Mondo Marvel #19 - November 1963

A column article, Mondo Marvel by: Paul Brian McCoy

Welcome back, True Believers!

Man, who'd have thought that taking a week off would make it so long between installments? Okay. I suppose anyone who can do basic math could have figured out that a week off for a bi-weekly column means four weeks until the next column, but I hadn't thought that far ahead.

Anyway, I hope everybody had a good holiday season all around! I know I did! I've been resting and relaxing, catching up on my reading (you should have seen the pile of comics stacking up, especially after my X-Mas haul!), and trying not to get too overwhelmed with family, friends, and the occasional worthless scumbag. But enough of that jibber-jabber.

This week we mark the first time in ages that Stan "The Man" Lee writes every title hitting the stands with a Marvel imprint on it. No plotting for others to script this month. And the penciling jobs are confined to just Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck. Ayers continues to do the majority of the inking, but Don Heck and Paul Reinman do their fair share. And G. Bell (George Roussos) steps up to ink Sgt. Fury this time around.

With the creative talent so focused, I've organized our approach this month by a combination of Title Family and Creative Team. With The Avengers bringing so many characters together, it's the first time that the Marvel Universe really begins to feel like a cohesive unit, so we'll see how long I can keep things ordered this way.

But first, we'll swing by The FF's neck of the woods and see what's Stan and Jack have in store for us.

Strap in and prepare your minds, Mondo Marvel is back, bigger and better than ever!

Well, bigger at least.




November 1963
Fantastic Four #20
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers

 

 

"The Mysterious Molecule Man!"



As usual with The Fantastic Four, Lee and Kirby start us off in the middle of an experiment in the Baxter Building. This time, the gang are trying to test a meteor that fell onto a local farmer's property, but they're having no luck until Ben busts it open like a pinata.

I'm not sure why Reed's surprised by what they find inside, though. It's a shriveled thingie that looks like a dehydrated acorn and it's clearly organic, which causes Reed to get excited about proving that "some form of life must exist in outer space!"

Um, your planet is invaded by alien life every other month, dude. Relax. I'm pretty sure the Super Skrull landing in the middle of downtown New York was all the proof anyone needed.

But before anyone can notice that little fact, another strange threat appears outside. Well, it's not actually a threat; it's a portal that puts our team face to face with The Watcher, who's arrived with a warning about a threat that "only the Fantastic Four" can handle. So much for not interfering.

One interesting note about this sequence is that when Ben rips up a water main in order to hose down the supposed threat, Reed chides him about the cost. Now they've got to pay the city to fix the damage.

I like that element of the story, and wish that it were addressed more often. Insurance rates in Marvel New York must be through the roof considering all the collateral damage that occurs month in and out. It's nice to see the First Family taking some responsibility here. Maybe if more heroes did this we'd never have to worry about some sort of Civil War sometime in the future.

Anyway, the real threat this issue is The Molecule Man, and while his origin is an interesting combination of many of the other stories we've seen so far, the end result is a very interesting and original idea. Because, as Reed states, if a person can control molecules (the smallest groups of atoms which compose any element), he can control anything. He can even destroy all of creation.

Now that's a threat.

Sort of.

It looks like MM isn't all that much of a threat. I mean, his whole origin is based on him being a screw-up, so I guess it shouldn't be a surprise. While he is extremely powerful, his powers only work on inanimate objects. And for some reason, his powers are channeled through a little wand. Why? No idea.

But that limitation is enough to allow him to throw traps and obstacles at the team that force them to rethink their approach. And just for good measure, when the FF retreat to formulate a plan of attack, the citizens of New York see them running and immediately give in to despair, worrying about what will happen now that the FF are running away and calling them "over-rated quitters." What a fickle bunch.

Maybe fickle is the wrong word. The New Yorkers are so intimidated by Molecule Man that they obey his orders to hunt down the Fantastic Four. Luckily the Yancy Street Gang doesn't want anyone else to torment Ben, so they help out and before too long, Reed's got a plan.

Essentially, they just get MM's wand away from him and before he can get it back the Watcher returns and takes him away. Where? No idea. But it makes for a tidy little conclusion.

And we never got back to that meteor, did we? Hmmm. Nice job laying some groundwork for stories to come, guys. I like that.




Strange Tales #114
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Dick Ayers

 

 

"The Human Torch Meets...Captain America!"



There's actually a sub-title for this story. It says, (Please don't reveal the surprise ending of this tale...). Well, I'm gonna go ahead and spoil it for you. It's not like it hasn't been around for almost fifty years.

He's not really Captain America. He's the Acrobat with his mustache shaved off.

There's not really much in-text explanation for why he decided to dress up like a hero who'd been out of action since World War Two, beyond it being a great way to manipulate and distract folks while he robs a bank. And that's pretty much the whole story, really.

What's interesting is why Lee and Kirby decided to dress The Acrobat up as Cap. According to the last panel of the story, this was a test to see if the readers would want to see Captain America return to Marvel Comics! I'm not sure why we needed a test for this.

Captain America is probably the biggest hero in the Timely catalog that we haven't seen back in one form or another, so I can't imagine a scenario where fans wouldn't rejoice. I guess he would be in his mid early forties in 1963, and there were comics published starring him during the fifties, so technically he's only been off the scene for around a decade. It could work.

Especially if this story is an example of the sort of action we'd be getting. The Acrobat does a pretty impressive job outmaneuvering the Torch through the whole story, until he finally makes a mistake and runs out of room to move. So, taking that kind of non-stop acrobatic action and applying it to a freshly returned classic hero should work like gangbusters.

We also get another "Comic Books vs. Reality" moment as Johnny ends the story by digging out his old Captain America comic books and fondly reminisces about how Army Private Steve Rogers would change into his Captain America costume and fight Nazis. This is another interesting little blending of realities, where it looks like the characters are actually reading the comics that we are reading, right down to the characters' alter egos.

I wonder if anyone ever mentioned the fact that Captain America's secret identity was public knowledge if you read his comics? I doubt it.

Writer: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko
"Doctor Strange: The Return of the Omnipotent Baron Mordo!"



Getting back to the topic of testing out characters and getting reader feedback, it looks like the fans wanted more Doctor Strange, so Lee and Ditko team up to give us a short, very short (four and a half pages), re-introduction to the character.

There's not much here and next time promises to be more interesting. Although we do have a new character introduced with the potential for magical ability, so we'll see if she returns.

I do want to mention real quick that the way Strange gets out of trouble in this piece is crap. Mordo couldn't tell that he'd captured Strange's astral projection? The astral projection could get interact with others while Strange's physical body was on the way? What happened to his body being vulnerable while...

Nevermind. Not a high point, but next time should be better.




Amazing Spider-Man #6
Story: Stan Lee
Art: Steve Ditko

 

 

"Face-to-Face With... The Lizard!"



Lee and Ditko's second collaboration this month is much more successful. This has been a favorite story of mine since I was little. I guess I've always enjoyed the more horror-flavored stories. And this one is a classic!

It's also another outstanding installment of Amazing Spider-Man; one of the best so far. It's essentially The Fly without the tragic ending. Dr. Curt Connors is a gifted scientist who lost an arm in the war. He's about to hit on a scientific breakthrough that will change the medical world. By experimenting with lizards, he develops a way to grow back lost limbs and after a trial success with a rabbit, he impulsively downs the serum himself.

But guess what? He turns into a man-sized lizard with super-strength and the ability to talk (and wear human clothes). Through a convoluted series of events, Spider-Man shows up to stop him from terrorizing the Everglades. As with the other top-of-the-line Spider-Man stories, Peter uses a combination of brains and brawn to defeat The Lizard. After utilizing Connors' own notes, Pete whips up an antidote and then just has to survive getting close enough to the monster to force him to drink it.

This was one of the most thrilling sequences of my childhood reading. Of course, I've always thought alligators were horrifying, and that's who The Lizard has helping him out. You see, he plans on dumping a chemical compound into the swamp that will make all the reptiles exposed intelligent. Then, under his command, they will conquer the world. Somehow.

Anyway, Spidey's outclassed strength-wise and can only just barely stay one step ahead of The Lizard's speed. He also can't really hurt the monster thanks to his super thick lizard-skin. Connors is just a force of nature and Pete's helplessness made this a very exciting story to ten year old me.

Hell, it's exciting to forty-two year old me.

But not only is it a well done story, Peter Parker also gets a little more confident and a little less self-pitying this time around. If it were't for bad timing he'd have asked Jameson's secretary, Betty Brant, out on a date this issue. And she would have said yes.

I was a little disappointed with Pete's cavalier switch at the end of the story, when he remembers that Betty's busy with work, he doesn't hesitate for a second to call up Liz and ask her out instead. I'm not surprised, just disappointed. Oh well. I guess he's not looking for love. Just a date.




Tales of Suspense #47
Writer: Stan Lee
Interpreted: Steve Ditko
Refined: Don Heck

 

 

"Iron Man Battles The Melter!"



It appears that not even Stan Lee on scripting can make an interesting Iron Man story yet. And what does "Interpreted by: Steve Ditko" and "Refined by: Don Heck" even mean? My eye isn't that good, but I don't see Ditko's influence on this art at all. It just looks like the regular Don Heck art, which is pretty darned good, as usual.

Did they throw Ditko's name on there to boost circulation? If anyone knows the answer, let me know, because it's a selling point in the promotional copy on the cover and in trying to get readers to come back next month.

Honestly, if Ditko's name wasn't on there, I wouldn't have thought he had anything to do with this issue.

But that's not really the problem. The problem is just a lackluster story and an obvious, but pretty lame, villain. It is nice that, for a change, an Iron Man villain isn't a Commie, but is instead a rival Capitalist. The Melter is really Stark's rival, Bruno Horgan, another weapons manufacturer who Stark revealed was using inferior materials to cut costs on things like tanks. When the government honchos in charge of signing contracts found out, they dumped Horgan and threw all that sweet, government cash at Stark.

Then, the accidental discovery of a melting ray gave Horgan an idea. He crafted a crazy suit, put on a mask, and decided to ruin Stark. It's the Capitalist Ideal, really.

Anyway, thanks to a quick manufacture of an aluminum suit (The Melter's ray only melts iron, luckily), Iron Man defeats his enemy, sending him plunging into the sewer, where he either escapes or drowns. No one knows which.

And that's pretty much that.

There's really not much of the craft that has gone into any of the other comics this month, but I guess with Lee writing them all, there were gonna be some weak spots. And this is definitely one of them.

On the plus side, this moves us into the Avengers Family of characters for this installment of Mondo Marvel.




Journey Into Mystery #98
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Don Heck

 

 

"Challenged By The Human Cobra!"



This is an intriguing Thor adventure, but not a particularly engaging one. Lee continues to play up the romantic tension as a way of providing conflict not only between Dr. Blake and Nurse Jane, but between Blake and Thor himself. This issue, Thor takes a page out of the Spider-Man playbook and melodramatically laments his sorry state, wishing he wasn't Thor. That's while destroying most of his office in a rage.

In an interesting development, though, Odin expresses sympathy for his favorite son, and Lee's narration suggests that the unseen hand of Odin may have been responsible for Jane coming into harm's way, so that she'd eventually run back to Blake.

Like I said, it's interesting, but again, not very compelling.

Thor's villain this issue is a character called The Cobra, a horrible person who gets bitten by a radioactive cobra and gains it's strengths. Hmmm. That sounds familiar.

Anyway, thanks to his radiation-induced cobra powers and a slew of poisonous gadgets, The Cobra presents himself as a formidable challenge for Thor. I don't really buy it, but they do a good job of making him creepy and pretty nasty. He's just a bad man even before he gets his powers.

It's kind of cool to see what is essentially Spider-Man gone wrong. If Peter Parker had concentrated on using spider-venom to make his gadgets and didn't have Aunt May to worry about, this could be how he turned out. It's just odd that he debuts as a Thor villain. Especially with his animal theme, it seems The Cobra would be a natural fit over in Amazing Spider-Man.

Oh well. I'm sure he'll end up over there someday.

Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Don Heck
"Tales of Asgard: Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants"



The real highlight of this issue is the latest installment of "Tales of Asgard" even though it really has nothing to do with the Norse legends it claims to be based upon.

Essentially, this story is just one four-page battle between Odin and the Ice Giant, Ymir. You see in the Norse myths, Odin and his brothers killed Ymir and created the world out of his carcass. Since we can't really get away with that here, what we get is a knock-down, drag-out fight that ends with Odin casting all of the Ice Giants but Ymir into a fiery pit to be captured and enslaved by Fire Demons for who knows how long. Eternity? Not likely.

Then he does battle with Ymir, eventually trapping him in a cage of fire that he can never cross. I'm sure never doesn't really mean what it's supposed to here, but that's beside the point. This is what a Thor story really should be.

I'm getting a little tired of the soap opera romance elements of Thor and could really use a dose of Thor kicking Giant ass to get me fully on-board.

Until then, I'm thankful for these "Tales of Asgard." This is what being a Viking Warrior God is all about.




Tales to Astonish #49
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Don Heck

 

 

"The Birth of Giant-Man!"



Okay, so Hank Pym has developed a new potion and instead of shrinking it allows him to grow. But in a nice touch of restraint, Lee establishes that Pym can't grow over twelve feet tall or he can't support his own weight and ends up essentially a gigantic helpless baby.

I really can't decide if Lee knows what he's doing with his scripting or if it's just a happy accident that Hank seems genuinely mentally disturbed. Not overtly, of course, but he doesn't seem quite sane. That could just be the natural reaction to suddenly being twelve feet tall and beating the crap of interdimensional aliens, I guess. He seems a bit more aggressive and outgoing this time out, though.

What was that? Oh, yeah. Interdimensional aliens. They want our atomic secrets so they kidnap scientists, Pym is one of them, he escapes and together with Jan free the scientists and ensure the invasion is defeated. Blah, blah, blah. I'm pretty sure I've read this story a few times over the past year of Marvel Comics and this time it's no better or worse.

Although it is a huge setback in gender relations. A "Giant" setback, if you will. There's more overt sexism in this one story than maybe in all the Marvel Comics released to this point. Lee is really letting loose as Jan keeps flirting and Hank keeps insulting her intelligence. He acknowledges that she's hot, though, so I guess that's a compliment?

A creepy, abusive compliment.

Sorry all you people who say, "Stop characterizing Hank as an abuser – it was just one time!" He's a sexist dick from the start. I don't know what Jan sees in him.




The Avengers #2
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman

 

 

"The Avengers Battle The Space Phantom!"



Right off the bat, The Avengers demonstrates what sets it apart from other superhero team books (other than the beginnings of Fantastic Four, anyway), as we open with some bickering. The Hulk is kind of an ass and nobody really likes him.

So when the Space Phantom shows up and takes his place, the rest of the team really doesn't think twice about trying to beat the crap out of him.

Who's the Space Phantom, you ask? He's an alien invader, but rather than leading a fleet of starships, he's on his own. He has the ability to duplicate anyone he wants, and while he takes their place, they are shunted off to "Limbo" where they float around in gray clouds until he duplicates someone else and swaps them out.

It's an interesting power that allows the reader to get an entire issue of the Avengers fighting each other, while actually fighting the Space Phantom. It's a little brainless fun, but it's fun nonetheless.

Particularly when, while fighting, Iron Man's true feelings about Hulk come out. It seems Iron Man thought it was a mistake to let the Hulk into the group and chooses this opportunity to let him know. Sure, it's the Space Phantom he says it to, but somehow Hulk knows about the hostility toward him once the battle is over.

And in a moment that recalls Ben Grimm quitting the Fantastic Four, and Johnny Storm quitting the Fantastic Four, by issue's end, Hulk has quit The Avengers. But unlike those other examples, Hulk isn't coming back. In fact, next issue he teams up with Namor to battle his former teammates.

How awesome is that?

That's like Superman quitting the Justice League, then teaming up with The Joker to fight them the very next issue. It just isn't done.

I suppose that's part of what Lee's hyperbolic end-copy is talking about when he calls this "the long awaited Marvel Age of Comics!"

Works for me.




The X-Men #2
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Paul Reinman

 

 

"No One Can Stop The Vanisher!"



Now there's a surprise.

As the second issue of The X-Men opens, the team is treated with the same sort of celebrity that is usually reserved for The Fantastic Four. Angel is swamped by lovely ladies wanting kisses, while Cyclops and Iceman avert a disaster at a construction site only to be congratulated and admired by the construction workers. All of this is while they're on their way back to headquarters in response to Professor X's psychic summons.

We also get quick glimpses of Beast's agility and Marvel Girl's telekenetic powers, so within the first four pages, any new readers are immediately caught up on just who these characters are and what they can do. That's an economical little introduction that actually serves a functional purpose.

Too often, similar types of introductory scenes in The Fantastic Four seem to lack purpose, so it's good to see Lee and Kirby making good use of the pages here.

Unfortunately we are then introduced to one of the poorest designs for a super villain I've seen in a long time. The Vanisher, a mutant with the ability to teleport anywhere he can think of traveling, for some reason wears a hideous lumpy costume with a weird piece of headgear that kind of reminds me of The Cobra. Why does he look like The Cobra? Who knows. It's a rare design implosion from Kirby and it makes it very hard to take the character seriously.

We also learn this issue that Professor X has a contact in the FBI, Special Agent Fred Duncan, who gives him inside information about, um, stuff, I guess. Anyway, it allows Professor X to discover that The Vanisher is planning to steal the United States' Continental Defense Plans. Because our Continental Defense Plans are actually physical papers kept in a briefcase surrounded by soldiers rather than kept in a vault or as a computer file or whatever.

Anyway, when he shows up to steal the plans, The X-Men are there to stop him. Only they don't. They fail miserably and it's immediately front page news.

And then, guess what? The public are shown calling them overrated phonies. Because "if they were really so great, they wouldn't keep their identities a secret." And there it is again. There's a lot of simmering hostility towards the costumed heroes in the MU. When they're doing good, everyone loves them, but the moment they screw up, public opinion turns on a dime.

The next time the team faces The Vanisher, though, Professor X is by their side. Because, as he puts it, "sometimes brute strength is not enough." And he's right. Sometimes you just need the horrific ability to erase a persons memory so that they no longer know who they are or what they can do.

Yup. When he can't think of a better option, Professor X just erases your mind. That's nice to know. Remind me not to piss him off.

So, ultimately this issue is all about how when confronted with an enemy that seems unstoppable, the best response is to have someone on your side with no real sense of human morality. Oh yeah. They're not human. They're mutants.

From the looks of this issue, humanity doesn't really have a problem with mutants at this point. Hell, an army of hoodlums volunteer to be henchmen, serving as a mutant's army. It's all about the Benjamins for these folks. And while The Vanisher commits crimes, it's all about making money. In fact, he's the only one in this issue who says or believes anything overtly racist, and that's against humans.

Remind me again why humanity supposedly fears mutants?




Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #4
Writer: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: G. Bell (George Roussos)

 

 

"Lord Ha-Ha's Last Laugh!"



Well that's a silly title.

But it happens to be one of the best books this month, though, so I'll let it slide.

Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos continues to be one of Marvel's top two or three titles, and definitely their most consistent one. While Fantastic Four and Spider-Man have had duds so far, Sgt. Fury just keeps on keeping on.

This issue gives us another full-length action-adventure with enough twists and turns to please any finicky reader. At the same time, we get a little bit of emotional growth for Sgt. Fury as he begins to fall in love with a British Red Cross nurse named Pamela Hawley. It turns out that the Lord Ha-Ha from the title is actually her brother, an Englishman in Germany producing propaganda broadcasts against the Allies. Her family is sure he's been tortured and made to say the things he has, and the Howlers' mission is to sneak into Berlin and get him out.

Unfortunately, things aren't quite that easy. Or that morally black and white. You see, Lord Ha-Ha is a true believer in the Nazi regime. He's a damn, dirty traitor.

If that weren't enough to make this mission a bust, he gets himself shot trying to escape. Then, to make matters worse, Jonathan "Junior" Juniper, the youngest of the Howling Commandos is killed in the ensuing battle.

Shot dead in combat, taking it to the Nazis as hard as he could.

This is the first time a main character has actually died in a Marvel Comic, I think. And this isn't your typical "dead-but-really-not-dead" kind of thing. This is war and Junior's dead. He ain't coming back.

I'm particularly impressed by how the other Commandos take it. No one reacts the same, and each of his friends deals with it quickly, but in realistic ways, ranging from Gabe's "So long, little pal," to Dino's "Which of us will be next?" to Izzy's "What's the diff? We're all expendable."



Then they move on, looking toward the next suicide mission.

On top of that, Fury finds he can't bring himself to tell Pamela that her brother was a traitor. He lies to her, saying that he died a hero.

You want some emotional complexity, there you go. All mixed up with more action and adventure than would fit in the pages of any other book on the shelves.

I take it back. This book isn't in the top two or three. It's the best thing Marvel's publishing in 1963.




Well, we go out on a serious note once again, but it was worth it. I'm just going to sign off here before I start tearing up again. We'll miss you Junior.

Wah-hoo!

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