Thursday, January 6, 2011

101: Strange Tales #115

Strange Tales #115
September 10, 1963

  • When Dr. Doom showed up in The Amazing Spider-Man, the tonal clash was notable. Was it because you can't have the villain for one book show up as the baddie in another? Clearly not, as this issue gives us the Human Torch intercepting the Sandman, who first debuted fighting Spidey! The difference really is one of scope: Doom in ASM didn't work because his character, as already shown in a half-dozen appearances, had a grandeur that proved wildly out of place when pitted against one teenager living in Queens. Similarly, had the street-level Sandman been arrayed against the entire Fantastic Four, the challenge would have seemed entirely one-sided. But facing him against the FF's own teenage member, in his own solo series? Success!

    The Torch faces his most persistent enemy of all: the generation gap.

  • Impressively, the story also displays increased ties to the growing and ever-greater Marvel milieu. When Mr. Fantastic tells Johnny about the recently-escaped Sandman, we're treated to a flashback of his defeat at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #4, as well as additional exposition on how he escaped since. (Answer: He simply turned to sand and poured through the bars of his cell. Did the authorities take no extra precautions?) Think on this: they could have just had the Sandman show up again, simply banking on the natural reader assumption that the villain was somehow back on the loose - but they instead chose to show the steps between that adventure and this, and it feels more real as a result. By the same token, we're told that Reed has specifically tasked Johnny to bring in the crook, because Ben & Sue are working on a detailed report of their recent "Molecule Man" case. To any readers who were keeping up with all the various Marvels of the time, the jolt of familiarity would have been a pleasant surprise indeed!

    I never hear any names mentioned in low whispers. 
    Can it be I'm just not listening right?

  • In the back of the comic, we're finally presented with the origin of Doctor Strange. Significantly, with this story Marvel is now showing a certain degree of commitment to this new mystic hero, rather than just doling out standalone stories of black magic only loosely connected by a shared protagonist (as they in fact once did some two years earlier in Amazing Adventures, with the short-lived "Doctor Droom"). And this commitment will then see Strange becoming a real force in the Marvel Universe, as his adventures will continue every month for the next six years - and later, following a brief lapse, coming back for an impressive 22-year run!

    Note that name "Dormammu".  It will rear its fiery head in the future...!

  • For this extra-important story, Doctor Strange gets an "extra-long" tale of eight whole pages!, up from his usual allotment of 5. Again, the economy of storytelling on display is staggering, as those eight pages give us a full character arc for Stephen Strange - complete with tragic character flaw (arrogance), the loss of one's excellence, the initial and mocking disbelief at mysticism, and an eventual drive towards redemption. It's been suggested that one of the reasons Hank Pym never took off was because, beyond the loss suffered in his own belated back story (and quickly forgotten), the character had no real problems with which to sympathize. Lee & Ditko made sure not to commit the same mistake here!

    And so his sorcerous studies begin....