Tuesday, March 1, 2011

116: Strange Tales #117

Strange Tales #117
November 12, 1963

  • With this issue, we're now halfway through the Human Torch's run in Strange Tales, which seems rather astonishing: that, for the length it's already lasted, we still have again as much until it's done. As if that's not enough, the same can be said for Hank Pym, whose (Gi)Ant Man feature has only reached its own halfway mark in Tales to Astonish. When reading these stories alongside the other Marvel superheroes of the time, it seems clear that these strips weren't working, and the characters maybe just don't have enough complexity to really shine as solo stars. They certainly don't seem to generate the same amount of excitement and inspiration in its creators as, for instance, we see in The Fantastic Four or The Amazing Spider-Man - but Stan seems committed to them, and won't see fit to oust Pym and the Torch from their respective mags until the summer of '65.

    First thing he does upon his release: Make his old aquarium into his new
    criminal HQ.  (No one ever called him a mastermind.)

  • But at least, with Stan so fully committed, they seem to be making better use of the FF in these stories. The early days of the Torch's solo adventures, which kept Johnny relegated to Glenville and seemed to only grudgingly acknowledge his life as part of the FF, are thankfully behind us. Instead, Reed and Sue appear in the background of the story naturally, as Johnny's supporting cast, in much the same way that Aunt May does in Spider-Man. They offer advice, ideas and support, neither treating Johnny as if he's the only one who can combat a threat nor belittling his importance. In fact, for the first time the relationship between this strip and its parent title seems to have found its stable footing. Will that newfound approach last...?

    This ... this is just fantastic.  I've no words, really.

  • As the story opens, Johnny hears that The Eel (whom he fought not long ago) is on the loose again, so off he flies to nab him. However, as soon as Johnny apprehends him on the edge of the prison environs, he's admonished by the Eel, the guards and prison warden alike. It turns out that the Eel has served his sentence, and is out early on good behavior! In fact, he calls the Human Torch himself a menace, and threatens to sue Johnny for assault and battery. The Torch, bewildered, finds himself at a loss: He knows the Eel must be up to no good, but until an actual crime is committed, he can't prove a thing! This self-aware commentary on the vigilantism of the superhero is only hinted at in these pages, but it's nice to know that such musings are at least tangentially on Stan's mind.

    In reality, the old building's just nipped out for a drink.  Don't wait up.

  • In the backup feature, Doctor Strange encounters "The Many Traps of Baron Mordo!" And, honestly, it's a bit of a disappointment. Partly this is due to the prosaic and uninspired plot - especially in comparison to last issue's highly inventive imagery in Nightmare's dream dimension - since the title of the story tells all you need to know, as Mordo uses his dark sorcery to trick and trap Doctor Strange, leaving himself free to launch an attack upon their aged and powerful mentor, the Ancient One. But the boredom also comes from the fact that, once again, it's Baron Mordo. I mean, come on: Over the course of Doctor Strange first six stories, he's faced a grand total of TWO enemies! Fortunately, this will finally start to change with the next issue....

    Yes, "it is written".  So there it is then!