Friday, February 12, 2010

26: Strange Tales #103

Strange Tales #103
September 11, 1962

  • Okay, this one's pretty nuts. When newly built houses start sinking into the swamp - and since when has Glenville, New York, ever had any swampland? - Johnny goes to investigate. The housing developers are baffled, but a crazy old coot yells at them that it's swamp demons!, angry at being disturbed. The Torch comes back at night, however, and sees the coot in the presence of two alien creatures, shooting a ray gun at the new house to make it sink. When Johnny confronts them, the coot pulls off his rubber mask, revealing himself to be an alien as well - and kidnaps Johnny to the Fifth Dimension! There, the tyrant Zemu has him imprisoned in a flame-retardant solution ... until he's free by the beautiful alien girl he spied earlier and her father, who enlist Johnny's aid in their merry band of revolutionaries. Together, they cause the people of the Fifth Dimension to rise up against Zemu, and the Torch happily heads home! And all this insanity in only 13 pages, folks.

  • That said, I'm always happy to see a story that uses a bit of snazzy misdirection, and a number of these early Marvels do that quite well. And when you can use that to throw a sudden genre switch - such as starting out at Johnny's high school, then getting us to think it's going to be a creepy tale about nighttime swamp monsters, before zapping us to an alien world - hey, even better! Genre switches are tricky beasts that aren't always effective, but it's fun to see them try. Unfortunately, it doesn't work so well when you give the game away on the cover....

  • This is as good a place to say it as any: Starting this month, with many of the Marvels released in September 1962, detailed credits are now being listed for each story. In the Golden Age, and up through the early Silver Age, most comic books did not have listed credits, which is why there are such unanswered mysteries as the identity of the inker on Fantastic Four #2. Many reasons have been posited as to why, ranging from the publishers emphasizing the characters and not the artists (who were paid especially poorly back in the day), to situations such as a late-running strip making its deadline by employing a jam session of various ghost artists, all of them working overnight in one guy's New York apartment on their individual artboards, fueled by nothing more than coffee and cigarettes. One can wonder what prompted Stan to finally make such a change in 1962; I'd hazard it was a mix between wanting to give all hands the recognition he felt they deserved, as well as an attempt to boost sales by turning their writers and artists into identifiable stars. Given that other publishers would eventually catch up to this new practice, it seems to have worked!

    Zemu the tyrant.  Scourge of developers and housing agents everywhere.