Thursday, June 3, 2010

57: Strange Tales #109

Strange Tales #109
March 12, 1963

  • Y'know, I'm really starting to warm to new scripter Robert Bernstein. Under his words, Johnny seems more like an actual teenager than we've generally seen. For instance, on a day off from high school, the Torch swings by to see what the rest of the FF are up to, eager for new adventures. But they brush him aside, planning as they are a mission for the next day, when he'll be in school and unable to help. He pouts, petulantly, and then reluctantly flies off, sighing, "It's tough to be a kid when you're dying to do a man's job 24 hours a day!" There's no malice or melodrama this time round, as Johnny knows the FF is doing what's right, but his lonely desire to fit in with the rest of the team - all adults - has never been quite so affecting.

  • Fortunately, Bernstein's skill with character detail doesn't mean we're left without gems of dialogue such as "Say! What's that commotion up ahead? That's where the old eccentric hermit known as the 'Sorcerer' lives!" At which point the tale becomes very silly indeed and, honestly, a bit Scooby Doo. The Sorcerer is a nutty old man who claims to have spent years studying the black arts (although, reading between the lines, with nothing to show for it). When he comes into possession of the mythical Pandora's Box, however, he uses it to commit a string of robberies until the Torch figures it out and manages to take him down. The only odd note in the tale is when a police officer quips "But who can it be? Judging from the almost supernatural techniques used, the villain must be some sort of wizard!", thus cluing Johnny in. But, especially given that specific synonym, mightn't the Torch have thought of someone else? (No worries; he'll make his return next issue.)

  • Aside from the wonderfully grotesque features given him by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers, the Sorcerer doesn't have much going as a character. But the Pandora's Box is actually pretty neat! Every time the Sorcerer opens it, he makes use of another evil or imp, each with its own special powers; for instance, by unleashing the evil of Hatred he makes everyone present at the bank start fighting amongst themselves, while releasing the imp of laziness makes the officers' bullets, already fired, move slowly and sluggishly through the air. While the box has the same drawback as any magical device - namely, the possibility of being powerful enough to break the story (diabolus ex machina?) - the ways in which the imps are used are incredibly inventive, and makes what could have been a dull and routine tale into a really enjoyable one. Given that the box was simply dumped in the ocean after the Sorcerer's defeat, it's disappointing that the artifact never surfaced again.

    The Torch arriving too late to help Shaggy, Fred and Velma.