Mondo Marvel #21 - January 1964

A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy

Okay, gang.

This should be interesting. I'm loaded up on cold medicine after getting blindsided this weekend by the beginnings of sickness. With any luck, this will all make sense when finished.

If not, I blame the medication.

Oh waitaminute. I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Paul Brian McCoy and this is Mondo Marvel, the column where every two weeks I read through a month's worth of Marvel Superhero comics from the start of the Marvel Universe (with Fantastic Four #1) until I either reach December, 1969, or crumble into a weepy, babbling mess.

Odds are on the babbling mess, at this point.

Anyway, 1962 was an abbreviated year for Marvel, as they were just starting out, had very few titles, and at least for the first half of the year was only publishing bi-monthly titles. 1963 was the year that Marvel exploded, expanding the roster of ongoing comics from five to nine, introducing Iron Man, Sgt. Fury, The Wasp, Doctor Strange, The Avengers, and The X-Men to the company of The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Thor, and Spider-Man.

There had been cross-overs throughout 1963, most notably The Hulk showing up in Fantastic Four #12, and The Human Torch's team-up with Spider-Man in Strange Tales Annual #2. Spidey and the FF would flirt with the ideas of cross-overs, but mostly they were just guest appearances that served to establish the beginnings of continuity.

Stan Lee decided, moving into 1964, that he was going to go for broke with this idea of continuity and a shared universe. The end of 1963 saw the creation of The Avengers, a super-team made up of Marvel's most popular solo stars, Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, The Wasp, and The Hulk. But The Avengers didn't really effect the regular ongoing stories of these characters.

1964 would change that.

So let's begin, shall we?

January 1964
Fantastic Four #22
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: G. Bell



"The Return of The Mole Man!"

I think I liked the Mole Man better in his first appearance.

Back then (two years ago), Lee and Kirby spent the time to make him a sympathetic character. Sure, he wanted to wipe humanity off the face of the earth, but we deserved it. Really. Humanity was just a bunch of a-holes.

This time around, though, we don't get any of the humanizing touches, instead focusing on the Mole Man as a megalomaniacal ruler of the underground kingdom, Subterranea (really, Stan?), complete with creepy, pale-skinned, big-eyed henchmen, known only at this time as his Subterranean Subjects, and/or Serfs. Nowhere is there any acknowledgment of the irony involved with this persecuted little man passing on his persecution to those worse off than he.

For the most part, this is a fairly by-the-numbers Fantastic Four story. The opening section is spent with our heroes as they fiddle about their skyscraper headquarters, before moving us into the action of the day.

This time, the quality time spent at home is continually interrupted by complaining phone calls and a visit by the police. It seems the people living in the building and in the neighborhood surrounding the building, are concerned about their safety with a superhero team launching rockets and conducting dangerous experiments in their midst.

Even though the people are all being paid off by The Mole Man to help maneuver the FF into his dangerous trap, they've got a point. I don't really think having the FF headquarters in downtown NY is really very safe. And I'm a bit disturbed by the team's lackadaisical responses to their concerns. Essentially they just blow off the complaints, occasionally even resorting to physical violence and intimidation to make them leave.

It's a bit disturbing, ethically.

Anyway, the best thing about this issue is that Reed discovers that Sue's invisibility abilities are far more powerful than anyone had suspected. We finally get the introduction of Sue Storm, Active Force For Good, rather than Sue Storm, She Turns Invisible and Trips You Or Pushes a Button.

Turns out, she has the ability to not only turn herself invisible, but to turn other things/people invisible. The only limitation is that only one thing can be invisible at a time, so if she turns Ben invisible, she must stay visible. That's pretty cool and all, but the best part is the introduction of Sue's invisible Force Fields.

If she concentrates, she can create a shield that can withstand most of the Ben's battering and Johnny's most intense heat. And if the big escape from the Mole Man's trap is any indication, these force fields are also impervious to radiation.

This is a major increase in power, and one that I can't wait to see them explore over the coming months.

I wonder if we'll ever get to see Sue create a force field bubble inside someone's body and blow them to pieces? That would be awesome!

Okay. I think the medication's really hitting now.

Strange Tales #116
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Dick Ayers
Inks: Geo. Bell



"In The Clutches of The Puppet Master!"

Another long-thought-dead villain returns with this month's Human Torch adventure. This time it's the Puppet Master, and it's actually his second return from the dead so far.

And guess what? He's got another kooky plan that involves controlling members of the FF and making them fight each other. Why he doesn't just make them kill themselves, I guess we'll never know.

Although it is posited in this story that even though Johnny and Ben fight, they're both holding back because subconsciously they would never really hurt each other. So maybe they wouldn't kill themselves either.

What's particularly disturbing about this story is that the Puppet Master takes control of Johnny and, in order to enrage Ben, forces him to very aggressively come onto Alicia. This is wrong for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the established fact that Alicia looks remarkably like Sue.

And there's the whole suggested attempted rape of a blind woman.

Luckily Ben shows up and they then fight. And in Marvel's second attempt of the month to present their female characters as something other than passive victims, it's Alicia who figures out what's going on, and even though she's blind, she somehow manages to not only get across town to where Ben and Johnny are fighting, but to direct Johnny to her step-dad.

Yeah. Remember? Puppet Master is Alicia's step-dad. And he made a mind-controlled seventeen year old try to rape her.

Okay. It's not really rape. He probably would have only molested her a little. You know, because subconsciously he would never rape a woman who looked just like his sexy, big sister.


Moving on...


Writer: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
"Doctor Strange: Nightmare World!"

While there's not a lot of story here, setting this adventure in Nightmare's realm allows Ditko to go crazy with the visuals, making it well worth the time and effort. Were there any other visuals this crazy before Doctor Strange? Surely, Ditko was working this stuff into his weird anthology work?

Anyway, Lee does a bit of work this time around, giving us The Book of Vishanti, invoking the names of Dormammu and Agamotto, and summoning the Hosts of Hoggoth (along with their accompanying Mist). I'm finding it interesting that at this stage in the game, everything is still being called Black Magic and there doesn't seem to be any distinctions between what powers are being called on in the spells.

I'm sure Lee just isn't putting that much thought into it (and I know I've mentioned this before).

It's also making me wonder when Strange's "enchanted amulet" becomes the Eye of Agamotto that we all know and love these days.

It's going to be interesting to see one of these longer stories devoted to an adventure with more thrills and dangers. I really want to see Ditko cut loose and melt all our brains.

Amazing Spider-Man #8
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko



"The Living Brain!"

Here it is! I've been waiting for this for a long time. Pete and Flash go at it in the boxing ring. Meanwhile, a super-intelligent robot gets bumped into, causing it to short circuit and go craaaaazzzzy!

I'm not sure what else to say about this one. It's nice to see Pete standing up for himself and putting Flash in his place. Too bad it won't stick, though. At least Flash broke Pete's glasses.

Not a lot really happens this issue, but maybe this is like the calm before the storm. Now that he's stood up for himself, and lost the glasses he didn't really need anymore, maybe we'll see that echo thematically from here on out.


Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Steve Ditko
"Spider-Man Tackles The Torch!"

Wow. Spider-Man's kind of a douchebag. This isn't what I was hoping for.

He goes over to the Torch's girlfriend's house to hit on her, crashes a party they're having, picks a fight with Johnny Storm, then when it starts getting a bit too "real" he thinks about cutting and running. Luckily the rest of the FF is there, so he attacks them without provocation and doesn't give up until Sue wrestles him to the ground and flirts with him. Then he leaves, insulting all of them but Sue.

Wow. WTF?

Tales of Suspense #49
Writer: Stan Lee
Illustrated: Steve Ditko
Inks: Paul Reinman



"The New Iron Man Meets The Angel!"

This month in the pages of Tales of Suspense, we discover that radiation can turn you evil. At least for a little while.

This is the first attempt to integrate the X-Men into the rest of the Marvel Universe, and it's not a bad attempt, even though the "first we fight, then we become friends" motif is already getting old.

Since there's no rational reason for Angel to fight Iron Man, we therefore get the radiation excuse. Taking a shortcut home, Angel is flying over a Stark research facility when he sees Iron Man on the ground waving to him. Not being the brightest of the X-Bunch, Angel swoops down to say hi, only to be met by Iron Man on his way up. Seems there's a massive bomb about to go off, as some sort of unexplained Stark Tech test.

Anyway, Iron Man almost gets Angel out of harm's way, but not before the bomb goes off and Angel takes a facefull of radiation. Luckily, this is the Marvel Universe, where radiation doesn't give you cancer and cause horribly agonizing death. Instead, Angel just turns evil for a while.

But don't worry, kids! It doesn't last.

Professor X tries to contact The Avengers for help, for some reason, but everybody's busy. Dr. Blake is with a patient, Hank and Jan are on a date... waitaminute. On a date? I thought Hank wasn't acting on those feelings? Hmmm. Oh yeah, and Bruce Banner is busy in a New Mexico proving ground.

Again, wha? Not only is Hulk not with the team anymore, he doesn't seem to be able to turn back into Banner for very long (as we'll see in this month's Avengers.

It looks like even with one writer in charge of everything, continuity cracks are already showing.

As it turns out, Iron Man is the only one who hears the call, and for some reason, knows that Angel isn't really evil and wouldn't let him die, so he puts himself in a situation where if Angel doesn't save him, he'll splatter himself all over the ground.

And it works. Of course.

There's a lot of subconscious limitations on what the characters in the MU will or won't do, it seems. I guess Stark is just lucky that Angel isn't a borderline sociopath or has an innate hatred of robots and all things robot-looking.

And is it an accident that the first X-Man to show up in another title just happens to be the rich kid, and he shows up in the comic dedicated to the richest guy in the MU? Is there some sort of class thing going on here?

Nah. Probably not. It's just that none of the other X-Men can fly, I'm sure.

Journey Into Mystery #100
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Don Heck



"The Master Plan of Mr. Hyde!"

Master Plan, eh? Not so much.

Well, I suppose it really is his master plan. It's just not a very good one.

The first of Marvel's two two-part stories concludes in a way that makes it seem like there's really no one at the controls. Mr. Hyde impersonated Thor and robbed a bank in order to make Thor Public Enemy #1, then he kidnaps Dr. Blake and Nurse Jane. It's then that he reveals his true Master Plan!

He wants to steal a submarine.

Oh, and he hates Don Blake because the good doctor is such a, um, good doctor. Dr. Blake is honest, hard-working, and successful, therefore Mr. Hyde hates him. So he ties Blake up, sets a time-bomb to go off in twenty-four hours, then takes Jane with him to steal the sub. Because, you see, with a sub he can "roam the seven seas like a king" with Jane as his queen.


Where the hell did that come from?

Anyway, the big news of this issue is that Blake promised to take Jane out for dinner on her birthday and it's like a real date or something. Of course, then Mr. Hyde screws it all up. But here's the real twist.

Remember last issue, how Odin said that if a mortal was worthy, then he could make them a god? Well, in a case of colossal bad timing, Odin decides to check in on Thor and casts his godly gaze Earthward just in time to see Jane interfering with Thor's capture of Mr. Hyde.

See, she's trying to save Blake, but Odin doesn't seem to know this. Instead all he sees is a human woman betraying his son in the middle of combat. And guess what? To him, that makes Jane not worthy of godhood.

It's a nice twist, and I'll accept it. Even though it leads to a final panel of Thor on a mountaintop raising his fists to the sky in despair. And I almost forgot to mention, Mr. Hyde escaped.

There's really not a lot Viking God of Thunder about him in these stories.


Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman
"Tales of Asgard: The Storm Giants"

On the other hand...

Why do I get the feeling that the young Thor sneaking into a Storm Giant's castle in order to steal back the Golden Apples of Iduna, would mercilessly mock the weepy grown-up Thor until he started crying even harder?

This is the first of the "Boyhood of Thor" stories and we see that even from the time they were children, Thor was a bit of a hothead and Loki was little prick. We also discover that Thor's hammer was originally Odin's enchanted battle hammer. After each deed of valor, Thor becomes more and more worthy of wielding the hammer.

Now that's what I'm talking about.

How long until we get full-length stories taking place in Asgard and dealing with threats worthy of Viking gods?

Tales to Astonish #51
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers



"Showdown With The Human Top!"

The second of the actual two-part stories in Marvel's publication history comes to a close this issue, and it continues to develop the characterization of Hank Pym being a little too smart but not quite powerful enough. He's definitely got a bit of an inferiority complex starting, and is really beating himself up for not being able to capture The Human Top.

I'd like to think that this was a little bit of Steve Ditko's influence rubbing off on Lee's storytelling approach. It helps to develop Pym as a distinctly different kind of hero, particularly when we get to The Avengers and see how he interacts with the other heroes.

The only thing is, being riddled with self-doubt makes sense for a character like Spider-Man, who was a frail, nerdy teen, suddenly thrust into the spotlight with amazing powers. With Hank, it serves to make him a little more relateable, but I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for something really horrible to happen as he overreaches, trying to prove himself.

However, at the same time, he's beginning to learn that he needs to rely on others to help him out, whether it's Wasp or the police. That's a plus, right?

Oh, and the Wasp this issue? More of the same. Sexist cliches and condescension from Hank. It's mildly amusing when The Human Top starts flirting with her (hopefully a mediocre writer in the future won't turn that into some sort of rape-obsession – sigh). There's another mildly amusing point where the Giant-Man fan club storms Pym's lab but rather than being there for him, they just want pictures of Jan for their school magazine.

How they know where the lab is, and how they got in, is not the sort of thing we should be wondering about, I guess. Regardless, it can't make Hank feel any better about himself.

There's a second feature in this issue, featuring The Wasp solo, but it's kind of odd, so I'm not going to spend much time on it. Apparently, in her down time, The Wasp likes to go to Veterans' Hospitals and tell them science fiction stories.


Yeah. It's nothing to do with the rest of the Marvel Universe, instead just being a way to work The Wasp into another story, without actually having to include her in the actual story. In fact, the story is so negligible that even the Vets aren't listening. They're just ogling her.

I wonder if Lee realized he was representing her as a fundamentally useless piece of wank-material?

The Avengers #3
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman



"The Avengers Meet... Sub-Mariner!"

And Wasp sure doesn't come across any better here. It's really strange that while Lee is making Sue Storm more powerful, and giving Alicia the brains and courage to defeat her own deranged step-father, Wasp continues to be written as a brainless sex kitten. And her flirting with Thor is just inappropriate. Particularly since Hank is right there.

Does this have any impact on the fact that once the Hulk escapes them, Hank, after being knocked from the top of a train because he couldn't see that they were heading for a tunnel, says from his place on the ground, "He...he's gone! I've failed!!"

Really. Two exclamation marks. Sure, the other Avengers tell him not to worry, that they all failed, but at least the others failed fighting. Pym failed like a Warner Brothers cartoon character would. That has to do some ego damage. And then, in the very next scene with the team, Jan starts flirting with Thor.

Well, not really flirting. More like actually hitting on Thor.

And Hank chastises her, causing her to celebrate in making him jealous.

This is not the healthiest of relationships.

Oh yeah. And this month Sub-Mariner teams up with Hulk to defeat the Avengers and then, all of humanity!

It's not the greatest of plans, and just like when Namor teamed-up with Dr. Doom, both parties are planning to betray each other before the action even gets underway. But oh, what action!

First, however, we get a survey of the Marvel Universe as Iron Man uses a new device he's thrown together to send his image to all the other heroes in the neighborhood to ask for help in tracking down the Hulk. Of course, the Fantastic Four are busy, Spider-Man is annoyed, and the X-Men politely decline, but Rick Jones agrees to let them know if he sees The Hulk. Sure, he then goes and convinces the big green galoot to change back into Banner to avoid any trouble, but the point is, an effort was made here to bring almost all the disparate elements of the MU together into one book, if only for a few pages.

It's a nice touch that really helps to make the MU feel like a cohesive whole.

Then, not only do we get a full-fledged battle royale between Hulk and the Avengers in the opening of the issue, there's a short battle between Hulk and Namor, followed by the grand finale of Hulk and Namor vs. The Avengers.

The action is pretty much non-stop and pretty well orchestrated, given all the different characters running around. Of course, it helps that Jan spends the entire final battle just hiding on Hank's giant shoulder. This after nearly being trampled by her own teammates who don't see her, nearly unconscious on the floor of the cave they're in. If it weren't for a strategically placed crack in the floor, she'd be dead.

She really doesn't seem to be cut out for this type of work.

Which brings up a point I meant to mention earlier. One of the things that I'm enjoying about these early Marvel comics is how, aside from a couple of characters, most everyone is an amateur at this, making up rules as they go. It really hits home the clearest in Amazing Spider-Man, or in the Human Torch solo stories, where we've got teenagers making stupid mistakes before figuring out how to defeat their enemies. But really, just about every character in the Marvel catalog is a "talented amateur" rather than a "trained professional."

It's no wonder that Hank and Jan are mostly ineffectual. Iron Man, at least, is basically fighting using tools of his own creation, so he's got that going for him. But Hank is just a scientist who grows and shrinks. He's not trained to fight. And Jan's even worse off. She's just a sexy girl, who's actually too young for him.

At least the FF and The X-Men have regular training sessions. We haven't really seen Jan or Hank doing anything but hanging out in the lab, going on "dates," and telling stories to wounded soldiers. They're just lucky the villains they've gone up against have been rank amateurs, too. We saw how much trouble the Human Top gave them. Well, he'd been doing his thing for years.

Experience counts.

As we'll see next issue.

The X-Men #3
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman



"Beware of The Blob!"

This is what I'm talking about.

When the X-Men aren't bickering amongst themselves, they're training their asses off. The Avengers could learn a thing or two from them. How many times are we gonna see the Avengers sitting around a big table, talking to each other? They need to be practicing, man!

Of course, it doesn't seem like any practice in the world can prepare them for the immense danger of... The Blob! No, not the alien goo that eats and grows gigantic. The Blob is a circus performer with vaguely defined powers that to this day I don't really understand.

He's morbidly obese and runs around in swimming trunks. If he doesn't want to be moved, you can't move him. You can't break his grip. Bullets can't penetrate his fat rolls. Essentially, he can't be hurt.

How or why? Who knows. Is it somehow connected to his obesity? Who knows.

Doesn't really matter, anyway. All that matters is that he's a bad guy. Literally. He's not nice, he's vulgar, and when he discovers that he's not just awesome, but is actually a mutant, he goes all-out evil. And if you ask me, Professor X should have seen it coming.

Xavier seems to think that just because the Blob is a mutant, he'll want to join up with the team. This is despite the fact that each issue so far has shown that mutants running about on their own have their own ideas about what's best for themselves. And usually it involves stealing from and/or conquering the puny humans.

And this time, his naivete costs them their secret identities.

Luckily, what he lacks in street smarts, Professor X makes up for in lack of scruples. For the second issue in a row, he cleans up a problem by fiddling with the enemy's brain, making them forget whatever he wants them to forget. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's the sort of behavior that in some circles would cause some sort of Crisis or something.

Even better, though. Not only does he mindwipe The Blob, but he builds a device to boost his powers, allowing him to mindwipe an entire circus full of people serving as The Blob's army.


Professor X is not to be trusted.

In other news, all the teenage boys who make up the X-Men want to get in Jean Gray's pants. But right from the start, she only has eyes for Slim Summers, the brooding serious guy.

It's probably the shades, right? Tres cool, Scott.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #5
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: G. Bell (George Roussos)



"At The Mercy of Baron Strucker!"

Fury isn't handling Junior's death very well. In fact, it's made him damn near psychotic. He's pushing the Commandos damn near the breaking point in an effort to make them the toughest, most dangerous squad in the war. He's putting the blame for Junior's death on himself for not pushing them hard enough to keep them from slipping up.

And, as luck would have it, at this same moment, the Nazis enlist Baron Strucker to defeat and humiliate Fury. Strucker challenges Fury to single combat, and even though he's ordered to ignore it, by both Captain Happy Sam Sawyer and Lady Pamela Hawley (his oldest friend and his girl friend), Fury can't let it go.

And surprise! Even though Strucker talks a storm about honor, he cheats, drugging Fury and filming the whole duel, which is then edited together into a P.R. bonanza. Fury is then dumped in a marsh and the propaganda is released to the world. And with that, Sam is forced to bust Fury back down to Private.

The rest of the issue is another action-packed, Nazi-killing extravaganza, as the Howling Commandos go behind enemy lines, blow up a rocket base, its radar installation, and the entire fleet of planes stationed there for its protection.

Just another day in the life of the Howling Commandos. Yes sir!

And as luck would have it, they then stumble across Baron Strucker, and when Fury realizes he'd been drugged for the first fight, he goes apeshit and beats Strucker to a pulp. Then they take Strucker's picture just for the hell of it.

Good stuff.

Oh, and Sam is forced to promote Fury back up to Sgt. because he's such a kick-ass soldier.

I love this book.

And you can tell that Lee and Kirby do, too. I mean, ex-Sgt Stan Lee, U.S. Army, and ex-Infantryman Jack Kirby, U.S. Army, as the credits say this time out.

Wow am I loopy. Hopefully this cold will pass quickly and the next installment of Mondo Marvel will make a little more sense – and get posted a little earlier.

Until next time...


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