Sunday, October 23, 2011

154: Strange Tales #122

Strange Tales #122
April 9, 1964

  • Previously, it had been a bit of a surprise to see a story open with a reference to another book. Well, here it goes even further, as we start with a footnote to a previous story on the very cover! And if that's not enough, the story begins with a recap of that adventure; not the most striking way to kick off a story. What's worse, the recap doesn't end until the bottom of page 3! And, y'know, when you've only got 14 pages to tell your story in the first place, that's not a very economical approach. Did Stan realize too late there wasn't that much story in the Terrible Trio's return, and was just stalling for time?

    Even Stan's aware of this story's excess.

  • Oddly enough, this story's over-reliance on the past isn't the only direction in which it looks, as the yarn unusually features not one but two instances of teases as to future tales. At the end of the recap detailling the Trio's original exile, we're once again shown the image of Doom flying off into unknown space. The next panel, however, goes on to say: "Now, before we resume our tale, for the benefit of those who wonder with the Fantastic Four whether Dr. Doom will ever return, we have this word ... He does return ... more dangerous than ever ... in the Fantastic Four Annual #2 'The secrets of Dr. Doom!'" And later, the final shot in the story is one of the Torch speaking directly to the reader, hawking the FF's next adventure in the pages of Fantastic Four #28. Stan's always been a natural salesman, yes - but usually this kind of promotion and cross-marketing has taken place via the house ads, or in the "Special Announcements" section of the letters pages. Putting them directly into the story itself might just be a step too far....

    A somewhat rare occurrence of the Marvel characters breaking the fourth wall.

  • The Terrible Trio seems to possess the self-esteem of whipped dogs. At the end of their last fiasco, Dr. Doom tricked them - giving them not their promised pay of $5000 each, but instead a one-way ticket to another dimension. Having now escaped from their exile, though, their thoughts are surprisingly not on revenge for their betrayal, but rather on an overeager desire to impress Doom and regain his favor (once he returns himself, that is) by capturing the Fantastic Four, one at a time - starting with the Human Torch. And what, do they think, is to prevent Doom from turning on them again? The thought seemingly never occurs. Well, I suppose that, out of this makeshift foursome, Doom had been the brains of the group....

    Note how Ditko's crazy interdimensional visuals morph
    into the green design of Nightmare's garb.  Snazzy!

  • Meanwhile, the Doctor Strange back-up story makes an odd misstep at its beginning, when the Doc falls asleep to find himself in a different dimension, being attacked by magicks and sources he can't predict. It soon turns out to be Nightmare, of course - and yet it seems odd that even this small bit of suspense at the identity of his attacker is telegraphed by the opening splash page of the story, which identifies Mr. Mare as the villain of the piece. You may recall that a similar predicament occurred in The Amazing Spider-Man #13, when the mystery of the crime-committing Spidey was spoiled by the cover appearance of the new villain. But there, it was understandable - because Mysterio has an incredibly eye-catching design, and his appearance on the cover might have sold more copies than not. Here, though, there's no excuse! And that's a shame, because although the story isn't a bad one, it's also not the most distinctive - and that bit of mystery at the beginning could have gone a long way towards imparting just a bit more flavor to the tale.

    The haunting tone in Strange's closing speech is surprisingly effective....