Tuesday, January 25, 2011

106: Strange Tales #116

Strange Tales #116
October 8, 1963

  • This issue we've got another team-up between the Torch and other members of the FF (as before), as well as the return of an FF villain (as already happened with the Sub-Mariner). And this after guest-starring a Spider-Man villain last issue, and the gimmicky almost-return of a Golden Age superhero the issue before that. I've spoken already about this strip's lack of confidence in developing a genuine, solo identity for the Human Torch, and that criticism seems more and more valid the further we go.

    Okay, I think at this point we can agree they're just treating the strip like a cartoon.

  • Meanwhile, in the Doctor Strange backup (keeping its expanded story count of 8 pages, which it graduated to last month), we're treated to the return of Nightmare, the threat from his very first issue. It's nice to see Strange fight someone other than Mordo again - although it's nevertheless a bit frustrating to have seen only two enemies in his first five stories! Fortunately, Strange's visit to Nightmare's realm provides Steve Ditko his first opportunity to render these otherworldy, mystical domains in the trippy, stretched-out, hallucinogenic style he would become known for. "Every few panels, there's a new psychedelic explosion," Douglas Wolk explains in his extremely literate and highly recommended book Reading Comics; "Doctor Strange was, whether or not Lee and Ditko admitted it (they didn't) or even intended it, a vehicle for talking about drug culture."

    Was the visual on the right intended to evoke Ditko's other strip, do you think?

  • The two stories offer a fascinating contrast - because as stellar as the Doctor Strange one is, the lead feature starring the Human Torch is simply atrocious. After reflecting on how he got away from the FF after their last battle, the Puppet Master attempts to divide and conquer by provoking the Thing into attacking the Torch. And the two heroes then fight each other over the course of pages 3 through 13 - of this 13-page story! It's boring, banal, and pointless. In the Strange tale, by contrast, Nightmare is no longer releasing the humans who naturally visit his realm, with the result that these slumberers have stayed asleep for days. As a result, the aid of Doctor Strange is requested by both a policeman and a medical doctor (surprisingly open-minded members of their professions!), on the off-chance that the cause might be mystical.  Upon confirming it and then travelling to Nightmare's shadow world, Strange must then navigate various puzzles, traps and threats before outwitting the villain himself and rescuing the prisoners. And all this happens in only eight pages, as opposed to the Torch's thirteen!

    First appearance of the Book of Vishanti, one of Doctor Strange's most powerful occult artifacts.

  • Of course, if we wanted to let Stan Lee off the hook for the Torch story (not that we do), we could claim it was a bad idea from the start - and a footnote on the first page informs us that the story is "Based upon an idea by Tommy and Jimmy Goodkind, Hewlett Harbor, New York." While clearly yet another way to keep their readership feeling important, listened to, and part of the process, this kind of easy give-and-take between readers and creators wasn't unusual for the time. The most cited example might be The Legion of Super-Heroes from DC Comics, about a group of super-teens in the 30th century which comprised an ever-growing, and ever-diversifying, membership. Each month, the letters page would showcase reader suggestions of scores of new heroes with unusual and unique powers, and occasionally one of those suggestions would turn up in the comic as an actual character. But imagine that happening today! Any publisher who tried it would almost certainly be sued....

    Yep - that is some insane geography. 
    Lonely Planet or Frommer's travel guide to this!


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