Comics : Marvel Tales #3

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning

This review was first published on: 2005.

Background...

Flush with the success of Marvel Collector's Item Classics, Martin Goodman and Stan Lee convert the publishing of reprints into a monthly operation. Rather than reprinting the same handful of series on a monthly basis, however, they create two alternating bi-monthly books, allowing for a greater range of reprints. In order to maximize sales, the two top-selling Marvel series are separated out of MCIC and set up to provide a headliner for each reprint book. So, when MCIC #3, June 1966 comes out it headlines the Fantastic Four with a supporting cast of Iron Man, Dr. Strange, the Hulk, and Tales of the Watcher. The next month brings Marvel Tales #3 (its first two issues coming out in 1964 and 1965 as Annuals) with Spider-Man (moved from MCIC) as the headliner. Ant-Man is also brought over from Collector's Item Classics while Thor and the solo Human Torch strips begin their reprint runs.

The Torch story from Strange Tales #101, October 1962 is indeed the first story of that series but the Thor tale from Journey Into Mystery #84, September 1962 is actually the second since the origin from Journey Into Mystery #83, August 1962 was reprinted in Marvel Tales Annual #1, 1964. The Ant-Man story is from Tales to Astonish #38, December 1962, following the story from TTA #37, November 1962, reprinted in MCIC #2, April 1966. And the Spidey tale comes from ASM #6, November 1963, following from MCIC #2 which reprinted... ASM #4, September 1963. Ulp! So what happened to ASM #5, October 1963? Well, it was previously reprinted in ASM Annual #2, 1965. But you knew that, right? And now that that's all straight, how about we take a look at Marvel Tales #3?

Continuing in the design tradition established by Marvel Collectors' Item Classics, the cover of Marvel Tales #3 reproduces the four original covers with red arrows pointed at each one. Within the arrows are texts plugging the individual stories. The upper left-hand corner shows the cover for ASM #6, reproduced large enough so that you can still read the original cover copy. ("Half-man... Half-reptile... The Lizard will take over all of Earth unless Spider-Man alone can stop him!... The Marvel Age of Comics is Here!") The text within the arrow reads, "Spidey! Face-to-Face with the Lizard!" The upper right-hand corner highlights "Mighty Thor captured by the Executioner!" In the lower left, it's "The Astonishing Ant-Man betrayed by the Ants!" The lower right features, "The Human Torch trapped by the Destroyer!" In a jagged yellow text box is the almost obligatory "Who says this isn't the Marvel Age of comics!!"

The inside front cover is a contents page of sorts much like the one seen in MCIC #2 and again done in grays. First Stan declares that "Because you demanded it!" Marvel Tales is "Now published bi-monthly!" Next, using the "See" theme, each story is plugged. "See Spidey get his first crack at the Lizard!" shouts the blurb under a gray reproduction of page 16 panel one. (Spidey leaping over alligators.) "See Goldilocks make mincemeat of the Executioner!" reads the adjacent blurb with a shot of Thor swinging his hammer from page 4 panel 7 of the story. "See Torchy escape the deadly trap of the Destroyer!" reads the text below left with the Torch rescuing some guy who fell out of a roller coaster a la page 5 panel 5. Finally, "See Ant-Man battling the brilliant Egghead as his own ants betray him!" with a gray repro of Ant-Man lassoing some bad guy's wrist as he does on page 7 panel five of his story.

In Detail...

Marvel Tales #3
Jul 1966 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #6
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #101
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #84
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #38
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Review

Face-To-Face with... the Lizard!: Okay, you know the drill by now. There's already a Lookback of Amazing Spider-Man #6, November 1963. Check that for details. As with the MCIC reprints, the text and illustrations are the same as the original but the coloring has been changed. Oh, and on the bottom of page 1, instead of the original "Another Proud Production of the Mighty Marvel Comics Group!", it says, "Originally presented in Spider-Man #6". We gave the original issue four webs so let's stick with that.

Starring... America's Favorite Superhero: The Human Torch: Now actually, I suppose you're expected to read the contents page top left to bottom left and then top right to bottom right because the Torch story is second in the issue and the Thor story is third. Introducing the Human Torch's solo adventures, this is a strange tale indeed. It begins with Johnny Storm out-racing "an atomic-powered guided missile" just for fun. (Forget about whether Johnny could actually outrace a guided missile, where is he finding one to race? Just outside of New York?) After his race, Johnny lands on the outskirts of Glenville. Although the Fantastic Four live in the Baxter Building in their own book, the Torch and his sister Sue live together in the suburbs. Johnny tells us that "everyone in town knows my sister Sue is the Invisible Girl" but "no one knows that I'm the Human Torch". How's that for a retcon? The identities of the FF are all known in their own book but not here. No, here everyone knows Sue is in the FF but not Johnny, even though they must all know what the FF look like and they must know that Johnny looks an awful lot like the Human Torch. And you'd think everyone would get particularly suspicious when the Torch starts showing up in the town. Stan compounds all this with an Editor's Note stating, "Four of Johnny's schoolmates did know his secret identity, but they graduated high school last term! Now one of them is in the army, two are away at college, and the fourth is working in Chicago! All have been sworn to secrecy!" Well, how can you argue with that?

He enters the house and goes to his room where we are treated to a catalogue of all the things that are made out of asbestos "in case I have a nightmare and accidentally flame on while I'm asleep". We also get a schematic of the whole room including "Closet containing Fantastic Four costume and molecular woven clothes" and "Files containing case histories of super-criminals."

Johnny puts on his pajamas and goes to bed, where he recalls the origin of the Fantastic Four. Then the plot gets underway. There's this guy in a green outfit wearing a full-mask with what looks like a built-in gas mask who calls himself the Destroyer. He hangs out at the soon-to-be-opened new amusement park in Glenville and he sends a letter to Charles Stanton, publisher of the Glenville Gazette to declare, "Construction of the Amusement Park must stop! If it doesn't, I shall strike! The Destroyer!" Stanton balls the letter up and throws it out but the next day when they're testing out the new roller coaster, the track breaks and the guy riding it is sure to be killed. Johnny is watching but doesn't want to reveal his secret identity so he uses his heretofore-unknown power to make some guy's cigarette lighter create a huge smokescreen. This allows Johnny to become the Torch without anyone knowing it is him and he saves the guy on the roller coaster.

It goes on like this. Again, Charles Stanton gets a note from the Destroyer. (This time he alerts the amusement park people.) Again a ride breaks. (The "parachute jump" this time.) Again Johnny must pull a stunt to distract people so he can become the Torch and save the day.

Part 2: The Flaming Fury Strikes Back!! brings more of the same as the Torch concocts another trick so that he can change back to Johnny without anyone noticing. (All of these stunts are pretty clever but seem like an awful lot of work just to flame on and off without anyone noticing. Couldn't he just find the nearest alley or something?) Johnny's dim bulb friends who know his sister is the Invisible Girl and who know he's right on the scene when the Torch show up, can't put two and two together. "Boy, that was some show, huh, Johnny!" says one. "It sure was!" a cocky Johnny replies.

So, the Destroyer sends a third note, this time challenging the Torch to "meet him alone at a cabin on the outskirts of town". Just as Johnny plans to go, the Thing shows up and offers to go in Johnny's place since, "This Destroyer guy is too much for a kid like you to handle!" (Because he writes such devastating letters, apparently.) Johnny turns him down and the Thing stalks off. Johnny goes to the cabin only to fall into a trap. But just as the Destroyer is about to finish Johnny off, a couple of teenagers wander by and scare him off. ("Mustn't let them find me!" he thinks as he flees but why is he so worried about this? He's got a costume and mask on. And he's got a gun for protection.) Johnny has to pretend he's not the Torch again to the teenagers. ("Some day we'll find out who he really is!" says one.)

At home, Johnny thinks about the whole affair. He wonders why the Destroyer would want to stop an amusement park. Then he realizes that the Destroyer has only attacked "tall" rides. So he heads to the park, stands at the peak of the roller coaster and looks around. Sure enough, he sees... wait for it... "a Commie sub!!" over in the water. With help from the Navy, he stops it, finds the Destroyer, and stops him too. He turns out to be... wait for it... Charles Stanton who was throwing people off the track by sending those Destroyer letters to himself! And why did he want the amusement park closed? "He was smuggling information to the Red sub! This is a secluded area and no one was able to see what was going on until... the roller coaster and parachute jump were built! From up there, anyone could see the sub surfacing at Stanton's private beach!" It perhaps would have been easier just to blow up the whole park sometime in the middle of the night but, no, Stanton decided to create a costumed identity, send threatening letters to himself, and sabotage rides while they were being tested. It's no wonder this guy hasn't been seen again.

You know, I love these old hokey "Commie-hating" stories from the early sixties but this one is too much even for me. I'm going to have to give this one just one and a half webs.

The Mighty Thor vs. the Executioner: Just as the Destroyer in the Torch story wasn't the later Odin-created robot (or the Thanos opponent Drax or the Golden Age super-hero), the Executioner in this story isn't the Asgardian who teamed up with the Enchantress. No, the Executioner in this story is some Fidel Castro wannabe. (You know, really, if these old series had been cancelled as fast as they cancel current series, Thor never would have made it to Journey Into Mystery #100. These early stories are some painful stuff.)

The story starts with a one-page recap of Thor's origin. Lame Dr. Donald Blake, on vacation in Norway, finds "an ancient cane in a remote cave" which, when struck on the ground, turns into a "giant hammer" and Blake into the Mighty Thor. He fights and pummels the invading force of Stone Men from Saturn, strikes the hammer on the ground, and reverts back to Don Blake. Now back in the U.S., Don has resumed his medical practice along with his nurse Jane Foster. Don is madly in love with Jane but doesn't dare tell her because he's convinced she could never love a lame man. Unbeknownst to him, of course, Jane is interested in Don as well.

While Don was on vacation in Europe, a revolution broke out in the tiny fictional Latin American country of San Diablo. As Jane puts it, "One faction is democratic, the other is pro-communist! Its leader is a ruthless warlord known as The Executioner because of the many victims he's sent to the firing squad." At a medical meeting, a plea goes out for doctors to go to San Diablo. Don Blake is one of the doctors who volunteers and he brings Jane along with him.

They travel on a Red Cross ship, believing they are safe because of their mission of mercy. But never underestimate the evil of a Silver Age Marvel Communist villain. The Executioner sends out jets to sink the ship so that the peasants of his country will remain too ill to oppose him. With no guns to defend it, the ship looks doomed... until Don Blake slips below decks and transforms into the Mighty Thor. This is Thor's first public appearance and none of the people on the ship know what to make of him. They watch as Thor destroys all of the jets, finishing up by plunging into the drink. There he bangs his hammer on the side of the ship and changes back to Don Blake who pretends he fell overboard during the excitement. All of the talk is about Thor with Jane remarking, "And he was so... so handsome!"

In San Diablo, the Executioner (who is bearded and wears Army fatigues like Fidel Castro) sends the man who commanded the jet pilots to the firing squad. He tells his other men that he wants the "Yankee doctors prevented from treating the sick peasants" or they too will be put to death.

The ship has docked and the doctors walk through a mountain pass on their way to treating the sick peasants. The Executioner's men turn the mountain pass into an ambush but Don saves the day by stamping the cane twice on the ground, creating a savage rainstorm that causes mud slides. Out of the pass, the doctors encounter the Executioner's tanks and Don changes into Thor again. He destroys the tanks with his great strength and hammer. The last tank is smashed "with such force that the vibration causes the very molecules of the steel itself to dissemble and fall apart." (I think that should probably be "disassemble" but it's still a great line.) During this time, all of the Americans take advantage of the situation to run. All except one. Guess who? That's right, Jane is captured. Thor dare not risk her life and retreats.

Jane is taken to the Executioner who immediately falls for her. ("This American girl. She quite a prize! Such lovely eyes... such soft hair! She is beautiful!") It gets worse. Dr. Don Blake is brought in as a spy and the Executioner takes his cane away from him and sets him up against the wall for the firing squad. When Jane pleads for Don's life, the Executioner leers at her and says, "You like him, eh? Tell me what you would do to save his life? Would you marry me??" (Yeah, I always suspected that the only thing these Latin American Communist warlords really want is to marry a beautiful American girl!) Jane agrees to marry him but Don can't allow Jane to make such a sacrifice. He insults the Executioner ("You're a lily-livered coward!"), enticing him into getting close enough so that he can snatch his cane back again. He thumps the cane against the wall, changes to Thor and routs the Executioner's army. (Suddenly, Thor doesn't seem worried about the fact that Jane is a hostage. He just takes care of business instead.) As the army of the "democratic faction of San Diablo" approaches, the Executioner tries to beat feet out of there, taking all of the money and gold belonging to the revolution. (He tries to walk right through his men with three burlap bags with dollars signs on them plus a satchel under his arm with greenbacks sticking out of it.) Seeing this, his men come to their senses. "He betrayed us!" says one, "He betrayed our nation! It is the Americans who are truly our friends." Then they gun down the Executioner right in the front of firing squad wall. Later, while treating the sick peasants, Don tells Jane that he was hiding behind the wall while Thor was busting heads. Jane wishes Don could be "brave and adventurous like Thor" but knows "that would just be too much to hope for."

That "Commie-hating" Human Torch story earlier in the issue is looking better and better. Looking at this story, it's hard to believe the Mighty Thor ever became a top-notch series. This story has nothing to offer. The plot is simplistic and jingoistic; the Executioner is little more than anti- Communist propaganda. If Thor is going to topple a foreign government, I can't think of a single reason why he doesn't just step in and do it from the start instead of pussyfooting around as he does. The tedious romantic triangle between Thor, Don, and Jane begins in this story and it almost becomes a romantic rectangle what with the Executioner getting into the act. What is that all about? In the end, the deluded rebels realize that the U.S.A is their real friend as, of course, it has been for the people of Latin America for the last couple of hundred years, right? Ahem. When it comes to Commie- hating Silver Age stories, this is as bad as it gets. One-half web.

Betrayed by the Ants!!, our final story, introduces Egghead, the villain who became Hank Pym's major nemesis over the years. We first see Egghead (recognizable because of his bald and egg-shaped head) at a meeting of the U.S. Government Atomic Energy Board where he has been called onto the carpet for allegedly trying to "sell secret atomic information to the highest foreign bidder". Egghead scoffs at the whole affair. "To a genius like me your insipid patriotic ramblings are laughable!" he says, "I sneer at you all!" (Egghead may be a genius but he could use a little work on his social skills. He may even have been able to continue to sell atomic secrets if he only considered the possibility of lying to the committee.) Even though there is no concrete proof, the Energy Board fires Egghead and sends him on his way.

Meanwhile a group of hoods led by a guy who is a dead ringer for Edward G. Robinson are afraid to pull any robberies because of Ant-Man. They read about Egghead's dismissal in the paper and decide to hire him to defeat Henry Pym. Studying films of Ant-Man in action, Egghead deduces that the tiny super-hero has some way of communicating with ants. Deciding that the communication is achieved through electronic signals, he determines the correct wavelength and creates a machine to speak to ants himself. Then he goes to the nearest anthill and sends a message. "I am your friend" he says, "I have come to free you from the Ant-Man's rule! Help me to capture him and then you shall be the masters and he the slave!" Then he tells the ants his plan in which he wants them to lead Ant-Man into an ambush at a nearby museum. As the hoods steal the Wentworth Necklace, Egghead will be waiting for Ant-Man with some flypaper.

The plan seems to work. The ants lead Ant-Man right to Egghead who uses a bellows to blow the hero into a box lined with flypaper. But the flypaper doesn't stick to Ant-Man and he leaps out of the box. Then he dukes it out with the hoods until the ants drop a giant sheet of flypaper from the ceiling onto the crooks. A few of the bad guys escape and run out to their car... a 1930s roadster... but find the tires are all flat and the key gone from the ignition even though the driver has been there all along.

The cops arrive to round up the crooks. Ant-Man gives them a full report. Egghead "misunderstood the psychology of ants", he explains, "He didn't know that the ants do not consider themselves my helpless slaves! They regard themselves as my friends and my partners in the war against crime!" So, the ants went to Ant-Man and revealed Egghead's plot. Ant-Man decided to walk into the trap but first he covered himself "with a special oily chemical that made it impossible for flypaper to stick to me". Then, before entering the museum, he used a nail to flatten the four tires on the car while a half-dozen ants snuck in and stole the key from the ignition. Unfortunately, in all the turmoil, Egghead manages to escape. But he doesn't dare go to any underworld contacts since he will be blamed for the capture of all the hoods. Instead, he ends up in a "dingy Bowery flophouse" muttering about how the ants were too smart for him. Two men overhear him and one decides he "must be loco". The other agrees. "He's probably just some worthless bum without a brain in his head!"

Now this is more like it. A clever story with a nicely arrogant villain and a little zinger at the end. I don't care too much for these early solo Ant-Man stories but this is one of the best. Three and a half webs.

In General...

I suspect it's more accident than design, but it is interesting to note that Marvel Tales becomes bi-monthly at the same time that Steve Ditko wraps up his run on the Amazing Spider-Man. This allows Marvel to publish Ditko Spider-Man stories continuously all the way to Marvel Tales #28, October 1970 with one last tale published in Marvel Tales #31, July 1971; the same months as ASM #89 and ASM #98 respectively. By the time the Ditko stories are used up, readers have probably taken to thinking of John Romita as THE Spider-Man artist anyway. Certainly having Steve's work still in print must have eased the transition.

It is also interesting to note that, at the time of this reprint, this was still the only appearance of the Lizard. Six months later, however, the Lizard appears again. You don't suppose Stan took a look at this story as he was assembling this issue and thought, "Why don't I bring back the Lizard again?" Could be. So, don't sneer at them because they're reprint books. Maybe Marvel Tales contributed to the direction of the Amazing Spider- Man.

Overall Rating...

Let's total it all up. Four webs for the Spidey story. One and a half for the Torch tale. One-half web for Thor. Three and a half for Ant-Man. Altogether, that's nine and a half webs. Divide it by four and you average out to... five webs. Yes, five webs. Who cares what the quality of the four stories is? This is the beginning of a regular reprint locale for Spider-Man stories that is with us for decades to come. That alone makes it deserving of the highest rating.