Tales to Astonish #35

"Return of the Ant-Man"


CMRO#12
Tales to Astonish #35
September 1962

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

While not technically his debut as one of Marvel’s central superheroes, The Return of the Ant-Man here very much lays the groundwork for the rest of Pym’s run, whilst also reworking some patchy details from his very first (at the time one-off) outing.

As far as origin stories go however, this is the best one delivered by Lee and Kirby thus far as far as I’m concerned. The series itself will quickly go downhill, but upon reading this as an Ant-Man virgin, you may be excited by the interesting perspectives on hand here, the pseudo-science and nice little side-notes regarding ants.

The story itself is typical Ant-Man. It’s contrived, and it’s very basic and steeped in fantasy, but for such an early tale it still seems fresh, fun and vital. It’s a shame nothing much was done with such early promise, but hey, I guess there’s only so much you can do with a guy who has the power of an ant.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

01.08.11

Fantastic Four #7

"It Came From The Skies"


CMRO#14
The Fantastic Four #7
October 1962

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers
Colours by Stan Goldberg

Now I like invasion stories just as much as the next guy, but seriously, I’m beginning to loose count of how many visits Earth has had from strange aliens over the past few months. It’s a bit of a relief then that much of this issue, although not quite as strong as #4 and 6, serves as a neat little stand-alone story that blends some cool sci-fi concepts with some genuinely interesting “antagonists.”

Sure, the whole plot boils down to one big Deus Ex Machina yet again, but it’s not without its charm. You have to wonder why they didn’t just shrink the asteroid however. I guess the compounds might not have reacted the same in zero-G? Who is to say! Maybe it’s something to do with Cosmic Rays or Nuclear testing in space? All joking aside, Lee and Kirby deliver again this month and continue developing our favourite supergroup whilst keeping a firm hold on our imagination. Kudos. Now… hold off the Aliens for a while, huh?

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

02.08.11

Strange Tales #102

"Prisoner of the Wizard"


CMRO#18
Strange Tales #102
November 1962

Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

Oh here we go again! This month it’s the classic tale of brains vs. brawns as Torch squares off against The Wizard, who, I guess got his nickname because being smart means you’re obviously an aficionado of the black arts. No, but really, it’s probably because he invents crazy nonsensical stuff like chairs made of air. He’s a freakin’ Wizard for crying out loud, and he’s out to take on his biggest challenge yet; to defeat Johnny Storm…! Uh, what? Okay so maybe The Wizard has gone a little coo-coo as of late, but it at least gives us an entertaining story to read up on. So yeah, we can forgive the genius for slipping up once and thinking The Human Torch was something to be fighting against in order to prove himself. I mean, if it means we get to watch his radical political outbursts such as “DOWN WITH LAW AND ORDER!" blazed in the sky, then so be it. A fun issue, for sure… especially with Sue making a surprise visit in the closing panels.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10)

04.08.11

Journey into Mystery #88

"The Vengeance of Loki”

CMRO#29
Journey into Mystery #88
January 1963

Written by Stan Lee and Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

A much more engrossing and fitting outing for Thor’s favourite annoying sibling (something which is explicitly mentioned now) this week, though one that is still dabbling in the absurd. On the plus side, we get to see more of Asgard, Odin and Heimdall’s Bifrost (someone’s been doing their research!); the magic that seems to bind the pages together during these sections is truly awesome. What’s not quite as strong however is when Loki decides to be mischievous and turns everyone’s cars and such into dessert. Oh no! My car is melting! etc. Fun, sure, but with a guy like Thor around, fun seems to come off as a little stupid. Then there’s the hit and miss battle of wits between Thor and Loki which is set up excellently (with Loki placing Thor’s hammer under a force field of sorts, thus rendering poor Don Blake powerless) but then spoiled by the fact that Loki is fooled so easily into taking it away again. A recklessly ambitious issue, really, for better or worse.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10)


08.08.11

The Incredible Hulk #6

 "The Metal Master!"


CMRO#41
The Incredible Hulk #6
March 1963

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

Changing up the formula once again, The Hulk as we know him gets his swan song here in amongst the mighty metal master and a new crime-fighting superpower… the teen brigade

You know, if it wasn’t for the whole super teenagers with a bizarre thirst for law and order, this bookend issue for the original Hulk wouldn’t be so bad. Sure, Banner goes through another version of his green self (this time it leaves his own head on top of this hulking body amongst other weird amalgamations), and the Metal Master plot is a little campy, but in general I found this to be one of the least boring Hulk stories yet. That, and it sees Ditko take up the art again (his first being the inks in issue 2) which transforms the panels dramatically into a kind of cinematic and much more emotive style.

So they don’t exactly go out with a bang by any means, but it could have been worse for sure. 

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

13.08.11

Tales of Suspense #42

 

"Trapped by the Red Barbarian!"


CMRO#58
Tales of Suspense #42
June 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Don Heck

You know, I’ve been picking on R. Berns for a few issues now, and sure, his dialogue here is just as bad and stilted as ever but the central story here which deals with Yet Another Communist intelligence plot is actually pretty well told. While such plots served as mundane bores when used with characters such as Hulk and Thor, Iron Man and Tony Stark seem just right to tackle these nasty Red characters, given that there are enough twists and turns to make the story interesting. And with a guy with a rubber face posing as a threat this week—anything can happen!

The only drawback from this issue is that there isn’t an awful lot of character work going on for Stark here, after a solid couple of outings where things were developing his playboy persona. Nevertheless, it’s a strong, redeeming episode for Iron Man that has restored my faith in not only the character, but artist Don Heck (who strikes a great moody tone here) and to a lesser extent writer Robert Bernstein.

The story is much better this time, but Bernstein’s robot dialogue is still in full effect.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

21.08.11

Fantastic Four #15

"The Fantastic Four Battle the Mad Thinker and His Awesome Android!"


CMRO#63
The Fantastic Four #15
June 1963

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

A fairly mediocre outing for the Four this month as they butt heads with the biggest head of all; The Thinker. Posing himself as some sort of modern Nostradamus with the aid of a fantastic computerised thinking device, The Thinker contests to knowing every little detail of the immediate future, right down to when hotdog vendors will wheel away their carts and thus thwart the cops from chasing him down after a robbery. It’s determinism gone mad. You can see right away that this “power” or ability, makes The Thinker a pretty formidable opponent, yet not enough is done with his backstory to make him have either a feasible motive, nor the intelligence to come up with such an elaborate piece of machinery. It’s an interesting concept, sure, and one that I’ve always toyed with—but Lee never seems to let himself get bogged down in the details, or make any convincing moves with them. Instead it’s served as a wacky gimmick, and nothing more.

What he in turn uses this power for is to somehow lure the FF out of the city, and thus render much of New York and the Baxter Building defenceless and up for the taking. It’s all done in a way which is contrived, but not to the point where all credibility is lost. The thing with these Fantastic Four comics is that much of them feel the need to go through how each of the characters are affected by any given event. Sure, it helps establish them as individuals, but by now it’s getting predictable to the point where you just want to skip past the next four panels. 

In the end The Thinker's dubious downfall comes in failing to predict the elusive “X-Factor”, or, “the Human Factor” when Reed somehow beats The Thinker at his own game and plans ahead of time in the event of a takeover of his building. It’s ambiguous at best, and feels unsatisfying—especially since much of his plans involving human interaction beforehand went ahead without problems. But, you know, the story had to end—and how else was the Fantastic Four going to beat the odds of determinism?

Overall, a spotty issue, but still not bad. A shining beacon of light still, within the somewhat murky state of Marvel’s current line-up.

Way ahead of you, hippies.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10)

24.08.11

Strange Tales #111

"Fighting to the Death with Asbestos Man!"
Face-to-Face with the Magic of Baron Mordo

 

CMRO#64
Strange Tales #111
August 1963

Written by Stan Lee (Parts 1 & 2) and H.E. Huntley (Part 1)
Pencils by Dick Ayers (Part 1) and Steve Ditko (Part 2)
Inks by Dick Ayers (Part 1) and Steve Ditko (Part 2)

Oh, come on. Asbestos Man? Really? I mean, for a villain, he’s pretty decently developed and all, but couldn’t Stan come up with a less obvious name? Nitpicking, maybe, but grinding all the same. Anyway, aside from the dorky name, Asbestos Man is fairly well written; an egotistic scientist who believes himself to be worth more than his employers pays him for, he seeks out to defeat Johnny in order to establish a name for himself in the criminal underworld so that they might employ his talents instead (and no doubt pay the poor sap a much healthier salary.) As far as bad guys go thus far in the Marvel canon, this guy’s pretty well rounded. Plus, he actually does defeat poor little Johnny—at least, in round one. So yeah, a more than decent opening story to the once again extended Strange Tales that uses powers neatly and with effect—no silly flame scissors or whatever the hell.

What’s even more surprising however is that part 2 of this month’s Strange Tales which once again focuses on Dr. Strange, falls far short of expectations generated from his debut in the previous issue. Sure, it’s still got that psychedelic vibe going on in Ditko’s mix of line silhouettes and multicoloured palettes but the story itself is a little drab and pedestrian in contrast; essentially boiling down to Strange intercepting and easily tricking an old pupil of The Master who means him harm, and thus saving the day, the story lacks the intrigue and mysticism of last month’s issue—I remember having the same reaction to Thor's sophomore appearance which similarly failed to improve or capitalise on the hero's unique character.

So overall, another imbalanced outing for Strange Tales, but this time it’s Huntley and Ayers that make the most impression. 

Ditko takes us to another realm and then some.

MY SCORE: 5.0/10
Part 1: 6.0
Part 2: 3.5

24.08.11

Amazing Spider-Man #8

The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain”
"Spider-Man Tackles The Torch!"


CMRO#101
Amazing Spider-Man #8
January 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Steve Ditko (Jack Kirby in part 2)
Inks by Steve Ditko 

It’s a super special teenage issue this month as we see Parker slug it out with school rival Flash Thompson and even Johnny Storm gets a few pages to stretch out his talents with the wall-crawler. Not only this but we also get a rampaging computer “thinking machine” of sorts that goes berserk when someone accidentally bumps into it. Must be that time of the month. Sorry.

But yeah, a bit of a jam-packed issue with lots of little tid-bits but no real meat to any of the stories with the exception of Parker and Thompson’s boxing match which even then comes off as a little silly. Nevertheless, it’s still fun to read which is not at all what I can say for the Living Brain segment which just goes on and on and on. You can tell that Lee and company were having a rough time filling in the panels this month, as not only do we have lots of little miniature stories (plus a completely separate run-in with the Torch during which a bizarrely out-of-character Spider-Man drawn by Kirby acts like a complete jerk and ruins and party before running off more or less with tongue out, hands at ears singing “Naa naa naa naa”) but the stories themselves are milked to no end. Literally for about five pages, Spider-Man leaps about trying to get to the machine’s control box. Wow.

So I guess you could say that this is probably the poorest Spider-Man to date, and you’d be right, but that doesn’t mean that it is downright unreadable either—there’s just a high standard of quality expected from this series, which this one undeniably doesn’t get close to. Nevertheless, there are some fun moments here and although the last segment involving Torch is equally ridiculous, seeing Spider-man be a complete wise-guy troll is at the very least entertaining to watch. So it’s not all bad; but it’s something of a sign that the once impeccable Amazing series is starting to flounder.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10)

22.09.11

Fantastic Four #22

"The Return of the Mole Man!"


CMRO#106
The Fantastic Four #22
January 1964

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

Remember that time when Mr. Fantastic went and got all worked up because some readers suggested that Sue Storm was a waste of a place on The Fantastic Four and that she was basically useless as a superhero? Well, despite giving a big lecture on exactly how Invisible Girl was so great, this month we get a glimpse of a more empowered (at least, in the ostensible sense), more developed and rounded Sue Storm soon on her way to being the powerhouse hero that she would soon become. Aside from her usual being able to turn invisible at will, Sue can now turn other objects invisible (one at time, including herself) as well as using her “invisible energy” as a means of creating a shield or barrier that can deflect any physical force exerted on it. Pretty cool.

Of course much of this, alongside the issue’s first “comedic” half is later shown as being mere setup for the re-emergence of the Four’s first costumed foe Mole Man who is back for revenge with even more traps and other shenanigans that force Sue to finally make a decent contribution to the team. So yeah, it’s something of a invigorating issue for Invisible Girl, as well as Mole Man, but much like his tepid debut, this one never really does much as much justice either. Poor Mole Man; everytime he shows up, it’s just as someone gets something cool to play around with. Oh well. All in all, a pretty decent issue, though the back half definitely plays the action all too similarly and safely to catch the reader off-guard. Seeing Thing getting all worked up because of some angry phone-calls however, is worth a little peak. At the first half of the issue, at least.


MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10)

25.09.11

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