Thursday, January 20, 2011

105: Journey into Mystery #99

Journey into Mystery #99
October 1, 1963

  • This issue introduces the fearsome Mister Hyde. Marvel are pulling from well-known literary sources now, just as they intentionally homaged a famous sculpture when they created the Thinker. And this new character not only references the literature in-story (wanting, as he does, to recreate the metamorphosis described within its pages), but the resulting transformation is somewhat faithful to that in the original as well. For instance, a woman he passes out in public finds that she recoils in horror at his mere presence, even without knowing why: his base and evil nature instinctively repulsing others, as happens in the novel itself.

    No longer content with Thor as a dull Superman analogue,
    Stan is clearly - and suddenly - writing on a much larger canvas.

  • It's also notable that this is the first half of a two-part story - and the second in a row at that, if one counts the cliffhanging departure of Jane Foster in #97 and its subsequent resolution in #98. Taken with the recently-concluded Giant-Man vs Human Top two-parter in Tales to Astonish, the evidence implies we might be seeing the start of a trend. And why not? After all, note how two half-length strips approximate one full-length comic; Stan Lee may have been coming to the conclusion that twenty-some pages really was the perfect length for the stories he wanted to tell. And the cliffhanger to this issue, in which we see Thor burst into a bank and begin robbing it, is told with a confidence that is nothing less than astounding. We know it can't really be Thor, we know it must be some scheme of Hyde's ... but the comic doesn't feel the need to spell that out, as it would have before. It simply presents what we know must be impossible - and then brings the curtain down.

    Stan's words embrace the melodrama, whether Asgardian tirade or earthly inner
    soliloquy.  And notice the closing caption fitted smartly on the filing cabinet: Nice touch!

  • Meanwhile, the Jane Foster subplot continues - and with more sophistication than one would expect. Having asked his father Odin for permission to marry Nurse Foster, and been roundly denied, Thor returns to Asgard to argue the case further. A shouting match ensues between All-Father and Son, with Thor beseeching Odin to circumvent the decree by elevating Jane to the level of an immortal. Though Odin first reacts with shocked dismissal, he soon relents and tells Thor that such a thing could occur ... but only if she proves herself worthy. The surprise in all of this comes from the expectation that the romance would follow the typical model where two characters harbor feelings for each other, yet never follow up on them. By choosing to go this route, Stan actually gives the subplot the appearance of progress, implying a story arc that might actually go somewhere (if not precisely where the characters would like), rather than just present a character dilemma that never actually changes, as was usual.

    Okay, I'm positive there's absolutely nothing to this similarity, but still:  Dead. Ringer.
    (That's gotta be the strangest thing I've noticed in quite some time.)

  • Meanwhile, in "Tales of Asgard" we're treated to the confrontation between Odin and the fire demon Surtur. (Yes, right after the ice giant we're given a fire giant. They're certainly sticking to the elemental!) Surprisingly, some cursory research indicates that Surtur's involvement in the original Nordic myths consisted of little more than his role in bringing about Ragnarok, the Asgardian Armageddon.  This is, as mentioned, surprising because the originating conflict between the two larger-than-life characters, as told in these scant five pages, is impressively mythic in scope. In fact, upon seeing such developments as Surtur scooping a chunk out of the earth and hurling it skyward (whereupon it became the moon), and being ultimately imprisoned within the earth itself (explaining, one would imagine, the fiery and frequent fury of the many Icelandic geysers and volcanoes), I was so struck at the effectiveness of this partial creation myth that I'm still dumbfounded to have learned it was - as far as I can tell - wholly Stan and Jack. Surtur will, of course, be seen again in the stories of Thor; in fact, he would later be a prominent part of the truly epic Walt Simonson run in the mid-1980s, very soon to be collected in the largest Marvel Omnibus Edition to date!

    Normally I try to keep the posted scans a bit smaller.
    In this case, however, I think the giant scope is warranted.