Tales of Suspense #41

"The Stronghold of Doctor Strange!"


CMRO#53
Tales of Suspense #41
May 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers

The insidious Doctor Strange makes his first appearance in this issue of Tales of Suspense and unfortunately it’s a bit of a bum note to start off on. Like a lot of villains thus far in the Marvel canon, motives are sketchy and powers are even more ambiguous. Far from what he would eventually become under the guise of Steve Ditko (though it’s popularly thought that this incarnation has nothing to do with the actual Dr. Strange created by Steve,) Lee and Kirby’s Strange is something of a mad scientist gone rogue who wants to give the world to his beloved daughter. Well, hey, at least he’s got some heart, right? And sure, it’s a decent enough story ostensibly speaking, but once again we get silly mind-control antics, Iron Man breathing in fumes from flash-light batteries and crushing canon balls like he was The Thing. Still, it’s an improvement over last month’s train wreck; so there’s that. Plus we have Kirby and Ayers on the art, which makes things a whole lot more tolerable—though we still have the whole Invincible Oscar Man thing going on.


For a nominal fee, of course.

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10) 

19.08.11

Strange Tales #110

"The Human Torch Versus the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete!"
"Dr. Strange Master of Black Magic!"

 

CMRO#59
Strange Tales #110
July 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)

This is the second issue that H.E. Huntley has been involved in since his debut in the impressively inventive Tales to Astonish #44, and coincidentally, is also a “double length” feature! Focusing primarily on Huntley’s output here however which lies exclusively in Torch’s solo adventure taking up the majority of the book, things are a little more straight forward and run-of-the-mill. To its credit, Stan and Huntley resurrect Storm’s biggest foe yet, The Wizard, but much to everyone’s chagrin, he’s teaming up with someone I never thought I’d see again; Paste-Pot Pete.

Thankfully though, much of this issue sees Pete relegated to more of a comedic, somewhat pathetic dog-like character that bows to the whim of his master, The Wizard—and rightfully so. It makes for an interesting duo that are passively at odds with each others’ egos and works a lot better than having Pete on display himself. Wizard himself is played down a lot more in this issue too—his seemingly boundless intelligence is never truly referenced here, and his overall look is more that of a brute thug than that of a scientist or inventor. Nevertheless, much of this adventure for Johnny is pretty middle of the road and never truly achieves anything remarkable. Which is shame, considering how much of a difference Huntley made to the stagnant Ant-Man character.

THEN. We have this:

And boom just like that, out of the blue, Stan and Ditko create yet another iconic character… AS A FOOTNOTE. Strange, indeed. But then, they probably couldn’t get the project off the ground and sell it as it’s own separate entity, which is why they must have concluded that Strange Tales would be a good a home as any for the debut of a guy called Dr. Strange. Metaphysics, dream-dimensions, spiritual transcendence and evils manifest as nightmare—all this before The Beatles made it popular three years down the line, and done in the brooding, fantastic art styling of Steve Ditko. Strange, strange, strange, but brilliant, brilliant, brilliant all the same.

MY SCORE: 4.0 (Part 1) : 7.0 (Part 2) : 5.5/10

22.08.11

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

Strange Tales #115

"The Sandman Strikes!"
"The Origin of Dr. Strange"

 

CMRO#95
Strange Tales #115
December 1963

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

This month sees the return of two Marvel celebrities of sorts in the form of Spider-Man's foe The Sandman, and the mysterious Dr. Strange who finally gets some sort of origin story. Part one which is penned by Lee and Ayers comes off like your typical Torch story; there’s a villain (a much less engaged Sandman) and Johnny gets all heated about proving how hot he is, and he goes and manages to prove everyone wrong by being the Hero of the Day, and then he reminds us how great he is, and, yeah. Once again, it’s Spider-Man's face he rubs it into this time, but unlike their run-in during the excellent Strange Tales Annual, this encounter feels mundane and a little off-kilter. Part two isn’t much better, but it’s interesting at least to witness the origins of Dr. Strange. Both parts share the same contrivances and leaps of logic, but I guess it’s part two that kind of runs with it to the point where it’s mildly entertaining to read. Nevertheless, a fairly middle of the road outing this month for both our Strange heroes.

MY SCORE: 3.5/10

19.09.11

Strange Tales #116

In the Clutches of the Puppet Master!”
“Nightmare World!”

 

CMRO#100
Strange Tales #116
January 1964

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

The Puppet Master is back for the third time this month, only this time he only has eyes for one half of the Fantastic Four. Taking control of Torch and sending him to Alicia’s apartment to lay down the Johnny Storm charm in an attempt to make Thing go berserk and start laying it into the poor little guy. Long story short; it works, and the pretty much the following ten pages are just Thing and Torch going at it unaware that one of them is being controlled (badly) by The Puppet Master. Much like his second appearance in Fantastic Four #14, Alicia’s step-father plays a rather rudimentary, out of the way role here as he guides chaos from the sidelines rather than be in amongst the action like he was during his debut some time ago. This renders much of the issue rather stagnant and neither Johnny or Ben have any great moments together. It seems that when the Four fight amongst themselves, it tends to work better when it’s in light spirits. Much like The Hate Monger issue of FF, this one just never clicks.

A much better read this time around however is part two which once again offers up another piece of Strange fiction as Dr. Strange goes up against his nemesis Nightmare. The plot is simple; Nightmare is trapping mortals in comas of sort, stuck in his surreal world of horror and macabre as a means to somehow make his eventual domination of the mortal realm a little easier. Dr. Strange however, is not having it, and he sets off to rescue the sleeping victims. So it’s not exactly the biggest of plots, but it serves well enough for Steve Ditko to well and truly stretch out his artistic vision and provide one of the most arresting and interesting visual components to a story seen yet. Painted in deep purples, silhouettes, strong shadows and bizarre compositions, the world of Nightmare is exactly that—nightmareish. And it’s just a load of fun to read through.

Oh, and a special thank you for all the readers out there who have been following the blog. One hundred down, about seventy million to go. Thanks, guys. The 1963 wrap-up will be posted in a couple days time once I review Journey into Mystery #99.

MY SCORE: 4.5/10 (Part 1: 2.0 / Part 2: 7.5/10)

21.09.11

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

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

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