Tuesday, March 15, 2011

120: Tales to Astonish #53

Tales to Astonish #53
December 2, 1963

  • Hey, check it out - the Porcupine's back! And I'm pleased to say that his weapons are even more ridiculous than before. You may recall that his gimmick is a suit designed to shoot out a number of special quills - including sleeping gas quills, a suction cup quill, a radar quill, a concussion ray quill, and a quill that shoots a flypaper pellet. (Seriously: a concussion ray quill? That doesn't even make sense!) Oddly enough, this "many gimmicks in one" trick seems to be a developing obsession of Stan's; in addition to the Imps from Pandora's Box, we were recently introduced to the Mandarin and his ten rings of power, even if their different uses have yet to be fully detailed. And we've not even seen Marvel's most famous example, Hawkeye the Marksman and his trick arrows - though that's not too far away!

    Porky acting as a poor man's Spider-Man.  A very, very poor man's, indeed!

  • Sadly, the Porcupine is not one of Stan's more complex villains, as his reason for targeting Pym in this story is nothing more than revenge for his previous defeat. But what he lacks in motivation he makes up for in ingenuity, as he quickly decides that the best way to sidle up to the hero is by infiltrating a Giant-Man & The Wasp fan club! (Recall that we'd already seen an example of superhero fandom two issues back.) So he shows up at the door of the local chapter, where the kids are surprised by his age - and kudos to Stan for realizing how odd such a thing would be! - and convinces the members that they should all dress up in costume as Giant-Man's various enemies, and then meet him. Thus providing himself plausible cover.  It's a wonderfully inventive plot point, and makes the adventure incredibly entertaining.

    The Human Turnip? It's nice to know Stan & co. have no problem poking fun at their own work!

  • The climax of the story comes about when the Porcupine - having incapacited Janet via the aforementioned flypaper - grapples with Giant-Man at close quarters, and deftly nabs Pym's growth pills. He at once pops several of them down his throat, reasoning that if one pill was enough to make Pym a Giant-Man, then many will make the Porcupine unstoppable! But, to his horror, Pym informs the villain that he'd actually grabbed the shrinking pills, and the Porcupine rapidly and inevitably shrinks out of sight. However, Stan's closing caption reads: "But those of you who are familiar with such things have a suspicion that somehow, in some way, the Porcupine may someday return ... more dangerous than ever! And, y'know something? You may be right!" It's almost as if during the writing he remembered that he'd once had Doctor Doom shrunk to nothingness, and had thus been forced to come up with a rather ingenious solution (in a story that coincidentally guest-starred Ant-Man). Would the readers remember as well...?

    I wonder how many kids pulled out a magnifying glass to see if they could read his last line!
    (Hint: You can't.)

  • Meanwhile, the Wasp's backup story this issue is "When Wakes the Colossus!", a sci-fi parable about an alien warlord who constructs a giant stone statue, via which he keeps control over the superstitious people he's conquered. (Essentially, it's a giant scarecrow, with the people as crows.) While the 5-page story is unusually engaging, and with a fairly surprising twist, it does show another odd penchant of Stan's: that of reusing character names. And I'm not referring to the future steel-skinned member of the X-Men; he wouldn't be introduced until 1975. Rather, I'm pointing out that the Giant-Man story to be seen in a not-too-distant issue #58, only five months away, will be titled "The Coming of the Colossus". And a stone giant by the same name had also appeared back in 1961; originally just the antagonist in a one-shot monster yarn, it would be brought back a dozen years later by writer Tony Isabella to headline a feature of its own as the richly-titled It! The Living Colossus.

    You've got to admit - that's a pretty striking image!