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

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

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

Strange Tales #104

"The Human Torch Meets Paste-Pot Pete!"


CMRO#30
Strange Tales #104
December 1962

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

An issue so bad, with a villain so completely mundane that I’m going to name my Worst Villain end of year award after poor old Paste Pot Pete. And you know, a lot of people will claim that Pete’s debut here is so bad that it’s good; but it isn’t. It’s so bad that it could have been good, but then they took it even further and it became even worse than bad. Between the basic concept that a guy could somehow utilize paste the way that Pete does (gripping onto passing planes, stopping missiles & sticking people to the environment) Torch’s magic homing missile tracker double thing, I just couldn’t find myself getting involved in any of what Lieber and crew were trying to sell me. It’s just weak; and bad. Bad bad bad bad bad.

MY SCORE: 0.0 (out of 10)


08.08.11

Strange Tales #105

"The Return of the Wizard!"


CMRO#33
Strange Tales #105
February 1963

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

Coming off from the bizarre Paste-Pot Pete, things could (surely) only get better for poor little Johnny, and thankfully, they do—a whole lot. Drawing on the villain which so far has given Torch his only real challenge, this time we see The Wizard strike back as he excapes prison in a cunning feat which prompts the terrific line “Not for nothing am I called the wizard!”… yeah, way to be modest!

Modesty, however, is none of The Wizard’s concern. I mean, when a guy lays traps for his foes seemingly months in advance just to satisfy his ego and prove how great he is to everyone again, there really is no hope of humility being distilled. On that note, it’s interesting (at least to me) to note that The Wizard, in all his jealous stupor, is the third recurring character in all of a year of Marvel’s publications. Quite the honour indeed, so maybe all that boasting isn’t all hot air afterall.

A much better outing this month all thing considered for Johnny and Sue, with some fantastic art by Kirby as always who steps things up this week, despite having to draw things like… A FLAMING SAW. 

Check back next month, folks; who knows what the Lieber brothers will think of next?

MY SCORE: 4.5 (out of 10)

09.08.11

Strange Tales #106

"The Threat of the Torrid Twosome!"

CMRO#37
Strange Tales #106
March 1963

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

Well whadya know? Two decent Strange Tales comics in a row! Not only do we finally get treated to an explanation as to why Johnny thinks he’s being inconspicuous (he’s a gullible dumb-ass, basically), but we get to see a little more internal strife from the Four. Sure, this isn’t the first time Johnny’s left in a huff and gruff, but this time he teams up with a world class acrobat! Yup, it’s pretty silly, but in an endearing way at least—it doesn’t pander and try to make the story any bigger than it is, and well, I enjoyed it. Especially the conclusion that makes use of the Four’s powers without seeming contrived or commonplace. Oh and I almost forgot! Kirby is nowhere to be seen this month. In his place, doing inks and pencils is Dick Ayers and yeah, he does a great job at making his inks pop more this way.


Acrobat thieves in scuba suits and berets are rolling their eyes at this caricature depiction of their culture.

MY SCORE: 5.5 (out of 10)

11.08.11

Strange Tales #107

"The Master of Flame Versus the Monarch of the Sea!!"

CMRO#38
Strange Tales #107
April 1963

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

The fans demanded it, and now Marvel deliver!—Kinda. Considering the past two issues, the amazing cover art and premise, this one is big letdown. Much like the weakest of these Strange Tales issues, and the general whole of Tales to Astonish, the problem here is the large focus on bizarre uses and implementations of our hero and villain’s powers. I gotta admit, Torch going “supernova” and diving leagues into the sea is pretty cool, but the rest is pretty throwaway. Far from THE BIG ONE that Stan claims it to be. This also marks the debut appearance of Unamused Porpoise, an underused character if ever there was one.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10)

11.08.11

Strange Tales #108

"The Painter of a Thousand Perils!"


CMRO#45
Strange Tales #108
May 1963

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

Man alive, this issue does not shut up. And I thought Lieber was bad with his obtuse plot developments—new guy Bernstein is all about that exposition! All set-up and flash-backstory, this month sees the Human Torch up against The Painter of a Thousand Perils—an artist who (you guessed it) can make scenes come to life as he paints it, really fast with paints and brushes he found from Egyptian ruins. Sounds like a certain Fantastic Four issue, right? Yup, it’s that story again, only with a much less interesting character and only one of the Fantastic Four (that is, until the rest try to kill him!!) featured as its protagonist. Oh well, it’s fine, and has a neat final panel, but I’m not sure; it’s either terribly overwrought or irritatingly squeezed into 14 pages that should be fleshed out to at least 24. Whatever the reason, poor Torch has to put up with another middling adventure this month, at least till get goes fishing with his buddies again.


I can’t wait to see his flamin’ protractor and compass set.

MY SCORE: 3.5 (out of 10)

15.08.11

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

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 #112

"The Threat of the Living Bomb!"

 

CMRO#74
Strange Tales #112
September 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Joe Carter
Pencils by Dick Ayers
Inks by Dick Ayers

A bit of an oddball adventure for Johnny this month as we see him go head to head with a villain who proves to be a bother for reasons outside the norm for your typical antagonist. Chasing down The Eel who has accidentally stolen a weapon of atomic force and activated it, Storm finds himself at odds with what to do with a nuclear bomb about to go boom-boom next to a Vet’s home. Taking the blast into himself with some stodgily written pseudo-science pieces (there are plenty here by the way, from a tracker fireball guided by vibrations and a miracle dues ex machina cure from the nuclear blast amongst others), the world stands by in shock as they await to here whether Torch will live or not. As a plot piece, I can see why Lee thought this would be a good idea—the problem though is that it’s neither convincing nor as emotive as it should be. What we’re left with then is an off-beat race-against-the-clock issue (something of a first this early on) that tries to be grander than Joe Carter ever achieves. We also see a little attempt at the Peter Parker curse of the public being turned against him, but this too feels all too contrived and inconsequential to be effective. All in all, a disappointing, but somewhat daring issue that also lacks the appearance of Dr. Strange, who was receiving a regular story here but has seemingly been postponed just two issues in. Strange.

Dick Ayers however, is on top form here.

MY SCORE: 2.5/10

30.08.11

Strange Tales Annual #2

"On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!"

 

CMRO#75
Strange Tales Annual #2
October 1963

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

Last month in Strange Tales #112 we had an entire issue that tried (poorly) to convince readers that somehow young bullheaded Johnny Storm was a superhero not because he wanted fame and publicity, but because he felt it the right thing to do. Of course, it was a flimsy premise because we know from everything beforehand developed with Johnny that this isn’t exactly true to his character and that he does get off on being something of a celebrity. Nevertheless, this time around in his debut in the Strange Tales annual series, we see poor little Johnny throw a tantrum when he realises that (in a nice touch of continuity between series’) J.Jonah Jameson has devoted almost an entire issue of Live to another masked teenage superhero; Spider-Man. “I’d give anything for a chance to prove he ain’t so hot!" he exclaims in angsty rebellious wit. Sue wisely decides to turn invisible and sneak out for a while, and we get to see Torch square off against Spider-Man in a battle of the hormones.

What’s most interesting about this setup however is the dynamic between both Storm and Parker. Last time we seen them together, it was when Johnny unknowingly spurred on and encouraged Peter to pick up his boots and try again in defeating Doctor Octopus back in June (Amazing Spider-Man #3). Parker respected and treated Torch with the kudos and respect he dubiously deserves, but here we see Storm do the opposite and act like a toddler who’s mistaking his toy car for the exact same one his neighbour’s got. But I guess, if the Marvel universe was to become a living, breathing, conceivably majestic place where gripping stories could take place, then you had to develop these contrasts in character—Parker the nerdy outcast down on his luck, and Johnny the wealthy jock who likes picking fights when he’s bored on a Saturday. It’s also no surprise then, as to who would become Marvel’s star teenage icon.

With that said, what eventually does come out of these two being brought together is somewhat magical (and it would be something to be milked wildly from here on in, as a result) as we see two teenagers fighting not just to get on the right side of the public again, but to stop a thief who has stolen a DaVinci and framed it on Spider-Man himself. What’s even more amusing though is the battle between the two superheroes themselves, not when they are at odds with each other, but when they decide to team-up and track the criminal down. It’s light-hearted, it’s fun and it’s actually somewhat funny as we see Johnny and Parker share some rebuttal that rivals Storm’s relationship with Ben Grimm. Simply put, it’s a joy to read—and actually kinda exciting too when the two get down to business and take some amateur gangsters to school.

And you know what? Usually I would criticize an issue for putting a superhero (nevermind two) against ordinary criminals, but in select cases such as these where the core story is about the characters and the heroes themselves, having such low-key masterminds as the antagonists works far more than having panel-stealing supervillains who tend to take up too much space with their ingenious traps and whatnot. Instead however Strange Tales hits all the right notes this month in a rare but very welcome high quality story that brings together two seperate series’ in an exciting and inventive way that utilizes the strengths of each appropriately (the first significant instance of this yet.) Which, by the way, includes the combined talents of Kirby and Ditko who only add to the fun. A great read for sure.

MY SCORE: 7.5/10

30.08.11

Strange Tales #113

"The Coming of Plantman!"

 

CMRO#81
Strange Tales #113
October 1963

Written by Stan Lee & Joe Carter
Pencils by Dick Ayers
Inks by Dick Ayers

Okay, time to put Strange Tales out of its misery, I think. How long does this series continue on for? Really? But anyway, this month Johnny has a new foe with kinda similar powers and an even dorkier name. Plantman—some gardener who can control intelligent plants with a machine he built in his spare time—seeks to rule the world this time around and it takes Torch fourteen pages to figure out that when it comes to vegetation, he pretty much has the upper hand. The battles themselves play out much like battles with Namor in that Plantman pretty much has a plant for every occasion, that is, until Johnny saps them of their vapour. Or something. So yeah we get more lock-picking shape shifting plants, fighting trees and this time we even get a look into a steady girlfriend of sorts for Johnny. Shame she’s got even less of a personality than the plants though.

MY SCORE: 1.0/10

05.09.11

Strange Tales #114

"The Human Torch Meets Captain America"

 

CMRO#86
Strange Tales #114
November 1963

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

Captain America kind of makes his fitting debut appearance in the Silver Age of Marvel this month in the pages of Johnny Storm’s solo mag Strange Tales as he turns out to be quite different from his Golden Age version of himself. Well, that is, until you get to the end and you find out the shocking truth. And well, yeah, it is kinda cool in a way. Not only that but the entire story reads well and gives Cap some nice action segments that are great to look at and skim through as they whiz past. Of course this whole story is confessed by Stan to be a test of sorts to gauge whether or not ol’ Steve Rodgers would be welcome in the new age, but for what it’s worth, it’s a decent outing for Torch too. Fun, exciting and refreshing all in one. 

Could this be a spark of the train of thought that would lead to the modern Hulk?

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

14.09.11