Thursday, April 28, 2011

133: Tales of Suspense #52

Tales of Suspense #52
January 10, 1964

  • Introducing the Black Widow! Yes, in this issue Marvel's premiere Russian super spy makes her debut, if in a rather understated form. Not yet a costumed action hero, here she appears as the quintessential femme fatale going by the name "Madame Natasha". It's hard to believe that the woman in this bit part would go on to become not just a major character, but an on-again off-again member of the Avengers - eventually becoming such a significant part of Marvel canon as to appear in the feature film Iron Man 2, as well as the upcoming film version of The Avengers. But then, perhaps Stan knew the character had boundless potential from the start; after all, this tale ends with notice that the Widow would return the following ish...!

    It's amazing how the right outfit can make a girl forget she has no nose!

  • Speaking of returns, this issue sees the second appearance of the Crimson Dynamo, last seen in Tales of Suspense #46. But how, we ask, can Professor Vanko be menacing Iron Man on the cover once again? After all, at the end of that last outing he renounced Communism and defected to the US, swearing allegiance to his newly-chosen home. Well, as it turns out, the Soviets generally frowned on that sort of thing - so they send in the Black Widow and another agent, Boris, to eliminate Vanko, his employer Tony Stark, and Stark's bodyguard Iron Man. So the pair fly off to America, where they-- Wait a minute. Boris? And Natasha? Wow. You certainly can't accuse Stan of taking his material too seriously for the occasional joke!

    It's a very different Vanko we see than the one who originally crept to our shores.

  • Surprisingly, this turns out to be a rather touching story, and it all comes down to Vanko. It would have been easy for Stan to gloss over the ex-villain's defection and portray him as nothing more than a regular scientist guy. But not so: Having "seen the light" about the treacheries of Communism, he is now, months later, shown to still be tearfully grateful to America (and Tony Stark) for giving him a second chance and a new life, and is committed to doing whatever he can to repay these gifts. With less care, such naked sincerity could seem mawkish or dull, but under Stan's pen - aided by the genuine expressions that Don Heck's linework evokes - we believe him, and care for him. When Vanko, at the climax of the story, vanquishes the enemy agent Boris (who had donned the Crimson Dynamo armor himself) even though it means giving up his own life, the sacrifice rings true. But even though it would take a few years, the threat of the Crimson Dynamo would return...!

    A hero's end.

  • Meanwhile, this issue's "Tales of the Watcher" tells the story of an Earth in the 23rd century, a world finally without war but whose populace are now consumed with goals of greed and ambition. But noting the era cited, and having read this issue on the heels of the previous one, a thought occurs: Could this backup tale be conceivably set in the same world as the last, some two hundred years later? I know, I know; despite the continuing framing device of the Watcher, they're clearly unconnected vignettes not meant to be tied together. But, as a small game for ourselves, could they be? Amusingly enough, as far as these two tales go, the answer appears to be "yes!" After all, our contrast to the protagonist last time around was the brother who owned a thriving hovercar business and mocked his sibling for his idealistic dreams; it's not hard to see that kind of figure as the beginning of the societal trend portrayed here. And the aliens who come to Earth at the end of this tale seem to be humanity's first contact - which also matches up with the 21st century story of humanity unable to discover any other intelligent life in the cosmos. Granted, these tales would at the very least have to occur in some alternate reality that the Watcher's peeking in on (foreshadows of What If...?, perhaps?), as in the burgeoning Marvel U alien spacecrafts seem to drop from the sky every Monday morning.

    Which begs the question: Was Tony Stark the moose or the squirrel?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

132(ish): Tales of Suspense #51

Tales of Suspense #51
December 9, 1963

  • Well, this is certainly embarrassing. The remit of this blog is to read all the Marvel comics of the 1960s - those originally established to be in their interconnected world, at least (so no Millie the Model or Rawhide Kid) - in the order which they were published. So I'm a bit red-faced to have realized that, after more than a hundred such entries, I missed one! Yes, somehow I managed to get through the comics from December 1963 without realizing that I'd left behind that month's adventure story starring Tony Stark, the Invincible Iron Man. Well, it was bound to happen at some point! So, that's fine: To catch up - and as a small experiment - this once I'll actually read two consecutive issues of the same comic back-to-back. Let's see how it goes!

    See the bizarrely red faces on the left?  That's in the original comic too.
    Apparently the
    Marvel Masterworks team chose to preserve the mistake!

  • So, from the cover we see that the villain this time out is a new baddie by the name of the Scarecrow! Our initial impulse may be to wonder if this is the first time Marvel had knowingly swiped a villain published by their major competitor; as it turns out, this wasn't the case, as that foe had only appeared twice in Batman's early career - both times in the 1940s - and wouldn't be revived until 1967. As a result, I think we can safely chalk this up to a case of two writers in the same field coming up with a similar concept; nothing more. So how does this new Marvel character measure up to his fear-inducing predecessor? Well ... quite laughably, truth be told. See, this new guy is a novelty act who sees Iron man apprehend a crook in a crowded theater, and then aids the hero in capturing the thief - only to decide, upon reflection, that he'd much rather use his unusual talents to help himself rather than society. (So much for the Armored Avenger's ability to inspire, then.) And what are those talents, you may ask? No joke: He's a contortionist. With a side knowledge of escape artistry. Really? And yet when faced with the sight of a flying man in a mechanical marvel, he somehow thinks being real bendy places him in the same league! But he still needs a disguise, right? So, he grabs a scarecrow outfit, and then ... steals some trained crows from the neighboring act? To help him with his robberies? Again: Really?

    I don't care what you say:

  • Meanwhile, the backup story is another instalment of "Tales of the Watcher" - but, oddly enough, it contains one small detail that trips us up at the start. The opening caption begins: "On another world, light years from our Earth, there stands a strange structure..." But: "light years"? In the Watcher's first appearance in Fantastic Four #13, we meeet him upon the Blue Area of the Moon, and even get a glimpse into his extra-dimensional, mind-bending home located in the same. I've questioned before (out of curiousity, not criticism) the thought behind using characters from their superhero world as narrators of unconnected inventory stories, but this is the first time it's ever jarred; after all, it seems odd to use the Watcher's raison d'ĂȘtre as a framing device, but then get the continuity wrong. I mean, we can instantly conjecture answers - Is the edifice we saw on Earth's moon not his only base? Does he have various homes around the cosmos? - but for a character that Marvel have only recently introduced, it seems an odd mistake to have made. (Then again, it was scripted by Larry Lieber, who we can imagine did not commit to memory ever story written by his brother. And, y'know, it's only one line....)

    Hey, it could have been worse. 
    It could have been "A Strange Tale of Astonishing Suspense into Mystery"!

  • As to the tale itself: Our main character is Paul, an idealist and dreamer who lives in the dazzlingly futuristic era of the 21st century! (Seriously, hovercars and all.) While his brother runs a successful business, Paul looks to the stars, certain that there must be intelligent life out there somewhere. Though he rockets into space in the hopes of discovery, mission after mission reveals only lower life-forms, and certainly no race as evolved as mankind. The twist ending is the revelation that the last planet Paul investigated was once home to an advanced civilization - until their progress was forever halted due to the perils of war, and a cobalt anti-matter bomb. Learn this lesson well! What's so astonishing here is the blatant prominence of the anti-war theme on display - and that it would be repeated in another of these backup stories, just as stridently, only a few weeks later!

    Do you want YOUR storefront windows washed with a dramatic flair?
    Just call 1-800-IRON-MAN today!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

131: Amazing Spider-Man #11

Amazing Spider-Man #11
January 10, 1964

  • In this action-packed issue, we've the return of Doctor Octopus! Captured in issue #3, he's out early on good behavior, and Peter's protestations to the warden fall on deaf ears; after all, they can't keep a criminal who's served his time. (Though we can sympathize with Spidey, his passionate plea to keep Ock locked because of what he might due is subtly disturbing.) But that's not the only return to be featured, for we also learn the secret that Betty Brant was hiding, and which so frightened her that she felt compelled to leave town. This may have been one of the earliest concrete character stories in the early Marvel U, as it was first hinted at in Amazing #9, developed the next month, and answered here: two issue of setup, then the payoff.

    Top to bottom, left to right: That's a fair amount of action in one panel!
    But note how cleanly and simply all that information is delivered.

  • And what a complex story it is! Betty, it turns out, has been doing what she can to aid her lawyer brother who has been coerced into helping mob man Blackie Gaxton. Blackie, in turn, has hired the newly-released Doctor Octopus to break him out of prison - which the demented Doc only agrees to in order to use the mob money to set himself up as New York's newest crime boss. Even the sideline characters are more than just background, for when Spidey crashes the party and chaos ensues, Gaxton's nameless henchmen decide to use the confusion as a smoke screen and flee with the cash themselves! It's an unusually tangled web in which Spidey finds himself - but with the talents of Lee & Ditko spearheading the proceedings, we're never confused. It may be a chaotic tale of crime gone awry, but it's carefully controlled chaos.

    Tragedy strikes.

  • Out of all this chaos, however, comes a terrible aftermath. When Betty's brother is shot during the confusion, Betty lashes out at Spider-Man for his role in letting such a tragedy occur. Though she loves Peter, she rails at Spider-Man in her grief, full of rage and recrimination. (And note how this is clearly the inverse of our hero's relationship with Flash Thompson, who idolizes Spider-Man but looks down on lowly Parker.) Fortunately, Stan has the subtlety of pen to pull her back from such histrionics once she's calmed down, ensuring that she stays a real character and not a contrived caricature - but a layer of complexity has surely been added. Before the mayhem ensued, the lovesick Peter, overjoyed at having found Betty again, had resolved to confess to her his other identity. Now, he realizes that the merest mention of Spider-Man would only cause her fresh grief - and he knows he can never confide in her like that without imparting untold pain.

    Snazzy new gear, Pete!

  • On a more trivial note, this issue sees the debut of one of Spidey's most well-known tools: the spider-tracer! It's not always emphasized in every story, but Peter's really something of a scientific genius, well beyond the innocuous "science nerd" portrayal his high-school self usually receives. After all, in his first appearance he created a brand-new chemical, his amazing web fluid - as well as the mechanical web shooters designed to propel them! And now, since he needs to follow a villain on the run, he designs a tracking device out of the blue. And all of this from a kid still in high school! The implication is that even if this awkward teenager who constantly struggles to fit in had never been bitten by a spider in some freak accident, he still would have made a name for himself. What amazing talents, the book seems to ask, might each of us have hidden inside?

    Ditko's strength has always been his character work,
    and in scenes like these he really excels.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

130: Fantastic Four #25

Fantastic Four #25
January 10, 1964

  • The Hulk Vs. The Thing! And so begins a rivalry that will build upon and carry down through the ages, as these two monstrous powerhouses lock in terrible combat for the first time. Oh, sure, the Hulk had first shown up in Fantastic Four #12, where he very briefly tangled with Ben Grimm and the rest of the FF, but this time the throwdown is squarely between the two. And, happily, this issue is everything that #12 wasn't: exciting, focused, and full of suspense. And lest the promise of such a slugfest leave any buyer still wavering: Look at that cover! Look at the carnage these two engines of destruction have left in their wake! It's so catastrophic that the city is collapsing! New York is burning!

    Your teeth will rattle when these mighty mountains collide!

  • It's also with this issue that you really get the feel of a grand design from Stan, as the myriad and disparate threads seem to culminate in this one tale, leading us to wonder - and not for the first time - whether it's due to intent, or simply good timing. The story picks right up from the end of The Avengers #4, with the team returned from their overseas battle with Namor and the Hulk, and having absorbed the newly-revived Captain America into their ranks. (That issue also saw Rick Jones being grafted on as an Avengers supporting character, and that continues here as well.) Seeing these separate elements coming together gives the sense of one giant, continuing story being told across separate comic magazines, which would go on to become a staple at Marvel and other publishers ... but done so well, and for the first time, it must have been an exciting thing to see!

    Bob Banner? Eh?

  • And make no mistake: A lot happens in this book. Heck, between the Hulk's story and the appearance of the Avengers themselves, the FF are almost guest-stars in their own comic! Normally, such a thing could be a bad move, signalling a lack of focus - but honestly, the story's so exciting that it just works. And the drama isn't confined to the Hulk, either, as halfway through the tale Reed falls prey to a mysterious malady caused by the improper handling of dangerous chemicals. The irony is that he was working yet again on a formula to cure the Thing of his misshapen form, still haunted by the guilt of how his own ambition had disfigured his friend - but when he presents the antidote to Ben Grimm, the rocky hero smashes it! He no longer seems to hate being The Thing as much as he once did, and now refuses to take any treatment that would permanently change him back to human. Partly he claims this is because of his girlfriend Alicia, and how she loves him for what he is - but we're also invited to wonder if, after two dozen adventures and brushes with the fantastic, he simply likes what he can do! It's certainly a different Ben Grimm than the cynical, brooding one we saw back in FF #1.

    When the typically infallible Reed falls amidst such a high-stakes tale,
    you know the battle will be rough.

  • In the above thoughts, I've used the word "exciting" exactly thrice to describe the events in these pages, and it's because the thrills, action and enthusiasm is undeniable. Even more staggering is the thought that this came out the same month as X-Men #4, featuring the first appearance of The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and the aforementioned - and massively important - Avengers #4. What kid, browsing these four-color packages of pop and spectacle on the stands, could have surmised how remembered these three comics would be? January 1964 must have been, yes, a truly exciting time to be reading Marvels - and what a way to kick off the year!

    Tell the truth: With an image like that leaping out at you,
    there's no way you'd miss the next issue!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

129: Strange Tales #119

Strange Tales #119
January 10, 1964

  • Featuring: The Rabble Rouser!  And is there a one-off villain more emblematic of the 1960s than this?  Yes, he's got the special ability to affect a group more than is completely normal (as did the Voice, as did the Hate-Monger), but what's being spotlighted here really is the surging tide of an angered crowd.  The Sixties were a time of turbulence and change, as seen in the civil rights movement, race riots, anti-war protests and a growing discontent on the nation's college campuses.  If Lee and Kirby were insightful - and we've evidence enough to indicate they were - then they may have seen, or at least glimpsed, the idea that all of these proponents for change had points of view worth listening to.  And yet the anger and violence that could erupt, and often did, could be powerful - and frightening!

    Spidey swings by for a simple two-panel appearance!
    Too bad his help's not wanted....

  • So here's an oddity: In addition to his crowd-affecting gadget, the Rouser also gets from place to place by means of a "prototype sub-surface vehicle built to operate in New York's vast subway system."  In fact, it's specified to be an improved model of the one used by the Hate Monger in Fantastic Four #21.  This is odd for a couple of reasons: Firstly because aside from the detail of this being a newer version of that vehicle, the original version's owner isn't mentioned at all.  Did Rabble inherit it?  Were they two villains working on a unified plan?  The otherwise-unnecessary mention would seem to imply something - once you stop to think how odd that mention is - but the text itself doesn't even hint at the idea.  Which is doubly strange, because the end of FF #21 revealed the Hate-Monger to be Adolf Hitler himself (or a reasonable facsimile), who arguably took rabble rousing to its extreme.  But if Stan is aware of the thematic connection, he doesn't acknowledge it.

    Y'know, as he rants to himself he seems to get a madder look in his eyes than most.

  • Meanwhile, the Doctor Strange story in this issue may not be a timeless classic, but it's an interesting one nonetheless.  Though the tale still has one foot firmly in its Strange Tales and Amazing Fantasy roots of being a short genre story told in broad strokes, we also see evidence of the humanism for which Ditko was especially known.  For instance, as the narrative opens we see Doctor Strange's mystic home being breached by nothing more than a very human, very ordinary pair of thieves.  One is reminded of the famous burglar who figured so prominently in Spider-Man's debut, mixing up high drama and realism there as Stan and Steve do again here.

    Two hapless crooks who've cased the wrong house.
    And -- is that a bust of Doctor Doom?!

  • But lest you think the ill-fated robbers are the beginning and end of this tale: Think again!  The trouble begins in earnest when the mystical gem they snatch ends up snatching them - straight into the mists of the dreaded Purple Dimension!  Following their trail, Doctor Strange finds himself in a strange world where denizens from countless worlds have been captured by fearsome soldiers under the direction of an all-powerful, tyrannical warlord.  Once again, Lee and Ditko impress with their economic use of what is only eight pages; the story may not be the most memorable of Strange's early adventures, but you certainly can't say it's lacking!

    What a great scene!  Other-dimensional aliens, various slaves, that billowy smoke -
    and Doctor Strange, high on the hill, glimpsed but in silhouette...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

128: Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #6

Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos #6
January 3, 1964

  • Featuring the Desert Fox - General Rommel! Seriously. For the most part, the issues thus far have only used the setting of World War II as a general backdrop, using fictional analogues rather than historical persons, and generally avoiding famous names or conflicts. So when the Howlers receive a mission to take down Rommel's forces, it's almost as massive as being tasked to Hitler himself! Though the folks at the Marvel Wiki do point out that this makes the chronology a bit wonky, since D-Day (June 6, 1944) occurred at the end of issue #1, and Rommel was long gone from Africa by that point. (And this story can't be a flashback, as it opens with Fury on his way towards a date with Pamela Hawley.) We'll simply have to assume that the particular events of World War II took a slightly different course in the Marvel Universe than they did in our own....

    Kids: Don't try this at home.

  • Since this is such an unusually important mission, the Commandos are sent through an extra bout of training maneuvers to ensure they're in tip-top shape. Unfortunately, it's during these exercises that Dino Manelli's 'chute fails to open during a drop! The Sarge manages to save him through nimble flying of his own, but Dino's rough landing still takes him out of commission. Instead the Howlers receive a new recruit by the name of Stonewell, an arrogant and standoffish soldier who is fluent in German and reacts with disgust upon meeting the Jewish Izzy Cohen and the African-American Gabriel Jones. Has a Nazi agent somehow infiltrated their ranks?! Nope - he's just your standard, garden-variety bigot.

    The vastness of this sight, occurring at the top of a hill
    (and a newly-turned page), is effectively jaw-dropping.

  • One of the noteable things about this story is its unusual realism - for just as every medical drama can't possibly end with the survival of the patient, so too would it be ludicrous for Fury's team to complete every mission. In this particular case, the idea of taking out Rommel had sounded unlikely enough - but when the General's forces finally come into view, the epic scale of their camp make it clear that it's not remotely possible! Fortunately, the Howlers' narrow escape is for the best, as US forces had been trying to catch up with them to call it off; turns out there's an assassination plot against Hitler in the works, and Rommel is one of their key men....

    Note how unbothered Gabe is by Stonewell's contempt.  In the struggles he's faced
    in this terrible war, someone like that's just not worth his time.

  • And so, at the end of their ill-fated, frankly impossible and quickly aborted adventure, the unwelcome Stonewell takes his leave of the Howling Commandos. He and Izzy had been through a trial by fire at Rommel's camp, yet he still gives his erstwhile teammates the cold shoulder as he departs. It's a remarkably subtle bit of storytelling on Stan's part, as the character doesn't receive the dramatic turnaround in attitude we expect ("Forgive me, brave men -- I was wrong!!", etc.); yet neither does he perish in a blaze-of-glory sacrifice, unrepentant or redeemed. Instead, he heads back to whence he come - though there are signs that his attitudes may be softening by this stint, if only now by small degrees.

    A surprisingly nuanced message: Racism and hate can be fought, and
    progress made - but the changes to men's minds are gradual indeed.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

127: Tales to Astonish #54

Tales to Astonish #54
January 3, 1964

  • In this issue: Hank and Jan fight the Commies! Yes, again. They may not be showing up as de facto baddies nearly as often as they did two years - evidence of a slightly less-crimson Red Fear, or just the result of Stan creating more inventive and compelling villains? - but they're certainly never absent for long. Specifically, this is yet another tale where the villain is a barbaric Communist dictator, this time of the republic of Santo Rico. (Seriously, how many random fictitious countries can Stan create? We'll soon need a map!) The country in question, previously a peace-loving democracy, has elected their new vermillion leader in a landslide victory, eliciting more than a faint whiff of suspicion from international shores. As a result, Washington D.C. calls upon Ant-Man and the Wasp to investigate - and so, being proud and patriotic citizens, off they go!

    And yet he always wonders about their anemic tourist trade....

  • So, the Red dictator in question? El Toro. Yes, "the bull". (And let's reflect too on the historical connection between bulls and the color red.) It's hard to say definitively whether or not he's actually got superpowers, as his only talent - aside from hysteria and megalomania - is his dramatic battering action. In other words, we may have just found the antecedent for 1980s Masters of the Universe toy Ram-Man. As you might expect, this villain was definitely a one-hit blunder ... until, astonishingly, he was brought back by writer Steve Englehart in a 1988 West Coast Avengers tale that united El Toro with other forgotten Ant-Man foes like Madame X, The Voice, and - I kid you not - the fantastic Scarlet Beetle.

    Giant-Man hasn't been this much of a klutz since he first fought the Human Top!

  • Meanwhile, in the latest instalment of "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale!", we're treated to a story of: "Conquest!" And it provides an interesting contrast with the lead story in Journey into Mystery #102, out on the stands that very same week. In that issue, the people of Zarrko's future era were all so happy and contented that they lost all sense of ambition or self-preservation, allowing for the uprise of their one bad seed. Here, the utopia creates the opposite problem: The populace is so cared for and sated that they've become complacent and now take their ruler, King Shann, for granted. Cognizant that his subjects are no longer awed by his majesty, Shann therefore concocts a plan to win back their admiration through the excitement of conquering a nearby world!

    These citizens are revolting!

  • What follows in this remarkably tiny story is at once hokey and contrived (as any 5-pager is bound to be), yet with an underlying sensibility that's surprisingly mature in its subject matter. After all, Shann's world conquers their neighbor without too much trouble, and the soldiers we see do seem to be revitalized by the thrill of attack. However, the subjugated planet must of course be cared for after the war, and both Shann and his subjects are soon distressed to learn just how much of a drain such support is upon their economy. The dialogue may lack nuance, but the message is clear: War can invite glory and fame, but the reality of the after effects are lasting. The contrast between this story and JIM #102 is so astonishing because this was - like all the Wasp backup stories of this run - drawn and scripted by Larry Lieber, who in his previous scripting efforts often lacked compelling motivations; yet the bland (and frankly unbelievable) future of Zarrko was written by Stan, whose success in the genre has come about largely due to his talent for the same. So it's interesting that, this one week in January 1964, the brothers had a bit of a switch!

    Note the design of his costume.  Perhaps he became so despondent
    he fled to another dimension and took a new name...?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

126: Journey into Mystery #102

Journey into Mystery #102
January 3, 1964

  • Concluding the return of Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man! And the verdict? Well, just that ... Zarrko's kind of lame. And the future he hails from is, sad to say, kind of dumb. Consider this: In Zarrko's future, some three hundred years hence, everyone is peaceful, contented, cared for and happy - except for this one evil dude. So, naturally, since they have no discontent and no aggressions, they therefore have no weapons or defenses to resist his conquest! The setting honestly seems like a cross between the smiling utopia of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, and the robot-controlled future of Magnus Robot Fighter. Zarrko's first appearance had been nominally enjoyable, in part because it occurred so early in the Marvel canon; it worked as the kind of 1950s sci-fi story often seen in anthologies like Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery, yet upon further inspection of the details - those details increasingly a part of Stan's new superhero milieu - the constructed world simply doesn't hold up. It's no surprise that it would be another ten years before we'd see Zarrko again!

    Welcome to ... the future!

  • Along with the utopian scene clashing with the growing realism of Marvel comics, the story is likewise dragged down by the poor use it makes of the space allotted. The lead Thor feature is afforded only thirteen pages for the conclusion of this tale, so you'd think the pressure would be on to use the space economically. And yet the cliffhanger doesn't actually resume and resolve until the bottom of page 3! Instead, the splash page is the "action shot of the story ahead" often used in tales of this era, followed by nearly two full pages of recap. One could argue that the Zarrko adventure required somewhat longer than a 13-page story to tell, and yet significantly less space than a full two-parter. Fortunately, starting with issue #105 the lead feature will finally graduate up to a more full-featured size (generally 18 pages), taking up all of the mag except for the continuing Tales of Asgard.

    Get this: In the future, they have refrigerators you can fire like a gun!
    I can't wait to live there.  No leftovers will be safe!

  • Speaking of Tales of Asgard, this instalment is more significant than most - with as much added import as a 5-page story can deliver, at any rate - as young Thor finally completes the quest that's been in the background of these stories for the past few issues: that of finally earning the right to wield Mjolnir, his mighty hammer! Having accomplished such a feat, he seems far less a boy than before (even though the masthead still informs us he's but 18 years old), and that much closer to the man-god he will become.

    I love that this one scene sums up Thor as endlessly noble, and sometime dense.

  • But placing the hammer in Thor's hands is not the only noteworthy claim in these five pages! In addition to that, we also get our first glimpse of a few more of the Asgardian cast, as Thor first consults the Fates on how he can free the captured Sif, sister to Balder (and later to be a rather important figure in his life). To do so, however, he must face the deathly touch of Hela, queen of the underworld! One thing you can't deny: Stan and Jack have really begun to realized the extent to which they can mine all the tales from Norse myth to really spruce up Thor's world.

    In Sif's first appearance she appears helpless and meek, rather than the warrior
    woman we will come to know.  But Hela is already one creepy, forceful being!