Wednesday, January 28, 2009

History of the Marvel Universe: January 1963: part 2

Tales to Astonish #39

A bug, mutated into a super intelligent being by radiation, uses some of Hank Pym’s gas to make himself human-sized. Then, using telepathy to control all the nearby insects (except the ants, who remain loyal to Hank), he attempts to conquer mankind.

Ant Man and his ants do battle with the insect hordes. Then the tiny hero has it out with the big bug in a running battle through a toy store. Finally, the bug is captured, shrunk back down, then cured of his mutation to become just a normal bug again.

Gee whiz, Ant Man really, really needs a better quality of villain. But Kirby’s visuals are fun as usual and the concept of a smart mutant bug is interesting enough to carry the story along.

Journey into Mystery

Loki learns about Thor’s double identity and then escapes from Asgard. He then uses trickery to separate Thor from his hammer, causing the Thunder God to revert to Donald Blake.

Then Loki goes on a mischievous rampage though New York, doing stuff like turning all the vehicles into ice cream. Fortunately, Blake out-tricks him. Getting his hammer back and turning back into Thor, he then captures Loki after outsmarting him yet again.

It’s a good issue on several levels. First, it builds a little more on the Marvel version of Norse mythology, gradually building up the rich background that will allow future Thor stories to drip with imagination and powerful storytelling. Second, it’s nice to see Thor using his brains as well as his brawn throughout the issue.

Strange Tales #104

There’s no denying it. “Paste Pot Pete” is a silly name for a villain. And his costume (a stereotypical artist’s beret and coveralls) doesn’t help much.

It’s certainly an accurate name, though. Pete uses his specially designed gun (connected via a hose to a pot-full of “ammunition” that he hauls around with him) to shoot streams of thick paste. He uses the sticky stuff to do things like prevent a cop from drawing his gun by glopping together the cop’s hand and holster.

Eventually, Pete will adapt the less silly name of “Trapster,” get a better costume, use slightly more sophisticated weaponry and become a regular member of the Frightful Four. For the moment, though, he’s robbing banks and stealing experimental army missiles in and around Glenville.

Sadly, Pete’s gimmick isn’t really strong enough to carry even this short story. The Human Torch actually has quite a bit of trouble stopping him when there’s really no logical reason he couldn’t have caught the villain in just a page or two. But it takes him the whole thirteen pages to chase Pete out of Glenville and recover all the stolen loot. One of Jack Kirby’s many strengths as an artist is his ability to choreograph fun action scenes, but he’s just not up to his usual heights this time around. The fact that Paste Pot Pete just isn’t powerful enough to believably give Johnny a real challenge is probably to blame.

That’s it for January 1963. February will see the first appearance of the aptly named Impossible Man (as well as the ear-wiggling mailman Willie Lumpkin); Ant Man will go up against a truck hijacker; Thor will have more trouble than he should against a common gangster; and the Human Torch will have a rematch against the Wizard.

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