Monday, December 10, 2012

181: Tales of Suspense #58

Tales of Suspense #58
July 9, 1964

  • Here we have the final piece of the puzzle, in which the Marvel of old can fully be said to have transitioned to that of the new. We've seen how the Marvel superhero comics grew out of the '50s craze for monster stories, before quickly establishing a footing for themselves. And in recent months we've seen the elimination of "filler" material of the sort that used to dominate: One-off short stories featuring characters and situations which didn't return. (Indeed, we can theorize that the "Tales of the Watcher" and "The Wonderful Wasp Tells a Tale" backup strips might have been devised as ways to burn off unused inventory, as the Watcher and the Wasp were usually used - at first - only as framing segments.) The final move was begun last month, as the Hulk guest-starred in Giant-Man's story in Tales to Astonish, as a seamless lead-in to the following issue in which the two characters would begin sharing the book for the foreseeable future. Here the same thing occurs, as Captain America guest stars in Iron Man's regular feature; next issue, the title will likewise become a split-comic with each hero getting half the book. This will last until 1968, when Captain America will claim the book entirely, kicking Iron Man out to get a full-length mag of his own. Of historical note is the fact that when Cap's new strip starts next month, it will be the first solo series Cap has had since his very brief revival attempt during Marvel's "Atlas Era" in the 1950s, and which lasted a mere three issues. This time, though, will be much more successful, and his adventures have run continuously ever since.

    Hey, that's a good point.  Why is there an
    Iron Man tracer in Iron Man's car?


  • While the format change is taking the approach utilized by Tales to Astonish as its cue (the two characters fight one issue, then split-book the next), the result is sadly far less successful. Whereas the Hulk / Giant-Man tale was an astonishingly impressive example of a "stealth pilot", elegantly conveying to the reader everything he or she might need to know about the Hulk's origin, supporting characters and general milieu in the course of the story, the same can't be said here. Instead, Cap shows up as Iron Man's Avengers teammate, and someone for Iron Man to fight ... and that's it. Sure, maybe the reason we're not treated to Cap's supporting characters and setting is because he - as of yet- doesn't really have any, but it's still undeniable that his appearance here is simply that of a random guest-star in an Iron Man yarn (whose function could have been filled by anyone) ... as opposed to the TTA tale, which really did read as a Hulk story just as much as a Giant-Man one. The rest of the story is no less frustrating; for instance, face-changing Spider-Man foe The Chameleon may be a decently clever way to get two heroes to fight each other via mischief and confusion, but it's harder to see why Stan had The Chameleon return to the American shores in the company of Kraven the Hunter - who is defeated in the space of two pages, and not seen again. The rest of the comic is then hampered by case after case of "idiot plotting", that unfortunate example of lazy writing where a simple misunderstanding could be cleared up in ten seconds by the characters talking to each other, rather than by fighting or otherwise overreacting. It's probably not the worst Marvel tale we've come across thus far ... but it might be in the bottom ten.

    Iron Man goes for a spin.  And Don Heck's
    Captain America seems oddly off-model, doesn't he?


  • Still: Let's talk about the coming changes! Because if Captain America is going to be taking over the other half of Iron Man's book, then that surely means the "Tales of the Watcher" must end. (Although the feature will return, briefly, as a backup strip in 1968's Silver Surfer.) And so we receive the final tale, "The Watcher Must Die!" From that title, I had hoped we might get a story purporting to show the Watcher actually dying / transcending / whatever, even temporarily: a fitting sendoff to the backup strip, and an acknowledgement that its time had now passed. Instead, what we get is the Watcher's planetoid being invaded for the third time in the last four issues. (If this plot is all that could be conceived for the character, perhaps it was indeed time to retire the strip.) This time, instead of providing the readers with a shocking twist like the kind seen last issue, the Watcher instead defeats his enemy by speeding up time in the area around him, and watching him die. Not only does this display near-godlike abilities on a level I'm not sure we'd previously seen ... but it's also not that far distant from the "cosmic filibuster" seen in issue #55. It's just that this time the "wait him out" approach hinges on near-magical powers, rather than a genuinely clever ploy.

    The plot may be hokey, but I love the design sense Heck uses
    to convey the sequence of events.


  • And as we say farewell to "Tales of the Watcher", having already seen the final Wasp strip, so too do we see the last of Larry Lieber's monthly backup features. (Surprisingly, his final tale was last month, as this outgoing story is by Stan Lee - and not altogether better for it!) More than one reader of this blog previously took me to task for being perhaps unduly harsh on Larry's writing in the early Ant-Man stories, but I really took a shine to his work on these later backup strips - and it's safe to say that he enjoyed them far more as well! We've not seen the very last of his pen in the Marvel U - he'll continue to put in the occasional appearance, from time to time - but for the most part, he'll be much happier from here on out toiling in the realm of cowboys and gunslingers. Coincidentally enough, while this last tale signals the departure of one voice, it also sees the introduction of another ... as Golden Age artist George Tuska here returns after several years away, going on to become a Marvel mainstay for many years to come.

    THE END
    of an era