Thursday, August 12, 2010

69: Strange Tales #111

Strange Tales #111
May 9, 1963

  • Well, this comic is sure to be appreciated by a certain commenter, as he's claimed the ridiculous villain's ridiculous handle for his own. And it is a laughable baddie; there's no doubt about that. I mean, this guy's a talented inventor, as he's come up with: an acid that can instantly melt steel and iron, a pen that can electronically reproduce any signature, a machine that could create flawless counterfeit bills, and more. And yet he goes with ... asbestos? Even going so far as to dub himself The Asbestos Man? Clearly he's not very good at this.

    I swear to God, that's how the story opens.
    It makes me wish more comics started like this!

  • And yet it's Professor Kasloff's almost complete incompetence that makes the issue so memorable, and so enjoyable. Feeling mistreated by his employers (who nevertheless express their joy at having him), he sets out on a criminal path ... and bungles it like a novice his first time out. Realizing that the problem is his lack of experience in this realm, he tries to sidle up to some local mob types, but they understandably brush him off. Hence his plan to take down the Torch - an event to which he calls the press, bizarrely - and thus impress these underworld goons. Yes, it's another "villain challenges the Torch" tale, like so many others we've seen by this point, but this time there's a much better motive than "just because he's better than me" - and one that rings entirely true for the very nebbish character we've been shown. (You may not be shocked to find that he's never heard from again.)

    Oddly enough, this happens every time the Torch opens the mail.

  • Meanwhile, it's Doctor Strange's second outing, and both times we've been introduced to villains who would go on to be major archfoes. This time it's the evil mystic Baron Mordo, who is a peer of Strange's in a way that Nightmare is not. This has the wonderful side benefit of giving us our first glimpse of a true struggle between equally-matched sorcerers, and that mystical battle makes for a series of fascinating visuals from Steve Ditko - the first of many, many to come.

    Note the fantastic way their astral fight weaves in and out of their surroundings,
    as well as the symmetry implied by the three panels taken as a whole.

  • I fear repeating myself, but once again it's astonishing to see how many of the character's essential elements were in place right from the outset. (As opposed to, say, Daredevil, which wouldn't really figure out what it was doing until fifteen years into the book.) The magicians battling via their astral forms, the reliance on magical artifacts and attacks, and even setting up hints at the back story between Doctor Strange, Baron Mordo, and the Ancient One: These are all things that would become nothing less than intrinsic to the strip. In fact, the only thing that's off - and it's a minor point indeed - is that at this point they'd not yet settled on their mentor's name, as he's here only referred to as "The Master". Hmmm, the Doctor and the Master? It's tempting to wonder if this might have been a subconscious influence on the creation of a certain character across the pond, nearly ten years later. But no, that's surely just coincidence....

    In fact, he'll be back in the very next story - but not the very next issue....