Thursday, July 8, 2010

63: Strange Tales #110

Strange Tales #110
April 9, 1963

  • As the cover shows, this issue features the combined return, and first team-up, of Paste-Pot Pete and the Wizard! (Later readers will realize the significance, as these two would go on to form half of the FF's enemy team The Frightful Four.) Surprisingly, the story is even more entertaining than one would expect, as pinch-hit scripter Ernie Hart more than earns his pay, giving us dialogue that shows PPP busting the Wizard out of jail so they can get revenge on the Torch, only to become increasingly fed up as the Wizard insists on giving the orders and talking down to him. In fact, the only complaint with this issue - and it's a very minor one indeed - is that for the first time we truly feel Kirby's absence on these Torch stories, if just because no one else draws the Wizard quite like that.

    The worst super-villain team-up of all time, or the best?

  • But fun though the tale may be, that's not what we're remotely interested in. Because this issue also marks the debut of Marvel's Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange! As you'll recall, anthology titles like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish, and Tales of Suspense all featured by this point a superhero in the first half of the comic, with two or three very quick, standalone short stories in the back. The good doctor is therefore the first ongoing backup feature to be seen, and is only allotted 5 pages to begin with - but both of those things will change before too long, and within the next 18 months all three of the above titles would become true split books, with one superhero in the front half of each comic, and a different ongoing superhero taking up the latter.

    You have to admit: That's a hell of a first glimpse!

  • In the 1970s reprint book Origins of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee claims that he based Doctor Strange on Chandu the Magician, the protagonist of a radio show he'd devotedly listened to some decades past, and the similarity to the characters of Vincent Price has been noted by, well, everyone. The mystic is, after all, a stock genre character, but one that's hard to do right, as magic can act as the deus ex machina to any problem. Fortunately, the writing is crisp and smart and aware of such pitfalls, as Stan resolves the life-threatening danger at the end of the story by combining two of the elements introduced earlier - Doctor Strange's magical Eye of Agomotto, and his powerful mentor The Ancient One.

    Note the body language and expressiveness in these panels,
    and the shock at the end.  Ditko was in fine form.

  • In fact, it's once again fairly stunning to see just how many key elements of the strip were in place by this first story. In addition to Doctor Strange's mystical amulet, his supporting cast of both Wong and the Ancient One, and the first fleeting appearance of Strange's archenemy Nightmare, Steve Ditko's art is inspired, as this particular genre allowed Steve to combine two of the most vivid aspects of his artwork - creepy suspense and an unsettling weirdness - into one masterful whole. Throw in a deft introduction of the main character via the story itself, as a man wracked with shaking dreams determines to seek help from the master of black magic only spoken of in whispers, and what you end up with is one of the longest, richest 5-page stories you will ever read.

    Beware when you call on Doctor Strange! 
    You may get far more than you bargained for....