I've been reading Spider-Man stories for over forty years and my favorite is still "The Enforcers" from Amazing Spider-Man #10, March 1964. It has everything I need: a mysterious criminal mastermind with a surprise secret identity (the Big Man), gang wars, stress with Aunt May, soap opera with Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson's confession of why he hates Spider-Man, and my favorite bad guys, The Enforcers (Montana, Fancy Dan, and the Ox), all wrapped up in first-rate Ditko artwork highlighted by one of those multi-page slugfests in which Spidey seems to be fighting everyone at once. Here is its first reprint appearance accompanied by the return of the Wizard, the introduction of Thug Thatcher, and the Wasp telling another loopy science-fiction tale. That's right, it's Marvel Tales #7.
As with previous issues, the cover reproduces the covers of the issues in which these stories originally appeared except that the Wasp pops through the Tales to Astonish #52 cover (too bad because that cover, featuring Giant-Man tangling with the Black Knight as drawn by Jack Kirby, is pretty nice). In fact, Kirby drew all of these covers; assisted by Steve Ditko on the Spider-Man cover, Dick Ayers on Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales and Sol Brodsky on the unseen Astonish cover. I'm sure we're all familiar with the cover of ASM #10 with the wall-crawler swinging in to confront the Big Man and the Enforcers. The Strange Tales #105 cover shows the Human Torch flying in to take on the Wizard. The Journey Into Mystery #89 cover, however, is essentially a pin-up of Thor swinging his hammer preparing to fly off, which is unusual for the time... until you read the story and discover there's almost nothing in it worth spotlighting that wouldn't look ridiculous. Stan filled previous Marvel Tales covers with lots of blurbs but this time he restricts himself to one caption in the lower right-hand corner reading, "'Nuff Said!"
The frontispiece declares this issue to be "More Majestic Masterpieces of Magnanimous Marvel Memorabilia!" and gives us those greytone panels from the stories again. The Spidey panel shows the web-slinger taking on various thugs from page 17 panel 3. The Torch panel shows Johnny battling the Wizard from his story's splash page. The Wasp panel superimposes the shot of the Wasp from page 1 panel 1 over the lifelike manikins from page 2 panel 5 of the story. The Thor panel shows the Thunder God dropkicking his hammer to knock the gun out of Thug Thatcher's hand from page 10 panel 4 of that story.
Now for the stories themselves:
The Enforcers from Amazing Spider-Man #10, March 1964 has already been reviewed and received five webs. I'd give it more if I could and I'd read it again right now except that I have three other stories to cover. My only complaint with the reprint is that the colors seem washed out compared to the original, although that may just be my copy. The story is followed by a pin- up of the wall-crawler that does not come from ASM #10, forcing me to do a little digging. (And keeping me from getting to the other stories right away.) Let's see now. It shows Spidey standing spread-legged with his arms away from his torso showing the webbing between. In non-specific script, it is signed, "Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" with a flourish after the "n" while "A Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up" is printed below that. It's a bit crudely done so that I'm pretty certain it's not Ditko's work, although I don't know whose work it is. I've just spent a considerable amount of time trying to trace this pin-up without success. (I should have reread the story instead.) Can it possibly be new to this issue? If anyone has the answers, please let me know!
(Fredrik Jullum gave me the answer to this, assuring me that "both pinups are new to that book. The Spider-man pinup is listed as Ditko and the Thor one by Kirby/Ayers." Thank you Fredrik!)
The Return of the Wizard! from Strange Tales #105, February 1963 brings back the villain only three months after his first appearance in Strange Tales #102, November 1962 (and Marvel Tales #4, September 1966) so I guess his debut was a hit. This story begins with a recap of the ending of the last story in which the Torch convinces the Wizard that he has the power to move objects without touching them. He "proves" this by "levitating" some photos out of the Wizard's hands and into his own. Completely humiliated by this demonstration of power, the Wizard caves like a rotten tooth and lets himself be arrested, unaware that the pictures were simply taken out of his hands by the Invisible Girl. In prison, the Wizard (prisoner number 236341) plots his next move. He becomes a model prisoner and is rewarded with a trustee job in the prison hospital. This apparently allows him to set up a wacky array of beakers and vials and pipettes and so on. Using "seemingly harmless ingredients" he creates a serum that is "powerful enough to burn through the strongest substance" (except the little test tube he keeps it in, I guess). At night, he spills the serum on the wall of his cell and it burns "a hole large enough for a man to pass through." A bunch of guards see the big hole and think the Wizard has escaped so they open his cell door and rush through the hole in pursuit. But the Wizard is actually hiding in a corner of his cell and he takes advantage of the open cell door to escape that way. (This plan is so full of holes, not the least of which is that he'd still have to get through all sorts of other doors to escape the prison, that it's hardly worth worrying about. It's a 1962 Human Torch story. Deal with it.) "Minutes later" (yes, that's right), the Wizard has hopped a train and returns to his private estate. The cops come right over, of course, but the Wizard has an electromagnetic force field that creates an "invisible barrier" around the house. He can't come out and the cops can't go in.
The Wizard then calls a local TV station and they broadcast his message, which is a challenge to the Human Torch. Torchy is ready to take "that egghead" on but his sister Sue tells him that "members of the Fantastic Four don't get into fights just to satisfy their own pride." She insists that he let the police handle the Wizard. Then she conveniently leaves the room, which allows the Torch to create a flaming imitation of himself that he leaves behind as he sneaks out. (The Torch can seemingly create anything with his flame in these early stories and the flame seems to last as long as he needs it but wouldn't the room start to catch on fire?) Sue feels bad about the way she's treated her brother and comes back in to talk to him. When the flaming figure just stands there not speaking, she quickly figures out that it's a "duplicate fiery figure." She calls Reed and Ben at FF headquarters but they refuse to help.
On his own, Johnny arrives at the Wizard's house where the Wizard temporarily lifts the force field so he can come in. Once Johnny enters the house, the Wizard fires a big cannon shell at him but he melts it with his flame before it can reach him. The Wizard then tries to drop Johnny through a trap door leading to "an asbestos-lined dungeon" but he has forgotten that Johnny can fly so that doesn't work. Next, the Wizard fires nerve gas at him. Johnny surrounds himself with a big ball of flame, keeping the gas from reaching him. Just then the Wizard's intruder alarm goes off. He knows that someone is in room 34 (the Wizard numbers his rooms) but he can't see them so he deduces that it is the Invisible Girl who "must have entered the house with the Torch." (Though she must have run like hell to get there since Johnny flew to the scene.) The Wizard runs to room 34 and sprays clouds of something around the room until he hits Sue. The spray makes her visible and he immediately raises some walls out of the floor (which he has in case someone happens to sneak in and wander around room 34, you know) surrounding Sue. Then he brings out some portable steps and hooks up some sort of device in the wall. Whatever it is, he tells Sue that it will "inexorably seal your doom." During this time, the Torch has tracked the Wizard to room 34 and he burns his way in. The Wizard tells him that the inexorable doom device is an explosive that will go off in five minutes and kill the Invisible Girl. Grinning madly, the Wizard tells Johnny that he will let him through the walls without his having to burn through if he will only flame off. Johnny agrees and the Wizard opens a piece of the wall so Johnny falls right through. With both Johnny and Sue trapped in the room, the Wizard bids them farewell. "I doubt that we shall ever meet again!" he says but then he hangs around to talk to them over a TV monitor that is built into the wall. He tells them that the bomb is equipped with "a hammer and bell device." So, "if the temperature in the room increases by one degree, the hammer will hit the bell and detonate the bomb" which means Johnny "dare not use [his] flame." But for some reason, the Wizard built the hammer and bell into the wall inside the room. Johnny and Sue can see it high up on the wall. Johnny tries to boost Sue up to it but she can't reach it. While Sue quickly falls into despair ("Oh, Johnny, we're beaten!"), the Torch creates a "small fireball of intense heat" that he hurls toward the hammer at, ahem, "super-speed." The heat triggers the hammer but the fireball hits it before it can ring the bell and apparently melts the hammer at super-speed too. The bomb is still set to explode in five minutes, which ends, according to Johnny, "ten seconds from now." (What's he been doing? Counting the seconds off in his head?) Now, though, he can use his flame. He melts the wall, finds the bomb, pulls it out of the wall, and creates an elaborate "catapult of flame" (oh God, don't ask) in those ten seconds. In fact, when he catapults the bomb through the Wizard's roof, he still has three seconds to spare. It "explodes harmlessly" in the air.
Now "an angry, vengeful Torch" burns his way out of the room. He and Sue chase the Wizard down a hallway until Johnny uses his flame to set off the Wizard's automatic sprinkler system. The Wizard slips on the wet floor but quickly gets up and pulls a gun on Johnny. If the flaming catapult wasn't enough for you, get ready for the flaming handsaw. Johnny creates one and tosses it over the Wizard's head. There it actually cuts a hole in the ceiling while the Wizard stands below unmoving, not firing his gun, not doing anything. The plaster falls down and lands on his head, knocking him silly. Sue, with no knowledge of the Wizard's machines immediately finds the switch that controls the force field. She asks Johnny (as if he'd know), "Is this the lever that controls the force field?" and Johnny (who somehow does know) replies, "Yeah! Switch it off so the police can enter the house!"
When the cops arrive, Johnny has the Wizard encircled with a flame lasso. He drops the flame and lets the police cart the Wizard off. Then he does a little trash talking, telling the Wizard that if he escapes, "he'll have to reckon with the Human Torch again!" Sue gets in on the action, adding, "If he's smart, he'll stay in prison where he's safe!"
The siblings return home. There Sue gets on Johnny for disobeying Reed's orders "by tackling the Wizard yourself." Sue's memory is not too good. It was her order that Johnny disobeyed. Reed and Ben were just too stodgy to help out. "It's a lucky thing I went after you to help you," she says. "Sure, sure" says Johnny, "a little more help like that and I'd have been cooked." Sue gets so ticked at this that she throws a pillow at Johnny and calls him an "ungrateful little beast." Johnny ducks the pillow. "That's the trouble with gals" he says, "no sensahumor!"
Hmmm. Well. Clearly the desire to bring back the Wizard had nothing to do with having a good story to tell about him. There's really hardly any story here at all. The Wizard escapes prison, challenges Johnny, and loses. That's about it. All of the details seem to be made up as the storyteller went along. Stan is credited with the plot, by the way, and Larry Lieber with the script while Jack Kirby created the art. This probably means that Stan told Jack, "The Wizard escapes prison, challenges Johnny, and loses," Jack drew it up with all the crazy Wizard gadgets and odd Torch flame creations, and Larry had to put words to the thing. I usually love Jack Kirby's imaginative touches but he didn't seem to have it with this one. The prison escape, the duplicate Torch left in the room, the hammer and bell device, the flaming catapult, and the flaming saw all miss the mark. And let's not let Larry off the hook. He's the one who wrote that groan-inducing sexist parting shot. Yeah, how 'bout them gals and their no sensahumor? This is early Silver Age Marvel at its worst (although I love the Kirby art) and quite a comedown from the first Wizard appearance. I'm giving it one-half web.
Apparently it didn't harm the Wizard's popularity though because he's already back in Strange Tales #110, July 1963, this time paired with Paste Pot Pete, as the team that later becomes the Frightful Four begins to form. (That issue is better known for something else, though: the first appearance of Dr. Strange.) We'll see that story in Marvel Tales #12, January 1968. The Wizard-Paste Pot Pete story, not the Dr. Strange story.
A turn of the page brings us to the "More Triumphs For Marvel...!" advertisement. This one plugs Thor #137, February 1967 and... Marvel Tales #7 which is, um, what we're sort of reading right now so there's, um, no reason to advertise it in these pages. "Now on sale!" says the ad copy. Yeah, I guess it is. I sorta got it in my hands here, Stan.
Not What They Seem! from Tales to Astonish #52, February 1964 is the second in "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale!" series. (The first, from Tales to Astonish #51, January 1964 was reprinted in Marvel Tales #5, November 1966.) This time it looks like the Wasp is visiting three teenage boys at a suburban home rather than entertaining at the veteran's hospital. She tells a story about a breakout on "a lonely prison planet in outer space" in the year 3000. Five prisoners get to a waiting ship and escape into space. They know that the Space Patrol will be after them so they need "to hide out on some isolated world till the heat's off." One prisoner, bald with a goatee, says he used to be a space pirate and knows "how deceptive alien worlds can be." "On some worlds," he says, "lifelike manikins give the appearance of a peaceful population while beneath the surface, the real warlike inhabitants stand poised to ambush any strangers who visit the innocent-looking planet." (Really. That's what he says. On some worlds. Like there's all sorts of planets that have thought of this lame idea and have actually placed unmoving wooden dummies on the surface while they live packed like sardines underground on the off chance that someone will happen by and mistake these statues for peaceful inhabitants.) "On other planets," the space pirate continues, "the animals which seem tame, are not! They are really vicious carnivores that pursue and slay fierce-looking, but harmless vegetarians." (The illustration shows a wide-eyed squirrel-like creature pursuing and killing a wolf-like creature.) "And there are still other places which seem like our native Earth," continues the pirate, "but where the biological balance of power is drastically different." How different? "On those worlds, plants have the greatest intelligence and therefore dominate all the other life forms including the human race which they enslave by hypnosis." So ends the lesson. One of the other escapees notices a Space Patrol ship on their trail so they "lose 'em in that star cluster up ahead", as if the stars are clustered together like an asteroid belt. They lose the cops but decide to land and hide. They find an "oxygen world" where the inhabitants look just like human beings and a battle of the sexes is literally going on with men and women duking it out. Completely forgetting the stories told by the space pirate, the prisoners see that the men are stronger then the women and appear to be winning the fight. "If we land and help those guys wrap it up, they're sure to be grateful and hide us from the law," they decide. They land and join the fight. Everyone seems to speak English and the women plead for help but the prisoners ignore them. When the fight ends and the women have been humiliated, the escapees ask for a favor from the victorious men. Instead the men seize the prisoners and place them in a big yellow glass cage. "Fools!" they tell the prisoners, "Didn't you know why we were battling the females? We saw you through our telescopes! It's our custom to capture space travelers and keep them on exhibition! But our women don't approve of the custom and they were trying to stop us! But now we've won and we shall do as we please." The Wasp wraps up the story with the moral that "the fugitives didn't really escape justice after all! No criminal ever does!" But I think the real lesson is to not escape prison with guys who are dumber than a box of rocks. And it might not be a bad idea to remember your own advice about not judging alien planets by their appearance only minutes after you bothered to spend all that time telling those stories.
Do I have to say it? The Wasp tells the lamest stories on Earth. One-half web for this one.
On the following page, we have "Another Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up." This one is of the Mighty Thor twirling his hammer. It's definitely not Jack Kirby's work but I don't know whose work it is. It may even be by the same guy who did the Spider-Man pin-up though the pencils seem tighter here. (It's possible that it is the same artist emulating Ditko in the Spidey pin-up and Kirby in the Thor pin-up.) If I couldn't find the source of the Spidey pin-up, I'm sure not going to look for the source of the Thor pin-up. To repeat, can it possibly to new to this issue? Come on, somebody! Let me know!
The Thunder God and the Thug! from Journey Into Mystery #89, February 1963 is one of the odder early Thor stories. It begins with Thor flying back to the office where he practices medicine as Dr. Donald Blake. Before he can fly into his private room, his waiting patients see him outside the window. Now he doesn't dare enter the office lest his patients suspect that Thor and Don Blake are the same person. (Although I can't think of any reason why anyone would suspect that brawny Thor and puny Don are the same person.) To "divert their attention" he flies into a nearby mannequin shop (yeah, you see those all over town), quickly creates a Thor costume out of spare fabric lying around and dresses up a dummy so it looks just like him, complete with a winged helmet and a hammer. (And don't worry because he vows to pay for the materials later.) He then heaves the dummy out the window, hard enough so that it will "come down over the open sea." While the waiting room patients (along with Nurse Jane Foster) watch the dummy Thor fly away, the real Thor sneaks in behind them. In his office, his changes back to Donald Blake, opens the door, and asks Jane to admit the first patient.
After a recap of Thor's origin, we return to Don and Jane in the office. Don thinks about how beautiful Jane is but that she'd never love a weakling like him. Jane thinks about how much she cares for Don but that he won't give her the time of day. Since she can't get a romantic rise out of Don, she daydreams about Thor, fantasizing about polishing his hammer, ironing his cloak, and giving him a short haircut. (Okay, I admit it. This dopey little domestic sequence is my favorite part of this story. The panel with the short-haired Thor smiling as he admires himself in a hand mirror and saying, "I feel better already!" is not to be missed.)
Elsewhere in town, mob leader Thug Thatcher is being carted off to jail for trying to "muscle in on the steel industry" and "selling sub-standard steel." Right outside Don Blake's office, Thug's gang crashes a truck into the car carrying their boss in an attempt to bust him out. A gun battle ensues that Jane watches from a window. Don wants to intervene as Thor but doesn't dare bang his walking stick on the ground while Jane is around to see him. (Why he doesn't duck out and do this is beyond me.) As the gunfight continues, Thug is shot in the shoulder. Two of his goons (named Max and Vince) who stayed out of the action, notice Dr. Blake's name on the mailbox and realize that a doctor is right nearby. As Thug and the rest of his gang manage to escape in their truck, Max and Vince come up to Don's office with guns drawn. They tie Jane to a chair and take Don with them to Thug Thatcher's hideout where they say, "We saw ya get hit, Boss! We brought a sawbones!" One of the goons takes Don's cane away from him because he'll "need both hands to take the slug out." Don panics for a moment then decides "no time to worry about it now." So, Don removes the bullet and patches Thug up. Thug then orders his boys to "take care of the good doctor" in spite of the protests of his girl, Ruby. Even as a hood wearing a black shirt and yellow tie pulls his gun to silence the doctor, Don projects his thoughts up to Asgard and makes mental contact with Odin. Seeing Don's danger, the All-Father creates fire and lightning in his body and sends it to Earth where it strikes the hood holding the cane, causing him to drop it. Don dives to the ground, retrieves his cane, and thumps it on the floor, transforming into Thor. (He then lies to the crooks, telling them that he was flying by, saw Don's plight, and tossed him to safety. Which makes sense and seems simple enough except this is the guy who made a Thor costume and put it on a mannequin rather than come up with some simple explanation for flying by Don Blake's offices. Why didn't he think of something like this before?)
All of Thug's men (I count nine of them) attack Thor but he uses super-breath to blow a tablecloth off its table, trapping most of them within. (A neat trick since the cloth on the table doesn't look big enough to hold even one of these guys.) Thor ties a knot in the cloth and tosses the bundle up into a tree. During the time it takes him to do this, a couple more hoods escape in a car but Thor uses his hammer to chop down five large trees which encircle the car, trapping the hoods within. (But unnecessarily destroying some very nice trees in the bargain.) While this is going on, Thug and Ruby slip away. Thug remembers reading "that Thor and that creep Dr. Blake always seem to be in the same place at about the same time" (and if someone is actually publishing this information, then the Thor mannequin seems sillier than ever) so he figures he can keep Thor off his back by kidnapping Donald Blake.
Thor waits around for the police to pick up the bagged crooks and then heads back to his office. Thug and Ruby have already gotten there on foot even though Thug's hideout seemed to be far away from Manhattan. Jane is still tied to the chair and Thug has decided to use her as a hostage instead. When Thor flies in through the window, Thug tells him to drop his hammer or else he'll shoot Jane. Thor complies. ("From what I read, most of your power comes from that blasted hammer," says Thug who has certainly done a lot of reading about Thor, while Jane wonders why Thor would sacrifice himself to save her when he doesn't even know her.) Knowing that without the hammer he'll change back into Don Blake after sixty seconds, Thor uses his "super-developed vocal chords" to project his voice across the room. "Drop the gun, Thatcher! We have you covered!" he says, forcing Thug to turn to look. With Thug distracted, Thor kicks his hammer so precisely that it knocks the gun out of Thug's hand and "returns to its master." (Why he didn't kick it so it clonked Thug on the head, I don't know.) As Thug reaches for his gun again, Jane is suddenly free of the ropes. (Don't ask me how.) Thor uses his hammer to create an updraft that sends Jane flying right out of the building. He follows, grabs her out of thin air, and sets her down safely on a rooftop. ("Is there nothing you cannot do, Thor?" asks the mesmerized Jane.) This rescue gives Thug and Ruby a chance to leave the building. (Hey, if they can get to Manhattan on foot in a few minutes, they can sure leave the building while Thor rescues Jane.) Thug takes a construction crew elevator up an in-progress skyscraper that is little more than a steel frame. (Not the brightest idea if he's trying to escape but we're building to a little irony here.) Ruby pleads with him to give himself up, professing her love for him, but Thug replies, "Ya dumb dame! You're nuthin' but a millstone around my neck!" and shoots at her. Thor steps in front of her and protects her from the bullets. He then stamps his hammer on the ground four times. Now, you'd think that would turn him into Don, back into Thor, back into Don, and back into Thor again but the editor's note tells us that, "When Thor's hammer is pounded four times, it produces lightning!" The bolts fly out of the hammer and hit the elevator cables, melting them. Thug escapes the elevator and climbs out on the girders so Thor starts melting them too. But what a stroke of luck for Thug! He just happens to find a bucket of hot rivets sitting in a bucket on the girder with a pair of heatproof gloves next to it. He puts on the gloves, picks up the bucket and tells Thor to let him escape or else he'll drop the rivets on the crowd. Thor promises not to try to capture Thug. Just then, the girder collapses and Thug falls. "I vowed not to try to capture you but I may attempt to save you!" says Thor as he flies up to grab the falling Thug. After he turns Thug over to the cops (with Ruby still professing her love for him), Thor tells the crowd that he promised not to capture Thug because "I saw the girder he stood on was a faulty one and that the heat of my lightning had weakened it." A guy in the crowd realizes, "Faulty steel! It's probably the very stuff that Thatcher himself was forcing companies to buy!" and a woman in the crowd really gets it. "So, ironically, he caused his own capture," she says. Then Thor asks one last boon of Asgard: the power to remove the memory of Thug Thatcher forever from Ruby's mind so that she will be "free to find one who will be worthy of her." He then flies off thinking about Jane, "the girl who holds my heart although I'd never dare admit it." Stan adds a blurb for this reprint, saying, ""But as all true believers know, Thor finally did admit it, and comicdom hasn't been the same since! See ya next ish, Pussycat!" which replaces the next issue blurb in the original touting Thor's next villain, "The Carbon-Copy Man!"
That Thug Thatcher was one amazing guy. He withstood a bullet wound, got to Manhattan from his hideout on foot in mere minutes, knew enough about Thor to connect him to Don Blake and to coerce him into putting his hammer down, and knew how to use a bucket of hot rivets when he found one lying around. Too bad he had to traffic in that sub-standard steel, huh?
(This is not the last we'll see of Thug Thatcher, either. He tracks Ruby down years later to her new home in a Chicago suburb in Thor #369, July 1986, receives the power of the Zaniac (with Ruby dying in the process) in Thor #371, September 1986, and kills Jane Foster in Thor #372, October 1986. However in that same issue, Thor and Justice Peace manage to go back in time a few hours and stop Thug from being infected by the Zaniac, though Thug dies of a heart attack in the process. This means that Jane is never killed though Ruby isn't so lucky. They didn't go far enough back in time to save her.)
Okay, so some ordinary crook holds Thor off for 13 pages. In the same story, the Thunder God creates a Thor costume to put on a mannequin, Jane Foster dreams about domesticating Thor, Odin shoots lightning down to Earth so that some hood will drop Don Blake's cane, Thor captures about 7 crooks in a tablecloth, chops down five trees with his hammer, uses his super-developed vocal chords to distract Thug, and melts an elevator with lightning while the villain is defeated by sub-standard steel. And I didn't even mention the guy who gets knocked in the air when Thor whacks a floorboard and ends up hanging on a moose head. It's a thoroughly ridiculous story and I loved it. What makes this dopey story fun while the dopey Torch story and dopey Wasp tale don't cut it? I'm not real sure but I know it when I see it. Give this story four webs.
So let's see. Five webs for Spidey plus half web for Torchy plus half web for Waspy plus four webs for Goldilocks equals ten webs. Divided by four equals... five webs.
Did you think I was going to give an issue reprinting Amazing Spider-Man #10 any less than that?
Next: Still no ASM #47. So, what then? See if you can guess.