Marvel 616 Review – Strange Tales #108 (A Story)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The story ends kind of abruptly right there.

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

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

Marvel 616 Review – Journey Into Mystery #91

Journey Into Mystery Issue 91, Photo Credit: Marvel, Writer Stan Lee and Larry Lieber, Artist Joe Sinnott

Journey Into Mystery has thrown us quite a few stories involving Thor and his alter ego Don Blake. He’s fought communists, aliens, petty thieves and an assortment of other bad guys. But Thor always shines most when he fights Loki. Even when he doesn’t know he is fighting Loki.

This issue starts with Odin in Asgard holding what he calls a belt of strength. It belongs to Thor but so far during his time on Earth (aka midgard). This belt gives Thor even more strength and power than he usually has.

We shift over to Thor who is flying through the sky and sees a commotion below him. A bank building is floating in the air as the people below it watch. Thor forces the building towards the ground but it suddenly disappears. Strangely, all the people who where in the bank suddenly reappear unharmed. Thor turns back into his mortal form of Dr. Don Blake. He sees the crowd panicking but none of them seem to have any memory of where they went or what happened there.

Dr. Blake realizes this is not due to any physical issue and assumes Loki must be up to something. Interestingly, it seems Blake remembers what happens when he is Thor. Their personalities seem to merge a bit more frequently in this issue than in some others. This is not a Hulk/Banner dichotomy, Blake and Thor seem to have similar goals most of the time.

Blake changes back to Thor and calls to Odin to check that Loki is still in Asgard. Odin confirms Loki hasn’t left but Odin is not aware that Loki can get up to mischief even from Asgard. Thor figures he has to go back and find out who seems to be doing these odd things. He sees a bunch of cash floating in the air at the race track.

We flash over to Loki who is having the time of his life watching all this happen. Turns out a few days earlier Loki discovered a person with a mild amount of telepathic abilities who was making a living at a carnival. This person is named Sandu and he guesses accurately in seconds that Don Blake is in love with Jane Foster but he denies it. Jane gets a bit frustrated because she thinks Blake is too stuffy to fall for any girl. Blake, for his part knows Odin has forbidden him to reveal his identity to any mortal. At least he has a somewhat valid excuse. It’s tough to defy the command of a god and all.

Loki decides to boost Sandu’s powers and figures the guy would turn to pure evil pretty quickly. Loki was absolutely right about that. Needless to say, the guy goes on a crime spree stealing as much money as he can. He teleports money and banks and art and even a whole palace. Any people in the buildings he teleports he wipes away their memories. Most of it he teleports to the moon. Not sure how that will work for him but I guess we should just let Sandu be Sandu in this one.

Thor tries to stop the guy and Loki watches with sheer joy as Thor tries to fight Sandu. Sandu crosses the line when he teleports the United Nations building and demands that all the delegates make him the ruler of the world. As Thor tries to stop him, Sandu drops a bunch of steel on him and traps Thor. Thor asks for help from Odin. And as you can probably guess, Odin sends the belt of strength from the beginning of the issue.

A pair of Valkyries bring it to Thor. These are not the strong warrior women you might imagine from the MCU. These are ethereal beings who kind of float around in flowing gowns. This will change in future comics but it’s how we are first introduced to them.

Thor busts out of the trap he is in but Sandu tricks Thor into throwing his hammer and then teleports Thor into a dimension where he can’t reach his hammer. Sandu isn’t all that smart though because he realizes how powerful a weapon it is and tries to lift Mjolnir with his mind. In Asgard, Loki basically yells at Sandu because he knows there is no way this dude can lift that hammer.

In the end, Thor prevails and Sandu is defeated. But, no one seems to be wise to the fact that Loki caused all the mischief here.

Some things to note in this issue are the integrated personalities of Thor and Blake, they seem to be one person, but how that’s possible isn’t yet explained, Loki for the first time here not only causes trouble but gets away with it without being caught at all, and the connection between Thor and Odin is made more direct than before. It seems Thor can call dear ol’ dad whenever he needs to and there is a pretty instant reply.

The end of the issue shows us Loki saying he will find a way to defeat Thor because he’s got all eternity to scheme. We’ve definitely not seen the last of him and he’ll prove to be more of a threat than just to Thor once the Avengers finally assemble. For now though, we leave him seething as always and just itching to get back at Thor.

Next up on the reading list, we’ll be checking in on Johnny Storm in Strange Tales #108!

Marvel 616 Review corrections

Hey all, this post is a little different than most of my Marvel review posts. I knew this would happen at some point in my reviews but there are a few issues I missed in the reading order. What can I say, the list changes all the time and there are so many of these comics it’s easy to overlook sometimes. For the next few reviews I’m going to be doing the ones I missed. In each post, I will tell you where they should be in the reading order but otherwise the reviews will be as you have seen before.

To make a long story short, I did an audit of my Marvel 616 reviews to make sure I hadn’t missed any and it turns out I did. So, here are the ones I have missed which you will soon see reviews for.

  1. Journey Into Mystery #91 goes after Amazing Spiderman #1
  2. Strange Tales #108 goes after Journey Into Mystery #91
  3. The Amazing Spider-Man #2 goes after Strange Tales #108

After that my reviews are back on track with Fantastic Four #13 and the rest should be good after that. Apologies for missing these but I hope you’ll keep reading my reviews anyway!

Happy New Year!

Hello internet and Happy New Year! Slick Dungeon here back to welcome you into the year 2023. Today I thought I would do a more casual post wrapping up a bit of last year and letting you all know what to expect in the dungeon for this year.

Above you can see some of my posts from last year so if you haven’t checked those out please do.

2022 was a great year for this blog. I had an increase of views of 116% from 2021, an increase of visitors of 140%, an increase of likes of 77% and an increase of comments of 127%. If any of you reading this contributed to that increase, thank you! It’s genuinely appreciated and I hope you’ll stick around.

Here are links to the top 5 most popular posts on this blog for 2022. These go from least viewed to most viewed.

  1. An Interview with Zamil Akhtar, Author of Gun Metal Gods and Conqueror’s Blood
  2. Top 5 Tabletop RPG’s to play in 2022
  3. How to Play Call of Cthulhu Part 2 – Creating an Investigator
  4. Top 5 Campaigns for Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition
  5. Top 5 Horror One Shots for Dungeons & Dragons

Going down this list above, Zamil Akhtar will be publishing new books this year and I fully plan to review them, so look forward to that. I will be posting a top 5 list of tabletop RPG’s to play in 2023 so keep an eye out for that. I will also continue my How to play Call of Cthulhu series. And I am sure I will have more top 5 lists related to Call of Cthulhu and Dungeons & Dragons this year.

I’m hoping to have an even better year in 2023 but of course that depends on you and it depends on what kind of content I deliver.

Here are a few of the things you can expect this year.

  1. More movie reviews
  2. More book reviews
  3. More Marvel reviews
  4. More TTRPG content
  5. More short fiction written by me
  6. A new challenge list for books, movies, and TTRPG’s
  7. Reviews of Star Wars content
  8. Announcements of upcoming projects
  9. Surveys about what direction to take this blog
  10. Random stuff that comes up I just want to talk about

There will be more coming which you have not seen yet but I’m not quite ready to talk about but I will keep you updated throughout the year.

I’m really excited about all of these things coming up and I hope you’ll follow along with me. Also, I am always looking for fellow blog writers to follow so if you have a blog that might line up with some of what you see here, let me know in the comments. I only follow those who have similar interests to mine but I would love to see what everyone is up to in 2023.

Have a great year everyone!

Positively yours,

Slick Dungeon

Marvel 616 Review – Tales of Suspense #40

Tales of Suspense Issue 40, Photo Credit: Marvel, Writers: Stan Lee & Robert Bernstein, Artist: Jack Kirby

The second appearance of Tony Stark as Iron Man further expands on what he is capable of while also giving him a new challenge.

At the start of the issue we are shown Tony leading a triple life. His first life is as a man of science who is not only honored for his accomplishments in Micro-transistor research but also is vital to stopping communists from taking over America. How is he going to stop them? With the invention of super fast roller skates. Yep, that’s his big innovation in this issue for the army. These skates can allow each soldier to travel at up to 60 miles per hour. The General presented with this invention is pretty excited though. He realizes these skates mean they can move troops without trucks this way and calls Stark a genius. While the Iron Man we know from the MCU would quickly agree with that statement, the Anthony Stark presented here is a lot more humble. He says, “No General… just a scientist who realizes that the boundaries of science are infinite…”

Stark’s second life is more in line with the MCU as he is shown to be a millionaire playboy whom women adore. We see him on a date but he makes excuses to leave as soon as his date suggests a swim. Tony can’t take his shirt off in public because he has to constantly wear an iron chest plate which sustains his heart. Basically, Iron Man is the first character who needs an electronic pacemaker. A bit of an exaggerated one, but that’s basically what this is. This really does make Anthony Stark stand out because he is one of the first heroes who might be described as having a disability of some sort. It’s not kryptonite that can kill Anthony, it’s basic biology, just like the rest of us. We do get this amazing line of narration here, “Tony Stark has left the party for a most unusual date with… an electric cord!

After charging himself up, we see Stark has been busy since we last saw him. He takes on his identity as Iron Man and we see that in the past he has stopped gangsters and madmen of science who seek to rule mankind. We only get a few panels to show all of this action but it’s surprising how quickly Stark is established as a hero.

While on a date at a circus, the animals in the circus break loose and cause havoc. Thinking quickly, Tony tells his date Marion to head out of the area while he goes to phone the police riot squad. He has a suitcase with an x-ray proof secret compartment that holds his collapsed Iron Man suit. He throws it on so he can save the day. As he goes through the crowd, people comment on how terrifying his appearance is. After using a few gadgets in his suit to subdue but not injure the animals, Tony realizes he needs to redesign his suit. He doesn’t want women and children to be frightened of him.

Tony returns to his date who mentions the ugliness of the Iron Man suit and suggests a modern day knight in shining armor would wear gold metal instead of dull grey armor. Sure enough, Anthony Stark paints his suit with untarnishable gold paint.

The next week Tony is set to pick up his date from the airport only to find out the Granville airport she should have travelled from was shut down three days ago. Apparently Tony is too busy being a hero to listen to the news and he hasn’t gotten around to inventing the cell phone just yet. Regardless, the town seems to be cut off from the world. Literally cut off. As in, a whole wall was built around the city and no one can get in or out. So, of course, Iron Man heads over there.

While the wall is formidable, Iron Man just digs under it. As soon as he digs up into the city he is told the town can’t answer why the wall is there by order of someone named Gargantus. If they disobey him, they die. The crowd is so worried about Gargantus they even start attacking Iron Man. The crowd is so frenzied they erect a statue of Gargantus and start bowing before it. Tony notes how the statue looks like a Neanderthal yet people are worshipping whoever this is. To solve the problem, Tony tosses a ten ton truck into the statue but the crowd still seems to be bowing to it even after it is smashed. It seems the whole town has been hypnotized. This is definitely not the first Marvel 616 story where a whole town is hypnotized and it’s far from the last. In comics at the time, hypnotizing the public gave the writers the freedom to have crowds do whatever they wanted to slow a hero down.

Iron Man basically challenges Gargantus to a street brawl in front of the crowd. Gargantus shows up and Tony tosses a few high powered magnets around Gargantus. Turns out Gargantus was a robot the whole time.

Not only that but Gargantus was being controlled by a spaceship hiding in a dark cloud. Iron Man again hurls magnets in the direction of the ship and the aliens scurry off, realizing they are no match for the Iron Men of Earth.

It’s only Iron Man’s second appearance and he’s already driven off aliens. Basically, all Marvel heroes in the 616 universe have done that at this point, with the exception of Spider-Man. Spidey will, of course, have his chance but not just yet.

Next up on the reading list we will be checking in with the Norse God of Thunder himself, Thor in Journey Into Mystery #92!

Marvel 616 Review – Tales to Astonish #42

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel 616 Review – The Fantastic Four #13

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marvel 616 Review – The Amazing Spider-Man #1

The Amazing Spider-Man Issue 1 Photo Credit: Marvel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking back in on the god of thunder once again with Journey Into Mystery #91!

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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