Comics : Marvel Tales #5
This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning
This review was first published on: 2006.
This is what happens when the various series get reprinted in order. You end up with an issue featuring the Living Brain, Zemu of the Fifth Dimension, some overzealous Reds, and the Hijacker. Stir in the decision to omit the ASM #8 backup story, opting instead for the Wasp telling her Wobbow tale and you've whipped up one strange little installment of Marvel Tales.
Marvel Tales #5
Nov 1966 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #8 (Story 1)
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #103
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #87
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #40
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #51
See Original Credits
We're still getting those cool covers that display the issues' original covers (they're dispensed with starting with Marvel Tales #11, November 1967). This one has a black background that really brings out the yellow in the Spidey cover, the red in the Journey into Mystery Cover and the green in the Tales to Astonish cover. "See... Spidey battle the Living Brain! An offbeat Marvel classic" says the text inside the arrow pointing at that cover. (Those not familiar with the original issue may wonder why the Human Torch is on the cover and not in the story. There is no mention of the second story in this issue.) "See... the God of Thunder as a helpless Prisoner of the Reds!" says the blurb pointing to the JIM cover to the right. Below and to the left, an arrow points at the Astonish cover and says, "See... the unforgettable Day That Ant-Man Failed!" (Oops! Had a typo there for a second: "the unforgettable Day That Ant-Man Filed!" The long-lost story of Hank Pym's temp job! I'd pay to read that.) Next to that cover is one from Strange Tales with an arrow reading, "See... the fabulous Human Torch become a Prisoner of the Fifth Dimension!" Down in the lower lefthand corner is a headshot of the Wasp looking like she's working as a telemarketer. That blurb reads, "Plus the wonderful Wasp narrating the way-out wondrous Somewhere Waits a Wobbow!" In the bottom right corner is a box reading, "Face it, Marvelite... this mag has just gotta be the biggest value in comicdom!" Which is one way of putting it, I guess.
On the inside front cover, we're treated to another of those greytone contents pages; this one containing, not one but two words you don't see every day. "For once", writes Stan, "We're gonna dispense with our paronomastic preamble, 'cause the table of contents yonder is far more eloquent than anything we could possibly say!" Stan then introduces the production credits with, "Another lyrical lucubration from the Marvel Brain Trust!" This from a publication aimed at kids. So what do "dispense" and "lyrical" mean? Okay, sorry, couldn't resist. What do "paronomastic" and "lucubration" mean? Well, according to my spellcheck and "Shorter Oxford English Dictionary", "paronomastic" is not a word but "paronomasia" is. It is defined as "the formation of a word by partial translation of a foreign word." So, the usual "paronomastic preamble" is... hell, I don't know! I'm not sure this word applies in this situation. Maybe Stan just liked the way it sounded. He fares better with "lucubration" which is either the process of burning the midnight oil or writing laboriously and elaborately. Both definitions work here and give us a wonderful image of the Bullpen pulling all-nighters and writing lyrically and elaborately in their efforts to bring you the very best in comics. And they're teaching you new words too!
Five panels follow with no other description but the title of each story. The first panel, showing the Living Brain snagging Spidey by the wrist, is from page 12, panel 5 of the Spidey story. The second panel, showing the Torch flying over the city of the Fifth Dimension ("Wouldn't you like to fly in my beautiful balloon!!!!") hails from page 12, panel 2 of the Torch story. The third panel, showing a whipped Ant-Man stretched out on Howard Mitchell's palm, is slightly redrawn from page 6, panel 2 of the Ant-Man story. The fourth panel, showing the Wasp flapping her wings, is a touch-up of page 5, panel 8 of the Wasp story. The fifth panel, showing Thor trussed up and threatened by some dirty Commie, is taken from page 8, panel 2 of the Thor story.
The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain!": As usual, the issue begins with the Spidey story and, as usual, I will pretty much skip over it since I reviewed it already. (It has the usual coloring changes and eliminates the caption that reads, "Don't go away, friends! More teen-age fun follows as Spider-Man mixes it up with that other youthful sensation, the Human Torch!" from the last panel of the original, but otherwise is essentially the same.) Check out the Lookback for Amazing Spider-Man #8, January 1964 for that. I loved Ditko's artwork on the Brain, enjoyed the fight between Peter and Flash, and got a kick out of the dopey crooks who try to turn a profit by stealing a robot they don't know how to use. I gave the story three and a half webs.
Prisoner of the 5th Dimension! from Strange Tales #103, December 1962 is not about some poor slob forced to listen to "Aquarius" over and over (and that's my last joke of that type for the duration). It begins with Johnny Storm flaming on in a deserted alleyway in Glenville, New York and flying to school as the Human Torch in order to get to his first period history test. While at school, Johnny overhears three kids talking about a fellow named George Bentley who one thinks is "the best house builder in the state" except that he picked "the swamp for his new housing development" causing three homes to sink into the ground. At the development, Bentley learns that a fourth house has sunk even though his men "filled in the plot with hard soil to support the house". As Bentley wonders why this is happening, a hayseed farmer appears on the scene and tells him that the swamp demons are getting back at him for "knocking down the trees and destroying their swamp". Nobody can buy into the swamp demon theory (and it's not hard to see why) so they decide to "re- enforce the plot with a double amount of hard soil". That night after everyone has left, two shadowy figures rise up out of the swamp vowing to teach the builders another lesson and the next day another house has sunk. The wacky farmer is there to tell Bentley that "the swamp demons won't never let yuh build here".
Curious about it all, Johnny contacts Reed Richards who tells him that he suspects sabotage. So, the Torch flies to the development and burns through the ground to check it out. He determines that the soil is hard enough to support a house and he can't find anything that would pull a house down. The farmer pokes his nose in again to yell at Johnny about the swamp demons, which prompts him to stick around that night to see if any demons come out. While he's skulking around in the dark, Johnny sees the farmer with two pointy-eared fellows with receding hairlines. One carries a ray gun on a tripod. Both wear Kirby-designed outfits that look like prototypes of Galactus' suit. As Johnny watches, one of the pointy-eared guys sets up the ray gun and fires it at a house's foundation. The ground gets soft immediately and the house falls right in. Once the house is sunk up to its roof, he turns off the ray (which fires "electro-gamma waves", by the way) and the ground hardens up again. Hiding behind some tall grass, Johnny follows as the threesome move into the woods. There the two receding hairlines wave at the farmer who waves back at them with a stick he's carrying. Then the two alien types fade "into nothingness". With that, Johnny flames on and confronts the farmer. With no further need to pretend, the farmer tosses his hat away and pulls off his gray- haired mask to reveal himself to be as pointy-eared and hairline-receding as the two that just vanished. No longer having to pretend to be human, the former farmer pulls a gun and points it at the Torch who isn't at all worried since bullets "melt the instant they hit my flame". But this gun doesn't shoot bullets. Instead it shoots "anti-matter electrons which convert ordinary air into a liquid chemical". (Wha?) The "farmer" fires at the Torch and the liquid from the gun puts out his flame. Then the alien tells Johnny to walk into the swamp. When they reach a certain spot they leave Johnny's dimension of space and time and enter the alien's dimension.
Part 2: Trapped in Another World!: This is the Fifth Dimension. ("Beyond that which is known to man." Now, no more of that joke for the duration. Actually, Stan and the gang may well have gotten the idea of the Fifth Dimension from that Twilight Zone opening.) A futuristic-looking world with elevated walkways, flying cars, and glass blower designed architecture. The alien takes Johnny to the person he calls a "warlord" and whom Stan calls "the Prime Minister". He is sitting on a golden throne connected to a platform that looks like a Dr. Seuss vehicle. Nine other officials stand up on the platform with him. Stan tells us he is "a sneering despot named Zemu" who has no problem with spilling his guts to a complete stranger from another dimension. He tells Johnny that the Fifth Dimensioners have prepared to conquer our dimension ever since they discovered it. Apparently, there is a conduit between dimensions in the swamp and Zemu's crew had to make sure humans didn't stumble upon it. That's why they had to discourage a housing development in the area. As Zemu blathers on, Johnny's teenage hormones get the better of him and his attention wanders until he notices a beautiful girl in the crowd. She seems to be the only one who is unhappy with his capture. "She's looking at me like she feels sorry for me!" he thinks. While Johnny thinks about other things, Zemu decides to imprison him by chaining him at the bottom of a big transparent water tank with a scuba mask of sorts over his face providing just enough oxygen to keep him alive. He is left there for hours but at nightfall his hormones kick in again as he notices, "the gorgeous gal I saw before. She's coming this way!"
The gorgeous gal, we soon find out, is Valeria, daughter of Phineas. She sidles up close to the guard at the water tank, buttering him up, then puts him to sleep with her hypno-ring. As soon as that happens, Phineas and a fellow named Theos (who is apparently his son) release Johnny and take him back to their home. They tell Johnny that they are opposed to Zemu and his plan to conquer our dimension. They ask Johnny to help them against Zemu. "That's just what I intend to do!" says Johnny, "Zemu and his buddies are going to rue the day they tangled with the Human Torch!"
Back at the palace, the guard has come to his senses and reports to Zemu who proclaims that "We must recapture the Torch at once!" But meanwhile Johnny is invading the arsenal where Zemu's men are testing practical weapons like a "cold ray" for their Earth invasion. "We'll turn the humans' troops into immovable icemen!" says a Fifth Dimensioner; just the sort of thing that would guarantee taking over the world. While the Torch destroys the arsenal by flaming underground and melting its foundation, Zemu comes upon Phineas, Valeria, and Theos who are just hanging around outside. Instead of just capturing them, he uses a giant magnet to pull them off their feet so that they fly through the air. They must be wearing a ton of metal since each of them attaches to the giant magnet and just hangs there. When the Torch appears, Zemu threatens to kill his prisoners with his firing squad but Johnny whips up a smoke screen and melts the magnet. He helps Valeria to the ground. "Oh!! You're wonderful!!" she says.
Part 3: The End of Zemu!: Sort of takes the suspense out of it, don't you think? It's certainly hard to take the sentence "But the powerful Zemu is not to be defeated so easily!" seriously when it is written right below Part 3's title. Anyway, while Johnny and his pals start to flee, Zemu brings out his "fireproof giant tank corps" which he has on hand in case he ever runs into a foe that uses fire, don'tcha know. Johnny tells Zemu that he's not worried about a fireproof tank since he'll just "melt their bullets and shells" but Zemu counters that "the ammunition in the tanks has been coated with an asbestos solvent" and "will not burn"! In other words, the old boy was thinking ahead! Even as the tanks begin to fire, Johnny creates a thermal updraft that turns into a super-tornado which is carefully positioned to wipe out the tanks and nothing else.
Phineas and his family aren't much impressed, however. They tell Johnny that Zemu "still has thousands of loyal troops", that the "only way to topple his regime is to cause a general uprising" but that "Zemu controls all the communication systems" making it hard to get the revolution started. Johnny knows of one communication system that Zemu doesn't control: himself! He flies up in the air and, like the Wicked Witch writing "Surrender Dorothy", skywrites "Arise! Arise Against Tyranny! Defeat Zemu!" with the exclamation points. That's all it takes. The people immediately rise up and they have all sorts of guns and other weapons already at hand. Instantly, Zemu's forces are defeated. Zemu himself tries to run off but the Torch catches him in a cage of fire. Just like that, the whole dimension is free and Phineas apparently becomes the new ruler since he promises Johnny that the invasion of Earth's dimension is off. Valeria puts her hands on Johnny's shoulders and begs him not to go yet. "I-I've never known anyone as wonderful as you!" she gushes. But Johnny punks out. "I must go home to my sister, to my friends" he tells her. (Yes, that's right. A beautiful woman asks him to stay and he tells her he must go home to his sister. Way to go, Johnny!) So, Johnny gets on a platform that rises up in the air to take him back to the swamp, which is apparently how he got there in the first place although we didn't see that part. A couple of weeks later, Johnny is in school mooning over Valeria, now that it's too late. His teacher Mr. Harris tells him he looks "as though you're in another world". "Another world" thinks Johnny, "I guess he'll never know how right he was!"
Ordinarily I'm a big fan of these kinds of dopey Silver Age invasion stories and I love the Kirby-Ayers artwork but this one just seems to go through the motions. It starts out promisingly enough with the Fifth Dimension boys sabotaging the new housing development by sinking the houses though conjuring up the "swamp demon" idea was a bit much. Couldn't these would-be invaders come up with a more plausible reason to scare the developers off than that? Like maybe just suggesting that the ground was too marshy to ever support houses? Still, part one is great fun. It's only when the Torch gets to the Fifth Dimension that the whole thing falls apart. Zemu is just a regulation tyrant with mundane ambitions. The only thing interesting about him is his Dr. Seuss throne. Valeria and her family are equally dull. Johnny seems petulant through most of the adventure, the revolution begins and succeeds in an eyeblink, and the Torch chickens out on hanging with Valeria. The more I think about it, the lower the rating gets. I think I've thought about it enough for it to sink to one web.
Prisoner of the Reds! from Journey Into Mystery #87, December 1962 has the exact same creative team for this story as for the Torch story: Stan Lee (Plot), Larry Leiber (Script), Jack Kirby (Art), Dick Ayers (Inking), Art Simek (Lettering). (They even came out in the same month.) Let's hope that they fare better with this story but the splash page doesn't bode well. On it, the Mighty Thor is bound by the wrists, torso and ankles by what look like slabs of stone connected together and held upright on a rack, his hammer by his left foot. This rack is within a dungeon complete with prison bars and a flaming torch attached to the wall (since this is what all Communist prisons were like in the 1960s). A leering Commie in a brown uniform gets in close and says to him, "Behold, God of Thunder, many have fought you! But only I have defeated you!" Oh boy. Well, let's get started and see what this is all about.
The wife of scientist John Blandings returns home to discover a note apparently from her husband, telling her that he has defected "behind the Iron Curtain to serve the Reds". (I hope to God I don't have to explain what the Iron Curtain is or who "the Reds" are. The former has nothing to do with fireproof theatre equipment and the latter has nothing to do with Cincinnati.) He is the fifth scientist in the past month to defect. Don Blake learns of this while watching the news on TV. He decides to visit his friend Colonel Edward Harrison of U.S. Army Intelligence in Washington to see if this may be a job for Thor. He tells his nurse Jane Foster that he is going away overnight and she turns all Aunt May on him. "Here are your allergy pills and vitamin tablets!" she says, "Don't forget to take them! And be sure to stay out of drafts! You know how easily you catch cold!" With Jane mooning about Thor, Don takes a plane to D.C. and moans and groans aloud that "If only I could tell Jane that I love her but I daren't!" on his flight. (I'm glad I wasn't sitting next to him.)
At Colonel Harrison's office, Don tells his old buddy that he wants to "set myself up as bait by claiming that I've invented a new weapon in biological warfare" hoping to "learn how the Reds are making our scientists defect". Harrison wants to know why Don is doing this. Unwilling to tell Harrison that he's really Thor, Don says, "My bum leg kept me out of the Korean War and, well, this is my chance to make up for it, to serve my country". Harrison buys it and okays the plan.
Don changes to Thor and flies back to New York. There he secludes himself in his lab for what Stan calls, "days of fake scientific experimentation". In the end, the Daily Bulletin carries a big headline reading, "Doctor Develops New Virus For Germ Warfare!" A mysterious figure reads the article and decides that Dr. Blake "could be another useful scientist for our cause".
The next day, a man claiming to be a photographer from a national magazine arrives and tells Don he would like to take pictures for an article on his new biological weapon. Don agrees and stands in front of his equipment. But the camera actually contains a hypnotic gas which is released when the shutter is pressed, putting Don in the photographer's power. He orders Don to write a farewell note. Then they leave by the back door and head right to a waiting airplane, which looks like it is just sitting around in Central Park. In moments, they are in the air and heading for the Iron Curtain.
When the hypnosis gas wears off, Don finds himself in a dungeon in some East European country that has lots of minarets. All the other missing scientists are there too. They tell him he's in "a Commie fortress" and that the Reds are trying to force them to do scientific work. So far they have all refused but the Commies are "making it rougher on us". Don decides that it is time to change to Thor but he doesn't want all of the scientists to learn his secret identity. Fortunately the Reds solve his problem for him by coming in and announcing that they are moving all the scientists to separate cells since "there is psychological strength in unity". Left alone, Don whacks his walking stick on the floor with a "Karrack!" and turns into the Mighty Thor, then breaks out of prison by smashing right through the stone wall. One of the Commies points at him and says, "He carries a hammer, like our hammer and sickle emblem! Is he one of us??" No such luck for that guy. Thor routs the guards by using a trick I don't think he ever uses again. He "rubs his hands against the magic hammer, creating such intense friction that it emits sparks as hot and blinding as a blast furnace". The whole thing seems vaguely onanistic but it does the job.
Continuing through the corridors of the fortress, Thor trips an electric eye that opens a trap door leading to a pool filled with man-eating sharks. (Can't you just imagine the planning session that decided to build that little feature? And this is...what?... just in case some prisoner happens to escape and wander down that hallway?) Anyway, he spins his hammer creating a whirlpool that draws the sharks into it, allowing him to climb out of the hole. Soon, Thor reaches the headquarters of the Reds but the duo there tell him that they can throw a switch that will smash the entire dungeon area killing the American scientists. Faced with this, Thor is forced to surrender. So, they chain him up on the rack as we saw on the splash page. The guards try to pick up Thor's hammer but are unable to do so, so they leave it on the floor of the dungeon. After sixty seconds without his hammer, Thor reverts to Don Blake who is so slight that he can slip out of the chains that held Thor. He hobbles over to the hammer, touches it, and again becomes Thor. Then he finds the scientists and breaks them out by tearing their cell doors right off the hinges. Using his hammer, Thor tunnels out of the fortress with the scientists following. (One notes that it is "scientifically impossible" to dig so fast and another replies that, "His power comes from a source beyond science! It is the power of a Norse God!") Arriving on the other side of the fortress walls, the scientists start to run for it but one of them remembers that Don Blake is a prisoner, too. Thor promises to go back and get him. In a corridor, he runs into the Commie leaders who try to throw the switch to blow up the dungeon. (Since they're no longer in their headquarters, they must have another switch just hanging around in the corridor. Which doesn't sound like a very safe idea but what do you expect from Commies anyway?) Before they can move, however, Thor thumps his hammer twice on the ground and creates a thunderstorm inside the fortress. Then calling on Odin, he calls lightning down from the skies to shatter the stone and mortar of the building.
(Now, I know what you're all thinking. I've wondered about it for decades. If Thor changes back to Don Blake with one thump of his hammer, how is he even able to thump it twice to create a thunderstorm? Wouldn't he turn back to Don Blake after the first thump with his hammer becoming the walking stick? And wouldn't the second thump just turn him back to Thor again? It must be one of those "scientifically impossible" "power of a Norse God" things.)
The storm rages on until the entire fortress is rubble. Thor allows the Commies to escape. "I could capture them all, but I won't" he says, "I'll let them punish each other for their defeat!" Changing back to Don Blake, he joins the scientists. They find a group of sympathizers who hide them and arrange passage out of the country. (Couldn't Thor have found an easier way to get these guys out?) They end up on a ship talking about how they almost had to work for the Commies and what a great guy Thor is for preventing that. Back at work, Don tells Jane all about his adventure. She gushes, "So Thor freed you all and then destroyed the fortress! Is it any wonder that I'm so in love with him?" Don puts his pipe in his mouth and thinks, "Jane, my darling! How I long to take you in my arms, to tell you how Thor loves you!! But I dare not! Heaven help me, I dare not!" while Jane muses, "I know I'll never find Thor, but I'll never stop dreaming and hoping and praying."
Now that's an early Silver Age Thor story! Nameless Commies as the villains with a ridiculous scheme of abducting scientists involving a gas filled camera and a plane waiting in Central Park. Don Blake has connections that allow him to fabricate a story about creating a new virus. (Who knew Don was so well connected?) Thor goes around smacking holes in the Red fortress and pulling the cell door off their hinges until he just reduces the whole thing to rubble. And there's an electric eye that triggers a trap door that leads to a pool full of man-eating sharks! Oh, and the story ends with the same old business of Jane mooning over Thor while Don wishes he could reveal his love for her. (Stan and Jack played that same silly game until the classic Thor #136, January 1967... appearing on the newsstand just a couple of months after this issue of Marvel Tales... in which Jane is transformed into a goddess so she can be with Thor and proves herself completely incapable of handling it.) Not bad for being only the fifth Thor story. Four webs.
Somewhere Waits a Wobbow! from Tales to Astonish #51, January 1964 is a five page throwback to the sort of wacky anthology stories that used to appear in Strange Tales, Journey into Mystery, Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense before the super-heroes took over. It is finessed into the super-hero world under the heading, "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale" (the first of six in this series) and fills the pages in this issue that should have gone to the six-page Torch-Spidey back-up story from ASM #8. It is a poor trade-off.
The Wasp is visiting a veteran's hospital and cheering up the fellows with "imaginative tales of fantasy". This time she tells a tale that takes place in the far future year of 2000. In that year, people have their own personal space ships and go flying all around the galaxy. They also have first names like "Rack."
Rack Morgan is a mercenary space pilot. He is not above "taking an illegal shortcut thru another company's space lane" in order to deliver his cargo early. He comes across an X-32 saucer as he's doing so, narrowly avoiding a collision. (You remember the X-32, right? They came out sometime in the late 90s, I believe.) But this doesn't deter him from continuing his unscrupulous ways. We see him give knockout drops to another pilot named "Sam" so he can swipe his transport job away from him. Sometime later, he is flying near the planet Draconius when a meteor shower forces him to swerve close enough to see that it is covered with huge chunks of gold "just laying out there in the open". The problem is that Draconius is off-limits to Earthmen "because it's supposed to be inhabited by dangerous creatures called Wobbows". Flying over the planet, Rack doesn't see any Wobbows and decides that they were made up so that people wouldn't land and steal the gold. So he lands and runs toward a collection of golden boulders. Somehow he picks up one of these boulders, which would probably be too heavy even if it were regular rock. He brings it back to his ship and flies off, crowing about how rich he is now. But then he hears a sound behind him. He turns in his spaceship and sees the gold start to change shape. It turns into a green furry creature with pointed ears, horns and black upturned eyes. This is a Wobbow and it tells Rack that "we turn ourselves into whatever bait is most attractive to our enemies and to a greedy, selfish human nothing is more tempting than gold". Having said that, he approaches Rack menacingly... with the next panel switching back to the Wasp who tells her audience that "that was the last anyone ever heard of Rack Morgan". The horny group barely notices the story at all. They're all too busy ogling the Wasp. When she uses a reducing capsule to shrink to wasp size and fly away, the men are dismayed. "It happens every time!" yells one. Another fellow asks a guy named Joe how he liked the story. "What story?" replies Joe, "With a doll like that in front of you, who can listen?"
I like the old Atlas monster stories and five page zinger stories as much as the next guy but this one is so weak that Stan and Larry had to wrap the Wasp framework around it to try to keep it from falling with a complete thud. (And if Joe can't listen to the story, why should we?) It's foolish to even ask such questions but... who the heck are these Wobbows anyway? If they turn themselves into whatever bait is most attractive to their enemies, how do they know what that is? And why are Earthmen their enemies? Or is everyone their enemy? Their planet looks completely desolate so they don't seem to have any enemies on Draconius. Do they just sit around waiting for someone to fly close by so they can disguise themselves and entice that poor sucker? How did they know that it was a "greedy selfish human" in the spaceship? And what does the Wobbow do with Rack? Kill him? Eat him? Stuff him and put him over his fireplace? If Rack is dead, does the Wobbow know how to pilot a spaceship? Or is he left floating out in space, thinking, "Now what did I do that for?" Now that we've hit the punchline, we know that Rack was not lifting a chunk of gold the size of a boulder but a Wobbow disguised as a chunk of gold the size of a boulder. But shouldn't that still weigh an awful lot? And if it doesn't, shouldn't Rack wonder why the gold is so easy to lift? I could go on and on like this but you get the point. I've already put far too much thought into this story than Stan, Larry, or any of the original readers did, I'm sure. I'm giving it one-half of a web.
The Day That Ant-Man Failed! is from Tales to Astonish #40, February 1963 with some cool Kirby art. It begins with Henry Pym inventing a new gas mask for the Army. It is made of unstable molecules and adjusts to the size of the wearer's head. It only takes one panel to tell about that before switching to the scene of a robbery but you know, if Stan and Larry bother to introduce it, that it's going to appear again at a crucial time in the story. At the scene of the robbery, two armored car guards stagger toward the city unable to remember what happened. It turns out that their armored car which was carrying a huge payroll was stolen by the Hijacker... but I'm not sure how anyone actually knows this when the guards can't remember anything about the robbery.
Anyway, Howard Mitchell, owner of the Mitchell Armored Truck Company is fed up with the Hijacker stealing his trucks. He wishes aloud that Ant-Man would catch the Hijacker for him. An ant on his window sill overhears and transmits the message to an ant on the sidewalk who sends it to an ant on a lamppost who sends it to an ant on a leaf and, before too long, Hank Pym is informed of Mitchell's wish. Shrinking to ant-size and using his specially-built catapult, Ant-Man arrives at Mitchell's office. There Mitchell tells him that four of his armored cars have been stolen with the guards found dazed after each heist. He pleads for Ant-Man's help and Hank tells him to announce that one of his armored trucks "will carry a huge payroll tomorrow", hoping to draw the Hijacker into a trap. Before he leaves he notices Mitchell's "interesting collection" of Incan art. Mitchell tells him that he spent time in Peru last year with the "Indians in the jungle." "But that's unimportant!" he adds, although I smell a plot point.
The next day, the guards fill up an armored car with lots of bags of money. (So, apparently, even though this is just a trap cooked up by Ant-Man and everyone knows the Hijacker will attack, they are filling the truck with real cash.) Mitchell arrives with Ant-Man standing on the palm of his hand. Right after they arrive, Ant-Man collapses, clutching his stomach. As Mitchell lowers him to the ground, Ant-Man announces that he has a severe pain and is afraid he has appendicitis. He rides off on the back of an ant. "I must get to a doctor before my appendix ruptures!" he says as he rides away.
The guards are all for scraping the trip but Mitchell insists they continue. They take the truck out into the country and come across a stalled moving van. As they approach it, the van's back opens up and a giant magnet draws the armored car inside. (Ah, the old giant magnet in the moving van trick!) The Hijacker, who is a guy in a green jumpsuit with yellow belt, yellow gloves, and yellow gasmask type thing, is back there. "And as the spider said to the fly, 'Welcome suckers!'", he says, and then throws a gas grenade that knocks the guards unconscious. He pulls out a blowtorch to open the back of the truck but is stopped by Ant-Man who only feigned illness in order to throw the Hijacker off the track. He actually followed the armored car in a model airplane and landed on its roof when the giant magnet was doing its work. In order to stave off the gas grenade he... wait for it... used the new gas mask he invented at the beginning of the story.
The Hijacker tries to capture him so Ant-Man hides in the ignition of the armored car. When the Hijacker turns the key, Ant-Man is almost crushed so he moves to the engine block of the truck. The Hijacker hits the horn, which forces Ant-Man to get away from the noise by ripping the horn's wires out. (Stan gives us a note here telling us that "Even though the Ant-Man is small as an insect, he still retains all the strength of his normal size! Otherwise he couldn't have yanked out the wires!" He doesn't explain why a guy who retains all the strength of his normal size has to hide from a dumpy-looking guy in a yellow gasmask.) As the chase continues, Ant-Man signals some ants who get up on the dashboard and turn on the windshield wipers just when he is standing on one. This sends Ant-Man flying toward the Hijacker. He grabs a hold of the gasmask and uses his normal-size strength to start ripping chunks off of it. The gas gets to the Hijacker (and not to the ants, for some reason) and he passes out. Ant-Man unmasks the Hijacker to reveal just whom he and everyone reading the story expected: Howard Mitchell, owner of the armored car company. (Don't ask me how he left the place from where the truck departed, changed into his costume, got into his moving van, and got far enough ahead of the armored truck to block the highway. And what's with the blowtorch? Doesn't the owner of the armored car company have his own keys?) Why did Ant-Man suspect him? Because of the Incan art collection! Let Ant-Man tell it: "I first suspected Mitchell when I saw the primitive statues in his office and I learned he'd spent time in the jungles of Peru. For I knew that the Indians there have an ancient vapor, the inhaling of which causes a lapse of memory!" He also suspected because Mitchell was the only one who knew all of the armored car routes which, let's face it, should have tipped off everybody. Mitchell himself admits that "My company was losing money! I thought I could get it back by stealing it, and no one would ever know! Then, I thought if I myself sent for the Ant-Man, he'd never suspect me!" But of course he did for the two reasons stated above, plus that Mitchell was the only suspect in the whole story. And with that, Ant-Man rides off into the sunset on an ant.
This story is an example of top-notch Silver Age storytelling. A somewhat lame villain, a thoroughly deceptive title seeing as Ant-Man only faked failure, a fairly simple story but chockfull of oddball little touches such as Hank Pym's transparent gasmask which makes it look like he's playing with a drycleaning bag, Ant-Man overshooting his ants from his catapult and nearly squishing against the side of a building, Ant-Man's phony appendicitis in which he rides away like a badly wounded cowboy barely holding onto his horse, that giant magnet, that model airplane, and Ant-Man's flight through the engine of an armored car. All of this works because of Kirby's great artwork with its low angles looking up from Ant-Man's perspective and close-ups of Ant-Man lying in Mitchell's (by comparison) giant hand. A big five silver-age plated webs for this mass of goofiness.
Now you would think, with a line-up like this, that we'd be dealing with a whole slew of one-shot bad guys. Not so. The Living Brain stays away for a long time but finally returns in Web of Spider-Man #35, February 1988. Zemu (now called Xemu) appears in Fantastic Four #158, May 1975 with Valeria and Phineas (but not poor Theos) showing up in Fantastic Four #159, June 1975. The Hijacker rears his gasmasked head against the Thing and Black Goliath in Marvel Two-In-One #24, February 1977 and there's even a Wobbow named Wibbow who shows up in the Intergalactic Council in Maximum Security: Dangerous Planet #1, October 2000. So you know all those Commies that Thor fought would have shown up again if somebody had just bothered to give them names.
The neglected back-up story from ASM #8, by the way, doesn't get reprinted until Amazing Spider-Man Special #6, November 1969, the first all-reprint Spidey annual that also features "The Sinister Six" from ASM Annual #1, 1964 and "The Fabulous Fantastic Four Meet Spider-Man" from FF Annual #1, 1963.
Not a bad issue all in all in spite of (or maybe "because of") the goofy opponents. Some grand over-the-top Silver Age stuff but some real clunkers as well. Take the three and a half webs for Spidey, the one web for Torchy, the four webs for Goldilocks, the half web for Waspy and the five webs for Antsy, add 'em up, divide by five and you end up with two and four-fifths webs. Some points have to be taken off for including the lame Wobbow tale rather than the Spidey-Torch story. So, let's drop the total down to two webs.
Next: MJ! MJ!! MJ!!!