Thursday, October 7, 2010

81: Journey into Mystery #96

Journey into Mystery #96
July 2, 1963

  • It's scripter Robert Bernstein's last issue, and he didn't do too badly of a job; his words were neither laughable nor impressive. For the most part, it seems as if the lower-tier characters like Thor & Iron Man have simply suffered from Stan not paying them enough attention; fortunately, all accounts point to the stories drastically improving next issue. In the meantime, there are still some neat ideas here - such as when Thor returns from saving a bus that had fallen off a bridge, changes back into Dr. Donald Blake ... and finds that all his patients have left his office. After all, he had a full waiting room, then rushed into his lab room and locked it behind him - for an hour! He'd left by the window, of course, but none of his patients knew that, nor Nurse Jane Foster, who pounded on the door to no avail. One by one, his patients all became fed up and left, off to find a doctor who actually cares about his practice. It's the kind of no-win situation when balancing personal and superhero concerns that we usually see from Peter Parker....

  • But as to the villain of the piece? Not nearly as much originality. The New York Museum has come into possession of a sarcophagus said to contain the body of Merlin - but sure enough, when it's opened and left on its own, he leaps to his feet! (Turns out he was just sleeping.) If this plot sounds familiar to you ... that's because we just saw it two months ago! I mean, come on - they even have the gall to once again call him "The Mad"! Look, I can understand the recycling of plots in the Golden and Silver Age; after all, the common wisdom of the time was that the readership turned over every few years, as kids became teenagers and discovered other concerns, while other kids started reading. So it's fine if you recycle your plots every few years. Two months later? Not so much.

  • That said: Merlin is, honestly, hilarious. He first appears at the police station, but they just laugh him off. So he then goes to the White House to talk to JFK, but decides no one who looks that young could be a nation's leader, and leaves. Next, he throws the Washington Monument at Thor, attempts to trap him under the Pentagon, and finally animates the statue at the Lincoln Memorial to attack the thunder god. In the end, Thor wins by bluffing that he has more powers than he actually does, which frightens the villain so much that he agrees to flee at once - the exact same gambit we first saw Reed pull on the Skrulls in Fantastic Four #2. Side note: Merlin tells us that "Nobody in medieval times suspected I was one of the mutants on Earth ... deriving my powers not from any occult magic ... but from within my own body!" After being told by his publisher that no one knew what a "mutant" was, Stan appears to have taken it as his mission to educate his readership ... in every single comic!

    This is the greatest reception to a power-mad fiend I think I could ever see.