Tuesday, November 2, 2010

86: Strange Tales #113

Strange Tales #113
July 9, 1963

  • In this issue: The Human Torch fights the menace of a mad gardener! Yes, really. When plant-wrangler Sam is abruptly fired for neglecting his regular duties in lieu of an invention to increase the intelligence of the flora, he swears revenge on his erstwhile employer (and, by extension, humanity). So when a freak lightning bolt strikes his previously-ineffective device, causing the plants around him to respond to his every command, of course he sets to robbery and needlessly engages a world-known superhero in combat. By the end of the story, Johnny has turned the plants against their master, but the Plantman is seen to escape - cleverly hiding in a hollow tree trunk. Clearly, Stan must have thought they'd struck gold. And yet, shockingly, the Plantman would be back - in fact, dozens of times!

  • Beyond this debut of yet another all-new, all-ridiculous villain for the Torch, this story is also significant for introducing Dorrie Evans, Johnny Storm's first real girlfriend. Honestly, in these early days the Human Torch rarely got much of a personality beyond the shorthand sketch of "teenage hothead", so even the cursory attempt to flesh out his character is a welcome relief. And while her shrewish attitude and unimpressed reaction to his typical grandstanding is a ham-handed stab at broad comedy (or "broad" comedy), its unexpected side effect is an added glimpse into his head as he reflectively wonders: Does the fact that she's always asking him to flame off and settle down around her just annoy him? Or does her sole interest in his normal side, unlike all the other girls who gush over his fame and flame, actually leave him intrigued?

  • Since I didn't have the chance to discuss this last time, I may as well mention it now: Bizarrely, neither this issue nor the last featured a story with Doctor Strange. As you may recall, the good doctor first appeared in Strange Tales #110, and in the very next issue we met his archenemy Baron Mordo. Coming one issue after the other, you'd think it was a new feature Steve Ditko and Stan Lee were eager to launch in a regular space, even just one 5-page story at a time ... and yet, the two issues after that were both missing this new strip. It's particularly notable because this two-issue gap is the only absence the character would have from the title for the rest of its run, not only becoming a staple of the comic but soon expanding to take up a full half of each issue (like the Torch currently does), and after fifty-some issues taking over the comic entirely! In light of all that, this initial blip seems something of an oddity....

    Little could the Plantman dream of the imitators who would eventually follow.