Amazing Spider-Man #3

"Spider-Man Versus Doctor Octopus"

 

CMRO#55
Amazing Spider-Man #3
June 1963

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

Two months on and we get another certified classic. Sure, I’ve panned other “classics” so far (most notably Fantastic Four #1), but my number one priority in reviewing these oldies is not just to reward significance, but overall storytelling quality. The thing with these classics though is that much of the narratives are stilted and work on a very basic comic book level as a result of Stan and company still struggling to find their own voice. With The Amazing Spider-Man however, now three issues in (and four appearances for Peter in total), it feels with every issue that the voice that would separate them from their competitors and set them up as something more than a mimicking cash-cow investing into Superhero stock again—that the voice they’ve been getting closer to with the best of the Fantastic Four issues, is coming into sharp focus every couple of months when Lee and Ditko go all out and deliver classic after classic (and classic, in the right sense of the word!)

This month, things are admittedly a little more straight forward than they were previously, but with a few added ingredients to keep things interesting. First we have the now infamous Doctor Octopus getting his origin story; it’s simply told and relies perhaps a little too heavily on the now riddled cliché of radiation and mad doctors or scientists, but it’s told with enough restraint and pacing through Ditko’s panels that it still flows and comes off as vibrant and alive as The Vulture's story from issue number two. What's far more effective however is the battle between Spidey and Doc Oc which sees Parker take a fall this time around and have himself slapped around by the doctor’s relentless tentacles. So much so, that he walks away… defeated. Yup. Some superhero this guy is, right? Right. And it is such a great move on Lee and Ditko’s part.

Reinforcing the idea that Parker is by no means a miracle worker, the pair do well to create a fully realised character arc not just for the maniac doctor himself, but for Spider-Man who has to do battle with himself after he gets beaten up by his foe. I don’t know which is more brutal; seeing him being tossed out and window and into a tree trunk, or watching him sulk into himself cursing his apparent weaknesses only reinforced by his snarling teenage peers. For 1963, this was some ballsy stuff, and it pays off. Not only is it amongst the best work Marvel has put out thus far, but it would stay that way for a long time coming; both in terms of pure storytelling and significance.


MY SCORE: 8.0 (out of 10)

20.08.11

Strange Tales #109

"The Sorcerer and Pandora’s Box"


CMRO#56
Strange Tales #109
June 1963

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

Johnny is all catchphrases and hokey dialogue this month as he battles the endless pit that is the mythical Pandora’s Box which is relentlessly controlled at the whim of a guy called The Sorcerer. Now, aside from the fact that Robert Bernstein has been getting on my nerves the past couple of months with his overdrawn, humourless and banal listings of powers (I looked him up and found that he worked primarily at DC on Superman and Aquaman—go figure), there’s the fact that even though he is given the freedom to have great banter between Johnny and the other three of his Fantastic Four, such moments are just as tepid and uninteresting.

To be fair, this is one of the better issues as of late that hasn’t featured the names Spider-Man or Fantastic Four, but that wouldn’t be hard seeing as Bernstein has been working on mostly everything else. It’s the concept (no doubt dreamt up by Lee, and perhaps Kirby) at hand which is the most interesting despite it being used dubiously (Pandora’s Box; containing all the evils of the world, is used to make bullets lazy and therefore move really slow, for instance) and without much interest to the reader. So yeah, another waste of time, though you could do worse… I guess.

Johnny obviously hasn’t read the latest Marvel comics.

MY SCORE: 2.0 (out of 10)

20.08.11

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

Tales of Suspense #42

 

"Trapped by the Red Barbarian!"


CMRO#58
Tales of Suspense #42
June 1963

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

You know, I’ve been picking on R. Berns for a few issues now, and sure, his dialogue here is just as bad and stilted as ever but the central story here which deals with Yet Another Communist intelligence plot is actually pretty well told. While such plots served as mundane bores when used with characters such as Hulk and Thor, Iron Man and Tony Stark seem just right to tackle these nasty Red characters, given that there are enough twists and turns to make the story interesting. And with a guy with a rubber face posing as a threat this week—anything can happen!

The only drawback from this issue is that there isn’t an awful lot of character work going on for Stark here, after a solid couple of outings where things were developing his playboy persona. Nevertheless, it’s a strong, redeeming episode for Iron Man that has restored my faith in not only the character, but artist Don Heck (who strikes a great moody tone here) and to a lesser extent writer Robert Bernstein.

The story is much better this time, but Bernstein’s robot dialogue is still in full effect.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10) 

21.08.11

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

Journey into Mystery #94

"Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race

CMRO#60
Journey into Mystery #94
July 1963

Written by Stan Lee and Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Joe Sinnott
Inks by Joe Sinnott

God-damnit. Another Loki issue, and it’s even worse than the last. You know, there was a time when I looked forward to seeing the God of Mischief, but not anymore. Again he uses his mental powers to break free of his puny imprisonment on Asgard, and this time he does it by… hitting Thor on his Chromosomatic Gland, thus causing a complete personality change from good to evil. Obviously. One wonders why he goes to such bother when he could just trick someone closer to home to let him out or something. It’s always so ridiculous and contrived. Gah! They then set out to rule Earth so that Odin will give them Asgard in return.

What results is an endless barrage of panels that I couldn’t decide which to highlight below to demonstrate how badly written and laughable the whole thing is. Of course, in the end Loki is thwarted once again, and is once again taken back to Asgard to which Thor asks in the final panel once again if he might escape once again. To be fair, poor old Odin’s answer is a little more self-aware this time and basically says “no, he’ll be back in a couple issues—BUT YOU CAN BEAT HIM!" And well, yeah, I guess the sky’s the limit for a guy that can brush away the Taj Mahal like it was nothing.

MY SCORE: 0.5 (out of 10)

BONUS “MARVEL FUNNIES” STRIP
For more funnies, visit MARVEL FUNNIES.

22.08.11

Tales to Astonish #45

"The Terrible Traps of Egghead!"

CMRO#61
Tales to Astonish #45
July 1963

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

Coming hot off the heels of a brilliant re-imagining of sorts of Henry Pym, this month we’re treated to yet another chapter in the ongoing story of Ant-Man and The Wasp. Also returning is one of the better villains of the series, Egghead, who comes off a little more eggheadish this time around as we are forced to watch his divisive plan to capture the duo in all its excruciatingly mundane detail. To be fair, it makes the eventual capture of The Wasp and Ant-Man a little more conceivable, but I can’t help but feel that a little more character work would have worked a whole lot more. Don Heck also takes up full reigns on the art this month, which makes for a much more abstract feeling to the book that works against the great moody tones of last month’s outing. Nevertheless, while not as strong as the preceding issue, #45 isn’t a bad follow up by any means; it’s just hampered with bad pacing and a sense of triviality. 

Egghead: OMFG! shut up, n00b!

MY SCORE: 4.0 (Out of 10)

23.08.11

Tales of Suspense #43

"Iron Man Versus Kala, Queen of the Netherworld!"


CMRO#62
Tales of Suspense #43
July 1963

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

Another decent Iron Man story this month where we see our hero get transported to The Centre of the Earth (you know, where half of Earth’s villains take up residence) to do the bidding of a “beautiful but vain creature” in the form of Kala: Ruler of the Netherworld. Fine, fine; we’ve kind of seen this all before in other series’ but I guess I found the whole centre of the Earth thing to be a little more believable this time around thanks to allusions to Atlantis and a foreshadowing of the tech detailed in Carl Sagan’s great “Contact.”—it’s kind of cool.

But then, just as I let the book away with silly sci-fi, it goes and opens up the comic book magic show again, leaving me to flick through pages of back-and-forth between Iron Man and Kala each dispensing their ridiculous tech in hopes of killing one another. It’s clear at this point in time that comic books were still trying to shed their Superman syndromes of being overpowered at the sake of individual powers to the point where each one becomes throwaway and tedious. Modern comics have learned from this and now allow our heroes to utilise their standard sets of powers in inventive ways rather than just inventing new gadgets to make up for a lack of imagination in what to do with the characters. Case in point: NUCLEAR. POWERED. CLIPPERS. Yup. Clippers, that he uses… to clip his way through the mass of the Earth. At which point Kala becomes old because of the difference in atmosphere or something, so Iron Man takes her back down to her civilisation and the atmosphere makes her young again. Oh, zing.

If you can ignore these final killer pages, the setup and middle act isn’t half bad; but nuclear powered clippers? Oh, man.

So much gloating, so little time.

MY SCORE: 3.0 (out of 10)  

23.08.11

Fantastic Four #15

"The Fantastic Four Battle the Mad Thinker and His Awesome Android!"


CMRO#63
The Fantastic Four #15
June 1963

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

A fairly mediocre outing for the Four this month as they butt heads with the biggest head of all; The Thinker. Posing himself as some sort of modern Nostradamus with the aid of a fantastic computerised thinking device, The Thinker contests to knowing every little detail of the immediate future, right down to when hotdog vendors will wheel away their carts and thus thwart the cops from chasing him down after a robbery. It’s determinism gone mad. You can see right away that this “power” or ability, makes The Thinker a pretty formidable opponent, yet not enough is done with his backstory to make him have either a feasible motive, nor the intelligence to come up with such an elaborate piece of machinery. It’s an interesting concept, sure, and one that I’ve always toyed with—but Lee never seems to let himself get bogged down in the details, or make any convincing moves with them. Instead it’s served as a wacky gimmick, and nothing more.

What he in turn uses this power for is to somehow lure the FF out of the city, and thus render much of New York and the Baxter Building defenceless and up for the taking. It’s all done in a way which is contrived, but not to the point where all credibility is lost. The thing with these Fantastic Four comics is that much of them feel the need to go through how each of the characters are affected by any given event. Sure, it helps establish them as individuals, but by now it’s getting predictable to the point where you just want to skip past the next four panels. 

In the end The Thinker's dubious downfall comes in failing to predict the elusive “X-Factor”, or, “the Human Factor” when Reed somehow beats The Thinker at his own game and plans ahead of time in the event of a takeover of his building. It’s ambiguous at best, and feels unsatisfying—especially since much of his plans involving human interaction beforehand went ahead without problems. But, you know, the story had to end—and how else was the Fantastic Four going to beat the odds of determinism?

Overall, a spotty issue, but still not bad. A shining beacon of light still, within the somewhat murky state of Marvel’s current line-up.

Way ahead of you, hippies.

MY SCORE: 5.0 (out of 10)

24.08.11

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

Fantastic Four #16

 "The Micro World of Doctor Doom"


CMRO#65
The Fantastic Four #16
July 1963

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

A bit of a nutty adventure this month, when The Fantastic Four descend into the mad micro-world of Doctor Doom. In adhering to the continuity addressed quite a while back when we last seen the mad doctor shrinking into apparent nothingness, the re-emergence of Doom is well told and continues to develop his character naturally. It’s a bit of a slow-starter in terms of plot, yet the first half of the comic which deals almost exclusively with characterisation of the Four (an extra-long slice of drama this month as this is technically Marvel’s first two-parter of the Silver Age and so everything is doubled up) is nicely written and told with a light tone that echoes the last issue in which Doom showed up; specifically in the pretty funny panels involving Ben Grimm


Ant-Man and The Wasp show up briefly too, making it the third time characters have crossed over to different books (The Hulk and Spider-Man being the first two), though their appearance isn’t all that great, but fits well enough into the plot fair enough. On the slightly rougher side of town we have the perfunctory Invisible Girl is Take Hostage subplot, and the overall bananas of this apparent tiny-invisible world that lies in the microscopic. It’s an interesting, somewhat imaginative concept, but is dealt with a little silly when we learn that there’s an entire civilization at work down here. So all in all, a pretty good read, despite some minor flaws in the repetitive writing that drag it down a little. 

Johnny and his bad habits. Also: the “most fun without laughing” gag was used by Woody Allen in his comedy Annie Hall, 14 years later. Though it’s hard to see him as a FF reader, right enough!

MY SCORE: 6.0 (out of 10)

25.08.11

Journey into Mystery #95

 "The Demon Duplicators!

CMRO#66
Journey into Mystery #95
August 1963

Written by Stan Lee and Robert Bernstein
Pencils by Joe Sinnott
Inks by Joe Sinnott

As if the cover depicting Thor against his latest threat, “a far more powerful yourself" isn’t enough amongst the splash page showing that this duplicate Thor is not to be taken lightly because he has two hammers, the following twelve pages do nothing to lift the now flailing wildly without direction series Journey into Mystery into some form of pedigree akin to either the Spider-Man or Fantastic 4 stories. Whether it’s Thor’s powers being used to water crops, or Dr. Blake somehow making an invincible android like it was a paper plane in between all his medical and superhero work (you know, because building androids is something you do as a hobby,) Robert Bernstein reminds us once more that he’s out to do nothing more than make some quick bucks at the expense of telling anything remotely interesting whilst doing so. This is the third issue in a row now that’s absolutely stunk. I never thought I’d say it but, where’s Larry Lieber when you need him?


MY SCORE: 0.5 (out of 10)

25.08.11

Fantastic Four #17

 "In The Clutches of Doctor Doom!"


CMRO#67
The Fantastic Four #17
August 1963

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

Man, oh man; that cover! If that doesn’t make you wanna read this one, I don’t exactly blame you. Though, even if it is a bit of a by-the-numbers read for a Fantastic Four issue, the majority of this thrilling conclusion to last month’s story is more than satisfactory. The central problem however lies in the fact that Lee attempts to flesh out a third act into 23 pages as a result of this experimental two-parter thing, and in turn creates a much less immediate and exciting escapade for our heroes. Not once or twice, but three times we see the Four split up whilst something related but entirely different (dependant on their own weaknesses, of course) happens to them as Doctor Doom prepares for his next strike against the Four—all the while threatening to country in order to get a position in the President’s cabinet. Doom lets us know how modest he is; but all he does is reassure us that he’s a bit doo-la. So yeah; coincidences, deus-ex-machinas and pseudo-science permeate the majority of the comic’s action sequences which are borderline fine (with the unacceptable re-appearance of Torch’s damned flaming mirage power) but have been done better in this series. What works better here is the characterisation all round, particularly with Ben who is getting funnier and more likeable with every issue. Oh, that and we find out the fantastic instagrowth properties of Reed Richard’s Fantastibeard when he’s stressed. Get used to it, Sue.

MY SCORE: 4.5 (out of 10)

26.08.11