Strange Tales #108 Photo Credit: Marvel, Writers Robert Bernstein & Stan Lee, Artists Steve Ditko & Jack Kirby

While a lot of the rest of Marvel 616 has been chugging along, Johnny Storm in Strange Tales has had a bit of trouble finding an arch nemesis equal to his powers. He usually seems like he can just blow past these guys and if he really gets stuck, he can always call on the rest of the Fantastic Four to help out. So far, not many of the bad guys have really stood out, and neither does, The Painter. This is a bad guy who can paint anything in record speed and it will come to life.

The issue starts us off with The Painter drawing Johnny’s demise in an asbestos lined room fighting the other members of his team.

We next jump back in time to see a bunch of crooks having a rough time committing their crimes because Johnny is in town. Torch then stops a getaway car by melting the asphalt right under it. Not sure if Johnny is on the hook for the repairs but the bad guys are stopped. We see Johnny stop a bank robbery using smoke rings, and flame scissors to cut away the bags of loot. The police seem more than happy for the assists from Torch and everything is going his way. But Johnny knows this isn’t the end. He tells the cops, “Mark my words, right now some master criminal or evil genius is figuring out some so-called brilliant scheme to get rid of me! It’s happened before..”

Then, as you might expect we see a clip show worth of flashbacks of enemies Johnny has faced. He mentions The Wizard, The Destroyer, Paste-Pot Pete and Zemu, Despot of the 5th dimension. They’re all out of commission at this point but Johnny is still around. Johnny knows it’s just a matter of time before he’ll face a new villain.

Of course he is right and that’s where we see the criminal element come together. There is an organized crime leader named “Scar” Tobin and he is interrupted by, “Wilhelm Van Vile, the counter-feiter the Torch caught… but busted out of jail last week!”

This dude wants revenge and he has… a set of paints. He demonstrates his powers by drawing a three headed gorilla to intimidate the gangsters. He does this at lightning speed so they don’t even seem to have time to pull their guns. The painting comes to life and Wilhelm Van Vile is able to control it telepathically. The other bad guys try to stop him but The Painter just keeps painting stuff that stops them, including making one of their guns super heavy, and it crashes through the floor. Van Vile paints a magic carpet and he takes the gangsters along with him on it. This gives Van Vile the opportunity to narrate his origin story.

He was locked up first for making poor imitations of famous art and trying to sell them as originals and then he gets locked up again because he was making counterfeit bills but Johnny caught a mistake on the bills. He does have to turn into the Human Torch to get the job done and The Painter swears his revenge. The Painter then tells the tale of breaking out of prison and digging into a strange underground cavern. He finds a set of paints that look brand new but Van Vile is also aware of “ancient Egyptian picture-writing” and believes the pictures are saying the paints are magical. He also thinks these paints come from a group of aliens who traveled through space by using the paints. (What can I say, it’s a comic book. They have to have aliens or communists at this point right?) The Painter takes a chance and paints his way out of the cave.

We go back to the present where The Painter says he wants to be, “The King of Crime!” I do feel like parts of this issue are a precursor to the character who will become the The Kingpin. “Scare” Tobin kind of looks like him and this is the first real mention that there could be a “King of Crime” at all in 616.

We see The Painter toy with Torch for a bit. He draws a Fantasti-car and giant fire hydrants and he does manage to douse Torch. Johnny is safe but he definitely knows something is up. The Painter then makes some creatures at a carnival come to life. We get to see a couple of weird monster drawings from Jack Kirby which is always fun. Torch drives them into the sea and saves the day. Then The Painter draws a volcano of sand to stop Johnny but that doesn’t work either.

We finally come back to the point of the beginning of the story where The Painter draws Johnny losing a fight to his teammates. And we see him lose this fight. The crooks all hear on the radio this was the end of Johnny Storm and they are overjoyed and plan to take on the rest of the FF as soon as they can.

But The Human Torch suddenly shows up. Johnny burns up the the paintings and magic paints. Turns out Johnny had figured out who was doing this, waited until the bad guys were all asleep and painted a living picture of himself with the magic paints so he was never in any actual danger.

The Painter is baffled as to how Johnny figured this out but it turns out it was Van Vile’s own fault. He was careless in his paintings. He didn’t put nozzles on the fire hydrants, didn’t put any litter baskets in the beach scene, and didn’t even put a 4 on the uniforms of The Fantastic Four. So Johnny combed the area until he found The Painter.

The story ends kind of abruptly right there.

The story was pretty standard for the time but it is clear the creators are trying to find the right person to be the consistent bad guy for Johnny. He’s gone up against a few who will be completely forgotten but he’s also had a run in or two with some who will eventually become major players in 616 continuity. For now, it’s still kind of a bad guy of the week situation for this character.

Next up on the reading list, we’re actually staying on this issue for the D story. I thought it would be better to separate out the reviews, however because they are totally different stories. So next is Strange Tales #108 (D story)!

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