deus ex machina, this second part which I was actually optimistic about, fails to keep the train rolling. Instead it neglects the characterisation from the previous issue and just delivers a zaney action comic that never really amounts to anything significant. A real bore.

MY SCORE: 2.0 (out of 10)

12.10.11

Journey into Mystery #101

"The Return of Zarrko the Tomorrow Man


CMRO#116
Journey into Mystery #101
February 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by George Bell

A story very much of two halves this month as Thor continues his brooding over his beloved Jane Foster, and then has his powers cut in half by his father as punishment for disobeying his command to forget about her. Lo and behold however that Lokimischievous as ever, somehow goes into the future and connects with Zarrko, The Tomorrow Man (you know, from two years ago) and convinces him to get revenge on Thor. And that he does; and the whole thing ends on a cliffhanger. It’s alright, I guess, and the initial scenes involving The Avengers are pretty neat, but the whole Tomorrow Man thing never really shows much interest. Sure enough, the villain was a real treat back when he first showed up, but a lot has happened since then and we’ve seen a lot better villains also. Neverthless, I look forward to seeing where all this is going in the end.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (out of 10)

11.10.11

Fantastic Four #24

"The Infant Terrible!"


CMRO#115
The Fantastic Four #24
March 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by George Bell

Oh dear. Remember when I expressed concerns over where the attention was being given back at the Marvel house of ideas? Well it’s quite obvious now that The Fantastic Four were being put on the back-burner at this point seemingly because they had already made the company a lot of money and attention, and so, naturally they wanted to try make something similar out of their other stars. Sure, we got The Amazing Spider-Man out of this, but seeing a once consistently great series sink to such lows as The Infant Terrible is just, well, terrible. Hell, even Stan’s infamous hyperbole gets some doubts thrown in there; “Our slightly sensational tale…”; “we kinda think…”

And he’s right in doubting this one. While it’s not exactly unredeemable per se, the vast majority of the story is so ridden with holes and implausibilities that not even the usual well it’s a Silver Age comic excuse can hold much ground. To Stan’s undying credit, he does try to work in some moralist themes here and there, mostly dealing with the ego of humans that for all intents and purposes are probably severely primitive, even to a child of an advanced alien race. Such small moments are nice, but can’t completely redeem the iffy storytelling that relies way too heavily on long stilted dialogue and patchy criminal motives that never really gel in the manner that they ideally should. At least The Impossible Man was kind of funny and entertaining. But yeah; this is a definite contender for the worst Fantastic Four issue to date.


MY SCORE: 2.5 (out of 10)

10.10.11

Strange Tales #119

"The Torch Goes Wild!"
"Beyond the Purple Veil!"


CMRO#114
Strange Tales #119
April 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Dick Ayers (Steve Ditko on Part 2)
Inks by Dick Ayers (Steve Ditko on Part 2)

Remember Ant-Man when he faced off against The Voice of Doom? Or maybe whenThe Fantastic Four went head to head with The Hate Monger? Well this month we see poor rejected Johnny Storm up against a similar foe who rouses the mobs of civilians against him. And just after the FF have went on vacation without him; his girlfriends dumps him; he gets kicked off the football team and all the newspapers want to talk about is the sensational Spider-Man. Sheesh! Between Parker and Storm, these superhero teenagers sure do get it rough. It’s a shame then that Johnny’s stories never quite seem to match Pete’s as this month’s is another by-the-numbers tale that at least tries something new, but unfortunately it’s politics.

Now a recurring feature of the Strange Tales mag, we get another Dr. Strange story where we see him up against Aggamon, ruler and iron fist of the Purple Dimension. The art isn’t quite as bizarre as it has been in previous issues, but there are more than a few panels that top everything else in terms of pure quality. The story itself is pretty interesting too; though doesn’t really get into details considering the meagre 8 page length that it has to contend with. So once again we get a fairly sub-standard Torch story, and a pretty decent Dr. Strange outing.  

MY SCORE: 4.5/10 (Part 1: 3.0 / Part 2: 6.0/10)

09.10.11

X-Men #4

"The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!"

CMRO#113
X-Men #4
March 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Paul Reinman

An exhilaratingly action-packed issue for the X-Men this month as they come face to face with their arch nemesis, Magneto and his newly formed Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Slowly but surely chipping away the broad corners, Lee and Kirby continue to develop the X-Men mythos away from your standardised superhero group tact and more towards what they would become known for. The heroes are still kind of undefined at this stage, but it’s still early days, and progress is definitely being shown.

What’s even more exciting however is the ever-escalating tension between these Evil Mutants and The X-Men that reads just as well as the oddly well paced action sequences. In addition to Magneto making his second appearance we also get the introductions of Scarlet Witch, Toad, Quicksilver and Mastermind. Some of them are better than others; Scarlett Witch being given something of an origin, and Quicksilver rather graciously being thrown a conscience too. Toad and Mastermind however come off as routinely villainous. All of this and we get an awesome cliffhanger of an ending where Professor X faces the prospect of losing his mutant powers.

So all things considered, this is a more than decent outing for the X-Men that equals the quality seen in issue #2. Exciting and interesting stuff, for sure. I look forward to seeing where this takes the series in the immediate future.


MY SCORE: 6.0 (out of 10)

08.10.11

Amazing Spider-Man #10

"The Enforcers!"


CMRO#112
Amazing Spider-Man #10
March 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Steve Ditko
Inks by Steve Ditko 

The drama continues on head-first this month as Peter finds himself battling against some criminal goons working for mastermind Big Man (who to an extent foreshadows Kingpin thematically) as they wreak havoc on the civilians and businesses of New York. All this while Aunt May rests it up in Florida—well, at least poor Pete doesn’t have to worry about that for a while at least. What really takes the forefront this issue round however is the surprisingly complex relationship that is budding between Parker and Betty Brant that puts the entire issue on one doozie of a cliffhanger of sorts.

The rest of the issue, which is essentially a whodunnit regarding who the ringmaster Big Man really is (many Jonah Jameson red herrings are thrown around, which I’m sure were convincing back in the day at least—the final reveal being less than stellar as a result), comes off a little hit and miss as we get some action between Spidey and the Big Man's Enforcers. On one hand, it’s nice that we get some down to earth villains this month, but on the other, we also have to contend with Lee’s usual broad stereotype archetype characters that never really prove much of a threat to Parker. All in all however, a strong issue that further develops many of the Spidey themes and drama that keep this series moving along and feeling fresh.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)

07.10.11

wegocold99 asked: Hey, I really want to get into Comic Books and was wondering where would be the best place to start. I know you started at FF#1, was that like the first marvel Comic? Also are the very first ones really expensive? How did you read them? thanks for your help, in advance

Well Fantastic Four #1 was by no means the first comic book, but it is considered the first Silver Age comic book and begins the second phase of the superhero craze which has dominated comics ever since.

If you wish to start from Marvel’s very beginning, you’re going to have to start with Marvel Comics #1 which was released in 1939, and will be pretty hard to find. All comics from this issue on to Fantastic Four #1 are defined as being in the Golden Age, which I opted to skip for the reason that they are expensive and hard to come by these days.

However, I have been reading from Fantastic Four #1 because this is essentially where the majority of Marvel’s modern universe begins, with much of the Golden Age being ignored.

It also helps that Marvel have a vast majority of the Silver Age uploaded in digital format on their website here (http://marvel.com/digital_comics). It will cost you either $10/month or $60/year to subscribe however. Considering that you could spend $60 just to read around 20 of these early issues in hardback format however, it’s a very good bargain.

Oh, and if you do chose to subscribe annually (I know, I’m beginning to sound like a salesman), you can do what I did and enter this coupon code at the checkout to get 20% off brining it down to $47.90: COMEBACK3

So yeah, hopefully that’s answered your questions. Don’t hesitate to get back in touch if you have more.

06.10.11

Strange Tales #118

"The Man Who Became the Torch!"
"The Possessed!"


CMRO#111
Strange Tales #118
March 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Dick Ayers (Steve Ditko on Part 2)
Inks by Dick Ayers (Steve Ditko on Part 2)

It’s comic book cliche time everybody as The Wizard breaks out of prison again and invents a bunch of crazy gadgets that just about every other villain might have or may in the future use. We’ve got anti-gravity, we’ve got super disguises made in fractions of time; there’s even take TV cameras that actually render humans unconscious. Okay, so that last one is a little out there, but really doesn’t do much to help the story become any less trivial. On the flipside we have another Doctor Strange tale, this time detailing his struggle against some group of supernatural beings turning villagers into possessed drones of sort. It’s not exactly revelatory, but once again the art and general pacing is enough to redeem Storm’s shaky first segment.


MY SCORE: 4.0/10 (Part 1: 2.5 / Part 2: 6.0/10)

06.10.11

Amazing Spider-Man #9

"The Man Called Electro!"


CMRO#110
Amazing Spider-Man #9
February 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Steve Ditko
Inks by Steve Ditko 

A highly significant, influential and most of all, well-told story this month as Peter Parker finds himself struggling against the tides of his double life. As if being a superhero isn’t taxing enough (hey, ask that Human Torch chump why don’t you?), imagine having to balance it out with the pressures of high-school, unrequited love, sick relatives, hospital bills, ademanding boss and your kick-ass costume getting wet. Well, that’s the life of Spider-Man, and while it had been well conceived during the previous eight issues, it is right here that much of the traditional Spider-Man staples come sharply into focus.

Kicking off with the crisis of Aunt May needing emergency surgery (for what we are never explicitly told) that requires a specialist fee of $1,000, Peter’s day is just about to get worse as a supervillain with a thirst for robbery (oh, talk about originality) and a certain spark for frying arachnids is on the loose. Thankfully however, it gives Parker the perfect opportunity to raise the hospital fees by snapping photos (real and faked—which causes poor Peter even more personal grief) and selling them off to Jonah Jameson, who as always goes out of his way to make both his and Spider-Man's life a living hell.

And all of this more or less occurs during the opening act of the comic. The rest, which dives in and out of action seamlessly whilst developing characters and drama to a standard just about unseen thus far in a comic book from Marvel, is just as riveting and stuffed full of twists and turns that read like a good book. Sure, there are problems (most of which stem from the over-the-top and motiveless reasoning of this month’s villain, Electro) but when put in amongst the wonderful writing and art on display everywhere else, such moments are forgiveable. It’s easy to see here why this month’s Fantastic Four and the series in general is beginning to wane in quality; all the attention is being directed here—and while I wish that we could have both, it seems that Amazing Spider-Man has the ground more-so than Fantastic Four to be just that little bit more hard-hitting; and this issue just drives that point home.


MY SCORE: 8.0 (out of 10)

27.09.11

Fantastic Four #23

"The Master Plan of Doctor Doom!"


CMRO#109
The Fantastic Four #23
February 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by George Bell

Holy teleporter and solar beams, Reed Richards, it’s time you stepped down as the leader of the Fantastic Four! Sick of being bossed around, the other three members take it upon themselves this month to voting on a new leader, only they can’t because they all end up voting for themselves. Funny stuff; but not as funny as Doctor Doom's latest series of traps and wacky hijinks that dominates the majority of the Four's adventure. To be fair, every odd Doctor Doom appearance is usually pretty silly, but here the implementation of ionic teleportation via solar waves or something is a new high. Oh, and we also get three new villains Bull, Harry Phillips and Yogi Dakor who are used by Doom and then sent to another dimension and stored for future use. Despite this however, none of the villains truly shine—not even Doom who kind of just does his thing to the absolute minimum and then floats off into space again, this time without the aid of an asteroid.

Sure enough we also get the each hero has to solve his or her own unique trap and/or problem segments, and the obligatory Torch fights Thing section; I just wonder how long this repetition can go on before it gets unbearable. At first all this was charming and somewhat imaginative; now it’s bordering on predictable and lazy. But then, the last thing Stan got help with writing was 24 issues ago with Tales to Astonish 48. So although once the Marvel Powerhouse, Fantastic Four has been a title suffering most from this distinct lack of lovin’ from Lee, resulting in these half-baked issues that seem to just go through the motions. Here’s hoping it gets its magic back; and fast.

MY SCORE: 4.5 (out of 10)

27.09.11

Strange Tales #117

The Return of the Eel!”
"The Terrible Traps of Baron Mordo!"

 

CMRO#108
Strange Tales #117
February 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Dick Ayers (Steve Ditko on Part 2)
Inks by Dick Ayers (Steve Ditko on Part 2)

So I only read Strange Tales #112 about 3 weeks ago, but already I can’t seem to remember just who this Eel guy is. Oh right, yeah, I gave that comic 2.5/10, maybe that has something to do with it? Nevertheless, all confusion aside regarding why everyone is making a big deal out of someone I can’t even remember coming back, this latest issue of Strange Tales is innocuous enough to get by, but once again I suspect will be one not readily remembered down the line. In it The Eel plans to steal riches from less than obvious places, that is until Johnny catches on the mastermind and tricks him through means we’ve seen a few times before elsewhere. It all comes to a pretty standard end after a helicopter equipped with auto-pilot, jets of water and laughing gas gives Eel away and off he goes sliding back to his prison cell on a trail of asbestos grease.

At the other end of the issue we have yet another tale involving the mystic Dr. Strange who this time finds himself once again at odds with Baron Mordo; the troublesome student of The Ancient One that transports Strange and his entire house into another crazy dimension as means to get him out the way while he attempts to overthrow his master. Just like the previous instalment, much of the enjoyment here derives purely from Steve Ditko’s wonderfully abstract and psychedelic style that punctuates every piece of Stan’s bizarre narrative perfectly. Unfortunately however, still limited to eight pages, the story never gets the space it requires to be truly inventive. I look forward to the day when Johnny gets to play second-place to far superior tales of Dr. Strange.


MY SCORE: 5.5/10 (Part 1: 4.0 / Part 2: 7.5/10)

26.09.11