In my review of Marvel Tales #1 (fourteen years ago), I said, “I'm not going to make a habit of reviewing Marvel Tales in "From the Beginning" but the first one is worth a look.” Wrong. It turns out I’ve reviewed each issue of the series that features Spider-Man. No reason to stop now.
We shook off the format of reprinting the original covers in miniature on the Marvel Tales covers two issues ago. This time, we shake off the insets of the back-up stories that we saw last issue but what we end up with is a strange hybrid of Ditko and Romita. The cover depicts a Spidey/Green Goblin confrontation with some vague looking rooftops below them but the Spidey and Goblin figures are reprinted from two different issues, both slightly redrawn. Spidey’s figure is from the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #17, October 1964, which makes sense since that story is reprinted here. The Goblin figure, however, is from the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39, August 1966, John Romita’s first issue. Why not reprint the entire image from ASM #17? Beats me, but it makes for an interesting cover.
If you missed the cover images for the backup stories, you’ll love the graytone frontispiece. “Another lyrical lucubration from the Marvel Brain Trust,” writes Stan. (Lucubration: noun formal: study; meditation. Does this definition fit the use of the word here? Or is Stan just showing off?) Going clockwise, the images are from page 19 panel 2 of the Spidey story, page 10 panel 4 of the Human Torch story (except the Torch image is from page 10 panel 2), page 4 panel 7 of the Wasp story (with some motion lines thrown in), and a slightly repositioned page 12 panel 1 of the Thor story. A look at these images of the Green Goblin, Paste-Pot Pete, the Magician, and the Cobra make me want to jump right in.
The Return of the Green Goblin from ASM #17 leads off. In my review of this issue, I said “It’s Stan and Steve showing the rest of the comic world how it’s done,” and “This is as good as it gets.” It gets five webs.
The Human Torch vs. the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete, from Strange Tales #110, July 1963 is next. ST #110 featured the Torch, the Wizard and Pete on its cover and in its lead story. None of that has anything to do with the current value of that issue. There is a little five-page story in the back that happens to be the first appearance of Dr. Strange. This story features the first Wizard-Paste Pot Pete team-up, a stepping stone to the Frightful Four. The Wizard was last seen in Strange Tales #105, February 1963 (reprinted in Marvel Tales #7) and, before that, in Strange Tales #102, November 1962 (reprinted in Marvel Tales #4). Paste-Pot Pete has only one previous appearance; in Strange Tales #104, January 1963 (reprinted in Marvel Tales #6).
The Torch does his exercises “in the backyard of his house,” although it looks like he is indoors the whole time and then does his history homework, which makes him wonder whatever became of the Wizard. (Because his history homework apparently deals with “Anglo-Norman feudalism, Gaul, the Franks, the Crusades, vassals, soothsayers, wizards, Charles Martel.”) He pulls out his scrapbook (“Adventures of the Human Torch”) and recalls his last battle with the Wizard in ST #105, taking up more than a page of the story to do it. Then, for no reason at all, he wonders about Paste-Pot Pete and flashes back to ST #104 for nearly a page. Now, Pete escaped at the end of that story but the Wizard was put in jail at the end of his story so I’m not sure why Johnny is wondering, “The Wizard, Paste-Pot Pete, I wonder where they are now…what they’re doing?” except, of course, that they’re both going to show up in this story. In fact, Pete is hanging out at that very moment in a house with broken windows, cracked walls and no electricity and he is thinking about “a craving which keeps growing inside me…this need to crush the Torch!” Afraid he can’t defeat the Torch alone, Pete thinks of the Wizard as a potential ally. “I must find the Wizard!”
And, he does find the Wizard, though we aren’t told how. Two panels later, Pete is spying on Cortraz prison “using binoculars with powerful lenses fashioned of clear paste.” The Wizard is in solitary confinement there but that seems to include a barred window. Keeping watch for days, Pete learns that a food supply truck enters the prison every Thursday at noon. The truck takes a Ninth Avenue route so the prison, apparently, is in Manhattan. The following Thursday, Pete stops the truck by covering its windshield in paste. He yanks the driver out and pastes him up. Then “half an hour later” Pete drives the truck to the prison with no evidence of paste anywhere on its windshield. (Does Pete have a solvent for this stuff?) He pastes up everyone he encounters. He is, it seems, so fast with his paste that no one can even get a gun drawn. He finds the Wizard’s cell and uses the “reverse suction switch on my paste gun” to pull the cell door off. Pete tells the Wizard he wants to team up to defeat the Torch and the Wizard agrees. They get out to the truck and the Wizard blows up the gate with “a tiny pill which I made while in solitary from the meager materials at my disposal.”
They drive off but, already, the Wizard is treating Pete as a servant rather than a partner. “Before defeating him, we’ll first discredit the Torch,” he says, “Our headquarters will be my house! The police would never dream I’d go there!” (Oh yeah, the police will never look there! They don’t call him the Wizard for nothing!) “Then I’ll evolve the perfect trap and I’ll show you how to assist me,” he tells Pete.
Two days later, a story appears in the newspaper accusing the Torch of being an enemy spy. The police know it’s false and they ask the Torch why he allowed the story to run. “Because I think I know who’s behind this and I want to smoke ‘em out into the open!” he says. But, as the days go by, Johnny Storm finds himself shunned at school. Johnny can’t stand much more of it. He needs to catch “those two crooks!” (Have you tried looking at the Wizard’s house, Johnny?) He sees a poster for a play called “The Second Face” being put on by the school dramatic society and this gives him an idea.
Two days later (I love how precise the passage of time is in this story), the Wizard sits in his cloud chair, smoking a cigarette held by his mechanical cigarette holder and he reads a newspaper article stating “Cyrus Cartwright, one of the world’s richest men, will arrive in town today.” The article mentions that Cartwright takes a walk every night. The Wizard decides to rob him. (The Wizard…and every other crook in the area that read the article.) He plans to wear his asbestos suit (back in the days when asbestos was considered harmless) to “put the blame on the Torch.”
That evening, the Wizard, disguised as the Torch, confronts Cartwright on his walk. “Give me your money and any valuables you have or you’ll feel my fiery wrath!” he says. Cartwright, mopping his sweaty brow with a handkerchief says, “My good man, the heat that emanates from you is so intense I fear I’m going to burst into flames myself!” And then he does burst into flames. Pete, who has tagged along, realizes it is a trick and that Cartwright is the Torch in disguise. “Thanks to that phony newspaper story and some clever makeup by our drama class, I’ve the chance to catch you buzzards when you’re off guard!” says Johnny. “Quickly! Back into the house!” yells the Wizard and, somehow, they get there ahead of Johnny even though they are running and he is flying.
By the time the Torch arrives inside the Wizard’s house, the villains have set up a trap. A trapdoor opens in the floor beneath the Torch and a nozzle fires compressed air at him, forcing him down “into the chamber below.” That room is filled with mirrors “made from impenetrable polished steel.” The Torch begins to weaken as he tries to find his way out.
The villains don’t wait, however. Instead, they show up in the room and the Wizard declares that he is going to fill the room “with a powerful fire-extinguishing liquid which I invented!” (Is it called…water?) The Wizard likes to use 10 words where one will suffice so he adds, “It evaporates oxygen…and flame lives on oxygen, as does man! Do you understand, Torch? Soon, this room’ll be without oxygen…and you’ll be without flame and without life!” (I love that longwinded speech.) So, Pete pastes the Torch’s feet to the floor and then the duo leave and completely ignore their captive while they get the oxygen-eating liquid ready. In the meantime, the Torch burns the paste off his feet, builds a “mock Torch of flame” to take his place, concentrates his flame on one spot of mirror to burn through it (so, it isn’t impenetrable after all), and flies up to the floor above where his flame burns out.
The Wizard and Pete finally get a nozzle hooked up to fill the mirror room with the oxygen-eating liquid, which is now a gas. They watch as the Torch disappears in the gas and realize that “we’ve been duped! That’s not the Torch! It’s a flaming facsimile!” All of this allows Johnny time to flame on again. He lassos the villains with a ring of flame. “Boy did I make a mistake throwing in with you!” says Pete, “I should’ve done it alone! Big Brain…the Wizard…phooey!” Little does Pete know that he will team up with the Wizard again in Fantastic Four #36, March 1965 as part of the Frightful Four and the two will be pretty much tied together after that.
Johnny calls in the law and tells them that the “stolen formula is on the desk.” Back at school, everyone congratulates Johnny on being a hero again. “Some guys have all the luck,” says one student but Johnny thinks, “Yeah,,,sure!! Now I’ve got to stay up all night and study for the exams tomorrow because I missed so much schoolwork trapping the Wizard and Paste-Pot Pete! If I’m lucky like this again, I’ll shoot myself!”
Wow. What’s with the downbeat ending on such a frivolous story? “I’ll shoot myself?” Is that really the way we want to end this tale? Maybe that’s how H.E. Huntley (pseudonym for Ernie Hart) felt after scripting this lame plot that Stan gave him. There’s so little to it that about a quarter of it is taken up with flashbacks. Pete’s prison break of the Wizard should never work nor should Johnny’s impersonation of Cyrus Cartwright nor should the run to the house ahead of the Torch to set up the compressed air trap. By this time, the deathtrap gets so convoluted that even the Wizard ends up babbling things like “you’ll be without flame and without life!” Johnny’s escape is just as convoluted. Is it any wonder that the oxygen-eating liquid becomes a gas? And yet, I love this goofy little story so I can’t bear to give it any rating lower than two webs.
By the way, the Wizard returns in a cameo in ST #112, September 1963 and as the main villain in ST #118, March 1964. Look for those stories in Marvel Tales #15, July 1968 and Marvel Tales #20, May 1969. Paste-Pot Pete returns in Avengers #6, July 1964 and then ST #124, September 1964. We will review the Strange Tales story when it appears in Marvel Tales #26, May 1970. For the Avengers story, you’re on your own.
The Magician and the Maiden! “starring the Wonderful Wasp!” is from Tales to Astonish #58, August 1964. Last issue presented the story from Tales to Astonish #56, June 1964. So what happened to the Wasp story from Tales to Astonish #57, July 1964? It was the first story that dropped “The Wasp Tells a Tale” format and, as such, was reprinted in Marvel Tales #6, January 1967 before the other less-interesting stories. Check out the review there.
So, it turns out that the Wasp has a “trophy room” where she puts framed pictures on the wall of the villains she and Hank Pym have defeated. Six pictures are shown on the splash page, depicting Egghead (who tackled Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #38, December 1962, Ant-Man and the Wasp in TTA #45, July 1963, and Giant-Man and the Wasp in TTA #57, July 1964), the Black Knight (TTA #52, February 1964), the Human Top (TTA #50, December 1963, TTA #51, January 1964 and TTA #55, May 1964), the Creature from Kosmos (later to be known as Pilai and first appearing in the Wasp’s debut in TTA #44, June 1963), the Porcupine (TTA #48, October 1963 and TTA #53, March 1964), and the Magician (just seen in TTA #56, June 1964). A radio bulletin announces that the Magician has escaped jail. Jan takes his picture off her wall because “I’ve no right to hang a trophy while the quarry is free and loose.” Then, the radio reports that “Benson’s department store is featuring Wasp-inspired fashions for women.” Jan decides she must go to Benson’s to check it out.
Meanwhile, Hank Pym hears about the Magician’s escape while driving. He stops and summons flying ants to carry a message to Jan, telling her to go to his lab “for safety.” Jan scoffs at Hank’s worry that she can’t handle herself and heads out to Benson’s department store.
The fashions at Benson’s look pretty ridiculous with wasp wings attached to the back of most of them but Jan doesn’t seem to notice. She is enchanted at the thought that she has been immortalized by the fashion industry. “And to a gal that almost equals being carved on Mount Rushmore!” But the Magician is there too. “By now the Wasp must be among those women!” he thinks as he examines the crowd, “One so vain could never resist the temptation to come and see fashions that she’s inspired.” He pulls out his magic wand and uses the magic words, “Abra Kadabra, Alla Kazam!” (Yes, really.) This spell locks the doors so that no one can get out. Then, he sends his wand floating toward the crowd and it finds the Wasp for him. The Magician confesses that he “conceived this idea of ‘Wasp’ fashions and through outside sources arranged for this sale!” (All in the seconds after escaping, apparently.) The Wasp doesn’t seem concerned that her fashion immortality is a fraud. She changes into her costume and takes her shrinking capsule. But the Magician puts on his “opto-ray magnifying glasses” (I think they were advertised in comics right next to the x-ray spex) so he can see her. The Wasp fires her sting at him but he blocks it with a “silk cloth from his sleeve.”
The Magician then coats the Wasp’s wings with a powder so that she can’t stay aloft. She floats over to the toy department and lands in a toy car that she drives on an oval track. The Magician tries to swat her but he keeps missing because “These blasted glasses! Their magnification throws my sense of timing off!!” Finally, he smashes the car’s motor. (The toy car has a motor?) The Wasp still can’t fly but she can glide over to the escalator. “Your situation is hopeless!” the Magician calls to her, “But you’re too brainless to realize it!”
The Wasp lands in a crack in the escalator. When the Magician tries to reach down and grab her (“It’s not easy, while poised on a moving escalator, to reach down and seize a tiny object but the Magician can do anything!” I don’t know about you but I’m impressed), Jan flies up (which I didn’t think she was able to do) and uses her stinger to wedge the Magician’s cape in the escalator. While he is stuck there, she races to a “toy robot on display” and uses the controls to get the robot to tie the Magician’s legs with jump ropes. (She also moves the robot controls onto the escalator and later on top of the robot’s head.) Then she shoots the “store’s electric release button” with a sting to open the doors. A cop enters with the crowd to find the Magician all trussed up and carried away on a wagon pulled by the robot.
After defeating the Magician, Jan returns to Hank’s lab. Hank has not heard about the Magician’s capture and, worried, takes Jan in his arms. Jan tells him, “I love being in your arms! They’re so strong, so capable…and I’ll always need them to protect weak little me.” But she turns and throws a wink to the reader as she says this.
I guess Jan can put that picture of the Magician back on her trophy wall. What can I say? I love nutty early Marvel stories like this. From Jan’s trophies to the flying ants delivering Hank’s note to the Wasp fashions to the magic words to the opto-ray magnifying glasses to the toy car and the robot and capturing the Magician with an escalator and jump ropes, it’s all goofy, glorious fun. And all in seven pages. Yes, there are questions but sometimes they just don’t matter. I’m giving this one five webs.
After being beaten by an escalator, a toy robot, and some jump rope, the Magician never appears again. Can you blame him?
We wrap up with the Mighty Thor in Challenged by the Human Cobra! from Journey into Mystery #98, November 1963. What happened to JIM #95, 96, and 97? Well, #95 and #97 were previously reprinted in Journey into Mystery Annual, 1965 and #96 was reprinted in Thor Annual #2, September 1966. With the villains in these stories being Professor Zaxton, Mad Merlin, and the Lava Man, I think it’s just as well. This story, introducing the Cobra, is the first glimmer of what Thor will eventually become. It’s not Kirby (it’s Don Heck) and it’s not must reading yet but it’s a start.
The Mighty Thor uses his hammer to smash a file cabinet in Dr. Donald Blake’s office. He is in agony because he loves Jane Foster and she loves him but Odin has forbade them from marrying. Don yearns to tell Jane that he is also Thor but Odin forbade that too. So, Don vacillates and Jane gives up on him, taking a job with Dr. Andrews. Thor becomes Don Blake and smashes a picture of Thor that sits on Don Blake’s desk. (Why is a picture of Thor on Don Blake’s desk?) “Thor! The very mention of that name makes my blood boil!” he says. Just then, Odin calls Thor to Asgard where he tells him to get over it. (“I can sense thy grief, my son! And so, I have called thee to me to receive my advice…put all thoughts of the human Jane Foster from out of thy mind! Forget her! Else, you will never know peace!”) Thor tells Odin he cannot do that and returns to Earth. Back in his office, Don Blake (who seems to have no patients to attend) decides to travel to “some distant land” to forget Jane.
Meanwhile, somewhere in India, to which Don Blake is traveling, Professor Shecktor tells his assistant Klaus that “we are close to finding the total cure for snakebite.” Klaus, a bald, sneering man in a red bow tie, chafes over the thought that Shecktor will get all the credit for the discovery. He decides to release the lab’s cobra so that it will bite both him and Shecktor. “But I will take the antidote and I will not give it to him,” he thinks.
In Bombay, Don Blake overhears two men talking about Professor Shecktor being bitten by a “poisonous serpent” and how he is dying. Don knows Shecktor. (“My old teacher! The man they call the Albert Schweitzer of India!”) He changes to Thor and flies to the village where Shecktor is dying. (How does he know where it is?) There, Shecktor tells how Klaus arranged for the cobra to bite both of them but also that the cobra was radioactive (of course it was) and that the antidote saved Klaus’ life and also gave him the powers of a cobra. (It also, apparently, gave him a nifty cobra costume.) Thor leaves Shecktor’s deathbed and goes to the airport where he learns that the Cobra has hijacked a plane for the USA. Thor follows by creating “an unbridled typhoon of almost limitless speed and blinding force” up in the air and riding it to Idlewild Airport in New York. There, he sees the Cobra slither into a chemical manufacturing plant. Inside, sticking to the ceiling and terrifying the executives, the Cobra attempts to take over the plant where he plans to “manufacture gallons of cobra serum to create a vast army of others like myself.” He figures he can get away with this because, “I have the speed and cunning of a serpent, the deadly sting of the king cobra itself, coupled with the brain and cunning of a human being!” (But don’t they also need a radioactive cobra?)
Having overheard, Thor crashes through a window. But the Cobra attacks with cobra darts that he shoots from a device on his wrist. (Wow! That radioactive cobra’s venom gave him a costume and a cobra dart wrist device!) Thor dodges the darts but the Cobra follows up with “capsules of deadly Cobra Gas, made by transforming the cobra venom into a dense, fast-spreading vapor!” Thor disperses the vapor by swinging his hammer.
I was going to say something about the vapors affecting the executives in the room but those men have disappeared. So has the room. The Cobra and Thor appear to be outside now where the Cobra ensnares Thor with his “unbreakable Cobra-Cord.” Thor is so surprised by this attack that he drops his hammer. Apparently the Cobra-Cord really is unbreakable because Thor can’t get free. He knows that he will soon turn into Don Blake without the hammer so he fools the Cobra into swinging him around with the cord and throwing him through a window. (“You have not even enough strength to hurl me thru the window!” he says.) So, was he outside and thrown through a window inside? It’s hard to tell.
Once through the window, Thor changes back to Don Blake. Being thinner than Thor, Don can slip out of the Cobra-Cord. Then, “Rushing outside to resume his battle with Mighty Thor, the unsuspecting Cobra pays no attention to the lame puny man who hobbles back into the building.” In other words, they were still inside and the Cobra threw Thor outside. So, what happened to everybody else in the room, then? Why did the room suddenly look so different that it looked like it was outside? And how can the Cobra break the window by throwing Thor through it when Thor already broke that window coming in?
Don grabs the hammer and turns back into Thor. He flies at Cobra who turns a valve “which activates the flow of a liquid chemical force-blast pipe.” I’m impressed that Cobra knew what dial to turn but I’m completely lost as how they got to this part of the chemical plant. The blast knocks Thor backwards but he quickly recovers and throws his hammer at Cobra, missing him (because “the Cobra, having been bitten by a radio-active snake, is one of the few living creatures ever to be able to dodge Thor’s mighty hammer!”) The hammer knocks down a “tank of chemical test gas” and the Cobra escapes in the confusion.
In New York, the Cobra searches for a doctor’s office from which he can grab “serums” for his plans. Of course, he finds Dr. Andrews and Jane Foster. Dr. Andrews immediately caves in to the Cobra’s demands, making Jane realize he’s “nothing but a – a coward! And to think I left Doctor Blake in order to work for you!” As Jane and Andrews help the Cobra, Jane sees Thor flying past outside. She picks up a beaker and throws it through the window, attracting Thor’s attention. The Cobra tries to kill her with a dart but Thor stops it with his hammer. The Cobra grabs Jane and takes her hostage, crawling out the window with her. Thor doesn’t dare stop him. As the Cobra slides down the side of the building, Thor flies out of the window and circles around the building without Cobra seeing him. He kicks Cobra in the chops causing Cobra to drop Jane. As Thor rescues Jane, the Cobra escapes. (Hmmm. On page 12, Thor says, “This time, you merciless fiend, there shall be no escape” and on page 13, Jane says, “But the Cobra – he’s escaping!” and Thor says, “Time enough for him at some later date! First, I must take you to safety!” Sounds like there was escape for the Cobra, after all.)
Jane immediately quits working for Dr. Andrews and returns to Don Blake while the Cobra pulls himself out of the river (where he apparently fell after dropping Jane) and Stan asks, “Who know what the future holds for mankind…and for Thor!” And in a Marvel Tales addition, Stan says, “Not to mention dynamic Daredevil, eh?” because the Cobra becomes a Daredevil foe in Daredevil #30, July 1967 (and a Spidey foe and a Captain America foe) and never really tangles with Thor again after that. Cobra does return to take on Thor, in partnership with Mr. Hyde (who debuts next issue in Journey into Mystery #99, December 1963 and Marvel Tales #13, March 1968) in Journey into Mystery #105, June 1964. We’ll have that one in Marvel Tales #18, January 1969.
The Cobra’s origin is ridiculous and the addition of his costume, cobra darts, capsules of Cobra Gas and “unbreakable Cobra-Cord” are unexplained. Men disappear at the chemical plant, we can’t tell if we’re inside or outside, and the Cobra seems to know just what valve to turn to attack Thor with a liquid chemical force blast. And then there’s the coincidence of the Cobra, out of all the doctor’s offices in New York, entering Dr. Andrews’ window. And yet, you can feel the energy of the series start to pick up. Don Heck is no Jack Kirby but his artwork is kinetic here. The Cobra is possibly the only decent super-villain of the series, other than Loki, and his escape keeps the suspense up. But did Professor Shecktor die? He was Don Blake’s beloved teacher. The Albert Schweitzer of India! And Thor just walked out? Three webs.
So, that’s five webs plus two webs plus five webs plus three webs. Divided by four. Let’s round it up, because of the cool, weird pastiche of a front cover, to...
Lee and Kirby’s Thor (from about Journey into Mystery #114, March 1965 to about Thor #160, January 1969) is one of the great runs in comic history. Unfortunately, we will only be reviewing four stories from that range. A “tiny little smudge hanging up at the newsstand” allowed us to review Journey into Mystery #124, January 1966 over ten years ago. JIM #115 and #116 will appear, respectively, in Marvel Tales #26, May 1970 and Marvel Tales #27, July 1970 way down the line. And the fourth one? That’s Thor #148 and that’s next.