Marvel Tales #21

 Title: Marvel Tales
 Lookback: From The Beginning
 Posted: 29 Jan 2023
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


Eventually, this series will be nothing but Spider-Man reprints but, for now, we’re hanging in there with stories of Spidey, Thor, and the Torch. What makes this one a bit different is that I’ve already reviewed two of the three included stories.

Story Details

  Marvel Tales #21
Summary: Human Torch & Thor Backups
Reprints: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #26
Reprints: Journey Into Mystery #108
Reprints: Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #119 (Story 1)

Our cover is a repositioning, recoloring and refitting of the original from Amazing Spider-Man #26, July 1965 The central image of the Crime-Master engulfing Spider-Man in gas from his gun is essentially the same but the image is higher on the page to make room for the blurbs underneath that read, “Featuring 2 of the webhead’s most deadly foes…Crime-Master and the Green Goblin” and “Plus: the Mighty Thor and the Torrid, Terrific Torch” where, before, there were no blurbs down there. Raising the image puts the Goblin image in conflict with the “Marvel Comics Group” box, which is longer than the original ASM box because it has to fit the Spidey, Thor, and Torch heads in it. So, the Goblin image is flipped and put on the other side of the cover. Replacing the light blue background with black makes the scene feel nice and film noirish. All in all, a pretty good redo of the original.

So, our first story is The Mystery of the Man in the Crime-Master’s Mask! from ASM #26, followed by a Spider-Man pin-up taken from the Spidey figure on page 14, panel 2 of the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964, which was also the image used for the 1960s Spider-Man t-shirt. In my review of the issue, I said, “From the cover to the shock ending, this is one of the best issues of Amazing Spider-Man... ever” and gave it “Five webs to the fullest extent of the law.”

The same cannot be said for our Thor story, At the Mercy of Loki, Prince of Evil from Journey into Mystery #108, September 1964. It guest-stars Dr. Strange who, at this time, was called the “Master of Black Magic.”

As the story begins, it appears that Thor is “threatening the people of New York with his hammer.” But what he’s really doing is slamming it on the pavement “with an impact felt half-way across the state” so that a shockwave travels “in a predetermined direction” and reaches a street corner that “Thor had seen while flying over the city but which he knew he could never reach in time.” That shockwave causes a “driverless truck” to jump in the air over a boy who has run out into the street to retrieve his ball. Then, determining that he will reimburse the city for the damage with the “emergency fund which the Avengers keep for such a purpose,” Thor flies away.

I know these early Marvel Age stories play more fast and loose with logic than the later ones but, really… Thor saw this truck about to hit this boy from the air and he didn’t have time to fly down to stop it but he had time to fly down somewhere else and stop it from a distance? And where was the driver of that truck anyway?

As Thor flies along, he feels a thought reaching out to him from Dr. Strange. He arrives at Doc’s “Greenwich Village retreat” to find Strange nearly unconscious on the floor. Doc tells him that he had just used a strong spell to repel his enemy Baron Mordo but that the spell weakened him. Doc passes out and Thor calls for an ambulance, then changes back into his mortal form, Dr. Donald Blake. Fifteen minutes later (!), Don Blake is operating on Dr. Strange at City Hospital. What kind of operation do you do on someone who was weakened by their own magic spell? Beats me but Don thinks, “Only the fact that I can draw upon the unearthly knowledge of Thor can save his life.” But while Don operates, he gets a psychic message from Odin summoning him to join in some battle or other. Don ignores the summons which angers Odin so much that he vows that Thor “will feel my wrath.” His rage sends an electrical storm over the hospital which knocks out the power but Don keeps operating. “I’m going to save this man,” he says, “no matter what!”

As Odin heads out to his battle, Loki sees his chance to return to Earth. He transforms into a bee and flies by Heimdall who doesn’t think the bee is worth his notice.

Back at the hospital, the operation is a success. Strange tells Blake “If I can ever be of service to you, you must give me the opportunity to repay you,” which is a plot point if I’ve ever seen one. Don returns to his office where Jane Foster tells him that a patient is waiting for him. It is an older man who has a cane that looks just like Don’s cane. As Don ushers him into his office, the man collapses, dropping his cane and knocking Don’s cane to the ground. The man picks up both canes, hands one to Don, and throws the other out the window. As Jane notes that “he’s not lame anymore,” the man surrounds himself with “slumber mist,” knocking Jane out. The man reveals himself as Loki and shoves Don to the ground. He then scoops up Jane, proclaiming, “I was never aware how lovely she is…for a mortal.” (What is this fascination with Jane?) Don stamps his cane to turn into Thor but nothing happens. “I’ve lost my power!” he says but Loki replies, “Who is the fool now, my witless foe?” because, of course, “It was your cane I threw out the window, not mine!” Loki leaps out the window himself, carrying Jane. He figures that he has won because, even if Don retrieves his cane and becomes Thor, he holds Jane hostage. (But what is the intended endgame here? He can’t hold Jane hostage forever. And what is the point? It’s not like he’s trying to rule the world. He just wants to stick it to Thor, right?)

Don looks out the window to watch Loki run off. “In a mad, frantic frenzy, the valiant doctor scrambles down the stairs, even though every step is sheer agony to his lame, aching leg.” So why didn’t he use the cane that Loki left him? He doesn’t. He struggles out to the street but his cane is nowhere to be found. He tries to mentally contact Odin but gets no answer because the Asgardians are off at some battle. But Don figures Odin has forsaken him and he is on his own until he remembers the plot point and takes a cab to City Hospital to see Dr. Strange. He tells Strange that his walking stick is gone. “I must find it! It’s a matter of life and death!” Strange asks no questions. Instead, he summons his ectoplasmic form and scours the city with the ectoplasmic version of his magic amulet. (Eventually, it is determined that Doc’s ectoplasmic form is invisible to mortal eyes but not at this time.) The ectoplasmic Doc locates the cane, then returns to the hospital to tell Don where it is. Don gets out to the docks where a couple of tramps are fishing. (This all happens between panels.) One of the tramps is using the cane as a fishing pole. (Where did he get the line, the hook, the bait?) When Don tries to take the cane away, the tramps object. (To be fair to them, Don does grab the cane and try to yank it out of the tramp’s hands.) Before anything violent can happen, Strange’s ectoplasmic form appears and scares the tramps off, thinking they have seen a ghost. Doc returns to his physical form at the hospital while Don strikes his cane on the ground, becoming Thor.

Back in Asgard, Odin has returned from his battle and he contacts Thor, who blows him off. “You did not see fit to answer when I needed you,” Thor says, “and now the need exists no more.” As soon as Odin tunes out, the Avengers appear. Iron Man, Giant-Man, and the Wasp ask him if he needs help. (“The Avengers!” says Thor. “You were expecting, maybe, the Beatles?” says the Wasp. Oh, for the days when the Beatles were a current pop culture reference!) Thor says “I desire no assistance” except he’ll ask it of Dr. Strange. As he leaves the Avengers, he thinks, “I am grateful for their support but they would be no match for immortal Loki.” “But didn’t they fight him in Avengers #1, September 1963?”, you may ask. Actually, no. Thor took on Loki all by himself in that issue.

Thor goes to the top of the Empire State Building so that he can locate Loki using something that has never been mentioned since. I’ll let him explain it. “All the gods of Asgard emit an aura of free-flowing electrons from their person…an aura which only another immortal can detect…as my hammer now detects Loki’s!! But it is not throwing back a beam to indicate where the aura comes from! That means there is some sort of obstruction blocking the path of the free-flowing electrons!! Thus, I shall go higher to the edge of the universe, if need be, until I can locate the evil Loki! Ahh! Now I have found him!! My hammer is hurling back an electron beam—straight into the heart of a section of the Adirondack Mountains!”” Uh-huh. Whatever you say, Thor.

Thor spies Loki but Jane is not with him so he conjures up a connection with Dr. Strange and tells him he has a request “in the name of Don Blake.” Thor says, “The girl he loves is in mortal danger” and Strange agrees to help. That accomplished, Thor takes on Loki, who manages to flip the Thunder God into a hole he has prepared. It doesn’t seem like much of a trap. It’s not that deep. We can see Thor’s hand and hammer in the panel that shows Loki looking down at him. But I guess it’s deep enough to slow Thor down, as Loki declares that he is going to hurl a psychic bolt at Jane Foster where he has hidden her in Limbo. When he hurls it, though, he finds Jane “is safely ensconced behind a mystic force field.” It’s Strange, protecting Jane with the power of his amulet. He finds he is facing the “most powerful, the most awesome [force] I have ever encountered” but he manages to hang on until Loki gives it up, which he does when he hears Thor getting out of the hole. “Though the pit is too narrow for me to swing my hammer enough to fly out, I am able to prop myself against the slippery sides, and inch upward by sheer brute strength,” Thor says, but it looks like he simply hooks his hammer on the edge of the hole and pulls himself up. He then uses his hammer to destroy an entire forest (was that really necessary?), turning it into chips and splinters that strike Loki. While Loki is off-balance, Thor punches him with “one of the most powerful blows in the universe” which staggers Loki but does not knock him out. Thor orders the woozy Loki to free Jane and she appears on the ground in front of them. But Loki is not done. He breaks free and prepares to attack Thor with his magic except that a cloud sails down upon him and an arm reaches out of it and grabs him. “Loki, you are wanted!” says the arm, which belongs to an unnamed Asgardian with a big white mustache who carries Loki as he rides a horse on the rainbow bridge. “Odin commanded me to bring you to him,” he says, “and he gave my arm enough power to hold you no matter how you struggle to break free.”

Odin contacts Thor and tells him he’s proud of him. “I witnessed your courage, your skill,” he says, even though all Thor did was climb out of a hole and shatter a forest. Thor thanks him and tells him that he must get Jane home before she wakes up because she is still asleep. As Thor leaves, Odin wonders what he can do with him. (He’ll figure it out, eventually.) “Still, he loves the mortal girl,” he thinks, “the female he can never be permitted to marry.” I wonder if he’d be permitted to marry her now? I don’t know. I haven’t read Thor for a while. Maybe he has.

Our final story is The Torch Goes Wild!, which, for some reason, I called The Rabble Rouser! when I reviewed it way back when. Check that out here at Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #119 (Story 1), April 1964. I called it “A wonderfully dopey Silver Age anti-Communist tract. They don't make them like this anymore, people.” And I gave it three-and-a-half webs.

Our issue finishes with a pin-up of the Human Torch. Is it new? Is it a panel from a previous story? I spent far too long going through too many issues of Fantastic Four and Strange Tales but I haven’t been able to pin it down. Anybody out there know?

General Comments

Crime Master and the Goblin are back in the next issue, of course.

Loki returns in Journey Into Mystery #110, November 1964 along with the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, which means that we’ll be seeing him in Marvel Tales #23, November 1969.

Dr. Strange’s next appearance is a tiny one in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964. And he took on Loki himself in Strange Tales #123, August 1964.

You would think that the Rabble Rouser would be a one-and-done but no. Now reformed, he appears as SHIELD scientist Dr. Weinberg in Wolverine #26, May 2005.

Overall Rating

Like the Torch story, the Thor tale is “a wonderfully dopey Silver Age” piece but it just has too many oddities in it to embrace it. Everything from Thor striking the pavement far away to save a boy from a driverless truck to Don Blake operating on Dr. Strange doing who-knows-what to Don not using the other cane to get down the stairs to Thor having trouble getting out of a hole to Thor destroying a forest to throw wood chips in Loki’s face to Loki’s vague plan itself, all takes me out of the story’s flow. I’m willing to overlook a lot in comic stories but not this time. Two webs. Okay, the Jack Kirby art is great and I prefer Chic Stone’s inks to Vinnie Colletta’s. Two-and-a-half webs.

Mix that in with the five webs from Spidey and three-and-a-half webs from the Torch and let’s round it all up to four webs, seeing as the Spidey story is “one of the best issues of Amazing Spider-Man... ever.”


Is that finally it for the reprints for a while? Yes! ASM #75 is next!

 Title: Marvel Tales
 Lookback: From The Beginning
 Posted: 29 Jan 2023
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)