Monday, March 29, 2010

42: Journey into Mystery #90

Journey into Mystery #90
January 3, 1963

  • Continuing Jack Kirby's strange, sudden disappearance, the art in this month's Thor tale is handled by Al Hartley. Hartley wasn't very prominent in the Marvel age of superheroes; he mostly excelled at the romance comics of the 1950s (including the popular teen comic Patsy Walker), and later focussed on books for Archie Comics, as well as Christian comics. Between these two phases, however, he tried his hand at superheroes. Unfortunately, although his art does have an odd, quirky appeal, it's pretty obvious that his strengths weren't suited to the genre. As a result, this issue would be the only superhero comic he was to pencil.

  • It's Thor versus the Carbon Copy Men! (Plural, as opposed to the cover.) And nothing dates this issue more than the fact that it's ... Thor versus the Carbon Copy Men! When Dr. Don Blake finds that the denizens of his city have gone nutty - pasting signs on a building instead of the billboard, painting polka dots on the nearby bridge - he calls on Thor's father Odin for help, who paraphrases Occam's razor: when something puzzles him, the simplest and most obvious explanation is likely the answer. Ludicrously, Thor then concludes that "if people are not acting like themselves, they must not be themselves! They must be impostors!!" One can imagine Odin's stunned reaction: "Wait - really? That's what you took away from this?" And yet, this actually turns out to be the case, as alien shapeshifters from Xarta (did Larry Lieber, we wonder, originally script it as the planet Xerox?) have come to Earth and "are planting impersonators in key jobs throughout the city! Their task is to make foolish laws ... to cause confusion and panic! [...] And after we have confused and frightened your entire civilization, then we shall attack and conquer you!" That's right - their invasion plan is to have their secret agents make foolish laws. Try and pretend you're not even a little in awe.

  • The first Skrull story from Fantastic Four #2 has already been imitated once, and we can't help feeling its spectre again. Just like the Skrulls, the Xartans are alien invaders who use their shapeshifting powers to sow seeds of panic and discord, albeit on a more generalized scale. And just like how the Skrulls were disposed of by being changed into cows, and then left, so the Xartans are defeated when Thor has them change into trees, and then leaves. (Sorry; couldn't resist.) Unlike the Skrulls, the Xartan fleet would learn their lesson and never be seen again. Who knows? Maybe the Carbon Copy Men eventually discovered digital scanning.

    Well, just wait twenty-odd years and you'll be a frog....