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!

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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