Tuesday, January 18, 2011

104: Tales to Astonish #51

Tales to Astonish #51
October 1, 1963

  • Last time round, Giant-Man was demoralized to find that, despite his best efforts, he couldn't defeat the incredibly fast, incredibly agile Human Top. He was consistently too slow and too clumsy to catch him and hold him. In the conclusion here, he does - by realizing that if he can't always meet his opponents on their own terms, he should try to change the field of battle. So, in a surprisingly clever bit of insight, he has the police cordon off an entire neighborhood to trap the Top within its boundaries, as well as coating his gloves with an adhesive to aid in catching the crook. And it works!

    The signs may read "Giant-Man Fan Club", but as the next panels will show,
    they uniformly ignore him in favor of the Wasp.

  • Amusingly, Stan's dialogue gives the impression of a villain who believes himself to be a criminal mastermind, yet is so evidently not. Early in the tale, the Top bombs a disused tug boat sitting in the harbor, banking that no one will know quite what boat was destroyed, and thus divert attention away from his true target while they investigate. But Pym sees right through it! Next, the Human Top steals the civil defense plans from the Federal Building, in a bid to sell them to the Commies - but as it happens, they're outdated! It's pretty funny, and an impressively subtle bit of writing. After all, it's easy to convey the denseness of a dumb thug, nor is it too hard to write the broad strokes of someone who's a bit of a genius. But it's an effectively ironic twist to create a character who thinks he's the latter, but is really the former, which ends up making the tale far more enjoyable than one might expect.

    Oh, this panel.  Where to begin?  The hilarious revelation about the plans?  The pervasive
    Red Fear? The alarming glimpse into the Wasp's inner thoughts?

  • And hey, take a look at this: We also have the first instalment of a semi-regular, if brief, series of backup stories entitled "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale!" And what's more, the plot may be by Stan, but the dialogue and art are both by Larry Lieber! I've ragged on Lieber's often-hokey scripting in these posts perhaps more often than I should, perhaps unfairly - but by his own admission in various interviews, he never quite "got" superheroes the same way his brother Stan Lee did, and greatly preferred the other genres like Westerns. And sure enough, you can tell (in just five pages!) that he's having far more fun on this pulp sci-fi tale than he had been on the superhero stuff, and that sense of infectious fun makes the short story really quite enjoyable.

    On the one hand, you're annoyed at the horn dog for leering instead of listening.
    But also note the Wasp's poise and expression; the effect she has is no mistake.

    (And, frankly, fits in with her standard portrayal thus far.)

  • So what does this have to do with the Wasp? In a framing sequence, we're told that Janet Van Dyne often visits veteran hospitals and orphanages, telling stories to the residents to help pass the time. Clearly, it's just a way to fill up the back of the comics with short one-off stories, complete with surprise twist ending - in other words, the kind of strips they've always had in anthology comics like this. But perhaps, given Marvel's newfound success with superheroes, clothed in a way to make the readers care about these standalones just a little bit more? Whatever the rationale, Stan was trying something new ... though it's worth pointing out that it wouldn't last, and a year from now these anthology shorts would be all but extinct.

    No, I think they caught all the "bits" with which they were concerned.
    Also, notice the invalid on the right casually smoking!  Ah, the 1960s....