Comics : Marvel Tales #8

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

This review was first published on: 2009.

Background...

It's another installment of Marvel Tales with this one featuring Spider-Man's first battle with Mysterio from Amazing Spider-Man #13, June 1964, the Human Torch's team-up with the Acrobat from Strange Tales #106, March 1963, the Wasp's tale of the Colossus from Tales to Astonish #53, March 1964 and Thor's tussle with the Carbon Copy Man from Journey Into Mystery #90, March 1963. Acrobat? Carbon Copy Man? I know it doesn't sound like much but...waitaminute. Amazing Spider-Man #13? Wasn't the story in Marvel Tales #7 from Amazing Spider-Man #10, March 1964? What happened to Amazing Spider-Man #11, April 1964 and Amazing Spider-Man #12, May 1964? Well they were both reprinted in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #3, 1966, remember? Don't worry. Stan's keeping count. Except we still haven't seen reprints of the Chameleon story from Amazing Spider-Man #1, March 1963, the Vulture story from Amazing Spider-Man #2, May 1963 and the Torch story from Amazing Spider-Man #8, January 1964. They're coming...eventually.

In Detail...

Marvel Tales #8
May 1967 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #13
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #106
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #53
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #90
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Review

We've still got the "covers-reprinted-on-the-cover" covers for a couple more issues yet (with the Wasp popping through the Tales to Astonish cover). This one's on a purple background with yellow logo letters. The blurbs say (from upper left to upper right to lower left to lower right), "Your friendly neighborhood web-slinger takes on the maddeningly malevolent menace of Mysterio!", "How can the God of Thunder defeat a copy of himself created by the Carbon Copy Man!", "A fumin' Human Torch quits the Fantastic Four and teams up with the Acrobat in The Threat of the Torrid Twosome!", and "Plus! Would'ja believe an extra bonus? The wonderfully winsome Wasp tells a titanic tale entitled When Wakes the Colossus!" The inside front cover touts the contents this way: "From the bastions of the Baxter Building to the farthest reaches of outer space hath Mighty Marvel gone to gather this cataclysmic collection of comicdom classics and we did it just for you, Tiger!" The four greytone images (stretching across the page, stacked one on top of another) show Spidey popping Mysterio (a combination of the Spidey figure from page 18 panel 3 and the tumbling Mysterio from page 17 panel 5 of the story), the Torch torching the Acrobat (both figures from page 13 panel 1 of the story but reformatted to elongate the scene), the Colossus looking like he's trying to smash the Wasp but toppling a pillar instead (the Colossus and the pillar are from page 5 panel 1 of the story but the superimposed Wasp image is the same one used last issue), and Thor flinging his hammer at the Carbon Copy Man (as with Torchy and the Acrobat, Thor, hammer, and the CC Man are from a single panel, page 8 panel 6, but reformatted and elongated). It's all nicely done, giving a big-screen panoramic view of the scenes, like watching coming attractions in the theatre. On to the main features.

The Menace of... Mysterio! As you probably know by now, I don't bother reviewing the Spidey reprints that I reviewed in their original issues. I only want to point out that the blurb at the bottom that reads, "Originally presented in Spider-Man #13" dates it as "March 1964" when we all know it was June. Below that blurb is a line reading, "Reprinted courtesy of Non-Pareil Pub Company, copyright 1963." (The Torch and Wasp stories are "courtesy of Vista Pub Inc." and the Thor story is "courtesy of Atlas Mag, Inc." How many corporate configurations has Marvel had anyway?) So, anyway, Mysterio impersonates Spidey, then challenges him, then beats him, then loses to him. It's a pretty good yarn and as I put it in that review, "Another great issue with an instantly classic villain. Who cares if Mysterio's bag of tricks couldn't really work as explained? The essence of a good Mysterio story is misdirection, getting Spidey or the public to believe something outside of reality, such as that Spider-Man has become a criminal or that Spider-Man is going insane. This story introduces both of those themes. They may be a little stale nowadays but back in 1964 they were very fresh indeed. Still, for all of its pluses, ASM #13 doesn't quite equal the quality of the best issues. I may be a little too tough on it but let's call it "Four Webs".

The Threat of the Torrid Twosome begins with the Human Torch flying through his Mr. Fantastic-designed obstacle course. While he's doing that, a fellow with a pencil-thin mustache, a red beret, white gloves, and a cigarette holder rings the doorbell at 64 Something-Or-Other, Glenville, New York. A blonde woman answers and the bereted smoothie introduces himself as Carl Zante, proclaiming, "I would like to speak to the Human Torch." The woman is Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl, and instead of denying that the Torch lives there, she tells him that the Torch isn't home but he may come in and wait for him if he'd like. But wait a minute? Doesn't the Human Torch have a secret identity at this time? Well, let's wait until the bottom of the page, okay? Outside of town, the Torch finishes his workout and lands in an alley to change back to Johnny Storm and preserve his secret identity. Unbeknownst to him, two kids watch him as he changes. (this, by the way, is the bottom of the page). One says, "Look, Ben! It's the Torch! He's changing his duds! Musta just returned from practice!" The other replies, "Yeah, he usually gets back around this time!" Then as the in-the-know kids walk past without bothering him, Johnny thinks, "If anyone in town ever discovered that I was the Human Torch, I'd never have a minute's privacy!"

Johnny gets home and Sue introduces him to Carl Zante who expresses his pleasure at meeting the Human Torch. When Johnny asks how he knows he's the Torch, Carl replies, "Surely you jest! Everybody knows that Johnny Storm and the fabulous fire-boy are one and the same person." Sue confirms that "all Glenville knows." When Johnny asks why no one ever said anything, Sue says, "[B]ecause you yourself never spoke of it! They assumed you wanted privacy and they respected your desire!"

Sue leaves Johnny and Carl alone and Carl immediately does a somersault with a burning cigarette in his mouth. He tells Johnny he is "the world's greatest acrobat" and that Mr. Fantastic "is exploiting you." He mentions that Johnny is the one who defeated the Miracle Man (in Fantastic Four #3, March 1962) and the Sub-Mariner (in Fantastic Four #4, May 1962) but that Reed hogs all the credit and keeps all the reward money. (Reward money?! This is the first I've heard of reward money!) Carl suggests Johnny dump the FF and team up with him as the Torrid Twosome. Johnny thinks Reed keeps all the money "for scientific research" but Carl says that's just to increase Reed's prestige. Declaring that he will confront Reed about it, Johnny flies off while Carl feels like "the young fool" has played "right into my hands."

At the Baxter Building, Johnny demands a salary. The Thing scoffs at him so Johnny uses his flame powers to make Reed's pipe fill the room with smoke. (The Torch could do all sorts of nifty flame and smoke tricks back in the day.) When Reed insists that all the money must go to research, Johnny flies off in a huff. Back in Glenville, he calls Carl and tells him he will be his crime-fighting partner. Then he sews some "snazzy new costumes" out of unstable molecules. They're "snazzy" if you like yellow with green trunks, a dopey green beret, and a green "2" on the arm.

The next day, Johnny joins up with Carl who tells him they have their first case. Apparently, "a teller at the Glenville Savings Bank got locked in the vault and it can't be opened till tomorrow." If Johnny doesn't burn his way in, the man will suffocate. Johnny flames on and flies a head to the bank while Carl drives his green convertible. Johnny burns a big hole in the vault door but doesn't find anyone inside. Why? Because Carl made it all up to get into the bank vault. He enters behind the Torch, having put to sleep all the bank guards with knockout gas. Then, apparently this caper is all he wanted the Torch for, because he already spills the beans about using the Torch as a sap. Johnny claims he knew it all along but, I have to say, it doesn't look likely. Carl has come equipped with a big tank of liquid asbestos strapped on his back and he squirts this all over Johnny, extinguishing his flame. He then proceeds to shoot the Torch with a gun. He tries to follow up with a second shot but his gun jams. "Well, no matter," he says, "My first shot took care of him, anyway" as he robs the vault of "a cool million dollars." (Guy's got the whole vault at his fingertips and he's only grabbing one million.) When he exits the vault, he sees that the guards are awakening from the gas. Figuring he'd better get out fast, he leaps through a plate-glass window and bounds into his car. (And he calls himself "the Acrobat" for the first time as he does it.) He puts the car in gear and hits the accelerator but the car doesn't move. That's because the back of the car is being held in the air by the Thing.

The Acrobat figures he'd better get away quickly. And so, even though he's in a convertible, he tries to open the driver's side door to get out. But the door won't open. Realizing he can leap out of the car, the Acrobat prepares to do so but the top closes over him, seemingly on its own. In reality, it is the Invisible Girl sealing him up. "You're not going anywhere, buster!" she says. Mr. Fantastic appears and stretches out so that he pins the car top down with his leg. The Acrobat's head pops right through the canvas of the car top. The Thing picks up the back of the car. Standing on the car's hood, the Invisible Girl explains that she was suspicious of the Acrobat from the start. She contacted her partners and then invisibly stowed away in the car. The Thing yanks the Acrobat out of the car, demanding to know what he's done to Johnny. Just then the Torch comes out of the Bank, holding his arm. He explains that the Acrobat only wounded him and he played dead after that. (But, uh, why bother to play dead? The Acrobat's gun had jammed so he wasn't going to shoot again. And he spent a bunch of time robbing the vault after that. Why didn't Johnny get right up and grab him?)

Now, for some reason, everyone lets go of the Acrobat, allowing him to run away. He uses his trapeze abilities to take to the roof. Johnny tries to follow but his wounded arm throws off his flying. He quickly learns to compensate and heats the ladder the Acrobat is climbing, causing him to fall but he bounces off the telephone wires, landing by an open manhole. He plans to go underground and escape but Johnny surrounds him with a flaming lasso that melts the street's tar, trapping Carl. Johnny tells his teammates that he never bought into Carl's offer but strung him along to see what was what. (Which is why he flew right into a bank vault, expressed surprise that he had been duped and allowed the Acrobat to shoot him.) Sue brought along his FF uniform. Johnny changes in an alley, dumping the Torrid Twosome outfit in a nearby trash can.

Okay, so the Acrobat is smarmy and not particularly threatening, while Johnny is a clueless sap, no matter what he says at the end of the story. Forget all that. What makes this story is the way Johnny's secret identity is addressed. Turns out he doesn't have one! He just thinks he does! That's on a par with L. Frank Baum's explanation, in Tik-Tok of Oz (1914) as to why Toto can't talk when all the other animals can as soon as they enter Oz. Turns out he can. He just hasn't had anything he wants to say. Simple and clever. This explanation alone qualifies this story for a score of five webs.

When Wakes the Colossus!. The Wasp is going to the Veteran's Hospital to "entertain the fellas with some fantasy tales". But first she has to "put on her face". As she affixes her lipstick, she tells Hank Pym she'll give him a preview of one of her stories.

On a distant planet, "an evil warlord named Mingo" (not to be confused with the Iroquois group or Ed Ames's character on the old Daniel Boone TV show) figures he can conquer the primitives on the planet in spite of being outnumbered since "we can conquer them easily by playing upon their fears and superstitions." Now I want to quote Mingo's plan in full because it seems like an awful lot of exposition and explanation for one crummy little five page story. There better be one hell of a pay-off. Anyway, here it is: "Thus, we shall attack the Asikii tribe at night, for they will offer no resistance then! They believe if they're slain at night, their gods will be unable to find their souls in the dark to carry them to heaven and they will remain in limbo forever!" Got that?

So Mingo launches his night attack and all of the Asikii immediately surrender. (You have to wonder why they weren't conquered ages ago.) Next stop? The Deltonians who worship animals. Mingo and his men wear wolf masks and the Deltonians give right up. This is seriously easy pickings. In short order, Mingo has conquered all of the primitive races but he wonders how he can make sure they don't rebel against him. (Um... harass them at night while wearing wolf masks?) He decides to keep them the same way he got them... through superstitious fear! He has his men carve a 200-foot statue out of stone. (Well, let's see. It only took Gutzon Borglum and his men about 14 years to carve Mount Rushmore so this 200 foot statue shouldn't take any time at all.) Just like that, Mingo's men carve a huge figure with closed eyes and crossed arms. Mingo tells his subjects that the Colossus will sleep as long as no one ever revolts against his authority. And this seems to work. Mingo triples everyone's taxes, he forces all males over the age of thirteen to work in the mines but no one complains because no one wants the giant to wake up. But finally the subjects can stand no more. An agitator named Vikor convinces them that the only thing they have to fear is fear itself. So they revolt and, sure enough, the Colossus comes to life. Everybody blames Vikor for convincing them that it was just superstition. But the Colossus passes the people by and destroys Mingo's "citadel of evil" instead, forcing his army to flee, then returns to its eyes-closed-arms-folded position. Vikor, who is clearly winging it, tells everyone, "I felt that whatever supernatural power controlled the Colossus would not guide it against men seeking only their liberty! Mortals may be evil, but the supernatural powers are not!" And Mingo ends up wandering the countryside "muttering incoherently like a witless fool" that "the statue lived! Not possible, no, not possible." And that... is it! Except Jan realizes that Hank hasn't listened to a word she's said... which is what we should have done. Jan gets miffed, calling Hank a "brute." Hank, clueless, scratches his head and wonders, "what makes that gal so excitable?" (And you wonder why they had marital difficulties.)

Well, this is some seriously bad storytelling. The premise is overwrought, the events preposterous (even for an early 60s comic book story), the message strained and obvious, and the conclusion anti-climactic. Remember when I said it better have a hell of a pay-off? It didn't. This gets one-half of a web.

Oh, and by the way, this Colossus is not to be confused with the mutant super-hero, the Colossus computer from Strange Tales #72, June 1960, the Colossus alien that fought Giant-Man in Tales to Astonish #58, August 1964 only five issues after this one, or the one that fought the Hulk in Incredible Hulk #145, November 1971, even though he kind of looks like him. Or even It, the Living Colossus, who actually had his own series for a short time in Astonishing Tales #21-24, December 1973-June 1974 and who also looked like this guy and also fought the Hulk (in Incredible Hulk #244, February 1980). This guy is none of those guys. In case you were wondering.

Trapped By the Carbon-Copy Man! begins on the "warlike planet Xarta." Ugarth, the great War Lord, is planning to retire after one last campaign. He intends to bequeath his title to his son Zano who accompanies him on the spaceship that is leading the armada in a planned conquest of Earth. On Earth, Dr. Donald Blake (looking especially frail and puny in Al Hartley's artwork) mopes about not being able to tell Jane Foster he loves her. He thumps his cane on the ground, turns into Thor, and swears he will tell Jane about his true identity and his love... tomorrow. And it looks like Don is true to his word because the next day he tells Jane he must speak with her. Just then, Odin appears to Don only and informs him he is "bound to never reveal your identity to any other mortal." All Jane notices is a thunderclap and when Don tells her he has nothing to say after all and leaves, she decides the thunder has frightened him. After all, she thinks, "there's no one as brave as my idol Thor."

Out on the street, Dr. Blake witnesses a number of strange sights. Apparently, the police commissioner has ordered all cars to drive on the sidewalk and pedestrians to walk in the gutter. A billboard is being put up right over the windows of a building. A bridge is painted in polka dots. "Trust people week" is declared with locked doors not allowed. Don returns to his office to find a summons because he is treating charity patients. When he declares that "the people down at City Hall must have lost their senses," Jane pipes up and says she agrees with them. Calling Don "a quack who doesn't know the first thing about medicine," she quits. With that, Don smells a rat. As Thor he decides to visit his good friend Mayor Harris. But when he arrives, the Mayor calls for guards. Thor easily escapes and flies to the city's outskirts where he deals with this strange situation by casting his mind "back in time and space to Asgard on a day when Odin counseled his sons." (Yeah, that's how I would deal with this, too.) In this memory, Odin tells his two sons (who both look exactly like Thor... so does Thor have a twin, or did Al Hartley not bother to read any other stories in the series?) that, "When something puzzles you, always seek the simplest, most obvious explanation no matter how impossible it may seem." Thor decides if people are not acting like themselves then they must not be themselves! They must all be imposters! (Yeah, that sounds like the simplest explanation to me.) So, Thor explores and finds a spaceship hidden outside the city. He can't find a door in the thing so, rather than just busting it open, he decides to feel along the hull to locate the door. To facilitate this, he...I kid you not... sets his hammer down! Suddenly a magnetic force attaches him to the ship's hull. A minute goes by and Thor changes back to Don Blake. Soon, some Xartans come along and find him. They bring him into the ship (I guess they have no trouble finding the door) where Don finds Mayor Harris and Jane. Turns out his cock-eyed explanation was right. The Xartans have the power to impersonate anyone and that's what they are doing. (Sounds sort of like the Secret Invasion, doesn't it?) To prove it, Zano turns into Don Blake, then obligingly turns back and explains their whole plan. The Xartans are replacing city officials and then passing stupid laws to confuse the residents. After they've thrown the city into chaos, the rest of the armada waiting in space... lands and attacks? No. They "land and repeat the same disruptive process in every corner of Earth" to confuse and frighten the entire Earth population. Only then do they attack. No, no, this is really the plan!

The Mayor and Jane think the plan is doomed to failure. Because it's idiotic and overly-complicated? No. Because Thor is bound to defeat them. Don offers to lead the Xartans to Thor in exchange for his freedom. "Perhaps you can catch him off-guard and capture him," he says. The Mayor isn't pleased with Don's behavior, to put it mildly. "The cowardly traitor!" he says, "He's selling out mankind's only hope, just to save his own skin!" But Ugarth and Zano fall for this and take Don back outside. He points to a stand of trees and tells them he last saw Thor back there somewhere. They run off to find him, oblivious to the hammer still sitting on the ground, not having changed back to a wooden cane or anything. While they're gone, Don touches the hammer and changes into Thor again. Ugarth and Zano return soon after. When they ask him who he is, Thor replies, "I am the one you seek. I am Thor!" Turns out Thor is too dim to realize that he shouldn't know that Ugarth and Zano are looking for him unless he is secretly... Don Blake. Ugarth and Zano are too dim to realize this either. Instead, Zano is so convinced he can take Thor that he asks his father if it's okay for him to tackle Thor alone. Ugarth thinks this is a nifty idea and orders the human prisoners out to watch.

Now, it seems that Xartans can not only imitate other living beings, they can turn themselves into just about anything. So Zano changes into an ice creature (or "frozen warrior" as he calls himself) and uses his ice powers to completely encase Thor in, well, ice. As strong as Thor is, he cannot break free of this ice, for some reason. Fortunately, he threw his hammer just before being encased. The hammer returns, as it always does when Thor tosses it, and it strikes the ice, shattering it.

Next, Zano transforms himself into a giant shirtless gladiator wearing a loin cloth. Somehow, he transforms part of himself into a sword and net too. He tosses the net over Thor and prepares to run him through with the sword. But Thor, who is apparently a big nothing without Mjolnir, stamps his hammer on the ground just so and it emits a lightning bolt that strikes Zano's sword, knocking him to the ground. Harris and Jane cheer this result with Jane getting really possessive. "I knew my Thor would win!" she says.

Zano tells his father he has shamed him. So, Ugarth takes over. His first transformation makes even less sense than Zano's gladiator. He becomes invisible. (Just how does this fit into the concept of a being who can imitate others?) Then he starts pounding on Thor with his "iron fists." Thor is reeling, on the verge of defeat. But then, remembering that he is a big nothing without Mjolnir, he gets the idea to strike his hammer on the ground to create a rain storm. Since the rain cannot fall where Ugarth is, his outline appears. Thor swats him one, then tangles him up in the net and tosses him right into space. As he hurtles past the armada, the Xartans recognize him and depart Earth to rescue their warlord. Meanwhile, Thor decides to keep Zano and his men as hostages to prevent the Xartans from again attacking Earth. Once all of the Xartans are recalled to their space ship, Thor orders them all to become trees. They readily agree, figuring they can turn back to normal after Thor leaves. But Thor reveals that Xartans take on the characteristic of the thing they change into and since trees cannot think, they no longer can think either, and therefore won't think to change themselves back.

Okay, first of all...who says? Where did Thor get this great knowledge? He's never encountered the Xartans before. Isn't he just making this up? Second, if this is true, wouldn't the Xartans know this? Surely, there must be some time in the past when some Xartan turned himself into a tree and couldn't change back and everyone on the planet said, "Well, now we know. No one better do that again." But no. Instead they say, "once he leaves, we will free ourselves." So how come Thor knows this but the Xartans don't?

Anyway, it works and, before he goes, Thor tells Jane and Harris not to be hard on Don Blake, that Don was secretly helping him. No one can figure out exactly how but they decide to take Thor's word. "It was probably by keeping out of his way!" Jane nastily says to Don the next day. "Well, don't be too disappointed in me," Don says to Jane, "We can't all be as brave as Thor!" And he gives a little knowing smile to the reader.

All right. So, it seems to me that four questions present themselves.

  1. The cover says, How can the God of Thunder defeat a copy of himself created by the Carbon Copy Man!" Did I miss a page or did the Xartans not make a copy of Thor?
  2. Why "Carbon Copy Man" singular when there's more than one of them?
  3. Does Thor's cockeyed plan actually work and are the Xartans still trees?
  4. What the heck is a carbon copy anyway?

The answers:

  1. No, you didn't miss a page. The cover copywriter is lying, trying to get you to buy the issue, unless you want to count the moment when Zano becomes Don Blake and consider this to be "a copy of the God of Thunder." In which case the answer to the cover's question is, "He didn't have to defeat the copy of himself because Zano changed back after one panel." But it raises an interesting question, doesn't it? Why didn't Zano or Ugarth change into a copy of Thor? Since they apparently inherit the powers of whatever they copy, they'd have been a whole lot harder to defeat.
  2. Beats me. Because "Carbon Copy Man" sounds cool? I can't even decide which one is supposed to be the Carbon Copy Man (singular); Ugarth or Zano.
  3. Yes, Thor's plan works for a while but Zano and company eventually wake up and escape in X-Factor #32, 1988. They find out that Ugarth was killed by being tossed into space (which makes sense if you stop and think about it, making Thor a cold-blooded killer) so that Zano is more determined than ever to conquer the Earth. He doesn't.
  4. Geez, how young are you, anyway? A carbon copy is a copy made by putting a sheet of carbon paper between two or three or four sheets of typing paper. The carbon paper has dry ink on one side so that, when you type, the pressure of the keys imprints ink on the paper underneath so you can make a number of copies when you type only one. The term lives on in email, with the CC standing for "carbon copy." I swear. You probably don't know what a VCR is either.

So, to sum up, this Thor story is silly, inane, and ridiculous with the Xartans staging the lamest Earth invasion of all time, Thor acting like a pinhead, and Jane acting like Lois Lane in her Superman-obsessed shrew phase. I loved it. This is the kind of kooky early Marvel Silver Age story that makes kooky early Marvel Silver Age worthwhile. I'm giving it a full five webs.

By the way, a fellow named Steve wrote in with the following thought: "I took a look at the Thor story from Marvel Tales #8 that you recently reviewed and saw something that might tickle your webs. Does this story feature the first appearance of one Harold Osborn? Near the start of the story, where the cars are driving on the pavement, there's a panel where someone is driving a car wearing a bowtie and Harry's trademark sneer. The only problem is that he's wearing a hat so you can't tell what his hair looks like." You could be right, Steve, although I'm not sure Harry would be driving an old 1950s sedan like this guy is. Steve went on to ask for a no-prize, just between friends. I'd love to oblige, Steve, but I'm just not authorized to dispense no-prizes. You'll have to settle for the satisfaction of having a good eye and being in this review instead!

In General...

So, that makes the total... hmmm... add it all together... carry the two...round it down just to be ornery... three and a half webs!

Overall Rating...

Oh, and one last thing, I received a reply some time ago from Fredrik Jullum about a question I posed in a previous FTB. Here it is:

"In your Marvel Tales #7 review, you requested information on the two pinups in the issue. According to Joe Marek's excellent Marvel website (http://www.angelfire.com/comics/mcg-sac) both pinups are new to that book. The Spider-man pinup is listed as Ditko and the Thor one by Kirby/Ayers. Hope that helps :)"

Thanks, Fredrik! It does!

Footnote...

Next: At last, the end of the Kraven-Vulture trilogy. And maybe I can increase the frequency of these things while I'm at it.