Monday, January 30, 2012

163: Strange Tales #123

Strange Tales #123
May 12, 1964

  • Now, just take a look at that cover! Some covers are more worthy of comment than others - some are more dynamic, while others deadly dull - but this one has more going on than a quick glance might suspect. For one thing, note that the design (through no real intention, I'm sure) hints at the evenly-split double feature status which all the anthology books will soon be moving to, as recently discussed. Not only that, but the cover also takes full advantage of the guest-stars in each tale within, advertising four heroes for the price for one! What kid, the thinking must have been, could possibly resist?

    Good grief!  Is every guy who invents his own super-suit
    inviolably destined to first fall down in it?

  • Inside we see the introduction of the Beetle and - you know what? In his first few panels there's a sense of real potential! After all, he's not yet another in a long line of super-geniuses, or petty thieves with access to high-tech gear, but rather a factory mechanic who's just spectacularly skilled at engineering. A bit of a change, to be sure, and a nicely realistic one - right up until he dons his new villainous getup. And falls down. Even the heroes can't take his outfit seriously, as Johnny immediately shrugs, "Maybe he's an insect lover! Well, let's get it over with!!" And yet the goofy bug-man inadvertently helps to inject a welcome amount of humor into the story, aided further by the addition of the Thing. These two elements combined actually make the strip more enjoyable than it's been for - well, if we're being honest, most of its existence - and that isn't lost on Lee; from here on out it's no longer a Torch solo series, but rather will be a Torch/Thing buddy book to the end.

    Aw, just look at that li'l guy!  Isn't he cute?

  • The real item of interest, though, isn't some new goofy bad guy, but rather the fact that this story is illustrated by Carl Burgos: the man who created the very first Human Torch way back in 1939's Marvel Comics #1. WOW! For those old enough to remember back that far - and this would certainly have included Stan & Jack - it had to have been a real treat to see how the Golden Age legend rendered the new, then-modern version of his original fiery hero. As a bonus, we also get Carl's portrayal of the 1964 New York World's Fair, as the site of this story's climax! And rather timely too, as the expo would have opened to the public only a few weeks before the issue hit the stands. In fact, given that the story had to have been done some months prior to that, does this mean that Burgos perhaps had a chance to tour the grounds before the fair's official opening?

    And this Golden Age Great even gets honored with an in-story
    cameo (abeit one he had to draw himself).  Prety nice!

  • Meanwhile, in the Doctor Strange backup strip, we're treated to the villainy of Loki! And yet, surprisingly (or perhaps not?), it's an underwhelming affair. Loki has, of course, appeared outside of Thor's home in Journey into Mystery before - notably, it was his own mislaid plot that created the Avengers in the first place - but the inclusion of both him and Thor marks the first real introduction of superhero elements to what had previously been an almost entirely mystical-based strip. It's not really bad, per se, but it does seem strangely out of place, and the results jar rather than gel. Fortunately, this ill-judged mixing of genres will rarely reoccur - for some time, at least.

    Well-drawn it may be, but still and all: In the end,
    it's little more than a standard superhero slugfest.