Thursday, January 27, 2011

107: Amazing Spider-Man #8

Amazing Spider-Man #8
October 8, 1963

  • Surprisingly, this month we get two stories in Amazing Spider-Man! But it's not like the first couple of issues, when that meant two half-length stories of about 10 pages each (possibly the holdover from a previously intended format). Rather, the main story here is 17 pages instead of the standard 21, followed by a bonus 6-page backup story. As a note of interest, Joseph William Marek's informative Marvel Comics Group 1939-1980 website shows that the comic usually had two pages of house ads, in addition to the letters column; owing to the greater story count, those house ads were omitted this month.

    You can only push a guy so far, Flash ... before he snaps!


  • In the main story, Spider-Man faces the terror of The Living Brain! (Cue the melodrama.) Yes, to go along with our familiar tropes of nuclear paranoia and the Red Scare, we now have another mid-20th century neurosis to add to the mix: Fear of robots. The electronic brain in question, supplied by the I.C.M Corporation (and doesn't that sound familiar?), has been programmed with enough information that it can supposedly answer any question put to it - which forms something of a thematic connection to the Mad Thinker, really. Of course, after two goons bungle an attempt to steal the computer and end up causing a short, the mechanical wonder begins to move on its own.  It's alive...!

    "Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or
    bad, but thinking makes it so."


  • Meanwhile, Peter starts to get a bit of a makeover. While never quite mirroring the Clark Kent paradigm of intentionally acting the coward in order to hide his identity, there's always been a divide between the "man of action" he becomes as Spider-Man and his more passive and meek side as Peter Parker. That's changing, though. When Flash Thompson pushes Peter during class, his glasses fall to the ground and shatter; we'll never see them again. And when the arguing between the two reaches its boiling point, their science teacher responds by putting them in the gym's boxing ring to work out their aggression. And rather than act the weakling and let himself get beat about and humiliated some more, Parker takes the opportunity to knock Flash Thompson on his back!

    Unusually for Peter, this issue actually ends in a "win" - and on multiple fronts, at that!


  • Finally, in the backup story we get another pairing of the Human Torch and Spider-Man - and, just like in the Strange Tales Annual, the story is pencilled by Kirby & inked by Ditko. When Spider-Man decides to gate-crash a party thrown by the Torch's girlfriend Dorrie Evans - her first mention outside of Strange Tales - Johnny Storm pushes back in indignation and a fight breaks out. By this point, the Torch and Spidey have mixed it up a few times, and their relationship has calcified: almost-friends, often-rivals. (In other words, it's not too different from the relationship Johnny has with Ben Grimm, the Thing.) It's an inconsequential short, yes, but a fun one too - maybe precisely because it is so short, and doesn't make the mistake of wearing out its welcome.

    I find their near-total rejection of Spider-Man intriguing. 
    Superhero fandom is already divided into cliques!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

106: Strange Tales #116

Strange Tales #116
October 8, 1963

  • This issue we've got another team-up between the Torch and other members of the FF (as before), as well as the return of an FF villain (as already happened with the Sub-Mariner). And this after guest-starring a Spider-Man villain last issue, and the gimmicky almost-return of a Golden Age superhero the issue before that. I've spoken already about this strip's lack of confidence in developing a genuine, solo identity for the Human Torch, and that criticism seems more and more valid the further we go.

    Okay, I think at this point we can agree they're just treating the strip like a cartoon.


  • Meanwhile, in the Doctor Strange backup (keeping its expanded story count of 8 pages, which it graduated to last month), we're treated to the return of Nightmare, the threat from his very first issue. It's nice to see Strange fight someone other than Mordo again - although it's nevertheless a bit frustrating to have seen only two enemies in his first five stories! Fortunately, Strange's visit to Nightmare's realm provides Steve Ditko his first opportunity to render these otherworldy, mystical domains in the trippy, stretched-out, hallucinogenic style he would become known for. "Every few panels, there's a new psychedelic explosion," Douglas Wolk explains in his extremely literate and highly recommended book Reading Comics; "Doctor Strange was, whether or not Lee and Ditko admitted it (they didn't) or even intended it, a vehicle for talking about drug culture."

    Was the visual on the right intended to evoke Ditko's other strip, do you think?


  • The two stories offer a fascinating contrast - because as stellar as the Doctor Strange one is, the lead feature starring the Human Torch is simply atrocious. After reflecting on how he got away from the FF after their last battle, the Puppet Master attempts to divide and conquer by provoking the Thing into attacking the Torch. And the two heroes then fight each other over the course of pages 3 through 13 - of this 13-page story! It's boring, banal, and pointless. In the Strange tale, by contrast, Nightmare is no longer releasing the humans who naturally visit his realm, with the result that these slumberers have stayed asleep for days. As a result, the aid of Doctor Strange is requested by both a policeman and a medical doctor (surprisingly open-minded members of their professions!), on the off-chance that the cause might be mystical.  Upon confirming it and then travelling to Nightmare's shadow world, Strange must then navigate various puzzles, traps and threats before outwitting the villain himself and rescuing the prisoners. And all this happens in only eight pages, as opposed to the Torch's thirteen!

    First appearance of the Book of Vishanti, one of Doctor Strange's most powerful occult artifacts.


  • Of course, if we wanted to let Stan Lee off the hook for the Torch story (not that we do), we could claim it was a bad idea from the start - and a footnote on the first page informs us that the story is "Based upon an idea by Tommy and Jimmy Goodkind, Hewlett Harbor, New York." While clearly yet another way to keep their readership feeling important, listened to, and part of the process, this kind of easy give-and-take between readers and creators wasn't unusual for the time. The most cited example might be The Legion of Super-Heroes from DC Comics, about a group of super-teens in the 30th century which comprised an ever-growing, and ever-diversifying, membership. Each month, the letters page would showcase reader suggestions of scores of new heroes with unusual and unique powers, and occasionally one of those suggestions would turn up in the comic as an actual character. But imagine that happening today! Any publisher who tried it would almost certainly be sued....

    Yep - that is some insane geography. 
    No
    Lonely Planet or Frommer's travel guide to this!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

105: Journey into Mystery #99

Journey into Mystery #99
October 1, 1963

  • This issue introduces the fearsome Mister Hyde. Marvel are pulling from well-known literary sources now, just as they intentionally homaged a famous sculpture when they created the Thinker. And this new character not only references the literature in-story (wanting, as he does, to recreate the metamorphosis described within its pages), but the resulting transformation is somewhat faithful to that in the original as well. For instance, a woman he passes out in public finds that she recoils in horror at his mere presence, even without knowing why: his base and evil nature instinctively repulsing others, as happens in the novel itself.

    No longer content with Thor as a dull Superman analogue,
    Stan is clearly - and suddenly - writing on a much larger canvas.


  • It's also notable that this is the first half of a two-part story - and the second in a row at that, if one counts the cliffhanging departure of Jane Foster in #97 and its subsequent resolution in #98. Taken with the recently-concluded Giant-Man vs Human Top two-parter in Tales to Astonish, the evidence implies we might be seeing the start of a trend. And why not? After all, note how two half-length strips approximate one full-length comic; Stan Lee may have been coming to the conclusion that twenty-some pages really was the perfect length for the stories he wanted to tell. And the cliffhanger to this issue, in which we see Thor burst into a bank and begin robbing it, is told with a confidence that is nothing less than astounding. We know it can't really be Thor, we know it must be some scheme of Hyde's ... but the comic doesn't feel the need to spell that out, as it would have before. It simply presents what we know must be impossible - and then brings the curtain down.

    Stan's words embrace the melodrama, whether Asgardian tirade or earthly inner
    soliloquy.  And notice the closing caption fitted smartly on the filing cabinet: Nice touch!


  • Meanwhile, the Jane Foster subplot continues - and with more sophistication than one would expect. Having asked his father Odin for permission to marry Nurse Foster, and been roundly denied, Thor returns to Asgard to argue the case further. A shouting match ensues between All-Father and Son, with Thor beseeching Odin to circumvent the decree by elevating Jane to the level of an immortal. Though Odin first reacts with shocked dismissal, he soon relents and tells Thor that such a thing could occur ... but only if she proves herself worthy. The surprise in all of this comes from the expectation that the romance would follow the typical model where two characters harbor feelings for each other, yet never follow up on them. By choosing to go this route, Stan actually gives the subplot the appearance of progress, implying a story arc that might actually go somewhere (if not precisely where the characters would like), rather than just present a character dilemma that never actually changes, as was usual.


    Okay, I'm positive there's absolutely nothing to this similarity, but still:  Dead. Ringer.
    (That's gotta be the strangest thing I've noticed in quite some time.)


  • Meanwhile, in "Tales of Asgard" we're treated to the confrontation between Odin and the fire demon Surtur. (Yes, right after the ice giant we're given a fire giant. They're certainly sticking to the elemental!) Surprisingly, some cursory research indicates that Surtur's involvement in the original Nordic myths consisted of little more than his role in bringing about Ragnarok, the Asgardian Armageddon.  This is, as mentioned, surprising because the originating conflict between the two larger-than-life characters, as told in these scant five pages, is impressively mythic in scope. In fact, upon seeing such developments as Surtur scooping a chunk out of the earth and hurling it skyward (whereupon it became the moon), and being ultimately imprisoned within the earth itself (explaining, one would imagine, the fiery and frequent fury of the many Icelandic geysers and volcanoes), I was so struck at the effectiveness of this partial creation myth that I'm still dumbfounded to have learned it was - as far as I can tell - wholly Stan and Jack. Surtur will, of course, be seen again in the stories of Thor; in fact, he would later be a prominent part of the truly epic Walt Simonson run in the mid-1980s, very soon to be collected in the largest Marvel Omnibus Edition to date!

    Normally I try to keep the posted scans a bit smaller.
    In this case, however, I think the giant scope is warranted.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

104: Tales to Astonish #51

Tales to Astonish #51
October 1, 1963

  • Last time round, Giant-Man was demoralized to find that, despite his best efforts, he couldn't defeat the incredibly fast, incredibly agile Human Top. He was consistently too slow and too clumsy to catch him and hold him. In the conclusion here, he does - by realizing that if he can't always meet his opponents on their own terms, he should try to change the field of battle. So, in a surprisingly clever bit of insight, he has the police cordon off an entire neighborhood to trap the Top within its boundaries, as well as coating his gloves with an adhesive to aid in catching the crook. And it works!

    The signs may read "Giant-Man Fan Club", but as the next panels will show,
    they uniformly ignore him in favor of the Wasp.


  • Amusingly, Stan's dialogue gives the impression of a villain who believes himself to be a criminal mastermind, yet is so evidently not. Early in the tale, the Top bombs a disused tug boat sitting in the harbor, banking that no one will know quite what boat was destroyed, and thus divert attention away from his true target while they investigate. But Pym sees right through it! Next, the Human Top steals the civil defense plans from the Federal Building, in a bid to sell them to the Commies - but as it happens, they're outdated! It's pretty funny, and an impressively subtle bit of writing. After all, it's easy to convey the denseness of a dumb thug, nor is it too hard to write the broad strokes of someone who's a bit of a genius. But it's an effectively ironic twist to create a character who thinks he's the latter, but is really the former, which ends up making the tale far more enjoyable than one might expect.

    Oh, this panel.  Where to begin?  The hilarious revelation about the plans?  The pervasive
    Red Fear? The alarming glimpse into the Wasp's inner thoughts?


  • And hey, take a look at this: We also have the first instalment of a semi-regular, if brief, series of backup stories entitled "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale!" And what's more, the plot may be by Stan, but the dialogue and art are both by Larry Lieber! I've ragged on Lieber's often-hokey scripting in these posts perhaps more often than I should, perhaps unfairly - but by his own admission in various interviews, he never quite "got" superheroes the same way his brother Stan Lee did, and greatly preferred the other genres like Westerns. And sure enough, you can tell (in just five pages!) that he's having far more fun on this pulp sci-fi tale than he had been on the superhero stuff, and that sense of infectious fun makes the short story really quite enjoyable.

    On the one hand, you're annoyed at the horn dog for leering instead of listening.
    But also note the Wasp's poise and expression; the effect she has is no mistake.

    (And, frankly, fits in with her standard portrayal thus far.)


  • So what does this have to do with the Wasp? In a framing sequence, we're told that Janet Van Dyne often visits veteran hospitals and orphanages, telling stories to the residents to help pass the time. Clearly, it's just a way to fill up the back of the comics with short one-off stories, complete with surprise twist ending - in other words, the kind of strips they've always had in anthology comics like this. But perhaps, given Marvel's newfound success with superheroes, clothed in a way to make the readers care about these standalones just a little bit more? Whatever the rationale, Stan was trying something new ... though it's worth pointing out that it wouldn't last, and a year from now these anthology shorts would be all but extinct.

    No, I think they caught all the "bits" with which they were concerned.
    Also, notice the invalid on the right casually smoking!  Ah, the 1960s....

Thursday, January 13, 2011

103: Tales of Suspense #48

Tales of Suspense #48
September 10, 1963

  • Presenting, for the first time: Iron Man's new armor! And it's courtesy of Steve Ditko, who's still filling in on art for a spell. Although with any real thought, that should be a foregone conclusion; after all, recall that Spider-Man was originally going to be drawn by Kirby, but when he made the character more brawny and powerful than Stan wanted, the assignment was given to Ditko instead. Likewise here: As much as I love the clunkiness of the original armor, it was entirely bulky and cumbersome. So if you wanted to redesign the suit to emphasize its sleekness and gloss? Ditko would be the way to go!

    Of course we know Tony's not going to die.  But note how the staging,
    and the spinning perspective, increases the feeling of suspense.


  • But as to the villain of the piece, we have ... Mister Doll?? Seriously?! (Times like these, you wonder if there was truly no one at the bullpen to say, "Uh, Stan ... maybe not.") Supposedly he was going to be "Mister Pain", but the Comics Code objected and required a name change. But was this really the best alternative? And despite the cover proclaiming him to be "a truly different super-villain!", he's clearly just a brazen copy of the Fantastic Four's enemy the Puppet Master! When this character would eventually return, he would at least come with a more unique gimmick....

    Three pages they take, to show us all the ways in which this new armor moves.
    No simple cosmetic makeover, this!


  • All that's fine, though, because the villain is clearly just the perfunctory catalyst to give us the new red-and-gold armor - which is not only what makes this issue a landmark, but is the most interesting element in its pages as well. See, most of the time a superhero's new look debuts, it's just a simple surface change for no particular in-story reason. But here, Lee & Ditko take pains to point out that this is a full technological upgrade, specifically because the old model has become outdated. (The bulky iron of the first suit is said to weigh too much, requiring too much energy even to function, and leaving not enough energy to keep alive his heart.) So, just as with any technological advance, Tony gets back to work and makes it thinner, lighter, faster, more efficient. Although we saw him create the original suit during his very first adventure, this view of him as a constant tinkerer - always trying to improve upon the current model - really shows us, for the first time, Tony Stark as the inventor and problem-solver we will know him to be.

    Y'know, sometimes Tony Stark can be an arrogant, insensitive clod.
    This is one of those times.


  • It's been a while since the last time I've had to cite Goofy Silver Age Writing (and it was an Iron Man story last time as well), but the ridiculous scheme herein can't go unmentioned. Using his strange voodoo dolls, the bizarre Mister has been collecting the fortunes of millionaires, causing them untold amounts of pain until they sign over their businesses to him. Yes, they've all signed over their fortunes to "Mister Doll". The cops themselves point out how ludicrous this is, but still act though it's legal. Yet Stan had specifically shown us that it wasn't, back in Amazing Spider-Man #1!

    Man!  Even a guy as lame as Mister Doll can succeed where Peter Parker fails?
    Let's hope Spidey never hears of this.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

102: Fantastic Four #21

Fantastic Four #21
September 10, 1963

  • Six months previous, Stan & Jack started a war comic called Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. Perhaps in a bid for legitimacy, Stan had a young Reed Richards guest star in the third issue, helping out the commandos with a vital mission during his time as a serviceman. So it's only natural that Fury return the favor, and show up in the pages of The Fantastic Four! But how, you might ask, does he get there? Does he span the twenty-year gap through some clever bit of time travel? Nope, he takes the long way around: he ages. What an inventive glimpse this must have been for fans of the Howling Commandos - to not only learn that Nick Fury survived the horrors of World War II, but to actually see how he turned out, twenty years later!

    Ah, ol' Nick Fury.  Just as modest as ever!


  • The villain this outing is the Hate-Monger, and he's just what you'd expect from the moniker. Whether fomenting unrest in a third world country or inciting crowds to riot on the streets of Manhattan, he preaches a rhetoric of hatred against differing races, class, or religions. (And note the obvious parallel of his outfit to that of the Ku Klux Klan's.) As he stokes the mob's distrust of the unlike into that of active persecution, we also can't help think of the mutant metaphor that will come to define the X-Men but hasn't yet coalesced; is this another place where the seed of that idea first began to grow? Finally, as the Hate-Monger rabble-rouses the populace against the immigrants in their midst, recall that many of the men working in comics were first- or second-generation immigrants themselves - including both Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, as well as Superman creators Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster.

    I love the design in this panel: the machinery, the arcing coolant,
    the billowing smoke, the tilted perspective.  Gorgeous!


  • But this is still comics - and Stan Lee comics at that - so if there's a chance for an outrageous twist ending, you know that he'll take it. For when the Hate Monger is gunned down by his own troops (who had been accidentally doused by his own Hate Ray), the Four and Fury find that the face under the hood is that of ... Adolf Hitler! While this gives a good final revelation for the story, it also has a special resonance to Reed and (especially) Nick Fury, who had been in the service of stopping this man for several years of their lives. The catharsis must have been staggering!

    Howlin' Fury.  Just in case you thought the promotion might have
    made him too settled down and respectable.


  • A word about the art though: Starting this issue, the inks are by one George Bell, a sometimes pseudonym for inker George Roussos. I first noticed his inks a few comics back in Sgt. Fury #4, and he takes over as inker here for the next several issues as well. And I've gotta say, right off the bat - I'm not immediately a fan. Dick Ayers had been on inks most of the last fifteen issues, and seemed exactly what you'd want from an inker: a clean line, emphasizing the qualities of the penciller underneath, and never distracting or deviating too far from the base art. I can't quite say the same for George's inks here, though. (But hey, I'll cut him some slack; maybe I'll get used to it.) And even if I'm unhappy with the inks, I can't deny that Kirby's designs are getting more creative and inventive with every issue. The nuclear activators in Reed's lab, as well as the Hate-Monger's sub-surface missile, are really something to behold!

    Still, they do take care to point out that it might have been a clone or a double.
    In any case, it's not the last we'll see of the Hate-Monger....

Thursday, January 6, 2011

101: Strange Tales #115

Strange Tales #115
September 10, 1963

  • When Dr. Doom showed up in The Amazing Spider-Man, the tonal clash was notable. Was it because you can't have the villain for one book show up as the baddie in another? Clearly not, as this issue gives us the Human Torch intercepting the Sandman, who first debuted fighting Spidey! The difference really is one of scope: Doom in ASM didn't work because his character, as already shown in a half-dozen appearances, had a grandeur that proved wildly out of place when pitted against one teenager living in Queens. Similarly, had the street-level Sandman been arrayed against the entire Fantastic Four, the challenge would have seemed entirely one-sided. But facing him against the FF's own teenage member, in his own solo series? Success!

    The Torch faces his most persistent enemy of all: the generation gap.


  • Impressively, the story also displays increased ties to the growing and ever-greater Marvel milieu. When Mr. Fantastic tells Johnny about the recently-escaped Sandman, we're treated to a flashback of his defeat at the end of Amazing Spider-Man #4, as well as additional exposition on how he escaped since. (Answer: He simply turned to sand and poured through the bars of his cell. Did the authorities take no extra precautions?) Think on this: they could have just had the Sandman show up again, simply banking on the natural reader assumption that the villain was somehow back on the loose - but they instead chose to show the steps between that adventure and this, and it feels more real as a result. By the same token, we're told that Reed has specifically tasked Johnny to bring in the crook, because Ben & Sue are working on a detailed report of their recent "Molecule Man" case. To any readers who were keeping up with all the various Marvels of the time, the jolt of familiarity would have been a pleasant surprise indeed!

    I never hear any names mentioned in low whispers. 
    Can it be I'm just not listening right?


  • In the back of the comic, we're finally presented with the origin of Doctor Strange. Significantly, with this story Marvel is now showing a certain degree of commitment to this new mystic hero, rather than just doling out standalone stories of black magic only loosely connected by a shared protagonist (as they in fact once did some two years earlier in Amazing Adventures, with the short-lived "Doctor Droom"). And this commitment will then see Strange becoming a real force in the Marvel Universe, as his adventures will continue every month for the next six years - and later, following a brief lapse, coming back for an impressive 22-year run!

    Note that name "Dormammu".  It will rear its fiery head in the future...!


  • For this extra-important story, Doctor Strange gets an "extra-long" tale of eight whole pages!, up from his usual allotment of 5. Again, the economy of storytelling on display is staggering, as those eight pages give us a full character arc for Stephen Strange - complete with tragic character flaw (arrogance), the loss of one's excellence, the initial and mocking disbelief at mysticism, and an eventual drive towards redemption. It's been suggested that one of the reasons Hank Pym never took off was because, beyond the loss suffered in his own belated back story (and quickly forgotten), the character had no real problems with which to sympathize. Lee & Ditko made sure not to commit the same mistake here!

    And so his sorcerous studies begin....

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

100: Amazing Spider-Man #7

Amazing Spider-Man #7
September 10, 1963

  • In the seventh issue we have our first returning villain for Spidey - and it's the Vulture. Really? Not to argue with any fans of the character, but again: Really? Perhaps it wouldn't seem so surprising had Spidey's other foes been so equally pedestrian, but since their first meeting Peter has gone up against a thief whose body is composed entirely of sand, a man-lizard hybrid who can control all reptiles, and a deranged nuclear scientist in charge of four living, steel tentacles. In such a light, a bad guy who can merely fly seems as anticlimactic as ... well, as a superhero who can merely shrink.

    I love the top-down perspective in that first panel. 
    It's an extra touch I'm not sure many artists would think of!


  • Nevertheless, the Vulture quickly shows Spider-Man that he shouldn't be underestimated, as he craftily banks on Spidey's expectations and subverts them to dangerous effect. Having defeated the Vulture before by cancelling out the magnetic power that kept his wings aloft, Spider-Man easily thinks he can do the same this time - and is thus smacked down when it doesn't work. Falling from the sky, he shoots a web line towards a nearby building to catch himself - but misses! He tries again, but doesn't have time. We share his moment of panic as he continues to plummet to the ground, but by twisting himself and adjust his fall, he barely manages to land upon a nearby roof, his arm taking the brunt of the impact. Pete's shaken, though still alive ... but he has to go around the rest of the issue with his sprained arm in a sling, even when putting the Vulture back behind bars. This kind of injury on the job reminds us that Spider-man is not one of the invincible breed of heroes, and has to deal with the kind of everyday setbacks and problems that the rest of us have to (sans Vultures, of course).

    Injury to arm - and ego.  You really do wonder if Pete is one day going to snap...!


  • Bonus points this issue for making an unusual setting out of a usual one. Having gotten it into his head that the Daily Bugle's payroll would be a great stake to rob, the Vulture flies in through the window to the publisher's office and demands Jameson open his safe. (Does Jonah pay his employees in stacks of cash?) This isn't too unusual, nor is it when the fight with Spider-man spills out into the adjacent newsroom. But the Vulture then flies down the building's stairwell - with a scene of Spider-Man rapidly descending on a web line - before the fight continues in the press room, where the rollers of the printing press become a danger to be avoided while the two combatants trade swings in midair. The fight lasts just a few pages, but those pages show us more of the architecture of the building than we'd ever seen before, and for the first time it seems like it was modeled after a real place, rather than being just a couple of set pieces for the characters to walk in and out of.

    Note that in addition to the architecture, Ditko peppers the scenes with many workers,
    giving the location the sense of a living, breathing place.


  • Finally, the realism continues in the budding romance between Peter Parker and Betty Brant. After the Vulture has been defeated, Pete comes back to find the Bugle still in chaos, with Betty hiding out the action behind a desk. Sitting down on the floor next to her, the two of them laugh at the bizarre circumstances of the day and share a tender moment, only briefly interrupted by a muffled Jameson, whose mouth Spider-Man has webbed shut. Once again, Stan Lee & Steve Ditko have shown they understand what makes people tick, as the most intimate and poignant times are seldom those of complete solitude, but often just a few shared moments away from the din and chaos of real life - grasped fleetingly, whenever we can.

    Note how neatly this contrasts with the dilemma of Clark Kent's absences
    being thought of as cowardly by Lois.  Betty's reaction here is far more realistic!