Fantastic Four #21

"The Hate Monger"


CMRO#96
The Fantastic Four #21
December 1963

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

One of the few issues of Fantastic Four not to be inked by Dick Ayers in over a year, this latest issue tries to break from the mould a bit thus far established by previous issues and the result is a little less than stellar. While obviously stemming from good intentions, the majority of the Four's adventure this month which deals with hatred, bigotry and injustice, is a little too plain-faced and simplistic to significantly deal with the themes at hand. Of course, this was a good fifty years ago, so something as mainstream as a kids' comic book making even a small go at such themes is somewhat admirable. Nevertheless, the whole thing just never comes together—especially with the bizarre twist at the end. Usually it's fun to see these guys fight in amongst themselves, but this time it just drags on and on. Oh well, it's not all bad—but in an issue centred on hate, there isn’t much of the stapled Fantastic Four fun and excitement to be found here. Just half-baked politics and ironic flag-worshipping. Probably the poorest issue in the series since #2.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 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

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

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

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

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