Strange Tales #106

"The Threat of the Torrid Twosome!"

CMRO#37
Strange Tales #106
March 1963

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

Well whadya know? Two decent Strange Tales comics in a row! Not only do we finally get treated to an explanation as to why Johnny thinks he’s being inconspicuous (he’s a gullible dumb-ass, basically), but we get to see a little more internal strife from the Four. Sure, this isn’t the first time Johnny’s left in a huff and gruff, but this time he teams up with a world class acrobat! Yup, it’s pretty silly, but in an endearing way at least—it doesn’t pander and try to make the story any bigger than it is, and well, I enjoyed it. Especially the conclusion that makes use of the Four’s powers without seeming contrived or commonplace. Oh and I almost forgot! Kirby is nowhere to be seen this month. In his place, doing inks and pencils is Dick Ayers and yeah, he does a great job at making his inks pop more this way.


Acrobat thieves in scuba suits and berets are rolling their eyes at this caricature depiction of their culture.

MY SCORE: 5.5 (out of 10)

11.08.11

Tales to Astonish #44

"The Creature from Kosmos!"

CMRO#57
Tales to Astonish #44
June 1963

Written by Stan Lee & H.E. Huntley
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Don Heck

Whoa whoa whoa. Some big changes going on right off the bat in the land of tiny men doing giant things! First of all, we have (what I can only assume will be a one-off) a double length story this month, and then we have some new creative talent in the form of H.E. Huntley (who created none other than Super Rabbit[!]) in addition to the return of Jack Kirby on the pencils, once more replacing Don Heck and leaving him to work solely on the inking. Oh, and yeah! There’s the introduction of a new character—The Wasp! And you get all this information just from the splash page, which makes you think “finally! Something fresh in this otherwise insipid little ant-man fantasy that nobody cares about!”, and thankfully, you’d be right.

Aside from Henry Pym’s pseudo-debut back in issue #35, Ant-Man has been something of a one trick pony, being shovelled out month after month to the point of absolute tedium because of a lack of original ideas that first made his debut so interesting. Now, under the deliberate guise of Huntley who somewhat surprisingly handles the title with reverence and maturity, Pym is fleshed out even more, creating perhaps the darkest side of any of Marvel’s superhero roster yet. Pym is kinda messed up. Sure, it comes off as something obviously ret-conned, yet I’m willing to let minor details slide in favour of more compelling characterisation and storytelling—this is what we get here, and it’s actually gripping.

I mean, sure, we get all the same little kooky Ant-Man antics like ant landing pads and such, but with an extra edge—a darker, more dense palette that both the writers and the artists draw upon to make Pym a little more realistic and human, such panels are quickly forgotten rather than dwelt upon simply because it’s obvious that they’re not the highlight anymore; though in all fairness, this month’s monster isn’t all that bad either, and at least keeps himself to himself which is always a plus.

Of course there’s always the daunting thought that maybe Ant-Man and to a lesser extent, his new companion The Wasp are all exposition and no action—characters who work better as ideas than as actual storytelling devices. Yet after such strong second-chance origin story (I recommend, if you haven’t already read them, to skip everything between this and #35 entirely as this plays just like it was meant to be Pym’s second adventure, makes the ret-conning far more sensible, and of course allows you to not read those awful stories), I remain hopeful that maybe a new leaf has been turned here.

Geddit?

Kirby and Heck strike a wonderfully paranoid and foreboding tone this issue which reflects the issue’s script poignantly.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)

21.08.11

Fantastic Four #18

"A Skrull Walks Amongst Us!"


CMRO#70
The Fantastic Four #18
September 1963

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

Standing in stark contrast to last month’s issue, this month sees the Fantastic Four get back into action against the Skrulls (last seen way back in issue 2) and their latest menace—The Super Skrull. Having had Doctor Doom andNamor amongst others make repeat appearances in the series, it was only a matter of time before we were treated to the resurgence of The Skrull; and it’s a welcome one at that now that Doctor Doom has gotten a little stale as of late. What results is a fairly non-stop action packed issue that flows nicely and uses the Four’s powers both individually and as a collective very well. Not only this but we get the usual banter and opening panel comedic elements thrown in there for good measure too—a well rounded, refreshing and more than welcome story, featuring one of the best covers yet.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)

28.08.11

Tales of Suspense #45

"The Icy Fingers of Jack Frost"


CMRO#79
Tales of Suspense #45
September 1963

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

By far the most exciting and well told story in the Iron Man fiction to date, this month we see Stark at odds with a disgruntled employee with delusions of grandeur and megalomania who harnesses the power of ice and cryogenics to pose perhaps his biggest threat yet. I’m not sure what exactly happened between the months prior and this one but Bernstein has all of a sudden pulled two cats out the bag this month that have redeemed two series’ that he had otherwise driven into the ground. Perhaps Stan had a word, or had greater influence on the scripting, but whatever the case is Iron Man's tale this time around (much like Thor’s from this month also) is actually a lot of fun. Not only do we get a great villain that doesn’t chew scenery and blow everything out of proportion (Shapanka actually has conceivable motives for his crimes and hatred), but we also get the inductions of supporting characters Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan. All in all, a very concise, well balanced and progressive issue for Oscar Man.

Love at first sight.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)  

03.09.11

Strange Tales #114

"The Human Torch Meets Captain America"

 

CMRO#86
Strange Tales #114
November 1963

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

Captain America kind of makes his fitting debut appearance in the Silver Age of Marvel this month in the pages of Johnny Storm’s solo mag Strange Tales as he turns out to be quite different from his Golden Age version of himself. Well, that is, until you get to the end and you find out the shocking truth. And well, yeah, it is kinda cool in a way. Not only that but the entire story reads well and gives Cap some nice action segments that are great to look at and skim through as they whiz past. Of course this whole story is confessed by Stan to be a test of sorts to gauge whether or not ol’ Steve Rodgers would be welcome in the new age, but for what it’s worth, it’s a decent outing for Torch too. Fun, exciting and refreshing all in one. 

Could this be a spark of the train of thought that would lead to the modern Hulk?

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

14.09.11

Tales of Suspense #49

"The New Iron Man Meets The Angel!"


CMRO#102
Tales of Suspense #49
January 1964

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

Iron Man goes sky-high this month as he finds himself at the mercy of The Angel who has been affected by a Nuclear Blast caused by Stark which—you guessed it—causes the X-Man to turn evil. I know, I know; I was rolling my eyes during the first few pages of setup too. I thought it was going to be one of those issues. Surprisingly (or not, if you look at the credits) however, Lee, Ditko and Reinman do a terrific job of selling the story itself which although having that terribly rough premise, actually comes crashing down to earth in a pretty exciting and dramatic manner.

Really though, much of the enjoyment of this issue comes down to Ditko and Reinman. Distilling Lee’s over-the-top writing with Ditko’s angular compositions and Reinman’s eye-popping inks, much of the issue is simply wonderful to look at, even when the narrative is a bit iffy. To be fair, Lee does a fair job everywhere outside of the setup; we get some great moments between Iron Man and The X-Men for a start, not to mention one of the best endings and action sequences seen to date. Plus, we get to see The X-Men and Avengers rendered in the most colourful and vibrant style yet as Ditko and Reinman get to work. So I guess, if there’s another drawback to this issue, it’s that we all wish every comic could look this good. No offence, Kirby.

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10)  

22.09.11

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