Monday, March 8, 2010

36: Journey into Mystery #89

Journey into Mystery #89
December 3, 1962

  • The first thing that strikes us about this comic is the cover, and it's one that demands comment. Yes, it's bold, and yes, it's iconic. But aside from trumpeting the main character, it tells nothing about what's inside. That's par for the course today, but back then comic books were aimed at the casual reader, and thus the cover needed to have as many ways as possible in which to catch the eye, and give a plethora of reasons as to why the reader should choose this comic over any other. So, as attractive as the cover may be, it's still surprising to see just how plain it is! Even the copy merely proclaims that Thor will "battle the forces of evil" - unlike, say, every other superhero ever. Then again, the bad guy in the story is a mob leader, so a tableau of hero against villain wouldn't exactly veer into the fantastic.

  • In another surprising move, early on in the tale we get a couple of pages recapping Thor's origin, and reestablishing the setting and supporting cast of his alter ego, Dr. Don Blake.  Since the story is still only 13 pages in total, giving up that much space for catch-up material seems a questionable move. But the common wisdom of the time, usually attributed to Stan Lee, was that "every comic is somebody's first." While not literally true, the insight is that every comic book could be - so as much as you might write primarily for your regular audience, it was just as important to ensure every issue contained everything a new reader might need to make sense of it as well. On the other hand, you could take the idea too far: On page 4, the crowd exposits: "Hey, isn't that Thug Thatcher, the mob leader?" "Yeah! He tried to muscle in on the steel industry!" "They caught him selling sub-standard steel! Now he's headed for prison!" On page 12, the crowd later converses: "Thatcher the mobster?" "Yeah! He was muscling in on the steel industry -- selling sub-standard steel!" "He escaped from the cops on the way to prison!" The lesson here? Recapping every few issues: Good idea. Every few pages? Less so.

  • A couple of times in the Human Torch stories in Strange Tales, Johnny has hesitated too long to apprehend a dangerous villain in public, as he couldn't change into his superhero persona without blowing his secret identity. The same thing happens here, even more alarmingly. When a gunfight erupts between the mobsters and the police outside Don Blake's practice, he thinks, "If only Jane weren't here, I could change into Thor and go into action! But now it's impossible!" And when Nurse Jane Foster tells him that the mobsters have escaped, he replies "It doesn't matter... The police will track them down! At any rate, there's nothing you or I can do about it!" ... before resentfully thinking to himself, "But THOR would have done plenty if you hadn't been here!" From a modern reading, it's hard not to judge these heroes' priorities as woefully out of whack. But the secret identity, while out of fashion in today's stories, was then an established and expected trope of the genre - in much the same way that characters calmly breaking into song is an unquestioned convention of the musical.

    Because that's all women want, right?  To look after their menfolk.