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!