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!

Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Tales to Astonish #40

Tales to Astonish Issue 40 Photo Credit: Marvel

Tales to Astonish always features a few stories but with the consistent use of Ant-Man as the featured character on the cover, the book basically belongs to him. Hank Pym has gone on several adventures as a costumed super hero and so far things have worked out fairly well for him.

The police see him as someone they can rely on, he’s getting paid by the government to invent new products, and in general, the public likes him. When you are this set up for success there has to come a point where you fail. Of course, as one might imagine from reading the cover, Ant-man is not actually going to fail. After all, what hero does? In the end the good guys and gals will win out.

This particular story reads very much like an old episode of Scooby-Doo.

It starts with Hank in his lab creating a gas mask made of unstable molecules. Sharp readers of 616 comics know unstable molecules are used in all kinds of things for superheroes. The Fantastic Four have costumes made out of these molecules so they can wear clothes and still use their powers. It was a way of explaining why Sue Storm could be invisible without removing her clothing, why Reed can stretch and his clothes don’t rip and why Johnny Storm’s clothes don’t burn up the instant he flames on. It’s also why Hank can shrink to the size of an ant and his clothes still fit him. It seems Stan Lee hit on what he thought was a good scientific sounding (but not actually scientific) reason to explain all sorts of things.

Anyway, this gas mask Hank invents shrinks to the size of the wearer’s head which I guess is something the government is looking for.

Next we see some security guards who can’t seem to remember what just happened. Their armored truck is gone and it seems a villain known as The Hijacker has struck once again.

Howard Mitchell, who owns the Mitchell Armored Truck company is furious at his guards and wishes he could contact Hank as he says, “Only the Ant-Man would be clever enough to catch the Hijacker!” Of course, ants are everywhere and it is no surprise Hank Pym does pick up on this message. He has a watch which picks up signals from the ants telling him to don his cybernetic helmet to find out what is happening.

From the background of the panel we can see Hank has a very sophisticated computer system set up. There are tape reels and everything plus lots of switches so you know it’s modern technology. Hank narrows down what sector of the city the ants are signaling from and hops into his costume and launches himself from his catapult. I’m still not certain how the catapult could be so accurate as to get Hank around corners but we’ll just let that go for the moment. He lands on a pile of ants, after nearly missing them, and makes his way to Mitchell’s office.

Mitchell gives Ant-Man the rundown of what has been happening and asks for help. Henry first asks Mitchell to announce one of his trucks is going to make a huge shipment. Mitchell reluctantly agrees and then Henry asks Mitchell about his, “primitive art” asking if it is Inca in origin. Mitchell answers, “I spent some time with the Indians in the jungle! But that’s unimportant now!”

Occasionally, (well sometimes frequently actually) you run into some pretty bad stereotyping in old Marvel comics. We probably do need to look at these through the lens of the time they were written in but this still does not excuse much of what shows up on the page. From the art being called primitive and drawn very stereotypically to the ridiculous false mysticism which will later be mentioned in the issue, these things are hard to read. But, as far as this goes, this issue is one of the milder instances of harsh stereotyping and not nearly as problematic as some of the characters which will show up soon in the pages of Iron Man. That being said, for the plot of the story, knowing Mitchell has Inca statues and was in the jungle for a year is key to the end of the book.

As Hank leaves he tells Mitchell, “Don’t Worry! Whoever he is– however he operates– the Ant-Man will defeat him! I promise you!”

The next day the guards are loading up the truck and very relieved when Ant-Man shows up. Before the shipment can leave, however, Hank says he is in great pain, likely with appendicitis. The guards are upset but can’t blame the poor guy because it could happen to anyone, including Ant-Man.

Hank rides off on an ant but Mitchell decides to proceed with the delivery. Thus, Ant-Man leaving the scene is, “The first time the Ant-Man’s ever failed anyone!” according to one of the guards. Soon the armored truck comes upon a moving van stalled and in the way. The guards think about getting out to help but before they do the back of the van opens and a huge magnet is used to pull the armored vehicle into the moving van.

The Hijacker appears and lets out a gas grenade, knocking out all of the guards. But, surprise, Ant-Man was only faking his appendicitis and snuck onto the armored vehicle. He uses a catapult and a model airplane to do it and he’s sure to put his gas mask on.

There’s a bit of a chase where Hank ends up in the ignition of the car and then ends up on the engine block. Unfortunately for him, the Hijacker thinks to blast the horn as loud as he can, making Hank grab his ears. It takes a bit and an editors note explaining once again how Ant-Man still retains his human strength when small but Hank pulls out some engine wires to kill the horn.

With the help of some ants, Henry Pym is able to jump onto the Hijacker’s gas mask and tear it open. Once the Hijacker falls to the ground unconscious, Hank pulls the mask off to reveal… It’s Howard Mitchell. Hank suspected Howard as soon as he saw the “primitive art statues” and knew Mitchell had spent time in the jungles of Peru. Apparently, according to Hank Pym, “the Indians there have an ancient vapor, the inhaling of which causes a lapse of memory!”

This explains why Ant-Man had to fake appendicitis. He needed to convince Mitchell he wouldn’t interfere, therefore allowing Mitchell to commit the crime Hank suspects him of.

While this twist is not very original and it’s ridiculous in a lot of ways, this will not be the last time strange things are blamed on mysterious vapors coming from any number of jungles in the Marvel 616 continuity.

Mitchell was losing money at his company and thought he could make it back by stealing it from his own customers. As Tony Stark might say, “Not a great plan.”

This prompts the guards to realize Ant-Man has not actually failed and one of them says, “Mister, even when that guy fails, He wins! That’s the Ant-Man for you!”

Something to mention here is this attitude is completely different than the public has for most of the rest of the heroes in the 616. The Fantastic Four are sometimes beloved figures but they also have a contingent of serious detractors and the public turns on them frequently. The Hulk is almost never seen as a real hero, even though he does things which are notably heroic, often things similar to what Hank Pym does such as stopping communists from stealing secret plans. Spider-Man is anything but loved at his debut. Probably the only hero who is also popular at this point of the 616 universe would be Thor. The majority of people who have seen him in action do appreciate Thor but so far Ant-Man would be polling best with the public in the fictional version of the 616 universe.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking in with The Human Torch as he stars in Strange Tales #106!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Fantastic Four #11

Fantastic Four Issue 11 Photo Credit: Marvel

There were times when the early Marvel 616 comics could get a bit out there and experimental. Issue eleven of the Fantastic Four is one of these instances. There are two stories in the issue. For some reason the second story, the “B” feature, if you will, is listed in the Complete Marvel Reading Order is listed as happening first. I’m not sure if there is an actual story reason for this but I’m going to go through the features in the order listed on the website. Both stories do some sort of groundbreaking things and the end of the issue has a major tease which helps propel Marvel 616 into a more unified universe.

The second story in this issue is called The Impossible Man! It’s about an alien who lands in what is described as a “hobo jungle” where a bunch of vagabonds are having dinner. The green skinned alien with the pointy head asks for some food but is told he needs to pay for it with cash. The alien asks where to get cash and is told you have to ask for it at the bank. Not realizing what that means, the alien transforms into an airplane and pops into a vault at a bank. This freaks out the bank attendant enough for him to leave and the alien grabs some money. The cops immediately arrive on the scene and start firing at the alien but he turns to steel and the bullets bounce off of him.

The police realize this is more than a match for them and they can call the Fantastic Four to come help deal with the situation. They hop in the Fantasti-car and find the alien chowing down on a bunch of food in a restaurant. The FF demand to know what the deal is with this guy and he tells them he comes from “the planet Poppup!” The evolutionary processes on Poppup are so swift the inhabitants can change themselves into anything whenever the need arises to survive the constant attacks from predators and environmental hazards.

This idea of constant evolutionary change is actually a precursor to what we will see when mutants are revealed in the pages of The X-Men in the future. For now it’s a bit of a silly joke and an excuse for Jack Kirby to just draw whatever he wants to.

After his little backstory the Fantastic Four tell him he can’t just take money from a bank and it escalates into a skirmish pretty quickly. The alien, who is dubbed The Impossible Man by The Thing is able to evade capture by changing forms whenever he is attacked and negates all four of the member’s powers. Individually and collectively the team is not able to do anything to stop The Impossible Man.

Reed Richards is no slouch though and he has some ideas on how to deal with this guy. After Impossible Man does a few stunts and some major property damage, Reed tells the police and all the world to simply ignore the Impossible Man.

The Impossible Man first came to Earth because he was bored of his own planet. Reed figures giving him the silent treatment might just be enough to get this guy to leave. It takes a while but it works.

If you were to think of something else in comic books to compare this to, The Impossible Man is the analog of Mr. Mxyzptlk in DC comics who comes around to harass Superman every once in a while. Impossible Man is not quite as fun as Mr. Mxyzptlk but he showed the Fantastic Four are able to use their heads instead of their powers when needed. Also, for a while in the issue the world started to think Reed Richards was a coward but he didn’t seem to care. Instead, he just sticks to his plan, never bothering to explain his strategy or solution to anyone. This is a very typical Reed Richards move which sometimes lands him in hot water.

The last panel of this story teases a major milestone in Marvel 616. It tells readers to come back to read a “surprise-packed full length thriller– The Fantastic Four meet– The Hulk! Don’t miss it!”

This is the first major crossover from one Marvel 616 book to another. There were always suggestions and rumblings, including some pretty solid evidence in the way of newspapers and dialogue that these characters existed in the same reality. But to have a major Marvel character appear in the Fantastic Four will be a landmark event.

The first story in issue eleven of The Fantastic Four is in some ways much more interesting than the “B” story. While most issues of the FF deal with supervillains in some way or another, this one shows us a slice of life for the superheroes in a story titled, “A Visit With the Fantastic Four.”

Stan Lee proves once again here that Marvel is not afraid to try new things in comics. He breaks the fourth wall a bit when the FF meet some fans who are eagerly awaiting the next issue of a comic book magazine called The Fantastic Four. We also meet an important figure in the annals of Marvel history, Willie Lumpkin, the mailman who delivers mail to the Baxter Building for the Fantastic Four. In time he will become an important figure to the series who plays integral parts in multiple stories. Willie even tries to join the FF in this issue, telling Reed Richards that he doesn’t have any super powers but he can, “wiggle my ears real good.”

The story shows off a few secrets of the Baxter Building. The FF have special belt buckles which can send a signal to their personal elevator allowing them and only them access to their apartments at the top.

The team then spends some time opening their fan mail. The Thing gets a gag gift which is a boxing glove extender that punches him in the eye. He’s not real happy about it. Thing is convinced it’s from the Yancy Street Gang who we already know he has some beef with but this is the first time Thing has really called them out by name.

Reed gives Thing a serum and he once again turns back to the human form of Ben Grimm for a while. We then get a few flashbacks from before the heroes flew into the cosmic rays. We find out Ben and Reed were college roommates. Reed is the smart one but Ben was the football star. Reed made a name for himself by winning lots of prizes in the field of science and it probably didn’t hurt that he was the son of a millionaire. Ben becomes a marine fighter ace pilot and gets nationally known as a hero for it. It’s also revealed Reed worked underground for the O.S.S., the first independent U.S. intelligence agency.

While Reed was at the front of the war he would dream about the girl he left behind, Sue Storm. As soon as Reed brings this up Sue is conflicted. She has some mixed feelings due to her emotions about The Sub-Mariner. Reed gives her some space but of course, he’ll bring this up again in later issues.

After returning from the war, Reed decides, “We’ve got to reach the stars before the reds do!” and the fateful events are put into motion which result in the first team of superheroes in Marvel 616 continuity. This origin will get refined over and over again in later issues but this one shows us why Reed was so eager to have Ben pilot the spacecraft. He was a famous war hero pilot so it made sense and Reed knew he could trust Ben.

It’s ultimately Sue who convinces Ben to be the pilot. She and Johnny have agreed to come along and implies Ben is afraid to go. Ben is not one to back down from a challenge so he decides to go.

The rest of the flashback is the standard rehash of how they hit cosmic rays and got their powers using panels we’ve already seen several times in these first eleven issues.

Sue then tells Reed and Ben she’s been getting letters saying she isn’t contributing enough on the adventures of the team. Ben and Reed reassure her she is vital to their success and we get some more re-used panels of several times Sue has helped the team get out of different situations.

Ben suddenly turns back into The Thing. The serum lasted longer this time but nothing seems to be permanent with curing him. An alarm goes off and the team rush into the spaceship they kept as a memento of their adventure on Planet X. Turns out it was just a surprise birthday party for Sue. Still, small gestures like this show this team is more of a family than a superhero team. The story concludes with Willie Lumpkin complaining about his heavy mail bag full of comic magazine heroes and letters to the editor pages.

While you could argue this story isn’t super interesting, it does show more sides to the characters than most comic books at the time were showing. For all we know about Clark Kent in the pages of Superman there wasn’t ever just a story about him having a day with friends where no actual fights break out. This kind of storytelling is what makes Marvel stand out from the competition.

Make no mistake, no matter what you think of the story and issue itself, this is an immensely important moment in the history of Marvel 616 and comics in general. It just begins to scrape the surface of what superhero storytelling could be. There will be more slice of life stories to come but this is truly the first.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be shrinking down once again to catch up with Ant-Man in Tales to Astonish #40!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Journey Into Mystery #89

Journey Into Mystery Issue 89 Photo Credit: Marvel

Thor in all his thunderous glory has fought other dimensional beings, his own brother Loki, and even a group of communists. Until issue 89 of Journey Into Mystery he hadn’t fought the mafia. But that is exactly what he does here.

The issue opens with Thor returning to the office of his secret identity, Dr. Donald Blake. Dr. Donald Blake is a successful surgeon who uses a cane to walk around. He’s not much like the god of thunder so no one suspects their connection. When Thor flies back there are some patients waiting in his office so he decides to fly into a mannequin store, dress one up like Thor (I don’t know where he got the materials to dress it up either) and toss it through the sky toward the ocean where it will land without harming anyone. (I suppose it might annoy Namor though) This ruse is enough to give Thor time to get back to his office and transform before the patients are any the wiser.

We then get another recap of how Dr. Donald Blake stumbled onto the magical stick that allows him to transform while he was on vacation in Norway. We also get the rundown yet again showing Blake is in love with Jane Foster but convinced she could never care for him. Meanwhile, Jane loves Blake but he won’t take any initiative so she thinks he is uninterested. And then she daydreams about polishing Thor’s hammer and ironing his cape. Seriously, I am not making that up. This is what the men who made these comics thought women would imagine in their heads. Yeah… so anyway…

When we switch back to the present moment there is a shootout just outside the office of Dr. Blake. Turns out a mobster named Thug Thatcher was arrested and immediately his men shot at cops and helped him escape. Unfortunately for Thug, he was hit in the shoulder in the crossfire.

Blake was just a little late in telling Jane to go home for the day so now the two of them are stuck in the office while the gunfire happens. If Blake turns to Thor he gives away his secret identity. As fortune would have it, two of Thug’s uh… thugs… realize they “…gotta fetch him a sawbones!” and notice a handy doctor’s office in the vicinity. And yes, you guessed right, it was Blake’s office.

The mobsters take Blake captive and make him treat their boss. Blake does so because he has a duty to treat an injured person not because he was told to. In the process they do take his cane which means he can’t easily turn into Thor. Thug is fixed up and tells his boys to “Take care of the good doctor.” Seems Thug doesn’t want Blake squealin’ to the cops. But even with his cane out of reach, Blake has one trick up his sleeve.

Perhaps in his head is more accurate. He decides to use all his concentration to call out to the Norse gods. Odin, up in Asgard hears the call and sends a wave of force that targets the man who is holding Blake’s cane. The cane is dropped and Blake grabs it, turning himself into Thor. The mobsters are understandably confused as to where the doctor went but Thor tells a very thin lie that he tossed Blake to safety.

It’s now mob bosses versus the literal god of thunder. You can probably guess who wins. Thor blows hurricane force winds at them and wraps them up in a sheet and tosses the sheet into a tree. A couple of the thugs try to escape in a car but Thor throws Mjolnir through a bunch of trees which trap the car and the mobsters.

Still, not everyone has been caught. Thug and his loyal girlfriend have managed to escape while the tussle was going on. It seems the girl loves Thug and he knows she’ll never leave him even if he is a terrible, terrible person. Thug comes up with the plan to capture Blake, knowing he and Thor seem to turn up in similar locations often. Good luck with that, Thug!

Thor goes back to Blake’s office to untie Jane from when they first snagged Blake. Thug has decided Jane is just as good a hostage as Blake would be. Since Thug has a gun to Jane, Thor puts the hammer down, knowing it will expose his secret at the end of sixty seconds.

Thinking fast, Thor decides to use “his super-developed vocal cords” to throw his voice across the room, impersonating the police. I know, I know, this sounds really silly but you have to put this in some context. Thor is the closest thing Marvel has at this time to Superman. He’s got a lot of the same powers, flight, strength, gale force winds for breath, and he even has a mild mannered alter ego the way Superman does. Superman at this time had the super power of super-ventriloquism so Marvel is just kind of following suit here. It’s yet another power for Thor to use in the moment when he needs it to be forgotten about soon.

This ruse is enough to fool the gangster and Thor kicks his gun away and gets his hammer back. He then uses it to make a mighty updraft to get Jane Foster to safety. Thor rushes out the window behind her to make sure she is safe. The gangsters shoot at him but to no avail. Thug uses the opportunity to try to escape. His girlfriend, Ruby, begs him to stay and “take your medicine” going so far as to say she’d even wait for him. But Thug is a dumb Thug and just tells her to shut up and get lost. He then shoots at her. I don’t know about you but if I have the god of thunder after me, I’m not wasting bullets. Anyway, Thor blocks the bullets for her so she’s fine.

Thor pounds his hammer on the ground four times, causing lightning to hit the cables of the elevator Thug is on. He then gets onto the steel girders but Thor melts those. I don’t know why Thor doesn’t just fly up and get him but I guess they needed to fill some panels.

Thug finds a bucket of hot rivets and threatens to dump them onto the crowd. Thor promises he won’t try to capture Thug. The girder gives way under Thug and Thor flies up to save him.

As Thor comes down, Ruby swears she still loves Thug and doesn’t want to see him fall. The cop next to her says, “Don’t worry lady– Thor’s got him! But a crumb like that sure don’t deserve anyone as loyal as you!” Well said nameless officer, well said.

Turns out the steel girder Thug was standing on was faulty because it was steel from his own racket where he was selling sub-standard steel for buildings to make his illegal money. So he kind of captured himself.

Thor then asks Odin to erase all memory of Thug Thatcher from Ruby’s mind so she will be “Free to find one who will be worthy of her!” I know of a nameless cop who just might be interested.

The end of the issue has a little tease for the next Journey Into Mystery where Thor will fight the wonderfully named “Carbon-Copy Man!” I’m guessing it will be more of an interesting fight than this was.

To put this issue in some context, it does have a few notable things in the story. It seems it is getting easier for Thor to call to Asgard whenever he needs to. Also, the love triangle between Blake, Thor and Jane Foster continues and will do so for a fair amount of time still. Finally, with the introduction of things like super-developed vocal cords, Thor is rapidly becoming unbeatable in his own book. It’s clear he needs to be pitted against folks who have super powers, not run of the mill mobsters. We’ll get to that point but not for a while yet.

Next up on the reading list we’ll be getting cosmic once again with the famous Fantastic Four in issue 11 of the series!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Strange Tales #105

Strange Tales Issue 105 Photo Credit: Marvel

In Strange Tales #102 Johnny Storm met the supervillain known as The Wizard for the first time. He laid a series of traps but Johnny evaded them eventually and with a little help from Sue Storm he was able to trick The Wizard into thinking he had psychic powers. It wasn’t very wizardly for someone who claims to be smarter than anyone considering it’s pretty public knowledge that The Human Torch hangs out with The Invisible Girl.

Despite his less than perfect debut, The Wizard is back for round two with ol’ hothead. The issue starts with a brief recap of the events from issue 102. Then we’re shown The Wizard in prison. He’s been a model prisoner just so he could get placed to work in the prison hospital where there are a bunch of chemicals within reach. He concocts a mixture that is capable of eating through a wall and he proceeds to make a man sized hole in the prison. The guards assume he escapes out this hole but while they are busy looking around for him, The Wizard, who was simply hiding, waltzes right out of the cell door the guards left open for him.

The Wizard sneaks onto a train and heads in the direction of his estate where he observes police looking for him. It’s exactly what he expected and he’s smart enough to have created an electromagnetic force field to keep people out.

While The Wizard is smart, he’s dumb enough to challenge The Human Torch to battle and Johnny gets word of it on the news. He’s not about to give up on a challenge and the opportunity to show up an escaped convict. Sue Storm is not comfortable with the idea though and tries to talk Johnny out of it.

Johnny whips up a fire made double of himself to fool Sue while he goes and takes on The Wizard. The only trouble is his double can’t talk or respond to Sue. She calls up Reed Richards and Ben Grimm but they basically tell Sue to leave it to Johnny because “He has to grow up and stand on his own two feet sometime!” So, yeah, showing not a lot of concern for Johnny’s safety here.

The Human Torch makes it to The Wizard’s estate where he is let in but the police are still kept back. If I was a villain inside of an estate with an impenetrable force field the last thing I would do is to let my rival super hero in but that’s exactly what The Wizard does. His ego is just too big to allow him to do the sensible thing here.

He does have a pretty big rocket launcher though and he fires it at Johnny. The Torch just melts it. Next The Wizard tries to drop Johnny into an asbestos-lined dungeon. Of course, Johnny flies so that backfires. Next up is nerve gas but Johnny stops that with a wall of fire to insulate himself from the gas. I’m really not clear on how the physics of that would work but we’ll just assume it does.

The Wizard boldly claims he was simply testing Johnny when an alarm goes off. Someone else entered the house. He can’t see anything on his security cameras and figures it has to be The Invisible Girl. At least he learns from his mistakes. He goes to the room Sue is in and sprays the air with a special spray he made which reveals where she is. I mean, paint would have worked fine, but sure a special spray, why not? In the room she is in some walls come up and trap Sue. The Wizard then plants a device in the wall and heads back to check on Johnny.

Turns out the device in the wall is an explosive and if Sue can’t escape in five minutes, well, that’s the end of her. The Wizard offers to let Johnny into the room if he flames off. Of course Johnny is going to take that offer. And in a classic villain blunder, The Wizard has placed two heroes in the same deadly room, increasing their chances of escaping.

Once The Wizard is safely away he lets Johnny know if the temperature increases in the room by a single degree the bomb is rigged to go off. Johnny heats up just his hand and fires a small flame at the mechanism for the bomb. He melts the hammer that would hit the bell to cause the chain reaction of the explosion. It melts fast enough the bell is never triggered. Thus, Johnny is free to flame on once again without risking death. But the bomb is about to go off so he melts the wall as fast as he can. He gets lucky and exposes the bomb.

Then, in one of the more ridiculous parts of the issue, Johnny creates a “catapult of flame” which launches the bomb through the roof of the house and into the air where it can explode harmlessly.

After all that, Johnny is ready to grab The Wizard. He heats up the air vents to trigger the sprinkler system. And the floor gets wet enough The Wizard slips and falls. He draws some kind of gun but Johnny does what anyone would expect and… yeah… he… um… makes a saw out of flames and carves the roof above The Wizard so the ceiling falls on him to knock him out. A little silly but we’ll just go with it again.

Sue switches off the lever keeping the forcefield up and by the time the police enter The Wizard is being held by a flame lasso. Sue tells Johnny if The Wizard is smart “…he’ll stay in prison where he’s safe!” so we all know he’s going to break out again. Torch has to have some kind or rival in his own book so it makes sense.

Back at home Sue admonishes Johnny for going against direct orders. The issue ends with a little sibling rivalry as Sue throws a pillow at Johnny for making a joke about her help in the whole thing.

The issue is pretty interesting and does sort of expand Johnny’s fire powers even more. More importantly, it continues to set up The Wizard as a recurring villain who becomes a staple in the foes of not only Johnny but all of the Fantastic Four and several other Marvel heroes.

Next up on the reading list we catch up with the god of thunder once again in the pages of Journey Into Mystery #89!

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Marvel 616 Comic Book Review – Tales to Astonish #39

Tales to Astonish Issue 39 Photo Credit: Marvel

While The Fantastic Four, Thor, and even The Incredible Hulk chug along nicely with their stories in the early days of Marvel 616, Ant-Man has sort of struggled to gain footing in the pages of Tales to Astonish. His powers are pretty interesting and what he does with them can be intriguing but he hasn’t gained a real nemesis and his stories are fairly run of the mill superhero stuff. Which leads us to issue 39 of Tales to Astonish where things get rather strange. That’s saying something for a guy who has insect based powers but the issue here really demands a lot of suspension of disbelief.

As you can probably tell from the cover, the story involves an oversized beetle with an attitude problem. Right there it seems the issue will be different, which is not a bad thing, but the story, unfortunately, doesn’t really live up to its potential.

The issue begins with Henry Pym, as usual, monitoring the activities of the insect world. He can see there is something brewing, something “strange– and dangerous!” He does the logical thing and hops into the Ant-Man suit to go investigate. We see him launch out of his secret catapult and there is a handy note to the reader telling us “Although unnoticed by other eyes, the building which houses Henry Pym contains many secret devices for use by an ant-sized human!”

After being catapulted onto a pile of waiting ants Henry rides an ant into the sewer. He finds hundreds of insects gathered together. Out of all those insects he notices there is a beetle glowing strangely and all the other insects seem to be paying attention to it. Luckily for us, Pym’s helmet can pick up mental telepathy which the beetle is using to communicate with the insects.

We get the standard explanation of strange stuff in the early Marvel 616 stories. This beetle has been accidentally exposed to radiation due to “one of mankind’s atomic experiments…” Radiation and radioactivity are pretty much magic in these comics and can do anything the writers and artists want. To be fair, it was the time of the cold war and atomic exploration so there was a lot of fear around it. The reading audience at the time probably had an easier time believing this could happen than we do now. Turns out the radiation gave the beetle human level intelligence on top of the mental telepathy.

This beetle wants to organize the insect world to rise up and become masters of the world. After all, they number in the trillions. Henry realizes he needs to stop this. Before he can get to the Scarlet Beetle a bunch of body guard beetles knock Hank out cold. The Scarlet Beetle is smart enough to realize he should use the growth gas Ant-Man has to become bigger.

A little later Henry wakes up without his helmet or his vials that help him change size. The Scarlet Beetle takes the opportunity to go on the attack. He has termites cut down telephone poles, taking out human communication systems. Several groups of insects steal boxes of dynamite from the most unobservant military guard in existence. Meanwhile the Scarlet Beetle has some of the more deadly spiders bite key politicians to take down the government systems in place. The only insects not participating in the nefarious deeds are the ants, who are loyal to the Ant-Man.

For a beetle, this dude is shockingly organized and well planned. Honestly, he seems like he has it together more than The Wizard did when he first attacked Johnny Storm, aka The Human Torch. Now that the Scarlet Beetle has had his minions wreak enough havoc he appears on the scene himself. He takes down television stations while his other insect pals go right for the police. The police are desperately hoping Ant-Man shows up at this point.

Luckily for humanity, the ants find Hank’s helmet and realize there is something wrong. They use their sense of smell to find Ant-Man and get him out of the ditch he is stuck in. Ant-Man comes up with a plan involving the ants. One of the text boxes reads, “After giving his ants their instructions, the tiny avenger goes into action…” This is sort of interesting considering Henry Pym will be one of the founding members of The Avengers soon.

Hank uses honey ants to slow the beetles, beats away grasshoppers with an ice-cream pop stick, and gets a group of ants to bring a bunch of DDT. For those who may not know, DDT was a type of insect repellant that was fairly commonly used in the 1960’s. In fact, it was used so much it turned out to be harmful to humans, and for the most part is no longer used. Back then it was everywhere though. The DDT does the job but the Scarlet Beetle remains. Hank’s plan is to go into a toy store. He hops in a toy car to outrun his enemy. Then he grabs a lance from a toy knight and chucks it right at the container of reducing gas the Scarlet Beetle is wearing. The beetle is reduced and Henry places him inside a balloon to take back to his lab.

Henry is able to counteract the radiation and remove the human intelligence the Scarlet Beetle has. There’s not really a thought of what an ethical dilemma this might be but since the bug is just a bug again Henry lets him out in his backyard.

The issue ends with the police wondering where the heck Ant-Man was in all this, never realizing it was Henry Pym who saved them.

I think this issue might have been intended to create a repeat villain for Hank. I’m not sure if that ever did happen but Ant-Man by this point does really deserve a true nemesis. It’s going to be a while before we get there so we can expect more odd and zany stories that don’t exactly age well from the pages of Tales to Astonish. This was definitely one of the less believable stories but it helped to keep Ant-Man popular enough that people were still reading the book.

Next up on the reading list we’ll see how the rematch between The Wizard and The Human Torch shapes up in Strange Tales #105!

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