Thursday, September 16, 2010

77: Strange Tales Annual #2

Strange Tales Annual #2
June 11, 1963

  • And here we have Strange Tales Annual #2, the first annual featuring Marvel's Silver Age superheroes, and one of their earliest annuals to boot. The average comic book has traditionally come out once a month - twelve times a year - and is a 32 page package, 22-25 of which are story pages or other editorial content (like letter columns or house ads). By contrast, a comic book annual would come out once a year and often be much, much larger, as in the 72-page giant seen here. Marvel had  just started started experimenting with annuals the previous year, Strange Tales Annual #1 (reprinting thirteen of Marvel's monster and sci-fi short stories of the time) and Millie the Model Annual #1 (containing a mix of short stories and other features) being their first. This year, the Strange Tales Annual also featured reprints of ten short stories ... but opens with an 18-page, all-new tale featuring Spider-Man and the Human Torch!

    Year later, Peter David would hit upon his own version
    of this joke.  Hey - it's a good one!



  • An additional treat is that this story is pencilled by Jack Kirby, with inking by Steve Ditko! While I was mostly mystified by their pairing the first time I came across it, later efforts impressed me - and this is no exception. Even beyond commemorating such an issue by having the feature story drawn by Marvel's two main power artists, it's also appropriate "casting". After all, Kirby started Johnny's solo adventures, and still (at this time) draws Johnny in the pages of The Fantastic Four, while Ditko was the co-creator of Spider-Man and has drawn all of Spidey's stories to this date. And when you factor in the eternal question of who "created" Spider-Man, having Stan, Kirby and Ditko all collaborating on this tale is really quite a boon!

    You can see here the ruggedness that a Peter Parker by Kirby would have had.
    It's not bad, but we can see why Ditko was the more appropriate choice!


  • In yet more firsts, we have here what could be argued as the first explicit team-up story. There have been a few crossovers by this point, but in all of them the guest-starring characters were given clearly lower visibility and importance - such as the Hulk appearing in Fantastic Four #13 not as an ally but the issue's actual threat; or Ant-Man appearing in FF #16 only long enough to give them some shrinking gas, leaving them to have the adventure on their own, and then popping up at the end to save their bacon. This is the first time we see equal time being paid to both characters - despite this being the Torch's "home turf" of Strange Tales, the story spends just as much time with Spidey - and is also the first Marvel appearance of the trope wherein the two heroes first fight it out (due to a simple misunderstanding, of course) before joining forces to go after the bad guy.

    It's only slightly less dramatic when you realize Spider-Man still had to take the ferry.


  • Finally, one of the joys of this seldom-reprinted issue is that it allows us to see that real beginning of the friendship that would form between teenagers Peter Parker and Johnny Storm. Spider-Man applied for FF membership back in his very first issue, and in ASM #3 he thanked the Human Torch for the inspiration and encouragement Johnny provided during a crucial moment of doubt. This is the first time they get to interact for more than a few seconds, however - and it goes badly at first, as art thief The Fox frames Spider-Man for the heist he's pulled, and the hot-headed Johnny falls for it - but by the end of the tale they've bonded, and Johnny is trading faux-gripes with Peter as easily as he would with Ben. And a welcome bonus is when the Torch agrees to meet Spidey to talk ... on the very top of the Statue of Liberty! As long-time readers will know, this would become the traditional meeting point for these two heroes, and a symbol of the friendship that would endure for years to come.

    And the bond between two new pals is born....