Comics : Marvel Tales #9

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

This review was first published on: Feb 2010.

Background...

How would you like one comic featuring Spider-Man, the Green Goblin, the Incredible Hulk, the Enforcers, the Mighty Thor, the Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, and the Wasp? Except that all the stories are reprints, Thor fights a stiff named Sandu, and the Wasp tells one of her lame stories. Except the comic only costs 25 cents! Except this was when regular sized comics cost 12 cents. So, if you saw it on the rack in 1967, would you buy it? Should you buy it? Let’s look and find out.

In Detail...

Marvel Tales #9
Jul 1967 : SM Reprint
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #14
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #107
Reprints: Tales To Astonish (Vol. 1) #54
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #91
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Review

It’s the penultimate Marvel Tales issue with the covers of the reprinted issues on the cover. Truth is, as cool as the format is, it is getting a little stale. This time, the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #14, July 1964 is blown up to about six times the size of the other ones. It also gets two covers blurbs. (The one above reads, “Imagine Spidey battling the Incredible Hulk!! It’s the smash sensation of the season…all yours, with not a single word or action expurgated!!!” while the one in the arrow reads, “Spidey! Gobby! And the Jolly Green Giant! No wonder this is the most requested Spider-Man reprint of all time!!!”) The three smaller covers are stacked on top of each other on the right side of the cover. From top to bottom those blurbs read, “Plus: The Mighty Thor battling the Sinister Sandu…Master of the Supernatural!” “The most bombastic battle in the annals of comicdom, when the Human Torch faces Sub-Mariner!” “And as a last-ditch effort to hook you, we’re throwin’ in a far-out fantasy told by the Wonderful Wasp!” There’s one final blurb, as if Stan became embarrassed over his hucksterism (Strange Tales #107, April 1963 is “the most bombastic battle in the annals of comicdom?”) This one reads, “Anyway, you’ve gotta admit – we try harder!” (That’s the old slogan for Avis Rent-A-Car, for those who don’t know.)

Okay, so you’ve read all of Stan’s hype but you’re still not sure if you want to buy this one. So, you open up to the splash page and you see yet another of those greytone contents pages on the inside front cover. This one uses condensed versions of the stories’ titles beneath panels taken from the stories. Clockwise from top-left (even though the actual story order in the issue is counter-clockwise), they are “Spider-Man…The Green Goblin!” with Spidey leaping onto Gobby’s broomstick from page 5 panel 1 of the story; “Thor…Sandu, Master of the Supernatural!” with Sandu apparently getting a headache while Thor looks on from page 13 panel 3; “Wasp…Conquest!” with the Wasp flying past some flying saucers firing ray blasts, which is that same Wasp image used in previous issues superimposed this time over page 3 panel 3; and “Human Torch vs. Sub-Mariner” with the two combatants facing each other from page 6 panel 1. This arrangement allows space in the center third of the page for the Marvel Tales logo, the production credits and one final blitz on your wallet: “Chaos in New York City! A struggle to the death on the land and beneath the sea! A momentous decision to be reached in Asgard! And, if you still haven’t shelled out your shekels for this illustrious ish…we don’t know what kind of pitch to throw at you!” The “Chaos” quote refers to the Spidey story even though most of it takes place in the Southwest. The “struggle to the death” between Torchy and Subby ends up with both of them still alive. And the “momentous decision in Asgard” isn’t what you’d usually think of as momentous but, yeah, maybe I’ll give Stan that one. So, are we shelling out our shekels? Yeah, sure, why not? Now, let’s sit on the sidewalk next to our bike, leaning up against the Drug Fair’s storefront and see if it was worth it.

The first story is certainly worth it. The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin from Amazing Spider-Man #14, July 1964 is the Goblin’s first appearance, the Enforcers second appearance and the first Spidey-Hulk tussle ever. I gave it five webs in my review, succinctly saying, “is there even any doubt?” So, we’re off to a good start. What’s next?

The Human Torch Face-To-Face with Prince Namor, the Mighty Sub-Mariner sub-titled The Master of Flame vs. the Monarch of the Sea!! from Strange Tales #107, April 1963 is next. It’s got Dick Ayers rather than Jack Kirby art and Stan farmed out his plot to his brother Larry Leiber.

Johnny comes home from school to find Ben and Reed visiting because they were “working on our notes for next month’s Fantastic Four adventure.” (I don’t even want to speculate on what that means.) In typical early 60s male chauvinism, they have Sue type it up for them. Johnny gets annoyed that they performed this vital task without him. He decides he needs to do something like “solve a big case by myself or catch a colorful villain single-handed” to prove his worth. Spying the photo of the Sub-Mariner that Sue keeps on her bedroom table, Johnny decides to take Subby on so that “Reed and the others would have to consider me an equal and include me in on all their conferences.” (Yeah, that’s the reason to tackle the Sub-Mariner.) So, Johnny flies out over the Atlantic but his flame dies out and he has to land on a ship. The crew finds him and decides he’s a stowaway, not taking his FF uniform seriously. The captain puts Johnny to swabbing the deck. The ship sails into a heavy fog and has a power failure. His flame rejuventated, Johnny flames on and surrounds the ship with fireballs, lighting its way through the fog. By the next morning, Johnny flies off as the crew thanks him. (So, how long was he flaming on, then? All through the night? After flaming off just minutes after flying over the Atlantic?) In fact, Johnny is generating so much flame that he uses it to write a big message in the sky that reads, “Namor, Human Torch challenges you,” placing it low over the water to heat it up, which he hopes will attract Namor’s attention. (Yeah, if he happens to be hanging out in the small patch of water below that message.) Some flying fish fly too close to the Torch’s message and one of them gets a bit singed. Seconds later, that singed fish swims past Namor many fathoms below. Namor sees him, notices that he is singed and decides to go up to the surface to check things out. (Well, it COULD happen!) Namor spots Johnny and decides to just warn him off because of his feelings for Sue but the Torch tosses a flaming lasso over him and that’s enough to set him off. (“Sister or no sister, I’ll beat you to a pulp,” he says in not-quite-regal dialogue.) The Torch flies toward an iceberg with Namor in pursuit, veering off at the last second. Subby can’t swerve in time so he blows himself up like a puffer fish (“for he possesses the powers of all the creatures living beneath the sea,” Larry tells us), crashes into the iceberg, then exhales, reducing his size so he can extricate himself from the hole.

Namor takes the offensive. He retrieves a gargoyle-like statue from the ocean floor and grabs a pice of asbestos that just happens to be hanging around. Returning to the surface, he reveals that the statue has hypnotic properties and uses them to convince the Torch that they are friends. So, that’s the end, right? Johnny thinks they’re friends and Namor asks him to leave, right? No. Namor uses the hypnotic power to convince the Torch to come close to him so he can pop him with an asbestos-covered fist. Johnny falls into the ocean, which extinguishes his flame. Subby summons a porpoise, ties Johnny on its back with seaweed, and orders the porpoise to return him to land. (I think just asking him while he was hypnotized would have worked better.) Johnny regains consciousness, flames on (without harming the porpoise, of course) and returns for round two.

Johnny and Namor fly right at each other but Subby again uses that power to mimic the abilities of other sea creatures. This time he charges himself like an electric eel and jolts Johnny into the ocean. Flaming back on quickly before getting too wet, Johnny retaliates by boosting his flame to supernova levels. Namor dives deep into the ocean but the Torch follows because, as Larry puts it, his flame is so hot “that it evaporates the waters around it, forming an air pocket for the Torch to breathe in.” Johnny chases Subby into an undersea tunnel he creates with his flame, then leaves him there as the ground closes up again. The Torch returns to the surface, satisfied that he has proven which of them is the stronger. The same ship on which he was before picks him up. Exhausted, he mutters, “I beat him, I beat him” over and over.

Meanwhile, using his body as a drill, Namor frees himself. He heads to the surface to re-new the fight but Johnny is nowhere in sight. He’s just as glad. The Torch is stronger than he thought. “Perhaps some day I’ll persuade him to join forces with me…Between the two of us we could defeat the Fantastic Four and hold the entire world in our grasp!” he muses but that “nightmarish possibility” never happens.

Back home, Johnny collapses into bed. Sue comes home, sees him, and grumps, “Dozing in the middle of the day! Hmmph! I didn’t know that monkeying around with hot rods could be so exhausting!”

A “Special Note” is added to the Marvel Tales version of this story: “Nautical Namor has since lost his power to imitate the characteristics of fish but otherwise he’s mightier and more marvelous than ever!”

For my part, I didn’t need that note. After all, this was only the fourth Silver Age appearance of Namor (after FF #4, May 1962, FF #6, September 1962, and FF #9, December 1962) and, clearly, Stan and the gang were still trying to figure out what to do with him. (Subby’s Golden and Atlas Age powers weren’t the model of consistency either.) Actually, the fish powers are just the sort of wacky early-60s stuff that I always like. This story is worth the price of admission for the panels of “puffer fish Namor” alone. I also like Johnny complaining about being treated like a kid and then acting like a kid. The stowaway bit is fun too. What I don’t like about the story is what I don’t like about any of these sort of team-up/fight stories. You know that it will end in a stalemate so, unless the ride is really entertaining, there’s always a dissatisfying feeling when you finish them. Granted Subby was a villain at this time, not a guest star, but he was a big enough villain that you knew darn well the Torch wasn’t going to put an end to him in the Strange Tales pages. So, it’s goofy and fun but not fun enough to overcome its inherent shortcomings. I give it two and a half webs.

Conquest! is the Wasp’s tale from Tales to Astonish #54, April, 1964. This one, scripted and penciled by Larry Lieber from Stan’s plot, begins with a lovely bit of 60s chauvinistic dialogue. “Ah! A phone call!” says the Wasp, “Music to the ears of any female!” It is Hank Pym calling Jan for a date but she must turn him down because she is baby-sitting (in her Wasp costume) the son of a friend of hers who is in the hospital. The kid, Tommy, tells “Aunt Jan” that she promised him a bedtime story. So Jan tells the tale of Shann, the king of a serene domain on a distant planet. Feeling like his people take him for granted King Shann decides to lead an army in battle against another planet. He hopes to be remembered as “Shann the Conqueror!” So, Shann converts his world into a wartime economy. Finding the peaceful planet of Andromia, they attack, leveling their cities and destroying their “fertile land” so that the Andromians surrender. Shann returns home in glory but soon realizes that the now-poor and hungry Andromians are his responsibility. He sends ships carrying “food, farm equipment and technicians to help rebuild the ruined cities” but boosts his own people’s taxes and working hours to compensate. His people get resentful, realizing they were better off before they conquered Andromia and that Shann did it all to “enhance his own prestige.” So, now, when King Shann tours his world, no one cheers him. Instead they regard him with loathing. Shann realizes, “I invaded Andromia to win more respect and admiration from my people and now they have none for me! I am a ruler despised throughout his realm! Such is the price of vanity. I have conquered a world but lost the respect of my own people!” After the story, Tommy has a question. Jan thinks this means that he was interested in her tale. “How come you don’t have your Wasp’s wings when you’re normal-sized?” Tommy asks. Jan looks at the reader, shrugs, and thinks, “Kids! I’ll never figure them out!” A strange ending for a tale that was read almost exclusively by kids.

In fact, its concept is more subtle than most of these kinds of comic stories written for kids. No big shock ending, no heavy-handed retribution, no big explosions or battle scenes. That’s what I like about it. And I can’t help thinking that Larry had someone particular in mind when he wrote it. This couldn’t be an early critique of LBJ’s escalation of the war in Vietnam, could it? Probably not, but it’s still one of the best of the Wasp stories. I give it four webs.

Finally, The Mighty Thor Battles... Sandu, Master of the Supernatural! from Journey into Mystery #91, April 1963. Published prior to the great Stan and Jack collaboration that Thor becomes, this one is scripted by Larry Lieber (Larry’s like the king of this Marvel Tales issue, isn’t he?) from Stan’s plot with art by Joe Sinnott, who is better known for inking Kirby than his own penciling. The story begins in Asgard where Odin has his mitts on Thor’s belt of strength. So far, Odin says, Thor “has needed it not. His own strength has been more than enough to deal with wrong doers!” Hmmm. You don’t suppose we’re being introduced to it because Thor is going to need it, do you?

On Earth, Thor discovers a bank floating in the air. When Thor tries to force it back to the ground, it disappears. The people who were in the bank reappear with no memory of what has happened to them. Thor (now in his Don Blake guise) thinks, “it smacks of supernatural mischief and that smacks of the God of Evil, my old enemy Loki!”

Later, Thor asks Odin for Loki’s location and is told that “Loki is confined here in Asgard.” At the same time, “at a distant race track,” all of the money floats away up into the air. Loki watches this from Asgard. “I haven’t enjoyed myself this much in centuries,” he says.

So why is Loki having such a good time? Larry takes us back in time a few days, showing us Don Blake and Jane Foster who come upon a carnival where Sandu the Great, an evil-eyed fellow wearing a purple turban and purple cape, is performing his mind-reading act. During it, Sandu tells Don, “I have detected your thoughts! Thus I know you are in love with a woman whose initials are J.F!” Jane realizes that those are her initials but Don is too much of a weenie to cop to it, telling Jane that Sandu “must have made a mistake.” (Well, and he’s afraid he can’t have a relationship with her since he’s Thor… and it turns out that he’s right!) In any event, Jane is too much of a stiff to realize that Don is lying, deciding that he’s “too stuffy to fall for any girl.” Loki looking on realizes that Sandu would turn to crime if his “meager extra-sensory abilities” were increased. So he makes Sandu’s powers “a thousand times stronger!!!”

Sure enough, as soon as Sandu’s powers increase, he starts robbing people, eventually leading to his levitating a bank… which is where we came in at the beginning. After successfully robbing the bank, Sandu goes on a crime spree robbing a train and a museum. Thor can’t find any trace of the bank or the train “or anything” because, once he grabs all the valuables, Sandu teleports everything to the moon. It isn’t long before Sandu decides “a man with my powers should live in a palace.” To that end, he heads to the Middle East and finds a stereotypical Sultan’s palace with turrets and minurets and teleports it back to the US. Getting really cocky, he decides to go after the United Nations building but informs the authorities about it first. As he levitates over New York, the government sends fighter jets to gun him down. (Good idea! Right over New York!) Sandu’s power forces the bullets to turn back on the jets and the pilots bail out. (Over New York! Where do those planes crash, anyway?) Soon after, Sandu levitates the UN.

Learning of this, Don Blake rushes out and becomes Thor. As Sandu tells the UN delegates that he will levitate the building into space unless they make him “absolute ruler of Earth,” Thor arrives. (One of the delegates very rightly tells Sandu, “But we’re only representatives! We haven’t the power to do that!” I guess, for all his mental abilities, Sandu is not very bright.) Responding to Thor’s challenge, Sandu returns the UN to earth, then teleports a derrick and girders from a construction site right into Thor’s flight path. Thor collides with them, knocking himself out. (Clearly, Thor is not the heavyweight he’ll turn out to be in later issues.) The unconscious Thor falls onto the construction site where Sandu chains him up and levitates a building on top of him. In Asgard, Loki gloats over his victory.

It isn’t long before Thor regains consciousness but finds himself too weak to break the chains and lift the building. He prays to Odin for help. And guess what Odin has right at hand? You got it! The belt of strength. He gives it to two Valkyries who are able to pass right through the building and wrap the belt around Thor’s waist. With his new strength, Thor breaks the chains, then uses his hammer to create a tunnel by which he escapes. (Apparently still too weak, even with the belt of strength, to lift the building.)

Seeing this, Loki mentally instructs Sandu to get a hold of Thor’s hammer. Sandu tricks Thor into throwing Mjolnir at him. (It seems that Thor is also not very bright.) Sandu teleports out of the hammer’s way, then teleports himself and Mjolnir to another dimension, successfully separating Thor from the hammer. But then Sandu tries to lift the hammer. When he can’t do it, he tries to levitate it with his mental powers. Unfortunately, since “the mallet’s enchantment is invincible,” Sandu’s efforts only cause “a mental short circuit.” He and the hammer return to Earth, where Thor grabs Mjolnir before sixty seconds are up. When Sandu tries to tackle Thor, he discovers that his powers are gone. The police have no trouble taking him away.

Later, the Valkyries return the belt of strength to Odin (although I don’t know why Thor doesn’t just keep it) who promises to provide it again if Thor needs it. “And in a remote part of Asgard,” Loki rages over Sandu’s stupidity (which he should have figured out when Sandu tried to blackmail UN delegates to give him the power to rule the world) but vows that he will find a way to defeat Thor someday. And Stan adds this blurb to the Marvel Tales version: “And, he’s still at it, as zillions of Thorophiles know! See ya next ish, true believer!”

So, that’s it for Sandu. As far as I know, he’s never seen again. It’s easy to pass him off as just another Svengali knock-off in a turban. After all, his powers don’t even belong to him. They come from Loki. On the other hand, the Absorbing Man owes his powers to Loki too and no one has ever held that against him. And Sandu, as stereotypical as his look is, is really one of Thor’s most formidable opponents. He can do just about anything with his mind, putting him well ahead of Thor who is pretty much just brawn. The Thunder God actually has to resort to the belt of strength to keep from total defeat. And he never does defeat Sandu, who defeats himself by trying to lift Mjolnir. (I’ve always had a fondness for stories where some clever plot twist causes the defeat of the villain.) Granted, Sandu isn’t much in the smarts department but that’s part of his charm. A guy with prodigious mental powers who isn’t very smart! You gotta love that! It’s a bit surprising that no one has bothered to bring Sandu back but I hope it stays that way. I like the idea of him sitting in prison kicking himself, thinking, “If only I hadn’t tried to pick up that stupid hammer!”

It’s pales compared to the eventual Lee/Kirby Thor epics but for early Thor stories, this is about as good as it gets. I’m giving it four webs.

In General...

It’s a given that the first Spidey-Goblin story is worth reading. The surprises in this issue are the Wasp tale and the Thor-Sandu encounter. Who ever thought that Sandu wouldn’t be such a stiff and the Wasp’s story wouldn’t be lame? Who ever thought they’d be so much more fun than the Torch versus the Sub-Mariner?

Overall Rating...

It all averages out to about 3.87 webs but deserves to be rounded up. Call it four webs. If you saw it in 1967, I hope you bought it! And I hope you had a safe bike trip back home from the Drug Fair.

Footnote...

Next: Back to Amazing Spider-Man. Soon… I hope. Well, sooner than the time between the last one and this one… I hope.