Thursday, February 17, 2011

113: Tales to Astonish #52

Tales to Astonish #52
November 5, 1963

  • This issue features the first appearance of the Black Knight, a character concept recycled from Marvel's 1950s "Atlas Era", when the Knight had his own short-lived comic book and was essentially a medieval superhero, complete with secret identity. This new version would later be revealed to be a descendant of that first one, and would eventually pass the mantle to another blood relation, who would go on to become one of the Avengers for several years. It's an interesting case study, because DC has many so-called "legacy characters" - for instance, the Flash has a direct lineage from Jay Garrick in the Golden Age, to Barry Allen in the Silver Age, to Wally West in the modern - but Marvel generally doesn't, with the same character usually inhabiting the same superhero identity for the past fifty years. If one ignores Stan Lee's recycling of the Human Torch when he created the FF - since they've never drawn any real connection between the Golden Age character and Johnny Storm - then this could be Marvel's first!

    In a completely shocking opening, we find Hank Pym being unusually competent!
    Based on past history, we can expect one scene like this every few years.

  • Regarding our star characters, there's a bit of a breakthrough with Hank & Jan's relationship, though more casual readers might not notice the subtle change. When Janet first appeared, quickly declaring her love for Pym, he instantly rebuffed her: partly from mourning for his dead wife, partly from some unspecified age difference (he called her "a child"), and partly out of a sense of professionalism (claiming he only wants a partner, nothing more) - though note that these stories indicate an assumption that if a man and woman work closely together, they will naturally become an item as well. (When Jane Foster left Dr. Don Blake's employ to work for a rival doctor, the implication is because Blake won't return her feelings, and the new doctor will.) Clearly the writers have been going for a comedic pairing where the one is constantly fending off the advances of the other, as also typified in the duo of Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan, yet the question has remained: How does Hank feel about Jan? Finally, in a life or death moment, Hank admits to himself the depths of those feelings. How soon this takes flight remains to be seen!

    See, he's just a big softy at heart.  All those moments of berating Jan for being a silly,
    spoiled girl were just his adorable way of saying he loves her.

  • On the art side of things, we have Dick Ayers take over as the new artist, following Jack Kirby's brief return for the last three issues. Dick was Kirby's inker on the first Pym story, as well as the handful of tales at the start of his superhero career, and he inked Jack's Giant-Man story last issue as well. So it's very much a return to form, as well as a deft way of passing the torch in a way that won't be jarring to regular readers, and Dick will remain on art for most of the next eight issues.

    To gain revenge on Pym, he creates a flying horse.  Really? Or: Brilliant scientist
    creates a flying horse; rides it simply as a vehicle for revenge.  Again:

  • Meanwhile, in "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale", Janet spins the latest yarn to the residents of an orphanage, as opposed to last issue's visit to a veterans' home. The twist ending is less interesting and inventive than the last, but that's okay; as slight as these 5-page stories are (and a page and a half of that taken up with the framing device), they can't really be too great or too bad, but simply stand as quick, enjoyable, harmless entertainments. Note, however, that with the feature story rating an expanded count of 18 pages, up from its usual 13, this Wasp story is the only backup strip in the issue. The unconnected filler stories may not yet be completely over, but they're on the way out....

    Part of the reason the twist at the end fails may simply be that the possibilities conjectured
    display more imagination and inventiveness than the actual ending showed. Oh well - next!