February 11, 1964
- In this issue, the Torch meets the Iceman! (In fact, the opening page deems Iceman as "a frozen version of the Human Torch.") As you might expect, fire and ice go really well together, as did fire and water when the Torch took on the Sub-Mariner; having a hero with a power so elemental really does lend itself to these kinds of pairings. Even better: Whether an accident of scheduling, or through deliberate intent, this story sees a one-issue return of Jack Kirby on art!
Wait a minute. Did that little hooligan just take off his pants?
- If you're paying attention, you'll note that this is the second time we've seen a side story featuring an X-Man on his own, following the Angel's face-off with Iron Man. Attempting to ascribe Stan's motivations some five decades after the fact is of course guesswork at best, but if this was by design then it was pretty smart of Stan to give Marvel's new X-team greater exposure, one member at a time. Such spotlight stories are useful because they allow the featured characters more time to shine on their own, and let us see how they operate and act apart from their team, developing their own individual personae separate from their roles in the group. In this case, it works well because Bobby Drake, as the youngest and least mature of the X-Men, is a perfect match for Johnny Storm, who fulfills the same function for the Fantastic Four.
Unlike the antagonism in the Torch's team-ups with Spidey,
Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake get along pretty well!
- Meanwhile, the backup story featuring Doctor Strange is a real treat. As the tale opens, we see a crowd gathered around a TV reporter being filmed before he enters a reputedly haunted house, intent on staying the night. The Doctor decides to tag along, unseen, just to keep an eye on things and lend a hand if events take a dark turn - which, naturally, they do. If the plot sounds familiar to you, it may be because the story was likely inspired by the 1963 horror film The Haunting, which had opened in theaters just a few months before this story was commissioned. (You may recall that Stan has pulled this trick once or twice before.)
The scene is set with a mix of skeptic modernity and ancient dread.
- I've mentioned before that I really enjoy seeing Doctor Strange in this kind of role, as a modest supernatural investigator rather than some sort of "cosmic protector". (So this being the third such story in a row is quite appreciated!) The secret of the haunted house is a genuinely surprising one, with a visual so compelling I nearly included it in this post - but in the end, I decided to avoid spoiling the plot twist for anyone who hasn't yet enjoyed the tale. Although only Strange knows the truth about the house, by the end of the story its effect is felt by all, only increasing the mystery surrounding this Doctor - who walks away from the crowd, alone in the night.
Let's agree: This guy sure knows how to make an exit!