Tales to Astonish #49

"The Birth of Giant Man!"


CMRO#92
Tales to Astonish #49
November 1963

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Don Heck

So after 14 issues, finally a decision is made that a guy with the sole power of being like an ant is, really isn’t the best thing to build a superhero around. Fair enough, they stuck with it for much longer than anyone could have imagined at the time, but hey—enough is enough, guys. So what do they do with the Pym character then? Psshhh, I dunno? Make him awesome big; that’s what. Obvious choice, really. Maybe too obvious. But all of this aside, regardless of whether Pym is big or small this month he faces off against a guy who can erase things like an eraser might erase stuff from a piece of paper. WHO WILL STOP THE MARVEL AGE OF COMICS’ THINK TANK? Yeah! Take that DC! What you got there? Shit! It’s a human biro. Look out!

All joking aside however, this latest transformation of the Astonish series is actually pretty cool. Despite featuring some spiffy science fiction concepts which once again utilise alternate dimensions amongst other things, the story reads and flows well enough to always capture the imagination and keep things feeling fresh. I guess a lot of this has to do with the fact that there are no ants to be seen at all this time around; that Pym now has the ability to switch between different size presets (including growing to 12-feet); and that The Wasp is given a much more light-hearted, comic-relief orientated role that suits her character well. Perhaps the whole unrequited love thing is hammed on a little too much, but otherwise this outing for the pair is surprisingly fun.

MY SCORE: 4.5 (Out of 10) 

17.09.11

Avengers #2

"The Avengers Battle the Space Phantom

CMRO#93
Avengers #2
November 1963

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Paul Reinman

You know, it’s a comic book cliché, but I’m a sucker for these doppelgänger stories that pit the heroes of our books against each other. I guess it forces the true dynamics of a team and their relationships with each other into play—much like it did when Dr. Doom managed to take the form of Mr. Fantastic a while back now. This latest example is something of a guilty pleasure of mines in that it’s ridiculous and just as surreal as Doom's exploits, but does so with a whole cast of characters and uses them efficiently enough to make the story flow rather than trudge along. And how about that ending? Talk about bleak. The Space Phantom as he is known, is given his just desserts as he is banished to the “limbo” that his victims are trapped within when he assumes their form. An eternity in limbo. Harsh!

What I like best about this issue though is that all these superheroes who have suffered under some terrible stories in their respective series (who is to say who’s had it worse?) actually shine through here much better than they do on their own. Somehow their powers complement each other just as much as their personalities do; which renders Hulk's departure at story's end both exciting but also a bit of a let-down because of chemistry that was budding between these titans. So all in all, a much stronger issue of the Avengers that does justice to those within its ranks and provides each of the characters with reference points indicating that each of them has more potential than their respective series’ have somewhat dubiously denied them of. As a footnote it’s also worth mentioning that Kirby and Reinman do a much better job working together here than they did with the first two X-Men issues. Things POP.

Rick Jones doesn’t seem to know poor Bruce all that well. I guess he’s lucky that wasn’t the real Hulk. "DON BLAKE? DON F&#%ING BLAKE?! HULK SMASH RICK JONES AND HIS TEEN P*%#IES SOME SENSE!"

Where’s my No-Prize?

MY SCORE: 7.5 (out of 10)

18.09.11

Tales to Astonish #50

"The Human Top!"


CMRO#98
Tales to Astonish #50
December 1963

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

Despite over a year of continuity building, much of this latest issue of Astonish is ridden with what is either ret-conning or simple forgetfulness. First we have The Wasp claiming to be in the superhero gig for the sole purpose of bagging Pym when it was really to get some catharsis over her father’s death during her induction issue. Over it already, huh? Then we also have the issue of Pym’s ants coming back, this time seemingly only being able to communicate with pictures rather than words that Ant-Man was able to hear from previous instalments. I mean, fair enough if you want to ret-con something if you think it’s outdated or silly in retrospect, but here Lee and Kirby replace something deep and meaningful in The Wasp's canon and replace with sexist dribble seen from just about every other female in these comics. Then they go and replace the ant's ability to communicate through words with something just as ridiculous. Oh, brother. I’m just waiting on the excellent work done by H.E. Huntley with Pym’s touching backstory being thrown out the window too.

And that’s just the beginning of the story. The rest which deals with Lee’s latest wacky nutjob The Human Top (you know, like a spinning top, only human?) who makes a living robbing stores and such by spinning really fast so that he can get away before anyone can catch him. The power of speed is certainly interesting concept, and one that hasn’t really been capitalised on before, but was the justification of being able to spin really fast really necessary? Couldn’t he have just been gifted with the power of incredible speed? Oh well, I guess not. Instead we’re given a hokey David and Goliath tale when Giant Man fumbles through the streets trying to catch the little slippery thief. I guess it’s trying to be humorous, but it’s just lame. Not even the wonderful art of Kirby and Ditko can save this one from the pits of Lee’s off-kilter writing.

MY SCORE: 1.0 (Out of 10) 

20.09.11

Tales to Astonish #51

"Showdown with the Human Top!"


CMRO#99
Tales to Astonish #51
January 1964

Written by Stan Lee (Plus Larry Lieber(!) on part 2)
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Dick Ayers (George Bell on part 2)

Continuing on from where we left off back in 1963, we kick off the new year with part two of The Human Top, and while it’s not quite as terrible as the first issue, it’s still just as unremarkable. Of course this time the main difference is that Giant Man approaches his speedy foe from a different angle and takes him down by other means. The conclusion is fair enough—the police trap Human Top by placing fences around a small area of the city, effectively giving him nowhere to run to. The problem however is that nobody cares. It’s a guy from imitates a spinning top. Can we move on? And poor Wasp; it seems she’s neglected to sit on the sidelines for much of these adventures swooning over men at every chance she gets. Because, I don’t know if you noticed guys, but The Wasp is a woman. And that’s all they do. Then again, with such an “adventure” taking place, I can’t say I blame her for being so inattentive. Oh, and she gets her own “story time” where she serves as bookends for one of the side-stories which the one and only Larry Lieber steps in to take charge of. Safe to say, it’s even worse than the Human Top story. 

I get the impression Wasp’s in the wrong line of work.

MY SCORE: 2.0 (Out of 10)

21.09.11

Avengers #3

"The Avengers Meet Sub-Mariner!

CMRO#105
Avengers #3
January 1964

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Jack Kirby
Inks by Paul Reinman

In the spirit of the original Hulk series which we thankfully saw the last of near the start of 1963, this latest outing for Marvel’s supergroup The Avengers sees the heroes battle it out with yet another carnation of Hulk that transforms back and forth between monster and human almost uncontrollably—though without any apparent trigger. And as if that isn’t enough, we also get the re-appearance of Namor, this time outside of a Fantastic Four mag—the only time this has happened to date with the exception of Strange Tales 107.

The result is… underwhelming. Much like when the FF fought it out with the green titan in Fantastic Four #12 last year, the majority of this epic battle is simply too much with too little. Think of it like compensating for not knowing what to really capitalise on with all these heroes featuring in the same comic. I mean, not only this but even The Four, Spider-Man and The X-Men make brief appearances here too. In the end however, much of it is inconclusive and ineffective. Hulk is still on the loose, Namor returns to the sea as always and The Avengers go on being avengers. It’s action-packed, sure; but the action is mediocre and predictable at best.

A big disappointment considering how fun the previous issue was.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10)

25.09.11

Avengers #4

"Captain America Joins…The Avengers!


CMRO#105
Avengers #3
January 1964

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

So back in November of last year, Stan and company decided to dip their toe in the Golden Age waters once again so to speak, and gave classic superhero Captain America something of a fake trial run in Strange Tales #114. Comic fans rejoiced, and pretty much the rest of what would become of The Avengers would be shaped as such. And I think they were right in doing so; not only was that particular issue of Strange Tales one of the very few that didn’t stink, but seeing the Cap back in action (even though it wasn’t really him) was a little riveting and exciting; he adapted to the modern age perfectly enough to feel relevant and just as striking.

So fast forward three months then to his debut here in Avengers #4, where he comes back from the dead to team up with The Avengers to put a stop to Namor's threats. As far connecting the dots go, the issue does a good job of explaining how and why this happens, and while it's all done in shiny comic book silliness, it's not exactly insulting, logically, in comparison to say, your average Journey into Mystery issue. Instead Lee and company fill in the blanks as much as they need to and leave it at that—and it works. What doesn’t quite work as well as it possibly should however, is the eventual payoff of all this coming into play.

Told very much as a plain-faced action comic much in the stylings of those Golden Age marvels that Captain America once donned, this latest story for The Avengers is fast and all about packing a punch, but never really reaches the heights that it should considering all the build up and anticipation. That’s not to say that it’s a dull read—it’s anything but, considering all that’s transpiring, but you can’t help but feel like they could have done more with things here. Like, I don’t know; having the Hulk come back in place of the now tepidly befitting Prince Namor who’s losing his spark with every issue he appears in. Nevertheless, it’s still a nice read and the spark that the series is needing at this stage; it’s just a shame then that much of these great character moments are suffocated in amongst otherwise middling, run-of-the-mill action sequences.


MY SCORE: 7.0 (out of 10)

14.10.11