Comics : Marvel Tales #6

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

This review was first published on: 2007.

Background...

...And sometimes this happens when the various series get reprinted in order. Stan was so excited by the mix that he shouted, "Who says this isn't the Marvel Age of Super-Villains?" on the cover. And it is a pretty entertaining group. As the cover blurbs tell us, "Sparks fly when Spidey meets Electro, one of the most super-charged Marvel baddies of all time!" (From ASM #9) "A universe trembles when the Mighty Thor faces the fury of a vengeful Loki!" (From Journey into Mystery #88) "And who but Lee and Kirby would dare pit Torchy against a foe named Paste-Pot Pete?" (From Strange Tales #104). Of course, the subsequent Ant-Man story would have spoiled the theme so Stan conveniently leaves it out. ("Prisoner of the Slave World" from Tales to Astonish #41, March 1963 featured some alien tyrant named Kulla and, as far as I know, was not reprinted until the recent Essential Ant-Man trade paperback.) Actually, that's the end of Ant-Man in these pages (although Giant-Man appears in Marvel Tales #13, March 1968). Solo tales of the Wasp replace his feature and this change allows Stan to exclaim "Block-Busting Bonus! A fabulous, far-out featurette starring that darling of the Avengers, the wonderful Wasp!" without mentioning that her story doesn't have an interesting super-villain in it either.

In Detail...

Marvel Tales #6
Jan 1967 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #9
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #104
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #88
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #57
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Review

You all know the drill. The cover features miniature versions of the original covers (with the Wasp popping through her cover since her story wasn't featured on it). The frontispiece has greytone panels from the stories themselves accompanied by the title of the tale. Spidey's panel is from page 20 panel 2 of his story and it's turned upside-down so that the wall-crawler is rightside-up. Torchy's panel is from page 11 panel 4 of his story, Wasp's is from page 6 panel 5 of her story and Thor's is from page 6 panel 5 of his. (Two in a row from page 6 panel 5. What are the odds?) Stan has slapped this blurb on: "Never before has merry Marvel managed to assemble so much mind-staggering excitement in one... count it... one incredible issue! No bibliophile's bookshelf should be without this cosmic collection of classy comic classics!" and it is signed, "Absolutely solicited statement by the batty bullpen!" You think maybe Stan is pushing this one too hard? It's only Marvel Tales #6, for crying out loud!

As mentioned last time, the back-up story from Amazing Spider-Man #8, January 1964 is omitted, not to be reprinted until Amazing Spider-Man Special #6, November 1969. Instead this issue leads off with:

The Man Called Electro! from Amazing Spider-Man #9, February 1964. You know this drill, too. I reviewed it before. The reprint has no significant changes (although, admittedly, this time I didn't even bother to check). And I'm sticking with my rating, which was 4 webs.

The Human Torch meets Paste-Pot Pete! from Strange Tales #104, January 1963 introduces the villain who later becomes the Trapster. Who, looking at this first story with Pete in his camouflage fatigues, oversized beret and bucket overflowing with paste, would ever have imagined that he'd be used as often as he has over the subsequent forty-plus years? Of course, his name change and costume change might have contributed to that success.

As the story begins, Johnny Storm is hanging out at the Glenville bank, putting a little money in his "small savings account". He tells himself to be careful since he has a secret identity in town and he "absent-mindedly almost wrote 'Human Torch' on the deposit slip". That happens to all of us, doesn't it? Just then Paste Pot Pete barges in. He uses his paste gun to glue one teller to the wall and pastes the guard's gun in his holster. Since Johnny doesn't want to blow his secret identity, he shoots a thin stream of flame from his finger that is unnoticed until he somehow expands it far away from him in the shape of the Human Torch. It pursues Pete as he runs out of the bank with the loot. Unfortunately, although it appears that Johnny can do anything with his flame, he can't get the fake Torch to capture Pete so it just follows him (also a neat treat seeing as Johnny probably can't see what's going on outside of the bank). The people of Glenville decide the Torch is afraid of Pete since he isn't grabbing him. A few bystanders decide to tackle Pete themselves but he glues their feet to the ground. When the police show up, he glues their squad car doors shut so they can't get out. Pete gets on a motorcycle and rides off with the fake Torch still following him, flying up above.

Now, here's the thing. Johnny slips away from the bank and "flames on" in an alley. Then he uses the heat waves given off by his phony double to follow along. This must mean that the fake Torch is capable of following Pete on its own since even its creator doesn't know where it's going without following the heat waves. And if it's sophisticated enough to follow Pete, why isn't it sophisticated enough to nab him?

The Torch traces the heat waves out of town and finds Pete's abandoned motorcycle. He deduces that Pete had "another means of transportation" to which he's switched. And sure enough, Pete (who is on a real crime spree) is now driving an 18-wheeler. He pulls up to a "nearby missile base" and glues one security guard's arms to his sides and glues the other's feet to the ground. Then he glues their mouths shut so they can't call for help. (I sure hope neither one of those guys has sinus congestion.) Now this base just happens to be on the verge of launching the new delta-cosmic missile, which is "the most powerful rocket invented and yet it's no larger than a man". Pete plans to "either sell it back to this government or to some other" depending on which offers him more. He pulls his semi-truck right up to the missile without any trouble. The top of the truck opens and a giant paste gun pops out. Pete fires it at the missile and snags it. The paste hardens into a pole that stretches from the gun to the missile and Pete drives off, towing the rocket behind him.

Now, even though Pete spent two pages stealing the missile with no duplicate Torch in sight, it turns out that the phony is still following him. The Torch tracks it down and spots Pete's truck. He converts his double into a bunch of flaming spears that he hurls at the truck's tires. However, in case you didn't know it, Pete has "lightning-fast reflexes" and he maneuvers the truck past all the spears. So the Torch burns a big ditch across the road instead. (And the highway department must love him for that!) Actually, it appears that this is the biggest missile base in the country with plenty of open space because, according to Pete, "I've got to get off this base before my paste wears off the guards." He shoots some paste over to a big pile of lumber which just happens to be on the other side of the Torch's ditch and "reels in two planks", which either means that Pete has super-strength or his paste does or something. All I know if that I've completely lost track of what Pete can and can't do with that paste. Somehow, he gets those two chunks of lumber (that are big enough to support the weight of his truck) into position so that they span the ditch and are spaced out at the width of his truck tires allowing him to drive over them. This has to have taken some time and yet the Torch never seems to find the moment to stop hovering above, swoop down, and actually capture Pete. Fed up (with his own incompetence?), Torchy decides to "melt that truck right down around him". Unfortunately he's used up his flame. Turning back to Johnny Storm, he starts to fall out of the sky. Pete sees this, leans out his cab window and fires his paste at Johnny. And, yes, I guess he is still on the base grounds because he drives right past a conveniently placed rocket and glues Johnny right to the top of it. Not only that but "some of the paste seeps into the missile and a moment later it triggers off the delicate, electronic mechanism". In other words, the missile blasts off! (Of course, if Pete hadn't bothered with the paste at all, Johnny would have fallen to his death.)

Johnny figures he's doomed. "This is a non-stop ride until the I.C.B.M. blasts into the sea!" he says. (I.C.B.M. stands for "Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile" for those who didn't live through the sixties.) But then the heat from the missile revives his powers. Which means Johnny can "flame on" but, if he does, his heat will trigger the warhead. Thinking fast, Johnny ignites one finger (his left forefinger to be specific), shoots out a tiny fireball and carefully burns off the paste without touching the missile. The missile is heading down to the sea by the time Johnny gets all of the paste off. He leaps clear, flames on, and flies away as the missile explodes behind him. (And that missile wasn't kidding around. A big mushroom cloud appears from the sea behind Johnny.) Returning to the scene, the Torch does what he should have done to begin with; he tosses a "deadly barrage of fireballs" at Pete's truck, melting the hood, the front tires, and the engine; forcing Pete to bail out. When Pete positions himself to shoot more paste, the Torch throws a fireball that melts the paste-pot. Johnny then surrounds Pete with flame. Without the pot to supply his ammunition, Pete has enough paste for only one shot. Instead of attacking the Torch, Pete uses that one shot to snag a plane that is taking off. (That's some final shot of paste.) The paste hardens and Pete hangs on, getting pulled into the sky by the plane without yanking his shoulders out of their sockets. Conveniently for Pete, Johnny's flame is too weak for him to follow. Instead he runs to the control tower to radio the pilot to return to the base. (He stays flamed on while running, which has got to waste even more of his flame.) By the time the pilot gets the word, he is over the ocean. Pete has a boat waiting for him out at sea in case things go wrong and he has to leave the country (but how was he going to get to it if the plane didn't happen to pass by?) Seeing it, he lets go, dives into the drink, and swims to his boat where he escapes. However, Pete's plans have all met with failure. The Delta missile is recovered and the bank loot is found under the seat of the truck. Someone off-panel tells Johnny, "you sure stopped the paste-pot thief! I'll bet he won't dare to show up again!" "Won't he?" says Johnny, "I wonder!!" and he creates a big question mark in the sky out of flame to emphasize his point.

Stan tacks a new caption at the end, reading, "But, as all Marvel completists know, Paste-Pot Pete later tangled with our flaming friend one time too many! (Who says this isn't the Marvel Age of Happy Endings?)" Now, what does this mean? I'm not sure. Pete, calling himself the Trapster, was defeated along with the rest of the Frightful Four by the Fantastic Four in FF #43, October 1965 and was last seen at the time of this Marvel Tales in prison with the Sandman in FF #45, December 1965 but why this is tangling with the Torch "one time too many" is beyond me. And I don't even want to try to guess why that makes this part of "the Marvel Age of Happy Endings". Could it be that Stan decided several years too late that Pete's crimes in this story were too heinous to allow him to escape and is trying to assure us that crime doesn't pay? Anyway, Pete's original appearance must have been a success since he appears again (teamed up with the Wizard) in Strange Tales #110, July 1963; an issue better known as the first appearance of Dr. Strange.

This story is completely nuts, of course. A guy with a glue gun and dressed in a camouflage coverall and beret robs banks, steals missiles, attaches the Torch to a nuclear warhead, terrorizes the military, and gets away at the end. It's hard to take this story seriously even in the context of the goofy early 60s storylines. The Torch does everything wrong, his flame cuts out at all the worst times, all to ensure that he doesn't catch this stiff in the first page of the story. It's maddening, it's dumb, it's illogical, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. And that Kirby-Ayers artwork propels it along like a runaway train. Check out the scenes of Pete fleeing on his motorcycle with the phony Torch following, of the truck avoiding the flame spears, of Johnny trapped on the missile, of Pete escaping on the plane. You can almost feel the wind in your face from the motion. Even with Stan's dopey "Happy Endings" blurb gumming things up (the original said, "Don't miss the further adventures of the Human Torch in the fabulous Fantastic Four magazine on sale everywhere! And, of course, in the next surprise-filled issue of Stranges Tales!) I have to give this story four webs.

A Voice in the Dark! is the first solo story of the Wasp after she spent the six previous issues telling fantasy stories. It first appeared in Tales to Astonish #57, July 1964 in which the lead story featured Giant- Man and the Wasp tackling Spider-Man. Since I ignored this story in my Lookback of that issue way back when, this is a perfect opportunity to fill in the gap.

Those six previous stories were all told by the Wasp in one sitting at the state orphanage, apparently. Now she has to rush off to a dinner date with Hank Pym. On her way, she walks by a man bundled up in a coat and carrying a valise who lifts a manhole cover in the street, climbs down into the manhole, and replaces the cover behind him. She doesn't think too much about it until she rounds the corner and finds that the door of a "jewelry store has been forced open and the burglar alarm wires are cut". Shrinking to wasp size, she follows the man by flying through one of the holes in the cover. She quickly finds her man but the "dense choking air in the tunnel" makes her feel dizzy. She picks up a stray pin and tries to stab the man in the hand but misses, stabbing the valise handle instead. About to pass out, the Wasp tries to tie the man's shoelaces together but the man takes a step before she can do it and knocks her off-balance. She follows him through a door into an "abandoned subway control room" where he stashes the jewels. The Wasp exits by flying under the door and tries to lock him in but the thick air has made her too weak and she can't turn the key. As the man leaves, the Wasp tries one last trick. She picks up a small scrap of paper, rolls it into a megaphone, and speaks through it, amplifying her voice. "Don't move, chum!" she says, "This is Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl speaking, telling you to give yourself up!" Since he can't see anyone, the thief believes the voice. When the Wasp tells him she has summoned the rest of the Fantastic Four, the thief is so rattled that he grabs the valise, returns to the street, hands it over to a cop and says, "I committed a robbery tonight! Here's the loot! Book me!"

When the Wasp finally hooks up with Hank, he gives her the business for being late. She explains that she stopped to capture a jewel thief but Hank doesn't buy it. "I heard about that capture over the radio and it was the Invisible Girl who pulled it off!" he says. She explains that she pretended to be the Invisible Girl. Hank doesn't believe her. When she tells him she's ready for dinner Hank says, "Dinner?... It wasn't me you had a date with! It was really Mr. Fantastic pretending to be me!" And he walks off without going out to dinner. This should have tipped the Wasp off that Hank is a domineering jerk that she should have immediately dumped but instead she puts her hands to her face and thinks, "I always knew there'd be days like this! I wonder where a gal can sell a second-hand Wasp costume real cheap?"

It's not going to win any prizes but this is a cute little story with some nice artwork by Chic Stone and an amusing twist. Yeah, the whole "air is so thick I'm going to pass out" bit is lame and Stan has to put an editor's note at the start saying that the story takes place before the Wasp received her wasp's sting in order to explain why she doesn't just zap the thief but I'm willing to overlook all that and give it three webs.

The Vengeance of Loki! from Journey Into Mystery #88, January 1963 (though someone used the same caption from last issue so that it says "originally presented in Journey Into Mystery #87 (Dec. 1962)" on the bottom of the page) is the second appearance of Thor's evil brother but his first appearance in Marvel Tales since his debut in Journey Into Mystery #85, October 1962 was reprinted in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1, 1965 instead. In that last story, Thor tied Loki to his hammer and threw him back to Asgard. This story begins with Loki's arrival. There, Odin forbids Loki from leaving Asgard again. But Loki hungers for revenge. He "takes some strange leaves and covers them with the sap from a sacred tree". This allows him to spy on Thor just at the moment when he was imprisoned by the Reds last issue (either Marvel Tales #5, November 1966 or Journey Into Mystery #87, December 1962 depending on which issue you are reading) and slipped out of his chains after changing back to Don Blake. Watching this, Loki learns that Thor reverts to Dr. Blake if he doesn't hang onto his hammer. After taking a few days to plan, Loki transforms into a snake and slithers right between Heimdall's feet and down the rainbow bridge. (You would think that the all-seeing Heimdall would wonder why a snake was sneaking out of Asgard. Or maybe snakes slipping through his legs are part of his regular day.)

Disguised as an old man, Loki goes to Dr. Blake's office and hypnotizes nurse Jane Foster before revealing himself to Don. Calling himself "the God of Mischief" at this point (not having graduated yet to "the God of Evil") Loki stands by while Don transforms into Thor. Then he challenges his brother to a fight, threatening "such havoc throughout this puny world" if Thor refuses. The meeting is set for "Center Park" (not Central Park) in one hour. Thor, as Blake, leaves his office with the hypnotized Jane following soon after.

At the park, Thor predictably begins the fight by throwing his hammer. (And look how long the handle is on it. Thor must have sawed some of that off later on.) Loki, expecting this, sidesteps it. Just then, Jane arrives, obeying Loki's instructions. Loki transforms a tree into a tiger and gives Thor a choice: either save Jane from the tiger or grab his returning hammer. Thor opts for saving Jane and then apparently needs a full minute to subdue the tiger (actually he says he's "slain the tiger" which seems a bit harsh except that it wasn't a tiger at all but a tree) because he turns back to Don Blake before he can get back to his hammer. Loki creates a "magical force field" around the hammer, preventing Don from reaching it. He gloats over defeating Thor but doesn't kill him (since he is only the God of Mischief at this point instead of Evil, I guess). Instead he turns into a bird and flies off, proclaiming, "And now, to celebrate my conquest, I shall have sport with your helpless planet!" Not knowing what else to do, Don goes to Jane Foster who has conveniently fainted before seeing him transform from Thor and helps her home.

Loki, meanwhile, goes on a magic bender. First he turns a bunch of people into "blank beings" which means they are like all-white paper dolls (or as one guy puts it, "We're turning into nothings!") Loki gets a big kick out of this, for some reason, and then turns them back to normal. (Mischief rather than Evil.) Traveling to another city, he turns it into Candyland with cars becoming ice cream and bicycles becoming candy canes. Flying up to the Arctic, Loki sees a Soviet plane dropping a bomb in an atomic test. He zaps it and turns the bomb into a dud. One of the Russians in the plane wonders, "How can we face Nikita now?" (We all know who Nikita was, right?)

The world starts to catch on that Loki is behind all of this mischief. Even though they believe "he's just an ancient myth" and "doesn't really exist" they send the military out against him anyway. When a troop of soldiers prepares to fire on him, Loki magically attaches wings to their guns and all of the firearms fly away. It's all looking pretty bleak but then Don Blake gets an idea. Putting his plan into effect, he somehow gets a local newspaper to publish an extra announcing "Thor vows to defeat Loki before end of week". (Did he get on the phone and disguise his voice? And the paper just believed he was Thor?) Loki overhears the newsboy and rushes to the park to see if the hammer is still under the force field. Now here's where the writer (Larry Leiber in this case although the plot is from Stan) starts to cheat. While we could clearly see the hammer under the force field before, now the force field obscures the hammer so we can't see if it's still under there or not. Even Loki can't tell, though you'd think he could magically change the force field so he could see through it. But no, he panics. He sees Thor standing near the force field, holding the hammer and Thor even speaks to him but you'd think he would wait for a moment or two to see if Thor actually moves or anything like that. No, he removes the force field to see if the hammer is gone. It isn't but as soon as the force field is removed, Don Blake runs out from behind "Thor" who was "only a plastic dummy" and grabs the hammer. (And I guess Don can do Thor's voice pretty well since he fooled Loki into believing the plastic dummy was talking.) Anyway, Thor appears as soon as Don touches the hammer (note, too, that the hammer did not change back into the walking stick while under the force field) and Loki transforms himself into a pigeon in order to escape. There are so many pigeons around that Thor can't tell which one is Loki. If you thought things were loopy before, check this out. Thor runs across the park to the peanut vender. He buys a bag of peanuts and throws them at the pigeons. (Forget about where he keeps his money. I wonder why Loki didn't escape while Thor was buying the peanuts.) All of the real pigeons gather around the peanuts but Loki tries to fly off so Thor knows which pigeon he is. Loki soars away, flying over a tennis court. Thor grabs the net right in the middle of a match ("Sorry, gentlemen! But right now I need this net more than you do!"), uses his hammer to fly up to Loki and snags him in the net. Caught, Loki returns to his normal form where the local human bystanders all laugh at him. This time Thor takes Loki back to Asgard personally. Odin is happy to see Thor return Loki but he gets all wishy-washy about what to do next. "But, as for Loki" he says, "I know not what to do with him! He grows more wily, more dangerous, more uncontrollable each hour! We must pray that the world will never see the day when his power exceeds that of the Mighty Thor!" And with that, Stan adds a new tagline: "So say we all! And thou, O reader, miss not the next inevitable issue in this, the Marvel Age of Colossal Classics!!"

You know how I feel about Kirby/Ayers artwork so you know how much I like the drawings of Asgard, Loki leering, the blank people, and the ice cream cars in this story. I also like the idea of Loki preventing Thor from reaching his hammer. But Don Blake's cheap trick to get Loki to remove the force field is not only disappointing, it's an out-and-out cheat. I'm not too fond of the Loki- snake sneaking between Heimdall's legs or Thor buying peanuts for the pigeons either. And did Thor really have to slay that tiger? Two webs.

The Bullpen Bulletins page has a different illustration of Spidey than the one in ASM #44, January 1967 and the M.M.M.S. members are different, of course, but it's enough that I list all the members that appear in ASM. I'm not going to do Marvel Tales as well. So, let's total up our webs and get outta here.

In General...

I already mentioned that Paste-Pot Pete returns in Strange Tales #110, July 1963 but what about the rest of these villains? Electro's next appearance is Daredevil #2, June 1964 but his next meeting with Spider-Man is in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1,1964. Loki appears in Journey Into Mystery #91, April 1963 supplying mystic power to Sandu, Master of the Supernatural. And that guy that the Wasp caught? I'm going to take a wild guess here and say he never appeared again. (But what a great surprise villain for the Avengers he would be. Can't you just picture it? Wasp: Gasp! It's that jewel thief I beat by pretending I was the Invisible Girl! I always wondered what ever happened to him!" No? Okay.)

Now let's total up those webs and get outta here.

Overall Rating...

Thirteen webs, divided by four, comes to three and a quarter webs. I think I'm going to round down to three webs rather than round up to three and a half. Why? I don't know. Maybe the series has already lost its novelty.

Footnote...

Next: Back to the Lizard!