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...