Marvel 616 Review – Tales to Astonish #42

Tales to Astonish Issue 42 Photo Credit: Marvel Writer: Stan Lee, Art: Don Heck

There are a number of heroes in Marvel 616 who are not well liked by the public. The Hulk is almost universally hated, Spider-Man has a decidedly split opinion even in his own neighborhood, and even the Fantastic Four have on occasion been the subject of public ire. Not so for Henry Pym, aka The Ant-Man. Later in his career there will definitely be things he is hated for doing but in this story, it’s important to remember the public either likes Ant-Man or is indifferent to him. To have a crowd turn on this hero would be unusual.

Yet that is exactly what a man named Jason Cragg does. Jason Cragg has a special power. He is introduced to us as he steps on a soap box and begins to speak, proclaiming, “I, Jason Cragg speak truth! Truth!” The crowd instantly trusts him. As Cragg does this, Pym just happens to be passing by as Ant-Man and seems completely unaffected. He’s wearing his cybernetic helmet and figures that must be somehow blocking whatever this voice is doing to the crowd. Cragg stirs up the crowd and tells them they should drive Ant-Man from the city.

We then get a flashback to a few weeks prior. You see, Jason Cragg was a radio announcer who was not good at his job. After delivering an ad one of the executives at the station says, “He sounds as convincing as a wet sponge.”

All super villains have to have origin stories. Some are amazing and super interesting and mind blowing. This… this is not one of those. At a nearby atomic experimental laboratory there was an accident where radiation levels were getting too high. Some of the particles seeped out before the scientist regained control and those radioactive particles apparently… went into the microphone Jason Cragg was speaking into at the time. Yep, supervillain via radioactive microphone. Why the particles went to that particular spot on the planet is in no way explained so, yeah radioactive mic is about all the backstory we get here.

Cragg finishes giving his ad over the air and suddenly everyone is buying the dog food he is advertising. My favorite line from this issue is a result of this ad, “We don’t even have a dog, but we can eat it ourselves!” That’s how persuasive Jason Cragg has suddenly become.

Cragg realizes his voice is what is causing this to happen and quits his job and just uses his voice to get free stuff like train tickets and steak dinners. That is until he happens upon Ant-Man in the middle of defeating some thugs. The police and public all praise Ant-Man and Cragg decides he has to test his mettle against Ant-Man. He figures if he can defeat Ant-Man he can defeat anyone. And with Ant-Man gone Cragg can basically rule the city.

Cragg goes on to tell such bold faced lies about Ant-Man as, “He pretends to be your friend, but he secretly despises you, as he does all who are normal-sized!” The crowd falls prey to these falsities and start to turn against Hank Pym.

Meanwhile, Ant-Man is getting an award from the police at their headquarters. Cragg interrupts and tells the police to arrest Ant-Man. They can’t resist and do try to capture our hero. Ant-Man uses a rubber band to launch himself away and avoids capture.

Cragg convinces the whole town to start looking for Ant-Man. Somebody gets the idea to use magnets so they can latch onto Ant-Man’s metal helmet. He has to remove the helmet, thus becoming susceptible to Cragg’s voice, in order to remain free.

Using his radioactive voice, Cragg demands Ant-Man reveals himself. Pym resists but ultimately is compelled to obey. Cragg wants to rid the world of Ant-Man but he’s no master villain. He literally has Ant-Man in the palm of his hand but instead of trying to smush him or anything like that, Cragg tells Pym to walk off the pier and make no attempt to swim or save himself from drowning.

Don’t worry too much though, this is an Ant-Man story and Cragg forgot one thing. Ants. Yeah, ants save Hank, even without a cybernetic command. They’ve gotten to know him and tend to show up whenever he is around so they get him out of the water pretty quick. Ant-Man escapes but Cragg vows to have one last battle with him.

Pym heads home where we get another diagram of his little elevator setup which allows him to get back into his lab even when he is small. Pym waits and watches until he hears Cragg is going to be a guest speaker on a television show. Pym decides that’s the place to confront Cragg.

We see Hank shrink down to ant size again and mention yet again his clothes are made of unstable molecules. He then uses his ants to infiltrate a building and grab a bottle of what Pym refers to as germs.

After that he heads over to the TV studio as Henry Pym. At some point he changes back to Ant-Man, although we don’t see it this time, so he can get his hands on a prop gun. As Cragg goes on the stage, Ant-Man climbs up his leg. Henry gets into Cragg’s ear and tells him to do exactly what he says. Pym reveals a gun pointed at Cragg, held by the ants. Pym basically tells Cragg to come clean and let the city know Ant-Man is on the level. Cragg doesn’t seem to care because he figures he can just contradict himself later. He clears Ant-Man’s name and Hank tells Cragg the gun was never loaded.

Cragg gets right back on the mic and tries to turn the crowd against Ant-Man but his voice isn’t working right anymore. See, Hank Pym arrived early and put microbes that cause laryngitis on the microphone. The crowd immediately turns on Cragg and drums him right out of town.

We end the issue with Henry Pym reflecting on the fact Cragg had a great power that could have been used for good.

So, to sum up the story here, a guy who was near a microphone got a super powered voice and tried to turn a city against its hero only to be defeated by a different microphone with laryngitis on it. Man, I love comics.

There’s not a lot significant in terms of the 616 universe that happens here. It’s mostly a silly story but it’s fun in its own way. It mostly just reaffirms Ant-Man as one of the good guys. It seems like Cragg was set up to be a repeat villain but I’m not sure if we do ever see him again. If so, I wonder if there will be any changes as to how he gets his power back.

Up next on the reading list we will be checking in on a brilliant inventor who has a suit of iron in the pages of Tales of Suspense #40!

Marvel 616 Review – The Fantastic Four #13

The Fantastic Four Issue 13. Photo Credit: Marvel Writer Stan Lee, Art: Jack Kirby

While we have seen The Fantastic Four a few times in other books, it’s been a bit since one of their own issues has shown up on the 616 reading list. This issue is notable as it introduces one of the most powerful and mysterious entities in all of Marvel 616.

The issue begins with a lab accident at the Baxter building. Reed Richards is working on a new kind of jet propulsion fuel and has so much success he more or less blows up the lab. Thing and Johnny Storm both try to jump into action and rescue Reed but Reed has on a safety suit and actually has to save Johnny. The Human torch was about to fly into some chemical fumes that likely would have killed him and/or exploded even worse.

This is going to be far from the last time Reed Richards nearly destroys his home and family in the name of scientific achievement. He’s pretty nonchalant about the whole thing.

Reed has apparently used some material components he found in a meteor crater and if he can harness this energy he’ll have, “discovered a booster fuel powerful enough to enable us to catch up with the reds in the race to the moon!”

At the time, this would have been seen as a major achievement by anyone in America so it’s understandable Reed is excited. He also suspects the “reds” had this thought before him and might be why they were ahead of America at the time. He seems to think they got this material somewhere in Siberia.

With this fuel, Reed decides he is going to go to the “mysterious blue area of the moon!”

The team is not about to let Reed go alone so reluctantly, Reed agrees to allow them all to join.

We next shift the scene behind the iron curtain where a scientist is training a gorilla to operate a space ship. He’s also training a baboon to shoot guns and an orangutan to use tools to repair the ship. This scientist is Ivan Kragoff and he’s training his “apes” to go to the moon so he can claim it for the communist empire.

However unlikely it may be, both Reeds ship and Kragoff’s ship launch at the same time. Kragoff, has another motive as well. He knows cosmic rays gave the FF their powers so he built his own ship in a way he will absorb some of those rays. He’s looking for some super powers.

On the way up, the FF see Kragoff’s ship. Johnny is itching to try out a special costume Reed made for him that will allow him to flame on and be in space because it, “releases an artificial atmosphere” around Johnny.

Johnny flies to the ship to see Kragoff and his apes. Kragoff is trying to figure out what cool new powers they all have. It looks like nothing until the gorilla demonstrates some super strength. The baboon seems to be able to shape change, the orangutan has magnetic powers and is able to push Johnny off course because of that.

Johnny makes it back to his ship and tells the team the situation. Reed is aware of Kragoff and they know a fight is coming once they land.

The FF’s rocket touches down on the mysterious blue area where they find what looks like an abandoned city. One thing to note here is at this point since man had not actually landed on the moon, this kind of story was somewhat more believable. For all we knew there really could have been an old abandoned city on the moon.

After they land the team realizes there is enough of an atmosphere here they can breathe and operate like normal. Reed starts to look for Kragoff’s ship but they notice a modern house with what looks like someone living in it. In the excitement to see that, the group leaves Thing behind. Thing goes to kick a rock but it turns out to be the baboon. Thing is soon surrounded by all the apes and Kragoff who calls himself, The Red Ghost. Basically Kragoff can turn himself, “unsolid” like a ghost so no one can hit him. His powers are reminiscent of what the Vision’s phasing powers will be.

As the five of them scuffle around, a mysterious being shows up and tells them all to just knock it off. He calls himself the Watcher and proves he is immensely powerful but just putting the apes in some kind of bubble.

Watcher calls out to all the earthlings and tells them he comes from a planet that is one vast, giant computer. He goes through a rundown of some of the things he has seen including entire civilizations destroying themselves. And he speaks about how he and his people have only ever observed and never before made their presence known.

The Watcher wants to save humans from their own savagery. He doesn’t care if we blow up Earth but now Reed and Kragoff have brought the fight to Watcher’s turf. He wants Thing and Kragoff to duke it out one on one and Watcher just sort of disappears.

Reed and the rest of the gang do find Thing and take him back to the house they were checking out. Seems like it’s probably the Watcher’s place according to Ben. Watcher then whisks everyone away to a battlefield inside a “dead city.”

As you would expect there is a fight between the FF and the Red Ghost and his apes. The fight goes poorly for our heroes at first. Red Ghost manages to capture Sue Storm and speed away in a car that goes underground. The rest of the FF regroup and Reed figures out they need to outsmart the opposition rather than use brute force. Reed sends Johnny and Ben to go after Sue and tries to make a weapon out of the technology he finds in the dead city.

Meanwhile, Sue is trapped with the Red Ghost who explains his apes obey him when they are at their hungriest so he keeps them locked behind a force field. Red Ghost then leaves and Sue says, “If I could only find a way to eliminate this force field– to free the super-apes! I would take my chances with them, rather than the Red Ghost, for they are like the communist masses, innocently enslaved by their evil leaders!” This quote stood out to me because so far, in almost all of the issues of Marvel 616 where communists show up, there’s not any mention of ordinary citizens. Instead, they all tend to be lumped together as evil but here Stan Lee really is making a distinction, although kind of a clumsy one with the moon as a proxy fight for democracy versus communism. It’s not a huge stretch to think this could have, in some ways, been intended to be a statement on the conflict in Vietnam. You know, just with super-apes on the moon.

Sue is able to free the apes and rather than attack her they go for the food. Then they break the door down, conveniently allowing Sue Storm to escape.

Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm chase down the Red Ghost but he has a disintegrator ray he found waiting for them. Luckily, Sue catches up to them before they can be harmed and she warns them it’s a trap. Johnny melts the ray and heats up the air around Red Ghost causing him to flee. Red Ghost gets to the surface and sees the house of the Watcher and figures there’s probably some pretty good stuff in there.

Unfortunately for the Red Ghost everything the Watcher has is just beyond human understanding (much like the character Uatu himself). Needless to say, the Watcher is not cool with someone breaking into his house. He tells Red Ghost he could send him to limbo, to the dawn of time, or to the end of time but he’s not worth the effort and just tosses the guy out of his house without even touching him.

As he gets tossed Reed hits the Red Ghost with a paralyzing ray he built. At this point the FF are pretty sure they’ve won but realize they don’t know for sure until the Watcher says so. The Watcher does show up and declares the contest over and the FF to have won. He also says his own mission is at an end. He says, “Now that mankind has reached the moon, I must go to a more distant part of the galaxy, to observe you mortals from afar! For we Watchers must be ever aloof– ever apart from other races!” We all know we’re going to see this character again and that he’s immensely important to the 616 continuity but it’s still a pretty impressive entrance and exit.

After the Watcher leaves the apes turn on their master. Reed and company head back to Earth ready for a rest and to give the new rocket fuel to the National Space Agency. At the very end of the issue we’re teased with a promise of an appearance by both Sub-Mariner and the Puppet Master for the next issue.

Overall this is a really fun issue, even if the idea of super apes is a bit ridiculous. The cosmic weirdness the Fantastic Four can achieve is beyond any other comic book heroes this side of Green Lantern and it’s always great to see a cosmic being introduced. Although he isn’t named in the issue this Watcher is Uatu who is a key component of tons of Marvel 616 stories. He’s also the narrator for some of the most fun stories Marvel puts out which are the What If comics. It’ll be a while until he’s a real regular but the Fantastic Four comics would not be nearly as fantastic without the influence of the Watcher, who is incidentally, the one guy who shouldn’t be influencing anyone.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be getting small once again as we catch up with Ant-Man in the pages of Tales to Astonish #42!

Marvel 616 Review – The Amazing Spider-Man #1

The Amazing Spider-Man Issue 1 Photo Credit: Marvel

Without question, Spider-man is one of the most influential comic book characters of all time. He is able to give the reader a sense of real world problems while still displaying incredible powers and heroics. When Peter Parker is down on his luck, we all can relate to it, and at the same time, that’s when his best stories come about. This is not some alien from a distant planet. This isn’t someone bestowed with a power ring. This hero is not anything other than a regular person trying to make ends meet and live his life. And did I mention, he’s just a teenager?

He got his debut in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. This was a short story in an anthology that turned massively popular. And while it’s likely Stan Lee has exaggerated the initial reaction to the character somewhat, it’s clear Spider-man has had an enduring legacy and continues to be wildly popular.

Apparently having the word amazing attached to Spider-man was inevitable because his own title becomes The Amazing Spider-man. This is not the debut of Peter Parker or Spider-man but it does lay some groundwork for the series for years to come.

The issue is divided into two stories which while connected, can be read as stand alone stories. Each one has some major events and significance to stories for years to come. I’ll be reviewing both stories here but they could have been listed as their own for the purposes of reading through Marvel 616 continuity.

The first story is titled, Spider-man. While one might assume the bulk of the story would be taken up with revisiting how Spider-man came to be or with Peter pulling off tons of heroics, there’s actually not that much of it going on.

At the start we do get a bit of a reminder of the previous story. Peter was bit and got his powers at a lab experiment. He went into show business to try to make some money. There was a robber Peter could have stopped but didn’t. Because of Peter’s inaction, his beloved uncle Ben was killed.

When we get caught up to the present, it’s the money woes that is the real enemy for Peter. His Aunt May can’t pay the rent. Peter briefly thinks about turning to crime for some quick cash but realizes that’s not something he is willing to do and something that would break Aunt May’s heart.

Peter again tries to cash in on his powers by putting on a public performance. As amazing as he is, when it’s time to get paid, Peter can’t cash in because he won’t give his real name. He tries to cash a check made out to Spider-man at the bank but has no luck.

Meanwhile, a certain newspaper editor has caught wind of this so called Spider-man. It’s in this issue we get the first of many headlines written by J. Jonah Jameson. This one just says, “Spiderman Menace.” As if that’s not bad enough for Peter, Jameson goes out on the lecture circuit to badmouth the hero. Jameson wants America’s youth to be like his own son, a test pilot, and a real hero, who is about to orbit the Earth.

Peter tries to get a part time job but is turned down because he is too young. And what’s worse is he sees Aunt May pawn her jewelry so she can pay rent. Peter starts to blame J. Jonah Jameson for his troubles because it’s now nearly impossible to cash in on being Spider-man.

Meanwhile John Jameson goes up in his rocket but there’s a problem. A navigation system of some sort falls off and the ship starts to fall back to Earth. NASA tries a few different things but they’re not successful. Spider-man shows up and tells them he can help. He gets a replacement part and commandeers a plane and a pilot to take him close to the rocket. Peter attaches it and saves the day.

Figuring he’ll be embarrassed by the compliments he’ll get for what he did, Peter leaves quickly. He also figures he’s repaired his reputation with J. Jonah because Peter just saved his son. But, J.J. seems to think the whole thing was a setup and conspiracy to make his son look bad. The press is even worse for Peter than it was before.

There are a few interesting things in this story. First, is the emphasis on money woes. This is a huge theme in Spider-man books and it’s smart to have it as a central point because almost all of us can relate to it in some way. Second, it’s not clear why a rocket would launch out of New York but we can let that slide for the moment. Finally, the public reaction to Spider-man is intriguing. It’s clear there are some people who like Spider-man. The pilot who takes him up to save Jameson thinks he is alright and there are a few other people in the background of panels who say positive things about him. But, it’s also clear Jameson is able to have a huge influence on how the public perceives him. The majority of people who read the newspaper do seem to think Spider-man is a menace, including Aunt May. I think it’s a really unique position at the time to have a hero who does heroic things but is generally not liked by about two thirds of the public. This is not like The Fantastic Four who are generally liked. They’ve had the occasional misunderstanding with the public but they are not outright hated. Thor and Ant-man really don’t have anything negative said about them. At this time, Iron-man has only barely come on the scene so the public is still mostly unaware of him. The only other hero who might be able to relate to Peter would be Bruce Banner but the Hulk is almost universally hated so he probably wouldn’t take the time to consider what Peter thinks at all.

The story ends with a warning by the F.B.I. saying there is a reward for the capture of Spider-man. Peter wonders if crime is his only option left. We all know that will not be the route he would take but I imagine for the first group of people reading this they may have had the idea Peter could have turned corrupt here.

The second story is title Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon.

This story is really interesting because there are a ton of things going on here. We’ll get to the heart of the story in a minute but can you notice something unusual in this panel early in the story?

We won’t know him as Peter Palmer for long. Photo Credit Marvel, story by Stan Lee, Art by Steve Ditko

Yeah, we almost had a hero names Peter Palmer. This misspelling of Peter’s last name happens at least three more times in this issue. It’s not particularly significant but it’s interesting to see how easy it was for a continuity error to happen in these early comics.

Also, as you can see above, the story starts with Peter having the idea of joining up with the Fantastic Four. It kind of makes sense. They live in a big skyscraper building in the middle of the city and they’re always flying around in the newest fantasticar so it sure looks like they pay well.

The most fun part of this story is seeing how Peter gets around the security measures in the Baxter building so he can talk to Reed and company. Of course, the Fantastic Four assume he’s there to cause some kind of trouble. There’s a bit of a scuffle and we see everyone use their powers. It’s a fairly even match all things considered. Finally Reed asks what Spidey is doing there and the fight ends.

Peter gives his pitch to the super team only to find out they are a non-profit organization and don’t pay salaries. With no other reason to stay, Peter promptly leaves. But as he goes Reed Richards says, “Somehow, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from that young man in the future!” Spoiler alert, Reed is one hundred percent correct about that. Just not in this issue.

After Peter leaves the scene shifts and we get our first ever glimpse at a real Spider-man villain. This is The Chameleon. He’s a spy who is able to change his appearance through extremely realistic disguises. We never see his real face in the story as it is always covered by a mask. The Chameleon easily breaks into a defense center and steals some secret plans. He walks right out with no one being the wiser.

On his way out, The Chameleon sees a report about Spider-man going to see The Fantastic Four on the news. With the F.B.I. warning out there, Chameleon sees a perfect fall guy for his crimes in Spider-man.

The Chameleon seems to know things about Spider-mans powers which are never explained here. He somehow knows Spidey has a type of spider-sense and sends a message to Peter only those powers could pick up. The message is just a setup to trap Spider-man into being at the wrong place at the wrong time, thus giving Chameleon someone else for the police to catch for his crimes.

Despite knowing about Peter’s spider-sense, Chameleon didn’t totally think it through because Peter is able to tell who the Chameleon is even when disguised. There’s a chase and a tussle. Spider-man actually makes himself look worse by webbing up a bunch of police officers. After a lot of acrobatics and inventive use of webbing, including the first appearance of a web parachute Spider-man catches up to the Chameleon.

Turns out Chameleon was going to sell the plans to communists on a sub-marine. For those of you keeping count, this incident adds up to every single 616 hero we have seen so far fighting communists at least once. Spider-man is able to capture Chameleon and takes him back to the police.

But Chameleon is able to change his appearance into a police officer. He almost gets away but Peter figures it out thanks to his spider-sense. There’s another chase but the cops do catch the right guy eventually.

We end the issue with Peter wishing he had never gotten his powers and the FF wondering what would happen if Spider-man turned to crime.

In this story there are tons of things going on that I find really interesting. First, there is the crossover appeal. I don’t know if Stan Lee thought Spider-man wouldn’t sell well enough on his own but the interaction with The Fantastic Four is great here. And it feels like the universe is really building with this story.

Also, everyone seems to know Peter is a teenager even while he is wearing his costume. I think this leaves us all to assume Peter just sounds like a teenager. He’s about the size of any other hero and he hasn’t shown his face so that’s the only way people must know about his age.

Another interesting thing here is Peter’s money issues are not resolved at all and if anything, he’s made his own reputation worse. It makes the audience wonder why Peter would try to be a hero at all. Except, if you remember Peter’s inaction leads to the death of his uncle. He’ll be a hero not because it is profitable but because as bad as things might be, if he does nothing, they will be worse.

While this isn’t the debut of Spider-man it is a great debut of his title which will go on to a whopping 441 issue streak in the first volume. The stories get better but the foundations really do start here. And while not all 441 issues are great, there will be some amazing stories (pun intended) to come with this character.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking back in on the family of super heroes once again with Fantastic Four #13!

Marvel 616 Review – Tales to Astonish #41

Tales to Astonish Issue 41 Photo Credit: Marvel

By issue 41 Tales to Astonish has truly become Ant-Man’s book. He stars as the lead story in every issue although he still shares pages with one-off stories which have nothing to do with him. However, there are only so many stories one can come up with involving a guy who shrinks and controls insects.

This issue is by no means an inspired story. In fact, it’s kind of a lazy story, even by Ant-Man standards. Henry Pym is always fighting communists, street thugs, or aliens. This issue aliens are the enemy.

We start out with Henry Pym looking to visit a fellow scientist. Pym knows his friend Paul must be in because Pym was invited to see a new formula. When Pym knocks, there is no answer, so Henry figures Paul is in his lab and the most sensible thing to do is to change to Ant-Man to make sure his buddy is okay. After all, he could be ill.

We get yet another reminder that Henry Pym wears clothes made of unstable molecules so his clothes shrink with him. We also are reminded about the cybernetic helmet Pym has which allows him to control ants. Pym calls an ant and rides in through the keyhole. After a thorough search it becomes apparent Paul is not there. Henry figures something must have happened to him. He also sees on the news scientists are disappearing all over the place. Pym figures it’s likely to happen to him. But he also figures he can handle it as Ant-Man.

For a smart scientist who surely must work in a secure lab, Henry next makes about the dumbest mistake he possibly could, casually allowing a random window washer into his lab.

Henry Pym makes a mistake. Photo Credit Marvel, story by Stan Lee, Art by Don Heck

Well, to no one’s surprise this window washer is up to no good. He pours a chemical on Henry, thus paralyzing the scientist.

We next get to see a scene happening in another dimension of space and time. This is where all the missing scientists have gone because an alien warlord, named Kulla wants them to develop a weapon called an electro-death ray. Any scientist who speaks out or challenges Kulla ends up in the dungeons.

Back in our dimension the window washer puts a strange metal gadget on his and Pym’s head. This device transports them to Kulla’s dimension. The window washer is in on this scheme for the money and doesn’t care about the ethics of it all. The other scientists are concerned to see Pym also kidnapped and they have even more concern once Pym starts shouting, “Down with all tyrants! Down with Kulla!” He is immediately dragged to the dungeons.

This, of course, gives Pym the chance to change to Ant-Man and help everyone out. Henry does discover some alien insects on this world but his helmet doesn’t work right away because they seem to communicate on a different frequency than ants on Earth do. Lucky for our hero, he retains his full human strength so the bugs are no real problem.

It takes a moment but he gets the helmet adjusted so he can communicate with the insects. He then sneaks out of the dungeon. The other scientists have just completed the death ray and Ant-Man accidentally crosses an electronic beam signaling to Kulla there is an intruder.

Everyone in the room sees Ant-Man and the scientists are left to wonder how the hero arrived in this dimension. But, they’re quite happy to see him since he can likely save the day.

There’s a bit of hiding and a chase around the room until Kulla’s guards spot Ant-Man and douse him with the same chemical the window washer used. Ant-Man is not defeated because he has his helmet and he aims the electro-death ray right at Kulla with the help of the alien insects. The insects also open the door to the fortress Kulla was staying in and the regular people of the planet are overjoyed to see the warlord dead and his minions captured.

While all this is happening, Ant-Man dashes back to the dungeon so he can change back to Henry Pym and the scientists will be none the wiser about who is Ant-Man.

The window washer isn’t concerned with his own predicament because he figures the scientists aren’t police and he’s got no reason to worry. But, the people of this world decide to keep the window washer there until he truly reforms. With the use of the helmets the scientists get back to Earth and lament the fact Kulla could have put his scientific knowledge to use for good but did not. And then the scientists wonder once again where Ant-Man came from to help them.

Henry Pym answers, “Perhaps it doesn’t matter how the Ant-Man gets where he does! Just so we know that whenever he is needed… he’s always there!”

In all, it’s a fairly forgettable issue and about the only thing making this one memorable is that a brilliant scientist was easily tricked by a fake window washer.

Next up on the reading list, we’re finally going to catch up with the wall crawler himself once again in, Amazing Spider-Man #1!

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Marvel 616 Review – Tales of Suspense #39

Tales of Suspense Issue 39 Photo Credit: Marvel

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe there was a time when Iron Man was without question the most popular character Marvel had ever put on screen. This is largely due to the excellent portrayal of the character by Robert Downey Jr. and the deft handling of the adaptation by Jon Favreau. But none of that would have happened without Issue 39 of Tales of Suspense where the character was first introduced.

Tales of Suspense is yet another anthology comic book put out by Marvel comics. This seems to be one of the best methods the creators had to experiment and introduce new characters. It was easy to know what heroes were popular by the fan reaction. If there was not much reaction, they could just stop making stories with that character.

Oddly enough, this issue has two stories which are cannon to the Marvel 616 universe but of course Iron Man is Born! is the one most remembered. I’ll talk about both stories in this post but I’ll be digging much deeper into Iron Man than in the other story.

The story in Iron Man is Born! is written by Stan Lee but this time the art duties fall to Don Heck. While he might not be quite as dynamic as Jack Kirby was in his art style, Heck is a fine artist and helped bring several characters to life including the Wasp, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Wonder Man. In other words, he has an impressive portfolio and handles the introduction of this new character deftly for the most part.

The story begins at the laboratory of Anthony Stark where soldiers are on guard 24 hours a day to keep an eye out because, “the commies would give their eyeteeth to know what he’s working on now!”

For those who are keeping track, Reed Richards, Henry Pym, Bruce Banner, and even Don Blake have all had run ins with communists and the government has had to protect them in one way or another. I think we can presume from the very first panel in this story it’s likely these scientists know of each other and quite possibly have met one another. This will become important later when teams like The Avengers become established. We’ve still got a while until that happens but the introduction of Stark gets us a huge step closer.

Inside the lab, Stark is demonstrating small but powerful transistors that can intensify magnets he has developed, strong enough to open locked vaults from a far distance. In the modern era of the movies the power source of Iron Man’s suit is his arc reactor but in these early comics it’s a series of transistors, magnets and other small but clever devices.

Stark tells a general at the demonstration his transistors are capable of solving his, “problem in Vietnam.” It’s worth noting, this is the first mention of the real world conflict of Vietnam in Marvel 616. This grounds the story more in reality than some other comics might and it’s an interesting choice. While Vietnam at the time was seen as a proxy war between democracy and communism, all of the issues before have just mentioned, reds, commies, or some similar name to refer to communist enemies. It seems Marvel could no longer ignore real world events in their pages.

Reading the start of the story is interesting because in so many ways it does mirror the opening of the movie. We’re given a bit of background about Stark and find out he is handsome, glamorous, constantly in the company of beautiful women, a sophisticate, and a scientist, and a millionaire bachelor as much at home in a laboratory as in high society. Change the word millionaire to billionaire and this could be the Netflix description of the first movie.

But the narrator tells us he is soon destined to become the most tragic figure on Earth! I assume they forgot about Bruce Banner when they wrote that but this is Stark’s story so we’ll let it go.

Now, I would be remiss if I did not talk about the negative aspects of this first Iron Man story. We get some absolutely awful stereotyping against Asian people, and Vietnamese people specifically to set up the story. We read about a cruel military leader named Wong-Chu, the Red Guerilla Tyrant who is going village to village in South Vietnam to take over. The artwork here is as offensive as you might imagine and the story is fairly insulting at this part but we have to get through it to get Iron Man. Wong-Chu challenges anyone in a village he is about to take over to a wrestling match. If the challenger can beat Wong-Chu he promises to let the village go free. Wong-Chu defeats all challengers and talks in broken English, again in some of the worst of stereotypical ways. Anyway, we have our villain set up now.

We flash over to Iron Man who has landed in South Vietnam with some American soldiers. They tell him they could beat the Red Guerilla’s army but they can’t get their tanks through the dense jungle. In a typically arrogant and uniquely American way, Stark has miniaturized mortars so the army can bomb the hell out of a bunch of people. The weapons are, of course, effective.

Unfortunately for Stark, he stumbles over a tripwire and is injured in a blast as a result. In the movie, you’ll remember this as the armored vehicle scene where Stark is captured. This is definitely something the movie does better as the comic makes it seem as if Stark is just kinda clumsy.

Stark is captured and we find out he has shrapnel near his heart. This shrapnel can’t be operated on and he’s only got a week to live. Wong-Chu decides to try to trick Stark into working for him. Stark sees right through the ruse but agrees to do the work. Wong-Chu just seems to think Stark is being self serving, and considering what we know about him so far, it wouldn’t be that hard to believe.

Just as he does in the movie, Stark gets to work designing, and building a weapon. As he is doing this, another prisoner, Professor Yinsen, is thrown in the cell with Stark. Lucky for Stark, Yinsen is a physicist and Stark has read his books. The world thought Yinsen had died but instead he was forced into slave labor. It’s Yinsen who names the weapon Stark is building calling it, “An Iron Man!”

It’s a suit of armor which not only is capable of extending Stark’s life but also has a ton of firepower to it. Stark is pretty much knocking on death’s door when he puts on the suit for the first time. But as the suit is powering up, Wong-Chu arrives and Professor Yinsen has to buy Stark time. This proves fatal to Yinsen and Stark swears Yinsen’s death will not be in vain.

It takes Stark a few minutes to get used to moving and walking around in the suit but once he does, he’s got a bunch of tricks up his sleeves. He has suction cups which allow him to stick to the ceiling where he hides from his attackers. After they leave, Stark finds Wong-Chu and… challenges him to a wrestling match? Checks notes. Yep. He challenges his captor to a wrestling match. The newly made Iron Man has no trouble dispatching his enemy.

The army attacks Iron Man but small arms fire just seem to bounce right off of him. Stark uses his transistors to repel a bunch of the army and they flee from him. The next bit is a little chase and some more neat tricks Stark has built into his suit, including a buzz saw inside his finger container and transistors which increase his strength. All the use of the suit does drain it, however. A quick thinking Iron Man shoots out a stream of oil right near an ammo dump and lights the whole thing on fire, causing a major explosion.

Stark wins, even if he has doomed himself to a life living inside an iron suit. He goes to where Yinsen was slain and tells him, “Now, Professor Yinsen, rest easy! You, who sacrificed your life to save mine, have been avenged!”

Avenged, huh? Might make a good name for a superhero team somewhere down the line. I hope, Stan Lee remembers that one. Stark kind of walks off wondering what’s in store for him in the future. The reader knows more is to come because we’re told not to miss more of Iron Man in the next great issue of… Tales of Suspense!

While it is great we are getting closer to a full roster of Avengers, the terrible stereotyping in this issue makes it tough to read. I can’t emphasize how bad it is. Not only is the dialogue in broken English, every Asian character here is drawn not in a realistic flesh tone but in a sickly yellow color and with the most stereotypical features you can imagine. There will be great stories with Anthony Stark in them to come, but this one is only significant in that it establishes him as a character and a hero.

There will be more stories to come where the stereotyping is a major problem. And while we might say times were different back then and writers and artists weren’t as concerned with staying away from stereotypes as they are now, that still doesn’t excuse it.

The story does set up major elements which will be prevalent in almost all Iron Man stories to come. Stark needs the suit to live because without it he’ll essentially die of a cardiac condition. Stark is a brilliant, wealthy scientist, and a womanizing playboy. Also, the government wants and needs this man to be protected at nearly any cost. We’ll have lots of great stories with Iron Man soon enough but for now, he’s sort of waiting in the wings to really come into his own as a hero.

As I mentioned above, there is a second story in this issue which is Marvel 616 cannon. This one is the D story, titled Gundar! This is written by Stan Lee and drawn by Steve Ditko who first drew Spider-Man.

The story centers around a shipwreck survivor out on the ocean in a lonely lifeboat. He comes upon an island and thinks he is saved. It should be noted this is clearly a modern (for 1962) lifeboat with a modern sailor. He’s immediately found by a clan of Vikings. The man is understandably confused, thinking maybe he’s on a movie set. But the Vikings tell him they await the coming of Gundar.

It seems these Vikings sailed on a ship under a cruel master known as Gundar. This Gundar goes a little mad and attacks his own crew. They are able to subdue him eventually but not before he puts a curse upon them all. He condemns them to be cast away on an unknown isle, to spend eternity alone. He also says only he can lift the curse.

As we see a panel of the ship struggling through a storm, we see Odin in the background hurling lightning at the sea. This is the reason, and the only reason, this story is Marvel 616 cannon. After all, Odin is Thor’s father so his appearance counts.

Odin attacks the sea in Gundar! Photo Credit: Marvel, artwork by Steve Ditko

The twist of the story at the end is that the shipwrecked man is a descendent of Gundar and the Vikings all disappear and go back into the past. That’s the whole story. Not an incredibly memorable one but it was fine for a short story in an anthology comic.

Next up we’ll be checking in on a pint-sized hero with Ant-Man in the pages of Tales to Astonish #41!

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Marvel 616 Review – The Incredible Hulk #6

The Incredible Hulk Issue 6 Photo Credit: Marvel

Marvel 616 has a great history of introducing amazing and powerful super villains. Spider-man has the best rogues gallery outside of Batman comics with memorable menaces like Dr. Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, and the Vulture. The Hulk on the other hand, one of the most powerful beings in all of Marvel, has hardly any enemies worth remembering. However, there are occasions when we can see some experimentation with villains right in Hulk’s pages.

In The Incredible Hulk issue 6 we see what can only be considered a first pass at what Magneto will be in the pages of the X-Men comics down the line. Make no mistake, this “Metal Master” is no where near as interesting as Magneto but it is a first crack at an enemy who can bend metal to his will.

The issue starts (as so many Hulk stories do) with a missile test. General Thunderbolt Ross is waiting on Bruce Banner so he can test his newest rocket. Banner is already 15 minutes late and Ross is none too happy about it. Betty Ross worries something might have happened while Rick Jones realizes Banner’s had enough time to change back from being the Hulk.

Betty worries Hulk has taken Banner. Rick wishes he could let her know his secret but he knows how upset that would make Bruce.

When we see Hulk, he wants to get into his secret lab to change back but there’s a whole infantry of troops doing practice maneuvers there. He’s aware if he’s seen, the secret location of his lab will be exposed. However, it seems it’s also becoming harder for Hulk to go back to being Banner at all. If he doesn’t change he might be stuck in the form of the green monster.

He’s saved from having to fight the troops when the emergency alert from the base sounds and the soldiers all scramble back. Hulk is then able to use the machine to turn himself back into Banner but before he does it he says, “I hate havin’ to become that weakling Banner all the time!” I find this interesting because Hulk has most of the brain function of Bruce Banner at this point (he can speak in full sentences and make logical decisions so he’s not just a rage machine) yet he clearly sees himself as two distinct people. This further establishes the multiple personalities Bruce Banner will come to have. While this is pretty much a direct comparison to The Strange Case ofDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde right now, it becomes much more complicated in the future.

In addition, changing from one form to the other seems to become more painful for both of them as time goes on. Oddly, this time when Bruce changes he retains a bit of Hulk’s strength so they are sort of merging together a bit at this point.

After the change is complete and Bruce loses all the strength of the Hulk he checks in on the base through a video monitor and sees Ross and Betty in major distress. He sees the test rocket he invented completely melted. In the narration of the panel we see this it says, “Bewildered, the trembling viewer switches on the sound portion of his amazing set, and hears…” I point this out because it’s a reminder cameras were not common, and color cameras with sound were exceedingly rare at best, in the 1960’s. In other words, Marvel could sometimes be predictive about the future, much the same way Star Trek predicted automatic doors.

We get our first glimpse of the Metal Master, an imposing figure with yellow skin and a strange red outfit who hails from the planet Astra. Basically, Hulk fights two kinds of enemies in most of his books, either aliens or communists. Or sometimes aliens who sympathize with communists. Don’t hold your breath waiting for something better because it takes a while for Hulk to get past this.

Anyway, The Metal Master demonstrates some of his powers while telling everyone how most people on his planet are artists but he was deemed a criminal because he wanted to use his mental control over all metal to conquer. Ever since, this dude has been on the lookout for a planet with plenty of metal resources. He comes across Earth and the lightbulb goes off.

Despite having just destroyed a weapon and demonstrated his powers Ross just says, “Someone grab him! He’s nutty as a fruit cake!” You would have thought the military would have already opened fire on this guy but this is a kids comic and they needed Hulk to fight the guy. Plus, bullets wouldn’t be that effective considering there is metal in them.

The Metal Master melts some guns and helmets and then goes big time by melting a whole tank. One of the soldiers realizes this guy is, “the single most powerful force on Earth!” Of course that soldier must not have met Thor, or the Hulk if he thinks that.

Next, the villain traps Ross and company in a cage of his own making. He demands control of the base and subsequently of the planet within 24 hours. The Metal Master leaves using a steel plate as a flying platform (a move Magneto will definitely use in the future). They try to stop him with rockets but those are also made of metal so it doesn’t work.

Rick Jones realizes the only hope for humanity is the Hulk. Bruce is already changing when Rick gets to the secret lab. But for some reason, this time Bruce’s face doesn’t change. Luckily Banner made some plaster cast molds of Hulk’s face so he throws one on. (Don’t ask me how he got Hulk to sit still long enough to do that)

Hulk goes into action saying, “I can’t fly like a blasted Human Torch–but these muscles ain’t just for show!” He leaps into the air and lands right where the Metal Master is.

They have a pretty typical fight where the villain is throwing stuff at Hulk and Hulk is jut breaking it. That is until Metal Master offers to team up with the Hulk. Hulk considers it for a moment, realizing the human race has been hounding him forever and isn’t going to stop. He decides not to team up with Metal Master, not because he likes humans but because he figures the Hulk doesn’t need any help from anyone. While Hulk is ranting, Metal Master knocks him out.

A few minutes later a group of soldiers find Hulk and realize he has a mask on. They take it off to reveal… the same face as the mask. Banner’s secret is still safe. The soldiers manage to catch Hulk and put him in a special stone building made to hold the creature.

Betty is still worried about Bruce but Rick Jones realizes Hulk is the only chance against Metal Master. Rick goes to talk to the Hulk but the Hulk blames Rick for the soldiers taking off the mask. Hulk really starts to display some rage at both Rick and all of humanity here. This upsets Rick so much he asks about enlisting. Ross won’t let him though because he is only 16.

Meanwhile Metal Master goes on a rampage throughout the world destroying a bunch of metal stuff like oil rigs and bridges.

We check back in on Rick who is shown a ham radio by his friends. He then has the idea to form a club called The Teen Brigade who will keep in radio contact to help out the army, the police, and basically any good guys who could use a hand. I know it sounds cheesy but the formation of this group is actually important in the history of Marvel 616 and gives a bit more of a voice to the teenage audience.

Of course, Hulk busts out of his inescapable prison. Ross and Betty are talking and Betty realizes she cares pretty deeply from Bruce. They still haven’t found him so it’s upsetting her. Ross gets the news of Hulk escaping and Betty thinks Hulk has captured Banner.

Hulk goes back to the secret lab and changes back to Banner. This leaves him exceptionally weak this time but luckily Rick happens along. Bruce tells Rick he has a way to stop Metal Master but he needs help. Rick gets his teen brigade on the case.

While they gather supplies, Bruce recovers enough to turn back into the Hulk.

As this is happening Metal Master is stopping missiles and aircraft from all kinds of nations that are attacking him. When he destroys a group of airplanes he pulls a pretty odd move saying, “By merely melting the engine section of each plane, I permit the helpless pilots to bail out and float to safety!” Strange move for a guy trying to rule a planet but I guess he has a conscience? He says what he wants is for every living thing to serve him but I’m not buying that. The real reason is comics codes were fairly strict back then and you couldn’t actually show anyone in uniform (police, military, etc.) being killed or defeated. For that reason there were a lot of strange workarounds during what would likely be armed battle.

Hulk and Rick put together the device Banner cooked up while the rest of the Teen Brigade wait outside. The Brigade spots Metal Master heading to Washington. D.C. and the setup for the final battle begins as Hulk heads there. Hulk is armed with what looks like a huge gun. Metal Master tries to break it with his powers but nothing happens. The antagonizes the Metal Master and he gets closer to the Hulk.

Ross and Betty are still trying to find Bruce but obviously with no luck. Ross gets word of the showdown in D.C. and heads over there.

Hulk gets close enough to the villain to grab Metal Master and pretty much tells him he can get pounded by his fists or clean up everything he destroyed. Metal Master gets on his ship and heads off Earth.

Of course, the gun was just a decoy and not made of metal which is what tricked Metal Master. Hulk has moment where he actually gives credit to the Teen Brigade, proving Hulk doesn’t hate all humans. But the army moves in.

Hulk leaps off with Rick before anything can happen. The Teen Brigade tell Ross how Hulk saved humanity. That’s not likely to sway Ross but it’s some food for thought for him.

Hulk tries to use the machine to change back but he stays in Hulk form. He realizes the machine may have been used too much and now knows he is stuck in a form that will be relentlessly hunted by humans.

Betty is determined to find Bruce but still is having no luck. Hulk gets word he is getting a pardon because he saved the world. He’s unhappy because it’s not enough and he starts smashing stuff. And he suddenly changes back to Bruce Banner.

Bruce goes to see Betty but her father answers the door. Ross is enraged Hulk got a pardon and demands to know where Bruce has been. He says he felt under the weather so took a few days off in Bermuda. (Great excuse, definitely use that next time you miss a day of work)

Betty is overjoyed at seeing Bruce but Ross still thinks Bruce is a “milksop.” Betty knows there is some connection between Hulk and Bruce but he says he cares about her too much to tell her everything. Bruce hopes Hulk is gone for good but we all know that’s not the case.

After this issue Hulk loses his own title for a while and shares the pages of Tales to Astonish with Ant-Man for a while. But this is by no means the end of Hulk and his stories.

Next up in the reading order we’ll be introduced to a new hero, one who has his very own suit of iron, in Tales of Suspense #39!

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Marvel 616 Review – Journey Into Mystery #90

Journey Into Mystery Issue 90 Photo Credit: Marvel

While The Fantastic Four have been busy meeting The Hulk, Thor continues to face off against everything from communists to Loki to space aliens. The 90th issue of Journey Into Mystery once again presents an alien foe to the god of thunder.

This time Thor ends up fighting a race of aliens called The Xartans. These are aliens who are able to copy themselves into anything they see. Thus the title of The Carbon Copy Man (although there are actually several Xartans so the name doesn’t exactly hold up.)

Before the fight begins, Dr. Blake is just on the verge of telling his love interest Jane Foster that he is secretly Thor. Before this happens, Odin comes to Blake in a vision and warns him against doing so. Dr. Blake continues to look like a coward to Jane and she, of course, is thinking about her hero, Thor.

Soon, Dr. Blake is encountering people in town he knows doing strange things. New laws have passed saying cars should drive on sidewalks, billboards should go over office windows instead of where they belong, and worst of all, if people are sick but can’t pay to see a doctor they should be kicked out of the hospital. (That last one can be uncomfortably close to the truth and it’s interesting it appears here but I digress)

Dr. Blake is, of course, none too happy about any of this. He decides to investigate and ask the Mayor, who he appears to be friends with, although there has been no real mention of him before. The Mayor also seems happy with these odd changes.

Blake changes to Thor and tries to find out what is happening when he is trapped by a huge electromagnet. This separates him from his hammer and Thor turns back into Blake. This is probably good since all the actual people are in a spaceship operated by the Xartans. Blake tells the Xartans they are no match for Thor and so they should destroy him to take over the planet unimpeded. Jane’s not very impressed with this.

It does give Blake the chance to pick up his hammer and become Thor once again, however. There’s a fight with two of the Xartans using different methods to try to beat Thor but, of course, our hero wins in the end.

At the end of the story Thor tells the Xartans they have to change into trees. They do it, thinking they will be able to change back whenever they want. Thor may have outsmarted them because he figures trees don’t think so neither can the Xartans when they are in tree form.

This is reminiscent of how Reed Richards gets the Skrulls to turn into cows. Neither change is permanent and I’m sure we’ll see more of the Xartans in the future.

Overall, this story is fairly forgettable, other than the fact Odin really doesn’t want Blake to spill the beans to Jane Foster.

Next up on our reading list we’ll be catching up with the big green guy once again in The Incredible Hulk #6!

Marvel 616 Review – Fantastic Four #12

The Fantastic Four Issue 12 Photo Credit: Marvel

In all of comic book history there is one type of event which sells more issues than any other. The crossover issue. This is an issue where characters guest star in pages of one another’s books. A lot of times this is to team up and destroy some great evil. Other times there are heroes who are good at heart but have a slightly different view of the world and they end up butting heads. Nobody pulled the latter type of crossover off better than Stan Lee.

From the first moments when we knew there was The Thing and The Hulk fans wondered which character was stronger. The eagerness to see the answer to that only increases whenever Ben Grimm brags he could knock out The Hulk any day of the week. Hulk hasn’t specifically called out The Thing in his book before but we as the readers already know Hulk has destroyed a ton of seemingly indestructible things (pun intended).

The cover of issue 12 promises a “book-length epic” and we can tell from the beginning this is going to be a big deal.

The issue starts off with Ben Grimm on a date with his girlfriend at the symphony. He’s in his usual disguise of a trench coat, fedora, and sunglasses. It’s not a great disguise but I guess it works well enough. On the way out, they see a company of infantrymen. A man next to Thing knocks his hat off and Ben, in a fit of anger, lifts the man up with one hand. The soldiers see this and think they’ve just caught a glimpse of the Hulk. They try out a few gadgets to restrain Ben, including a snap cable contraption that wraps around him, and a gas grenade. None of it is effective for long. The gas does slow Ben down, however. The soldiers explain the situation but Ben is even more insulted they think he’s the Hulk and says, “You tryin to tell me you thought that brainless lump of lard was me?!! Of all the crummy…” So, yeah Ben’s in prime fighting mood by this point.

Ben Grimm drops Alicia off and heads back to the Baxter building. He can’t find his electronic beam to open the elevator so he just rips off the door and climbs thirty-five floors up the cable. Ben relates the story to Reed Richards and the gang. He says, “Next they’ll be takin’ me for Frankenstein!” This quip actually works on multiple levels because Frankenstein’s monster is exactly what Stan Lee based Hulk off of in the first place.

Coincidentally, the Fantastic Four had just received a call from General Thunderbolt Ross who wants to talk to Reed about The Hulk. Ben is skeptical of Ross and isn’t even sure if there really is a Hulk since he’d never seen him in person. Ross comes in and apologizes to Ben, explaining the only way to recognize the Hulk is by his superhuman strength. (I guess the green/sometimes gray skin is not enough of a tip off.)

Ben immediately states he can make mincemeat of The Hulk. Ross shows everyone a picture of the Hulk and lets the team know a missile installation in the desert has been sabotaged. Ross assumes it had to have been Hulk. Ross asks the FF to find and destroy the Hulk.

Ross then shows them some film footage of Hulk destroying a cannon. This frightens Sue Storm enough that she accidentally turns invisible. Weirdly, Ben seems kind of insulted Sue thinks Hulk is more terrifying than he is.

We’re next treated to some panels where Ben imagines ways he would beat Hulk. Johnny Storm does the same thing. Even Reed thinks of defeating Hulk by surprising the monster and smothering him. Sue thinks all she can do is go along for the ride, unsure how she might help.

In a panel that just shows how dismissive men were of women at the time, General Ross states, “A pretty young lady can always be of help–just by keeping the men’s morale up!” Reed agrees by saying, “That’s just the way we feel about Sue, General!” Keep in mind, out of all of these characters, the only one with a real shot of stopping the Hulk would be Sue Storm. She would just need to send a tiny force bubble of air into his bloodstream and no more Hulk. Plus she is the only one who could actually use the element of surprise against him.

Reed then shows off the fantasti-car to Ross. It’s got a new and more futuristic design thanks to Johnny’s tinkering. They hop in the car and head to the desert to try to find the Hulk. Ross shows them some debris he says the Hulk crushed.

The real crossover starts to happen when Reed Richards is taken to a meeting where Dr. Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are both present. Also there is an assistant to Banner named Dr. Karl Kort. Banner insists all the equipment was destroyed from the inside out and that a rampaging Hulk would have torn the device from the outside in.

Reed and Bruce do have a strong mutual respect and have ready one another’s work. Kort leaves the meeting early and is pretty freaked out by The Thing. Ben gets too bored waiting and barges in on the meeting. There’s a tussle to get control of the meeting again and Ross rages at the FF. The only person to defend them is Bruce Banner. Ross then insults Ben Grimm in the worst way possible saying, “Looks to me like you’re afraid of The Hulk!”

Banner offers his help to the FF to find “The Wrecker”. Banner and Rick say it’s a saboteur doing the damage. Ross pretty much just fumes the whole time. Banner finds himself wishing he could tell them why he’s so sure Hulk is innocent.

Back at Banner’s hideout he shows Rick a model of the device that was wrecked. Turns out it was supposed to make any city completely invulnerable to enemy missiles. In a sort of random series of events, Rick Jones ends up with Karl Kort’s wallet and sees a membership card to a “subversive communist-front organization!” Kort sees Rick though and pulls a gun on him.

This leads into the fourth part of the story, appropriately titled “The Hulk at last!”

Reed and his team have been fixing up army equipment in the form of some kind of rocket powered sled. Thing is easily able to withstand the g-forces as he pilots it for the first time. There’s a bend in the rails of the track for the sled and Ben goes flying but Johnny and Reed save the day. The army blames Ben even though it was clearly sabotaged.

Bruce Banner rushes to the FF to ask for help since he can’t find Rick Jones. He doesn’t tell them why he’s sure it isn’t The Hulk though and this leaves the team suspicious of Banner. Bruce decides to transform to the Hulk so he can save Rick.

There are underground tunnels Hulk, the FF and Kort all converge in. Hulk thinks he needs to fight the FF to get them to leave the area. This was Kort’s demand in order to release Rick. And at long last we get to see The Hulk face to face with The Thing.

Hulk gets in the first punch, knocking Ben to the ground. But Ben is hard enough to hurt Hulk’s hand. The Human Torch is up next but Hulk buries him in sand, thus dousing Johnny’s flames. Hulk punches his way up out of the tunnels and buries Ben and Johnny underneath him.

Yet the Hulk is not aware of just how good Reed Richards is at finding the smallest crack to stretch through to get out of a trap. Reed wraps his arms around the Hulk. Hulk breaks free but so do Johnny and Ben. Hulk throws a wooden frame house from an old west ghost town at the team. This doesn’t stop them at all. Hulk next tries to separate them. He’s about to power dive Thing when he gets wrapped up by Reed. Hulk spins his way out of it. But Johnny is right there flying at the Hulk. Hulk gives one of his thunderclaps which causes a sonic boom strong enough to knock down three out of the four of the FF. Thing socks Hulk right on the jaw and this time its Hulk who is knocked back.

Just as we’re about to find out who wins the fight Hulk is hit with some kind of atomic ray. Ben is really mad he didn’t get to finish his fight and seconds later is confronted with a giant robot. Ben realizes this is The Wrecker’s machine and he finds the door to the guy’s lab. Ben smashes the door in to find Karl Kort. By now, everyone has realized it wasn’t Hulk who did the destruction earlier.

Just as Kort is about to hit Ben with the same ray he hit Hulk with, Sue knocks the ray out of Kort’s hands.

The bad guy is captured. Hulk realizes he doesn’t need to fight The Thing and might be too weak to do it anyway and goes back to change into Bruce Banner once more.

Ross holds a little ceremony for the FF and Reed and Bruce say they would like to meet again. The end of the issue asks, “Will the Hulk again meet the Fantastic Four??” I think we all know the answer to that.

This was a fairly major issue for the 616 universe. It was test to see if there was enough appeal to have characters regularly cross over to other books. The formula must have been successful enough considering it’s still done all the time.

Next up on the reading list we’re checking in on one of the few people who might be able to beat both Hulk and Thing in a fight, the god of thunder, Thor, himself in Journey Into Mystery #90!

Marvel 616 Review – Strange Tales #107

Strange Tales Issue 107 Photo Credit: Marvel

Here we have one of the first grudge matches of the Marvel 616 universe. On the cover you can see it is Namor vs. Johnny Storm, an epic match up of fire against water. This type of story will become a regular staple of Marvel comics but this one does have some unique features.

The issue starts with Johnny Storm coming home from school to see the rest of the team has had a meeting without him. This is definitely a boys club because Reed remarks how they were working on the notes for their next Fantastic Four adventure and, “Sue was nice enough to type them up for us!” It’s a little ridiculous that Sue Storm has one of the strongest powers in all of Marvel with her ability to become invisible and create force fields but she’s seen as what amounts to as a secretary even by her own team.

Anyway the team, especially The Thing, kind of antagonizes Johnny, reminding him of quitting the team in the last issue. Johnny then decides he’s tired of being treated like a kid and decides to set his sights on winning a fight with a foe single handed. His idea is to go after Namor all alone and beat the Sub-mariner.

He shoots out of his apartment and flies to the sea. His flame dies out and he has to land on a boat. He tells everyone on board who he is but they all think he’s just some stowaway. After the waters get foggy, Johnny is able to light the way for the boat and the sailors realize their mistake.

Johnny sky writes a challenge to Namor just above the surface of the water and Namor gets it. He’s none too happy with Johnny. The pair duke it out going back and forth as to who looks like they might win. Namor uses the power of a puffer fish to save himself at one point, while Johnny goes supernova underwater with his flames. Namor is able to hypnotize Johnny at one point and gets the upper hand. It doesn’t last long though and Johnny is back in the fight.

Johnny is able to flame on while he’s under the water. His powers are still rather loosely defined at this point in the 616 so this kind of thing happens often where it seems like he shouldn’t be able to use his powers but does anyway. Eventually Johnny traps Namor in an underwater cave and gets away.

Exhausted, Johnny meets the same boat he helped earlier, and they give him passage on the ship.

Of course, Namor is not stuck for long and he breaks out. He assumes Johnny has left since he doesn’t see him around anywhere and figures he would have flown back to the continent by this point. Namor is somewhat relieved as the fight has gone out of him a bit. He also realizes Johnny is much stronger than Namor thought. Add that to the fact Johnny is not fully grown and Namor understands what a powerhouse of an ally he could be.

Namor imagines the two of them joining forces to beat the FF and holding the entire world in their hands.

A lot of this issue is just typical fighting for the sake of fighting. But the end with Namor contemplating what could be seems like it could be the foundation for a What if? story.

This was the first real one on one grudge match with Johnny and Namor but it won’t be the last. I also think it’s interesting how Namor was minding his own business and Johnny decides to start a fight. That’s not typically a hero move but it seems to work out in this case.

Up next on the reading list we’ll be sticking with Johnny Storm and the rest of his pals as he and the team meet The Hulk in Fantastic Four #12!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #106

Strange Tales Issue 106 Photo Credit: Marvel

In the pages of The Fantastic Four one of the more common storylines is for one member or another to leave the team. There have been times when this lasted a while but most often it is resolved in an issue or two at the most.

Strange Tales stars Johnny Storm in his own adventures but the rest of the FF have shown up here and there on several occasions. In issue 106, it’s advertised as a guest appearance for the Fantastic Four. There’s nothing unusual about this appearance but it does show Marvel is trying to tie a superhero universe together. One of the best ways to do this is to use the team that kicked off the 616 universe as much as possible.

It’s been a little confusing in Strange Tales for Johnny to live in Glenville but show up consistently at the Baxter building in the pages of The Fantastic Four as if he is living there. Johnny and Sue seem to be sometimes living in Glenville and sometimes at the Baxter building as well.

This issue starts off with Johnny zipping around an obstacle course Reed has created for him. Next a visitor arrives at Johnny and Sue’s Glenville home, asking to see The Human Torch. This should be surprising because Johnny has tried to disguise his identity in Glenville. This never made sense considering the FF are publicly known figures but Johnny tries to keep a secret identity anyway.

Johnny gets home and ditches his costume in an alley. (Side note here to mention a lot of Marvel heroes really do seem to think hiding their costumes in an alley is a great strategy.) Even as he is doing this, people are pointing out the Human Torch usually arrives home around this time.

As Johnny enters his home he is greeted by Sue and one Mr. Zante who knows Johnny is the Torch. Johnny is utterly shocked by this revelation but Sue admits “All of Glenville knows of your dual role!” This is one of the first times (but far from the last) when Marvel subverts expectations about secret identities not only to the reader but also to the character hiding a secret identity. This is similar to a future event involving Mary Jane Parker and Spider-man but to be clear, this type of revelation happens first in Strange Tales 106 with Johnny Storm.

A big question in my mind would be why Sue lets Mr. Zante in without knowing anything about him but she does. Johnny feels a bit embarrassed about everyone knowing his secret but Sue assures him everyone was just respecting his desire for privacy. She then leaves saying, “Now I’ll leave you two alone for your man talk!” Yeah, not exactly the most progressive of eras in publishing but it is what it is.

It turns out this Zante is an acrobat and thinks Johnny and he should team up and form their own super team called “The Torrid Twosome.” Not a name that would go over well now but might have made sense at the time. Zante recalls a bunch of adventures the Fantastic Four had and highlights all of Johnny’s biggest contributions. He tries to convince Johnny that Reed Richards is exploiting him because Reed keeps most of the money for research rather than paying Johnny more.

Johnny races over to Reed and starts to complain, going so far as to demand a salary. There’s a silly tussle with The Thing because, of course there is. In the end Reed says no, stating the money really does need to be used for research. Again, one of the biggest foes the FF face truly is money. It causes all sorts of problems for the team.

Johnny leaves the team and flies out of the window telling them he’s going to be part of the Torrid Twosome. When Johnny calls up Zante to tell him the news we get the first real impression Zante is up to no good. He thinks to himself, “By the time he learns the truth–It’ll be too late!”

Johnny next designs a rather ugly green and orange outfit, complete with beret made out of unstable molecules. Sue tries to convince Johnny not to join up with Zante but he just keeps going on and on about his new outfit.

Zante shows up the next day and tells Johnny there is a man stuck in a bank vault. The plan is for Johnny to melt through the vault and free the bank teller. The Torch flies through and melts the door to find no one inside. Zante follows and shoots Johnny with a liquid asbestos gun. He just wanted Johnny to open the vault so he could steal the money. As if that wasn’t enough, Zante shoots Johnny in the arm with a regular gun as he makes his escape.

The police attempt to catch Zante but because he’s an acrobat they have a pretty hard time of it. But when Zante gets to his getaway car it goes nowhere thanks to The Thing hanging onto the bumper to keep it from moving. Soon Reed and Sue show up to pitch in. They have him caught and all but arrested when Johnny comes out of the bank and demands the FF leave Zante for him.

There’s a bit of a chase but Johnny has a bum arm so it takes a bit longer than normal for him to catch the criminal. He ends up melting the pavement right under the guy’s feet, making it impossible for Zante to walk. Johnny then admits he never truly believed Zante but he had to string him along to find out what he was up to. The issue ends with Johnny back on the team and this time tossing away his Terrible Twosome costume in the same alley where he had been hiding his Fantastic Four uniform. With that, everything is back to normal and the FF can operate as whole team once again.

Next up on the reading list, we’re sticking with Johnny Storm for another story as we catch up with The Human Torch in the pages of Strange Tales #107!