Marvel Tales #19

Background

We’re still a way off from the time when Marvel Tales is an all-Spidey reprint and that means I’ve got to cover some more Thor and Human Torch stories. Am I sorry I ever decided to review reprints? Weeeeelllllll….not really. Am I sorry I decided to include reviews of non-Spidey stories from these reprints? Weeeeellllll….sometimes. Am I tempted to skip these reviews and go on to the next ASM issue? Definitely not. I’m far too stubborn for that.

Story Details

  Marvel Tales #19
Summary: Human Torch & Thor Backups
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #24
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #106
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #116 (Story 1)

Yes, that’s right. It’s the cover to ASM #24, May 1965 with only the slightest of changes. The blurbs change, of course, with the title-blurb getting more casual. “Spider-Man Goes Mad!” says the original. “Spidey Goes Mad!” says this cover. Down in the lower left corner of the original, the blurb says, “A startling mystery tale! In the Mighty Marvel tradition!” This version is more boastful, saying, “One of the greatest milestone mags of all time!” The blurb in the lower right on ASM #24 says, “Another smashing off-beat thriller for the great new breed of magazine reader…for you!” The blurb on this Marvel Tales has to tout our other reprint features. “Bonus: Thor and the Ever-Torrid Torch…for a double dose of Marvel-Fever!” And Thor and Torchy are up in the Marvel Comics Group box with Spidey but it still feels like Spidey is the drawing card here.

It’s our last issue with the greytone frontispiece. Next time, they’ll be that “Famous Name Prizes or Cash…from Olympic” ad in its place and, believe me, you’re going to miss the greytone when it’s gone. So, let’s enjoy this one. The top third covers what this issue keeps calling “Spidey Goes Mad!” with the wall-crawler facing an imaginary Vulture from page 11 panel 4 of the story. The middle third is text but, no, not the reprint credits we’ve gotten used to. Instead, it simply says, “Marvel Tales” and “One of ol’ webhead’s cavortin’est classics…plus two more double-your-pleasure Marvel winners!” The bottom third left spotlights “The Mighty Thor Strikes Back!” which is actually called “The Thunder God Strikes Back!” with Thor duking it out with the Cobra from page 9 panel 6. The bottom third right has “The Human Torch in the Clutches of the Puppet Master,” which is the actual title, with the Puppet Master’s clutches clutching a Human Torch puppet from page 1 panel 2, with some flames added around the Torch figure…for effect.

Spider-Man Goes Mad! from ASM #24 is the second in a run of five straight issues to which I gave five webs. In the review for that issue, I said, “From first to last, from cover to splash page to Sea Monkey ad, from Aunt May's hat to Fred Foswell blowing Peter's photo op to the person-in-the-street interviews to the appearance of Dr. Ludwig Rinehart to the phantom villains to the upside-down rooms to Flash hounding Jonah to Jonah ruining Mysterio's chance at victory to Pete hanging with Liz at the end of the day, this is one of the best issues of Amazing Spider-Man of all time.” So, this issue of Marvel Tales is off to a great start. Now what about that Thor story?

Well, the entire title seems to be The Cobra and Mr. Hyde Feel Thor’s Mighty Rage, When The Thunder God Strikes Back! from Journey Into Mystery #106, July 1964 and it continues from last issue. In fact, it says right there on the splash page, “Concluded From Last Issue!” So, what happened last issue? We covered it in our review of Marvel Tales #18, January 1969. Actually, you don’t have to know much. The Cobra and Mr. Hyde have teamed up for the first time and the rest is shown in flashback at the beginning of this story. Thor and the two villains are at the Colosseum where Cobra has used a machine to snatch Thor’s hammer away. Thor conveniently thinks just what we need to know: “My enchanted hammer is somewhere inside that complex machine! Without, it, I’ll turn into the mortal Don Blake within sixty seconds, and be at the mercy of Hyde and the Cobra!!” Then the flashback. Don Blake locks his cane in a cabinet so that he can’t change into Thor, thinking that he must give up being the Thunder God if he hopes to marry Jane Foster. But then Hyde and Cobra, who have tracked Thor to Don’s office, take Jane prisoner and demand that Blake tell them how to find Thor. Don comes up with this convoluted response where he gets the villains to break open the cabinet and strike the cane on the floor. This does not turn Hyde into Thor when he strikes the cane, perhaps because he is unworthy, but it does turn Don into Thor, which doesn’t make much sense, but there you are. Thor then tells the bad guys that Don summoned him and fled. Hyde and Cobra escape, leading Thor to the “Heavy-Duty Machine Exhibit” at the Colosseum where Cobra uses a “grappling machine” to snatch the hammer.

With one minute to spare, Thor rips open the grappling machine and retrieves his hammer. No, actually, he doesn’t. Instead he lifts “a section of…steel flooring as though it’s made of paper” and cracks the whip with it, sending Hyde and Cobra sprawling. Then he rips open the grappling machine. No, actually, he doesn’t. He runs into the panicked crowd, losing himself in there so that no one notices when he turns into Don Blake. Why doesn’t he rip open the grappling machine and retrieve his hammer? Maybe because we have 18 pages we have to fill. With the passage of the minute, Mjolnir turns back into Don’s cane. Hyde and the Cobra rampage through the crowd looking for Thor as the police show up outside. Hearing the police calling for surrender, Hyde grabs a microphone away from a broadcaster. (This Heavy-Duty Machine Exhibit must be a big deal. There’s a crowd in there, including a broadcaster!) While that goes on, Don sneaks over to the grappling machine and tries to get his cane but finds that “It’s hopeless.” “Thor could rip this thing apart with one hand,” he says, “but Don Blake hasn’t a chance!” (Then, why didn’t he?)

Now, Hyde said that he grabbed the microphone “to make myself heard above the crowd” but he seems to have tossed it aside. There is no sign of it as he yells, “Thor! Show yourself or I attack the crowd!” Don steps forward and tells Hyde, “I told you once before how to find Thor, and you let him escape! I’ll do it again, but this time hold on to him!!” The crowd is appalled at Don’s statement, with one member calling him a “crummy coward.” Cobra and Hyde surround Don and demand he “tell us what we want to know.” And Don replies, “I’ll tell you on one condition! My antique cane accidentally got caught within the grappler machine! First get it for me!”

Let’s pause for a moment to wonder just how stupid these two villains are. They traced Thor back to Don Blake’s office but when they got there, Thor was gone and Don was there. Then Don told them to get his cane out of a steel cabinet and bang it on the ground. After Hyde does that, Thor appears and Don disappears. Now, at the Colosseum, the villains use the grappler to grab Thor’s hammer. Thor disappears and Don reappears, telling them that his cane is also somehow in the machine. After all that, how hard is it to deduce that Don is Thor and his cane is the hammer? Hard enough to fool these two clowns.

To make matters worse, Cobra slithers through the machine, looking for Don’s cane. He uses his snake-like ability to crawl through most of the machine. Eventually he sees the cane but finds that he can’t reach it. It never seems to occur to him that Thor’s hammer should be there too.

The Cobra emerges from the machine, admitting his failure so Hyde tears the machine apart until he gets to the cane. He also doesn’t seem to notice that the hammer is not in there. Hyde turns the cane over to Don. (“Now tell me where to find Thor.”) Once he does, Don runs and joins the crowd, which starts to scatter but not before Don strikes the cane on the ground and becomes Thor again.

Thor emerges from the crowd and Don seems to have disappeared. And, what do you know? Thor has his hammer again. Figure it out, guys! Figure it out! They don’t. Instead, a battle ensues. Thor grabs a hold of Cobra but Hyde gets a giant sprayer machine working. He also becomes a spokesman for the machine, filling us in that, “The purpose of this machine is to spray enough paint to cover an entire building in seconds! But, by concentrating the blast of air, I can turn it into an all-powerful weapon!” Cobra and Thor start to be blown away but Thor anchors himself by smashing Mjolnir into the “heavy oak flooring,” He, then, uses its power to send energy through the floor and into the giant sprayer, short-circuiting it. He picks up the Cobra and throws him at Hyde, just as the police rush it.

Hyde realizes that “Thor is far stronger than I dreamed” and decides to cut out. While Thor is distracted, Hyde drinks his potion, turning him back into Calvin Zabo (and turning his green cloak into a brown suit with a blue bowtie as well as putting glasses on his head…quite a potion!) Thor corrals the Cobra and the police take him off Thor’s hands. Still looking for Hyde, Thor leaves the Colosseum and ends up on an impossibly deserted street. Zabo follows him and waits for the right moment to turn back into Hyde. At this point, Stan realizes that Hyde’s cloak should never have turned into Zabo’s jacket so he has Hyde think, “I turn my jacket inside out and the transformation is complete!” but he still doesn’t explain how Zabo’s brown pants turn into Hyde’s green pants. Figuring he can “beat Thor in a hand-to-hand fight, if I can just tear that hammer of his away from him,” Hyde rips a lamppost out of the ground, which must make some noise. Thor, however, doesn’t hear it and Hyde sneaks up behind him and uses the lamppost to knock Mjolnir out of his hand. At first, Thor thinks that he only has sixty seconds to pick up his hammer but then he decides, “If I cannot defeat this evil being bare-handed within one minute, I am not worthy of the name Thor!!”

He heads toward Hyde, saying, “Never have I despised a foe as much as you! Never have I been so eager to feel my avenging fists lash out and find their mark!!!” Which is quite a remark, coming from Thor. Then, well, do you remember those 60s TV shows where someone has a minute to disarm a bomb or some such and it takes five minutes of screen time to do it? You know, you get a ticking clock at 30 seconds and then you get five minutes of story and then it goes back to the ticking clock and it’s at 20 seconds. That’s sort of what happens here. Thor keeps reminding us how much time is left in the minute, since he is keeping track in his head, but an awful of action happens in that one minute. In fact, three pages of frantic Kirby action. At the end, with five seconds to spare, Thor throws Hyde at the police who have also shown up on the deserted street. Then he retrieves his hammer as the cops truss Hyde up and the police captain shakes Thor’s hand.

Don returns to his office where Jane Foster is still hanging around, watching the news on TV. That’s where she learned that Don “betrayed Thor – told Mr. Hyde where to find him, in order to ensure your own safety.” Apparently, she was only hanging around the office to tell Don off because, now that she’s done so, she walks out. Don tries to explain but doesn’t get the chance. (I’m not sure what his explanation would be, anyway.) “A girl like Jane could never love a coward!” says Don, “And that’s what she thinks I am!” Hey, that’s just what Gwen thought of Peter in our recent review of ASM #70, March 1969. Looks like Stan is recycling subplots. He’s also recycling self-pitying Spidey-like endings, as Don says, “Thus, even in victory, I find defeat! Is loneliness and sorrow the price I must ever pay for being Thor, the God of Thunder??!”

“Yes, the story has some silly elements but plenty of the Marvel stories from 1964 are like that.” That’s a quote from my review of Marvel Tales #18, dealing with the first part of this story and it’s as true here as it was there. I’ve nitpicked my way through Thor’s failure to tear the grappler apart, Hyde and Cobra not figuring out that Don is Thor, Hyde’s clothes changing with his potion, the deserted Manhattan street, and the one minute of time that fills up three pages of action. But I’m willing to give all of that a break. This is a great action story with two formidable villains putting Thor and Don into some stressful situations. Thor’s three-page vanquishing of Hyde is thoroughly satisfying and Don’s love life is as complicated as ever. There is a whole string of brilliant Lee-Kirby Thor issues coming up that are better than this one but this is still a pretty great Lee-Kirby issue. Stan’s modest credits say the story was “inked kinda nice by Chic Stone” and, yes, Chic’s inks complement Kirby’s pencils very nicely. It’s not as classic as that upcoming run but it’s still worth five webs.

By the way, the Cobra and Hyde are both back in Journey Into Mystery #110, November 1964. We’ll see that story in Marvel Tales #23, November 1969.

The Human Torch in the Clutches of the Puppet Master!, from Strange Tales #116, January 1964 has a script by Stan, pencils by Dick Ayers, and inks by George Roussos, credited as George Bell. The splash page tells us that this story has a “special guest star: the Thing!” but we already knew this if we bought the original issue because the cover spotlighted the Torch fighting the Thing with this exchange:

Thing: Come and get it, panty-waist! When I’m finished with ya, there won’t even be a spark left!
Torch: Talk loud and clear, you dumb ape! Because those’ll be the last words you ever say!
You gotta love that.

There’s also a credit at the bottom of page one, reading, “Based Upon an Idea by Tommy and Jimmy Goodkind, Hewlett Harbor, New York.” According to a review of the Strange Tales issue at Coke & Comics, Tommy and Jimmy “were the children of a friend of Stan’s, who lived in his neighborhood.” So, what did they suggest? “Make it so the Puppet Master has the Thing and the Torch fight?”

Before we can get to the Puppet Master making the Thing and the Torch fight, Stan has to explain how the Puppet Master is still alive because he appeared to have died in Fantastic Four #14, May 1963. In that issue, the PM had enchanted the Sub-Mariner and was watching over things from a one-man submarine. But then a giant octopus attacked his sub. The PM tried to make a clay figure of the octopus to control him but it didn’t work “because he was nearly mindless,” which I don’t think is true. I think octopi are very intelligent. (Anybody see the 2020 Twilight Zone episode 8?) But instead of the octopus dragging him to his doom, the PM gets out of this because it turns out he has “emergency surfacing jets” which lift him up to shallow water. Once they get there, the octopus lets go because “he’s a deep-sea creature…he can’t live in shallow water.” Now that we’ve got that pesky “death” explained and out of the way, the story can begin.

The PM creates a clay figure of the Human Torch and uses it to command Johnny Storm to go visit Alicia Masters, who is the Thing’s girlfriend and the PM’s step-daughter. Now, the whole point of this is to set up a fight between the Torch and the Thing, which he does by having Johnny try to kiss Alicia, saying, “You’re not afraid of that pug-ugly Thing, are you?” just as the Thing shows up, but…why didn’t he just have Johnny attack the Thing without going through all this business? Or why didn’t he make a clay figure of the Thing and have the Thing attack the Torch?

The PM can watch all this because he has an “electronic visorscreen, powered by telepathic thought impulses,” which is a pretty nifty trick. He figures “the Thing is certain to slay the weaker Torch in a fit of uncontrollable temper” and it appears that he’s right because, after lifting Alicia out of harm’s way, the Thing lifts her couch by one of its legs and tries to brain the Torch who responds with “flaming Roman candles” in the Thing’s face.

If the Thing loves Alicia, he certainly doesn’t seem to love her apartment or care for any of her things. He lifts a bookcase full of books and a television set. Johnny counters with a flame that Ben fends off with the bookcase. In the next panel, a lamp, table and armchair are flying through the air. Alicia begs them to stop “before one of you gets hurt” so she’s more concerned with their well-being than her possessions. On the other hand, she’s blind and can’t see what they’ve done to her apartment.

The Thing breaks her front door down and, soon, the two are on the building’s roof. Johnny begins to fly away. Ben grabs the flagpole that conveniently stands on the roof. He bends it down so it will act as a catapult but, first, he grabs a handful of “asbestos lining from this fireproof air duct.” (Those were the days.) He slingshots himself at the Torch and snags him in midair, putting the asbestos lining around him. Stan says, “The Thing’s momentum hurls the two figures clear across the borough of Manhattan, as the Torch’s flame trail brightens the night sky with a shimmering yellow glow!!” And then Johnny’s flame goes out and the two fall.

Somehow, Alicia finds her phone among her apartment’s debris and calls the Baxter Building but Reed and Sue are going out for the first time in weeks and they ignore it. (Sue says, “It can’t be important or there’d have been a flare signal” which implies that the only things important to the FF are those reported by one of their team members…who are the only ones with the flare signal, right?)

Now, it turns out that the Thing and Torch are above a construction site that has a crane with a wrecking ball. As they near the ground, Ben grabs Johnny around the waist with one hand and the cable holding the wrecking ball with the other. (If he really wanted to kill Johnny, I don’t think he’d be grabbing him.) Let’s go to Stan again: “Calling upon every bit of tremendous power he possesses, the Thing manages to maintain his grip on the steel cable, breaking their fall, as the fabulous duo spin around the life-saving cable like two human propellor blades!” Dizzy, they fall to the ground but the Thing soon recovers and rips the wrecking ball off the cable. He throws it at Johnny who has not gained the strength to flame on yet. (So, now, the Thing is trying to kill Johnny? Why did he just save him?) Johnny does fire up his right arm, which he uses to cut the wrecking ball in two. (That’s some flame!) In the panel in which he does so, the ball looks as big as a weather balloon. The Torch flames on again and the battle continues.

Back at his hideout, the PM can’t understand why they don’t move in for the kill. “It’s as though their bond of friendship is too strong for me to completely destroy it.” A reminder that only the Torch is under the PM’s control and a reminder that the Thing just threw a wrecking ball at a defenseless Torch. And their bond of friendship is preventing them from destroying each other?

The PM knows that “the closer I am, the stronger my control over my victim” so he orders Johnny to go to Idlewild Airport (which is now JFK Airport) “and I’ll be there too.” But he’s not there now so why does he choose Idlewild? Because, according to Alicia, “his last known hideout was near Idlewild Airport” but, apparently, not close enough. He still has to take a cab. So, as the Thing and Torch and Puppet Master head to Idlewild, Alicia figures out that Johnny must be in a trance (because he “sounded like someone almost in a trance,” which is the first we’re hearing of it) which must mean that the PM is still alive. She also heads to Idlewild.

They all meet up in front of the airport. The PM orders Johnny to fly right at Ben “for the kill” but Alicia, “led on by some uncanny sixth sense which sightless people so often possess,” yells at the Torch, telling him to stop what he’s doing. Hearing her, the Torch pulls up. The PM decides, “If I can’t make them destroy each other, I’ll finish them off separately,” and orders the Torch to “fly straight for the nose of that speeding jet trainer.” (What is a jet trainer? Wikipedia says it’s “a jet aircraft for use as a trainer, whether for basic or advanced flight training.” A jet trainer is a jet used as a trainer. Makes sense.)

Johnny can’t help himself; he must obey the Puppet Master. Fortunately, at this point in his history, it appears that Johnny’s body actually becomes flame so he is able to “fly through the jet’s innards and hurl himself harmlessly out again through the aircraft’s exhaust.” This pure flame concept doesn’t last long in his history, so it’s a good thing he flies through a “jet’s innards” now. Alicia is just below him and senses him above. It appears that she can also sense PM nearby. She calls out to Johnny to “drop a flaming sheet directly below you…let it float ten feet from the ground.” (Another trick I don’t think he can do later on.) Seeing this, the PM yells at Alicia to butt out and this causes him to lose his focus on the Torch, allowing Johnny to do as Alicia asks. The flame drops down and doesn’t affect the PM at all but somehow sets his clay puppet on fire, burning his hand. The Thing spots PM and prepares to clobber him but Alicia intervenes, saying, “He is my step-father! And he’s helpless now…he can’t cause any more harm!” So, the Thing lets him go. The PM runs off vowing revenge if his hand ever heals. (Which you know it will, so letting him go is not the smartest idea. On the other hand, what crime did he commit?)

Alicia tells Ben, “You know it’s you I love! It’s always been you…it always will be!” Johnny joins them and tells Ben, “You’re no Rock Hudson but I’m sure glad you’re with us, instead of agin’ us!” Ben tells Johnny, “who wants to be Rock Hudson? I’m the guy Alicia digs!’

As I said in the Thor review, Marvel stories from 1964 had some silly elements but this one is too much for me. The Puppet Master makes a puppet of the Torch and uses it to get Johnny to come on to Alicia rather than have him attack the Thing directly. The two FF members have no qualms about destroying Alicia’s apartment (something that is never resolved). Responsible super-heroes Reed and Sue ignore the phone so they can go on the town. And then that improbable finish with Johnny turning to flame to fly through the jet, Alicia sensing enough to ask Johnny to drop a flame sheet ten feet above her, and that sheet setting the clay figure afire but not harming anyone else. I can’t suspend enough disbelief to enjoy this story. Essentially, it’s an excuse to get the Thing and Torch to fight each other but even that fight is too much, with Ben using a flagpole as a catapult so that he can wrap Johnny in asbestos and Johnny flaming on one arm so he can slice a wrecking ball in two. The artwork doesn’t help here. It’s not so much Dick Ayers’ pencils (although his Thing is awkward) but George Bell’s heavy inks that create way too much shadow, especially on the Thing’s body. Call it one-and-a-half webs.

By the way, the Puppet Master returns to face the FF in Fantastic Four #28, July 1964 (just 6 months later; told you his hand would heal) and takes on the Torch and Thing again in Strange Tales #133, June 1965 but Marvel Tales drops the Torch stories before we ever get to that point.

General Comments

Five webs + five webs + one-and-a-half webs. Let’s average that and round it up to a four.

Overall Rating

With the great Spidey and Thor stories, the sub-par Torch story is just a bonus. Would you leave this on the rack because of it? Of course not. If you haven’t read “Spider-Man Goes Mad,” that’s worth your 25¢ right there. Add on the great Thor story and you don’t even have to read the Torch to make it worth your while. But you know that you will.

Footnote

That was a pretty painless diversion. Back to the flagship! ASM #71.