Journey into Mystery #84

"The Mighty Thor Vs. The Executioner"


CMRO#9
Journey into Mystery #84
September 1962

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

I guess these Stop the Evil Commie stories resonated a lot more back in ‘62 than they do now. I don’t know, most of them reek of absent-mindedness and cheap exploitation of America’s paranoia. Nevertheless, when dealing with comics, one must expect a certain level of, erm, politcal investment. Especially with the CCA overlooking everything like, well, A Nasty Red!

And so we are brought to Thor’s second story, just one month later (you have to wonder why, considering The Hulk and later on, Spider-Man would get their own runs after little to no time in anthologies) in Journey to Mystery once more. As a plot, like I say, it’s mindless. Yet as a device to show off Thor beating the red out of some poorly written Russians, plus ever so slightly developing the love interest of Jane Foster (Thor/Don Blake’s Lois Lane), it’s sufficient enough.

Oh, and, Dick Ayers on the inks, ladies and gentlemen! Huzzah!

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

30.07.11

The Incredible Hulk #3

"Banished to Outer Space"

CMRO#10
The Incredible Hulk #3
September 1962

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

Hulk literally flies(!) onto shelves this month with an astoundingly bland thump. You think, maybe Lee and Kirby would let The Hulk stay as he is for maybe a few issues before dumping the entire concept and beginning anew (almost.) From being the Hulk exclusively at night to now permanent and with the ability to fly (which will be changed to a super… very accurate form of leaping) it seems no surprise that fans couldn’t connect with the lumbering madman who—though penned as having a split personality—has shown about five so far. Not only this but we also learn that his little annoying sidekick now has some sort of mind-meld link with the Hulk to the point where he can control him. Brilliant. Banner’s gotta be livid.

Oh and I guess I should mention the issue’s antagonist, The Ringmaster who uses Hypnotism to keep whole towns in a trance while his goons loot them for all they’re worth. He’s not bad I guess, and it gives the comic some colourful pages thanks to Dick Ayers’ involvement from here on in, but as an opponent to The Hulk? A bizarre mismatch, indeed. It just never flies off the page like it should. Geddit? Flies?

MY SCORE: 2.0 (out of 10) 

31.07.11

Fantastic Four #6

"Captives of the Deadly Duo!"


CMRO#11
The Fantastic Four #6
September 1962

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

So it’s getting to the point now where I actively look forward to getting around to the next Fantastic Four issue. In comparison with just about everything else Marvel was putting out around this time, the FF are single, fairly consistent beacon of hope. What’s best about this though is that after this issue, the Four would be printed monthly rather than bi-monthly. So now we get twice the thrills, and boy is this one a good way to start!

Pairing up the series’ most dastardly villains thus far, putting them into space with the Baxter Building tethered to their rocket, which has the Fantastic Four inside, is just insane. In fact, it’s probably the most extreme thing I’ve read yet, that isn’t just dumb. Sure, it isn’t the most plausible thing in the world, but Kirby does a great job here of conveying it in the most convincing way possible.

Oh and we also get a little more melodrama in the form of Sue Storm and Namor being at odds with each other again. You think Reed would have socked Mariner in his Sub by now. Alas, it continues and we’re left with the impression that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of either of these villains (despite one of them clinging to an asteroid at comic’s end!)

What a ride! 

MY SCORE: 7.0 (out of 10) 

31.07.11

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

Journey into Mystery #85

"Trapped by Loki, The God of Mischief"

 

CMRO#13
Journey into Mystery #85
October 1962

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

While still sitting in some murky waters, Journey into Mystery improves once again this week, this time providing our Norse God with some trouble in the form of his pain in the neck brother (though this relation is never acknowledged here) Loki. It’s the third book in three months, making it the fastest published title at the time, and being penned by Stan’s younger brother, it has a definite fresh feel to it despite seemingly being rushed out.

With that said, there are still problems abound in the writing itself—Loki’s origin story is perhaps the most disappointing yet simply because it sets things up brilliantly before resorting to a ridiculous Deus-Ex-Machina (seriously, it took Loki that long to poke someone in the eye? And surely that sort of tear wouldn’t count—are magical contracts not without their fine print?), and everything seems kind of underdeveloped no doubt due to the 12 page limit restriction within this anthology title.

Despite such flaws however, this Thor guy, and his human counterpart are something I look forward to reading about. This time acknowledging Thor’s mythological background with Loki and Asgard itself in a couple of pages, plus Thor lifting a train track while the train goes over it, there are some great moments here. Which is more I can say for Bruce Banner who, even with 25 pages, continues to bore every other month.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (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 #101

"The Human Torch"


CMRO#15
Strange Tales #101
October 1962

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

It’s an invasion of superheroes! Yet another anthology series gets made-over and starts placing a superhero in its cover story, this time it’s with an already established character—that of The Human Torch. This is fine, and I’m sure Stan thought this would appease his teenage readers by presenting Johnny as something more than a sidekick, but there’s a reason Spider-Man was created, and that was because Johnny always suited being around his companions more than being on his own.

Here in his solo debut, a lot of details are thrown around that differ from the Fantastic Four book, such as where Johnny lives, and who actually knows about his “secret” identity (this particular discrepancy would be retconned, however), but everything else seems pretty solid. Oh but hey, wait, what’s with all the asbestos? Ah, the innocent sixties. Catch a little cosmic ray and you think living in a cube of toxic fibres is the best idea since instant noodles. But yeah, check out that diagram of Storm’s bedroom. Neat!

Nevertheless, Johnny’s story here, despite middling details, is mostly forgettable. Following another commie intelligence plot (aliens next time, maybe?), things go through their usual motions until we find out the truth which—thankfully—has nothing to do with aliens. Thank the heavens for dirty reds!

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

02.08.11

Tales to Astonish #36

"The Challenge of Comrade X!"


CMRO#16
Tales to Astonish #36
October 1962

Written by Larry Lieber
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

Coming off from a surprisingly gripping debut as a recurring superhero, here we already get the impression that Larry and Jack have little ideas about where to take a man the size of an ant. This month we’re treated to another Red Under The Bed story, this time with the shocking reveal that Comrade X isn’t just a commie, but a woman too! It’s a whodunnit that caught me off guard, but not for the right reasons. My reaction was more a “oh…” than a “oh…!”

A similar reaction occurred when reading about Pym’s network of ants which one by one play Chinese Whispers to get the news to the Ant-Man himself. Imaginative, sure, just like everything else about this guy—but even now, just in our second issue, it’s becoming a little, oh I dunno, silly? I mean, you gotta have either two reactions to seeing ants work a key and lock; hysteria or extreme panic for your life. Nevertheless I look forward to seeing if the creative team can get behind Pym and make him work on a long-term basis.

MY SCORE: 2.0 (out of 10) 

03.08.11

Journey into Mystery #86

"On The Trail of the Tomorrow Man"

 

CMRO#17
Journey into Mystery #86
November 1962

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

The fantastic world of Thor meets science-fiction this month as our Asgardian prince battles it out with a madman from a utopian future who—having to access to weapons, and presumably the materials of which are needed to build them(?)—sets out to steal a nuclear warhead from the Americans in 1962. Okay, sure, I buy it… but more because I’m a sucker for science-fiction. And you know what? Mashing it in here with Thor instead of the Fantastic Four actually works wonders for both the plot and the character himself (even though Thor chases our villain through time by, you know, spinning a hammer really fast like we all do from time to time.) All in all, it’s been a rocky start for Thor (warning, saying this out loud may cause confusion), but with each issue, both the stories and the hero have been developing into something truly original and inspired. This one says it all. A thrilling read. All thanks to those anti-missile missiles, of course! Oh, and Odin makes a fittingly awesome debut appearance here too. Check it out.

MY SCORE: 5.5 (out of 10)

03.08.11

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

The Incredible Hulk #4

"The Monster and the Machine!"
"The Gladiator from Outer Space!"


CMRO#19
The Incredible Hulk #4
November 1962

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

Something of an improvement this time around with the Hulk wisely being split into two (har) segments now instead of his “epic” 24 page runtime. While Lee and Kirby have by now established that nothing is destined to stay the same from issue to issue in this series, for once they get something right, and change the tedious story-length that made the first three issues a bit of a drag to read all the way through.

In sticking to “changing anything we like” style however, in this episode we discover that Banner can change back and forth from the Hulk at any time he requires by simply turning on a gamma ray… or something. So yeah, Banner has his superhero outfit, essentially, or his Thor’s Hammer. Whatever. Now, he’s just like everyone else—gone is his monster curse, and in its place a heroic gift. Super.

While I have a problem with how this would affect the character from here on in, I have to say that the way in which Lee and Kirby detail this transformation makes for a pretty interesting issue—one that adds to Banner’s character just as readily as it takes away. Taking up the second half of the first story, the narrative itself recalls the kind of work Lee and Kirby have been developing with Thing, only with much more detail here. And hey, what about those opening panels to the second story? Kirby is on top form here. It’s a shame then that all this good work is put to death by such a bold shift in design for Banner, and that the general action plots bookending these moments are tepid and steeped in typical early Hulk ambiguity regarding his powers.

Overall, a stronger outing, but one still plagued with doubt.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (out of 10) 

04.08.11

Fantastic Four #8

"Prisoner of the Puppet Master!"


CMRO#20
The Fantastic Four #8
November 1962

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

Though not the best the series has seen thus far, this month’s outing for theFour is an important one—perhaps more than any other since their debut—in that it makes do on its promise to deliver human characters as well as superheroes and villains. Of course, this most blatantly comes into play with everyone’s favouritefreak, Ben Grimm, but also kind of sweet is the interplay between the other three and Ben that hammers home their already tangible chemistry. 

Providing our source of antagonistic folly this week is The Puppetmaster, another madman, this time with the power of voodoo dolls at his disposal. Interesting themes of control and megalomania permeate his character, but it’s perhaps his adopted daughter that provides the story with its central source of significance when she rather sweetly falls for Thing, because, well, she’s blind as a bat and accepts him for who he is on the inside. Aw, shucks. 

MY SCORE: 6.5 (out of 10) 

04.08.11

Tales to Astonish #37

"Trapped by The Protector!"


CMRO#21
Tales to Astonish #37
November 1962

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

Okay folks, this is the big one. Get ready for it, because our favourite ant-sized superhero is back this month with a battle against none other than, The Protector? Yeah, lame. The basic premise here is that a guy goes around bullying people into buying protection against, well, himself. So instead of just telling it straight, as a kind of mob story or something, Lieber insists on having another whodunnit where the reveal is another one of those “okay… great?” moments. Not only does it make for a dull story, but the more Ant-Man’s “powers” and companions are milked doing the same thing every issue, the more ridiculous and contrived they seem. At this point, it’s quite obvious who’s getting the A-list treatment at Marvel, and who isn’t.

MY SCORE: 1.0 (out of 10) 

05.08.11

Strange Tales #103

"Prisoner of the 5th Dimension"


CMRO#22
Strange Tales #103
December 1962

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

Man, Johnny sure likes to be made people’s prisoner these days. Last month it was The Wizard, then the Puppet Master and now this week it’s… The Fifth Dimension! Okay, so it sounds cooler, but it isn’t. If there is one thing slightly amusing about the whole affair though, it’s hillbilly Jim who warns everyone of Swamp Demons. Of course, numerous plot twists ensue and not everyone is who they claim to be, but none of it really makes any sense, nor do you really care enough to will it to. A throwaway issue if ever there was one, which makes you wonder why Johnny was given these 14 pages every month when they seem to be largely hit and miss rush-jobs.

MY SCORE: 2.5 (out of 10)

05.08.11

Fantastic Four #9

"The End of the Fantastic Four!"


CMRO#23
The Fantastic Four #9
December 1962

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

This one is something of a Hulk. On the one hand you have a pretty intelligent, character-driven premise based on human flaws and everyday troubles of paying the bills. Then on the other you have this terribly overly fantastical plot of the God of the Sea (or whatever Namor is) buying a film studio (presumably with magic fish money) and using it to kill off his four nemesis one by one in a series of unbelievably elaborate action sequences. Of course, in the end Namor gets to walk off into the ocean again, learning from his heart’s mistakes and in that vein the issue is better off, but with such a wacky second act, much of that great character work is muffled in amongst degrading comic capers that The Fantastic Four have thus far worked hard to move away from. Intriguing, somewhat radical and laughable all at the same time.

MY SCORE: 6.0 (out of 10) 

05.08.11