Monday, February 22, 2010

30: Strange Tales #104

Strange Tales #104
October 9, 1962

  • In this issue, the Human Torch faces off for the first time against Paste-Pot Pete. And it's a hoot - because the guy's name is Paste-Pot Pete! Before too long, Pete would take to call himself the Trapster and give himself a makeover - for one thing, smartly putting the reserves for his glue gun into tanks strapped to his back, rather than carrying an actual paste-pot as here - and has been updated even more in recent days, becoming a bit of a badass. But I can't help preferring this original form! And for those who might be rightly wondering "Why paste?", I think we we can put Pete in the category of characters so created because of certain tasks that their creators were frequently engaged in. Also in this category: The Living Eraser.

    Bad at Secret ID: Exhibit A.

  • One would expect that in these early days of Marvel, without much planning or foresight, there'd be numerous slips and inconsistencies. Truth be told, there haven't been as many as you'd expect. But one area that's beginning to get out of control is the Torch's powers, and what he can do with them. In the last couple of issues, Johnny has been very concerned about his flame's time limit, and it does always seems to cut out at an inconvenient time. Less credible is when the Torch, in a dangerous situation, has his extinguished flame relit by a powerful source of heat - as if his body were a smouldering pile of sticks which just needed to be stoked. But then it goes completely overboard. We've already seen the Torch construct flaming doubles of himself to throw off villains or a curious crowd of onlookers. And fine, we'll accept that. Maybe. But then he sends that double on a cross-country chase, following the villain down several twists and turns, like a homing beacon ... and that's finally more than we can take.

    This instantly became one of my favorite comic book panels of all time.
    "PASTE is the supreme weapon!"

  • It's notable that at the climax of this story, Paste-Pot Pete gets away. At this point, these early Marvel superheroes have only been around for about a year - some thirty stories now - and yet this is just the second time we've seen the villain escape the hands of justice at the end. And the first time was just last month! (Although that villain at least had the decency to descend into madness at his defeat.) Part of this is surely due to adherence to the 1954 Comics Code, which declared that "In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds" - and note that, although Pete escapes, he has surely not triumphed. But more to the point, this might also be sign of Stan's increasing vision of the kinds of stories they could tell, and the longevity these characters could have - as the very fact of the bad guy getting away virtually guarantees his return....

    Paste-Pot Pete, all washed up - until next time.